A Leader’s Reflection

The past week has been a whirlwind for me, starting with Teachers College’s Reading and Writing Project’s Saturday Reunion on March 18 and ending with Teachers College Leadership Institute March 23 and 24. During this week I was fortunate enough to hear some amazing leaders speak and share their knowledge. Today I find myself reflecting on this past week and how what I learned can positively affect my impact on those in my care.

  • Drew Dudley kicked off TCRWP’s Saturday Reunion. There were so many ideas he shared, one of my biggest take-aways was how we often don’t realize the impact we have on others. (Hear his ‘lollipop’ moment story in the TED Talk below.) He also talked about the harm of the word ‘just’. When people say, ‘I am just a teacher’ or ‘I am just a (fill in the blank)’ they are thinking less of themselves and not celebrating their worth and impact on others. Let’s not let them get away with that. When you hear people introduce themselves that way call them on it. We need to celebrate each other and honor their lives. Leaders are everywhere in our lives, take the time to thank one in your life today.

  • Lucy Calkins closed TCRWP’s Saturday Reunion with a wonderfully touching and inspiring address honoring one of their own: Kathleen Tolan. She celebrated Kathleen’s life and legacy. She also spoke about our impact on students and colleagues in our lives. Encouraging us to ask ourselves at the end of the day or school year (when saying goodbye to our students), ‘What have I given to him? What have a given to them all?” She also spoke about having courage. “If not you, who?” We as educators need to rise up and have courage to be leaders.
  • My week ended with an intensively inspiring Leadership Institute at Teachers College (#LeadershipInstituteTC), presented by Ellie Drago-Severson and Jessica Blum-DeStefano. It focused on meeting our adult learners where they are and supporting their growth. I have been teaching teachers for over 20 years and besides reading articles and books on leadership I have never been at a session exclusively about understanding adult learners. (To learn more about Ellie’s Pillars for Adult Learning and ‘Ways of Knowing’ check out Leading Adult Learning.) If we don’t know how our colleagues process ideas how can we support their growth? Everyone talks about getting your staff’s ‘buy-in’. I would argue that you can’t even begin to talk about how to get ‘buy-in’ until we have taken time to understand those in our care. Specifically understanding how they think and therefore how they react to situations is essential. We also have to work on creating a climate for growth, which includes ‘Living Norms’ for our teams.

What do all of these have in common? The thread that weaves through all of them is the importance  of supporting ourselves and the leaders around us that we are inspired by. Take a moment and thank someone in your life that has inspired you and supported you in your successes then reflect on your climate, does it support growth?

Technology Changes Learning Needs

With the abilities to connect and communicate globally through the use and advances of technology, our world is getting smaller… but certainly not simpler. With this shift from local disconnection to global openness and the world’s knowledge at our fingertips we as educators need to take a serious look at what needs to be learned and how the best way to learn it is to optimize true understanding.

David Perkins in Future Wise points out the following: (page 36)

  1. Knowledge involves much more than information…
  2. It’s good to have a lot of information, but information learned in a didactic way is likely simply to be forgotten.
  3. A big reservoir of memorized information is somewhat less pertinent than it used to be, with information on just about anything at our digital fingertips.

We as educators know that information memorized isn’t retained unless it is used in a meaningful way. We also know that bits of information doesn’t become the knowledge of any topic, unless we facilitate students to make connections and discover true understanding. We also know that in a ‘Google World’ information is available at our fingertips, 24/7. So if this is all true, what can we do to  help our students learn in their new world order?  Here are some practical suggestions:

  • Determine the big understandings in your content. What is ‘Lifeworthy Learning’ in your content? Chances are it won’t be the individual facts and bits of information some spend far too much time focusing on. As you plan your units and lessons ask yourself: “Is this going to help my students live a better life?”
  • Once you’ve determined the big understandings of your unit, now you’re ready to plan the best way to deliver the lessons. The old model of teacher as ‘sage on the stage’ simply filling student heads with bits of information is not going to work. We have all been in classrooms where we took copious notes and crammed for tests to get an A in the course, only to forget all that disconnected information once the course was over. We as educators need to think about how this new learning environment looks. Project-based and problem-based learning are two examples of how this can shift to a more student centered learning environment where students engage in what they are learning to become what David Perkins calls an ‘expert amateur.’

Basic education should build expert amateurism more than expertise. The expert amateur understands the basics and applies them confidently, correctly, and flexibly. ( Future Wise page 38)

  • Since information is at our fingertips the other piece of this is to help students question what they read. They need practice in decoding all that information so they can intelligently determine what is accurate and what is not. This is definitely lifeworthy learning. Finding and accessing the best information is key to our students’ survival on the super information highway. Embedding questioning and searching techniques throughout all lessons is key. Google Scholar is one tool that helps students find scholarly information that is trustworthy. Other important lessons center around search techniques, evaluating resources and learning how to critically question and analyze information media.

Our students’ world is different then ours was. They have much more opportunities for global connections as well as terabytes of information readily at their fingertips. What hasn’t changed is how we retain knowledge and truly understand what we have learned. To be able to take knowledge and successfully transfer it to our lives we need to manipulate in, apply it to problems, explore options, rethink solutions and communicate how we know what we know in real world situations. That is real learning. That hasn’t changed. Technology should make this transition easier… let’s say no to focusing on the small bits of information and yes to helping our students find the needed information and apply it to their life and world.