The world of education is in constant evolution as we strive to improve the quality of the learning experience for all students. We have our own lingo, and it does not take you long to realize that within the educational world there are lots of ways to say things. We spend lots of our own money on resources aimed at creating a challenging learning environment. We speak of differentiating, increasing the rigor, developing critical thinking skills and using higher-order questions as means to deepening the academic experience for our learners.   We spend countless hours in professional development sessions learning new strategies. In fact, just look at the session agenda of any educational conference where you will find lots of sessions on “How You Can Have a Challenging and Differentiated, Rigorous Classroom Where Critical Thinking Skills are Developed Through Asking Higher Order Questions.” 

Just google the word differentiation and you get no less than 16 millions hits. Wow! With all of this emphasis on what these types of learning environments should be, we often neglect to talk about how things are in getting to these types of classrooms.

Let’s face it. It’s awkward. What do I mean by that? In our best intentions and desires to have a challenging classroom, we do not mention that it creates a time of awkwardness on the part of the teacher and learner. This awkwardness, or sense of being uncomfortable, is created when the learner struggles to achieve at higher levels. This can be seen in the form of students struggling before they answer, being unsure about what to do, students who typically respond with confidence getting things ‘wrong,’ et cetera. In reality, it is this awkwardness that you WANT within your classroom as you are designing an academically challenging class or school. If the instructional level presented by the teacher does not create a sense of dissonance (uncomfortable), then is the instruction at the appropriate level? Instead of this awkwardness causing the teacher and learner to give up, it should be seen as a sign of success and a step toward getting the type of learning environment that matches the learner’s needs.

If struggle indicates strength — an ability to face down the challenges that inevitably occur when you are trying to learn something — you’re more willing to accept it. (MindShift)

So, embrace this uncomfortable feeling as you are intentional about raising the level of instruction in your classroom. It’s a good thing!

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Boy! I cannot believe that it is that time of the school year when we are winding down. Could it really be that another year has come and gone? It literally seems that we were just seeing the finishing touches of paint being applied, we were waiting on the classroom furniture to arrive, we were checking to make sure that all of the lights worked and that running water was accessible in the cafeteria. I remember sharing on social media sites that @KellyMillES was going to be the place where educators could provide the type of educational experiences for students that they always wanted to provide. I readily admitted to my staff that I was making promises they would have to keep. 🙂 (I am thankful they have done just that!)

As I reflect on this first year @KellyMillES, I often share that these things should not happen to a first-year school. My actual quote is, ‘It Ain’t Normal.’

Yes, I do know the correct grammatical format for the sentence, but I also wanted to emphasize a point with my staff. Too often we accept the ‘way we have always done it is good enough’ pathway to education. We rationalize that it was ‘good enough for us’ so ‘why shouldn’t it be good enough for today’s learner.’ Well, the short answer is that today’s learners are not like us. They truly learn differently and in order to reach them, we must teach differently.

I have been honored to work with such a dedicated group of educators who have embraced this ‘teach differently’ mentality and are making the atypical…typical. We have received local, state, national, and global recognition. This is humbling, but it is mostly exciting because it has allowed us to connect with other phenomenal educators and learn with and from them as they also strive to do what is best for today’s learners. We have held sessions on Skype, Google + Hangout, presented at conferences, won national competitions (Siemens Change the World), had numerous site visits because of effective technology integration (Breaking Barriers) and from the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education (GPEE) Bus Tour, had a graffiti artist work in our Media Center, had invaluable support from our community, etc. The list literally goes on and on. Bragging? No. Proud? Definitely, but mostly because these serve as tangible evidence that we as educators DO have the ability to create learning experiences for children that do not have to be merely the expected. We CAN teach differently and meet the rigorous expectations of life in the 21st Century. We CAN effectively integrate technology so that it becomes a natural and expected component of the educational experience.

The secret to all of this?? Simply DOING differently, taking risks, collaborating with other educators around the world, being open to a different perspective, doing what educators naturally and passionately want to do…do what is best for their students.

