It’s My Pleasure – A Habit of Mind (and Heart) Brought to You by Chick Fil-A

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Used with permission from This Tasty Blog (http://food.theplainjane.com/) (Creative Commons License)

This summer while traveling to Castle Rock, CO, and Tyler, TX, my wife and daughter introduced me to Chick Fil-A, a restaurant chain that specializes in chicken sandwiches and such. Not only do they serve good food, but they are also known for providing great service. My daughter told me that one thing I’d hear from Chick Fil-A employees after I say “thank you” is “It’s my pleasure.” The first Chick Fil-A restaurant I went into, I wanted to put Chick Fil-A to the test.  As I watched how the Chick Fil-A employees interacted with their guests, I found a culture of honoring others through acts of service and words that said, “It’s my pleasure.” They really seemed conscious of serving with their guests’ pleasure in mind. And my guess is that I’m sure it didn’t happen overnight, but was a deliberate practice over time. I’m sure that those managing taught, modeled, and encouraged the culture of honoring others. And for every employee, practicing that and using the words “It’s my pleasure,” reinforced for them a habit of mind and heart. Because serving isn’t always easy.

And so the past two weeks, one thing I’ve really been focusing on is to serve others as a pleasure – not because it is necessarily gratifying for me (although it usually is), but because I want to show honor to others through acts of service. It’s a core value for me. You might have heard me recently say, “It’s my pleasure.” And it has been. When I practice that habit of mind, it helps me remember why I’m doing what I’m doing. Because there are those times when we have to deal with the demands/expectations of others and our own disappointments and failures. A natural response is to want to complain, get angry, and perhaps withdraw from others or situations when things don’t go well or others mistreat us. It can put a strain on our commitment to learn and serve with others.

We all know that there are always going to be situations when we are teaching, learning, serving, or leading, things are going to go awry. And people are going to disappoint us in one way or the other.  All of us are going have a variety of reactions, some which are not very pleasant. Let’s face it, when we’re under pressure, it’s natural to want to be selfish and put our own needs first. When I’m feeling like others are unappreciative or demanding, it seems easy to want to complain or get angry and feel justified. Instead, I’m hoping this habit of mind will help respond differently.  I don’t want to allow my circumstances to take over my thinking and behavior. So it means being deliberate about thinking about serving well and looking past circumstances. And it makes me hopeful that I can influence the atmosphere and culture around me, and the quality of my relationships. If we join together in this habit of mind (and heart), we can all say, “It’s my pleasure,” in word and deed, and feel good knowing we’re giving honor to others and holding to one thing we value most – relationships.

It’s my Pleasure….to learn and serve with you!

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My First Glance at the Common Core

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As an educational technology coordinator for a high school district, having an awareness of how instruction is delivered and student learning is assessed and made visible is important.  I enjoy reading about and watching videos/webinars on current pedagogical thinking and instructional methodology. I enjoy the conversations I have with administrators and teachers and informally observing what goes on in classrooms. During my eight years of teaching in the classroom and my subsequent work as a technology consultant/coordinator, I have actively used technology in teaching and learning and enjoyed sharing that passion with others.

About five years ago, a shift took place for me.  I discovered RSS feeds and Twitter. Those conversations, along with online webinars, became my source of professional development and growth as an educator.  I began to learn the power of shared learning and collaboration. Through my connections with digital learning, I also uncovered the growing Web 2.0/21st Century Learning paradigm in education. I began to understand that the growing access to new technologies and online tools needed to make its way into classrooms. I saw some embrace it, while others ignored or put off leveraging it in teaching and learning.  In spite of how standardized testing had affected teaching and learning in schools, I had hope that this new paradigm would help teachers engage students in new ways that would encourage more engaging, student-centered learning.  Now, with the advent of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative, there is an additional impetus to implement digital learning in classrooms. (For a basic introduction, see this short 3 minute video:  “Explaining the Common Core Standards”).

