The truth does not make it so.

I like to speak the truth. I bet you do too.

But I realize even I speak the truth that this act alone does not make what I say perpetually true.

For example when I say: “excellence is really important to model for students,” I really do believe that modelling excellence is vital and foundational for creating a culture of excellence. But…the statement alone does not make it true; it is through thoughtful, consistent and purposeful actions that I make the statement true. The truth lies in the actions that bring life to my sentiment.
I often reflect and wonder if sometimes if we as adults say true statements, such as work ethic is important or digital citizenship is a crucial topic for students, but do not always ourselves make it true with our own actions. Do we act these statements out everyday in front of our students? Do they intuitively know what we say and what we do align? Can they verbalize specific and numerous examples of where and when they see these truths acted out live and in front of them (as opposed to only talked about).

While our words and the specific words we use matter and help to create our school cultures and communities, it is our collective micro-actions that add up to create a congruent reality…

or one that is disjointed and inauthentic.

What truths do you say? What do you do to make them true?

Will you define the work? Will the work define you?

balance

Shared on Flickr by Helen ST

“There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.” 
― Alain de Botton

In my first year teaching I was completely and utterly consumed by work. I loved the work and fell deeply in love with it that first year; I loved the intensity, the creativity and the connections with kids I found…but the work owned me. Over the years my love has not waned, but I have had to define the balance between being owned by the work and owning the work. Over the years I have watched, both from a far and up close, as others have struggled mightily with this subtle yet significant difference. Some have lost and some have won.

Where is the tipping point between being owned and owning?
Where is the point of no return for losing yourself to the work?
Where in the work are you sustained and renewed?

I am no expert at balance. For me it has been an ongoing process of reflection, readjustment and re-calibration and is part of the work itself.

Insights that have emerged for me, as I defined the work are offered below:

1. Define your own balance.
My balance is getting a bit out of balance. I love big messy and impossible projects. This is where my passion for the work lies and is sustained. I know these projects are what keep the “fire in my belly” alive. When I do not dream big and set far-off goals I disengage from the work. This is my balance. I have had to search out and create such projects.
Many have given advice on balance, schedules and some have raised eyebrows at my work routines. I like to get up early to write and do school work. I like to work with kids outside of school on big projects. For me, these projects are my source of joy and connection.
However, there are seasons to my work and at times I have had to step away (for family, my husband’s work demands, etc.). For me stepping away has made the work even sweeter upon returning. Like a speed limit, there were times in life I had to slow down. And then there were times I saw it safe to speed up.

2. Know what you sacrifice.
Dinner with the family? Sleep? A dentist appointment? Hold up for yourself item by item the specific activities and chores you are not doing when you choose to extend the work beyond the work day. Are these vital and important or are you ready to let go of these? For me I know what I will let go of and know for example that I will not let go of family dinner and time after dinner to hangout.

3. Eat steak before sizzle.
In all aspects of life it is easy to get caught up in the excitement and hype of any project. How novel! How fun! This is the sizzle. But to survive, to grow, to build you will need to eat steak. To find the steak you will need to find where the essence of your work lies. For me the essence of my work has been the connections with my students. I use these as my compass. Projects, initiatives, activities that prevent or destroy these are ones I avoid. Sometimes this will feel counter intuitive. I have kept this definition up front and center as I make the many micro decisions every day.

4. Hold no expectation of others.
This is where I still struggle. I can hold expectations for myself and work towards those. I know I cannot impose my expectations on others, students or co-workers; they have to do this for themselves. If I do this unconsciously, then when I end up disappointed, this is my problem to own and deal with, not theirs.

5. Say yes to what you love.
This morning I choose to say yes to writing as I know this activity feeds me and produces a mental calm for the week ahead. Just as I know that making time to have significant conversations with people I work with, whether students or adults, have over the years, feed my soul. I know making time for student requests for extra help and putting these before meetings or committee work has served to keep me rooted in the work I love.

6. Find your way to let go.
There will be many things to let go off; bad days, disagreements and disappointments. How you let go and shake these off will flavour the days and years ahead. Look behind and see the rocks are you still dragging. Is it the work of today or the rocks of yesterday that are dragging you under? For me, letting go is a process I need to honour, it takes time and deep reflection to let go. I need to give myself the mental opportunity to work through these tricky spots so I can do the work unencumbered tomorrow.

7. Hold on to what you can’t replace.
Early on in my teaching career I decided very consciously I would hold on to what I couldn’t replace and nothing else. I watched teachers get bent out of shape over lost pencils, scissors, bobbins etc. I cannot replace if lost, my love of teaching; I decided to fight every day to hold onto that. I cannot replace student confidence, curiosity, and trust, if lost. I would fight for those.
Pencils, stapler, broken glassware no big deal!

