To help encourage conversations and dialogue about fostering a culture of listeners to help our community learn, this week's topic/question for the dinner table is: How can being a better listener help you learn? Please see link to Google Form to share your responses: A Listening Culture (4/24/16) (This is an anonymous Google Form)
I hope that you are reading this in a refreshed and relaxed state of mind, having enjoyed a great week. The Vaughns had a lovely ‘staycation’, mixing in activities with some good old-fashioned ‘nothingness’ – gardening, bike rides, yoga, runs, kids’ sports, a makeover of Maggie’s room (her design), Big Apple Circus, dinners out, s’mores, reading, and a few naps – it was lovely!
The stretch of school between February and April is one that is often viewed as a ‘sweet spot for learning’ at school – holiday excitement is in the rear view mirror, the weather is not always the best, routines have been established, and the ‘pull of summer’ has not yet begun. Each time of year brings forth its own unique opportunities for challenge and success, and I have always enjoyed the cyclical nature of the school calendar. Thinking back to the week leading into vacation (seems like eons ago), it was one full of Blake spirit and community – Beauty and the Beast in school performances, Project Moves, 7th grade Bingo, releasing of the trout, and Day of Silence to highlight a few. There was an invigorating energy that was tangible, and this energy of learning was also present at our #EdcampBlake professional afternoon on April 8. To put it simply a spirit of community and learning was embodied and that spirit is one that I am confident will carry us into our final stretch of the year.
Throughout the year my ‘reading list’ grows and I always look forward to vacation as a time to begin, continue, or finish some of the books on the list! My mother is an avid reader and I am fortunate that she supports my list as I frequently send along items on my ‘wish list’. At the end of last week she surprised me with a text (and, to be honest, I am still surprised just getting a text from my mom!) letting me know that she had a new one for me –An Everyone Culture – Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey. Since attending a workshop with Kegan on change a couple of years ago, I have been an avid follower of his work. His words I have come to embrace as we examine our practices and process of learning for students and adults – ‘If we are successful, we are all going to get a little uncomfortable’. Diane Horvath sent along a piece about this book to me a couple of months ago and it went to the top of my wish list! The principles are both rich and simple and I look forward to sharing some of the tenets and lessons learned in the future.
Thinking broadly yet always keeping the narrow lens in mind is important, and the same is true for our classes. Kegan and Lahey’s work support this balance/weighing of thought as they promote the model of DDOs (Deliberately Developmental Organizations)...
A DDO is organized around the simple but radical conviction that organizations will best prosper when they are more deeply aligned with people's strongest motive, which is to grow...It means fashioning an organizational culture in which support of people's development is woven into the daily fabric of working life and the company's regular operations, daily routines, and conversations.
June 23 is our last day of school with students and a temptation often starts to creep in as we come off of April vacation to start counting down the days. I am going to encourage you to join me in resisting that urge, as there is good work to be done each and every day. It is an intense stretch, for sure, with a full agenda – wrapping up the year, looking ahead to 16-17, day-to-day teaching, crafting the School Improvement Plan, keeping the energy going, interviews, and the list goes on and on. Blake is a high-energy school and I recognize that the energy can be a challenge to maintain day in and day out. Keeping the wide and narrow lens in tact brings to mind the expression ‘can’t see the forest for the trees’, but we also need to make sure we do not lose sight of the trees. Our students are our ‘trees’ that make up the ‘Blake forest’ and they need to be tended to on a daily basis. In order for our trees to grow (or develop, to borrow the words of Kegan and Lahey’s words), we must give them opportunities to learn. At the end of each school day and year, a true measure of our progress is the establishment of a culture of learning. The goal we must always keep is that our students become ‘learners for life’, and the posts below uphold this goal...
To Always Be a Learner
by George Couros (@gcouros)
Couros is certainly one of my 'go to' educators as his thoughts are pertinent, simple, and thought-provoking. In this brief post he shares a simple principle - we can all improve as learners if we have a willingness and an openness to learn.
I have seen this space to not only share ideas, but to share my learning in progress, and sometimes even write to try and formulate my thoughts. I can honestly say that this blog has been the most powerful space for my learning in my entire education career, as both student and educator. When I have nothing to write, I still write. I used to want every post to get tons of views, but I am more focused on sharing my learning than anything. I also want to become a better writer. Want to be a better writer? Write more. That simple.
