“When we are motivated by goals that have deep meaning, by dreams that need completion, by pure love that needs expressing, then we truly live life.” - Greg Anderson
I don’t often do New Year’s Resolutions.
A buddy of mine (@spegg) pointed me to an interesting blog post by Chris Brogan. Brogan has been framing the changing of the calendar for the last few years based on three words. Three words that capture the “why” of the concrete goals. To act as “lighthouses” in the murky fog of motivation and change. Obviously, this got me thinking.
Without further ado, my three words of 2012:
Create – I want to make more time to pursue the creative. But more than that, it is not enough to start. Anyone can start a project, but the hard part of creation is completion. Create is also connected to the idea that I want to create more authentic connections with people, in person and face to face. Creating is about being open, about being willing to put the work in and about the will to finish.
Challenge – Obviously, I have laid down my major personal/physical challenge for the year. I will be competing (relatively) in the Mont Tremblant Ironman. It is a major physical and mental challenge. My training, my race and my recovery will greatly define the year, I’m sure. On top of that I have set various challenges for myself, including writing goals, learning goals, and relationship goals. These challenges will push me. I like the idea of a monthly challenge, I just haven’t fully realized that yet.
Discipline – I like to say yes. I am scatter brained. I am sometimes inconsistent. I, at times, lack discipline. I, at times, lack organization. I’m pushing myself to find my inner discipline. I need to push past laissez-faire and become more effective, productive and focused. This may require me letting some things go, which will be hard, however, I need to come to the realization that I can’t do it all, however, hard that is to accept.
So there are my three words, what are yours?
He is 17. A total of 8 credits. His attendance, spotty at best. His troubles, plenty.
Yet, he’s here. He is here and ready to learn. Today.
He tells me that a night ago, as he was getting ready to go to sleep, “I had an epiphany. I just realized out of the blue that it’s up to me. I mean, no one else will get me to where I want to be, but me.”
I ask, “Hmm, so where is it you want to be?”
“I don’t know, probably the military. But more importantly, I just had an epiphany that all the things you’ve been telling me about owning my learning and it being my education, with the emphasis on my decisions, are right.”
“So, what now?”
“Well, I got get as many credits as I can.”
“What’s the first step to getting the credits?”
“Probably, showing up. That’s my biggest challenge, after that, the work, but first showing up.”
I smile. He smiles. And then he grabs the netbook from my desk and proceeds to work steady, even while the rest of the class is quite distractible. He works uninterrupted until I ask to see what he’s got so far. He shows me … progress.
Now, if this is where the story were to end, it would be great. Simple motivation and a reminder to keep doing what I’m doing. Connect with kids, continue to remind them that they have power to direct their learning and rely on the fact that eventually the message will sink in and when it does, I’ll be there to help them.
But it doesn’t stop there.
He’s human. Not a case study, just like his learning it doesn’t come to a neat package. It’s going to require a constant re-evaluation and reflection on where he is and what he needs.
But starting from an epiphany is fine with me.
****Author’s Note: Although the gist of this reflection and the conversation is true and accurate, I have changed some of the details and timing to protect the identity of the student.
The two tenets of education should be:
- Have gratitude.
- Be generous.
These should permeate every action public education is involved in.
This is what a teacher should always exemplify. You have skills, knowledge, the ability to learn, now give it away.
Show students how it works.
Be thankful, share what you’ve got.
It was innocent enough, a student I was talking to asked, “Why would you do that?”
We were talking about setting goals, short-term goals and long-term goals. We were talking about setting our bar high. About pushing our expectations of ourselves. We were also talking about being honest about our intentions.
And that’s when it struck me, why am I doing this? Why am I training for an Ironman? The real reason, the reason deep down inside.
I had to say, “I don’t know.”
Maybe it’s because I’ve made the commitment. Blown the money and now feel obligated.
Maybe it’s ego, I want to do something that others can’t or haven’t.
Maybe I want to prove something to myself or to others, about my abilities. To show them.
Maybe I want a challenge that will push me to my physical and mental limits.
