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Saturday, May 23, 2015

What Learning Should Look Like

This past week Christie Elementary had our very first Engineer Expo -

Imagine this...Kindergarten all the way through fifth grade spent two weeks tackling interesting challenges all based on one state standard of the teacher’s choosing…The teacher chose the guiding instructional standard, the students created the driving question, and while in collaborative groups the students engineered and presented products that amazed us all. It was a much-needed reminder that authentic student-owned learning is NOT measured by circling the correct letter choice.

In kindergarten they knew their four steps...Together they created marble runs, designed multi-leveled boats to carry passengers across flooding waters, and created a safe place for Humpty Dumpty to land so he wouldn't crack.

First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth - Every grade level, filled with collaborative groups engineering all types of products: Dog Massager, Sink Mechanical Systems, Instruments, Cars and Ramps with Limited Friction, Freezers, and SO MUCH MORE -

One day...two weeks in the making - and it was one amazing learning moment after another. Student after student excitedly shared with community members, teachers, parents, district leaders, and other students the creative things they designed and built together….

Students were collaborators, readers, designers, engineers, re-designers, learners from failure, writers, researchers, innovators, partners, friends, and public speakers to name just a few...what they weren’t? Letter bubblers...Why? Because The Engineer Expo started with one goal in mind...for students to own their learning, and I have never seen more engagement! I can’t think of a single time as a teacher, or administrator, where students were handed a multiple choice test and they cheered excitedly, talked about it at home, spent every waking hour working on it because they just didn’t want to stop, or made mistakes along the way as authentic learning opportunities...but that is exactly what I saw during the engineering process from EVERY student.

At the end of the day the students and teachers were equally tired, yet smiles were everywhere. I couldn’t help but think one thing...Now that is what learning should look like.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Problem with Perfection

When I was in school there was always one objective - get the right answer.

Seemed simple enough...want to seem smart? Be successful? Make your parents happy? Go to college? Well then...get the answers right, be as perfect as possible in each subject, each day.

Needless to say...I wasn’t a huge fan of school. There were times I tried to cheat, especially in Spanish class. There were times that I would fake being sick...always on a test day. There were times I was stressed, times I was bored, and most of the time I just wasn’t interested in what was being shared at the front of the room...Why? Because I wasn’t perfect at school, and I didn't want to be either.

I love to learn, I love to make mistakes and then learn from them...that’s why I loved the game Mario Brothers as a child...yes, the first one...because it was the mistakes I made and the “Game Over” screen that drove me to continue and start all over again. Somehow, the way I loved to learn as a child through making mistakes didn’t seem to translate to success at school. It was as if mistakes made were not acceptable, only perfection was….but here is the thing: There is a key problem with means the learning stops.

I am not saying there is anything wrong with getting that perfect grade, or getting all the math problems right...but what I am saying is that it is in the moments of perfection that we are no longer required to learn and grow. So while as educators we push our students to find the right answer, I have to ask, how can we also create an environment that encourages mistakes to be made for real learning opportunities to take place?

In an educational world filled with the next big thing, it’s important to remember the little things we can already do in our classrooms today. Creating an environment rich with learning from mistakes all starts with this one word: “Why?” It’s then followed up with phrases/questions like: “What do you want to learn about?” - “It’s alright if you're wrong, it just means we get to try a new strategy.” - “How can we make that?” - “How ever will you solve that?” - “What are you interested in?” - “Looks like you have a great plan, but what if…” -

So often teaching sounds like this: “Alright class, to solve this problem...first you do this, then this, enter this formula, cut this paper on this line, cross out the wrong answer, then you have your answer...alright, your turn.”

Why do we do this? Don’t get me wrong, I am all for modeling, and I fully recognize there is a time and place for direct instruction...but let me throw out a challenge...just once, try having a lesson sound like this: “Alright fourth grade, I have a problem, and I am hoping you all can help me. My daughter wants a dog so bad, and I would love to get her one, but...I don’t know what kind to get. I need a dog that doesn’t shed as I am allergic, and it can’t be larger than 30 pounds. I also will need to build a house for it outside and need to figure out the design, as well as all the materials needed. Plus, I found this website with all kinds of items and prices for things I will need from the pet store, but I don’t know what all I need to buy or how much it will you think you all could help me? I was thinking if you all were in groups of four you could work together to get this puzzle solved. I need to find the right type of dog, materials and design for a home, and find the right items and total cost for all the supplies I will need.”

