my edu180atl post from 5.21.12

June 11, 2012 1 comment

The following post was my contribution to the edu180atl project for the 2011-12 school year. During the final week in May, members of the founding team wrote reflections on the power of this learning project and all 180 posts of learning are archived on the site. My reflections centered on the concept of wide-awakeness…something I am trying to grow in myself and also the inspiration for this blog.

Without the ability to think about yourself, to reflect on your life, there’s really no awareness, no consciousness. Consciousness doesn’t come automatically; it comes through being alive, awake, curious, and often furious. ~Maxine Greene 

I have felt alive, awake, curious, and furious this 2011-12 school year. Consuming the wisdom generated from 175 posts, and now creating this 176th post, I have gained greater consciousness about learning and schooling and being in this world.

And I feel wide-awake to possibility.

Maxine Greene’s words about being wide-awake in the world serve as a reminder…and so will the 45,000 words posted to this site from August 1st to May 25th.  Open eyes, open ears, and open hearts allow for learning to happen. The edu180atl project, a small-seed-of-an-idea back in the spring of 2011, blossomed in the fall and has been producing the most diverse and substantive fruit for 175 days. For that I am grateful.

And on this 176th day, I feel wide-awake to possibility.

What if all of our classrooms and teams and schools and school systems sought to cultivate students’ spirit of wide-awakeness — their spirit of wanting to know and learn? What if we educators — both teachers and administrators — sought to cultivate that spirit in ourselves and in others? How might we change? What would the possibilities look like?

If we all had greater consciousness about learning and schooling and being in this world, the possibilites would be endless…for our students…for our selves…for our schools…and maybe even for our society. So, what have I learned? That it’s time to pursue such wide-awakeness with the reckless abandon of being alive, awake, curious, and furious every day. Not just during the 180 days of the school year. Or on the 176th.

About the Author: Megan Howard (@mmhoward), co-founder of edu180atl and passionate learner, is grateful for what the edu180atl project has taught her this year. She can’t wait for August 1, 2012, which will mark the second year of this important and inspiring project.

Categories: edu180atl

the edu180atl project and #180voices180stories

May 25, 2012 2 comments

The first year of the edu180atl project came to a close today. And after 180 days, 180 posts, 180 voices, and 180 stories of learning, I am better for it. The project, born out of a back-and-forth on Twitter in January 2011 has been a powerful vehicle for nurturing and encouraging the spirits of those who love to learn, connecting learners across the city, and  deepening the national conversation about education over the course of the past 180 school days.

This week, members of the founding edu180atl team took time to reflect on what this project has meant to us (the full posts are linked below). Today, Holly Chesser wrote a post looking toward the future and also sharing what this project has  meant to her. She will be leading the edu180atl team alongside Jennifer Murphy for the 2012-13 school year.

I am proud to have been a part of this project and the edu180atl team.

edu180atl: megan howard 5.21.12:

I have felt alive, awake, curious, and furious this 2011-12 school year. Consuming the wisdom generated from 175 posts, and now creating this 176th post, I have gained greater consciousness about learning and schooling and being in this world.

And I feel wide-awake to possibility.

edu180atl: john burk 5.22.12:

Through the edu180atl project, I’ve connected with countless learners and their stories of learning—stories filled with struggle and challenge, but also fulfillment and joy. These connections make me feel even more empowered to persevere through my own difficulties, and give me a great sense of gratitude.

edu180atl: ted sadtler 5.23.12:

Since August I too have leaned toward the sun, toward the bright spots of reflection and dialogue in Atlanta: students expressing their uniqueness and creativity, adults facing cataclysmic change in their lives, teachers reveling in the endearing moments of their day, parents expressing their hopes for their children. I really do think that the 170+ authors have captured the full range of experience that comes with devoting oneself to a lifetime of learning. And yet, there are so many degrees yet to capture. So I continue leaning toward the brightness of our community’s reflections, waiting with anticipation as the next group of volunteers write, read, comment, edit, and share what it means to be a learner.

edu180atl: laura deisley  5.24.12:

Indeed, it is this kind of spirit that inspired us to create edu180atl — a place where individuals have dared to share, to be transparent, to struggle, to reinvent themselves. By so doing, the hallmark of a healthy community is evolving: empathy for one another. Isn’t that a fundamental condition for learning? People may say education in Atlanta is broken. Institutionally, as a whole, maybe it is. But, I believe. I believe that this edu180atl community is designing a future for education in Atlanta built on empathy.

edu180atl: holly chesser 5.25.12:

This desire to find our commonalities and to appreciate our uniqueness lies at the heart of edu180atl’s mission: “to nurture and encourage the spirits of those who love to learn,” “to connect learners,” and “to deepen the national conversation about education.”

