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Tend the Garden #BCSLearns

In last week’s post, I referred to two metaphors related to children. One related to plants in a garden and the other to children as orchids or dandelions.  This week, I decided to stay with the theme of metaphors using gardens once again.  To do this, I lean on the book by philosopher Alison Gopnik called The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children.  The driving question of this books asks:  What kind of parent are you?  In an interview with NPR, Gopnik shares her view of two ways to be a parent where, in the 29 minute interview, she provides insights from her book.  She defines her notion of both the carpenter and the gardener as: “The carpenter thinks that his or her child can be molded. ‘The idea is that if you just do the right things, get the right skills, read the right books, you’re going to be able to shape your child into a particular kind of adult,’ she says.  The gardener, on the other hand, is less concerned about controlling who the child will become and instead provides a protected space to explore. The style is all about ‘creating a rich, nurturant but also variable, diverse, dynamic ecosystem.'”

In both the book and this interview, Gopnik speaks to:

  • The changing role of parents – Today families are smaller and adults and kids are more mobile and people are having children at a later age. These differences from a generation ago have changed our role in its complexity and we have had to adjust quickly to this change without much of a resource guide.
  • The uniquely long childhood of humans – We need to be careful not to rush our children into adulthood.  The long childhood gives us adults “this protected period where” we can support, adjust and change as guides for the children we serve.
  • The benefits of not instructing toddlers – Gopnik shares the research of Elizabeth Bonawitz and Laura Schulz. “What they found was that if you gave a complicated toy to a 4-year-old, they find all the things that it could do. It could squeak, had a mirror, it had a light. But when the experimenter said, ‘This is my toy, I’m going to show you how it works,’ and did one thing, like squeak the squeaker, children were much less likely to explore. What they did, rationally, was squeak the squeaker — what the adult had demonstrated.”
  • What we can learn from robots that are built to “play” – Even with teenagers, we have to provide opportunities for them to “play.” Gotnik concludes that “a very good way of getting a machine to learn is to give it an early period where it can just play. If you gave a robot a chance to just dance around, figure out what its limbs could do and then you gave it a specific job, like, ‘Go and pick up this piece of cloth,’ the robot was more resilient.” Play plays a “deep role” in building children’s resilience, flexibility, creativity and so much more.
  • How Silicon Valley gets it “Famously, Google gives their employees a day off to do whatever they want and Pixar has playhouses as part of their environment. I think the value of that kind of playful exploration is something that people in the tech world get.”  So maybe, just maybe, we should appreciate employees who take a mental health day.  Check out how to take a guilt-free mental health day!
  • Making pancakes with her grandson – While “extremely inefficient” and kids cook in a way that is not nearly as efficient as it would be for me to do it myself,” allowing kids to participate in the creation, like the bullet above on “play,” encourages and nurtures so many important skills, independence, collaboration, confidence, creativity to name a few.

As “gardeners” let’s make sure we create conditions that allow our children to patiently explore, play, create, be bored (see You’re Bored? How Great!), and fully participate in their life.  Nurture their growth like a gardener, rather than molding and constructing their life like a carpenter.  As usual, if you are a video lover, enjoy I finish this post with a 3 minute video where Gopnik shares her belief of how parenting has become like carpentry, but contends that it should be more like gardening.  Enjoy tending your garden!

Children, Like Plants in a Garden, Are All Different #BCSLearns

I often reference the children’s book Mrs. Spitzer’s Garden by Edith Pattou, which, for me, provides a wonderful metaphor for those in the care of children — parents, educators, etc. (see the read-aloud at the end of this post).  We all know that there seems to be some children who can thrive in any environment, navigate successfully even the most challenging conditions or situations, and find relative indifference and sensitivity to these types of situations.  While others, cannot.  This notion leads me to another metaphor from the research of Thomas Boyce MD, professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry, and the book he has written, The Orchid and the Dandelion.  It’s a great read, and if you want a sneak peak summary of his research, check out an article in Psychology Today that references his work and is entitled Why Some Children are Orchids and Others are Dandelions.  As the article states summarizing his research, “Many children are able to thrive in any environment, while others may flourish only under the most favorable conditions. New findings reveal the complex interplay of factors that creates “dandelion” and “orchid” kids.” Orchids we know are tropical plants that a delicate and require great care, while dandelions seemingly can crop up anywhere, even through a tight crack in a sidewalk. While Boyces research regarding these two different types of children consider this a “human condition,” even temperaments, we can nurture more “dandelion” characteristics in the children in our care (our own or our students).  How, take a look at some of my previous posts:

Want more?  Check out this 36-minute interview of Boyce on NPR:  Is Your Child An Orchid Or A Dandelion? Unlocking The Science Of Sensitive Kids and get his thoughts on his research.

