What Parenting Teaches You About Learning

what-parenting-teaches-you-about-learning

The curly-haired, bright-eyed little four-year-old bypassed the Maker Station.  He bypassed the wooden blocks station.  He bypassed the hands-on STEM activities. Instead, we spent hours at the tug of war contraption that demonstrated force, the tubes that allowed kids to get lost in the twists and turns of a maze, and built seven foot towers out of huge blocks only to knock them down.

In essence, anything that caused him to slow down, my son was not interested in doing at Science City.  I had to smile and appreciate the lesson in learning.

Let them play.  Learning is not always on a time table.  Are those activities everyone says they “should” be doing, really what they should be doing if there is no interest?

It reminded me of my immense excitement in teaching my own child how to read. I had always looked forward to that.  Jonas, my son, loves to be read to.  We read every night, with very few exceptions. He soaks up knowledge quickly and knows more about sea creatures than I ever have. But, he will not let me teach him how to blend cvc words.  He will not practice any sight words.  There’s no “let’s sit down and learn this.”

Though I’m partly bummed about his unwillingness to let me teach him, I am also amazed at the results of not pushing learning on him.  We have facilitated learning, but not pushed it. (ie, I never make him sit and blend cvc words).

But, his vocabulary is massive, using words like perseverance, hypothesis and consideration.  His ability to pull up facts (that he has an authentic interest in) is amazing. He always reminds me to raise my voice when I read a sentence with an exclamation point.  He carries on a conversation in an adult-like give-and-take manner.  He knows every letter and every sound, with very little teaching from me, but rather through the songs and games on different media he interacts with.

He is learning in authentic ways. Not on my time table.  Not even the skills I would “like” him to know.  But he is soaking up every piece of knowledge he wants to.

I will never know everything about teaching, coaching, or education. But, parenting has taught me a lot. Yes, we have a curriculum.  Yes, there are benchmarks to hit.  But, let us not totally take away authentic learning, play and interest.  The results of those things are immeasurable!  I see it every day in my son.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Do You Believe, Coach?

What Do You Believe, Coach-

With the lazy days of summer coming to a close and the excitement of a new school year upon us, what does one do as an instructional coach?  There’s no classroom to prepare.  There’s no open house to  get ready for.  There’s no planning team building for your class during those first few days of building relationships with kids (which I will forever miss!).

So, what does one do as an instructional prior to the start of the year?  Before we hit the road running with meetings, professional development and building relationships with staff, one of the most powerful things you can do is to pause, quietly, and reflect on what you believe about teachers and coaching.   This is important because coaching is not for the faint of heart.  It is rewarding and it is tough.  It is mid-level leadership where you are pulled many ways.  Before you encounter the struggles, develop what you believe and let that guide your thoughts, discussions and actions.

What I believe about teachers: 

  1. I believe every single teacher has a heart for kids.  They have a yearning to do what’s best for kids and they care deeply about their success, happiness and growth.
  2. I believe every single teacher has something to offer, a talent, an approach, an attitude, a perspective that is needed.
  3. I believe that teachers want to grow professionally in some way.   But, being a teacher for 10 years myself,  I know that teachers are pulled a million different directions (at both school and at home).  I vow to always gain perspective when there is resistance to professional opportunities.
  4. I believe I have something to learn from teachers.  As a coach, I bring a unique opportunity to the table for growth, but I am always learning, everyday, from every interaction.

What I believe about coaching: 

  1. Coaching is among the most effective ways to grow professionally. Not only does the research show this in the chart below, I have seen it happen in my partnerships with teachers. (And, more importantly, teachers have told me a student-centered coaching cycle is the best professional development they have received).   Students make the most gains and there is the most transfer when the teacher and coach are working side by side in the classroom and at the planning table (as opposed to stand and deliver PD, and yes, even any PD you can get in the digital sphere).

Coaching Research

2. Coaches are there to support teachers.  Sometimes that support is through professional growth, but it’s also by lending a listening ear, because if you’ve ever taught, particularly in the last few years, teaching is tough and incredibly demanding. Teachers are asked to do so much and offering the validation that they’re doing great things is something I always want to bring to the table.

