#DBCBookBlogs: Empower Our Girls

Two weeks from today is the 10th anniversary of working in the very best job I ever accepted… motherhood! Bailey has a big DOUBLE-DIGIT birthday coming up and Sophie turned 6 years old a few months ago. I am the incredibly proud mama of two beautiful daughters who could not possibly be more different. My poor husband is surrounded by estrogen… even our shih-tzu is a girl!

Lynmara Colón and Adam Welcome (Kids Deserve It and Run Like a PIRATE, anyone? Um – wow!) have written an incredibly powerful, moving, and timely declaration! I firmly believe that anyone who elects to pick this book up and open to page 1 will be touched and feel compelled to follow in step with the authors’ call to action! Quite simply, they want to Empower Our Girls!

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So… can we just take a quick second to check out that cover?!?! The cover in itself speaks volumes about what Lynn & Adam believe! Imagine what that little girl on the cover is feeling! I bet she feels as though she can conquer the world, run with the bulls, take up for herself, open her own business… she views herself as a superhero! Imagine what the world would look like if we taught all little girls (and boys) to view themselves as superheroes! In Lead Beyond Your Title by Nili Bartley, she discusses this idea of superheroes and determining the superpower that lies within each of us.

What I love more than anything is that Lynn & Adam aren’t pushing this idea of “entitlement”… this thought that the world owes us something. Nope, they are very clear that it takes hard work and determination. It takes goal setting and mentors who believe deeply in their success. It takes crushing obstacles that lie before us. It is our job, as educators – and truly just as human beings – to open the doors to opportunity for our students… ALL of them. Not just the boys. And not just the girls. We have to be aware of the message we may be unintentionally (or heaven forbid, intentionally) spreading about equality and equity.

Reading Lynmara’s story touched my heart. Seeing a father’s passion for expanding possibilities for his daughter, and all girls, through Adam’s words was enough to bring tears to my eyes. The stories from successful women throughout the pages was extraordinary! When I finished, I was so sad that it was over! I want a sequel… immediately. Get on it, y’all!

One thing that absolutely must be pointed out is the foreword from Shelley Burgess! Yes, you know Shelley… many people may know her as “Dave’s first mate,” or “Dave’s wife”, but y’all – Shelley Burgess is a force to be reckoned with! I have been privileged to have a few conversations with the educator, former Assistant Superintendent of Educational Leadership, co-founder, co-owner and Vice President of Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc, mother, co-author of P is for Pirate AND Lead Like a PIRATE, speaker, and powerhouse that is Shelley Burgess. Let me assure you that, while I feel certain she holds her role as “Dave’s wife” in highest regard, she moves mountains in her own name. In other words, she doesn’t need to rely on a man. (Besides have you ever seen Dave Burgess speak? Can you imagine being married to that for however-many-years? Bless her. She’s a good, good woman. HA! Sorry, Captain.) Anyhow, check out her foreword in a blog post from Dave right here! It sets the tone perfectly for Empower Our Girls and prepares us to be WOWed by Lynmara and Adam!

This is legitimately a book that I want my nearly 10 year old to read! I hope that I have shown her that she can do anything she puts her mind to! My mother opened her own business at age 54 and just held her first anniversary celebration! Business is booming in her boutique and she is the owner, operator, manager, seamstress, businesswoman, cashier, custodial staff, customer service, and everything else it takes to run a store all in one. I’m so proud of her! These are type of stories we need to hear more of; the stories where women share their successes and setbacks. Honest, raw, vulnerable stories that show that while we, as women, are deeply human in our emotions, we are insanely strong and equally as capable to run through obstacles that threaten to stop us. Our girls need to believe that anything is possible and we need to let them know the doors are open, even if we have to break them off the hinges first.

Implementation

Y’all… I’m awful about saying guys when speaking to a group of students. I’m done with that. It seems so inconsequential, but after reading Lynn & Adam’s stories, I realize that it could not be any more important. So not only will I be ensuring that my daughters realize that they don’t need to be rescued by anyone, and they don’t have to play with Barbies (Sophie plays with tractors and race cars anyhow), and that if Bailey wants to go to STEM Camp this summer, she can and will be just as good at it as anyone else there, but I will also pay more attention to the unintentional messages I’m sending out.

I’m also going to check our library immediately for female characters and female success stories! If I find a discrepancy, I will purchase books with strong female characters and biographies of women for my girls to read and aspire to be like.

