“Hey, let’s send Bo a quick video of what we’ve been white-boarding!” #IdeasWorthSpreading

For years, we have been working in the Junior High to “tear down the walls” that define the typical egg-crate culture of schools. As a faculty PLC, among other techniques, we have used Twitter, peer visits, instructional rounds, lesson study, job-embedded/regular team meetings, “FedEx Days,” and “campfire storytelling.” Every time we share, a connection-point on a virtual spider web gets planted. From these nodes of stickiness, more connections have the potential of being formed.

I am blessed with an amazing faculty and staff of 82 people; I am blessed to be among them, and I am blessed to be one of them. I am blessed to lead and serve with them.

This week, a new blessing occurred. Two Science 6 teachers met during an “off-day” during exam week to do some planning for the new learning challenge they are developing around global climate change. THEY SENT ME A VIDEO SUMMARY OF THEIR MORNING! The video and the email exchange are embedded below (with permission from the teachers).

I was so excited to get this unsolicited piece of campfire storytelling! I could see and hear Alison and Brenda in their actual voice with facial cues. I love the excitement and energy in their dialogue and countenances. I love that they are taking risks and trying new things. I love that they are willing to share.

For some brief moments, they seemed tentative about sharing this beyond just me. They wondered if they should “spiff it up.” I love it “un-spiffed!” Un-spiffed is spontaneous and tool-like. The video does not need to be production-perfect…it is, instead, process-perfect. They used a tool to share in a more personal way, and they helped me learn and share in their moments of planning. What a gift. What a perfect gift.

From: Alison George
Date: Wed, 14 Dec 2011 10:51
To: Bo Adams
Subject: 6th grade update

Working hard all morning, just wanted to share what we accomplished

From: Bo Adams
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2011 05:33
To: Alison George, Brenda Cobler
Subject: Re: 6th grade update

I LOVE THE VIDEO! I LOVE THE VIDEO! Thank you for “including me” in your planning by sharing a short summary of what you’ve been diligently working on! What a gift to be able to see and hear your brainstorming in your actual voice.

May I PLEASE post this to my blog and write about how much I loved receiving such a clip? May I share with Jill for an upcoming faculty-meeting share?

THANK YOU!

From: Alison George
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2011 09:48
To: Bo Adams
Subject: Re: 6th grade update

Sure, are you actually considering showing the video in the faculty meeting? (we might want to spiff it up with some actual class footage if so)  We just did this on the fly and didn’t think it would be shown to the entire faculty.

From: Bo Adams
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2011 10:20
To: Alison George, Brenda Cobler
Subject: Re: 6th grade update

If you don’t want me to use it for mtg or blog, I will honor your wishes, of course. However, PLEASE DO NOT “spiff it up.” I love it as it is! You two used a technology to communicate with me and include me and inform me. You innovated, instead of sending me a bullet-list or a voice mail. You made it Web 2.0! It is beautiful and “perfect” in my opinion!

From: Alison George
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2011 11:08
To: Bo Adams
Cc: Brenda Cobler
Subject: Re: 6th grade update

Ok go ahead and use it, we love to be perfect!

New creation: culinary, jazz-fusion luminescence in teaching – PLCs as surgical-musical-chefs

Working to understand better the functions and processes of PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) – this is a constant pursuit and area of deep investigation and learning for me. I am coming to believe, more and more, that high-functioning PLCs are like some hybrid-cross consisting of the following parts: chefs, surgical teams, and jazz musicians.

The three TED talks below are interesting and intriguing in their own, content-specific right. However, I think all three offer metaphorical meta-lessons about the nature of PLCs – teams of teachers working to learn with each other for the ultimate purpose of enhanced student learning. All three TED talks, when woven together into a common braid, speak to the power of CREATING SOMETHING NEW AS A TEAM. Great PLCs are like the innovative team of chefs at Moto – stretching concept and experimenting for fulfilling and engaging one’s appetite and taste buds (analogous to quenching the thirst for knowledge and wisdom). Great PLCs are like the collaborating surgeons who have discovered that luminescent dyes can be employed to light-up that which needs to be preserved and that which needs to be cut out (analogous to curriculum re-design and systemic formative assessment practices). Great PLCs are like the improvisational harmony of a jazz quartet that measures their successes by their level of responsiveness rather than by any sort of fixed-mindset worrying about mistakes (analogous to the thoughtful development of teamwork and use of RTI – response to intervention). Collectively, the three talks also point to the balance of art and science that seems essential to crafting the alloy which is a team of people working together to CREATE.

The Creation Project

This past semester, the English 7 team of the Junior High PLC developed a student-learning challenge about the nature of creation and creativity. This team of teachers acted in that careful blend of artists and scientists, and they utilized the professional practices of lesson study and instructional rounds to develop a common lesson and common assessment for their classes of English. Instead of simply sitting and being consumers of creation-archetype understanding, the students would become world creators themselves. [This reminds me of a recent post from Jonathan Martin: “Fab Labs and Makerbots: ‘Turning Consumers into Creators’ at our School.” Who knows…this may even partially inspire the next iteration of the world creations described below!]

