#18 The Challenge Resumes

So, I unplugged from technology for vacation and a new baby. Now the 60 Day Blog Challenge resumes, albeit with an extended pause, but continues nonetheless. That’s why we call it a ‘challenge.’ It’s not supposed to be easy. But it is fun.

Thanks to all of the dear friends who have brought food and sent gifts. Your thoughtfulness and generosity means more than you know. We are grateful for you and your influence in our lives. We feel loved.

“Roll your windows down the summer’s nearly gone.” – Time is a Runaway by The Alternate Routes

I’m looking forward to the upcoming school year and excited about the possibilities and the people. I’m bringing my heart.

Before it’s over, here are a few highlights from our family…

photo (24)
Got his first job this summer!

photo (23)
Both boys caught their first fish with Papa!

photo (22)
 We welcome a new member to our family!

 

#16 Thoughts on Digital Citizenship

Students have the power to make decisions in the realm of social media where the consequences can stick around for a long time. Educators must model and instruct the proper use of these tools. Parents should closely monitor their student’s activity while the student gradually earns trust by their consistent actions. All three stakeholders should discuss and agree on guardrails that allow students to utilize the latest technology while simultaneously maintaining responsible digital citizenship. Not an easy task.

Parents…
1. Be informed and involved with your student’s social media life. They know more than you do in this realm. How will you guard against being green? Trust and verify. Spend time and talk with your children.

2. Partner with educators. Read the resources they share with you. Share resources with them. Participate in offerings such as Parent University where external experts are brought in to discuss specific topics such as social media.

Students…
1. Commit to being a responsible digital citizen. Be trustworthy in all that you do. Online and offline.

2. Make wise choices. Learn this skill at an early age and it will take you far in life. I recommend reading Andy Stanley’s book Principal of the Path and The Best Question Ever.


Professional Educators…
1. Engage the students daily about what digital citizenship means and how to practice it. Infuse lessons on digital citizenship into your regularly scheduled programming. Be intentional.

2. Be the best in your field. Seek out new and innovative technologies to use in the classroom that will prepare students to be globally competitive. Seek out how to develop responsible digital citizens. Lead future leaders.

3. Partner with parents. Equip them. Share with them. Work together for the good of the students.

Here are some excellent resources to get started…
Cybraryman’s Resources

Why Digital Citizenship Must Be Taught in Schools

Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship

6 Must Read Posts on the Importance of Teaching Digital Citizenship

Teaching Integrity in an Age of Cynicism

Search Twitter using hashtag #digcit
What resources have you found to be helpful regarding digital citizenship?

I Became a Teacher Because…

 

Social Studies Teacher at Dunwoody High School
Social Studies Teacher at Dunwoody High – 2001

I became a teacher because…

1. Growing up in my neighborhood, I was the oldest kid of “our gang.” I enjoyed being the leader. In contrast, in my own grade level, I was a late bloomer and one of the youngest which often meant I felt behind my peers. Comparing these two groups and my status in each one led me to enjoy leading and teaching others.

2. One of my first jobs as a swim coach helped me realize how much I enjoyed teaching others. Swimming was one thing I was really good at and it was fulfilling to have a unique knowledge/skill that I could lead others to develop in themselves.

3. I always enjoyed history (that’s my ‘context’ strength) and usually made “A’s”. History is fun for me. Teaching history forced me to learn far more than I ever did as a student. I feel like I have a fairly solid concept of human history and that context helps me to interpret the world today. Studying the relationships and events of the past reveals clues about relationships and events in my own life. Despite thousands of years, human nature is essentially the same. (If they say, why? why? Tell ’em that it’s human nature)

4. I started out as an International Business major, but hated Accounting 1 & 2. It wasn’t Sister PJ’s fault. I just didn’t enjoy it. Eventually, it led me to change my major to education. This led me back to Georgia.

5. After much soul searching in my freshman year, I realized that while my grand goal as an 18 year old of being a millionaire by age 30, driving a black BMW with leather seats, and living in a castle in Germany was not as motivating as I once thought. I discovered I was much more motivated by leading and influencing others to be their best.

Why did you become a teacher? I want every teacher reading this to know that I hope you will respond in the comments section. I really am interested to learn what led you to become a teacher/educator, too.

#14 What Are Your Strengths?

What stands out when you look at this report card…?

