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

Finding your potential

When is the last time you thought to yourself “I just don’t think I can do that.”? I think that many of us have those thoughts from time to time. I know that I do! In my last post, I shared a bit about setting goals that make us feel a little uncomfortable. I know for some, that is a challenging thought.

Most of the people who read this blog are educators, and one thing that most educators have in common is that we like to be sure that we are doing things “right.” Because of that, setting a goal that we might not reach just feels wrong. But as a reminder from the last post, growth happens when you are in that zone of being a little bit uncomfortable. I am sure that if you were a reading teacher and you noticed a student always picking books that were really “easy” for them, you’d challenge them to pick a book that pushes them a little more. We’re really good at pushing our students to the next level. But sometimes it seems that we aren’t so good at pushing ourselves to that next level. Hopefully this post can help provide a gentle nudge!

As you may know, our family is pretty active. Because of that, our kids are typically given the chance to try lots of different things. When Lainey was in kindergarten, she decided that she wanted to run in the Liger Mile – this is a one-mile fun run put on by the cross-country teams of both of the high schools in our district. We did a couple of “training runs” in the neighborhood and thought that she would do great – I mean, it’s only a mile. Little did we know! That run was a struggle for her! I promised to wait right by the finishing line so that Lainey would know where to go when she finished. Diane made sure to be along the course, which turned in to her almost running the whole mile with Lainey. She needed the encouragement, but finally made it to the finish! Just check out the finishing picture:

Lainey Liger K

After that experience, we didn’t expect her to want to run ever again. But sure enough, sign up time came for the first-grade version, and she said she wanted to try again! This time it went MUCH better! We even got smiles at the finish (and it didn’t hurt that the weather was a LOT better):

Lainey Liger 1

Lainey has run the Liger Mile every year that she’s been in school and is looking forward to it this year! Brody has even joined in on the fun! What this experience taught Lainey (and Brody) is that they have the potential to accomplish difficult things, but it takes hard work to get there. So, in an effort to help model the importance of pushing ourselves, we signed up to run the Geist 5K as a family in 2018. We went on a few training runs (probably not as many as we should have), we had some struggles on the course (Brody was ready to walk about a half-mile into the run), but ultimately we all finished the run successfully, and with a smile on our face:

Family 5k

As a family, we have now all run multiple 5K races together. The kids are going to soon be at the point that Diane and I won’t be able to keep up with them!

One of the things that I’m concerned about is that too often people have this mindset of “I could never do that!” when they think about something that’s challenging. I’ll admit it – I still am not sure that I’m ready to make the jump from half-marathons to the full-marathon. We’ll see if that changes some day! But what concerns me about that mindset of thinking that you don’t have it in you, then you take yourself out of the game before it’s ever really started! I think we all have this internal fear – of doing something new, of not being successful in what we try.

Recently many of the staff members in my building read the book Out of the Maze by Spencer Johnson. It serves as a reminder that sometimes we get stuck in what we do because it is comfortable. Because of that focus we have on what we know, it makes it hard to let go of what we’ve done, even when it isn’t working. One of my takeaways from the book is that there are no limits to what we can believe, and that our beliefs allow us to have experiences that are more joyful. All we have to do is to choose a new belief.

So, here’s the question I have for you – what’s the jump up that you haven’t made yet? What’s the thing that you’re curious about, but say to yourself “I just don’t know if I can do that”? What’s the belief that you’ve noticed that it might be time to let go of? All of us have tremendous amounts of potential within us. And when we set that potential free in our classroom, we have a tremendous opportunity to impact learning for our students! Start thinking a little bit more about that thing that gives you the uh-oh feeling and make the jump! Or at least take a few steps in the right direction!

There is no heavier burden than an unfulfilled potential (1)

So… Before I ask you what you plan to accomplish next, here are a couple of my goals in no particular order:

  • Ride the RAIN Ride (Ride Across Indiana) next summer – this is a one day, 160 mile bike ride from the Indiana border with Illinois to the Indiana border with Ohio
  • Create and share out a weekly update video – something like a “5 for Friday” – to send to our families along with our newsletter
  • Start a social media club to allow students to share things happening at The River to the @RSIHawks twitter handle
  • Make at least 3 #GoodNewsCallOfTheDay phone calls per week

So now, I want you to reflect – what’s that thing that you have been considering but just haven’t done yet? Share in the comments below! I’d love to know what you have in mind!

