Imagine, Imagine, Imagine

My youngest son loves Elmo. He adores watching this character sing and dance, particularly with Taye Diggs as they go driving in their imaginary yellow automobile. For some reason, this little jam gets Parker moving and singing. He loves making the sounds that a car makes; he’ll watch the same video over and over. However, the song is not what I think about when I watch it with my boy. At the beginning of the video, Taye and Elmo “imagine, imagine, imagine” what their ideal car and drive would look like. They even remember to imagine seat belts!

Today, Elmo’s fun video has me thinking: what do I “imagine, imagine, imagine” when it comes to school? How has my vision changed over the course of the school year because of the challenges set before me by the facilitators and members of the Change.School program? How about the lessons learned from my colleagues at Presbyterian?

A Million Dreams are Keeping Me Awake

Much like Elmo, I close my eyes, and I can imagine a few key ideas:

  • I am meeting with middle school faculty. While greeting them, I ask them to reflect on why they enter the classroom each day. Do they enjoy the skill-driven learning goals they have built their curriculum and the ways in which they engage students? Am I feeding them with opportunities to do create dynamic learning spaces? Are they enticing students to own their learning process?
    • Teachers construct an adventurous environment in which students can explore and pursue learning with passion and vigor. It is my hope that we move beyond simple engagement with content. Especially for middle school children, almost all content will resurface in the coming years. So content is the medium; however, the true learning in place hones collaborative and creative skill. Learning to learn is the model.
  • I am observing a class that is exploring a new concept. Students are struggling with the challenge, leaning on each other and the micro-discoveries that manifest throughout the group on the way to comprehension. Students are smiling because they enjoy the challenge designed by the teacher in the room. That teacher is there to facilitate wonder and guide young thinkers towards a common pathway.
    • Learning spaces model trial-and-error; students should never fear the potential of failure as a step towards success. Grades as metrics do not provide any sort of long-term value; rather, it’s the skill to develop and manage a process that makes a great student and learner. Students should feel a sense of urgency to identify problems and make an effort to discover evidence which lead to answers…and more questions.
  • I envision learning opportunities in all spaces and from all sorts of places. Students are on their iPads, searching a multitude of spaces, referencing texts they may have found virtually or in the learning commons on campus. The teacher in the room bring her or his own knowledge base to the table as well, only inspiring further research.
    • The spark may come from other people in the room, such as students, YouTube, the docent at the museum, the professional with life experiences to share, etc. We need to tap into all resources in our learning spaces; to fall short in this area is simply a failure of the system as a whole.

Developing a Roadmap to Get There

I believe in the power of teacher autonomy. I should not need to observe and review lesson plans when my vision is clearly articulated and genuinely adopted by faculty. We hire faculty who demonstrate a willingness to buy into the culture of our school and appreciate the pedagogical freedom to live into that vision on one’s own terms. Further, teachers should have the authority to challenge my vision with practical evidence of “a better way” to inspire learning and student agency. That is what a division meeting is for – a gathering of individual vision so that we can move forward together as a confident unit. I look forward to the time we as a division can play together as much as the time when we wrestle through our differences. I would never claim to have all the answers (which is why I surround myself with smarter people in the room). So, is there a roadmap? I’d say the faculty in my division depend of me for a direction of travel, not how to get there. That diversity of thought makes school messy…and messiness models creativity in our students.

Barbie Bungee Blowout: An Innovative Design Project

Keeping things simple (but crisp), our eighth grade students are meeting the “wonder and wander” time of the year head-on during their Integrated Physics and Chemistry class. Students had to predict the number of connected rubber bands needed to grant a Barbie doll the ability “bungie jump” from our balcony to the base level floor. Barbie had to drop safely, but also to arrive as closely as possible to the ground. One partner dropped the doll while the other measured the minimum distance from the ground.

An iPad recorded this attempt in super slow-motion. Enjoy!