Okay, I know…just because a new initiative is being thrust upon us doesn’t mean teachers are going to engage it. They weren’t involved in the conversation as the new standards were developed or when the state quickly adopted them without piloting them and sharing the results. It also means another learning curve for yet another initiative that raises questions like, “How long will this one be around?”, “Will this really help students be better learners or better prepared for college and careers?”, “How much time and energy is this going to take?”, “Is this going to be driven by the administration, or will be have some voice in the planning, professional development, implementation, and assessment of teaching/learning using these standards?”

With this transition to an initiative that looks like it will be here for some time to come, I would encourage school admins. to take the time to engage teachers in an ongoing conversation about the structure/process and provide meaningful professional development and structures for ALL teachers to be involved in supportive, collaborative environments (Ex. PLC groups). Otherwise, I predict that implementation and growth will be inconsistent. Teachers who have resisted the 21st Century paradigm and engaging students with instructional methods like Project-Based Learning (PBL) and utilizing online apps will resist this, as well.

A few weeks ago, I had a chance to attend a training called,  “Systems of Instructional Design – Developing College and Career Ready Students” presented by Jay Westover, an education consultant with Innovate Ed., This training targeted building an understanding of instructional design in the context of the CCS, which I found to be helpful.  I became familiar with some areas the Common Core emphasizes and was introduced to some key terms/concepts like Literacy, Depth of Knowledge, Instructional Rounds, Literacies across Disciplines, Text Complexity (the Staircase of Complexity), Text-based Answers, etc. In addition, the Areas of Emphasis were illustrated through the day. There were several things that stood out for me.

One of the first points made in the training was that the standards are NOT the curriculum or instruction. “A Standard is an outcome, not a claim about how to achieve an outcome.” (McTighe and Wiggins, 2012). In their article, “From Common Core Standards to Curriculum: Five Big Ideas”, McTighe and Wiggins state that, “ It is imperative that educators understand the intent and structure of the Standards in order to work with them most effectively. Accordingly, we recommend that schools set the expectation and schedule the time for staff to read and discuss the Standards, beginning with the “front matter,” not the grade-level Standards. We also recommend that staff reading and discussion be guided by an essential question: What are the new distinctions in these Standards and what do they mean for our practice?

“To invoke a construction analogy: Think of the grade level standards as building materials. As a construction supervisor, we wouldn’t simply drop off materials and tools at a worksite and have the workers “go at it.” Instead, we would begin with a blueprint – an overall vision of the desired building to guide its construction. Without an overall end in mind, teachers can create wonderful individual rooms that won’t necessarily fit together within and across floors or achieve the intended results.”

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One thing I appreciate about the CCS is the attempt to replace the “mile wide, one inch deep” approach to outcomes that emphasize greater “depth of knowledge” (D.O.K.). To get students to learn beyond the first level of D.O.K. (recall of information) which was the outcome emphasized in the previous standards and testing regime, teachers will have to make six shifts in their Instructional Design (see illustration below). Many teachers are doing some of these “shifts” to various degrees, but now they will have to make these shifts with greater intentionality and make them more visible to others. Fortunately, because the CCS are a nationwide initiative, there are lots of available resources being developed and shared online. But even with that, what kinds of digital textbooks and other reading material will have to draw from is still up in the air.

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Click for full-size image (Infographic from Crabtree Publishing via Pinterest)

How are teachers feeling about their being prepared to implement the new standards? Below is an infographic from a small sample of teachers that provides a snapshot of what I suspect teachers are thinking around the country (our county would probably show lower numbers that feel “somewhat” prepared). The concerns listed, I think, could be a foundation for conversations that administrators and teachers need to be engaging in.

