Saturday, July 15, 2017

Nirasaki, Japan: Learning is easy, leaving is hard

 I found an amazing, almost magical, place in the shadow of Mount Fuji.  A year ago five eager and inquisitive high school students and I made our way across the Pacific to Nirasaki, Japan the sister city of Fairfield, California.  As we waited to board, I took a stroll around the San Francisco airport and took note of the many sister-city logos decoratively displayed on the terminal walkways.  The teen crew was ready for their adventure.  They were exuberant. I expected a interesting trip and maybe a few smiles and stories to pack along with peace cranes and souvenirs. I did not expect the trip to be so impactful. I had no idea of how hard it would be to leave the people and place there between the Minami Alps.
     One of my most memorable experiences of the trip was watching those five young people working with the very young students at an English Immersion School in Nirasaki.  The enthusiastic teacher there set us up for success and the connection between all of the kids was very real and heartwarming.  Watching them interacting and teaching each other was proof of how powerful that relevant, emotionally engaged learning can be. I can only assume that the excitement of preparing for our visit ratcheted up the focus and receptivity in that classroom for days before and after.  It certainly made an impression on me.  Video: English Immersion School Visit

   Where is the last place that American teenagers would like to visit in the summertime?  If you answered "school" you are now in last place.  Touring the schools in Nirasaki was inspiring and, of course, educational.  I noticed that almost every class that we visited had us working in groups, solving problems, creating, getting hands on or at least watching someone else actively learning.  We played the Koto, the 13-stringed national musical instrument of Japan. We observed Kyudo, the martial art of archery with the focused young men Nirasaki Technical High School.  I was encouraged by my new fellow classmates in a Junior High School as I tried Japanese calligraphy known as Shodo. 

  When the Nirasaki exchange students traverse around our Fairfield High campus in California they also see the best of the best in engaging lessons.  I hope that students from both cities have classes that are consistently as inspiring as the ones I have seen on both continents.  

   Our entire 21-day tour was a project-based learning experience of a lifetime. Math? Yen conversions. Comparing the old Shinkansen (200 mph) and soon to be released "bullet train" (375 mph) to the Boeing 777 with a 100 mph headwind to and 125 mph tailwind from Japan. Language? Everyday all day. Why did we hear more foreign languages in Hiroshima than Japanese? Because we were living a Social Science class with the world called, "Never Again." We hope.  
  At the 21-day mark our class was "dismissed." Our local chaperone, Miho, could not have done better. Mayor Naito and his city showed us what world-class hospitality looks like.  It felt as if the entire country had been put on notice to teach and take care of these travelers from Northern California.  Leaving our host families was the most difficult part.  Home certainly is where the heart is, and our hearts are now solidly part of Nirasaki.  Video: Farewell to Nirasaki...

Thursday, July 13, 2017

"Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World" by Adam Grant

    Originals: How Nonconformists Move the World by Adam Grant could also be titled, "Adam Grant ruins everything...or at least lots of things."  So many ideas that I take for granted were given the death by a 1000 cuts approach with insightful examples and fascinating research descriptions.  Brainstorming, calming down, using a devils advocate, being positive-- they all were turned upside down, shaken and then returned to me with a new twist and the incentive to apply the changes made to my brain.
   I read Originals hoping to take a short break from education and my focus on the classroom.  But Adam Grant is the top-rated (six straight years) Wharton professor and though most of his anecdotes were from the business world, the connection to the classroom and schools was ever-present.  I planned to just read for enjoyment for most of the book, but my habit of marking pages and writing notes in the back pages kicked in strong near the end.  Here are my takeaways:

Familiarity Breeds Comfort: 

    Grant quotes entrepreneur Howard Tullman flipping the adage, "familiarity breeds contempt." Tullman says familiarity breeds comfort.  Adam Grant states that "people rarely oversaturate their audiences." The key is in the timing.  He suggests evidence that we can discuss content or classroom goals 10 or 20 times-- but with delays to allowing reflection and simmering.  This reminded me of the book, Make it Stick where mixed, not massed exposure to a topic "burns" a concept into our brains with greater success.

Fear Is Just Excitement By Another Name:
   Challenge-- you are about to sing "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey in front of strangers in a few minutes.  How does that sound?! Grant shows us the research where people were asked to sing the tune while being graded for musical accuracy by voice recognition software.  The control group ended up in the middle of the three groups tested.  On the low end was the group that was asked to tell themselves exactly what almost every teacher would suggest-- "I am calm."  The The eventual American Idol-ish, breakout winners, according to the voice recognition software, were told to chant, "I am excited." Excitement takes the go mode of fear and helps it merge into a parallel fast lane of excitement.  Calming down is the equivalent of jumping on the brakes on that highway of fear.  This knowledge is powerful for us and our fellow explorers in (and out of) the classroom.

