Do Unto Others as They’d Like Done Unto Them

There is “The Golden Rule” (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you) and then there is the “Platinum Rule

Do Unto Others as They’d Like Done Unto Them

Years ago I read the book by Tony Alessandra and Michael J. O’Connor about the four basic personalities and how to see people differently, understand them better and deal with them in ways that they would want to be treated. It made a lot of sense, and honestly, it helped me understand my husband better – he wanted fast, goal-orientated interaction whereas I was slower paced and focused on harmony.  As soon as we both understood that we were treating each other the way we wanted to be treated and not the way the other person wanted to be treated, it made a world of difference. 

It is all about empathy. Understanding others. Here is a powerful example of how empathy is often misunderstood:

On the Leading is Learning website there is an interesting article about empathy. You may have read last winter the heart warming story of a police officer who bought a pair of boots for a homeless man. He bought the boots with his own money. A passerby saw the interaction, took a photo, the picture went viral and the story made national news:  An empathetic  police officer.

Empathy is often misunderstood.
Empathy is often misunderstood.

The officer had great intentions and he gave from his heart. He, however, misunderstood the need of the homeless man. A month after the gift of the boots a journalist returned to the homeless man to find him barefoot. When asked why he wasn’t wearing the boots, the man said, “Those shoes are hidden, they are worth a lot of money-I could lose my life.” (New York Times.)

This anecdote gets at a core challenge with empathy in leadership. Empathy isn’t about treating other people well. It’s about understanding that other people’s needs and expectations – what they mean by “being treated well” – might be very different than your own.

What does this mean in a school? Leading is Learning suggests that school leaders need to listen to their community and really understand the experiences of their clientele. Whether it is in designing the daily schedule, a new report card or the new cafeteria:

Innovative school leaders need to take the time to “play Anthropologist,” in the words of IDEO designer David Kelley. They need to understand what other people experience on a daily basis, and what values and norms they carry with them.

To a teacher, it means taking time to understand your students. Ask them questions, listen to their answers. What kind of day are they having? What are they worried about? What do they love to do? Where do they want to sit and why?

As teachers, we all wish the best for our students. It is who we are, that’s why we do what we do. Empathising with them, understanding their experiences, needs and motivations will help us, the teachers, help our students get what they need. This is compassionate teaching.

In the book I am reading now, Olivia Fox Cabane, offers these definitions:

Goodwill: wishing the other person well

Empathy: understanding the other’s experience

Compassion: Goodwill + Empathy

How would you assess your level of compassion in the classroom?


Connecting: So Many Great Ideas

There are many books and blogs about changing the way we teach. One of my favorite blogs is by my friend, Sonya terBorg. If you want to think about, read, watch videos or comment on the latest educational discussions, follow her blog. It will give you something to gnaw on.

I shared a book that she wrote called Imagine A School with our director and, in return he leant me the book Unschooling Rules by Clark Aldrich. I chatted with an MYP  (middle school)  teacher about the ideas and discovered that he too has been thinking, reading, talking and blogging about the same ideas. He  is starting an ASA next year called Find Your Element. Basically it will give students an opportunity to find a passion and delve further into it with teachers guiding and supporting but not ‘marking’ or assessing.

Islands of thought in the school are starting to float towards each other and connect. There is an educational revolution beginning to form. How exciting. As Sonya just wrote:

I’m intoxicated with the possiblity!

Passionate Oasis Time

A while back I wrote about teacher’s needing feedback too. And I got it! And I am so glad I did. While I thought things were going very well, they only got better.

The students and I have developed an even deeper respect for each other. I have heard them, I have listened to them and I have changed. And so have they.

I was reading Seth Godin’s book Tribes and in it he asks, “How was your day?” He suggests that answers like, “fine” or “okay” imply a passionless job. My answer to that question is almost always, “Great!” It most likely would be expanded with, “It was so busy.” or “It was fun!” or “I am exhausted.” or “I learned a lot today.” But never “fine.”

So, I know I have found my passion. Now, how to help my students find theirs?

Last year I read a book about Google and their 80-20 time. Since then I have read many blog posts and articles about the same. Some call it Oasis Time, or Free Inquiry Time or Genius Time. I am completely sold on the idea.

