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.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Little ThanksGiving Cheer....

A new club is starting at my school. The @EGHSmatters Club.

The goal of our club is to bring together all members of the school community to enhance our growing school culture that is based in the values of appreciation and kindness. The club will become a real-world extension of the online messages exchanged between and among faculty, students and parents that already happen through various channels including our internal teacher to teacher document and @EGHSmatters on Twitter.

We will endeavor to create a school culture where every student, teacher and staff member can unequivocally answer "yes" to the following questions:

Do you see me?
Do you hear me?
Do you care about me?
Do I matter to you?

How many text messages, Tweets, Facebook posts, Kiks, Instagrams, SnapChats, Vines, etc do you send out every day that are about you? Or about nothing at all?  

Wouldn't you rather take a moment to make someone’s day?  
Change someone's outlook?  
Change a life?  
Change the world?  

We can.  We will.

As Angela Maiers says, "You become far more interesting and important when you talk about the exciting things other people are doing, trying, creating, writing, and sharing. Doing so gives you the opportunity to make a lot of new friends and establish yourself as someone who is always learning and growing from others. Now, that’s an accomplishment worth talking about."

The first activity we are doing is a "ThanksGiving Thank You" to Teachers/Coaches/Faculty/Staff etc.
I made slips made that will allow students to have handwritten notes of appreciation and thanks delivered to any and all of their favorite adults in the building. There is something special about a handwritten note that people appreciate, it's much more personal.

So, today I spent all three lunches at the table where our kids fill out the forms.

Here are Today's Top Five Statements/questions by our kids, in order (by frequency):

#5. How much does this cost? (Nothing)

#4. What is this?

#3. This is such a good idea/I love this.

#2. I'm writing this to my English teacher, I hope they don't mind the spelling...

#1. There's so many teachers I need to thank, Can I take some of these home?

Gotta love our kids.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

80% of Success is...

“Eighty percent of success is showing up” - Woody Allen

The video below shows a laborer demonstrating an amazing talent.  Do you think you could do this?

If your answer is that you don't think that you could, I would ask you, "Why not?"

What causes the success or failure of anything that we attempt? What makes some people more successful than others in any field or endeavor?

In the absence of that video, most people would immediately answer that success is typically related to natural ability. Being able to do something – shoot a jumpshot, solve a math problem, play blackjack, write a poem– and do it better than most people we know, has it's roots in natural talent. But, what is talent? How do people get so good at hitting a three-point shot or making beautiful artwork? For a long time, people believed that talent was about inheritance, being blessed with some specific, magical ability, or possessing a set of genes that somehow support that particular skill. The corresponding argument then, is that you and I can’t eventually become well known artists, wealthy investors, or golf pros, merely because we weren't gifted with the genetic lottery that provides those aptitudes and skills. No matter how much we work, it won’t compensate for our inherited limitations. When fate was handing out talents, we got something else (hopefully).

However, all is not lost. Recent researchers, such as K. Anders Ericsson, believe that talent is truly about deliberate practice, and that putting in approximately 10,000 hours of intense training (give or take a few thousand hours) is what actually makes people successful. Michael Jordan wasn’t born Michael Jordan– he had to work really, really hard to become "Like Mike."

As Ericsson wrote in his article “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance”: “The differences between the talents of great performers and other adults are susceptible to change. The difference between high achievers and duffers is "a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance."

So, success is about deliberate practice. Success is about effort. Success is about having a great coach. And unfortunately for those who would prefer to blame fate, success is not about some random genetic lottery. You can become smarter. You can develop any talent. You just have to want it bad enough to earn it.

Clearly, there’s a huge contradiction between how we measure success or failure and the causes of that success. Generally speaking, we tend to measure potential for future success and talent using tests that are administered under what we believe will bring out the subject's maximum performance- typically under stressful, high-stakes situations- believing this will show them in their best light.