Math                 A+
Science            A
Composition    A-
Literature         A
History              F
Music               A+

If you noticed five “As” then congratulations! Your default is to look for strengths. Why is it that we are drawn to the “F” despite all of the positive?

It raises a larger question – is it better to focus on shoring up our weaknesses or exploiting our strengths in life? Our time and energy is limited. The decision of where to focus our efforts will have a great impact.

A few years ago, I read Strengths Finder for work and I still go back to it. Below I have highlighted a few of the descriptors that really resonated with me. I encourage you to take the survey and discover your strengths, too.

MY TOP 5 STRENGTHS
(according to Strength Finder 2.0)

Context
You recognize that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Probe your friends and coworkers about actions that might have contributed to their current successes so you can help them make better choices in the future. 

Compare historical antecedents and situations to your current challenge. Identifying commonalities may lead you to a new perspective or an answer to your problems.


Achiever
Select jobs that allow you to have the leeway to work as hard as you want and in which you are encouraged to measure your own productivity. You will feel challenged and alive in these environments.

As an achiever, you relish the feeling of being busy, yet you also need to know when you are “done.” Attach timelines and measurement to goals so that effort leads to defined progress and tangible outcomes.

Remember to build celebration and recognition into your life. Achievers tend to move on to the next challenge without acknowledging their successes. Counter this impulse by creating regular opportunities to enjoy your progress and accomplishments.
You do not require much motivation from others. Take advantage of your self-motivation by setting challenging goals. Set a more demanding goal every time you finish a project.


Positivity
You probably will excel in any role in which you are paid to highlight the positive. A teaching role, a sales role, an entrepreneurial role, or a leadership role will make the most of your ability to make things dramatic.

 

You tend to be more enthusiastic and energetic than most people. When others become discouraged or are reluctant to take risks, your attitude will provide the impetus to keep them moving. Over time, others will start to look to you for this “lift.”

Explain that your enthusiasm is not simple naivety. You know that bad things can happen; you simply prefer to focus on the good things.

 

You may get your greatest joy by encouraging people. Freely show your appreciation of others, and make sure that the praise is not vague. Consistently seek to translate your feelings into specific, tangible, and personal expressions of gratitude and recognition.

 

Avoid negative people. They will bring you down. Instead, seek people who find the same kind of drama and humor in the world that you do. You will energize each other.


Connectedness
Consider roles in which you listen and counsel. You can become adept at helping other people see connection and purpose in everyday occurrences.

Within your organization, help your colleagues understand how their efforts fit in the larger picture. You can be a leader in building teams and helping people feel important.
You are aware of the boundaries and borders created within organizations and communities, but you treat these as seamless and fluid. Use your Connectedness talents to break down silos that prevent shared knowledge.


Learner
Refine how you learn. For example, you might learn best by teaching; if so, seek out opportunities to present to others. You might learn best through quiet reflection; if so, find this quiet time.

Be a catalyst for change. Others might be intimidated by new rules, new skills, or new circumstances. Your willingness to soak up this newness can calm their fears and spur them to action. Take this responsibility seriously.

As far as possible, shift your career toward a field with constantly changing technologies or regulations. You will be energized by the challenge of keeping up.

Time disappears and your attention intensifies when you are immersed in studying or learning. Allow yourself to “follow the trail” by scheduling learning sessions during periods of time that will not be interrupted by pressing engagements.

#9 How to Challenge Gifted Students: An Interview with Dr. Arianna Shirk

A key challenge at Mount Vernon (and every school I have worked in) is how to challenge those students who score 100 on everything. Often, the teacher’s energy and focus goes to the “lower performing” students. The high achievers often do not receive the challenge they deserve because teachers think, “Oh, they’re fine. They’ve already got it. They get everything. They can help tutor the others.” This is a myth in need of busting. All students deserve and need to be challenge beyond their current ability, including and especially the ‘gifted’ students.