Below you can find a Scribd document that provides more details about the learning challenge created by this team of teacher-learners. To me, they behaved something like that team of innovative chefs at Moto…that team of integrated-thinking surgeons pioneering the use of luminescent surgery…that team of improvisationally-responsive jazz musicians. This team of teachers is creating together in harmony – they are prototyping a product, as well as a process for using lesson study and instructional rounds to derive a better dish, a more successful surgery, a more beautiful harmony. They are innovating and creating. This stretch will provide potential for a further stretch next time. Their muscles are learning to work this way – a way that has been foreign to egg-crate culture schools for far too long.

“I’m passing along the “nuts and bolts” of our “What in the World?” Creativity Project, which is the product of our collaborative work in the 7th PLT…what a gift!”

What In the World – Creation Project (used with permission)

Peer Visit – Mackey visit from Snyder 11-16-11 (used with permission)

I am working on a blog post about this Creation Project – from the principal’s point of view. I plan to include the actual assignment document, and I am hoping to have a few more artifacts that point to ways that we (teachers, educators, etc.) can work on “teachers working in teams” and “integrated studies.” I think your peer visit serves as a superb artifact of how ideas and lessons can “seep” and “ooze” across disciplinary borders when teachers visit each other’s classrooms. [Brief backstory (from email to teacher requesting permission to use this peer visit)]

Now, we have a teacher of the subject of history interacting with a teacher of the subject of English. What interconnected learning and integrated studies might emerge from this seed? In other areas, we have World Cultures teachers teaming with Science 6 teachers to create a semester learning-challenge on global climate change in various world regions. We have PE and biology teachers crafting ideas of courses devoted to the understanding of the human body from an integrated approach through anatomy and exercise physiology.

We have distributed R&DIY “culinary, jazz-fusion luminescence” developing among our learners – teachers and students. Those are ideas worth spreading. Additionally, those teachers are inspiring me to think about the worlds that I would contribute to making. Hmmm….

A riff on school thinking…inspired by “There are no mistakes on the bandstand.” Stefon Harris

Listening. Responding. Refusing to bully one’s ways. Pulling ideas. Improvising. Innovating. Working with the color and emotional palette. Collaborating in concert with one’s team and one’s band. Making beautiful music. [Watch the TED below, and more of those phrases may be put into greater context.]

I think a lot about what school could be like. I love school. I have always loved school. But I think school can be better.

This morning, I viewed the four TED talks that were awaiting me in my RSS reader:

I learned about “Captchas,” and I learned about spider-silk biomimicry. I learned about MRI-focused ultrasound for non-invasive surgery, and I learned about jazz improv. But I learned about so much more than just these things. As a whole, I learned about people working to make things better…to make things more beautiful. From the whole, I learned some meta-lessons about innovation and improvisation.

When will school reflect the ideas that Stefon Harris espouses in his talk? When might we see the only “mistakes” in school as those moments which reveal that we failed to respond as deep listeners? Where are these types of innovations and improvs happening in order to enhance schools in ways that we are working to enhance language translation, armor and connective fibers, medical procedures, and jazz music? Where is the real R&D? Where are the jam sessions? Rest assured, there are some! There must be more!

I believe teacher teams – PLCs (professional learning communities) – can function very much like that quartet that is playing with Stefon Harris. I have been blessed to be a part of such a team in the Junior High at Westminster for quite some time. But we might need to think of ourselves less as pianists, drummers, bassists, and vibraphone-ists – less like history teachers, math teachers, science teachers, and English teachers. We may need to think of ourselves more like a quartet…a band – more like teachers of children, problem-finders and problem-solvers, innovators and improvisationalists, and challenge-facers. Then, our efforts could begin to work more like pulling ideas and listening and responding. And we administrators should be making space and time for such work. We should not restrict with regulations. We should be more concerned with pedagogy and practice than with lawsuits and legal. We should facilitate – make easier to accomplish.

Schools that operated as such would not make mistakes on the bandstand – we would make music!

How would you listen and respond to this riff? What would you add to this palette of thinking? Will you play an E or an F#? How will I consequently listen and respond? Let’s make schools better…let’s tune them to create more beautiful music!

Can we play together? Wanna jam?

“Fallor ergo sum” – St. Augustine, 1200 years prior to Descartes

Do we structure school in such a way that we truly promote and achieve that intricate balance between: 1) wanting to know and to understand and 2) keeping perspective that we have to be wrong quite a bit in order to gain deep knowledge and understanding?