Y’all… you need this book. Like… you need Empower Our Girls yesterday. Go! Get your copy & use the hashtag #EmpowerOurGirls to reflect and share your own story! Connect with Lynmara and Adam, and more than anything – encourage girls daily! Show them how much we believe in them. They deserve it!

#DBCBookBlogs: Empower

Immediately upon finishing LAUNCH by John Spencer & AJ Juliani, I knew I wanted to read their second book, Empower, as quickly as possible. Finally, I was able to find time to read it and I was not disappointed. Some sequels start out where the first left off, but Empower doesn’t simply pick up where LAUNCH left off; it adds a whole new layer of aspirations for our students.

LAUNCH taught us to engage students in design thinking and how to relate this student-centered design thinking process to every content area. Empower shows us how to shift our thinking from student-centered to student-owned.

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From the foreword from George Couros (author of The Innovator’s Mindset and co-owner of IMpress with his wife, Paige and Dave & Shelley Burgess) to the invitation to innovation on the final page, this book was a powerful read. John & AJ share why it is not enough to simply shift the educational environment from compliance to engagement. We must extend this vitally important shift for students to empowerment. Students should not be answering our questions, but asking their own questions and then seeking to find the answers. If we want lifelong learners (and I genuinely hope that is the quest for all educators), we need to help students take those reins. It’s not enough to tell them we want them to set goals for themselves, we should give them the freedom to actually set them.

There are many moments in this book that I felt a mic drop from John & AJ. One moment that I felt a mic drop was when AJ and John share the shift from ‘making the subject interesting to tapping into student interests’. I love AJ’s story about Mr. Flynn and how Mr. Flynn’s interest in AJ ultimately pulled out the maker in him by empowering him through a programming class. The rap created by AJ & veteran teacher Jen Smith further illustrates the difference between making a subject interesting and tapping into students’ interests.

The description of the tourist teacher was a perfect description of me teaching in my early years. I was driving the bus and the kids were along for the ride. If the students found something they were interested in and wanted more information, I had to keep going so we’d stay on topic and on time, according to my schedule. While I understand that there is content that must be taught and time constrictions to teach it, we must rid ourselves of this model teacher. It’s not easy. In fact, just this year (my 13th in education), I was able to give students more choice and voice than ever before through passion projects in the media center. I was able to do this because I gave myself permission to let go of control and release the power to my students.

Yes, some failed miserably. Some didn’t turn a thing in, and some wasted time. Many expressed that they learned more than they thought possible and that they enjoyed the learning! There are facets of this experience that I will certainly change in the future, but one thing will remain the same – they will own the learning. And they will own it without being graded. They will feel the freedom of taking risks.

Another mic drop moment was the discussion of the difference between fail-URE and fail-ING. AJ and John highlight George Couros saying that we shouldn’t celebrate the failURE of our students, but the act of resiliency and the grit of getting back up again.  AJ and John talk about reframing failing as success through iterations. I think of it as a productive struggle. Every time our students experience a Breakout from BreakoutEDU, I see the productive struggle. It is so tough to watch their content teachers as we co-teach in these experiences. They desperately want to help the students as I encourage them to let the students struggle with it. The victory is so much sweeter when they have achieved it all on their own. Many of our students are beginning to believe this is true, as well. I know this because they use their hint cards less than they did initially. It’s so much to celebrate success with students, especially when they have achieved that success on their own!

A true craft in writing is using an analogy to describe difficult concepts and these two authors have proven that they are artists. The comparison of differentiation, personalization, and empowerment shown through ice cream examples is brilliant. It’s worth purchasing the book just to read this short section. I want to take a teacher field trip to a Baskin Robbins, Cold Stone Creamery, and Sweet Frog (our own fro-yo spot) to make these connections with our teachers!

Finally, I love the section about the stages John shares as students move from consumers to creators.

  • Exposure (Passive Consuming)
  • Active Consuming
  • Critical Consuming
  • Curating
  • Copying and Modifying
  • Mash-Ups
  • Creating From Scratch

As always, I intend to implement at least one thing from this book. Because I work with both students and teachers, I have a lot of flexibility in my implementations and interpretations of the books I read. I have chosen to go a bit off the beaten path with this one, mostly because I can. Also, I feel that it is in the spirit of the book to do something a bit different. The premise of the book is empowerment and what happens when students own their learning. I am perfectly comfortable sharing that I am still a student. I will always be a student. My learners are also teachers, who are also students. So this implementation will go a bit “top down”, if you will.

