Looking for more Mindfulness in 2019

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photo via pixabay.com

I have spent some time thinking about goals for the upcoming year. But we all know how that turns out. Studies say that 80-percent of people fail in their New Year’s Resolutions by February.  We deliver a proclamation about life-altering changes that we plan on making and then shortly into the New Year, we fail to keep up our promise to ourselves and devolve back to our old ways and maybe even add a little self-loathing for good measure.

Well, this year will be different thanks to the development of a more realistic resolution. Having been on the lookout for a way to build a little bit more mindfulness into my routine, I stumbled upon the work of Dan Harris and the folks at 10-percent happier. Dan has a can’t miss proposal for anyone who wants to give mindfulness a shot for 2019 with his creation of a guilt-free safety net when you miss a day.  The excerpt below from Dan’s article in this month’s edition of Men’s Health sums up the  nicely:

First, aiming to meditate most days, rather than every day, is a good goal. Consistency counts—the more often you meditate, the easier it gets and the deeper and more enduring the benefits—but if you miss a day, your inner critic won’t have a chance to call you a failure. I call this approach “daily-ish.” It has elasticity, or “psychological flexibility,” 

This sounds like a foolproof plan! Even better is the fact that 10-percent happier has a New Year’s challenge beginning this week and with three weeks of FREE access to support people who would like to add more mindfulness to their repertoire.

The 21st Century Resume – Sasha Dichter’s Blog

Sasha Dichter’s latest post, The 21st Century Resume, talks about what a 21st Century Resume should look like.  It is definitely something we need to spend a lot more time thinking about in regards to students and the types of learning experiences they are having in schools.  I love the following points from Dichter’s post as potential interview questions:

Tell me the latest skill you mastered and what you’re working on.

Describe a knowledge gap…and how you filled it.

Identify the networks you’re a part of or have created, and what you’ve done to strengthen them.

While we are at it, I think we could use these as personal reflection questions for ourselves to ensure that we are continuously learning.

Thankfulness + Giving = Thanksgiving

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As you approach Thanksgiving weekend and reflect on all that you have to be thankful for, I encourage you to consider a donation to the recovery efforts for the people who have been impacted by the California wildfires.  It is hard to understand the level of destruction just hearing about the wildfires on the news with over 11,000 homes lost and nearly 80 lives (so far).  A local weather outlet posted the picture below to show people how big the area would be if this had happened locally. As you can see, numerous towns would have been totally wiped out.  It is really incomprehensible when I look at it on relative terms.

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Personally, I was touched by the short podcast on the wildfires by the Better Human Project.  A quote from Josh Mantz during the podcast resonated with me:

“All of us experience suffering…as hard as that can be, healing is never a process that we have to take on alone.”

This quote coupled with the reminder that “Loneliness is toxic” from David Flood in his talk last week with Burlington High students has me hoping that a number of people will contribute and let our fellow humans on the west coast know they are not in this alone.  You can donate here

I hope everyone has much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving!

Supporting Healthy Social Media Habits

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This past Saturday at our third annual Parent University, I was fortunate to lead a short session on how parents can help support their kids in the development of healthy social media habits.  During the session, I shared some of the ways I have monitored my 12-year old daughter’s use of her newly acquired iPhone and her subsequent use of various apps and social media tools.

In regards to the monitoring of apps on my daughter’s phone, I love the way Family sharing on iTunes allows parents to approve the addition of apps to their child’s phone. This allows me to have a conversation with my daughter before allowing her to add new apps and ask the following:

  • Why do you want that app?
  • What will you use it for?
  • Will that app make your life easier in some way?
  • How much time do you think you will spend on that app each day?

One example of an app that we decided did not need to be added was Lipsi. When I got the request to add Lipsi, I immediately asked my daughter why she needed it. She informed me that it was an app that many of her friends had that allowed them to comment on Instagram posts.  I have to admit I was confused here because my daughter has a private Instagram account and she is only allowed to follow friends from school and pre-approved celebrities. Therefore, I am not sure why another app would be needed to comment.

