Category Archives: Change

You Can Only Grow as Big as Your Container

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Our ability to think and work creatively is heavily influenced by our workplace….the size of the container. District size doesn’t matter. What matters is group norms and culture. We can’t always control that in our work environments, but we can expand our container by connecting with expansive thinkers.

Intentionally choosing expansive thinkers as thought partners has been the defining element in my professional life. One way I’ve expanded my container is through work with a global team of educators. We only know what we know, and if we limit ourselves to our own district, we are often just reaffirming what we already think. Our global team was asked to keynote at the recent Global Education Conference.

How big is your container? Mine is as big as the world.

 

The City that Plays Together, Stays Together!

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What do you get when you mix 108 amazing Chicago organizations, 4,204 engaging learning opportunities, passionate leaders, higher education institutions, generous funding organizations, and 400,000 youth of Chicago? The Chicago City of Learning! (CCOL) An explosive convergence of possibility all focused on supporting youth in developing self-directed, interest-driven learning and achievement… that connects that learning to college and career….complete with a rigorous badging system. 

Want to be part of something bigger?

You can feel the electricity  in the room during the planning meetings with the vast array of stakeholders involved in bringing CCOL to the youth of Chicago as a network of support that provides 24/7 access to quality learning. This is personalized learning that covers the entire city…every neighborhood, every street, every learner.  And the city is rising up to support the entire effort.

Check it out. If you don’t live near Chicago, maybe your city could use the template to create something in your area.

What’s the Most Valuable Trait in Learning?

If I was to choose one single quality that helps people the most, not only with success in school but also with happiness throughout life, it would be internal motivation.

Internal motivation is what drives passion. It drives the quest for knowledge, it drives interest and it drives repeat exposure to something…which in turn creates expertise. Some adults never possess that in their lifetime, and I think it has a lot to do with how we structure our teaching…therefore our learning.

I have a niece who is brilliant by all standard and practical measurements. When she was about 16, I asked her if she had any thoughts about college. She told me that maybe she’d like to major in guitar. Now don’t get me wrong, I deeply value music…both of my kids are musicians, and although my niece plays guitar, it isn’t her biggest strength by a long shot…it isn’t even something she loves to do or is particularly good at. Of all of the many interests she has ranging from science, medicine, social justice, engineering, economics, literature and the like…why guitar?

The question really is: why is it when we think passion we think extra-curricular? I think it’s because those are the times that we can be internally directed. It feels like playing, and when we become so engaged in what we’re doing, we do more of it, and become more skilled.  It’s like a powerful ongoing circle of interest, learning, practice and skill.

Many of the great inventors, scientists, writers, artists, whatever… the greats in any industry…many of them approach their craft like play. The motivation comes from within. They follow their interests and curiosities as they weave in and out…they follow the winding path as it leads to new understandings and possibilities. They are often the people we call geniuses after the fact. If our goal in education includes helping produce successful, accomplished, empowered, productive human beings…we need the cultivation of internal motivation as part of our learning culture.

If we want to create a system that supports internal motivation…and invites passion in science, math, literature, global issues, as well as music, athletics, art, theater and anything else….we have to start creating and supporting a system that includes 21st century learning such as innovation, choice, relevance and  self-direction.  Maybe you don’t think it’s possible to do that while teaching content. Many teachers, schools, and districts already do. A quick internet search with terms such as Project based learning, Problem based learning,  21st Century Learning, STEM, Genius Hour, or 20% Time will start to point you in that direction. 

Here is a related TedXTalk by Scott McLeod, author of Dangerously Irrelevant.

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21st Century Learning. What exactly is it?

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The buzz about 21st Century Learning is everywhere, but what exactly does it mean? It’s often linked to technology, but that is only a small part.  In fact, much of 21st Century Learning can happen without the use of technology. If technology is available and used in the right way, it can provide powerful tools for authentic learning and integration of 21st Century skills, but unfortunately, that is not always what we see in our classrooms. Purchasing equipment does not automatically create better learning.  We watch our classrooms fill up with technology, but we often see no plan in place to use it to benefit student learning. This requires a change in teaching.  With no change in teaching and learning, computers are often used for mainly word processing and Google searching. As an educator, this concerns me.

