The BERC Group: Research Partnership
Click here to read Part 3 of a 6-part series highlighting the district and community successes.
Click here to read Part 2 of a 6-part series highlighting the district and community successes.
It has been an honor for The BERC Group to be partnering with the Chehalis School District for the last decade.
Click here to read Part 1 of a 6-part series highlighting the district and community successes.
I have been thinking about the term “persona” lately. The definition: “the aspect of someone’s character that is presented or perceived by others,” has made me reflect on how I present at work versus how I present at home. At work, I am patient, I am decisive, I try to lead with compassion, and I believe I am significantly funny. At home, I am mom. I have mood swings, I dance in the kitchen while I cook, I embarrass my kids by singing in public, or raise my voice when they leave a pair of socks on the floor. I would never raise my voice at work, and although not proud to admit this, am far less patient at home. But this did not really matter before this year, because my two personas did not interact. I could be who I needed to be to remain effective in both domains, and everything kept moving forward.
With our new normal, everything is jumbled together. I find myself struggling to remember which persona to present. Last week, in a ZOOM meeting, I turned a profound and serious comment someone made into a song. At home, I asked my children to join me in deciding what to make for dinner, using collaboration strategies I employ at work. And while I believe I can still balance this; I had not really thought about how my kids were managing. I mean, don’t they have a home and “work” persona as well?
As I watch my 12-year-old try to navigate these overlapping domains, I am realizing that he, too, has been tasked with balancing his world in new and complicated ways. The boy he was at school with his friends is very different from who he is with us. The lines are blurry for him now too. He cannot head out of the door in the morning and put on his school self, just as I cannot switch to work mode by getting into my car and driving away from home. He is being challenged to merge his two personas or ignore one for the other. And at 12, I cannot imagine how difficult this must be.
I am so grateful to have had this realization, as winter is wearing on us, and virtual learning is becoming more challenging for our kids. With this new awareness, I can find ways to help my teens navigate their school and home personas without asking them to forego one for another. I can try to give them space and privacy while in school. I can show more grace when the two personas merge, and they address me like one of their peers instead of their mom. And I can talk to them about how I am sharing the same struggles, and how I am working to balance my own work with my home life. I can try to normalize the situation, so that this does not become another burden my teens must carry while they try to thrive despite the odds.
There has been a tremendous amount of discussion about on-line learning over these past few weeks. Aside from clearly defining and understanding the virtual language, there are conversations around equity, quality, and purpose. Many school teachers and administrators I am talking with are working harder than ever to determine how to best meet the needs of their students, and communities, in ways that they can actually achieve. I know one teacher that is holding live class meetings each morning, and another that sadly shared she hasn't seen a student face since March 16th. In one school, all teachers are working as grade level teams to determine content and delivery, so the process is efficient and streamlined for families. In another district, each teacher has been tasked with creating their own model for delivery and content.
As with any time of tumult and change, these issues can sometimes distract from what is most important: the emotional, mental, physical, and academic well being of the students we serve. Each day we don't have students in our buildings and on our fields we run the risk of losing those incredibly important connections that drive so much of the data around student achievement. Relationships matter, now more than ever. I just watched a Ted Talk on What Makes a Good Life, and the answer after a 75 year Harvard study was relationships. Pure and simple. Having high quality relationships with the people in your life help you stay healthier, live longer, and thrive.
As I watch my own three children struggle to navigate this new reality, I am struck by how much they miss their people. Although I can't change it right now, I know that every time a teacher sends an e-mail, or they chat with peers to solve their math problems, I get a little glimpse of their sparkle that I have been so missing. If at the end of all of this, we accomplished one thing, I hope it is that we learn more about how to connect with one another in genuine ways, even when we can't be face to face. There are so many students, and families, we can reach if we take this opportunity to develop our capacity to engage in conversations, give and receive feedback, share an experience, or teach something new through a virtual platform. As an instructional leader, the challenge is to help students believe that their voice, even through the computer, matters, to you and to their peers. Set up some small group chats, encourage students to call one another for homework help, and use those office hours to play a game together. These are the ways we can keep moving forward, and encourage the relationships that all of our students will need to rely on as they are faced with new challenges.
