4 Miles = 4 Blog Ideas | Generating Blog Post Ideas

Creativity is something that many people (myself included, until recently) believe you either ‘have or don’t’.  Our fixed mindset culture leads us to believe that creativity is a God given, natural talent that is simply part of the personalities of a lucky minority.  Similar sentiments are thought about artistic, musical, and athletic ‘talents’, leading us to believe that these traits are either gifted to you at birth, or … not.

For me, creativity was one of these ‘magic traits’ that I deemed myself ‘not blessed with’.  Sure, I had other ‘talents’, but out of the box thinking was not one of them.  That is, until something happened- I caught myself HAVING AN IDEA!

As it turns out, creativity is not something that God has only supplied to a lucky few.  It is a characteristic that with time, attention, careful thought, and focus, can be developed, strengthened, and cultivated.  In fact, I now can’t think of a character trait that isn’t this way.   We aren’t __________ (athletic, musical, math, artistic, creative…) people.  Rather, we are who we commit to being through focus, hard work, perseverance, and passion. 

Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate, often shares the frustration he experienced when a colleague told him that designing and implementing off the wall engaging learning experiences was “easy for him, because he’s creative”.   On the contrary, Dave’s ideas (as he explains in the text) don’t appear to him in blinding flashes of light or drop from the sky in a fury of perfection.  Instead, they are honed and crafted by thoughtful “engagement in the creative process” which include trying new things, cultivating passions, and asking the right questions.

Generating engaging, relevant, and meaningful blog post ideas is one area of creativity that I often wish would present as a flash of genius in perfectly timed moments.  Instead, (like all things worthwhile) my creativity requires sustained focus, commitment, and hard work.


Engaging in the Creative Process:  Ways to Spark Blog Post Ideas

  • Actively Seek Inspiration:  Actively seek inspiration for your writing.  Learning in ‘Open’ spaces (blogs, Twitter, etc) embraces the notion of sharing and remixing one another’s ideas.  Take the time to experience the content in your field, reading, reflecting on, and thinking critically about others’ contributions.  Honor differences in opinion, using the opportunity to challenge your own thought patterns, learn, and grow.  Reflect on these experiences in your blog.
  • Journal:  Keep a journal (or two) of ‘blog worthy’ notes.  Notepads and paper in your car, office, bedside table, etc, are great for jotting down inspiration as it comes.  Record specific quotes, questions, and ideas to be unpacked at a later time.
  • RUN:  Aerobic exercise has been shown to encourage growth in the hippocampus, potentially helping to spark ideas and create connections.  Running typically yields me a minimum of one blog post per mile.  It works so well that I’m currently working on devising a system for ‘journalling while jogging’.
  • Prioritize Time for Creativity:   Honing any skill takes focused attention; and focused attention takes time.  Set aside time in your weekly schedule for actively working at the skill of generating ideas and fostering creativity.  Identify what it is that helps  get your creative juices flowing and schedule time in your day to practice.   Some things that work for me (some better than others) are: listening to music, going for a walk with my dog, reading, spending time in quiet reflection, journaling, reading the Bible, playing sports, and going for a drive – certainly nothing Earth shattering and nothing I haven’t engaged in before, but doing so with the specific goal of generating ideas has been quite helpful.  Identify what it is that helps fuel your creative fire and make time in your day to commit to fostering the skill of brainstorming.
  • Cut Yourself Some Slack:  Allow yourself permission to write – to write and share.  Not every idea will be (or needs to be) fully fleshed out before publication.  Open Education embraces and encourages ideas that are ‘not yet’ fully developed, fostering both sharing and collaboration as we work to reuse, revise, and remix one another’s work.
  • Stop Thinking That You Aren’t Creative:   A huge contributor to my ability to ‘become more creative’ was belief that I was capable of producing creative ideas.  Reflect on your personal creativity goals and articulate them as you would when working to achieve any new PR.  Then, shed the fixed mindset, set your sights on becoming uber creative, and actively work to go get it!

                                

You just can’t “unhear” that… How assigning homework shoots ourselves in the foot.

When my preteen daughter sees something that she deems disgusting she says “wow- you just can’t unsee that”.

