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!  



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?

Be a Learner to be a Leader

The mini-bio posted on my blog says that “I’m an Associate Principal at an international school in Quito, Ecuador. That’s my job but only one piece of who I am; other parts include brother, friend, educator, traveler, reader, risk taker and sports enthusiast.”  The problem, I’ve recently realized, with this bio is that it’s missing a few pieces.  The first piece, most people wouldn’t necessarily include in a bio, “I’m not as good at any of these things as I’d like to be.”  The other part is that I’m a learner, trying to grow, and be better at all of these things and more!  

On our most recent holiday Amy and I traveled to the Galapagos, wow, what a trip!!  During the trip we met some really interesting people, none more interesting to me than our naturalist guide.  He’s been guiding in Galapagos for 26 years and knows A LOT!  Throughout the week, if I wasn’t underwater looking at all the amazing marine animals then you could surely find me walking along side our guide asking him questions or just listening to what he had to say.  On one of our walks he said something that got me thinking deeper, he mentioned his recertification process for being a Galapagos naturalist guide.

You see, it makes sense…to guarantee the best quality naturalist guides they require them to attend regular classes to learn about the new scientific research and biological information being learned through research in the Galapagos.  The guides then need to demonstrate their knowledge in order to maintain their license to guide, thus ensuring that each guide meets a certain level of competence.  This all makes perfect sense and is incredibly logical, I mean who wants a poor guide with outdated knowledge?!?  

This got me thinking about my career, who wants a poor educator with outdated knowledge?  

I hope the answer to that question is rhetorical.  As educators we all seem to have a predisposition towards being up-to-date on the best educational practices available.  However, it’s not easy, especially from an international post where resources may not be as readily available as in our home countries.  So what do we do to ensure that we’re the best we can be?

Going back to my bio – I’m adding “learner” to my bio because it truly is a piece of who I am.  I work to read as much as possible about current educational research and best practice.  I try to build my network of resources and work hard to improve a little bit each day.  It is one of my personal goals to be a better person today than I was yesterday.  That includes professionally AND personally.  

I’ve realized over the last few years that life is reflected very often in our jobs and vice versa.  Reading this great blog post the other day made me start thinking about how important this really is to my life.  I’ve often worked to be better at my job by applying my outside life to the things I do at school but I’ve never gone so far as this article suggests, I’m going to give it a try.  Similarly this article about 10 activities you can do at lunch to make yourself a better professional/educator/person.  They’re not difficult, nor are they things that are boring, have a look and think about them the next time you walk out for lunch.

It’s a joy working with such dedicated and professional colleagues.  Knowing that the people who’ve read this will actually go out and think a little deeper about how they can grow is exciting, we’ve got such an amazing community here at AC – it’s inspiring!!  

The (Growth) Mindset of a Teacher

Over the last couple weeks we’ve been getting all of our students through their first round of MAP tests, much to their dismay!  I was covering in a few of these classes and tried having a conversation with them about the idea of growth and celebrating just how far they’ve come at the end of the year; it seems like this whole concept just washes over them like a huge wave of “whatever Mr. Olson!”  I, however, take solace in the things I heard kids saying at the end of last school year.  As we finished up the MAP testing in late May I heard all sorts of conversations between kids, with me, with teachers, and with parents about the amount of growth they had made over the course of the year.  The mentality of our students has started to make a promising shift toward a growth mindset, especially for the kids who saw a significant amount of growth!  It was an awesome feeling to hear those kids talking (and bragging) that way.

We’ve talked a lot about growth mindsets, especially when we read Mindset by Carol Dweck, and we all buy into this theory for our kids.  There is great work being done by curriculum teams to plan differentiated work, for not only struggling students, but also for more advanced students who need a bit of challenge.  We all know that every student CAN learn when we meet them at their level; growth can and will happen!  We are working hard to ensure that every student has the chance to learn, whether today, tomorrow, or some time down the road.

Another reason that got me thinking about this idea of growth is our recent addition of the mini-observations and the coinciding feedback efforts.  I’ve had some awesome conversations with you based around what’s happening in your classrooms.  For me, some of the most rewarding parts of this process have been the conversations we’ve been able to have about the student-learning that we’re seeing.  To hear the excitement in your voices when you talk about the amazing things you’re seeing and doing with your students is energizing for me.  Coming back to the growth piece of this, it’s awesome to see all of the additions and changes that people have been making based on our conversations.  Good teachers are made from hard work, practice, and continuous learning.  Teachers don’t just fall off of trees, it takes a lot of effort to become a great teacher.   To see everyone working so hard to improve themselves on a day-to-day basis is inspiring…awesome!!

I’m attaching a great article summary to this email about five things that great teachers do to have an impact on student-learning.  The summary comes from the Marshall Memo, which is written by Kim Marshall.  It’s a great resource that comes out each week summarizing important topics in educational research and practice.

Teaching Students to be Proud of Themselves

As report cards go out and students see their marks for classes I worry a lot that students and parents (and perhaps us sometimes) put too much value into the grades on those papers.  I don’t think these kids really believe that the only reason they did all that work was to get one number printed out about them at the end of the semester.  However, at this time of year it certainly seems that way.  What are kids (and/or their  parents) so proud or disappointed about when they look at those reports?  Is it the number grade or is it the realization of how much they learned throughout the semester?  And what’s our role in that perception?  When students are assigned work, what message are we sending about the value of the work…is it about the learning or getting a good grade?  When kids have missing work…what do we threaten, lower grades or loss of learning opportunity?  We should think carefully about the message we are sending to our students.  We all want them to value what it is we are teaching but what incentive are we giving them?  Likewise, when they have done well how are we praising them?  When I was first starting out as a teacher I came across a way of speaking to my students (I can’t remember if I read it, heard it, or was told) and I’ve tried to internalize one phrase ever since, “You should be proud of yourself!”  Check out this article about helping students feel proud about themselves.  Our students need to learn that school is about the learning and that they should be proud of themselves for all the hard work they put into that learning!!  Enjoy your holidays, you all deserve it…but hey, that’s just my two cents 😉