Saturday, 30 March 2019


Maslow and the Modern Learning Environment

Editor’s note: A version of this article was originally published on eSchool News 6/19/18.
What can we learn from human psychology about designing learning environments geared for maximum motivation?
Let’s start by identifying core human motivations using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs. Psychologist Abraham Maslow studied human motivation as a whole, rather than the discrete pockets of motivation prior studies had identified. Maslow’s Hierarchy is depicted as a pyramid, with the base of the structure housing the most basic needs and more rigorous needs building on top of those. Maslow referred to the first four levels of the hierarchy as deficiency needs, which is to say each lower-level need should be met before proceeding to the next level. Should any lower-level need become deficient in the future, people will work to correct the deficiency before moving forward.
All this motivation builds toward the tip of the pyramid: self-actualization. This may seem like a stretch for students, given that most adults spend their lives striving toward this lofty goal. When we build a safe, motivating place for students to turn their focus inward, they’re free to pursue the beginning of self-actualization. How’s that for whole-child education?
So how exactly do school leaders create a learning environment geared toward nurturing and motivating the whole child? Let’s take a cue from Maslow and start at the base of the Hierarchy of Human Needs.

Physical Needs

The most fundamental human needs linked to bodily comfort and function make up the wide base of the pyramid. In a school setting, we can equate this to creating an accessible, functional environment for all students. A group effort is required to achieve this in schools and districts — enlist the help of the school business office and maintenance teams to correct deficiencies where you find them.
Sources of light in classrooms — whether natural, fluorescent, or some combination of alternative lighting — must be bright enough for students to complete their work. If possible, place SMART boards or other demonstration locations away from any glare from windows or lights.
Help students focus with appropriate sound levels during lessons. To change the acoustics (how sound travels) throughout the learning environment, place textiles and upholstered items strategically to minimize sound absorption near demonstration areas, and increase absorption near echoey cinderblock walls. Consider playing some light background music during group activities to help students focus on the voices nearest to them. For some students, acoustics of a classroom are the difference between receiving a high-quality education and straining to catch snippets of instruction all day.
Accessibility isn’t a trend in learning environments — it’s the law. Follow the basic ADA checklist for existing facilities to ensure accessibility for all students.
Inspect and maintain HVAC systems to ensure a comfortable temperature for learning. Heating problems resulted in frigid temps and burst pipes in Baltimore Public Schools, ultimately shuttering the district over winter 2017.
Finally, movement is a key component of modern learning environments. One method of freeing up space in classrooms is the über-trendy flexible seating strategy. Contrary to popular belief, flex seating is a solution to large class sizes (desks take up tons of precious space!) and it doesn’t have to cost a lot to add a few great options. Sara Moser, head teacher at Benjamin Chambers Elementary in Pennsylvania, added Adirondack beach chairs she and her husband made for flexible seating in her third-grade classroom.

“They’re super big,” she says. “Kids can put their feet up, lay on it, sit on the floor and use it as a desk; it all depends on the kid.”
There are thousands of resources on this topic (like the Classroom Eye Candy series). The goal is to embrace movement as you break out of the cemetery rows. Promote seat rotation by requesting students choose a new place to sit every few days or weeks.


Once students’ physical needs are met, turn your focus toward keeping people out of danger — in classrooms and well beyond. Physical safety is everyone’s responsibility every day at school. Challenge staff to look at your environment with fresh eyes every day to spot and speak up about risks before they become hazards.
Students’ digital safety is important in school as well. Data privacy laws, including FERPA, protect their personal information and school records. Digital safety extends beyond student records and information controlled in your main office. Does your district have a recovery plan in the event of a disaster or security breach? What will you do if your data is ransomed? The key component to a speedy recovery is having a proactive plan in place in the event of a data breach.


The next tier of motivation relates to the human need to feel an affiliation and be accepted by others. When students feel like they belong, they are able to show vulnerability, take risks, and try new things to stretch the boundaries of creativity. Igniting this deep feeling demands more than simply telling kids they belong — they have to feel they’re part of a close-knit group.
In Daniel Coyle’s book The Culture Code, he explores the characteristics of outstanding cultures in businesses and teams, including the presence of belonging cues. These cues send a powerful message to the subconscious brain, “Here is a safe place to give effort.”
Focus on cultivating a welcoming school culture. This takes patience, commitment, and time, but the effects are far-reaching — districts with a strong school culture become destinations for high-performing, dedicated employees, and the benefits snowball from there.
Research tells us incorporating visual representation of all types of students is important. Head teacher Sara Moser enlists her third graders’ help with decorating their classroom.