The Power Of Relevancy
I have never been as intimate with my computer screen as I have been over the past three weeks. It is now the most important place in my house (besides the kitchen, where we are now constantly baking!), since I use it to connect with my colleagues, my family, and my friends. My children are connecting with their classmates and teachers, and my husband conducts all of his work through a screen. My calendar is starting to fill up with requests to have a remote ZOOM, House Party, or Group FaceTime chat. In this currently reality, I am confronted with the thought that the purpose, or "why" of our learning and doing is now more important than ever.
Each morning as we begin our school day, I try to give my own kids a sense of the purpose of their learning. Yesterday, after we watched a few minutes of the news, I asked the kids to find a local charity to which they would each like to donate. I wanted them to connect what our experience is to what is happening to other families in our own neighborhood. My kids were a little grumbly at first, to be honest. They didn't immediately feel a connection; until they started to research what the people around them are struggling with right now, in this moment.
They each sent me an e-mail with their selected charity, and a few sentences about why they chose what they did. One of my children chose a housing non-profit; one chose a food pantry; and my third chose the local arts center. Each of their reasons were different. But unlike some of the assignments where they don't feel a sense of ownership or relevancy, this morning they woke up and asked me if I had, in fact, made the donations, and if so, could we select a few more charities next week?
This real world connection is one of the most important instructional habits and can be incorporated into our daily practice, on-line, or in the physical classroom. It makes a difference in how kids show up for their learning and how they remember and value what they learned long after the formal lesson ends.
Although I spend most of my professional hours thinking about instruction on a regular basis, these last few weeks have challenged me to incorporate a fair amount of instruction into my personal life as well! With three school aged children of my own, recent events across the world have put us all into the position of changing our habits and learning new routines. Here is what I know, now more than ever; the best way for all of us to keep learning through this challenging time is to have grace with one another, establish routines and rituals for all of our learners, and make sure that for each thing we ask of one another, we provide the purpose, or “why” of our ask.
When I think about the Instructional Habits embedded into Powerful Teaching and Learning, I can think of about 1000 ways they apply to our current “distance learning” situation. Each time I post, I hope to share one way in which these habits are helping me to provide instruction to my own children, and to help keep learning present in our household during these trying times.
These first few weeks, we are working on establishing routines for learning in an environment that has many purposes other than learning. We have selected a comfortable space, and have settled into a morning check-in routine, followed by independent work time. Our brains are wired to respond to predictability, and benefit from knowing what to expect. This is a critical aspect of learning; our environment needs to feel safe and comfortable. I know for me, where I choose to work definitely impacts my focus and productivity!
Please stay healthy and safe, and check back for more Habits of instruction to help survive this current reality.
The BERC Group staff was thrilled to see a Seattle Times article honoring a school we've worked with for School Improvement Grant (SIG) evaluation. Whereas many schools respond to low test scores by doubling down on skills-based remediation, Lakeridge Elementary School tried a different approach, emphasizing critical thinking and student collaboration. Their rising test scores show the impact these instructional habits can have on student learning.
School leaders and their staffs face change constantly, from small, incremental changes such as the rise of technology in the classroom to monumental changes like the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Within classrooms, teachers may want to introduce new activities, such as exit slips or turn-and-talks, that students are not familiar with. All of these changes require people to think and act differently. A phenomenal book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath, can help administrators and teachers introduce change in their schools and classrooms. Imagine peoples’ routines and attitudes as a large elephant with a small rider on top, lumbering down a jungle path. The Heath brothers describe managing change as a three part process: direct the rider, motivate the elephant, and shape the path. Successful change has to address all three of these elements.
Growing up in the country, I often heard, “When you fall off a horse, get right back on again!” Although my family did not have horses, only chickens and cows, I appreciated the message about refusing to give in to minor setbacks. Whether it is called grit, perseverance, or tenacity, the refusal to give up when faced with a challenge is a key component of success, both in the classroom and in the real world.
So what is grit? In a 2013 report called Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology defines grit as, “Perseverance to accomplish long-term or higher-order goals in the face of challenges and setbacks, engaging the student’s psychological resources, such as their academic mindsets, effortful control, and strategies and tactics.” Let’s unpack that definition to get a better idea of what grit looks like in the classroom.
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