Monday, December 9, 2013

Unleashing Our Collective Genius (Part 5)

Here are the results from the one month of implementation survey answered by our teachers last week, it's important to note that although we have used PD days and faculty meeting time for Genius Hour projects, the most frequent and consistently used time has been our weekly interdisciplinary common planning time, which is from 7:30-8:00. Obviously, teacher can use time before and after school to meet if they choose to, or the aforementioned PD/Faculty Meeting days as well.  

What are you presently working on/learning/developing using Genius Hour time this week?

We have been working on learning about new apps for the iPad that will help SPED and reading students, as well as related assistive technology for students who qualify and who would benefit from it. I have spend the majority of the genius hour working with the senior project team. We have firmed up the four pathways for a revised version of the senior project. We have added specific details and equalized the plans in terms of work. We have met with a small group of students to get initial feedback on the changes we are discussing. I also spent one genius hour revising a test to measure the new SLO goals. 3-D printing. Science, Art, Tech Ed and Business are developing a collaboration that will have students designing, drafting on computer and printing/producing a product. We hope to pilot this idea with students this spring. I began working with science on some interdisciplinary conversations as to tools and ideas that could be shared for teaching and learning. We discussed many items and shared resources. The last genius hour I began working on finding short videos on line for the purpose of using in the classroom to "hook" student attention and lessons that can be used for remediation and flipping. I have also implemented schoology for two classes and have been populating it with links that will be useful for my classes. These resources have been discussed and shared with some of my colleagues. Rob and I have been talking logistics of the One Act play How to support students with anxiety in the school, specifically during lunch. How to support students with anxiety in the school, specifically during the lunch period. Formative assessments that focus on the concepts addressed in our SLO for grammar/usage School Store Developing a website that encompasses all of the teacher sites in our school. Sort of a one-stop shopping for students and supporting staff to easily locate and access a teacher's class website. Sharing of lesson ideas for a variety of students in resource to meet learning needs (academic, transition, study skills) I was working with the Physics teachers on using their equipment, particularly Logger Pro software, in mathematics classes. Physical Science Common Task Electronic Development I started out helping others with getting started with creating videos for the flipped class. Last week, I sat in (barged in) on the sophomore humanities team to see what they were up to and to see if I could possibly link Spanish to something they were doing. Senior Project Revamp I have been working with a group of teachers on making screen casts using Camtasia. We are working on decreasing student anxiety specifically by providing a welcoming, safe, & comfortable place for students to go during lunch when they are not comfortable staying in the cafeteria. Developing anxiety groups and alternate eating settings for socially awkward students. Collaboration with Art Studio, Photography, and French classes, incorporating French poetry, photographic interpretation, and Impressionist painting techniques and history We are working on our Humanities collaboration. The Reality Works baby is a new program and we are also working on the blog for the project. Collaboration w/math & science to produce more student centered learning strategies We are developing skills videos for students to use in personal fitness/grade 10 health. (Using them as an introduction to flipping a class) I would like to continue to work with the math department to help students we share. I also work with the guidance counselors to support anxious students. Lastly, I am starting a check and connect RtI program after school. I was working with schoology and fakebook but it ended up not working as planned. I currently do not have a project. I have been working with my collaborating English teacher to discuss data from tests, quizzes, and written work to plan instruction. We have also used this time to discuss how to create optimal learning for individual students with various learning and behavioral issues. Argument writing Camasia I am working on 2 projects currently. One is the school store where I am helping design a logo and figure out the design of tshirts. I am also collaborating with art and French to create a lesson . Ben Revkin and I have been familiarizing ourself with Google’s course builder software and trying to customize the .yaml file to work with our vision of designing a shell that teachers could use to move their entire course(s) on line in anticipation of the one-to-one move. I am working in the group planning the school store. I have been working on a Camtasia presentation for my Spanish IV honors class. Updating senior project Now I am with anxiety group. Previously I worked with transition for a couple of weeks. Members of the Math and Science department are discussing different grouping strategies, engaging activities, integration of technology, and we started to develop lessons based on our discussion. Ours has changed slightly. We were working in conjunction with Karen Izzo on argumentative writing and developing some cross discipline assignments. We helped one member create a lesson that will work for him in the spring. We are now looking for other opportunities to use argumentative writing in content area that can be a collaboration between the Freshman history an the Freshman english classes. boisse, newman, tarro and myself are creating an electronic version of our common task #2 so students can submit their responses through a google document French poetry/photo class / painting interpretation I am working with Dorothy Carter on our two English collaboratives. We are continuing to develop curriculum and assessments. I am working on videos to support student learning. Anxiety genius hour....exploring alternative places to eat lunch other than the cafeteria. This idea is for students who may find themselves anxious or uncomfortable in the cafeteria. I am working on creating flipped lessons. school store vendors for prices and web page options re-vamping senior project Physical Science Electronic Copy of Common Task

