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Education Empower Learning featured Inspiration Luminous Culture

Connecting With Learners: The Power Behind Cultivating Strengths and Interests

School is in full swing, and enthusiasm continues to soar as learners create, make, and learn through exploring their curiosities. All the while, we dedicate time to cultivating authentic relationships with each and every child entrusted in our care to support them in their journey toward personal excellence. In anticipation of all that will unfold this school year as my learners develop greater autonomy, I continue to revel in my experiences this past summer that contributed to my personal and professional growth, and created some of the very best memories.

 

My summer kicked off with a bang as I collaborated with educators at the PBS Digital Innovator Summit in Chicago, made a quick turn around to present at Model Schools in Orlando, and then connected with nine highly respected friends and passionate educators back in Chicago to co-author Volume II of Education Write Now, Top Strategies for Improving Relationships and Culture. Together, we learned about the Will To Live Foundation, in which all of our proceeds will go towards, to awareness and increase education to prevent teen suicide.

 

Interestingly, I had only met one person, Jeff Zoul, face-to-face before our collaborative project. Jeff is someone who I view as not only a friend, but mentor in my journey who I deeply respect. As for the other educators present, we had connected via social media for a number of years, and some I’ve collaborated with on various projects from miles away. I was thrilled to finally meet everyone face-to-face! Being together felt like being with family, and I’m still in awe of the entire experience. Additionally, I had the opportunity to get to know Lauren Davis from Routledge who provided immense support in the writing process along with Jeff and Sanee Bell. During our time, I was amazed at how quickly we all connected through fostering relationships, which developed into the overarching theme of our book. In just 48 hours we all contributed a chapter, and our work was brought together as Volume II, set to be released in December 2018. If you haven’t had the opportunity to read Volume 1 of Education Write Now, I highly recommend checking it out. It was released in December 2017, and focuses on Change in education. 

 

Each week, authors of Education Write Now Volume II, have been sharing insights into the experience as well as a glimpse into their chapter. Last week Rosa Isiah shared nuggets from her powerful chapter, Connecting with Every Student: Creating a Culture of Equity and Access encouraging us to reflect on the steps we’re taking to provide every children with the very best opportunities. Isiah reminds us,“it’s our moral imperative to positively influence, nurture, guide and empower our students.”

 

The topic of relationships is not new in education. However, I believe we can make more meaningful and authentic connections with our learners, influencing their lives. My hope is to challenge our thinking to go deeper by connecting with learners through cultivating their strengths and interests, thus nurturing a culture that embraces all individuals for who they are as opposed to shaping our youth to fit within our vision of who they should be.

 

Our Youth’s Perception of Themselves Effects Their Learning

At the conclusion of the first week of school this year, I had my learners write one goal for the upcoming week. A 9-year old girl in my class wrote, my goal is to not be bad this year.

 

Seeing this written crushed me. I subtly pulled her aside to figure out what was behind her comment to understand why she felt the way she did. She explained, “last year I was bad. I blurted out, didn’t follow directions like the other kids, and annoyed everyone.” I looked her square in the eyes and said, “when I saw you on my class list, I was beyond excited!” I continued, “you are needed here, and I can’t wait to see what you contribute to our class this year, you have so much to offer!” Following that, I listed some of the strengths I readily saw in her such as leadership, persistence, and creative thinking. Now, just imagine for a moment that instead I responded by stating, “that’s a great goal to have.” What message would that have sent?

 

Every single child deserves to feel wanted and appreciated in our classrooms. Our youth needs to be seen for the good they bring and provided support in areas they’re growing in. Every child brings their own originality, and I’m genuinely excited to see the learners in my class blossom as we explore their strengths and interests this school year in a culture rooted in the foundation of relationships. Sure, challenges will arise, but we need to provide unwavering support and foster resilience in our learners that carry with them long after their time with us.

 

By honoring the originality of each child and connecting with their unique interests, we cultivate deeper relationships where everyone feels genuinely valued and is embraced by the group; fostering intrinsic motivation and greater autonomy.

 

In Education Write Now, Volume II, I elaborate on this topic. Here is an excerpt from my chapter, Connecting With Learners: The Power Behind Cultivating Strengths and Interests that will encourage you to consider why this is essential in our schools.

 

Relationships are essential to developing a culture where individuals feel supported as risk-takers, creative thinkers, and to leverage their strengths and interests to enhance learning. However, according to one study, research reveals that, “The least favorite students were the non-conformists who made up their own rules. Teachers tend to discriminate against highly creative students, labeling them as troublemakers.”1 Reflecting on the research, imagine how we may be negatively shaping learners or influencing the path they take in life by communicating in subtle ways that they’re troublemakers. It’s concerning that our labeling and communication could create a self-fulfilling prophecy for some. Perhaps as educators, we could reframe our thinking and view non-conformists, or highly creative learners as individuals who can spark immense change if supported to navigate their journey through identifying and cultivating their unique strengths. Let’s be cognizant to seek out the strengths of every individual intentionally.

 

Interestingly, in comparison, compliant learners who seek to appease their parents and teachers by passively following routines, are more favorable to have in class.2 Plain and simple, teaching learners who are compliant, is significantly more manageable. However, compliance rarely shakes up the way we do things. Cultivating an environment where every learner wholeheartedly believes they’re of value unleashes untapped potential, particularly as they discover their strengths and interests and grasp that they have a place and purpose.

 

Fostering agency within a student-centered environment, rather than teacher centered, communicates that every learner profoundly matters. Unfortunately, traditionally speaking, schools have followed a more compliance-based model of teaching and learning where students spend their time focusing on what’s directed by their teacher. Our creative thinkers should be perceived as a gift to be discovered rather than a problem to be solved.

 

In today’s world, with technology rapidly accelerating the way we do things, and the economy shifting, we need to empower learners through fostering agency and connect them with their strengths and interests to enhance learning. There is no good reason to why many educators are still dangling carrots in front of students to learn. What benefit does it yield? If students are only learning to appease adults or earn rewards, we’ve got it wrong. In fact, Alfie Kohn shares, “The more that people are rewarded for doing something, the more likely they are to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward.” Creating opportunities for learners to develop agency is a non-negotiable in today’s classroom. Whether you have a set curriculum, mandated programs or learning standards to utilize, there are always a variety of ways to infuse learners’ strengths and interests to create relevancy and increase learner agency. When students are motivated, learning becomes more productive, leading to richer results. We need to cultivate the disruptor and bust the compliance paradigm.

 

As for the girl in my class who has a goal to, “not be bad,” I cannot wait for her to realize her value as the year continues. She too, has gifts to be discovered and I vow to be the person who helps her reveal them.

 

Upon the release of Education Write Now, Volume II, you’ll have tips and strategies accessible for how you can connect with learners by cultivating their strengths and interests so that every learner can blossom. Our role in education goes far beyond preparing learners to simply be successful in the next grade level, move on to college or become employed. While we can acknowledge that each is important, it doesn’t necessarily transfer to creating a lasting impact on learners. We need to ensure that we’re not just moving our youth along a track. Join me as we ditch the compliance-based paradigm of learning by connecting through deep relationships, and cultivating students’ strengths and interests to foster agency. Together we can take steps forward to transform learning experiences, inspiring students to develop the drive to learn. Let’s open the gateway to unlimited possibilities where every individual is encouraged to flourish.