I’ve found myself thinking a similar sentiment in response to connections shared during our recent #IMMOOC series- particularly the live sessions with Jo Boaler and Alice Keeler and this thought provoking post by Katie MartinWhy Are We Still Assigning Homework? 

There are some things that you just can’t “unhear”.   Some words have so much power, influence, and impact, that once they have taken hold in your mind, your thought patterns are forever changed.

Hear this:

“Homework is one of the biggest causes of inequity in the classroom”

Jo Boaler

This is worth saying again: Homework is one of the biggest causes of inequity in our classrooms.  Did you hear that?   Homework causes inequity.

Hearing (and I mean truly hearing) this requires us to pause and examine this practice.  As educators (and people) aren’t we working hard to break down bias, overcome barriers, and promote equity for all? Assigning homework is counterproductive to this work.  The truth is that assigning homework in math actually widens the achievement gap.  Every homework assignment we give, then, shoots ourselves in the foot in the fight for equity in our learning spaces.

John Hattie’s research of the relative impact of various classroom strategies corroborates this notion.  Hattie notes that: ” homework for some reinforces
that they cannot learn by themselves” and that homework “can undermine motivation and internalize incorrect routines and strategies”.   Any strategy we select that has even a small potential to “undermine student motivation” should be thought about carefully.

Once we have truly heard these truths, we have a responsibility to reflect, listen, and, as Katie suggests, “examine traditions in education, like homework, that may actually get in the way of learning and innovation”.

 

 

 

#IMMOOC: Not for you – BY you.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been a part of such a flurry of frenzied learning that the jam packed, last six weeks of #IMMOOC has afforded me.   The experience has impacted me in subtle, yet truly significant, ways- some of which I wrote about in a recent post: Old Me vs New Me: Thank You, #IMMOOC.

Bottom line, though?  Connecting with this movement has brought me so much inspiration, encouragement, and happiness.  

One of the biggest takeaways from this series is a newfound outlook on OUR (yes, mine & yours) responsibility to contribute to the movement of innovation.

This discussion is not a conversation for an elite few to prepare and disseminate to hungry educators for consumption. 

No, it is a movement where all voices are valued, heard, and invited – not only  to participate but to create and contribute meaningfully.  In fact, innovation necessitates that each one of us reflect, remix, revise, and republish works.

In this way, #IMMOOC wasn’t created for us, it was created by us.

What an example for our own classrooms!

One of my favorite memories of this experience is logging into my first #IMMOOC live session to see @gcouros in his baseball hat.  My first thought was – “Hey! – I can relate to this guy”.  George facilitating in his ball cap gave me so much confidence that I was welcome in this space,- not just as a listener, but as a colleague, and fellow contributor.  Something about the ‘realness’ of his conversation (and baseball hat) combined with the accessibility and authenticity of @alicekeeler,   @katiemartinedu, @Dwight_Carter, @TaraMartinEDU gave me encouragement to share my ideas, connect with others, and take risks in my own learning.

The idea of ‘shattering perfect‘ and publishing an idea, thought, or connection before it has been through extensive vetting and proofing is a refreshing shift from the academia of higher education.  That’s not to say that formal research doesn’t have a place in our field – it certainly does, but I love how my #IMMOOC PLF also values the authentic and real action research educators like you and I engage in everyday.

So, #IMMOOC friends, it’s time to put on our ball caps, roll up our sleeves, and start our own individual cycles of action!

 

 

6 EDU Phrases to DEEP-SIX

The words we choose have the power to:

MAKE or BREAK   |    BUILD UP or TEAR DOWN

As educators- No, as people- we have a responsibility to select our words thoughtfully and with precision.

I was in a meeting yesterday where the presenter distributed these at the start of the session:

Meeting2

At the end of the meeting, the presenter read each item aloud and the group was asked to discuss ‘what not to do during a meeting’.

I left the meeting thoughtful about how a little shift in language might have sparked discussion around the topic in a more positive light:

Meeting1

Speaking of language choice…

How often do we discuss learning experiences without thoughtfully considering the implication of our word choices?