Framing Change--Loss or Gain:

   Using Serbian dissidents, Merck pharmaceutical, Martin Luther King and plenty of brain-jarring and jaw-dropping research results, Originals instructs us how to sell change.  As teachers we sell change every day. According to Professor of Biology and Biochemistry James E. Zull "teaching is the art of changing the brain."  When should educators frame the changes and risks we wish our students would attempt as possible gains for them? When should we encourage them to change by focusing on the costs of not changing? To combat apathy and the status quo we should not start with beautiful stories of inspiration and promise.  Instead, Grant says we should "show what's wrong with the present" and "drive people out of their comfort zones." Are you ready to "cultivate dissatisfaction, frustration, or anger at the current state of affairs" to show that apathy is a "guaranteed loss." With a guaranteed loss as a viable option people are much more likely to take a risk...and change.

     A few things I will definitely incorporate into my classroom toolkit after reading Originals are:

*Innovation Tournaments
(pg. 249)
*Kill the Company exercise
 (pg. 234)
*Outsource Inspiration (pg. 220)
*Student-to-Teacher Feedback process (pg. 203)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Teach Like A Champion? Crank Up Your Walk Up Music

The music blares as the batsman makes his way to the box. The crowd noise reverberates while the scoreboard projects runs, hits, errors and beer ads. Baseball is life. Music delights. It is a match made in heaven, or maybe Iowa.

Heaven. Possibly Iowa.
   The “walk-up” music in Major League Baseball is usually personally selected by each hitter. It is an emotional trigger to rev up the players and fans alike. It opens a curtain for the crowd into the player's musical tastes. It is a positive jolt for the man with the bat to rise to the occasion. There is a very good chance that this at bat will not go his way. So many forces are working against his goal for this encounter. His rivals sneer. Fans jeer. His own thoughts may be on a previous, disappointing at bat with the man on the mound. The heat, the glare, a nagging injury, or a 98 mile-per-hour fastball could tip the scales against him.

   But the walk-up music is the batter’s 6 to 15 seconds of mental and physical surge to steel for battle.
Walk Up Song? Moby:"Flower"

    Teachers need walk-up tunes. A day with 160 teenagers rotating in and out of your classroom can bring the highs of a slide-in triple or the despair of watching a called strike three. Teaching is hard.  Yes, teaching is also rewarding. Did I mention it was hard?  The toughest days can be followed amazing days with teachable moments, breakthroughs and hope for the future.
Want to know what your favorite hitter is charging up to as he leaves the on-deck circle? Which walk up music genre garners the highest batting average or home run per at bat? Look it up, it's all there to see:

If you are a teacher what is your walk up song? What makes you ready to lead, learn, teach, inspire and create? What makes you dynamic? What takes you to a higher plane, and lights the fires and kicks the tires?  Find it. Play it. Knock it out. (Mine is at 3:10 above)
Teach Like A Champion

Monday, February 27, 2017

Banner or Burner? A Day in the Classroom

   I planned for a Banner Day today.  Yes, that is asking for possible disappointment, but I took some recent lessons learned and threw choice, collaboration and creativity into my classroom blender.  The early returns show average or better results. I expected the sound of trumpets. Maybe a harp.

   Moving on. I did a lot more teacher talk than I planned to in my lead-in to a high-tech, high-touch, right-brain, left-brain lesson. Would a pre-recorded screencastify video have been better? I spoke about embracing complexity. I talked about the future being now and how they would have an authentic audience.  All meant to motivate.  It may catch fire. They may create content that inspires. They may find a mission. A passion.  A burning question.  I just do not know...for now.

"March Madness" Padlet of creative options...

    I recently saw George Couros speak at Discovery Education's Powerful Practices conference in San Francisco. He is the author of The Innovator's Mindset. His presentation hit all the buttons.  All of 'em.  There was laughter, handkerchiefs, knowing head nods in that room of educators in San Francisco. His views on innovation, leadership and education never strayed outside of his guiding mantra of "what is best for kids." The challenge is real. The customer has to come to our shop, but they aren't necessarily buying.

burner phone
     A Banner Day is worth shooting for.  I won't always get there, but it will beat a Burner Day every time.  I heard the term "burner phone" recently.  It is a phone used for clandestine, illegal, improper, awkward or just one and done conversations--and then the number is "burned" or the phone is thrown away. Not sure about your date? Use a burner phone number. Selling to strangers on Craigslist? Burner.