 

We are the difference makers, and it’s essential we take the leap.

 

Next week, look for Parentcamp: Fill the Relationship Gap Between Schools and Families by Laura Gilchrist. In addition to reading Rosa Isiah’s post mentioned earlier, I encourage you to check out past posts from Jeff ZoulStrategies for Improving Relationships and Culture, and Randy Ziegenfuss: Relationships: The Foundation of Learner-Centered Innovation. In upcoming weeks, be on the lookout for posts from Sanee Bell, Onica Mayers, Winston Sakurai, Sean Gaillard, and Danny Bauer. Each post shares a glimpse into a chapter and insights from our collaborative project.

 

 

 

 

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1-2 Grant, Adam. (2016) Originals. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
3 Kohn, Alfie (2005) Unconditional Parenting. New York, NY: Atria Books
Education featured Inspiration Leadership Luminous Culture

Embrace Your Inner Leader

 

Countless educators aim to inspire, be the change and exude positivity. I’m grateful for my connection to educators who exhibit this as it’s what encourages others to persevere in the face of adversity. As someone who has always embraced this concept myself, I tend to find it challenging to know how to share my voice on wrongdoings best. Afterall, positive people stick to positive messages, right? However, we cannot stand to glaze over apparent dysfunction or bow in fear to hierarchical models of leadership when we know something is blatantly wrong and ultimately hurting individuals. I believe that we can discuss semi-controversial topics while identifying creative ways to address them. Exuding positivity, as well as demonstrating professionalism is essential to me as an educator. Due to my deep sense of integrity, I’m also driven to be an agent of change, and my integrity makes it nearly impossible to ignore that there’s an enormous elephant in the room that exists for many educators.

Blogging and being connected as an educator has provided an avenue for us all to share our voice. Too many opt to talk behind closed doors while keeping their heads down instead of stepping out and addressing the elephant. Together we can creatively seek solutions to move forward or ways to change the course of our ship when we realize the time has come.

For countless years I have identified numerous avenues to reach all kids and foster curiosity, creativity, critical thinking and joy in learning. I believe in this wholeheartedly, and my commitment is unwavering. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have the support of many administrators, teammates, colleagues, and my professional learning network. These individuals have carried me through difficult times without necessarily realizing that they have. We’ve celebrated highlights and encouraged one another more times than I can count.

To be transparent, I’ve also experienced my fair share of mistrust. As someone who always seeks to give the benefit of the doubt and aspires to see the good in every situation, truth be told, some individuals allow their ego or personal agendas to dictate the course our ship sails. Egos and personal agendas cause the ride to feel rough and unsettling. In turn, it leaves others scrambling to figure out how to guide the ship best. Historically, I’m a ‘sail adjuster.’ When the wind blows in an unexpected direction or hits without warning, I merely adapt and move on, without missing a beat to provide students with the best learning opportunities. If by chance the wind batters the sail causing rips and tears, I not only adjust but make necessary repairs to remain on course. I’ve repaired my sail more times than I can count, and each time it seems to become stronger and more vibrant than before. After all, each gust is an opportunity to learn that encourages growth.

Situations exist where educators have exhausted every option to continue moving forward even in the most challenging situations. If the damaging effects of the wind grow so strong that the sail is irreparable, it may be time to either navigate a different course by joining another crew or even sailing on your own. Whether you’re adjusting, repairing, or replacing your sail, I hope you employ strategies that act as flint to ignite passion and exuberance to sail further than you ever have before.

Anyone of us can step up and lead to cultivate a healthy culture. Perhaps we don’t have complete control over every decision we’d like, but that’s not to say that we lack impact. Leadership is a title that can be held by anyone who has influence. Being a leader is not solely meant for those with an administration degree. Jimmy Casas, author of Culturize, writes,

“You don’t have to have a leadership title to be a leader. You just have to lead. When you have a disposition about you that others immediately recognize and sometimes want to emulate, you are a leader. When you draw people in and make them want to be around you, you are a leader. Maybe you have a unique skill set that people quickly notice and appreciate, or maybe it’s your words or tendency to notice the best in others that inspires the people around you to want to be better.”

While some individuals seek to foster leadership skills to develop capacity in others, I tend to think that there are instances where some people are threatened by those who demonstrate leadership without the ranks of title or degree. In some cases, it appears more comfortable to hold individuals at arm’s length to silence their efforts and even attempt to belittle through comments spewn to foster a sense of insecurity. Fortunately, we own our emotions, and while mistrust may develop, how we choose to feel is ultimately up to us. Some may think it’s crazy, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to stand staring in the eyes of the elephant in the room while the wind tears at my sail. Both have taught me countless lessons that serve as real-life experience. From these experiences, I’ve developed more profound empathy and compassion for others. While there are numerous leadership books out there such as Culturize, Lead Like a Pirate, and Start Right Now that provide phenomenal tips and in-depth strategies, here are just a handful of the leadership tips I’ve learned firsthand.

Embrace your inner leader by:

  • Committing to relationships first, next, and always
  • Nurturing a culture of yes
  • Adding-value to those you work alongside by frequently recognizing their efforts
  • Seeking ways to give back in an effort to show appreciation for the contributions made by individuals
  • Celebrating! Celebrate accomplishments, persevering through failures, risk-taking, awards or recognitions as a school and district to demonstrate appreciation
  • Spending time in classrooms with learners (as an administrator) serving alongside teachers when possible
  • Employing the use of Pineapple Charts so that teachers can visit and learn from colleagues
  • Tearing down fortress walls to allow for open conversations between teachers, administrators and the Board of Education
  • Trusting that individuals have the best intentions, this fosters deeper levels of trust
  • Empowering teacher voice… Scratch that… Developing shared OWNERSHIP amongst all stakeholders
  • Being transparent and authentic by walking the talk
  • Simply apologizing for wrongdoings even if unintentional

I know this list could continue and I’m happy to add on over time. In closing, it’s vital that we ALL embrace our inner leader. Every person is facing some kind of battle; you may be the difference maker that rekindles passion within an individual who has lost their why, or eases the feeling of pressure when the going gets tough. With teacher shortages in addition to fewer students enrolling in teacher preparatory programs, collectively we need to cultivate a school culture that retains quality teachers. As leaders, let’s respectfully address elephants and create sustainable change. Together we can collaboratively navigate the waters to support one another along the journey.

Education Empower Learning Inspiration

Catalyze Empowerment Through Problem Seeking

Empower Learners as Problem Seekers

In talking with one of my best friends, Beth Gibson, who is the Worldwide Product Engineering Director of Corning Incorporated, she shared that reverse innovation is shifting the way companies approach and view innovative solutions. The term reverse innovation stirred curiosity in me. I’ve always considered innovation as the process of building or improving upon something to adapt and evolve to meet the needs of individuals. Reverse innovation, on the other hand, is the practice of taking a current product and making necessary adjustments that make it more marketable to developing economies that cannot afford the models designed for the western world. I never gave it much thought before, but numerous products we utilize don’t necessarily meet the needs of those in other parts of the world. To reverse innovations, individuals have engaged as problem seekers to succeed as a multinational company.

So, you may wonder, why is this of importance to us as educators?

