Sunday, September 25, 2022

Taking Learners Deeper with Reflection

 “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” – John Dewey

The quote above from Dewey has always resonated with me, especially when I am outside doing yardwork in Texas. In the past, I used to often get stung by bees and wasps. There is a difference between the two species and how they sting. Some of them actually bite. While each encounter resulted in a painful experience, they also provided a valuable opportunity for me to reflect on why I was susceptible to stings and how to avoid them. I always learned to wear long-sleeved shirts and observe my surroundings to spot their nests. I also habitually tracked them when they were seen flying around the same areas, which allowed me to find their nests and take them out. The bottom line is that I have not been stung in a long time.

It goes without saying that experience plays a pivotal role in learning for students and adults. In Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms, I shared the need to provide more opportunities for this in lessons as well as specific strategies that can be used. When reflection is added, it helps to improve the connection between what has been experienced and the outcomes that were derived. The case can be made that it allows learners to go deeper into concepts while becoming more competent.

Reflection is not a simple process of introspection. Instead, it is an evidence-based, integrative, analytical, capacity-building approach that serves to generate, deepen, critique, and document learning. Developing reflective skills is central to students’ academic and professional development within a discipline. The ability to reflect on one’s practice when confronted by a novel, unusual, or complex situation distinguishes expert practitioners from novices (Schön, 1983).

Routine reflection can:

  • Foster cognitive flexibility
  • Aid in the construction and understanding of new knowledge
  • Establish links between academic, emotional, and social experiences
  • Develop essential competencies for success in a disruptive world

The outcomes listed above are supported by research:

Research has found that learning from direct experience can be more effective if coupled with reflection—that is, the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience. Additionally, the effect of reflection on learning is mediated by a greater perceived ability to achieve a goal resulting in self-efficacy.

Intentionality is key. The good news is that educators do not have to reinvent the wheel. When it comes to reflection in the classroom, the key is to make the time for it through alignment with routine pedagogy. Naturally, there is a tendency to include this at the end in the form of closure using the following prompts that can be answered using text, video, or audio:

  • What did you learn of value today?
  • How might you apply what you learned outside of the classroom?
  • Why was this learning important to you and your peers?

However, educators can integrate opportunities to reflect throughout a lesson. I shared the following KWHLAQ chart in Disruptive Thinking, which educators can adapt as needed.

Reflection as a part of learning is something that must be cultivated in the classroom and beyond. We can’t assume that students are familiar with this process. Thus, they can benefit from guidance to help them derive meaning from experience. Without this support, reflections may be limited to descriptive accounts of an experience or “venting of feelings” (Ash & Clayton, 2009). Experience, when reflected upon, is the best teacher.

Ash, S. L., & Clayton, P. H. (2009). Generating, deepening, and documenting learning: The power of critical reflection in applied learning. Journal of Applied Learning in Higher Education, 1(1), 25-48.

Schön, D. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. London: Temple Smith.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

3 Ways to Create a Culture of Belonging

Everyone wants to feel that they belong where they work. A culture of acceptance and respect can reap the rewards for all stakeholders. Hence, we have seen an increased emphasis on workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Now, more than ever, getting people to feel valued is of utmost importance in the face of a myriad of challenges impacting morale. Susie Lee shared the following:

Studies have shown that a high sense of belonging at an organization was positively correlated with a 56% improvement in job performance and 75% fewer sick days. Employees have also told me that their sense of belonging is a key reason they want to work for the company. 

Move beyond “one-size-fits-all.”

Just like the students you serve, your staff has unique gifts and needs. It is essential to look at how you cultivate and nurture these, respectively. Consider providing opportunities for staff to spread their wings by heading up committees, planning professional learning, and working side-by-side with you to develop new courses, electives, and schedules. Move away from drive-by professional development and blanket approaches to personalized, job-embedded models. Also, consider multi-faceted means of evaluation and feedback that genuinely support growth.

Strive for embracement 

I have never been a fan of the term “buy-in” as it relies more on extrinsic as opposed to intrinsic means of motivation. As I shared in Digital Leadership, if you have to “sell” people on doing things differently or accepting a mandate, chances are your staff will never see the benefit of the change. The key is helping them see the inherent value of anything that is asked of them, especially large-scale change initiatives. There are many ways to empower your staff to embrace change, such as actively modeling what is expected, learning side-by-side with them, and using both data and research as a means for validation.

Model empathy

As a leader, people want you to understand what it is like to be in their shoes. Empathetic leaders work to provide time and support for staff so that they can do their job to the best of their ability. They are compassionate, flexible, show grace, and build people up by celebrating success. 

As leaders, it is vital for us to imagine ourselves in the position of others as this gives us a better perspective on the challenges and feelings of those we are tasked to serve. Better, more informed decisions can result from “walking in the shoes” of those who will be most impacted by our decisions. The result is a better sense of belonging.

The benefits are clear because even leaders want to belong. Sally Boardman shared the following:

A sense of belonging is crucial to our life satisfaction, happiness, mental and physical health and even longevity. It gives us a sense of purpose and meaning.

