Start with why

Why? It’s a question I’m pretty sure I have heard a million times from my son. He’s a super curious kid. Any of you who have kids or have worked around young kids know that why is one of the most important questions in the eyes of a child.

That question of why is the reason that prior to the first opportunity I had to meet with my new staff at Fishers Elementary, I shared Simon Sinek’s TED Talk – How great leaders inspire action. (If you haven’t seen it, you can get to it here)

golden-circleIn this talk, Sinek refers to the Golden Circle. As he describes it, a lot of companies can define what they do, some can even define how they do it, but only a select few can define why. In companies with great leadership, they start with the why.

Think about a corporation like Apple. Ultimately, they are a technology company. But when we think about what made Apple the brand that it is today, it was the complete focus on the fact that they were making beautiful products that fulfilled their customer’s digital needs. They worked the golden circle from the inside out.

So, what’s the reason that so many of the companies that start with defining their why in the first place end up being so successful? I think a lot of it comes from that childhood sense of wonder we all have. Intrinsically I think all humans are wired to be curious beings. We all want to understand the why. Sometimes we don’t even recognize that is what we need. I can’t remember who said it, but they told me if you really want to understand a person’s thinking, keep asking the question why. When you get to the 7th why, you probably have a pretty good grasp on where the person is coming from.

So, Sinek’s TED Talk now has me thinking. In the notes app on my phone I now have a note titled My Why. Currently there are 13 bullet points in this list. I hope to work on it and refine it some, because I plan to share my why with my staff at the next staff meeting. Then, we’re going to work together on first identifying our own personal why for what we do, and then work together to build a shared why. The purpose behind this activity will be to build a vision for what Fishers Elementary stands for moving forward.

I’m excited about the work that this will entail. And I’m ready to take my time. We are not going to walk out of our next staff meeting with our mission and vision, rather we are going to be working on this throughout the next semester. It is my hope that by the end of the school year, we have gathered input from our teachers and staff, from our students, from our families, and from our community.

It’s an exciting time to be a Tiger! I’ll be sure to keep you all updated on the process!

Writing across the curriculum

Writing across the curriculum

Leading wellRecently I started reading the book Leading Well: Building Schoolwide Excellence in Reading and Writing by Lucy Calkins. The book is written to help guide leaders in buildings who are using The Units of Study from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project in their schools. The book has my mind absolutely ABLAZE with ideas about the value of writing across the curriculum.

To make sure we are all on the same page, let me tell you what I mean when I say writing across the curriculum. In my mind this means that we are providing meaningful opportunities for students to engage in writing activities in all content areas. No matter whether your subject area is typically considered a subject that would be considered a course on writing, we have to wrap our mind around the fact that we are all literacy teachers!

Let’s use social studies as the subject we focus in on to start with… In many social studies classes, at a wide variety of levels, much of the way students are taught involves lecture or direct instruction, some reading about the topic, maybe they are shown some video that goes with their subject, or played some music from the time period and location of study. But what do all of those things have in common for the students in the classroom? I would argue that all of those things are pretty passive ways of learning. Students are taking in information, but not being asked to do much of anything with it except absorb.

Now, even if our next step is to ask the students some questions, or respond to some worksheet (or possibly something we have created on Canvas), there isn’t really a whole lot of deep thought going on there.

Now take a moment to think about what you do when you are writing. You have to reflect on the information you’ve taken in. You might have to go back to a piece of reading and reread. You might even go do some additional research on a topic. Writing is a much more active process.

writingWhatever the subject area you teach, there are ways you could bring writing and literacy into your classroom. In science you could have students write up a lab report or keep a lab journal, math could spend time writing a response to a deep-thinking problem that they solved or journal about thinking and learning based on your current unit, social studies could write about a topic that you have been covering in class. Even our related arts teachers can get on board with writing tasks related to activities that they have been doing in class.

Again and again, the idea of writing across the classroom has been shown to have high level of impact on learning throughout a school because it is such an active process. I know that many of you are working towards creating integrated learning units that carry across multiple classrooms and subject areas. If you are not a language arts teacher, and don’t feel confident in where to start with having students write in your class, find a buddy you can work with to talk about your goals and how your work might support the writing goals of your language arts teachers.

