Saturday, August 30, 2014

There’s Really Only One R to Focus On…

Throughout the history of education we’ve heard about the importance of the three R’s (even though only one of the words actually starts with an R!) as the foundation of good schooling. As the last long weekend of summer break is upon us and every student will be in classes next week, I think it’s time to focus on the one R that really drives the success of any school and helps every student reach their full potential – relationships.

The past two weeks have seen me work with educators in Barrington IL, Listuguj QC, Richland Hills TX, Brussels WI, and Oglala SD (I’m guessing many of you have not been to even two of these communities) and each place is doing some great work with students. As we collectively created plans for each school’s next first step, we kept coming back to the most important R. It is the building of relationships with every student that propels them to higher levels of success. The model of the Significant 72 (first three days of school spent focused on relationship building) that began in SD 68 in Woodridge, IL provided strong evidence of the efficacy of this approach. Having every student knowing they have an adult champion in their school is powerful stuff. And here’s an added bonus – it also improved the relationships for the adults.

One of the things I’ve learned after 30 years as an educator is that the kids that challenge us the most, need us the most. They may not be able to articulate that need or may even give signals that indicate the opposite. It’s often a function of the layers of hurt or worse, which insulate them from pain but also make it challenging for the compassionate and caring educator to break through.

Our focus, as another school year gets underway, should be to have every student know that at least one adult in the building will be there for them. Welcome back!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Connecting the Dots

I enjoy so many aspects of my current work world and I believe that enjoyment is largely driven by the variety of educators I’ve been able to meet and their contributions to my knowledge base. I’ve had so many unique perspectives shared that I otherwise would not have encountered or imagined and that stretching has been a real bonus.

I also know that the more intentional and connected we can make the work, the less it seems like work and, instead, just the way educators do their daily job inspiring students. Stress, anxiety, disinterest, and burnout happen when we work at things that are unrelated and imposed on us – things we don’t care about.  Working hard at things we love, things that are connected and interrelated, leads to passion. Last week served as a reminder of this as I watched educators take part in a three-day forum that was both layered from day one to day three, and connected to the work that they had been participating in over the last couple of years. Hearing them share the connections reminded me that our learning as adults needs to mirror the learning we are striving for with our students. Rather than a random collection of disparate facts, deep and engaging learning that builds bridges to prior knowledge should be our goal in professional development.

Connecting the dots between all of the best practice of the past, with the new skills and knowledge gained in the present, will ensure all of our students have an opportunity for a positive future. And that will never seem like work.

Monday, August 11, 2014

New-Old Learning

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

This line has been attributed to various sources and I have not tracked the origin with any authenticity. It’s not mine but it did come to me during some recent work sessions. As I was talking with educators about their summer and the various professional growth activities they engaged in, I heard many variations of what I’m calling “new old learning”.

This is the type of learning that appears to be new, as an idea or concept gets shared by a different voice. It fires up the enthusiasm and it’s only upon reflection that a nagging thought occurs that you may have heard the information before. It’s very likely that you did but you just weren’t at that readiness phase in your knowledge level or practice where it may have made sense. Now your experience and deepening knowledge has allowed the idea to click into place in the myriad of information stored in your head. Oftentimes the realization does not occur until the “new” learning is shared with colleagues and then the familiarity surfaces and it’s actually new old learning.

Now, think about this in terms of the learning of students in school. It may be that they are not ready for today’s lesson today. Perhaps they need to reorganize the building blocks in their heads to have the new piece of information click in. Perhaps they are missing some of the key building blocks and need to acquire them before the new piece can click in. Their readiness will be determined by many factors, some of which are outside our control. What is in our control is that we appear when they are ready.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Perfect is the Enemy of Progress

Many of you are familiar with the work of Jim Collins and one of his quotes that “good is the enemy of great”. Last week Chris Weber (@Chi_educate) and I were talking about a new writing project, and reflecting on some of the work we are doing with schools on RTI. When the question of why some sites continue to struggle came up, Chris suggested that “perfect is the enemy of progress.”

As we talked a little further, the notion really resonated. How often do we wait in schools for the perfect time, the perfect conditions, the perfect budget, the perfect student? While this plan might work if we were building things on an assembly line, we’re dealing with humans and all of the frailties – theirs and ours – contained therein. We haven’t got the time to wait for perfect before intervening, both remediating and extending, in the lives of students.

The notion of Ready, Aim, Fire seems to get stuck at Ready, Aim, wait, there’s a budget announcement, wait, there’s a new program, wait, there’s new kids, wait, these parents aren’t as supportive as our previous ones, wait… And we never get to the action of actually intervening in a timely fashion. Perhaps it ought to be Ready, Fire, Aim as Peters and Waterman suggested in 1982 and expanded on by Fullan in 2011. Our work with educators reminds us that we are working with thoughtful, intelligent people who have the students’ best interests at heart most often. If a plan is put in place based on the best information currently on hand, then let’s Fire. At the very least we’ll get data that we can act on. Did we get the right intervention as measured by progress towards the target at a rate that’s adequate? If we didn’t, what did we learn about the intervention? Was it frequent enough? Long enough? Did the student possess the skill level to realize the full impact? Did the adult? We need to accept that sometimes our best-laid plans may go awry. If we pledge to learn from that, we’ll still be further ahead than the long delays that have resulted in learning gaps for students not being closed but instead being increased. Let’s aim for progress and work on perfecting that as we are doing the work.