Common Sense Media is a great resource for parents

In order to shed some light on this, I turned to Common Sense Media which is a goldmine of information on apps, websites, movies and books.  All you have to do is enter the title of the media source that you want more information on in the search bar and Common Sense Media will provide a review and rating. In the case of Lipsi, here is what I found:

“Buggy, anonymous app invites misuse, bullying.”

In addition, Lipsi is recommended for ages 18-plus.  Also, why would someone need an app that posts anonymous messages on Instagram? I told my daughter that if she had something to say about a friend’s post on Instagram that it should be public and the same should go for her friends commenting on her posts. There are enough stories about teens bullying one another on Instagram out there without this type of app.

Keeping a handle on screen-time is something we all need to do

Finally, we spent some time talking about the need for all of us to be mindful of the time we spend on screens.  While this is a neverending topic for me, one thing that opened my eyes was the Infomagical Bootcamp put out by the Note to Self podcast back in 2016.  One of the things I have done since my Infomagical experience is turn off all of my notifications on my phone and organized all of my apps. I encourage anyone interested in improving the balance in their lives in regards to technology-use to give the Infomagical Bootcamp a shot.

At the very least, you should check out your app usage on your iPhone or iPad and look at how much time you spend on particular apps daily and weekly.  There are also ways to do this for android users.   The latest iOS updates for Apple also include options for parents to set app and screen-time limits for their children.

It’s a new world for parents who grew up without the rapidly-increasing list interconnected tools and resources that are available.  It is important that we have an ongoing dialogue within our communities in order to ensure a healthy balance for ourselves and our kids.

Here’s a Google Doc with everything I discussed in my Parent University 2018 session.

 

 

Most Schools Are Not Set Up For This

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One of the bloggers who always gets me thinking is Harold Jarche. His insights into the ways that organizations and individuals need to function in order to ensure continuous learning are important for educators to consider since our ultimate goal is to prepare students for the “real world.”

His most recent post shared the following quote:

“Connections drive innovation. We need input from people with a diversity of viewpoints to help generate innovative new ideas. If our circle of connections grow too small, or if everyone in it starts thinking the same way, we’ll stop generating new ideas —Tim Kastelle (2010)

How can those of us who work in schools be sure that we are developing the skills in our students that are necessary for them to develop a diverse network that allows them to generate new viewpoints and ideas?  Don’t we first have to develop learning communities where educators are encouraged to establish the connections necessary to drive innovation in their schools and classrooms?

 

Two Great Social Media Resources for Parents

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Instagram has put together a great resource for parents who would like to learn more about its ultra-popular app and also keep up with what their kids are up to with this social media tool.  Know How To Talk With Your Teen About Instagram: A Parent’s Guide is available both as a PDF and in a web-based form

The guide does a great job highlighting how parents can support their students in the following areas: 

  • Managing Privacy
  • Managing Interactions
  • Managing Time

A second great resource is a new Common Sense Media Report titled Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their Experiences.

A few of the key findings from this report are as follows:

  • Only a very few teens say that using social media has a negative effect on how they feel about themselves; many more say it has a positive effect.
  • Social media has a heightened role— both positive and negative—in the lives of more vulnerable teens.
  • Social media is an important avenue of creative expression for many teens.

As both a parent and an educator, I encourage others to take a little bit of time to read through these two resources.  The Common Sense Media report on teen social media use is extremely valuable because the feedback comes directly from teens. Instead of speculating on the habits and the impact of these habits on our students, we have valuable insights directly from the source. The graphic below is just one example.cs_socialmediasociallife_infographic

#WeeklyWebFinds – July 31, 2018

Fake videos of real people — and how to spot them

Supasorn Suwajanakorn’s TED Talk looks at how technology is making it easier to create fake videos of real people. If you don’t have time to watch the whole video, fast forward to the 4:10 mark and see a glimpse of what this could look like.  Suwajanakorn, a Google engineer, also described the work he is doing to create a counter-measure to allow people to see if a video is authentic. He is working on a “reality defender” plug-in that could be installed on websites to spot fake videos.

