Teaching in a Problem/Project Based Learning Classroom

PROJECT BASED INSTRUCTION – #EDUBLOGSCLUB PROMPT 17

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Teaching in a project based learning environment is:

  • exciting
  • fun
  • loud
  • interesting
  • chaotic
  • engaging
  • different everyday

It is not however easy. If a teacher is looking for a simple and quiet environment, a project or problem based classroom is not for him or her…. for that teacher, my suggestion is to stick to the ole’ worksheets and sit back and be bored! A project based classroom is an incredible place to be, but it is work!

Case in point… my classroom. Yes, for the last 9 years I have taught art, but prior to that I taught Economics, Debate, Reading, Creative Writing, Career Investigations, Math, Speech and Theatre and in all of these courses, I used project based instruction. So from a veteran twenty year teacher, I feel like I am a perfect advocate for this type of instruction and learning environment!

So how does project based instruction work? Here is an example..

Over the last few months my art 2 – 4 students have been learning to create logos and to screen print their design on shirts. This project has been a huge undertaking and has lingered on and on!

One of the hardest parts of project/problem based instruction for the teacher is understanding that your schedule, your bundled curriculum, and your lesson plans might just have to be thrown out of the window for the good of the students!

EEK! Yes, I did just say that! But, what I have learned is that while I might have to adjust my plans to make problem based learning work, it is worth it. And, in order to give all of my students time to process and consider the problem or the process, I have students work through the project in stages or increments with breaks for other assignments built-in (this also catches me up on my bundle..) So for example, here is my logo design screen printing project timeline:

Early February: Create a logo for art using a custom graphic and just one color. Students created this by hand and/or digitally. The students that worked quickly set their design aside and moved to a different project. The students that worked slowly were given a couple more class days to work and then had time outside of class to continue working on their own time. Students were told at this point to bring a tshirt and a frame for their screen.

Late February: Students learned how to cut green screen film. This was time-consuming. As the students completed this they were able to adhere their film to their screen and print.. if they brought their supplies. However,  after a couple of class days, students were asked to move to a different assignment and finish cutting as they had time between other projects.

March: Students were expected to have frames and shirts at school. Some did. Some didn’t. As students would complete a different project they were given time to continue their screen printing project. This ebb and flow of the project worked to my advantage as students would get excited when they would see student’s completed work and then want to figure out how to finish their project. I would completely move on and not mention the project for days at a time.

April: Not much happening on the screening of shirts. We were busy with other projects and contests. If a student wanted to work on this project, I let them. But I pretty much ignored it until the late April when I gave a hard deadline that we would be finishing the project the first week of May.

This forced those that had been procrastinating or forgetful to get busy! This was a week of seeing months of on and off work completed.

And why now after all of this time? Because the second Tuesday of May is the day we take our big group picture where everyone wears their creation!

I can’t wait to show those off! I wore one shirt yesterday and am wearing a different design today!

So do all of my students have shirts to wear?

NOPE! And that is one of the real life lessons from project based instruction. I gave lots of opportunities to work, create, problem solve and get help, but in the end, the students had to complete the work for themselves. This week I had one of my oldest, most advanced students get left behind because she missed too many deadlines and never got her green film adhered to the screen. Sad, but that’s part of life and truly one of the best lessons learned with project based instruction.

Do I consider the project successful?

YES! The joy on student’s faces when they successfully created something that could be worn is worth the effort! Besides the fact that I cover a truckload of the required essential skills (TEKS) in this one project, I pride myself on the fact that these students leave with tangible job skills.

Do all of my project based lessons take so long?

YES and NO! Some project based instruction is fast, some is slow. After years and years of this type of teaching I have learned how to weave the projects and expectations of lessons in and out and have multiple things going on in my classroom at one time. This process works for me.. but it would drive some teachers crazy. I get that.

 Is project based learning or problem based learning?

Let me give you an example… I teach four sections of art 1. I really wanted to do a problem based instruction unit on ceramic molds. I knew that this would not work with all of my art 1 classes. So, three classes did a manageable PROJECT based ceramic project where they learned how to create a clay monster and a clay box.

This was PROJECT based… meaning I knew the exact outcome I wanted, but the students still had to experiment, learn and explore the entire process and create a product.

The remaining class whose class dynamics were right for the PROBLEM were given the option to do the project like the other classes or take on the problem. They of course, chose the problem which was to experiment, learn, explore and create using ceramic molds.

