Passion Wins

Passion, it drives us in everything we do (especially the things we do well!)  Over the years educators have worked hard to figure out how to engage students in the classroom.  I don’t want to take the credit away from all the educators over the years who’ve worked so hard but it might just be the case that the business world deserves some of the credit for finding the best solution.  Way back in 1948, Spencer Silver at 3M, a major American corporation, came up with the idea of “15 percent time”.  This was paid time given over to employees “to chase rainbows and hatch their own ideas.”  For years “15 percent time” was little known, until a man named Art Fry took his idea for an adhesive bookmark and created the product we all know and love today, the “Post-It Note”.  Talk about a success story!  

As time went on, other corporations took up the idea and began to implement similar programs to give their employees a chance to follow their passions and pursue creative projects.  Google implemented “20 Time”, upping the ante from 3M’s “15 percent time”.  Gmail is perhaps the most famous product created from Google’s “20 Time” but many other creations have made an impact as well:  Google News, AdSense, Google Maps, Google Earth and Google Talk just to name a few that you may have heard of before.  The opportunity to take paid time to work on something you’re passionate about sounds like a pretty awesome concept and, in fact, it has proven to be a very helpful recruiting tool for companies who’ve implemented such plans.

These are awesome ideas for corporations but what about schools?  Many teachers are still working hard to engage their kids in creative ways and it’s working!  Conversely, there are many teachers who continue to work at engaging their classes with little success.  Then there’s a group of teachers (and even whole schools) who’ve taken the concept of “20 Time” and found a way to apply it to the student experience.  Here at AC our Elementary School (grades 3-5) completely revamped the “homework policy” from lots of worksheets and stressful tasks to one of no “homework” with the option for kids to pursue “Inspiration Projects” at home.  These kids have had the regular (3-4 times already this year) opportunity to show off their Inspiration Projects at a showcase day, the final showcase happens June 9th…come check it out!!  There is no question that when our kids dive into these projects they are 100% engaged and committed to their work, they are not only inspired but they are passionate!

My real inspiration for writing this week was not the Lower School but rather the work of our High School English department and their students.  On Monday night we had a beautiful night of presentations as students from 10th, 11th, and 12th grades presented their year-long efforts on their “20 Time” projects.  All year long our English teachers have turned over the time from one out of every six class periods for kids to work on their “20 Time” projects.  This project was guided and not just a free-for-all for our students, maybe some day 🙂  This year, students had to follow a six step process including these steps:  Topic proposal, research, mentorship (they needed to find a mentor to guide them), elevator pitch (selling their idea in 60 seconds or less), implement the project and reflect, and finally present.  For many kids it was a long journey but for all kids it was enlightening and rewarding.

As this was the first year that our High School students participated in a “20 Time” project there was bound to be a mixed bag of results.  There were failures, which were great!  Students may have learned more from their mis-steps and errors than from anything.  There were also some tremendous successes, which also came with their fair share of hiccups and bumps in the road.  Overall the process and journey were the real rewards for most of these kids.  Be that as it may, I wanted to share some of the final products.  I’ve included below the final products from a selection of our students, including their “blurb” from the presentation program as well as links to their final products.  I chose these specific kids for two reasons:  First, they had an actual digital product I could share.  Secondly, they were the kids who granted me permission to share with the whole wide world (most were very excited and proud to share!)  As I’ve alluded to, these projects were totally inspired and clearly showed the passion these students had for the topics they chose.  There is a wide range here in both topics as well as quality.  I’ll let you be the judge of the results but no matter what you think of the final product, remember that the journey was the true learning experience for these kids!!

Enjoy…

Rosie – Music in Pieces:

From songwriting to the recording process, Rosie wanted to create music and understand what it takes to make a finished song.  Growing up with music as a major influence in her life, Rosie taught herself both piano and guitar and figured it was only a matter of time before her own songs came to life.  Her passion for music and the lessons she learned along the way, as well as where the project will keep going, are what she takes from this experience.  And, of course, a finished song!