I am grateful to be part of a district, community and school (Kelly Mill Elementary) that strive to do this daily. Just like you in yours…

Ron

One of my passions is photography. I absolutely love the ‘click of the shutter.’ I am an avid iPhoneographer, Instagram user, Photoshop editor, Canon, Nikon, and even Olympus 35 mm fanatic. Yes, I say I am an amateur. When people ask me about photography I simply reply, ‘It keeps me sane.‘ It is an outlet for me.

As a continual learner, I am also currently enrolled in a digital photography class. I am operating in my own sense of ‘flow‘. In our first class, the instructor said that basically a photographer’s job is to…

‘create art out of a cluttered and unphotogenic world.’ (via Phil Winter).

This statement has rolled around in my thinking since last Tuesday’s class. As I have thought about it, I see a parallel to the work we do in schools and as leaders. No, I am not implying that our students and staff are ‘unphotogenic’ on any level,  but I am suggesting that our role is to help the learners in our organization make ‘art’ out of the vast amount of information that is readily available to 21st Century learners at an alarming rate.

How do we do this? Well, I will be the first to admit this is not easy and has many factors, but one critical and nonnegotiable piece is enabling the learner-student or staff member-to take ownership of their own learning. We must become facilitators and not the traditional ‘sage-on-the-stage.’ We must help them create ‘art.’

Breathe in! Ahhhh! That clean crisp smell of New. It is unmistakable, isn’t it? In fact, one could even say that it is ‘intoxicating.’ Did you know they even make an air freshener called ‘New Car Scent‘?

How conscious we are to keep the New Thing…New. We are extra careful to maintain its original and pristine condition making sure that any particle of debris is quickly brushed away. How quick we are to make sure the exceptions to keeping the New Thing as such are not allowed. The New Thing can even, if only temporarily, change our behaviors…until..

Until the New Thing becomes the ‘thing’. And so it goes. Our behaviors revert to our comfort zone as is typical to the human experience. In fact, it is often this ‘comfort zone’ the speeds the process from the thing being the New Thing (shiny, clean, crisp, that ahhhh smell) to it being just the ‘thing’.

So goes the parallel experience of opening a New School. The clean hallways, the newly polished floors, the clean painted walls without the evidence of hot glue or masking tape, the doors without nicks, the playground with lush green grass all serve to produce the same ‘intoxicating’ and invigorating feelings and emotions. As a principal who is  humbled and fortunate to be part of opening a New School, Kelly Mill Elementary (@KellyMillES), I truly cannot put into words all of the excitement, energy, passion, motivation, enthusiasm, etc that describes this experience.

Pretty soon, the New Car Scent fades because you begin to eat in the car and leave the wrappers on the floor. Pretty soon the New Car just becomes ‘the car’ without the intoxicating and invigorating smells that provide a level of motivation to keep it clean and shiny.

I can also say this, the New Thing ‘smell’ with the new school will also fade with time and rightfully so as the building becomes what it is intended to be – a place that is active and alive with students and adults as they engage with knowledge. At some point, the New School becomes the school. So, what’s the point?

Once the New Thing becomes the thing, we must make conscious and intentional choices to continue to keep the car clean, to keep it vacuumed, to keep it in its best condition for optimal performance. No less is true with schools and students.

Once the excitement and energies of the new building wear off, we must make conscious and intentional choices to maximize the learning experiences we provide our students. To do any less would be to miss the opportunity to do amazing things and to reinvent and recreate education in meaningful and applicable ways.

In other words, to ‘make the atypical, typical.’

So what are you doing to ‘keep the new car smell?’

Don't Panic iPhone Background

‘Don’t Panic!’  These words, usually spoken when someone is experiencing a threat to self or others, were actually the ones which rang through my own mind as I was attempting to complete my Statistics homework for my doctoral program.  I was attempting to complete a Factorial ANOVA and an ANCOVA on some data that was provided by my professor.  Believe it or not, I actually have enjoyed parts of my Research Class, but this was truly new learning for me.

