Delight 3: Kaleb Rashad and his Icebreaker

Part of the new series on delight.

Many people, including myself, have an aversion to the icebreaker. Too often it’s a somewhat disingenuous activity assuming that random people have a desire to connect with other strangers in a confined space when in reality they had no intention of doing anything other than listening to a presentation or at most working with people they already know.

You’ve probably been in that room where it’s just awkward. If you lean towards introversion, these experiences can be painful. If the speaker engages in a long setup of the activity, you either get up to use the restroom or pretend you have an urgent phone call and leave the room. (Confession, I’ve done both)

But when one of the goals of a meeting or gathering is to build community, then it can actually make sense and if done well provide purpose and context to the upcoming work or learning. At this point, it’s not an icebreaker but a learning activity.

I’m currently involved in coaching 4 school divisions in Virginia as a part of a larger initiative called VaLIN or Virginia is for Learners Innovation Network. This is year 2 and we kicked off the year with a 2-day kick-off event where 50+ teams of 7 gathered to begin their work. Leading us was Kaleb Rashad who is self-described as the “director of doing badass work”. Kaleb provided some wonderful context that focused on equity and care.

On day 2 he opened with an icebreaker although he never called it that. It certainly had all the potential of awkwardness. He asked us all to walk around the room slowly and silently and simply acknowledge others’ presence in a non-verbal way. He stopped every couple of minutes and added a bit more complexity from adding verbal acknowledgement to specific prompts that emphasized listening over interactions. He closed this by discussing its purpose around connection, being, presence and slowing down.

Photo courtesy @TaraEdu

I take a great deal of delight in those who identify unquestioned trends and go against the grain. There’s no doubt our lives continue to race. Typical education events feel rushed and just being present with others is often not acknowledged, inconsequential or even superfluous. I love being asked and encouraged to slow down and breathe. When others lead this work, I’m immediately a fan. Thank you, Kaleb.

Parent Teacher Interviews: Time for a Make-Over?

By my calculations, I’ve attended about 104 parent teacher interviews which ended Thursday as my youngest of 4 children graduates from high school this year. While I’m sure I missed the odd one, my wife and I attended all of these meetings. I wondered if this is still a valued experience or if things need to change.

I will admit that we may not be the typical parents. First of all, our kids were generally very good students and never struggled in school or caused any problems. Secondly, as teachers, we had a better understanding of the classroom than many parents. Along with that, we trusted teachers and while we didn’t agree with all of their practices, we didn’t feel the need to check up on them or question their practices. A fifteen-minute interview isn’t the time or place to discuss lecture versus project based learning. Finally, we had good relationships with our kids and they let us know when they were excited, bored or frustrated with school. We attended these interviews mostly to avoid being seen as disinterested parents.

As I said, I’m not suggesting this is the typical parent profile. Yet in the same way we work to differentiate learning for students, I wonder if it’s time to differentiate for parents. My own kids never had their teachers share online. My wife has had a class blog for 5 years and has recently begun to use See-Saw to share and post student learning and portfolios. I know many teachers are loving Fresh Grade, another powerful tool for assessment and sharing. These tools, when used effectively can replace the time typically spent at parent teacher interviews.

The last few years, my youngest has been doing student led conferences instead of the traditional interview. While certainly putting more onus on the student to share learning, for the reasons I stated above, these are not very insightful or useful sessions for us as parents. Not to say they might be for others, but again, does every parent need to participate? Even if we think about disengaged parents, is this the best way to engage them? Does 15 minutes make a difference?

I’m not suggesting we get rid of parent-teacher interviews but I am asking if scheduling 15 or 20 minutes for all parents and students is the best use of our time and theirs. This is a classic case of equality over equity. As well it may be a TTWWADT (that’s the way we’ve always done things) It might be argued that 30-60 minutes is not a lot to ask of parents or teachers to meet over a year. I agree. But doing it just for the sake of checking a name off the list speaks more about our need to be compliant and feed our bureaucratic desires that to foster effective communication. I’d be curious to hear from you. As a parent or teacher, what is valuable to you? What actually makes a difference in connecting parents to the child’s learning?

Professional Learning is Messy

Many people say learning is messy. But is professional learning messy?

There seems to be an ongoing search by districts and teachers for the best kind of professional learning. That’s a bit like searching for the best kind of food. I appreciate the need to provide better learning opportunities but like food, there is a wide range of learning that is essential or preferred depending on the learning and the learner.

When it comes to student learning, we often hear, “hands-on” or active learning is the best. If we’re talking about professional learning, it’s similar but now we might hear about job-embedded learning as being a preferred or optimal type. Job-embedded learning is associated with results. Results are important but they aren’t the only outcomes we should be seeking in our learning. Or at least, we shouldn’t ignore that many kinds of learning occurs before results might ever be considered.

