This American Life – Back to School…great piece on a lot of what matters most

Fabulous story on This American Life – “Back to School.” Economic reasoning meets social psychology meets instructional/parent coaching as Ira Glass unpacks and integrates interviews that merge cognitive development with non-cognitive domains (character, personality traits, social skills, etc.)

Team Teaching as Coaching

I continue to return for focused re-reading of sections from a New Yorker article by Atul Gawande entitled, “Personal Best.” The article is a deep, personal reflection and contemplation of the power of coaching – employing a trusted mentor to provide “outside eyes and ears” in order to improve one’s performance. Gawande makes the point that many professional athletes utilize coaches; however, most of the other professions fail to use coaches at a systemic level. His reflection, as a surgeon committed to improving in his art and science, provides a compelling look at how we all would benefit from targeted coaching and a commitment to the growth mindset.

This morning, I wonder if TEAM TEACHING is such a favorable and valuable experience because of the aspect of co-coaching that can happen when educators team up to guide a classroom of learners. I team teach with Jill Gough. We team teach Synergy 8, and we co-facilitate many of the PLC efforts at our school. We also provide PD for schools and organizations around the country. We continuously coach one another, and I know I learn immeasurably from the debriefs and post-activity reflections that we commit to completing. Recently, I have also watched Clark Meyer and Peyten Dobbs engage team teaching for two, combined sections of Writing Workshop: Environmental Studies. And just yesterday, I heard a teacher new to our school say that she had combined classes with another teacher, and they were likely never to go back to single sections – they were learning so much from each other, and they were seeing so much enhanced learning for the students, now able to learn with two, interactive guides.

In challenging economic times even, I will continue to make the case that schools should do everything they can to provide job-embedded team time for teachers, as well as opportunities for team teaching. Gawande summarizes why…

Coaching done well may be the most effective intervention designed for human performance.

And the existence of a coach requires an acknowledgment that even expert practitioners have significant room for improvement. (p.9)

Yesterday’s related post: Learning to See & Seeing to Learn

Learning to See & Seeing to Learn #Coaching #DBL

My oldest son, PJ, is seven. He loves art, and he sees himself as an artist. According to Dan Pink, in A Whole New Mind, many children grow out of identifying themselves as artists. I hope and pray that PJ always sees himself as an artist. I believe that visual communication and design will only increase in importance as PJ grows up and inherits this world. No matter what he becomes professionally, I believe design and visual communication will be critical as our professional communities address the issues and problems of society.

I possess great hope that PJ will continue to identify as an artist. I possess this hope because PJ has a coach, also named PJ (so I will call her “PJ2″). My son PJ asked if he could take art lessons this year. Thanks to my wife and a good colleague, we were able to find an art teacher – PJ2. PJ2 comes to our home on Tuesdays, and she coaches my son PJ in “learning to see and seeing to learn.” I love this! She is helping him understand the shapes and forms of things. She helped him see the circles, ovals, rectangles, and frowny faces in the frog that my son PJ drew at his first lesson. My son PJ knows circles and rectangles, so he believes that he can do this drawing thing. He is learning to draw what he sees by looking at the whole, breaking it down into parts, and reproducing a creative whole of his own.

At his second lesson, PJ drew this bear and fish. My wife and I are trying hard to follow Carol Dweck’s advice in Mindset and praise the specific, repeatable behaviors that are helping PJ enact his seeing, drawing, and learning. We are trying hard not to say things like, “Wow, you are such a great artist.” It’s really hard not to say such things. I mean look at what he is drawing! A proud dad, I am.

But, I think I am even more proud as an educator than I am as a dad. We all have this capacity within us. We may not all have the interest or passion that lasts, but I believe we all have the capacity. PJ2 is “simply” teaching my son PJ to see what is in front of him. She is coaching him to transform a piece of blank paper into something from the future – his drawing. She is drawing out of him what is already there. She is coaching him to see this capacity in himself. She is practicing educare – to draw forth what lies within. She is coaching him in design thinking.

Recently, a colleague of mine who lives and educates in New York sent me this “Personal Best” article by Atul Gawande from The New Yorker. I am meandering through the article because it is so rich and full of wisdom about COACHING and the teaching profession – all professions, really. I am fascinated that she sent me this article at this moment in time. She and I do not converse or exchange messages at any regularity. But, at the time in which my son PJ is receiving coaching in art, JB sends me this article about coaching and the critical need for more coaching across the board.

I hope you will make time to read the article from The New Yorker, and I hope to write more about learning to see and seeing to learn. For now, I am merely recording some emerging thinking at the crossroads of an article and my son’s personal experience.