Now, there are a ton of better examples out there I am sure for a problem to be solved...but notice order to be successful students will need to be able to read, comprehend, research, write, design, calculate angles/money/amounts, collaborate, engineer, and the best part of all...there isn’t one perfect answer.

Practice may lead to perfection, but learning comes from the mistakes we make along the way. If you can create an environment where mistakes are celebrated as part of the process of learning...well, you might just capture the imagination of your students, and from there...who knows, maybe they might actually take a risk, make a mistake, and learn from it -

What if we allowed students to solve problems they are interested in? What if we focused on the process and expected great results along the way? What if we gave our students the power to own their learning? What if we stopped looking for perfection in everything, and celebrated the moments we fall forward? What if...

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Loved, Supported, and Appreciated

As a principal, it never ceases to amaze me just how many things I think about each day…Of course, it only makes sense...after all, how many jobs require three separate groups of people to all funnel through one office? Each day I work with teachers, students, and parents. Three separate groups, all with different needs, ideas, questions, and time needed. While I truly love working with all three parties, it’s not uncommon in one day to think about: Student success, teacher success, campus progress, changes coming, ideas to move forward, parental support, strength of the PTA, district and state testing, teacher needs, classroom management, student management, instructional coaching, professional learning, school budget, campus needs, building facilities, and so much more...but the one question I always go back to is this: Do my teachers feel loved, supported, and appreciated?

It’s hard being human. As much as I wish I could be...I am just not perfect. Sadly, not even close. I make mistakes, I change my mind, and while I try - I know there are days when I just can’t seem to find enough time to meet everyone’s needs...but I do my very best. My hope however, is even though I am not perfect, each teacher at Christie knows I love them, I truly support them, and I appreciate all they do for our kids.

So to each of my amazing teachers please allow me say:

I love you - I really do. I love that you work so hard to reach each and every child. I love your passion, your willingness to change, and to take risks. I love that you learn from your mistakes, model lifelong learning, and support your team no matter what. I love that you don’t come to work for the money, but rather to change one life at a time. I love that you never give up, never make excuses, and always try to improve. I love that you correct my grammatical errors in my emails, challenge me to be the best leader I can be, and provide moments in your classroom that amaze me when I walk through. I love your heart, I love your desire, I love your perseverance, and most of all - I love that even though you leave exhausted at the end of each come back ready to do it all over again.

I am here for you - You have my support, and I will catch you when you fall...I am here to encourage you, to watch as you take risks, make mistakes, and model for your kids what learning really looks like. I am behind you 100 percent, even when you're not perfect...because I would never expect you to be, and neither do your students. I am here to listen, here to help, here to offer a shoulder or a pep-talk. I am here at every hour of every day, and I am here to serve you - for it is you who is making the difference. I am here to celebrate your successes both the small and large, because I am your biggest cheerleader, and I am so very proud of you.

I appreciate you - truly. Don’t think I don’t notice your car is still in the parking lot when I leave at 6. I see you coming in early and staying late...jumping on EdChats and updating blogs. Please know this...what you do each day, it’s noticed and appreciated more than I could ever express. I appreciate the time you put in, the tears, the frustration, and the triumphs. I appreciate how you are willing to help your team, parents, and students. I appreciate how you handle discipline problems, work to solve problems that come up, and carry the burden of others when you can. I appreciate how you always greet your students in the morning, cover for your teammate who is running late, and welcome that new student even though we are almost done for the year. I appreciate your willingness to follow my lead, even when it might seem a bit crazy. Most of all, I appreciate you for being you, and for choosing a profession that is often thankless.

Teachers...You change lives. You make a difference each day. You perform miracles. You provide hope. You build character. You give kids the power to make better choices. You change the course of history one child at a time. You are amazing...and it’s to each and every teacher that I say...from the bottom of my heart...thank you.