Category: Student Success (ISLLC 3)

A school administrator is an educational leader who promotes the success of all students by ensuring management of the organization, operations, and resources for a safe, efficient, and effective learning environment.

And I Quote: Meeting Teachers In Their Classrooms As A Foundation For Professional Learning

Meeting Learners in Their Space

Professional learning in school communities is unquestionably a complex and challenging concept to attend to. Teachers, like all learners, are wide ranging in their interests, their developmental pathways, their learning styles, and their capacity to engage on any given day and in any given setting. There is no standard that works for everyone (at least I haven’t come across it).

Some adult learners require movement and interaction to stay connected while others prefer to stay put, listen, and take notes. Some want to generate thoughts and ideas through a process of individual and collaborative brainstorming, exploration, and critical thinking, while others prefer to have information delivered to them. Even so, dynamic lecturers can transform the traditional “sit and get” experience into vibrant and engaging opportunities for rich, meaningful, and connected learning, and effective group facilitators can draw enthusiastic participation out of the most reluctant collaborators.

As school administrators and professional learning teams consider reflective systems and structures such as Camburn’s three phase reflective process, Gladwell and DiCamillo’s professional dyads, and/or Purcell’s “post class reflective notes,” we must also consider connected and meaningful content. How do we get at learning that truly drives individual and collaborative progress and effectively impacts student wellbeing and achievement in authentically positive ways?

Of comprehensive school reform (CSR) programs, Camburn warns, “if we wish to develop a fuller understanding of how teachers’ work experiences support the development of their practice, it is useful to look beyond their participation in traditional staff development and consider a broader array of experiences” (p. 464). He further clarifies by suggesting, “knowledge about teaching that is acquired in teachers’ immediate work context (their classrooms and the larger school organization) may be more readily applied than knowledge acquired outside that context” (p. 466). A suggestion that connects directly to the “try it out, mull it over, and critically evaluate it” professional learning triangle he points to as scaffolding for genuine reflective progress.

Individual and/or collaborative reflective practices, employed in real-time and on location can influence professional learning a ways that provide teachers with the autonomy needed to connect in meaningfully with school reform or improvement initiatives, a valued voice along their own learning pathways, and a framework regarding how learning meets application for them and for their unique student population during any given moment in time.

Enlisting connected research and reflecting on outside scenarios and ideas has its place and should not be dismissed as worthwhile for professional learning in school communities. However, school leaders must also consider that the base of any truly connected progress specific to their school community is in fact real-time teaching and learning challenges and triumphs that are also specific to their school community, and that are concurrently transpiring along with the progress. Empowering classroom teachers to drive their own professional learning through reflection on their own experiences can be immensely powerful.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

 

*The foundation of this “And I Quote” post is an article by Eric M. Camburn of the University of Wisconsin-Madison entitled “Embedded Teacher Learning Opportunities as a Site for Reflective Practice: An Exploratory Study,” published in 2010 in the American Journal of Education.

And I Quote: Immediate Written Reflection Might Make Even The Best Teachers Even Better

Immediate Puddles

Teachers have loads of pencils, shelves overflowing with books, buckets of paper clips and pushpins, and they have drawers that are jam-packed with construction paper. They have magic markers and they have paintbrushes to match their plethora of vibrant, plastic, circle-basin watercolor trays. They have computers, they have printers, and they have copy machines. They have chairs and they have tables. They have colorful carpets and they have decorative wall art. They have expertise and they have one another for collaboration when additional expertise is required. Teachers have many of the things they need to create comfortable, safe, and engaging learning environments for the students they serve.

What’s the one thing that teachers might highlight as something they don’t have? Enough time. The business of education is multifaceted, enormously demanding, and fast-paced. It often seems that there isn’t enough time in a school day to include intentional reflection along with the many other things teachers have to do, most of which present as urgent and important, while reflection might not, even for those who value it as important to their learning and growth.

David Purcell wrote about his exploration of “post class reflective notes” (p. 5) in a way that suggests consideration of time management with regard to ongoing and intentional reflective practice for connected, real-time learning and growth for teachers. Engaging in the practice took time, however, Purcell found the return on that time investment pointedly beneficial for him, and moreover, for his students.

Purcell suggested, “The cumulative effect over time of incorporating reflective practice is that I have increased my sense of mastery as a teacher (p. 14).” Again, time is critical in this equation. We don’t see the impact of reflective practice immediately, but rather “over time.” Ironically, for that impact to be maximized, Purcell suggests we engage in the reflective practice immediately.

