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Teach Questions, Not Answers #BCSLearns

How can schools help students find their right questions?  This question is at the root of passion-based or project-based learning – a key ingredient to the learning experience we give students at BCS.  For a learning, any age, discovering the right questions to ask is a creative approach.  When we teach answers instead of teaching questions through inquiry and discovery, we can stifle creativity for the learner whether we are facilitating the learning process for adults or children.  Need proof?  Take a look at the 2-minute video below highlighting Ernő Rubik and his Rubik’s cube.  It is a brief, but powerful, video making me think of Sir Ken Robinson’s argument of How Schools Kill Creativity.  Do schools kill creativity?  Robinson shares his take on this question in the below video.  His argument in the video is that we stifle creativity due to our often narrow view of intelligence.  Intelligence is not just academic; it is much broader.  The project based learning experiences we provide broaden this view of intelligence for us and the students we serve.  There are multiple intelligences (see below image on ways to be smart).

Multiple Intelligences

What Robinson wants us to remember are the three critical components of intelligence:

  • It is diverse (note above image).  As he states, “We think about the world in all the ways that we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically. We think in abstract terms, we think in movement.”
  • It is dynamic. “Intelligence is wonderfully interactive.”
  • It is distinct.  Human beings have all different ways of discovering their own decidedly unique talents.

In then end, let us nurture the creativity in each of us and our students to allow for our diverse, dynamic and distinct intelligence come to light in the process of nurturing creativity through inquiry and discovery.  Have a look and listen of the video to futher inspire our purpose and feel free to reference some of my previous blog posts related to the importance of creativity:

We have a responsibility to AWE and, to quote Sir Ken Robinson: “My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” 

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Blend Empathy and Curiosity and See the Miracles #BCSLearns

covey empathy
We want to and must lead our live with empathy – our theme for the year.  Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another – a powerful leadership trait in my experience.  In an article from Education Week, To Understand Your Students, Use ‘Compassionate Curiosity’,“‘Compassionate curiosity’ is medicinal. It helps build critical trust and connection with our students because it communicates to them that they matter. It is also illuminating. It can interrupt our potential biases and assumptions about our students’ thinking and abilities.”  I love the alliteration with the two C’s in Compassionate Currosity, though compassion is concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others whereas empathy is truly understanding and connect with others’ feelings.  It is the epitome of being others focused!  So, how about empathetic curiosity?  Nah, it just doesn’t roll off the tongue the same way.  It matters not as the spirit of this notion of compassionate curiosity is noble indeed.  Redford is spot on when he shares that “Simply listening—really listening—without offering any silver-bullet solutions can work wonders. Demonstrating that I am paying attention and that I care can sometimes be enough to help a student feel seen and want to invest in learning.”  Stephen Covey would urge us all to use “empathic listening”.  Check out the article from Fast Company called Using Empathic Listening to Collaborate, which focuses on Covey’s Habit 5 – seek first to understand, then to be understood.  What I find incredibly interesting that, for me, cements the importance of Habit 5, is Covey’s levels of listening.  Here are his five levels of listening:
  • Ignoring. The lowest level of listening is called ignoring – not listening at all.
  • Pretend Listening
  • Selective Listening
  • Attentive Listening
  • The fifth level of listening is Empathic Listening. Empathic listening is the top level of listening.
With this compassionate curiosity or empathic listening, as Redford states, we can approach a student’s, a colleague’s, a friend’s or a family member’s “struggles like puzzles to solve, rather than problems to react to, makes our instruction more effective. It also makes teaching more rewarding and enjoyable.”  As it relates to our Culturally Competent Teaching training, this concept of using curiosity and compassion rather than judgement is powerful.  We all tend to judge people and situations too quickly – in an instant. Using compassionate curiosity to develop more care and understanding by exercising curiosity and compassion over judgement. It will make us more powerful solution finders and better human beings.  Let us lean into to seeking first to understand, then to be understood by empathically listening first.
Also, feel free to review two previous posts below where I mention this importance of empathetic listening:
Want more from the Genius of Covey?  View this 17 minute video of him storytelling around the importance of seeking first to understand through empathic listening.