“I don’t put up a lot at the beginning of the year. Everything in the room is authentic,” she explains. “Either I created it, my husband built it, or the students have made it.”
Educating and motivating the whole child incorporates academic skills alongside life skills, including social-emotional learning. Modelling empathy at all levels of leadership in your district helps create a positive, encouraging, and energized culture geared toward growth.
Finally, as much as possible, create a learning environment built on equity for students and teachers. First, identify and remove obstacles holding subgroups of students back from reaching their full potential — a key concept of many states’ approved ESSA plans. Next, listen to students’ feedback on classroom topics. When appropriate, incorporate their thoughts into your lesson plans to increase ownership and motivation.


Once students’ physical needs are met, they are out of danger, and feel they belong, their next motivator is the need for esteem. This tier represents the need to achieve, be competent, and gain recognition or approval from peers and teachers.
Play-based activity for early learners sets the stage for esteem needs. In a drastic shift away from the “kindergarten is the new first grade” trend, schools are incorporating learning models used in preschools. Early learning educators are toning down the structure and encouraging developmentally appropriate student-led activities and choices. One kindergarten teacher told NPR she has noticed improvement in students’ oral-language development and critical thinking skills. Researchers are studying the far-reaching effects of this approach.
Encourage collaboration in learning environments by identifying specific space for whole group, small groups, pairs, and even for individual reflection (maybe tucked away in a corner). If your school is open to it, consider making use of the hallways fair game. Large scale science or math experiments, quiet pair work, or individual reflection can all take place in hallway collaboration space.

For older students, build esteem by incorporating project-based learning. High quality project-based learning not only prepares students for the highly innovative careers on the horizon, but also spikes motivation when projects align to their unique passions. Along similar lines, makerspaces geared toward self-directed STEM exploration also encourage design thinking, engineering, coding, and other creative learning. It’s possible to build a great makerspace on the cheap — most important is a safe, lightly supervised space where kids can test the boundaries of their best ideas to see if they can make them a reality using their own two hands. (And probably a lot of hot glue.)


When learning environments fulfill students’ deficiency needs, they’re equipped to shift their motivation and focus inward, toward what Maslow called growth needs or the pursuit of self-actualization. This isn’t a destination, but rather a life-long journey to realize their own potential and become self-fulfilled, then identify ways they can help others along the way (Maslow called this self-transcendence).
At this very tip-top of the Hierarchy of Human Needs, motivation comes from within. Students respond to intrinsic motivation, giving effort to tasks at hand purely because it is gratifying to them. In a learning environment, this corresponds to student agency — shifting students’ mindsets, encouraging them to choose their learning paths, and sharing ownership of their education. This profile of the Chrome Squad, the student-led IT team at Royse City High School in Texas, tells the story of student agency in action and shares its results: students who gain accountability, problem solving, and service skills they’ll use and take pride in for the rest of their lives.
Creating a highly motivating learning environment takes real dedication and more than a little elbow grease. The payoff comes when teaching and learning takes off in ways that shape the whole child (and every child) for life. Take these cues from universal human needs to build a strong, safe foundation for students to take risks and get to know who they are, and who they’re becoming.

On Student Voice and How All Means All ~ Pernille Ripp

 This is the article that matches my thinking. We always talk about student voice and how we value it but do we? The same for Teacher Voice, Community Voice. So often voice is lumped together and the 'majority' that often have a stronger voice  can be  the voice and this is what is acted on. If we don't get a cross wide selection of voice then we are not true to our statements that we act on all voice . We need to get a good representation of student voice and ensure this is all heard, recorded and all is important when decisions are made.. And community voice, and teacher voice. Don't lump voice together and don't only act on the the higher percentage collected or the stronger voice.
An invitation to create an education that matters to all, not just some, and who can say no to that? 
Even when we have parents that have a voice that differs from the school philosophy there can be ways to make adaptions to include their voice biut also stay stong to other beliefs. 
let's collect voice  lots from the wider range and act on it fairly.
Be the change, student choice, Student dreams, Student Engagement, student voice

