What Competitive Person Can Resist a Challenge?

Those who know me understand that one of the things that drives me is that I’m competitive.  Sometimes that trait draws me into wonderful opportunities, and other times it can cause some serious consternation. After accepting A.J. Juliani’s 30 Day Blogging Challenge, I’m about to discover just what kind of adventure my competitive nature has gotten me into.  To seal the deal, I’m putting it in print — my goal and commitment is to write 300 words a day and post at least once a week.  Let the learning begin . . .

There were two thoughts that stayed with me today after an early morning perusal of email and Twitter.  One was Bill Ferriter’s post on New Year’s resolutions, and the second came at the end of Seth Godin’s post “The Candy Diet.”   In Ferriter’s blog, he talked about an important shift – from one in which you learn from people to one in which you learn WITH people.  He went on to talk about the importance of asking questions, making connections, and starting conversations.  I like this phrase — to “spend time wrestling with and responding to those ideas.”  Reflection and conversation are such powerful ways to continue to grow as a professional, and I’m constantly learning from my secondary teammates as well as from masters like Penny Kittle, Cris Tovani, George Couros, Doug Fisher, Suzie Boss, Linda Darling-Hammond, and A.J. Juliani, to name just a few.  I’m grateful to each of them for the questions they pose, the conversations their words ignite, and the insights they offer.  As I write, my goal will be to summarize those ideas and put them in the context of possibility for teachers.  To stay true to Bill Ferriter’s challenge, those ideas now must become an integral part of conversations with colleagues and not merely words in a blog post.

Seth Godin adds another layer to the challenge of thoughtful writing and influencing by asking people to use “precise words, employ thoughtful reasoning and ask difficult questions.”  The outcome of that is to hopefully “lead our way back to curiosity, inquiry, and discovery.”  These are lofty goals, but they’re certainly worth striving for.

To colleagues who are only a cubby away to the people in my PLN, I’m looking forward to future conversations and opportunities to collaborate.  This new year, what difficult questions will we answer together?  And how are you using your words?

Deeper Learning

Much is said about the need for rigor and deeper learning in today’s classrooms, but what steps must be taken to ensure that all students have this opportunity?  In recent conversations, one common theme is the need for clarity — a clear vision based on an agreed upon definition.

In Deeper Learning: Beyond 21st Century Skills, Rick and Becky DuFour state it clearly. Deeper learning is defined as “the skills and knowledge students will need to succeed in a world that is changing at an unprecedented pace.  Deeper learning prepares students to master core academic content, think critically and solve complex problems, work collaboratively, communicate effectively, and learn how to learn” (25).

Unpacking that to see how it applies in practice is far more complex than merely offering a definition, but Doug Fifisher-frey-hatties-infographicsher, Nancy Frey, and John Hattie have provided a great starting point in their work Visible Learning for Literacy, Grades K-12.  In it, they talk about the crucial need for skills to be developed before moving to deeper learning and that the ultimate goal is the ability of students to transfer or apply what they have learned to new situations.  (For more on the book and the strategies, watch Corwin’s webinar.)

Doing things differently will require effort by all stakeholders.  A reflective practice will help determine if what’s happening in the classroom is giving students the opportunities to dive more deeply into the learning and then to be able to do something with what they know.  As teachers and administrators work together with a coherent vision, change is possible.


Pickleball — My New Teacher

elevate-your-gamePlaying pickleball has become a new addiction, and I’m learning that the truths I find in the game provide significant parallels to my desire for professional growth as a teacher.  Picking up a new sport, like any new skill, can be exhilarating, frustrating, and demanding.  Patience is a necessity, and unfortunately, there are many reminders that this is an area that requires more work in order for me to be successful at a higher level.  Persistence is also required, but since it’s a choice and something that I enjoy, I keep at it.  There are small wins and moments when the instruction I’ve received from others at a higher level let me know I’m improving — I’m advancing toward my goals.  Then there are the other times when instant feedback, like a smash coming back at you because your return shot is too high, are not so enjoyable.  But that feedback pushes me forward, demanding another try.  In the pickleball community, you find incredible support and you meet amazing people.  Much like my teaching journey, those relationships and connections provide motivation.  It’s in the collective wisdom of players from all skill levels that you get encouragement, insights, and feedback.  We’re all united in that desire to learn and improve.