Maybe I want to make my Mom and Dad proud.
Or maybe, I want to live a life that takes advantage of opportunities. I’m physically well, fit and in a position to attempt it. I’m in a place, where on a daily basis, I tell kids to try something that seems too difficult to achieve. I tell kids to dream big, to set the bar high and I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I want to look them in the eye and tell them, they can do anything.
I don’t really know why I’m doing it. I don’t know why it became a goal I had. But I guess, that’s the beauty of goals sometimes; you set them and if you are willing to sacrifice and put the time in, they become part of you, part of who you want to be.
“Live Passionately Today” is tattooed on my left wrist. Maybe this whole thing is my attempt to personify that.
And I guess, most likely, it is all these reasons.
This was cross-posted at my other blog, In Constant Pursuit, about my pursuit of Ironman.
A respected colleague of mine recently asked me, “You are always trying new things and trying new approaches, aren’t you afraid you’ll be wrong and then students will be affected?”
What if I’m wrong?
I figure, I’ve got three options:
- I’m right.
- I’m wrong, but I’m closer to the best possible idea.
- I’m wrong and I’m farther away from the best possible idea.
In the pursuit of providing my students with the best learning opportunity, I’d rather side with the 2/3 chance that I’m moving forward, rather then letting the one option stop me in my tracks. This goes for everything I do, negative thinking breeds a failure to move, positive thinking means movement is essential.
The other side of the my response is that I do my due diligence. I don’t hatch an idea and then go. Ok, sometimes, but generally, I read, I reflect, I talk and I connect. No idea is considered in a bubble. But, no idea is thrown out just because it hasn’t been done before or because it makes me, or other people, uncomfortable.
What if I’m wrong? The only time I can be wrong is in thinking I’ve got nowhere to go.
A few lists connected to the school year that passed.
Things to Do Again:
- Invite the outside world into my classroom. Throw open the doors.
- Be constantly striving for more authentic audience, task, learning.
- Invite scrutiny.
- Build rich connections with colleagues and look for opportunities to engage in good, though possibly uncomfortable, professional dialogue.
- Shift away from the centre. Don’t think top-down is teacher-student. Instead, think there is no top, “We are all in this together.”
- One rule: “Be Great”
- Have rich, meaningful, honest conversations with each student about their progress. These conversations were much more nuanced and useful then any mark or report card comment. They take time, but they are worth it.
Things I Didn’t Get Quite Right:
- Parents: I had no complaints from parents, well, none that I have any knowledge. I had some real great feedback from parents, though. But I didn’t quite get it right. Even after last semester’s reflection on the role of parents, I didn’t do a good enough job keeping/getting them connected to their child’s learning. I need to take more time to get them connected, get them involved. Especially as I use more and more social media, authentic audience, etc. It blends so easily. I want students, regardless of grade, to be talking to their parents about what they learned in class today. This breeds a greater importance on learning, less on the final numerical result of the learning.
- Flexibility: Some of the feedback I got from students was that I provided them, at times, too much freedom and flexibility. They felt that they hung themselves with it. Now each student recognized that they need to own the responsibility, however, they’ve never been taught how, so it is unfair for me to expect them to handle it. I had many of my students comment that their ability to “be in a regular classroom” was compromised because of the flexibility they had in my class. I look at that as something that I didn’t get quite right and I’m going to need to work to find a better balance.
- Sharing: It is one of those lessons you learn early, and it turns out often, about taking (or even better making) opportunities to share the things you are doing. I wrote a blog post entitled “If I Don’t Share, Is It Because I Don’t Own It?” that begins to reflect on the nature of sharing in this profession. I used the excuse that “I didn’t own the class” when I first talked about sharing, but now, with more afterthought and more reflection on all the things I did in class, I recognize that I’ve got to share more. I believe there are things every class should be doing, those things that worked and are easy, but if I don’t share them with the people in my building they are dead already. I don’t know what this will look like, but it needs to be done.