In your coaching ventures this year, you will encounter success.  And, you will encounter great challenges and have to put on your leadership hat to decide how you’re going to handle a situation.  Know what you believe and make those situations easier to handle.

Best wishes on a year of impacting teachers and kids!

 

 

 

 

Creativity: What We Can Learn from a Snow Day & Toddler Life

My three-year-old son and I are “stuck” inside today with nothing but time on our hands.  A welcome opportunity.  I allowed him to take the lead in activities and this is what he chose:

A caboodle turned car wash for his Hot Wheel cars

A dive down the stairs by his Hot Wheels into the Caboodle pool

A puzzle made of his magnetic building set

A dinosaur adventure through our man-made tent/home

A hunt for treasure in the snow

It was simply a day of imagination and creativity.

This got me thinking.  What allowed this?

It was two things:

  1. He had time where he had nothing on his schedule (like mom’s errands, for example).
  2. He was given the freedom to think on his own and take the lead.

Then, this got me to thinking, am I creative in my work life? Well, let’s examine those two  factors that facilitated my son’s creativity.

  1. Do I allow time on my schedule for creativity or am I always “doing.”  That would be an easy question to answer as I fell prey to the “doing cycle” much of the last several months, leaving little time in my schedule to use my creative capacities.  Did I got a lot done?  Sure, I did.  I checked things off my to-do list daily.  But, is this really success?  Did I really make the most impact?  Could I have made a deeper impact if time was built into my schedule to facilitate creative ways for deeper relationships, more effectively coach and building capacity with others?  Are you a leader that can build that time into your team’s schedule?
  2. Am I given the freedom to think on my own and take the lead?  I am fortunate to be in a position where this is often the case.  My role is an instructional coach in two elementary buildings.  I’m the only one in these two buildings with this position.  This, in itself, allows for individual initiative and ideas.  However, without that time mentioned in #1 above, this freedom goes unutilized.

So, let’s stop “doing” so much.  Stop the go, go, go lifestyle.  Stop the to-do lists.  And, instead, unleash the power of creativity in our world.  We will all benefit.

A Reflection: Student-Centered Coaching

With one day left of school, educators are embracing that bittersweet time of closing a door on a year that was full of growth and opportunity.  As a coach who attempts to be proactive at having a growth mindset, and also one that has a huge desire to constantly learn how to facilitate and nurture growth within a school, I too am reflecting.

I was blessed today with a book that honestly touched my heart and represents the power of student-centered coaching, a model of coaching championed by Diane Sweeney.  In this model, we are not about fixing teachers. But, rather a partner who can sit side-by-side with teachers and navigate through the often murky waters of curriculum, instruction, assessment, and student learning.  A teacher I worked along side of this year presented her gratitude through the book What Do you Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada. In this book, a child has an idea that was “strange and fragile.” The child kept this idea to himself, because he wasn’t sure what the world would think of it. But, the idea followed him and the child began to embrace it. The child finally shared it and some people laughed at it and he contemplated whether he should abandon the idea.  But, the child re-embraced it, because after all, nobody understood the idea like he did. He fostered it. He fed it. His love for the idea grew and grew.  And, then, one day, the child built the idea a new house, one with an “open roof where it could look up at the stars–a place where it could be safe to dream.” The child said the idea made him feel more alive and  gave him the ability to think bigger.  And one day, his idea changed.  It spread its wings.  It changed the world. It wasn’t just part of him. It was part of the world.

The teacher said she felt like this book represented our work together.

Amazing.

After reading this thought, I had thoughts of gratitude.  For that teacher and her willingness to try ideas, to embrace the chance of failure, the chance of imperfection for the pursuit of growth.  Growth that would profoundly impact kids. And, boy, did she ever impact kids! I saw it on a daily basis. And, just as important, I saw her kids embrace their own ideas and become comfortable with failing forward.

I also had gratitude for the student-centered model of coaching.  Because this model is not about fixing teachers.  It’s about facilitating beside them and growing as a team, because that growth impacts kids.  And, that’s why we’re here.  We learned together.  We shared ideas together. We analyzed the impact of instruction together. And she modeled learning and the willingness to take a risk for her kids.