This recent  quote from Will Richardson about learning makes me think:

if learning is measured by a desire to learn more, to continue learning, then the focus is on creating the conditions for that to happen

Those conditions are created in a variety of ways and indeed the new role of the educator is to design these environments. For our teachers, that desire usually doesn’t begin with a job embedded experience. Job-embedded learning is about implementing specific strategies or pedagogies. Often the job embedded approach is often a top down mandate and even when it’s not, without the desire for the teacher to learn more, the learning is in question. When I think about my own learning, I’ve experienced a plethora of events, moments and conditions that have fueled my desire to learn more. Most of my significant learning has been as a result of connecting with smart people and their passion and expertise, It’s made me want to learn more. Books, articles, conversations and lectures have all been means by which I’ve been influenced and challenged. Often times afterward, I reflect, practice and act on the ideas of these smart people. When it comes to events it’s often lectures at conferences when I get a chance to spend time just listening. The act of listening remains one of the best ways we learn, particularly when dealing with complex, engaging ideas. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a chance to talk with them, ask questions. But more than likely, if the ideas are provocative enough, I’ll need time to reflect and revisit the ideas and then begin to implement them. The idea of job embedded is likely not the first thing to consider and yet, I don’t think there’s a recipe or order that must be followed. With all the emphasis lately on creation over consumption, I worry that we’ve forgetton how important and necessary it is just to listen to others.

Obviously as someone who frequently speaks to audiences, I would hope that what I do helps to create conditions for people to want to take action and learn more. But the truth is, I’m doing the least amount of learning. This seems to go against some folks who suggest that the person doing the talking is doing the learning. I am doing some learning, but the bulk of my learning was done before I stood up in front of an audience. That’s why I love listening to smart people. They’ve done the work, they’ve done the learning and now they’re sharing it with me.

The reality is learning is messy. Professional learning is messy too. It’s not a sequential journey. It’s a hodge podge of ideas, conversations, time to work alone, time to work together, insights from colleagues and outside voices with perspectives we’ve never before considered. Most learning is like that. Many districts and teachers hate that notion. As districts and teachers consider professional learning, I hope they get more comfortable with this messiness. I hope they’ll search out smart people to learn from and with and I hope they’ll find opportunties to embed practices and then keep going back for more ideas not because they have to but because they have a desire to grow and learn more.

This shouldn’t be seen as a lesser form of learning. And yet it seems that we’ve devalued this form but using disdain when referencing it. “Sit and git” or lecture-based learning is generally seen as the lowest form of learning. While this can’t be the only kind of learning, it remains essential for growth. Listening need not be passive. It’s only passive if the content or the delivery is boring. But good listeners can overcome some of that to glean ideas and concepts that challenge and inspire.

We need all kind of opportunities. All learning is messy. We need to recognize and create times to be quiet and times to speak, times to act and times to sit still. What smart people do you listen to, to increase your desire to learn more? How do you and your leadership create conditions and opportunities for you to listen?

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight cc

What’s With All the Jumping?

Those that follow me on twitter, instagram or have heard me speak, might know about my jumping photos. Today someone asked me about its origins.

As a family we were about to take a family vacation about 8 years ago. My wife had read an article online about adding some pizazz to your family photos. So we decided to give it a try and it quickly became a family favorite.

We continued to jump,usually on vacation but not always and now we’ve printed out many of them and put them up on a feature wall in our house. Now it has become a staple in our travels. Often times before we leave we talk about where we should jump. It’s always a bit of a challenge finding strangers willing to not only take our photo but be patient with the fact it may take them several tries. (Although using burst mode has solved this issue)

I’m certainly not the first person to do this and in fact, someone shared this recently.

“Starting in the early 1950s I asked every famous or important person I photographed to jump for me.  I was motivated by a genuine curiosity.  After all, life has taught us to control and disguise our facial expressions, but it has not taught us to control our jumps.  I wanted to see famous people reveal in a jump their ambition or their lack of it, their self-importance or their insecurity, and many other traits.”–P.H.

I’ve never thought about it that deeply but it’s an interesting notion. I’ve been sharing a great deal about joy lately in my talks and equate our jumping photos as the way we express our joy, our contentment and delight as we explore the world. It’s one way we can model our belief that indeed, joy is a thing and it’s not something that’s theoretical but a practical, visible manifestation of our internal well being. Lately, I’ve actually had my audience jump and if that’s not possible I jump. At one point I felt this might come across as silly or superfluous. After all, I’m speaking to academics on the serious business of learning. I have occasionally felt others might see this as unbecoming or doing something gimmicky. Perhaps some do. Although it’s my belief this message is gaining ground and resonating with many educators. Heck, I’ve even made encouraged superintendents to jump.