While the challenges and triumphs of a class session or a school day are fresh in mind, a teacher’s immediate reflective notes can be invaluable to future learning and ongoing reflective growth. Keeping a daily reflective journal, even if only jotting down a few sentences or bullet points for further consideration, can be powerful in insuring a connectedness between professional learning and professional practice.

Whether as a foundation for any of Camburn’s three phases of reflective collaboration, as a tool for reference within a professional dyad as outlined by Gladwell and Dicamillo, or in connection with other intentional reflective systems or structures, immediate “post class reflective notes” are likely to serve as reminders of potential, and genuine areas of focus for driving progress in best practices instruction.

Regarding his use of regular and immediate written reflection Purcell further submits, it “has likely had a positive effect on student learning through (his) improved effectiveness as a teacher” (p. 14). He equates an “increased sense of mastery” with “improved effectiveness as a teacher,” as well he should. We know that one’s self image is a influential force in one’s progress. When teachers regularly remind themselves of their own challenge areas and growth patterns they energize themselves with the consistent cue that improvement is indelibly connected to critical and targeted processing.

Immediate written reflection is a professional learning practice that has the capacity to shift a traditional (and valid) time-deficient paradigm into one where connected perceptions of importance are capable of overriding those of urgency, even and especially in the busy day to day of teaching and learning.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

 

*The foundation of this “And I Quote” post is an article called, “Sociology, Teaching, and Reflective Practice: Using Writing to Improve” by David Purcell.

Mr. Berg Reads: Celia

One of the best things about my job as an elementary school principal is that I get to read. I get to read for my own learning and growth, I get to read to enhance my expertise and my collaborative capacity, and I get to read for the benefit of the incredible children I serve.

I’m so excited to start another wonderful school year, in part, because I’m eagerly anticipating getting back to my “Mr. Berg Reads” duties.

“Mr. Berg Reads” is a program based on classroom teachers signing up for half-hour blocks of time during which I read to their students. I’m very fortunate to work in a school community where the teachers I serve have charged me with the task of sharing my passion for reading so that I can be a part of driving the culture of literacy they work so hard to build and maintain.

Sometimes I simply read. Sometimes I engage with the students in thinking routines linked to the reading. Sometimes I read picture books and sometimes I read novels. Sometimes I read fiction and sometimes I read informational texts. Heck, I’d read a blog post if it seemed like something the kids would enjoy, appreciate, and connect with.

I love to read and I love to share that love with others, especially students. When I do, I find that they share their love of reading with me too. It’s awesome. Just a bit of genuine modeling and some time spent suspending disbelief, digging into information, or traveling through history together seems to connect us in very cool readerly ways.

There are the parts of reading that are knowing words, understanding what they mean, stringing them together to make sense of sentences, paragraphs, and chapters, and those are very important parts of reading.

There are also the parts of reading that are feeling like you’re somewhere else, being transformed into someone or something else, catching a distant breeze in your hair, jumping for joy, holding on with eager anticipation, wondering what will happen next, and getting goose bumps. Somewhere along the line I realized that those are very important parts of reading too. Those are the parts I’m looking to share with “Mr. Berg Reads.” Frankly, those are the parts that fuel my love for reading.

You see I was never very good at reading. It always took me a really long time. I was always really good at getting goose bumps, though. Stick to your strength, they say.

In the “Mr. Berg Reads” video above I read a book called “Celia.” I found it at my local library. It spoke to me immediately. It pretty much jumped off the shelf. I love it when that happens.

If you’re a parent or an educator you could connect “Celia” to the idea of talking things out, relying on people close to you for support when you’re feeling sad, and being there for people you care about. You could dig into the idea that we all feel a range of emotions and that there are ways to restore ourselves to happiness from anywhere within that range if we have the tools and use them with intentionality. Or, you could simply enjoy the touching story and the unique, lighthearted illustrations.

And if “Celia” isn’t the book for you, that’s ok too. I would challenge you however, whatever role you play in a child’s life, read more. If you don’t read much, step it up a notch. If you read a lot, take it further. Listen to them read and read to them, no matter what age they are…and no matter what age you are.

Read all kinds of literature. Explore themes and concepts with shared wonder and curiosity. Remind yourself and the children you serve about the immeasurable delights of reading as frequently as possibly, and above all else, enjoy it. After all, when kids love to read they tend to want to read more and with greater enthusiasm, and when that happens they tend to self-identify as readers.

