I have a travel blog and when I journeyed to Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago to attend the ASCD Conference, I documented the trip on that blog. However, I cannot resist capturing some of the educational wisdom I gleaned from my time there on this blog. I guess I think of the two different blogs as the the physical journey (travel blog) and the journey in my mind (this blog).
My colleague and I started by attending a two-day pre-conference called “Engaging Educators with Data to Create the Future of Your School,” which was led by Victoria Bernhardt and her colleague Bradley. Here are the nuggets from that session:
- The people you meet from around the world are one of the very best things about going to large conferences. I think it is important to take advantage of this networking because it really facilitates reflection about your own system when you listen to others.
- It is very important to look at demographic, perceptual, system and academic data when making decisions. Too often, we focus on a single data set and limit our ability to determine root causes, influences and responses. (I know we have not looked at demographic data enough.)
- “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” Abraham Lincoln. This was a huge focus of this session- moving forward.
- There is a huge difference between compliance and commitment in continuous improvement. Our assumptions determine which side we are on. Therefore, discussing the why behind decisions as well and inviting engagement in information from which decisions are made is a must. Superficial compliance is not transformative. (I concur wholeheartedly. Compliance without commitment signals we have not done a good enough job yet.)
- When looking at data, jot your thinking and connection-making as you go. The “in the moment thinking” is rich. First, wonder, question and wonder some more. Then, synthesize. But don’t move ahead before taking time to notice. (This is tough. We always want to rush to solutions without letting the thinking, noticing and connection-making happen first. We are always in such a hurry. I teach this exact same lesson to students in my art class.)
- Having a strong process is essential for examining data and making decisions. Without a process, everything falls apart. Think about successes, challenges, implications for a school or system and additional data needs. (No processes = chaos.)
- When facilitating data analysis, control the misconceptions. Be ready to step in and clarify when needed. (This reminds me of the same discussion we have around inquiry. There is a time to let things happen and there is a time to step in. Knowing the difference is the sweet spot.)
- A good first step is to inventory the data available to a school or system. Then “clean it up” or make it easy to read, triangulate and reflect on.
- “Your school is perfectly designed to get the results you are getting.” (Reality check moment.)
- “Avoid random acts of improvement.” Ensure work is targeted and focused. (This happens so much in education. Good intentions lost due to lack of strategic focus.)
Our first keynote was Daniel Pink. I had read his book, Drive just prior to attending and was looking forward to his wisdom. This is what I gleaned from his session:
- Teaching is persuading. Not only that, but it is persuading children to do what we want them to do instead of what they think they would like to do. In other words, it is no easy task.
- Education has changed because we have moved to a place where educators have information parity with students. It is no longer a case of telling students things they don’t know. Instead, we are persuading them to manipulate the knowledge we all hold in various ways. (I hadn’t thought of education in this way. I think this is an area where we feel some discomfort as educators right now. We are used to having the answers.)
- Remember, small wins cascade to other small wins. Aim for small wins.
- There are six ways to increase your chances of persuasion. Tip 1: You can increase your effectiveness by temporarily decreasing your feelings of power. This allows you to empathize, which has tremendous impact.
- Tip 2: Ambiverts are the best persuaders. There are studies that show that the most persuasive people are those who are both extroverted and introverted. Either extreme has less persuasive ability.
- Tip 3: Interrogative self-talk is the most effective way to ensure success. Instead of saying to yourself, “You can do this,” ask yourself, “Can you do this?” After a question like this, you are more likely to prepare.
- Tip 4: Ask these questions of the other person- “On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to…?” Follow up with, “Why didn’t you pick a lower number?” This way, the other person works to defend your position.
- Tip 5: Context drives behaviours so make it easy for people to act. As Pink says, “Show people the off ramp and they will more likely take it.” Don’t worry so much about changing minds. Change behaviours first.
- Tip 6: Explain why…even more than how.
