Since my very first day of teaching, I’ve always preferred to focus on the hope of what students can do as opposed to the fear of what they cannot. Of course, there are limits to what any human realistically can or cannot do, but I’m increasingly frustrated by the all-too-often teacher reply of, “But my students can’t do that” when discussing changes in curriculum or creation of common assessments. However, until about seven years ago, one of my most consistent approaches to teaching was inherently grounded in a version of this very sentiment I loathed — it was just slightly softened to become, “But my students can’t do that… without my help.”
It was with this unconscious mindset that I so often employed the “I Do, We Do, You Do” strategy, providing students with a safe pathway for growth and learning through imitation. I would supportively guide students through my own thinking before letting them work with a partner or in a group to further their understanding, before finally allowing them to try the skill on their own.
“Success demands singleness of purpose.”
~ Gary Kelly, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
I recently read The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Kelly and was struck by its beautiful simplicity. Kelly posits when we try to do too many things at once, we’re highly unlikely to do anything well; and rather we “need to be doing fewer things for more effect instead of doing more things with side effects.”
Now if you’re in the field of education, you may have just read that quote and wondered if Kelly was sitting around your last staff meeting, or maybe even rhetorically asked yourself if he was mocking the last district initiative memo you received.
As teachers fighting to survive the rapidly changing educational landscape, we’ve all experienced feeling like we’re asked to do too many things, and as a result, do few things (maybe some days, even zero things) well. As an educator supporting teachers through project-based learning (PBL) implementation, I see this strife far too often.
How might we use Kelly’s logic to go about doing PBL with fidelity and quality? And not lose our teachers through the process?
Well, let’s just do ONE thing and do it well!
When teachers solve problems, they inspire their students to solve problems, too. How can teachers use their best strategies as a launching pad for deeper learning and professional growth? And how can curiosity, co-creation, and collaboration before a lesson idea is formed be a game-changer for classroom practice?
On this episode of Tch Talks, Ashley Lamb-Sinclair, Instructional Specialist and Deeper Learning Coach for Fern Creek High School in Louisville, Kentucky and 2016 Kentucky Teacher of the Year, joins us to talk about her work with School Startup. This pilot program is where three cohorts of Teacher-Founders are engaged in the design process to rethink and redesign deeper learning in their classrooms and professional learning communities.
She also shares her recent adventures as founder and CEO of Curio Learning, an app that helps teachers discover new ideas and curate them in a personalized way. The app also facilitates collaboration with other educators in order for them to grow as professionals and find the ways to best help their students.
Ashley believes that if every teacher woke up to the awesome influence he or she has, there would be a drastic overhaul of the system and that — bottom line — it takes a teacher to transform learning.
“I’m an exhibitionist of student learning”
– Public Presentations of Learning Stimulate Deeper Learning
I loved being a teacher and relished in the futuristic vision of myself.
I’d sport salt and pepper grey hair like my Grandma Lu, thoughtfully sip my decaf coffee from my Wonder Woman traveler mug, and still execute perfectly timed dance moves through lessons, discussions, and projects for the enjoyment of my students. I always knew that if I ever left the classroom it would have to be for something important, and I couldn’t think of anything more important than positively impacting the lives of young people. Then I learned about a career opportunity that would allow me to do just that, but on a national scale, and I was all in.
I was asked to Co-Direct the Share Your Learning Campaign, a national initiative that aims to empower 300,000 teachers to shape the path for five million students to publicly present their learning to an audience beyond the classroom by the year 2020, and I said, “Yes.”
Although I had strong reservations about leaving the security of my classroom and the mutual love and respect of “my babies,” aka my students, I was eager to be a part of a nationwide transformation of student learning.
Regardless of context, we’d all likely agree that facilitating student collaboration isn’t an easy task. And if we’re being fully transparent, we can confess that sometimes it’s downright painful! Somewhere along the secondary grades, we tend to lose sight of explicitly teaching students skills such as collaboration, and rather expect students to simply be able to successfully work in a group together.
With limited time, support, and resources available to develop our craft in regards to student collaboration, it’s easy to focus on other demands and hope that students will organically develop these skills. If this resonates with you and sounds like something you need support with, I’d like to invite you to sign up for one of the 50 open seats in a new learning experience starting on November 10th, with an online launch at noon Pacific/3 PM Eastern. Over five weeks, we’ll work together to try strategies for increasing student collaboration in the classroom, concluding our journey on December 15th.
TEDYouth conference at the Brooklyn Museum. November, 2015. Photo by Ryan Lash for TED via Flickr
It was outstanding. Under the soft glow of the mighty brass chandeliers of the Beaux Arts Court of the Brooklyn Museum, learning stations — many decorated with a splash of iconic TED red — were scattered about the restored glass tile floor like a handful of strategically tossed jacks. As I bounced about the room, I watched 400 students smile with delight, scrambling to engage, create, and collect the vast knowledge available in the room. They vibrated with energy and I knew in an instant that this conference would be extraordinary.
Author’s note: This is a continuation of my post Design Thinking, Empathy, and Equity, that was published earlier this year. It feels particularly timely to share after the racially divisive and violent events that marked this past month.
I have no doubt that our students will return to our classrooms in August with questions we’re afraid or unsure how to answer, and possibly with fear and frustration. I want to offer up the following as one possibility for how we can move our collective equity work forward. Building empathy in our students is a beginning step toward the creation of a more loving society, and perhaps design thinking can get us there.
When engaged with fidelity, the design thinking process is a rigorous one that truly engages students in deeper learning. If we’re grounding this work in equity, the process shouldn’t be rushed. In fact, the seemingly fluid process of design thinking should include pauses. Such pauses should take place after students have started building their empathy muscles, and are approaching the stages of prototyping and testing.
Editor’s Note: This blog is the third post by Jennifer in the Upcycling Series about heading back to the classroom after time as an instructional coach. Join us in following her journey.
In the arena of education, I’ve learned to pay attention to how I grasp and assimilate new concepts. I pride myself on the idea that I’m a natural at applying insights to my own teaching practice. And there it is… my irrepressible ego. That’s my ego infiltrating and creeping up at the beginning of my blog. Always on alert. Always convinced that “I got this.” Always self preserving with an insatiable appetite.
I honor and admire Design Thinking for many reasons — its ingenuity, how engaging and rigorous it can be for students, and ultimately that it serves as a vehicle for Deeper Learning. But mostly I value Design Thinking because it gives me hope — hope in the power and potential that it holds for our students as human beings. Design Thinking has the unique power to leverage the intersection of equity and innovation through deeper learning and empathy.
This is the fourth in a six-part series titled Making in Schools.
Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, roughly 125 years ago, American schools have looked roughly the same. At its heart, our system has been driven by two organizing principles:
- Students should be organized into classes by age and subject.
- Content should be delivered in a standardized order and at a standardized pace.
While this system may have been functional in preparing students to work in steel factories or cotton mills, ensuring that each graduate of the system had similar skills/knowledge and were used to working according to a standardized, regimented schedule, it’s not holding up to the demands of today.