Disclaimer: This post is my personal opinion on teaching and "curriculum", that I have finally decided to share. The ideas do not reflect my district's stance, but my own.
Yesterday, I found myself saying the above quote multiple times...I said it in a staff meeting and later in two twitter chats. I have said it over the last few weeks in principals' meetings and even a job interview. For this reason, it has now sparked this blog post. Before I get to that phrase, here is another one I have been saying: "Children don't come to us in a box, therefore a box is not the answer." I will expand on this and the next phrase, in a bit. In last night's #G2Great and #Ditchbook twitter chat I said this: "We should teach students first, standards second. How we teach the second, depends on the first." I figure that since I have been saying these two phrases, I should explain them...
1) Children don't come in a box, therefore a box is not the answer: Children come to us in all different shapes and sizes, with all different backgrounds, strengths, weaknesses, passions, families, personalities and talents. No one student is the same, so how can we teach them the same? We can't do so effectively. I have heard many teachers who are afraid to take risks and be innovative in their classrooms. One of the things I hear most is "...but I need to finish the book." Do you? I don't believe any publisher could create curriculum that would meet the needs of ALL your students. It's impossible. It's best to look at the "box" of curriculum as a resource, another tool in your tool belt...not the bible. The more options we have available, the more possibilities we have to meet the needs of our students. It's best to evaluate ANY resource to see if it fits your students AND teaches (not covers, not brushes) the standards...it's the AND that will be the hang up. Invest the time...It's worth the time.
2) Teach students first: I truly believe that in order to teach students, to reach students. we first and foremost, need to know our students. Take the time to build relationships with those children who will be spending a majority of their day in your care. Get to know what makes them tick, and what doesn't. We can not meet their needs, if we do not know their needs. And that is what we need to do, meet THEM where THEY are, not the other way around. We need to know our students and offer a variety of opportunities for them to interact with curriculum. No longer can we "shoot for the middle" with students because there is no middle...there is no average. One of my favorite videos: The Myth Of Average; sums it up perfectly. We need to design to the edges because our students live in those edges. Invest the time...it's worth the time.
3) Teach standards second: Oh the standards! I believe that the Common Core Standards (or in my state: California Academic Standards) have been a game changer. They are forcing us to change our teaching; and I believe in a good way. We are being forced to create thinkers and creators. It has forced us to examine how we learned and how we have taught. For many, this is the great divide...sink or swim. We need to be diligent consumers when diving into the standards. We need to make sure that WE really understand them, first. Then we need to figure out how to teach them, effectively, in multiple ways. We then need to be able to assess them and know what to do after the assessment. We need to become adaptive and agile and turn on a dime because our students are going to come to us being more critical thinkers and more savvy learners. We also need to be able to assess if materials, resources, activities are actually aligned to the standards. Not "kind of", not "sort of", not "touching on", not "covering". The thing about these standards is that there is depth. Depth takes time. It is better to go deep, than wide. So "finishing the book" isn't as important as having students interact, think, create, share their learning. But we need to have a deep understanding, first. It takes time... it is worth the time.
4) How you handle teaching the standards, depends on the students you teach: The standards do not tell us HOW to teach, rather WHAT to teach. A guide to help our students navigate content. How we get them there...depends on two things. US and THEM. We, as professionals, should be armed with an arsenal of strategies, tools and resources to meet our students' needs. We must differentiate because our kids deserve it. We know our students, because we have taken that time. We know how to reach them, all of them (well most of them)...and it's not going to happen in one fail swoop. What works for some, may not work for others. We need to teach the standards in ways that are relevant and engaging for our students. We need to value students' voice and give them choice. Choice in how they receive, synthesize and show their learning of information. We want them to have that "stickiness" that I never had as a student, that my own kids don't have now. They have both said in the last week "I just learn something for the test, and then it's gone." Is that our purpose? To pass "tests" with no real learning? I hope not. Our kids deserve better. Are we really teaching, if the students aren't learning? It takes time... it is worth the time.
