Friday, March 13, 2015

March Madness Edu-Style

It has been a while since I have been able to blog.  Sound familiar?  Winter and spring are really a crazy time of year in education, at least I think so.  Not only are you working hard to keep the momentum going for the school year after a nice 2-week holiday, but you are also planning for the next year.  A foot in both worlds.  It wears on you.  I have been struggling to keep my head above water for weeks.  But yesterday, it was different.  Yesterday was a breath of fresh air for me and an opportunity to reinvigorate my practice and rejuvenate my enthusiasm.  Let me tell you why:  Yesterday I was able to remind myself of what is most important: the students.  And how I did that was really nothing more than a series of fortunate occurrences that ultimately added up to one unbelievable day.

My day began not at my school, but at the school of a dear friend (we've known each other since college (you can decide how long ago that really was).  She is a 4th grade teacher.  In California, the 4th grade social sciences curriculum requires you to teach about the California Missions.  My friend teaches at a Jewish Day School.  The Missions are a rather interesting topic in that context.  So she doesn't do the typical "pick a mission, research it and construct a model of sugar cubes or popsicle sticks or...".  Nope, she is an #edu-allstar.  Her students actually prepare a debate around the question of whether or not the Missions were good for California.  It is an amazing process.  The culminating activity is the actual debate, witnessed by parents and judged by a panel of guests.  I have been a judge for several years now and today's debate was by far the best.  The students were poised, they were funny, they rebutted each other's arguments. It was fantastic.  At the end of the day, we were split, but by one point, declared the team arguing that the Missions were good for California the winners.  Really, all the students were winners because the amount of time they put into preparing their argument (even if they didn't believe it), learning about the pros and cons of the Missions, practicing public speaking, presenting in front of an authentic audience, and collaborating with their team taught them far more than any sugar-cube replica ever could.  And you know they will remember this experience for the rest of their lives.

Following that awesome start, I set off to visit a school about an hour north.  I was going to see some technology in action that we are looking at buying for our school.  The visit was the result of our sales rep providing me the names of current customers and me simply reaching out via email asking if I could come for a visit.  My visit provided me with so much more than just insights about he technology.  I saw some amazing #STEAM integration at this K-8 school, particularly in their fab lab.  So much so that I was dictating emails to my math chair and text messages to the other Administrators as I drove home!  In addition, my host for the visit was none other than the Superintendent who was so very gracious with her time.  We talked about #innovation and #NGSS and great conferences to attend.  I left that visit so pumped for the "what more can we do" conversations that I am going to be having with my faculty.  It was fantastic!

The day ended with the opportunity to hear the amazing David Kelley (@kelleybros) speak about #designthinking.  I have been pushing Design Thinking with our faculty all year after doing some work last year to learn about it.  Nothing, however, can compare to learning about an idea or practice from the originator!  I was taking notes and wrote "lightbulb" after several points.  Hearing him speak just solidified for me, some key points in the process.  That in turn has given me some more ideas to take back to our school and begin working to infuse into our school practice and culture.  His comments really centered around a few themes: 
1. the need to desensitize people to critique so that they can be ok with failure because from failure comes learning and new ideas and ultimately creation
2. the importance of being human-centered in your work because with the human experience as your focus, you work from a position of empathy and it is this position that allows you to discover the non-obvious need (which is really the point)

These two points helped me realize that it is imperative to help students learn that failure is not only o.k. but necessary to their education and that student voice must be an integral part of all we do in schools because they are the end user and thus the ones that we must develop empathy for.

photo credit: www.parabolicarc.com
I had the privilege of getting out of my office and off site for a day of learning and enrichment.  I am very excited for the possibilities that lie ahead as a result of my experiences today.  But wait, there is a bit more to my reflections and ramblings today.  Not only was this an epic #noofficeday for me, but it was quite a day for the media as well.  It was #FerrellTakesTheField day, with Will Ferrell playing 10 positions for 10 teams today at Spring Training in the name of cancer awareness.  Robert Downey Jr., aka Iron Man, had a video hit the internet today of his visit with a young man.  And NASA successfully launched their MMS (@NASA_MMS) spacecraft.  As I sat watching the launch on NASA TV, I found myself reflecting again on the words of David Kelley and the students I had spent time with today.  I asked myself what if NASA had quit after their first failure, if Ferrell or Downey Jr. had quit after their first blown audition?  Where would we be without our space program?  Where would many causes be without spokespeople like Ferrell for cancer?  And what about little Alex and his bionic arm?  All three are examples of Kelley's Design Thinking.  All three involve the human element, empathy and failure.

And thus my day that was truly a series of fortunate events has re-energized me to continue towards June and beyond.  My day reminded me of the importance of our work as educators to provide students with opportunities to fail often and grow from those experiences.  The day reminded me that there is much work to be done to prepare our students to take their place as leaders of their future. And the day reminded me that we are surrounded by great examples, for ourselves, and for our students, of why innovation, iteration, creation, and creativity are crucial to teach, learn, and embrace.  

I'm not a basketball fan (but don't hold that against me) so I have no idea how the March Madness brackets will end up.  But I do know that for me, March Madness has a new meaning, not the madness of too much I can't do, but the madness of too much goodness to share and act on.

I hope that you, too, find something this month to inspire you to keep innovating and creating.