Modeling Our Learning

A few years ago our staff completed a Strengths Finder course and it was revealed that more than 80% of our teachers had the “Learner” profile in their top five strengths.  Not a surprise at all, considering the profession we’ve chosen.  I imagine that, despite being a small sample size, this group was representative of teachers across the world.  We’re learners, through and through.  It’s something we’re passionate about and, even if it’s not one of our top five strengths, it’s something we’re good at and enjoy.  

Over the last few days I’ve been thinking back to induction week and the challenge I put forth to lead our students, not only by teaching them academics, but also by positively modeling the behaviors we consider important.  I wish so badly that there was a way for our entire High School student body to have seen how hard their teachers were working to LEARN on Friday and Saturday.   Being learners, we understand the value of opening our minds to new ideas, but how do we model this behavior for our students?  

Too many students see learning as a school activity, something they’ll be “done” with once they graduate.  It’s one thing to tell our students that being a “lifelong learner” is important but wouldn’t that message be more effective if we could show them that we actually believe it?

One of the easiest ways to demonstrate our “learner” strength to our students is by sharing our learning experiences with them.  Whether it’s learning Bahasa Indonesia, studying for an IELTS assessment, taking golf lessons, or learning a new instrument, we’re all learning new things all the time.  If one of those doesn’t remind you of something you’re learning, then think no further than what you learned over the last few days in our MYP/DP workshops at school.  By discussing what we’re learning with our students we model for them the idea of being a lifelong learner as well as demonstrating our value for education in general.  

Recently I’ve become very skilled at saying, “Saya perlu belajar Bahasa Indonesia.”  I may not be making much progress but I’m working on it.  Students may occasionally laugh at me but they see me trying to learn Bahasa.  I constantly let them know how jealous I am of their bi/tri-lingual abilities (many of them have no idea how lucky they are to be learning in such a dynamic place as Sekolah Ciputra).   It’s one thing for me to tell them that learning languages is cool but it’s another thing altogether to show them that I really believe what I’m saying by showing them I’m working to learn Bahasa myself.  Talking the talk is one thing, but walking the walk shows you mean it.

So, as we come off a wonderful weekend of learning, think about how you can share this experience with your students.  Ask them about their 3-day weekend and let them know what you were doing while they were sleeping in and eating ice cream.  Let them know how important it is for you, as a teacher, to keep learning by sharing with them.  As the year goes on, look for more chances to share your learning with the kids.  You’re learning, you know it and I know it…let your students know it too!  

 

They Don’t Care How Much You Know

Amy has a saying she learned from her mother long ago that I just love, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Putting in the effort to learn your students names is a good starting point but after a couple weeks the assumption would be that you’ve achieved (or you’re at least close to achieving) that goal.  Take a minute then, to think back to your days as a student, who was your favorite teacher?  Who was the best teacher in the school?  Now ask yourself ‘why?’

I’m willing to bet that your favorite teacher and/or the teacher you remember as the “best teacher” earned that place in your mind, not because they knew the content better than anyone else, but because they were a teacher who you knew cared about you as a person.  Very often the teachers who are the most effective at helping their students learn are those who show their students that they are valued and important as people, both in and out of the classroom.  

Show your students you care and they’ll work harder for you.  This seems obvious, right?  Yet, how much time and effort do you spend establishing that relationship with your students versus teaching them content material?  Now, granted, you don’t have loads of time laying around to just chat with your students but without finding a way to show them how much you care, they’ll never care how much you know.  