Today marks the sunset of this school year:  post # 180.  Time to seek relaxation and renewal.  But like any good teacher, I’m thinking back over all the posts I’ve read and wondered, “”What’s the take away?  What did I learn?”  In re-reading many posts this week, I discovered a harmonious refrain – a gratitude for those who care, a discovery of something hidden within, and a wish for what could be.  As I tell my students, there’s only one story – the human story – and we each keeping telling it with infinite variation.

Categories: edu180atl

Remembering the Importance of Resilience

May 13, 2012 1 comment

This was my final contribution to Trinity This Week, the School’s weekly publication which highlights “Notes from the Administrative Leadership Team” in the form of a short blog post on a weekly basis. The original post is on the Trinity site and can be found here.

As a young child, my hair tangled easily. I remember sitting on a stool in my parents’ bathroom, looking into the mirror and up at my mother, as she took a comb to my wet head and carefully, slowly, meticulously, combed the tangles out of my long sandy blond hair. As I reflect on those hours spent sitting still and grimacing with each catch in the comb, I can now see that it was really a beautiful time for my mother and me. Time spent talking, problem-solving, musing, laughing, arguing, connecting. Time spent just-the-two-of-us without interruption. Time spent building a stronger mother-daughter bond. Time spent combing out the tangles…literally and metaphorically.

As the end of the school year approaches, it’s easy to think that all of those “tangles” have been combed out of our children. It is natural to think of the end of the year as a time to celebrate all of the great successes and forget, in many ways, about the bumps in the road or even some of the mistakes and failures that happened throughout the year. As our Sixth Graders smile and accept their diplomas in just a few short weeks — in heels, in suits, and perfectly poised and confident — it’s important to remember that their learning process at Trinity has been full of plenty of successes but also a number of tangles as well. And just as I had my mother to help me tease out and recognize those tangles, our Trinity Sixth Graders graduate with the knowledge that their learning experiences have been rich – full of ups and downs and full of the support of parents, siblings, teachers, and of course, their peers.

Resilience is one of those 21st Century skills that is often cited in studies that highlight “the top essential skills for college and career.” At Trinity, we believe that the development of a number of skills is essential, resilience being one of them. From outdoor education trips to cooperative learning experiences in classrooms, the learning process – and not just the product – is something that is celebrated throughout the Trinity community. Carol Dweck’s research on motivation, achievement, and mindsets guides much of our focus on risk-taking and reflection. Developing a growth mindset (as opposed to a fixed mindset) is essential for children in the 21st Century. Trinity students must learn that their abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work – and that their brains and talent are just the starting point. Fostering growth mindsets not only creates a love of learning but also increased resilience in the face of risk-taking, struggles, and even failure as well.

So as we approach the end of the May, a time of year when achievement and accolades are often given so much attention, it’s important to spend time thinking and talking with our children about the process of growing, learning, and developing. Just as Trinity teachers begin each school year focusing on children’s strengths as part of our strengths-based educational approach, our teachers spend time at the end of the year reflecting on the growth that has occurred – academically, socially, emotionally, and in a myriad of other areas as well. Trinity children begin to understand that the journey with all of its ups and downs is something to reflect upon and be proud of. And that is an incredible accomplishment in itself.

If you are interested in learning more about the importance of resilience and child development, the following books may be of interest to you:

CHANGEd 60-60-60: EXPERIMENTS AND EXPERIENCES

May 8, 2012 1 comment

On March 9th, I started this experi(ence)ment by saying, “I have no idea what the two of us will play. And I won’t be able to tell you what it is until it happens.” Today, on May 8th, after 60+ consecutive days of what-ifs and riffs, I’m still not sure that I can say what it is but I can certainly share what all of this thinking and reflecting has meant to me, both personally and professionally.

