I believe that ALL students can and should learn deeply and joyfully every single day. (I also believe that everyone should find great joy–daily–in their work, but that’s for another post.)
So, what is Deep and Joyful learning, anyway? Sometimes when I wonder whether or not I should use the phrase. In particular, I worry that the “joyful” part sounds fluffy–that it sounds like I care more about superficial happiness than I do about rigorous learning. But nothing could be farther from the truth.
I liken deep and joyful learning to the way you feel after a really great run or a spin class or game of soccer. You know, how you give it everything you have, you dig deep, and you end both exhausted and elated.
It’s like that.
You see this in classrooms regularly. Students are buzzing with enthusiasm as they solve problems, make new meaning or transfer their learning in one area to another. I ask you, is this happening for all students every day in your school? If we’re truthful with ourselves, probably not.
Even setting that expectation probably feels overwhelming. After all, teachers have so many standards to cover and their jobs are so complex, that to ask them to make sure each student is joyfully learning seems like a huge ask. And sure, as with any goal, we set ALL or 100% of students as an aspiration–knowing that the higher we set our targets and expectations, the better chance we have at getting better results.
OK, but HOW do we do this. From what I’ve observed, it’s all about regularly and repeatedly using a few high leverage strategies that allow students to develop multiple competencies simultaneously.
In synthesizing the work of Michael Fullan, Monica Martinez and the Hewlett Foundation, CASEL, and Tony Wagner, three distinct competency areas emerge:
In subsequent posts, I’ll go deeper into the importance of each area and share some strategies for developing them in and alongside our learners.
Yet, in so many cases, time for deep, collaborative professional learning is minimal– 3 full days a year seems to be pretty standard, with common planning time during the day sprinkled here and there.
I recently conducted a programmatic review of a district that had not been able to budget full professional days for years. This was rightly viewed by teachers and administrators as the greatest barrier to progress.
The need for professional development has been highlighted by the pandemic and the forced move to “distance learning”.
In my home state of Rhode Island, the governor and education commissioner have responded to that need by issuing a common statewide calendar. In it, they provide dedicated PL days as well as common vacation days.
This gives students a much-needed break. There’s no expectation of logging into a Google meet or needing to be on their screen. Some students, especially older ones might use that as study time as they prepare for AP exams. But for younger students and their families, it’s a much-appreciated pause.
It also gives teachers protected time for professional learning without the expectation of also managing instruction. As I talked with district leaders across the state, I found that the time is being used wisely. Some are learning more about online teaching tools from district and state partners. Others are engaging in much-needed departmental or PLC teams. Some of these meetings are synchronous, others are not.
It’s wonderful that our state leaders recognize the need for protected professional learning time right now, as teachers are trying to navigate this unanticipated crisis.
And providing and protecting time for that learning should be a basic condition of the profession in this country (as it is in several other nations).
A few ideas…
Far too many administrators are stuck in the compliance paradigm.
When I was an assistant superintendent, we created a district-wide professional learning steering committee. Our district-wide Professional Learning Days (or Professional Development, as we called it then) had been met with “just ok” feedback. In addition, the head of the paraprofessionals’ bargaining unit let me know that they were extremely dissatisfied with what the district had been providing for professional development.
So, we set about to change that–to put people in charge of their own learning. Ultimately, two teachers became co-chairs of the committee and we collectively transformed the feeling of PD days. Faculty and staff gave positive feedback and, more importantly, more ideas for improvement. Some administrators attended sessions, others facilitated, some did a mix of both. By the time I left the district, we had ideas and plans for even more personalized and asynchronous opportunities.
No babysitting. No compliance. Just lots of good learning–which translated into deeper and more joyful learning for our students.
And with even more time, and more creative uses of time, we can do better and better by our students and ourselves.
So, let’s appreciate teachers with more than signs and gifts during a single week. Let’s give them the time they deserve to hone their skills and their craft. Let’s appreciate their intellect and expertise by giving them the gift of time.
And, to be fair, this feeling isn’t new for educators, though it’s magnified now.
Simple does not mean easy. Simple does not mean that we are letting up on learning.
When I’ve worked with curriculum teams, we usually start with the work of DuFour, et. al.
Educators always love these questions.
Great, I say. So, now, let’s answer that first question.
Teachers pull out their state standards, textbooks, final exams, etc and soon our response to question 1 fills up pages.