- Feedback: I’m still not there. I’ve written about the feedback loop that I’m trying to create but it is not complete. It needs more tweaking. How do I provide rich, constructive, learning feedback, while making it manageable? How do I provide that as instantly as possible while teaching upwards of 90 students a day? How do I more concretely connect the required number (grade on the report card) with the intangible (observations)?
- The Game: I’m not one to mind my ‘p’s’ and ‘q’s’. I say what’s on my mind and often live with the consequences. Professionally speaking, I’m not one to play the game. I just run at my own speed. This tactic (though it really is the lack of tactics) has left me isolated at times. On its own, I’m not too worried. However, if my actions are going to work against a student’s needs in the future (with a colleague, parent or administrator), then I haven’t served them. The game is not for me, it is to serve my students in the best way. I need to find a middle ground, maybe?
Things I Learned About Learning:
- I love to learn. Adding the Twittersphere to my daily professional development was wonderful.
- Learning happens with community. The idea that learning can happen on your own is baloney. You need other people. We need to constantly be honing our ability to create community in our classrooms. But not just any community, learning community. There is a difference, a big one.
- Learning is a dog fight. Grip it and rip it. Learning is not for the faint of heart. It is tough and messy and rarely pretty. Recognizing this made me much more willing to take risks and not shy away when the going got tough, which it does inevitably, every time.
- It can’t happen in a bubble. Allow for distractions. Maintaining direct focus is unsustainable for most learners. Most of us need time and space to breathe.
- I’m not the best learner in the room. I’m really only good at learning for me. Let people/students learn with whatever methods work for them.
- Sometimes you need to slow down to speed up. I like to jump in with testing the water. I do this with learning new things too. I learned that for some things, that isn’t the best strategy. Now, this isn’t to say i’m not going to be jumping in, but maybe, just maybe, I won’t be doing a cannonball.
Things I Need To Learn More About:
- Google Apps
- Integrating autonomy more effectively into every class. FedEx Days? What would they look like?
- Building more authentic, project-based learning opportunities.
- Establishing richer community with people on Twitter. I’m not using this tool to its full potential.
- How to be a better collaborator.
- Access to funding opportunities to enrich the learning in the room.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my identity. After my Detroit Red Wings lost in the playoffs, so many people came to me to offer solace, or to give me the gears, all in that my identity is tied to them. I’m a fan, but why do some people see only that aspect of me?
Who am I? What teacher am I in the eyes of students and colleagues?
I had a student, who is currently finishing up his ‘victory lap’ extra year say to me, “You know, Mr. Kemp, I wish I got to know you earlier, I think I really would have liked you as a teacher.”
It got me to thinking, why he would say something like that? What type of teacher does he think I am? What gave it away?
You see as teachers we are told to hide parts of ourselves from view.
I’m not good at that.
I’m okay if students call me by my first name, it’s all good. However, a colleague who heard a student refer to me as Scott, took me aside afterwards and said it was a very bad idea as it promotes a level of disrespect. But, I’ve never found that. So, should I stop?
Some students find me funny, although my wife finds that unbelievable. Some students say I’m laid back, some think too much so. I’ve been told that I’m a hippie, because of my constant statements of “Peace and Love.” Some say I’m intimidating, because I am loud and confident. Some colleagues say I’m a shit disturber, some say I’m a trouble maker. Some students know me as a coach, some as a club sponsor, social advocate, ginger. But what does it all add up to?
At the end of the day, my identity is tied to the perspective of others. I can not decide who I will be. I only decide what I do. I can’t hide me, I can’t pretend, I’m in the process of living an authentic life.
How does this affect my teaching? How does our reliance on reputation and identity inform our approach in the classroom and in the hallways? Do we, more than other professions, revel in our idenitity because we work in such a social environment?
All questions that I continue to explore.
Besides punching a few numbers into the school mark software, Semester One is done. For all intents and purposes it was done about a week ago. I have let myself take sometime before posting my reflections.
It was a great semester, filled with lots of great interactions, great learning, and most importantly great students. I really felt like I was the lucky one getting to share my day with these groups of kids.