The ‘uh-oh’ feeling

Goals. It’s the beginning of the school year, so I’m sure we’ve all got them. As you think about the goals for your year, how do you feel about them? This summer I read the book Run Like a Pirate by Adam Welcome. Adam has been a teacher, vice principal, principal, and director of innovation and technology. He also travels all over the country to speak with schools and districts.

The gist of the book Run Like a Pirate is his experiences during 2017. Now, you may wonder why that year. In 2017, Adam set a goal to run one marathon a month for every month of the year. Personally, I like to think of myself as a runner. Those of you that follow me on Twitter may see me post my run stats, pictures from my run, or something on Twitter about those early morning miles that I get in. I’ve run multiple half marathons and have contemplated stepping up to the full marathon. But the idea of running even a half-marathon a month seems completely overwhelming to me, let alone doubling those miles each month!

When you have set goals for yourself in the past, how often do you set a goal that you think “I’ve totally got this, no problem!” and then you do crush that goal? It makes you feel good to know that you’ve met the goal. After meeting that goal you probably set another one.

But here’s a thought. Goals are meant to stretch us. They’re meant to bring us to the growing edge. They should give you that feeling in the pit of your stomach that says “uh-oh” because you aren’t quite sure if you can do it.

It’s important to set goals with this ‘uh-oh’ mindset because the difficulty of meeting the goal is where the payoff comes from. If you set a goal that you can reach easily, that you can possibly reach without having to put in some extra work, you aren’t growing. It feels good to meet a goal, but what’s our point in goal setting? Is it to be able to say that we accomplished our goals exactly as we set them? Or is it about being able to look back on the process of trying to meet the goal and reflect on the struggle you went through and the growth that happened?

When I made the decision to run a half-marathon, that was a huge jump for me. Prior to registering, I had never run anything longer than a 5K. Suddenly I was committed to run a race that was TEN MILES longer than my previous long. So, I did research. I talked to the people at my shoe store to help pick out a good pair of shoes. I looked at multiple training plans for a beginner running a half-marathon. I read up on training methods – should I run hills? Do interval training? Mix in some rest days (because that’s important too)? Then I read up on nutrition. If I was going to be running early morning miles, what should I have for breakfast? How long before the run? What should I have after I got home? What about gels or chews or some other energy-based snack while I was running? And what about hydration? Do I carry a water bottle? Over time I figured out a strategy that worked well for me, but it took lots of trial and error, and I still haven’t met my goal time that I set for my last half-marathon.

As you can see, setting a goal that pushes you to a place you aren’t quite sure you can go forces you to learn a ton! Ultimately, I was able to finish that first half-marathon in a time of just over 2 hours. And then, a couple days later I signed up for my next half-marathon with the goal of breaking the 2-hour mark. As of the writing of this, I have successfully run 7 half-marathons, six of them in a time of less than 2 hours, but still, I haven’t met that goal of 1:45.

With the beginning of this school year, think about the goals you have set for yourself. Are you at the point of thinking “I’m going to crush this” or are you feeling a bit more of that “uh-oh” in the pit of your stomach. I’d like to challenge you that most likely you’re going to learn more when trying to accomplish an “uh-oh” kind of goal. You might not hit your goal exactly as you set it, but that’s ok! You will definitely learn more than if you set a goal that you can achieve easily. Make sure you have a little bit of that uh-oh feeling when you set your next goal!

Stop talking about what you want to do and start doing what you want to do. If you don't, it's just not going to happen.

What are some of the goals you have set for yourself? Share your plans with us in the comments below! A goal has a lot more meaning when we make it public!

 

Observing other teachers

It’s hard for me to believe, but this school year marks my 8th year as an administrator. For the past 7 years I have had the privilege of observing thousands of hours of lessons taught by amazing teachers. One of the things that I have come to realize is that I would be a much better teacher today than I was when I was still in the classroom. 

Why do I feel that way? 

I have learned more about teaching by watching the amazing things teachers do on a daily basis. It seems like almost every time I walk into a classroom, something happens that makes me pause and reflect on why the teacher made that choice. What does that reflection lead to? Growth. 

When I was still a classroom teacher, I had my daily prep, just like everyone else. I used it for things that I felt were important; grading papers, working on lesson plans, or preparing for upcoming lessons (and sometimes for chatting with my teammates) among the hundreds of other things that would happen during my prep. One of the things that I never did though – observe the master teachers in my building.  

