Mom’s Lessons

img_6110

Cancer is nasty. It is an insidious, life-sucking, mentally challenging and exhausting disease that tests a family in ways they never dreamed possible. It tires you, and angers you, frightens you and saddens you.

How do I know this? Our family was recently blind-sided by a diagnosis that will take our mother from us far too soon. A woman who bowled weekly, golfed often, volunteered regularly, met with her friends, completed crossword puzzles and Sudoku challenges daily, walked outside or on her treadmill and never failed to cheer on her Jets, was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 glioblastoma (GBM), a very aggressive form of brain cancer.

How blindsided were we? On December 25th, she was up giggling and partying with her grandchildren, sipping on a beer while they threw jokes back and forth and kept the rest of us up until the wee hours of the morning. Their laughter was ringing through the house, and she was loving every minute of it. One week later, she was not able to walk without assistance, and one week after that, we are transporting her from bed to chair with a wheelchair. This vibrant woman has been given a life sentence of two months to a year, but as she has opted out of radiation therapy, a decision that we have to respect, the likelihood is that we will have less time than more. So, yes, I despise this disease.

The upside is that Mom is handling this diagnosis with her usual dose of humor, straightforwardness and class and continues to pass on life lessons even in the midst of this chaos.

Mom is a joke-teller, something that runs in her family. How she remembers all of the details is beyond me, but remember them she does. In her world, there isn’t anything that a good joke can’t make better, especially when she can’t get through the punchline because the joke is just too funny. As such, we laugh often and freely, even in the strangest of places or times. Case in point. Her first round of hospitalization ended up at the Health Science Centre, a teaching hospital with any number of medical students coming in and out of her room to discuss her prognosis. The first-year medical student assigned to her case had just finished her first rounds on a maternity ward, where she experienced life and all the joys that come with it. Then, her next term on a mid-level ICU involved telling people that they weren’t likely to see their next Christmas. So, she was a tad emotional and spent some time sobbing in Mom’s room because the experience was just so overwhelming for her. A little ironic that the caregiver was then cared for by the patient, but this is our life. Mom’s response was to pat her side of the bed, have the medical student sit down beside her and proceed to tell her a rather racy joke. We howled, the medical student included, in part because she was so shocked that these words would be coming from Mom’s mouth. With the laughter, her tears disappeared. She was then able to listen to Mom explain that sometimes, it’s okay to let the tears fall. And the dying part, well…that’s just a part of life, as much as it may suck, it isn’t something to be feared (although she did make the med student promise that she’d come up with a nice bevy of pain-relieving meds upon request). And once she dried her eyes, the student was able to carry on with the rest of her shift with much more self-confidence.

Mom’s Lesson: There is no shame in crying…sometimes, it is what you need to feel better. And it’s okay to laugh…even when you are pissed off at something beyond your control, sad, afraid or embarrassed. A good belly laugh makes it easier to deal with the hard stuff.  

Mom is also a very spiritual person. This is in part because of her close to 80 years of living life as a practicing Catholic, although I think that her faith goes deeper than her once weekly visits to church. As such, she doesn’t see death as a horrid event, but rather a beginning to something wonderful…in her words, her reward for a life that by all accounts is deserving of a big one! I won’t know whether she is right or not until my day comes, but I do know that she isn’t afraid to die, and because of her attitude, she is making it infinitely easier for those around her to process her diagnosis. The only caveat to this is that she is asking for whatever fabulous cocktail the medical profession has available to ensure that her journey over to the other side is as pain free as humanly possible. In the meantime, she is relishing in the company of friends and family, as she remembers their experiences together, the good, the bad and the hilarious. And based on the steady flow of people coming to see her, the reactions of these people to her diagnosis and the support that she is receiving, I would say that she has lived a life worthy of some major fanfare on the other side.

Mom’s Lesson: Have faith. Believe. And for as long as you are still able to breathe in oxygen, do your best to live your life and share your joy with those that you love. Those memories and that laughter will make your exit from this Earth a little easier for those that you leave behind.