8. Act from love.
There is a sweet spot somewhere in your heart where the work does not feel like work. Here, the work comes from you without effort, without thought. You must find this spot and work to go there as much and as often as possible. This is the work you are called to do; this is your work and no one else’s. This is where you own the work.

9. Embrace the zany.
Some days are going to be those that make you wonder why you choose this work anyway. You will feel as a donkey must, struggling up the last part of a steep escarpment with an over heavy load. You will think: “I cannot.”
It is on these days that you must search to embrace and celebrate, the silly, the zany, and the things that tickle your funny bone. These gifts of lightness will save you from forgetting the joy of your work.

10. Lift your head.
As the work gets heavy we tend to drop out heads and see all that is still not done, all the challenges we face. It is in these moments I remember to lift my head and look out…way out…to the farthest horizon to see the big picture again and anew. Ah right…this is the bigger purpose of my work.

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What do we want for our children?

Education A

Education B

Products end up in garbage

Products have a function and purpose

Focused on finding answers

Invitation to ask questions

Solve problems that have already been solved

Find problems that have not been solved

Curiosity sacrificed

Curiosity celebrated and protected

Teacher as expert

Student becoming expert

Conformity

Individuality

Obedience valued

Collaboration valued

Bound by books

Created by networks

Homogeneous outcomes

Heterogeneous goals

Results over process

Process over results

Imitate

Iterate

Carrots and sticks used

Responsibility nurtured

Prescribed

Responsive

Just in case learning

Just in time learning

Taxonomies

Folksonomies

Top down

Flat

Orderly for efficiency

Organized for learning

Filtered out

Filtered forward

Defined by scarcity 

Created in abundance

Dependency

Interconnectedness

Written word dominates

Communication emphasized

Knowledge nailed down

Knowledge as changing

Formal

Authentic

Defined and restrictive

Open and inviting

Identity reactive

Identity preemptive

Mastery

Specialized

One size fits all

Discordant

Learning to comply

Learning to learn

Sorts and filters

Low barrier and universal

Siloed and separate

Radical transparency

Working as team destroyed me.

“As knowledge becomes networked, the smartest person in the room isn’t the person standing at the front lecturing us, and isn’t the collective wisdom of those in the room. The smartest person in the room is the room itself: the network that joins the people and ideas in the room, and connects to those outside of it… Knowledge is becoming inextricable from – literally unthinkable without – the network that enables it.” 

 David Weinberger

I transitioned this fall to our district’s Instructional Leadership Team which consists of 6 teachers and our principal. Previously, I have thought of myself as collaborative…yet, I am not sure if I would have called myself a team player, or if in fact, I understood what “team player” really implied or entailed. To be honest (and honesty is one of the main reasons I write here) I am not sure if I fully believed a “team approach” was effective or necessary.

Collaborative, embedded and responsive work with teachers in a continuous and exquisitely personalized cycle of co-teaching, co-teaching and co-learning…is new. In the past, teachers were meant to figure it out…by ourselves. Alone.

The steep grind up the first 90 days has worn down aspects of me and to healthy extents, I have had to let go of my ego, my expertise, and my confidence. In its place I have had to trust our vision, our work and our inter-contentedness as team…it has scared the pants off me. I do intentionally seek change for its vital role in maintaining flexibility and responsiveness to life, but (you heard it coming) I did not fully anticipate the feeling of loss in giving up my egocentric persona at work. Many “me treads” had to be worn off; burly treads are only useful in very specific terrains!

I don’t want to be a me-less, ego-less drone in a state of group think. No. It is a matter of willingly and knowingly standing up on the proverbial table, crossing my arms as I turn around and fall backwards into team. Completely.

I trust. Completely. I sink in. Completely. I co-create our vision. Completely.

Working as team has destroyed:

1. My “what’s in it for me” mindset:  As team, I see my choices beyond simply what’s in it for me. I look up to see how my choices impact and play out for others. I look beyond the small gains and out, towards a more long-term stability of “we.”

2. Working the veneer: In a team, there is not much you can “hide”. You cannot polish up the surface and be good to go. To create a shine requires of me to be solid and consistent throughout.

3. The burn out fluctuations: Alone, I gauged my commitments and energies for myself, by myself. When I got tired or overwhelmed, oh well. In a team I see how my ability or inability to create a sustainable balance directly impacts others.

4. The cloudy mirror: Alone, it was easy to look in a cloudy mirror. Together, the mirror needs to be clear, I see myself mirrored in others. I see how the ripples of my moods, thoughts and feelings impact, very directly, the team.

5. A protective over confidence: Alone, I worked to maintain a stance of expert. Together as team, not one of us is expert. We together create a collective, inter-connected, and inter-dependent expertise. 

I still miss the sharpness of me, the brightness of 100% me…I am sinking into the depth, comfort and shared wisdom of team.

10 All-Purpose Learning Activation Strategies

When we combine novelty and challenge with social relationships, we build attachment to learning and bonds between learners. The more varied the learning strategies, the more brain branching occurs – especially in the first hour of exposure to the tasks and the content being developed.