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Click image for original blog post, “What Teachers Really Think About the Common Core” on Weareteachers.com

One last thought for my first glance at the CCS. One interesting thing about the training I went to on Instructional Design was that there was almost no mention of technology use. No mention of how teachers could leverage the Internet and digital tools as part of their instructional design research, planning, or delivery. No mention of how students could collaborate using digital tools. No mention of the skills students will need to take the Smarter Balanced assessments. I just found that very odd. Technology integration is a key piece that every school has to consider. Schools will need a robust infrastructure and bandwidth, hardware for teachers and students to access, digital content resources, an idea of the digital literacies teachers and students will need, professional development, and the finances to support the school’s educational technology.

That’s my first glance at the Common Core Standards. I’m trying to read something each week to help develop a greater understanding of where we are going with them. In this post, I haven’t tried to delve into issues of equity for all students, the Smarter Balanced assessments, how corporate America has been involved in driving the Common Core Standards Initiative, or other issues that will impact our efforts to provide great teaching and learning in our schools. I’m sure I’ll have something more to say about those issues, but for now, my focus will be on how I can assist our district in the planning and implementation of what we have right now. I hope you will guard your focus, as well.

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Some Reflections on Digital Identity

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On Youth Advisory blog: “Social Networking: The Digital Identity

With our continuing discussions about Digital Identities,@ChezVivian has written a wonderful blog post (Perfecting My Footprint in Life) exhorting us toward being authentic people online – full of character and integrity – as an extension of who we are in our daily lives. Do we spend our days trying to impress people? If so, then we will probably get caught up in “Digitally Branding” ourselves, putting ourselves out there as a commodity – selling ourselves. Instead, if our core values include servanthood – mentoring, teaching, coming alongside others, etc., it will reveal itself in selfless acts that demonstrate our character. If our online self is congruent with our offline self, then people will see that and that presence will connect us to people in a natural way. In working with students, certainly we want to point out that what they do and say online is a reflection of who they are. Being good citizens online should be congruent with who they are as citizens in all the other areas of their lives. Perhaps we should take her advice:

“It seems it would be ideal if we could show our students the power they have to exact and affect remarkable help, care, and education through the Internet; such that they would find the risky & riské activities boring and unappealing in comparison.”

Perhaps that is a good reason our collaborative activities focus on supporting others as members of a community. If only that became fashionable. Perhaps I’ll write more about this….

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At the Crossroads

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Permission to use granted by Anton Shevchenko, photographer

As I read, “I am a teacher and I am tired,” by a young teacher, I found myself remembering times when I was at the end of myself as a teacher and having to evaluate if I wanted to continue in education.  These were crossroads. We all come to them at one time or another. How do you respond when you hear/see someone in that place? As I reflected on her words and my own journey, I found myself wanting to reach out to her with words of encouragement. Words that reflected empathy for her, having heard the words of a broken heart. Words that would help her find the way back to memories of what brought the passion of teaching to her.  And if she decided not to continue, to not endure the realities of education, I would understand.  But not without first saying, take a look back and then take a look forward.

Most of us have to make a decision at some point regarding our work in education. What it is that makes it worth continuing in the struggle is different for each of us. We have to find that and hold tightly to it.  Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) encourages us to remember our calling when times are tough in her post, “You may be walking wounded, but teacher, but stay in the game.” Our calling, our sense of purpose has to sustain us regardless of the politics we have no control over, the shifting sands of standards and testing, decreasing finances to support education, difficult parents and students, the fatigue and times of discouragement, etc. These things can press into us and if we’re not careful, can overwhelm us and our purpose/identity as educators.

“Keep at it. It is work worth doing. It would be nice if all the kids were nice and the parents were nice and the workload was manageable but that isn’t the reality of teaching – it never has been and never will be.”(Vicki Davis)  

Working in education isn’t easy, so it’s important to remember why we got involved in it. Before I decide to retreat to the sidelines and leave the game, like Vicki, I want to know that I’ve left it all on the field.

