The space you inhabit.

I don’t make my bed. I never really have, either. Growing up, I lived in the basement or in a lofted bed. No one was looking st those spaces, so I never bothered. I don’t make my bed now because there are more important spaces to look after. Picking up the car bin from my 3 year old for the hundredth time is more pressing than the silly bit of rumpled blankets hnging off my bed. The dishes waiting in the sink are more valuable to spend time with, as my time has become extrememely scarce.

And yet, when I don’t pay any attention to the space where I lay my head, I miss a huge oppotunity to make my life just a bit better. By not laying those sheets flat daily, I let the other things go more easily too. I leave the trash by the bedside. I leave my shoes out on the floor. I don’t do anything with the pile of clothes I meant to get to yesterday.

It isn’t about not making the bed. Rather, it is about everything else it absolves me of. I don’t make he bed, so that I can choose to not care about the rest of the stuff cluttering up my space. And it works.

But, I don’t know that this is helping. In my bedroom or in my working life.

By not getting to those daily tasks that show a structure and a discipline for details, I can ignore the far bigger matters that I don’t want to face. By not working through any regular calendar management, I can choose not to schedule difficult meetings. By not triaging emails every day, I can leave the hardest ones unanswered for weeks.

It is the daily habit that allows for progress. Not because of the task itself, but rather because it makes the rest of the space that I inhabit feel like it should. I am going to try to make my bed more.

What is your “bed making” task that determines how healthy your space is?

#ReclaimPL

I was sitting in the Cultures of Thinking workshop yesterday, and I heard a lot of things that resonated with me personally as well as with our work as a whole. None more so than the statement that engaging and powerful learning experiences should have a “low floor and high ceiling”. I took this to mean that all students should be able to enter in to the experience because there is a low barrier to entry. It also means that students should be able to continue to find challenge as they progress, experiencing ever more persistent inquiry to whatever level they need.

I looked in the book, and this is how the idea it is represented:

The key phrase there (for me, at least) is “as far as they wish.” Students should be both allowed and encouraged to think things through as far as they want. To put it another way, they should be able to “personalize” their learning because their teachers have planned for them to do so within a culture of thinking.

I sent that annotated screenshot out on Twitter with the hashtag #ReclaimPL.

I did this for two reasons.

First, I am really tired of software companies claiming that they have a silver bullet for Personalized Learning. I’m tired of adaptive assessment being touted as a panacea, making huge gains for personalized learning when the students are not making any of the choices, the algorithm is. In two articles (here and here)  that were shared with me just last week, these software solutions were touted as both inevitable and essential, and I don’t buy it.

Second, Personalized Learning can be seen in lots of different methods, pedagogies and ideas. It is not new, and it is not exclusive. It is found in the Cultures of Thinking research just as surely as it is found in Montessori practices. It is found in the Marzano research from more than a decade ago and it is found in the “what works” findings from McREL.

And when we see Personalized Learning, both what it is and isn’t, we should say so. We should “reclaim” it so that others aren’t defining it as software making decisions for kids or as something that doesn’t have its roots is great teaching practice.

Anyway, I started a hashtag yesterday as a result of being with my peers and grappling with important cultural forces in classrooms.

Adapters

I promise, this story will make sense eventually:

There are two old Apple cinema displays (monitors) in the learning resources offices. They are very peculiar in that they only have a single mini-DisplayPort cord to plug into a computer. They were made at a time when all of the computers Apple made used this port. Now MacBook, MacBook pros, and iPads have different ports and won’t connect to this display without a significant number of adapters.
Especially the iPad. In order to get these two devices to be compatible, you need the following:

  • A mini-DisplayPort to DisplayPort adapter
  • A DisplayPort coupler
  • A DisplayPort to hdmi cable
  • A lightning to Hdmi adapter

This setup is both rediculous and overkill. Both of these devices have ways of working that they prefer, and it takes a huge amount of work to get them to understand each other. The adapters are performing a kind of translation that is essential if you want to continue to use them for their intended purpose.

I believe we are all old devices. We have ways of working that we prefer. And, we often require a lot of translation and adapting in order to work together effectively. This adapting requires a lot of effort and investment, but I believe it is worth it.