As you can see, there is a great deal of diversity in the groups, as I would expect.  Teachers have started new ventures, explored existing ones, are working on attacking longstanding issues of meaning to them and are developing working knowledge of new edtech tools.  Many seem to be working in groups around things they already do... like traditional common planning, and I know that many would rather work on something they already do, because it's familiar and it's safe, but it's really not what this time is designed to do.  It's to learn, to explore, to follow your interests, your passions and share what you've learned, produced, created... and I get worried that the autonomy may be so foreign to many that they are intimidated by the opportunity and prefer to simply fall back into a safe pattern and not fully realize the great opportunity available to them.  I don't want it to be "just another thing to do," I want it to be something you look forward to doing because you love the thing you are working on.  But how can I help people make that leap forward?  It's frustrating.

Is this ongoing or a new project from the one you originally started?


Please describe the progress/learning you have experienced so far:

We have been deciding on a permanent school logo to start. We will be meeting tomorrow with a local vendor to start the process of choosing who to use for our supplies. We are hopeful that this will be a new venture for the school with apparel that will create more school spirit along the way. We have identified and spoken with students who are interested. We have a place in mind. At this time we are looking into students from EGHS Matters club to eat lunch with these students. Task created. Still working on rubric. It has been very helpful to get teacher feedback and ideas. Being new to EGHS it has been great to have a specified time during the day to develop a needs assessment of students struggling with mental health and social issues. It turns out that I know more than the other participants so I have not been able to learn myself but I have been the "expert". We are working through the tutorials and trying to teach ourselves. I showed them the things that I had previously learned. Only started last Wednesday. I played around with the software, but I need to view the tutorials. currently working to modify, create and load the common task pdf and word file to a google document...also trying to troubleshoot students being able to access each others' work outside of class.. While I feel that changes need to be made to senior project and feel the new paths will be helpful to future students, I do not feel that I am learning anything "new" we gathered information from students and review some of the "sticking points" for kids in the current model We have developed a plan to support students during the lunch period. It was great to meet with other teachers to hear their thoughts and ideas about supporting students. We have all reached out to students we know personally and talked with them about an option to eat near guidance without feeling pressure from others. I learned about Logger Pro and some of its applications. I used a force probe, which I will use for demonstrations in class. I may look into using iPads so that Pre-Algebra students may be more involved in the learning process. We are well on the way to having a finalized version of the senior project. Our goal is to be able to unveil it for this year's juniors. The test for the SLOs is written now but needs to be reviewed for formatting and clarity. I anticipate that Melissa and I will be finished with this in the next couple of weeks. Team has agreed on basics for 4 pathways. As coordinator, I am pulling together forms for handbooks - these to be reviewed and added to/modified by team. We have developed a plan to support students who experience anxiety during lunch period. Group members identified students who experience anxiety during and lunch and we have each checked in with those students and discussed the option of eating near Guidance. Working with guidance and sharing ideas has been great. Check and connect is up and running. Looking at projects that will challenge physics students, have reasonable expectations for CAD students and allow art students to have input on the design process and business students to manage the project. Discussion and reevaluation of our teaching based on assessments/observation. It is useful and relevant as we will have students complete their common task responses electronically during class. This will allow: data collection and easy to assign detailed comments quickly. We have a meeting with a local vendor this week to get any idea of pricing and materials. We are almost done with an athletic & academic logo and will start on a logo bible With so many resources available, being able to discuss and share with colleagues has been valuable and productive. Sharing w/ Kristin Columbo in sharing some guidance docs that we use for career that can be copied and put in the IEP folder as well. No need to duplicate if things are being done with doesn't matter where and Sp Ed was cited for not having enough of that in student files. Anxiety group is looking for an