The outcome of their problem was not a given. I refused to be anything more than a facilitator and mentor. They loved the process and worked tirelessly for weeks!

For me, the difference between the project and the problem is the willingness for me to let go of the final product. In the world of art, students are constantly working with a project based instruction model.

But when I used problem based instruction, I have to take a step back and let the students drive the process. This happens less often as so much of what we do is for contests. However, when we do, magic happens!

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So in the end, whether you are interested in using Project Based Instruction or Problem Based Instruction, I challenge you to just do it. Giving students hands-on applicable work transforms classrooms, student’s attitudes about school and gives student’s a sense of pride and ownership. Yes, it is a lot of work, but it is SO WORTH IT!

Public Education meet Weight Watchers

Prompt number 16, … Tell a story.. is part of the #EdublogsClub where a group of educators and edtech enthusiasts that blog around a common theme each week.

I’m running behind on my blogging. It’s a sign of the crazy busy schedule. The downside of not being able to respond to the prompt immediately is that I miss out on posting weekly. The upside is that these prompts from #EdublogsClub marinate in my brain for days at a time and I am enjoying the thinking process prior to writing my response.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, right about the time the tell a story prompt came out, I rejoined Weight Watchers. For those of you new to my story, I am constantly battling my weight and have a love/hate relationship with food. A few years ago I joined Weight Watchers and changed my life. Since that time, I have struggled continuously to maintain a healthy weight. Thank goodness I love to run, otherwise the struggle would be much more difficult. However, every so often I try something else.. some gimmick, some supplement, some quick fix.. but in the end, nothing has the staying power of Weight Watchers. Why? Because Weight Watchers doesn’t make me change the very nature of who I am. In order to be successful with Weight Watchers, I don’t have to give up the foods I love, I just have to plan and make better choices. The problem is, Weight Watchers  is boring. It’s not flashy. If you lose a ton of weight week after week, you are doing it wrong. It’s steady, consistent..boring. But it works.8535053-An-image-of-a-person-standing-on-a-scale--Stock-Vector-weight-loss-healthy

And that is the very nature of education.

Quality education is boring. I’m sorry, but if you think that teaching is glamorous, you have not lived in the trenches with teachers very long. Teaching students day after day is hard, it is tedious and to be successful, much of what we do is boring. There. I said it! After almost twenty years in education, I feel like I have earned the right to say it… quality education is boring.

Why? Because the very education that students need, the foundation of our content doesn’t change. Yes, education evolves and yes, new technology brings in new elements and new methods, but the lessons that need to be taught and the skills that must be mastered don’t change. And contrary to what so many talking heads would have us believe, the way we teach much of our information must remain the same. That sameness, that one on one, teacher to student, direct content distribution isn’t flashy, it isn’t cool and it isn’t trendy.  Quality education is like Weight Watchers. It is founded in principles that work, it gives teachers the flexibility to make choices that work for themselves and their students within the guidelines provided and just enough wiggle room each week to keep things interesting, but keep them accountable to the group. See?!school-295226_960_720

And what about the flashy, quick fix? It doesn’t stand the test of time. Over the years, I have seen so many state tests come and go. I’ve seen teaching strategies and classroom management techniques questioned and labeled differently so that the latest and greatest buzz words are being thrown around and used. But at the end of the day, quality teaching and learning is still pretty much the same with a few new additions to improve the process. Just like Weight Watchers… the point system has changed, the activity credits adapted, and the delivery options greater, but the methodology and the results are still based on the same research and continued results.

So as the world continues to watch the state of public education, I offer this… let’s help public education be like Weight Watchers! Sure, the no carb diet gets results, but a person can only live without carbs so long before they give up the will to live. Okay, maybe that is a bit extreme… but really, I’ve tried the no carb thing… it’s no fun. Take the “specials” out of education and leave only the basics and you get a no carb education. Sure you can can survive it, but do you want to?

 

I could go on.. like..

Extreme weight loss surgery that leaves people looking malnourished..yep, we have education systems like that too…

And how bout that crazy diet that some go on that put them in a constant bad mood… yep, we have education systems like that too…

Really. I could go on still, but you get it. From the 15 year old girl who lived on Slimfast to the 40 something woman still fighting the pudgy middle, I have learned that the flashy quick fix doesn’t work. Successful and healthy weight loss and maintenance is slow, it’s steady and it’s consistent daily choices.

