Thursday, August 31, 2017

An Empowered Learner is...Motivated

What are you an expert at? Maybe you’re not a world-class expert, but you know more than enough about a particular topic or you have a specialized skill set that not many other people possess. I have teacher friend who within the last few years has developed a gardening skill that produces some magnificent vegetables. She’s done her homework in learning what season is best for growing particular foods. She’s dedicated the time necessary to care for her plants. She literally enjoys the fruits, and vegetables, of her labor. If I ever decided that I wanted to learn how to grow my own food, she’d be the one I’d go to first.

When asked about her backyard garden and what got her started with this hobby, she simply just tells me that she wanted to know if she could do it. The challenge of doing something that she hadn’t done before intrigued her. She needed something to redirect and refocus her thinking after a long day in the classroom. And the potential of saving a few dollars at the grocery store was a little bit appealing too.  No one was telling her that this was what she needed to do. It all stemmed from an inner desire to develop a new skill. She’s intrinsically motivated to do her best.

An Empowered Learner displays motivation to learn.  Our students are often motivated in many areas of interest that we rarely see because they are not written into a state standard. We teach student athletes, musicians, artists and even gamers who spend hours of their own time developing skill sets that provide for them a sense of empowerment.

Maybe our students aren’t able to articulate why they do what they do, but researchers who have studied what motivates people find that when a learner is intrinsically motivated the learning that occurs is authentic learning. It’s learning that sticks because the individual has found a way to make multiple connections within their existing schema. The neural network is literally rewiring itself when we see how one concept relates to another. The more connections that are made, the deeper the learning that occurs. And once the rewiring takes place, we are able to apply that new knowledge in different ways, to make reiterations of it. This transfer of learning is what prompts us to ask ourselves, “I wonder how I could…”fill in the blank. We ask more questions when we are intrinsically motivated, and when we ask more questions the creativity that exists in all of us flourishes because we want to find solutions. But we don’t simply seek to get to the final discovery, we thrive on the exploration and the experimentation that takes place along this journey. For us, the destination isn’t the end, but the beginning of something else. Through this process of learning, we find deep personal satisfaction. While encouragement, compliments, and awards are appreciated, an intrinsically motivated person will continue to pursue their passion even if no one pays attention.

While life does provide us the opportunity to be adventurous and explore new territories, there are things that we just have to learn how to do, because it’s part of life. For these instances, our motivation is extrinsic, and the learning is usually just enough to get us by, or surface learning. Oftentimes, what we supposedly have learned can’t be recalled long after the the need for it passes. Our interest in the topic or skill only goes as deep as the requirement demands and please don’t ask us to invest much of our precious time, energy, or effort. Just tell us what we have to do and we’ll do it and be done with it. The final destination is all we care about and the straighter the path to get there, the better. After all, we’re only learning how to do something in order to satisfy someone else’s requirement.

Can I be honest with you about something? This is exactly how I felt about completing the SEI requirements that the Arizona Department of Education stipulates in order to have a valid teaching license. I remember nothing about that learning experience. But, in order to cope and be compliant with state law, I’ve figured out who in my school district does know and I refer to her as my source of information. This allows me to keep my mental activity on other areas of interest.

Our students are no different. If they are learning something in school that they have difficulty mustering up the motivation, they will simply do the bare minimum requirement and find other resources to help them stay compliant.

It is our job to create learning experiences that draw on their interests, that support them in the neural networking process, and light a fire within them so that the learning that takes place is authentic. We accomplish this by giving them a VOICE and a CHOICE in our classrooms. This is what drives an Empowered Learner.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Five Ingredients for Inspiration

What causes us to be inspired?

A connection. Whenever I have listened to an "inspirational" speaker, the framework of their message is based on their ability to connect with the audience. The speaker describes a circumstance in which a majority of the listeners can relate to in some sort of manner. A stand up comedian is able to generate laughs because we've "been there and done that" too. The ability to uncover similarities is what sparks the connection between you and me; it's the beginning of a relationship. The more ties that we can create, the stronger the connection. 

Vision. It is said that Michelangelo could look at a block of marble and see the sculpture that was meant to be discovered with his hammer and chisel. Being able to see what yet does not exist requires us to shed personal biases through which we currently view our experiences. A vision-caster has the ability to deliver a perspective for the future that is fresh and innovative. A clearly stated vision can show us the filters and blinders we have and how to remove them in order to begin stepping in a new direction.  

Potential. The belief that a new vision is possible is core to being inspired. Have you closely observed a droplet of food coloring into a jar of water? What about when the water was cooled compared to when it was heated. The color dissolves much quicker in the heated water because the water molecules have more space in between due to the added energy. A vision-caster heats the water so to speak, creating energy and building potential in order to instill the belief that a new vision is achievable. 

A Plan. Without a plan, inspiration fizzles. The vision simply becomes framed words on a wall. It can be repeated at every gathering, but without a course of action, it is meaningless. Inspiration gains momentum when the people directly affected are involved in the development of the plan. Empower the stakeholders to determine their own path to achieve the new vision. 