alternate lunch site for kids that are feeling isolated in the caf. I have learned more about argumentative writing and its usefulness in the classroom. I have also learned more about reading through and evaluating the merits of other rubrics not used by our department. We have been moving methodically using the steps outlined on Google’s course builder site. Very useful. I have also worked with Ben Revkin in order to troubleshoot some tech issues. I have found the time very helpful, both in actually having the time that I am devoting entirely to this endeavor and also having teachers, such as K. Pontarelli, available to answer questions if they arise. This was also my first blog. It is Ok and I feel like I need more training on blogging I am excited about working on the school store because I think I have a lot to offer this group. I have only been to one meeting so far. I have leaned about their plan and I think it is a great idea. We are meeting with printing companies this week. For the French art collaboration we are about 2/3 of the way through our lesson. Our classes will be meeting in the library on Monday. We continue to find ways to integrate both our teaching and out students learning. So far I have added links for the some of the class websites, but am still waiting to hear from other teachers. Have been meeting with Julie and Deanna to design and modify learning ideas and figure out how all 3 steps of the lesson will fit together; culminating activity will be happening on Monday 12/9 I have learned how to create tutorials and google forms. I am implementing this in class this week so I will see if there are any kinks that need to be worked out. This time to work together has been invaluable! We have gotten much accomplished regarding class instruction, SLO progress, individual student needs, and overall curriculum development. Rob has helped me with how to set up the scripts so that they may be easily handed over to his kids. I have been tapping into his theater expertise so that I can provide that info to my students The teamwork has been productive. It has been interesting to get different perspectives on why certain students have increased anxiety and sharing ideas on how we can help as a school. very interesting and a wonderful group to work with. worked on a school wide logo design for academic and athletic use. started discussing prices and vendors for possible school store. We (Keri Tarro and Kristen Columbo) have been able to share lesson ideas to fit our students' needs as well as "best practice" resources for such lessons. It has been helpful to make study skills classes more consistent and gives all IEP students similar opportunities regardless of their assigned teacher. We had to discontinue our original goal for genius hour, considering a potential curriculum change. We have recently revised our plan to focus on the Physical Science Common Task. Cynthia Skelton and I have develop one full length assessment. I would like to continue developing more. I really haven't because I have been imparting my experience with others. I would really like to get involved with another group. teaming with Amanda and Deanna, determining what each class task will be timeline discussion of what culmination/presentation will look like We are working together to come up with a school logo---both academic and athletic---which Deanna is kind enough to do. We are discussing ways to work with Boosters and coaches to ensure a unified logo for the school. We are also discussing ways to bring in FBLA or DECA into EGHS. Came up with some great ideas which I have already implemented in the classroom We have learned that we can use the flipping concept in the actual physical learning in the area of physical fitness. Cheryl has a different skill set than I do, and she is more aware of programs out there for students with learning difficulties. One of our successes has been our contact with a company called "Learning Ally". This company has audio books (trade and text books) for students who qualify. We have had a proposal drawn up and with the help of Cheryl Gilkenson at Central Office, we have found the money both from the Reading budget and the SPED budget to purchase access for 15 students, 10 at the high school, and 5 at the middle school. We have identified the students who would benefit from this at the high school and are now working on getting the actual membership active and in the hands of the students that need it most.

There are several GREAT things coming out already.  This is very exciting.  The MOOC, School Store, Senior Project , French/Art Classes, One Act Plays and Anxiety Groups have really made a lot of progress and are doing some cool things. This school is full of bright, imaginative, hard working, brilliant teachers, and I know that so much innovation and opportunity is possible, but I feel like my inability to help everyone fully realize the potential of this time and opportunity to collaborate on something they are passionate about vs. making this something to do is holding the possibilities back.  I feel blocked.  I don't want to let people down or hold back our potential.  I know there's an answer here somewhere, but frankly, I am searching.