When kids know how to read and understand a lot of words it’s great, and as you support them in building their vocabulary and stamina also remember that when they self-identify as joyful readers it’s priceless. Support the love, the passion, and the confidence, and the words will come.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

And I Quote: Professional Learning As Guided By Professional Learners

Learner Guided Learning

One viable approach for school administrators seeking to support the fitness of a collaborative professional learning culture with reflection as a foundation is through a structure described by Gladwell and DiCamillo as “professional dyads,” in which teachers organically find their way to one another as partners in progress. Regardless of reflective phase or content, Gladwell and DiCamillo suggest that teachers, students, and school communities are well served when administrators are supportive of teachers as the primary determiners of their own developmental pathways, and more specifically, as functionally best-suited to decide with whom they will move along those pathways.

Gladwell and DiCamillo outline professional dyads as partnerships formed over time, born out of genuine interest that leads to the formation of trusting relationships between sets of teachers who support one another in self-selected learning because they’re excited about it, because they each connect to it, and because they’re genuinely seeking to support, celebrate, and learn from one another. It’s a structure that might seem removed from the collective learning paradigm of a school, but for the passion of teachers with an all-inclusive view of school culture and the support of administrators who recognize the value of, and stand committed to a shared instructional leadership standard.

Professional dyads work “because each teacher possesses unique strengths,” and because teachers drawn to this type of partnership are likely to “encourage each other to pursue their unique interests in and outside of the classroom (p.7).” While remaining steadfastly aware and attentive school administrates can take a relatively hands-off approach to encouraging this structure by noticing as various partnerships are forming, encouraging those partnerships to mature and thrive, supporting those partnerships by listening and seeking guidance from teachers as they define progress on their terms, and celebrating outcomes with genuine enthusiasm.

Administrators can value the critically important voice of the teachers they serve by maintaining that teachers are well suited to guide progress in school communities. They can scaffold the reflective learning process by entrusting teachers as learners to follow dedicated, if adaptive routes to shared outcomes of their own volition, and empower them to lead the way for others. Even as Camburn’s three phases of reflective learning unfold in whatever order and over any number of potential schematic possibilities, professional dyads give teachers command of their learning in a way that promotes individual and collective progress with sensitivity.

As we anticipate another great school year, consider ways in which you might support the teachers you serve in designing their own learning pathways, and then get excited about the impact that might have on student well being and achievement.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

And I Quote: A 3-Part Structure For Reflective Professional Learning

Learning, Growtth, & Reflection

Teachers and administrators are constantly searching for the best ways to design, promote, and maintain school cultures in which meaningful, connected, and operational professional learning is supported, nurtured, and celebrated as the norm. Collaboration is coveted as among the most important components of such learning. Autonomy and choice are also revered among adult learners in school communities. Teachers want to have a voice in deciding what makes sense as a pathway to progress in their classrooms and schools, they want to be a part of forward thinking and cooperative teams, and they want to be recognized and trusted as experts when it comes to the wellbeing and achievement of the students they serve; and rightfully so, because after all, they are.

It is widely recognized that school communities are fast-paced places, regularly inundated with demands that would seek to subvert otherwise-established priority preferences and cause time itself to appear the enemy of progress. Camburn suggests that being able to “try out, mull over, and critically evaluate new practices” affords adult learners opportunities to, “make them their own (p. 463).” How can we arrange for time to try out, mull over, and critically evaluate anything when there’s so much coming at us at such a frenetic pace?

Integrated reflective systems and strategies have the power to offer structure and consistency to professional learning models focused on the real-time, collaborative, learner-centric, growth and enrichment regarding best practices in instruction, social-emotional development, an partnership-driven communication between stakeholders in school communities. In separating the three components of Camburn’s suggestion we can define reflective learning practice in a concise way, thereby creating scaffolding for professional learning on the range of topics that will no doubt surface during the course of a school year.

Regardless of subject matter or theme, a “trying out” opportunity can be provided in connection to learning at each turn. Those facilitating professional learning in schools can make clear that learners will have a chance to put their connected thoughts and ideas into action, and that the chance to do so should be understood as an overt aspect of the learning process. While potentially contrived, role-play provides an immediate opportunity for trying things out, whereas a mandate to pilot and/or explore learned content bridges a long term, episodic learning structure. Either have their benefit to reflective practice, and both have potential pitfalls.

“Mulling over” can be done across a wide range of approaches. This phase is arguably enhanced by some degree of independence, as learners tend to need space to process new concepts, ideas, and practices internally before being able to effectively communicate about them with others. The key is recognizing each of the three components of Camburn’s suggestions an explicit piece of reflective learning, and to clearly emphasize reflection is the foundation of authentic processing.

