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!