How useful/valuable has Genius Hour time been for you so far?

Extremely Useful1737%
Very Useful2146%
Unsure at This Time715%
Not Very Useful12%
A Waste of Time00%

I am happy that 83% of the teachers feel that the time has been very/extremely useful. That's a good thing.  As this becomes part of our school culture and how we do PD, I would hope that anything else (prescribed, administrator-decided and based), will look silly in comparison to the unlimited opportunities available here.

Please Explain/Describe Your Answer

so far it has been a decent learning experience... I am learning a lot but don't feel like I have much to offer yet. i do like the cross content connections. They are valuable. It has allowed me valuable time to meet with caring professionals that have knowledge of a wide range of students (most of whom may not have been on my radar). I feel that senior project does need to be changed as I work with juniors and seniors all day. I am frequently dealing with frustrations associated with senior project from my students. However I do not feel that this has provided me with an opportunity to learn something/create something new. In the end I hope the changes that will be made will be worthwhile for students. We unfortunately had to deviate from our original genius hour plan (which would've been delightful) and are working to collaborate on a Physical Science team as well as with a special educator. Having the time set aside to collaboratively work on this project is helpful indeed. It is too soon however to say if this is an effective stress-relieving strategy. We have no concrete data at this time. It has been useful in the sense that it gives me an opportunity to learn about something that I am interested in but that I might not have pursued on my own time. But once I know how to do it, I might want to move on to some other project. This has been extremely useful because I don't usually have a set time to work with Cheryl. In the past, I've tried to get books from but it's been tedious in terms of how to get the books to the students' MP3 players, etc. The app from Learning Ally can downloaded free on any device. This will greatly help students who need more support. This service will be a way that the classroom teacher can differentiate. Would like to receive student feedback after our classes get together on Monday Great to have input, but putting together handbooks for each pathway time consuming and I feel that asking team members to take on a pathway unfair. Yet, I am swamped myself. I wish I could have a day where I had a substitute and could focus on just revamp.It provides time to complete this project. This has enabled me to work with other teachers that I would normally not be able to. It has been a very exciting process. We all recognize that the senior project needs to be is nice to have the time to do so doing something fun and interesting for the whole school It's been useful to have the dialogue, but we would like to use the time to polish things we can use in the classroom today. The first project was not very valuable, but I think the new one will be. I think it is too early into the process to tell right now. It’s definitely more slow-going than I thought it would be but only because in the process we have to look things up we didn’t know and try to remember things we learned earlier but weren’t at the point where we were ready to apply them. I am learning A LOT but I’m a little worried that what we’re doing might not be useful for the faculty in the end if we move as a district to something like Schoology or Canvas. Not that this would be time wasted for me, however, since I know I’ll be able to parlay this into improving student workflow once/if we go one to one. Useful so far, not sure where I will go after this. See the previous answer My collaborating teacher has 4 preps and collaborates with two different special ed teachers. ALthough we always found time during the regular week to plan, we did not do a closer look, as we have, at data. Much improved collaboration. I love the group and the project I am working on and I think it will be a huge asset for the school. I have enjoyed working with the two teachers and brainstorming how this would look, making decisions etc. We think it's valuable because it is offering different avenues of teaching/learning. It will help us save time for instruction. I now know the amount of time required to do a good camtasia project. I would like to work with department in order to create an archive of the important grammar/thematical issues we use repeatedly. I have done far more that has impacted my students in a more direct way during this time than I ever did. I think it has been very useful for others to learn about the flipped class and to see if it something they would like to incorporate into their repertoire. I would like to work collaboratively with others though. We did not feel that our project was a good use of time but were glad we experimented. It was also difficult being a new teacher and finding a group since so many teachers already know each other. It has provided the motivation to collaborate, but the real question is, 'will our schedule allow students to collaborate on the project? I was able to learn more about a tool used in another department, and that tool could reinforce my current curriculum. I actually find the discussion to be as helpful as the opportunity to learn new software. finding the time to be short, but very productive It has been useful for me as far as getting to know some of the students on my caseload who experience anxiety around lunch. Without the input from members of the group I wouldn't have necessarily been aware of those students. With that awareness I feel like I am in a position to better support them. I'm sure there are other students who experience such anxiety and it would be helpful for those students to be identified when noticed by faculty. I am grateful to have time to spend focusing on an element that I know I should include in instruction more often. However, our members are in other simultaneous genius groups, so we cannot always meet as a group during Wed AM CPT time I have had to go outside the group for a lot of the help I needed in creating the project. It gives me an opportunity to work on an issue that is important to me. These were both things that desperately needed to be done but that we had no/little time to actually do, so this has basically been a very practical use of time that means we can do a good, thoughful job instead of throwing something together in a panic at the last minute. It's good to have the time to work through this software but I feel that at this point it would be good to have someone (like Ben) who can help us with more sophisticated editing. I have been more inspired in my time working with my group than in any other professional development in the school. It is nice to use my AM time on things that I'm interested in---DECA and FBLA. Since the collaboratives are loaded with students who have individual learning needs, it has been so helpful to develop more focused, differentiated instruction with Ms. Carter. I genuinely value her input, and it has greatly improved our work with the students. I do not have a common prep time with my collaborative teacher, therefore we can use this time to discuss the plans of our class. I would never have had time to do such collaboration See above I feel really positive that we have created a plan. I hope the students that need support will benefit from it.