And that is what I hope for education.. content that is built on a secure foundation that is capable of withstanding slow and steady growth and change not looking for the flashy quick fix, but strong and steady for future generations.

The Pendulum in Education

The pendulum: used to describe to the tendency of a situation to oscillate between one extreme and another.

That is why the image of the pendulum works so well when talking about education “best practices” and trends.  After almost 20 years in the classroom, I have had the opportunity to learn and use a number of teaching methods. Some are worthwhile. Some are not. But every few years the new “great” thing comes out and all of us educators have to sit in professional development sessions and hear about how if we will use this new method our classrooms will be transformed. They never are.

Yes, I’m a bit cynical.  But after all of these years and reading and researching and actually doing the job, I realize that the catalyst for change, the red ball in my picture above is never a teacher in the trenches. The catalyst is a politician, a higher-education researcher, a group of specialists, a retired administrator.. someone that personally benefits from suggesting this new better thing. The catalyst of the pendulum shift is on the outside and only sees what happens from one point of view.

The best classroom instruction change agent.. a would be pendulum shifter… that I’ve ever heard was at our district’s convocation this past August.  His thoughts were radical! (well not really, but they might as well have been watching the response of the people in the audience..)

He asked teachers and administrators to think creatively and to be engaging in their instruction. He asked teachers to invest themselves personally in the process and not worry about the tests so much. (scary stuff for sure.)

Yes, he was selling his books and yes, he made a nice chunk of change for the presentation… but he was living in the trenches and doing what he was asking us to do. (You can find him at Teach Like A Pirate.)

Huge difference. His ideas came from seeing education from the center of the pendulum. While he was pushing for change, he was also being hit from the other side by the realities of his classroom.

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In the end, it was a nice presentation and we went on doing what we’ve been doing.. because there wasn’t an outside force that required change. There wasn’t any follow up, no required test, no paperwork followed.

hmmm. interesting. So I guess this reality becomes my question.

How do we in education become internal catalysts for change that we know is needed?

How do we, in essence, change the direction of the pendulum?

Do we have to wait for the hit to come back at us?

Do we have to absorb the changes in one direction before we can send change back in the other direction?

Lots of questions.

Processing this pendulum concept empowers me. Often I feel completely on the outside of the educational process and that my world doesn’t matter to anyone or anything beyond my students and my classroom.

But that is not the case.

All of us. Every. Single. Teacher is part of the the great pendulum and while we may not the be red ball catalyst, we do impact the structure of education.

With every hit (new law), we respond.

With every thud (new research), we react.

With every swing (new method), we learn.

Our ability or inability to absorb pendulum shifts with grace directly impacts our students. So instead of focusing on the bruising impact that some of these shifts in education policy leave on teachers, I’m going to remind myself that I’ve always loved to swing and that the pendulum and all of its back and forth is just a swing set and I’m going to hold on and swing high!

Are you willing to “Crucify your Baby?”

Hang around V21 and you will here…

“Are you ready to crucify your baby?”

“I’m ready to crucify my baby.”

Visitors and new students whip their heads around with a look of shock and horror on their faces. Then they turn and look at me incredulously. I just smile and say “Good!”

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Yep, that’s how we do feedback in my art room. We acknowledge the fact that it is going to feel like someone is tearing your baby apart. And by giving it a name, we can laugh a little as we struggle to improve.

If you want to be a better artist,  you have to be willing to take hard criticism of your artwork. No one wants to find out that other people don’t like their creation.. their masterpiece! So in my art class, we have a saying for this difficult, but very necessary process. It’s called “crucifying your baby.”

New people to my world are horrified. Outsiders are uncomfortable. Students in other disciplines that find their way into my world for an extracurricular event are unnerved. But that’s okay. My students understand, and after the first encounter enjoy being part of the “club.”

Feedback with Colourful Comments Symbol

With that said, the crucifying comes with parameters, strict expectations and modeled behavior. I have learned over the years that the absolute best way to teach students how to take criticism of their work is to first require them to criticize mine!

For example, this painting of my daughter Lexi has lived in my classroom as a work in progress for over a year. As I work on it in class, I use the progression and development as an opportunity to teach students to discuss and comment critically about a piece. Just from glancing at it, I see every flaw and every incomplete area. But my goal is to teach students to look for those areas and to be able to communicate their thoughts and how they would fix the problem.