A key approach to solving challenges at Mount Vernon is Design Thinking. One important component of design thinking is learning to empathize with people who are or have experienced the challenge you are trying to solve first hand. In my attempt to gain empathy for the gifted, yet unchallenged students in our middle school as we seek to design better and more challenging programs, I have interviewed my sister-in-law, Dr. Arianna Shirk.

 shirk family

Dr. Shirk is family and she is extremely intelligent, motivated, creative, and high-achieving. Allow me to brag about her for a moment. She earned scholarships to high school in NC, Furman University for undergrad, and Wake Forest University for Medical School. At Furman, she was allowed to make up her own major as part of their Engaged Learning initiative and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Perspectives on Poverty and Health. She studied the interaction of eastern and western medicine for a year as a Luce Scholar in Taiwan. She scored a 1580 on SAT, twenty points shy of perfect. Currently, she is a Pediatric Emergency Medicine Fellow at University Alabama at Birmingham and plans to move to Tanzania to help build one of the first free standing children’s hospitals in Eastern Africa.

How old were you when you first became aware of your need to be challenged beyond the typical classroom?

I was pulled out for enrichment learning classes in 1st grade where I wrote a play, learned chess, and did science field trips.

What most challenged you in middle school?
They gave me creative challenges with room for creativity.  A term paper on the Japanese Industrial Revolution. Special projects –  We did an election notebook in 7th grade 1992. We had to volunteer for the party of our choice. We wrote a report on a candidate at every level (county, state, and national) of government and studied the election process. We created a piece of election propaganda. I was assigned to be the debate coach which included watching the debates and prepping a fellow student candidate for a mock election. And I was a spelling bee nerd – I spent a few too many hours study Webster’s dictionary and running words with my parents.

What bored you the most?

When I had to regurgitate the book. I disliked one of my freshman high school classes because we never covered anything in class that wasn’t in the book. I did my homework and was bored to tears in class because nothing was new in class – I could memorize but wanted to learn to see it in a new way I couldn’t figure out myself.

What advice do you have for gifted students who want to be challenged?

If you have an idea, ask your teacher if you can do it. I’m still doing it – working on adapting my fellowship next year and plan to prepare myself better to practice medicine and maneuver the healthcare system in Africa.  If possible, choose writing topics that are more complex and require more research to write so you have the chance to learn more.  Figure out what you love and figure out how to make it part of your education every step of the way.

What advice do you have for educators who seek to differentiate for gifted students?

Show interest in them as people. Treat them as more than just students. Know more about them than just their grades or their ability to memorize things. My teachers that became mentors  made me feel confident and that I could do more than people expected middle schoolers to do.

Students rise to the challenge when they have ownership – when it engages passion or imagination. If they are doing something to check a box or get a grade it can limit their potential. I’m very good at checking boxes, but I had mentors along the way that made me create my own boxes.

—-

Thank you Dr. Shirk!

For the readers, what strategies do you recommend for challenging the students who need a bit more?

#7 What is the #60Challenge?

I’m feeling good about my new blog and recent posts. I want to take a minute to clarify a few housekeeping items…

1. I have started several blogs over the years, but most didn’t last longer than a few posts. So far, I feel like this new blog is a win. Thanks for those who have retweeted or given enthusiastic feedback. It keeps me going. Really.

2. I was intending, and even in the process of planning, a relaunch of this blog when Bo Adams (@boadams1) shared the idea of the 60-60-60 Challenge with me. From his own blog, here is the challenge…

“I will post 60 ideas for educational change in the form of “what if” questions, I will do so for 60 days straight, and I will constrain my posts to around 60 words each (and maybe an image, an embedded TED talk, etc.).”

The Original 60-60-60 Challenge on @Boadams1 blog: It’s All About the Learning

3. I have already lost the challenge. Though I have blogged consecutively for 7 days now, I have far surpassed 60 words and not every post is about ideas for educational change. (Guess I should’ve read the challenge more carefully.)

4. I’m okay with that. I have renamed the hashtag attached to this 60 day experience (thanks @scitechyedu – Mary Cantwell!) simply #60Challenge. My goal is to blog consecutively for 60 days with a minimum of 60 characters and no constraints on my topics, format, or amount of media attached. (I’m already at 205 words in this post. yikes!)

Thanks for reading! Please continue to follow and to share.

What Swimming Taught Me About Leadership

What Swimming Taught Me About LeadershipWhat Swimming Taught Me About Leadership

Be the first one off the blocks
“Swimmers take your mark. Bang!” Any swimmer will tell you that in a race, every detail matters. The start, the turn, the position of your body are all critical to keeping the edge you need to win a close one. Swimmers are fanatics. We shave our arms, legs, and heads just to shave one second of our fastest time. Your first and best chance to win a race is to be the first one off the blocks and into the water. It takes a lot of practice, planning, and preparation to be ready for this moment. It lasts less than one second. If you false start, you get disqualified. If you hesitate, you’ve lost. You must be ready to seize the earliest opportunity to win.