Again, I view these comments as positive.  People want/need more time... so how can I find that for them? I will.  But I need to know they need it and why, then I will work collaboratively to free them up whenever that's a possibility.

How can we improve the process?

You really can't. I think that by possibly listing what people are doing at this time would be good so I could know with whom else I would like to work. Maybe if there are people in the same situation, we could meet in the library to see if there are any other connections that could be made. Not sure...I really appreciate being able to collaborate with like-minded professionals on mental health strategies we can use to improve school climate. Without having this time dedicated to this, I feel like professionals from different disciplines would not have the time to work together and brainstorm genius ideas. Keep it going! Being new to the freshmen curriculum with collaboratives, I have gotten SO much out of the time. Half an hour goes very quickly so having a little more time may be useful depending on the group. I really like the idea of genius hour but am conflicted about using our morning CPT for it, partially due to the fact that my department has no common planning time - wondering if there would be another time for it to fit into the schedule somehow? It seemed artificial and forced. Not sure how to improve but there felt like a lot of pressure to find a project. Allow to continue. ? would be nice if we can substitute a longer time period for this collaboration (faculty meeting, department meeting, future professional development opportunities I would like to know what else is going on and how they are progressing to know if I can step in to another genius hour. I know the google doc has the different things that are going on but it is not updated. This form should help with that. Hopefully, we will eventually get the opportunity with schedule flexibility so that my period 6 kids and occasionally meet with his period 4 kids in order to smoothly transition from script to stage We need more time to produce quality lessons that incorporate strategies we've discussed in our group. By reminding teachers to send me the URL address for their websites. I have not heard from many teachers. Probably need to 'group hop' around to check in & see what other folks are geniusing about. Is there a current list of what each group is working on so that people can jump around if we come to a point where we can't go any further with what we are doing? I think there is a list in an e-mail somewhere, but maybe people can share their progress in that document. I think genius hour is a great idea but I'm not sure about the time part of it. CPT seems like a good time to work on it but it is difficult without having enough planning time with department members. I do think that great ideas are coming out of genius hour. I think it should definitely stay . It was a bit too open-ended in our first group meeting. Additionally, I don't think we were given a lot of time to reflect on our answers when the initial survey was given out to the faculty. Allow this process to be part of our evaluation?? I think requiring a 30-second update much like this form at the end of each session would help keep the process a bit more linear for me (I would be more apt to remember to do it if it were required), but other than than, I’m really happy with the freedom! make it longer I don't like having only 30 minute chunks, although I don't know that this can be improved without wholesale revision of the schedule. Process seems to work, again just not sure where I will head after this. I like the fact that there was a significant amount of time given at PD in order to sink our teeth into Camtasia. If we had just commenced with the Wed. morning half hour allotment, I would not have benefitted as much. The PE dept does not have a common planning time, it would be helpful to have one. The Reality Works could be done on common planning time then I could have a chance to meet with Mr. Decubelis There are still students that we may have not identified as needing some support during the lunch period or who may be resistant to our plan. I would like to continue to brainstorm our options for this time. I keep listening and learning. I like the time to work on new ideas and unfamiliar concepts. Its time and content I would not have time for otherwise. I like the idea of Genius Hour. Gives us time to explore and learn with out time restrictions. If people are between projects or looking for a new genius group, it would be good to have a common area in which to meet to see what conversations and ideas begin. See above. At least with respect to me. I would like reassurance that Genius Hour can be used for small improvements in my teaching and not just for large-scale projects that could take away from the delivery of curriculum. Not sure. I like the idea of it but I think for some it has become just another "thing" on a long list. Probably outside of your control, but......It seems that no sooner do we get started and the half-hour is almost over. Continue to give us time to plan, implement, evaluate and redesign as needed. No improvement needed.