A few ways that I’ve found to be helpful for showing students you care:

  1. Relate to them:  Wow, this gets harder and harder each year.  I met a student this week named “Tiffany” and I started singing, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something.  Now, I know that not everyone knows that song and maybe not everyone knows the movie either.  However, it was a reminder that this is the Bieber Generation…and they’re not far from being too young for him as well.  Each year we come back to work as teachers we’re a year older but the kids are still the same age.  It takes more and more effort to relate to our students each year.  Talk to them, listen to them, and learn from them.
  2. Learn about their life outside of school:  A big word of caution here, don’t take this to mean you should be prying into personal matters.  Mostly what I’m talking about here is stuff like: what they did on the weekend, where they traveled over the summer, and what they’re listening to on their headphones.  As you build a relationship with students they may share more personal information with you, if you’re ever unsure whether something is too personal, talk to your counselors or principals.  
  3. Be real:  On Friday a high school girl asked me, “why would anyone get married?”  She, obviously, knew that I was recently married and was truly curious about the tenant of marriage and what the attractions were for so many people.  It might be a little deeper question than the average teenager would ask but I felt like if she had the courage to ask me that question, then she certainly deserved an honest answer.  Students can tell when you’re selling them a bunch of fluff, so as long as the truth doesn’t cross any ethical barriers you should be open with them.  Again, a qualifier – just because you’re being honest doesn’t mean you have to reveal everything about yourself.  Authentic is one thing, unfiltered is another.  
  4. Create opportunities:  As I continue to learn 650 names and try to show students that I care beyond just their names, I’ve got to find time.  Before/after school, break, and lunch are all prime times to talk to kids outside of the classroom.  I try not to stay too long, moving from group to group, learning bits and pieces as I go.  If you’re on duty (or even if you’re not) this is a great chance to talk to some students outside of the usual classroom context.  Also, take advantage of the few minutes of transition time to briefly check-in with one or two of the students who arrive early to your class, you’ll be amazed at what you can learn in just 30 seconds.  
  5. Get involved:  As an educator many of the strongest bonds I’ve created with students have come as the result of coaching sports.  Whether coaching, leading an After-School Activity, or simply going to watch a game or activity, there is possibly no better way to show your students that you care than getting involved.  

There are lots of ways to show our students that we care.  Over the years, as educators we’ve all learned tips and tricks to connect with our students and engage them as learners.  Whatever works best for you is what you should use.  The strategies I’ve discussed above are things that work for me and, if you haven’t tried them, might be useful tools for you as well.  Please take the time over the next few weeks to really start building those relationships with your students, the time and effort now will pay off all year long.

It’s already the beginning of week three and I couldn’t be more excited for a Monday!!  We’ve got a wonderful group of colleagues and truly awesome students, a perfect combination for a great school.  Enjoy the week and Happy Monday 🙂

What’s Your Name Again?

I’ve done it before.  72 kids, 120 kids, 300 kids…but there I was standing in front of 650 kids, telling them that I vow to learn each and every one of their names…eeek!  What would possess somebody to endeavor to do such a ridiculous thing, let alone say it out loud?!?  

Throughout the week as people watched me struggle to remember names learned just 30 seconds earlier, smack myself in the head, and once in awhile actually remember a name, I’ve been asked about my strategy for remembering so many names.  Well, I don’t have just one.  The reality is that I’ve got about five or six that I’m using at any given time.  Let me see if I can articulate those for you:

  1. Use It or Lose It:  It’s true of anything in life, if we don’t use a skill it fades and is eventually lost.  The same is true with learning names.  The kids I met on Monday who I didn’t see the rest of the week; almost no chance I’ve remembered their name this long.  There are, however, a bunch of kids who’ve helped train me by continuously asking “Do you remember my name?”  To be honest, I probably didn’t know it the first or second time but those kids who continue to ask are now well ingrained in my heads.  They are in the small group that I’ll still know after a weekend away.  Use it or lose it.

  2. Repetition:  This is very similar to the first one but is more about the actual moment of learning, it is basically burning the memory of their name into my head.  I’m not sure it works that well, kind of like Rote Memorization, but I generally say a kid’s name over and over in my head (and sometimes out loud) as I’m trying to make a connection somewhere in my brain.