My final thought on the matter, we can be beautiful people (like a beautiful orchid) and still be able to grow wildly anywhere through grit, resilience and nurturing a growth mindset!

Extraordinarily Average #BCSLearns

In today’s day and time, is there a more disconcerting notion to an individual (or his/her parents) than to be called “average”?  In many communities, we often message to children, from a very young age, that they are or need to be extraordinary, exceptional and avoid the doldrums of “average.”  The notion that average is awesome is a bit counterintuitive, but in a New York Times article entitled Let’s Hear it for the Average Child, contributing opinion writer, attempts provide rationale for the importance of the “average” child. In essence, “in this season of prizes and trophies, [the author salutes] all the students whose talents lie outside the arena.”  

Renkl frames nicely her argument by stating that “School is the only place in the world where you’re expected to excel at everything, and all at the same time. In real life, you’ll excel at what you do best and let others excel at what they do best. For the rest of your life, you will never again think of this C, but you’ll bring your character and your capacity for hard work to all your future endeavors.”  

Thus, this article celebrates:

  • the student “with friends scattered hither and yon, across grades and groups and genders” who feels a bit out of place.  This type of “gift for friendship that transcends circumstance, for recognizing kinship wherever it blooms..will make the world your home.”
  • the student who hides a book in their other text because of their love of reading and writing over history, math and science, “no one writes a better love letter than a lifelong reader.”
  • the students who may be “the bench warmers and the water boys and the equipment managers who follow every play without getting a smudge on their pristine jerseys: We delight in your love for the game, and we salute your loyalty to the team.”
  • the student with a sensitive soul for all living things, “we celebrate the tender heart that has taught you this truth, so urgent and so easily overlooked.”
  • the C students who have deep compassion for their peers, “we rejoice for the A you’ve earned in Empathy, the blue ribbon you’ve won in Love.”
  • the the students who are daydreamers, window-gazers and dawdlers – “Here’s to the wondering reveries of the dreamers and the dawdlers, for the real aha! moments in life are those that cannot be summoned by will.”

The article concludes by reminding the average student the prize they will win. “Life is not a contest, and the world is not an arena. Just by being here, unique among all others, offering contributions that no one else can give, you have already won the one prize that matters most.”

If this article is not enough to convince you that average is better than “okay,” check out how this individual answers the question “Why does everybody wants to reach the top?” In the video below, cognitive neuroscientist Jeroen van Baar attempts to explain what is at the heart of the problem today. He argues, a bit counterintuitively, that we should strive for mediocrity instead of excellence. “Average is Awesome!” he exclaims.  Check out his 14-minute TED Talk below…

Is Praise Good or Bad? #BCSLearns

The notion that praise is not always a good thing is not a new concept most recently with the work of Carol Dweck. I have often thought about how praise can be counterproductive to the growth and development of people, in particular children, and the research bears this out.  I first became interested in this notion after hearing about the research of Ian Smith.  After delving into his research, I created a presentation for educators and parents called Praise vs. Encouragement (feel free to review this and use if if you’d like).  So, why do I blog about this today?  When I came across the article by Britt Hawthorne in ASCD called Confessions of a Recovering Praise Manipulator, the “perils” of praise resurfaced for me.  The gist of the article shares the “perils of praise” and strategies for what do do instead.  Hawthorne notes the “Perils of Praise” in that:

  • Praise feeds insecurity. Students need approval to know where they stand with the teacher.
  • Praise seeds divisiveness among learners. Some learners will act out as a way to reject praise; others will crave praise for the sense of power it imparts.
  • Praise encourages learners to submit to authority rather than empowering their critical thinking skills.
  • Praise conditions learners to be motivated extrinsically rather than intrinsically.
  • Praise narrowly defines learners by what the teacher sees (or doesn’t see) in the student, rather than everything they have to offer.

So, what should we do instead?  Hawthorne highlights specific “Alternatives to Praise” in the below table.  Some are similar to what I included in my old presentation:

“I really like how quietly Tiara lined up. Thank you, Tiara.” “Join me in lining up so we can enjoy lunch.”
“Yes, I love your self-portrait.” “Do you love your self-portrait? Tell me what you love about it.”
“I am so proud of you.” “You should be so proud of yourself.”
“Great job on the science fair.” “What part was the most challenging?”
“That’s a pretty drawing.” “You are creative.”
“You were the best kid out there.” “I watched your whole game/performance.”

Want more?  Check out the presentation I created some years ago called Praise vs. Encouragement based on Ian Smith’s research.