What Swimming Taught Me About Leadership
Freshman swimmer at Marymount

Your goggles will come off. Don’t panic
After my embarrassing failure in the 100 IM, I learned how to dive in so that my goggles were less likely to come off upon entry. In subsequent races, I became adept at pulling the goggles down around my neck, ripping them up off my head, and even breathing with my mouth half obstructed. Despite vigilant preparation, unexpected moments still occur. You must be able to remain calm and adapt quickly.

At MU, Coach Clark had a bucket of goggles that were painted with opaque, black paint. We learned how to count our strokes and swim without sight. He had us practice on Sunday nights. With the lights out. I knew precisely how many strokes it took to get across 25 yards of water with my eyes closed. Eleven.

What Swimming Taught Me About Leadership

Finish strong
As a coach, I hammered this into the hearts and minds of my swimmers. The end of the race is when we are most tired. I trained myself and others to push hardest at precisely this moment. Get there first. Put your head down and don’t even think about turning your head to take a breath. Leave it in the pool. Picture swimming beyond the wall 10 yards through the concrete. Coach Clark used to say, “Swim past the pain.”

What Swimming Taught Me About Leadership
Finishing strong in my last home meet as a Leafmore Dolphin.

Be coachable
After winning county, I couldn’t fathom that I had more to learn about swimming. Coach Clark showed me I was wrong. As cliche as it sounds, I truly learned that hard work pays off. I adopted the belief that growth beyond what you can imagine is possible. You have to be open to what others can teach you from their wisdom and experience if you want to be the best. Seek wisdom. Seek mentors.

Be a Coach
The scales are balanced between my fulfillment as a swimmer vs. swim coach. I wouldn’t be good at one without the other. I learned as much in my role as coach as I did swimming. Sharing your unique knowledge and skills is a gift. Teach others. Celebrate when they surpass you.

What Swimming Taught Me About Leadership
Giving a swim lesson in 2001 in the same spot where I learned in 1983 at Leafmore.

Late bloomers should not be underestimated or counted out
Sometimes they go the farthest.

Since the summer of 1983, swimming has been a huge part of my life. The pool was located beyond the woods at the end of our neighborhood cul-de-sac. My first official lessons were at Leafmore Creek Park.

What Swimming Taught Me About Leadership
With my Dad and sister in 1982

Two summers later I joined the swim team as a wide-eyed newcomer. Most kids my age joined the swim several years earlier. I had some natural ability and a lot of fun at the pool, but I cried when the coach put me in the 100 IM (Individual Medley – one lap of each stroke) because I was not confident about swimming butterfly or the distance of four laps.

What Swimming Taught Me About Leadership
Showing off our ribbons the morning after a swim meet.

The coach and my parents gave me a pep talk and convinced me to get in the race. They saw potential in me that I did not yet see. I choked on my goggles and they had to pull me out midway through the first lap. It was embarrassing, but I didn’t quit.

In 1993, I was hired as an assistant coach. I joined Dynamo and committed to life as a ‘year round’ swimmer. In 1994, I was the fastest 15 & over in Dekalb County in 50 yard freestyle and 50 yard breaststroke at the championship meet. I was a late bloomer.

I continued swimming in college at Marymount University my freshman year. Coach Clark completely changed my stroke technique and I became much faster. I broke 3 individual school records and 4 relay records. After one year, I transferred to UGA and my career as a swimmer was over. My career as a swim coach was just beginning.

I coached the Leafmore Dolphins from 1993 to 1999. Our team was undefeated 5-0 in 1999, a feat that had not been accomplished at Leafmore in 30 years. The last time the Leafmore Dolphins were undefeated was in 1969. They were coached by another UGA graduate, Phil Houston, my Dad.

What Swimming Taught Me About Leadership
Coach Houston (my Dad) in red shorts on right 1969.
What Swimming Taught Me About Leadership
Coach Houston (me) on left in blue shorts 2009.

I returned to coach the Dolphins from 2006 to 2009. Once again, the team was undefeated 5-0. Leading the swim team at Leafmore was my favorite job.

Swimming led to many great opportunities including the chance to volunteer at the 1996 Olympics where I had full access to the pool deck and met some incredible athletes and people.

