Fear of Failure
"I'm afraid I'll fail, I'm afraid I will fail my students. I really just don't know where to start."
Dani Nyffler, a sixth grade teacher in our district, made that statement and then continued talking excitedly about a project we were planning. Her words clouded my thoughts, and I struggled listening to her as I started reflecting on her statement.
I would identify Dani as an early adopter, innovator, risk taker, whatever word you want to label the teacher you love to work with that is excited to learn and try new ideas. I had approached Dani to work with me on designing a project wrapped around my learning in the book, "Hacking Project Based Learning", by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy. I wanted to apply some of my new ideas directly in a classroom and knew Dani was a great choice. She had already transformed the physical space of her class with flexible seating, allowing her students to help design the environment. She was closely reflecting on her teaching practice as a member of our district's Instructional Technology Leadership Endorsement Program. She had happily agreed to plan a project with me, started reading the book, and we carved out time to start meeting so we could plan out at least one project before the end of the school year.
Her concerns of failure stopped me in my tracks because I completely understood why she felt that way, and the fact that I was uncertain myself of where to start. I think both of our fears stemmed from knowing that true Project Based Learning (PBL) can be effective and powerful if done right, but could also go the other direction if not planned out. We had both created "projects" with our students in the past, but now we were armed with just enough information to know that there are better ways to meet student needs through PBL. We were looking to do it in the best way. We were both afraid of the unknown. I consider us both open to new ideas and taking risks, but how about the educators out there that aren't as open to change? Will they allow themselves to take risks?
Why take Risks with Students
George Couros shared what Innovation Is and Isn't, "To simplify the notion of innovation, it is something that is both new (either invention or iteration) and better. Innovation is not about the “stuff”, but about a way of thinking."
The words, something that is new and better, is the key to this. I feel as educators, and in general any human, should be looking towards new and better ways to keep growing. As our world keeps moving forward, so should our educational practices. Looking for innovation in our classroom can be modeled by the teacher and continued on as students. Being transparent with your students when you are trying something new, feeling uncomfortable, learning yourself, and sometimes failing and then reflecting for improvement is an essential success skill to instill in students.
When you make changes or choose to be innovative there is always a level of risk involved. How do you determine what is worth the risk? When we are responsible for the growth of students, how do we make responsible risks towards innovation? How do we ensure parents, administrators, and other teachers that the risk is worth taking?
Levels of Risk Taking
I have a six year old son, Chase, who takes on new ideas very cautiously. My two year old boy, McKennon, on the opposite end, makes irrational risks which can lead towards danger at times. Some say it is a first born vs. second born trait, but I also think it is strongly connected to their personality type. One example of the many differences in their risk taking disposition was evident on a recent trip to a new playground. If interested you can view the videos below, but in summary you will see my oldest son carefully planning out his attempts on the equipment, wanting me there for support and to watch him. Every new attempt had a layer of fear in his voice, but as a kid he was still willing to try. In the background is his younger brother, who he nicknamed, "chaos", trying everything even beyond what he should. Fear never seems to enter his thoughts, but is constantly on my mind when he is out in the open. I often times was running over to keep him from leaping off of the six foot high edge. This scenario mirrors their bike riding, interactions in public areas like the zoo, swimming, and more.
My oldest son has always been careful about anything that seemed new. I have to push him to try something risky, like this week, a back flip at swim lessons. By the way, once he did one he loved it! How can we support educators with a similar disposition as him and especially those that feel no need to change what has "always worked". They stay stagnant and comfortable, but miss out on opportunities to move forward and in turn move students forward or foster an innovative mindset. How can we take a teacher, similar to my youngest son, that dives in head first to any new idea in the education world, quickly implements each one without much reflection on the effectiveness, and sometimes creates more chaos than growth? Somewhere between my two boys is a balance towards responsible risk taking.
Responsible Risk Taking
I thought back on Dani's fear of failure as we attempted Project Based Learning. I reflected on successful risk taking I have experienced or supported others through and recognize some key components towards risk taking. The steps below can help individuals and schools strategically plan for innovation to ensure success.
Wait, don't leave me here, don't nod off on this one. I'm not talking about deep educational research, unless the risk warrants it. I mean the type of research where you determine why you need to take the risk. Is there something in your current practice that could be improved upon? The type of research where you look for resources to help guide before you start. Has anyone tried this new idea that you can learn from? Can you prepare yourself before taking the risk by identifying the advantages and disadvantages? Don't spend too much time and energy on this one that you find yourself never getting to the next more important step. Some of the greatest learning experiences have come from a teacher moving forward even if they were not comfortable.