Through all this, I know that with the time that we have left, we will enjoy Mom’s jokes, we will laugh with her and we will continue to believe that her impact on her family and friends will carry on in one way or another long past that moment when she takes her last breath. But most of all, I have faith that some day, somewhere, somebody is going to find a cure for this disease. This faith is a gift from my mother and very likely, my best lesson.

 

Advertisements

Creating Change & Embracing Failure

Quote Never A Failure Always A Lesson Chalkboard

I’m back at another round of Innovator’s Mindset on Instagram, but felt the need to write a blog in the process. George Couros’ first two questions, based on Chapters 1 and 2 of his book, are as follows:

 

  1. How are you creating change in order to design new, relevant, and better opportunities for learners today, and for their future?
  2. How are you embracing failure, yet persevering in order to create something new and better?

I’ve asked myself and my colleagues of all ages many times over the years, “What do you remember about your learning when you were younger? What stood out to you?” Across the board, whether they are in their early 20s, 30s, 40s or 50s, they talked about projects that they loved doing or that impacted them, their extracurricular activities, hands-on learning and the relationships. Not one person mentioned their love of math sheets or whole group novel studies that involved reading a chapter and answering a kazillion questions. They all mentioned that they loved learning about things that were relevant to them…and believe me, the list was long and varied, just like their interests.

Creating Change

In comes our decision to introduce Project-Based Learning for all Grades 5 to 8 classrooms. This approach provides authentic, relevant, hands-on learning experiences for students of all ages, and is a serious departure from traditional methods of teaching when looking at the whole picture. Kinda scary…slightly overwhelming…and a ton of work! But, the team jumped in, although with some reservation, and rightly so. To get everybody on the same page, as their entry points were all over the map, we provided team planning sessions, mentorship with Instructional Coordinators, observations at a local high school in the Louis Riel School Division that builds its practice around PBL and passion-based learning, workshops with Big Picture Schools, the development of a Professional Learning Network that focuses on PBL, and lots of release time to plan, reflect and revamp.

The teams began their first round of PBL in the Fall, with Grade 5/6 students focusing on the question, ‘Who Am I?’ where they had to interview their peers and create a video autobiography of that person. Our Grade 7/8 students answered the question, “What do we learn from what others have left behind?” and then “What will others learn from what we leave behind?’ as part of a unit on archaeology. With this driving question, they developed museum exhibits that were presented to different peer groups.

Now in their second round, our Grades 5/6 students are developing a Museum of Caring, based on the question, “How can a story about a person or an event make a change in the world?” Our Grades 7/8 students are learning about diseases through the Science Curriculum to answer the question, “Is illness necessary?” The hooks for each were engaging and sparked many new questions as our students move forward with their research phase.

With all new initiatives comes a learning curve, in some cases more so than others. And I would be lying if I said it wasn’t tons of work. It takes a lot of time and planning…and learning to collaborate effectively with our teaching partners as we integrate curricular outcomes and learning experiences. And with this also comes a few hiccups, just to keep things interesting!

Embracing Failure

No attempt at anything for the first time is likely to bring about perfection. You will also very likely not blow it out of the park with its fabulousness. Yet, that doesn’t mean that you throw the idea away and revert back to traditional methods of teaching.

With our first round of PBL under our belt, teaching staff learned more about incorporating soft skills into the project cycle. Learning to collaborate effectively sounds like an easy thing, but if a student doesn’t know what that looks like within the parameters of a PBL…well, you may have a bit of mayhem. The same goes for time management. It is one thing to write notes down into an agenda…it is another thing to remain on task in a group to ensure that timelines are being met. So, with the help of a former Propel teacher, Lisa Albrecht, the team learned about different strategies to incorporate learning experiences at appropriate times through the second PBL cycle to support development of these skills.

Based on student feedback, teachers also recognized that the centers that they had developed to support student research were still very traditional in nature…the ‘read this, answer that’ variety of activities. With some help from an Instructional Coordinator, they were able to come up with activities for the second round that helped develop their inquisitiveness while providing more hands-on learning experiences.