6 EDU phrases we might DEEP SIX in replace of more thoughtful language:

“Behavior Management” :  A shift from a focus on ‘management’ to a focus on ‘culture’ would bring learners back into this equation.  Think about what a positive shift in language it is to move from a reactive position of ‘managing student behavior’ to the positive, proactive language of ‘developing positive classroom culture’  ♥

“Instructional Time”:  Rather than spend any more ‘time’ adding up instructional minutes or even worse: ‘seat time’, let’s shift our focus away from inputs and toward outputs.  How are our students able to create, contribute, and inspire as a result of our precious time with them? Neither time spent ‘being taught at’ or time spent in a seat (no matter how great the environment) is a measure of students’ learning – not to mention their curiosity, creativity, resilience, persistence….

“Mainstream”:  Are educators still using this term?  If so, I think we should consider the subtle way it implies that the goal is for all learners to swim in the same direction.  Perhaps a shift in mindset from conformity to equity is in order.

   FROM    FISH3    TO   FISH2      

“Gifted & Talented”:  Let’s be mindful of the exclusivity that this phrase implies.  Instead, let’s commit to honoring the gifts and talents in each of our learners.

“Enrichment“:  See above!  Shouldn’t all learners have access to enriching learning experiences on a regular basis?

“21st Century Skills”:  The premise of this phrase (the idea that learners should be prepared for the ever changing world we live in) is a good one.  BUT, we have a responsibility to further clarify what we mean here.  Let’s trade this ambiguous phrase for more thoughtful language that includes reference to innovation, creativity, flexibility, passion, and love – and let’s use it to describe the needs of all learners – ourselves included.

 

What other EDU jargon should we think more carefully about?

Meaningful Motivation

Meaningful Motivation #IMMOOC

I’m inspired today by @AnnickRauch‘s recent blog post about educators’ motivation – the “why” behind our work.   In her post, Annick reflects on her growth over time – particularly her exponential growth over the past year.  What sparked that energy and growth if her students’ happiness, learning, growth, and safety has always been her “why”?  Our students have always been “more than worth” the HARD HARD work it takes to sustain a path of energy, self reflection, and innovation in our field.   But what other fuel do we have for this fire?

Annick commends her PLN or – even better – her Professional Learning FAMILY (love that distinction by @TaraMartinEDU) for this added energy, confidence, and MOTIVATION to be her best self.

I couldn’t agree with Annick more –  The energy that comes from being part of a connected family of learners is incredibly inspiring.  I find myself harnessing that energy throughout my day – hearing quotes from my EDU family resonating in my mind as I offer feedback to aspiring educators or when students and colleagues push my own thinking.

The thing is, though – being part of this PLF has done something even more for my motivation and my “why”.

CONSUMER TO CONTRIBUTOR

Our Professional Learning Family has helped move me from consumer to contributor.  Never before have I felt a greater connection between the work I do with individual learners and our field as a whole.  Being a part of this network of like minded thinkers, all pushing the envelope of status quo has sparked something in me – something incredibly motivating:  the motivation to contribute.  No longer do I want to be on the sidelines of our field.  Rather than my old consuming pattern of reading and implementing, finding and trying, I am inspired and motivated to design, create, and contribute to the discussion.  Because of our PLN, my reflections, my work, my ideas, are now all greater than me.  They have an audience of more than one.  They are part of a movement – part of something great – of which we are all contributing.

OPEN PEDAGOGY

We have much in common with our students in regard to motivation.  We are all learners with an intrinsic desire to contribute to something meaningful – something real.  Let’s commit to offering this same motivation to the learners in our classrooms – by providing them opportunities to be meaningful contributors to our world.

Let’s commit to ridding our classrooms of ‘disposable assignments’ that have an audience of only one (the teacher) and instead, replace them with authentic, renewable learning experiences that invite our learners to contribute to a wider audience, a deeper discussion, a greater cause, a larger movement.

 

Old Me VS New Me|Thank you, #IMMOOC

Old Me VS New Me |  Thank you, #IMMOOC

The Old Me:   The old me used to discuss students as categories, groups, and levels.  I would say things like: “This game really helped my low students understand inferences” or “Wow! My high kids loved this writing prompt”.  My colleagues and I would discuss our students based on their proficiency levels- even coding students who were approaching a benchmark in yellow highlighter and those who had reached the target in green.  We discussed the percentages of students in each ‘level’, banding students together into categories and discussing how we can create ‘more green students’. The process helped me self assess the instructional approaches I selected, and my intentions were pure.  BUT – there was something missing in this data collection and analysis cycle.  One crucial ingredient.  LEARNERS.

