Thursday, July 16, 2015

Not school as usual...

So I made it through chapter 2. Yay! Summer has been a bit beastly for sitting and reading this year.

I wish I could just share the notes in the margin of the book, and I guess I could take pictures, but I might run into copyright issues.

The first big star I have is next to where the distinction between expectations as directives and expectations as beliefs was explained. This is the heart of why we can't make the change to a culture of thinking. Directives are how we keep our world functioning in an orderly way. Directives have students doing what they are supposed to do and when they are supposed to do it. Directives at MDE have given us good results. In response to hardies's post I wrote in the margin, "If our expectation "for" students is for test passing, then our expectations of students will match. Again, it will show immediately when entering a class." You can tell the difference between directives and beliefs as expectations in the classroom.

The next big thing was on pages 42-43, "the creation of a real-world action theory demands that we acknowledge and try to reconcile for ourselves the pushes and pulls that exist in a given context." I wrote that this is an issue. So few people will take the time to do this, they will wait until they are forced. Will it still count? There is an earlier post about this and I said yes, I thought it would still count, but now I'm not so sure. If creating a culture of thinking becomes "just another initiative" I doubt that it will gain traction.

My next big margin scribble was on page 48 where he was talking about school as usual. Giving up school as usual is a huge undertaking, and it takes a lot of buy in from so many people. That's what Model Schools was all about though--showcasing the schools that weren't just school as usual. I enjoyed hearing about the amazing things that are happening, and I think we can do them here. There is just a huge commitment involved that some folks aren't going to want to make. I would call those people ex-employees, but I don't have that kind of power!

My final note for today is one of having a fixed mindset. I don't have many memories, it is a weird quirk of mine that I don't remember anything. I know that in high school I was intensely motivated to get the grade, and I did well. My form of perfectionism is to keep trying until I get it right, which isn't exactly the same as a growth mindset, but also didn't allow me to give up. I do remember once in government we were playing a quiz game show. I was adamant that I had the right answer, even though everyone else in my group disagreed. I fought, and fought, and got really mad, and they went with my answer. It was wrong! I burst into tears and ran out of the room because I was so embarrassed. I hid in the bathroom for the rest of the period. I was so fixated on being right and on winning that I couldn't listen to anyone else. That's how I feel education is today. Everyone wants to be right and win the test scores game, so no one wants to collaborate and risk being wrong. We might all end up crying in the bathroom, but at least we didn't give up on our beliefs! Growth is about allowing other ideas in, and processing them, and then deciding if they are right, wrong or somewhere in between. I think that's what this chapter is telling us. It isn't that we have bad expectations. It is that we have rigid expectations and that we need to be willing to look at another side.

We have a joke around Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo time, "it's all about the kids!" It is in response to the constant barrage of fundraising efforts to raise money for scholarships, but it fits here too. If we keep our future in mind, which is the children we teach and who will be running our country and taking care of us, then we should be willing to change whatever expectations we need to in order to make that future bright.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Such an easy first step:

Environment, even on summer vacation we take time to change and clean our homes or even travel to explore and see amazing things in exotic locations. What is so different about our classrooms? During the year we probably spend more time in them than anywhere else truly connecting with the ‘cells and bells’ comments more than we want to admit.
The one quote that really hit home was on page 230, “We need to understand the role of physical environment in shaping culture. ……. As a student walks into the classroom, the physical space is part if the hidden curriculum, conveying messages about how learning will happen.” The quote continues to even reflect on the lack of attention placed on the classroom environment in secondary schools when in elementary and professional locations great lengths are made to create warm, inviting spaces.
Now I am the type that even asks the students and my own kids if the classroom has too much going on. The response is usually no however at times I do feel closed in by the many chart paper poems, kids work, word webs etc.  And, guiltily the Pintrest bulletin board that I created to ‘inspire’ my students to think about a novel in a new way. So, first change, first teacher work day, ask: ‘Do your displays highlight your creativity or that of your students?’  I honestly, never thought about this before. Every summer I would think about a theme for my elementary classroom in order to carry throughout the year – you know – lets take movies so, popcorn name tags, theater tickets for parent notes, spell popcorn for management purposes etc.  Then I moved to middle school – no themes here (students are too cool except smelly stickers) Yet, I still created a bulletin board to motivate. Little did I realize (like being hit in the head – think V8 commercial) that student discoveries/inquires are more motivating. Again, so obvious it hurts.
I also see my neighbor classrooms with nothing on the walls. Even having meetings in these classrooms create a feeling of unimportance. If we hang pictures in our homes to create warmth and togetherness, why would our classrooms be any different?  This is when a ‘small platoon’ is visible the most.

