Yes, help the teacher with the malfunctioning document projector, even though you know, in all likelihood, it just needs to be plugged in. Yes, be there when that Mac display needs to be mirrored, again.
But you have a Master's degree in Education? You have a decade or more of experience in the classroom? Teachers need to check their own plugs before asking for your help?
I know. I know. It stinks. I've been "there." But I'm here to remind you, it's a bitter pill, that pride-methylphenodate and sometimes it looks bigger than a horse pill. You can do it though. Just take a big gulp and swallow.
Why, you ask? Because it's not your job to make people into what you want them to be. It's also not your job to bring people up to your level. It's your job to help create the conditions that allow people to grow, try, and feel successful.
Don't we all want to work in a place that feels safe? Where we can feel successful and valued?
Take Simon Sinek's well known TED Talk called "Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe." I've posted the video below, but in his talk, Sinek describes our "Circle of Safety" as a place where people feel safe and protected from the dangers of our environment. No, not saber toothed tigers. Yes, safe from the things that make us feel vulnerable, out of control, and anxious.
Technology can feel dangerous, risky, uncontrollable to a novice or semi-novice user. A fellow teacher may feel as though using technology with a room full of students is like treading water in a rough sea.
At that moment of danger, you wouldn't yell, 'Swim!" to a colleague. Your job is to jump in and say, "Don't panic. Hold on to me. I'll swim with you."
That's empathy. Trust, safety and protection grow from empathy. As Sinek says, "Trust and cooperation are feelings, not instructions." You can't make someone trust you. They have to believe that you are in their Circle of Safety.
So yes, sometimes, to a teacher, that unplugged document camera is a thing that's trying to "frustrate and reduce opportunities for success." Plug it in, say it was your pleasure to help, and walk away knowing that you are creating conditions for growth. You are staying in the teacher's Circle of Safety.
Stay there and, one day, that teacher will say to you, "I'm ready to swim."
My husband and I just finished clearing our 576 square feet of soil that we call our vegetable garden. Until recently, it was full of flourishing, happy, spring time weeds that we just let grow for far too long.
Our vegetable garden is a battle we fight every spring. The Memorial Day weekend rolls around with its beautiful weather, lengthening days, and the promise of growing our own pumpkins for the fall, from seed, gets us right back out there with shovels. We (or maybe just me) become re-inspired by what our enormous, urban garden could become.
Vegetable gardens take a lot of work. Maintenance is required nearly every season of the year, depending on where you live.
So gardening has been on my mind the last few weeks and having just returned from my second year attending the Traverse Conference, hosted by the Watershed School in Boulder, Colorado, I found myself thinking about our roles as school leaders, educators, and "changemakers". We often speak of how we need to cultivate our students’ mindsets for growth and innovation. This is, indeed, true and I believe is becoming more and more crucial every day. However, I believe it is equally important that we develop the same mindsets in the adults we entrust to lead them. The learning environments we create, and the instruction we design, promote a culture of thinking and a growth mindset that can be prolific.
I wondered: How might we cultivate a growth mindset in our teachers?
Identifying a growth mindset teacher
First, I think we must know how to identify a teacher with a propensity for innovation. Any person in a position of fostering cultural transformation within a school could identify a teacher with a growth mindset by observing the following characteristics:
Producing the most yield
Growth mindset teachers are the seeds of transformation and they will help grow the instructional landscape in your school, so it is vital to nurture them well. By following a few simple steps, you can help ensure that the characteristics of a growth mindset teacher take hold of your school culture with deep, healthy roots.
1. Help them find spaces to flourish.
Growth mindset teachers need new roles, new professional relationships, new experiences, and new connections to thrive. Remember, they’re sending out runners and you can help them by introducing them to other people and places that are doing the same.
2. Honor their “Yes, and” mindset and resist saying “Yes, but” to their ideas.
This certainly doesn’t mean letting a teacher go rogue, implementing whatever he or she pleases. However, growth mindset teachers believe that every idea is worth pursuing even in small increments. In fact, when a growth mindset teacher hears, “Yes, but” he may instinctively withdraw from conversations. “Yes, but” is a signal that another person may be functioning according to constraints, rather than possibilities. Instead say, “Yes, and as you develop that idea, here are the constraints you may need to consider.”
They also believe their ideas can be better, so bring them your feedback and ideas, frequently.
3. Intentionally connect them to the larger structure of the institution.
These folks are not likely in a position of formal leadership, and yet they’re seen as trailblazers, pioneers and yes, tragically, even disturbers of the status quo. They will often times feel unsure whether their actions and ideology still match up with the greater mission of the institution.
Make sure they are strongly connected to the lattice work and trellises of the institution so they have something intentional upon which to grow. Share your joys, concerns (when appropriate), questions, ideas - your vision - regularly, so they know they’re growing along-side larger goals.