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Early in the year, I start off by choosing a student to come up to my easel while the rest of the class watches. I tell the student about the piece and that I know there are problems. I point out a few areas that I don’t like that I need to fix and then I ask him/her what areas he/she saw that needed work.

My conversation starter is deliberate. In order to get students to see that I want the criticism, because I want to improve, I  have to show the student that I could see the problems and voice them as well.  By doing so, I model the example of how to state problem areas. If I get in a hurry and forgo this vulnerability with the students, then their criticism is superficial and their ability to take criticism often suffers.

In the end, while the “crucifying your baby” process sounds scary and is a memorable moment in the art room, students that want to improve get daily opportunities for feedback and quality criticism. On the flip side, students that don’t want to improve,  don’t. I used to force student to go around the room and take turns giving feedback, but I have learned that a student that doesn’t want to improve isn’t willing to take criticism and always has an excuse for why or what they did. So instead of forcing criticism, we now have a code phrase and students that are willing to embrace the opportunity thrive.

As an educator and an artist, I am always looking for ways to improve. I am always looking for ways to reach further and climb higher. I am willing to crucify my baby.

The question is, are you?

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This blog post was part of the #Edublogsclub Prompt #11 on Giving Feedback.

Pop Culture Mystique

Popular Culture- #Edublogsclub Prompt 9

This post is part of the #edublogsclub- a group of educators and edtech enthusiasts that blog around a common theme each week. Prompt 9 is to write a post about using popular culture in the classroom. The prompt also offered some questions that I could use to jumpstart my thinking. They were:

  • What kind of popular culture do you bring into the classroom? How do you use it?
  • Do you have any comic books or graphic novel favorites that you use for reading and textual analysis? Why do you choose those?
  • What are your favorite television shows or movies in your classes? Why do you find these helpful tools?
  • Do you have any favorite songs that you bring into your classroom? How have students responded to your music? Why do you bring in these pieces?

My initial response was rather sad. I wasn’t even sure what I was supposed to be referring to! So I did what everyone does.. I googled it.

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And I got:

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Now armed with a good definition, I can be part of conversation. While I may not personally be conversant in the current elements of “modern popular culture that is transmitted via mass media and aimed particularly at younger people, ” I do live and work with younger people every day. More than that, I talk with younger people.

So here is what I have to say about using pop culture to reach students. Yep, I know a lot of people who are really good at that. I’m not one of them. But unlike other areas where I have lots of teacher and mom guilt, this is NOT one of those areas.

  • I don’t watch movies.
  • I watch very little television. (Big Bang Theory and Fixer Upper)
  • I read a lot, but only occasionally books that young adults read.
  • I listen to music, but again, not music that teenagers listen to.. unless they listen to broadway show tunes!
  • I facebook, instagram, use twitter occasionally and have but don’t use snapchat. But my student’s are not my friends or contacts on these social media platforms. And they shouldn’t be. Boundaries are necessary.

And you know what? I am very happy living in the land of the uncool and “out of touch.” My students are desperate for real conversations and meaningful relationships. My lack of understanding of pop culture doesn’t hinder our bond. My students don’t love me or hate me because of my relating to them about a movie or song. They love me or hate me as a direct result of my  words, actions and daily response to their real needs be it educational or emotional. I know for a fact that for some of my students, I am the only adult that listens to them. I am the only adult that talks WITH them. I am the only adult that speaks wisdom into their lives.

So, no. I’m not a cool teacher. But that’s okay. I remember having a few teachers as a teenager that were just cool. They had a beat on pop culture and could authentically talk to us and with us about the things we enjoyed. But I didn’t learn more about the subject matter because of their ability to engage with students about the latest movie. I learned the subject matter when it was taught well.

On the flip side, I also had teachers that were the very definition of uncool. My chemistry and physics teacher didn’t watch television and could not relate to students at all in terms of pop culture. But he was incredible. He knew me and what I was capable of. He pushed me to work harder and do more. He was the first math/science teacher that made me see that I was smart and could do the work.  He new his role of mentor could not be replaced and valued his work too much to focus on things that were fleeting.