It becomes clear that we cannot teach everything if we want students to learn deeply and joyfully.
Teachers understandably have trouble with this. EVERYTHING feels essential.
But then I ask them to picture a capable student in their class. Now, consider that this student will endure some tough circumstances this year–perhaps illness–that causes him/her to be out for a significant portion of the year.
Most teachers can’t conceive of having this student repeat an entire year or course. So they then consider what the student would REALLY need to know and be able to do in order to move beyond this class or course.
We use this guidance from Larry Ainsworth to choose our essential standards (aka Power or Priority Standards.)
In fact, there are schools and teachers that do this regularly for students with special circumstances.
We just never considered that we would need to do this for all students…in all subjects.
But we can. Simplify. Get down to the essentials–the real and true essentials and go from there.
Right now, I would ask teachers to consider the ONE thing students must know or be able to do between now and next year. How can we teach that? How will we (and students) know if they’ve learned it?
Then, go on to prioritize the NEXT thing on the list and so on. If the first is all we can reasonably achieve this year, so be it.
Kudos to those districts that have made this focus on essential standards crystal clear, reducing overwhelm and giving space for deep and joyful learning.
#ourFCPS friends- Essential Standards for remaining instructional weeks for ES & MS are posted to Distance Learning Support (teacher-facing) BB site. For ES, also posted to ECF google site at https://t.co/LauP8aXIwm (FCPS google log-in required). @kmkoelsch @christiepday pic.twitter.com/uP74XXrrLp
— Andrea Hand (@AndreaHand2) April 12, 2020
“This just doesn’t feel right! I miss the kids. I miss the teachers. I miss visiting classrooms, shaking hands with students as they enter the building, laughing with teachers at lunch duty!”
This, or some version of this, is what I’m hearing from the principals I work with.
Most school leaders hate to be out of their schools. Whether it’s being called away to a district meeting or staying home sick (a rare occurrence), most principals will do anything to avoid being out of the building.
So, sitting at home–or behind your desks in empty schools–is no doubt a jarring experience.
Yet all over the country, principals like my friend Anne in Maine tell me the current crisis has raised their game.
In conversations with school leaders over the phone, Zoom, and Twitter, leaders have shared the ways they are making connections, supporting learning, and–perhaps most importantly–demonstrating their own vulnerability.
A1: Search #StayConnectedCPS and see photos of our amazing and innovative students and staff taking on our Chesapeake 5Cs Virtual Challenge last week. Lifelong learners in action! #valinchat pic.twitter.com/7SbNLU9K2n
— Alaina Trott (@AlainaTrott) April 2, 2020
— Shameka N. Gerald (@Shameka_Gerald) April 2, 2020
A2: My kids + I are challenging ourselves to try/learn something unrelated to SOLs each week. I challenged myself to learn how to watercolor + I am finding it's very calming! Making sure to carve out "me" time, being outside, and virtually connecting with friends! #VaLinChat https://t.co/3jmJiJGCZw
— Megan Howland (@meganahowland) April 2, 2020
Thanks to all who are leading…and sharing! To share more examples or get some coaching support, you can contact me here.
For years now, great principals have moved away from the nuts and bolts staff meeting in favor of interactive professional learning and dialogue.
While the current crisis likely demands a return to orderly info sessions, there will soon be time to engage with our colleagues around professional matters.
If you’ve ever used this, you know how engaging the Block Party can be. It’s my go-to opener for staff meetings and professional learning sessions and it’s never disappointed. (I’m a huge fan of protocols and rely on the School Reform Initiative for their great list of resources.)
The facilitator chooses quotes related to the topic or theme of the meeting. (You can do this with pieces from one specific article/reading, but I’ve had great luck with these quotes.)
In a face to face meeting, I print the quotes and cut into strips. (There are usually multiples.)
Then, spread out the strips on a table and allow folks to choose one that resonates with them. Give some thinking time and then have people get up, find a partner and share what they chose and why. After both have shared, they move on and find new partners. Repeat as long as you wish. (Usually 3 rounds)
In a large group, people share themes, poignant remarks from partners, etc.
You’ll need to make a copy. Here’s a quick tutorial for how to do that.
I hope this provides a space for meaningful staff engagement. I’d love to hear reactions and suggestions – contact me here.