A Network. Nothing is quite like being surrounded by your supporters. Knowing that for better or worse, you have a team that will stand behind you amplifies inspiration. Not only that, but a solid network of others expands the available talent pool of resources from which to draw. I might be able to do one thing well, but with nine others who have a variety of skill sets, a great many things can be carried out. 

As the 2017-18 school year commences, how will you inspire the people with whom you work the most closely, whether it be Kindergartners, 12th grade Seniors, the Technology & Transportation Departments or the entire staff at A+ school?

This is the year. Let's be inspirational! 

Offering my BEST to you!

Friday, July 7, 2017

What I Learned From: Start.Right.Now.

Yesterday I finished reading Start.Right.Now.: Teach and Lead for Excellence by Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, and Jimmy Casas.

While I could provide you with a summary or even a review, I want to get straight to the point of what I learned from reading the book. 

My big ah-ha was sparked at the end of the book, page 203 to be exact, where the authors state in their own words, that excellence is achieved by being determined to accomplish a goal. 

Here's why this is a big-ish deal right now: I believe that when considered within the context of my One Word for 2017 - SHIFT - this mindset of being determined to make "it" non-negotiable is how changes happen. 

I'm reminded of the Yoda quote from Star Wars, "Do or do not. There is no try." 

When you only try - there is no commitment, no emphasis on what's valuable, no eagerness to be different. 

I probably suffer from perfectionism. I am hesitant to make changes unless I am assured of the outcome. But here is where this all comes together for me. When I am shifting (small nudges towards something different), I can be more confident in the results. And even if the results are not what I had hoped, I'm not set back that much. Whatever it is that I aiming for is still recoverable, especially if I make it a point to learn from the failure. Knowing this, I can be determined to take small steps towards a goal. Any reluctance I might have pales in comparison to the potential that might result. 

This mindset is massively empowering!

Offering my BEST to you!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Knowing When to Shift

By Wolfgang Staudt from Saarbruecken, Germany (steep grades - sharp curves)
[CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I was about 20 years old when I learned how to drive a stick shift. Or at least I thought I knew how to drive a stick shift. Growing up in the Valley of the Sun didn't afford me the opportunities to drive on many inclines - so you can imagine my frustration the first time that I attempted to drive up the mountains to college with my newly acquired driving skill set - I couldn't get enough speed. I mean I was literally (not the figuratively, literally, but LITERALLY) pressing the pedal to the floor and not going anywhere. Semi trucks were passing me. Giant RV's were passing me. And I couldn't figure out what was going on. 

Once I finally made it up the mountain I called my dad, because, who else do you call in times like these? I felt so uninformed when he explained to me that I should have down-shifted in order to get more power when driving up a steep grade. 

Part of being able to survive in life is knowing when to shift; shift patterns of behavior, shift expectations, mindsets, and attitudes, shift positions. 

But truly successful people anticipate a necessary shift and do what it takes to be ready beforehand. 

I'm picturing a crowd of people on an airport transit train. It never fails, someone forgets to hold on to something or at least plant their feet - and before they know it, they are thrown off balance once the train begins moving. And then again, when the train comes to a stop, the same person is caught off guard and trying to grasp onto something in order to keep from tumbling over. 

I always wonder...How can do they not prepare themselves for what's coming? They know the train is going to start/stop moving. Did they not pay attention to their 8th grade science teacher during the lessons on Newton's Law of Inertia???

But life isn't much different. If we stop paying attention to all the signs around us, we wouldn't be caught off guard so often, we would be able to begin to shift behaviors and mindsets long before circumstances demanded that we do so. 

And in case I discourage myself while I'm writing this and you while you're reading it, a shift doesn't imply turning something comfortable upside-down and inside-out. A shift is simply a tweak. A nudge. A scooch. A bump up or down, left or right. 

It's just doing something different in such a way that the next hill in life doesn't find us with the pedal to the floor going nowhere. 

Offering my BEST to you!

This post is part of my reflections for my OneWord2017: SHIFT. To read what I've written previously, click HERE

What about you? Where might you need to shift something - either professionally or personally? When was a time you made a minor adjustment and it made all the different in a particular situation? When was a time that you didn't make a shift when you should have? What advice you do have regarding making shifts?

Friday, June 9, 2017

#oneword2017 SHIFT

Sometimes it takes me a while to figure stuff out. Sometimes, it takes me way too long to figure stuff out. 

Last year, I chose my #oneword pretty easily - it was THRIVE. You can read about my thoughts HERE. I didn't stick with it very well, mostly because someone moved my cheese (remember that book?) and I had a difficult time finding it. 

That lost feeling stuck with me into the beginning of 2017. I eventually got over it, but was in a quandary for what word I could use to focus on. Well, just a few weeks ago, as I was reading Shift This! by Joy Kirr, it smacked me upside the head - SHIFT - was my word. It had actually chosen me but I was too caught up in attempting to keep things as they were that I completely missed it.

SHIFT seems appropriate because already in my professional world things have changed and continue to be rearranged. In my personal world there are things that I wish would be different, but for whatever reason, just haven't...yet. 