Susan Close

Every learning journey is unique and each learner brings different background schema. How do we invite students to the learning every day anew? How do we provide multiple entry points along the learning journey? How do we create low barrier access points for all our learners over the course of our time with them?
Activate or connecting activities are tools to locate background knowledge and to lay down some foundational schema for new learning…think kicking up the mud at the bottom of the lake; activation makes the water murky (in a good way!) with related experiences, emotions and memories the learner already has but may have settled to the bottom.
These activities are meant to be fun, light, invitational, open, and never-never ever for marks!!!! They are invitations to the learning and not the learning itself.

Some possible activities in no particular order are:

1. #sixwordstory – Students choose (or are provided with) an object, picture, event, sentence…then are invited to write a story using only six words. These stories can be shared verbally or posted into a doc, a slide show, on a sticky or tweeted out. An example from my Biology class is provided below (students wrote on stickies and I posted to our Facebook group). Six words do not intimidate anyone!

6 word story

 

2. Found Poem – A found poem can be a collection of writing or sentences that are randomly collected or selected to create a group “poem.” Statements can be generated or selected from a text, article or video. A found poem can be created from students reading their #sixwordstory aloud in rapid succession. Students love to hear other student’s poems and you would be amazed at how much information gets kicked up!

3. Building from Clues – Clues can be objects, pictures, text, snippets of video or a mixture of all of these. This invites the learner to access background knowledge and makes predictions about what the unit or lesson will be about. In this activity you can lay clues out around the room, or show a series of pictures as slides. Invite students to cycle through, making notes and taking pictures as appropriate. Ask students to make predictive statements that summarize what they think the clues suggest. Student love mysteries!

4. Sort and Predict – Use words, steps of a lab activity, steps of the lytic cylce, parts of story, steps in baking or making, or steps of a problem. Students are challenged to put these either into groupings (in the case of words) or in correct order. This can be done with paper or by simply numbering sentences and asking student to sort these (when time is an issue).

5. Sponge – Select an article or story you think students might find particularly interesting (appropriately strange, quirky or gross ones work best).  Divide the reading up into as many parts/sections as groups you want to divide your class into. Each group reads their portion of the article or story together and then creates a summary to share out. You could spice it up by having them write a headline, draw a picture, or do a skit as a summary. If the article is tantalizing, students will read the entire article on their own with no prompting needed!

6. Checker Board – Create a checkerboard with 9-12 statements or quotes. Students silently read the quotes and highlight 1 or 2  they like or dislike, disagree or agree with (you decide which criteria to use). From this point, you could ask them to do a stand up hand up pair up (see below) to discuss their quotes and do 2 or 3 rotations. Alternatively, you could ask them to create a #sxiwordstory with a partner that represents their selected quotes. Or you could invite them to work in groups to decide on their top 3 quotes with reasons why. An example of a checker board you could use with teachers is one I made based on various quotes on learning.

7. Anticipation Guide – Select key statements, ideas from a text, story or video that you want the student to engage with. The number of statements you select can be modified depending on the age of your students (fewer statements for younger students). Intentionally make a number of the statements false. Invite students to read the list of statements (they can work in pairs or individually) and ask them to decide if the statements are true or false (depending on time, you can ask them to provide reasons for their decisions). After reading and reacting to all the statements, students watch, read, or listen to the story/text to determine whether their initial hunches were correct. Again depending on time and particular topic you can scale this up or down. Template for anticipation guide.

I created this one that goes with a 3 minute Carol Dweck video on Mindsets that could be used with teachers.

8. Is and Isn’t game – Students are invited to deduce a trend implied by pairs of opposite words. This is a great activity to begin a larger unit. Show only 2 words at a time and give them think time between each pair. They only way students can participate is by offering 2 words that correctly fall into the categories. They cannot play by simply blurting out what is being described (which is what they want to do!). My example is one done for PBL I did with teachers but this can easily be adapted for various units.

9. 100 ideas in 10 Minutes – Brainstorming can be effective and fast paced when made into a fun challenge. This strategy is useful when you need to generate a large number of ideas in a short period of time. Challenge your class by saying “who can thinks they can come up with 100 ideas in 10 min.”  Encourage students to withhold ALL judgement during this activity, even self-judgment. In this phase the object is to generate ideas but not to judge them, the judgment phase will come next. An example of this is a list of  ideas generated with a group of science teachers. We did not make the 100 mark but we got to 68 ideas in 10 minutes! They were impressed with themselves!

10. StandUp-HandUp-PairUp (or SUHUPU for acronym lovers) is like ketchup and can be added pretty much anywhere and anytime you need a quick infusion of energy in the room or need to create some conversation. Students stand up, put their hands up (for high-five action!) and quickly find a partner with whom to share or discuss the idea/reading/question at hand.