Can’t Serve Academics on a Broken Plate #BCSLearns

At the National Forum on Character education this weekend, I had the opportunity to meet Houston Kraft, a professional speaker, leadership consultant, and kindness advocate for CharacterStrong.  I attended his breakout session on his view on the importance of nurturing the character development of the students we serve where he outlined 5 critical C’s.

  • Clarity: We must stop living for happiness and start living for clear purpose – Why do you do what you do? As Maya Angelou first claimed, “People will forget what you you, people will forget what you do, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
  • Competence: People want to be good, they just don’t always know what good looks like. There is a difference between personality and character.  We have shifted from a culture of character to a culture of personality.  People can have similar personalities, but it’s their character that determines their legacy.  “Personality is what we wear to the gym, but character is how hard we work out” or said another way, “personality is what we prefer and character is what we practice – Character is love in action.”
  • So, how do you build a habit? (check out the image below that aligns nicely with Kraft’s notion of habit-building)
    1. Unconscious and unskilled
    2. Conscious and unskilled
    3. Conscious and skilled
    4. Unconscious and skilled
      • What if we could make ourselves and the students we serve unconsciously skilled at kindness?
  • Consistency: Put your focus on the little things daily, and the big things get better. Make time, daily for the practice of kindness.  Character the plate and academics are served on it.  You cannot serve academics on a broken plate.  Create a bulletin board in your classroom that asks, “What have you done for others today?” as an entry ticket or exit ticket for your students as conversation-starters for connecting.
  • Control the clarity, competence and consistency with which we embed our character education efforts (why, how, where, what, and with whom).
  • Cultivate a compassionate and empathetic culture.

Our vision at BCS requires and inspires us to infuse 21st Century skills into all of our programming, and Kraft links these modern skills to skills of character by sharing segment of a video of Boston University Character Lab Research Director Andrew Sokatch on “Teaching character – the other half of the picture” at TEDxManhattanBeach.  Sokatch gives “a sobering yet attainable message regarding the education of today’s youth…Andrew argues character can and should be taught in schools, noting grit, persistence, self-control, courage, and humor, are all critical life skills for successful employment, marriages, and citizenship.”  Check out the 12-minute video and be proud of the great learning experiences we provide at BCS and keep on, keeping on!


Critical Dispositions of a Modern Teacher? #BCSLearns

This post about the Profile of a Modern Teacher drew my attention immediately.  Here is a relatively large, yet compelling, list of the “internal dispositions” of a modern teacher that allow them to continually learn and grow in the expertise of their craft.  Which ones come naturally to you?  Which ones do you find it most necessary to hone or invoke explicitly?

A modern teacher needs to…

  • Choose to be vulnerable
  • Move into their students’ world even if it’s foreign territory
  • Dream big and ask “Why not?”
  • Feel secure asking their colleagues for help
  • See themselves as co-learners, not teachers
  • Run towards their area of weakness, not away from it
  • Allow their students to teach each other
  • Model resiliency and perseverance
  • Allow themselves to fail, often
  • Are comfortable not knowing what is going to happen
  • Step outside their comfort zone
  • Question everything
  • Don’t wait until they’re experts to introduce something
  • Invite mistakes into their lives
  • Embrace change
  • Believe they can learn anything, given the right attitude and effort

The two important themes around each of these dispositions is learning and failing forward.  In an article form the Mindset Work’s Blog called Mistakes Are Not All Created EqualEduardo Briceño details four types of mistakes using the below graphic.

  • Stretch mistakes “happen when we’re working to expand our current abilities.”
  • Aha-moment mistakes happen “when we achieve what we intend to do, but then realize that it was a mistake to do so because of some knowledge we lacked which is now becoming apparent.”
  • Sloppy mistakes happen when we’re doing something we already know how to do, but we do it incorrectly because we lose concentration.
  • High-stakes mistakes are ones we want to avoid as they can be “catastrophic”, “dangerous” or “important ramifications.”

How do we see failure as a positive where we engage our growth mindset, resilience and grit learning from stretch mistakes and aha-moment mistakes while avoiding sloppy mistakes and high-stakes mistakes is the most critical of dispositions for a modern teacher or modern learner or human being.  In focusing on this theme of mistake-making/failing forward.  Check out the two videos below.

In this 8-minute video, “U.S. Ambassador Suzi LeVine offers her insight on what makes American businesses succeed and how others can learn from the power of mistakes and failure.”