When we adapt to mee the needs of a school, we are both able to do things that neither of us could do on our own. When we adapt to meet the needs of  other members of our team or across teaching and learning, we can speak the same language. We contribute to each others’ usefulness and value.

How many (and what type) of “adapters” do we need to invest in to better meet one another’s needs?

An Extraordinary Gift

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the structures that support us and those that hold us back. Something that has been helping this thinking along is reading a book on Holacracy (a distributed, rather than hierarchical, structure for organizations): http://a.co/d4TrGE0.

I have a feeling that I will be sharing a lot from this book over the next few weeks, but something from the first chapter struck me with such resonance that I thought it needed to be shared more immediately. In a passage about why a new structure was needed and why the author started going down this path, he wrote:

“The human capacity to sense dissonance in the present moment and see the potential for change strikes me as one of our most extraordinary gifts—our restless, never-satisfied, creative spirit that keeps us always reaching beyond where we are. When we feel that sense of frustration at a system that’s not working, or a mistake that keeps getting repeated, or a process that seems inefficient and cumbersome, we are tuning in to a gap between how things are and how they could be.”

I see this within us a lot. I see it in our conversations and in our supports to Schools. We are trying to fill that gap (or help others to fill it). We are looking for ways to use our gift of “reaching beyond” to create the future of APS.

The questions is, “how do we best do that?”

That’s what I aim to find out this year, and I’m so looking forward to the journey. Let me (or, better yet, all of us) know if you have ideas.

Assessment and Data Puppies

I attended an assessment literacy session put on my by the Colorado Department of Education. Among other things, it let me dive into my beliefs about the role of assessment and data in Aurora Public Schools. This was further informed by a colleague’s note about unsubscribing from Standardized Testing. It made me think that we might need a different frame for how we consider assessment and data. Fortunately, in this session there was an opportunity to do just that.

We were asked to choose a metaphor for how we see might see assessment. The choices were: beach ball, puppy, microscope, and clipboard. I chose puppy. Below is the result. On the left of the page are the benefits of assessment puppies. The right represents the struggle with our assessment puppies.

I share this with you all to encourage you to think in different ways about pillars of instruction (i.e., assessment, content, etc.). What metaphor is most apt for re-considering long standing issues or concepts in Education?

 

The Great Unsubscribe

For the past 5 years, I have used a tool called Unroll.me in order to take all of my subscription-based emails and “roll them into” a single digest. This includes every newsletter I have ever signed up for. It includes every account I have created for a web tool when they decide to try and sell me on a new feature or an upgrade. It also includes every promotional email and almost-but-not-quite-spam sender that uses Mailchimp or Constant Contact to send out messages.

At the beginning of the summer, I decided it was time to take a look at the results of this, and here they are:

  • I had added nearly 1800 senders to my digest, and this caused nearly 100 messages to be “rolled up” into the digest every day of the week.
  • I hadn’t opened a daily digest in over a year.

This means that a tool that was meant to save time and allow for me to get a better hold all of my promotional and serialized email was simply kicking the can down the road. I looked and over the last 5 years, I have accumulated over 100,000 of these messages and they are just sitting in my archived mail.

Armed with this data, I decided to embark on The Great Unsubscribe.

I turned off Unroll.me and started aggressively tapping that unsubscribe button in every single one of the emails that came in. It is both incredibly satisfying and rediculously frustrating. It is satisfying because I really am cleaning up my workflows so that I can focus on the work and personal relationships I most want to cultivate. It is frustrating because I really have let this go for years too long.

This is the most concrete example I have for what distracting “sand” feels like as it fills up your bucket. Every time I tap on a Unsubscribe link, I have to take 30 seconds of distraction before getting back to my real work. This sand is getting into everything in my account, and I have to clear it out so I can make room for things that matter more.

The question I keep on thinking about each time I perform this task is, “What else can I unsubscribe from in my life.” Are there any conversations or investments of time that I am making that should be removed to allow for deeper impact and fulfillment.

