Thursday, November 28, 2013

Teachers: The Great Ones Will Be Great

This year marks a major change for most schools in California. Schools are beginning the transition to Common Core Standards. This is undoubtedly difficult for some teachers and parents to embrace as the standards will be significantly different in their intention. The Common Core Standards focus on higher level thinking, analytical reading, project driven instruction, technology based assessments and a focus on depth of content rather than breadth. In other words, students will be asked to think differently and produce work unlike what they have for the last ten years. As a result, there are, and there will continue to be harsh criticisms from the public on the move to Common Core. However, this move, like all education reforms will not stop the "Great Ones" from teaching our students.

Common Core is not different from the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) days in that it is a politically driven push to positively impact change in education. The primary intention of the advocates for Common Core is to raise accountability without compromising high level learning in the classroom. Either way, it is a mandated movement that requires the majority of schools in our state and most others, to play the "standards game." Despite all of this, I am here to tell you that none of this matters to the "Great Ones."

When I say the "Great Ones," I mean that teacher who could teach students effectively with a stick and a rock. I mean the teachers who find a way to make their class fun, challenging, rewarding, and inspiring all at the same time. This is the teacher who holds students accountable, makes them feel important, drives them to be curious, and motivates them to work hard. I am talking about the teacher who we remember and will always remember. The great ones are the teachers who focus less on curves and more on skills and experiences. We have all had a great one and our lives have been enriched because of them.

I am a believer in using technology to its maximum to enhance the learning experience in schools. I have seen awe inspiring things going on throughout our country with the use of technology. I am amazed at the tools by which we can create and learn in this day in age. However, technology alone will not teach our students effectively. We need great ones to do this. Great ones use the technology to support the approach they have already been mastering. Great ones see technology as a means to an incredible end. They recognize that technology can make their teaching style thrive even more and they realize that they cannot abuse it.

Great ones have begun to shift the teaching and learning model. They understand that students need to explore, create, design, and solve on their own with the teacher as the guide. Great ones design projects and assignments that force the students to stretch their skills but they are there to support them when they need it. Students benefit from this collaborative atmosphere and gain skills that will help them vastly in this day in age. Because we all know that the work force that awaits our children is much different from the one we faced out of school.

So what does this have to do with Common Core? Well, Common Core is not the answer or the problem we should be pointing to. Technology alone will not make our schools improve. We should be worried about finding and molding the great ones. The great ones will adapt to the Common Core and make it effectively their own without  compromising the great learning experience of their students. The great ones will use technology effectively because they realize our students need to know how to use it for their success. The great ones could be dropped in any time period and make a difference in our students lives.

Are you a great one? Do you know a great one? What are you doing to help support the great ones? Common Core is the reality that we face as schools. Some think that is a great change in our schools. Others think is not the best time or the best model to shift to. However, our biggest concern will always be looking for the great ones to teach our kids. Leading is

Thursday, November 7, 2013

5 Ways to Make Our Students Leaders

I just finished a book called "Tribes" by Seth Godin. It is an inspiring book that examines how leadership develops and groups form around movements that they connect to. Godin provides many examples of how "Tribes" or movements were formed because someone chose to make a difference at all costs. He discusses the challenges that arise for leaders who choose to venture away from the status quo and the process by which leaders are faced with tough decisions en route to their goal. The book caused me to reflect on the effect that schools can have on the development of leaders.

There are many elements to leadership but there is really one driving force behind true leadership. I believe that great leadership is the effort of one person or a small group to take the necessary steps to reaching a common goal within the boundaries of integrity. In other words, a leader shares a goal that is deemed important by his/her group (or tribe) and is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish that goal. This typically will take hard work, commitment, persistence through adversity, and the confidence to carry out the steps. Last but not least, it takes a service oriented attitude to be a leader. After all, true leadership starts with trusting that the leader is acting in the best interest of the group.

As I reflected, I came up with five different ways that we can teach our students to be leaders:

1) Teach our students to set goals and reach them.
A true leader has clear goals in mind and creates successful methods to reach them. It is important that we have continuous conversations with our students about goals. We should talk to them about long term and short term goals. It doesn't always have to relate to grades or college. But our students should learn that if they commit to accomplishing something, they will.

2) Teach our students to overcome adversity.
This is something that coaches know well. Our students need to understand that facing a challenge or going through tough times, is just part of the journey to success. Most of us have had defining moments in our lives where we were faced with the decision to give up or press on. We need to teach our students to press on and that failure is just part of the equation. A leader does not let one mistake or failure keep him/her down. They persist and overcome.
Teach our students to be risk takers. If you don't take risks, you will never do anything original. If you fail, you won't make that mistake again. But that learning process is invaluable.

3) Teach our students to follow when they need to and to have a servants heart.
A good leader understands that they must do what is best for the group. Sometimes that means taking a backseat and allowing others to lead. Leadership is not showing how amazing you are, rather it is more about service to others. We need to teach our students to recognize the strength of others and maximize them for the better of the group. A good leader delegates tasks rather than taking everything on themselves.

4) Teach our students that collaboration and working well with others is key to success.
 I am sure that if you ask most successful people what made them that way, many of them would say the ability to work with others. If people don't like to work with you, it will be very hard to accomplish things in life. We need to teach our students to work with other productively rather than give in to their desire to work alone. When someone can collaborate, they are a huge asset to the group. This is not a natural skill. Collaboration takes practice and patience. If we can help our students master this, they will be true leaders.

5) Teach our students to be organized.
I have met a lot of people in my life who have been very talented but very unorganized. In fact, there have been many periods in my life where I was that kind of person (minus the talent). But when we can maximize our talent by being organized, we are much more likely to be successful. We all have different ways of staying organized but if we teach our students to find their organization process at an early age, it will save them years of frustration. A true leader has a clear and concise method of organizing themselves and others.

*Bonus- Teach our students that hard work feels good.
Lastly, we need to teach our students that when you work hard, it feels good. Think about those moments in life where you finally finished something you had worked so hard for. Didn't it feel great? If our students experience this often at a young age, they will want it more and more throughout their life. True leaders know this feeling and strive to maintain it.

If we continue to teach our students these skills, they will be successful. Success and leadership come in a lot of different forms but I feel that these skills are universal. Leading is Teaching.