Tuesday, January 28, 2020

What can educators learn from Kobe?


I need to say right up front that Kobe was not my favorite basketball player.  It may be my age, but I always was, and always will be, a Jordan guy.  I did always have a healthy respect for Kobe, mostly because he always struck me as a player that truly respected the game and tried to play it the right way.  However, after reading and listening to so much over the last couple of days since his tragic death,  my respect for him has grown tremendously.  I have found myself wondering why.  Why does a basketball player have such a tremendous, positive impact on so many people all over the world?  And if we somehow could understand and harness that impact, maybe we (as mere mortals) could have that kind of influence as well.   

MAMBA MENTALITY:
The first thing that almost everyone mentions in recollecting on Kobe Bryant is his relentless, killer instinct. They call it the Mamba Mentality.  Now, "killer instinct" might not often be used to describe educators, but the great ones are most definitely relentless in their pursuit of excellence.  They do not quit and they do not accept failure from anyone; themselves, their students, or their peers.  Kobe was like that.  If there was ever a criticism about his game, it was that he didn't pass enough, but when things got tight at the end of games, he knew he was the best player on the court and he had the confidence to do what was necessary to help his team win.  John Hattie and Peter DeWitt have made the terms "self-efficacy" and "collective efficacy" common terms among educational leaders with the idea that if we believe we can make a difference, then we often will.  Kobe's confidence and "self-efficacy" also translated to leadership.  That leadership gave his team the "collective efficacy" it needed to achieve greatness.  They often won simply because they believed they would. Check out this link from the ESPYs!



WORK ETHIC:
Kobe Bryant's work ethic is legendary.  Almost everyone who achieves greatness in any field shares this trait, but even among his peers, Kobe stood out.  He was known to push his teammates harder than their coaches.  One legendary story has Kobe taking away his personalized "Kobe shoes" from players because their work ethic (not their play) did not meet the standard necessary to wear them.  The players got the message. In the video clip below, Kobe starts with a simple, but telling phrase: "If I have to fight you to get in the gym, that is a problem."  Every school I have ever seen has teachers and administrators that work very hard. What often transforms campuses to greatness is the influence these hard-working, over-achievers have on the rest of us.  Do you have an environment where slackers can get by because someone else is doing more work than they should or does everyone pull their weight? Do you have to fight them to "get in the gym" (PLC, professional development, etc.)  Kobe was not afraid to work hard, but he also challenged others to match his commitment or get left behind.  Countless players (in various sports) this week have talked about how he made them better just by modeling his work ethic.  That is leadership.



TRANSCENDENT:
Finally, I wanted to look up this word to make sure I have the definition right in my mind.
adjective- going beyond ordinary limits; surpassing; exceeding.
superior or supreme.
Theology(of the Deity) transcending the universe, time, etc.
Philosophy.
  1. Scholasticism. above all possible modes of the infinite.

I think it helps answer my original question of why does a basketball player have such a profound impact on the world.  It's not just his extraordinary basketball talents.  It's any person that goes beyond what is expected and does things that seem impossible.  All of us respond to greatness and most of us respect it, even if we are not fans.  Kobe Bryant was transcendent.  We will miss him.  #RIPKobe



Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Do Be A CRAB! Push others to the TOP!

Have you ever worked with people that go out of their way to make sure new things don’t work?  They don’t want to put in the extra effort it might take to get ahead, either because they are afraid of failure or they are content to do things the way they have always been done.  I have worked on campuses, where teachers were actually ostracized for going “above and beyond”!  Simple things like gaining praise for a great newsletter, an extra parent call, or even enthusiastically participating in professional development can sometimes make others jealous or even resentful.  In some places, this is called the “Crab Mentality”.  The crab mentality is a natural phenomenon that even scientists can’t explain, but it almost never fails.  You see, if you have a bucket of crabs, they easily have the capability to climb out of the bucket and save themselves, especially if they work together.  But they will not.  Sometimes the crabs seem almost malicious. They climb over one another and even work to pull those that appear to be making progress towards success downward to the group.  They are not interested in others success. 

We should all be on guard for the Crab Mentality. Even at schools with great culture and climate, it can creep in and pull others down.  Look around your own campus and your peers….I am willing to bet that everyone there is working hard and trying their best.  However, I also believe that there are a few that stand out. Maybe it’s the way they teach a lesson with a smile, they make even lunch duty fun, or they have a way of getting along with that student/parent than no one else can seem to reach.  The question is, what is keeping them from falling into the crab mentality?  And more importantly are you one that is pushing them upward or pulling them down.


 The crab mentality is a reflection of the famous saying “we all like to see our friends get ahead, but not too far ahead.” Learning to recognize the crab mentality in yourself and others is a very good idea, especially in schools.  Our schools need teachers that “get out of the bucket” to seek adventure and try new things, not groups that are holding them back.  Don’t be a crab!!
Have you ever worked with people that go out of their way to make sure new things don’t work?  They don’t want to put in the extra effort it might take to get ahead, either because they are afraid of failure or they are content to do things the way they have always been done.  I have worked on campuses, where teachers were actually ostracized for going “above and beyond”!  Simple things like gaining praise for a great newsletter, an extra parent call, or even enthusiastically participating in professional development can sometimes make others jealous or even resentful.  In some places, this is called the “Crab Mentality”.  The crab mentality is a natural phenomenon that even scientists can’t explain, but it almost never fails.  You see, if you have a bucket of crabs, they easily have the capability to climb out of the bucket and save themselves, especially if they work together.  But they will not.  Sometimes the crabs seem almost malicious. They climb over one another and even work to pull those that appear to be making progress towards success downward to the group.  They are not interested in others success. 

