What do you do if your work is stale, boring, unchallenging? What if you drag yourself to school each day, mired in the pressures of testing, observations, and all the other check boxes?
Today my #onecreativething is about my friend and colleague. Often times we think about creativity as MAKING something. Something you can touch. manipulate. craft. For my friend, it is about making a new version of life - one that is an amalgamation of her values, aspirations, challenges, fears. It's a reinvention. This is no small task and it requires a great deal of courage. As I spoke with her tonight and over the past months, I have been astounded by her desire to confront worry, go through each step of the process with grace and insight, and allow her heart to be educated by her head. She is reinventing.
Reinvention is at the heart of creativity. We all borrow ideas and remix. The history of art and music tells us is no such thing as a pure idea. Education is the most creative profession in the world. If done well, it's the profession that creates more creators. According to the 2016 Future of Jobs report, creativity has moved from the #10 job skill needed for 2015 to the #3 job skill needed for 2020. How do we prepare our student for the world of work? It is more important than ever that we allow our learners a multitude of opportunities to create. reinvent. remix. redesign. The ability to start anew, bringing skills, knowledge, and experience along is necessary in building our world and sustaining our lives. It's time to get unstuck. It's time to reinvent.
In October, a teacher told me that she couldn't using technology because 1) what if technology replaced her and 2) what if kids took pictures of her yelling with their ipad cameras. I loved her candor, but walked out of her classroom with my head spinning, wondering how I would ever help her unpack, not just the layers of fear she was vocal about...but all the others beneath it. What was she REALLY afraid of?
In her book, Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert says that, "Fear is always triggered by creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome. This is nothing to be ashamed of. It is, however, something to be dealt with."
How do we deal with the fear that is triggered by being asked to enter into change, transformation, or creativity? I usually just put on my Dr. Marten's and kick through the fear, kind of excited by the challenge - but that's the rebellious teenager in me that never quite left. I think that helping others through fear to get to creativity and change is all about the relationships we build with them. It's listening to their worries (even the small camera-based ones) and becoming a trusting friend. Then, and ONLY then, can we ask others to enter into that fear and try something new. The steps might be minute, but worth celebrating. Every single one. Those tiny moments of anti-fear add up quickly and you see a friend, in April, dealing with the fear, getting out those evil iPads without knowing EXACTLY what will happen, and even showing her colleagues some stuff she is maybe possibly thinking about trying out in her class. She is my #onecreativething for today. Pushing through her fear. Entering into the realms of uncertain outcome. GO GIRL!
How do YOU deal with the inevitable fear that comes from creativity? How do you keep from shutting down when something's new and uncertain?
Today is Easter. So in a family of engineers and educators, we talk about re-branding businesses, growing ipad initiatives, and CHANGING THE WORLD (as you do...) around the Easter supper table. So. Since out of school on a luxuriating 4-day weekend, my first #onecreativething isn't coming from the world of education. Not directly... My brother, cousin, and I sat around the table across from empty plates and platters full of peeps and jelly beans. We were doing the normal catching up - quickly realizing that although we are all working in different fields, we are all working towards a similar goal - change. My grandpa, a former nuclear engineer, inventor, and all-around smartest guy I've ever met, joined us as I was explaining Everett Rogers' Diffusion of Innovation model and how it's been helping me drive culture change in my school district. Grandpa was, of course, aware of Rogers' 1962 research and talked with us about his trajectory change experiences (whether political, educational, or NUCLEAR).
He told us a story of how, when he worked at a local power plant, he was part of a team who conducted thorough and extensive research from the top to the bottom of the organization as to WHY a potentially disastrous moment occurred. Who was at fault? Of course there must be someone to BLAME...but there was not. The power plant, along with many businesses and industries, were going through rapid changes in how they communicated. There were just beginning to be multiple ways that the organization communicated with one another. It could have been a mis-communication during a shift change...or a call that didn't go through. They were experimenting with new in-house communication systems - baby email - that may have caused communication breakdowns. After gaining this understanding, my grandpa worked to try to transform how power plants across the country functioned in communication using not only technology but also his deep knowledge of PEOPLE. He used the work of Rogers to think about how to change the system from top to bottom to ensure safety for everyone. He worked to create a communication structure that held laggards accountable to the RULES while pushing for open-communication about potential mishaps, mistakes, or safety violations. He worked with teams to find creative solutions to difficult problems across huge systems.
We walked away from this conversation, and my grandpa whispered to me, "it's good to hear my grandchildren are working to change the world." We are. All in our own ways. Although it's easy to compartmentalize people by their careers or passions, it is blindingly evident that CREATIVITY is necessary and essential, whether to build systems of communication in the nuclear power world, to create better customer service model to support growth and change, to rebrand a restaurant into a blooming breakfast spot, or design a system of support to transform learning. Problems require creativity. They require us to think about things from a different perspective. Change requires creativity - and in this one particular area - we must be creative in how we think about how to make change happen. We must be strategic and calculating, but also open to multiple possibilities. This crazy story my grandfather told us today will stick with me for awhile. He's been one of these innovative people before it was cool, working behind the scenes, making change happen. He said he doesn't even like to use the word innovative about himself, because it makes other people feel like they're not innovative. So true. So true. Well grandpa, I'll name you. You are an innovator. You always have been. Remember when you let us take apart your first computer just to see what was inside? Remember how you learned how to sew so you could build your own pop-up tent? And now, you are still shaking things up at the local democratic council meetings. This is getting all sappy, but I cannot tell you what your influence has done for me. Thanks for the questions. Thanks for the curiosity. Thanks for the confidence to make change.