The concept of reverse innovation is vital to us because it shifts how we approach facilitating learning experiences with kids. Even though the word ‘reverse’ is included, it still requires us to employ the process of innovative design thinking. With the focus on fostering divergent thinking as Empower co-author John Spencer’s recent post highlights in 7 Ways Foster Divergent Thinking in the Classroom (also discussed here) and the process of innovation, learners can be empowered as problem seekers. Our brains are naturally curious! When we envelop learning within problems or scenarios, it catalyzes empowerment that leads to the deepest form of learning. Intrinsic motivation and synergy develop amongst learners. One activity I use that embodies this is when learners are tasked to create a new kind of wearable technology. Through inquiry, students explore the progression of wearable technology over the course of time. Learners assume the role of engineer designers with the goal being to consider current problems that exist in our everyday life, and how wearable technology can either alleviate the problem or meet the needs of individuals. By leveraging a variety of texts, videos, and engaging in in-depth conversations that support understanding, students use the design process to craft either a new or improved version of the wearable technology. Learners then participate in the process of redesigning when constrained by limited materials. This is when creative, divergent thinking takes flight!

Challenging Traditions

While learners are empowered through problem seeking, in reflection, I’m not sure that the problems we are identifying are often genuine “problems,” but rather inconveniences that are being made more convenient based on our western world perspective. However, this serves as a means to unleash innovative thinking that pushes our creative limits by inventing new or improved ideas for products. While this concept certainly cultivates divergent thinking skills, catalyzes empowerment and is an excellent approach to developing success skills, I challenge us to incorporate the notion of reverse innovation.

In Learner Centered Innovation, Dr. Katie Martin challenges us to rethink traditions. Traditionally speaking, we engage in STEM challenges or exploring problem and project-based learning that focuses on topics that are relevant to our learners. Now, I’m not saying that we move away from these as they’re incredibly valuable approaches to learning, which I embrace. I’m fortunate to have been coached to teach project-based learning through the Buck Institute for Education (BIE), and PBL in particular, provides our learners with extremely significant and purposeful learning opportunities that foster learner agency. What I am suggesting is that we broaden our approach to include the concept of reverse innovation. Not only does reverse innovation foster the skill of identifying problems and creating innovative solutions, but it promotes empathy by exposing learners to the unique needs of individuals living in developing countries. Our learners benefit from gaining the perspective of those who face vastly different challenges than what we are accustomed to hearing or experiencing.

Reverse Innovation Promotes Problem Seeking Through a New Lens

Let’s explore the concept of reverse innovation to develop a better understanding. One example involves a team of designers from MIT. Individuals from MIT were charged with the task to create a wheelchair that would perform well on rough terrain in East Africa. The wheelchairs that we are familiar with weren’t a viable option for individuals in East Africa. While MIT successfully designed a prototype to conquer the rough terrain, they had to retool their design as the wheelchair was unable to be maneuvered through a doorway. Designers stressed the importance of not merely creating a model that solved one existing problem but considering all of the possible issues that may exist with each redesign. MIT approached this by testing the product in the field with individuals who may potentially use the product. By doing this, it allowed them to look at the effectiveness of their design and continually seek potential problems that influenced their final design. In the classroom, we need to support learners to embrace the understanding that, “design is iterative; you can’t get it right the first time, so be prepared to test many prototypes.”

Learning experiences within STEAM challenges or problem and project-based learning, often provide students with constraints to work within. Constraints can lead to more significant creative thinking, as learners are encouraged to identify ways to innovate inside the box as George Couros has discussed in his blog and book, Innovator’s Mindset. Considering that design is meant to be iterative, we want our learners to be exposed to multiple problems in addition to constraints to create a vibrant learning process leading to testing and retooling a variety of prototypes. I employ each of these throughout the school year to expose learners to a wide range of learning experiences. To catalyze empowerment through problem seeking, we can blend in the practice of reverse innovation, too.

Sample questions we can pose to foster divergent thinking and catalyze empowerment:

  • What are you wondering?
  • What more do we need to know?
  • How will we locate the information?
  • What materials do we require?
  • How can we best improve our designs?
  • How do you want to monitor, track, and demonstrate your learning journey?
  • What does success look like to you?

In our classrooms, scenarios can be created to empower learners to examine specific products that they’re accustomed to seeing, and explore if they would be of value in a third world country. Within learning, we can layer new information about the product, clients, or the environment in which they live. The idea that one product may be conducive with the terrain (as in the example from MIT), but now won’t suffice in the home, encourages learners to look at a design from all angles and gather more information to drive the learning process. Furthermore, learners would have to consider if the product would even be affordable, and if not, they would have to contemplate how we could market the product through reversing the innovation to decrease the cost.

Brief Detour

Let me pause here, and go off track for a moment. In my experiences working with educators, and as a classroom teacher myself, I know that we agonize over the amount of time we have and how we will possibly cover all of the standards and content we’re expected to teach. I validate your feelings when it comes to these pressures. As educators, these constraints will always exist. While we cannot create more time in our day, I am confident that by embedding learning standards into the experience we facilitate, we will create the time needed while also catalyzing empowerment. Learning must be meaningful and impactful. When we craft learning experiences that are interdisciplinary, we can incorporate numerous standards. In the sample I provided above, we could easily integrate english language arts, science, technology, engineering, math, social studies, and art. It’s essential that we carve out time to foster future success skills by creating opportunities for learners to develop the ability to seek problems and create unique solutions while embedding standards to ensure optimum learning for all.

Tips and Takeaways

  • Empower learners to ask questions and write down as many wonderings as they can.
  • Encourage learners to consider all the possibilities by facilitating inquiry-based learning.
  • Provide opportunities for learners to think innovatively about how we can seek problems in the western world and developing countries.
  • Create authentic, meaningful experiences by incorporating interdisciplinary learning that integrates multiple learning standards and fosters success skills.
Education Empower Learning featured Inspiration

Spark Curiosity, Create Learning That Is Irresistible

 

At age three, my son was intensely curious about the world around him. He was particularly interested in flowers and the names of the parts. Walking around our yard, he’d see flower after flower and run to each of them and exclaim with glee, “Pistil, momma! This one has it too!” He was also fascinated with where the wind was coming from and asked more questions than I could respond to at once. Throughout the years, his curiosity has shifted to new wonders. However, it’s evident that curiosity has lessened the older he has become. Many of us can relate personally to this from our own experiences or those of our children.

 

While he still enjoys aspects of learning, my hope is that curiosity reignites within him. I believe that curiosity is what drives us as humans to ask better questions and pursue new avenues that lead us to places we may not have ever expected.

 

Author and principal, David Geurin, hits on the topic of making learning irresistible in his book, Future Driven. Geurin’s book speaks to my heart as he and I have very similar views on education and how we can support learners to thrive in an unpredictable world. In writing about making learning irresistible, Geurin shares:

 

“There are too many students who find school boring. You see them at your school too, maybe even in your classroom. They are slumped back or propped up. Tired eyes. They are physically living and breathing but little else reveals thinking not to mention brilliance. But we know it’s there.

Every child has genius.

These children weren’t always this way. In each student who has given up on learning, there was once a kid filled with curiosity, wonder, and awe.”  