What are your thoughts on writing in other content areas? What have you noticed when you try it? Share your ideas in the comments below!

 

Take it up a notch

Take it up a notch

I was at a training last week and the presenter stated the following:

“When we stretch (students) brains beyond the baseline, they will be prepared for the baseline.”

It struck me because every year I hear statements like “This group can’t handle that because they don’t yet have the basic skills.” As teachers, we sometimes believe if students don’t have the base level skills, we can’t move into project work, or more hands-on assignments. We feel the need to make sure that our students had those base level skills first.

When I was in the classroom, I had points in time where I felt that way. For the majority of my career as a classroom teacher I taught 5th and 6th grade science. As a kid, I loved science! It was a hands-on subject, and that suited me well. I’ve never been one who learned well by being talked at, instead I needed to do something to help that learning to stick. Science was great for that. I remember building different styles of rockets in elementary school to investigate flight. I also remember days in elementary school of “creek stomping” in the creek that ran behind our school looking for fossils and learning about rocks and minerals. In high school, I remember spending hours in the chemistry lab making solutions and testing what would happen if you added X to Y. And in physics I remember using a laser to make my own hologram of a six-sided die. Those hands-on activities were the parts of the content that stuck with me over time. Science was awesome!

Once I moved into the classroom, I was excited to bring those awesome experiences to my students. Early in my career though, I think I may have lost my way. You see, I was of the impression that for my kids to be ready for a lab or project work, I had to make sure they all had the conceptual knowledge first. So, we’d spend time building that conceptual knowledge. What I didn’t realize completely at that time is that it’s really hard to build conceptual knowledge from taking notes, drawing diagrams, and watching video clips. True conceptual knowledge comes from the hands-on experiences that students do. Unfortunately because of the amount of time it took to learn that conceptual knowledge, sometimes we wouldn’t get to the fun stuff.

One year, I was teaching one enriched science class, and several classes that were not enriched. My students in the non-enriched classes started asking me why they didn’t get to do the fun stuff, and it caused me to pause and reflect. That year I worked on reorganizing the way I did my lessons. I started placing my lab activities and hands-on learning experiences at the beginning of each unit. What I found was that students seemed to do better in class when they had done a hands-on activity prior to teaching the conceptual skills. And as an added bonus to me, we often didn’t have to spend as much time on those concepts, because students had gained a greater understanding during the hands-on learning activities.

The same is true and other subject areas too. When we create math lessons that allow students to draw and visualize their thinking, they will better understand the concepts that go with what they are doing. When students look for grammatical structures within their own reading or writing they are more likely to value the importance of those grammar skills than when they work off of a grammar review sheet.

What I’m beginning to realize about the innovative work we are doing in education is that whether we call it project work, project-based learning, or something else, every time we take the learning up a notch our students are able to accomplish that much more. And I understand that sometimes we freak out about doing something innovative in our classroom because we may not feel like we are experts in the technology that goes with that activity. As teachers we don’t need to be the technology experts, rather we need to be the pedagogy experts. I know for a fact that no one taught me how to use Facebook or Twitter or many of the other apps that I use on a regular basis, rather I figured it out by clicking on stuff and seeing what happened.

So, what are some of the ways that we can have our students actually take it up a notch? What if every 10 to 15 minutes you pause what’s going on in class and have the kids record an audio or video reflection of what they have been learning? What if you have them create a photo or image or meme that represents their learning in class thus far? What if you asked them to sketch out a picture that shows a solution to the math problem they are working on? Each time we do something like this we are forcing our students to stretch their brains beyond that baseline and I would argue we aren’t doing anything that is that difficult. When we ask our students to do a drawing or create a video of their learning in class, we are helping them with their summarizing skills. I would also say that those small moments of creation help our students to develop one of the most in demand skills in the job market: creativity.

expected skills

I challenge you to look ahead at something that you are planning to do with your students in the next couple of weeks. Identify an activity that you would typically start with conceptual knowledge and find a way to do it hands-on in the first place. See how your students react. Weave in the conceptual skills that they need as you go through the project. Then take some time to reflect. Do the students end up with a better conceptual understanding of the topic? It may take a try or two but in time hopefully we can integrate more of those skills that are expected in the workplace into the things that are happening in our classrooms.