Paula – Cooking with Paula!:

In her 20Time Project, Paula decided to explore the world of professional baking.  With the help of a family friend who owns a bakery, Paula created her own pastries to be sold in the store, and got to experience the gratification of seeing her work generate a profit.  Her experience was documented on her website.

**Note:  Paula’s website is overall very impressive, she has a better profile than most adults I’ve seen!

Cole – Your Advocate for Religious Understanding:

Many people have heard false misconceptions on world religions given by society, such as “Muslims are terrorists” and that “Jews are rich and greedy.”  Cole, as a Mormon, has faced many misconceptions about his own religion and has seen other people have to live in a world of religious intolerance.  In his 20Time project, he set out to fix this problem on a small scale by creating a blog that shares the truth about these faiths.  You can view his blog and see how he writes about the truth behind the Mormon church and its misconceptions and features other world religions to help bring the world to be more religiously understanding, the key to tolerance.

Saleem and Luis – Feel the Music:

In relation to the flourishing industry that EDM/House music has become in the last lustrum, Saleem and Luis with their 20Time Project set out to explore this vast and exciting world of electronic music.  They created their own mixes in hope of shining a light onto this growing industry and the high involvement it has with our upcoming generation.

Suzy – Cooking Healthy Food

For her 20Time Project, Suzy chose to dedicate herself to the challenge of creating simple, healthy meals for one person, in an attempt to reduce individual food waste.  For this, she created a website to help provide the nutritional value of the meals she was cooking, as well as posted videos to teach you how to make them.

Nour – Khamisetas:

Ever since she could hold a pencil, Nour was in love with creating art.  Now, at the age of sixteen, she believes it is time to share her art with the world.  Throughout this experience she has explored the world of online merchandising and other ways to implement her art into products (such as t-shirts).  In Nour’s 20Time presentation, she will reveal the struggles and achievements encountered in her artistic journey.  Visit Nour’s Red Bubble page her to see the merchandise available.

Junilly and Valeria – It’s Time to Cook!:

Bringing exquisite platters from the most famous regions in Brazil and savory dishes from the heart of Venezuela, Junilly and Valeria are going to put it all on the table and display their culture and passion for cooking – and eating – on their own Instagram account dedicated for these recipes.  In their 20Time Project, these dedicated girls posted the recipes, in their native languages and in English, of their favorite dishes.

Martin – Quito Documentary:

In his 20Time Project, Martin, being a Quiteño citizen, wanted to illuminate people about his city and all of the people and sceneries that are present within it  For his project, he set out to film in this beautiful city and make a short documentary about it.  He prepared for the execution of his movie by practicing in school and investigating about movie making.  Martin finalized his project by creating a stunning movie with Quito’s most beautiful views and scenery.  He didn’t want to tell a story, or inform people about the city, but capture the essence of the city.

Lessons From the Basketball Court

I’m totally fired up today and I can’t calm myself down.  See, the JV girls basketball team that I’m coaching got their first win of the year this morning!!  We played a team we’ve lost to 3 times already (most recently, last night!) and we played an outstanding game.  However, the biggest reason I’m so excited and pumped up isn’t even the win, it’s the amazing amount of growth these girls have shown since the beginning of the season (only 2 months ago).  With very limited practice time (we only had 8 practices of about 35-40 minutes each) these girls have gone from clueless to starting to understand some serious basketball concepts, it’s been awesome to watch!

As I’ve watched their growth I’ve thought a lot about all the connections to the classroom and teaching and learning.  I want to share a few of the things that I’ve slowly come to understand in more depth as I’ve grown as a coach and educator.  