 

Learning through authentic experiences that are infused with the learner’s passions fosters the feeling of irresistible learning. Recently my learners and I launched a STEM challenge with two classes from New Mexico. I was fortunate to meet Rachel Lamb and Steven Thomas @collabgenius at the 2017 PBS Digital Innovator Summit who frequently engage learners in virtual collaboration. Our STEM challenge from Design Squad Global incorporates the learning of how NASA successfully landed rovers on Mars after failed attempts. Learners utilized design thinking to develop prototypes of rovers being lowered to Mars to simulate the process. In our classrooms, we are using an egg to represent the rover. Our classes continue to meet back to share designs, thought processes, and to provide feedback to one another. Having an authentic audience has catalyzed the experience as there is relevancy to their work, making it more meaningful. While learners are engaged and empowered as creative thinkings, problem solvers, and designers, throughout this process, what impressed me the most was how many questions they crafted following the launch of this challenge.

 

Learning that is irresistible increases engagement and can lead to empowered learning. In all honesty, I didn’t anticipate the number of questions learners generated. I had plans for the next steps of our STEM challenge but seized the opportunity for learners to pose questions about what they wondered. Around our room, I put up chart paper, and teams of learners continued to generate questions based on their curiosities. In project-based learning, this is how we begin to identify our driving questions.

 

One question spawned another and every child eagerly contributed questions such as:

  • How fast do rockets go exactly?
  • How long have rovers been on Mars?
  • What are they finding, have they found signs of life?
  • How much faster is a rover than a car?
  • How large is Mars compared to Earth?

 

Rather than remaining confined to the virtual STEM challenge, I chose to navigate off the map and empower learners to select a question they felt passionately curious about and am now coaching them through developing passion projects that focus on their topic. Of course, I too have mandates and curriculum to follow. However, I always seek to identify ways to incorporate our standards in learning. Drawing on curiosity and passions makes learning irresistible, and as educators, we have to recognize ways to innovate inside the box as author George Couros writes about in The Innovator’s Mindset. We can’t ignore mandates and curriculum, but we can undoubtedly empower learners to co-design learning experiences with standards embedded. Through this, I’ve had the opportunity to see learners excitedly arrive at school to continue their working on their passion projects and share their learning with others. I see them independently working on shared Google Slides from home with peers who they’re collaborating with online. And no, it was not assigned as homework. They have ownership and want to learn and create.

 

In Future Driven, Geurin lists 9 valuable ways to make learning irresistible. Included are choice, creativity, discovery, challenge, involving the community, student conversations, real audiences, play, and having the opportunity to make a difference. In his book, he goes more in depth as he shares tips and strategies for educators to support learners to thrive in an unpredictable world. 

 

 

Let’s continue the conversation about how we can support learners to remain passionately curious and how as educators, we can make learning irresistible.

In the meantime, I have a signed copy of Future Driven that I’ll be giving away to a randomly selected individual! Simply post a picture of irresistible learning that sparks curiosity or write a blog post reflecting on this topic. Tag @DavidGeurin and @ElisaBostwick along with the hashtags of #FutureDriven and #LEAPeffect with your post to be selected. I look forward to sharing this book with you, and am excited to see examples of irresistible learning in your school or classroom! Connect and continue learning with David via his website, too. 

 

Education Empower Learning Inspiration

Taking Steps Toward Fostering Ownership

Obstacle after obstacle at the 2016 Western New York Tough Mudder, I channeled my inner warrior. When I say I had to dig down deep, I mean it. A year prior, my husband Michael and I, along with several friends, signed up to take on the Tough Mudder. With the understanding that it was a 10-mile course with 20+ obstacles, we knew we had to prepare both physically and mentally.

On their website, it states, “every journey starts with a single step. Start yours here, then see how far you can take it. Whether a fun 5K or a 10-mile chance to push your limits, we’ve got the challenge for you. Our courses are engineered so that teamwork isn’t just encouraged; it’s required. With the help of your fellow Mudders, you’ll overcome best-in-class obstacles and adrenaline-packed challenges. You’ll find out what you’re really made of, while having the most fun you’ve had in recent memory.”

As a crazily passionate educator, of course, I found a connection to this experience and education. In education, we’re on an ongoing journey that continuously evolves. Teamwork makes us stronger, and infusing passions is what inspires us to continue forward. You see, no one forced me to sign-up for the Tough Mudder as it was a challenge I aspired to conquer. Recently, I spoke with David Conley, Ph.D., professor of educational policy and leadership at the University of Oregon’s College of Education and founder of EdImagine. He and I discussed the future of education and shifts that are occurring such as developing student ownership over learning.

Dr. Conley explained, “students need to have high aspirations, it’s really a problem when you’re asking kids to do stuff that they don’t care about or feel they’re not particularly good at. To own learning, students have to develop clear goals and have self-direction because anything you own has to be connected to your internal motivation structure. Goals then convert motivations and aspirations into behavior targets. When things don’t go well, you have to be able to demonstrate perseverance and grit.” We have all faced failure and will continue to experience it in life. We need to persevere through failure, reflect, and retool to move forward in our journey toward growth.

Ownership Versus Compliance

In speaking of goals and high aspirations, imagine how I would have approached the Tough Mudder in contrast if it was something I didn’t care to do but was being told to complete. I don’t think I would put in the high level of effort that I did. If entirely uncomfortable or feeling ill-prepared, I may have even demonstrated resistance. Or, perhaps out of compliance I would have drudged through it if a repercussion was connected to not completing the course.

Fortunately, I’m passionate about facing new challenges and pushing myself toward growth in a variety of ways. We have to remember that every individual has a passion, and by infusing passions and the insights shared by Dr. Conley to develop student ownership, we can transform the learning environment to empower learning. Let’s explore using the experience of the Tough Mudder.

Developing Clear Goals

Throughout the months that led up to us stepping on the starting line, we prepared our bodies through training. Developing clear goals in preparation was critical for us to conquer the course. We wanted to head into the Tough Mudder with confidence and knew that our confidence would grow by feeling physically and mentally prepared. As we recognized progress toward our goals, it motivated us to continue pushing further. We were driven to continuously work toward our goals as we had ownership over them and aspired to do our best at the Tough Mudder.

As educators are we developing goals and carving out time for our learners to as well?

High Aspirations

The night before the event, I began to read through the waiver that I had signed months in advance. You see, I was leaving our two boys for the day and thoughts of uncertainty started to run through my head as I read the levels of possible injuries that range from minor, serious, to catastrophic. The reality of what I was risking… even death. The wording on the waiver hit me like a ton of bricks. I had to focus on my aspirations to overcome fear and to push my body beyond its comfort zone. I persisted through the feelings of doubt and focused on all that I’d done to prepare myself. Without high aspirations to complete the Tough Mudder, I would have stepped back into comfort. We cannot allow fear to suppress our aspirations, and we need to leverage passions to inspire learning.

What are your aspirations? How do they connect to your passions? Are we supporting learners to identify their passions which lead to aspirations?

The Vibe Connects The Tribe, Creates Motivation

The morning of the event, we stepped onsite ready to take on the obstacles! There’s nothing like being present at a Tough Mudder event. Music pumped from speakers, and everyone was giving high-fives, the vibe is more about camaraderie compared to similar events such as races. What I appreciate most about Tough Mudder is that they place a significant emphasis on teamwork and bonding as a tribe. It doesn’t matter if you know the person or not, help out each when you see someone needs help.

