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!