Ritchhart explains how to create a culture rich environment simplistically and in the extreme of creating a whole new school. Now, the latter is impossible but the other spectrum is so easily done that it is painful to think of all the teachers that have nothing on their walls. Shutting many students down before a word is even spoken.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Thoughts on Enculturation

In an effort to be transparent, and to introduce myself to the group, I am thought of as an out-spoken person. I say thought of because I don't usually see myself that way, but the number of times that I have been told otherwise belie that self assessment.

I say that because I am going to be out-spoken about something that I see daily, the culture of my school and district. I loved (see proof below) the phrase "residuals of education" (p. 19). Shelby spoke to this in one of her comments. It's what's left when the student has left the classroom, school, district, formal education world. It is the "soft skills" that everyone is spending some much time talking about. It is what we are wanting to give to our students if we are reading this book.

The residuals of learning come when we give students the gift of a disposition, "an enduring characteristic or trait of a person that serves to motivate behavior." (pg. 19) And we can only give the gift of these dispositions--curiosity, problem solving, forward thinking, compassion, innovation, etc.--if our culture immerses the students in those things. (pg. 20) Not just schools, but homes as well, and I am very guilty of not being the best #culturesofthinking mom!

I hear a lot of lip service given to creating students who are 21st Century ready. Students who are ready to tackle a world that is ever changing. Students who will join the workforce as strong, competent, lifelong learners and leaders. A lot of folks are saying that they believe the story of a culture of thinking (pg. 21).

The culture of my campus, and largely of the district, and of the nation as a whole, is not telling this story. There are so many pockets of amazing things happen, but in order for the disposition to be created, the enculturation cannot just come in pockets. There are classrooms on every campus that are filled with the kind of culture that will instill these dispositions in our students, and you can tell from the moment you walk into those classes what the culture is. The trick is to make this culture systemic.

I think the fact that people are talking about creating cultures of thinking is a positive sign. There has to be some spark if there is smoke! I think that education is key to moving people from talking about cultures of thinking to living cultures of thinking. We must, as leaders, nurture this culture in our adults. Teachers, staff, administration, parents--all need to be immersed in this culture too. How often are we told what to do and rewarded if we do it correctly? Even as adults. The ubiquitous jeans pass comes to mind--what wouldn't a teacher do for a jeans pass? As a parent I feel it too, the need to have my children conform so that I look like a good mom.

We can do this! We can create a new culture. It will be a long road, but it will be worth it. The smartest person in the room is the room right? Look what a smart and creative room we have. Ritchhart quotes David Jakes on page 30, "Creating a new story requires that the author or authors of that new story cast aside the destructive 'Yah But' mentality, and ask 'What If?'" Sara Wilke called it "Yes. And?" as Karen likes to remind me.

Let's do it! Let's only ask "What If?" from here out. Let's answer negativity and excuses with "Yes. And?"

What if this blog is the start of a truly fabulous collaboration that is going to create a culture of thinking in our schools and district? It can happen!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Choosing Your Language

The hidden power of language has the "ability to convey subtle messages that shape our thinking, sense of self, and group affinity. (Ritchhart, 2015, p. 61).

My connection to chapter three is personal on many levels. When speaking, my focus is often on word choice. Am I using the right words to say what I mean? Or am I selecting vocabulary I assume the listener will understand? Ritchhart (2015) says word choice should be an important and deliberate act. He speaks about how our language choices shape "our behavior, interactions, thinking attention, and feelings in ways that we might mot be consciously aware of" (Ritchhart, 2015, p. 64).

In the book, Creating cultures of thinking, the focus is on the use of language in a classroom setting. It was a joy to read about how the words a teacher chooses to use can evoke specific responses of thought. I am sure we do this now, but we need to be more cognizant of this process. If not, here is a professional development discussion we need to have. And chapter three is our guide. Ritchhhart (2015) stated how "our language helps to shape out intention and that of our students, making it worthwhile to examine our language and strive to harness its power" (p.65).  Here is a worthy goal for the fall. Coaching and practicing the intentional use of language can have a tremendous impact in creating a culture of thinking teachers and students.