Plan and implement the change or new idea. This can be daunting depending on the breadth of the risk. We often want to wait until everything is well thought out and you are sure of success. In my case of biting off Project Based Learning with Dani we were not sure how to start because we wanted to try and do so much. We wanted to design the most amazing and powerful project using all of the ideas we had learned in the book. We needed to break our goals into smaller chunks. We could start with a project and focus on 2-3 core ideas behind Project Based Learning and continue to build on it as we did more. I love this idea as an approach to taking risks that seem hard to start from the post, "Elon Musk: The Secret Behind His Insane Drive."
How often do you take time to do this? I know it is one area that once I'm done with the learning activity it gets pushed aside. If it is a new idea you are implementing, take the time to truly reflect on the value. Consider the Return on Investment (ROI) to help determine if it is worth the risk or if it just needs to be tweaked. Was your new idea worth the time? Did the students learn better? Did it teach them any new success skills? This reflection should not include only the teacher's inner thoughts of how it went. Get feedback from the students on whether it enhanced their learning or helped them grow in some way. Ask for ideas of how it could have worked better. If it was a large risk there is a good chance you have some type of data you can analyze over a period of time to see if it is working. If the Return on Investment is not high, perhaps you don't need to add it into your practice or need to make adjustments.
Once you have reflected move into enhancing the idea for the next time. I worked with two middle school teachers that embarked on their first endeavor with Project Based Learning. They jumped into the project quickly as time was against them, and they were uncertain how successful it would be. Overall it was a great opportunity for student learning, but the best learning came from the teachers. They sat down with me to reflect on the project and were amazed by what some of the students produced. They also had ideas of what they needed to change for the next time. Experiencing the new idea was just as important as reading a book about it. The continual growth of the teacher is just as important as the student in this process. This is a crucial skill to model and teach students.
Being an innovative teacher or leader alone is not enough. The end goal should be to spread the mindset to others which will add to the innovative culture of a school. This all comes back to relationships. This needs to be the central core to anything a person is embarking on including responsible risk taking. When risk taking you can build relationships by:
Share in the comments your own experiences and tips for risk taking. What could you add to my suggestions above?
Discovering The LAUNCH Cycle
I stumbled on the book, "Launch", by AJ Julliani and John Spencer somewhere in my massive web of the Twitter PLN world. When I read the description outlining a framework to follow for Design Thinking it caught my attention. Design Thinking was a term I had heard about through a few blogs/tweets, but I really didn't understand it. However, it seemed to have a lot of value for learning. I'm a lover of someone giving me a framework to get started. Some may feel like you shouldn't follow a system for Design Thinking, that it should be more organic, but this makes sense to me and was what I needed. I think it is a great place to start as an introduction for teachers to use the LAUNCH cycle in the classroom to introduce Design Thinking.
As mentioned in the book, "We live in an era where test scores are mistaken for learning." However, we also realize that there is so much more that students need such as critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity skills to name a few. Creating opportunities to foster these skills by creating makerspaces, project based learning, and the use of Design Thinking are great ways for any teacher to enhance these skills in the learning experiences they create. The LAUNCH Cycle provides a flexible framework to get started. The cycle includes the following phases:
Maybe you have already embraced the the idea of students designing, making, tinkering, creating. This framework brings some guidance to it, and allows it to be more focused and thoughtful. The students can move in and out of the phases even repeating them as they design. You can start small with a quick 20 - 45 minute design challenge and introduce the LAUNCH Cycle, or push further into a project that uses the LAUNCH cycle over several days or weeks. I have found ways in my own life both professionally and personally to use the LAUNCH cycle phases even when not designing a physical item, but when creating plans, blogs, and tackling work projects.
The authors of LAUNCH, created a Global Day of Design slated for May 2, 2017 for this current year. It is the second annual event to bring awareness to the importance of Design Thinking and allow a day to focus on using the process to create. Classes are encouraged to use that day or any day that works for them to include Design Thinking in their process of learning. Their website provides a wide variety of challenges to choose from that covers several curricular areas.
