Monday, August 31, 2015

We both want the same thing!

Disagreements are almost always focused on some sort of difference in perspective.  And for so many people, there is a natural inclination to find fault in that different opinion by creating a reason for it.
  • She doesn't know what she is talking about.
  • He doesn't understand what I am trying to say.
  • She doesn't have enough knowledge to have a valid opinion.
  • He doesn't have enough experience to know what I know.
  • She is letting her past experiences cloud her judgment.
  • He is only disagreeing with me because he wants me to be wrong!
  • "Crazy!"
Every one of these is often times followed with another common thought, "If she/he would just see things my way."

The funny thing is that the great majority of people really do have good intentions.  They really do want what is best.  They really do SHARE your goals for excellent progress or a solution.  They simply have a different approach to make it happen.  A common goal and a common vision can be achieved with different strategies.  The key to collaboration is the common goal.  A common goal is the key to effective collaboration.

When folks disagree on something, no matter how passionately, progress can be made when the energy is refocused on the common goal.

So, when is it OK to agree to disagree?

In my opinion, that is an interesting question with many answers.  If both parties can try something that will hopefully move towards success of the common goal, then both parties should go for it and learn from each other.  That is not really a disagreement, that is two paths towards the common goal.

When two parties need to come to some kind of agreement because they will be involved in the efforts together, then agreeing to disagree doesn't really make sense.  I subscribe to the Stephen Covey frame of thought regarding compromise.  Anytime you compromise with someone, neither of you truly get what you want.  You both lose a little bit.  Instead, finding a third alternative creates a win-win.  Dr. Covey says the third alternative, " not your way or my way.  It is a better way!"

Doing this is tough if you are creating reasons that the other person doesn't see things your way.  Instead of conjecturing the reasons for their opinion, find the common goal.  Focus on what you both can agree on.  Only then can you truly collaborate and improve!

Friday, August 21, 2015

The worries end and the work begins

When students walk in the door on the first day of school, they come with a history of experience that is oftentimes hard to realize.  Even Kinder kids have lived through experiences that have shaped their ability to find success in your classroom.  Some will walk in your door with a set of experiences that have prepared them to breeze through the year.  Others walk in with a set of experiences that have prepared them for the opposite.  Regardless of their experience, you get who you get.

How do you respond?

It is common to hear teachers talk about classrooms that are not well-balanced.  Some classrooms end up with more challenging students than other classes.  One teacher may have with more kids who aced the state test last year.  Another teacher got all the dyslexic kids.  The male teacher got all the boys coming from homes with no dads.  Another teacher has many students that are a bit bouncy.  As much as schools try to balance classes, it is almost impossible to get it perfect.

And the truth is that some teachers handle some kids a little better than others.  Some teachers are gifted with bouncy kids.  Some teachers find more success connecting with kids from broken homes.  Some teachers excel at bringing the best out of the most heterogeneous classroom full of the widest variety of kids.

Around this time of year, class lists are created.  Parents and families nervously/excitedly await the opportunity to find out who their teacher will be.  Indeed, teachers don't only get students.  They get families.

Teachers are nervous too!  They wonder how the names on that list will actually harmonize on a daily basis.  They wonder if they will be able to create and maintain a fantastic learning environment with a newly formed group that hasn't been together yet.  They wonder what new challenges lay ahead and if their previous experiences have made them ready!

Then the first day of school happens and kids head into their new classes with smiles.  Or nervous smiles.  Or maybe even tears.  And teachers smile as they try to welcome every single child into that new place.  And parents wonder all day long how it is going.

Sure, there may be a few hiccups in a few of those new classes, with a few of those new relationships.  But for the most part, the first few days create a bond between teacher and student.  The learning environment works!  The teacher finds success.  The student finds success.  These two are not always easy, but they happen all the time and they outweigh the failures.  After all the nervous wondering about what the new class brings, after a few days, the worries end and the work begins!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Today's TO DO List

Do you ever have a great idea pop into your head on your morning drive to school?  Perhaps something that you have previously done and it was awesome?  Perhaps a series of great things that could be great again with the right attitude and fortitude?  Perhaps something brand-spanking new that will be completely fantastic for your school?  Your mind races through all of the wonderfulness that will come from your great idea!  You picture the successes at your campus that come from your idea and your effort! You simply cannot wait to make it come to life!

