Sunday, April 3, 2016

Driving Discussion

A meeting...

The agenda  is placed at each chair. Topics listed in the order they will be shared. Different people are at the meeting to report findings or topics. Each person goes around the table, sharing their information about the topic. A little discussion. Meeting adjourned.

Sound familiar?

This is the type of meeting I have been a part of and have also led. The meeting ends up becoming a laundry list of items to cover with little discussion. If a solution needs to be created on a particular topic, there may typically be a solution already at hand presented, discussed, and then agreed upon. I had created agendas and meetings like this for years. But I felt something was missing.

It struck me one day when creating an agenda for my leadership team. I would create the agenda about one week ahead of time, listing topics we would discuss, send it out to my team for comments, and then move on. However, this was not inspiring the discussion I wanted to have with my leadership team. I didn’t simply want a meeting where I would share information, push out a few questions to the team for us to brainstorm, and then walk away. I wanted a meeting where it was collaborative, all of the team contributing ideas and solutions to the questions we wanted to ask as a school.

So, how would I build this collaborative meeting culture?

I decided to create an agenda of questions. No more topics would be listed. Everything would be posed as a question to be discussed. The questions are broad, yet driven from our school action plan topics, opening conversation to solutions.

I still send out an agenda a week in advance, but now, my team can think about the questions ahead of time, pulling together thoughts and ideas to bring to the meeting. Once the meeting is started, I pose the question and then open the table for comment and discussion. Sometimes, we even have post-its for an Affinity activity or a Google Slides document so we can jot our brainstorming down, breaking into smaller groups.

Within one meeting, the vibe of the conversation changed. It was no longer one-sided. Yes, there was still some delivery of information, however, mostly each idea was discussed and the solution was collaborative. Our discussions have been more vibrant and collaborative, filled with meaningful discussion, ideas brought to the table, and it is much more inclusive. 

One simple idea - changing a list of topics on a meeting agenda to questions - has transformed the culture of our meetings. Even more than that, when anyone has a question regarding our action plan or vision for the school, all I have to say is, “That is a great question. Let me put that on our next meeting agenda!”

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Experiences to Learn From

Experience 1
It arrived in the mail, a flat, folded piece of cardboard. Nothing spectacular to look at. Just cardboard.

“What’s that Mom?”
“It is something very cool. Let’s find out!”
“It doesn’t look very cool. It is just cardboard.”
“Well, sometimes the coolest things come in very small, ordinary packages. It is what we do with it that matters most.”

Together, we opened the piece of cardboard, folded it according to the directions, and this is what we had. Google Cardboard!

“Mom, I can’t see anything through it. What do we do?”

I put my phone in the cardboard viewfinder, opened a demo Google Cardboard app, and then just watched my boys experience virtual reality. Their faces and comments were priceless.

“There’s a whale!”
“Look at that dinosaur!”
“What is that tall building?”
“You are in Paris at the Eiffel Tower!”

No picture in the world could capture their awe, their excitement, their discovery, their learning. Who knew a simple piece of cardboard could transform the world around them? And it wasn’t just for the kids. The adults were in awe by it too!

Experience 2
We entered the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle museum exhibit, noisy, almost chaotic atmosphere with different hands-on stations, all with other children touching, jumping, playing, and interacting with the tasks at hand. The boys took off, feasting their eyes on the many options ahead of them, each going their own direction, immediately gravitating toward a task that interested them most.

One decided to try to figure out how to build a bridge around a rug using only 4 puzzle pieces, another went to figure out how to balance on a skateboard, one went to climb through ropes without touching them, and my big man went to figure out a puzzle. All ages engaged, problem-solving, collaborating with others they didn’t even know. I wanted to bottle up this anticipation, excitement, and learning. Learning was happening, even though no one realized they were learning.

Experience 3
I walked past our new Makerspace, finding a class of students in the space, spread throughout the room in small groups. Each group had different materials, discussing and building something together.

“Come look!” One group wanted to share what they were doing.
“What are you trying to build?” I asked.
“We have to build a simple machine to move this roll of tape from the floor to the table. Look at what we built!”

They showed me their simple machine, moving the roll of tape from the floor to the table. Every student engaged. Every student talking and building. Each machine was different as I walked around the room. Levers, pulleys, even a catapult.  The teacher came up to me to share.

“Instead of everyone creating the same simple machine I show them or reading about them in a textbook, I thought it would be neat to see what they would build on their own and document their results. And the best part...if it doesn’t work, they are trying something else without me saying a thing.”

Experience 4
Two-hour delays are not sleep-in days for my boys. We go into school at the normal time. They build in Minecraft while I catch up on some work at school. But this day was a little different.

Out of the blue, one asks, “Mom, where is London?”

I decided to hop on Google Maps and show them. We looked at the map together, figured out where we were located and how far London was from us. Then, I decided we needed to see London, so I opened up Street View, and off we went.

“That is Big Ben. It is a huge clock.”
“Mom, they drive on the other side of the road.”
“There are some really old, big buildings there!”

Two weeks later while watching a movie together, one of my boys said, “Hey Mom! There is Big Ben! That is in London, England!”
“You got it, buddy.”

Experiences to Learn From
These moments of experiences are all around us, filling each day with amazing opportunities. The commonality among these 4 moments is this - children are EXPERIENCING the learning, not just having it handed to them. Children are interacting with the opportunity in front of them with excitement and anticipation, asking questions, figuring out solutions, visually, auditorily, and kinesthetically experimenting in that moment with what is around them. These are the experiences that we remember. This is the learning that immediately sticks.

I often ask, “What if school was like a children’s museum?”  “What if school was a never-ending Makerspace?” Children would continually interact with content and opportunities around them, creating their own meaning, building their skills through interactive experiences.

Children are not meant to sit at a desk all day. They are meant to explore, create, play, tinker, manipulate, and build. Instead of reteaching concepts year after year, those concepts would stick when embedded into daily experiences, facilitated by the teacher, differentiated and scaffolded on the spot. Every child would be on the same “playing field”, moving at his/her own pace, not judged by a compliant grade, but instead offered feedback and growth opportunities based on their trials and successes as they experience the skills and content around them.  

Learning is an experience. Within the experiences we create for our children, they learn. We may not see the traditional learning that we were once a part of, but our children are in fact learning with every experience we can provide them. My children and the students at our schools are so fortunate to have experiences all around them, experiences they are learning from daily. Whether it be utilizing the digital tools in our hands, or in the spaces that we build for exploration, learning does not have to come from a traditional textbook and worksheet. What experiences can we create in our schools so that our students learn and grow, building their foundational skills?

We need to continue building experiences for our children, not lessons. The lessons will be embedded within each experience we create. Let them explore. Let them discover. Let them build. Let them create. Their experiences will create lasting skills and opportunities.

Picture taken at Indianapolis Children's Museum, Indianapolis, IN on March 28, 2016