 

Start the New Year with Empathy

The students are coming!  There is nothing quite like the eager anticipation of a new school year allowing us another opportunity to reconnect to our vision and inspire those students we serve “to lead in the global community through a passion for learning, innovating, and inquiry & design”.  A we embrace together this year’s theme of Empathy 2.0, I am proud to serve this wonderful community and look forward to our best year yet!  A year where we continue living into our vision through our focus in the areas of inquiry-based interdisciplinary learning, leveraging technology purposefully, and building global competencies.  Additionally, our BCS Interdisciplinary Themes (Cycle 2) for 2018-19 (3/4 Patterns; 5/6 Interdependence; 7/8 Diversity) will help us connect our daily learning across all disciplines and courses. Our curriculum will integrate these interdisciplinary themes, and as the weeks unfold, we will regularly reference and infuse Our Moral Compass and the 3 E’s (education, environment, and each other) with our overarching theme of empathy. Our students working together as leaders, learners, and collaborators with a positive attitude, honesty & integrity, respect & kindness, and responsibility & accountability is a critical foundation of BCS.  This type of work and self-discipline will continue to guide our students on the path to being global citizens who move forward with both intention and purpose. Check out our refrigerator-worthy Moral Compass poster and description.

We will nurture creativity through the design thinking model whose process begins with empathy.  I hope your family and you have had the opportunity to enjoy our community read, The One and Only Ivan, a heartfelt story that gives us a literary experience of seeing things differently through others’ perspectives.  We have much planned with this book and our theme beginning in September.  In fact, last year we focused each month on a different habit of empathy based on Michelle Borba’s 9 Habits of Empathy.  This year, we will focus more deeply on three habits that heighten our ability to be others focused and perfectly align with one of our 3E’s, Each Other: understanding the needs of others, practicing kindness, and thinking “us” not “them.”  Feel free to re-familiarize yourself with these habits.

As we think about this theme, I would like to share Three Lessons for Teachers from Grant Wiggins written by Jay McTighe published last month.  Wiggins’s third lesson is just that – empathy.  Below, I summarize the three lessons that McTighe’s article details.  It’s a must read!

Lesson #1 – Plan Backward from Authentic Performance.  Design curriculum “backwards” with the end in mind using the Understanding by Design® framework,
which he co-created.  Plan backward from worthy goals.

Lesson #2 – Feedback is Key to Successful Learning and Performance.

  • Feedback must be timely.
  • Feedback must be specific and descriptive. “Your speech was well-organized and
    interesting to the audience. However, you were speaking too fast in the
    beginning and did not make eye contact with the audience. These are areas
    for you to work on for your next presentation.”.
  • Feedback must be understandable to the receiver.

Further, Wiggins details four ways that students can give feedback to teachers to improve their practice.

  1. Ask students what’s working, how are they understanding, what could help you more, etc.
  2. Ask colleagues to observe you and give you feedback on what they see in your classroom. How about our BCS Teacher Labs?
  3. Use formative assessments and act on their results. Wiggins thinks of formative assessment much like tasting a meal while cooking it such that waiting until an end of unit test to discover that some students didn’t understand is too late.

Lesson #3 – Empathize with the learner.  How about shadowing a student for the day?  Wiggins encourages teachers to shadow a student for the day. Here are the key takeaways from one teacher who took on the challenge:

  1. Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting
  2. High School students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90% of their classes
  3. You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long

The below video is a “brief illustration of the backward design process for course design.” (5:54)

My Hopes for our 8th Graders #BCSLearns

streaks_8th grade

The theme for this year’s 8th grade Farewell Celebration for the BCS Class of 2018 (high school class of 2022) is “The Best Streaks of our Lives.”  Let’s look forward, into the future, with this theme in mind.  How might each of you make each phase of your life “The Best?”  What does it take to live a long successfully happy life?  How might you answer this question?  Many of the first things that initially come to mind revolve around taking care of your mental and physical health.  Exercise often. Eat healthy. Keep a positive attitude.  These are all easier said than done to be sure.  Or, how about read and learn daily keeping the mind sharp.  All important indeed!  But, what if I shared with you research that suggests that the top 2 secrets to a long life have nothing to do with these seemingly obvious beneficial activities.  Researcher Susan Pinker shares that “The Italian island of Sardinia has more than six times as many centenarians [100+ year olds] as the mainland and ten times as many as North America.” It is also the only place on earth she can find where men live as long as women.  But, Why? What’s the secret? According to Pinker, “it’s not a sunny disposition or a low-fat, gluten-free diet that keeps the islanders alive so long.  It is their emphasis on close personal relationships and face-to-face interactions” that make the difference.   If fact, a positive attitude is not even on the list of top 10 from Pinker’s research (of course it can’t hurt).  Things involving physical health are on the list, but the two activities that top the list are Close Relationships (no. 2) and Social Integration/Social Connectedness (no. 1).  From her research, Pinker has determined that “social isolation is the public health risk of our time.”  On Sardinia, people “are never left to live solitary lives.”  Members of their community are always dropping by to interact with each other making social isolation impossible and improving their close relationships and social integration.  So, why do I bring this up to you 8th graders tonight?  Because I have serious hopes for each of you!  Five to be exact.