The New Me:  I no longer refer to students as ‘low’ and ‘high’, ‘advanced’ and ‘struggling’.  I no longer utter ‘he’s a good kid’ because this implies that ‘bad kids’ exist.

Now, when I discuss students, I refer to them by name.   I no longer consider students’ needs, but consider each student’s needs – individual by individual. 

Learners are no longer defined by numbers, levels, and labels, and instead are recognized for their talents, passions, needs, and interests.

Formative Data Anecdotes

Rather than letting data drive, let’s agree to put learners in the driver’s seat (@gcouros).  Instead of focusing on numerical data for information (numbers), let’s focus on anecdotal data (found in conversation, interaction, experiences, discussion).

You see, anecdotes are relational; numbers alone are not.

 And relationships trump numerical data every time.  Relationships allow us glimpses into each student’s thinking, experience, and understanding – and connect us to students in a way far deeper than numbers and categories ever could.

Anecdotes Trump 2.png

 

 

Don’t Lecture on Constructivism

Be a Model OUTSIDE the Classroom

Tonight I’m reminded how important it is that we, as educators, be models for our students.  We have discussed before how important it is to model risk taking, empathy, problem-finding, & resiliency for our kiddos- but this is crucial for the others we serve as well.  In what other roles do you have influence?  Are you a leader of a book club or other social group?  A parent or spouse? A group member in your local church?  a swim instructor or basketball coach?  If we aren’t modelling innovation in these areas of our lives – outside the classroom – we are missing opportunities to share thinking, spark others’ ideas, promote equity, and spread love.

The Trickle Down Effect

As my friend Emily (@TheEdSandbox) says, “the trickle down effect of our work as educators is huge”.  Consider how you approached your first day in the classroom.  It was probably quite similar to what your cooperating teacher modelled for you, or reminiscent of what you experienced in school.

If institutes of higher education (like mine) strive to develop empathetic, innovative educators, we MUST model these practices for them in their courses.  It is not enough to say “read this article on student agency” or “write an essay on the importance of being networked”.  We must be willing to provide opportunities for our adult learners to synthesize, create, and make meaning that is purposeful to them.  We must be willing to let go of control in our college classrooms and allow students the freedom to “go down a rabbit hole” (@gcouros), to make meaningful connections, and to remix content in a way that is best for them.  Isn’t this what we hope their future P-12 classrooms look like?

Lecturing on Constructivism

During tonight’s #IMMOOC conversation, @Katiemartinedu shared an experience in which a conference presenter banned the use of devices during the session.  Katie felt stifled without the ability to take notes on her laptop, which is what helps her synthesize content.  Her anecdote led me to think about some of the education conferences (and college courses) I’ve sat in, in which information was presented in one modality, to a large audience who wasn’t encouraged to do anything with it.  Luckily, as George Couros (@gcouros) mentions a few minutes later in the session, educators all across the country are challenging this ‘one size fits all’ thought pattern and are modelling innovative approaches in their work with adult learners who can then implement the thought patterns in their own classrooms.  Now, educators at a conference synthesize content through conference hashtags, find mentors and resources through social media, and  attend work sessions to remix content in ways meaningful to them.

Our work in teacher preparation is on the path to improvement as well, as professors strive to connect students in meaningful ways and engage student teachers in ‘renewable tasks’ that are purposeful and contributive to the field.

Open Education Pedagogy (OER Supported Pedagogy)

Open Education Pedagogy (or OER Supported Pedagogy) is a wonderful example of how institutes of higher education are shifting their thought patterns to create learner-directed classrooms.  Robin DeRosa and Scott Robinson write about this shift in thought; saying that it allows “faculty the opportunity to create a new relationship between learners and the information they access in the course.  Instead of thinking of knowledge as something students need to download into their brains, we start thinking of knowledge as something continuously created and revised”.

Since this is exactly how we hope P-12 educators approach the learning relationship between students and content in their own classrooms, it is more crucial than ever that teacher preparation programs ‘practice what we preach’.