  1. Rule Number One:  Ask any of my JV girls to tell you about “Rule Number One” for our team and there will be no hesitation, “Have fun!”  Even though they are choosing to participate on the basketball team, I have to make sure that the experience is positive for them.  As a measure of whether I’ve achieved that or not, I consider the fact that I started the year with 15 girls and finished the year with 15.  No one has quit, for any reason and despite being 0-8 before today (it’s not easy losing all the time!).  Applying the concept of “Rule Number One” to a classroom, imagine that your kids aren’t always choosing your class and therefore may not be super excited about showing up every day.  Essentially the opposite situation I faced this season AND they may not be very good at your subject.  So, what do you do?  How do you ensure that those students who may not want to be there and/or aren’t very “good” at your subject still have a positive experience in your class?  In my mind, which might be obvious based on “Rule Number One”, creating a positive experience for your students is easily the most important thing you can do as an educator.  
  2. You might have to “change the message”:  Many years ago, when I was just starting to help my father coach my sister’s basketball team I had my very first coaching epiphany.  My dad was yelling some direction or another at the girls but it wasn’t getting through, they weren’t doing what he wanted.  He turned to me and said, “Why don’t they do to what I’m telling them to do?”  Immediately, and completely out of nowhere, I answered, “Maybe you have to change your message.”  I remember it like it was yesterday, he stopped and looked at me considering what I had said.  The light when on in his head and I realized I might have hit on something.  See, the problem wasn’t that the girls weren’t listening, they just didn’t understand what he was asking them to do.  From that day on, both my father and I began to simplify our basketball vocabulary/jargon to better fit our audience.  The same thing happens in all of our classes, especially with the vast ELL population we face each day.  Are your students struggling with a task, directions, or other verbal feedback?  Perhaps you need to step back and “change the message”.  My basketball vocabulary this year was very, very basic BUT my girls learned a ton because they could understand it and I didn’t have to keep repeating things.  What about in your classroom?
  3. Focus on the growth, not the result:  Look, up until this morning we were (as we say) “oh-for”…meaning we hadn’t won, we were 0-8.  However, as I touched on above, my girls were engaged and came ready to work hard every time they could.  Why?  I believe that the answer is in the growth, they could see it and who isn’t excited when they can see themselves improving?!?  Demonstrating growth isn’t always easy, I totally get that, and some of my girls didn’t grow nearly as quickly as the others, but that’s okay.  What is important is that they can see growth and feel success, even if the scoreboard (or test) doesn’t show it at the end.  After each game I make sure to bring the team together and highlight our growth and success, celebrating even after a loss 🙂  Maybe we played better defense today, or we scored more than our average.  Perhaps we executed (even once) on a play we had learned the day before.  Even today, after we won, I brought them together to celebrate the positive things we accomplished (other than the obvious one point victory!)  How do your students see, feel, or demonstrate growth in your classroom?  And how do you (and them) stop and celebrate that growth?  When we feel like we’re accomplishing something (growth) we are more likely to engage even deeper.  Growing is fun, it helps Rule Number One!  
  4. Baby steps work, perfection doesn’t:  My practices this year were very limited, as I mentioned earlier.  There was no way in the world that I was going to “fix” every “problem” that I saw on the court.  In fact, there wasn’t even a realistic chance that I would get to many of these “problems” at all.  For this group, it was about basics…and I mean basics!  One of the best parts about having so many beginner basketball players was that we had a lot to work on, never a dull moment.  However, I had to be careful, I couldn’t over do it with the coaching.  Our minds (especially those of our students) can’t handle too much input at once.  If I tried to coach every aspect of basketball that these girls needed to improve they would’ve overloaded and shut down in minutes.  So, we needed to grow with baby steps and couldn’t worry about perfection.  Mistakes were okay, they were celebrated and learned from.  If we aimed for perfection the perspective of growth would’ve been lost and frustration would’ve quickly set in.  The same is true in your classroom as well.  Perhaps you have one or two students who can realistically strive toward perfection but for the vast majority, growth and even slow growth, should be the focus and celebration.  This is a mindset though, the teacher needs to live this mindset and make sure the kids buy in.  
  5. Passion is essential, positive passion changes the game:  This one is simple.  If you asked my girls if I was living Rule Number One or if I was passionate about basketball, I think (actually I know) that there would be no doubt about the answer.  I tell the girls all the time how much fun I’m having and I’m not lying.  They can see it in my face, they can hear it in my voice but most importantly I tell them.  Sometimes we assume too much, we think our kids are getting a message when we aren’t explicitly stating it.  Tell them.  Say it out loud and let them know how much you care about your subject or why it’s important.  Passion is contagious and when you have a positive classroom (discussed above) your students will feed off the energy and buy-in to your passion.  