What steps are you taking to create a vibe that connects and inspires a tribe to move toward the shared vision? How does the energy in your school or classroom inspire learning?

 

Perseverance and Grit

At the Tough Mudder, it was the Lock Ness Monster that grabbed ahold of my fears. I stood on the brink of jumping into the depth of the murky water and just observed. I knew the water would be over my head and that I’d have nothing to step on to lift my body up and over the revolving metal obstacle. Waves of people kept passing by (except for my encouraging teammates), and I noticed how quickly individuals knocked into others, forcing them underwater. While I successfully conquered this obstacle through perseverance and grit, it was messy; both literally and metaphorically. Muddy water filled my nostrils and individuals collided into me.

Reflecting on this serves as a reminder that when we see individuals who are more hesitant about shifts, it doesn’t mean that they’re defenders of the status quo. I think that risks require us to calculate the benefits, and consider implications of our actions. The same goes for our learners. They may be cautious to transition to developing ownership over their learning, especially if they’re accustomed to compliance based learning. It was the encouragement of others that supported me to step forward through every challenge throughout the Tough Mudder course.

What holds you back from embracing shifts? Whether it’s infusing moving from teacher to coach or empowering learning, take time to reflect on what you require to move forward. How are we supporting our learners to develop perseverance and grit?

Reflection

Reflecting on that day, we laughed, cried, and there were times I flat out wanted to quit. But, I never did. As educators, we’ve all had days like this in the classroom. Throughout the experience, I was never pressured to engage in an obstacle that made me feel uncomfortable. It’s incredible how the Tough Mudder environment provokes your inner warrior while also creating systems of support. When confronted with new challenges in education, I think back to my Tough Mudder experience. There were obstacles that I thought I’d completely skip, but I ended up taking on. It was all about having ownership over my goals/, high aspirations that connected to a passion of mine, a supportive environment that energized, and the ability to demonstrate grit.

How do we approach shifts as individuals? Are we teaming up with others to make more significant strides, scaffolding our efforts to gain confidence, or are we trying to entirely avoid the apparent obstacles that are staring back at us?

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Imagine the Possibilities

By nature, kids are curious. They’re explorers, makers, and doers. As educators, do we see this side of our students? Are we providing opportunities for students to explore? Do we acknowledge the deep thinkers who ponder life’s mysteries and carve out time for them to dig deeper? In our schools, are we empowering learners or expecting compliance? Author, teacher and speaker, Pernille Ripp states that “for too long we have ignored the voices of our students and we are now paying the price. We have created schools that children no longer want to be a part of, so it’s time for us to break some rules.” Pernille speaks to my heart, and I stand with her; it’s time for us to break some rules, particularly those that are embedded in traditional education. We must craft authentic learning opportunities for learners to explore, dream and discover. Our learners each have unique strengths and talents; I wonder how well we’re tapping into them?

 

While conversing with a teacher, she shared with me that there are so many things that she’d love to change about teaching and her classroom, but gets nervous. I couldn’t help but ask, “what makes you so nervous?” She explained, “I don’t like to rock the boat.” Educators, I’m here to say that it’s time we rock the boat. Right now is a fantastic time to be in education. There are endless possibilities for us to unleash creativity and empower learning in our schools. I too, feel the pressure. Time is always of the essence, as teachers we often have programs to remain on pace with, or think that we can’t veer too far from where our teammates are regarding teaching content. Constraints and obstacles will always exist, and we must identify strategies to tunnel over, under or through them. Whether real or perceived, parameters indeed exist.

 

I continue to explore these questions:

How do we go about innovating inside the box and break free from the mold?

How do we shift mindsets from feeling that one-dimensional approaches are best?

With grading practices reflecting an “average” or even a standards-based grade, how can we possibly be getting an accurate read on the growth of the whole child as learners?

 

I recently read The End of Average, by Todd Rose. According to Rose, there is no such thing as an average student. He argues that the longstanding practice of drawing conclusions about individuals using statistical averages is flawed and damaging, especially in education. Our schools often operate on the premise that ignores the complexity and potential of individual students. Evidence of this lies in our one-dimensional assessments and scripted curriculums that schools often employ.

 

Teachers across our country examine data that connects to standardized assessments that supposedly demonstrate student growth. As a teacher, I see that my students have made excellent gains each year, but what exactly does it mean? Yes, they grew within that standard or even as critical thinkers who can discern correct answers. I embrace impactful instructional strategies and value the foundations of learning, and they’re a must. But after reading, The End of Average, I just can’t help but wonder what we’re missing with our students when we don’t explore innovative approaches that ignite curiosity or draw on our student’s strengths. Personally, I could write a full-narrative for each of my students, and that narrative wouldn’t necessarily be backed by their grades or standardized assessments.

 

It’s fascinating to me that my youngest child can solve math problems off the top of his head that most people would have to write down to answer. He’s an avid reader, who is labeled “above average” on screenings, yet his state assessments don’t necessarily match up. As teachers, do we know who our kids really are beyond the data points? Based on his state test data he could be identified as requiring support, but he apparently doesn’t need it. Knowing my child for who he is, he just doesn’t care to take the time on a long standardized test. Despite encouragement and prompting from teachers, he cannot identify value in the assessment. In my classroom, I’ve seen kids who are incredibly conscientious about pleasing myself and their parents. Without the constraint of time on our standardized assessments, some students will work the length of the school day to complete it. Unlike my son who would prefer to buck the system, these kids are genuinely intent on achieving what they feel is perfect.

 

My youngest is an avid LEGO creator, reader, and an idea creator, but has been described to me as “bossy” and “overly busy.” Respectfully, I prefer to define him as an individual who is creative, tenacious, personable, charismatic, and has natural leadership ability. These are strengths for him to harness as he develops. From the parent perspective, I see that when teachers support him by navigating his strengths, he flourishes.

 

I’ve seen the beauty of infusing authentic and dynamic experiences that integrate students’ strengths and passions to elevate learning opportunities and invigorate a true love of learning within students. My goal is to support students to be invested in their unique learning journey, and grasp they can never accurately compare their journey to someone else’s. By cultivating ownership over learning, students develop a sense of empowerment and begin to truly soar. Someday our students will need to make a living, and I hope that the learners who I touch will identify their passions and create a path that leads them to their calling, not just another job.

 

I’m curious how the concept of school would shift if we embraced the idea that “average” doesn’t really exist. How would the role of learners change? As continuous learners, let’s embrace that our journey in education is ongoing and continually evolving. For many of us, our goal is to leave a lasting legacy on one another, our school community, and ultimately our most precious commodity, our students. I hope that you’ll join me in this conversation and share your ideas. In my opinion, no idea is too big or too crazy. Let’s imagine all the possibilities of school!

 

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Limitless: #OneWord 2017

You. Are. LIMITLESS. You have more potential than you give yourself credit for. With hard work and perseverance anything can be made possible. I can say this because I’ve lived and experienced it.

