Nothing FAILS like SUCCESS…

…when our success is based upon a false assumption, an atypical application, or a restricted context.

Now, we all understand the opposite thought; that nothing SUCCEEDS like SUCCESS in terms of proving that something works, that it’s effective, or is the right course of action. Experiencing success with any practice or routine can be very compelling and the thought of continued effective and efficient results quite alluring. However, the true source of our success must be examined before we can exalt the virtues of whatever it is we’ve chosen to do.

Here’s what I know: Having the stomach flu can result in rapid weight-loss, but that doesn’t make having the stomach flu a best practice when it comes to slimming down. While this is an over-simplified example I think it illustrates two things. First, even though the result of losing weight is positive, the means is not justified by the end.  Second, the results are obviously due to atypical circumstances and will be short-lived once the conditions change or revert back to normal.  Admittedly, most other situations are not that simple and/or easy to recognize, but the point is to know why success is happening.

Sometimes having limited success is worse than no success at all as limited success can lead to an unwillingness to reflect, adjust, redesign, or go in another direction. Afterall, what I’m trying is working, but I don’t have enough experience with it to have perspective on the level of success being realized. Sometimes my limited success has nothing to do with the new practice or routine and has everything to do with the particular group or the particular environment in which the success is occurring.

Let’s face it – there are a few students who are motivated by low grades, do respond positively to punitive discipline practices, prefer a lecture-style lesson delivery, and/or will not need a second-chance to perform at their best. There are, of course, no absolutes in any situation and there are always exceptions to the rule.

On the other hand, while these exception-to-the-rule students do exist, basing our decisions about what works and doesn’t work on these exceptions can lead to us to implementing – even promoting and/or defending – practices that are not universally applicable and are not supported with any empirically sound research.  What works in a senior physics class, for example, can produce different results in a 9th grade science class – and that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the younger students.  It means that the success was based upon a restricted context; an atypical class composition of students who chose physics versus a general science class that all students are expected to take.

The point is this: when experiencing success with any new practice, routine, idea, or program be as sure as possible that the success is grounded in the fundamentals of what you are implementing and that it is not the result of some other condition or circumstance.  Nothing fails like success when our success is based upon a half-truth or an atypical situation.  Being aware of these conditions helps us know the source of our success and allows us to have a greater perspective on what we are seeing.

Nothing succeeds like success when you are confident that your success has wide applicability and is empirically sound.  Results do matter, but how those results were realized might matter more.

Kickin’ it Old School

This post is being written from the Portland International Airport as I await my flight back to Penticton via Vancouver.  I am returning after spending three days at the Pearson ATI Summer Conference.  Even though the traditional so-called “Conference” seems a bit old school in the twitter/PLN world, I have a confession to make…I still like them.

There is just something about meeting people face-to-face, finding out where they are from, what their story is, and where along their journey (in this case assessment journey) they are.  I had the opportunity to meet people from all over the United States and Canada and doubt that I could have engaged in the depth of conversation I was able to experience in 140 characters.  The interactions during the sessions and the social interaction in-between all created a positive energy that permeated the meeting rooms for three days.  As people left the conference they were excited, motivated, focused, and renewed to go home, create a new or improved assessment plan for their classroom, school, or district.

I loved Edcamp Vancouver back in April and have really come to value all of the #chats on twitter.  I think that kind of professional learning is long overdue and has increased the on-goingness of professional learning once left to the sporadic events.  At their worst, traditional conferences are a complete waste of money, but at their best, they create a synergy unrivaled by any other experience.

My hope is that we don’t swing the pendulum so far in the other direction that conferences disintegrate.  I get that money is tight, that it isn’t always easy to leave out families for a few days, and that professional learning is not limited to 1 or 2 events per year. But, people like to be inspired and see the big picture. After all, we are human and need – not want, need – live contact with other human beings to share our struggles, successes, triumphs, and roadblocks.

Are traditional conferences sometimes too passive for the participants? Yup. Could presenters make them more interactive and fluid? You bet! Do we need to push the limits of on-going professional learning via social media? Absolutely.  But as I sit here waiting for my flight I realize that I had a very positive, productive, and inspiring few days which tells me that traditional conferences, while they might change their style, format, or routine, still have value and should still continue to serve a purpose for professional learning.