I can be a better learner, not just writer, if I go into these spaces, some which are uncomfortable for me, to learn more from these conversations. Sometimes I share my thoughts, and sometimes I just listen, and sometimes I just try to understand how these mediums could be used with students in a powerful way. It is more important to understand learning than any content as an educator, and we need to be willing to explore how this can create different opportunities for our students.
As I state often, the focus in schools and classrooms should always stem from the question, “What is best for this learner?”, not necessarily what works best for the teacher.
We Have to Find a Way: Five Strategies to Help Educators Learn for Life
by Rachael George in ASCD In-Service
George acknowledges the busy schedule of all educators and shares her five strategies for how educators can establish a culture of learning: Get Connected; Read, Read, Read; Get Involved; Make it a Priority; Pick Your Friends Wisely
As educators today, we must know and understand that we will always be busy. If we want to be good at what we do, if we want to influence each and every student that we teach, and if we want to learn, grow, and continually improve, we have to make learning a priority and embed it into our daily lives. Simply put...we have to find a way!
Give Yourself Permission to Take a Break
by Starr Sackstein in Education Week Teacher
Sackstein is a prolific writer and shares some wonderful resources and ideas for educators, and it is for these reasons that I particularly admire this post. As one for whom it is hard to give myself permission to take a break, I do recognize the need. It is healthy and necessary. This is part of the learning process as well - and, we need to model this for our students.
Being both a parent and an educator fills my life with an abundance of important tasks and learning that certainly keep me busy and that doesn't include my professional life outside of the classroom. Recently I've noticed that I have to give myself permission to let things sit. Reminding myself that the world won't end if an email doesn't get answered immediately or a blog post doesn't get written.
Productivity can be fickle, but what we put out into the universe if a reflection of ourselves. In order to be our best, we must take care of ourselves in a meaningful way.
At each formal break in the school year, in addition to the time spent reading and ‘catching up’, I try and set aside tome time to reflect upon my goals, intentions, and resolutions I have for myself. It probably sounds more formal than it is, but I see it as ‘progress monitoring’ checkpoint with the intent of keeping myself honest. In the spirit of collaborative and open learning, I am re-sharing my resolutions/intentions for 2016 with the hope that you can and will help keep me on track as well…
- Explore ways that mindfulness can be brought into the Blake community
- Foster leadership at all levels (students, staff, parents, and community), balancing ownership with healthy delegation and growth for others
- Create and experiment (and encourage others to do the same) -'pushing the envelope' while striving to keep the 'proverbial envelope' intact and on point
- Building and expanding my own knowledge of tech integration tools (Canva is on the list and Instagram is one I still want to explore, having only dabbled a bit this past year)
- Maintain and encourage in others the 'willingness to adapt'
- Explore ways to publish and share the work of our students, staff, and school (carrying forth the 'networking intention' from 2015) as we tell our stories
- Collaborate, learn, and listen - while always 'leaning towards yes'
The last item is one that I believe is so important and is an intention that I know I can always improve upon. Earlier this week I shared another post from George Couros, The Policies in Your Head, and his last few lines hold true for me - Don’t hesitate to ask questions in the pursuit of doing what is best for kids. Otherwise, the thing that might be holding you back is your own thinking, and nothing else. Carrying forward an idea and practice borrowed from a piece I read last year by retired principal Dave Weston in Educational Leadership, this week I am asking all Blake staff to share their thoughts in response to the following questions…
- What’s going particularly well for you this year?
- What concerns/issues do you have at this point?
- What can I do to best support you right now?
- If you could get some professional development right now, what would it be?
- Anything else?
Our theme for this year at Blake is collaboration and I know that listening is one of the key elements to build the foundation of a collaborative culture of learning. The responses and input gathered will help provide an opportunity to listen, learn, and reflect as we collectively look ahead to establish the ‘flow’ from 15-16 into 16-17. I love the premise of a ‘Deliberately Developmental Organization’ and believe it holds great promise. We want our students to become ‘learners for life’ and I know you join me in sharing that vision as we listen to help them get there.