As you look to implement, refine, or improve DEI initiatives, consider how they help to create a culture of belonging. With this in place, people will bend over backwards for students, each other, and you as a leader. Make the work a place where people want to be and perform their best.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Rethinking Normal

It always amazes me that we possess such vivid memories of some experiences yet tend to forget others. As the years' pass, I am always trying to retain as many as possible from my childhood. One that sticks out goes way back to my pre-school years. Now I can’t remember if my twin brother and I were actually in a year-long program or just a set number of days where high school students worked with us. What I do recollect was the teacher, Mrs. McDonald. Years later, she would be my senior class advisor and someone I admired and respected.  

She was always a creative spirit in how she taught and motivated learners in culinary arts and early childhood development. Now I remember only two things from my pre-school years. The first was a big wooden train that all of us would fight over to play with, as it was the most popular toy at the time. Pretty normal, I would say, in the later 1970s. The other memory was of purple cow milk. Until now, “normal” milk was plain or flavored with chocolate or strawberry. Mrs. McDonald pushed us to move beyond our tastebud comfort zones and our perception that you could only put certain additives to flavor milk. We discovered that grape juice in milk looked cool and was quite tasty. She empowered us to rethink normal.

There is no better time than now to rethink education and the practices that are both favored and employed. Now I am not saying to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Instead, my call to action is to fight the urge to teach the way you were taught and lead the way you were led. Change can be a good thing as there is no such thing as perfection in education. This truth presents a constant opportunity to innovate and grow. However, there will always be challenges lurking in various forms. I shared the following in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms:

The human brain is wired to keep us safe, and as a result, we often become averse to change. The status quo and our personal comfort zones create a perceived safety net that is difficult to relinquish. Our past experiences often dictate or influence our current professional practice. When this mindset is combined with silos erected to protect ourselves and organizations from external information and new ideas, it becomes clearer why transformational change is often just an idea that never gets put into motion. 

In a previous post, I shared the image below, which is a great starting point when it comes to re-thinking normal.  

It is ok to challenge conventional wisdom. The world is not sitting back and waiting for us to get on board with disruptive change. While “normal” might seem like the best or safest option, the question is, are we preparing kids for the present and future or the world where we grew up? There is no better time than now to change our practice for the betterment of those who we serve, whether that is students, colleagues, or other stakeholders. It begins with rethinking normal.  

Sunday, September 4, 2022

The Siri and Alexa Test

I absolutely love being at home. Having an intense travel schedule makes you cherish the little things that help alleviate stress and relax. One of my favorite pastimes is taking advantage of being outside any chance I get. Moving to Texas seven years ago meant the weather would stay warmer longer, making this more realistic. There is almost always music, whether in the pool, doing yard work, or hanging out with family and friends. My wife even got me a JBL boombox for my birthday last year, which is so much better than hardwired speakers, thanks to Bluetooth and super loud sound. We can’t even keep it on tables as the bass is so strong that the vibrations make it roll off.

Advances in technology make listening to music an incredible experience these days. Thanks to artificial intelligence in the form of Alexa, everyone is now their own DJ. With my outdoor setup, I connect the boombox to the Amazon Firestick and then use the remote to have Alexa play my favorite songs using voice recognition. Most of the time I choose the greatest hits from the 1980s, but my diversified tastes take me through numerous genres. No matter my listening mood Alexa never lets me down, although there are times that I need to repeat my request.

I share the personal story above as access to artificial intelligence in the form of Siri and Alexa has impacts on the education space. Whereas in the past, knowledge could be readily accessed from encyclopedias and books, this took time. The Internet drastically changed this process by ushering us all into the Information Age. Artificial intelligence is now a disruptive force that allows anyone to instantaneously access basic knowledge and facts.   I see this as an opportunity in the classroom and beyond, but we must be honest about where some practices currently lie.

Educators love using game-based tools such as Kahoot, Quizizz, Blooket, and Gimkit as a means to review prior learning, check for understanding, and close lessons. I often see these in action a great deal when coaching in schools. The rub, however, comes in the form of the types of questions asked as the majority are simple recall or knowledge-based with stems such as who, what, where, and when. While this might be essential in the lower grades, it wanes in value as kids age. No longer do any of us have to “Google” an answer when we can just ask Siri or Alexa. I typically prove this point during workshops where I ask a low-level question using a “what” question stem and Siri responds with the correct answer every time.

With the tools above, the key is to use question stems that get students to demonstrate understanding through comprehension. However, we shouldn’t stop there. In Chapter 3 of Disruptive Thinking, I detailed how the Relevant Thinking  Framework can be used to challenge all learners now and well into the future. Below are some simple strategies any educator can use to bump up the level of thinking in the classroom:

  • Scaffold questions and tasks (specific strategies HERE)
  • Differentiate
  • Use writing and work as a measure of thinking
  • Create challenging problems to solve

If we are to prepare learners for success in a disruptive world, we must make efforts to ensure they are competent. This is how we can pass the Siri and Alexa test.