We should all be on guard for the Crab Mentality. Even at schools with great culture and climate, it can creep in and pull others down.  Look around your own campus and your peers….I am willing to bet that everyone there is working hard and trying their best.  However, I also believe that there are a few that stand out. Maybe it’s the way they teach a lesson with a smile, they make even lunch duty fun, or they have a way of getting along with that student/parent than no one else can seem to reach.  The question is, what is keeping them from falling into the crab mentality?  And more importantly are you one that is pushing them upward or pulling them down.


 The crab mentality is a reflection of the famous saying “we all like to see our friends get ahead, but not too far ahead.” Learning to recognize the crab mentality in yourself and others is a very good idea, especially in schools.  Our schools need teachers that “get out of the bucket” to seek adventure and try new things, not groups that are holding them back.  Don’t be a crab!!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Students as Curriculum Designers? Why not ask the experts?


I was asked this week about some ways to empower students.  It seemed pretty simple at first, but upon reflection, I wondered if some of the traditional ways truly impact the learning environment and empower students they way we hope they would.  There are countless ways to give students a voice in the classroom and on the campus, but some thoughts I had on how students could impact themselves and future students is by getting them involved in the teaching and learning on the campus.

Great teachers empower students.  Period.  They do it in a variety of ways, and sometimes they can’t even describe how they did it, but great teachers and great schools empower students to own their own learning. This is the essences of empowerment.
The students of 2020 have perhaps the greatest experience in schools in history when compared to any previous generation.  The resources, thanks to technology, are almost limitless, and the emphasis on student-choice and social emotional learning have created classrooms and schools that are designed to engage students and make the learning experience meaningful to each individual child.   Is it working?  Yes and No.  There is no doubt that many classrooms around the nation have transformed from the traditional rows of desks and teacher lectures to a more inviting learning environment of flexible seating and student choice, but is it having a real impact on student learning?  Have the lessons and tasks really changed or have we just made the kids more comfortable?
I believe one of the best places to look for true empowerment of students is to solicit their feedback and reflections after the lessons have taken place.  As educators, we often spend precious hours of planning time to try and create lesson choices that will entice students and stimulate their minds so they will be interested and engaged.  Think about how much time could be saved if we had a few students around the table joining the teachers in a PLC to give feedback on previous lessons and input on upcoming units. Give your students, not just your top students, but the struggling ones as well, as chance to give you feedback on the tasks in your classroom or even your teaching style.  And here is a little secret, students do not hold back near as well as adults do.  You want to know the truth, ask a kid.   
As educators, formative assessment is something that is stressed at every level as the best way to monitor student progress, but what if we truly empowered students to formatively assess our curriculum and instruction?  We might not want to hear what they have to say!  As a middle school principal, I once had a group of students tell me, “If you want to LEARN you take this teacher, but if you want to have FUN you take this one.”  Originally, I was baffled by their candid answer, but I have used that example many times over years to make the point that “Kids Know”.  They know who pushes them and who lets them slide.  They know when they can turn in less than their best effort and when they must do their best.  If we want to get better, we should give them a seat at the table and make them a part of professional collaboration.  How in the world could that happen?  In a few easy steps:
1.       Individually- Create a system in your classroom where students give you regular feedback on your teaching and the tasks you assign them (you may or may not have control over the tasks you give).  If you keep a reflective learning journal, this is a great place to take notes to formatively improve the next lesson or change the task for next year.
2.       Campus or PLC- Invite a small, but diverse group of students to your grade level/department PLC.  Don’t put them on a stage as a panel, which is often fake and kids see through fake, but instead give them an equal seat at the table. You might have to train them a bit so they realize what lesson planning and curriculum mapping is all about, but they will catch on quickly.  Don’t do it a once.  Commit to making the group a regular part of the discussion for at least a six to nine-week grading period.  If they are with your PLC that long, they should experience lesson design, reflection of lessons/units, data dives, etc. Basically, a full learning cycle.  After that, switch to a different group.
3.       District- A larger commitment might be to invite a group of students that just completed an entire course to be part of a district level curriculum writing team.  Who better to share what was good and bad about Algebra than the students that just completed the course? Think of the power of hearing about the same lesson from three or four kids from different schools. It has the potential to help with curriculum alignment and calibration.  
I have five kids spanning from a kindergarten student to a junior in high school and everyone of them will tell you what they liked about school and what they didn’t.  When pressed, the older ones will tell you what lessons were challenging and which ones were “busy” work.  They will tell you what they remember from several years ago and what lessons had the biggest impact on their learning. KIDS KNOW.
Imagine the impact over time on the learning environment if we spent more time letting the kids help us design the lessons?  It is a different paradigm then simply differentiating a lesson and letting kids have “student choice” over a few activities all designed by adults. Its challenging but it is a way to truly have students own their learning in a way that adults cannot.  Be bold and give it a try!