 

Making an Impact #IMMOOCBB

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I (Kirsten) shared this quote with my awesome #IMMOOC blogging buddy (Charlie) and even though it is not from The Innovator’s Mindset, we felt like it directly correlates to our work and mission. Here is our buddy blog experiment sharing the wonderings about leadership, empowerment and impact.

 

Most of my (Charlie) teaching strategies have developed from my time coaching sports. While I began my career in education as both a teacher and coach, I recognized that my gift for working with young people existed on the playing field long before I figured out how to lead a classroom. My love for sports (namely, lacrosse) and my ability to inspire players to give their best effort and elevate their strategic thinking galvanized my career choice years ago, and I haven’t looked back since.

Along the way, I worked with many inspirational student athletes. They found their role models in athletics and built their “game” as inspired copies of their favorite television sports heroes. Names like LeBron James or Tom Brady come to mind as people who motivated my young athletes. These superstars demonstrate leadership within their “field” that elevates others every day.

LeBron’s teammates gain confidence when he is present; they come together to play better as a team. The ball feeds through LeBron at the exact right time to give teammates the best chance to score. Lebron has vision two or three passes beyond the current one, carrying an oil can in one hand and a wrench in the other as he tweaks and tightens the basketball machine.

When Tom Brady walks up to the line of scrimmage and barks out the play, calls an audible, or makes a hand signal towards his receivers, everyone listen.G including his opponents). Tom recognizes something that is about to happen based on the moving pieces in front of him. No one else sees the game like he can, so the other players on the field follow his lead, orchestrating a masterful charge down the field.

While these examples are a bit sensational, the framework for them equals that which is required for classroom leadership: the opportunity for our students to make an impact in their current and future lives depends on the teacher elevating his or her own game within the learning space. We model the way so that others will recognize the value in giving one’s best effort and in setting challenging standards.

My (Kirsten) journey at TEPSA is about to come to a close as I move to a new adventure working with school system leaders in the coming weeks. The thought of what my legacy will be is at the forefront. I’m no LeBron or Tom Brady, but hope there is a legacy of good work that will last in my absence.

I am not the kind of leader that comes in and makes sweeping changes from the start. I told our Executive Director that right from the start. You want major changes, I’m more of a slow and steady kind of girl. The African Proverb says it best: “If you want to go fast, go alone – If you want to go far, go together.” I’m in it for the long haul with the crew on board. Along the way with little changes here and there, conversations, shifts, additions, and deletions you look up and find what was there several years ago has transformed into something new and different (and hopefully better). In reflecting on what builds sustainable change over time, I think it boils down to these qualities. Feel free to add your own in the comments of what we did not include!

Build Something Meaningful

No one wants to sustain a practice that is irrelevant or not adding value to the organization after the originator leaves. To know what is meaningful for staff, students and parents, you must know them! Meaningful work comes from connecting with others and we all know relationships are key. Ensure what you create and implement resonates with the learning community and is something worth keeping over time.

Empower Others

The experiences discovered in our learning spaces should instill self-confidence and a desire to know more. But these two characteristics prove empty without the skills and ability that drive them. That is what empowering others means:. a person who has filled his or her learning toolbelt can tackle any topic and pursue any passion. It’s our job to demonstrate these tools and the innovative uses for them.

Share, share, share

If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.
-Margaret Fuller

Knowledge has no value when kept in secret. As we push for more innovation in our learning spaces, collaborative effort remains the only skeleton key. Knowledge should not be kept as power, it needs to be shared to create powerful learning throughout the organization. Teaching students skills to know and be able to do things independently is so rewarding. Do not forget we need to do that for the adults as well. The #IMMOOC experience is a great model for this! George, Katie and all the other gracious learning collaborators are sharing their time and talents so we can learn with them. It is wonderful to find such a smart and fun group of educators to connect with and stretch my thinking. I look forward to continuing this learning journey even after the experience is over and sharing what I’ve learned to hopefully help others.