An emphasis on each component and on reflection itself communicates to learners that each is important, and it gives them permission to exercise patience throughout the learning process. When facilitators of professional learning highlight reflection and its parts as a priority they expressly suggest a value for long-term, sustainable practices to.

“Critical evaluation” as a third point in the learning process is also the most collaborative. Moving through “trying out” new practices as connected to new learning and “mulling over” the experience leads naturally to a “critical evaluation” of next steps. Doing so in collaboration with colleagues initiates ongoing partnerships, feeds a culture of connectedness, and drives further learning between professional peers and teams of teachers.

What from the learning can be incorporated into ongoing practice and how will consequent augmented practice impact student learning? What data will be collected to consistently evaluate the connected instruction and in what time frame will it again be considered for the possibility of further augmentation? How can the new learning enhance best practices instruction for groups of students? How can it do the same for individuals? In what ways will these shifts in practice be communicated with parents? In what ways will they be communicated with students?

In his three-part suggestion Camburn doesn’t prescribe specific methodology for reflective practice in professional learning. He simply outlines a foundation that speaks to the need for effective cultures of collaboration in which teachers are valued as experts, partners, and leaders, and one that identifies reflection as a potential pathway to slowing down and isolating a process that we know is enhanced by attention to detail and patient consideration. Facilitators of professional learning in school communities can utilize Camburn’s three-part suggestion to simplify and clarify the process for the learners they serve, and to give unambiguous permission to adult learners to manage their time in ways that genuine learning, growth, and progress demand.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

 

*The foundation of this “And I Quote” post is an article by Eric M. Camburn of the University of Wisconsin-Madison entitled “Embedded Teacher Learning Opportunities as a Site for Reflective Practice: An Exploratory Study,” published in 2010 in the American Journal of Education.

Thankful Thursday: Unexpected Marvelous Surprises (ums)

Ums

Relatively recently I was the benefactor of an unexpected marvelous surprise. It was wonderful (in addition to being marvelous…as marvelous things often are).

Here’s how unexpected marvelous surprises (ums) work:

  1. You’re walking along, living your life in the way(s) you expected to be.
  2. Someone approaches you with an unexpected marvelous surprise (or one surfaces is some other form or fashion).
  3. It’s wonderful.

Ums are actually quite basic and they occur more frequently than some of us give them credit for. Also, when we recognize and appreciated them they have the capacity to be outstanding tools for developing relationships and fostering cultures of optimistic enthusiasm and positive progress in school communities and at home.

Ums have the power to support leaders and learners in framing the world as a surprisingly marvelous place, even and especially when they least expect it. Just one *um can fill a heart with joy and a soul with sustainable hope.

A viable school, classroom, and/or home practice to consider might be intentionally issuing 2-3 ums to people you serve on a daily basis. A nice note to your spouse, a new book from the library for your child, a “thank you” card for a teacher with some positive feedback on the wonderful impact he or she makes, or even the gift of a “magic” crayon to a kindergarten with the connected request for a “magic” drawing to be generated and hung on your wall.

Even the most simple, positive contact or communication can be an um in this busy world. Ums support cultures of caring and positive partnerships. Ums remind people that good is all around and that we are in this together!

The relatively recent um I’m writing about now began with an invitation to guest host a popular Twitter chat. My friend and colleague Dr. Mary Howard (@DrMaryHoward) contacted me and four other administrators from around the country. She asked each of us to guest host one in a series of five sessions that would combine to spotlight school leadership and collectively envision the incredible potential of forward thinking school communities (like the ones in which we’re each fortunate enough to serve).

Mary is the author of “Good to Great Teaching: Focusing on the Literacy Work that Matters” from Heinemann. She’s also the co-moderator of this enormously meaningful and collaborative weekly twitter chat under the hash tag #G2Great. The chat is co-moderated by the amazing Amy Brennan (@brennanamy) and the remarkable Jenn Hayhurst (@hayhusrt3) and it takes place on Thursday evenings from 8:30 – 9:30 pm. Join tonight with guest host Matt Renwick (@ReadByExample) if you can!

The invite was a real um for me, and it turned into multiple subsequent ums as well! It was my first time guest hosting a chat. The learning happened on multiple fronts.

First, I was blown away by the input from and digital dialogue of the #G3Great PLN (Professional Learning Network, if you didn’t know…and even if you did), and second, I was officially introduced to “tweetdeck” and thereby exposed to a whole new world of possibilities with regard to shared digital learning. Frankly…it’s awesome, not to mention very user-friendly. Check it out. And here’s the Storify link to our chat session if you’re interested: #G2Great 8/4/16.