Prioritizing Teacher Self-Care – Edutopia

This post on Edutopia looks at an elementary school in Nashville where teachers have set up a system to ensure that their colleagues have a social-emotional support network in place when they need to step away from the classroom for a moment. One of the teachers summed it up as follows:

“You sometimes just need to ask for help, and it’s okay, and it’s really accepted here, and it’s promoted. No one’s alone, we’re a ship and we run together, and there’s someone always that has your back.”

Technology as a Distraction – Dean Shareski

This is an important read from Dean Shareski about the dilemma that we are dealing with whether we are an educator or a parent. The bottom line is that this issue is not only impacting students, but it is also having a negative impact on many adults.  He sums up the dilemma facing our students as follows:

“…consider the average teen trying to sleep at night. Their choice is a world of information, entertainment and connection vs the back of their eyelids or time thinking quietly. That’s not a fair choice. That’s a choice many people struggle with including myself.”

As we talk more and more about Social Emotional Learning and mindfulness in our schools, Dean encourages adults to help teenagers answer the following questions:

  • “How to be alone?”
  • “What does it mean to be disconnected?”
  • “How can we better appreciate the simple joys of life?”
  • “How do we develop habits of mind and body when the dopamine effects of these devices are so compelling?”
  • “What does contentment look like?”

#WeeklyWebFinds – July 21, 2018

So after last week’s #ThreeforThursday post, I have already altered my goal and will go with a more flexible #WeeklyWebFinds post to highlight articles and other related topics of interest. Anyway, here are three more things that got me thinking last week…

Empowering Kids In An Anxious World – from NPR

This brief article from NPR highlights the thoughts of authors of two new parenting books.  Both cite the lack of free play for children as a major reason for the dramatic rise in anxiety and depression among kids over the last few decades.  The two books are The Good News About Bad Behavior by Katherine Lewis and The Self-Driven Child by William Stixrud and Ned Johnson.  Lewis sums up the problem as follows:

“to build self-control, we need to stop controlling children.”

Flexible Classrooms: Research Is Scarce, But Promising – from Edutopia

This article looks at a study of over 150 classrooms from the United Kingdom that shos that flexible seating options for students CAN have a positive impact on academic performance.  The author notes the difficulty of studying this topic due to the number of variables that are in play (i.e. lighting, acoustics, air quality, etc.).  The takeaway at the end of the article seems straightforward, but it is something that is definitely not enough of a focal point for many schools.

“Flexibility, combined with characteristics like acoustics and air quality, has a real impact on student achievement. If used properly, flexible classrooms produce better academic outcomes among primary school children than more traditional, static classroom designs.”

 

10 Reasons Why we should start showing Middle Schoolers how to use Social Media – By Jennifer Casa-Todd

This is Jen’s response to an article in Psychology Today talking about why middle school students should not be using Social Media.  While I understand the concerns around middle schoolers and social media, I am in Jen’s camp here and feel that we have an opportunity to help middle schoolers understand the opportunities available to them if they learn how to use social media tools constructively.  Jen also cites a 2016 piece from Common Sense Media that highlights the pitfalls of teens using social media tools without any guidance.  Her closing statement says it all for me.

“I’m not sure why we feel it is an all or nothing situation. We need to recognize that the world is different than it was even 10 years ago, and balance our fears with opportunities to help our kids not just survive but thrive and be leaders in online spaces!”

 

 

4 Shifts Protocol Helps Redesign Lessons for Deeper Learning

School leaders spend a lot of time talking about how to make learning more relevant and engaging for students.  Many of these discussions evolve into multi-year efforts to implement project-based or inquiry-based learning.  While any amount of time spent assuring access to deeper learning opportunities for all students is time well spent, the path to implementation can be both bumpy and lengthy.  At last week’s Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents Executive Institute, Scott McLeod shared a great protocol that provides immediate immersion into the questions that we need to be asking about student learning.

McLeod’s Four Shifts Protocol, which he designed with Julie Graber, is a great discussion tool to immediately get people looking at how lessons and/or units can be improved in each of the following areas:

  • Higher-level thinking
  • Authentic work
  • Student agency and personalization
  • Technology Infusion

In addition, McLeod included videos and lesson plans from teachers at various grade levels during his introduction to the protocol (see page three here).  This would work well for school leaders beginning similar discussions with teachers because the focus would be on looking at someone else’s classroom and lessons before having them critique their own.

