I don’t believe that I have many obstacles in my life.
An obstacle is something that hinders progress, that stops forward momentum, that blocks the way. Obstacles need to be worked around.
No, what I encounter are issues. Issues are topics for debate, discussion, and, ultimately, resolution.
It’s a nuanced difference, but that nuance is important. Obstacles don’t beg for a resolution; instead they require people to work around them so that they don’t arrest progress, but instead just stall it briefly as people try to find a workaround. Obstacles don’t have to be permanent, but if they are not circumvented properly more obstacles tend to get in the way as the path forward becomes pockmarked with half-measures and adequate solutions. Sure, the job got done, but how well?
No, I much prefer to engage with issues than obstacles. I like the idea that there are solutions to that which ceases progress. Solutions are viable and thoughtful and transferable. Solutions mean that the issue has been rectified and if that issue comes up again there is already a full measure in place. Maybe that solution becomes the new norm for the situation and eradicates the need for doing things the way that initially required a solution to begin with!
Issues push us to be creative and think outside of the box. They necessitate innovation and exploration. Issues force us to be reflective and to refresh our practice, whatever that may be. Issues, while irksome, can be of great benefit when approached openly.
Obstacles are sources of frustration that we often encounter again and again, jumping through various hoops to avoid the problem as best we can. Obstacles are a point of contention rather than something that begs for a lasting solution.
So what about in at work? You know that there is generally somebody in a meeting who is always willing to throw obstacle after obstacle in front of a group. Those hiccups in a meeting are frustrating; progress is slowed and a goodly portion of the meeting is used to “discuss” a troublesome student, a negligent administrator, or a new policy or procedure that gets in the way. At times it may be all of these things all at once.
What is worse than the stopped progress is that it also gives the person who comes with issues, but not solutions a reputation for such. Water cooler talk happens and then people become more and more attuned to the person, which gives them an audience while the real issue is not addressed. A solution is needed.
I contend that the problem is relatively easy to resolve: give them a place to air their grievances. However, that time is not during the meeting. Create a parking lot in the agenda in which everyone can contribute their own issues so that they can be discussed, debated, and resolved by a group of forward thinking people prepared for the task and given a set amount of time to do so. Sometimes the simple act of voicing an opinion or being given a place to share a frustration is all that is needed and, once it is out, the person feels heard and validated. If they need more than that, they are given a time and place to try and find a solution to what is now an issue rather than an obstacle. Anything that is not a part of that particular agenda becomes moved to the following meeting, where solutions to the issues can be presented.
Consider these scenarios:
In the first scenario the obstacle is that two students can’t be photographed and cannot be a part of the picture. To avoid the obstacle, you leave the students out of it and photograph the rest of the group without them. In doing so you’ve let the student know that they are the thing that must be worked around. To instead resolve the issue, you decide that this is an issue that must be solved. To solve the issue you make those students the photographers and caption writers. This solution is viable in the future, keeps the students engaged in the situation, and still allows you to accomplish your goal.
In the second situation the obstacle is that parents are not present for the conferences and they are missing out on the chance to discuss their child’s progress who is struggling in class. While this is a problem there might be a resolution, even if only for the student. What do you think it could be?
So what makes something an issue rather than an obstacle?
Simple: it’s how you choose to engage with it. Do you let it be an immovable thing or do you find a way to make that instance work in your favor, both now and in the future?
At what age do most students stop feeling that sense of wonder for learning? What causes students to lose that feeling when they learn something new and exciting?
I believe that it is a culmination of many things and not just a singular point in their lives. I believe that a lot of it starts with the immediate gratification we experience now as a culture. If we need something, it's there, neatly packaged into a 4 x 6 inch computer that we carry around in our pockets at all times or on the computer screen that we stare at for hours at a time, day after day. There is no waiting, no extended process, no excitement, and no boredom that comes before discovery. It dulls our ability to engage with something over a long time and experience that thing in its entirety. Entertainment is fed to us, rather than being created by us. Our creativity weakens and we strive to not be bored, even for a minute.
"But, Grant, you're a tech guy."
Yes, I am. But there's a lot more to life than a glowing screen answering every query that we come up with. Learning is an experience, and one we should embrace every aspect of.
