3 Changes That Make a Difference

Change is such a hot topic in the educational realm and gets a great deal of attention in the national media. We have all heard, "We must change by increasing the rigor within instruction to meet the Common Core State Standards." "We need to change our assessment systems to ensure that students are learning the skills that will allow them to be productive citizens in the future."  The rhetoric within the national media at this time is more centered around testing, more accountability, increased levels of rigor, and punishment to schools not meeting the targets.  I will not disagree that change needs to occur within our business; however, the changes must be focused on the right things that can lead to significant improvement throughout the entire system. Within this post, I will highlight three areas where we must change as educators.  Video credit to Dr. Justin Tarte

  • Give up control and trust kids.  The vast majority of my K-12 experience was spent in the late 1980's and 90's where compliance was king.  If you could "play the game of school" you would be in pretty good shape.  Let me explain.  I define the game of school as showing up to class, submitting necessary homework, following rules, shutting your mouth, and complying with all expectations.  I became a master at playing the game, particularly in high school, which allowed me to maintain a B/B+ average, and helped me get accepted to the University of Northern Iowa.  So what's the problem?  I received decent grades, was accepted to my college of choice, and was on my way.  The problem with playing the game was that I did not learn too much in the process.  I submitted necessary homework, crammed enough information in my brain to demonstrate knowledge needed for a one hour test, brought in canned goods for extra credit, and always received attendance points for showing up to class, but did not own my learning whatsoever.  Is this the fault of my teachers or my high school?  No, not necessarily, and I certainly do not blame them for my lack of learning; I also did not take responsibility for it.  I was in a system where you could slip by and earn good grades without really learning anything.  We have made strides in recent years to address issues within this system by implementing standard informed grading models, placing attendance and behavioral skills into separate categories, and have focused heavily on learning targets (what you will know and be able to do after leaving courses).  This focus on learning targets must continue, coupled with giving students control of their own learning.  There are so many tools and devices at our disposal to create actively engaging learning environments for our students.  Whether it is collaborative blogs, Google Docs, discussion forums on Edmodo, or simply providing students with choice in how they will demonstrate proficiency of the learning target, we can enrich the learning taking place in our classrooms.  We must get away from the culture of compliance, listen to the learning needs of our students, and realize that this model is messy, but worth it.
  • Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset: "You are so smart. Wow, what an amazing student you are, you're always earning A's."  We have all heard this language and more than likely have used it with students and our own children.  However, the research of Carol Dweck shows that this type of language is actually damaging to people, as it contributes to a fixed mindset where individuals tend to focus on the product rather than the process.  I am a firm believer in the process and have blogged about it: find it here.  Those who have a fixed mindset tend to believe intelligence and talent are fixed, avoid difficult tasks, as perfection is often sought.  People with a fixed mindset have become accustomed to achieving rather easily, and are not used to struggle.  Those with a growth mindset embrace challenges and failure while learning in the process.  Effort is encouraged and intelligence is developed continually by those who possess the growth mindset.  As educators, parents, and anyone who works with people, we can develop the growth mindset by using language that focuses on risk taking, effort, persistence, and improvement.  Rather than telling a student, "You are so incredibly smart," say "You worked so incredibly hard on your video production, your hard work and effort led to success."  I challenge all educators to instill a growth mindset within their students by designing lessons, units of study, and framing conversations that contribute to effort, attitude, perseverance, and growth.

  • Principal or Lead Learner?  Over the past year, I have been able to connect with two outstanding leaders that I now consider friends: Joe Mazza and Tony Sinanis. Joe was an elementary principal for a number of years and now currently works at the university level while Tony serves as principal of Cantiague Elementary School in New York.  Both of these guys have referred to themselves as lead learners rather than principals for a number of years.  What does this mean?  When you hear the word principal, what comes to your mind?  Most people think of an office with kids waiting outside to talk after being kicked out of class.  A principal is often thought of as the disciplinarian with all of the answers who sits behind a desk, manages the ins and outs while telling teachers what and how to teach.  There are a number of management aspects to the principalship that are unavoidable and critical to success; however, there is so much more.  As lead learners, we model what we expect of others.  Lead learners visit classrooms not only to evaluate the success of programs, but also to learn right along with teachers and students.  We have dynamic staff members at Epworth and Farley Elementary Schools that I learn from each day.  I do not have all of the answers, and rely heavily on our staff members to contribute to daily decisions that impact our programming, buildings, and students. Together we are better is a mantra for lead learners.  Lead learners model professional learning by participating with teachers, utilizing Twitter, book studies, blogs, and other platforms for continual growth.  In order to meet the increasing demands of our positions and the needs of our students, we must think more as lead learners than as principals in a traditional sense.  To read more on lead learning, please click here.
It is an exciting time to be in education right now; so many innovative strategies are being implemented to impact students in a positive way.  We have an obligation to promote the great things happening in our schools, and counter the negative rhetoric in the national media.  I have highlighted three changes that can be implemented tomorrow that I feel will have a tremendous impact on the entire system.  Together we are better, and change is good.     

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