Thinking about CHANGEd: What if we all tried something new for 30 days (or longer) and learned out loud? 60-60-60 #60 and reflecting…

In his short but powerful TED Talk, Matt Cutts advocates for us all to try something new for a month. Sharing what he’s learned from his own personal experiments and experiences, he highlights that we can all learn to make the days count, to appreciate the boost of confidence that a new habit brings, and to heighten our ability to persevere despite the ups and downs of life. In Bo’s #60 CHANGEd post, he also highlights just a few things he has learned and enjoyed in his 60-60-60 journey. As I think about my own progress and process over the course of the past two months, I can borrow from both Matt and Bo and use their themes as starting points for my reflections…

1. Making the Days Count: Sixty days is a long time. Consistent reflection over the course of two months around a certain theme pushed me in ways that I never imagined. Sure, a number of similar themes emerged. Only one word however — empathy — made an appearance two times in a title post. And as I reflect on CHANGEd 60-60-60, I see that the notion of empathy, especially as it relates to the design process, is having a larger and larger influence on who I am as an educator. There’s still so much that I want to learn about the design process, but I know that I must find ways to cultivate a more empathetic spirit in myself and in others as well. For that, I am motivated.

2. Building Confidence (Motivators and Blockers): At the outset, one of my goals was to learn to write more spontaneously and without as much fear of failure. Writing sixty posts and getting positive feedback from others on my thinking was inspiring. A half-baked blog post (of which there were many) was not considered failure…failure (in my mind) was not seeing this project to its completion. Convinced through Twitter that I had at least one reader (Bo, who was RTing my posts) was a “motivator” for me. Then, when Grant Lichtman began leaving comments on my posts, I knew that I had at least two readers. Normally, such pressure would have been a blocker, but Bo and Grant’s encouragement and what-if questioning only inspired me more. Like Bo, I saw that “learning-out-loud” caused me to double and triple my weekly readership which will only add to a more robust and diverse personal learning network. For that, I am proud.

3. Perseverance (Stick-To-It-Tive-Ness): I had a learning partner whose consistency kept me on track. Never did I think that Bo wouldn’t post and so even when I fell behind in my writing (sometimes days behind), I knew that quitting was not an option. Interestingly, some of my better posts (in my opinion) came when I was writing two or three in one evening. Those evenings, although mentally tiring, were often the nights when I felt most motivated and energized. Sticking to this project, which forced me to spend a significant time (on more than a few occasions) thinking and writing was a hidden gift. For that, I am grateful.

4. I’ve learned and enjoyed… It’s very difficult to catalog my learning and enjoyment in this one post. Even now as I go back and look through the titles of posts 1-30 and 31-60, I see a new pattern in my thinking or notice something different in my writing…just in the titles of the posts. Going through and re-reading each day will prove fruitful as I spend time this summer critiquing my own leadership and developing a personal vision for my work in a new role next school year.

Even this 60th post feels flat…my voice sounds one-dimensional…the topic a bit too navel-gazing. But, what I realize is that making this CHANGEd 60-60-60 music has been one of the more dynamic and enjoyable learning experiences that I have engaged in for quite some time.

And for that, I am inspired.

All in all, this CHANGEd 60-60-60 experi(ence)ment has helped me refine my vision of school in ways that I never thought possible. Never did I expect that this would happen during an incredibly overwhelming end of the school year. Obviously my definition will always be a working definition, but I am proud of where I stand today. So, on May 8th after 60+ days of thinking and reflecting, that I believe that school should be…

…a place where inquiry, imagination, ongoing assessment, reflection, and “what ifs” drive the experiences of adults and children at the school…people of integrity and resilience who honor and promote growth mindsets…programs which reach beyond school walls and into everyday life of the expanding global community.

And, in the words of my CHANGEd partner, so that we can conclude (for now) this musical play with a uniform sound but one which leaves room for possibly new riffs…

We educators should never think that we’ve got schooling as good as it can ever be. We should be seeing our current reality clearly, and we should be envisioning how we can get better. Isn’t such delta-oriented vision what it will take for education and schooling to be CHANGEd?