I don’t have an answer yet, but I wonder if there is anything you see in our work (or your own lives) that could be Unsubscribed to.

In the background…

Often, I find myself gravitating toward a song or style of music as the backdrop for a season of my work. I will put that song on as I think through big ideas, or when I need to power through a particularly complex facilitation or piece of content that needs to be created. I find that this consistency of background allows me to go back to a particular place in my head and get inspired anew or retrace my steps through a line of thinking.

This summer, the song has been “Take Your Guess” by Tom Rosenthal:

I didn’t walk how you said I should walk
I walk how I do walk, and that’s fine
It didn’t go how you said it would go
It went how it did go, and that’s fine

I look out the window somedays
I see a million ways and that’s fine
I didn’t dance how I wanted to dance
I did a bit of prance, and that’s fine

Take your guess, spurious at best, can’t you see its all just chaos

I breathe in and then I breathe out
I’ve got a trillion doubts and that’s fine
I took a road that wasn’t a road
But it was something I chose, and that’s fine

It didn’t go how you said it would go
It went how it did go, and that’s fine
Take your guess, spurious at best
Can’t you see its all just chaos

 

While clearly this is not an entirely uplifting sentiment, I draw inspiration from it in that my (and our) choices are “just fine” and it is the making of those choices that holds power. It is my hope that we dance how we want to dance and that we embrace the “trillion doubts” that we have and move forward into “the chaos” anyway. I also hope we choose roads that no one else has chosen, some that others don’t even see as roads to travel. In the end, no one will be able to “guess” the amazing things we will do together for Kids and Teachers this year, and any attempt they make at it will be “spurious at best.”

With all of that said, I wonder what the background music has been for you of late, or what you have drawn inspiration from in the past. Is there a piece of media or idea that you keep on coming back to that continues to impact your thinking?

I’ll see many of you soon, and we will continue this walk together.

I almost bought a house.

As we continue to build out this year, I would like to draw upon our own experiences for both strength and inspiration. With that in mind, I’d like to share that my wife and I ALMOST bought a house this summer. We put in an offer, it was accepted, and we went through the inspections. We were weeks away from closing and moving everyone 2.5 miles down the road. And it was stressful.

We spent over 40 hours cleaning out and packing up our garage. We got rid of (donations and trash) 20 trash bags of stuff in the process. It was incredible. And something happened in the process: we realized that we truly loved our home and could do many of the things we were buying a house for within our current home.

Sure, we lost our inspection money. We caused ourselves a lot of unneeded stress. We made our kids cry a couple of times (both with happiness for their new rooms and sadness for changing Schools, and then again for not changing schools when we told them we weren’t moving). But, I wouldn’t take the experience back.

Through it I learned that it is (sometimes) far better to fix/make the thing you have into the thing you want than to try and buy your way to a solution. I also found that this had deep resonance with our work in APS. Many times, we try to “buy” a new solution (or App, or resource, or idea) rather than doing the deep investment of time that we might need to make in order to get the most out of what we have.

It is my sincere hope that we ask ourselves how we might be able to fall in love with our own problems, our own spaces, and our own people enough to solve for them.

I hope this wasn’t too much of a tangent for you this morning. This experience has given me a refreshed perspective and energy for digging in to the work we have ahead. I hope retelling it has at least been interesting, if not empowering.

My Try At Bullet Journals

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about my first two years of teaching and the lesson planning notebooks I used. This was the last time I used a paper-based planning method, and I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I started using the Apple Pencil consistently last year. While, clearly this is not paper-based, writing things out in my own (terrible) handwriting slows me down long enough to make sure I’m not forgetting anything.

Going further down this rabbit hole, I have become obsessed with Bullet Journals (http://bulletjournal.com/) and the analog ways I might be able to better chronicle my waking life. If you have never heard of such a thing, I highly recommend searching on YouTube or Pinterest for “BuJo” spreads. It is an amazing subculture where people love to plan! Anyway, I’m going to try a digital form of Bullet Journaling with the Apple Pencil, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’d love to know what systems you are setting up for yourself to help manage the school year. Are you using new apps, new processes, or just more finely honing something you did last year. Please share!