At the same time, when the students presented their products to different peers, and were able to observe others in action, a number of students ask to revamp their projects to be able to present a second time, because they learned how to do it better. Now that is learning at its finest!

Failing at something isn’t a sign of failure. Not trying again just might be. But by giving teachers and students an opportunity to reflect on their learning, provide each other with constructive feedback and then another opportunity to revamp based on this learning, you have a recipe for success. And I know that when I hear our students yell in the hallway that they have to hurry up because they don’t want to miss PBL, that maybe…just maybe…this idea is working!

 

 

Personalized Learning

One goal that I have been focusing on lately is the types of professional development opportunities that are being offered to staff members. To be blunt, my methods need an overhaul, so I have been reading, researching, discussing with colleagues and implementing new ideas often. Some work well, some are a complete and utter bust and most are middle of the road. The one missing piece is a lack of personalized learning for teachers that makes sense for them and that meets our needs as a learning community.

Traditionally, teachers in our division complete an online Professional Growth form, indicating their goals, the strategies that they will put in place to achieve their goals and the resources necessary to do so for that school year. Generally, the individual goals align with the school plan to some degree, although they tend to be generic. In most cases, these forms are reviewed with an administrator (that being me)…and then shelved for the remainder of the school year as another task to be checked off the ‘to-do’ list. I have even had one teacher submit exactly the same professional growth plan as she had two years earlier, as she thought that by recycling her ideas, there was a good chance that I wouldn’t notice that there really wasn’t much growth going on!

This process of determining our pathway annually for professional development isn’t achieving what it had been intended to do, as the accountability piece isn’t there nor is there much opportunity for reflection nor coaching. So moving forward, I would rethink this process and my role in it as well.

IMG_2745

Although I thought that I offered voice and choice when it came to personal learning paths, I can be doing a much better job of this. To get there, Katie’s Personalized Professional Learning Cycle makes sense to me. I have been having conversations recently about the first step in the cycle, Vision, and although I know what my vision is for my staff, as I mentioned in my last blog, I can’t say that my staff can say the same. Yes, we have collaborated to develop a school plan with goals, which in hindsight seem to be more of a philosophy than actual goals. And yes, teachers then develop their professional goals based on our school goals. But at no time are these tied to our vision (or lack thereof).

Vision. So, my first step would be to review the vision that has been in place for what seems like a century to determine whether this still fits our school community. This is a step that I have missed, as we have traditionally moved straight into developing our goals each year for our school plan. As such, there isn’t much alignment going on, and although my intentions have been good, I might have missed the mark…which is frustrating!

Goal Setting. The next step would be to determine our school learning goals, both for the school community and individually. What I like about what is being done currently in our school division is that class and school profiles are developed, using a strength-based UDL model. This makes it easier to determine where our areas of focus need to be in order to support all students. In our case, literacy, social-emotional learning and engagement remain our focus, and although I love the direction that we’re taking, we need to ensure that emphasis on these areas aligns with our vision. Once we do that, we can develop school goals that are right for our community, which in turn will support our teachers as they develop their goals based on their students’ needs and their interests.

Professional Learning Design. Although I’ve tried to offer a variety of professional development opportunities for my colleagues, I think that coming up with ideas to support them would make much more sense if we’re personalizing them based on their own learning goals. We have offered copious workshops, unconferences and opportunities for collaboration based on school goals, which have worked for the most part. But one step that is missing is their relevance to the teachers, based on their learning styles and interests. Discussions with the team prior to developing these experiences would be more helpful.

Lesson Design and Models of Practice. We have done alot to provide teachers with opportunities to see lessons in action. Our professional development budget is spent allowing teachers to observe their colleagues in action, within our school division and elsewhere. Most recently, teachers have experienced the Optimal Learning Model, STEAM rooms, project-based and passion-based learning, socratic seminars and student-led classrooms by observing their colleagues. They are also given time to collaborate with each other to develop their ideas, which is also covered by our PD budget. At the same time, we have started Pineapple Charts, which need room to grow and become part of our learning culture. And they are all part of a Professional Learning Network, based on their interests and focus for the year. I think that for the most part, I’m doing this step in the cycle very well.