I saw an opportunity for classrooms across the globe to connect and collaborate on what they are designing and the process they are going through. As a Skype Master teacher, I created a Skype Collaboration on the Microsoft Educator Community. Teachers can first sign up for the Global Day of Design and then move to the Skype Collaboration and connect with a school to share in the following way:
Access the Skype Collaboration below:
Design Thinking and Global Day of Design Skype Collaboration
The following Sway is included in the Skype Collaboration, and includes additional resources for a successful Skype collaboration and Design Thinking experience.
A Lasting Impact
In my last post, "How do you know what you are teaching is important?", I mentioned my goal was to start reading a new book that was on my radar. I'm in the process of reading the book, "Hacking Project Based Learning", by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy. A very practical and fabulous book for anyone in education. It shares really sound ideas towards best instructional practices for any educator. While reading it, Rob Dickson (@showmerob) asked me about my experiences growing up and inter-disciplinary projects that I remember doing in school that made a lasting impression on me today. I struggled to think of many that truly would be considered Project Based Learning (PBL) as it lacked the connection to the real world.
As we look at our curriculum, the learning activities we design, the expectations of our district and school leaders, educators need to be very focused on how they will tie it all together. Look deeply in your day-to-day with students and take a birds-eye view overall with the year you have them. What are you doing that will truly make a lasting impact on them and the future? This is where Project
Based Learning comes in to connect content with deeper learning opportunities.
Project Based Learning- the Why
As Cooper and Murphy explain PBL in their book, I like two of the key goals they want to uncover:
In education we know that time is limited, stakes are high for testing and adhering to district initiatives. The book gives ways to tie this all in, but more importantly expresses that we don't have time NOT to do PBL. We can cover the same content through deeper and more lasting learning activities that will make students carry over these skills in life. Lectures, worksheets, and scripted activities may provide the content, but they are missing that deeper learning and lack connections to the real world.
Crossing the Starting Line
In all areas of my life, whether a personal goal or professional goal, I find crossing the starting line is way harder for me than crossing the finish line. My brain circles with ideas constantly, but putting those ideas in action is my struggle.
In December 2016, I ran across a cover of a magazine that caught my eye. The Time magazine story was one of a series called "Finding Home", that followed the lives of four babies born to refugees from Syria. This story had a lasting effect on me as a mother of young kids, I connected with the mothers uncertain of their child's future along with the number of refugee families in our district that are coming from similar or worse conditions, but with the same hopes and dreams my own kids may have.
My first thought was, how could I help? My second thought, how could I get others to help. My third thought, how would I start? That is where it ended. I would see news coverage and more magazine covers as the months went by, and I kept wanting to do something, but it needed to be more than just me. I knew somewhere in the answer lies the students in our classrooms. Through Project Based Learning the students could learn how they could be part of the bigger world and helping to take part in solutions. I knew that I could not press on them my one specific interest based on the Syrian refugee crisis. It had to allow some choice on their part and passions. Then via Twitter I ran across the Global Goals Project.
Global Goals Project
I stumbled on the Global Goals Project via a tweet in February 2017 and knew instantly that I had hit just what I was looking for.
Global Goals + PBL + Curriculum Objectives = Powerful Learning Opportunities.
The Global Goals Project was developed by global leaders to achieve three major goals by 2030.
Once I discovered the Global Goals, I still did nothing with them as the day-to-day priorities kept pushing them to the back burner. As a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, I jumped on to a monthly online call one day in early March. To my surprise, the two guest speakers pulled up slides and started sharing their work with the Global Goals. I was inspired as Amy Rosentein (@SkypeAmy) and Jennifer Williams (@JennyWilliamsEDU) shared the work they were doing with students to reach the Global Goals with other educators.
After that online call, I connected with Rebecca Chambers (@rachambers04), an instructional technology coach in our district, to start working towards crossing the starting line and getting a project going at her school. I wanted to then take our ideas and push out resources to propel other educators across our district and hopefully beyond to move forward.
I love, love, LOVE this post by Adam Welcome. When I can't seem to get past the starting line, reading "Just Get Started" puts it back into perspective. I always want to plan it out, make it perfect before I start or push it to others, get out all the possible "what ifs". My favorite line from him always propels me to push past it, "Stop talking. Stop planning. Start doing. and Don't. Give. Up."
Want to get started with Project Based Learning, have a project in mind you always wanted to do, but never crossed the finish line? Have a passion or interest you want to bring into your classroom? Want to join me in getting others to help tackle the Global Goals? Let's do it. Let's get started.