On Student Voice and How All Means All

If I asked most of my students, they would consider me a great teacher for them. They would tell you how safe they feel in our classroom, how they feel respected, how they feel like what we do is worth their time. It is easy feeling like a great teacher if those are the only voices you pay attention to. But if you were to speak to a few, perhaps the ones who would need some extra goading, perhaps those who choose to remain mostly silent throughout our time together, a different story would emerge. They still hate English, they still hate reading and writing, they find little value in what we do, and some, probably, also see little value in me.
I don’t think I am alone in that. Our schools are filled with both kids who flourish and those who don’t. Those who see the value added to their lives in what we do and those who don’t. Those whose days consist of success and those who have limited success. But whose voices are being heard in our conversations? Whose voices are shared in assemblies? Whose voices are shared when we invite incoming families in to discuss what a school experience consists of with us?
And what happens when we don’t monitor whose voices get the most space within our school? When we once again select the few kids that we know will speak up, speak eloquently, and will stick to the message that we know reflects us best? It means that we create a false sense of accomplishment, as if student voice is something we can checkoff, as if everything we do is exactly right and all we need to do is just stay the course.
I worry about the echo-chamber we sometimes create, whether inadvertently or purposefully. How many of us purport to support student voice but then only give the biggest space to those we know will shine a positive light. How we assume that a child must view their schooling as favorable as long as their scores, grades, percentages show them as successful. How we squelch the voices of those who may have less than stellar experiences to share. How we dismiss their voices as simply kids carrying a grudge, or not understanding, or simply just being in a tough spot. How easily we dismiss their experiences rather than recognizing them for the incredible learning opportunity they are. A chance to dive into what we still need to work on, a chance to create a partnership with those whose experiences are not successful despite our carefully laid plans and best intentions.
When I ask others to make space for students to reclaim their voices, I don’t just mean those whose voices echo our own sentiments. I don’t just mean those who will present us in the best of lights. All means all and that includes those who will tell us the unguarded truth even when the truth hurts. This is why in all of my presentations there is truth that hurts, statements that made me grow, that felt like failures when I first was given them. It is important to model to others what real feedback looks like, to acknowledge that at times we will fail our students. That at times we will not be the teacher, or the school, or the district that they needed us to be and we now have to figure out how we can do better, with them. Because that is what the truth does; it gives us a chance to grow. To become something more than we were before, but we cannot do that if we only make space for those voices who will tell us all of the good we are doing without mentioning the bad. If we only select a few to represent the many without giving everyone a proper chance to speak up, to be heard, to shape their experience.
So survey all of the kids. Give space to all of the kids. When students are invited to speak at your training events, at your staff meetings, at your school board meetings, invite a broad range of perspective. Sure, invite those kids in where the system is clearly working, but also invite those who tell us through their behavior that it’s not. Who perhaps may be doing well but who really do not love it. Monitor who you give space to so that all experiences can be represented because if you don’t then it is really just a sham representation. And then ask meaningful questions, not just those where students will provide you with sound-bytes that will do little to move the conversation along.
Ask them if they feel respected.
Ask them if they feel valued.
Ask them if they feel represented.
Ask them if what we do matters.
Ask them how by working together we can make it better.
And then listen to their voices, all of them, and instead of dismissing their words take them for what they are; the biggest gift to do better, to be better. An invitation to create an education that matters to all, not just some, and who can say no to that?
If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. If you like what you read here, consider reading my book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  

Friday, 29 March 2019

What people don't see:

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To look forward, don’t beat a retreat

To look forward, don’t beat a retreat

Defining strategy is the most important work a leadership team can do. The last place they should go to do it is a retreat.

It’s January, and wherever I look online I see so many friends’ new year’s resolutions, strategies to make 2019 a little better than 2018, perhaps. And I see many wittily launch jibes about how they don’t make resolutions (“I never keep to them anyway, so why bother?”
They’ve got a point: we create resolutions at a time of forced relaxation when most of the world has shut down. The inbox is empty (or, at least, not filling up), our families surround us physically or digitally, our thoughts of work are kept at bay, still, through a fog of champagne bubbles and hangovers and bracing twilight walks. The time in which we come up with our resolutions barely resembles any other time of year. It’s no wonder that the daily cycle rides, walks or gym visits subside when the onslaught of reality begins on January 3rd.
In March a few years ago, I had been invited by a group of different schools’ Heads to a joint retreat. It was a retreat in name, at least. In reality, it was an overcharged three-day programme of administrative meetings, mutual therapy, forced fun, eating and drinking a bit too much. I was asked to walk them through an innovation process so that they could make Great Things Happen. I was given six hours during their three precious days. One of the widely-respected Heads proclaimed:
“I don’t know why we’re looking at innovation now, at this point in the year. It’s a terrible time to be thinking about doing anything in a school.”
March is indeed a hectic time in schools. Examinations for older students are looming, the last chance for some serious cramming on the horizon (by this point, many secondary schools admit that the learning is more or less suspended). Even little ones are finalising portfolios and presentations, exhibitions and performances.
But I was perturbed. As the CEOs of their organisations, strategy should be an everyday activity. Strategy is not something for which we can afford to cherrypick a slot in our calendars, something we choose to do at certain more relaxed times of the year. Strategy is definitely not something we can demote to six hours in a forced period of ‘retreat’.
Innovation is change. Change is what strategy both predicts and provokes. Strategy is where we plan.
The strategic plan itself is rendered useless fairly quickly. “Strategy’s great until you get punched in the mouth,” says Mike Tyson. “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything,” is how Dwight Eisenhower put it. Eisenhower was actually paraphrasing what a soldier had told him, and the soldier was much more precise in what kind of plans are worthless:
“Peace-time plans are of no particular value, but peace-time planning is indispensable.”
And there it is. Peaceful time plans — new year’s resolutions, strategic planning done in the quiet months of an organisation, holiday romances — are often worthless the moment the break or retreat is over. But the process of thinking things through — the planning — is vital. Why?
Peaceful time planning is vital because it lets us go through a process slowly. Think of it like training in a technique, a technique that we should be employing every day, at faster and faster speeds, so that when we’re in the thick of it in our busier ‘real’ lives we can cope with the punches coming our way.

