Thursday, April 20, 2017

Something Small but Huge at the Same Time


Something Small but Huge at the same time.

This is Mikayla. She is small. She is 10 months old. She can't walk, stand, or crawl yet. She can't really talk to us either. Yet she can demonstrate leadership.
Huh? You ask...
There are HUGE lessons I learn everyday about leadership from being a dad. This is one of them.
See that little pink box in the picture? It has one button. When pushed it starts music and lights up the ceiling.
She decides when to push it.
She owns the room- when she hits the button- things happen.
(I didn't have cool stuff like this when I was a baby- we didn't get indoor playgrounds at McDonalds. But I digress.)
Mikayla chooses to push the button. Momma and Daddy are not setting up a plan- we don't tell her the windows of time to push the button. She chooses to- often we hear it in the middle of the night. Maybe she was scared and it soothed her? Maybe she was bored and it entertained her? We will never know. We love seeing her develop a sense of independence and ownership in her life... now its not like we are out of the picture.
Who bought that pink box? Who set it up? Who changes the batteries? Who set it in the crib in the first place?
Maybe leaders set the conditions and design the environments so that others grow? Can we replicate something about this scenario in our schools? What buttons have we designed for students to own?
Personalization promises to offer this for our students. I would love to hear a conference between a teacher and student where the student looks at the data, sets goals, and creates a pathway to reach those goals in the context of this supportive, warm, constructive teacher.
I can see those synapsis firing already. I can predict the exponential growth too.
Something small- but when we turn over some of our power as educators- it can be huge!


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Walmart Schools and How to Fix Them

Over the past several months I have been able to visit a lot of schools. There are so many things that begin to look the same- so many things that become identifiers... kind of like Walmart.

No matter what city you travel to- you know where to find the candy and the car batteries in that store. The milk will always be in the back.

When schools start to look like that- feel like that- even sound like that- there is a problem.

Our students deserve intelligent and adaptive design.

So- what are some things that show that kind of design thinking are taking place? Perhaps playgrounds that are vocabulary rich? When was the last time you saw "INCLINED PLANE" on the side of a slide? What if we enhance the place with a small stage/amphitheater so kids can pretend performances?

What about halls that are buzzing with Shakespeare and student-run stores? What about lobbies with interactive maps and a learning target arrival board?

Student produced books in the library?
A recess design team where student leaders invent new games and experiences.

No more students in time out at recess.

Maybe no principal's office... she is too busy being in classrooms to get stuck in the office.

What would schools look like if a group of counselors designed everything? I would love to get a room full of compassionate and smart counselors just to see what they come up with...

Maybe the morning announcements are more like a morning show- DJs and sound effects.

Maybe the lunch room has a performance stage- so students can sign up and perform.

What if there was a student bank- where they learn financial literacy and learn online ways of saving and spending?

What if there was a service Wall of Fame- where students are making an international impact?
What if there were more maps (Big Wall Maps) and geography was a huge part of the learning?

What about building Maker Spaces and nurturing the Entrepreneurship spirit?

Enough of the copier rooms and worksheets lining the halls. Enough with adult centric designs and environments.

We can do better- we can think about ergonomics theory and develop customized schools. We can make environments that inspire and develop leadership in our students.

I want more than the same old, boring, industrial/factory model.

Think like a kid- get on their level- build something they like. Every day we have the opportunity to take one more step in that direction.

Just wanted to share that little thought today.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Teachers: How to Avoid Becoming Stale

