Saturday, July 29, 2017

Knowledge. There's more to it than that.

Recently, I couldn't help but laugh when a group of friends and I were in a non-school discussion and I linked it back to learning, to school, and to leadership. Someone in the conversation remarked that no matter what, I seem to be able to bring most conversations back to education. I have yet to decide if that's a good quality of a bad quality (it's also gotten me in trouble at times). Regardless, it's forced me to acknowledge one thing: nearly all the time, teaching, learning, and leading is at the forefront of my mind.

In recent months, I've invested some time learning about where Bloom's Taxonomy intersects with the SAMR Model. And what I've come to be reminded of is that school is meant to be so much more than basic recall and recitation of facts, and more than the teacher imparting knowledge on his or her students.

Knowledge. There's more to it than that.  

So this summer, I've been deliberate about learning and in some cases, re-learning, something with which I'm already familiar, but making the time to see it through a different lens. These activities have provided a fresh look at something I've done before.

For example, bicycle riding. There's nothing quite like the feeling of engaging in strenuous physical activity. It can have a significant positive impact on our mental and emotional states as well. I alluded to this in a post I wrote entitled Stretch. Since the writing of that post, it's been a physical (and in turn a mental) struggle to maintain a steady running habit, as a result of a series of nagging injuries.  So I've moved on to something new. Who among us hasn't ridden a bike, for pleasure, right? 

In recent times, I've come to miss the sensation, the benefits of distance running, that have long served as an outlet for creative problem solving, stress relief, and physical fitness. So this year (at the urging of my teenage daughter), I began attending spin classes, which happens to have been part of my physical fitness regiment years ago.

This same daughter, who I taught to ride a two-wheeler some years back, was now inviting me - encouraging me - to join her in this new "everything old is new again" challenge. And what have I learned as a result?

My visceral reaction is that we spend far too much time, in education, allowing ourselves to treat teaching and learning like riding a bike. Are you the kind of teacher or school leader who prepares for parts of the school year, as you always have done?

Don't get me wrong. Classroom and school routines and expectations are important. Efficiency and consistency are important. And high impact protocols and practices are important. But now consider the last time you tried a completely new approach to start or to end the school year. When was the last time you took an "old reliable idea", and reworked it with enhancements to both the teaching and the learning side of the equation? 

This new school year, why not challenge ourselves to re-imagine something familiar? 

Enter...the spin class.


The very first thing I noticed as I entered my first spin class in nearly 15 years was how the instructor welcomed each of us with a smile, a greeting, and some small talk that made each participant feel welcomed and valued. It's such a simple and important gesture to build community. This theme ran consistently throughout the class. 

Do we capitalize on building a culture of trust in our schools? 


We each sit in neat rows, facing the instructor, who is also seated on her bike. While she makes several announcements that pertain to maximizing the overall experience for us all, there is also space for differentiation. When she squawks, "When you're ready, a quarter turn to the right!" followed by, "A full two full turns." At this point, I realize my starting point and turns will differ from my neighboring bike rider. And to start each transition with, "When you're ready," I come to appreciate that, as a new rider, I am going to be ready at a different time than anyone else.

How might we personalize our approaches to new learning?  


The instructor is positioned at the front of the classroom. If this were a school setting, this may be a red flag for a teacher-driven classroom. However, there's a distinct difference here: the teacher is doing the same thing that the students are doing, and at the same time. We can pattern our form after seeing what the teacher is doing. We can appreciate the joy of the experience and the thrill of overcoming incremental challenges. And maybe best of all, we can celebrate a shared accomplishment. 

Where do our opportunities lie to learn alongside of our students?


Each series builds on the previous series, as the workout intensifies. To experience this as a learner, this is distinctly different when riding a spin bike. The instructor sets the scaffold for a given series, and it is my job, as the learner to regulate and to monitor my own progress, making adjustments where they are needed. The teacher encourages us in to add resistance, she is transparent in the struggle herself, and she adds feedback, in the form of praise and encouragement, each member of the class seems to respond to the challenge to scaffold his or her own experience.

When might we scaffold of our own learning, with or without the support of others? 

Formative Assessment

One area in which I invest significant time with our teachers is in effective use of formative assessment, as a means of informing both teaching and learning. Sitting on (or leaning over) a spin bike, I can't help but notice the role formative assessment plays in how the class runs. A favorite aspect of this particular class is the strong playlist that drives our motivation throughout. But having attended this class on multiple occasions, I've come to appreciate, not all of the songs are the same, or are played in the same sequence from one day to the next. The instructor reads the room and is responsive to our feedback, which could be based on the energy we bring, both individually and collectively, to the class. Based on non-verbal feedback the class offers the teacher, she alters the instruction accordingly.

What role does formative assessment play in your instructional decisions, that will lead to greater levels of meaningful learning?

Each one of us is surrounded by opportunities to push our schools, our teaching, and our leading beyond our comfort zones, and past dispensing knowledge to others in our learning communities. And when we have the courage and the tenacity to do this, we often realize, we're not the only ones who are thinking this way; case in point, the tweet below, from Cornelius Minor. The tweet was attached to a short video clip...about how we can push the outer limits of riding a bike. 

One has to wonder, if we can push limits with a bicycle, what's stopping us from doing more of this in the education field?

26 Days of Learning Leadership
Day 1:   Accountability
Day 2:   BRAVO
Day 3:   Collective Wisdom
Day 5:   Evolve

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