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I think there are many ways to express joy. Jumping has just become something I do and share with people to represent, in a tangible way, an active way of saying “joy matters”. In the words of Alfie Kohn:

I fear that I’m appearing to accept an odious premise—namely, that joy must be justified as a means to the end of better academic performance. Not so: It’s an end in itself. Not the only end, perhaps, but a damned important one.

I guess what I’m saying is, I’m not going to stop jumping anytime soon. Besides, I’m just starting to get good at it.

Jumping at CECVAN

Encouraging Ownership

After every course I teach I receive an evaluation from my students. Typically 80% or higher provide with highly positive feedback. 10% are indifferent and 10% are less than satisfied. Most of the dissatisfaction revolves around lack of structure and and timelines. This is partly my personal flaws and partly student preference and partly a communication failure. I take these evaluations seriously and don’t dismiss these critiques but really do try to improve. I need to get better. But….

As I try and create more ownership and agency for students, my efforts to empower them is the thing I need to really work on. How do I get my students to “own their learning”? Consider what ownership means and check this home for sale near me. When considering home ownership in Utah, it’s essential to factor in various aspects, including the logistics of relocating. Engaging with Utah moving services can streamline the transition process, ensuring a smooth journey into your new home.

A Renowned Developer is launching Family-Sized Home North Gaia EC at Yishun Avenue 9 EC. When you own your house, you can complain about the manufacturers of your home for its flaws but ultimately you’ll need to consider and act upon things that aren’t working. Sometimes you do it yourself, sometimes you ask for help, but either way as an owner you take action. Even if you ask for help, you are responsible they do the work and do it well.

Today I saw this tweet:

Change the word “conference” to class or event. I agree. I don’t want people to feel that way. But…

One question to ask your students or yourself is “Do you feel empowered?” As much as I want to design spaces that make are conducive to great learning but ultimately I don’t own the learning. I do take responsibility for creating the space but I quickly invite my students to own it as well. It becomes a co-op. Some students quickly move in and start to move the furniture around. Others sit quietly and are either afraid or not interested in taking charge. As host, I want them to feel welcome, I want them to feel comfortable enough to ask a question or suggest a change. When they don’t feel this, that’s my failure.

Filter Failure

I go back to a quote from Clay Shirky:

I’ve used this example before but when you enter a library you don’t say, “How will I ever read all these books?” We come to a library either with a specific purpose or the knowledge of how to find things or find someone who can help us. The library sits as a resource that inherently empowers the user and acts as a facilitator of learning. In some respects this is what our classroom/events should be like. We all understand how a library works and what the roles and responsibilities they hold. As classrooms and events shift, these roles are blurring.

With regard to conferences, formats like edcamp reflect this blur. These events are explicitly about empowering learners. That’s why the event resonates with teachers. It represents a shift from directed professional learning.  You design your learning and take advantage of all the resources. The first time you attend it’s weird. People are encouraged to leave sessions they aren’t interested in. They are asked to contribute. It’s about community and collaboration. Those two ideas have not been valued or necessary in traditional classrooms or conferences when the locus of control is with the teacher or speaker.

I need my students to ask questions and say things like:

“This makes no sense”
“Can you tell me how I can make this better?”
“I don’t think this assignment is very helpful, can I do something else”?

I need to do a better job empowering my students. Some of my students do feel this way and ask these questions. Others do not. I use to think it’s a learning style issue and that some students need and require more structure. I’m not so sure now. It may be a mindset and perception and expectation of what education should be. Some think of it as a contract. They see themselves as consumers and teachers are selling a product. They either buy it or they don’t.  I’m trying to create a community where everyone has a stake and responsibility. The ultimate goal is empowerment. Sometimes structure and scaffolding can lead to that, but that scaffolding still requires student input. The more you are the sole creator of this structure, the less ownership the learner has. You perpetuate the idea of expert and novice. Yes, there are some types of learning and situations where the learner is without any background knowledge but this is rare. Most of us come to new learning with some background, some familiarity and this is what a great host/teacher does. They help them see those connections and use background knowledge to build upon.

When you hear words like “overwhelmed” I wonder about who is responsible for this feeling.  Feeling overwhelmed usually comes from not understanding or too many choices. When I speak or teach a class, I’ll take some of that responsibility. Like a library, I need to give people multiple entry points and explicit ways for my audience and students to take the reigns of learning and make meaning.  What usually solves this problem is conversations.  I need to have more and better conversations with my students. If you’re at a conference, you need to seek out people to help you work out ideas. The word “engagement” is often used passively. We expect engagement to happen because of something that’s done to us and not so much something we do.

education we create

This is what I’m going for.

PS. Let’s say you read this post and you think “this makes no sense” or “there’s something missing here” or “he’s wrong” and you don’t leave a comment, you kind of prove my point. I want my blog to be a community space where we learn together. If you have a complaint or suggestion but offer no comment, either I didn’t make it clear I want you to contribute or you see yourself solely as a consumer of this post. Or you’re just lazy. 😉