After a deep immersive process throughout their organisation, a Design Team of students, teachers, staff and parents work through a mass of data, perceptions and stories to design simple strategy that anyone can use.
Over the past four years, my team has been involved in more strategy work with organisations than ever before. The word of mouth that drives some of the most successful organisations in the world to us for this help is invaluable, and reveals why people are seeking something different to their usual “strategic planning retreat”:
1. One, two or three days are not enough to come up with a strategic plan. Strategic planning is about the future, but to do this well you need to build on what happens today. People need some time to dive deeply into what makes their organisation tick today, and what people’s hopes and fears for the future might be. If you’re doing it properly, this deep dive immersive experience can take up to six weeks, and should involve everyone in your community contributing their perspectives. It’s a significant communications exercise to ensure everyone knows that they have the opportunity to present, share or post their perceptions of what works well, and less well, in the organisation today.
We use a strategic planning version of our NoTosh Design Thinking process to set up effective teams who can procure, encourage and manage this massive set of contributions, and then make sense of the trends that emerge from it. This kind of inclusive, immersive process is superb for providing that ‘peacetime planning’ moment for every member of the community. Even if it’s just for five minutes in the ‘war room’ or ‘project nest’, every teacher, student, parent, employee or visitor to the school can take the time to reflect, and get their memory muscle developed for planning every day. And the tools we use to synthesis all that data turn even the most ardent moan into a positive force to drive an organisation’s ambitious ideas.

2. The strategic plan itself is worthless within weeks or months. Organisations’ needs change quicker today than they did ten years ago. A five-year strategic plan might help a leadership team feel accountable, that they’ve done their job. But continuing with it headlong, without ever changing the expectations along the way, would be foolish. I don’t know any leadership team which has actually seen through every item in a five year plan, at the exclusion of all others. Most organisations with these kinds of long-term plans have massive fatigue in their teams: initiative after initiative gets introduced as sticky plaster planning for when the original plan isn’t quite working. But no-one ever dares to ditch significant projects in a five-year plan, even when, further down the road from the point of writing the plan, they’re clearly off-target.
Instead, we invest expertise in framing a leadership team’s vision as an exciting image of the future. Individually, a leader will struggle to express a vision that doesn’t make their ass clench with slight embarrassment from being a little too much or, more likely, a bit underwhelming. But with help, it’s possible to translate a team’s individual ideas for the future of their organisation into something that is compelling and which feels like a ‘goldilocks’ vision — not too hard, not too easy, just right.