This is not one of those "walked to school uphill in the rain" situations, but I do remember being painfully bored as a kid. I had to create my own fun (and mischief) out of very little. I can also remember when that changed, and it was right around the time we got dial-up internet. Yeah. that's right. Remember that sound? At that point in time I was able to communicate with friends and family from anywhere in the world, look up anything that interested me, and play video games online with anyone. Somewhere in there my attention span began to diminish, I began to read less, and I began to expect more out of my entertainment and less out of myself. Now, these thoughts were not that of an eight-year-old, but of me looking back nearly 30 years.
But how does that equate to wonder?
As teachers it is our job to teach, and to do so effectively. But how effective are we when we recycle lessons from 10 years ago just because they work? Sure, the content is there, but is the engagement? Does it meet the needs of our students as they adapt to the changing landscape of their reality outside of school? Why don't we encourage the use of tools and engagement rather than the rote way of learning that we experienced?
A lot of people would probably say laziness, and that may not be entirely untrue. But I think that there's more to it than that. I actually think that it's because we, as teachers, lose our wonderment in the profession. How can we inspire wonder in others if we don't feel it ourselves?
When is the last time that you took a class out of pure interest? When is the last time you read something non-fiction just because you were interested in learning more? What about professional development; do you actively search out the PD on your own, or do you wait to be told what you need development in? Do you get dragged along with the changes or do you get ahead of the curve? Do you act, or are you acted upon?
It's time to find wonder again. Bring some joy back to the profession by being the instrument of change within your own four walls. Try new things. Make mistakes. Figure it out and get better at it. Wash, rinse, and repeat until the results work. Then get out there and try another new thing. Ask the students what they want, because at the end of the day they are your clients and they are consuming your brand and it's your responsibility to make sure that your product holds interest and performs the way it should.
Show your interest in the topic by engaging with it in new ways and find wonder and delight in the process of learning, but this time, do it for yourself and the results will follow.
“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”- Mark Twain
My live frog is waking up early and working out. Every single day it's difficult to do.
My alarm buzzes me awake at 4:00 in the morning during the week now. Four a.m. You know, just a few hours past midnight and way before the sun is even cresting the horizon. 15 years ago it would have been just a couple of hours after I went to sleep. Now, it's six-and-a-half hours after I lay my head down on my pillow and knock off for the night. When my head hits that pillow, I am down for the count, at least until my daughter cries and my wonderful wife wakes up to tend to her and I slip blissfully and quickly back into slumber.
Initially, I was waking up at 5:00 to work out and start my morning but I was always so groggy that it just didn't do me any good, and my workout would be both shorter than I liked and less intense because I was just so damn tired. So I tried 4:30. Better, but I wanted to spend some "me time" in the morning as well. Hence, Four o'clock in the morning. Now, when I trundle myself down the steps and into the dark kitchen, I have a cup of coffee, let the dogs out and feed them, and then journal for a few minutes. This is the key for me. I start my day with three things I'm thankful for, big or small, and then a short paragraph or two about the goals for the day or how I'm feeling, or really anything else that comes to mind. I feel productive when I do that, especially when I find my "highlight" of the day; the one thing I really want to accomplish. Generally, it's a task because I love having my projects, but other times it's something I want to do with or for my family. I write those highlights down as well.
Then I read. Yup. at 4:30 in the morning I read a few pages to a chapter of a book focused on my professional aspirations, my personal betterment, or something motivational. I take notes. I pet the dogs. I sip coffee. It's nice.
I try to do something for the house after that. Maybe I'll sweep the floors or run a load of laundry or clean the kitchen counters, or put the shoes away in the closet the right way. It's small and measurable and it makes a difference I like to take something off of my wife's plate where I can because she is so great as a stay-at-home mom that I can hardly stand it. (Side note, every time I think I've been working hard I check myself by looking at the work that she does.)
Then it's time to sweat. I lift weights until I can't, then I do a little more. I generally turn on a Podcast or an audio book and just let the time go for an hour. It's a great way to get the heart pumping and to get ready for the day, plus I am protecting my health, and all it costs me is some time and some sore muscles. I have time for a quick shower and then I get to my favorite part- eating breakfast with my family before I have to leave for work. No, that's not the frog. Every thing before it was.
By waking up early and starting my day productively I am better able to be an active participant in my life. I start by taking control and accomplishing tasks that are important to me as a father, husband, employee, and individual. Success isn't about talent or luck, though those can play a part. No, it's about hard work and perseverance. It's about making time for what's important. It's about priorities, and family, and friends, and work. It's about finding intrinsic motivation. It's about eating a live frog and deciding it's delicious, because it really is, if only you allow yourself to look at it from a different perspective.