Very few individuals know that the beginning of 2016 was one of the toughest times in my life. For several reasons my #oneword for 2016 was courage. I needed this word to be my central focus. Focusing on the word courage allowed me to take a challenging time and flip it for an all out incredible year filled with new opportunities and growth. I have so much to be grateful for that happened in 2016, but it wasn’t by chance. Rather, it was by choice. In life we choose how to react to situations or move forward toward goals. This takes strength, courage and the ability to be resilient. 

Throughout 2016 I called upon courage often in all aspects of life, and the way I started with the word courage isn’t the way I ended the year using it. The word courage evolved over the course of 2016. A few examples of how I focused on courage professionally was as #LeadUpTeach developed and went live on several social media platforms. I called upon it again as I began having more opportunities to speak and present beyond my district level professional development that I facilitate. Through these experiences I learned to adjust my thinking. Instead of feeling nervous, I convinced myself that it was actually excitement that I felt. As humans we have the profound ability to reframe our thoughts and emotions. I learned this wisdom from a Podcast by Christina Canters and also an interview with Simon Sinek. People often avoid doing what they love because fear, doubt or nervousness holds them back. I’m truly invested in all I do, and I’ve developed great joy from it all. Deep within we all have courage and it’s a choice if we want to ignite it or allow it to remain inside us.

This past fall I was honored to become an ambassador for Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E.® (developed by @LaVonna Roth) and also have my students be the first group of student ambassadors. This has been transformational for both myself, my students, and the culture of our classroom. Together we’re exploring who we are as individuals through each section of S.H.I.N.E.: Self, Heart, Inspire, Navigate, and Exceptional.

Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E.® not only amplified my courage, but it inspired me to feel fearless and view life as limitless. Courage goes hand-in-hand with being limitless. I began to focus more deeply on how I could navigate my passions to inspire others. One of the most impactful ways that I employed this was when I began sharing my ambitious dreams with others. It was a risk to take because I wondered, what if my dreams don’t materialize? What if this person doesn’t believe in me or ridicules me? Nevertheless, I believe that sharing my aspirations aloud has a different level of accountability. I compare it to throwing a mountaineering axe into the side of a mountain. To achieve our goals we benefit from envisioning our path and maintaining a firm mental grip to move toward them. Today, I no longer have the same worries that I once had. I know that I’ll face challenges, they’re a natural part of life. Fortunately, I also have the tenacity to learn from and overcome them.

While 2016 kicked off with such uncertainty, it was my choice to demonstrate courage. Through this I learned how life itself is limitless.

fearlessA year ago I was told by someone in the field of education that without an administrative degree or experience as a building principal, I couldn’t do some of the things I’m currently doing such as speaking and supporting teachers outside our district. I recall mulling this comment over and how it affected me in the moment. Today, I’m actually thankful that this event occurred because I have used it as fuel to demonstrate what I’m capable of. While there’s a lot of benefit to having an administrative degree, and it may be something I pursue at some point, I also find immense value in speaking on behalf of what’s occurring in the classroom and how to maneuver through all of the expectations. Many teachers strive to integrate PBL, passion projects, edcamps, technology and making. At the same time, they feel the pressure to maintain all of the mandated programs and initiatives that come along with education. While it’s an epic time to be in education, it can also be overwhelming. My goal is to support teachers in seeing that the possibilities are limitless and provide inspiration as they move forward toward their goals. Following the day that comment was made to me, my mindset was charged to proceed forward and my determination has only grown stronger since then.

In addition to supporting fellow educators, my objective is for every child to realize that they themselves are limitless. They are NOT a score, a reading level, or what someone else thinks they’ll become. They have capabilities and passions that have yet to be discovered. As educators it’s our obligation to support students in learning how to ignite their S.H.I.N.E. and to inspire them to identify their passions in order for them to be limitless in life. We can do this through helping others to learn how to navigate their strengths and refine other areas for growth. When students learn to ignite their S.H.I.N.E. and the S.H.I.N.E. within others, greater growth occurs within each individual. Living a limitless life isn’t happenstance, but rather an intentional way to approach life with fortitude.

As individuals we decide how limitless we want to live. We control this through our daily choices. However, we often put limits on ourselves or allow others to put limits upon us. What’s stopping you from being limitless? Together we benefit from connecting, challenging, inspiring and supporting one another to pursue our highest potential. I believe in living life to the fullest and leaving a footprint as a part of a legacy. Join me in embracing a limitless life, and helping others around you to ignite their S.H.I.N.E. to make a lasting impact on our world, one day at a time.

limitless-dream

Empower Learning featured Inspiration Leadership Luminous Culture

10 Characteristics of a LeadUp Teacher

A LeadUp Teacher undoubtedly possesses many characteristics! Innovative, inspiring, and empowering just to name a few. What would you add to these 10 Defining Characteristics of a LeadUp Teacher?

Continually Curious
A LeadUp Teacher is adept at asking questions. What is…, how does it work, is there another way, what about this, why… and so on. This teacher asks these questions of both others and themselves on a regular basis. Never content with answers that take on a, “This is how it has always been done.” flavor. The LeadUp Teacher knows that questioning the status quo is their responsibility and others actually expect them to push the envelope with their questions. -Heidi
Adds Value to Others
LeadUp Teachers recognize how to relate to colleagues in all positions, and they devote quality time to listening with understanding to their needs and concerns. They are cognizant of what others value and are continually learning about those they work with in order to lead effectively. When we identify the strengths of those around us, we can uplift and encourage our team members to step forward. As we add value to individuals, areas of growth further develop and begin to strengthen due to trusting relationships, support, and encouragement. LeadUp Teachers are aware of the impact they have when they intentionally add value to colleagues. -Lis
Empowers & Celebrates Strengths
When teachers feel celebrated they recognize that their strengths contribute to the greater good and are motivated to make more of an impact. LeadUp Teachers understand that it’s not solely the principal’s role to celebrate the accomplishments of others, but grasp that as a collaborative team we share this responsibility.The LeadUp Teacher empowers colleagues by modeling risk-taking, sharing, and being transparent about both successes and failures. By being willing to take the fall and share about experiences, colleagues feel a sense of security which in turn promotes them to take risks as well. Leadup teachers verbalize their belief in their colleagues and act as a support system that provides genuine encouragement. -Lis
Reflective Practitioner
Deliberate reflection turns experiences into an opportunity for growth. Leadup teachers understand that they need to look back to move forward. They reflect by uncovering both their successes and failures in order to retool their practice. Reflection that is transparent promotes the growth of both individuals and teams as teachers share what they learned, and how they will proceed forward in the future. Leadup Teachers embrace a growth mindset and the idea that every opportunity around us, provides an opportunity to learn. -Lis
Habitual Learner
The LeadUp Teacher doesn’t depend on others to grow or challenge them. They view professional development as a lifestyle, not an event and are always on the lookout for opportunities to learn more, do more, and be more because they know their continual growth is a critical factor to their students’ growth over time. Being a lifelong learner is never cliche for the LeadUp Teacher, but rather is their unyielding mindset, the pervasive culture in their classroom, and encompases a passion not quenched by compliance based professional development. George Couros explained, “To truly integrate new learning, it is critical to carve out time for exploration, collaboration, and reflection to allow educators to apply what they are learning.” This is what a LeadUp Teacher does in all areas of their life. -Heidi
Ignites Innovative Practices & Embraces Shifts
The LeadUp Teacher often serves as a catalysts for innovation as they see a variety of possibilities on how to craft diverse and unique learning opportunities that richly benefit students, and their school community. As connected educators who embrace learning from fellow educators in a variety of positions, the LeadUp Teacher is able to gain a unique perspective on shifts taking place in schools globally. LeadUp Teachers are fearless in the pursuit of what’s best for students and their school community. With a tendency to be visionary, the LeadUp Teacher identifies how they are a key player in fostering systemic change through cultivating shifts that impact school culture, instructional strategy, and ultimately student learning. -Lis
Demonstrates Courage & Voice
Cultivating change and being a risk taker in education requires boldness. The LeadUp Teacher exhibits courage, finesse, and demonstrates a solid voice when it comes to advocating for improved practices and authentic learning opportunities for students. Before making decisions, a LeadUp Teacher always considers the impact on the whole child. When educators collaborate with an all hands on deck approach, they empower one another to demonstrate courage and share their voice. -Lis
Positive Outlook & Impact
The LeadUp Teacher approaches life and their work with a positive outlook. They throw kindness around like confetti and their impact is one of positivity. They believe and expect the best in others, approaching challenges with positive suppositions. They reframe obstacles as opportunities to innovate rather than seeing setbacks as overwhelming defeat. Or as LaVonna Roth explained it in her Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E. presentation at the What Great Educators Do Differently conference, They know “adversities are opportunities in disguise.” -Heidi
Passionate, Committed, & Purposefully Driven
“Purpose is the reason you journey. Passion is the fire that lights your way.” -Unknown
LeadUp Teachers are “fearless in the pursuit of what sets their soul on fire” -Jennifer Lee. They exude passion for their priorities which always center on PEOPLE first! They are committed to inspiring everyone in their sphere of influence, first and foremost their students, colleagues, and families. They see what they do as  both significant and life altering. Their passion to LeadUp is not accidental or random, but a calling that drives an unwavering, unending commitment to excellence! -Heidi
 