So, what activity have you selected? Share with us in the comments below so that we can check in with you to see how it goes.

My self-care tips

My self-care tips

Ok, truth talk. Working in the education world can be stressful! The list of responsibilities that fall onto teachers and administrators can be completely overwhelming. It’s hard to imagine finding the time to finish them all (especially for those of us who like to be sure that things are just right). I’ve been talking to several teachers in my building, and I can tell that the stress level is on the rise.

In addition, we take so much time to try to help our students with their various social-emotional struggles, as well as support our colleagues when they are going through struggles. This can lead to moments of secondary trauma, where we haven’t actually lived through the trauma of those around us, and yet we feel the same effects of that trauma.

Due to all these reasons, I am a huge fan of self-care strategies. I’m going to share a few of mine below. You may have similar ones, you may have completely different ones, but hopefully there will be a few nuggets here that you can take back to your own self-care strategies.

IMG_4377But before I get to some of my strategies, I’m going to share with all of you one of the things that causes so much stress to so many of us: Perfectionism. Something I know about educators is that many of us were rule followers when we were in school. A lot of us liked to work hard to get the teachers attention in positive ways because we knew we wanted to be a teacher. And because of those things we did, we developed this drive for perfection that still lives in many of us today. The problem with perfectionism? It’s kind of like counting to infinity. There’s always the one more. We have to be willing to let go of perfection. Sometimes good enough is all you need to take the next step with your students.

My first self-care strategy – Email

It’s easy to let email drive our day. It’s on our phone, our iPad, our computer. Depending on how you have alerts set up, you may not ever be able to receive one without knowing about it. And it kills us all! I’ve turned off email alerts on my phone, iPad, and computer (even the pop ups that show up on the screen of my device). The only time I am going to know I have an email is if I intentionally check for one. The alerts completely distract me from the more valuable work I’m doing.

In addition, I NEVER check my work email after 7 pm. Let me explain my thinking on this. When I receive an email after 7 pm, what are the odds that what I receive is something that I can actually solve before I get to school in the morning? Slim to none. You might be thinking “what if there’s an emergency?” For that, I have my cell phone and people who need to reach me in an emergency know it. Prior to making this decision, I found that the stress of an email in the evening was affecting the quality of my sleep and my ability to be completely present when I’m with my family. When I stopped checking email as much, I started sleeping better and evenings with my family were better.

My second self-care strategy – Movement

When I am feeling stressed out at the end of a hard day, or because of something that I know is coming up, one of my favorite things to do is to get moving. It could be a simple as going on a walk around the school building or an evening walk with my dog and family. Other times it might be heading out for an early morning #RunBeforeTheSun. And when I really have time for something, I’ll go out for a 40+ mile bike ride. Movement, even in the form of a walk, creates endorphins (those magical chemicals that our body produces to relieve stress and pain).

 

Not only do I use movement as a way to handle moments of stress, I also look at it as a stress preventative measure. I try to get some form of physical activity 4-5 days per week. When I do so, even the toughest days seem to go a little bit more smoothly.

My third self-care strategy – Rest

I’ve recently started using a sleep tracking app called Sleep Cycle. It helps me track not only my amount of sleep, but also the quality of that sleep in terms of a percentage. If I’m getting about 7 hours of sleep and my sleep quality is over 70%, then I’m going to be feeling pretty good for the day. If either of those numbers are much lower than that, I am probably not going to be feeling my best self the next day. Sleep is such an important part of our stress relief because it helps to clear our mind. The difficulty is though – when we’re stressed, we can’t sleep as well. Kind of a vicious cycle. So, see strategy one and two. When I remove potential stressors closer to bedtime, and I get a little movement in my day, my sleep quality is that much better. In fact, when I look at my Sleep Cycle app, on all the days that I had some form of physical activity in the past week, my sleep quality was higher than my non-workout days.