Want some video proof?  “For over a decade Carol Dweck and her team studied the effects of praise on students. [She performed a study that] involved a series of experiments on over 400 5th graders from all over the country.” Check out this 5-minute video below…

You Really Do Matter! #BCSLearns

Last week’s post, Teachers: You Matter!, was an effort to let you know that you, as people who work daily with children, make a positive difference in their lives.  Were you convinced from the post?  If not, maybe Google can convince you.  You really do matter!  Google Tried to Prove Managers Don’t Matter. Instead, It Discovered 10 Traits of the Very Best Ones.  Use “teachers” or “educators” in place of “managers” when thinking about this.  In an Inc. newsletter, keynote speaker and author of Find the Fire and Make It Matter, Scott Mautz, shared what Google found when trying to prove that managers do not matter. Google discovered that they really do, and the ones that do have these traits:

  1. Be a good coach. Reference a previous post of mine called Teacher and Coaches Learn from Each Other – It’s Not Madness that speaks directly to the importance of quality coaching, athletic or teacher as coach.
  2. Empower teams and don’t micromanage. Adults certainly don’t like it and neither do kids.  We have to be careful not to fall in the trap of micromanaging and making the decisions for others.  We need to empower! (Reference #10 too.)
  3. Create an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and well-being. Our focus on well-being and self-care this year will certainly support us here as well as with #9.
  4. Be productive and results oriented. We need to make sure that we have what we need and the students do as well.  As we focus on results, we need to remember that results are not just cognitive – we want to see growth in the areas of social, emotional and physical as well – the whole child!
  5. Be a good communicator — listen and share information. As Mautz states in the article, “Invest in communication, and care enough to listen,” and, as I have mentioned to staff before, I want to listen to you when I have missed communication or created miscommunication.  Excuse the confusion! 🙂
  6. Have a clear vision/strategy for the team. Let us not forget the importance of our BCS Mission, Vision, Values and Beliefs as our guide for what we want to DO and leaning on our BCS Moral Compass as our guide to whom we want to BE.
  7. Support career development and discuss performance. This point reminds me of several in the next list I share (hint to later in the post) where we get to know our students, their interests, their passions and work to have them “try on” a variety of interests and passions.  And, give them feedback on their learning and growth.
  8. Have the expertise to advise the team. Learn with the students some of these new age tech skills because, as Mautz states in the article, “Google wants its managers to have key technical skills (like coding, etc.) so they can share the ‘been there, done that’ experience. So be there and do that to build up your core expertise” along with your students.
  9. Collaborate. Nothing more that the 1980’s Johnson and Johnson research on cooperative learning – build up and find the perfect balance of group interdependence and individual accountability.
  10. Be a strong decision maker. The challenge with this is to be decisive without being micro-manager.  As the article states, indecision can paralyze a community, create doubt, uncertainty, lack of focus, and even resentment. Believe in the decision, and you can, so long as you’ve engaged in the other 9 traits!

At the end of this post, I share a 15-minute TedTalk by Azul Terronez who, for over 25 years, has been asking the question “What makes a good teacher great?” The below takeaways from Terronez’s findings are those characteristics of great teachers he notes from his research:

  • Great teachers eat apples. They see their students, metaphorically, as a gift to them and are willing to receive the “gifts” they bring each day.
  • Great teachers are “chill.” They don’t take themselves too seriously; they realize the moment is as it is, and know they can calmly get through it.
  • Great teachers think like kids but act like adults. They never have forgotten what it’s like to be a kid, and can pick up on the subtleties of what students bring to their classroom.  All the while, being and acting like the adult they are.
  • Great teachers love to teach and learn. They demonstrate to their students that they don’t have all the answers, but are avid, curious, lifelong learners themselves.
  • Great teachers connect learning to real life. They are global learners themselves and actively connect for students the in-school learning with their outside world.
  • Great teachers understand that students have a life outside of school. They are aware keenly that every student is so unique with the celebration and struggles in his/her life, and great teachers take the time to know this of their students.
  • Great teachers help students if they notice a struggle. They strike a paradoxical balance between press and support of their students knowing that if they get this balance right, every student they serve will find appropriate struggle and success in learning.
  • Great teachers sing. They get silly, fun and even a little crazy with and for their students!

