"The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score." — Unknown
Goals are important. But too often we get caught up in being "SMART" and creating goals designed to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. We often forget about the single, most important factor: setting a purpose. We focus all of our attention on the who, what, where, when, and how, and lose sight of the why.
Simon Sinek has made a career out of pushing people to "Start With Why," but what he is really talking about is focusing on the fundamental and self-evident concept of purpose.
Every thought and every action has a purpose. And humans need purpose. Focusing on asking the right questions helps lead us to finding purpose in what we do any why we do it.
Frequently, I hear teachers wrestling over questions like, "What chapter are you on?", "Where are you in this unit?", "How long did it take to get through this chapter?", and "What do I do with this student?"
Students, on the other hand, tend to be laser-focused on finding purpose in nearly everything, asking questions like, "Why do I need to learn this?", "How does this benefit me?", and "Why are we doing this?"
In this regard, we could learn a lot from our students.
I know it's a bit late for "Free Resource Friday," but a simple tool I use to help ensure I focus on finding purpose is called Momentum. Momentum is a free Chrome extension, which hijacks (in a good way) my homepage and presents me with a beautiful landscape, a simple clock, and a prompt asking, "What is your main focus for today?" Whatever I type into the prompt becomes my checklist and disappears when I complete it.
Teachers (or students) can use this to set a focus for each day or each class and help develop their purpose.
Let me know your thoughts and if you find Momentum helpful in improving your focus and setting a purpose, in your classroom or life.
If you are from the Northeastern United States, last night was probably pretty exciting. You may be aware that on Sunday, 1/21/2018, the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles battled two incredibly strong NFL teams and arose victorious; capturing the titles of AFC and NFC champions (respectively) and transforming their dreams of attending this year's Super Bowl into a reality.
In Philadelphia, celebrations received national attention, even before they began. Police, fire, and paramedic teams were on high alert, dispersed throughout the city to deal with raucous revelers. Teams of city workers were instructed to coat light poles with Crisco-brand shortening, to inhibit climbing. The workers referred to themselves as Crisco Cops, with an all-too-obvious trending hashtag: #CriscoCops.
Now I don't bring up the game to brag about the Eagles, my hometown team, nor to insult the Vikings or their fans. Instead, I bring up the game to discuss the topic of "shared experiences."
Whether we choose to follow football or not, as educators we cannot avoid the limitless opportunities a shared experience, like a playoff or championship game, brings to our classrooms.
From graphing wins and losses to calculating probability, math lessons can be enriched with a simple nod to this, or virtually any, sport.
In ELA, students can explore tone, structure, audience, as it relates to advertising. They can dive deep into controversies surrounding the marketing of potentially unhealthy products to younger viewers.
Students can draw similarities between current sports and ancient ones or determine what forces are acting on a football, or a player, during a game. They can also be challenged to create their own music or artwork to communicate a particular feeling or emotion, on the field.
We have limitless ways to embrace shared experiences and a countless number of shared experiences we can leverage in our classrooms, with or without professional sports.
And if you can't come up with a shared experience to use in your classroom, find a way to create your own.
In his book, Teach Like a Pirate, Dave Burgess poses the questions, "Do you have any lessons you could sell tickets to?" These lessons include Dave's complete transformation of his classroom into a speakeasy—including a secret password to enter class—which, ultimately, helped his students learn about prohibition.
With a little bit of creativity and planning, we can create shared experiences students will remember for years, even decades. But you have to ask yourself the ultimate question: Would you want to be a student in your own classroom? If the answer is no, pick up Teach Like a Pirate and reach out for support and suggestions.
“At some point in your career you have to decide if you care more about teaching to tests or teaching kids. My decision was made a long time ago. I teach kids.”—Dave Burgess
Orr, Conor. “Against the Odds, Eagles Are Going to Super Bowl LII.” SI.com, www.si.com/nfl/2018/01/22/eagles-vikings-nfc-championship-super-bowl-52.
P.S. Go Eagles!
Create, in your mind, an image of a robot.
What does it look like? R2-D2? WALL-E? The Terminator? Something else?
What might it sound like? Mechanical? Emotionless? Cold?
Now picture yourself in a classroom. You are a student. What do you hear?
Do you hear the teacher? What is she (or he) saying?
Is she reading from a textbook? A website? Is she giving directions? Or disciplining?
Robotic or unemotional, like Ferris Bueller's Economics teacher? Is she stiff or mechanical, like Charlie Brown's teacher?
Is she filled with passion, like Rita Pierson? Exciting, fun, and engaging, like Joe Dombrowski? Courageous and strong, like Sakena Yacoobi?
When you begin to feel drained, depleted, robotic—don't think you won't; you will—find a mentor. If not physically, then virtually. If not for hours, then minutes. Find an inspirational video. Read a great book. Connect with an educational thought leader, on Twitter.
Then, connect with yourself. Allow your passion to be ignited. Do something different; do anything different.
When you feel your passion growing, when the fun returns, be courageous. Be strong. And share.
Share your journey on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube. Become a mentor, an inspiration, for someone who really, really needs it. Alfred Mercier once said, “What we learn with pleasure we never forget." I believe this statement is no more true for students, as it can be for educators.
This week, as we return to work and continue to evaluate our New Year's Resolutions, I wanted to share with you an app I consider to be essential to my daily life. This app is called Calm.