Like any ‘good learner’ I had read the textbook, watched online tutorials, re-read the textbook, re-watched the online tutorials, and yet I still struggled to complete the assignment.  Did I mention that I had read the text and watched the tutorials??  After I had completed what ‘the teacher asked me to do’, I began to attempt the assigned homework. It did not take me long to realize that even though I had read the text, I had no frame of reference for this new learning. (Educators refer to this ‘framework’ as schema).  I literally had no mental ‘hinges’ on which to ‘hang’ this new information.  I instantly felt true panic as I momentarily realized ‘I do not know what to do.’ I could not think of even the very next step I needed to attempt the assignment. I thought, ‘Well, Ron, you have reached the limit of your intellectual capacity!’

I also instantly made the connection that this must be the way our students feel when they are learning something new, but we have not taken time to assess their schemata, framework or background, to which they can ‘hinge’ this new learning.  It was a powerful lesson to me as a leader and educator.  I realize that even adults can have this moment of panic when, as leaders, we introduce concepts and expectations that are new to the learner.

I took a break for a while from the homework, and completed it later…hopefully successfully, but I will ALWAYS remember the feeling of panic, and will use this as a motivator to make sure that when new learning is involved for children and adults, that I make sure that I help build their framework for understanding.

So…Don’t Panic!

I have to admit that I have found a recent addiction to the TV channel, TCM, as it has featured its ‘31 Days of Oscar.’  I have heard of many of the titles, but have not actually seen many of them until this past few days while I have been completing homework for my doctoral program. (Yes, I know…focus on the homework).

I truly appreciate what the actors, producers, directors, musicians, and the technical casts have accomplished in such treasures as Singin’ In The Rain, Lawrence of Arabia, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Now , Voyager…I could go on and on. There are so many great films that we should remember.

One of the films, Now, Voyager, was new to me so I was especially interested in seeing it since it featured one of my favorite actresses, Bette Davis.  She pays the role of a young lady who goes through a transformation reminiscent of ‘The Ugly Ducking.’  It was a heart-warming story of her attempts to find herself and then help in the transformation of someone who reminds her of her own story.  The movie ends with Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) and her friend, Jerry, standing at the library window looking at the sky.  Charlotte looks to Jerry and says, ‘Oh, Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.’

‘Oh, Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.’

I thought, ‘Yes, Charlotte! You understand.” (I now know that many others agree since this particular line is one of the most famous closing lines in all of cinema. Thanks, TCM for adding that bit of trivia).

I thought about my present circumstances with the opportunity to open a new elementary school in the fall, and I find that the more I visit the new school, @KellyMillES (Kelly Mill Elementary), the more excited I become about the possibilities that exist.

As I have been talking with some amazing teacher candidates, I have noticed that this enthusiasm and excitement are contagious!  The more we talk about creating the KME Family, I find myself sharing the vision of being the best school in the state (yes, I DO think it is possible and that you can intentionally design and structure events to cause that to be the likely outcome), and I ask the question, ‘What Can’t We?’

Like Charlotte and Jerry, why should we settle for ‘reaching the moon’ when ‘reaching the stars’ should be our goal?  Too often in education we settle for ‘the moon.’  Sure, it’s no minor feat to reach ‘the moon,’ but we often settle for that when with a little more determination, focus, passion, and fortitude we could help our students ‘reach the stars.’ After all…aren’t they worth it?

(http://www.flickr.com/photos/fatbwoy/2326287045)

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I am attending the GaETC Conference in Atlanta. In a word…Wow! My brain is swirling with ideas that I have gathered from lots of energetic and passionate educators. To All of You, ‘Thanks!’ It is through these types of interactions that I am energized and encouraged as an educator.

It is evident that most in education are in it for the ‘right’ reason…to learn ways to enhance the level of instruction they provide to their students.

The possibilities for engaging today’s learners at the level they need must include technology and Web 2.0 tools.

In one session, I was fortunate to meet Susan, a Media Specialist from a neighboring district. Our conversation focused on ideas for technology integration in the classroom. We talked about the question, ‘What if…?’ As we all know, this question is extremely powerful in motivating any learner.

Susan commented that she was always one of those learners who would say, ‘I wonder what this button does.’ What a brilliant thing!

When educators are comfortable with all students having the freedom to ‘wonder what this button does’ to literally ‘CTRL’ their own learning, amazing and unbelievable things happen in the classroom…true learning!

So, the next time we have ‘planned’ the learning, remember Susan and relinquish ‘CTRL.’