I hope these musings aren't too critical or taken the wrong way. I am not saying to throw the curriculum, the box, away. I am just asking that we re-examine that what we are doing, matches our purpose. I believe we all entered into the profession of education to help children. It is always good to reflect... to take the time to sit back and make sure we are doing what is best for OUR students. Everything should always point back to that...what's best for students, because in the end, they are what really matters.
Earlier this week, I was having a discussion with my pal, Jon Corripo on collaboration and teams. He asked me if I knew of the X Games and how those athletes worked. Boy, do I know the X Games! We have taken many trips to the X Games, to watch Moto X when my son was younger and the skate competitions as he got older. When Jon brought it up, I had many flashbacks and "ahas".
My son has been a skater for about 10 years. I remember I was really sad when he decided to quit baseball for skating. He was a great ball player and I really wanted him to be a part of a team. But, he was not happy playing ball, and found his passion in skating. I spent close to 8 years carting him and his friends around to different skate parks, skate spots and skate competitions. As I watched these kids interact, I remember a "switch flip" moment. Although these kids weren't on a "team", they were the epitome of a team. I remember pointing this out to Trevor, the many times we watched Pro Skateboard Competitions.
Here is what I learned from the Skater Nation (both professionals and amateurs)
1. Egos are checked at the door: As with anything, there are some people who excel at some things, more than others. But what I have witnessed in these skaters, it doesn't matter. They have a culture where they all treat each other the same. Feelings don't get hurt when someone is better at something. No one gets mad, when another gets recognition. There are no grudges, if someone gets some extra attention. The professional skaters that my son and I have met are some of the most humble guys I know. They do not hesitate to interact, help or encourage their fans or peers.
2. Everyone has his/her own strengths: It is interesting when you sit back and watch skaters. At first glance, to the layman's eyes, they all look the same. Flipping boards, jumping, grinding. But as you get to understand it all a bit better, you see that everyone has their own style and their own strength. Each individual is doing their own thing AND helping others along the way. They want their friends to excel as well, so they teach, coach and encourage each other to grow.
3. They all encourage each other: I really noticed this one during competitions, especially in the Pros. Anytime someone did a "run" or trick, all of the others would clap and cheer them on. They weren't paying attention to the scores to see who was better. They are not "score keepers". After every run, the skater would come back and get hi-fives or hugs from the others. During professional competitions, the camera would often pan onto the other "competitors'" faces during a run, and we would see the emotion on their faces. You would see happiness when their peers were successful and sadness during a fail. So although, they were technically, competing against each other, they worked more like a team than I have seen most teams work. It was quite fascinating.
4. They push each other: I noticed this one when my son skated with his friends (or even strangers). The thing about skating, you really need to have persistence and grit. You need the will to keep pushing forward because you will have many fails and many falls. What these skaters do, is they push each other. It may be in the form of playful teasing or a fun game of "one upsmanship"; but it is all for the purpose of helping each other grow. It is not adversarial by any means, it is quite the opposite. It is never a real competition. They rally around each other for the greater good.
5: They offer support: I used to think that skating wasn't a sport and definitely not a team sport. Boy was I wrong. It is not only exhausting physically, but mentally. In such a situation, it is important to have a tribe. What I have seen is that these skaters are always there for each other. To pick each other up (literally and figuratively) when they fall. When one feels like giving up, another is there to offer support. When one of them gets hurt, and can no longer skate, he still goes out and supports. You hear a lot of positive encouragement in the skate park (with some cuss words thrown in), but they are there for each other.
6: They celebrate each other: I love this one. When the pro skaters are interviewed, they ALWAYS give compliments to their "competitors" (who are more like team mates). They don't ever try to hold each other back, they do the opposite...they try to propel each other forward...through words, actions and attitudes.
7: Each individual is allowed to create their own path: Not one of these skaters is doing the exact same thing, in the exact same way. They create their own path based on their specific passions, strengths, purposes, goals. And that's ok! They hone their craft, in their way and it will look different...but that does not mean that anyone is trying to "pull ahead" or promote themselves further. It just means they are on a different journey, and that should be celebrated.