The Calm app is one I use on a daily basis—often, multiple times a day—for guided meditation and mindfulness exercises. The science is undeniable, meditation teaches us to calm and sharpen the mind, improve focus and concentration, while increasing our overall awareness.
With regular meditation, we can reduce stress, anxiety, and blood pressure levels, while increasing in our immunity levels and improving our ability to heal. It can also be effective in coping with ADD/ADHD, PTSD, chronic pain, sleep problems, insomnia, and many, many other conditions.
As a novice meditator, I found the intro sessions to be particularly helpful. These sessions are structured in 7- and 21-day options, permitting one to develop his or her practice over time. Once you get comfortable with meditation, you can begin to include the Daily Calm, as a part of your daily practice. And depending on how you are feeling, on a particular day or in a particular moment, you can choose from a collection of meditations designed for anxiety, sleep, focus, stress, relationships, and an array of other categories.
Calm's primary meditation instructor, author and producer Tamara Levitt, is extraordinary. Her guidance is calming, reassuring, non-intrusive, and otherwise difficult for me to put into words, but unlike any other guided meditation I have experienced before. Please enjoy this example of a Daily Calm session:
In addition to the meditations, Calm offers Sleep Stories, designed to lull even the busiest mind into sleep, and music tracks, to improve focus, bring relaxation, or bring the outside in.
For the classroom, there is also a section labeled "Kids." This section includes meditations designed to help students of all grade levels balance emotions, while building confidence, focus, and calm. Over the years, Calm has committed to adding content into this area, as they aim to improve the lives of students everywhere.
While much of the app is free, in order to access the full program, Calm offers a $12.99 a month, $59.99 yearly, or $299.99 lifetime access charge. Fortunately for us, Calm has introduced the "Calm Classroom Initiative", providing educators with lifetime access for free (a $299.99 value). Simply complete this form and begin enjoying the calm.
Please reach out if you have any questions about the Calm app and/or how to integrate mindfulness into your classroom. Have a great weekend!
Calm is available on the following platforms:
New York Times — The Mindful Child
KQED News — What Changes When a School Embraces Mindfulness?
Washington Post — Harvard Neuroscientist on the physical effects Mindfulness
Harvard Business Review — Mindfulness Can Literally Change Your Brain
The Atlantic — Should Schools Teach Kids to Meditate?
Wellcome Trust — 7-year study about mindfulness in UK schools
Mindful Nation UK — Report by the Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group
“Room to Breathe” — documentary on mindfulness in schools by Russell Long
San Francisco Chronicle — Meditation Transforms Roughest San Francisco Schools
"The smartest person in the room, is the room." -- David Weinberger
I am a fairly new listener to Don Wettrick's educational podcast, StartEdUp. On a recent episode, titled "Who Made YOU The Expert?" Don recounts two listener emails, questioning why he should be considered an educational expert?
If you have not heard it already, I would highly recommend listening to the episode (embedded below). After that, be sure to finish this post. Then, head over to the StartEdUp podcast website and check out some more episodes. If you like what you hear, be sure to subscribe.
As an instructional coach, teachers I have not coached are often confused as to what my job entails. Some believe I am a technician, as my previous title was educational technology coach. I know what you're thinking, that's still not a technician. It just seems that whenever you throw the word "technology" into a job title, teachers tend to reflexively think you're there to fix their printer or SMARTBoard.
I was having a conversation with one such teacher, who had innocently asked me about the number of requests I was receiving. Sensing she was referring to technology requests, I graciously and in my most non-confrontational manner, explained that I was simply doing some classroom visits and providing feedback, whenever feedback was requested.
Appearing bewildered, my colleague replied, "Uh... Doesn't that require some sort of administrative... you know... administrative background, or something?"
I paused, then responded, "Not exactly. If I were an administrator, my work could end up being, or at least appearing to be, evaluative. I find it's best for teachers to help one another improve, without the added fear of being evaluated. I feel most teachers would agree."
We ended up conversing for a little while longer. I got to hear about her coursework and how many credits she has left before she reaches another tier on the pay scale and she heard about some of my thoughts and philosophies on education.
When I got in the car, to go home, I began to listen to the "Who Made YOU The Expert?" episode and something clicked -- my colleague may well have been asking, "Who made YOU the expert?"
According to Google, an expert is "a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area." Comprehensive meaning, "complete; including all or nearly all elements or aspects of something." Authoritative being defined as, "able to be trusted as being accurate or true; reliable."
In other words, an expert is someone who reliably knows a lot about something.
Notably excluded from the definition of expert is any reference to credentialism, or a "belief in or reliance on academic or other formal qualifications as the best measure of a person's intelligence or ability to do a particular job." Occassionally, I believe credentialism leads people to falsly assume expertise, based purely on a set of letters preceding or following their name. Feel free to listen into the January 10th episode of "The Daily", for an example of this sort of false attribution. (Disclaimer: You may want to skip this recommendation, if you are particularly sensitive to politics.)
So, in conclusion, I deeply respect Don Wettrick's transparency in bringing this topic to light on his podcast and for conceding he is not an expert, but rather an experimenter (interestingly enough, both words come from the same root, meaning to try), despite fitting every qualification of the definition.
Personally, I will work to adopt some of this mentality, as well, conceding that I am not an expert but rather surrounded by experts who may just need a bit of guidance and support, from time to time. Because, sometimes, "The smartest person in the room, is the room."