Now, I haven't finished reading chapter three. I just got excited about the topic.  As I read further into the chapter it discussed how word choice isn't the only objective. How we interact in conversations is important as well. Gauging a conversation tells us what is understood and where meaning might be lost or need more clarification. In a classroom setting "interactional language conveys interest in the students' thinking and signals authentic engagement with the task at hand" (Ritchhart, 2015, p.65).

I wonder...
What should the language of thinking be in our buildings? Communities? Our identities as teachers, leaders, e-trainers? We have T-2-4 and the 'one team one goal' motto. What language should are we using to reach this shared objective?

Sidenote: I find it was funny how my spell checker wants me to add a verb between creating and cultures in the book title. Lol!


Ritchhart, R. (2015). Creating cultures of thinking. San Fransico, CA: Jossey-Bass. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Most Important Piece to Cultures of Thinking....I

I am so excited to be reading this book, and to be part of my group.  However, I must confess that I have only read to page 5 at this point.  With the purchase of a new house, the selling of the old and two small boys on my hands, I can barely find time to sit still.  Which, leads me to this particular post.

I recently received an email from my colleague wondering how my reading was going. goodness..I am supposed to be reading!!!  I listed the slew of excuses above and then began feverishly searching for my book.  Things are now being tossed in boxes, and I was fearful it would not be found.  Luckily it had somehow found its way to the bookshelf.

Her email reminded me of the commitment I had made to the group, as well as to myself.  And this made me think of  the introduction and some of the things Ritchhart spoke to.  Mainly about the importance of a group and surrounding yourself with individuals who push "you to think and advance your thinking".

When I first began teaching I felt like a boat being battered from all sides by the storm of not knowing what to do.  I did not know who to turn to and often found myself sitting alone trying to come up with solutions to problems that seemed insurmountable.  With the birth of my first child I took two years off, and wasn't sure I wanted to return to the profession.
But, my husband convinced me to give it another go.  My first year back was rough, but for the first time I worked daily with another teacher.  And, I was fortunate enough that she was an individual who valued the idea of collaboration and thinking.  We worked together for an entire year.  Through this time she taught me a number of invaluable lessons.  However, the most important thing I learned from her was the power of collective thinking.  We developed a strong working relationship and she introduced me to others who worked and thought the same way.  These individuals became models, mentors and friends.  Each day I learned from them how to cultivate my own way of thinking, and how to share and model it too.  I cannot speak enough to the importance of this network in helping me grow and become better each day.
These relationships actually shifted my own mindset, and forced me face to my weaknesses and celebrate my strengths.  Our conversations can be fierce, and we don't always agree.  But, therein lies the strength of the culture.
So the point is....that I don't find it interesting at all that Ritchhart's introduction centers on who you surround yourself with.  This is the very foundation that must be laid, but it must be done with care and consideration.
Without my group, I might not even finish this book because life is messy and time is scarce.  But I have them to hold me accountable and remind me of how passionate I am about being an educator. They are the spokes to my intellectual wheel.

Questions I have:

  • Why does it seem like these types of cultures are created in spite of and outside of the traditional settings?
  • If cultures of thinking seem to flourish most when they occur organically, what happens to the nature of them when they become tailored and manipulated by a specific group/individual?
  • Is this mindset really a teachable concept or are there spaces in which it will have to be an imposed system, similar to ones we see today in most schools today?  Will it be useful then...

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Moving past "the why" in search of "the how"...

Much of what that was in the introduction and chapter 1 I have been sold on for a while, however, I have yet to see how to leverage the tenets proposed in a traditional public school system, i.e. not a charter, private, specialized, magnet, etc. etc., a regular, run of the mill public school.  That is what I am hoping to get closer to after reading this book.  I get the why...I am looking for the how.

After reading these the intro and chapter 1, my take away was that educators are strategists (probably the best on the planet).  Think about the charge...every year:  Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to-

  • Educate 10-150+ students
  • All have different needs and abilities
  • All have different interests
  • In 188 days
  • And, perform other duties as assigned…
  • Go!

