STEM: Time to move from talking about it to doing it. 

With the exception of pockets of innovation, STEM and STEAM have become common vocabulary with little transfer into curriculum and daily practice. In K-12 education, this surface understanding it not serving our students. In many cases, STEM/STEAM are mentioned as a lab experience and maybe included as an elective opportunity… where it can fit in. And that is the disconnect… trying to squeeze it in without truly changing.

If you only have a surface knowledge about STEM/STEAM, read this article to help move your thinking along. Ryan does a sound job of touching on many critical issues that should have us all thinking about what changes we need to make now in our schools and within our practice. It is time to think about instituting real change. Change that will overhaul organizational structures dating back to the early 1900’s, support teacher opportunities for professional learning and raise awareness of all stakeholders.

We have taken a look down the road at the future needs of our current students. We can see that they will need to operate in a world that has yet to be invented. They will need the 4 C’s: creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication backed with a foundation of strong reading/writing and STEM skills. Yet, we continue to deliver a program that hasn’t shifted educational practice and pedagogy to match. It is time to start preparing the students we have in class now for an uncertain future.

The Seven Most Powerful Words in Education

It doesn’t matter whether you are approaching this article from a teacher, administrator or school supporter perspective. These words… “What can I do to help you?”… are powerful.

Many articles talk about how to shift culture or dynamics, I believe these 7 words are a great place to start. In utilizing this simple question, you demonstrate support, concern and most importantly, a willingness to listen and hear what the other person. Are you afraid of what you might hear? Then, all the more reason to start asking.

Be A Marigold: Essential Advice for the Returning Teacher

What do marigolds have to do with teaching and preparation for the year?

“Be A Marigold” is a corollary post to Find Your Marigold: The One Essential Rule for New Teachers by Jennifer Gonzalez. Gonzalez uses the nature of the marigold as a metaphor. Here’s a quick summary of the article in 95 words:

Marigolds are one of the best “companion” plants for gardens. Experienced gardeners utilize the marigold to help other plants nearby flourish and improve the overall health of the garden. The connection for new teachers is to seek out and surround yourself with veteran marigold teachers who will help you improve and thrive. In contrast, Gonzalez talks about the marigold’s anthesis – the walnut tree. The walnut mindset or walnut tree “…give off a toxic substance that can inhibit growth, wilt, and ultimately kill nearby vegetable plants.” Gonzalez’s point and sage advice: “surround yourself with good people.”

We all know the marigolds and walnut trees on our staff and at times, even the most true marigold colleagues can demonstrate attributes of the other. In truth, it’s much easier to be a marigold thinker and teacher when you are rested and refreshed. The question is where will your thinking lie this year when time is short, feedback on student work needs to be given, and multiple meetings are scheduled? Once the school year gets into full swing, how will you check your default setting to marigold?

Here are some ways to cultivate a marigold mindset:

1.  Be a good listener. Listen without judgement and without trying to solve the problem. Sometimes all that is needed is to listen. If requested for feedback, ask questions and share honestly. You are offering, if invited, to give the person a different perspective.

2. Be a doer. Be a role model to others by supporting action and next steps. If you are working to manage your time, stop talking things to death and take action. Nothing is set in stone and almost anything can be adjusted. Your ability to help ideas run efficiently is at its greatest when you are helping drive the action.

3. Give encouragement.  When giving feedback, start by highlighting the positive attributes of the idea and share constructive comments in support of your colleagues thinking. It is easy to be critical which can feel disrespectful and shut ideas down. Sharing thinking and putting ideas on the table is risk taking. Do you support and encourage risk taking by the way you respond?

Whether you are a new or returning teacher, most of us want to surround ourselves with  marigold colleagues AND most of us want to be one. By being a good listener, a doer and an encourager, you can contribute to a supportive culture and add value to the team.

Will you be the plant in the garden that supports the new teachers and all of your colleagues to flourish? Or are you going to be the walnut tree and slowly drain the rich nutrients from the soil around you until the plants nearby wilt. Among all of the preparation you can do this year, deciding who you want to be and taking steps to live that ideal is perhaps one of the most important.

Be a marigold!

Couldn’t all adults use…”Life advice from teens who are changing the world.”

Calling all Middle Level Educators: Take a breeze through this BBC piece that spotlights some amazing kids who are changing the world. The quotes support progressive educational movements like growth mindset, empowered youth leadership and student agency. As the Parkland students movement demonstrated to the world, our kids can be poised, articulate and work to improve the world.

Good Leaders Make Good Schools

I’ve always believed that creating the best schools is about creating the right culture. In this NY Times Op-Ed, David Brooks, agrees that improving schools starts with the principal and “What do principals do? They build a culture.”

In Good Leaders Make Good Schools, Brooks highlights some recent successes in education and draws the connection to the whole school environment and “the liturgies of practice that govern the school day: the rituals for welcoming members into the community; the way you decorate walls to display school values; the distribution of power across the community; the celebrations of accomplishment and the quality of trusting relationships.”

And that begins with – shout out here- to excellent principalship! “Principals set the culture by their very behavior — the message is the person.”

Yet, this doesn’t happen alone. An outstanding leader will implement what we have known: “Research also suggests a collaborative power structure is the key. A lot of teachers want to be left alone and a lot of principals don’t want to give away power, but successful schools are truly collaborative.”

So, fellow leaders… think about what you represent everyday in how you communicate with all people, where you spend your time, and how you trust your team as leaders.

“When you learn about successful principals, you keep coming back to the character traits they embody and spread: energy, trustworthiness, honesty, optimism, determination.”

Social media disaster or golden learning opportunity?

1,000 Danes Accused of Child Pornography for Sharing Video of Teens” was a recent article in the NYTimes.

What? How did that happen? What is going on? If you have any opportunities to work with teens regarding privacy and social responsibility around digital citizenship or social media, here is a golden opportunity. Follow this lesson link to use that article and event as a jump in point for deconstructing what happened and helping teens make meaning out of this situation.

Angry Customers Don’t Want an Apology

There are a lot of similarities between an angry customer and an angry student/parent/colleague.  This article answers the question, what is the best way to move forward when anger happens, and breaks down next steps into a pretty simple structure of 3 phases after the initial empathy.

Initial empathy: I am sorry….

Phase 1: Sensing: ask questions to try and understand the issue

Phase 2: Seeking: brainstorm and explore potential solutions

Phase 3: Settling: working with the person to choose the solution that will provide the best outcome.

My two cents, it is important to demonstrate that how the person is feeling matters to you. Be sincere and attentive.

Source: Angry Customers Don’t Want an Apology