I found this quote from Kristin Armstrong that seems most appropriate for where I'm at right now:
It's not only moving that creates new starting points. Sometimes all it takes is a subtle shift in perspective, an opening of the mind, an intentional pause and reset, or a new route to start to see new options and new possibilities.  
I look forward to where this word takes me for the last half of 2017. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Shift This!

I am so excited to have found this book just in time for my district's second summer book study! Shift This! by Joy Kirr is a provoking read for anyone who is looking to make subtle and manageable tweaks in their teaching practices that will produce noticeable differences on daily life in the classroom. 

What I am most hopeful for is that it will begin a district-wide dialog among teachers and their campus site leaders. Our district has undergone some significant changes the last couple of years and the last thing anyone needs is someone else dictating what to do and how to get it done. But we all need to continue to grow. The topics between the covers of this book come at just the right time for us. 

Ms. Kirr has prepared Twitter Chats for the summer which can be found on her website, which I'm looking forward to participating in as much as my summer schedule allows. 

For teachers within my district I also prepared a Google Classroom environment where teachers are asked to connect and reflect in a variety of ways. Here's a link to a make-your-own-copy Google Doc that details what I'm asking participants in my district to do in order to obtain documented professional development hours to be used for re-certification purposes. If any of the links do not work as anticipated, please let me know and I'll do my best to fix them as soon as I can. 

Offering my BEST to you!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Student Reflection - Why and How Should We Plan For It?

I'm guilty. I wasn't the best at giving my students time to reflect as part of the learning cycle. If there was time at the end of the lesson, the unit, the week, the quarter, semester, or school year, then I would ask my students to reflect in order to process what they had learned, how they learned it, and how they might apply what they’ve learned to future endeavors.

However, the more we educators (myself included) understand about how our students' brains work and how learners process new concepts and skills, the more we understand the need for reflection to be part of the learning cycle. It's a piece that is not negotiable. It is so valuable because it is what holds the new knowledge together.

As a result, the new knowledge is easier to retrieve and provides additional connection points for future practice opportunities and learning experiences to attach themselves to.

And just like we educators take advantage of reflection as part of our professional practice to structure our instructional sequences, students also use their reflections as a guide as they set additional learning goals.

To be clear, reflection is different than checking for comprehension. Checking for comprehension requires that the learner demonstrate skill proficiency. Reflection, on the other hand, is a much deeper cognitive process because it requires the learner to make judgments about the learning process itself.

So how do you go about setting a supportive environment and provide activities for reflective thinking? The University of Hawaii has some good suggestions:
  • Provide an emotionally supportive environment that allows for students to be vulnerable, if necessary, as they evaluate their learning.
  • Provide sufficient time for students to reflect.
  • Reflection prompts are authentic
  • The prompts encourage consideration for what was known prior to lesson, what was learned, and what has yet to be learned.
  • The reflection prompts promote assessment of the learning experiences themselves
  • The reflection process includes opportunities for social interaction among learners to gain additional perspectives.

How often should reflection take place? As Larissa Pahomov, author of Authentic Learning in the Digital Age, states, that if reflection is going to benefit student learning, the ideas need to be documented in some fashion and then referenced at the starting point of the next learning point. When considering where reflections fit in on the learning cycle, the ideas should be recorded at the end and referred back to at the beginning of the next cycle. Learning begins and ends with reflection.

And if we as educators want to maximize the potential of reflecting on learning, we will provide opportunity and space for the learners in our classrooms to share their thinking. Educational leader, George Couros, will often ask participants in his sessions to record their thinking in a video and share it out via Twitter. Why? He states that among several reasons, it continues the conversation beyond the time and space that learners are in a physical arena together.

Whether or not we utilize Twitter in our learning spaces (which is a topic I’d love to discuss further with you, if you’re not already doing so) or simply have students do a think-pair-share at the end of the class period, we need to provide the opportunity to build understanding through sharing ideas. If our mindset is that learning is solely an independent practice, then our mindset is outdated. Yes, there is a time and place for students to practice and provide evidence of proficiency in a skill, but if they never or rarely share their thinking with others, we are literally depriving them of a necessary component of the learning cycle.

Based on my own practice, not many of our students are adept at being reflective, they need scaffolds in order to produce reflections that help them make connections and solidify learning. The following four questions, when used in concert, tend to help the ideas in our students’ minds be transcribed into a journal (paper or digital), written or audio/video recordings.

  1. What did you learn?
  2. How did you learn it? What activities helped you to learn?
  3. How does what you learned connect with what you already knew?
  4. What questions or comments do you still have?
Providing students with sufficient time for reflection, including sharing their reflections and referring back to them periodically, will no doubt take a bit of time and planning on our part. However, we are no longer the sage on the stage, rather we are facilitators of learning and as such, we will enrich the learning experience with periods of reflection.

Offering my BEST to you!

What reflective strategies do you use as part of the learning cycle? What impact have you noticed for yourself as students reflect? Are there any areas you struggle with when implementing this practice?

Here are the resources that helped shape my thinking on this topic: