The power of social learning: Can working with peers improve outcomes? (McREL Blog)

This was posted on McREL’s blog, but thought I would cross-link it here.


Corporal punishment in American schools in 2013

It happened as we were conducting practice walkthroughs during principal training. I was working with a group of administrators on gathering formative data on teacher instructional practices and, as we were making our way down the hallway, I overheard one principal say to another, “…after that smart @$$ comment, I turned to [name] and just said, ‘Whup ‘im.’”

I let out a half-laugh as I turned to him, not sure whether to be aghast or amused at the absurdity of joking about spanking a student. The moment I saw his face, however, I realized that he wasn’t joking. I’m sure several emotions were evident in my expression as the realization of what he was saying sunk in – disbelief, disgust, horror. Mentally recoiling, I managed to create space between us as we continued walking, giving one of the other principals a chance to come up alongside me and whisper, somewhat apologetically, “Corporal punishment is still legal in Texas.”

I have memories of classmates being called to the office for punishment that can only be categorized as child abuse, but I had naively assumed that those brutish practices had been discontinued in the ’80s. How wrong I was.

I recently told a co-worker this story and she, like me, found it difficult to fathom that this form of punishment was still legal. She forwarded data from The Center for Effective Discipline on frequency of corporal punishment by state (and those that have banned such practices). I’ll let the data speak for itself. I am especially dismayed to see that Colorado, my adopted home of 15 years that I consider to be such a role model for healthy living and innovative ideas, still hasn’t banned corporal punishment.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Is corporal punishment still legal in your state? Is it still a part of your school’s culture? How frequently is this happening in your world?


Deutchman’s Theory of Change through the lens of Star Wars

Last week, during Balanced Leadership training, we were asked to summarize a theorist’s idea of change, then to create a drawing to summarize what we had learned. I was assigned Alan Deutchman, author of Change or Die, among other publications.

I was especially intrigued by Deutchman’s three keys to change: Relate, Repeat, and Reframe. Not being a very good artist and only having a few minutes to create my drawing, I decided to use a reference I was fairly certain everyone would know – Luke Skywalker’s metamorphosis into a Jedi knight in the first trilogy of Star Wars.

In the first phase, Relate, learners first form a new relationship with a person, idea, or community that gives them hope. I thought of when young Luke first sees Obi-Wan Kenobi use the force…

droids

…or when he needs convincing that he has the force. In the relate phase, we are still building our awareness of this new idea.

fail

In the second phase, Repeat, learners build their skill set, practice, and master habits that they will need. I thought of Luke’s time on Dagobah as he is going through  Jedi exercises. Many times, at this phase, we are going through the motions of a new habit or skill, but it doesn’t feel second nature.

practice

Finally, at the Reframe stage, learners have new ways of thinking. The world is seen in a manner that wouldn’t have made any sense before. This, of course, is well represented by Luke’s insistence that his father has not completely gone to the dark side.

darthvader

This activity was fun to do and reminded me of the need for play while learning.


It’s not you; it’s me…or maybe it’s you…

As with many of you, I maintain a few professional memberships of organizations who focus on certain issues and to whom I look for learning and networking. I have been a member of one in particular since the early 2000s when, as I was getting my Master’s degree, I decided that becoming a member was of paramount importance on my career path. I happily doled out my yearly fees and looked forward to its monthly magazine and yearly conference. By reading its publication, I learned of people, ideas, and tools that I might not have learned about otherwise.

In recent years, however, I find myself disengaged – not with my profession…indeed those conversations seem to be getting richer and more thoughtful as my network expands – but with one organization in particular. I have stopped going to its annual conference, finding it more focused on pens, prizes, and over-populated lecture halls than about improving pedagogy.

I scan the periodical and only occasionally find anything that I think helps teachers who are working to meet the needs of their learners. Wanting to contribute (and not just complain), I submitted an article last year to its publication that looked at digital learning through the lens of research-based instructional strategies, thinking of teachers more as instructional designers than providers of information. The feedback from the editor was dismissive at best:

“…this felt a bit to me like dressing up old ideas in new vocabulary, rather than presenting truly new ideas.”

Ouch.

I recently received an email reminding me that my annual membership was about to expire. I have to ask myself: what am I getting out of this relationship? These days, I find that I learn more through Twitter feeds, blogs, and smaller, more intimate gatherings (e.g. salons, local or state conferences) than I do through its publication, special interest groups, or conference. Has it gotten too big? Or has my learning style simply shifted so much that glossy periodicals and over-stimulating conferences don’t engage me anymore?

Is anyone else dealing with this?


You might know more about your future than you think

railroadWe’ve all seen those famous quotes used in ed tech presentations (I use a few myself) that highlight lack of vision in previous predictions. A few examples:

  • “By 2000, machines will be producing so much that everyone in the U.S. will, in effect, be independently wealthy.” – Time, 1966
  • “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.” - Ken Olsen, President Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

Yet, when I read books such as Where Good Ideas Come From or Blink or Decisive, I become more convinced that, given the right protocols and tools, we are actually better at anticipating our future than we might think. If we have a system for paying attention to current trends and for adding to our view of the world beyond our own narrow realities, we stand a chance of not only accurately predicting future trends, but preparing ourselves for success within that future world.

I will be presenting on how McREL used the scenario planning process to change how we thought about our work at this year’s TIE Leadership Academy on June 17 in Copper Mountain, CO. If you would like to learn more about the process and start your own planning, I hope you will join me!

In the meantime, here’s a quick video where I describe the basic tenets of the process.


Creating Inviting Learning Spaces on a Budget

building1I had the pleasure of touring a K-9 elementary school in Victoria, Australia two weeks ago. The story behind this school coming together is an amazing testament to dealing with construction delays, the enthusiasm of faculty, and dedication to creating an inviting place to learn.

Due to construction delays, the school used portables that had been stored in Australia’s desert. According to others, they arrived bearing a frightful green hue. The staff also had concerns about students having to walk through mud and without shelter during Victoria’s rainy winters.

Therefore, the portables were painted a lovely slate gray hue, a deck was built to connect the buildings and to provide a raised platform for walking. Sailcloth was attached to poles to create shelter. The result is absolutely beautiful. I arrived as students and parents were just getting to school and I watched people – young and old – literally bounce with enthusiasm as they entered the space.

I have long been a fan of Apartment Therapy’s blog, fascinated by the existence of an entire industry that uses know-how, paint, and hardware to transform mundane walls and furniture into gorgeous, one-of-a-kind treasures. (See this Before & After post as an example.)

Which gets me to thinking…what if there were sort of an “Apartment Therapy” for learning environments? What if we took this type of know-how and applied it to run-down school buildings that have seen better days? Or to those mass-produced, uninspiring cinderblock cells that were de rigueur in the 1970s? Provided more natural light and plants? What if we created spaces that were so beautiful and inspiring, people couldn’t wait to walk through our doors?

building2


13 Chairs

ImageI hosted my first salon last evening and was thrilled with the good conversation, company, & ideas that came out of the event. Last night’s topic was “Inspiring Learning Environments,” though it certainly meandered into many other topics.

Some big take-aways from the discussion for me were:

  1. Once something gets too large, it loses the ability to be innovative. Case in point are the many conferences that have gotten so large and so corporate that the important conversations get lost.
  2. Scale can’t be forced. Scale happens spontaneously because it is the right idea at the right time.
  3. In spite of my original plans for these salons, a home environment seemed to be just right. It actually kept the concept of “salon” more true to form than, say, had I hosted it in a museum or park.
  4. What would happen if we took the concept of Apartment Therapy and applied it to learning environments in our schools? (Especially those schools in areas of high poverty?)

I so much want to thank the folks who came out and made the event what it was! I most definitely plan to host more salons in the future. (And hope that others will also consider hosting.)

Finally, I had a few requests for my Pimento Cheese recipe:

  • 1 block of Tillamook Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • 3 T shredded Parmesan Cheese
  • 5-6 T mayonnaise
  • 5-10 green olives
  • 2 roasted red bell peppers
  • dash of cayenne pepper

Blend together in a blender.


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