In the end, I have to say that yes, there are times when I’d like to be the cool teacher or cool mom. But I’m not and if I were to suddenly use the slang that is used by students, start snapchating and talking in class about the current trends, it wouldn’t be authentic and my students (and children) would see right through the effort. So instead of trying to figure out how to fit in, I don’t. I don’t need to be. That’s not my role.
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7 reasons why I love working in a public school

THE LISTICLE – #EDUBLOGSCLUB PROMPT 7
I didn’t even know what a “listicle” was when I got this week’s #edublogsclub prompt! Thankfully, they had a wiki article about them… basically its a short form of writing for the internet that uses lists.
Well, I am all in on this one. I LOVE lists!!
So here you go…

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7 reasons why I love working in a public school

  1. You are challenged every single day to work to improve the lives of all people with no regard to race, color, creed, mental ability, disability or social status.
  2. You are challenged to do more with less resources than you thought possible. (Sure, we would all love more resources, and we deserve more resources, but being able to create magic in the lives of our students with sometimes nothing is pretty amazing.)
  3. You are given the opportunity to love thousands of students in the course of your career. As a high school teacher closing in on 20 years of teaching, I’ve already taught, mentored, and can tell you personal stories about more than 3000 students.
  4. You are given the opportunity to hone your craft, adapt your teaching style and become a better mentor with every new crop of students.
  5. You are offered a chance to learn from the past and start fresh every new academic year. Yesterday’s problems and last year’s power struggle don’t have to impact tomorrow’s promise.
  6. You are offered a chance to learn new curriculum  and teach new subjects. Just because you started off your career as a reading teacher doesn’t mean that you have to finish your career as one. Trust me. I hold 8 different certifications and have taught over 20 different subjects!
  7. You are NEEDED! You are IMPORTANT! You are VALUED! The world may say otherwise, politicians may make your life harder and give you more hoops to jump through, but at the end of the day, society needs you, children depend on you, and YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

In this time of educational uncertainty where every time I walk by a news source and am horrified at the state of our political system, I am reminded that at the end of the day, the education system and public schools are filling a basic need in the lives of millions of students. This need will not go away no matter what politicians do to the system. So instead of wallowing in the uncertainty, I am choosing to celebrate in the daily successes my students.

May we all in public education fill our news feeds with celebrations, successes and the triumphs of teaching a truly diverse and incredible group of public school students.

 

A deeper approach for better results

In January, with the start of the spring semester, I deepened my approach to teaching basic drawing skills to my art 1 students. While they were not necessarily thrilled with this decision, they quickly saw the benefits to adding the “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” techniques. It’s something that I have wanted to do for years, but trying to fit in such a hands on approach during the middle of contest season just never seemed to work. But this year, I decided that even though I couldn’t do all of the steps, I could at least do the basic introductory steps.

I have Betty Edwards workbook and have adapted her lessons to fit a high school classroom. Her workbook is phenomenal and I wish we had time to do the entire book. (If I had just a drawing class, this is absolutely what we would do!) I take her concepts and teach basically the first five or six lessons.
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What is truly amazing is that these techniques, because they are visual lessons and not language dependent work for ALL students of ALL abilities. Given that my classes are made of mixed abilities from the valedictorian to the non-speaking life skills student, I truly value lessons that work for all students!

Over a couple of weeks, my students learned to see every day objects with new eyes. They learned how to use a simple transparency to transform their drawings. They learned how to break large concepts into small manageable segments. And oh man, it has changed the way my students view drawing!

After working through basic lessons, I took a couple of my daughter’s old bicycles up to the school and set them up for the students to draw. Students then took their drawings and enlarged them onto a 18×24 piece of paper that they then had to create a positive and negative pattern on. This felt like it took forever.

But the projects are fantastic! This is the first drawing project where almost every one of my students were not only successful, but created a quality piece of art! Students that are frequent fliers in detention worked bell to bell for weeks on this piece! How I wish I could show you all 100 pieces and tell you the story of every student while you looked at their piece.

But I can’t. So I’ll show you a few really cool pieces.

So anyway, I just had to share this success story. It’s so gratifying when going that extra mile and doing that extra hard thing is rewarded. That’s a rare thing in education!

And the next time I want to set aside the lesson plans and take a few extra days to teach in a more meaningful way, I am going to remember this feeling and these results and give myself the grace to go rogue.

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CHALLENGING SITUATIONS

CHALLENGING SITUATIONS – #EDUBLOGSCLUB PROMPT 6

This week’s #edublogsclub is about challenging situations in education. Wow. Well, as a veteran educator, I feel like I know a thing about challenges in education just from surviving this long in this profession.