3. Most strategic plans are actually just long-term plans. They’re not strategy. Strategy should look mercifully short when laid out on a postcard. Three, four or five ‘orders’ that tell the team how to play, but which don’t lay out each and every step you expect people to take. The ideas to realise the leadership’s expression of the vision need to come from and be delivered by the people who will feel the positive impact in the end.
That level of simplicity takes a lot of effort, expertise and time. We use some of the world’s best copywriters to knock strategy into shape so that the youngest member of a team or the person with English as their third or fourth language, can all understand how they’re meant to act.
4. Good strategy is only good when we know it works. So we don’t make anything final until the leadership team have tested the strategy out with their own current big projects. Ideally, there should be some that are clearly in their last breaths, ready to be ditched because they don’t help realise the vision, and they can’t be done in a way that works with the rest of the team’s strategy. Other projects will need changed to be successful — the strategy tells the leader how they need changed. And there will be some existing projects which will move front and centre — they may take on importance they didn’t have before.
Confident organisations test strategy further. In the American School of Warsaw, they’ve been testing for eight months, and are ready now to commit to most of what they set out, with some minor changes. Other organisations just know that they’ve nailed their direction, in days, often because there was little direction before, so any direction helps people have the focus they need here and now. These teams, far from being slapdash in their approach, understand deeply how strategy is something to be revisited daily.
5. Good strategy should be revisited every day. How do you know you’re doing a good job? How do you know that what you did yesterday worked, and what you’ll continue today will realise the vision you’ve got? Success metrics should not be reduced to annual or quarterly traffic lights, percentages and Board-speak management jargon. Success of projects can be measured in so many different ways, every day. Meeting about project success every week for 30 minutes allows the average organisation 48 points of change, instead of what might be achieved with eight Board meetings. For a leadership team to meet every day for 10 minutes to talk about success, accelerates the potential to tweak and amplify success to 240 points every year.
1000 points of change over five years, or a five year plan with one process at the start to get it right? Which do you prefer? That’s a lot more opportunity to plan together, to cope with the punches to your collective jaw, to kill off ideas that aren’t working (and assure yourselves that everyone knows why). You can only do this if you’re confident that your strategy is of the people in your organisation.
6. Strategy has to be true, not a trueism. Genchi Genbutsu is the Japanese term for the kind of active observation of the organisation that we undertake in that first deep dive. A leadership cannot take itself away to a five star hotel to presuppose what might be true, and develop a strategy from that point of view. A team can’t just talk about what it sees. It’s got to look. This is Genchi Genbutsu. It literally means: get out and see for yourself. Toyota are arguably the Japanese grandmasters of this technique, led by the founder of their world-famous manufacturing system, Taiichi Ohno, and it forms part of their formal five-part strategy for working:
The best practice is to go and see the location or process where the problem exists in order to solve that problem more quickly and efficiently. To grasp problems, confirm the facts and analyse root causes.
The Toyota Production System requires a high level of management presence on the factory floor, so that if a problem exists in this area it should be first of all correctly understood before being solved.
In Jeffrey Liker’s The Toyota Way we see the notion taken beyond the factory floor. Yuji Yokoya was the chief engineer for the 2004 Toyota Sienna redesign. Yokoya had never worked on a car made for the North American market, and he felt the need to practise some Genchi Genbutsu and get out to North America to gain some sense of empathy for a North American driver, and the potential purchaser of this new car. In the end, Yokoya drove a previous model Sienna throughout all 50 American states as well as all 13 provinces and territories of Canada. He got as far as the streets of Mexico.
Why was such a costly and timely roadtrip necessary? Was this the midlife crisis of a successful engineer, or a genius move to make major changes to an otherwise successful (in the Japanese market) car?
What he learned could not have been learned from any analytical data, survey or web search. Why? Because the things he observed needed observing by a Japanese Toyota engineer to make sense — they needed that empathetic, but foreign eye, to be seen afresh. For example, he discovered that roads in Canada are very different from those in the US — they have a very high central reservation designed to deal with the never-ending snowfall of winter. He learned that the winds in Mississippi are so strong at times that, if the family-sized Sienna were not designed with this in mind, it might have flipped over with the force. The most valuable lesson was perhaps to do with a tiny, non-engineering type problem: cup holders. In his native Japan people rarely eat or drink in their vehicles, while their North American counterparts were relatively settled in the habit of eating several of their daily meals within the car, on the move.
From the many design and engineering problems he spotted, Yokoya’s team developed a new Sienna for 2004, equipped with 14 cup holders and a flip tray specifically designed for your Big Mac and fries. It was their best-selling model yet.
The notion of ‘getting out there and seeing it’ might well seem like a drawback for leadership teams looking after large institutions, or entire districts, states or countries. They might feel that they can’t afford the equivalent of a 50-state road trip to get a firsthand insight. To undertake an extensive immersion, in person, ‘out there’, might not be possible for every individual leader. But it is possible when you harness your community, communicate well, form dedicated design teams to do the work with you. Toyota explain further with a reassurance for leaders:
The nature of the phrase is less about the physical act of visiting a site but more to do with a personal understanding of the full implications of any action within an environment as a whole.
The impact of changing one’s mindset, often by applying a strong sense of empathy to how others might view a situation, is powerful. Even in a workshop type situation, normally within the air-conditioned magnolia of a plush hotel or a school meeting room with no wifi (and no connection to the outside world), the mindset change put in place by considering every actor’s feelings and potential observations of the current situation is profound.
From one workshop in a business centre in Spain looking at problems in schools 500 miles away:
‘This workshop focused on people and used real examples; the process was involving.’
From a Headteacher in England:
‘The fact that everyone can take part and feels a necessity to join in means that all views, good and bad are taken into account.’
From a team in Australia looking at a perennial challenge they hadn’t (yet) overcome:
‘We loved having the time to explore ideas, good and bad, without negativity, to see things from so many perspectives.’
Just making an effort to connect with people from other perspectives transforms our thinking about what the underlying challenges we need to address might be.

This article has elements adapted from my book, How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, available in paperback, Kindle and iBooks, and in Spanish.

