Friday, November 16, 2018

Book Chat: Fostering Resilient Learners (Part III: Relationships)

It's a busy time of year!  For those who wanted to join us but were unable to make our book chat this morning but wanted to follow along, here is what was discussed!  (Again, we had such a powerful discussion that we didn't get to everything, so some additional resources are included.) You can also read about our previous sessions on Part I: Trauma and Part II: Self-Awareness.

Self-Reflection: Write down the name of a teacher who made a difference in your life.
What was it about this person that motivated you to learn, to come to school, to try your hardest? What was it about this educator that inspired you to do what you do today? What traits did you appreciate about this person?  Write down some words or phrases that describe this person and his or her influence on you.
The group wrote down their thoughts on a notecard and then we each took a minute to share our reflection. We found that the teachers who meant the most to us were not necessarily those who were of our content area or even those that we spent time outside of the classroom getting to know. Most teachers were those who were consistent in expectations, challenged us, and related the content to topics that interested us at the time.
We didn't get to this part, but here is what we were going to do next:



Control
Think about this:

  • The results of zero tolerance policies has been an increase in both behavior problems and dropout rates (American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force, 2008)
  • Public elementary and secondary schools in the United States assign 110,000 expulsions and 3 million suspensions each year, along with tens of millions of detentions (Children's Defense Fund, 2010; Dignity in Schools Campaign, n.d.)
  • More than 2,467 U.S. students drop out of school each day (Children's Defense Fund, 2010)
How does control play a role in these statistics?

Think about these four statements:

1.  I can't control whether _____ will come to my class today, but I can control...

2.  I can't control whether _____ passes this test, but I can control...

3.  I can't control whether _____ has experienced adversity and trauma at home, but I can control...

4.  I can't control whether we add _____ to our already overloaded plates, but I can control...



Doors vs. Windows
The book gives a great example of going to a cabin for the weekend, and mysteriously being locked in.  It describes your reaction to keep turning the doorknob or trying to push it open, repeatedly.  You are in your downstairs brain, in fight or flight mode, trying to force your way out of this door.  Then the book points out that you all you needed to do was step back, calm down, and look at the many windows in the cabin.  

How can we provide our students with windows instead of closing the door on them?

“Even if you don’t believe your efforts are reaping much of a result, keep in mind that you’re planting seeds.  Although you my not get to see the flower bloom, your efforts may result in something extraordinary.” (Page 131)

Fostering Resilient Learners, Kristen Souers with Pete Hall

Thursday, November 15, 2018

A Year in Learning at Elk Grove: Introduction to Strength and Conditioning Defining Learning

By Anthony Furman, Daisy Crus, Jaina Pfister, and Mark Heintz

This is part of a blog series intended to document and define learning at Elk Grove High School throughout the 2018-2019 school year in order to increase student learning, give professionals autonomy, increase trust in our learning community, and foster a sense of personal-intellectual collegiality within the building across departments. You can read all of the previous posts here.  I am going into each teacher's class four times and then they are reflecting alongside their students on the learning that took place and what they hope for.

In this second visit, I asked the teacher and the student two questions: how do they define learning? Under what conditions do people learn best?  In an attempt to have all stakeholders have a similar definition of learning, the teacher and the students answered them, publish them, and then have conversations surrounding their beliefs on learning. This is what they came up with:

Learning is:
  • having a vision.
  • decision making.
  • new concepts.
Learning occurs best when:
  • people collaborate. 
  • people are comfortable. 
  • through feedback.


How do you define learning? 

Anthony Furman (Teacher):  I believe students are truly learning when their approach or vision about school is not just as a “grade” but as a stepping stone and source of preparation for their futures. There is a natural progression of this as students mature and move through each year, but there are so many ways for students to develop, enhance and catapult this progression as they make decisions for their future.  Our guidance, teaching, reflection, and challenging of students can put them in a position to recognize and embrace this opportunity.  It is not something that is done alone.

Daisy Cruz (Student):  Learning means adding more knowledge to what you already know.

Jaina Pfister (Student):  I define learning as understanding new concepts and adding new information to your brain.



How do you believe people learn best?

Anthony Furman (Teacher): I truly believe that students learn best when they recognize that we are all in this together as one team.  Students need to know that they can be themselves especially as they begin recognizing who they really are and what they believe in.  Within this comfort and recognition lies a place with unlimited opportunities for learning, support and involvement.

Daisy Cruz (Student):  People learn best by observing and listening to the feedback you get so you can improve.

Jaina Pfister (Student): I believe people learn best by working hands on. Throwing yourself into a situation that may put you out of your comfort zone is the best way to really learn.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Freshmen P.E. Reflection

By Anthony Furman

Anthony wrote a lesson reflection a few months ago.  He again is reflecting as he tries to build a student-centered physical education course that is responsive to the diverse needs of each student.

What do you hope to do for the next time? 