"If I Googled you, what would I find?"
I was in a meeting a while back and someone asked the above question. It was in regards to students and their digital footprints, and it got me to thinking, both about my own presence and that of my students. Actually, not just my students, but all students.
I am trying to build a professional brand of my name and of my skill set in the industry. It makes sense for me to do so as I grow professionally and attempt to further my role as a technology coach in the district. What I hadn't considered, largely because I just didn't realize it, is that students can do the same thing. So many people know how to use social media for, well, social purposes, but how many students know that it can actually be used for continuing education. My guess? Not that many.
If I Googled my students, what would I find? Much of the same stuff that would be found if you Googled me. Probably some pictures, an Instagram account, a twitter account. Maybe a Facebook account if the student is older. A smattering of things does not a digital personality make.
So what? I have this question in my mind, but how do share this idea of a productive online presence with my students? Thankfully, in my new role as an instructional technology coach, I have the opportunity to meet with many many teachers and begin to share ideas, tips, tricks, curriculum, technology, and even some pedagogy. I have started to incorporate this idea of a student brand into my discussions and coaching sessions as teachers navigate familiar and unfamiliar waters in the tech realm of teaching. I ask teachers what presence they have online. I ask them to think about what their students portray online and what that digital presence says about them. Is it educational? Professional?
But it's not just about school or work. We have deep, rich personalities that show our hobbies, interests, fears, triumphs and failures. People showcase these in person, online, via text and in a hundred other interactions.
There is something interesting about an online presence, which is that we can present what we want to the outside world. While that may not immediately mirror our behaviors, there is something to be said about creating a positive personality online that is still a part of us. It encourages better. There is a saying in which I firmly believe: act the way you'd like to be and soon you'll be the way you act. Creating this brand of positivity and professionalism, especially at a young age, can have a tremendous impact on a person and how they interact with the world around them.
So it's not just about the educational experience, though that is part of it. We as teachers have that obligation, but as any educator knows it goes far beyond that. It's about community, kindness, and knowing the impact one's actions can have on the world around them.
If I Googled you, what would I find?
I opted to work with a project-based activity rather than a problem-based activity for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to incorporate as many ISTE standards as I could in an effective way. To do that, and allow the students to design their own understanding following a more constructivist approach, the students are building a functioning web site that will allow them to explore a variety of language arts standards through an independent novel study. The focus of the novel study will be on identifying figurative language, acquiring new academic vocabulary, writing for extended periods of time and for various purposes, collaborating with others, text comprehension, and critical thinking skills. Students can find enrichment in design, learning programming skills like HTML manipulation and embedding videos. Those students who struggle will find a new avenue to express their knowledge.
To accomplish this task, students have to read the novel at home and work on preparing their responses and identified information. In class they will be using the Chromebooks available to construct the web site using Weebly or Google Sites, depending on the age of the students, as discussed previously. Since several students take their device home the choice of how the class time is used is ultimately up to the student. They can operate in a flipped type environment or in a more traditional setting.
The summative assessment of the unit will be the actual web site and the contents therein. I will be looking at all of the major components of writing: conventions, organization, ideas, citing sources, etc. All of these can be found on the rubric. There are some completion aspects to the rubric, such as having a certain number of posts and pages.
Students will also be grading one another’s work along the way, and assessing their progress. To complete this task I have created a google form in which students can choose their partner, work through a digital rubric, give feedback, and communicate the results to myself and to the “grade-ee” simultaneously, simply by submitting the form. These are formative assessments, and are meant to help the students find areas of opportunity in their work.
These assessments were chosen for expediency, instant feedback, and ease of use for the students. Rubrics are great ways to provide consistent messages of expectations and allow students to know what will be assessed, much like in the expectations of a job. The speed at which a teacher can complete a rubric gives them time to provide detailed feedback about specific areas of the assessment. I think that this type of feedback is more authentic because you can focus on the good bad, and ugly and give precise criticism or praise.
There are other minor assessments throughout the project, such as miniature presentations of the web site and tech tips to show off, as well as regular meetings with me to check for conventions, comprehension, and content.
I’ve wanted to adapt this unit for the past year or so, but unfortunately I have felt a little stuck. I’m hoping that the more collaborative nature of the assignment with more of a global connection will enhance the student’s interest in the novel and their understanding of the English language as it relates to novel writing.