To help the teachers in my district, I created a Global Goals Project Starter Kit. The Global Goals website is an ocean of resources. The starter kit I created gives more of a step-by-step to get started and a variety of levels of depth to go through depending on comfort and time. Any level they cross will make an impact on student learning and on reaching the Global Goals as long as they get through Level 1. It ends at the highest level by connecting via the Global Goals Skype Collaboration with other classrooms across the world to share their projects or work on a project together. It also provides hints for what to look for in curriculum standards to connect to the Global Goals. Take this starter kit to cross that starting line for yourself and pass it on to other educators.
Global Goals Project Starter Kit
Every teacher should be looking closely at what they are teaching and determining what is important. As a starting point, educators can look at what their district values and creates as goals. Our district's curriculum department is a well-oiled machine that provides great support systems for our teachers. They align standards to curriculum resources, provide pacing guides, and even step-by-step lesson plans for the first 20 days of the school year. These are fabulous for new teachers and helpful when new curriculum adoptions are put in place.
They have an ongoing process for training district and school leaders as coaches to help guide teachers to reflect on their lesson successes and areas to improve. I get a chance to sit in on these coaching trainings, and a recent one caught my attention as they shared a presentation on one of the district goals of providing a "Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum".
The slide below was one they spent a lot of time on, and as the presenter explained, the center "Tested Curriculum" should be the focus, like a dartboard it is the target for the coaches to focus on when working with the teachers in their building.
The presenter went further to explain the focus helps teachers align the learning goal to the standards. Now as a lover of lesson design myself, I'm always focusing my instruction and fellow teachers on their lesson objective, learning goal, learning target, whatever you want to label it as. It really makes an instructor hone in on the activities and scaffolds of support they put in place to ensure they are helping students towards reaching that goal. However, as the speaker for this particular slide mentioned several times that that center circle of "Tested Curriculum" was the main focus and what we need to really target, I couldn't help feeling uneasy. Something was missing from the message that was being sent out to the leaders that would then share this vision with all stakeholders that would follow their lead. Something so important was missing, that I talked passionately about it with a colleague, and she suggested it should be the topic of my next blog post.
“If we only teach students the curriculum, we have failed them.”
~ George Couros
Our district's mission statement, "Omaha Public Schools prepares all students to excel in college, career, and life." resonates with me as one I fully believe in, value, and support. That last word, "life" to me is the most important as we truly don't know where life will take our students. I also know that what is focused on in our district trainings to the coaches that interact directly with our teachers, is what is paid attention to and put into action in our classrooms daily. I don't want the focus to shift off of the "Tested Curriculum" completely, but that is just one piece of the puzzle for success. Of course we want our students to be able to show they can meet the proficiency levels that are expected of them on state assessments, but if our district driving focus only stays there and we don't push further we will miss out on preparing them for what life truly has in store for them.
No one has a crystal ball into the future, but I found a recent post by Microsoft Reporter intriguing as they predicted ten potential careers of the future. The main skill for these future jobs centered around the ability of humans to provide unique thinking and creativity to be productive. If we keep too much focus on mastering "Tested Curriculum" will we miss out on fostering these skills in our students?
In the same coaching training mentioned at the beginning of this post, they shared a great sentiment, "Kids can’t learn what they have not been taught.” What skills do our students need to be taught to prepare them for life besides those to master a test? You can find a laundry list of proposed skills across online educational communities and there is value in so many. To provide a starting point, our district has included a variation of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills 4Cs by adding digital Citizenship to create the 5Cs:
My five year old son, Chase is a kindergarten student in our district, and his younger brother McKennon will quickly be there too. As a parent and educator, I have a unique lens and I really hope to see the district start to shift the focus to include more than "Tested Curriculum" to best prepare them for life. My own personal view, is that the skills in the 5Cs should outweigh the mastery of "Tested Curriculum" as it allows for the fostering of the unique thinking and creativity needed for careers of the future. Pushing beyond the 5Cs, I want my own children and all to find connections to what they are learning to the real world, and a method to doing that in the classroom is through Project Based Learning (PBL).
Don't get me wrong, I love to see Chase work towards increasing his reading level, creating writing pieces, and mastering his math packet. What I don't love is the lack of evidence of the 5Cs being fostered through his work and classroom experiences. The lack of how what he is learning connects to the skills he will need in life and as his part in society. The district has such strong support systems towards ensuring the Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum to master the "Tested Curriculum" that a teacher's day can be very planned out minute-by-minute for language arts and math blocks. The "look fors" that coaches are provided do not include the 5Cs, or allow time for Project Based Learning. The professional development opportunities rarely mention 21st Century Skills integration as it is not part of our district's focus. My hope for the near future is for all districts, including ours to continue to make strides in academic areas, but also to place a focus on and value the importance skills that can not be easily measured by a test.
