Saturday, October 31, 2015

Sketchnote-Journey to Simplify Complexity

Have you ever gone to a full day professional learning event, discovered wonderful implications for practice, and have scheduled 15 minutes to present the learning at an already full staff meeting? How can one effectively communicate hours of presentation, interaction, and processing in 15 minutes?

Inspiring experiences at conferences and retreats pose a similar information transfer conundrum- so much is learned, but few innovations are implemented once the learner returns to practice. Recreating the energy and remembering details become difficult when faced with everyday demands; grand plans for projects or shifting practice made in the learning environment fade.

Sir Ken Robinson's Changing Education Paradigms

Four or so years ago I saw the above video of Sir Ken Robinson's Changing Education Paradigms and was captivated; the presentation was both engaging and informative. The combination of illustration and explanation made the historic and contemporary concerns regarding public education clear. I enjoy analyzing complexity, digging in and exploring from every angle to understand connections, apparent contradictions, and possible perspectives, and struggle sharing my thoughts on the same complex concepts. My memory of that experience, of the powerful combination of media and message, prompted my goal to learn to effectively capture key points and illustrate complex ideas to improve my communication when presenting or otherwise sharing my learning.

Rachel Smith's video on Visual Recording on the iPad

I started with  Rachel Smith's video on Visual Recording on the iPad and discovered even more possibilities. In this informative video Rachel (@ninmah) also provides summaries of different apps-although this version is dated, it focuses attention on important things to consider.

After seeing the power of combining visuals and notes I started collecting pictures of materials at workshops and adding notes in Explain Everything. This provided great experience capturing thoughts, although my writing is not very neat!

Inspiration may be found in this list of 50 ways to take a break -my practice includes creating 'go to' icons to increase fluency when sketchnoting.

Another place to investigate: Kathy Schrock provides an excellent guide to sketchnoting resources in her blog-click here.

Sylvia Duckworth ((@sylviaduckworth) is well known for her conceptual interpretations; going through her Flickr account is a rich experience!

Link here

Link to Tweet

The Nov 1 chat with +Sylvia Duckworth prompted me to prepare my introduction below; my first shared sketchnote :)

Four steps to Sketchnoting Success

  • Start with simplicity
  • Combine simple elements
  • Connect ideas 
  • Add details 

As you increase the complexity you will improve communication and transfer of ideas. 

Icons to practice for future sketchnotes

Sharing professional development and capturing ideas for implementation require innovative processes of interpretation to be more effective. I have made it a goal to sketchnote to better share ideas in presentations and other communication.  Adding sketchnoting skills to your repertoire is a worthy challenge.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

3 Keys to Enabling Growth Mindset

Having a growth mindset means you believe abilities can be developed if you work hard and are persistent. An individual may simultaneously demonstrate a growth mindset and fixed mindset. You may have a growth mindset in your approach to work and not fitness, for example. See What is Mindset to gain better understanding and learn how Mindset can be taught. Individuals vary in their demonstration of growth mindset in different areas and at different times.

Beyond teaching growth mindset- three states to enable it.

Security is a Key to Learning, Growth, and Happiness

We had a wonderful thing in our teaching contract, the sabbatical, which allowed me to take a break from teaching 5th graders to get better at teaching 5th graders; knowing I would have a teaching position when my coursework was complete was reassuring. My family and my health contributed further to my sense of security; stability allowed me to actively pursue achievement and success (completing coursework/all but dissertation in my year off -showed my growth mindset to others).

Feeling safe (as well as having physiological needs met) enables our minds to concentrate and think at higher levels. The current media blitz on education has disrupted the feeling of security for many growth minded teachers, leaving them overburdened as they work to reconcile current and next practices while trying to meet ever-changing assessment and standards demands. In this state mindset appears fixed as teachers feel they must defend all, even the best, aspects of their current practice.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Strength is key to overcoming challenges and pursuing goals

Intellectual, emotional, and physical fitness are all areas of strength that must be developed so that they are available for facing challenges. This trifecta leads to good overall health, allowing individuals to work and play hard with limited ill effects. Intellectual strength is the stock and trade of teachers -I think there is a vow to lifelong learning; more than half of public school teachers have Master's degrees or higher (NCES Fast Facts). I am a reader, this is a definitive strength for many teachers, and how I get most of my information. Physical fitness is variable among teachers- #teacherrunner and noting athletic interests along with educational expertise is a Twitter thing; however having less than 30 minutes most days to forage, prepare, and consume lunch does not encourage the best choices. Illness runs rampant in the close proximity environment of schools; when teachers or students miss school, they spend significant energy getting and staying healthy, catching up with work, and re-establishing or maintaining relationships. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is essential for teachers, and must be strengthened. Self -awareness, self -management, social awareness, and relationship management are aspects of EQ (for more information go to ) and contribute to teacher effectiveness working with students, families, peers, and other educational stakeholders.