My fourth (and final for the purpose of this post) self-care strategy – Mindfulness

A couple years ago I participated in a Mindful Educator course and I learned about the benefits of mindfulness for our students, but also found great benefits for me as well. I try to carve out 5-10 minutes of my day for myself to take a mindful sit. I’m not very good IMG_870E48E7616A-1at doing this all on my own. I love to use an app to help guide my mindful moments. Both Headspace and Calm are free for educators. In fact, it’s as easy as saying “Hey Siri, let’s meditate” and it opens Headspace and goes directly to the Everyday Meditation which allows you to start a session for as little as 3 minutes or as many as 20. Much like sleep, mindful moments have a way of helping to clear out some of those stress chemicals from our brain, and I typically feel energized at the end of a mindful sit.

So, my message to you, find ways to take care of yourself! We take on so much stress in our role of working with little humans that we need to have a way to help clear out that stress. I give each of you permission to adopt as many of the strategies above as you would like, or adjust them to suit your needs.

But here’s the thing – I don’t hold the key to everything, and I love to learn from others! If you have self-care strategies that you’d be willing to share, add them to the comments below.

Experimental teaching in progress

The beginning of the school year is exciting for a lot of different reasons, but in the past couple of weeks I have been really fired up by the beginning of the year goal setting meetings I’ve been having with our teachers. It’s been so exciting to hear about the goals that teachers are setting to push themselves to new learning experiences and create amazing opportunities for their students. It’s a lot of fun to talk with them about their ideas and how to create a goal that will truly impact their teaching and learning throughout the year.

One of the things about learning new things, we all need to reflect on our learning. It’s a part of that learning cycle, and I look forward to the opportunity to help our teachers reflect on their goal throughout the year. But in addition to reflection, we also need feedback from others on how we are doing. When I think about my most powerful learning experiences, there has always been someone there to provide feedback – let me know what I was doing well and where I needed to improve. That feedback may have come from my coaches on the basketball court or football field, or it may have come from a teacher or professor in the classroom.

I respected the feedback that I would get from my elders, but sometimes the best feedback came from my teammates and classmates. They could often connect with me in ways that an adult just wasn’t able to. Even today, some of my most trusted people are peers who are in similar positions as mine. It’s so great to make a call or send an email to someone that I trust, share my thinking, and get their feedback. While there are definitely times that I hear “You seem to be right on track”, there are times they have said “You might want to think about that a little more and here’s why.” It helps me so much to get that peer feedback.

The problem with this in teaching is that we often live in our own silos. What happens in our classroom is often invisible to our colleagues, whether they be across the hall, on another floor, or in another wing. So what do we do about that? Luckily there are awesome people out there on Twitter who help us find solutions to our problems. This week I saw a tweet from Jed Dearybury that took me to his newsletter “A Dearybury of a Day”. (You can – and should – follow Jed on Twitter here). At the very end of the newsletter was this Fab, Fun, Freebie:

Screen Shot 2019-09-20 at 7.09.04 AM

Here’s what Jed said about this sign:

Whenever you are trying something new with students, hang this sign on your door to let those passing by know you are experimenting with a new teaching strategy. When this sign was on my door, it always made me relax a bit more because sometimes, experiments fail, and that’s ok!

So, here’s a thought – What if every time you are trying something new and you want to have feedback, you could hang this sign outside your door? What if you sent an email to the staff at your building with a picture of the sign? What if you shared the sign on Twitter (and tagged @mrdearybury)? There would be an awesome opportunity for people to come and watch what you are doing and give you meaningful feedback on what they saw. I know that many of us feel a little uncomfortable when we have other adults observing what we’re doing in our classroom, but we aren’t living on the growing edge when we’re totally comfortable in what we’re doing.

Remember, we’re all in this together guys! Our goal is to support the students we see on a daily basis, and the best way I can think of to do that is to support one another in our own teaching and learning. I’ll include a link to the pdf that Jed shared below.