Is Genius Hour the most productive use of our AM CPT/PD time?

Not Sure1226%

If Not Sure/No, what could/should we do instead?

I think Genius Hour in theory is a good idea but perhaps we could use the time to find out what teachers are already doing in their classrooms and find new ways to implement materials. I find it is always helpful to look into other subject areas (or a different foreign language for that matter) to find new ways to enhance what I already do in the classroom. It is a short amount of time, but we use it effectively. It is not always possible for team to meet. I like the use of time, but I'm not sure if is MOST productive. I do like the freedom and choice we are allowed thought. Like the opportunity to collaborate but really would value having departmental common planning time, as we currently have none, which has been very difficult this year. I think other valuable things have taken place that were needed to be shared with the whole faculty during this time. It was a good sharing experience with other staff people and I would say for that category it is tops. However, if there were a tech option I would use that for the rest of the school year but it would have to cater to my needs(as opposed to group work where everyone is at a different level) so not sure how that would work. While I love the group and project I am working on I have no common planning time with my department and would be grateful to have the time to work with them on classroom related things. Lessons on useful topics such as creation of teacher web sites, Camtasia, Twitter, or even the software on our Macs. Is anyone well-versed in i-Works? However, I did think that last year's CPT faculty-led workshops were also a very good use of time. I learned about Edmodo, Evernote and other applications. I don't necessarily use them but at least I know what they do. I think it would be good to have this sharing opportunity again. I think that it brings a lot of great ideas to the table, but I could really use more common planning times with my department.We would like the option of being able to work within our own departments. I'm not sure that there is way to make it equitable for all. Some colleagues are definitely using their time the way it was designed. Some are not doing anything new at all (just grading papers and planning) and some are the "expert" in the group hence not going off to explore their own new topic. YES! I enjoy working on something that is directly applicable to my teaching and something that will hopefully help to streamline my teaching. The looming PARCC is making me nervous that we should be spending more time on the Common Core.

Again, I need to try to help people realize the potential of following the things that you love, care about and are passionate about to develop their interests and ideas in order to develop innovation and improvement.  I don't think I could have been any clearer about this time being YOUR choice, directed by YOU, based on what YOU are excited about, want to learn, create, develop... Perhaps it's different people's comfortable learning styles?  Perhaps it's the expectation that someone has to be the expert and people can sit and listen to them rather than using their own research and learning skills?  Perhaps it's people not understanding that this is about THEM and not me? I want to help.  I need to help.  But sometimes I feel that the institutional structures that we have imprisoned teachers in for years inhibits their ability to choose and to learn independently. Thoughts? 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Unleashing Our Collective Genius (Part 4)

Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others." -Jack Welch

As was the case with one of my very favorite students, I recently experienced an existential crisis around the use of "Genius Hour" for our weekly common planning time and professional development days. 