Time Out – Time In

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems as though “timeout” is getting a bad rap.  While I am definitely NOT in favor of creating a fast track to removing students from classrooms, there are times when removing a student from a situation is an effective way of intervening. Even if only for a few minutes, sometimes a little distance between the teacher/environment and the student is the most effective way to defuse the situation. Sometimes, it is important to intervene and/or discuss an issue with a student privately rather than confronting it in front of the entire class.

Time out works.  My issue is more with the misuse of time out by thinking it always works; it doesn’t. Here are a few guidelines that may help you determine whether time out is or is not an effective way to intervene and how you might go about maximizing its effective use.

1. There must be a desirable ‘time-in’ environment. Removing a student from an environment they do not want to be in will never be an effective way of reducing the likelihood that a challenging behavior will occur again.  It’s as silly as suspending a student out-of-school for skipping. This will only serve to reinforce the negative behavior and increase the likelihood that the behavior will occur again – only sooner and with more intensity.  This is why two students can/will have very different responses to the same intervention (time out). The student for whom the environment is desirable will respond positively; the other, not so much.

2. Keep it brief – no more than 5 or 10 minutes MAX. If you need to appropriately remove a student because you are in the middle of something that’s okay.  However, the idea that a student sit in the hallway for 30-45 minutes is, for me, unacceptable.  If, as part of a Behavior Improvement Plan, a student needs to be removed for an extended period of time, then another location should be part of the plan so the student can continue their learning.

3. Keep it business-like. This is much easier said than done, especially if the T.O. is the result of the student telling you to F.O. The bottom-line in any teacher-student relationship is getting emotionally caught up in any discipline issue never goes well for the adults involved. Remember, this is not a judgment of the student as a person; this is about their behavior and, as such, we need to remain as objective as possible.  Taking things personally usually leads to ineffective interactions.

4. Teach ‘how’, ‘when’, and ‘where’ to take the timeout. This is especially true for students for whom timeout is a part of their behavior improvement plan. Not only will this reinforce the objectivity of the intervention, it will give the student a clear picture of how the timeout is supposed to occur.  Then, if the student follows through on what they’ve been ‘taught’ there is an opportunity for positive feedback on how respectfully they moved to the hallway without disrupting the other students. Students with severe behavioral challenges may never fully change, however, we can teach them prosocial ways to handle their inevitable emotions of anger and frustration by self-regulating how they respond to what you are asking them to do.

5. Review the ‘context’ of timeout use if it’s frequent. This means two things.  First, if you find that you are consistently needing to use timeout on certain days or during certain periods, analyze what you are typically asking the students to do during that time.  As well, it could be that the students arrive to your class immediately after P.E. and the exercise and/or competitiveness hasn’t quite transitioned out.  Second, if a specific student is given a timeout consistently during a certain time/period/day, then examine their specific situation to plan  for ways of preventing escalations and creating an optimum environment.

As I wrote on March 16, 2011, behavior interventions are neutral.  How students respond determines an interventions effectiveness. Timeout is not inherently wrong; however, the misuse of timeout can be counter-productive and only increase the intensity, severity, and duration of the presenting challenging behavior.  In the end, our goal should always be to create a positive teaching and learning environment where timeout is unnecessary.

Who do I choose to be?

This past week was brutal.  The transmission on my truck has to be completely re-built…here are the details.

I drive a 2006 Ford F-150 (purchased in 2008). All you Chevy owners will, of course, tell me that was my first mistake!! When I bought the truck I purchased the extended warranty which I have been able to utilize on a couple of occasions.  Here’s the timeline from the last week-and-a-half.

  • WED. APRIL 27 – Truck is absolutely fine…no issues.
  • THURS. APRIL 28 – I notice a little hesitation as I press the accelerator.
  • FRI. APRIL 29 – Noticeable hesitation in reverse and accelerating.  There is definitely a problem.  I’m going to take my truck in tomorrow.
  • SAT. APRIL 30 – “Transmission Malfunction” light comes on as a drive to FORD.  I pull over, call BCAA, and have the tow my truck the rest of the way.
  • MON. MAY 2 – I find out my transmission needs to be completely rebuilt.

Here’s the best part!? I took my truck in on April 30, 2011….my extended warranty expired April 23, 2011…7 days earlier.  The repair on my truck will be somewhere in the $4500 range!

Now, it’s at this point that I have a choice to make; who do I choose to be?