Have a look at the video blow…


Teachers: You Matter! #BCSLearns

In an article from the September 2019 issue of Educational Leadership entitled A Letter to New Teachers, author Chase Mielke shares advice to new teachers suggesting that “Tough teaching conditions affect us. But they don’t have to define us.”  The title is a bit misleading, though.  The advice Mielke outlines is as good for us veteran educators as it is for a brand new one fresh off graduation.  Fundamentally, as you read on, you will find examples in your experience with the advice noted and the positive impact it had on your life as an educator.  So, what’s the advice?  Here it is…

  • Find a Positive Tribe – in every environment that are people that lean more to the positive and those “who have grown bitter.”  Mielke implores that we surround ourselves with people “who haven’t grown embittered…Who we spend time with is who we become. Choose wisely.”
  • Curate the Good, Don’t Hoard the Bad – Mielke cautions us that, as educators whose role is to seek growth in our students by noticing “what isn’t good enough, what’s wrong, what’s missing…And so we add to our natural human negativity biases.”  So, to avoid “hording the bad,” we must “curate the good.”  Share with others what is going well and rekindle the sense of moral purpose” knowing that what we do every day makes a positive differences in the lives of those we serve.  Read the article for the challenge the author suggests.  
  • Forgive – We can often “hone in on what could be better” and this can build negative emotions such as frustration, resentment, and even anger, which build toxicity in us and affects our well-being.  Forgive others and forgive yourself!  Mielke shares his experience when he had the epiphany “that the only person suffering from my resentment was me. So I worked on mental reframes, reminding myself that I can’t control other people or the past. I took the time to write out what upset me and why—and then threw the paper away so I could move on.”
  • Own Your Present and Future – The quicker we realize that the moment is as it is and that “we are ones most responsible for our well-being,” then the quicker we move forward with positive strategies and solutions and outcomes. This is the responsibility and accountability in Our Moral Compass. Mielke notes three components of accountability followed by the key question of each:
    • Autonomy: What is within my control?
    • Cognitive Flexibility: What are my options?
    • Ownership: What action am I going to take right now?
  • Craft Your Calling – In the article, Mielke shares research that “one of the greatest factors of job satisfaction, engagement, and performance is what researchers call ‘job crafting’ – the intentional choices workers make with their tasks, their relationships, and their perceptions.”  This tip encompasses all the others in my mind.  So, how do we craft our calling?  Mielke suggests two strategies outlined in the article:
    1. Craft the Who
    2. Craft the Why

In closing, allow me to share a short 2-minute video that I hope helps remind you how to craft our calling by crafting our who and crafting our why.  The who is you and your students! The why is because you matter!  You hear, empower, love, notice, help, inspire, believe in, honor, smile at, and trust them – You Matter!  Watch the video that crafts your why!



Thriving Not Dying with Deep Learning #BCS Learns

We have been embedding deep learning experiences at BCS since our inception in 1994, long before authors Michael Fullan, Joanne Quinn, and Joanne McEachen wrote Deep Learning: Engage the World Change the World. Whether we call these skills 21st century, modern, soft or Deep Learning, they matter for students, their engagement, their learning, and their growth and development.  All that said, the Deep Learning book is well worth the read.  Toward the end, the authors share two lists: “10 Ways to Die with Deep Learning” and, conversely, “10 Ways to Get to Deep Learning Heaven.”  On page 160 of their book, the authors provide the lists.  The first suggests that educators will “die”…

  1. If you haven’t experienced deep or powerful learning yourself.
  2. If you are unwilling to reimagine the “grammar” of schooling.
  3. If you don’t respect your students in the present as opposed to the future.
  4. If you don’t give students some choice.
  5. If you don’t live by “less is more.”
  6. If you aren’t willing to admit you don’t know the answer.
  7. If you don’t normalize failure and create opportunities for revision and improvement
  8. If you don’t help students feel like they belong in your class or in your domain.
  9. If you aren’t willing to set the world a little askew.
  10. If you don’t realize that creating deeper learning is a countercultural enterprise.

On the contrary, the second list re-frames the first list suggesting that educators will thrive by…

  1. Going from simple to complex ideas
  2. Learning that is simultaneously personal and collective
  3. Learning that changes relationships and pedagogy
  4. Learning that sticks
  5. Learning that involves a critical mass of others
  6. Learning built on innovation relative to key problems and issues
  7. Learning that attacks inequity to get excellence fro all
  8. Learning that engages the world to change the world
  9. Learning that creates citizens of tomorrow today
  10. Learning where young people make older people better

Want some examples of a school thriving with Deep Learning?  Take a look at an Edutopia Schools that Work profile about Birmingham Covington: Building a Student-Centered School where author Holly Korbey writes and shows “how educators [at this school] take on the role of guides and motivate students to direct their own learning.”  Below are five, 5-minute videos expanding upon the article and showcasing some of the deep learning, by the educators and the students, that occurs at the school.  Have you heard of Birmingham Covington School? 

(‘Cause the faculty and staff there make it happen.)