Who would have thought that a culture, that can have such a negative connotation, is actually probably one of the most functional systems I have witnessed. What if every team could work under these7 tenants? Maybe we wouldn't have to read books, articles, blogs about the dysfunctions of teams. A team should work together, but also should encourage and support each other as individuals. A team should not hold any one member back, and all should feel free to pursue their own passions, while still working within the team. I do believe we are all better together, and I believe the above lessons can help us all shine.
What do you do when the dots don't line up? When something that has happened to you, or another, just doesn't make sense? My new pal Rick Jetter helped me come up with "Entropic Events" to describe such things. Sounded super cool, but what does it mean? I of course had to look that up :), but it fit! Here are the definitions I found for "Entropic Force" in Physics:
1. A measure of the disorder or randomness in a closed system. 2. A measure of the loss of information in a transmitted message. 3. The tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to evolve toward a state of inert uniformity. 4. Inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society.
So Rick summarized it for me: "Lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder."
I have recently heard some heartbreak stories from friends in leadership positions. These "entropic events" seem to have no explanation, yet they knock people down and when they get back up, they are left to pick up the pieces and reconcile with it. What I have found; in working though and talking about such situations...there is a common cycle. I have been hearing and reading a lot about different cycles AND a lot about different versions of "E's"...so when I awoke at o' dark thirty this morning...the above graphic was in my head. This is the cycle that I have discovered to help during these "entropic events":
6 E's of Entropic Events
1) Event: Something happened. Something has triggered us. Something has us hooked. What is it? We need to really look long and hard as to what has a hold on us. Is it the actual event? Is it the person? Has this triggered something else? At this point, it is best to just acknowledge that something has happened. Don't bury it, don't compartmentalize it. Acknowledge it.
2) Emote: This one seems to be a tough one for many, but it is important. For some reason, people are embarrassed of their emotions, but we need to allow ourselves to feel. Give yourself permission to have emotions, whatever they may be. They are yours and you are entitled to them. Are you hurt, angry, disappointed, confused, deflated, defeated, sad? Whatever it is, feel it. We have to get those emotions out or they will take over our heart and mind and that won't do anyone any good. Exercise (I personally like to hit and kick my heavy bag), cry, write, cuss, clean...do what you need to do, but just do.
3) Evaluate: This is a time for reflection. This is the why. Why did this event occur? What part did we play in it? Did we? What is in our control and what is not? Why are we letting this get to us, it's important to get to the bottom of this one. What if anything can WE change? Our attitude? Our situation? Our reaction? Our action? But sometimes, often times...it has nothing to do with you at all. I think that is the hardest one...what do you do then? Do you just reconcile to not reconcile it? Do you ignore it? Do you fight it? I wish I had the answer, I really do...but I don't think there is one. We can only control ourselves, our feelings and our actions. I just think it is important to take the time to think about the situation and ask the questions.
4) Educate: This is where we need to take the learning from the situation. What is the lesson? There is a reason you are going through this...find it. You may need to dig really deeply to find it, but it is there. What is it? What is the point of going though your struggle? There has to be one, if not many.
5) Evolve: Here is where you take all of the above and use it for good. Use it to grow yourself. I don't know what that looks like for you. Everyone's path is different, but I believe we are always on a journey of growth. It is through these "entropic events" that we can gather the most courage, the most strength and the most knowledge about ourselves and our surroundings. This is when we start to see the light, this is our breakthrough moment. Do not skip this one!
6) Extend: This is when we keep moving forward. You have to, you are important and you are needed! You can't fall down that rabbit hole. You need to muster up all of your strength, all of your emotions, all of your learning and all of your growth and use it to propel yourself forward. As you are on that forward trajectory, try to grab some others to join you. Our "entropic events" might be different, but we all have encountered them...it's so much easier to deal with, when we know that we are not alone. Knowing that others have been through the same cycle is empowering. But here is where the cycle is broken...when you extend; you go forth...you are not spinning, you are not continuing...you are changed...you are new. Share that new you with the world.
I am no expert, I have not researched any of this...this is based purely on experience, discussion and observation. All I know is there are two choices when faced with such events: Fight or Flight. What do you do? YOU need to fight to move forward...always, always, always forward.
Mother, Teacher, Administrator, Presenter, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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