  3. Connect the Dots:  Speaking of making connections – aside from #1, this is probably the most important for long term memory making.  Our brains are like Velcro, memories and new information seek out a connection to stick to.  If there is nothing for those names to latch onto they just bounce around for a few seconds and fall right out.  I start with physical features, if there is something distinctive I can connect to that is always best…hair cuts, new glasses, and everyone wearing the same uniform are total enemies of this strategy!  Connecting their name to popular culture, a person I’ve known in the past, or just something silly all help maintain the connection longer.  Basically, for the long term recall, making a connection to a more permanent memory helps cement the new memory much faster and longer.

  4. Visualization:  I find that this one is very helpful for short-term memory.  Often times when I’m trying to recall a name I’ll ask the kids where I learned their name.  This helps me draw back to the initial creation of the memory and rummage around until something springs up.  If they were sitting with friends at lunch, in Math class, or I met them on Orientation Day, these are all opportunities for me to flash back to recall their name.  An aside here, there are certainly places that are not conducive to learning names – I’ve realized that in the morning or afternoon as kids are coming and going in a steady stream I can’t recall much of anything.  So, if I’ve stopped into your room to meet a few kids, thank you – I’ll appreciate being able to visualize your room later while trying to think of a name 🙂

  5. Context:  This is generally a good tool for helping me remember names in the long term and something I’d recommend for teachers learning names in their classes.  If I have the time I will engage a kid in a longer conversation, asking about their summer, their favorite class, or if they have brothers or sisters.  If I can place them in a certain context later on then I’ll have an easier time recalling their name.  Anything unique that I can learn about a student will greatly increase the odds of remembering their name.  This strategy is tough for me because often I don’t have a couple minutes with every kid, this is why break and lunch are great for learning names!!

  6. Spelling Champion:  Never mind that I lost the spelling bee on the word “phlegm” in 6th grade (who would think there is a ‘g’ in there?!?)  I’m often very good at processing auditory information but I find that when learning new names I benefit from having kids spell their name (especially the names that are “new” to me) while I phantom write them on my hand with my finger.  The process of hearing, doing, and saying is a good combination.  Also, there are a lot of kids who have “common” names that are spelled differently than I’m used to; this unique quality helps me remember as well.  

At the end of the day, no matter what strategies I use it comes down to effort, determination, and perseverance.  It’s not easy, it will take a long time, and I’ve already made so many mistakes it’s embarrassing.  However, it’s important to me so I will continue to push on and, someday I hope, I will get there.

As the beginning of the year washes over us and we move into the next phases of the school year, it’s important to keep in mind that we’ll have ups and downs, highs and lows. Whether it’s remembering names, planning lessons, or trying out new strategies in class, take a risk and don’t be afraid of a challenge.

 

Fresh Starts

It’s finally here, day one, the first day of school.  It’s a feeling of clean hallways, new notebooks, bright smiles, youthful exuberance and…freshness.

Luckily, for those of us in education, we get to have a fresh start every year.  With the end of summer holidays comes the beginning of a new year.  Our friends and family, who don’t work in the most amazing field in the world like we do, can’t possibly understand what it means to be able to start fresh each year.  New school uniforms, clean whiteboards, refreshed colleagues, and eager students.  It’s one of the best times of the year to be an educator, the energy is high and the possibilities are endless.

A fresh start, however, doesn’t mean that we’re starting from nothing.  Having a clean slate and being able to start fresh allows us to build and grow upon lessons learned in the past.  We can think back to previous school years and draw on experiences, both good and bad, to develop our plan.  So often in life we only get one shot at something and it’s over, no matter if it went well or not.  As educators we get to look back, recall lessons and activities, and know that we get another shot to make them even better this time around.  After all, growing and improving is what it’s all about, right?  Just as we work hard to help our students grow throughout their time in our classes, we are working on growing and improving as educators as well.