So what are your thoughts? Are you comfortable to use a sign like this? I’d love to see some pictures being shared throughout your building!

Want to download the poster? Click here!

Is yet enough?

I was listening to a recent episode of the Making Math Moments that Matter podcast, which has become one of my new favorite podcasts (you should check out their website here for lots of awesome math resources and links to their podcast or check them out on Twitter @MakeMathMoments). There are tons of great ideas packed into every episode, and their back catalogue includes interviews with some amazing math educators! In a recent episode (episode #39 with Alice Aspinall) they got started talking about the language we use when talking about growth mindset.

For a long time now, we’ve been talking about the concept of growth mindset in many different formats. One of the things we’ve talked about (it was even our school hashtag recently) is The Power of Yet. Our discussions centered around the idea that people who have a growth mindset will say something like “I haven’t mastered this skill, yet.” By adding that yet, we were implying that it was something that we were still working on. It’s a powerful statement to remind ourselves that we have room to grow.

On several occasions I’ve had the thought that simply adding the yet to the end of the sentence didn’t do quite enough, but I couldn’t quite explain what was lacking. Then I listened to Alice Aspinall talking about her book Everyone Can Learn Math (find it here). In the course of the conversation she shared the following quote:

You could say I'm not good at multiplying yet, but that's kind of basic, right_ Can we change is so that we're saying I have not yet learned to multiply, but I've been practicing with arrays._

 

 

It suddenly clicked with me. I think the fear I have about simply adding the word yet to the end of a statement is that we may be modeling a false growth mindset. Does saying yet help teach someone how they get to success? I don’t think that it does. By articulating how you’re going about it, you suddenly change the game to be focused on learning and Multiplication Arraygrowing. Growth mindset can’t just be about saying that we aren’t there yet. It’s saying that we’re on a path to get there. By adding a statement of what you’re doing to get there, you have that path in place. In the quote above, a student is saying they are going to use arrays to help them better understand how to multiply. That’s a specific direction and provides specific action.

As a teacher, we can really work on our language, and modeling the idea of having a path to success in the things we say. If a student says that they aren’t good at something, or that they don’t like something, you can certainly help them learn to add the yet, and help them to begin to think about what steps they take in order to become successful.

It’s the same thing that we are doing when we set our own SMART Goals. We set attainable, realistic goals with the short-term and long-term steps we plan to take. By helping students set attainable, realistic goals with a plan in sight, you will help your students to be better able to set their own goals.

So what are your thoughts? Do you talk about growth mindset in your class? Have you seen students mindset change with the addition of the word “yet” in their beliefs about their abilities? Do you think adding a direction to those statements might make them more powerful? I’d love to hear your thoughts and reflections in the comments below.

What’s your story?

Earlier this week I was doing some reading and came across a quote that was talking about the levels of exhaustion that we are seeing in the workplace. This exhaustion is part of what’s leading to the rise in workplace burnout – something that I know educators can definitely go through. The quote made reference to an article in the Harvard Business Review that talked about how that exhaustion is more often a symptom of loneliness than anything else. Oftentimes when we are feeling burnt out, our solution might be to take a “mental health day” and stay home, relax, binge something on Netflix, etc. But if exhaustion is correlated to loneliness, then that mental health day may not be the solution you were hoping for.

After reading the article, I posted a series of tweets with some of my thoughts:

So, all of this got me thinking – how can we attack that feeling of loneliness in our school setting? As I thought about this, I recalled something that we did as a part of our Administrative Team Meetings a couple years ago. Every time all the intermediate administrators from my district got together, one person would “share their story.” In this, they’d start wherever they wanted and talk about the journey that led them to the point that they are now. I loved this time of our meetings because I learned so much about each of my colleagues – even people I had worked with for years. It created a space where we were able to collaborate with one another on an even deeper level. It seemed that knowing where everyone came from helped us to connect in a whole new way.

In the coming weeks, I challenge you to take a few minutes of some time that you are together with your team – it could be your teaching team, it could be your grade level team, it could be your lunch group – and spend some time sharing your story. To get us all started, I thought I would share mine.