And how about I share again this popular 6-minute talk on GRIT from Duckworth…


“Super Skills” for the Modern Learner #BCSLearns

Design Thinking is a people-centered approach to problem solving and solution seeking with empathy at it’s center (beginning, middle and end).  It’s the architecture for problem solving with a clear focus for problem definition and finding patterns.  With empathy at it’s core, people are at the center of the process and understanding others’ perspectives drives the process.  I had the opportunity to attend the EdLeader21 conference this past Tuesday and Wednesday and think around their framework, the 4C’s.  I have posted about deep learning skills and characteristics in the past and having just returned from the the EdLeader21 conference focusing on their 4C’s and building a profile of our graduates.  I reflected upon our district’s Profile of a Graduate and the 4C’s:

  • Communication: Sharing thoughts, questions, ideas, and solutions
  • Collaboration: Working together to reach a goal — putting talent, expertise, and  smarts to work
  • Critical Thinking: Looking at problems in a new way, linking learning across subjects & disciplines
  • Creativity: Trying new approaches to get things done equals innovation & invention

These are not new skills to our focus at BCS.  They are, in fact, a daily focus of ours in our interdisciplinary efforts in all of our programs.  Furthermore, Design Thinking is embedded at BCS in our programs like Engage, Engineering Technology, Thinkering Studio and more.  At the conference, I attended a design thinking flash lab led by Bo Adams and his colleagues from the Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation.  While at BCS we use the Stanford model, MVIFI references this model and used their D.E.E.P. design thinking flow (click for the image) for a flash lab.

  • D – Discover
  • E – Empathize
  • E – Experiment
  • P – Produce

Whatever you call it or whatever acronym you create, it’s about design thinking promoting creativity, problem-solving, solution-finding and innovative thinking. here are two other ways to look at it; Clayton Christenson’s theory, “disruptive innovation” in under two minutes and what happened to the creator of the MRI machine when he realized what a miserable experience it was for the users…

“Doug Dietz had been designing MRI and CT machines for more than 20 years at GE when he came to Stanford’s executive education program. He returned home and got to work on an extreme need: taking the fear out of the MRI and CT scan experience for children. Listen to him talk about the solution he created.”

How You Feeling? #BCSLearns

We completed our final “Welcome Back Curriculum Night” last Thursday with our 7/8 families.  Now, we enter October where we will continue to focus on empathy as our theme.  Why empathy? I shared two quotes with you in the Welcome Back letter and with families at our Curriculum Nights that sum up, for me, THE WHY.  The first is that empathy can be learned, nurtured and further developed in each of us, though it takes courage to display it.  Hence the Maya Angelou quote I shared: “I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.” And second is the quote I shared from Stephen Covey: “When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.”  Empathy matters, and as we learn to improve our reading, writing, mathematics, science, social studies, critical thinking, problem finding, problem solving, etc., we also must learn to improve our social emotional intelligence.  With that, October is the month where we will focus on the first of Dr. Michelle Borba’s Habits of Empathy.  The first habit is that “Empathetic People Can Recognize Feelings,” where you will help your students grow in their emotional literacy with this empathetic habit, so they become even more emotionally literate in recognizing and understanding the feelings and needs of others in their body language, voice tone and/or facial expressions.  While we will be integrating this into our conversations with students this month in homerooms, academic labs and core and co-curricular learning activities, feel free to “test” your skill at this habit of recognizing emotions by taking this 10-minute online test.  Feel free to join your students in improving this habit referencing our Habits of Empathy flyer and also discussing emotions and where some of your daily emotions (or theirs) fit on the Mood Meter.  Find out more on by clicking on how the Mood Meter works and its uses. To close, have some fun meeting the emotions with these clip from the movie Inside Out. Enjoy!

Tranform Modern Learning in One Word #BCSLearns

Many of you know our school-wide theme this year is empathy.  We do know that empathy is important and can be nurtured in each of us, the children we raise, and the students we serve through a clear focus on Dr. Michelle Borba’s 9 Habits of Empathy.  We all have reasons why the skill is important, though here is one more argument for its importance.  In an article entitled Why Empathy Holds the Key to Transforming 21st Century Learning, Thom Markham, founder and CEO of PBL Global, writes, “What if we discovered one unifying factor that brought all of this confusion [in education] under one roof and gave us a coherent sense of how to stimulate the intellect, teach children to engage in collaborative problem solving and creative challenge, and foster social-emotional balance and stability—one factor that, if we got right, would change the equation for learning in the same way that confirming the existence of a fundamental particle informs a grand theory of the universe?  That factor exists: It’s called empathy.”  To get to the heart of the importance of the skill of empathy, Markham contends we have to go deeply into its textbook definition, not simply tolerating another’s perspective.  He suggests that “the textbook definition hints at something more profound: It’s ‘the feeling of being able to understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions.’”  From empathy, Markham concludes, “openness, curiosity, self-restraint, vulnerability, sensitivity, awareness, respect, appreciation, and even love,” result.  Think back to my post from last week with Brown’s research on courage, vulnerability, empathy, and shame or my post on how empathy can change the world.  Reread and re-view these posts to complement this one.