Last year, our Grade 3 team (two classes) started out by giving our students one period a week of Free Inquiry time and asked them to relate their inquiries to the unit we were working on (at that time it was a Forces unit so it was easy to link inquiries that way).

It has since evolved into an open inquiry time. Anything goes, as long as the question has been passed through me. It has been really interesting. The students LOVE it.

The other day some girls decided to make a seismograph (we are studying earthquakes) while another three boys went outside to test which ball could be kicked the furthest. Hmm. They needed a little guidance in that investigation (like how to make sure there is only one variable, how to judge what qualifies as a ‘good kick,’ etc.) but I know we will get there. Sometimes just playing around leads to a good question.

These kids are serious about their learning but not solemn about it. They like having fun. The passion and excitement I see in the Oasis Time is enough for me to realize we are on to something here. One boy went around and taught others how to draw an airplane. He is an incredible artist but not such a good English speaker so this was a huge confidence booster for him as he was getting so much positive feedback from his peers.

Two other girls have decided to write letters to the PTA to convince them to change the style of water bottle they have chosen. There are a few kids that wander around observing their classmates. And that is okay too. Sometimes we need to wait for inspiration. When observing they usually become involved by giving suggestions, offering feedback or helping out.

What I haven’t done yet but am planning to do next week is introduce the accountability factor into the inquiry. The students will explain their questions and their research to each other. I think this will refocus some students as well as start discussions and sharing amongst them.

These students are learning how to ask a good question, how to research it, how to fail, how to start again, how to go deeper, how to self-manage, how to self-assess and most importantly, they are learning how to be passionate about learning!

Turning my thoughts into a dent in the world

As with everyone, many, many ideas float through my head. Lately, during a typical day, I will be thinking about:

    • digital citizenship (more info here)
    • blogs (personal and educational)
    • wikis (class website) and what they should offer
    • becoming a “Green School” (more info here)
    • habits and the power of habits (more info here)
    • introverts and extroverts and the habit of putting extroverts on pedestals (more info here)
    • special needs and how we include and celebrate them (more info here)
    • teaching reading to support critical thinking (predicting, clarifying, questioning, summarizing) (more info here)
    • inspiring personal inquiries (here), igniting passions
    • being a ‘balcony’ person (encouraging and helping others)
    • making a dent in the world (more info here)
    • ‘shipping it’ (more info here) and fear (more info here)
    • time: how we can do everything we want to do in one day

I am craving time to think about so many things. Then I read a blog by Seth Godin asking me if I am making a dent in the world or if I am just making lots of random pokes. Hmm. How can I combine what I am thinking about into one larger poke?

How do I combine all these thoughts into a dent?

I will borrow a line from the movie “Iron Lady” where the character of Margaret Thatcher quotes:

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.

Watch your words, for they become actions.

Watch your actions, for they become habits.

Watch your habits, for they become your character.

Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

Here is hoping that all these thoughts and words will become a habit, then my character and then my destiny and then one big dent!

Teachers need feedback too!

I had asked my students to set learning goals for themselves and I wanted to set a learning goal for myself as well.

I gave my students a teacher appraisal form to get feedback from them about my teaching and their learning to help me identify areas for improvement.

On a scale from 1-6 (strongly disagree, strongly agree) the students rated me in terms of respect, care, explaining, feedback, etc. (see attached scale)

Upon tabulating the results, I saw that the kids loved learning in my class (“The teacher makes lessons interesting” – 5.8 out of 6), they loved the inquiries, they loved school BUT:

1. They felt they weren’t learning much and (4.1)

2. They felt I didn’t show that I really cared about them (4.6)

It was very surprising! I talked with my Teaching Assistant and our Grade 3 ELL teacher who both said, “If you don’t care then no one does!” and “These kids are learning so much! What do they mean?” We hypothesized as to what the results meant and then I went to ask the kids.

I shared the results with the students and asked them to help me understand how I could improve. Interesting feedback. The ones who felt I didn’t care were the very independent students. I realized that I was often sitting down and helping out the ones who needed more support and allowing those others to continue capably on their own. They need my attention too! That was easy to fix.