I grew up in Bloomington, Indiana as the son of the county extension agent and a stay-at-home mom (she ran an in-home daycare for much of my childhood). In time they transitioned to careers at Indiana University. I attended elementary school at what I later learned was “the rich kid school” in my hometown. I spent time while growing up at the county fair, on the farms of my parent’s families, and in Bloomington. As a child, I had all kinds of dreams about what I might do with my future – be a star basketball player at IU, become a lawyer, be a train engineer, etc.

I was a pretty typical student. I didn’t get the best grades, but I did well enough to not get in trouble either. In high school, there was a program that upperclassmen could apply to called LOTS (Leadership Opportunities Through Service). Part of this program involved spending time as a senior with fifth grade students somewhere in our district. Suddenly I found something I really enjoyed. The time I was able to spend at school with them, plus a week camping at Bradford Woods made me decide that education was the path for me.

Education had always been something in the background for me. My mom taught home economics before I was born, my grandmother was also a home economics teacher, and my great grandfather was a high school science teacher, college professor, and school administrator. I guess you could say that it ran in my blood, but it took me until my senior year of high school to realize it. That time with a class of 5th graders led me to make a huge decision about my future. I was ready to become a fourth generation educator.

I attended IU and majored in elementary education – the first in my family to not be in a secondary education role. I loved my education classes while I was there, with placements in a variety of grade levels for different practicum work. For my student teaching, I was actually placed in the same school that I had worked with as a LOTS Senior four years earlier.

After graduation, it was my hope to stay in the Bloomington area. That dream didn’t work out to well. I had several interviews for teaching positions, but people with more experience than me kept getting selected for the spot. I was able to land a temporary contract for a teacher on maternity leave, and did some coaching, but no full-time jobs worked out.

After a year of substitute teaching, coaching, and one temporary contract, I made the decision to expand my search. After applying to and interviewing in several districts in the Indianapolis area, I received a job offer at Oaklandon Elementary School in Lawrence Township. The position was in fifth grade, and school started in just a few days.

That first year was a whirlwind! If it hadn’t been for some awesome teammates, some great people working in the office who helped me out, and an amazing principal as our leader, I’m not sure I would have made it. I definitely had some doubts that I was on the right track. On the last day of school, I remember that principal stopping me in the hallway and asking me if I’d ever thought of school administration. I hadn’t! He told me that he thought I had leadership potential. I took the compliment and moved on. I kind of thought he was crazy.

A few years down the road, I made the jump to Hamilton Southeastern Schools, the district I’m still in. After a couple of years in HSE, I decided it was time to start thinking about a master’s degree, and the comments from that first principal came back to me. I did some research into schools, and eventually chose to take classes through Ball State.

After 2 hard years of work, I received a master’s in administration and supervision. I was happy to have that degree but wasn’t sure I was quite ready to make the jump to an administrative position. I loved the work I was doing in the classroom with my students and was in no hurry to make a change.

Eventually I decided I wanted to test the water in administration. I interviewed for several positions (a couple of them I even thought I really had a solid chance), but nothing was panning out. Then, an opportunity fell right in my lap. The current assistant principal in my building left. I threw my name in the hat, and after a long interview process, I was chosen as the best candidate. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to make that jump to assistant principal. While I’m sure it’s not the final stop in my journey, it’s definitely one that I’m happy with now!

So, you may be wondering why I took the time to tell you my story here. I just wanted to model for you what it might look like. One of the things that seems to be colliding from a lot of different places for me right now is the power of a good story. The next chance you get, talk it over with your team. Find the time to share your stories, even if it’s just one person at a time. The things you learn from one another in those few minutes can be so meaningful! Talk it over with your team, your PLC, your go to people at school. It’s totally worth the investment!

If any of you want to share some of your story, go right ahead in the comments below!

And, here’s that article I referenced earlier:

https://hbr.org/2017/06/burnout-at-work-isnt-just-about-exhaustion-its-also-about-loneliness