Using the Classroom Space to Promote Thinking and Learning - Karen Boyes

Using the Classroom Space to Promote Thinking and Learning

According to a Harvard study of communication, it only takes seven seconds to make a first impression. Your classroom environment communicates many things about your teaching style, and the learning going on in the classroom. Ron Ritchhart asserts your classroom environment sends messages to your students about what you value, how you think learning happens and what kinds of learning and thinking is to be celebrated. He continues to say, “Environments also send messages about how students are to move and interact in a space with others, either connecting us as community or making that connection more of a challenge.”
Of course, great teaching can happen in a garden shed and indeed any space, and the question to consider is does the environment fully support, embrace and bring out the best in your learners?
Is the furniture arranged to support the ‘sage on the stage’ notion or that you value interaction, team work and collaboration? Does your classroom environment show teacher directed or student led learning?
The classroom environment sends messages about the hidden curriculum, what you value, is important and what is expected and encouraged.
In his book, Creating Cultures of Thinking, Ron Ritchhart outlines 5 factors to consider when setting up a classroom which promotes thinking and learning.
1. Physical Environment: This sends messages of how learning will happen and of what is valued, important, expected and encouraged. Your physical space is part of the hidden curriculum – the what really goes on here. Reggio Emilia talks about the walls in your classroom being the third teacher. However, just having the posters of information on the walls is not enough. I once had a Principal tell me that a programme he had introduced into his school had not worked. He went on to say that they had displayed the information in every classroom for 2 years and it didn’t work! Posters alone do not teach, they often become invisible wallpaper. Displays show what we value, and it is then the teachers task to explicitly refer to and teach the ideas and concepts. Jenny Mosley suggests we have to get the information off the walls and into our students’ minds and hearts.
2. Visibility. If learning and thinking are at the core of your classroom it is imperative you show this in your environment. Walk into your classroom with fresh eyes to see what students or a visitor will see. Is the work on the walls perfect, showing that is what is expected? Is there evidence of learning or just the final result? Do your captions capture the process and learning or the completed task?
The photograph of the pompoms is a great example of who your students are becoming because of the teaching and learning happening in your classroom. The caption might have said “We made Pompoms.” This would show that the end task of the pompom was the goal. The caption “We have been persistent” clearly showcases what the teaching and learning was about as well as the disposition students are encouraged to develop.
Display your students work to show them what the learning process looks like so they can see growth over time, rather than a snap shot moment. Consider whether you display all students work or their best effort. When students know it is not their best effort and it is displayed for all to see (and possibly compare) what happens to their pride and self-esteem? Plus, if all the pictures on the wall look the same, what is the point of displaying them? Displays need to have a learning purpose; to invite reflection, inspire, inform or to show growth.
3. Flexibility. With many different modes and ways of learning in a modern classroom, the space needs to reflect this dynamic approach. A static physical space may be detrimental for learning according to researchers in the UK. Easily moveable furniture is an important factor in making the classroom space more dynamic. For example, rectangle and triangle tables are far easier to move into bigger groups that round tables. Provide flexible seating to reflect the time spent learning, for example, foam cubes and inflatable balls for short group work and chairs for a longer instructional time. Explore the concept of stand up desks for productivity.
Provide clear zones for different activities such as play, presentation, demonstration, collaboration, wet, creative, quiet, planning, group, individual, reading, lab, dramatic etc. David Thornburg identified archetypes which are needed for learning to thrive. These are zones of the campfire (for groups, discussions and processes), watering hole (for encounters and support), cave (for concentration and quiet time), sandpit (for practical making, designing and experimenting) and the mountain top (for presentations, reflection of progress and discovery).
4. Comfort. The opportunity to move and change your posture in a learning environment adds to the comfort of the learner. However, comfort goes beyond the furniture. Take time to reflect on how the lighting, temperature, colour and noise either enhances or distracts from learning.
* Lighting: Many schools have florescent lights as they are the cheapest to use. Fluorescents tubes flicker at a different rate to brain processing causing stress and discomfort. Studies clearly show extended time under florescent lights can cause stress, headaches, dehydration and fatigue. Test this out – turn the lights off in your classroom and ask the students how they feel. In my experience the majority of students comment how much calmer they feel. The best lighting for learning is natural light or lighting that mimics daylight such as full spectrum lighting. Ideally switchable banks of lights and dimmable lights are great.
* Temperature: This is often less able to be controlled, yet the room temperature and air quality does impact learning. If the room is too hot, students become sluggish. Conversely, if the room is too cold the body needs to use extra energy and effort to warm itself up which means less energy for concentration, thinking and learning. Rita and Kenneth Dunns’ research shows the ideal temperature range is between 18-22 degrees Celsius.
. *   Colour is a topic that is still up for debate and when surveyed students prefer more than less. It is agreed that certain colours give off particular vibes. For example, green is used as a calming colour in waiting rooms and prisons. Warm bright colours such as red, orange and deep yellow engender energy and a fast pace (think fast food restaurants) whilst blues, greens, brown and pastels colours (think nature) are more calming.
* Noise levels are a huge topic in schools with open spaces and teaching needs to be adapted to minimise the noise. Glass walls provide visibility and acoustic privacy. Headphones can screen out noise. Conversations about noise levels and expectations help as well. In many classrooms I have visited recently, I have seen how teachers are explicitly teaching and modelling noise levels with the battery operated push lights.
5. Invitational Qualities. Teachers and students can spend between six to ten hours within the walls of a classroom and school. Just as we want our homes to be practical and inviting, so can our classrooms be. Create an environment that is welcoming for students, parents, colleagues and visitors. Welcoming classrooms often have a sense of playfulness, surprise and fun. At Escola Concept in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the sense of wonder, fun and surprise is abundant in their environment. From the book nook, quotes on the wall, the staircase, the wallpaper up the stairs to the swing seats in the library, it makes the school feel very inviting and emits a feeling of powerful learning.