At the time, I probably felt like I didn’t have time to just sit and watch someone teach. After all, I could just talk to them before or after school to get some ideas and resources from them. But the reality is that just talking with someone doesn’t bring in all the nuance that can come from observing a full lesson. Not to mention all the things that teachers do during a lesson that have nothing to do with their content. Things like their use of proximity with a student, the tone of voice when asking or answering a question, or even the way they handle a transition from one part of an activity to another. There is so much that can be learned by sitting and being present. 

So often as teachers, we live in the little bubble of our classroom during the school day. We may know the topic that another teacher said they were covering, and we may share something about a lesson we’re excited about, but there’s no way to really know what’s happening in a classroom until you get a chance to sit inside and observe. We need to be brave enough to break down those barriers that exist and give a little time to observation. 

And I know there’s another side to this coin. What if you’re the one being observed? I think we all get a little bit nervous when there is another adult in the classroom. But here’s the reality, just as King Solomon said, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.”  

As iron sharpens irons, so a friend sharpens a friend.

We all become our better selves through learning from one another. Think of the compliment that is being given to you if someone wants to come to your room to observe. They are giving up one of the most valuable commodities, time, to try to learn from you. We want to create an environment where teachers sharpen teachers. 

I have some ideas about how I may integrate this idea of observing others in my own building, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you spent time observing other teachers? What have you learned from that experience? What are your ideas about how you might manage a system for observing one another? Share your thoughts in the comments below! 

Love what you do

Today was one of those days. I came home wondering what I had actually accomplished. I knew I had done a lot, but I didn’t feel like anything I did really helped in the goal of serving the students, teachers, and families of Riverside.

I think we all have days like that. We feel like we weren’t that successful. We start to doubt ourselves. At times we may even question if we are meant to be where we are.

Here’s the thing though – even on days like today, I love what I do. I love to see students accomplish amazing things in their classroom. I love to see teachers do the great things they do in their classrooms daily. I love the mission of helping kids be successful for anything that may come their way in the future!

I recently heard an interview of Kevin Systrom. If you don’t know who he is, he’s one of the co-founders of Instagram (I hope you all know what Instagram is!), that helps me on the days where I feel things didn’t go well.

A lot of people are like, you should love what you do. And I agree. But I think it's more you should love what you're shooting for. Cause work is hard. It can be miserable at times... It's a universal law that great

I think we all realize that education can be really hard. And the end of the school year is one of those times that can be extra difficult. There’s so much we’re trying to accomplish during those final few days. We’re trying to soak up every last moment with this group of students because no class will ever be exactly the same. Add to that students who may be counting down the days for summer break who have mentally checked out of class. I’ve had several conversations recently with teachers and students about the difficulties of this time of year.

As an educator, many of us have heard (or maybe even said) that you have to love what you do to be able to be good at it. If that is something that has been ingrained in us, having a bad day can be really difficult to take. That’s why I love Systrom’s take on loving what you do. This work is hard, and some days don’t go that well. But he reminds us that great things happen through hard work. If the job were easy all the time, anyone can do it. But I think all of us in education know that this is not a job that anyone can do. It takes a special personality, a special heart, to be able to serve your students and community in this role.

The next time you have a bad day, and are questioning your ability, take a moment to reflect on the long-term accomplishments. Maybe it’s the growth you’ve seen from one of your students. Maybe it takes thinking about a big project that has come to fruition. Or maybe it’s as simple as that moment where you could tell that something you did or said to a kid had a positive impact. It’s easy to get sucked in by the bad, and we go on this negative spiral. Always be looking for the good. It’s there. And when you find it, hold on to it, because that’s the reason you love what you do!

So to close the post for today, I wanted to share just a few pictures of the awesome things that have happened at Riverside – just this quarter! These pictures were posted to Twitter by various teachers and staff members in our building.

 

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Do you have any ways that help you focus on your love of what you’re shooting for when you have those days that don’t go so well? Share in the comments below!