Striking a balance
Having a section for 21st Century Skills in our district's Best Instructional Practices handbook is helpful. However, a teacher might find it daunting to incorporate the 5Cs and Project Based Learning in their lesson design with all other district expectations. It takes time, effort, and an instructor that sees its value. When I see a teacher purposefully plan learning activities with components of the 5Cs integrated it can be powerful. It is the perfect balance of knowing they are teaching what is important both academically and for life.
Below are some tips to serve as a starting point that will allow you to stay in line with your district's focus, but also work towards building life skills through the 5Cs and Project Based Learning to foster the 21st Century Skills.
An Educator's Guide to the 4Cs
Will I "Sink or Swim"?
At some point in your life you have been on the brink of something terrifying. One that sticks out in my mind, that you may be able to relate to, is the first time you stood on a diving board at the deep end of the pool and were expected to dive in. Growing up on a farm in Iowa, with a family of 10 kids, swimming lessons were never a priority. You can see in the picture, the closest we got was crowding as many of us as possible into a kiddie pool.
I made it a goal of mine at the age of 30 to learn how to swim. I signed up at the local YMCA in the adult swim course, and learned just barely enough to "survive". One of our final classes included us diving off of the diving board and swimming to the side. Standing up there, with all eyes on me, can be compared to other times in my life where I need to take a leap, but I'm unsure of the result. Will I "sink or swim" is always on my mind. It can be a major event like deciding to get married, have a kid, buy a puppy (yes, that is major), or something as small as writing a blog.
I Fear the Critics
I've been toying with the idea of writing a blog for quite a while, but something kept me from making the final leap. I recently read, "Uncommon Learning" by Eric Sheninger, and he talks about how, "true leaders do not expect others to do what they are not willing to do". I teach a graduate course for an Instructional Technology Leadership program and my assignments include the students blogging based on the essential questions of our units to reflect on the learning. I ask them to synthesize their readings, discussions, and learnings and make connections to their life as an educator or to real world examples. I talk to them about how blogging allows them to reflect on their profession and make deeper connections as they produce it for an authentic audience. Yet, I as the instructor have never posted a blog entry myself! Why? A.J. Juliani hit the nail on the head in this post "Fighting the Fear and Anxiety of Sharing Your Work with the World". I feared the critics. I let that fear overshadow the value blogging could bring to myself personally and professionally. How do I know it brings value? In my course reflections, I asked the students to share, "What surprised me about this course?" Below are a few examples with names not included for privacy:
"My best learning experience was writing the blogs. This was also one of the hardest things for me to complete. I have never thought of myself as a writer, it was not something I enjoyed doing. However, I found a real satisfaction in writing these blogs. It helped to reflect upon my learning and it forced me to think about things I was doing but in a much broader perspective."
"Blogging: I was very reluctant because I am not comfortable putting myself out there in writing to the public. I can write to individuals with ease but knowing that anyone could or might be able to access my thoughts made me uncomfortable, exposed. After submitting my first blog I was more at ease and I was surprised that I enjoyed blogging."
"The thing that surprised me during this course was how much I enjoyed writing the blog entries. I have never blogged nor even considered it before. I plan to continue to blog about teaching and things that I am learning in the future."
Fear or Action
I was recently asked what my #oneword2017 would be as a New Year was upon us. I had been thinking about this as I saw others posting to Twitter their ideas. I chose the word, "action". This word carries a lot of weight in my mind as I have been sitting back the last few years as a part of my Twitter PLN happily consuming great ideas, articles, quotes, blogs, etc. from educators around the world. However, as my brain filled, I felt like I was missing something for never contributing to the PLN further than retweeting great finds and showcasing what was happening in the classrooms in our district.
My fear: Do I have anything of value to contribute?
I'm not sure of that answer. However, I need to take "action" to find out. For every article or blog I read, I find something of value, but maybe it isn't about bringing value to others. I thought of reasons that writing a blog might bring value to me:
Can you empathize with what I have felt? Are you a new or seasoned blogger that could share some ideas with me? Perhaps you have the same fears keeping you from making the dive. Check out the resources below. I'm ready to take #action...
Mother, wife, teacher, learner, information seeker, outdoor lover, & I guess now a novice blogger.