Safe Practice. I think that by collaborating in their PLNs, taking part in the Pineapple Chart and being given the opportunities to observe their colleagues in their classrooms and then reflecting on their learning is allowing our colleagues the space that they need to take risks and feel comfortable in their growth as teachers. At the same time, when I am open about my own mistakes, they tend to be less threatened, particularly when they understand that I am not looking for perfection…just an openness to getting better at what we do.

Coaching and Feedback. I need to work on this. In the past, I have met with teachers to review their growth plan in the Fall, and have offered my assistance to help them meet their goals. Then we go about our business until closer to the end of the year, when I meet with them again to review their progress. Instead, I need to be setting regular meetings with them to support them and to discuss their learning. This could be a meeting, observations, collaboration with experts…there are many possibilities. But it should be ongoing, rather than leaving it until the end of the school year ony to check something off on the to-do list.

Reflection and Revision. If I’m doing my job as a coach, there should be time for teachers to reflect on their practice and to look at ways to improve their practice. They are more likely to be open to this if I have created a safe place for them to do so. But it should definitely be a part of the work that they do to improve their practice. So, I’ll need to work on my role as a coach to ensure that this happens for them.

Analyze the Impact and Develop Next Steps. When developing school goals, we should also be indicating what tools we will be using to determine our progress. These indicators will help us to decide if we are on the right track, and when we need to revise and iterate an idea. This will also provide a clearer path as to next steps. I need to be more diligent in ensuring that we are in fact making use of the tools that act as our indicators for progress, rather than simply filling in the blanks on the online form.

Share and Celebrate Growth. Having revamped our monthly staff meetings, teachers are given a chance to share their learning with their colleagues. Teachers also write articles for our webpage to celebrate their students’ progress and we tweet out at every possible moment what is happening in our classrooms. At the same time, at each Parent Advisory Committee meeting, there is at least one staff member who is sharing what is happening in their classroom or in the school. We also have gallery walks where students present their work to the community. Last year, students were involved in presenting a Museum of Caring, and a celebration of Canada’s 150th Anniversary as it pertained to reconciliation and Treaty Education. Powerful stuff! Tomorrow night, students are presenting a fashion show, ‘a la recycled runway’, with clothing designed from recycled materials as part of their sustainability school-wide project. So this, I think we do well!

I’ve got some work to do, but I have a great team and together, I know we’ll get there!

Learning to Lead Like a Pirate

Slide1

One of my first reads this summer, Lead Like a Pirate (Shelley Burgess & Beth Houf), gave way to all kinds of notes and questions. A work in progress, I am constantly learning and wanting to do better, so the opportunity to learn from these authors, either by reading their book, or following along on their Twitter feeds, has been uplifting to say the least. I loved the directness of this book, the examples of ‘how-to’s’ as well as the ‘what-not-to-do’s’ and the ‘what-to-avoids’. As administrators, we need to hear it all, the great…the not-so-great…and everything else in between, so that we can learn from each other and become our best possible versions of team players and leaders.

In going over my notes, I particularly appreciated challenges that were added throughout the chapters. In their book, Burgess and Houf give us a starting point to begin putting these ideas into practice. Even better is that these challenges are scaffolded so that the readers can implement them in stages, which helps to minimize that overwhelming sense that we are taking on too much. I know that on a personal level, I have a tendancy to read books whose messages I can really connect with on some level. Yet, I am often guilty of not taking the next step to put these ideas into practice, because something needs doing or ‘an emergency’ comes up. Having a specific challenge within a given time frame allows me to try the ideas out, discuss them with my colleagues and then revamp as necessary. So that I stay focused on these goals, I have already put each challenge that I am going to focus on into my calendar…this plan isn’t foolproof, but it at least ensures that I have scheduled these blocks of time to work on implementing these practices. This will hold me accountable so that I am more likely to do what I say I’m going to do. Then, taking the time for personal reflection, and discussions with my colleagues who I know to be excellent instructional coaches will help me to understand where to improve my techniques and collaborative practices. And they will hold me to the task of carrying out the challenges as planned.