As if that wouldn’t have been plenty of connected ums to fill me up for some time, Mary wrote a way-to-kind, accompanying post on the wonderful “Literacy Lenses” blog (linked to text).   The post warmed my heart, humbled and flattered the heck out of me, and it also fill me with inspiration and the ever-important reminder that the most effective and meaningful leadership is shared!

I’m so fortunate to have such amazing partners, from the students, teachers, and parents I serve, to my building and central office administrative partners, to the remarkable educational and organizational leaders I’m so proud to be intertwined with as a global PLN on this leadership and learning journey. I learn and grow the best and in the most meaningful ways when I do it together with others.

So, look out for incoming ums along with opportunities to provide outgoing ums as you prepare for the start of another great school year. Inspire those you serve with continued demonstrations of your commitment to shared learning and leadership, and allow yourself to be lifted up and inspired by even the most fundamental ums that come your way, if for no other reasons then…um…you’re worth it!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thank you.

 

* In this context the term “um” represents a single unexpected marvelous surprise given the coinciding facts that, 1. The words “unexpected” and “surprise” are synonymous, making it unnecessary to include both unless speaking or writing in multiplicity (with the “s” indicating multiple “ums” as it does with regard nous in general), and 2. You shouldn’t say or write the phrase “an ums” because it simply doesn’t sound or read correct (and arguably, neither does this explanation, but whatever…you get it).

3 Ways To Practice Forgiveness, 2 Reasons To Consider It, & 1 Disclaimer

Near Seems Bigger

Do you ever have moments you’d like to return? Have you ever thought better of an action or a decision and wished you could step back in time? Is there an occasion you can recall in which bringing your best would have been wonderfully effective, but instead you brought something else?

Have you flopped? Have you failed? Have you disappointed yourself? Have you disappointed someone else? Has something like this happened to you? Has it happened repeatedly? If so, congratulations! Not only do these circumstances represent powerful opportunities for learning and growth, but if you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, I can verify with a high degree of certainty that, like me, you’re a human being; a flawed but extraordinary thing to be.

The 3 Ways:

1. Forgive Yourself. Do it. You can thank yourself afterward. Forgiving yourself is a boon for maximizing the learning and growth of which I speak. It’s not always easy. Not for me anyway. Sometimes you’re not forgiven by others, and in those cases it’s especially not easy. But still, do it. Don’t forget. Don’t overlook. Don’t dismiss. Just forgive, and then, reflect with intention. Don’t repeat the same mistakes too many times; a few will do. Be strong in your resolve to make positive progress. Focus on your core values as you reflect. Enlist strength to defeat frustration. Never give up. Try to remember things that are near can seem bigger than things that are far. Down the line you might even wonder why forgiveness was needed in the first place. Still, I would suggest that it might be.

Think about what might happen if you make strides with each opportunity; even tiny strides. Do it. If you don’t like it or see value in it, stop. But I think you will. If you already do it, keep it up, even and especially when it’s most challenging. Give yourself permission to stumble, and if you don’t catch yourself, to fall. All the while, remember that you’re brave, strong, and in every way capable of bringing your best at every turn; dark, light, or otherwise.

2. Forgive Others When They Ask For Forgiveness. Grudges are bad. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone along the way, but don’t waste time obscuring your positive progress with extended negativity. I believe most people are well meaning. Like us, they stumble and they fall. Give the benefit of the doubt, maintain optimism, consider that good intentions abound, suppose that pain could be the root of hurtful behavior and that sadness might be the foundation of insensitivity, and then use those considerations to exercise compassion in the face of frustration. Take an apology as an invitation to support someone in learning and growth. Give them that gift.

3. Forgive Others Before They Ask For Forgiveness. Why wait? If you agree that forgiveness is a positive thing you might consider carrying some with you all the time. A reserve, if you will. Even a bit of “just in case” forgiveness can go a long way. Most people mean you no harm, and those that do are typically seeking to gain power over you. Dissolve that possibility. Don’t be harmed. Be strong. Have resolve. Again, stick to your core.

The 2 Reasons:

1. Practicing Forgiveness Is Good For You. When you practice forgiveness in any of the ways listed above you open yourself up to a world of possibilities that tends to be stifled by the opposite. Again, forgiveness and apathy are wildly different things. When you forgive the humanness of any given situation and the human being within it, with the understanding that we learn from bumps on the road, you stand a chance at paving the section of road you just stumbled on. Pave it. You bring your best when you seek do so. You enhance the world when you bring your best.