Annually, college football's best players assemble at the NFL Combine where they perform many different tasks designed to demonstrate their athleticism, football-specific skills, and sound decision making (40 yard dash times, throwing/catching/blocking drills, IQ tests, physicals, team interviews, etc.) under conditions of high stress and competition. The purpose of the combine is to see what each player is capable of, and to project where they will fall on the continuum of potential to contribute to an NFL team. "It's a cold, cruel world, and no one cares about you." "Respond to competition and perform or you will be left behind." These are the archaic arguments that NFL coaches and many current political leaders would have you believe about the world that we live in.

The problem is, the real world doesn’t resemble the NFL Combine, just as the real world is in no way reflected in a student's success or failure on the standardized tests that in many states will decide whether that student will graduate, whether their administrators and teachers will remain employed, and in an increasing number of states, whether their public school will be closed down and replaced by a for-profit charter school staffed by underqualified teachers, some with just six weeks of preparation.

Success or failure in the real world requires sustained performance. Skills and practices such as working hard and multitasking, thinking critically, problem solving, communicating effectively and collaboratively while working in groups and teams, acquiring and evaluating information about what you need to know when you need to know it and put it into practice- those are the skills that very successful people implement every day. All of those skill are grounded in deliberate practice, and the ability to utilize these real-world skills, regardless of the endeavor or field of practice, largely depends on engagement with the task.

The problem, of course, is that the potential for enormous success can’t be measured in a single combine or a single test of mathematics or reading. Our long-held and clearly flawed beliefs about what makes some people successful have led to incredibly flawed tests of aptitude and "ability." This would explain why in the 2000 NFL Draft, 198 players (and six other quarterbacks) were drafted ahead of Tom Brady, despite his ability to become arguably one of the five greatest quarterbacks in NFL history in terms of both statistics and championships won. Brady's draft status following the 2000 combine is one of the many reasons that statistical analysis has shown that there is "no consistent statistical relationship between combine tests and professional football performance.”

If we truly want to remain "globally competitive" and ensure future success for all children, we need to develop experiences, opportunities and assessments that will support the likelihood of kids showing up every day, becoming engaged in the learning opportunities and working hard, not simply judging how students have complied and performed on a random task once they get there.

Decisions about the futures of our kids and our schools that are based on a single assessment with an arbitrary and moving target of a cut score that measures how a student performed on one day while that student was tested on content that they may or may not perceive of as interesting and relevant is indefensible.

Modern research indicates that the most important skill related to future success is having the desire to work hard, to practice hard, for being consistently engaged on a task. Success is never easy, even for Michael Jordan or Tom Brady. That’s why we as educators need to develop work that engages students and develops skills and talents related to effort and persistent desire to learn more. That's why we need to re-think the path that the current politically and financially motivated over-testing "accountability" oligarchy is leading us down if we are to truly remain globally competitive and producing successful students nationwide.

80% of success is... not measured in standardized tests.  

Teachers work so hard to engage and prepare kids to be successful in the future, so why are we wasting time preparing kids to take tests instead?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Mattering... In a Day of Enlightenment

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

The prompt is the same every time. 

The answers often vary, the reasoning is subject to change, but the theme remains remarkably consistent:

"It's 25 years in the future, and you think back on your high school experience... who will you remember, what adult, teacher, coach, whoever, will be the person that you remember most and why? Who mattered to you?" 

I publish the results of this question frequently on @EGHSmatters. Here are today's answers, for instance:

Mrs Izzo will be the teacher I remember most, because she was always there to listen and she has so many times. 

"Mr Kenney made everything we read and wrote from summer on connect in ways that were so awesome. I loved his class."

"Mr Wren made science class the most interesting class ever. He connected with you personally and that made a difference."

"Mr Kenney blew my mind every day, everything he did required us to think deeply. And he's a good dude too."

"Ms. Boisse teaches science so enthusiastically that she can turn the most boring material into something you want to do."

"Mme Varone takes the time to know every person & establish relationships, she even goes to our games. It makes a difference." 