So, we’re 1-8 now.  We got a win.  It feels great and we’ll ride that emotion into the next game and the last two after that.  We may not win any of these last three games but it won’t matter.  If we end up 1-11 these girls won’t care and neither will I.  It’s not the final result, it’s the journey.  We’ve celebrated growth, we’ve focused on improving our skills (but not too many at a time), and, most importantly, we’ve had fun!  I’m confident that these girls will all be excited to play basketball next season, some of them on the varsity.  They’ll have a positive attitude about working hard and growing.  Best of all, I’m confident that they’ll do all of this without me there to coach/encourage them.  After all, it’s not about me, it’s about the lasting memories and positive attitude that these girls will walk away from this season cherishing.

Note:  As I was writing this, one of my players came in and said “I’m going to draw, I need to get my creative energy out” and I realized how writing this post had calmed and focused me too.  I’m ready for game two of the tournament and a great long weekend when we’re finished, I hope you all have/had a fantastic weekend yourselves…only a few more weeks left, enjoy it while it lasts 🙂

Igniting Passion Through Coaching

It’s been a few years since I’ve had the chance to coach a basketball game, almost five years in fact.  I can’t tell you how much I missed it!!  I’ve been a starter, a bench warmer, a referee, an assistant coach, a head coach, and a fan…I’ve even been the score book and score clock person!  As much as I love all those other roles in basketball there really is nothing like coaching.

How often do you find a class full of students who aren’t very good (relatively) at the skill/subject at hand, yet desperately want to get better and can have a lot of fun going through that process?  As an educator, whether teacher or coach, there is just nothing like the awesome energy that is created in this scenario…especially when, as the educator, the subject is something that you’re very passionate about yourself.

In my family there are three kids, me and my two younger sisters, and we all became educators despite the fact that neither of our parents are educators themselves.  People often ask us how this happened and the best I can figure is that our father (and sometimes our mother) coached all of us in basketball from the first day we tried to dribble until our playing careers ended.  It was his passion for helping create, not basketball players, but well rounded young adults who happened to play basketball that really rings true with me today.  The energy was always positive, kids were always learning (not always basketball), and everyone was having fun!

Thinking about what makes a successful learning environment in schools, it’s no wonder my father was such a successful basketball coach.  He built positive relationships that combined with an engaging and exciting learning environment.   It’s really no different than the culture we’re trying to create within our own classrooms.  I know the context is different but the general concepts are still the same:  Provide a warm and welcoming environment, engage your learners, build passion for the subject (not always required), and make learning fun.

Coaching and teaching are really the same thing, especially when you think about coaching practice.  It can get boring and requires extra planning and effort to be engaging for my players.  It is especially difficult when it comes to fundamental skills that, in order to really improve, require repetitive practice.  However, some how, when it comes to sport practice coaches often find engaging ways to get kids practicing skills…games based on the skill, relay races using the skill, incorporating them into warm up exercises, or creating stations to break up the monotony of the practice.  No coach would ever give their players a worksheet to practice basketball.  Similarly, no coach would tell his players to be quiet and go dribble by yourself for 15 minutes.  Basketball is a team game, players learn and grow together…what if we approached each class the same way, as a team game?

I could go on and on about basketball and coaching but what I really want to leave you with today is the idea that teaching in the classroom doesn’t have to follow a certain (boring) pattern.  Many of you are coaches yourselves, or directors of plays or music, or mentors to after school activities, or members of teams and clubs yourselves.  Think about those experiences, what is it that makes those things so engaging and fun for you?  They are your passions, just like teaching.  Our passions excite us and sharing them is a joy, does your classroom feel the same way?