Burgess and Houf also speak about our role in ‘supporting teachers in creating phenomenal classrooms’ (p. 141). I am extremely fortunate to work with a team of teachers who are committed to creating those extraordinary experiences for their students. One way that I support this team is by connecting them with others who can help them to implement an idea or develop a project. Having said that, I need to focus on becoming a much better coach so that I can support my team with their learning in ways that are not viewed as evaluative or punitive. This will take a committed effort on my part. One way to do this will involve learning to engage in ANCHOR conversations (see Section II), rather than dialogue that is evaluative in nature.

As I work on my coaching skills, I have begun our first week of school in classrooms, focusing on the first challenge of an ANCHOR conversation, Appreciation. Sharing compliments with my colleagues comes easily, whether it be a note, an email or a handwritten card. This is part and parcel of building relationships with my team and is an important part of my role as an administrator. However, for myself, the key with this challenge is to be mindful about what I am observing and/or looking for and then purposeful when I share my appreciation with a particular staff member as I make connections to our school plan. This will take a concentrated effort on my part.

Throughout the next while, I will work on these challenges, particularly with respect to ‘noticing the impact’ and ‘collaborative conversations’ challenges. I will need to be deliberate in my approach when ‘noticing the impact’ that an activity has on the students so that I can reinforce our school plan/goals. This means having a better understanding of what is going on in our classrooms, which in turn means more visibility on my part throughout the school. Once again, a work in progress, which will involve practice…practice…practice. Here’s to another year of learning and growing!!!

My Roadtrip with PBL (Part 3)

Slide1

So a lot has happened since my last Project-Based Learning (PBL) post. Our teams have implemented and completed their first PBL units and we’ve had some time to reflect on our journey so far. I’m proud of their first attempts at this initiative. It took courage and alot of teamwork to put this into place. Was it a seamless first round, though? Not at all. To say that we’ve already learned a great deal would be a slight understatement…and by ‘we’, I particularly mean ‘I’.

Since my last post, we’ve done some more work around preparing for and developing our ideas with the help of our divisional instructional coordinators. This was an interesting process, in part because we have very different personalities working with each other, and also because this type of learning requires a different mindset, a philosophy that takes some getting used to. It is one thing to set up a PBL culture with teachers who have bought into the process from Day 1. It is a completely different experience when you have to bring teachers along on the ride at various stages, especially when they aren’t sure about getting on to the bus in the first place!

This is our latest experience with PBL.

One group has implemented their first unit, working around a theme of archaeology, using the BIE Gold Standards PBL Template to plan. Their driving questions: ‘What can we learn from what others have left behind?’ and then ‘What will others learn from what we leave behind?’ The hands-on work was engaging and students really got into demonstrating their learning. Presenting their learning in small groups to their peers was interesting and challenging for them, pushing a few groups to enhance and present their work again when they felt they could do better. Where we fell short was in the development of those soft-skill lessons (there weren’t any) and the research and lessons that would support the work done to demonstrate their learning (far too traditional and less likely to meet the students’ learning styles). This was evident in both the teachers’ and the students’ feedback. Good to know and something that this team worked on to enhance for Round 2.

With our second team, we agreed that it would be a good idea to start slowly before kicking it into high gear, as some were struggling with the entire process. To help out, our Teacher Librarian developed a shorter PBL to answer the question, ‘Who Am I?’ The idea was to help the students get to know each other in a multi-age class. It went well for the students, but took far longer than previously expected. The other issue was that this was not an idea developed by the team, so the teachers weren’t as invested in it as they would have been had they actually spent the time putting it together themselves. Lesson learned!