With students streaming through the doors, eager to see their class lists and schedules, the opportunity to start our students off on the right foot is ours for the taking.  Helping them find their classes, welcoming them with a smile and handshake, and setting a positive tone will leave them with the excitement and ambition for success right from the start.  Being mindful of the way we start each class, each day, and each week is just as important as how we start the school year.  We’re fortunate to have a very positive and supportive school community, keeping the momentum rolling won’t be hard after such a strong start.

Everyone appreciates a fresh start, students and teachers alike.  We had a great first week together as a staff and I’m more confident than ever that the coming weeks with students will be even better!  Enjoy the fresh start and take it all in.

A couple interesting reads about fresh starts:

The Fresh Start Effect

The 10 Best Pieces of Advice for Making a Fresh Start

Embracing Summer

It seems like a long time ago that I started writing this blog, five years and 146 posts ago.  Thinking about that makes me start thinking back to all that has happened over those five years.  Two different schools, traveling to all sorts of countries, lots of professional and personal experiences that have changed me (mostly for the better), and throughout all of that a constant reflective process that I’ve learned and practiced through the writing of this blog.  I’ve written before about why this blog is important to me and why I think others should try, if I haven’t convinced you yet…maybe now is the time!  Perhaps over the summer you’ll sit down and give it a shot.

Hopefully everyone managed to stay alive (literally and figuratively) and we’re now about to embark on a wonderful summer!  For each of us that will look a little differently.  Normally my summers are a time for me to reflect, read, write, and attend a PD or two but this summer will be different.  For Amy and I it will be a short and busy time.  After leaving Ecuador we’ve got just three weeks until our wedding (YAY!) and then only four more days until we head off toward Indonesia!  There’ll be lots of planning, visiting with family, and racing around getting everything ready for a wedding and relocation.  Then it’ll be the new school year before we know it!  

Even though my summer will be crazy (and I’m sure many of yours will be too), I want to offer a few summer time options for those who haven’t already ironed out every single minute of their holiday.  I’m not advocating for any one idea over another but I think any successful summer will include at least one of these five things.

My recommendations for the summer:

1. Hit the beach, mountains, trails, parks, ocean, lake, or whatever you can find outdoors!

Get outside and enjoy the fresh air (I’m hoping you can get away from a polluted city for this one).  Spend a few days camping next to a river with no wifi or mobile phone access, unplug and enjoy Mother Nature at her finest.  Give yourself some time to just enjoy all that nature has to offer without the hustle and bustle of the ‘outside world’.  If camping isn’t your thing then take a walk, go for a bike ride, or just sit and enjoy a park…but do it often.  Take a road trip, see a new place, and get out of the city-life for a while.  All of these things will help rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit!

2.  Establish a PLN: If you haven’t done this already, now is your time.  Don’t be afraid to start small.  Right around the same time I started this blog, about 5 years ago, I started on Twitter and slowly began to see the value of building an online/digital Professional Learning Network.  Some of you have experienced my PLN first hand, connecting across the globe to celebrate awesome activities, meet new colleagues, or even just find a new idea.  Start out by having a look at a past blog post I wrote about building a PLN (it’s short) and then create a Twitter account.  Once you have one (or if you already do) send me a tweet (@The1sWhoDo) and ask who you should follow…I’m happy to start recommending people immediately.  From there…follow along and get a feel for Twitter, summer is a perfect time to do so!  

3.  Take care of yourself.

Remember that New Year’s Resolution…yeah, I know the feeling…I was too stressed and too cold in the rainy season to really get anything productive going.  It’s too cold and wet to get out of the house and do anything!  I wanted a nice warm meal full of comfort food and some wine on the couch at the end of those days, not an exercise class and salad!!  However, now the sun is shining and we can sleep past 6AM!  So track down your trainers and get moving…10,000 steps (the standard FitBit goal) a day is a lot easier to manage in the summer when there are no papers to grade or meetings to attend.  Cook some homemade meals for your friends and family who still have to work through the summer, enjoy a nice dinner together and help them relieve some stress too.  The summer is your time to take care of yourself and feel great!