Gratitude matters. I would venture to guess that the most rewarding moments in our lives are those in which we are able to stop, step out of the buzz, and notice our own joy. We can literally be grateful for the smallest of things - that first cup of coffee, a student asking if they could build a robot today, the surprise hug of a new relationship. Oprah and other self-help gurus encourage us to keep gratitude journals - maybe if we keep track of it in the good times the bad times won't feel so bad. I think there's some truth in this. I also think if it becomes about compliance and having to keep a journal it might lose it's flavor. I'm going to give it a shot though...with a slight twist. Creativity. I want to notice the moments others are pushing themselves out into the world and making stuff. I believe, more than most other things, that EDUCATION is THE MOST CREATIVE profession in the world. We are constantly creating, making, building, constructing, and designing. It's in our blood.
Until the last official teacher day (June 15), I'm going to celebrate these moments of creativity with #onecreativething. I'm going to write a quick blog about it and share it out. My hope with this experiment is to encourage those who are already aware of their creativity and encourage others to feel it too. I also know that when I pay better attention to the colors and scribbles, it inspires me too. Creativity is at the heart of innovation. I've been noticing how necessary creativity is in providing personalized learning for our students. We HAVE to create in order to transform learning environments. It's also become clear that April and May are tough months for feeling creative. It's time to celebrate it. Shout it out into the world. Touch it. Make it. Be it.
What are your most creative moments this school year? What have you made that you're super proud of?
Every so often, like going to the dentist for a cleaning, school leaders need to check on the plaque line of their building. I know, gross metaphor, but hold with me. Ever so gradually and definitely with subtly, an erosion of morale and confidence a staff has for their work creeps up into the gums and starts to eat away at the productive, work of teaching children. And we lose a sense of what really matters. If, as building leaders, we don't take the time to do some serious, down and dirty check up and maintenance of our vision and mission for the work of our building we are doomed to decay, just like so many rotting molars.
Last week we worked with a local consultant who guided us through the process of checking up on our core beliefs, vision and mission for our middle school staff, students, and community. Before we got started on the messy but glorious vision and mission work, we had some popcorn and clementines while mulling over the hashtag = #WHYITEACH. The great folks at @Teacher2Teacher have created an excellent #WhyITeach toolkit that includes tweet bubbles, hashtags, posters, and promotional material to share your reflections via social media. This toolkit has everything needed to encourage colleagues to take a moment out of the day to reflect on why we got into this crazy, but always rewarding profession and share it out with their community. It was a very quick (took me about 10 minutes to print and set up), inspiring way to start our afternoon and generated loads of discussion about using twitter to build up that PLN! We had a blast taking pictures and sharing our love for learning! Take a few minutes to refresh your vision and encourage your staff to tell the important story of the work of your school.
Thanks @Teacher2Teacher for this free resource!
Register and download the FREE #WhyITeach toolkit here!
In our "real" worlds, many of us are constantly working on "hacking" life - decluttering our basements, paring down the number of toys our children (or dogs) have, trying to replace our screen time with talk time with our loved ones, carving out the space and time to reflect on the the simplest (and most meaningful) moments of our lives.
However, in public education nowadays our moments and days are anything but simple. Spend five minutes googling or pinteresting "common core" to find a million ideas, projects, and activities that you feel guilty about not doing in turn for the mounting anxiety about doing more "kill and drill" work with our students who are struggling. Every time we turn around, there are "new", "revamped" ideas about how to address the demands. How can step away from the chaos for a moment and do what has been shown to work most consistently to improve student growth? How can we "hack" our instructional planning to make it more simple and better for students?
Mike Schmoker's book, Focus, gives us a simple, back-to-basics moment to breathe. He provides a "plan" based on reading, writing, discussion and THINKING across the curriculum. In chapter 2, "WHAT We Teach, we read about how important it is to choose FOCUS standards - the standards that repeat, overlap, and are MOST ESSENTIAL for our students' futures as students and as PMOS's (productive members of society). As we have been deconstructing our standards to write scales, I believe we have really started to identify focus standards as well as the foundational learning targets (production behaviors) we want to see from our students.We're beginning to get an idea of what is most important for our students to know and be able to do.
Chapter 3, "HOW We Teach" provides us with a template for the key, tried and true, instructional elements that have lasted the test of educational time and research. This is my favorite chapter because it is just so darn clear. I found myself reflecting wildly on the elements that I most often had in my lessons and the ones that I always forgot to include. So, here we go!
Template for ANY EFFECTIVE LESSON
BOOM! That was simple, right?!
As a BONUS, Schmoker provides us with additions for an interactive "lecture-style" lesson (which sometimes we have to do) and a literacy lesson (which we do a lot!). Here we go!
Interactive Lecture Lesson (Direct Teaching)
The BIG THREE
As I reflect on these templates, I find myself making connections to work we are already doing and pieces I see in your classes all the time - LDC, Word Generation, MCD, Close Reading, Annotating, Collins, constant formative assessment and guided practices. BUT. Where are we at in the process of students becoming independent in their learning through these methods? Are we making our work more simple, or are we complicating it because of the pressures we feel from state testing, SLOs, O/S/E, data. data. data?
Complete this survey as a way to reflect on your own practice (anonymous!)
Growth only comes through incremental steps towards a goal and by practicing, failing, and persevering. What is one goal you can set in simplifying your practice and FOCUSING on most effective learning strategies for your students? Reply in the comments below. Thank you for all your hard work and effort to continue the growth!