Coaching seems the key ingredient. In the article, Gawande describes coaching as “outside eyes and ears.” These coaching insights help us to see the future of what we can do and become. We need coaches. We need to be coaches. Coaches may be the central ingredient to schools making the transformation that faces us now in this 21st century. Coaching can help us see what is possible. Coaches can guide our processes of learning to see and seeing to learn. Coaching is more akin to what I hope to do next professionally.

May we all retain the childish belief that we are artists. May we all work diligently to repeat endlessly that word which Robert Fulghum described as the first real verbal magic of childhood: “LOOK!” May we lead from the future to transform blank canvas into beautiful works of art. The capacity to do so is in us all – if we will learn to see and see to learn.

Thanks to the visionaries and coaches!

Be safe and teach them to drive!

Safety is paramount! Safety is really rule #1. As a parent and as a professional educator, I believe fervently that safety is critically important. Safety, precaution, and care come in many different forms. When my boys, now ages four and six, were infants, my wife and I “baby proofed” our house. We used stick-on pads around the brick-cornered hearth, plastic-insert caps for the electric outlets, etc. We essentially restricted use of these items and places. However, as our boys grow older, our precautions are taking different forms.

We are a family of water enthusiasts and boaters. We require that our boys wear life jackets when they ski, tube, and kayak. When I kayak, I wear a life jacket, and I use safe boating practices. I clip a safety whistle to my jacket, for example. For my kayak paddle, I even employ a leash so that the paddle cannot get away from me if I capsize or run into other trouble. I boat safely, and I teach my sons the critically important rules and expectations of boating safety. They see me utilize these safety practices, and they hear a lot from me about how to have fun in safe, appropriate ways. When they learn to drive, I imagine I will use similar processes, just as my parents did for me – from a perspective of experienced, wise use.

Engaging in social media and technology for the purposes of fun and education should follow a similar philosophy in my opinion. Just as I ready my boys for safe, responsible use of boats and water equipment, I believe we must ready our students for safe, responsible use of the Internet and social media spaces. When they are “too young,” we should even restrict their access to certain tools and places. However, as they reach a certain age, the best education is teaching and modeling wise, responsible use.

My school is forwarding a substantial technology shift for us: moving from PC to Apple, and moving closer toward 1:1. As we do so, a number of policies and foundational philosophies are becoming exposed, reconsidered, analyzed, and re-examined. That is a good thing! However, a few people seem to be allowing fear and media hype to cloud perspective. Let’s not be guilty of letting the 1% of bad overshadow the 99% of good…even though media tends to report 99% of the time on all that could go wrong. Think: chances of being in a plane crash vs number of safe journeys that happen everyday…and what media reports when a rare crash does occur. Same trend happens with regard to tech use (particularly with “social media”) among school-age learners.

Safety, of course, is paramount! Restricted access to particular services, sites, and domains for certain ages is certainly part of the equation. Nevertheless, deliberate teaching of digital citizenship is a MUST DO! In addition to those shared in the introduction to this post, a few other metaphors and analogies come to mind:

Driver Education

For safety’s sake, we would probably be safer (in the short run) to restrict driving until about age 22-25. But we don’t. We educate children how to drive. That education occurs each and every time they ride in a car with an adult, and it continues with drivers’ ed and preparation for a learner’s permit and a full license.

As adults, we teach teens how to drive by modeling for many years. Then, when the time nears for the teens driving themselves, we take a seat in the passenger position, and instruct them how to drive. We do this from a perspective of years of driving ourselves. Many times, my parents wished they had a set of pedals and a second steering wheel – if their body motions from the passenger seat were any indicator. My dad pumped an imaginary brake and grabbed the dashboard more than a few times. He cringed when I ground the gears learning to drive a stick shift. My dad and mom encouraged, fussed, hollered, and praised. But they never said, “You are not driving until you are much older!” They knew I was preparing to drive myself, and they prepared me for the real responsibility of driving as a good, careful citizen of the roads.

We do not give the car keys to 10 year olds. The example in this video would be ridiculous!

But we do give the car keys to 15 and 16 year olds. And they learn by doing. I believe responsible use of the Internet and social media should be similar. I do not believe 11 year olds should be using Facebook or Twitter. But by age 13, I think we should be teaching them how to drive – by modeling and instructing. By letting them learn by doing.