If we can truly build a culture of empathy in our school and classroom, Markham maintains, then we have “the potential to open up students to deeper learning, drive clarity of thinking, and inspire engagement with the world—in other words, provide the emotional sustenance for outstanding human performance.”  Ultimately, Markham shares his “seven dots” as the key centerpiece for the future of schooling and the importance of empathy within this future, and they are:

  • Empathy underlies collaboration
  • Empathy is healthy
  • Empathy promotes whole-child learning
  • Empathy ‘opens’ us up
  • Empathy powers up inquiry and project based learning
  • Empathy triggers creativity
  • Empathy unites

Markham ends his article stating, “Ready or not, education is entering an age in which social learning is the new norm.”  And he is correct!  If we remind ourselves of our BCS Mission, Vision, Values and Beliefs, we will realize they are comparable to the argument Markham is making that “Pure academics are giving way to increased opportunities for students to work together; teachers increasingly take on the role of co-learner and facilitator; listening, learning, and teaming are the new core skills. At the heart of this new skillfulness for everyone is the ability to forge deep connections leading to creative problem solving and positive pursuits.”

This is why empathy must be the key cultural component in every school and classroom.

Want more?  Need more?  Check out the below video How Empathy Fuels the Creative Process: Rethinking the Meaning of Connection where “Seung Chan Lim (Slim) shares stories and theories that arose from his recent research into the intersection between empathy and the creative process of ‘making.'”  Also, feel free to review the ASCD Express publication Learning with Empathy which includes six articles focusing on empathy in the classroom.

You Are Worthy and So Are Our Students #BCSLearns

Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston and has spent the past sixteen years studying courage, vulnerability, empathy, and shame.  More specifically, Brown studies human connection defined as “our ability to empathize, belong, love.”  Connection is why we are here; it is what gives us meaning and purpose to our lives.  But, as a researcher, her stress became – how will she measure it?  In an article from Forbes entitled Why Human Connection Will Bring Us Closer Together Brown is interviewed by Dan Schawbel about the “crisis of disconnection in our society.” In short, she has found that the primary difference or “variable” between people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and those who do not, is that those who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they are worthy of having that love and belonging.  From her research, Brown’s definition is that “True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging does not require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”  

So, what gets in the way of our willingness to truly connect with others?  According to Brown, it is fear.  “Fear of vulnerability. Fear of getting hurt. Fear of the pain of disconnection. Fear of criticism and failure. Fear of conflict. Fear of not measuring up. When we ignore fear and deny vulnerability, fear grows and metastasizes. We move away from a belief in common humanity and unifying change and move into blame and shame. Our BCS theme this year is empathy.  Let’s lean into our fears with empathy and show our willingness to be vulnerable.  As Brown contends,  “If leaders really want people to show up, speak out, take chances, and innovate, we have to create cultures where people feel safe — where their belonging is not threatened by speaking out and they are supported when they make the decision to brave the wilderness, stand alone, and speak truth…while maintaining civility.”

As a proclaimed researcher and “storyteller”, Brené Brown delivered a humorous and informative talk at TEDxHouston where in the 20 minute talk, she shares “insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to understand humanity.”

BCS Students – They Are Ours, All of Them #BCSLearns

As we end our first week of the new school year with our students, some new to us and others back with us in the second year of our multiage, I wanted to share this blog post that I have saved for the start of the year.  The post reminds me of Ross Greene’s take on students that are “lost at school.” To review some of Greene’s work and videos, check out one of my previous posts.  The post I share today, from the blog View from the Edge, by educator and administrator Rob Miller from Oklahoma, is entitled, Hugging a Porcupine.  Miller uses this sharp spine coated animal as a metaphor comparing it to some of the children we serve.  Ultimately, what resonates with me in this post is how Miller describes that each of our students is OURS and students like these “porcupines” belong “to us as much as the star quarterback, the future Ivy League scholar, the homecoming queen, and the valedictorian.”  These students can be difficult to love to be sure, but they are OURS but, as Miller states, we often don’t want to “own” them.  “These children frustrate us, make us angry, and cause us to cry. They cause us to question our effectiveness as educators and the meaning and value of our work.  It hurts to get close to children like [them]. It’s like hugging a porcupine. But they are ours, and hugging porcupines is occasionally the most important part of our job.”

It is certain students of ours who can, at times, ask for our care and compassion in the most uncaring and harsh ways.  It is others who blend into our classrooms, say little, comply wonderfully, seemingly not requiring much of our attention.  It is both of these types of students with whom we must build deep connection.  It is the quietly compliant student and the “porcupine” who need us to help them thrive.   As Miller concludes, “All the kids at our schools are ‘ours.’ For some, we have but a brief opportunity to do the one thing – the RIGHT thing – to change the course of their life in a positive way. What an awesome privilege and frightening burden that is.  This much is certain. [These students are] ours. And when you take the chance to hug a porcupine…the reward will be yours.

And finally, I have shared this video several times with educators in the past, though with this hugging a porcupine blog, the below Story of Teddy Stallard is a great reminder of the amazingly positive difference we can make in the lives of students.  Here’s to making great differences in each one of your students this year whereby they come back years later thanking you for being their best teacher ever!