Then you start your day and go through your day and end your day and you temporarily forget about your awesome plans.  Don't do that.  Don't forget them.  Don't let routine kill your dream!  Awesomeness deserves a chance!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The skeptical question!

A few days ago, my campus watched Daniel Pink's TED Talk about motivation.  In my opinion, it speaks directly to educators about how people are motivated.   I have watched it several times, read his books, and participated in many hours of professional conversation about motivation.  I am not an expert, but I am passionately interested!

After the video, I asked folks to throw out only questions.  No comments or judgments, only questions.  I loved it!  A typical campus conversation following a TED Talk usually includes comments that either agree or disagree with specific things that the speaker shared.  By starting with questions, we held off the judgments!  By starting with questions, we expanded the conversation and included a broader range of possibility.  It was awesome!

For some folks, myself included, it was tough to keep our opinions on hold!  After quite a few questions that were purposely reflective, I could tell that a few passionate folks wanted to share opinions.  A few of the questions were stated in a way that communicated an opinion.

At first, the questions were, "How can we give more autonomy in order to improve their intrinsic motivation?"  After some time, a few questions sounded like, "How could we translate his research about adults in the business world to kids in our schools?"

Perhaps there was a bit of judgment in this question.  Neverthess, it was a GREAT question!!!  I loved it!  When a professional is skeptical of a new idea, their thoughts
help us all think!  Especially their questions!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The teacher at the front of the room

Several times in recent weeks, I have been involved in conversations or meetings revolving around the idea of teacher evaluations and interruptions to teaching.  Several times, the term, "...the teacher at the front of the classroom...," was used by numerous folks.  The first time I heard it, my immediate and silent response was, "Where???"

Each time I heard the term afterwards, my skin felt a little more itchy.  The term bothered me more and more.  When discussing evaluations, one of the participants stated, "When I walk into a classroom, I love seeing the teacher at the front of the classroom and all of the students watching attentively."

I thought to myself, "If the teacher happens to be at the front of the room and the students are attentive that is a good thing, but if the teacher is not at the front of the room and the students are attentive to their own learning...even better!"  I wondered, "How often does that participant expect teachers to be at the front of the room?"  If I noticed a teacher at the front of the classroom every single time I visited, I would be concerned with lesson design, student engagement, and differentiation.

Another time, a small group was discussing classroom interruptions.  One person stated, "If the phone rings and the teacher has to leave the front of the classroom to answer it, that can kill the flow of the lesson."

I wondered, "How long can a lesson actually flow with a teacher at the front of the classroom?"  I get it that a phone call can occasionally interrupt something that is going on, but in a highly engaging classroom, there is not much that actually interrupts students!  Their desire to continue with their learning far exceeds the ring of the phone, and for sure, a teacher stepping away for a moment.

Finally, I watched a webinar about student engagement.  The presenter intended to share tools for keeping students engaged.  She noted that in her classroom, she never sat down.  She continued to move around the room as she spoke.  She kept moving so the kids had to continually adjust their sitting position and turn their heads frequently to maintain visual contact with her.  She claimed that her students were sitting quietly and engaged for 45 entire minutes because she kept moving!

Itchy, itchy, itchy.  I closed that webinar soon after.  Sure, if you move a little kids will watch you move.  They will maintain a bit more attention.  For real engagement, design a lesson where the kids rarely stop moving!  Design learning with several changes of state for students!  Design an experience with differing levels of dialogue in different places in the room with differing groups of peers, based on a material the students choose and they actually care about, based on great questions!

That is engagement.  And you rarely even need to stand at the front of the room.