"Mrs. Izzo is super thoughtful and always takes time out of her day to see how everything is going. She matters."

"Mrs Page cares aboiut things that matter to us outside of the classroom as much as inside the classroom. She knows us."

As I said in a previous blog post: Ultimately, it's the relationships that matter, not the content.  I have always believed that the five minutes you spend with a student before or after class talking about something important to them will be remembered long after the hour you spent with them diagramming a sentence or going over polynomials is long forgotten. 

The reality is that if you can't convince kids that you care about them, that they can trust you, that they are safe taking risks in your classroom, and that failing is an important part of learning and that it's OK, then none of that other stuff matters.  

After I curated today's responses, the bell at the end of third lunch rang, leading to a discussion with a student about a recent event in school.  As we walked and talked, he said to me, "You know what's great about you, Mr. Chace? It's never just 'hello", it's a conversation."  

That seemingly offhand comment made my day in and of itself.  It's nice to feel appreciated. We've built a school culture around making sure that kids and teachers know that people notice what they do and that they matter to one another.

And little moments like that can often lead to a great deal of introspection...

At face value, that comment made my day. But that introspective remark provided me with more insight as I considered it further.  It allowed me to become more self aware as I thought about it further and began to discover that I am unconsciously overcoming my biggest weakness without even realizing it.

As I wrote previously: "I am an introvert. The scariest place in the world to me is a cocktail party or a post-school event celebration where people mingle and chat.  If you are one of the half to two-thirds of people who psychologists classify as extroverted, you likely see those situations as a pleasant, friendly and enjoyable. For me it's terrifying.  Nothing scares me more than small talk.  

And yet... he was very much on point.  As I considered that comment further, I realized that I do that all day long. I walk around the school and enter classes with open doors every period of the day. I talk to teachers and students inside and outside of those classes constantly. Teachers on hall duties know I am very likely to sit down next to them and talk about what they are doing and equally important, how they are doing whenever I am walking by. Some have begun to pull up another chair when they see me halfway down the hall now.

And why do I do that? I do it to make sure that I am on top of everything that is going on and to be visible, but also because I genuinely care about the answers. These are not superficial conversations to me. The kids and teachers in my school really do matter to me... and they know it.

The strange part is that I never really considered what I was doing or why I was doing until I thought about it this afternoon. And that would never have happened without yet another conversation. 

You really can learn something new every day in school if you try.

As my favorite teacher in high school, (the one that would have been my answer to the EGHSmatters question if it was asked of me in 1985), Richard Rouleau once told me, "You are unbelievably unconsciously competent. Most of the time you have no idea what you are doing, but you're always doing the right thing."

Evidently so.  

And I am grateful for that.  Because I love this place.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Thanksgiving and the "New Normal"

Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart. Live not one's life as though one had a thousand years, but live each day as the last.- Marcus Aurelius 

It was a long weekend.  A particularly long weekend.  Most of it spent at the wake and funeral of my friend Bobby, and the rest of it thinking about a lesson that has, yet again, been reinforced in my mind and in my heart by tragedy.  There are times and places when this lesson is reinforced, and times and places where it fades from my thoughts like a mirage ... but I want to constantly remain aware of it now- despite learning this lesson only during times that I would rather forget- or honestly, times that I wish had never happened at all.  

However, I am a teacher and storyteller at heart- from birth, so I hope to share it with you, in the hope that you can benefit from my experience.

Bobby LaRoche was 44.  He died from esophageal cancer after a yearlong battle.  He fought hard because he had so many reasons to do so. He fought for his devoted, amazing, force of nature wife Karen who was the love of his life and with whom he had built a life and family around over 17 happy years of marriage.  He fought for his two beautiful children, Emma and Michael. He fought for his family and friends who always surrounded him and basked in the joy and happiness that he brought to every gathering, every conversation, every moment of interaction that he participated in. Bobby was not only the life of the party, he was the party all by himself.