100% Student Focused
Doing what’s best for students is the only way a Lead Up Teacher knows how to work. Their purpose is to make the world a better place one student at a time, one day at a time. Students are at the center of their purpose, passion, decisions, and classroom. They put the needs of their students ahead of their own comfort zones, expectations, and even plans. Students are the focus of the classroom and student learning takes center stage, priority #1.
-Heidi
Each day we’re provided a new opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students and within our school community. Embracing the characteristics of a LeadUp Teacher has the potential to inspire passion to ignite within others, which empowers them to put forth their best. In this movement, how will you be an influencer who embraces the characteristics of a Leadup Teacher and sparks the spirit within others?
Elisabeth Bostwick is an innovative elementary educator in Horseheads,NY; Heidi Veal is a passionate Assistant Principal in McKinney, TX. Both ladies lead #Leadupteach, a movement dedicated to innovation and the empowerment of teacher leaders. 
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Ignite a Movement, Be a Trailblazer

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to attend a ropes course, it’s likely that you felt intrigued while observing the varying levels of ability.  From novice to expert every individual moves at his or her own pace.  Others prefer to stand to the side and watch the action take place.

Following a recent experience at a ropes course with my sons, I was struck with how schools are comparable.  While some teachers avidly advance forward as innovators who motivate and challenge colleagues to try new ideas, others want to know every minute detail and speculate all of the possibilities in order to grasp the big picture and purpose before committing to taking action.  We need to be in tune with the needs of the individuals in our organization, decipher what drives them, and how we can support them to move forward.  In our field, we need to aspire to empower every educator to be a significant agent of change regardless of their starting point.

Educators have the capacity to be the fire starters to ignite a movement when the culture and climate are robust enough to support it.  By movement, I mean a complete transformation in the way we envision and do school.  Individually we are making varying differences daily, but collectively we can produce a significant impact and provoke immense change.  In today’s world we desperately need committed educators who spark awe and wonder within students, while encouraging the spark to spread contagiously as students continue to inquire, seek answers, and develop new questions around relevant topics.  Leaders alike need to do the same amongst their staff and colleagues shifting to foster a culture where educators feel supported to take responsible risks.  The culture of schools, with trust as the cornerstone, should be one that stirs up a crusade where teachers eagerly identify their passions and feel supported to take risks, grow, and challenge one another.

 

Foundation First

On the ropes course I had to feel assured that my sons and I were completely safe in our harnesses in order to proceed through the challenges.  Guides were in the vicinity checking in and also demonstrating safety, which promoted confidence in those of us on the course.

In any organization, relationships and trust are the pillars to a strong culture.  Educators and administrators alike need to feel supported.  If our goal is to increase innovative practices and opportunities for our students and teachers, we need to take a step back and analyze how we’re nurturing the culture.  Fear can cripple a person and lead to avoiding risk-taking behavior and therefore stifle innovation.

In our organizations we need to know our people, understand and be empathetic to their needs, as well as listen to and value their ideas.   Our schools need to cultivate a culture of innovation so strong that it carries itself beyond any change in staff or leadership in order to continue to do what’s best for students as our world changes minute-to-minute.

Connect With Thought Leaders
Coming together through connections with like-minded educators enhances the power to be trailblazers in education as we are able to support one another and share ideas.  Joining together through shared beliefs and dreams drives passion within individuals enabling synergy to develop.  Connect through Twitter or use an app such as Voxer that will provide you with flexibility to communicate.  This enables interdependence between educators to support and collaboratively move one another forward.  The more often we connect with a team of like-minded thought leaders we develop confidence.  Confidence is critical in order to make pedagogical shifts and face challenges head on.  We need to know who is by our side to support us without judging our alternative ideas and who will provide authentic feedback for reflection and growth.

Encourage Educators to be “Non-Compliant.”
Compliance doesn’t lead to change.  Compliance leads to complacency, which jeopardizes growth and success.  At the ropes course, I was tempted to call out to my sons to hold the rope, or to slow down.  I had to refrain because if I didn’t want to suppress their growth.  My sons are both risk takers, and I had to trust the fact that they were using all of their senses to appropriately travel through the challenges in a supportive environment.

In thinking about the diversity that fills our schools, we need to examine what makes each individual most confident in order for them to join the movement.  Cultivating and sustaining a culture of innovation requires delicate balance.

When we recognize risk-taking educators who are ready to soar, we need to clear the runway and provide encouragement along with the space to take off; but the key is that we also need to have them on our teams collaborating to provoke deep thinking, which can elicit others to join the movement.  Initiate conversations around how their ideas support the shared vision, what action steps they’re taking, and see how others could gain from what they have to offer.  When we bring a diverse team of thought leaders together to collaborate we can promote growth from all angles and develop thorough plans.  Within every organization there are educators who are comfortable diving-in and just going for it, while others take time to adjust.  Honoring and celebrating individual qualities creates a no-judgment zone where educators know they’re supported when they feel it’s their time to fly.

Likewise, when we sense educators are uncomfortable about change, we need to be cognizant of the environment they’re in, who are they connected with, and nurture the culture to support their individual growth.  Educators who require all of the nuts and bolts of a plan, or to see the big picture before moving forward, benefit from clarity of the vision.  When we engage in active listening practices and are genuinely empathetic, others are able to trust that they’re supported.  As educators we can all highlight the strengths that shine within each individual.  Our role as educators is to empower, whether it’s empowering students, colleagues, families, or ourselves.