By the time you are 9 years old, you have already learned, first of all, that people who get stuff wrong are lazy, irresponsible dimwits, and, second of all, that the way to succeed in life is to never make any mistakes. We learn these really bad lessons really well. And a lot of us…deal with them by just becoming perfect little A students…perfectionists…overachievers. – Kathryn Schulz, On being wrong TED Talk, near 7:00 mark, March 2011 (emphasis added)

Is the secret to great success never to be wrong? Of course not! I cannot imagine that even one teacher of children (or adults, for that matter) truly believes that we define “the successful” as those people who always get the right answer, or even as those who tend to get the right answer. Or do we? How do we view our “A students” versus our “C students? Perhaps I have my head in the sand. I don’t think so, though. Yet, I wonder if we people who help to structure the workings of school are ensuring that the fundamental pillars of school reflect this basic principle:

I thought this one thing was going to happen, and then something else happened instead. – Kathryn Schulz quoting Ira Glass of This American Life, On being wrong TED Talk, near 14:00 mark, March 2011

Do we overly penalize learners for their mistakes? Does the traditional, typical school currency – grades – serve best those at the core of the instructional-learning exchange? Do we allow for “returns” to be made after a transaction, or are “all sales final?” Do we allow for enough “do overs,” prototypes, iterative attempts, and second chances? Do we model our classrooms and learning spaces on the real-life tendency for all of us humans to be great mistake makers as we risk to know and to understand our world? Do we facilitate learners growing from “white belts” to “black belts” by awarding them with an average – “a grey belt?” As educators, do we understand the 10,000 hour theory? Are our scope and sequences reflectively cognizant of the 10,000 hour theory? Do we tend to sort and label, or do we tend to recognize that mistakes come with regret that should be embraced if we hope to grow from our errors?

If we have goals and dreams and we want to do our best and if we love people and we don’t want to hurt them or loose them, we should feel pain when things go wrong. The point isn’t to live without any regrets…the point it to not hate ourselves for having them….We need to learn to love the flawed imperfect things that we create and to forgive ourselves for creating them. Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly; it reminds us that we know we can do better. – Kathryn Schulz, Don’t regret regret TED Talk, near 16:00 mark, November 2011

An Intro at the Conclusion

This morning, I had planned to work on my resume. It needs some updating, and I need a job, so I thought this morning would provide me a good opportunity to revise and edit my curriculum vitae. As I awoke from sleep, I even seemed to have some revision ideas on my mind. But then another thing happened instead.

As I sat to enjoy those first sips of morning coffee, I decided to check my Feeddler app – my way of organizing and reading my Google RSS Reader. In the queue was a new TED talk from Kathryn Schulz, the “wrongologist.” I love her work, so I thought I would watch her latest published talk while waking up with my coffee. Then, I would get to “work” on my resume. But then another thing happened instead. I was reminded of this powerful blog post by friend, colleague, and former student Peyten Dobbs. And I remembered the This American Life episode that I listened to during my Saturday afternoon walk with my dog Lucy.

I felt I had important threads dangling loosely in the wind of my thinking. I wondered if writing a bit would help me ground and weave some of those threads together. I puzzled over Peyten’s feelings expressed in her blog post, and I empathized about my own similar feelings from being a perfectionist-bent student of old.

So…do I now have all of these mysteries about grades and being wrong “all figured out?” No. But I am further down the path than I was when I awoke. Do I have revisions completed for my resume? No. If I were to need to “turn in” my resume to a teacher for grading, I fear I would receive an F or an incomplete. Yet, I engaged in some lifelong learning this morning about the nature of being wrong, the nature of regrets, and the structure of schools. I learned. But for that I will receive no formal grade. I may later regret that I don’t have a revised copy of my resume ready on Sunday, December 4. That’s okay. My regrets remind me that I can do better. And I tend to engage in super efforts to learn and grow and get better. Where does that go on my resume?

Team Teaching as Coaching

I continue to return for focused re-reading of sections from a New Yorker article by Atul Gawande entitled, “Personal Best.” The article is a deep, personal reflection and contemplation of the power of coaching – employing a trusted mentor to provide “outside eyes and ears” in order to improve one’s performance. Gawande makes the point that many professional athletes utilize coaches; however, most of the other professions fail to use coaches at a systemic level. His reflection, as a surgeon committed to improving in his art and science, provides a compelling look at how we all would benefit from targeted coaching and a commitment to the growth mindset.

This morning, I wonder if TEAM TEACHING is such a favorable and valuable experience because of the aspect of co-coaching that can happen when educators team up to guide a classroom of learners. I team teach with Jill Gough. We team teach Synergy 8, and we co-facilitate many of the PLC efforts at our school. We also provide PD for schools and organizations around the country. We continuously coach one another, and I know I learn immeasurably from the debriefs and post-activity reflections that we commit to completing. Recently, I have also watched Clark Meyer and Peyten Dobbs engage team teaching for two, combined sections of Writing Workshop: Environmental Studies. And just yesterday, I heard a teacher new to our school say that she had combined classes with another teacher, and they were likely never to go back to single sections – they were learning so much from each other, and they were seeing so much enhanced learning for the students, now able to learn with two, interactive guides.

In challenging economic times even, I will continue to make the case that schools should do everything they can to provide job-embedded team time for teachers, as well as opportunities for team teaching. Gawande summarizes why…

Coaching done well may be the most effective intervention designed for human performance.

And the existence of a coach requires an acknowledgment that even expert practitioners have significant room for improvement. (p.9)

Yesterday’s related post: Learning to See & Seeing to Learn