I have facilitated somewhere in the vicinity of 50 various breakout experiences from BreakoutEDU with teachers and students in our school over the past two years. (With many breakouts being repeated in classes 3-4 times per day, this results in somewhere between 150-200 total experiences.) Some are digital and some physical. All have been copied straight from the BreakoutEDU platform. In a few cases, I have tweaked clues to better suit our students, but I have never created a BreakoutEDU entirely on my own. My implementation is to create my own BreakoutEDU for one of my media classes and empower teachers (and students) in my building to create their own for their content areas. Following the LAUNCH cycle, I will launch this Breakout to an audience by submitting it to the platform for BreakoutEDU and encouraging teachers to do the same.

It’s going to be messy, however I believe it will be a success!

Empower is the first book released under the IMpress label! Check out this website with an incredible toolkit and more information on maker projects and the Global Day of Design! This is good stuff! The sketches within the book are stunning, and really bring the message to life! I highly recommend grabbing a copy of this incredible book by John Spencer and AJ Juliani! Here’s to hoping they share another book of their incredible knowledge together with the world! Until then, check out their blogs – here is John’s and here is AJ’s. Both of them have also written their own book; AJ wrote The PBL Playbook and John wrote Making Learning Flow. Both are certainly worth a read as well!

#DBCBookBlogs: Learner Centered Innovation

Back in 2017, George & Paige Couros teamed up with Dave & Shelley Burgess to create a division of Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc. IMPress introduces us to books that dive deeper into the message of The Innovator’s Mindset & continue to showcase what George first brought us in DBC’s ninth book. (See the big announcement on a blog by Dave here.) As of this blog, there are seven books published under the IMPress label.

I am breaking a rule of mine by reading Learner Centered Innovation by Katie Martin first. I have typically read the books in order of their release (this is the second release from IMPress), but I had an amazing opportunity to meet Katie Martin at a What Great Educators Do Differently conference a few weeks ago in Houston, TX. (Blog about this experience is here.) Because I was meeting her, I wanted to dive into her book. I never expected it to take weeks to read it, but more about that in a moment.

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To discover what this book is about, simply read this quote from Katie:

“Many of today’s kids will have to create their jobs and forge a new path. The world has changed so dramatically and will continue to do so at an exponential rate, and, to best serve our students, educators and institutions must evolve with it, or we will leave our students behind.”

-Katie Martin

Katie begins by sharing the beauty of two words: “What if”

She immediately pulled me in by pointing out the traditions in education (as related to the industrial age model) and how that is preventing innovation from taking root in more than just pockets around our schools, district, state, and world.

Evolution of the Teacher’s Role

She shares that our role as educators has evolved. It made me stop and consider if I have evolved with the times. Do I teach like my teachers taught me? Some of my very favorite teachers did the “traditional” courses… desks in rows and columns, the teacher at the front of the room using the whiteboard or overhead to display information, and the students taking all the information in from that teacher. Perhaps their classes weren’t edge-of-your-seat excitement, but I knew those teachers cared about me.

Early in my career, I definitely taught as I’d been taught. I still use storytelling (like my amazing 4th grade teacher), humor (like my 7th grade social studies teacher), and student choice (like my 8th grade ELA teacher).

Katie shares that one of our most prominent roles should be that of an activator. Here are some of the definitions I found for activate:

  • to encourage development or induce increased activity; to stimulate
  • to trigger, to actuate, to set off, to enable
  • to excite
  • to remove the limitations of by providing a license; to unlock
  • to bring a player back after an injury

Even down to the sports definition, I want to be an activator for students! I want to encourage them, stimulate them, enable them to do more than they ever thought they could and then get them excited about doing it. I want to remove their limitations by unlocking endless potential in their minds and hearts. I want to make school fun again, bringing them back to the place of creativity and imagination that so many of our “traditions” in education squash like a bug on a windshield. I want to be an activator.

Testing or Learning?

Katie says, “We will never achieve the results we want by focusing on performing well on a test.” Let me repeat that for those in the back…

“We will NEVER achieve the results we want by focusing on performing well on a test.”

-Katie Martin

Guess what that means? All that time spent painstakingly going over released test items… better spent doing Project-Based Learning where those same problems are relevant to students. All the time spent reading and highlighting short passages using question stems from “the test”… our time is better spent allowing students to select their own reading material & having (wait for it) conversations with them about what they’re reading. You want to use question stems? Ask the questions and don’t expect an A, B, C, or D response.