I’ve been pondering education and what I consider to be the overarching challenges no matter the age or subject and these are my top 3 challenges. I found pictures from my phone to illustrate!

The greatest challenge in my opinion is knowing how much pressure to apply on students and teachers. Too little pressure and the results are lack luster. Too much pressure and the teacher and/or student folds under the weight of expectations.

I love the idea of clay on a pottery wheel as a metaphor for education. When we throw clay on a pottery wheel, it is important that the clay be wedged, have the right moisture content and be placed on the correct spot on the wheel. If any of these aren’t done correctly, the piece that is going to be thrown won’t look/work right. Further, as the wheel spins, only so much pressure can be applied to the clay at a time. Too much pressure from one side without balancing the clay in other hand will force the clay to move across the batten (base) and eventually the clay will spin off the wheel!

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Learning to use the right amount of pressure.

Such can be said for education! The expectations on students and teachers are spinning out of control. The increased pressure to perform better with fewer resources has caused schools to spin faster and faster and teachers and students are being slung from side to side and are holding on by a raveling thread.

Next, those that legislate education seem to forget that educators can only do so much without the proper tools. I thought this picture from my phone was perfect. A few weeks ago I need to get a cork out of a bottle, but I didn’t have a cork opener. I did a little google searching and found a you tube video that showed how to use a key to get the cork out of a bottle. I figured why not, worse case is that I ruin the cork and I can’t drink the glass of wine. So I used my house key, followed the instructions and amazingly it worked! The cork, while it didn’t look great, survived and I was able to use it to close the bottle back up.

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Not having the right tool.

This is totally the way education works! In order to get to the “prize” of good test results or  an appropriate level on the state’s accountability scale, educators are expected to figure out how to reach students without ruining the love of learning in the process and without the correct tools! The concept of “making do” is such a part of education that it’s not discussed, it just is.

And finally, my third challenge to education is that the curriculum that needs to be taught is not and can not be the priority because we are teaching children and these children deserve more than just robots that spout platitudes and absolutes.

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Understanding that what you want and need to teach is wrapped up in knots and is buried under the weight of a student’s life, the educator’s expectations and the government’s policies.

This picture from my phone is of a large mess of yarn and string tangled together. This is the very definition of teaching! Every piece of yarn represents one of my students and the pieces of yarn are tangled, knotted and completely and utterly dependent on each other to be untangled and to be given lives of their own. Sure I can pretend that the mess doesn’t exist and I can try to pull out just one piece of yarn at a time, but the reality is that in order to teach one student, I have to figure out how to teach the masses, the messes and the tangled jumble of lives. It is only when we have the yarn ball at least somewhat unraveled that we can begin to move onto teaching and learning curriculum.

So there you have it. This is where I see the challenges in education.

 

Redefining Leadership

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This week’s #EdublogsClub prompt was a sticky-tricky tar baby one for sure!  Here is the prompt…

Write a post that discusses leadership, peer coaching, and/or effecting change. Here are some sentence starters that may help you as a work on the ideas for your post:

  • The best school leader I have ever worked for/with…
  • Teaching leadership skills to students…
  • The qualities of a true leader include…
  • Leaders don’t…
  • Leaders never…
  • Leaders always…
  • I wish my school administrator/boss…
  • As a leader, I wish to improve on…
  • A leader I admire…
  • Peer coaching…
  • Effecting change…

I pondered what to write about. I have so many thoughts about school leadership! Dang, I’ve been a public school teacher since 1997. I’ve taught in 2 states, in 7 school districts and worked for almost 20 principals. I’ve seen and learned A LOT about leadership! But I also want to continue working in public education and want a job as a campus administrator, so I’m not looking to air out our dirty laundry for all to see!

And then, in my course work I came across a Ted Talk by Drew Dudley and it was a light bulb (or lollipop) moment. If you have 6 minutes, it is definately worth watching!

Here are my takeaways from his talk.  Dudley states “We’ve made leadership something bigger than us, something beyond us. We’ve made it about changing the world.” Further he says that our mindset is that until we do something big enough to deserve the title, we devalue the things that we CAN do everyday.

And finally, Dudley says that sometimes the most important moments, where we are true leaders, where we impact a person’s life, where we change the trajectory of someone’s future are simply moments that are forgotten to us. We move on not even realizing that we made an impact.