2. Practicing Forgiveness Is Good For Those You Serve. Speaking of enhancing the world, we are all servants. I mostly speak to parents, educators, and organizational leaders because that’s my wheelhouse, as it were. When we offer forgiveness we model forgiveness. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. We should be teaching those we serve, especially the children we serve, about the power of forgiveness and we should support them in learning to exercise it themselves. Practicing it might just be the best way. Besides, it feels good to be forgiven. It promotes confidence and suggests value. Confident people who feel valued contribute great things to the world.

The 1 Disclaimer:

1. I Could Be Wrong. It’s a human thing. My thoughts and ideas on this and all other topics of which I think, speak, and write are inexorably tainted by my limited capacity to understand the complexities of this world and inescapably skewed by the experience I’m having within it. In other words, this stuff might work for you and it might not. It’s really just food for further reflective thought.

So, if forgiveness isn’t currently a part of your paradigm and you decide to consider it on the basis of reading this post…and, if doing so isn’t effective for you…please forgive me, or not. I already have.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Thankful Thursday: YET [Your Extension Ticket]

Celebrate Progress

In last week’s Thankful Thursday post (My Personal Paleontologists) I mentioned the power of the word “yet” in learning and growth. This week I decided to isolate the word and shower it with gratitude of its own because I continue to see that power contribute so mightily to my own positive progress and to that of those I serve.

Yesterday I watched my determined five year old spend almost a half hour attempting to leap across a muddy riverbed from one bank to another. He stood looking at the mud, the water, and the tall reeds, saying, “It’s too far…I can’t do it,” followed by the bust of a smile on his face, the exclamation, “Yes I can!” and a backed-up run to the edge where he repeatedly stopped mid-stride, going through the same process over and over until the much anticipated launch.

He performed the “run up and stop” at least two dozen times before launching himself over the edge (albeit hesitantly), catching the toe of one shoe on the opposite bank, and sliding clumsily into the mud. He looked up, and through gelatinous, vibrating, crocodile tears he informed me, “I can’t do it,” and then he sniffled, took a breath, and added, “yet.” My heart smiled. My face smiled. We hugged. A great hug. He asked if we could come back tomorrow and keep trying.

I was so proud. I told him I was. He was curious about why I was proud of something he “couldn’t” do, why I was super excited about something he “didn’t” do, and why I was gushing with genuine enthusiasm over a flop in the mud partway to a goal.

We talked about how he tried something that scared him. We talked about how courageous it was. He talked about how courageous he is. We talked about his resolve to keep working on it in the face of the flop and how that stick-to-itiveness is, and will continue to be more important than any prize he could ever want. We talked about how his growth mindset literally makes the world is a place of limitless possibilities.

We discussed the effort and the mental fortitude he demonstrated. We celebrated what he did do. We agreed that the accomplishment was in the trying and that the key, no matter how many times he falls in the mud, is that he keeps trying.

It was the same when my oldest finally rode his bike without training wheels. He woke up one morning and told me that he would be able to do it by the end of the day. It took a while too.

As kids learning to ride bikes do, he spent several determined hours counting pedal rotations and finding balance until finally it clicked. It clicked, as it does with bike riding, in the exact instant that he realized he could do it. It happened on the foundation that he was employing his “yet” each time, with the courage to continue along the way, safely wrapped in the faith and the knowledge that it would in fact happen.

It’s the same click we feel repeatedly as we courageously break through any of the many barriers and face the multitude of challenges that we do in life. It’s the possession of a “yet” that makes it possible.

Today is great. We should be grateful for each today. But we must understand that it doesn’t all happen today. That said, we must remember and appreciate that only some of it happens today, some of it happens tomorrow, and some of it will happen a long time from now.

In school and at home we must model faith and enthusiasm for the possibilities to and with regard to the children we serve. We must instill in them a sense of pride for the strength they demonstrate when the engage excitedly in the process. We must celebrate their efforts, their courage, and their progress along the path. We must remind them that they each have unlimited extension tickets and that can always access them with courage, even and especially in the face of fear. We must help them understand and believe in the power of “yet.”

Thanks “yet.” I appreciate you and I deeply value the hope and inspiration you bring to my life & to the lives of those I serve.

Happy Thankful Thursday (on this lovely Friday)!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Thankful Thursday: My Personal Paleontologists

Interest as readiness

Paleontologists are thoughtful and patience people. They spend loads of time very carefully uncovering tiny bits of stuff that connect them to bigger fragments of stuff and eventually lead them to thinking about whole pieces of stuff that points to enhanced knowledge of stuff that existed a long time ago (or something like that).