But alas, not everything was great. Just the overall sense. Below are a few things that I noticed, got in student feedback, struggled with, enjoyed thoroughly, and ultimately, more questions that I have.
No Marks: Now everyone gets all hot and bothered about this title because it seems like I didn’t collect work, I didn’t offer feedback and I never took home a stack of essays to evaluate. All of that is not true. My marking load was the same, although at times it felt more onerous. The students at first struggled, they wanted the number. The comments and conversations weren’t enough for them. But eventually, they recognized just what the feedback was all about. Many of them commented about how they loved the conferences about their performance, “It was less about a calculation and more about the conversation. It gave me a chance to really understand what I was doing right and what I needed to work on.” Another student, “No marks was tough for me because that’s how I gauge how much effort to put into something, I found myself putting alot of effort into everything this way. It was kinda weird how that happened.”
Paperless: In my second semester now of working paperless, this year it felt much easier. It was more natural. Students were given heaps of time on the computer and having them e-mail their work made it easy to send feedback, etc. Overall, this really worked. Sure, it takes a little bit of rigamaroling, but it was worth it.
Autonomy: I gave my students this semester quite a bit of say in how we did things, from the questions we asked, the books we read, the movies we watched to the music we listened. They bought in. One student wrote, “It was so obvious that it was our class, we made the decisions that affected us day to day.” Most days, they entered class knowing what we were getting into because they had decided. There were, of course, a few times where we had to reinvent, rethink the direction we were headed, but overall it was great.
Hands-On, Experiential Learning: I made a great effort early to get students out of their seats, working collaboratively and learning physically. At the start it was probably three days a week. Then, the well ran dry. I stopped having good ideas and I stopped putting the requisite effort into giving them these experiences. I failed them on this front. A few of them noticed on their course evaluations remarking, “It was fun when we got to stand up, but that sort of faded after the first month or so.” This is definitely an area that I will be focusing on.
Exam: I shortchanged my students with the design and implementation of their exam. Both my grade 10 and grade 11 classes had a “required” exam (you can read my past post about it) and I failed to avoid forcing upon them a standard exam. We did not run our class in a “standard” way and yet, their final exam was typical. Yes, the grade elevens wrote on the computer, many of them did really well, but I failed to really move this aspect of the course to where the rest of the course was. I should have probably had them create it or something along those lines.
Parents: I wanted to make a concerted effort to include parents more, especially in my grade ten class. I didn’t. I ended up being the same lazy, non-communicative teacher I always am. I called when absolutely necessary, but ultimately, didn’t engage them with what was going on inside the class. Especially with most of it online, this should have been done and it should have been easier. I blew this one on high dough! Big part of my plans for semester two.
Failures / Attendance / Lates: A few kids still didn’t get these credits. Yeah, I know, you can’t reach them all. It still pains me that multiple kids in each class will not be earning my credit. Much of this is connected with attendance, how do you get a kid to school? I can’t teach them, engage them if they aren’t in the room / building. For the students who did show up sometime, I couldn’t connect / engage them enough to keep them coming and working. That said, connected yet not, I couldn’t get certain students to stop being late. It is a small thing I wrestled with, i.e. should I even care?, but it weighs on my mind as I’m reflecting on the semester.
What does it mean to be prepared for class when the students direct the learning?
Do lates matter, especially without consequences?
Does a student smiling and laughing equal a student ready to learn, where is the line between having a good time in class and toiling away at the tough stuff of learning?
Learning is loud, but I want to keep my door open to anyone, how do you balance the two?
How do I balance my over-abundance of passion and enthusiasm, with my students feedback that I’m too happy for first thing in the morning?
How do I truly engage parents?
… so many more questions…
In Dan Pink’s book Drive, he suggests that knowing your sentence is a clear means of setting your life’s focus and thus maintaining motivation.
He has also put out a call for people to put their sentence into a video and send it to him so he can compile them. I’ve put some thought into it. Here is my first go…the video will be added sometime later.
Scott Kemp: He lived and shared passionately his love of learning, belief in the future, and continually put his words into action.
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