Categories: 60-60-60

CHANGEd 60-60-60: REAL LIFE LEARNING

May 6, 2012 1 comment

Thinking about What if we teachers had to enroll in our own classes…and at least one more? 60-60-60 #59 and reflecting…

Here’s an email I received over the weekend from a Trinity Sixth Grader:

Hello Ms. Howard and Ms. Chapman!

Do either of you know someone named Kirby Lui? Well, he commented on my blog and check out what he said!

I’ve been a photographer for quite a while and have seen many different types of photographers, and I must say that I’m very impressed at your technical and creative knowledge of photography, the enthusiasm and discipline that you approach your subjects, and your strong photographic compositions. Compared to other students that I have worked with, you have a definite edge over most of the people that I have seen.

If you continue to approach photography with the same level of dedication as I’ve seen on your website, I believe that you have a talent that could be developed to a remarkable high level if you choose to continue cultivating it. Don’t let the talent go to waste. Keep up the hard work, it is obvious from your website. I look forward to your next post.

Kirby

Isn’t that really nice?

Julia

The first art class that I remember actually enjoying was Photography 101 with Mrs. Harris in Eighth Grade. For much of my high school career, I was passionate about black and white photography but due to the demands of academics and athletics, my experimenting with this art happened only in the summer during long walks in the woods or at the beach on vacation. I am still proud of the prints I made of the massive St. Simons Island palm trees that a family friend framed and put in a guest bedroom of a beach house in Florida. I always wonder what would have happened if I had more time to devote to building upon those skills and passions that I began to uncover just before high school began.

“Megan, you have a real gift for teaching.” That’s the first comment I remember hearing about my natural ease in the classroom with elementary students…uttered first when I was in high school and then in college multiple times throughout my volunteer tutoring times and later during an internship I created with the help of a teacher-mentor. The skills and passions — similar to those I possessed with black and white photography — were there but so was the echo of a believing voice.

I believe that all students need to hear the following words:

I believe that you have a talent that could be developed to a remarkable high level if you choose to continue cultivating it. Don’t let the talent go to waste.

Those are the words that I heard over and over again about my work in classrooms and in schools. I realize that there are some students — adults too — who never hear such words or affirmations.

I wonder, if we enrolled ourselves in our own classes, would we hear ourselves offering such words of support to the budding biologists, teachers, doctors, pilots, directors, caregivers, and entrepreneurs in our classrooms? Would we hear ourselves connecting the subject areas we are teaching with the real-life learning our students are longing for? Would we be inspiring students in the way that Kirby is inspiring Julia — to keep working hard, to overcome obstacles, and to pursue an area of interest that has potential for greater learning and…life?

Categories: 60-60-60

CHANGEd 60-60-60: MEMORIES AND REFLECTIONS

May 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Thinking about What if we really reflected on what former students remember? 60-60-60 #58 and reflecting…

I’ve been catching up on the Trinity-Fac&Stu folder of my GoogleReader account. I rarely let that folder go unread for as long as I have this week, but what a surprise I found this evening as I was reading last week’s posts.

Bo writes about how students remember what they craft and create. As I think about a learning experience that Trinity sixth graders will likely remember alongside their outdoor education trips and musical performances and academic experiences  from their final year at the school, at the top of the list is the QUEST and Capstone project. It’s not a coincidence that Andrew Hennessy took his sixth grade project all the way to the TEDxKIDS@BC stage in Vancouver in September 2011.

As I read the students’ memories and reflections, all of which were written upon completion of the QUEST research paper, I was struck at how almost every student spoke to one, two, or all three elements of true motivation as categorized by Dan Pink: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

We must allow students to craft and create. We certainly need more Dolphin Tale experiences and internships than we have now, but let’s not forget that even the more traditional experiences (even those research papers!) — if crafted innovatively and created with care by the lead learners in the school — can be memorable and powerful.