It all represents a bunch of time, a throng of patience, a bundle of thinking, a great deal of dot connecting, a big slice of goal focusing, a deluge of excitement on the part of the paleontologists (and eventually on the part of those of us who get excited about looking at and thinking about the stuff paleontologists uncover), and a process parents, educators, and organizational leaders have a lot to learn from.

The patient and painstaking work of this kind of digging typically takes more time than most people in today’s busy world are willing to devote to any one pursuit. It’s really a means to an end. An end that could be profound and impactful if discovered but also one that might never be (discovered, that is). Paleontologists have to find lots of the stuff they’re digging for before they can do the part of their job that produces new knowledge and understanding.

Even so, they love it. As I alluded to above it excites them. It seems that dirt excites them. Maybe that’s because of its potential. It seems that digging in the dirt excites them. Maybe that’s because of the same. No matter how long it takes to meticulously chip away at some semblance of fossilized rock or brush dust off of an ancient bone, they’re thrilled.

I have a few personal paleontologists. On this thankful Thursday, which has very quickly become a Saturday, I’m eternally grateful for them. Through my personal paleontologists (even thought they’re seven, five, and three-years-old respectively) I get to see first hand how the process works. Moreover, I get to directly experience the mindset of patient people who dig because they see & understand the value of digging, because they believe in it’s potential for uncovering some of the more remarkable and miraculous mysteries of the world in which we live, and because they love it.

Because of my personal paleontologists I’m up close to the process, and in being so I get to think reflectively about the magic of patient, thoughtful, and targeted discovery. I get to benefit from the potential it has to positively impact my processes regarding living, learning, and leadership.

It began with my oldest son. He was hooked from his first dinosaur. I’m guessing that lots of kids are. Still, he took it to a place that amazed me. From a very young age he painstakingly studied dinosaurs. He never let his skill level or developmental readiness get in the way. Before he could read he studied the pictures. As he was learning to read he forgave any pronunciation errors, not that he knew he was pronouncing things in creative ways, but he didn’t allow frustration about his reasonable limitations to stifle or frustrate him.

My second born started with dragons. Eventually he recognized the diminished likelihood of discovering dragon bones in the backyard (diminished but still not completely unreasonable). In light of that recognition along with his undying veneration for big brother’s pursuits he has since shifted to dinosaurs. He now joins his brother in the regular declaration that he’s going to be a paleontologist (plumber is a close second at the moment).

Little sister isn’t fully devoted to paleontology (or patience for that matter) but she did find and remove a bone from their practice dig site block the other day. The boys abandoned it for a snack and a break. Not five minutes later we heard a shout of, “I found a bone!” from the other room. She took it upon herself to pick up where they left off. Carefully and quietly (not her standard mode of practice) she dug and brushed out a pteranodon bone. A rib, or part of “the guts” as my oldest called it.

Shame on me for even wondering if the boys would be upset; turns out they ran into the other room with open arms, ready to embrace their little rascal (I mean, sister) in celebration. She instantly became a member in good standing of the Berg family paleontology society. They were thrilled about the discovery, despite not making it themselves. The look of pride and accomplishment on her face was priceless!

As a bit of a side note I feel duty-bound to mention that our youngest (one and a half) has made many efforts to join the club. To date, those efforts have been thwarted in large part because to his predisposition for unintended but enthusiastic demolition. I don’t suppose his older siblings will be able to fend off his curiosity and devotion to the practice of paleontology much longer. We’ll see.

Go, ready or not. For parents, educators, and organizational leaders, if we concern ourselves too much with readiness we may never start. What’s more, we may never encourage those we serve to start. We should be making sure that those we serve (especially the children) feel comfortable digging into any reasonable pursuit whether or not we feel they’re ready. We should let their interest be their readiness, and then we should make sure that our enthusiastic guidance and support serves to enrich their pathways to progress.

Yet (the potential of potential). Our children will have to thank my wife and me later for our commitment to “yet.” They certainly aren’t thanking us now. In fact, sometimes when we use the word they shout, “STOP!” in close proximity to our faces. And loudly. But we’ve emphatically decided not to stop. We use the word in response to the phrases, “I can’t,” and “I don’t know.” We believe that “yet” is a critical caveat to both sentiments if you want to maintain a growth mindset, which we do. It’s an important component of our core values. And what a connection to the great thinking, believing, and discovering our children are modeling through their commitment to paleontology.

Hey, maybe they’ll thank us for a bunch of stuff eventually (but I digress).

