Sunday, September 28, 2014

More Time or More Efficiency?

I have always struggled with the notion that hard work is equated with how much time someone puts into a task. There is certainly some value to the idea that the more time you put into a task, the better the outcome. However, efficiency is always more important than time. Time is relative to each task and more time does not necessarily mean a better outcome. For instance, if an apprentice spends hours upon hours studying the manual, but does not get to the hands-on, guided experience with the instructor, he/she will not ever become a master. If the athlete watches film, runs drills, but never gets to run the plays full speed, he/she will not become a great player. These examples are true no matter how much time one puts into studying theory. There has to be efficient time spent performing the experience related task to become successful in that area.

So many times we look at rigor the very same way. Our traditional notion of rigor is spending a lot of time studying. This can be true sometimes as it takes a certain amount of knowledge before someone can put anything into practice. However, spending the short class time we have with an experienced instructor simply listening to them talk is not exactly the true definition of rigor. I have taken classes where I have recorded hundreds of pages of notes but would certainly not consider them rigorous. However, the interpretation of many is that more homework equals more rigor. This could not be further from the truth, especially in middle school and high school classroom.

Teachers are the experts in their field. Time in class is precious. It is not good enough to give direct instruction the whole class period and then send students home to do the actual work. We have to break from this way of thinking. In class, students should be guided into doing hands-on, involved, meaningful work while the teacher is their for support. This is called efficiency and is far better than expecting students to learn by having them spend more time on it at home.

There is nothing wrong with homework. In fact, I think it is a great concept. The problem is that in many settings, it is misused. Homework should enhance the learning experience rather than replace it. Class time has to be the most efficient, effective, and important time in the learning process. Homework, should be expand the learning opportunities and allow for discovery. It shouldn't just be more time. It should actually be beneficial to students rather than an excuse to do more work. Many worry about preparing students for college (how college needs to change is a whole different story). However, teaching students how to research, write, organize, collaborate, and communicate, will prepare them. We will teach them to be intrinsically motivated by teaching them to love learning rather than obscurely tying their achievement to "more time." Students who know how to learn, will be successful in college. They will have the right skills. At that point, they will just have to try.

Our goal is to be more efficient and effective in our classrooms so that students can learn outside of them as well. Leading is Teaching.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Change is a Good Thing. We Make it That Way.

Change is inevitable. It is a part of every person's life and is something that many of us never get used to. We are creatures of habit and it is easiest to live within our comfort zone. We are naturally resistant to change because we feel more comfortable in the way it has always been and most feel like there is little risk in keeping things the way they are. Little do we know that by maintaining status quo, we put our chances of success, adventure, accomplishment, and fulfillment at risk.

Leadership takes the courage, fortitude, and mindset to accept change. Every major movement that has shaped our world has started with a leader who understood the need for change and pursued it rather than running from it. The book, "Three Cups of Tea" is about a man named Greg Mortensen who accepted change after being inspired by people in a small village in mountains of Pakistan. He recognized that the children there needed education to improve their living conditions. Rather than dismiss this idea with excuses like, terrorist threats, lack of infrastructure, and cultural constraints, Mortensen challenged the way things have been by fighting to establish a school for boys and girls to learn. He could have thrown money at the problem like people have in the past, but instead he took a risk and invested into something that he felt was worthy of pursuing. This is a great model for those of us that are afraid of change.

We find comfort in the success of the past. We feel that if it was successful in the past, it can happen again. However, like every good historian would tell you, context changes and therefore so should our approach. Change will happen, but our ability to adapt to it will determine how much success we have beyond it. Embracing change is easier said than done but leaders and change agents are prepared for it.

I think about the ability to change every day that I walk onto my campus. I believe that we are living in the most rapidly changing time the world has ever seen since its creation. Our students are stepping into this world and looking at us to prepare them for it. It is vital to their future that we prepare them for the changes that will inevitably come. There is no pre-packaged curriculum to accomplish this. But great teachers will rise up and create projects and learning opportunities for students that help them to be "change ready." They will teach them the process of inquiry, organization, and execution. They will teach them to work as a team and use their creativity to solve problems.

I want my students to embrace change. I want them to take on every challenge as an adventure and be fully equipped to persist through it. The result of change lies in their reaction to it. Change is a good thing. We make it that way. Leading is Teaching.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Put Your Mind To It!

We want our students to be the kind of leaders that are not afraid of things getting tough. We want them to be the ones that stay focused and execute their goals without being deterred. We want our students to believe, "you can do anything if you put your mind to it." It sounds cliche but at the end of the day, don't we want them to believe this? I mean, if they do believe it, then they are headed for a life of success right? But I think there is one problem with this notion in education. We never teach our students how to specifically, "put their mind to it."

How do you teach students to "put their mind to it?" It starts with setting the example. Putting your mind to it means having a positive outlook on all things. We need to teach young people that situations and events out of our control will happen consistently throughout their lives. But the outcome of those events is up to us and how we respond. Essentially, "putting our mind to it" is preparing ourselves to stay on track towards our mission regardless of the events that happen along the way. This mindset prepares us for challenges, mistakes, mishaps, accidents, and natural disasters. Because our minds are set on the end goal rather than the things that happen in between.

How is this taught in the classroom? This is taught through inquiry, feedback, and encouragement. We cannot have classrooms in which there is always one answer and the first person to raise their hand is the one who has it. We have to design our lessons to encourage students to ask questions, organize their thoughts, collaborate with others, and reflect on their performance. these tools help students develop skills that will enable them to "put their mind to it" because they will know how to overcome obstacles as they come. If our classes are "one answer" classes, then students will be tempted to stop their journey once they don't know the answer. Not our students. Our students will expect the challenges obstacles and immediately implement their strategies to get past them.

We inadvertently teach students not to "put their mind to it" all of the time. When we respond to something negatively, lose control of our emotions, complain, become lazy, or prepare a lackluster lesson, we are showing our students that we are "not putting our mind to it." Success comes from the ability to capitalize on mistakes and be unrelenting in our quest to accomplish our goals. We have to teach students that mindset on a daily basis. And we have to tell them that we are teaching them that. Because negative adults who think that things "happen" to them to put them in their current position are not the kind of adults that we want our students to emulate.

We need to start teaching our students to put their mind to it! Leading is Teaching.