Plans for our family vegetable garden continue to take shape. Each day the potential for what we could do in that space changes and evolves. Today, it's just vegetables, but tomorrow, or next year, we may add a chicken coop. Either way, for me, it's a space to practice continual redesign, imagine limitless potential, and explore the boundaries of mastery. Our educators, and our schools, should be too.
Does it matter?
(originally written in the fall of 2015 for Traverse 2016.)
“Do you care about the problem you’re trying to solve?” I asked our iDesign students.
Most of them responded with “Yes.” Whew! That was a relief. I honestly thought they did care about their challenges, but I didn’t want to be naive. I had a hunch it would be multi-layered so when I asked more questions, the layers began to show.
A colleague and I started iDesign & 3D Prototyping for eighth graders this fall, the first course of its kind during the regular school day at Park Tudor. It was new, and their attitudes were generally positive. They were motivated by the challenges they identified and by being at the core of their own learning. The were energized by a teacher asking them, “How might you?” instead of telling them, “You will.”
For the students, brainstorming and designing their initial sketched prototypes were by far the most engaging and exciting pieces of the design process. But then, iteration two happened based on feedback from the first. And then, again, onto iteration three based on more feedback. They then hit a creative roadblock. I’d seen it before so I was expecting it, but I didn’t know how to handle it. I had no idea how to reignite their enthusiasm.
I didn’t ask the question, “Do you care?” out of the blue. I didn’t even know to ask until I reached out to Greg Bamford and asked, “Is this normal?” and “What do I do?” Greg helped me by reminding me to ask them if they care about the problems they’re trying to solve and making sure their prototypes matter to them.
Ta-da! Failure on my part. I didn’t ask the powers that be if the kids’ prototypes would matter before I let the them take on some pretty impactful challenges. I didn’t ask if there was a budget for implementation, or even if the same challenges were already being handled by adults. The students were redesigning the school schedule, prototyping a digital tool for kids and teachers to stay organized, reimagining a shared outdoor space, and building a device for charging personal devices while at school. Because when the students told us they cared, it was followed by, “But it’s hard to care when you think it might not matter.” Heart dropping - thud. Really, this is just a reminder that eighth graders are smarter and more intuitive than I thought to give them credit for.
Of course their designs matter! They’re based on human need! The design teams are tackling real, deep needs for our school that were discovered through their empathic exploration. It matters! But does it really? They know it might not.
Beyond seeing a prototype come to fruition, the students question whether their voice will be heard. Will their designs be taken seriously? Will their design hold the same value as one created by adults? Does it matter? I didn’t know but promised to find out. Eventually, the design teams will present iterations to decision makers within the school hierarchy and hopefully this will encourage them and reaffirm that their designs will matter, even if in just a small way.
Then a deeper layer was exposed. Our students said, “It’s hard to care when we don’t know what will happen to the prototype, or our idea.” Uncertainty. Lack of clarity. Unpredictability.
It’s uncomfortable for kids to work on something that may or may not have a concrete outcome. More than just the question of whether their designs have value, the students discovered that uncomfortable reality of not knowing. Each day, they’re told what to create, how it will be graded, and how to maximize their grade. A product is created, or an assessment is completed, and the outcome is mostly within their control. And more often than not, their confidence is rooted in that process. They get the road map and directions, then do what they need to arrive at the destination. This unfamiliar terrain of “not knowing” is frustrating, irritating, scary, and exasperating (I’m sure I’ve seen some eye-rolling at times).
For me, this raises more questions than answers. Do kids really need a sense of finality in order to maintain their creativity and motivation? Or, do they just need time to discover another way? As their consultant/teacher/navigator, I care more about how the kids create together than what they create - will that be enough for them? Will they grow to understand and be driven by creativity and wonder, rather than a set of directions and a letter grade? How do I help them feel safe in this zone of discomfort?
We get a new group of students next semester and a new opportunity for a second iteration of iDesign & 3D Prototyping. Come January, the group will absolutely know their designs matter because I’ll have done my research beforehand.
When you’re out there, standing on the crossroads between Highway “Follow the Crowd,” with all the road signs and mile markers to the next big destination that make you feel safe and confident, and County Road “Take a Risk,” which, if you know Midwest County roads, they look like endless roads to the middle of nowhere, you need a group of people who will remind you that it’s okay to not know where you’re going - the journey is what’s meaningful. Don’t be afraid of the unknown. I’m sure more failures will be discovered because there are no real road signs for how to teach like this. All you can do is turn to traveling companions who will encourage and inspire you along the way. Moreover, your companions should be able to say, “I don’t really know either - let’s figure it out together!” That’s why I’m looking forward to Traverse16.