Something else to think about is that we have very different personalities working together on an initiative that is really new for most of them, just like you would see in your classroom. And with these unique characteristics comes challenges at times, a possibility that I didn’t necessarily take into consideration. Okay, I completely missed the bus on this one! I thought that by offering PD support, engaging the team in work with instructional coordinators, providing learning experiences along the way and supplying them with the necessary resources, that all would be good in Meyerland. Ha! Like any classroom, when there are very real differences in learning styles, approaches and personalities (and even when there are not), there might be blow ups, frazzled nerves and misunderstandings. I did not see this happening, because well, we’re adults, and because I was too caught up in the possibilities of this initiative, forgetting about the need to attend to the day-to-day stuff. I was wrong…very, very wrong! And so I continue to learn so that I can do better.

So, with new learning comes (I hope) better understanding and support for my teams. To help with PBL planning to better weave learning experiences into the process, we brought in a former Propel teacher who shared her tricks of the trade with our team. Our team left the session with ample ideas to help them develop necessary soft skills, like time management. Every team member expressed how helpful this would have been back in June. Another lesson learned! The upside is that they are using this information to improve their second round of PBL.

Having an instructional coordinator to support their learning doesn’t hurt either! I requested that two of my team members take part in the Personalized Learning Initiative through the LRSD, as it pertains to PBL. In turn, they share their learning with their colleagues after each session where they continue to develop ideas for each round. What I particularly appreciate is that the coordinator keeps bringing them back to the ‘Why’ behind these learning experiences so that they are not adding in activities simply for the ‘Wow’ factor, but to ensure that the students are actually getting valuable lessons from them. Something that I need to remember myself when planning for my team!

The biggest learning for me this time around is the need for checkpoints with staff, something that can support teams with their own challenges as part of a very diverse group. Just because I am seriously enthusiastic about this initiative does not mean that everybody else is going to be on the same page. And because not everybody is feeling the same enthusiasm for something new, I need checkpoints. Although I would expect them to do this with a PBL class, I neglected to put any into place for the first round. Yes, I asked how things were going, and I popped in regularly to their classrooms during PBL periods. However, by not having specific checkpoints built into the process, I missed what would likely have been obvious signs of challenges that the teams were experiencing, and by extension, opportunities to help them work through these situations in constructive ways. And so for Round 2, I have to set up regular checkpoints with them to determine how they are progressing with their work, and how they are feeling about their contributions to the process.

This is definitely a work in progress, and despite a few hiccups, I continue to learn and I’m loving it! Stay tuned for more about our road trip as students ponder, ‘Is illness necessary?’ and ‘How can we tell stories that create change in the world?

A Letter to a First-Year Teacher

Slide1The first few years of teaching can be overwhelming, particularly the first ten months when everything is new. Having been in this role for a minute or two, I can say that I have had a box of Kleenex at the ready more times than I can count for staff members who are having their own moment because of something that has happened in their class or because of a parent. And sometimes these Kleenex were for me! So here is my advice. Don’t sweat it! Don’t lose sleep over a lesson gone bad…an idea that tanked…an irate parent…or a student who is driving you crazy. Will you heed this advice? Probably not. But here’s your reality for the next 25 years. It will happen again, so make the most of these challenges!

The best thing that you can do for yourself is to learn from those mistakes or challenges and get better at it. If you are doing it right, your lessons may still tank from time to time. All this proves is that you are willing to take risks, willing to challenge yourself for the sake of your students. I’d say that’s winning right there! So don’t feel badly about not blowing it out of the park each time you’re up to bat. Get feedback, collaborate with your team, ask questions, and iterate that lesson…or toss it. Being perfect isn’t the end goal here. It’s all about the process and the learning, for yourself, just as much as it is for the students.

Facing difficulties is inevitable. Learning from them is optional.

You will also come across a few parents during your career who are overly anxious or concerned, helicopter Moms and lawnmower Dads, jerks and bullies. Believe me when I say that for the most part, they are sincerely invested in their child’s well-being and only want what’s best. Learn to listen to what they have to say, with the understanding that they are advocating for their children, because you may learn a thing or two along the way. The fact that they are perhaps doing so in a way that will make you want to rip your hair out is another matter. Just go to your happy place to find your inner peace while smoke is blowing out your ears so that you don’t take home all that frustration with you. And if this doesn’t work, find something or someone that will allow you to vent your frustrations and talk you away from the ledge. Tears, cursing, kickboxing or meditative yoga…find your jam and benefit from it. And then use the frustrating interaction with that parent as a constructive stepping stone to either hone your pedagogical practice or develop your skills in dealing with the crazy.