Freedom from Chemical Dependency

When I was an undergraduate, majoring in economics, I studied the economics and public policy of vice and substance use/abuse as one of my focus areas of application. Through the lenses of demand and supply models, I came to understand the critical importance of demand-side intervention for drug abuse. Because of the profit margins in drug sales (unfortunately), supply-side interventions fall short – there sadly seems to be an endless line of folks who become willing to sell and supply. Therefore, consumer education rises as a fundamental, primary strategy. People must know the dangers of what they are doing/might do if we hope to win the war on drugs…if we hope to curb demand of the bad stuff. Part of that education must include information and practice of how to achieve natural highs…if we hope to build demand for the good stuff.

Use of social media is similar. The tools and services are human dominated. A supply-side only restriction is doomed to failure in a market place with strong demand for the commodity. So we must educate our consumers. We must teach good use, model good use, practice good use, and advocate good use. We must enhance demand for positives and decrease demand for negative/harmful use.

A Number of Interesting and Excellent Resources

Articles abound on Internet safety and school-age children using tech tools such as social media. The articles tend to run a spectrum – from total restriction of use to teaching safe, responsible use. Here are a few:

Social Networking Policies for School Employees
By Christopher P. Stief, Fisher & Phillips, LLP (Philadelphia)

Kids Connecting With Adults Online
Teach students how to learn with adults from around the world.
January 2010 by Will Richardson

Why Parents Should Both Monitor And Empower Kids Using Social Media
From the Huffington Post by Tina Barseghian

For me, two of the most powerful resources are these next PLP (Powerful Learning Practice) posts. In brief, I think they both speak to us educators (including us parents, of course!) being prepared and PROACTIVE about learning and teaching wise, responsible use of technology tools – especially the exponentially growing category of social media spaces and applications. Forest Hills Elementary Schools is developing a purposeful, deliberate scope and sequence curriculum for instructing elementary students about the safe and SMART use of social media.

Thinking SMART about Digital Citizenship
By PLP team members from Forest Hills Elementary Schools

All Principals Should Be Tech Savvy
By Lyn Hilt

In the book, Communicating and Connecting with Social Media, authors Bill Ferriter, Jason Ramsden, and Eric Sheninger end the book this way:

Most importantly, though, social media tools are redefining the way your students are interacting with one another. In fact, three out of every four online teens are already using services like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter to stay connected with one another (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith & Zickuhr, 2010). Isn’t it time that we worked to respect, rather than ridicule and ban, the spaces that our students are creating? Wouldn’t responsible teaching involve showing students how the social tools they have already embraced can be leveraged for learning – and couldn’t experimenting with new spaces for communication and professional development leave you better prepared to find ways to responsibly integrate social media into your building’s instructional practices?

Those are the kinds of powerful questions that are waiting for your answers! (73-74).

So…

1. Let us adults model good, wise responsible use of the Internet and social media by engaging in these practices ourselves – let’s show kids the great ways these tools can be used for learning and positive engagement and change.

2. Let us adults empower students to learn to drive themselves, to boat safely and enjoy the water, and to understand the dangers, as well as the countless opportunities, that exist in the virtual, connected world.

It’s about learning!

Works Cited:

Ferriter, William M., Ramsden, Jason T., Sheninger, Eric C. Communicating and Connecting with Social Media. Solution Tree Press, Bloomington, IN: 2011.

NOTE: Thanks to @gcouros for the link to the YouTube video “Should Kids Be Driving Alone?”

A note of celebration and a tapestry of bright spots

Don’t you love getting little notes – notes that thank you for something and name the specific thing for which you are being thanked? Makes me feel celebrated when I get one of those. I instantly hit “send to OneNote” and place in a “sunshine file” for a proverbial rainy day. As a principal, I have a lot of opportunity to celebrate folks. To be honest, I am not very good at public celebration, but I am working on it – celebrating publicly is a learning goal of mine. But I do try to send email notes (I write better in pixels than on paper) as often as I can.

Yesterday, though, my learning partner and co-facilitator of PLCs beat me to the notes. She wasted no time in celebrating the bright spots of our teams. Specific behaviors were named and resulting outcomes were celebrated. What inspiration that is to a receiver to keep doing those things and improve. Of course, the notes reveal the situations and moments and behaviors that were celebrated, and those notes collectively tell a story about some truly amazing work in our Junior High math-science PLC, which meets four days a week, for about an hour each day. Some days the entire community of JH math and science teachers is together, and some days we break into course teams or other teams.

Enough from me…GO READ ABOUT IT at Experiments in Learning by Doing.

Who can you send a note to today? What bright spot can you celebrate? Pick one and do it! It’s about learning.