Monday, May 18, 2015

The Benefits of Disruption

I recently read a Twitter post from Will Richardson of Educating Modern Learners.  He said, "Welcome to the most disruptive moment ever in education."  This quote got my attention.  I wasn't sure what disruption he meant, exactly.  The word "disrupt" is a verb - an action word - movement, doing, not static, anti-status quo.  It can mean "the interruption of an event, activity, or process by causing a disturbance or problem."  It can also mean to "drastically alter or destroy the structure of something."

We are living in the 21st century, but many of our practices in education are still functioning on a 20th century paradigm.  What are some of the characteristics of a 21st century educational environment?  It is integrated and interdisciplinary.  We need to look at disrupting our traditional model of "now it's time for math," "now it's time for reading." We need to look at students solving a driving question in which they integrate math skills, reading/writing, social studies and science.  Brain research shows that the brain is always looking for connections.  It processes parts and wholes simultaneously. (Teaching and the Human Brain; Renate Caine)  Why do we persist in teaching science as if it's discrete from reading, or math as if it has nothing to do with social studies?  The more connections we build the better our students will perceive their world and be able to successfully navigate it.

Another characteristic of a 21st century classroom can be found in the relevance of the learning going on in there.  It's global.  Our students need to be able to connect and interact with educators and learners across the globe, or just across the campus, to begin to understand how interrelated everything is.  We learn nothing in isolation.  Look at the graphic below by Hugh McCloud:


The graphic helps drive home the point of what happens when we gather tidbits of knowledge in isolation and when we harvest them with experiences, connectedness, and collaboration.  There must be a disruption of the dissemination of discrete sets of knowledge (the lowest level of Bloom's Taxonomy, by the way) to make way for the experience paradigm in which knowledge is embedded in interrelated activities with other learners.  

One last characteristic of 21st century learning (and of course there are many more) that bears mentioning can be found in the idea of research based teaching and learning.  Part of our new academic language must include phrases like "prove it," "where's your evidence?" "where did you get that?"  This one factor will exponentially increase our students' abilities to think and reason.  As long as we teach to the test and stick to week 5 of Unit 3 in the curriculum plan, our students will miss out on deeper learning.  Teachers are going to have to have their structures disrupted as well.  "We've always done it like this" just isn't going to cut it anymore.  

Destroying something for the sake of the thrill of demolition isn't what I'm talking about. That's foolishness and will bear no fruit in the long run.  I'm talking about looking at what is stagnant and ineffective in my own teaching practice.  What do I need to alter about the way I do my job?  Can small changes make big differences?  Yes.  Do some things just need to be demolished in lieu of a fresh start?  Yes. 

It boils down to this question.  What am I willing to do to help ensure that my students are ready for what they will face in this century?  What is my role?  What part can I play? There's no way to do this without getting out of our comfort zones, but a little disruption can be a good thing if it leads to a better way of doing things.  So how do I get started?

In her article "The Secret to Creativity, Intelligence, and Scientific Thinking: Being Able to Make Connections" Belle Beth Cooper provides us with a very short list of three ways to get started:
1. Add to Your Knowledge - "the more knowledge you have, the more connections you can make. ..trying something new and forcing a gentle brain overload can make a dramatic improvement for your brain activity."  Before we can create this environment in our classrooms, we have to create it within ourselves.
2. Keep track of everything.  "Don’t expect your brain to remember everything—give it a hand by noting down important concepts or ideas you come across. As you do this, you may remember previous notes that relate (hey, you’re making connections already!)—make a note of those as well."  My own addition to this note - pick one or two things that work for you.  Don't try to master everything at once.  
3.Review Your Notes Daily - "Going over your notes often can help you to more easily recall them when you need to. Read through what you’ve made notes of before, and you might find that in the time that’s passed, you’ve added more knowledge to your repertoire that you can now connect to your old notes!"  The point here is that it's about making connections and revisiting what worked and didn't.   

Try to disrupt your life in one way this week and watch what happens!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Remembering the Why

At a recent TED talk, Simon Sinek said the following:

Every single person, every single organization on the planet knows what they do, 100 percent. Some know how they do it, whether you call it your differentiated value proposition or your proprietary process or your USP. But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by "why" I don't mean "to make a profit." That's a result. It's always a result. By "why," I mean: What's your purpose? What's your cause? What's your belief? Why does your organization exist? -- (TED Talks)

We're in that time of the school year when extreme fatigue has set in.  The kids are done, the teachers are done, the administrators, the office staff, the nurse, the lunch folks - everyone is done.  The only problem is the official school year is not done.  Emotions are raw.  Office referrals are increasing.  People are snippy and out of patience with each other.  It's called human interaction and at times like these it helps to step back, take a deep breath, and remember the why of what we do.  

"Teach children" is the what of what we do.  "Small group instruction, technology integration, guided reading, guided math, science and engineering exploration and experimentation, writing camp, and so on" is the how of what we do.  But what's the why? For each of us it may be different.

The why for me is embedded in the name of my blog.  Destiny walks through the doorway of our school every single day and we have the unique and precious privilege of being part of a child's destiny.  We have the honor of looking past the child in front of us to who he or she can become.  We get to see the mountaintop and show children the way to get there.  Better grades and higher test scores are results, but that's not why we do what we do.  

We do this unbelievably difficult work because we believe.  We believe that the generation(s) that follow us will be able to do better, rise higher, see more clearly, and impact the world in a more profound way than we were able to.  We're creating a ripple effect, like a stone dropped into a pond.  Sometimes, we create a splash that resounds from the bank and beyond.  Nature takes notice and responds.  Sometimes, what we create is something less splashy, but evident nevertheless, like the concentric circles rippling across a pond after the stone has been thrown.  We're connected to the pebble, the water, the circles, the duck taking flight after being startled by the noise of the splashing water.  Dropping the pebble in the pond - an easy, yet purposeful act has changed something in the environment.  

This is what we do.  We change things.  Why?  Because we believe in something bigger than ourselves.  A cause.  A calling.  Our purpose.  However you choose to define it.  It's a good time to stand on the bank of the pond and remember the why.  

What's your why?