The learning environment is a key consideration for learning success and whether your school has budgets for change or not, there are many small changes you can make to promote thinking and learning.
Action points include:
• Get down on your knees and view your classroom from a students’ perspective
• Identify what your central classroom focus is. Is it the screen or board? What would you prefer to be at the centre of the learning and teaching in your classroom?
• Consider what you want your classroom environment to say about the teaching and learning going on
• Identify what is not working and modify
• Create some element of surprise, wonder or fun to provoke a smile or encourage learning.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

let's talk about cellphone bans

Let’s Talk About Cell Phone Bans: Should We Limit Access Or Teach Responsibility?

I have heard mounting frustrations and complaints about kids not being able to manage their digital habits. I just sat with a teacher this week who was on a mission to ban cell phones nationwide (in school) because it was “distracting her students from learning.” She is working so hard and struggling to get her kids to focus on or care about what she feels she is held accountable for teaching. It is frustrating when learners are distracted in school and policymakers are starting to take actions. This teacher’s (an many others) dream might become a reality according to a proposed ban on cell phones in California states that usage; “interferes with the educational mission of the schools, lowers pupil performance, particularly among low-achieving pupils, promotes cyberbullying, and contributes to an increase in teenage anxiety, depression, and suicide.”
I hear (and see) that students are connected to their devices far too often that is healthy and productive and social media can have very real social and emotional consequences.
I am not going to pretend that this isn’t a challenge and that these aren’t real issues that need to be dealt with.  My husband is a 10th-grade teacher and I know the struggle is real but I would argue that banning cell phones is short-sighted.
Does banning things ever work to curb the behaviors that we are want to get rid of?
Banning books, gum, food, hats, enforcing the dress code, and policing kids for things they can’t have can take up so much of the instructional time all in the name of learning.
What are we losing when we spend time policing kids instead of building powerful relationships and actually teaching kids the skills that they need.
My friend and author of the amazing book, Social LEADia- which highlights the power of social media for GOOD- Jennifer Casa Todd was just interviewed on the ban in Toronto and argues that a “ban” is a simplistic “solution” to a very complex and layered issue.
Instead of banning cell phones, could we provide more support for #digitalcitizenship?
I read this article recently from an educator who describes when he focused on banning devices he spent hours taking away and tracking devices but cell phone use didn’t decrease.  So he decided to try something different:
I told my classes I wouldn’t take their phones as long as they were kept on top of their desks. No more texting in their lap or hiding what games they were playing.
Did students still text? Absolutely. Did they play games? Sometimes. But I was able to talk with them openly about what they were doing.
“Do you think this is the right time to text your friend?”
“What game is that? What math is going on in it?”
I was able to leverage these moments into conversations about individual learning skills. At the same time, I started to notice that sometimes their “off task” device use was really on task.
I have also heard about how students are using Google Docs and other chat features to communicate during class duh this is so much more efficient than the notes that I passed as a kid:). I know colleagues who use chat features in docs and other apps to communicate about work and about life and other things that are happening too.
Will we ban google docs and chat features for students and adults?  Where will the ban end? 
We are social creatures and people will find ways to communicate- they always have- cell phones make this way easier and far more distracting, but it is the reality in our world today.
What if we instead model and share our strategies and struggles to focus and prioritize with the many distractions we face? Many teachers are begging for support, resources, and strategies for how to engage, empower and connect with students? Can we try teaching responsible use and how to manage distractions (that will be a valuable life and work skill) instead of banning things in schools?
Are we going to limit access or teach responsibility?
This is the first generation of kids who don’t know what it’s like to not have to endure commercials or rush home for a call or wait to communicate and share events not to mention find answers to questions, connect with experts and share their ideas and creations with anyone who will listen. The benefits and opportunities that exist at our fingertips are amazing and addicting and have real consequences for students and adults alike.
Just look at this list of technology that didn’t exist in 2006.
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These new technology has enabled access and connectivity like never before.  What scares me the most for my own children and all of our children is that if we (both parents and educators) aren’t teaching this generation how to navigate this world, who is? Where do they learn to manage their devices and on-demand access and balance them with key social skills including having conversations, being kind, collaboration, managing impulsivity, prioritizing people, interactions, the things that make us special and human? Many people blame technology but we, as adults, have to teach, model and talk about the behaviors we want to see. 

My family was recently interviewed by the Today show (it hasn’t aired yet) and the producer remarked how surprised she was to see that my 8 and 10-year-olds were respectful, they are able to look adults in the eye and hold a meaningful conversation. This was a huge compliment to me. She said she sees many kids who grab an ipad and retreat to their own world, failing to talk or interact with those around them. To be very clear, my kids are not perfect, nor am I but I feel very strongly about exposing my kids to the world both digitally and in person in ways that will equip them with experiences and skills that will empower them to be able to navigate the world on their own. And I wrestle every day with how to navigate this world for myself and what that means for me as a parent and as an educator. 