4. Read, read, read!

If you’re like me you might feel like summer is the perfect time to squeeze in some of that professional reading you’ve promised yourself you’d do.  That’s fine but don’t skip the reading for pleasure too!!  (I’ve got five books on my Kindle just waiting for me)  Whether you’ve got a book waiting or not, you might also consider reading some of the books that are hot with our kids right now.  This article is a great one and lists five young adult books that adults would also enjoy.  I’ve read a few on this list (Book Thief is awesome!) and agree that knowing what our kids are into is a great way to connect and relate to our school age kids.  If you’re thinking that professional reading might be in the works for the beach then have a look at this article, some great tips there too.  The old saying of “don’t mix work with pleasure” goes out the door here…when it comes to summer reading, mix away!

5. Reconnect at your own risk!

It goes without saying that living overseas requires a long time away from friends and family who are back ‘home’ or elsewhere.  However, if you’re like me it only takes a week or so at ‘home’ before you feel like it’s time for a break!  There are a lot of family and friends who want to spend as much time with you as possible and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the attention.  In a sense it’s almost like teaching…there’s only one of you but there’s a seemingly endless number of people who want/need your time and energy.  Be sure to take some “Me Time” this summer and don’t let yourself get run down while trying to connect with everyone.  I often joke at the end of summer that “I need to get back to work so I can relax!”  It’s easy to feel that way, especially if you’re bouncing from couch to guest room all summer.  Enjoy the time with family and friends but be sure to enjoy some time alone as well.

 

Enjoy the last week with our kids, it’s going to be a wildly emotional ride for many of them (and us!!)  Hang in there and enjoy the laughs and memories and embrace the inevitable tears.  Everyone has made a lot of strong connections here in the AC community and it will be tough to part ways, no matter how long you’ve been here.  Say what you need to say to those you’ve grown close with, trade contact info, and be confident that you’ll connect again soon!

 

Seeing the Invisible

Sometimes we can’t see diversity.

Often times we consider diversity to be something that we see or hear on the outside…skin color, languages spoken, or other “physical” traits.  

During our Senior Roll Call, as each of our seniors was welcomed by the song of their choosing, what I’m calling “invisible diversity” was on display.  From Metallica, to David Bowie, to Drake, to Elvis and everything in between.  We had K-Pop, traditional Chinese songs, and Ecuadorean ballads.  Our students were each able to choose their own song which goes to show the wide range of interests that our students hold.  This example of “invisible diversity” is, perhaps, the number one reason that we need to get to know our students on a personal level!  

As educators it’s easy to group our students and place them into a category.  The “artists”, the “athletes”, the “academics”, the “musicians”…but who are these people beyond what we think we see?  Many of our students (or people in general) don’t fit neatly into any one group in particular.  Some of our best athletes are also strong musicians, artists, academics, and much more.  On the other hand, some of the kids who aren’t our top academics have talents and interests outside of school.  But how would we know if we don’t take the chance to get to know our kids on a personal level?  

I’ve mentioned this before, don’t be afraid to take some class time to set the content aside and learn (and share) some personal information about these young people that you work with 210 minutes (sometimes more) each week. Teaching is more than disseminating content, it’s about knowing our students and building connections.  

I know it’s the end of the year, this may be more relevant at the beginning of the school, but it’s worth considering at any time.  Since it was the Senior Roll Call music that inspired my thinking about “invisible diversity” I thought I would share the songs from the whole playlist…enjoy 🙂

* A word of caution…while our students selected a 1 minute and 15 section of these songs with all “clean” words, some of the full songs include “explicit lyrics”.