Inclusion & celebratory collaboration. The boys were thrilled that their sister discovered a piece of the puzzle that they’d been diligently working on. At home and in our school communities we must follow that lead. I don’t tend to think in absolutes but if you don’t believe that it truly takes a village I believe you should spend more time considering that it might, absolutely.

Let’s listen to the voices of those we serve. Let’s remember Covey’s charge to see though a lens of abundance rather than scarcity. Let’s actively share leadership; secure in the knowledge and understanding that if we don’t we’re bucking human nature. Let’s celebrate the accomplishments of others and take pride in them as if they were our own, if for no other reason than that the achievements of those we serve only serve to enhance our communities and our lives.

Let’s be patient. Let’s listen to one another and to the world around us as if we have nothing but to learn. Let’s breathe deeply and take all the time we need to see the learning unfold over time. Let’s live in each moment and realize its potential as a piece of whatever whole we exist in and a stepping stone meant to support us, individually and collectively, on whatever journey we’re each on.

I could not be more grateful for my personal paleontologist. Their dedication is another shining example of the good in what we have to learn from one another.

Paleontology…I dig it.

Happy Thankful Thursday!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks!

Let’s help boy writers celebrate themselves as writers, please (thanks).

Believe It.

There’s so much more to being a writer than simply thinking you’re one. I think. Or maybe not. Who knows? Not me. I’m just a guy who thinks he’s a writer, but that’s beside the point (kind of).

Anyway, in elementary school we find that some students don’t think they’re writers. Specifically, we tend to find this diminished sense of writerly self or otherwise holistic lack of confidence and/or drive in boy writers. But that’s too bad, and it’s also the underpinning of unfortunately inaccurate feelings on their part. In fact, they are writers. We all are. We all have a story and we’re all capable of telling it in some written form. That’s writing, and that’s what writers do.

I love to write. Writing quite literally feeds my soul. It scaffolds my growth. It’s the foundation of my reflective processing. It’s in no small way a big part of my life. I crave it.

When I feel bad, writing helps me feel better. When I’m stuck, writing helps me move. When I need it, it’s there. I can write on a napkin or in the sand. I can writer standing up or siting down. I can think about what I would write even when I don’t have anything to write on or with. I call that mind writing and I think it’s writing too (some people consider it daydreaming; you say tomato…).

I consider myself a writer, and I consider that consideration a gift. It’s a gift given to me by those who have celebrated my self-identification as a writer, and those who have supported me in doing the same, for better or worse…and there’s been a lot of worse with some peppered in better.

I distinctly remember writing and submitting a piece composed in a language that I totally made up. It was entirely nonsensical from start to finish, but it made sense to me. I was compelled to do it even thought I suspected that my teacher would be frustrated and that my parents would most likely be on the receiving end of an angry phone call regarding my lack of solemnity for school. What if that was the moment they found out I was a silly guy? So be it.

But it wasn’t. My teacher took it seriously. She celebrated it. She celebrated me as a writer. She supported me in doing the same, so I did. I loved it. I wanted to write more. I did that too. I still do. I even write in English (a well establish and widely recognized sensical language) much of the time.

I identify as a writer. I made, and continue to make no apologies about using words like “sensicle.” Just look at this post. With regard to writing proficiency it’s stinky at best. And that’s being kind. Heck, I’ve used the words “but,” “with,” and “and” to begin sentences throughout these paragraphs. I honestly have no idea if I’m actually allowed to do that. I’m walking a fine line to say the least. But I love it (oops).

Getting boys to self-identify as writers is a challenge that we in elementary education face with a great many of the boys we serve.  We want boys to self-identify in this way because we believe that self-identification breeds confidence and fosters engagement. It does and always has for me.

I was a boy at one time. Granted, it was long ago and for an appallingly brief period of time, but I was. I promise. Now, I’m the father to three boys. I want them each to feel free to write as they see fit. I want them to know the power and the joy of the written word, or the written whatever. I want them to be able to define what it is to write for themselves and to feel comfortable exploring this cathartic medium with vim (and even vigor if at all possible). I want that for all the boy writers I serve.

Parents and educators, let’s make sure to celebrate as the primary response to boys when they seek out quiet spots with pieces of paper and pencils in hand, when they get lost in scribble and sentences, when they discover the power of expression that writing can uniquely grant them, and let’s get wildly excited when then decide to share their writing with us, even and especially if and when they use silly words or broken punctuation. Let’s be ok with “but,” “and,” and “with,” as sentence starters if we can muster the strength.

We can refine along the way. First let’s help them explore, discover, and understand what being a writer means to each of them individually, and then let’s help each of them get excited about the fact that that’s exactly what they each are! Writers indeed.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Write? Write.