Stephen Covey (Author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) has been an inspiration to me over the years. He challenges us to look at our thinking when we face difficulties. Our tendency is to focus on circumstances that are out of our control (Circle of Concern) and expend a lot of energy doing so. Instead, Covey encourages us to focus on the things we can influence or do something about.  Our behavior becomes a function of our decisions, not our conditions/circumstances.  I don’t have to rely on the circumstances to change to go on. This shrinks the “Circle of Concern” that can dominate our thoughts, feelings, and behavior, reducing our effectiveness and ability to function.

Okay, I know that on any given day or week, the outside voices can get really loud and wear us down.  It’s during those times that even as I work to put things in perspective, that I really appreciate some words of encouragement from those who I work with or are part of my PLN (Professional Learning Network). Just yesterday, a fellow teacher and I helped each other check our thinking and refocus our efforts to choose how we were going to respond to some negative circumstances.  And we decided not to focus on what we couldn’t change. When we have that support, it’s much easier to restore the vision and passion for our work and stay in the game.

Another member of my PLN directed me to a post George Couros (@gcouros), The Principal of Change, wrote called, “I’m tired.” Boy, can I relate. He describes his own struggles with fatigue and the choices he makes to move to a healthier place. And what followed in the comments by those who read the post were stories of how they battled the same things and they offered words of encouragement. Doesn’t it feel good to know we’re not in it alone and that others have traveled the same road in some fashion? Hopefully, we’ll remember that we are in this together (we’re a learning community).

Regardless of the outside voices and pressures we face inside our profession, we have a tremendous opportunity to not only reach students and families, but also help each other as we walk down the path that we have chosen as educators. When you come to a crossroads, remember to consider your calling. Check out your Circle of Concern/Influence. Find the encouragement of a fellow educator who can help you find your way.  Let’s persevere together and give our very best to what we’ve been called to do as educators. It’s a great calling, don’t you think?

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Sisqitman’s ETMOOC Takeaways

As I come to the end of the ETMOOC, I feel a sense of sadness, but also that it’s time to continue the work that was started as a result of my partnership with my fellow ETMOOCers. We dared to connect, create, collaborate, communicate, and share with each other. We’ve built relationships and strengthened our PLN’s (Professional Learning Networks).  One result is that it has re-energized my work and I hope to share that enthusiasm and renewed vision with those in my immediate, local sphere of influence, including educators in my county.  There are many important ideas that I’ve been exposed to and thought about, and learning experiences that I know I need to pass on to others.  Some of those reflections are in blogposts yet to come. But for now, here are a few key takeaways for you from my time in ETMOOC.  Without further ado, here is my Vodcast, made in iMovie.

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Which came first, the chicken or the egg? A Model for Change

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©Debra Solomon granted permission to use image on this blog. Original found here.

When I first started the ETMOOC adventure, one question I was asking was, “Can I have some new glasses, please?”  I knew I wanted to expose myself to new ways of thinking and grow in my ability to communicate, share, and learn from others online. I had also been thinking a lot about how to help others transform the way they view the importance of connecting with others and building relationships, both online and face-to-face. ETMOOC has helped me to see and experience the power of my online connections and how social media can play an important role in developing/fostering them. The recent webinars and blog posts by those in the ETMOOC community begged the question, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” Huh? Where did that come from? Let me explain.

It’s the classic question referring to the circular cause and effect relationship between at least two different things. This is important as we look to promote change in not only how we SEE (paradigm shift), but how we BEHAVE (actions) and SPEAK (language).  So the question is, what comes first, the paradigm shift or actions or words? Most would say we have to change the way we see things before our behavior or speech will change. But is that really the case?

While educational leader/consultant George Couros (@gcouros) was speaking about networked educational leadership (see presentation here) in a recent webinar for ETMOOC, he focused on the role social media can play in leadership and developing relationships/culture in the school setting. He addressed how we can lead/influence others and create change, and the role character and credibility (trust, integrity) play in that process. As he shared his ideas and experiences, he made a couple of statements that grabbed my attention.