As the priest who delivered the eulogy iterated, Bobby was a huge baseball fan.  He played through high school and college, coached his kids and others, and was an avid fan of the Red Sox.  The interesting thing about baseball is that there is no time clock associated with it. They play nine innings whether it takes an hour and 45 minutes or 6 hours to finish... the game ends when it ends. I can say without question that despite Bobby's life ending far too quickly, he, more than anyone I can think of, managed to get all nine innings in over those 44 years and provide so many people with a highlight reel of good memories and the occasional blooper reel as well that we will reminisce about forever. Bobby was a first ballot Hall of Famer at life.

Seeing his young children grieving instantly brought back memories to me of a similarly horrible experience five years ago that first taught me the lesson I need to share today. It was the Friday before our school's Winter break and I was contacted in the morning by the superintendent, who let me know that the father of two of our school's children, a custodian in one of our elementary schools, had suffered a massive heart attack and died that morning. It was my job to contact people and devise the plan to inform the children and provide whatever help they would require going forward.  This dreadful task was complicated by the fact that the children had lost their mother recently and equally suddenly as well. 

Just two days before Christmas, these children were about to find out that they were now orphans.

The emergency card listed an aunt as the next contact, so I called her up and she came in to help break the news to the kids and provide them support and care. As you might imagine, being there and a part of that conversation was easily among the most tragic moments of my professional career. In the hour or so that followed, I used every skill that I had ever developed as an educator, counselor, parent and coach to try my best to ease the shock, fear, grief and tragic moments that ensued. Unfortunately, that was like trying to hold back a tidal wave with a Dixie cup.  For all of my education, all of my training, all of my experience, there was little I could do to offer comfort, peace or help.

There are times and places where no matter what you want to do, no matter how hard you wish or pray, no matter what you would give for things to be different, you simply can not affect the outcomes. You can't go back in time.  You can't make things go back to how they were before.  It will never be the same.  You are going to live a "new normal" from here on out.

After an hour or so, I had to excuse myself from the room just to breathe.  I told everyone that I would be just outside the door in the waiting area of the guidance office.  The chair I sat in was against the window to the conference room and I could hear every plea, every sob, every bit of sorrow and anger and fear and frustration that was choked out of the people in that room whose lives were never going to be the same.

And then... the bell rang.

Last lunch was over.  Last period of the day- of the calendar year... holidays, parties, presents, candy, cupcakes, smiling, laughing, excited kids ran through the halls, kissing, hugging, smiling, happy. I could see it all in front of me through the window.

For them, it was just another day.  A great one.  One of promise. Joy. Happiness.

Behind me, abject sorrow, fear, anxiety, emptiness. The worst day of those lives.  The worst day that will ever happen in those lives.  Lives that were irrevocably changed forever.

Two worlds.  Two realities.  Separated by 10 feet.  With me as the membrane in the middle between both worlds.  A part of me fully rooted and engaged in both simultaneously. I felt like I was in the center of the universe. Each world completely unaware of what was happening, but fully immersed in their own reality- today was either just another day or the worst day of your life... and a few feet decided your fate.

We really don't appreciate a "normal" day, but we should.  And therein lies the lesson...

A normal day where we go to school/work/whatever we do and then return home safe and sound with our families and go about our evening routines in peace should be celebrated and appreciated.  Unfortunately, it's only when the routines are disrupted and circumstances change forever that we fully appreciate a normal day...

On Martin Luther King day in 2009, my daughter Lily was diagnosed with diabetes.  While she slept peacefully in her hospital bed, I stared out the window at the traffic on the I-Way in Providence and thought about how her life would be affected going forward.  How Lily would never be able to live carefree life that she had always known. How this disease would affect her quality of life and future health.  I thought about how I would give anything to trade places with her or let her have just one more day where she wouldn't have to worry about what she ate, or stick needles into herself, or wake up screaming and incoherent because of hypoglycemia. But today was simply our day to discover a new normal for us. Below me, cars drove by, people lived their own lives, went about their business and probably didn't appreciate the "normal" day that they were in the midst of.