Next up was Jay McTighe and Essential Questions. I have to explain that what I learned may have been different from others because we have been working on using essential questions in our division for years now. So, this is what struck me as particularly worth considering as a person who already knew a lot about EQs:
- A good questions is like an itch – you want to scratch it. That is why finding the right question, whether students do it or teachers do it, is so important. (We have spent so much time on finding the “just right” question in our division. Once you find it, you know it but I think we under-estimate the brainstorming that has to happen before we find the compelling question.)
- Essential questions require a defense. It is important that students understand that it isn’t just about the answer…it is about why that answer was given. (This is actually articulated on many of our rubrics.)
- Essential questions should recur. They are part of larger understanding. (And they should recur authentically. Again, compliance or commitment?)
- There are four categories of essential questions: Philosophical, Epistemological, Meaning Making and Metacognitive or Reflective.
- Essential questions must be kid-friendly. They can be part of making this so!
The evening keynote was Sir Ken Robinson, who is funny and thought-provoking all in one! Here is what I learned from his session:
- Life is chaos. It is a continual process of improvisation and anyone who claims otherwise is misrepresenting reality. As a result, few of us know where our life will head when we are in school. It is simply impossible. So, if we create our lives, do our school systems reflect this? Do schools invite this process for students? (And do we expect students to have made decisions too early? Are we giving them enough time and opportunity?)
- In order for us to end up doing the things we are meant to do, we need to figure out what we are good at and look for opportunities to use that talent. To be “in your element” means doing something for which you have an aptitude and a spiritual energy (love). If you are in your element, others are drawn to you. The big thing is finding your element. How often does our school system overlook or marginalize the “elements” of our students? We have to help students find the things that they love!
- The basics of education are not the core subjects…they are the four purposes (economic, cultural, social and personal).
- There are two worlds that exist for every human – the larger world and a world of our private consciousness. Both are really important to the decisions we make.
- Human beings are built with a tremendous capacity to be creative and think of alternatives. Creativity is not some special feature of a few select people. We have to foster creativity because all fields move forward by people contributing original ideas. What teachers pay attention to is what students think is important. If we give attention to creativity and innovation, so will students. (This makes me wonder what students think is important now? Being quiet? Handing in work? Getting stuff done? Behaviour is more important than learning?)
- When students perceive there is one right answer to a problem, creativity and imagination shut down. Don’t let creativity be educated out of our children! (I loved the video he showed to demonstrate this. I even tried it with my art students and found that when they were allowed absolutely freedom, they were far more creative.)
My last session was with Grant Wiggins and John Kao, who were talking about innovation in education and specifically about their project: EdgeMaker. Here is what I learned:
- We have still not arrived in education. Grant stated he has been engaged in education for a long time and we are still working on getting to where we need to for students. (Agreed.)
- “…the idealism and passion of the young are one of the most underutilized resources on the planet.” This session communicated the belief that children are full and complete humans, capable of creativity, problem-solving and risk-taking. We no longer need to wait for students to get old so they can solve the world’s problems – we need to let them begin to solve them now, because they may, in fact, be the most capable of doing so. (This was a huge aha for me. Not because I didn’t know it but because, when stated so clearly, I realized we have some very huge assumptions in our society about children. I have said it before-kids are hugely tolerant of adults and our systems.)
- Maybe it is time to facilitate and listen in different ways in the classroom. Maybe we need to re-position ourselves with students and the “wicked problems” they want to think about. Do adults really believe children can be innovative? Do we invite this nearly enough? We need to get students out of the bleachers and put them in the game!
- We need to aim for self-sustaining student learning. If the teacher is solely responsible for sustaining learning, then the purpose for doing the learning is not nearly compelling enough. On top of this, when adults do all of the sustaining and then students move on to post-secondary, they are under-prepared to have executive control over their own learning. We have taught them to look to others for motivation.
- We are living off our innovation inheritance. It is time to change this and one way is to let children innovate.
- We also need to design units around wicked problems using essential questions. Let them be project-driven so the students can have executive control and the teacher can step back and let students think.
My colleague and I have already started to use many of the data pieces we learned in our pre-conference. It is so exciting to attend PD where the learning is immediately applicable. ASCD put on a fabulous conference and it was a privilege to attend.