 

My Students Make Me Happy

I had lunch the other day with an old colleague that I hadn’t seen in awhile.  When she heard that I had left the fourth grade classroom for higher education, her response was: “UGH –  That sounds like a lot of papers to grade!”

I suppose, if you consider a very traditional lecture style college course made up of 60+ twenty-somethings listening to a professor drone in a ‘Charlie Brown style’ monotone, grading stacks of essays might come to mind.  But this is not what my work is comprised of.  My work takes me into classrooms and brings me alongside amazing teachers striving to build on what they know to affect change for their students.  This rarely takes shape in the form of a written essay for me to read and ‘grade’ – although ongoing written and video reflection is a key ingredient to their success.  Instead, my students’ work is always unique – adapted to their interests, experiences, and most importantly – the needs of their students.   My students are reflective by nature, inquisitive and growth oriented – in fact, they are much like my former fourth graders in that way.

Facilitating our course is like continuous professional development for me because my students teach me so many cool things.  Today I learned all about EdCanvas/Blendspace from interacting with an online learning experience that one of my students created for her third graders.  Another student taught Emily Gannon (@TheEdSandbox) and I about Augmented Reality in a way that we could never have gleaned from reading a stack of essays.  I love learning alongside my students – They have the bravery to ‘cannonball in’ (a tag line I stole from @TaraMartinEDU) and this makes me so so happy.

 

The ‘Not So’ Secret Ingredient

Empathy.

Empathy is glue.  The most important, and (not so) secret, ingredient that a learner (educator or student) can possess.  This magic sauce holds together all other innovative traits, and gives purpose and meaning to our work with kids, our work with one another, and our work as contributors of  a future rooted in equity and love.

I love this @sylviaduckworth sketch of @gcurous‘s 8 traits of an innovative mindset.  Notice EMPATHY as characteristic #1:

IM

Consider a networked, creative, problem finding, risk taker.   Sounds like the makings of an amazing innovator, right?!  Observant, resilient, creators would certainly impact student lives –  BUT, I would argue that without empathy, the most important ingredient binding these innovative traits together, our work falls flat.

It is empathy that fosters thought patterns of love and equity.

Empathy truly impacts the future.

The horrific events of this past weekend only drive home the point that all of the education in the world; all of the creativity; all of the innovation- is all for not, without it being wrapped in empathy, kindness, equality, and love.

Empathy Kindness

 

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.  It’s important to really ponder and consider this in our roles as school leaders, educators, learners, parents, colleagues, and friends.  I wonder, sometimes: Is empathy really achievable?  How can I with all my unique thoughts and experiences, truly understand and share the feelings of another?  How could I, with my female, white, middle-class biases, truly understand what it’s like to be a person of color?  Empathy then, needs to extend beyond saying simply, “I know how you feel”, and move toward truly creating space for recognizing where our shortcomings and biases influence our very ability to be empathetic.

Consider how we display empathy to our family members, colleagues, and students.  What about our neighbors, acquaintances…strangers?   Should empathy be shown to those who disagree with our own opinions and even our passions?   How do we meet differences in opinion when those differences are a stark contrast to our personal beliefs, morals, and ethics?   Should we have empathy for all, or only those who share our opinions and beliefs?   Is there a limit, perimeter, or restriction associated with the love and empathy we display?

Love and empathy should rule our classrooms, but also our hearts and minds.  I believe this love and empathy should be unrestrained, unrestricted, and know no bounds.

 

So what does unbound love and empathy look like in the classroom? We can’t pretend to understand the feelings of our students or faculty, having not physically been in their shoes.  Instead, let’s commit to fostering an environment that confronts biases and values empathy as the most important ingredient in our classrooms, and our lives:

  1. Listen. Let’s truly listen to our students; our colleagues who share a difference in opinions; our leaders who hold different viewpoints. Listen for understanding and discuss with patience and love.
  2. Ask questions. We can’t know what something is like without probing and pondering the scenarios of which we have had no experience.  Ask questions and then actively listen to the responses.
  3. Identify biases.  Provide opportunity to recognize biases that exist in ourselves and our students.  Model and encourage self reflection as a way to confront these biases.

 

Let’s make building empathy in ourselves and others the focus of our work here on Earth.  Doing so will create an environment where the other 7 innovative mindset characteristics can thrive.