Let’s start with what 21st Century Learning means. It is the marriage of content and skill. Teaching content is what we are familiar with in our education systems: learning states and capitals, mathematical equations, historical events, scientific discoveries, and countless others.  21st Century Learning takes that content and makes it relevant. It not only shows learners how that content can be used to solve problems, construct new ideas, and through collaboration, expand that understanding, but it allows them to actually experience that as they learn.

How many school districts have mission statements that refer to educating problem solvers, critical thinkers, and creative minds? How many of them go farther than words and actually do something meaningful to provide that in their classrooms?

Equipping teachers to lead our students’ way in this takes a lot more than buying computers for schools. Before continuing, let’s figure out how to use what we have to further what many of us believe to be true: the world needs empowered critical thinking problem solvers that have the ability to learn collaboratively and create the solutions to problems that we have no way of knowing exist right now. It isn’t as difficult as it seems.

It starts with a unified vision, the development of a plan to create the teaching and learning environment, and the implementation of that plan. Many have led the way. It isn’t a mystery any more. Schools around the country have embraced this and have left their footsteps to follow. It’s just a quick Google search away!

Here’s a related article by George Couros.

One interpretation of 21st century skills.

One interpretation of 21st century skills.

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Surveys Should Never Replace Clear Leadership

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Do Not Open Until 2018!

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I came across a secret note in my classroom desk  from a student. She must have hidden it there at some point.  It was the typical style note you see in 5th grade, folded, stapled shut and written in red pen.  On the front it said:

Do Not Open Until May 2018!

Well, I did what any self-respecting adult would do; I opened it immediately. It had one simple line: Dear Mrs. Roman. Thank you. You have truly changed my life.  This got me thinking. Don’t we all change the lives of everyone we encounter? I can look back at seemingly insignificant interactions with people who totally changed the course of my life, sometimes in just a few words. “You’ll never go back to college. Once someone quits, they don’t go back,” from someone I only saw once when I was 19 years old in a group of us eating pizza at Joe’s Italian Foods in South Pasadena. I had quit school at St. Thomas University in St. Paul and moved to Los Angeles, every parent’s nightmare. Another time I recall was in a train station leaving on a trip with my then three-year-old daughter.  I was gripping her tiny hand and we were scurrying along in my usual hurried way when an older, gray-haired woman came up to me and kindly said, “That is an awfully quick pace for those little legs,” as she looked down and smiled at my daughter. As I sat on the 8-hour train ride, my anger at her rudeness in a matter that was none of her business melted away as I sat looking out the window at the blur of passing phone poles.

Scanning through interactions with people in my life that I can recall, some positive, some negative, most neutral, and surely millions gone from memory forever, I get the feeling that each one of those exchanges had the potential to impact my life or someone else’s in some way. Is it really important that we recognize each interaction that affects us or each time we have affected people we encounter? There are thousands of times this kind of thing happens in our weaving in and out of each other’s lives. Was it crucial that the guy in Joe’s know that he angered me enough to propel me back into college? And was it important that the woman in the train station realize that her comment pushed me to shift my way of being in the world in such a way that the quality of not only my life, but also the lives of my children, was significantly improved?

It would be nice to know those things, but in most cases we wont. That thought sure makes me see the every day in a different light.

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Reposted from a year ago.

Apple CEO Tim Cook on Collaboration

Such a great view of collaboration! People that realize that “it takes more than themselves to make magic”. Calling at 2am with an idea…not being able to wait to keep talking about the possibilities. I know the energy and power of that kind of collaboration. Why is it this is so difficult to manifest in most work places?  True collaboration is mutual.  The kind of collaboration he describes is a two way street…it’s a give and take. 

That takes risk, and it takes trust.