Think about it... you know what you know. You went to study during your era- the professors gave you what was in their bag of tricks. The teacher next door may have gone to school during a different era- and the young teachers coming out today may have even a different experience than both of you... What are you doing to stay fresh?
Here are some tips:
  1. Cultivate the Growth Mindset. Carol Dweck writes about this Growth Mindset- and one way to keep fresh is to browse the latest literature in education and learn. There are several ways to keep growth in your life:
  • Subscribe to innovative podcasts. You learn from people all over the world that are doing wonderful things! I learned about Anastasis Academy- went to visit the school- and met the founder Kelly Tenkely. I found inspiration! I listened to the Getting Smart podcast and learned about Placed-Based Learning (awfully close to the school design I am developing).
  • Search Twitter. You learn to use hashtags well and you will open a door to more international innovators and mentors that you could have ever imagined. I had a teacher try this and the next thing I knew he had a teleconference with a class in Minnesota (we work in Colorado) so students could share their genius hour project together (#geniushour)...
2. Develop the Shared Classroom. This involves two-way communication. List all the ways in which your students can give you input, feedback, or any communication in your classroom. We become stale when we are not responding to our audience- we need fresh ideas- there is the word again- "Fresh".
Here are some ideas you can use to help build the shared classroom:
  • Create your class mission and vision together. I usually start off with giving them a copy of all the vision statements under which they sit... on one sheet they read the National Department of Education vision, the state Department of Education vision, the District vision, and the School vision. We look for common themes. We identify WHO is important in these visions... and it all points to the kids. They are valuable- worth millions and worth thousands of hours from all these employees. I even point out that there are hundreds of building built just for them. They then look at the standards for their year and develop a mission for the class.
  • Create a feedback routine after lessons. So typically we would end the school day with a plus and delta chart- with a third column for the prescription. Ask the students- how did we do today? What lessons helped us accomplish our mission? Is there any part in the day we can improve to better meet our vision? They share ideas.
  • Create a Class Dashboard. This has academic goals and data showing progress. We usually put this up below the mission- front and center. Write to me if you'd like an example- in any case. The data becomes a catalyst for two-way communication. "What does this graph tell us? What can we celebrate? What opportunities for improvement do you see? Then we brainstorm action plans together.
  • Create a wonder wall and open the planning up for student voice. A wonder wall is a place where students can put any ideas they think are interesting. These become catalysts for student projects. If you decide to use the genius hour structure- students will develop projects based on their interests that will bring new ideas into your classroom. One student began to work on the urban farming project that Caleb Harper started at MIT. I learned so much from this project. When teachers are learning- there is no room to get stale!
The influx of new ideas from students and from what you are reading- from podcasts and what you are tweeting... all of these things can keep you from becoming the stale teacher. The side effect is this- you gain joy. It is fun to learn- you having joy makes our whole school a joyful place... and that is what you and our kids deserve...
M

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Power and the Promise of Personalized Learning

Hope came for me when I found a school that let me work at my own pace. That tiny bit of autonomy saved my life. I was a Navy brat- grew up all over the country. Saw teachers from coast to coast. These systems failed me like they are failing thousands of students today. But I found hope- it is not as difficult as it may seem. It was a systems change that helped this salt water fish get out of the fresh water tanks...

Are you looking for the silver bullet to close the achievement gap? How about I give you a whole arsenal? Build a system of personalization and you can cure our educational organisms of this confounded disease. It takes effort and expertise to build such a system- but there is a network of educators out there that would be happy to help with the process.

To me personalization is about creating a system of learning that is dynamic and adaptable to the learners we care for. Key word- care. To care- have a heart... and that foundation followed by the skills in creating the dynamic system... builds a plan of care that gives every student a healthy academic environment. It all starts with understanding every individual that crosses our threshold. Every unique soul we have the privilege of serving.

This system needs to create pathways- well designed- that produce growth- in every child. 

How? 

If you get a chance- visit Anastasis Academy. Kelly Tenkely there built a school on the Learning Genome platform. She dreamed of creating learning experienced that seem to know who the learner is, preferences and all. The ergonomics of these classrooms feel better- to the kids. Personalization lives there.

Sometimes personalization is leveraging tech to bring in a variety of experts... sometimes it is creating choice menus and options... always it involves giving power to the learner. Power of knowing data/ their current reality. Power in goal setting. Power of time usage. And even power in creating the paths of learning.

There is the rub. Power.

Who would have thought that power is such a prominent part of elementary schools? Yet- it might be the invisible root cause for things like the achievement gap- like gifted students dropping out- like untapped potential in this next generation.

Power in the hands of our students gives them the ability to overcome now and in the future. Where better to learn how to make choices than in the care of a compassionate and intelligent teacher? This power in student's hands can close the insidious achievement gap. It can inspire the bored gifted child. It can turn the "bad" kid into your most hard working student. I believe in this- and have seen students thrive in such dynamic learning environments. Students like me- in third grade- when I was given power to set goals and follow my own path.

So tell me why has our profession taken so long to adopt this promising practice? 

Maybe because power may be one of the most difficult things we adults must learn to share...

But when we do we get a reward...
Joy.

And maybe the surgeon that works on your kidney someday had their start in your personalized learning environment!

Monday, January 23, 2017

"Dear Applicant, We did not select you."

Sometimes when your heart is set on something- then it is crushed with 5 little words... it can be difficult to keep your perspective.

Life is short
Life is a gift-
So with those 5 little words, tell yourself that the chapter to come will far exceed the chapter that just closed.

Sting- it does.
Yet

Joy is larger than this news- and if we can keep our heads up- knowing all that we have to offer... there is the vision that you and I will be able to use our talents and gifts where they best fit. We have to remember- doors close for a reason and we might actually be thankful for the news someday.

I once was the 2nd choice for a school that I hoped to get.
A couple of months later- 4 schools listed me as their number one choice! I was able to serve the one I was matched with and it was awesome! I saw the experience and talents in my life come into the arena of making school a place where ALL kids shine.