I will be looking to see that we are practicing our “Building a Culture to be Proud Of” statements. That will come from teacher to student as well as student to student.  Exercises learned will be practiced and then given was to be made more challenging.  Ideally, we begin to build an atmosphere where class expectations are maintained by all students and we continue to build on the program focuses set each week.



What aspects of your hopes came true? 

I do believe we are making progress in our practice and work each day.  Whether it be in the weight room or in other areas we continue to talk about the importance of taking pride in how one accomplishes a task and then attempt to practice that skill during class.  The form is getting better and kids are starting to understand the process of making things challenging in order to see results.  We continue to stress the importance of being prepared and then having high expectations for our effort.  I have noticed several students beginning to challenge their own classmates to improve, try or something simple like listen. 



What did learning look like in this lesson?

As we move further into the second quarter we continue to challenge our students to learn the value of completing work in a way that they will genuinely see the benefits of their efforts.  Within our lifting segment we are looking for students to continually work on the form and understanding of how to complete lifts, and as they continue to get better at that process begin to add more resistance that will create an environment of forced or quality sets of work. 

We continually drive the conversation for the need to do things a certain way to see the benefits.  As different students progress and improve at different rates, we challenge some to take on roles of leadership and example in class, their groups and within different activities.

The focus of today was to complete 4 sets of squats, 4 sets of jumps on the plyo box, 4 sets of quality spotting of their partners and then introduce a self/peer assessment activity they will complete in the near future.  This assessment involves two components.  A “BUY-IN” component in assessing your level of work and then a “preparation” component that assesses how you come to class each day.  The combination of these two represents what the student brings to class each day.  The goal of this assessment is to truly look at how you utilize your time in class and recognize the need for improvement, maintenance or the ability to help others succeed.   It is important to remember that where you fall on the two-part assessment represents what we need to work on for success in the future.

Friday, November 9, 2018

A Year in Learning at Elk Grove: Psychology - Part 2 Defining Learning

By Melissa Curtis, Devin Peterson, Paige Hermann, and Mark Heintz

This is part of a blog series intended to document and define learning at Elk Grove High School throughout the 2018-2019 school year in order to increase student learning, give professionals autonomy, increase trust in our learning community, and foster a sense of personal-intellectual collegiality within the building across departments. You can read all of the previous posts here.  I am going into each teacher's class four times and then they are reflecting alongside their students on the learning that took place and what they hope for.

In this second visit, I asked the teacher and the student two questions: how do they define learning? Under what conditions do people learn best?  In an attempt to have all stakeholders have a similar definition of learning, the teacher and the students answered them, publish them, and then have conversations surrounding their beliefs on learning. This is what they came up with:

Learning is:
  • lifelong.
  • not memorizing.
  • not random facts.

Learning occurs best when people are:
  • experiencing.
  • excited.
  • wanting to learn.  

How do you define learning?

Melissa Curtis (Teacher): Students being able to discuss a topic intelligently with each other and defending their thoughts, applying the concepts we learn in class to a real-life example, students generating thoughtful questions, proving their knowledge on summative assessments.

Devin Peterson (Student): Being able to process new information and then applying the information.

Paige Hermann (Student): I define learning as processing new information and being able to understand it.


How do you believe people learn best?

Melissa Curtis (Teacher): Multiple exposures to the material (in-class, on their own, review), testing yourself, discussing the material with others, applying the content to your own life, spacing out the studying over several days instead of cramming.

Devin Peterson (Student):  I believe people learn the best when there is a positive environment and there is some type of reward or punishment when learning and applying what was learned

Paige Hermann (Student):  I believe people learn best when they actually see it and they can see how it's done.

Book Chat: Fostering Resilient Learners (Part II: Self-Awareness)

In case you missed our book chat this morning, here was what was discussed.  In all honesty, we didn't get to all of the discussion points because our conversation on cement shoes was incredibly powerful.


How do we react to student behaviors?
How do we maintain control in times of chaos?
To start off this book chat, we read this blog post while reflecting on the question "Have you ever said or done something that you regretted?" We followed up with a long discussion on the following two questions: How does this story make you feel? How does this change your mindset moving forward?

Cement Shoes

  • Defining our sense of self so that no matter "how big the wave," we can stay true to our ideals, integrity, vision, beliefs, and self.
  • The more self-aware we become, the easier it is to manage the needs of our students.
  • Using your personal mission statement (i.e. your "WHY") to reflect on during those times when we are feeling most compromised and vulnerable




Staying Out of OZ

Remember Dorothy from Wizard of Oz?  She was seized by the tornado! Sometimes we are also caught in the tumult of disruptions to the learning environment.  



How do we create positive and safe environments for our students?
What strategies have worked in the past when a student has "tornadoed" through your class?  What do they need from you to regulate and move back into their "upstairs" brain?
"If it's predictable, it's preventable."