In terms of non-compliance, educators need to have the autonomy to do what they know is best for students.  We need to motivate educators to make every decision with students at the forefront.  Educators benefit from developing a shared vision with coherence by examining the world students are living in and stretching our means to support them to be successful and future ready.

As an educator,  I know I need to utilize the standards as the foundation of student learning, but traditional education as we know it is hindering our students’ growth.  Is learning in silos effective and is it how we apply information to life outside of the classroom?  Educators in all positions need to challenge themselves by reflecting on why they’re doing, what they’re doing.  Being a continuous learner enables us to develop confidence in our endeavor.  As trailblazers who are shifting paradigms of education, I urge all to join in and be an influencer who walks the talk.

Inspire Others
Through relationships we need to tap into each individual’s passions and fuel their desire by celebrating unique strengths, contributions and involving them in a movement for the greater good.  Demonstrating our commitment towards the vision, leading by example and clearly articulating why and how we’re shifting our pedagogy can influence others by inspiring them to take action.  I believe every teacher desires a successful team of students who are eager to arrive at school and demonstrate grit through rigorous and relevant learning.  Educators need to see the vast amounts of possibilities despite perceived barriers.  When a barrier presents itself we inspire others by relentlessly pursuing all options without defeat.
Educators in all positions of the field have the ability to ignite a movement.  Some of us go big while others prefer to start small.  Despite your preference I challenge you to consider what you believe needs to revolutionized and connect with like minded professionals, develop your vision, and craft your plan so that others gain clarity and feel supported to take action alongside you.  Our children deserve our very best.  They benefit from flexible learning environments that arouse creativity, innovation, honor divergent thinkers and provide appropriate challenges around relevant and engaging topics from educators who authentically value the child’s personality, and foster genuine relationships.  As committed educators we’re in it together to ignite this movement, we just need step forward.
ropesblog
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Unlocking the True Potential Within Every Child: Be Their Champion

You have the power to make a phenomenal impact in the lives of children.

I believe educators are astoundingly fortunate to have the honor of engaging in the approach of unlocking the true potential within every child.  Regardless of their background or circumstances, by pursuing all avenues to reach and inspire each individual child, we can all make a difference in our students’ lives.  It’s phenomenal that educators have the opportunity to be a champion to not just one child, but hundreds of children over the course of their career.  I believe that when we work collaboratively for a cause that’s greater than ourselves, the impact will cause ripples that travel further than our minds can fathom.

Our profession is all about kids.  They’re our future, and it’s an enormous responsibility because our interactions will either inspire or discourage. A lot of conversations have been had around risk taking and failing forward in education.  While these words are tossed around and contemplated, each person has a different image of what this actually looks like.  

Developed progressively, every year my vision has shifted and evolved with each diverse and unique team of students I’ve had the privilege to work alongside.  I’ve gained a deeper understanding of why culture is critical and how to harmoniously refine the development within each new team.  In a community where culture is authentic and strong, students flourish and truly begin to seek risk taking, than simply being “open” to it. 

A considerable amount of time needs to be devoted to cultivating relationships with individual students in order to assist in developing their ability to take risks.  And this means daily, as it’s an ongoing pursuit.  Sit beside the child, allow them to guide the conversation, seek information about who they are and what their passions and dreams consist of.  When we demonstrate that we genuinely care, students connect with us.  When we connect by sharing our commonalities and continue to ask about their individual interests, students know we’re invested and truly care about their best interest.  

Our students need to feel a safety net around them from us as well as their peers.  Peer acceptance is a piece of their sense of belonging.  Tailoring experiences where students develop empathy for their peers is essential.  If we truly want students to develop the ability to take risks, they need to feel their basic needs are met and that others have their back.  Making the assumption that students come to school and feel safe, or that they belong, is risky.  We need to be intentional about how we craft our classroom culture by providing opportunities to build trust between students and teachers, as well as students and students.  Teachers gauge the level of trust within the room by observing, taking the temperature of the climate, and continuing to learn the idiosyncrasies of each individual student.  In looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, we see that if we want students to become risk takers, it’s pertinent that all of their basic needs are met. 

Recently at the 2015 Model Schools conference one speaker focused on fairness in the eyes of a child.  Fairness is a child’s perception, and perception is real to the beholder.  Will students develop the mindset to be a risk taker if the playing field doesn’t feel level?  We need to communicate clearly, consistently, and remain cognizant of cultivating authentic relationships with each and every student.  Furthermore, students benefit from a level of comfort/safety where they’re empowered to provide us honest feedback as their coach (teacher), and that is only possible in a classroom where students feel completely supported to take risks without repercussions. After all, in order to understand our students’ perceptions we need to listen and validate their feedback.  When students provide us with feedback, we can then stretch ourselves to learn and grow from their input. Students thrive when they’re embraced unconditionally.  Every child deserves a champion who will rally around them and validate their feelings while continually improve for their sake.

This past year I continually repeated “mistakes are proof that you are trying” as students collaborated on relevant and complex problem solving.  I hung this poster on the wall to be visible to all students.  By midyear all I had to say, “mistakes…” and the students would complete my sentence.  Rather than scolding them for giggling when I made a mistake, students grasped the fact that I too will make mistakes and they’d say, “It’s okay Mrs. Bostwick, it’s proof you’re trying!”  It was liberating for them to identify that their coach is not the beholder of all knowledge, but rather the individual that was there to facilitate, guide, and encourage.

Life is filled with adversity.  How we choose to handle it is embedded in our mindset.  Fortunately mindset is malleable, and I believe every teacher has the ability to empower students to learn to fail forward, seek risks, and pursue their passions.  Setbacks are part of growth, and we need to provide experiences within a supportive environment to stimulate this understanding in order for students to develop flexibility in thinking.  Cultivating and nurturing the culture of a classroom provides the fertile environment for students to thrive and seek risk taking which leads to innovative problem solving and creations.

Repeated failures can lead to success when students are inspired to aspire toward their goal.  The key is to foster their ability to identify their passions in an environment that richly supports risk taking through supportive and trusting relationships.

This summer my 10 year old son, Julian, who has always been a tinkerer and maker, was further inspired by the idea of makerspace as it’s been a hot topic in our house.  Energized, he worked tenaciously to develop an obstacle course that would allow a ping-pong ball to travel from one point to another using random materials found around our home.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, he used an iPad to document his trials which demonstrate failure after failure that led to his success.  In watching his iMovie you’ll recognize his efforts of making slight alterations in order to reach the intended goal as well as the sound of success at the end.

See Julian’s iMovie: Trial and Error by Julian

Imagine the impact that would transpire if all students were empowered to continue to persevere in the face of challenge, and yearned for the sheer joy of the process of overcoming obstacles.  We can make this happen, and kids deserve the culture and environment that supports this.

Intrinsic motivation catapults students’ determination and outcome of success.  As educators we have the collective capacity to share in the movement to empower students to be innovative problem solvers, who develop the prowess to examine situations from all angles.  Every child deserves a champion who will tailor and foster a learning environment for them to bloom.  Be the change you wish to see in education because #kidsdeserveit.