I felt lucky to have experienced this. Inspiring. Motivating. Change. Growth.  That’s what it was.

Instructional Strategies: A Direction for Learning

With the demands on teaching and learning in an age of 21st century learning, what do all teachers want?  How about instructional strategies that not only make teaching more effective, but learning? Not a silver bullet, but something close? Good news: that very thing exists.

The innovation and learning coaches have immersed ourselves in instructional strategies this year, based on the work of John Hattie, Dylan Wiliam,Steven Zemelman, and Anne R. Reeves.  I can honestly say, I don’t think I’ve seen anything impact teaching and learning as much as some of the instructional strategies from these gurus have.   The ground breaking part is that the use of learning targets and success criteria make designing lessons much more productive, and more important, have led to deeper student learning.   Let’s first take a look at learning targets and success criteria.  Subsequent post will address other instructional strategies.

Let’s walk through an example.  First, take a look at this video about unpacking learning targets with students.

My favorite teacher line from this video is “Tell me what you know about this target, and what you’re wondering about.”   How powerful is that?  How many times do we just post or say the learning target and think “that’s it?” Unfortunately, just posting or reciting the target doesn’t mean the students really understand and internalize it.  They are the ones who REALLY need to internalize it as they are the ones doing the learning. They are the ones that need to have the learning targets at the forefront of their learning.  Let us not assume our kids just “get” the learning target?  Have you asked your kids whether they understand what’s being asked of them?  The assumption that they do can be a detriment to their learning.

After breaking down the learning target, we want to address the success criteria.  Here’s a way to explain the importance of success criteria to your kids.   Let’s say that a group of kiddos have never seen the game of basketball.  I teach them how to do lay-ups, how to shoot  free throws, how to play defense, and how to do a full-court press.  Could I then just throw them on a court and have them successfully play the game of basketball?  It would be quite interesting as you would likely have lay-ups occurring at the same time as free-throws, defense and a full-court press.  Most kids have seen the game of basketball played before, so they do, in fact, have an idea of the success criteria, and have a better understanding of what is expected of them in the end.  Our kids in our classes, need to know the same.

Take a look at this video, where they discuss success criteria.

The big lesson from these videos and instructional strategies: don’t just dive into content.  First, be sure STUDENTS have a clear idea of where they’re going and what the success looks like.  This knowledge helps lead them to owning the learning and creates an atmosphere where they are better able to regulate their own learning.

So, How DO You Teach Fluency?

If you refer to a post I wrote in January ( The Power of Fluency Instruction ) you will see that we discussed the importance of fluency instruction. It is truly a bridge between phonics and comprehension.   With 10 years of experience in the classroom, I know all too well that what teachers need is not just theory and rationale, but also practicalities…resources they can actually take and use in their classrooms.  With that said, here are some fluency resources to supplement what you are already doing in your reading block.

Fluency K-2 Lesson This is a video on fluency instruction at the kindergarten through second grade level.  It was posted by the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project, led by Lucy Calkins.

Fluency lessons This is a document that has easy-to-implement fluency lessons for all levels of readers.

Fluency practice outline This is a lesson approach by Timothy Rassinski and Nancy Padak that includes modeled reading, assisted reading, repeated reading, performance reading, word study and home and school involvement. It was put out by the International Reading Association.

Fluency Station Resources Here are some books you can purchase through The Literacy Store.  They are books you could put in a fluency literacy station.

Student fluency rubric This is a student fluency rubric put out by forthegoodofallstudents.blogspot.com.

Timothy Raskinski on itunes I would highly suggest these podcasts by Timothy Rasinski put out by Teacher Created Materials.  They are concise and help to explain clearly why fluency instruction is crucial.

My radical view of the just-released SAT data and the perpetual correlation of test scores with SES (via Granted, but…)

It is a longstanding ugly fact in education: the child’s socio-economic status is tightly correlated with test scores. The just-released SAT data from the College Board are right there for all to see and contemplate with the telling pattern visible for the umpteenth year: for every additional 20,000 dollars in parental income, scores rise in an almost perfect linear relationship by approximately 15 points. Liberal policy-makers use such data to r … Read More

via Granted, but…