    Do you know people who have planned burner lessons, activities, or days?  I do. Me. I think I am not alone.  As Forrest Gump did not say, but should have, "teachin' is hard."

   I am shooting for that Banner Day again tomorrow. It is what we do.
*Cue the harp

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Building Community...with Purple Cows and Zoysia Plugs

   How do we build and sustain community?  Reaching out to people who share your vision for creating community is a great start. Allowing them to use their strengths and leverage their talents is a idea and practice that has interested me for a while. The Purple Cow, by Seth Godin is 2009 marketing book that is one of my all-time favorites. My copy will never make the trip to the used book store or the garage sale table.  It is gold...or even better-- purple. Godin writes about marketing and so much more, but in this book he discussed how "sneezers" in an organization pass along "idea viruses." I found a similar theme in Peter Senge's 1994 The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook. The zoysia plug metaphor is used to discuss community building. Zoysia grass plugs are planted in a scattered mosaic and then slowly grow together to create a full lawn.  "Zoysia plugs" in a classroom or school are "the informal leaders who know how to 'make things happen.' Find them, wherever they might be and support them however you can" (Senge, et al., 1994, p. 527). 
    Whether they be influencerssneezers or zoysia plugs; the right people, doing the right things, at the right place and at the right time can work magic in community building.  
  Video:Flipgrid response & sharing stage

  I may have recently found the "right thing" for a community kickstarter. I attended the Silicon Valley Ed Camp "unconference." I learned about a website and app called Flipgrid.  Flipgrid allows the user to ask a question of their team, group or class and the respondents simply click a video record button and respond to the question.  The collected videos are then seen by all on a grid and the typical social media "likes" and comment sections are available to use. You quickly have group input to a question with the ability for the team to see what everyone has said and respond to their ideas easily.  It is visual. It is easy.  It is what people are already doing on their phones when they have leisure time. 
    Who are your "zoysia plugs" and are they getting the fertilizer they need?
Pictured: Zoysia plugs



Saturday, February 11, 2017

How Can We Remember to Forget in our Schools?

  🔀 Working as a teacher is a peculiar work environment.  Almost everyone in the organization is nearby, but isolated from each other as they interact with "clients" for a strictly defined period of time and then those "clients" rush to another employee for another isolated hour.  Thirty-something people with one organizational representative are locked into the learning chambers for an hour.  The employee cannot leave the clients alone.  The clients cannot depart the room without express approval and can be denied departure from the room.  Occasionally a disembodied voice makes an announcement. Small divisions of these employee groups meet to discuss policies and techniques monthly (sometimes more). The entire organization meets once a month with hopes of creating culture, enforcing norms, improving processes and hopefully some inspiration.  The employees will then go back to their locked rooms for the clock, bell and then onslaught of teens who have just been released from 1 of their 6 mandatory learning rooms for the day. 
    New teachers are encouraged to ask for help, but there is a reason so many leave the field.  There is not enough training or support in many schools.  The new teacher just has to hang on.  I actually work at a school that is very focused on student outcomes.  We talk a great deal about supporting new employees.  But, like most of our schools, we have not built a system that gives the enough training and support to the employees that need it the most. We have more coaching and the tide is certainly turning, but incremental change will not do the trick. The new teacher is thinking about ways to survive the observations by the administration and how to overcome their many classroom leadership failures that will occur before they learn to cope and find competence.  
    How can schools effectively improve, reform and perform at the high levels we need? It starts with these "newbies." This should be easy, since every new teacher has "been there, done that" as a customer for years. Yes, it should be so easy, but it definitely is not. Schools hire employees to teach that since age 6 have already spent thousands of hours watching people do the job they have been hired to do.  As much as education attempts to reform, "new insights fail to get put into practice because they conflict with deeply held internal images of how the world works, images that limit us to familiar ways of thinking and acting" according to Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization. The factory system, the rows, the monotony, the grade-focus...why do they persist?

   How can we help teachers remember to forget old habits and make today's best practices common practice?  

Nirasaki, Japan: Learning is easy, leaving is hard

 I found an amazing, almost magical, place in the shadow of Mount Fuji.  A year ago five eager and inquisitive high school students a...