Square Peg, Round Hole
Round Holes:  the students who exhibit the desirable characteristics
Square Pegs:  the students who exhibit less than favorable attributes
“We often put a tremendous amount of effort into trying to make our square pegs fit into the round holes.  We try and try to force those column 2 students to exhibit desirable behaviors, but, inevitably, the two will never fit.
What if we gave up the notion of the round hole and instead made room for a group of amoebas?  Many of our students are just that: little amoebas trying to figure out what shape they want to become.  Those growing up with adversity and trauma have not had permission to even explore that possibility.” - Page 74

Communication Steps
  • Listen deeply to the message being sent by your communication partner
  • Reassure the person that her/his perspective is important
  • Validate her/his emotional state
  • Respond by explaining what occurred through your lens
  • Repair by apologizing for whatever role you may have played in the miscommunication
  • Resolve by coming to terms with what happened and collaborating to find alternative ways of acting to prevent future disruptions.

Fostering Resilient Learners, Kristen Souers with Pete Hall

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

What do I want students to be?

By Mark Heintz

The inspiration for this post comes from the Modern Learners podcast with Pam Moran and Ira Socol. I recommend everyone listening to it.

What do I want students to be?  Most of my career, I answered this question with some vague response such as be college graduates, obtain a technical certification, or just generally have a life plan. I’ve also thought that students should be filled up with every discipline’s essential knowledge (not sure what that even means, but I am pretty sure I’ve said it. It also sounds cool: Essential knowledge.  Like every student will need to know when the Ottoman Empire took over the Byzantine. 1453. Sigh.).

But, that’s not really what the question is asking.  What do I want students to be? This isn’t just for when they leave school, or when they enter school, but also when they are in school.  So, let me rephrase the question: What do I wish all students were like?  If I could wave a magic wand and make all students have certain traits, what would those traits be?  Well, I’m waving my wand.  Here is what I want my students to be.

  • Students are healthy.  I want students to be healthy. It’s near impossible to learn if you aren’t.  And, it’s not enough just to know what good physical and mental health means. They should have good physical and mental health.  
  • Students are empathetic.  Students should care for others and be mindful of others’ lives.  Not just for those in their community, but for everyone.  
  • Students are learners. It’s disingenuous for a school to believe they can give students the skills and knowledge that will sustain them for life. But, we can make them learners. If they are learners, they will be able to adapt as the world changes.  What do I mean by learning? You can read that here. 
  • Students are curious.  They need to want to know things. They should enter school with questions needing to be answered and leave school with even more questions.
  • Students are in charge of their learning. They should have agency and make choices.  I wish for this deeply. 
  • Students are literate. I define literate by having competence or knowledge in a specified area. To rephrase, students are literate in the specified area of their choice.   
  • Students are connected. They should be collaborative with not only those around them, but should reach out beyond their community to help them and others debate, share, and diversify to maximize learning.
  • Students are persistent.  They should be able to continue learning about something that is curious to them and endure when things get challenging or daunting.  
  • Students are reflective. They should be thinking about what they did, how they did it, and what they would do differently. 
  • Students are decision makers.  When faced with a choice or the unknown, they should be able to make decisions that they thought out and not needing someone else to tell them what direction to turn.  
I want my students to be healthy, empathetic, learners, curious, in charge, literate, connected, persistent, reflective and decision makers.

Why aren’t most students this way? I know there are a lot of reasons outside of a teacher or school’s control.  But, I don’t want to be cynical; I want students to be this way.  This is my mission: To ensure every student is healthy, empathetic, a learner, curious, in charge, literate, connected, persistent, reflective and a decision maker. Instead of focusing on preparing them for an unknown future or browbeating content knowledge into them, I want to create conditions for these traits to develop if they aren’t already there.  My attention is to focus on lesson and course design to instill these qualities in them not to better teach the causes of World War I.  I aspire to have each day every student walking through the school have their teachers focusing on these ten characteristics.

 Call to Action

Write down what you want your students to be.  Then make a shift in your practice to allow for those things to happen.  If you are bold, and you should be, share your list with your students, your school, and make them public.  Debate them, change them, and hopefully get your school to have the same value system.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

School Chat - S1E2: Alyssa Trausch "What I Want School to Be"

By Mark Heintz

This is this second episode of School Chat, I sat down Alyssa Trausch a current sophomore at Elk Grove High School.  She wrote an amazing piece on what she wants school to be.  Here is an excerpt:

I want school to be a place where I love to go to every day. A place where learning is new, innovative, and exciting. When learning feels natural and not like all the content is being forced into my brain I have a tendency to remember it more.  Truthfully I think what I really want school to be is a place where I can learn new things without being worried all about what score/grade I’m going to get and rather worrying about how I can use what I just learned to make my life (or someone’s else’s) better.

It's a message everyone should here and we should strive to make happen in our classrooms every day.  Have a listen.