Being strong is a state which allows us to overcome set-backs. When a teacher has neglected any of his/her health needs, he/she will be hard-pressed to demonstrate growth mindset. Physical health provides energy and strength to meet the demands of a classroom full of learners in varying states of engagement. Increasing EQ provides tools for strengthening students' social and emotional skills so they may capitalize on learning opportunities. Awareness and strengthening EQ will put the stress the evaluative environment has created in proper perspective and provide strategies for calming self and environment, for educators and learners.

Making connections is key to to developing understanding that transcends everyday learning

Revisiting security and safety, we spent significant time focusing on classroom routines as a building and I found myself at odds with the idea; I have always used a more responsive approach-routines feel too authoritarian to me. I am very persistent-so the cognitive dissonance created by this routines idea kept running in my head. I do the FANS 24 Hour race every year, walking 50 miles or more. My health has always seemed good, however I was carrying a lot of extra weight, especially on those stamina-testing days when I would do a race with little training. I find I am a little compulsive, which may be why I generally avoid routines-there is no way out! However, after much internal debate, the idea that productive routines would potentially make me more physically fit won out and I began to have the same breakfast and lunch every day-in an attempt to mind my diet-something I had never attempted and walk 2 miles per day, minimum. Now I throw in a run at least a couple times per week and find any time on my feet is great for reflecting on my day, problem solving, and learning by taking time to make connections between existing ideas and new experiences. Connections create new growth intellectually and emotionally, especially when perspective-taking.

My Trifecta is Physical, Intellectual, and Emotional fitness-what is yours?

I have always relied on being a strong reader to increase my intellect; reading is my work and my go-to whenever I am stumped. Reading puts tools in my box that I use persistently in my life as I work toward Maslow's Self-Actualization level ;) As it turns out, regular physical exercise contributes to strengthening both cognitive and emotional intelligence. When I fail to meet expectations (my own or those of others), I reflect on things learned, learn some more, repair, and continue to grow.

I am sure my approach, with growth in mind, is not always visible to others. The growth mindset of others may not be visible, yet still may be present, hidden because it is internal or possibly hindered by insecurity or stress.

How does one show a growth mindset?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Plan for Success: Does your team have control issues?

Have you ever had a working relationship that was very productive, and a little frustrating? You may agree on the 'what,' the important matters, but not always the 'how.' As a team you are getting it done, navigating tension, and making each other a little crazy. Can we be effective using different means?

This brings to mind the relationship I have with my daughter, Haley, as a running partner. We have run 5 or 6 marathons, supporting each other as we go. Haley and I make each other crazy every training run and race because we have slightly different means to the end. I run slow and steady, she runs a little faster, with walks as needed. I try to keep her with me by coaching running form and encouraging, which she finds maddening, or slowing my pace, which I find maddening.

Porcupine Mountains
We were a little worried before the Porcupine Mountain Marathon of Michigan's UP this September. This marathon was on a trail we had never seen, and had a relatively short 7 hour clock. We recently finished the Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon separately, achieving personal records, in 7:30 and 8:00 hours on a familiar course. We had never finished separately before; that day we each finished with a running club friend. As we trained for the MI challenge, stress started to build. Haley would pace, and I would follow, wondering if we would be fast enough.Was my finishing goal more important than our usual camaraderie? Would I leave her behind if I felt I had enough left and was close to the seven hour cut off? In our discussion we decided we really wanted to meet this challenge as a team. During our final long training run we had an epiphany-we would take turns pacing two miles at a time. Haley knows she can run my pace for two miles, keeping in mind that she will pace the next two. I know that I have opportunities to pace, so can follow for two miles. Haley observed: We seem to have control issues. After a bit more running-and thinking, I suggested that it was not control, but meeting our individual needs. I really did not want to control the entire experience, I know that Haley pushes me and I slow her sometimes, as individual energy and mood ebb and flow.
Productive Struggle is Expected

When you find you are at odds as team members, consider: are you or your teammate maneuvering for control or to have your individual needs (or students' needs) met? How can you get to your final destination using means that meet each members' needs?

Epilogue: The Porcupine Mountain Trail Marathon
I started pacing the marathon; Haley paced miles three and four...we implemented our plan with fidelity, trading the lead/pacing responsibility every two miles. As we continued we found the other receptive to suggestion,"I need to slow," or "Can we pick it up?" were accepted because they worked as minor adjustments to the plan and fit our changing energy needs. We completed the first half in 3 hours optimistic, suffered a fall, recovered, finishing in 6:53- under the cut-off! It was the hardest we had ever worked together for a finish, with the possible exception of our first marathon.
Plan to Meet Needs and Succeed

Monday, October 5, 2015

Coach Clarity: Push Past 'I Think'

No more "I think..." in coaching conversations! I have noticed when working collaboratively I begin to suggest next steps with 'I think' and suddenly others stop thinking. Sometimes this reflects disengagement, this first suggestion made is accepted and pursued; no one else voices their thinking--I only wish that was because my thought was the ideal. Other times teachers seem to feel my opinion is right "because of your position you know what is expected of us, so what you think is what we will do." What starts as an invitation, a sample to warm up a brainstorming session- ends thinking.