I have a firmly embedded set of core beliefs about leadership and what's important in schools that has been fairly unshakable for some time:

1.  A culture of trust enhances everyone's performance.
2.  As a leader, your job is to create a working environment and a culture where others can accomplish great things.
3.  Success and/or failure in personally meaningful, relevant, intrinsically motivated work can create powerful professional development and learning.
4.   The one thing teachers most want is the time to learn and collaborate with their colleagues.
5. Collaboration unleashes the most powerful learning tool of all time: a purposeful conversation. 

With that in mind, my principal and I began a journey of faith and turned over the time that administration had always controlled back to the teachers to pursue projects and learning that matters to them, that they feel would most benefit them professionally and the school at large... in short, "Genius Hour" for teachers.

That being said, last Wednesday a panic came over me.  Uncharacteristically, I lost faith.  My mind was filled with thoughts like, "What if people aren't doing anything?", "What if we are just wasting time?", "What if people take advantage of the autonomy and simply correct papers and gain nothing?"  

What if I was wrong about all of this?  If 60% of teachers are doing the right thing and benefitting, if they are creating something amazing or learning a new skill that benefits our kids, are we still way ahead of where we would be with the administrators deciding what teacher need to learn and do with planning/learning time? 

As an administrator, you have to live with the possibility of failure.  Failure is a part of learning, whether you are a student, a teacher or a principal... we all can learn something from failure in a school. I have preached that to many teachers during this process.  The most frequent questions are: What if I change my mind?  What if I decide I don't like what I wanted to work on, can I change?  What if I fail? In all circumstances, my answer has been, "It's OK.  That's how we learn something new."

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. --Martin Luther King Jr.”

But am I willing to live with that?  I will continue to let you know as this process develops.  For now, however, I have surveyed the staff to get a handle on where we are.  Below is the message I sent to the teachers yesterday:

Waiting for responses from all faculty.  Stay tuned.


Good Morning:

This Wednesday we will have used Genius Hour for one month for PD/CPT time. Therefore, it is very important to me to have your feedback on the process. Please fill out this brief survey so that Mike and I can make decisions relative to the efficacy and use of this time. I appreciate your assistance and would appreciate if this could be completed by everyone by the end of the day on Wednesday. Thank you. - TC

Genius Hour Update

    Your Name

    What are you presently working on/learning/developing using Genius Hour time this week?

    Is this ongoing or a new project from the one you originally started?

    Please describe the progress/learning you have experienced so far:

    How useful/valuable has Genius Hour time been for you so far?

    Please Explain/Describe Your Answer

    How can we improve the process?

    Is Genius Hour the most productive use of our AM CPT/PD time?

    If Not Sure/No, what could/should we do instead?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

ThanksGiving Can Change Your Life Forever

I love Thanksgiving, it's my favorite holiday, mostly because it lacks the commerciality of most other holidays, despite the regrettable efforts of retailers to shift the focus to Black Friday. It's a national celebration of family, food and football, three of my favorite things. Beyond that, it's a day that reminds us that we should be grateful for what we have- rather than focusing on what we want to receive- like most other holidays.

Expressing gratitude to others tells the people we appreciate that we also find value in them, that we admire and respect them. Ironically, expressing that appreciation can affect our own happiness more than most people think, as you can see here:

In late April of last year, I decided to work towards building a culture of appreciation and kindness at East Greenwich High School after seeing Angela Maier's You Matter Ted Talk and understanding the power of her message.

In the first five months, the internal teacher-to-teacher "You Matter" communication program that I designed has produced 527 messages of recognition and appreciation between and among our teachers. In just twelve weeks, the @EGHSmatters Twitter account that opened the door for student, parents and the community to participate in sharing messages of appreciation and kindness has grown from zero to 310 followers on Twitter producing more than 1177 messages of kindness and appreciation that have been exchanged within our school community.  And we are just scratching the surface.

That being said, can a spark of appreciation really lead to a school culture that values gratefulness? James Fowler, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, with Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a medical sociology professor at Harvard Medical School, decided to see if one person’s initial generosity could spark a chain reaction of benevolence. They found that, compared with those who hadn’t benefited from others’ generosity, study participants who received money in an earlier game were more likely to give money in a later game. Ultimately, the initial person’s contribution was multiplied up to three times — a result in keeping with earlier findings on social contagion, suggesting that this sort of ripple effect continues for three degrees of separation.