As for your students, they’ll continue to come to you from all walks of life and experiences. Some will definitely be more challenging than others and will make you question your decision to become a teacher. Your words and actions will have an impact on them, some noticeably, and others, not so much. But, an impact you will have. So find it in your deepest recesses to love these ones the most. Find your team in these tough moments…ask more questions, and develop or try new strategies to support that child. It’ll pay off in dividends! And when the going gets tough, find your happy place…or hole up in somebody’s office to vent away your frustrations. It’ll make those challenging moments a little easier to deal with.

Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a new way to stand. ~ Oprah Winfrey

Trust me when I say that, in all my years of experience, my most difficult students, obsessed parents and bombed lessons were hands down my best teachers. So, use these challenges to get better at what you do and be the best possible version of yourself. And when those challenges are slightly overwhelming hiccups in life…breathe! Tomorrow will be a better day!

On Becoming Ourselves

Slide1

Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it. ― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles

This quote hit home…in a big way! I am a ‘do-er’ by nature and learning is part and parcel of who I am. Without it, I know that I would be lost. That said, being true to myself is something of a fairly new concept to me, a philosophy that I needed to figure up as a seriously grown-up adult. Coming from a certain background as a child, conforming was the expectation, so there weren’t many opportunities to understand or to learn about who I really was. I tried to emulate my peers with my lack of fashion sense. I refused certain outings because they weren’t ‘cool’ enough. I stayed away from certain peer groups to avoid social suicide. I didn’t share a lot about my personal life so that nobody had an opportunity to mock me. I didn’t put myself out there so that I wouldn’t be judged. I made ridiculously inappropriate choices in life to fit in. This lifestyle followed me throughout my adolescence and most of my adult life, until I decided that this was not who I was, nor whom I chose to be. A rather liberating feeling!

I have learned that making mistakes is a part of growing up…of learning…and of becoming the best version of myself. I have learned that it is okay to head out the door, decked out in a milk costume and a tutu for a great cause…simply because it’s for a great cause. If the neighbors are questioning my fashion sense, so be it. I have learned that I do not have to be liked by everybody…but I do have to like myself. I have learned that pushing myself outside my comfort zone allows me to grow, and if I look ridiculous in the process, that’s okay. I’m getting better every time I do so. I have learned that taking the time to be grateful for all the awesomeness in my life makes the little things all the sweeter, the big moments extraordinary and the painful ones easier to swallow. I know this because I am getting better at being human.

Yet, I also realize that life hasn’t really changed all that much since my childhood. There are still children who will continue to make ridiculous decisions that impact their lives because they want to fit in, even though what they are doing goes against every fiber of their being deep down. There are still children who work so hard to impress everyone around them, forgetting that the first person that they need to answer to is themselves. This misguided perspective leads to crazy levels of anxiety, depression and such deep-seeded sadness in many of our students at such young ages, that it boggles the mind.

How do we help students understand who they really are so that they can continue on a path to becoming their truest version of themselves? There is no magic bullet, or cure-all for students. But as educators, we can make the effort to practice what we preach. And we need to be doing this when they are little people, so that they have a chance to let the message sink in…I mean really sink in…so that they can walk the talk, and allow themselves to be just that…themselves…despite the pressures around them.

What does that mean for the adults in the building? What can we be doing so that our students not only hear what we are saying, but are learning from what we are doing?

Celebrate your failures.

Be okay with making mistakes. Celebrate your failures as stepping stones to your success. Laugh about them. Do not hide behind them or pretend that they didn’t happen. Those errors can bring hilarity to your world, a starter for a great story or an extraordinary memory. They can also make your future successes all the more exhilarating because reaching your goal hasn’t been all that easy.