In order of appearance…

Build Me Up Buttercup – The Foundations

Let’s Go – Khalid

마에스트로 (Maestro) – 창모 (Changmo)

Strange Charm:  A Song About Quarks – Hank Green

The Fratellis – Chelsea Dagger

Anillos De Saturno – Danny Fornaris Feat. Jani Sanchez

Daddy – Psy

Modern Love – David Bowie

Me Llamas – Piso 21

Jump in the Fire – Metallica

Headlines – Drake

All My Love – Led Zeppelin

Empire Ants – Gorillaz Feat. Little Dragon

Everyday Superhero – Smash Mouth

‘에라 모르겠다(FXXK IT)’ M/V – BIGBANG

Walking on a Dream – Empire of the Sun

Yo Naci Aqui – Juan Fernando Velasco

1901 – Phoenix

Come On Eileen – Dexy’s Midnight Runners & Kevin Rowland

醉赤壁 Zui Chi Bi – 林俊杰 JJ Lin Jun Jie

Don’t Stop Me Now – Queen

Fire – Gavin DeGraw

La Dueña De Tu Amor – Marala Feat. Zion & Lennox

Il Mio Cammino – Phil Collins

Tu Mejor Error – AU-D

La Isla Del Amor – Demarco Flamenco

Eres Mi Sueño – Fonseca

Mi Testimonio aka El Edificio – Bacilos

Burning Love – Elvis Presley

Someday – The Strokes

Sugar – Maroon 5

Lo Mejor De Mi Vida Eres Tu – Ricky Martin Feat. Natalia Jimenez

Oh My God – A Tribe Called Quest

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell

Chasing the G.O.A.T. to be Better Educators

Very soon (or possibly already, depending when you read this) LeBron James will become the all-time scoring leader in NBA playoffs history (basketball).  The talking heads on TV and the sports columnists will write articles questioning whether he is the greatest player of all time, or if perhaps the man he passed on the scoring list (a guy you may have heard of, named Michael Jordan) is still deserving of that title.  My personal opinion is that MJ is still the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All-Time) but I also acknowledge that LeBron is still playing and could overtake him some day.

I’ve got some friends who would say that Michael Jordan is, was, and always will be the G.O.A.T.  However, I can’t take such a hard line view because of my beliefs about growth mindset and the ability for everyone to work hard and achieve.  If we said right now that MJ was the best that will ever live then what goals do young basketball players have to work toward, second place?!?  That’s rough!  To allow for the conversation, and suggest that LeBron or someone else may be the best of all-time means that every basketball player and everyone else for that matter can still strive to be the best, to surpass the amazing achievements of those who’ve come before them…there is no limit to what we can achieve!

Okay, this isn’t a diatribe on LeBron vs MJ or who is the G.O.A.T.  What I’m working toward is the growth process for all of us.  Whether we are teachers, students, basketball players, doctors, or plumbers, we should all be working to be better at what we do.  Every morning when we wake up we should aim to be better than we were the day before, imagine a life where that was actually the case…success!!  Sometimes we will be better at our jobs, other days we will be better at interpersonal relationships, or perhaps better drivers, cooks, or parents.  Everyday we’re working to be better, that is the real goal…growth.

Even “the best” never stop striving for improvement or growth.  Michael Jordan didn’t stop practicing after he won 5 championships, he got in the gym and shot more and tried to get even better (he won a 6th before retiring).

We have a lot of amazing teachers at our school and I’m constantly impressed with the teaching practices employed to help our students reach success.  As the school year comes to a close I’ve had a lot of goals reflection conversations.  There is not one teacher at this school who doesn’t want to improve their practice and become even better for their kids.  The passion and drive to become the best teachers that they can possibly become constantly impresses me.  They don’t care if they’re being evaluated on the Marzano, Marshall, or Bozo rubric, they want to improve!  We may not have the greatest teacher of all time walking the halls of our school (we might though!) but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a school full of teachers who are working toward it.  Growth isn’t just our students’ goal, it’s ours too!

As educational leaders we have to live our message.  If we want kids to work hard and grow, then that needs to be our active pursuit as well.  Working everyday to become better educators and better overall humans is what it’s all about.  How are you growing?  How are you becoming better today?