What does that mean for potential implications within a school culture?  Dr. Jeffrey J. Froh, assistant professor of psychology at Hofstra University surveyed 1,035 students ages 14 to 19 and found that grateful students reported higher grades, more life satisfaction, better social integration and less envy and depression than their peers who were less thankful and more materialistic. Additionally, feelings of gratitude had a more powerful impact on the students’ lives overall than materialism.

Kent State University’s Dr. Steven Toepfer's research demonstrated that students who wrote messages that were positive, expressive, required some insight and reflection, were nontrivial and contained a high level of appreciation or gratitude saw their happiness increase after each letter. "The more they wrote, the better they felt,” says Toepfer, who also witnessed improvement in participants’ life satisfaction and gratitude throughout the study.

A 2007 study published in the Journal of Research in Personality found that “gratitude is uniquely important to well-being and social life” and proved that over time gratitude leads to lower stress and depression and higher levels of social support. Work by researchers at UCDavis shows that “grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress.”

In fact, 26 separate academic articles and studies around the world show the benefits of saying “Thank You.” Here are some highlights from those findings:
  • Expressions of gratitude reinforce social and moral behavior.
  • Frequent opportunity to express gratitude leads to increased well-being, better health, better exercise habits, higher life satisfaction and increased optimism.
  • Grateful people get more sleep.
  • A one-time act of thoughtful gratitude produces an immediate 10% increase in happiness and 35% reduction in depressive symptoms that lasts for months.
  • Writing messages of gratitude produces a cumulative effect that increases month after month.
  • Gratitude (which focuses us on others) and materialism (which focuses us on ourselves) are inversely related.
EGHSmatters began as an experiment, but it wasn't until I saw how it affected our teachers, and then our students that I truly began to reflect on myself and notice how happy and positive I have become every day. In fact, the most recently sent internal You Matter message was to me and it reads, in part, "The culture of this school has changed dramatically in large part to your efforts. Your positive energy is infectious. Keep it up." Another from last week said, "Thank you for doing what you do- you deserve such great things, as that's what you put out in the universe every minute."

It was hard for me to understand how negative I was before I began to regularly share the things I noticed and appreciated about the people that I work for every day in my school. Negativity is a habit. We all have something that we could be negative about every day if we chose to be. As an Assistant Principal, my job description oftentimes is "fix it," no matter what it is.  That can be frustrating, intimidating and difficult task at any given moment. When each immediate concern, conflict or irritation is resolved or forgotten a person's mind can naturally find something else negative to concern itself with in this position. It's a vicious cycle.

Practicing gratitude changed this. And it's so easy and pleasant to do. The more you express your appreciation for others, the more positive thoughts replace those negative ones. It puts situations into perspective. Opportunities to show appreciation become something that you actively seek out. Every day at work, I find constant reminders that I am surrounded by amazing people who are accomplishing incredible, creative, collaborative, brilliant things every hour of the day. I am fortunate to be working in a place like East Greenwich High School, and I never forget that.

As you walk the halls at EGHS and look at the smiles and faces of our school community, it is easy to discover through other people's eyes that there is something different going on this year. Whether it's when a Twitter account that could have turned into cyber bullying was created, and EG refused to participate, or the fact that I have made three times as many positive phone calls home to parents this year than negative ones, things are clearly not the same as they were before.

Appreciation is something that grounds you positively. When things don’t seem to be working out, there is always someone or something to be grateful for around you, just as there is always something to complain about, there is also always something to be grateful for. 

It's simply a matter of choosing which side you want to find yourself on. So, I ask you EGHS, which side will you choose?  Can you find at least one person a day to appreciate using the hashtag #EGHSmatters?  I know you can. And then you will find two, and three and more.  And every message will be a contribution to our culture and your own happiness going forward.

I will always choose appreciating those who surround me.  

Because I believe with every part of me that unequivocally, that @EGHSmatters.