My hope is that your years at BCS (whether it was 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or all 6) gave you the opportunity for some close friendships and social integration. People who know me, know how important collaboration is to me, and now look what research here points to as it relates to social connectedness.

My hope for you in high school is broadening your friendships and social integration discovering even more deeply who you are and who you want to become.

My hope for you beyond high school, in college, is creating lasting close relationship and socially integrating with an array of interesting people both similar to and very different from yourself.

My hope for you in adulthood is you realize the importance of positive relationships and social connectedness that will feed your success by any measure and lead to a long and successful life. 8th graders, class of 2022, through your close relationships and social integration may you become a centenarian, like the islanders on Sardinia, who looks back on each phase of your life as “the best streaks of your life”, indeed the best life, because you have people with whom to spend it.

Let me close by sharing my final hope. I indeed look forward to seeing you in four years at the BCS Senior Alumni breakfast and hearing all about your next BESTs.  Congratulations on your recognition tonight – you should be proud; I know I am!  My final hope?  I hope your time at BCS was the best so far.

Congratulations on your special day and I wish you THE BEST! [certificates distributed]

[to close the evening I share the following]

I have mentioned the word “success” several times tonight, so let me close the evening leaving you with a quote on success that I feel perfectly embodies its meaning. It is a quote by American poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson and is my ultimate hope for each of you in ensuring each phase of your life can be considered, in line with this year’s theme “the best.”  I wish for you…

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

Congratulations BCS Class of 2018; You are the Best!

What’s the Secret to a Long Life? #BCSLearns

What does it take to live 100 and beyond?  How would you answer this question?  Many of the first things that come to mind revolve around taking care of your mental and physical health.  Exercise often. Eat healthy. Keep a positive attitude (easier said then done).  But, what if I shared with you research that suggests that the top 2 secrets to a long life have nothing to do with these seemingly obvious beneficial activities.  Researcher Susan Pinker shares that “The Italian island of Sardinia has more than six times as many centenarians as the mainland and ten times as many as North America.” It is also the only place on earth she can find where men live as long as women.  But, Why? According to Pinker, “it’s not a sunny disposition or a low-fat, gluten-free diet that keeps the islanders alive so long .  It is their emphasis on close personal relationships and face-to-face interactions” that make the difference.   If fact, you can even be “grumpy” or a “sourpuss” – a positive attitude is not on the list of top 10 from Pinker’s reasearch.

  • 10 – Clean Air
  • 9   – Hytertension Rx
  • 8   – Lean vs. Overweight
  • 7   – Exercise
  • 6   – Cardiac Rehab
  • 5   – Flu Vaccine
  • 4   – Quit Boozing
  • 3   – Quit Smoking
  • 2   – Close Relationships
  • 1   – Social Integration

From her research, Pinker has determined that “social isolation is the public health risk of our time.”  On Sardinia, “They are never left to live solitary lives.”  As people age, members of their community are always dropping by to interact with each other making social isolation impossible and improving their close relationships and social integration.

Pinker explains what it takes to live to 100 and beyond in 2 videos I share below – both well worth the time.  The first video is a 2-minute snippet of the TED Talk and summary of her research.  The second video is the full 16 minute version.  View them both to help you understand what she means by “close relationships” and “social interaction.”  Give them a watch!