So instead of focusing on the things that I wish my leaders did, or the things that I wish my leadership wouldn’t do, I’m redefining my interpretation of leadership. Yes, I want leaders to do big things that will change the world. But more than that, I want leaders (and I am including myself and my fellow teachers) to be leaders that change individual moments in the lives of our students. I want to celebrate so many “lollipop” or forgotten moments each week that everyone starts seeing themselves as leaders. I want to celebrate so many seemingly insignificant moments that impact the lives of students and their families that the students see their own leadership potential.

Because THAT is how we Redefine Leadership.

The parallels of long distance running and public education

I’m writing this from the comfort of my recliner. My sore and blistered feet are propped up and I’m eating all the carbs in sight. Why? I ran a 1/2 marathon yesterday, so today I feel entitled to calories and rest.

I’m not a new runner and the 1/2 marathon (13.1 miles) distance is one that I typically enjoy and am trained to complete. Yesterday’s race I made “rookie” type mistake and wore shoes that I knew going in I shouldn’t wear, but I did anyway. I paid for it.

By mile 3 my feet hurt. By mile 6 every left step was uncomfortable. By mile 11 the hot spots on the side of my right foot were killing me. But I kept going. I considered stopping and checking on my left foot, but I didn’t want to see the wound that I knew was there. So I just endured it and finished the race.

And while contemplating my stupid shoe issue, I came to realization that much like the problems with my shoes, so are the problems in education.

How? Well here are my parallels.

  1. These shoes are not a new shoe for me. I’ve worn this brand for years. But this pair is newer and they have never felt right. While the brand and the style didn’t change, something about the way they were made was changed.

    Isn’t this the way of high stakes testing? We have been testing in public education for years and years. I’m not even saying that testing is bad. We need markers so that we know what learning is taking place. But the way the tests are made has changed. The purpose and the mindset has changed even though the official reasons for testing are still said to be to measure student success.

    And because the shoe still looks like the shoe we know, we expect to be able to wear it the same with the same result.. and we end up with a bloody toe. And the test while it has changed its name over the years, still is supposed to measure student success, so we and teach the students the way we know how, expecting the same results… and we end up with disenfranchised and unsuccessful students. 

  2.  The shoes never fit right, but I wore them anyway.

    From the first time I wore the shoes, the tops of my toes rubbed in them. For short runs, my toes would be a little pink when I finished running, but it wasn’t too bad. For longer runs, I’d make sure that I wore thin socks.  I knew there were issues. But I continued to wear them. My older, comfortable shoes were past their mile markers and not suited to long runs anymore. And of course, I had just gotten these shoes. They were clean and pretty! They just had to get better!

    And so goes education. After almost 20 years in public education, I can say honestly that some of the things that we do are just plain stupid. The newest and best things for engagement, to boost test scores, to prevent drop out.. and on and on.. some of these things do work. (This post isn’t about those things…. ) And some of them never fit right, they rub students and teachers the wrong way, have continued issues and are just bad. But we do them anyway, because it is the new thing..it’s shiny and clean and pretty.. and surely, once we get used to it, it will get better! 

  3. I knew that the problem existed, but I ignored it.

    For months I wore my “pink ghosts” knowing that they didn’t fit right. But I ignored the problem hoping that eventually the issues would work themselves out. Every time I put them on, I knew the possible blisters. I would rationalize the issues and go on with my run.  My toes would hurt after a few miles, but oh well. I’d tell myself to get out that other pair of shoes from my closet and try a different pair. Good intentions and really pretty easy to take care of. But after my workout, I’d be in a hurry and quickly be off to work and not think about the shoe issue until I was about mile 3 into a run. I know, it doesn’t make sense.. but not much makes sense a 4:30am! 🙂

    And the same goes for education! Oh my does it! We know that problems exist and we even know how to fix many of them. But we act as if we ignore the problems that they will eventually either get fixed, graduate or go work someplace else! This mindset helps no one, nor does it make sense.

Running and public education are my passions.

As I strive to be a better runner, I have to be willing to stop and make necessary changes… often ones that only can be seen after the first 6 miles… including trying a new brand or style of shoes.

As I strive to be a better advocate for public education, I have to be willing to stop and make necessary changes.. often ones that can only be seen from inside the school building. For now, I focus on my classroom… but one day in the not so distant future a campus? I can hope. Until then, I will remember that this is a marathon.