Whoa!  Just typing that made me feel like putting on a cape and shooting my fist in the air!  Well, returning to reality now, it seems that Ritchhart is positing is that we should be strategizing for learning not managing time (which appears to be a default). Personally, I have no problem with starring time in the the face and saying, “you will never rule here in this classroom”.  I suspect this is a by-product of my experience from working for the postal service before becoming a teacher...the clock rules there in theory (it is kind of like the boogie man).  However, after 11 years in education (plus the 21 years as a student), I completely understand why this is not common, and I empathize beyond measure with my colleagues.

This first section also made me think of the accountability vs. responsibility paradigm hinted at in the book the Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley.  Will elaborate on this in a different blog post.

And, well, I am still looking for "the how".  How do we leverage a culture of thinking and sharing for adults?  At the moment, I think that is the key...creating culture of thinking for students would be a consequence of the aforementioned in the same way the “learning is a consequence of thinking” p.101. Or not...there are still several chapters read and think about.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Getting started... What if?

High expectations... It is amazing how I tackle a book when I have them! I am VERY careful to read in small chunks to try and digest. Sometimes though, I find it difficult to get "into" the book because I feel that I need to absorb it all. That is where I am with Ron Ritchhart's book, Creating cultures of thinking: The 8 Forces we Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools. I need to relax a bit, read through it, with the mindset that I can return as needed.

I have read the Introduction and Chapter 1. Here's my thinking so far:

  • Couldn't agree more that we need to have a common understanding and belief of what we are trying to accomplish. 
  • There isn't a recipe for a culture of thinking, but when you have it you should know it. To me, it is rather like being in "the flow," you're absorbed in what your doing and highly productive towards your goal (Does that make sense?).
  • Our expectations need to be focused "for our students" not "of our students." I like that distinction because it isn't about managing behaviors but about empowering students to learn. 
  • He references Vygotsky's work (fitting for us - "Find the zone!") and how we learn "with others in the midst of authentic activities" and the importance of the intellectual experiences we offer students.
  • I identified with Nicole (pg 23) as far as my experience in school. I was pretty good at playing the game of school. I vividly remember 3 learning experiences: 
    • 4th grade - special summer camp where I learned about the stock market. We actually tracked and graphed our own selected stocks. I was engaged.
    • 10th & 11th grade - Had a great ELA teacher - Mrs. Scott - who really cared and challenged your thinking - I still didn't do my best work much of the time, but I was forced to think
    • 12th grade - Trig - Had to use what I knew to mathematically figure out the outline of a side view of a car. It was the closest thing to understanding that higher level math that I ever knew.
  • Learning is a consequence of thinking! (pg 31)

Questions/What I'm pondering:

  • How might we change the culture - from one of completion of work and getting grades? Recently, I was talking with a SBISD parent who believes in everything this book is about but told me that when her kids got to high school she was done fighting the fight and told her kids to just "get the grade."
  • How might we compel all to make a shift like this? It is a lot of work - people need to model who they are as thinkers and learners (pg 8). As Ron says... that requires authenticity. Modeling: risk taking, reflection, success as outgrowth of failure... (Interesting because there is this notion of "work ethic" but aren't we training our students to think success is easily attained... that they can't fail...)
  • What are "thinking" dispositions? Well, guess he spells them out, but just in case I might have some additional ideas... ;-)
  • What if... our clientele understand that the model we went through isn't preparing our students (and didn't really prepare us) for success. (pg 29) 
  • What if ...our clientele understand that they have a stake in their child's education.  As my friend and old next-door neighbor growing up says, she wishes her parents had valued school/learning like mine did. 

Here's the real meat for me:
"When we make thinking visible, we are provided a window into not only what students understand but also how they are understanding it... We need to make thinking visible because it provides us with the information necessary to plan the opportunities that can take students' learning to the next level and enable continued engagement with the ideas of study." (pg. 32)
Why am I asking that we read this and consider the role of technology? What "affordances" does technology bring to documenting student thinking?  As Grant Lichtman says in his book #EDJourney,
"Technology provides some of the arrows in the quiver of innovation. Real innovation in learning means reframing the mindset of the archers - the students and teachers..."
I think reframing what we value through the lens of thinking will, in fact, begin our innovation. How might we begin?