#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.

empower

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.

LCinnovation

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!

 

#DBCBookBlogs: The Revolution

“If you want to have students in your classroom, then keep teaching models from the twentieth century. If you want to have learners in your classroom, then keep reading…”

~Darren Ellwein & Derek McCoy

I spent ten years in the elementary setting. Even in my undergraduate courses, when I met middle school education majors, I would shake my head wondering what they were thinking. Why would they want to teach hormonally imbalanced children who were bigger than they were?! Those kids who were stuck between being a child and becoming an adult. I equated middle school to that incredibly awkward time in my life when I quit being “one of the guys” and became a cheerleader. This was a time before makeup and braces, a time of bangs, acne, thin, unkept hair… it was not. pretty. y’all. (And before you ask, no; there will absolutely NOT be a picture of this anywhere in this post)

So why in the world would I want to re-enter that world of awkwardness and getting picked on? When my Superintendent shared a job description with me that pretty much came straight from a dream world, he had me hooked. Then he informed me… “I’ll need you to move to a middle school”

…say what?!…

So for the past three years, I have been back in the world of middle school. Just like the authors of The Revolution (book 67 for Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc), I now believe middle school is THE place to be! I can’t imagine teaching at any other level but middle school! I love every second with these kids. They are truly going to change the world; heck, many of them are already changing the world… and they are somewhere between 11-15 years old. Darren Ellwein and Derek McCoy are both middle school principals who are revolutionizing education. But they don’t just talk the talk, they are walking the walk and they share their stories in their book!

TheRevolution

Throughout the entire book I was nodding my head, highlighting, and writing notes in the margin (by the way, I’d suggest a print copy so you can do the same). This is yet another book that I could write a few thousand words for a reflection; I’m going to try NOT to do that, though. No promises… I may get pumped up and not be able to help myself.

Darren & Derek talk about it all in The Revolution, calling those who are doing the hard work and changing education from the industrial age “Revolution@ries”! Some of the topics discussed are:

  • Classroom Management
  • Growth Mindset
  • Culture
  • Learning Spaces
  • Funding (Friendraising – oh em gee, I love this)
  • Empowerment
  • Collaboration
  • Global Learning
  • Empathy
  • Design Thinking
  • Makerspace & the Maker Culture
  • Learners as Revolution@ries
  • Revolution@ry Leaders
  • Personalized Learning (this example is on point, by the way)

When I say there’s something for everyone in this book, it’s easy to see why that’s not an exaggeration. Even though Derek & Darren are middle school principals and discuss their experiences as middle school educators, make no mistake – this is not a middle school ONLY book! This is for ALL levels of education!

Reflections & Connections

As I was reading, I made many connections. I immediately identified with the section about learning spaces. Upon arriving at the middle school, I wanted to change up the layout of the media center immediately. It screamed “old school” and I wanted to bring new life to it. I wrote a blog post about the Media Makeover a while back. It’s important to know that this space still isn’t complete! It never will be complete. As long as new students are coming into the space, things will change. Why? I get their input. Former students come in and see the changes, usually responding with “Mrs. Ray, why did you wait until I left to get the cool stuff?!” Ha! It’s ironic because every group says that, which must mean we’re doing something right! The space continues to improve and students still want to come back and visit. Even now, our space has changed drastically from the images in the Media Makeover blog. Here’s a tweet highlighting some of the changes.

Another BIG a-ha for me was the compliance –> engagement –> empowerment theme in the book! I was privileged to guest moderate a #champforkids chat (founded by Kelly Hoggard, a phenomenal educator and friend from Virginia) in September 2018. Our topic was “Engagement or Compliance” and we discussed this very idea. The idea that engagement surpasses compliance. Compliant students aren’t necessarily learning anything; they’re just playing the game well. They are answering the questions and doing what’s asked of them. There is no passion behind their eyes, no enthusiasm for learning. Engaged students are sitting on the edge of their seats practically begging for more. I don’t know about you, but when given the choice, I’ll take an engaged student any day! Then Darren & Derek throw in empowered students and I’m over here, like, “I want those kids now! As in right now!”

Part of my passion as a media coordinator is teaching students to be lifelong learners who are knowledgeable about finding relevant, reliable, safe, and accurate information in both digital and print formats. We have really dug into teaching research skills using the LAUNCH method (more on that in a later post) based on AJ Juliani and John Spencer’s book, Launch. Rather than requiring a certain topic to be researched, students have chosen their own topic and were required to find three sources that were relevant, reliable, safe, and accurate, summarize and paraphrase the information contained within those sources and have learned the basics of citing sources using APA or MLA format (and where to create those online). Yes, there are currently over 350 research projects going on at the same time right now and it’s an incredible feeling!

Implementation

This leads me to the implementation plan. In the chapter “A Final Call to Action” Darren & Derek share “It’s exciting to talk about revolution, but a revolt against the status quo doesn’t happen without action. The words on these pages have no meaning unless you put them into practice.” Sounds a lot like my favorite quote from Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess.

“Inspiration without implementation is a waste.”

This quote has guided all of #DBC50Summer and #DBCBookBlogs as I am trying to implement at least one thing from each book. I’m getting the point in the school year that I’m going to need to begin thinking about the 2019-2020 school year as the year for implementations. This year is rapidly coming to a close. I believe I can squeak this one in though, because it correlates with an idea I was already trying to work out in my head.

I wanted students to be able to share the information gathered from their research with their peers but wasn’t sure how to have them present it. That’s just the problem; I was trying to put them in a box and tell them how I wanted it presented. Ugh! I know better than that! Now I’m getting out of their way and allowing them to decide how they want to showcase what they learned in their research. The sky is the limit. We have an incredible makerspace, virtual reality, Merge cubes, and we’re 1:1 with Chromebooks and Bring Your Own Device. These students can literally do whatever they want to share their information with their peers. I’m excited to see what they come up with.

Two other implementations…

I’m going to finally make myself sit down and create a list of all the items we have available in our makerspace and devise a plan for teachers to get in the space and put their hands on the materials to connect it to their curriculum. (Fit the curriculum into the learning rather than fit the learning into the curriculum, as suggested in The Revolution)

I want to create a #RevoltLAP playlist that will get me amped before going to work! Songs like Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” Imagine Dragons’ “Whatever It Takes,” and others will certainly be in the mix. Share what revolution song gets you pumped to revolt against the status quo in the comments below! I’ll create a playlist of these songs and share via Twitter. I’ll also link it here!

#RevoltLAP

Be sure to follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #RevoltLAP! I’m expecting great things to come from this book and I know you’ll want to be part of it! I’ve known Derek for years and can personally attest to him being the real deal! I look forward to meeting Darren and loved reading all about his own revolution@ry journey! Soon, you will be able to find out more about Darren and Derek on the Where are the PIRATES section of the Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc website. For now, check out Derek’s website here and Darren’s website here. I’d also suggest subscribing to both of their YouTube channels! Derek is here and Darren is here. Finally, go check out the Flipgrid space and leave words of inspiration for other Revolution@ries! We are all in this together, and we need support! A huge shoutout to Andrea Paulakovich for allowing me to copilot this space. It was her incredible idea to brought the Flipgrid to life!