The first statement was “Covey (Stephen) says that great leaders have great character and credibility.” I’m a huge fan of both Stephen R. Covey (Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) and his son Stephen M. Covey (The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Change Everything). When I was working for a nonprofit doing social work/counseling, our staff read and practiced the principles in the Seven Habits book. Our focus was on strengthening relationships through character and credibility. We developed core values and a mission statement that we worked to live out as an organization. And our mission wasn’t about serving ourselves. It was sharing ourselves. We experienced not only a lot of growth personally, but also in our organization and our connections with those we served.  It connected us together in new ways as we shared a new paradigm, new behaviors, and new words. As George C. was speaking, I was remembering back to those experiences.

Next, George C. went on to say that these qualities of character (integrity) and credibility (trust) can be amplified through social media. How we speak in social media says something about who we are, what we know, and what we care about. It’s not just about pushing out information. That’s not where community or influence comes from. Being involved in the social media environment gives us a place to reveal ourselves in relationship. Sharing what we’re doing, what we know and think about (authentically), what we’re passionate about, can have a powerful influence on those around us.  We have the opportunity to authentically share ourselves with others in a way that would not have been possible just a few years ago.

“Social media wasn’t growing like gangbusters simply because Mark Zuckerberg built a better widget. It was growing because as human beings, we all have a deep connection to openness and authenticity.” (Notter and Grant, 2011). We all want trust in our relationships. We all desire to be heard and valued. And that has been the experience for many of us during these first few weeks as we’ve joined together in community and developed some beginning bonds and a voice. But speaking/showing ourselves through social media is only one dimension. If it doesn’t translate to our face-to-face relationships, something is missing. George shared how his life online spurred him on to better face-to-face relationships, which in turn influences his online relationships.

I’m sure that one of the goals of those leading ETMOOC is that we would experience some paradigm shifts, that is, see things differently than before. But George C., his brother Alec Couros (@courosa), and the other ETMOOC leaders have clearly shared a desire to see us BEHAVE and SPEAK in a way that will help us build strong, trusting, connected relationships with students, colleagues, and other members in our sphere of influence. But where does it start for us? Stephen M. Covey, in his book, “The Speed of Trust,” helps us answer the question, “What comes first?”

The paradigm shift is only ONE of three important dimensions. “Clearly, the three dimensions are interdependent, and whenever you effect a change in one dimension, you effect change in all three.”  For this reason, Covey believes that we must focus on all three dimensions – seeing, speaking, and behaving, so that we have not only the paradigms, but also the words (language) and behaviors (actions) that establish and grow trust.” (Speed of Trust, 2006)

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Covey continues by saying that “…I am equally convinced that speaking and behaving differently can also have an enormous impact on the way you see and the results you get. The very act of serving someone, for example, can quickly cause you to see that person differently—even to feel love and compassion which you have not felt before. I call this a behavior shift— a shift in which our behaviors ultimately bring about a shift in the way we see the world. I am also convinced of the power of a language shift. The way we talk about things can create a shift in how we see and how we behave, as well as in how others see us.”

So as we continue this journey together, remember that our ETMOOC experience isn’t just about seeing things in a new way as we take in what others share. It is the words of encouragement to others as they share an idea. It builds trust and confidence in others. It is taking a risk to reveal ourselves authentically for others, so that they in turn will have the courage to do so. It builds credibility. In the process, we are changed and others benefit. We have the opportunity to influence others by our example and watch to see how they respond. That’s one of the things I appreciate about our ETMOOC. We are all at a different place in this journey. Change and connections to the community of learners may start with our thinking, our words, or our actions. It’s really how we connect to the experience.

For most of us, our learning communities are lagging behind in one or more of these areas in regards to connected learning. How will we respond? How will we approach influencing others to change? How can we connect with them to encourage them to change? For most of us, it will be in small ways, ways that do make a difference. Let’s use the strength of our character and credibility, with knowledge and skills, to make a difference. Because trusting relationships can change everything.