Also in 2009, a student at my alma mater, Pilgrim High School, was killed by a school bus at 7:00 AM at an intersection just a few feet from the school. After the initial shock and sadness of hearing of that tragedy, my thoughts went immediately to her parents and I wondered if the last words they had that morning were "I love you" or something that they might regret now. We always expect that we are going to have a normal day until we don't. We let the little things and annoyances get in the way of our appreciation for what we have.  I am certain that Kimberly's parents knew that they would see her at dinner that night, that everyone would come home safe to another "normal" evening.  Until that peace was shattered. 

How do we make sense of tragedies like that?  We can't.  But we can make sense of our everyday lives and what matters to us. So why don't we do that together going forward?

As we approach Thanksgiving, please be mindful of how fortunate we all are. Be grateful for just another "normal" day, because its very likely that one day in the future the world will revolve around your own personal tragedy and you will find that you would give anything just to have one more "normal" day, even though it might be too late.

Typically only tragedy will teach us this lesson. But maybe I can help avoid that with this post.  

Tell someone today how much you appreciate or love them (and do that every other day too). 

Be kind, be helpful, do good things for others. Make a difference.  Be a force for good.

But don't ever let another "normal" day simply pass you by.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Unleashing Our Collective Genius (Part 3)

Tomorrow is our first "Genius Hour" Professional Development Day at EGHS... here is the schedule that was distributed to our teachers:

We, the East Greenwich High School community, live our values:

Respect: Be considerate of others' ideas and opinions while maintaining personal integrity and self- confidence.

Creativity and Innovation: Embrace flexibility and individuality when explaining and demonstrating knowledge and skills.

Relevance: Link concepts across subjects and make connections to today's global society.

Enthusiasm: Generate excitement and curiosity about learning.

Achievement: Work vigorously to obtain knowledge and skills measured against the highest standards.

We hold ourselves and each other accountable to these values in support of our mission.

8:00-10:00 Playdate with Technology: Come ready to share, ask, explore, and most importantly; play with technology tools.

8:00 Introduction (Podraza)

8:05-8:20 Technology “Throwdown”
Individuals come to the front of cafe to share a new tech tool. Participants have 2 minutes to tell:
  • What it is.
  • What it does.
  • How you envision its use in Education or how you are using it
8:20-10:00 Individuals go to play areas to play (don’t need to stay in 1 area)
  • Google tools
  • Schoology
  • iPads
  • Chromebooks
  • Other
10:00-12:00 Department Time 

12:00-12:30 Lunch

12:30-2:00 AM CPT/Genius Hour/Passion Projects

2:00-3:00 Faculty Meeting to follow… further extension of Genius Hour.  

At 10:00 this morning, I followed up with a spreadsheet that organizes the different ideas and groupings that will be utilizing their genius during our Professional Development days, during our weekly CPT time and potentially during duty times as well in the future to support our learning. This is the message that was sent to the teachers, along with a link to our spreadsheet.
I've shared an item with you.
As of this morning, here is the information that I have compiled related to our Genius groups that will be used during PD time, AM CPTs, etc. Please feel free to edit, update, add your name to groups as is appropriate. Particularly do so with room numbers, as this will be important for others who may want to join or help you with your projects/ideas. If/When you complete something, please indicate that in the right column and please add any new ideas, activities, groups, etc to the document. This is designed to be a living document, and shared with others who may be considering how to change the way they deliver PD in their schools. 

We are on the cutting edge of something great. Please let me know how I can help/assist/improve the experience and your learning.
SpreadsheetGenius Hour Activities
I could not be more excited about the possibilities. I will continue to blog about this process as we move forward. Also, I will be asking teachers to live Tweet during the course of the day using the hashtag #EGHSPD.

Something amazing is happening here... stay tuned.