On the one hand, my warranty had expired and while it had only been a week, it had been a week.  Try telling the insurance company after a car accident that your car insurance has only been expired for a week…I think we all know how that would turn out.  However, my truck has been well maintained and my warranty had only been expired for a week – we’ve all heard the stories about things going wrong after the warranty expires…now I am one of those stories!

While I was obviously not thrilled with the prospect of paying for the repair, I kept my perspective on what was happening.  Was there anything I could do to change the circumstances? No. Would getting upset, ranting, or pouting change anything about my truck? No. Would all of this matter a year from now? No. Would the way I treat people during this process matter? You bet! 

I made a conscious decision almost immediately that I wasn’t going to damage any relationships or my self-respect during this process. It is easy to treat people well when you feel good; much more difficult during a time of stress.  Being aware of how I was feeling made it a lot easier to be mindful of my emotions.  This situation could either get the best of me or I could keep it in its proper place. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have an extra $4500 lying around waiting to be spent, but it’s only money, there is nothing I can do to change the situation, and I was convinced that something was going to be done in my favor.

 The local Ford dealer was sympathetic and “made my case” to the warranty dept. at Ford Canada.  After a couple of days of silence I heard back on Friday; Ford is prepared to cover 50% of the repair.  I thought that was fair.  They didn’t have to do anything to help me out, but they did I was grateful for it.  Could I have got a better deal? Maybe. Would Ford have eventually covered the entire cost of the repair? It’s possible. Could I have pushed it? Probably.

However, to do all of that I would have had to choose to be someone else, and in the end, I wasn’t prepared to be the kind of person I don’t want to be.  Adversity, I once read, introduces you to yourself. I continue to learn about perspective and what truly matters in life.  Five years ago I think I would have handled this situation much differently; far worse from where I sit now. I don’t think there is ever a time where it’s okay to compromise who you are.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t issues (much bigger than a transmission) that aren’t worth fighting for.  I think that while we are fighting we still have a choice.  You can never take a timeout from being you – there is no fee pass. I was happy with the way things turned out and, through it all, more happy with the person I was during the entire process.

21st Century Learning…I think?

First, I don’t think anyone can definitively say what 21st Century learning is.  We all think we know what it might be, and in many cases we’re probably right, but we don’t know for sure.  In 1911, did educators really envision the world their students would live in 40 years to the future? How about the world we live in today? Everything put forth here is my first attempt at trying to develop some personal clarity around 21st Century Learning.

The inspiration for this post came from Darcy Mullin’s (@dMully) post entitled, “Inspired by Real Learning.” http://darcymullin.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/inspired-by-real-learning/ and a comment he wrote on my post “What Educators sometimes say…” While commenting on my post, Darcy wrote,

I had a discussion with a colleague today about personalized learning. We were talking about reservations we had about integrating technology into a classroom (IPads, smart boards etc.) until there is a pedagogical shift in the classroom.

So that got me thinking…what should that pedagogical shift look like?  Maybe what we need to do is take the pedagogical logic we have traditionally used and reverse it. Maybe what used to be the means now become the ends?

Our traditional organization put skills (creativity, problem-solving, teamwork, innovation, adaptability) or tools (technology) in service of content outcomes.  Students would be asked, for example, to use their creativity and problem-solving skills to learn the causes of WWI, understand how to add & subtract fractions, or describe the respiratory system.

Maybe students should be asked to do the opposite.  Maybe students should be asked to use curricular content in order to develop their skills.  Instead, maybe they use the causes of WWI, adding & subtracting fractions, or the respiratory system as the means to arrive at the ends of life skills, innovation skills, and technology skills.  Maybe developing student capacity with the use of technology is now the end result of discovering how the Ancient Romans lived.  This might allow our students to draw from cross-curricular sources to see and/or create the bigger picture.

21st Century learning is hard to define, but maybe we’re not supposed to define it.  Yes, we have to have some kind of roadmap, but maybe we’re not supposed to be able to pin it down.  Maybe that’s the point.  If we fully define 21st Century learning we limit it.  A definition inherently includes what it is and what it is not which creates limits.  Maybe it’s the limits of our traditional curriculum that is responsible for the fixed mindset about learning that has been so prevalent.

Maybe the adaptability, creativity, and innovation are what will prepare our students for an unknowable future. Rather than defining it maybe we should just be ready for it.

I don’t know…maybe I’ll change my mind in a week…maybe that’s the point!