In getting started with the protocol McLeod recommended just picking a few bullets from one of the four areas to focus on at a time. For example, we looked at a video from a Geometry class and the lesson plan and then answered looked at the first four bullets under Authentic work (from page 3 of the protocol):

  • Real or Fake. Is student work authentic and reflective of that done by experts outside of school?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Authentic Role. Are students asked to take on an authentic societal role as part of their learning?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Domain Practices. Are students utilizing authentic, discipline-specific, practices and processes?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Domain Technologies. Are students utilizing authentic, discipline-specific tools and technologies?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat

During the first part of the protocol, we discussed in small groups whether we thought the answers to the questions were yes, no, or somewhat.  While that led to some interesting discussions, it was the second part of the protocol that was the most interesting.  This entailed each group going back and reframing the questions we had looked at and considering what we could do to make the work more authentic. For example, how could we make the student work more reflective of that which is done by experts outside the school? or What could we do to add more authentic, discipline-specific practices and processes?

Anyway, we spent about an hour going through the four areas of the protocol in the fashion described above. It seems like a great process to get teachers looking at ways to create more engaging lessons for students.

 

 

 

6 Big Questions for Superintendents from Scott McLeod

Day two of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents Executive Institute featured Scott McLeod as the keynote speaker. Scott is an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Colorado Denver and he is recognized as one of the top experts in the world on school technology leadership issues. His long list of accomplishments also includes the co-creation of the wildly popular video series, Did You Know? (Shift Happens), which has over 16 million views. He is also is the co-creator of the 4 Shifts Protocol for lesson/unit redesign (which I will share more in a separate post).

Scott’s keynote was framed around 6 key questions that school leaders need to grapple with in order to ensure that what happens within schools is evolving fast enough to adequately prepare students for the rapidly-changing landscape outside of schools.  The 6 questions are as follows:

Are our graduates really literate? 

McLeod noted that Massachusetts students are among the best in the world when it comes to taking standardized tests. However, there are a number of critical skills that cannot be measured by the likes of tests like NAEP or MCAS.  The slide below was one that was shared to highlight this point.  What it means to be literate in 2018 has changed a great deal over the last few decades, but the key point here is that we are still using the same outdated measures that look at a narrow set of literacies.

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Are we taking advantage of new powerful forms of learning?

The quote from Mitch Resnick above discusses the importance of students producing content rather than just being consumers of content.  Scott cited stories of students who have created amazing products due to their expertise in utilizing technological resources:

There are countless examples in our schools of students being given the opportunity to create rather than just consume. Hopefully, there are examples in your school of students doing similar work. The challenge here from Scott McLeod was to make sure that students doing this type of creative work are not outliers and that all of our students have these opportunities.

Are our students really college and carer ready?

If we are preparing students for college and career in the same manner that we always have then the answer is no. The graphic below clearly outlines the dramatic rise in non-routine analytical and non-routine interpersonal tasks over the last few decades compared to the routine manual and cognitive skills needed for employability in the late 20th Century.

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Are our students really engaged in their learning?

The numbers below from a Gallup Survey in 2016 speak for themselves. How different are things in the classrooms in your school? Are students in your classrooms engaging in authentic tasks that connect concepts they are learning with real-world experiences outside of school.

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Are we changing fast enough?

While the obvious answer here seems to be a resounding no, the most important factor is that your school community has at least acknowledged the need for a change.  Are we still partaking in outdated practices that make our focus more on compliance than instilling the agency in student learning that will lead to greater collaboration and creativity?

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Are we paying enough attention to equity concerns?

There are many levels to this conversation and the slide below just references a very small part in its reference to the way black students and students receiving free lunch utilized computers compared to their white peers.  The first part of this issue involves ensuring access for ALL students. We may be talking about technology, but there are so many other concerns (i.e. experienced teachers, modern classrooms, technological infrastructure and tools).

As Scott noted, the big question here is whether or not ALL students are getting the opportunity to think, make, create and contribute?

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