Check out the blog developed by my good friend, Kirsten: Leadershift. We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic, please share in the comments. What are you doing to improve others and make a lasting impact?

Leading from our Strengths #IMMOOC

As I complete another chapter in The Innovator’s Mindset, I reflect on the value that is added to our community by utilizing Tom Rath’s Strengthsfinder program. Yesterday, our headmaster took a moment to recognize the obvious impact that the Strengthsfinder program has made on our collaborative mindset and interpersonal understanding in our school. February was a tough month for us programmatically, a stressful one filled with admissions decisions, and a long one as there were a lot of school days between President’s Day and Spring Break. Students, teachers, and administrators were exhausted and stretched thin. The long break was a welcomed gift as we turn the final corner of the school year. Yesterday’s meeting was the first leadership meeting we have had in some time, so it was nice to see the faces of our colleagues, united in the mission to sprint through the finish line. In order to do this effectively, we took a fresh look at our collective strengths and how we plan on using them in the coming weeks.

Making a Positive Impact

As if it is our calling card, our strengths are visible representations of how we can add to solutions-based effort at an institutional level.

We lead with from our strengths while recognizing and addressing those of our colleagues. It is a methodology that creates honesty and validity to our discussions, be they minor or major ones. While we focus on the positive impact each member of this team has with students, we recognize that our strengths, as identified by the Strengthsfinder platform, provide others the skills set that we offer as individuals. As if it is our calling card, our strengths are visible representations of how we can add to solutions-based effort at an institutional level. The strengths of each faculty and staff member are available in a shared document for all to see and reference, and most of our faculty discussions exist in the an environment where our strengths are printed or projected. This intentional component of professional conversation provides clarity regarding “who we are dealing with” in a meeting while giving us researched ways to relate to colleagues.

The initial Strengthsfinder test provides a peek into our best talents and then discusses these way these talents relate to each other. I cannot begin to describe the revelation that comes from learning your “top five” talents (mine are individualization, learner, belief responsibility, and connectedness) and how you fit into your institution. My five talents have provided much clarity in my daily work, and those of my colleagues as revolutionized the way I handle one-on-one meetings.

I highly suggest taking a look at this program for your institution. But be warned: this program opens a LOT of revealing doors. Once the data is out there, someone needs to help the community process that which is learned. Focusing on the positive and how your talents can enhance school culture – that is the endgame.

Time to Return – This Journey’s End is Near! #IMMOOC

In case you are not a connoisseur of fine rap music from the early 2000s, Eminem coins the line above in his signature song, Lose Yourself, found in the movie “8 Mile,” and perhaps the most famous of his career…save for Slim Shady, that is. For it was Slim Shady that put a white rapper in the mainstream for the first time with a disruptive and innovative sound of someone who had to fight tooth-and-nail for acceptance. 

But I digress.
We return to school tomorrow! It is my hope that you have found time to rest, recharge, and prepare for the final lap to our own Mile Run. As I stated at the Luncheon before we left for break, Sir Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile. While he may have run with a euphoria that I can only hope to find when running after Reid as he careens down the street on his bike, I can say for certain that the third lap in a mile run is the most difficult one. The exhaustion sets in, the monotony of the race seeps into your daily routine, and the finish line seems so far away.

No more!

Let the endorphins take over; allow your adrenaline to fly; put your creative courage to the sticking place. It’s time to start the FOURTH QUARTER. I challenge you to make this week your best one all year…until the following week comes and you can further up the educational ante.
As you design your classes moving forward, remember a few things:

  • You are learning as much and as fast as the students; allow vulnerability to have a role in your classroom.
  • The average attention of a middle school student does not exceed 11 minutes. Use your time wisely and mix it up!
  • Your students should leave your class at the end of the year with MORE questions about your content area than when they came in…pique their interests and get them wondering.
  • The greatest problem solvers can oftentimes be the problem finders. Turn your student questions into research challenges that our young people can own and share with their peers.

Have a great fourth quarter, everyone!