Monday, August 29, 2016

Exploring The Power of Positive Regard

This month’s issue of Educational Leadership contains an article called The Power of Positive Regard.  In the article, author Jeffrey Benson  reminds us that being recognized by a respected adult can be a life-changing experience for some of our students.  While most of us probably agree that delivering false praise to our students is unnecessary, and ultimately harmful, the idea of positive regard is that students should be recognized each day for who they are, as genuine appreciation for the person they are becoming.  Benson states, “... I believe offering praise that's not based on achievement—praise that communicates each person's unassailable right to a unique place in our human community—is important. For many students, such heartfelt and spontaneous praise is invaluable.”
In the article, Benson outlines the origins of the term, Unconditional Positive Regard.  He makes the case that in our quest for high levels of student achievement, students still need to hear words of affirmation simply for the person they are, not because of their level of achievement.  Though he mentions the work of Carol Dweck in fostering a growth mindset in our children and students, I believe that many of us would find a contradiction here. In the days since first reading this article I have pondered whether there is a contradiction.  While Dweck would say that we should be careful to apply labels to children that would imply a fixed mindset, she also is quoted as saying in a recent article,Teachers, Parents Often Misuse Growth Mindset Research, Carol Dweck Says that we have misinterpreted her message when we simply praise students for effort.   I believe that careful thought into our interactions with students would help us guide interactions that show them positive regard and help them understand the power of believing that they can grow and achieve.  The idea that students need to feel a degree of belonging and acceptance is not new; love and belonging fall within Maslow’s Hierarchy.  What I think deserves some attention and intention, is how our interactions can be crafted to result in strong relationships, high levels of motivation and expectation for students, as well as having students share the belief that the process of learning is not always linear and may require different attempts and ways of working.
What philosophy frames your interactions with the students in your classroom?  Are there things about your interactions that you believe could be changed so that a stronger relationship with students, or a higher level of motivation would result?
Read the article linked above, a blog post by Don Ledingham, Unconditional Positive Regard: the heart of teaching and listen to Rita Pierson’s TED Talk, Every Kid Needs a Champion.  I would also reference the article linked above in US News about Carol Dweck’s work. Think about how these resources fit with the idea of positive regard, and your philosophy or manner of interacting with students.
Share your thinking:
I would invite you to share your thoughts in the comment section of this post.  
  • Did your thinking change with regard to the importance of positive regard?
  • Do you think the idea of positive regard contradicts the idea of fostering a growth mindset?
  • How will you intentionally foster a growth mindset in students, give them critical feedback that drives learning forward, all while showing value for the person they are and are becoming?

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

20Time: Students will be ready for the future if you give it to them

The other day when my daughter was home sick from school, we snuggled up on the couch and watched the movie “Tomorrowland.”  In one scene the main character, Casey, sits through lecture after lecture in her high school classes where her teachers pontificate about everything that is wrong about our world. Global warming, weapons of mass destruction, society edging its way towards a dystopian existence. Through it all a visibly frustrated Casey raises her hand, hoping to be allowed to say her piece. When a teacher finally calls on her at the end of his rant, she asks “Can we fix it? I know things are bad, but what are we going to do to fix it?” The fictional teacher just stares at her like she has three heads and then is rescued by the bell.
Casey, like many young people today, is truly motivated to find solutions to problems that move them. Small or large, scores of students want to find the fixes that will make their world better. This scene, and the rest of the movie, got me thinking about a new educational catch-phrase: 20Time.
What is 20Time? Its origins can be tied back to the 50’s and the company 3M, but it was Google that brought it to the 21st century. 20Time tasks innovators to think outside of the box 20% of their time, to find a project that inspires them, one that solves a problem, or speaks to them personally. This brings us back to Casey and her question “Can we fix it?” Just imagine if we let our students tackle the world’s problems, and transfer their classroom learning to make our world a better place? The sky would be the limit! And the cherry on top of 20Time is this is all a student’s choice, a project of their own design.  
How can this creativity and curiosity pay off? Watch the following video about how a nine year-old boy named Caine in East Los Angeles spent his summer creating his very own arcade. 
Caine made his games out of cardboard and other everyday objects. He was deeply invested in the project, it mattered little to him that he had yet to have any customers. If schools could channel the enthusiasm Caine had for his project into their classrooms using the 20Time model, just think of how many students would suddenly be engaged in their learning! This type of ownership in learning is exactly how we move students from passive or compliant engagement to active learning. When students are passionate about what they are learning, they will go above and beyond to understand and apply concepts to the task at hand. With 20Time we can allow students to explore the world around them, focus on what interests them most, and create solutions that matter.
Think about it
  • What do you think of 20Time?
  • How might you implement it in your classroom?
  • How could you structure your classes so that students could take ownership of their learning through 20Time?
  • What shifts might you make in your practice to incorporate 20Time?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

How Can They Learn if You Won't Let Them Fail?

I've been thinking a lot about the idea of growth mindset lately. In part because I selected "The Power of Yet" as our monthly Featured Resource, but it's bigger than that. Growth mindset, grit, whatever you call it, it's a trend - a big one. Everyone is talking about it. How can I get students to persist in difficult tasks? How can I get them to care about their own learning? When will they take ownership?

As I've listened to teachers and thought and thought about these questions, I wonder how teachers' own perceptions of student ability affect this growth mindset. As teachers, we have a very, very hard time letting go. We want to see our students succeed, and we want our teaching to feel successful as well. But, in this desire we forget one important thing - learning and persistence come from certain experiences of failure. We don't know how to persist if we've never had to do anything hard. We don't know how to learn from our experiences if we've never experienced failure. Trial and error are a part of the human experience.

I think we all avoid letting our students (and ourselves) experience failure. How often do you avoid something new and out of the box in your teaching because you don't know how it will go? How about skipping a challenging problem solving task because you can't predict what the path to success will look like? What about punishing or shaming students for wrong answers rather than presenting them as opportunities for growth?

We teach in difficult times. The stakes are high, and we aren't given much leeway in the important path toward student success. However, when we forget that mistakes are a critical part of learning and growth, we lose more than just a few learning opportunities. We lose that spark, that excitement about learning and problem solving that we so want to see from our students.

So, I challenge you to ask yourself (and your students) - how did you fail today? What did you learn from it? How did you grow? Because if you're not making mistakes, you're not taking enough risks.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Losing Sleep and Letting Go

This morning on Facebook, I was scrolling through my newsfeed and I came across the following quote featured in the image to the right. I think as the end of the school year approaches, the number of hours of sleep lost for many teachers increases. Worries of what could have been done differently, or why a particular student still has yet to master a key concept race through their minds.  The pressures teachers face now and throughout the year are heavy, they weigh on us and are rarely far from our minds.

Can we as educators "let go?" Should we let go? Know that we did and are doing our best, and that our students have grown despite many challenges? As I write these words I know that the idea of letting go is just not possible for many of us. Teachers will never stop losing sleep over "their kids." Granted, in terms of letting go, I'm not suggesting that we should just stop caring, phone it in and show movies for the rest of the year, but to forgive ourselves for our perceived failures, focus on our successes and reflect on both as the year closes.

Tonight, dear teachers, as you crawl into bed know that you make a difference, you change the world and make it better everyday. Smile, take a deep breath, close your eyes and just let it go.