Saturday, July 18, 2015

Learn every day.

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The typical number of learning days in a school year for most K-12 students.

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The number of days many educators spend “learning” during the course of the school year.

Doing the math, that’s 177 more student learning days every year. At this rate, it would take almost 60 years for teachers to clock as many days of learning as the students they teach. Just let that sink in for a minute.

What is learning? And how can we be learners every day?

Is learning a training or inservice day devoted to learning how to run report cards, how to generate data, or how to simply operate the latest piece of technology?

Is it a meeting where the latest box of curriculum is examined? The common core math box. The writing program box. The classroom management box.

Voices from teachers lounge:
"I can’t."
"We haven’t been trained yet."
"I don’t have my new materials."
"Why do we have to change?"
"The old way worked just fine."
"I’m not doing it."

Something you never hear from students:
“I can’t use this device yet. I haven’t had PD on it.”

Learning is exploring.
For students, learning happens through discovery. They learn by clicking buttons. They learn by Googling anything and everything when they get stuck. Learning is using the tried and true strategy of guess and check. Learning is finding someone who already knows what they are trying to learn or do, connecting online and face to face. Students learn by doing, with no guarantee of success and no fear of failure.

Learning is play.
For students, their learning isn’t "professional development". It’s PD of a different kind- it’s passion driven.
If we, as educators, redefine PD as play, as something driven by our passions and interests, we can learn anything. We can learn anywhere.

At a campground even!

Too often, we hear “we don’t have time.” Where might we steal time to learn, or to listen? Every walk, every road trip, even our daily commute can become an opportunity to reflect. Learning can happen in a face to face conversation, on Twitter, or on Voxer. Every interaction, every day, becomes a chance to listen, to have our thinking challenged, or to be inspired.

What do you want to learn?

Start by making a list of things you love. Anything.
My list is pretty eclectic:

Food Network.
the ocean
Sunset Magazine

Inspiration is everywhere. Take a look at your list. Does anything inspire you? Make you think? Scare you?

I chose Chopped from my list.

Chopped? The Food Network Chopped? Yes! One night, while watching in bed, I realized that Chopped WAS the 4 C’s. Communicate, collaborate, think critically, create. That’s all they do on Chopped! Participants are given a basket of ingredients and are asked to create and appetizer, entree, or dessert in a specific amount of time. All the time they are creating, talking to each other, thinking about what to make and bringing their passion, culture, and background knowledge to the table. The work is challenging and meaningful. And the best part? Every finished dish is unique.

After each round has finished, the chefs are given feedback. Dishes are evaluated on presentation, taste, and how well they transformed the ingredients. The panel of judges share what worked well and how the dish might be improved. Sometimes, chefs fail to include one of the basket ingredients, but it doesn’t mean they are automatically eliminated. The participants who move on to the next round use the feedback to improve their next dish.

What does this have to do with learning? Think about your classroom. Think about your school. What if learning was dished up Chopped-style for students? And instead of random basket ingredients like ostrich eggs, cactus, and chocolate syrup, the components for student's "dishes" were the content standards? What if students could bring their talents and creativity to their work and dream up amazing dishes filled with evidence of learning and passion. Watching Chopped inspired me to write a keynote speech and to create a workshop for teachers with Chopped style digital writing challenges.

The Food Network. Just think about it.
Learning is EVERYWHERE. And free.


Learning is watching.
Try watching YouTube videos. And not just educational ones. Adam Welcome, a principal at Montair Elementary in Danville, California, shared this video, “What Happens When Second Graders Are Treated to a Seven-Course, $220 Tasting Meal” from the New York Times.

I was so inspired by this video that we kicked off our next staff meeting by watching this video and asking ourselves this question:
What dishes are we serving up in our school, in our classrooms, that make students feel like this?

Learning is reading.
And not just books. Blog posts are also a great place to learn about the practices of others. After Jason Markey, principal of East Leyden High School in Franklin Park, Illinois shared this post about Montpelier High School in Vermont and how they shifted their schedule to add 15 minutes for recess- in high school, we were inspired to re-imagine recess for our elementary school.  This fresh look at recess resulted in a menu of different recess activities led by students and parents including a football agility mini-camp, arts and crafts, and knitting and crocheting. The kids loved it!

Learning is writing.
Writing can be anywhere. In a notebook. On a blog. On Twitter! Whatever you do, just write. When we write we reflect on our successes and failures. We think about what worked well and how we might improve in the future. Blogging is a great way to reflect in a public space and allows others to learn from you. Writing also helps make your dreams real and can help you hold yourself accountable. And writing means telling your school's story! Tweet or blog about the awesome things happening in your classroom or school. When you write for a global audience it's like Open House every day!

Learning is connecting.
Three years ago I discovered Google. Not the searching Google, but the “oh my gosh someone is typing in my doc!” kind of Google. Google is the ultimate gateway drug to the world of connecting with digital tools. Google made it possible for a new grade level team to plan their whole instructional schedule from Southern California, Yosemite, and Sacramento without ever meeting in person. Google is a place where administrators can dream and plan and ask questions about the upcoming school year and meet in Napa months later to continue the conversation over lunch.

Google is just the beginning.

Twitter is another great place to connect. Conversations that begin on Twitter in 140 characters or less can spark friendships and become 24/7 professional learning networks. If you have more to say than you can fit into a tweet, Voxer is another tool to connect with anyone, anywhere. As the lone elementary principal in my district, Voxer has given me the network I so desperately need. My 35 minute commute has become the place I can ask any question, find support, and get ideas. This year alone, we’ve revamped our interview process and our weekly PD after being inspired by practices shared on Voxer from as far away as Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

It’s wild.

Conferences are another way to get energized, to connect, and to have fun with other passionate educators! No budget? Find something local and affordable. In Sacramento, The Area 3 Writing Project hosts five Super Saturdays a year for K-12 educators for free, and similar sessions can be found at National Writing Project sites across the country. CUE Rockstar technology camps provide edu-vacations in fun destinations like Lake Tahoe, Boston, and even Las Vegas--three days of hands-on, casual learning for under $200. Better yet, apply to present and you can attend many conferences for FREE. Present? Think you have nothing to share? You do. Share your journey, failures and all. People love learning how you did something. You can do it!

Still not convinced? Mo money? No time? No support?

What DO you have?

Sometime it’s about making that subtle shift in our thinking that opens the door to all of the possibilities. What CAN you do with one dusty desktop or an iPod touch with no wifi?

What can’t you do?

Learning isn’t something that comes in a box.
Learning isn’t just for teachers. Administrators, parents, and kids-- everybody should be learning!
Learning isn’t always expensive.
Learning isn’t something that is done to you.

Start with your passions. Start exploring. Start writing. Start connecting. Play. Get inspired.
365 days a year.
Learn every day. 

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