What does this look like in a classroom? By modeling a writing assignment à la Optimal Learning Model, students see you crossing out your initial ideas to develop something better. The perfectionists in the room learn that there is no shame in striking out words, taking out ideas and adding something new in the editing process… this just makes the writing stronger. When you have a less than fantastic day, own it and admit to your students that you weren’t being your best self. Students will learn that we are human, that we make mistakes, that we recognize them and that we can learn from them to be better at what we are doing. When a lesson tanks, share your learning process with your students and then demonstrate what you will iterate to make it a better learning experience for them. The list of what you can do to celebrate those failures is long, but opportunities exist every day to show them that there is a strength to be had in doing so.

Better an ‘oops’ than a ‘what if’.

 Take risks.

Don’t worry about what your neighbors think or how your peers perceive you. If you want to try something, do it. Try it. Learn from it. I have a bucket list that I started 20 years ago. Much of what is on this list are activities and learning experiences that take me out of my comfort zones. My attempt at cake decorating for a friend’s sister’s wedding was a colossal failure of the Leaning Tower of Pisa variety, but I learned from it (and laughed a whole lot in the process). Rock-climbing lead to many scrapes, bruises, calluses, and backslides, but it also gave me some of the most extraordinary views and amazing friendships. Writing my first blog terrified the hell out of me, but I love writing, so it’s become my thing, despite the fact that very few see what I put out there.

As educators, we need to be sharing these learning experiences with our students, giving them the opportunity to take risks with their learning and being more than okay with the bumps along the way. How do we do this? Genius Hour projects are great opportunities for students to explore their ideas and passions. This process allows them to develop their own self-expression, to learn more about themselves and to iterate when the end product isn’t what they were hoping for. Either way, we are inviting them to take risks with their learning and celebrating the fact that they are doing so.

Educators can also give students multiple opportunities to iterate their ideas, to try something new or to tackle a problem from a different vantage point, whether this is while solving a math problem, finding a solution to a driving question or inventing something. These learning experiences push them to take risks with their learning, and to grow as a result.

Take the time to breathe.

Showing yourself some self-love is a crucial part to your mental health, as is taking time to breathe, but it seems that this is often the last thing that we pay attention to. As adults, we are constantly running to and from activities, obligations and deadlines. This is no different for our students. With multiple activities, a social life, homework and family obligations, there is little to no downtime for children these days. So if we want them to have healthy adult lives, with insight into what makes them tick, and what they need to do to be self-aware and completely in love with themselves, we need to help them develop strategies to do so. These include mindfulness techniques that can be incorporated into daily activities. Doing so a few minutes each day can teach students to remain centered, even when the going gets tough. Giving them some downtime to be still and to do something that doesn’t require assessment also provides an opportunity to breathe. This can be as simple as offering time for reading for pleasure or tackling an element of their Genius Hour project.

Use your words.

At the same time, our self-talk has a way of deciding our fate. Sometimes, the negativity takes precedence over anything else in our minds, and so we don’t push ourselves to take those risks for fear of failure…of being laughed at…of not being perfect. It stands to reason then that the words that we use in a classroom can also go a long way to supporting a child’s image of themselves. In A.J. Juliani’s recent blog, How To Win Friends and Influence Students, he spoke about 19 words that have a tremendous impact on a child’s engagement in class. According to study done by psychologists from Stanford, Yale, Columbia and elsewhere, these words make a difference in whether students will actively participate in revising their work or not, words that support creating a sense of belonging and community, and of believing in them.

‘I am giving you these comments because I have very high expectations                       and I know that you can reach them.’

 At the same time, modeling how we talk about ourselves gives students an opportunity to see it in action. Something along the lines of, ‘I wasn’t satisfied with the way that this lesson went, so this is an opportunity to make it better. This is what I’d like to try…’ goes alot further than, ‘I wasn’t satisfied with this lesson, so I’m getting rid of it.’ One demonstrates an openness to iteration and learning from something that didn’t work. The other emphasizes that we can’t use what doesn’t work. I prefer Option A.

There are many opportunities in a day to help our students develop into their best selves. We just have to be concious of our efforts in doing so. In that way, everybody wins!