As well, to put the power of ‘proof’ into their own hands, I gave a class list to a student and asked her to keep a tally of who I asked questions to  and who I worked with. Kind of like a ‘don’t believe me, see for yourself’ type of data collecting. By looking at the data she collected, she soon realized she was getting more equal attention that she thought she was.

As for the students believing that they don’t learn much, we realized that ‘work’ to many students meant sitting at their desk doing pages and pages of math questions and being bored (their definition!). Because they were enjoying learning in school, they didn’t think they were learning.

We solved that problem by explicitly talking about what was being learned (e.g. “Hmm, so by doing this you learned that friction can cause a car to go faster or slower. That rubber has high friction and tiles have a lower friction. Interesting.” Or, “So, tell me what you learned today.”)

This process made me realize that as we develop students to be passionate independent inquirers, teachers are going to have to be activators, constantly reflecting out loud, asking questions, seeking feedback, giving feedback to everyone, showing they care and talking about learning.

Effort and Attitude

Should we assess effort and attitude in our students? Some colleagues and I were discussing the question. One colleague said, “Absolutely not. How can you know how much effort someone is putting into an assignment? How do you know what their attitude is?” The smiling bubbling extrovert would always get high marks and the quiet, contemplative student, well, who knows?

It made me think of my own effort at starting this blog.

Six months ago my friend and colleague, Andy Vasily, showed me his website/blog PYP PE with Andy and I was impressed. I thought that it looked like a powerful tool, and it certainly has inspired interesting discussions and collaborative PE lessons this year. Andy offered to help me set up a website and I started it off with enthusiasm. And then my site lay dormant.

If anyone was assessing my effort and attitude it would have looked as if I had given up and didn’t care about it anymore. Not true. I realized that I hadn’t set myself a clear goal and I didn’t know what I wanted to achieve with the website. Instead of uploading more photos and articles onto the site (which would have looked like I put a lot of effort into it) I started observing other blogs. What were other people doing? What interested me most? If I did start a blog, how could it help me learn? I didn’t talk about it with anyone, but I was constantly reflecting upon it. I was putting a lot of effort into it. In the end I started a different blog with a defined goal.

So what are our students thinking about, what do they have ‘brewing’ in the backs of their minds? We talk about giving students opportunity to reflect and improve yet I think often our assignments require an outburst of visible effort, a finished product and then we assess them.

Dylan William suggests we offer more feedback to our students and fewer grades. With feedback, discussion and time, maybe our students would delve deeper into a project and work with passion. Fostering effort and attitude seems like a better idea that assessing it.

My First Post: Talking about Teaching or Talking about Learning

Reading my friend, Sonya’s blog about Seth Godin and his manifesto on education, Stop Stealing Dreams, I was finally motivated enough to begin my own blog to discuss learning. How can we do it differently? What works and why? And, most importantly, what is our goal?

Be patient with me as I begin this blogging journey. I am sure I will improve as I learn.

I was chatting with my teaching partner about how I don’t really want to read about new teaching ideas, what I really am interested is in thinking about new ways to learn. And then, as these things happen, I read something similar in  John Hattie‘s book Visible Learning for Teachers:

I have almost reached the point at which I lose interest in discussion about teaching – not because it is not important, but because it often prevents important discussions about learning. So many professional development sessions are about best practice, new methods of teaching, interrogation of assessment far too late to make a difference today or tomorrow – and we seem to like these safe and non-threatening topics. Where is the debate about how we learn, evidence of students’ learning in their multiple ways, how to learn differently? (p. 162)

I believe that both discussions are necessary, sometimes new teaching ideas create those Ah ha! moments about how students learn. The difficulty is to keep the focus of the discussion on the learning and not on the task itself. Ensuring we have a clear vision of what we want the children to understand and why, we then can discuss the vehicle for getting them there. Or, keeping them there. As I mentioned in my About Me introduction, I believe children are naturally sincere, curious, enthusiastic, brave, open-minded, creative and innovative. How do we nurture this?

Visible Learning for Teachers, Maximizing Impact On Learning