As teachers, we have that same team around us, whether that’s our PLC or our PLN.  Finding colleagues you trust to provide valuable, use-it-today feedback is what inspires growth and what challenges us.   I feel fortunate to be part of a team with incredible experience who question and explain, who cheer and challenge, and who do everything they can to ensure that learning is at the center of all we do.  Feedback and discussions lead to improved skills, and the value of those relationships cannot be adequately expressed.

Learning journeys are continuous adventures whether they’re taking place on the pickleball court or in our work.  Patience is a tough instructor, but it’s well worth the time and effort when you’re focusing on growth.

Taking Risks

A It’s been over a year since I wrote my “Just Start” post, and, in full        disclosure, only one other post followed.  Writing is a risk for me, but it’s past time to put fears aside and write on a consistent basis — a commitment to one published post a week.  I knew it when I looked at a group of committed teachers and asked them for their action steps — one thing each would do in the following week.  Avoiding it was out of the question because how could I ask them to be bold and try new things if I wasn’t willing to do the same?

Writing is about taking a risk.  It’s putting a voice to your thinking even when you’re afraid it won’t be as good as you want it to be.  It’s about reflection and introspection.  It’s about hard work that can lead to amazing insights and professional growth.  So . . .  I’m writing.

What risk are you willing to take?  What’s one thing that you know you need to try even if it scares you just a bit?

8 Things for a Learner-Focused Classroom

8Things for Today's Classroom - Couros


One of the most influential blog posts I’ve read was this one by George Couros, “8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom.”  Sylvia Duckworth’s use of SketchNote, adds a powerful visual to support the elements explained in the post.  As classrooms become more learner-focused, these eight characteristics should be evident to any observer.  With these elements come motivation, engagement, and those crucial 4 C’s — communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity.  Could notes like these be an option for students who may not think and write in traditional formats?  How many of these crucial elements could someone observe in your classroom?

Just Start!

Lead Learner

Sometimes, it’s that blank sheet of paper or computer screen that’s the obstacle.  Other times, it’s the worry about what to say that others would value.  In the end, it’s about just starting.  It’s about reflecting, sharing, and challenging yourself to grow as an educator.  So that’s what Crucial Connections is all about for me.  It’s about sharing what I’ve learned from so many in my professional learning network or PLN.  It’s about connecting with others beyond the walls of a classroom, beyond the walls of your school — it’s those crucial connections with others who share your passion for teaching and learning.  So, to that end, I’m beginning my reflective journey, and it will be public.  It’s what we ask of our students . . . so let’s be brave and write with them.

The Reflective Journey

As teachers, we all understand the crucial need for building connections with our students.  We listen carefully so that we can understand their passions and interests, their abilities and ways of learning, and the things that make them unique.  As a digital generation, our students are connected in ways that weren’t imaginable when I was starting my teaching career or even in the past few years.

The digital culture affects every aspect of today’s society, and as educators, that creates an intriguing challenge.  How have these changes impacted instruction?  What must be done differently to engage our students in relevant and meaningful work?   For me, finding answers means that I have to ask questions, read, reach out to others in my professional learning network, and reflect.  Through that process, I realized that my most important role is to be a learner first.  To model that learning means that I must do things that scare me just a bit — like writing a blog.  Yet taking those risks and being part of a connected learning community are what’s necessary for growth — for doing things differently than they’ve been done in the past.  Why?  The question that drives me comes from a North Carolina State University MOOC (massive, open, online course)  called “Leading the Digital Transition.”   Their essential question continues to drive my learning:  “What are the most important ways we need to change K-12 education to prepare students for the global, digital, information world in which they will live?”

What would your response be?

To learn what other educational thought leaders have said, watch “Preparing Students for the World in Which They’ll Live.” (8:04)  How did their answers compare to yours?