I’m preaching to me right now, too. Do you have any idea how much time I spent reviewing at the end of each year I was in the classroom?! I flew through curriculum so I could be sure to have enough review time before the standardized test. What if I’d just ensured that students learned the content (and so much more) thoroughly the first time? Imagine the possibilities.

Here’s what I think (and it appears to align with Katie’s beliefs, too)… standardized testing isn’t the bad guy here. It’s the overemphasis on them that gives them a villainous role in education. Think about it… I’m thankful that my students in rural, high-poverty, small town North Carolina are expected to learn the same content and perform at the same level as rich, suburban kiddos. It wouldn’t be fair for the standards to be different for those groups of students; set the bar high, I’m okay with that! However, when we focus so much on the outcome of those tests rather than the process and growth, I have a problem.

This test season take the time to have fun! Play games, make learning authentic, give students an audience like never before… I truly believe that “the test” will take care of itself if students are having a good time while learning the content.

Professional Learning Communities

I remember hearing about PLCs for the first time many years ago. The idea that teachers were to work together to create lessons with common assessments and “share” students was insane to us. Until that point, we were in competition due to the aforementioned test scores. Several teachers didn’t want other teachers to know what they were doing successfully because that teacher might use it and (God forbid) the students down the hall might perform better than their own. If you’ve been in education long enough, you remember this and you know I am speaking truth.

Our PLCs turned into exactly what Katie talk about in her book. It was a checklist. The questions she shares… the exact questions we had to answer each week. It became a running joke because we knew those questions by heart the same way we knew the script for the end-of-grade testing by heart.

Thankfully, I was part of a PLC that was exceptional. We worked together, co-planned lessons, shared everything, switched up students for flexible grouping as needed, and when one teacher’s students performed better on a given objective, that teacher taught our students, too! I knew every student in 5th grade’s name and to be honest, I see some of those students now (many are high school/college age) and I honestly can’t remember if they were on my roster or not because I taught them as much as those in my class. It took a lot of time to get to that place; we had arguments, petty things mostly. We got on one another’s nerves. It wasn’t all rainbows and roses, but we were a rocking PLC. We celebrated birthdays together; our kids played together; we laughed together and cried together. We even did graduate school at the same time. The three of us left the school one after the other. I truly believe it’s because we didn’t want to do the job without the others; we had experienced a true PLC and struggled to replicate it. One became an administrator and moved to a high school during the summer months, I left halfway through the year to begin my journey as a media coordinator, and the third left at the end of that year to move to a middle school library position.

Katie’s book reminds us that the same things we know that are true about building relationships with our students is true of our colleagues. “We are more willing and able to hear critical feedback when it is coming from someone who we perceive cares about us as individuals, sees our strengths, and is willing to invest the time to help us grow.”

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It took me over three weeks to finish this book. If you’ve been around for any of #DBC50Summer, you know that means something. Katie’s book covers so much ground. It’s all interwoven and connected to everything that has the potential to make education what it should be for children (and adults). In many ways, after reading this, I don’t even know that we need to do anything but submit this book to Congress and tell them that THIS is how we should be doing school and begin implementing it nationwide. I have to tell you… when you get your own copy of this one, carve out time to really read it. It’s not a “light” read; you need your brain fully activated (see what I did there) while you’re reading it. I have notes all over the margins of this book and didn’t even use a highlighter because I knew I’d need three or four of them as I read.

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Implementation

This implementation will begin next year. I still have several implementations of #DBC50Summer and previous #DBCBookBlogs to do and only a few weeks left to do them. In the implementation post Creating a Stronger Foundation, I shared that I created a template for 6th grade students to tell me about themselves. In Learner Center Innovation, Katie shares about a teacher who stopped asking students about their favorite color, etc and instead asked for an open-ended list – “The Top Ten Things I Need to Know About You”. I’m 100% doing this! I can keep the template I had created, but add ten slides at the end with students putting one thing I need to know about them on each slide. They can add pictures, videos, etc to that slide if they’d like. I love the open-ended nature of this as it will allow me to get to know them better and deeper much faster!

Remember to get your own copy of Learner Centered Innovation by Katie Martin! It’s the second book in the IMPress line, a division of DBC, Inc. You won’t regret it! And if you have the chance to see Katie in action, I highly recommend going! She is also an amazing presenter! Follow along with the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #LCinnovation!