It’s About Our Mindset

Nothing will change if we do not change.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the environment in which we work and learn together, and two recent experiences have really resonated with me this week.

First, an opportunity to learn with several of my colleagues as we gathered together to discuss The Thinking Classroom with Peter Liljedahl @pgliljedahl. Peter invited us to think and talk about the research he presented, research that indicates that students are not thinking very much in school. They may be doing plenty, but doing and thinking are not synonymous, and as he said, you cannot learn without thinking. This struck a chord with me and had me wondering about what our students are learning versus what our students are doing.

Part of the discussion centered around the learning environment, and Peter talked about things like vertical surfaces (i.e. erasable surfaces on the walls) and de-fronting the classroom and strategies like visibly random groups. Everything he talked about made sense, and everything we did at our PD had an impact. Through all of this, however, was one thought that kept coming back to me. One thought that, in my opinion, was the lynch pin to all of this. One thought that I will share after my second story.

The second thing that nudged my thinking on this topic this week occurred during a visit from our school superintendent, Brad Nichol @b_rad527 . Prior to his visit he invited me to think about somethings I’d like him to look for as we did our morning walk-about. Brad does something that I really appreciate, he sets the stage for his visits, they are not random pop-ins, they are meaningful. What I like about this is the opportunity to share with him some of the great things going on in our building, but more importantly, some of the things I’m wrestling with. This allows us to have a conversation that is intended to move learning forward.

On this particular visit, Brad indicated he was curious how many classrooms in our school were de-fronted. He asked about times when I’ve walked into classrooms and thought, “hey, where is the teacher?” only to notice he/she is sitting beside a student, blending into the learning. We did our morning walk-about through our school, popping into every classroom, speaking with kids and speaking with teachers…after we found them! As we were doing this, that thought I talked about earlier kept flashing over and over in my head.

We can have all the strategies, research, and resources in the world, but our impact will not be maximized without the willingness of our adults to have a flexible, growth mindset.

By this, I mean, the adults that are working with our students need to believe, if they do not learn how I teach, I need to change how I teach. In the past, the onus was on the students to change how they learn to match the teaching style of the sage on the stage. I was a victim of this as a student. I suffered through classes where notes were dictated, followed by questions that were not intended to invite me to think, but to remember what was dictated earlier.

We can de-front our rooms, add couches, carpets, pillows, plants, vertical surfaces, and flexible seating arrangements. We can Tweet, use See-Saw, Class Dojo, FreshGrade, and Instagram…BUT…if we, the adults, do not change, nothing will change. It is a mindset, it is about letting go of the control, it is about putting the student at the center.

And it is very difficult!

So, what do YOU think?

  • Because this is such complex, demanding work, what do you do or what have you seen that works?
  • what does a de-fronted classroom mean to you?
  • can a classroom with straight rows be a student centered classroom?
  • why do so many teachers, with incredible intentions, try, but revert back to old practices?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let’s keep the conversation going!

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Creating Waves for our Learners

There are many things I like about spending time at Waskesiu, but something I particularly enjoy is when the lake is alive with huge waves. As a young boy I used to love swimming in the waves, diving in head first or swimming underwater experiencing their momentum propelling me towards the shore. One of the unique features at Waskesiu is a large concrete breakwater that is designed to protect the shore line. This huge wall juts out into the lake, and when the conditions are just right, massive waves smash into the wall sending water high into the air. We used to stand on the breakwater waiting for this to happen and then cheer with glee as we were drenched by the flying water. Something else that was so neat about this was the way the waves interacted with each other as they bounced off the wall. Every so often two waves would be perfectly timed and the crest would be higher than all the others.

In physics, this phenomenon is termed wave interference. Simply put, wave interference occurs when two waves traveling in the opposite direction meet. When you visualize a wave, you may think about the giant rollers that brave men and women surf upon, at least that’s what I think about. I visualize the crest of the wave, the large, ominous wall of water that builds until it falls over on itself creating a white cap. Rarely do I think of the trough, the lowest point, but as a physics teacher (or student for that matter) will tell you, you cannot have a wave without a crest and a trough, they go together (and yes, we could get technical and talk about compressions and rarefactions, but alas, I need to get to the point here).

In our schools we get to have an impact on our learners. Every day we can create ripples through our actions. Just this week I had a conversation with a student about the importance of being on time and the unintended message a student sends when they arrive well after class has commenced. This student was not excited about this conversation, in fact, I could tell he was a little perturbed by it all. Impact. My actions had a ripple effect, and I wonder now if he moved through the next few moments of his day in a trough. He was sent off to work with his teacher and classmates, and those interactions would also send ripples his way. Were there more negative interactions coming his way? Was the trough he was in made deeper?

We do not always know where our learners are on the wave. Are they riding high on the crest or are they in the depths of the trough? This is what has me thinking.

Because we do not always know where someone is on their wave, we need to do our best to send positive wave energy their way.

Look at these two diagrams:

If there is a student who is riding high on their wave, regardless of what got them there, and I am able to add to that, we end up with wave interference and the crest increases. We have amplified that feeling for them. What a wonderful gift we can give our students!

If there is a student who is in the depths of a trough, even if it is not readily apparent, and we are able to send a positive wave their way we see that these waves cancel each other out. We have the potential to take that student out of that funk. What a wonderful gift we can give our students!

I am pretty sure it is obvious by now that I am not a physics teacher, nor was I a strong physics student, but I do think the message is pretty clear.

We get to create ripples every day through our actions, and at times, through our non-actions. When we all seek to create waves that are authentic and positive, we have an opportunity to create interference between these waves and lift our learners up. When we all seek to create waves that are authentic and positive, we have an opportunity to cancel out troughs, and bring our learners back to where they need to be. This way they can be prepared to catch the next crest.

What do YOU think?

  • What are some intentional ways you are creating crests for your students to catch?
  • Do you know the signs of a student caught in a trough?
  • Who creates waves for you, and how are you intentional about surrounding yourself with these types of people?

Thanks for reading, let’s keep the conversation going.

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