How did that happen? I believe that leadership starts with heart. A heart for all kids means you put yourself (as the principal) in every child's seat for a day. You ask, "Would I like this? Would I grow in this instructional design?" This happened when I look at our special education department... their classroom was located between the band room and the music room... think about that. drums on one side, singing on the other. What if my child was in there with an auditory processing disorder?
I got to clean that up! Then I put myself in the shoes of the child on a gifted plan. Do you know that GT students often struggle with suicidal thoughts? Perfectionism and frustrations haunt often haunt them... so we created a model where our students have a coach- learning and life... teaching them how to advocate for themselves- how to modify their learning so it fits- and they have an adult to go to when they are feeling frustrated. This is incredible. A principal got to make that happen!

I found my main work was to find ways to produces opportunities for inspiration.
I think that is the magic in the work. We fan the sparks of dreams in the next generation- we get the honor and privilege of serving those dreamers- and equipping them with excellence... I KNOW education can improve as a profession. I KNOW we can bring more dreams from the spark to a bonfire- I KNOW the power we have as educators to make a difference in the world.

I know- because I have seen the spark in kids like Montel, Itzel, Jonathan and Jessica. I know because I have brought the joy back into teaching for educators like Mark, Dixie, and Nancy... I know because a good heart is not to be taken for granted... and mine will make a difference.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

3 Things a Principal Can Do in the Next 4 Years

I have been asked to share a vision for a school tonight. I am going to share three things I think a principal can do for any campus that will foster student growth and bring joy to the community at the same time.

The first thing principals can do is support classrooms to foster student growth. As a teaching/learning community that means we principals need to listen well- observe the ins and outs of the challenges our staff faces every day. We can watch and support through making changes that make teacher's work easier. If there are unnecessary barriers to their work- we remove them. I once met a teacher in her room during break and she said, "Dr. Roth do you know that I only see my entire class for one our on Thursdays?" See our master schedule was set up to put all these programs on during Thursdays (Art, Orchestra, PE) and things like Math and reading were pushed to the side. As a principal we took this problem to a teacher group who helped adjust our schedule the following year.

We listen because it helps us support. We plan professional development that teachers can use the next day- training that helps them foster student growth.

The second way we can positively impact the campus is to Increase Collaborative Density. When schools operate like a group of independent contractors they fail to produce the best program for students. Only when we create structures that pull out the awesome ideas within the school- and help them spread... only then do we bring the best for our students. I love it when schools are united in meeting the challenges in front of them. Little things like using one problem solving process throughout the campus (learned that from Katie Wisdom at Ridgeview) can go a long way towards developing academic momentum. I saw Mr. Barth teach an awesome lesson on critical thinking- which would be even more powerful if other subjects and grades were using the same tools he shared with the students.

The third thing we can do as principals is Magnetize the Campus. Find relevant and meaningful ways to attract people to your school. We created a Young Author's Conference at our school. Students worked to produce books and then had a chance to display that work in front of external audiences- like a convention. The students were joined by professional authors in the local area and could interact and be inspired by them. We magnetized the campus! Parents were talking about the writing the students were doing for a year after that... and it is fun too.

These are three things a principal could do to impact the culture of their schools in the next 4 years- I guarantee this will inspire the next generation.
M

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Shared Classroom

Joy, wonder, discovery... growth.
That's what I would feel when I walked into Mrs. Stewart's kinder class. Sometimes I didn't even know where the teacher was... she was sitting on the floor next to a student group.

Or there is the time when I walked into Mrs. Robert's class and heard a debate- in 2nd grade- on whether the kid should step on the ant or not...

Or there is the time when I walked into Dr. Classen's counseling office and watched a smile grow on the face of one of our most troubled young men as he was playing a game of mini-pool and discussing how to deescalate.

Everywhere I go- I can find it. A classroom that has conditions that create student joy and ownership.

One way to grow student performance is to develop your relationships. Can they feel like they are a part of the system? Do they have a meaningful voice? Are they important? Do they get more stage time- more opportunities to shine than the teacher?

Some ideas I have seen:

  • A Class Mission developed with students- reviewed each morning by student leaders 
  • A Class Dashboard with data marking the main things (Math, Reading) so everyone buys in
  • A meeting where the goals and strategies are developed collaboratively
  • Daily review of the class's ability to work towards the goals (led by students)
  • Student-created lessons on a standard
  • Student-led vocabulary activities (groups create the most sophisticated sentence with the word)
  • Choice boards/ student data folders (Hope Folders)
You want to see the achievement gap disappear? Build a strong shared classroom where students are looking at the data- setting goals - helping design the pathways for work- and reflecting on their progress. YOU will see results. I have.