What a no can mean

It’s a rainy Saturday morning. Because of the rain, we don’t have baseball or softball today. I already have been to the gym so that I could crush my #FitLeaders goal for the day. After getting home, my wife needed to run an errand. The kids are on the couch watching an episode of The Voice (sorry guys, not really my thing), so I decided to fire up Twitter and see what was going on. I was met with this tweet:

I love Todd Nesloney’s work. Kids Deserve It is one of my favorite books to help me set the course for why I do what I do. But I have to admit, seeing this had me a little worried because I have seen the power that the word no can have in a school. Now, don’t get me wrong here, I know that there’s a time and place where a no is necessary. But I want to share a couple of times, just in the past two weeks, where I could have said no because it would have been the easy decision to make, but I didn’t. And I think that by being deliberate in the decision-making process, we were able to do some things that had really positive impacts for our kids.

On the Thursday after spring break, I received an email from one of our fifth-grade teachers. She had been communicating with a parent who is also a teacher at a neighboring high school. His class was getting ready to do a weather balloon launch, and after some discussion with our teacher, she was going to be able to bring her students along to witness the event. The problem, it’s Thursday afternoon and the launch was the very next Tuesday. For any of you that have been responsible for planning a field trip, you might know what the potential snag would be – transportation! In our district, we are typically asked to give at least a 2 week notice for any field trips in order to allow our transportation to find drivers.

I knew that simply sharing the request with our transportation department would create added work for the person in charge of field trip assignments. This knowledge alone could have made it easy to say no. But then I thought about the potential learning opportunities that this trip would afford our students. So, I contacted our transportation department and made the request. Luckily, we work with an amazing transportation department that works very hard to help make these learning opportunities possible for our students. They were able to get our transportation set up. Two buses would be in front of our school around 9:00 am the morning of the launch.

While we were waiting though, I realized another snag. The trip would be happening on the morning we had scheduled as a 2-hour delay schedule so that all our students and teachers would be able to go through the required practice test for the upcoming ILEARN (our state accountability assessment). Again, it would have been easy to say that because of this, we couldn’t do the field trip. But… as I went back to our primary purpose here – learning and student experiences – it seemed like this was an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up. I talked it over with the teachers and we came up with an alternate plan for their ILEARN practice test. We created permission slips, informed parents of the possible trip, and and made it happen. Our kids had an awesome learning experience! Here are just a few pictures from that day:

 

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The second example revolves around out ILEARN testing schedule. During the week after spring break, I sat down with the leadership team in my building to look at the test requirements and build an ILEARN schedule that made sense to us and would be the best for our students. Due to the timing of the test, we knew we were going to have to break it up more than we have in the past. We built our initial schedule with our math and science/social studies tests in week 1, and out ELA tests in week 2. I shared the draft with staff and asked for feedback. I didn’t really expect to get much, but all the sudden, several math teachers asked if there was any way to flip-flop the 2 weeks. My gut reaction initially was to say no, but then I started thinking about the feedback I was getting and the reasoning that was being shared. So, I developed an alternative version of the schedule, put them out to the staff side-by-side, and asked for a vote of what the preferred schedule was. By an almost 2-1 margin, the alternative schedule that we developed was the most popular. While I felt that the alternative schedule would drag testing out too long because of some extra make-up days built into the middle, it was what teachers felt was best for students, so it’s the version we went with. It may not seem like something that super innovative, but it allowed the teachers in our building to feel heard, and I can’t tell you how many of our teachers, especially our math teachers, have said thank you for changing the schedule.

So… Back to Todd’s original tweet… I know that there are times that a no is absolutely necessary. That word can’t be avoided at all times. But I also know that there is great power that comes with the word no. If we are trying to lead innovative and transformative learning environments, we are going to have teachers approach us with ideas that feel way outside of the norms of our school. If we give a quick no to innovative ideas, what does it do to the innovative spirit of our teachers?

The problem is that when you say

I’m worried that the simplicity of Todd’s statement about no may give some leaders who are not as comfortable with innovative and transformative learning environments a “free pass” to say no, when maybe a little deeper thought is really what is needed. And in those situations where a no is necessary, make sure that you are deliberate in your thinking, and then take the time to explain the why behind the no. If those innovative teacher leaders understand the why behind the no, then they may be able iterate their idea enough to make it possible to say yes next time.

And I know that not everyone who reads this is a building leader. As a teacher though, you are the leader in your classroom, or you might be a leader in your team, department, hallway, etc. If we want to create learning environments that promote student voice, choice, and agency, we have to keep in mind that as the teacher leader, your no can be just as powerful for your students as any building leader saying no.

So what are your thoughts? Have you been told no about something you were excited/passionate for? How did it make you feel? What did it do to your spirit to try something the next time? Share your thoughts in the comments below!