Check out these four reflections from sixth graders about what they’ve learned through their QUEST research experience. The reverberating sound of autonomy-mastery-purpose through these students’ words provides the perfect riff for today’s CHANGEd 60-60-60 post:

I learned many things about myself as a student through the QUEST paper. I learned that I write a good first rough draft and that I should trust that I can. I also learned that I am good at managing my time because I turn most of my long term projects in early. I also learned things about myself. I learned that I am capable of any task if I take the time and work as hard as I can. ~ Matt

As a student, I learned that i can write something cool and put a lot of effort into something in school and acquire your future talents in 6th grade. As a person I found out how to solve problems between people. My  mentor took a while to e-mail me so I took charge.~ Pete

As a student I have learned that I can be very organized. I also can be very conscientious about creating good presentation. I have also learned that I love to do hands on projects. If I set my mind to a topic that I find interesting, then I can create a good presentation. On my next project I think I will be more conscientious about my time-line. I also should plan ahead of what my goals are going to be. I will definitely bring in more analytically and organizational skills. I think through this project I have learned to always have perseverance which I will definitely use in all my assignments. ~ McKenzie

I learned that as a student I can always work better when I am really into the topic and I enjoy learning about it and working on it all of the time. I learned that I love to learn more anytime I can and I love to hear from the best people that I can so I can learn the most and learn from the best. ~ Emerson

As a student, I really realized that I work best when studying a topic I love. I also learned that doing the most boring things like writing long essays are more fun when they are about something I love. I love dogs more than words can describe, and I cannot wait for the Capstone project…Next year, I will bring the note card organization method in my ‘student tool box’ when writing papers next year. It is an excellent way of grouping the facts into topics, later to be made into paragraphs. ~ Julie

I learned different things about myself too. As a student, I feel like I learned better ways about finding information for anything and being able to figure out what is important and whats not. I also think that I learned how to stay more organized by using note cards to write down my facts. As a person, I feel like I learned to trust in myself more about what I think I should do when working on something. Second, I learned to feel more confident about my work and am better at managing my time…In the future, I think that I would change the way I researched. I would read more about the topic to make sure I am more comfortable with it. I would do this because I feel like I started the QUEST project kind of clueless about cake decorating. I wish I had known more about my topic so I would feel more comfortable about the whole thing during the beginning of the process. During this whole QUEST project I learned lots of facts, but mostly I learned about myself as a student and a learner. ~Emily

Categories: 60-60-60

CHANGEd 60-60-60: THE BIG SHIFTS FOR ADMINISTRATORS

May 6, 2012 3 comments

Thinking about What if school leaders practiced the change they preach…and developed a people strategy? 60-60-60 #57 and reflecting…

A people strategy begins with EMPATHY. It moves along the stepping stones of the Golden Rule. A people strategy refuses to commit the fundamental attribution error (see the Heath Bros’ Switch).

Bo’s reflections on “The Big Shifts” are ones that I want to save here on my blog, thus making today’s riff a re-post of his questions…in hopes that they will inspire future posts about how I, in my future work in school administration, am striving to proactively respond to the shifting notions of what it means to create the right learning environments for both children and adults in the 21st century.

So, for this 57th post…

If we administrators expect teachers to proactively respond to these big shifts for the futures of their students, mustn’t we do so ourselves?

  • Shouldn’t we be transforming faculty meetings (and other “PD”) into faculty doings? Shouldn’t we be experimenting with PBL with adults…and with projects that are relevant and meaningful to teachers? Are we even asking them what they want and need?
  • From the admin view, how can we make school more “teacher-centered” so that teachers can, in turn, make school more student-centered? Shouldn’t we admin be modeling “student voice and choice” by providing such to our faculties?
  • How are we un-silo-ing our schools to facilitate teachers working in teams?
  • How are we facilitating the construction of meaning among our faculties, instead of asking them to consume information? Do decisions feel top-down or bottom-up? Or inside-out? Or outside-in?
  • How are we admin employing and engaging learning networks and advocating for OPEN and SAFE and THOUGHTFUL use of such endless learning resources in the network…outside our school walls?
  • How are we crowd-sourcing our collective wisdom within our faculties and among our faculties from school to school? How are we refusing to re-invent the wheel and instead partnering with the crowds of other doing schools…I mean networks?
  • How are we refusing the high stakes testing of teachers and engaging high value demonstrations of professional practice?

Thanks for creating and categorizing these questions, Bo. They are important ones that we must tackle…and not necessary in isolation!

Categories: 60-60-60