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Scarcity in an Age of Abundance

Fruits and vegetables

http://www.flickr.com/photos/carol_moshier/3257912877/ – Carol Moshier on Flickr Some rights reserved.

This week has been characterized by an abundance of great teaching by the likes of Alec Couros (@courosa), Dean Shareski (@shareski), and Sue Waters (@suewaters). The Twitter feed has been rolling along and there has been an endless supply of blog posts to choose from. As part of the #ETMOOC community, there is no reason to expect scarcity, is there?

Let me share a story with you. It has been said that there was a travelling preacher who often began his talks with the following story, known as the “Allegory of the Long Spoons“:

“I once ascended to the firmaments. I first went to see Hell and the sight was horrifying. Row after row of tables were laden with platters of sumptuous food, yet the people seated around the tables were pale and emaciated, moaning in hunger. As I came closer, I understood their predicament.
“Every person held a full spoon, but both arms were splinted with wooden slats so he could not bend either elbow to bring the food to his mouth. It broke my heart to hear the tortured groans of these poor people as they held their food so near but could not consume it.
“Next I went to visit Heaven. I was surprised to see the same setting I had witnessed in Hell – row after row of long tables laden with food. But in contrast to Hell, the people here in Heaven were sitting contentedly talking with each other, obviously sated from their sumptuous meal.
“As I came closer, I was amazed to discover that here, too, each person had his arms splinted on wooden slats that prevented him from bending his elbows.” How, then, did they manage to eat?

Point #1: Those who ate did so by feeding each other. They saw there was plenty of food available and took the opportunity to use what they had been given (the long spoons in this allegory) to help nourish each other.  Those two things need to go together. In #ETMOOC, haven’t we felt the challenge and opportunity to feed and nourish each other’s growth and learning? The message is that learning isn’t just about us. We really do need each other. We must connect to information and others, and then construct knowledge individually and with each other as we share/partner in learning. Haven’t we seen the impact on our own learning and those around us this week through making CONNECTIONS?

Point #2: As I was listening to Alec Couros present “Introduction to Connected Learning“, the word scarcity came up. Kind of a funny word to come up in the middle of #ETMOOC, where participants are struggling to handle the abundance of information and connections available to them, don’t you think? So how does scarcity fit in here?

Alec discussed the transformations that have taken place for us to move from scarcity to abundance in information. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about it and our connectedness.  It took me back two years when I first started introducing the concept of Web 2.0 to educators in my county at a Web 2.0 Bootcamp, a partnership between CTAP and my county office of education.

A focus point was the concept that an abundance of information was available to educators and their students because of the social media revolution (presentation). A new pedagogy was evolving that included opening up this stream of information to students and students and helping them learn how to make connections with others to impact the learning process. How were we going to respond to these dynamic changes? For them, it was an eye-opening, foreign paradigm. Two and a half years later, I’m still asking the question, “How many of our students and teachers live in scarcity in spite of the abundance of information around them? Why?”

As I look at the culture of learning in our schools, it feels like not only is there scarcity in CONNECTIONS between students and teachers, but in the information available to students while at school (and I’m not just talking web filters). Why is that? Is it because many educators live in scarcity and don’t know how to leverage the world of information to create abundance in learning? Or are they not willing to open up the gates to the “food” available to students and to let them be part of that process of feeding themselves?  Maybe it’s because we are so stuck in the paradigm of testing and standards that students are put in the position of scarcity to meet arbitrary performance goals for them, regardless if it’s relevant to them or not. Certainly test scores haven’t relied on interpersonal connections or the wealth of information online to this point. No easy answers here. Just tough questions.

Alec Couros pointed out that Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown (@jseelybrown) talk about “a new culture of learning” in their book by the same title and how the environment and process of learning must change because the world we live in.  I would like to write more about that another time. I continue to see the need for a paradigm shift where students and educators learn to harvest plenty of food for all and nourish each other. Let’s throw off the bonds of scarcity and live in abundance.

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