What Swimming Taught Me About Leadership
Meeting President Jimmy Carter at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Swimming gave me countless opportunities.

 

 

#5 Why Conduct Student Surveys?

Why should teachers solicit feedback from their students at the end of the semester?

The answer is simple. Growth.

Our team and our school promote this practice in our five year strategic plan as well as the standards of professional excellence by which we coach and evaluate our teachers.

Seek feedback and measure attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs of students about their work and contribution within the classroom environment. -iPlan17

We also highly value the idea and posture of Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset. (For more on this concept, see post #6 of the #60-60-60Challenge tomorrow.)

growthmindset

Here are some key thoughts for educators and teams to consider…

Students should be invited to reflect and share feedback about their learning in each class at the end of each semester.

Teachers participate in writing the survey questions.

Phrase questions to elicit specific, constructive feedback.

Discard destructive comments and personal attacks or matters of personal taste vs. good practice. (ex: Kids may not like the practice of a daily essential question, but if done properly, it is good practice and should be continued.)

Pay attention to patterns of consistent, recurring comments.

Pay attention to comments that describe specific behavior.

Filter every comment through the perspective that kids are honest, yet they are still kids.

Ask why.

growth

What has caused you to grow the most in your field? What are your thoughts and experiences with end of course student surveys?

Why ePortfolios? Workspace & Showcase

If you try to follow #eportfolios on twitter, you may be disappointed. When you search and view samples of ePortfolios on the internet, you will find several schools with templates and beginnings. You won’t find many quality ones in the grade levels proceeding college. At least I haven’t yet. Many of them appear more like resumes than an instrument that not only documents learning but accelerates it, too.

This summer, our team is designing an ePortfolio for students spanning Preschool through Grade 12. The team consists of representatives from Preschool, Lower School, Middle School, and Upper School working together to create one cohesive platform. It will look a little different at each level to meet the needs of the students. For example, Preschoolers will require greater teacher assistance to curate, reflect, and upload their demonstrations of learning while Upper School students will possess greater autonomy.

Regardless of age, what is the purpose of student ePortfolios? Why do they exist? Why should they exist?

As a Workspace…

1. Document Student Learning – At a national level (and elsewhere), when we hear about the state of education, we hear about test scores. There are so many better and alternative ways to measure student growth and performance. ePortfolios lend themselves to constructed learning by design. The status quo for assessing student learning is and has been selected response learning (ex: multiple choice questions, give me four choices and I will select one. this tends to require little critical or creative thinking). Schools must employ a comprehensive and balanced approach to assessments. Teachers must design more units and assessments that encourage and require students to construct a unique and original response.

2. Accelerate Student Learning – Students who actively engage in their learning not only retain more knowledge but develop higher order thinking skills. Are we only force feeding content and standards? When do students get to choose their own learning path and pursue unique interests? An ePortfolio must include student reflection. It must include feedback from peers, teachers, parents, and external experts. It is a way to engage the greater community and inspire others to deeper learning or new discoveries.

As a Showcase…

3. Serve as a Discussion Starter for Student Led Parent Conferences – Have you ever wondered why parent teacher conferences often exclude the most important party; the student? Sometimes, it is more appropriate for the adults to meet, but I think we miss an opportunity to not only include the student in the conference, but to ask them to lead it. As they lead, students should leverage their e-portfolio as the starting point to showcase their learning and even highlight their areas of struggle, too.

4. Serve as a Discussion Starter for College Acceptance/Interviews – What does the SAT measure? And why do we care? Why do we put so much weight and emphasis on a limited tool with a narrow frame. How do we measure creativity? Ethical decision making? As a Director of Admissions, I relied on a comprehensive approach that included standardized test scores, but we did not hang our hat on them at the exclusion of other gauges including the required items (transcripts, interviews, application questions, writing samples, recommendations) and the un-required touch points (every interaction was a chance to get to know an applicant, to ask questions, observe behavior, and communicate an expectation. many team members were included in the interactions.) It takes more time to be thorough and relational. It is simply easier to pin it all on a test taken on a Saturday morning. Kinda lazy yet convenient. And a money making machine, too. I’d like to see more authentic measures begin to take over.

eportfolios eportfolios eportfolios eportfolios

What other purposes can you think of for a student ePortfolio? Also, what questions do you have? Please share.