There are benefits to cell phones and our connectivity, but there are challenges and the world is changing and will continue to at much faster rates. We can’t continue to approach a new era with old behaviors, ignoring or banning the technology that is so integrated into our daily lives. I wrote this article, Is checking devices at the door really the solution, and I want to be clear that I am not advocating for kids to just be able to hang back and play on their phones whenever they want. 
There is no right way and this is, in fact, messy. I am advocating for more conversation not just banning access or equally as bad is just ignoring the issue. School ‘acceptable use’ policies and blanket online policies that aim to limit access and protect us have not helped our students figure out how to navigate this world. I can’t count how many conversations I have had with friends joking about how thankful we are the Facebook and Instagram didn’t exist when we were in high school or college (that just dated me… I know). But the reality is that our students now do have social media and ignoring it or blocking it from school is not going to help them learn how to represent themselves effectively, nor is it going to help them deal with the intricacies of their social lives.
Let’s talk about it, model it, and learn together rather than banning devices. And for any legislators, policymakers or people who have “the power” to ban things, if you really want to make an impact, let’s focus on things that will make a difference in schools like the over-emphasis on testing, more equitable funding, and supporting educators to do the enormous job of educating the diverse students that enter their schools and classroom every day! 

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Great Leadership isn’t about control. It's about Empowering people.

Great Leadership isn’t about control. It's about Empowering people.

Author: The Future of Leadership: Rise of Automation, Robotics and Artif... See more
135 articles

Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship, whether professionally or personally and when it’s broken, it is extremely hard to repair. I once had a supervisor if I was over one minute on my lunch time, she would send an email to remind me of my lunch hours, even though most of the time I never took my full lunch hour. I couldn't even send an email without her approving it first. She was so inflexible that it was overbearing. I couldn't trust her. When employees feel they can’t trust their boss, they feel unsafe, like no one has their back, and then spend more energy on survival than performing at their job.
The corporate world is littered with such micromanagers. Sadly many organizations prefer these managers because they seem to be on top of, and in control of everything. In the short term, they may produce results but in the long run they leave a trail of destruction in their path.
“It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to to. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” ― Steve Jobs

5 Damaging Effects of Micromanagement

1.Decreased Productivity - When a manager is constantly looking over their employees’ shoulders, it can lead to a lot of second-guessing and paranoia, and ultimately leads to dependent employees. Additionally, such managers spends a lot of time giving input and tweaking employee workflows, which can drastically slow down employee response time.
2. Reduced Innovation - When employees feel like their ideas are invalid or live in constant fear of criticism, it’s eventually going to take a toll on creativity. In cultures where risk-taking is punished, employees will not dare to take the initiative. Why think outside the box when your manager is only going to shoot down your ideas and tell you to do it their way?
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3. Lower Morale - Employees want the feeling of autonomy. If employees cannot make decisions at all without their managers input, they will feel suffocated. Employees that are constantly made to feel they can’t do anything right may try harder for a while, but will eventually stop trying at all. The effects of this will be evident in falling employee engagement levels.
4. High Staff Turnover - Most people don’t take well to being micromanaged. When talented employees are micromanaged, they often do one thing; quit. No one likes to come to work every day and feel they are walking into a penitentiary with their every movement being monitored. "Please Micromanage Me" Said No Employee ever. I have never seen a happy staff under micromanagement.
5. Loss of Trust - Micromanagement will eventually lead to a massive breakdown of trust. It demotivates and demoralizes employees. Your staff will no longer see you as a manager, but a oppressor whose only job is to make their working experience miserable.

“Please Micromanage Me” Said No Employee, EVER.

Micromanagement is a complete waste of everybody’s time. It sucks the life out of employees, fosters anxiety and creates a high stress work environment. If you hired someone, it means you believe they are capable of doing the job, then trust them to get it done. A high level of trust between managers and employees defines the best workplaces and drives overall company performance. When you empower employees, you promote vested interest in the company. How can you empower others? Understand their strengths, support and utilize these strengths. An empowered workforce is more engaged. Engaged employees drive higher customer satisfaction and boost the bottom line. A Gallup study concluded that companies with higher-than-average employee engagement also had 27% higher profits, 50% higher sales and 50% higher customer loyalty.
Empowered employees are more confident, more willing to go the extra mile for employers, and more willing do whatever it takes to care for customers. In this volatile global marketplace, happy loyal employees are your biggest competitive advantage. If you want performance at scale: Select the right people, provide them with the proper training, tools and support, and then give them room to get the job done!

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Check out my latest Bestselling Book
The Future of Leadership: Rise of Automation, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence
Will Robots take my Job? Will Artificial Intelligence replace Leaders? This book offers a comprehensive view of what is taking place in the world of AI and emerging technologies, and gives valuable insights that will allow you to successfully navigate the tsunami of technology that is coming our way.

Cory Booker