Stand Up and Upstand #BCSLearns

With May upon us, we focus at BCS on our next habit of empathy from Michelle Borba’s book Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Success in Our All-About-Me World.  This month’s focus is that empathetic people Stick their Necks Out.  In her book, Borba says that empathetic people have the “moral courage” to stick their necks out and become “active bystanders, better known as “upstanders”.  Bystanders stand by and passively observe or witness any acts of unkindness to others.  We need to teach our students, even ourselves, strategies to stand up actively.  In her book, Borba shares some strategies to positively S.T.A.N.D. U.P.:

  • S – seek support
  • T – tell a trusted adult
  • A – assist the victim
  • N – negate with positivity
  • D – detour
  • U – use a distraction
  • P – pause and rethink

In helping students nurture this habit of sticking their necks out, we need to explicitly teach what each of these strategies look like and sound like.  For many middle school and high school students telling an adult is taboo.  We have to help students realized they have a moral obligation to help create a safe environment for each of us who have the privilege to be part of the community in which we find ourselves.  Telling a trusted adult is not “ratting out” a classmate; rather, it is getting help to further support the safety and well-being of those in our community.  If a student just won’t report, there are still other strategies to demonstrate this moral courage.  A student can be an upstander with another strategy such as assisting the victim, detouring or simply using a distraction.  These do not require reporting; the taboo for many older students.

So what happens when we become upstanders?  Here are the research-based outcomes.  Upstanding…

  • reduces the audience that a bully craves
  • mobilizes the compassion of witnesses to step in and stop the bullying
  • supports the victim and reduces the trauma
  • is a positive influence in curbing a bullying episode
  • encourages other students to support a school climate of caring
  • encourages reporting a bullying incident since 85 percent of time bullying occurs an adult is not present. Students are usually the witnesses.

In short, “When bystanders intervene correctly, studies find they can cut bullying more than half the time and within 10 seconds (Pepler and Craig, 2005).

If that is not enough to demonstrate the benefits. “Sticking your neck out and nurturing this habit, as Borba contends, helps our students find their “inner hero.”  What can we do to help nurture the inner hero of our children?

  • Expect social responsibility
  • Set the example: model it.
  • Offer Heros: Harrry Potter, Huck Finn, Nelson Mandella, Little Engine that could.
  • Stop Rescuing : We do not build confidence when we rescue.
  • Try small scale courage.

Above all, always encourage, and help children live the mantra of Muhatma Ghandi, “be the change you want to see in the world.”

Be the Change – It is done everyday, let’s just make it larger scale!  Show this below video to your students and children to help them find their inner hero.  “Kindness begins with you!”

Fill Every Class with Passionate Learning #BCSLearns

Elective and “special” classes adjacent to the core curriculum classes typically do not purposefully integrate core curriculum standards from the core subjects, though, often, they naturally become integrated through the project-based approach.  In the article To Engage Students and Teachers, Treat Core Subjects Like Extracurriculars,” Leah Shaffer shares the compelling research of Jal Mehta and Sarah Fine.  “The most powerful core classes Mehta and Fine have seen take on the elements of extracurricular activities. For example, at High Tech High School in San Diego, one biology class is organized around the goal of students creating and eventually publishing field guides.”  We must build on student passions for authenticity within the real world all while driving the standards that need to be learned.  Not only can this project-based approach drive the standards, it will also drive student passion, motivation and engagement.  Another “example Fine has seen is in a project-based humanities classroom. Students started the class by reading about the anti-communist fervor of the 1950s and McCarthyism. Then for the latter half of the semester, students were tasked with using the same rhetoric from that time to create documentary films on a controversial subject of their choice. Essentially, the project allows students to understand propaganda by making their own propaganda film.  [Or] In social studies, for example, students learn local history and then study ethnography by interviewing residents in different neighborhoods and mapping those neighborhoods.

All that said, with the breadth of the many standards to be learning in many of our core curricula, often times teacher will feel pressed for time to get through the standards in lieu of authentic projects.  Thus, the structure of the day and the pace of learning is a critical component of the school day for students.  Artful integration of standards within the curriculum is essential; something that is much easier in a self-contained classroom at the elementary level vs. a 6-hour class period day at the secondary level.  “The day at Lodestar [Academy] is broken into two parts: time for expeditionary and project-based learning, and a section of the day for literacy and math lab, where students learn core subjects at a personalized pace.”

In the video below, project based learning, PBL, is explained in full detail with examples and instructions for implementation.

In the video below, the perfect problem connects content, student interest, and an authentic context.

We, at BCS, remember this from Edutopia about Building a Student Centered School.  In the video below, See how some very familiar teachers help very familiar students apply their literacy skills to explore science problems outside classroom walls.