'I think' is problematic, not only because it stops others' thinking, it diminishes what follows. I once-probably multiple times, told a teacher, "I think that lesson was creative." The implication here is that others may not feel the same way; although possibly true, that is not particularly useful information. Identifying specific aspects of instruction or the activity which were creative, without qualification, is a more authentic, powerful compliment.

The ambiguity of 'I think...' is another reason to remove it from coaching conversations. Upon reflection I found I have used the phrase which will no longer be uttered when I mean: I feel, I believe, I hypothesize, expectations are, evidence implies, research shows, my gut tells me, et al. How can I expect others to think, or express what they think when it is used in so many ways.

How to change this habit of ambiguity:

I think you should try to chunk that content into smaller bits for students. STOP! What do I really mean? Research shows that lessons shouldn't be longer in minutes than the age of your audience in years. Chunking is an instructional strategy to create mini-lessons. I can support you with resources, including co-planning and co-teaching.

I think your lesson went very well. This comment is filling space that does not need me to fill it! Instead ask a great question: How were your students' responses to instruction -or the activity- different than you expected?

I think you don't care about other teachers. This is a feeling-based judgment that does not support problem solving. Instead: Your students have been late for interventions the past three days; what support is needed? A clear statement of the problem begins a path to solutions.

My last argument is the reason 'I think' must be removed from all professional dialog: 'I think' gets in the way of collaboration
I think homework is a waste of student and teacher time. I think homework is great for practicing and responsibility. Opposing opinions like these are often attributed -incorrectly- to teaching style and will block collaboration. I think this, you think that-there is an impasse. You won't change what someone else thinks by telling them what you think. These teachers have reached separate conclusions and do not have common understanding. Instead facilitate research or a dialog about the benefits and drawbacks of homework (you may find similar feelings about worksheets) to begin to find common ground.

Eliminate 'I think' and continue thinking about how and why!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Structuring a learning path...Where to begin?

This is my first blog post; it is not my beginning and I know not where I am to go. I am in search of a path.

The garden path
Paths provide a rich analogy for life and growth. Similar themes exist in the Odyssey-in its many incarnations, the poetry of Robert Frost, educational materials, and structures for learning. Literal paths abound for hiking, biking, driving, and other modes of travel.

I recently encountered the garden-path sentence- a sentence that is, at first, ambiguous and confusing- and reflects my start on this project. The garden-path sentence structure is named such because readers attempt to make sense of a sentence before completely reading it-going down the 'garden path' of assumption. An example: The old dog the footsteps of the young. (from  This also captures the beauty and uncertainty of exploration and discovery. We think we know what to expect and find something more!

I have been considering this first posting all summer; inspiration recurred while on a training run. Following are features I encountered on the paths of the Superior Hiking Trail. These features enhance the journey, analogous to supports and challenges put in place for rich learning. The garden-path example above is somewhat humorous, as many of the pictures below feature my daughter pacing me on the path.

As you read captions, consider learning paths-classroom and professional development. Which features (instructional strategies) do you provide for your learners? Which features do you want in your learning experiences? Are the features you choose in your classroom for your students the same that you choose for your own learning during professional development? Should some paths be more structured than others? Why or why not?

Ambiguity clears as you progress
Lanes marked and clear of obstructions
Smooth with room for lateral movement

Steps add interest and challenge

Defined, not refined

Places to rest provided

Guardrail to prevent dangerous falls

Variety of structures to aid progress
A little added structure on otherwise plain path

Beginning to show wear

Obstructions are passable

Turns are well defined

Picturesque vistas

Tripping hazards woven in along the way

Room for traveling companions

 Paths can be inviting-providing hints of where they will take you. How well-defined is your path?

Deep ruts avoid known hazards

Gentle winding single-track

Anticipating difficulty to meet needs

Support where needed

Multi-modal options
Alternative paths along the way

A place to reflect

Clear destinations and expectations
A guide to lead the way

Structured support-optional

 All paths contain surprises: amazing vistas and unforeseen challenges!

Circumvents pitfalls

The work of others is made visible

Garden path sentences require coming to the end (period) and often rereading to get complete understanding. (The man who hunts ducks out on weekends!) With reflection, familiar parts become a surprising whole.

Consider the paths you use to support learning and reflection. What structures do you use to maximize learners' interaction with knowledge? What are essential points for providing guidance? How do your learners reflect on their learning journey?

Access is an issue on any path. What are other path features that must be considered?

I hope you found this path worth taking :)

Pictures - cite @BarbaraBengtson

Follow me on Twitter- Education focus @BarbaraBengtson
I also tweet my running with pics @BarbBengtson