Monday, September 17, 2018

Five lessons for teachers from a field hockey team

As you may know from a previous post, my daughter has begun her first year in college. She is a member of her university's field hockey team and this post is all about a recent team event and all the lessons I am deriving from her experience for my teaching.

Last Thursday was "team date night." Unlike team bonding events which include the whole team and are usually on campus, date night is for small groups of a few team members to head off campus together. Here is how date night unfolded:

My daughter and two of her teammates (one a sophomore and the other a junior) were assigned to go on their date. They were paired because they all play mid-field.

Lesson 1: When I, as the teacher, form groups, I should let the students know why I put them together. What is the value of their combined efforts to the anticipated product or collaboration goal? What strength or vision do I see in them, combined?

The first stop on their date was at the Dollar Tree to stock up on supplies for the tradition of decorating in the locker room. Then they went to a gourmet frozen yogurt shop to hangout, bond, and do their homework. That's right. The captains assigned homework.

Lesson 2: Admittedly, I struggle with this one since I don't believe in homework (which is another post entirely). So here are a couple of questions: was it really homework? Am I calling it homework because they had to do it without adult or leader supervision? It may be more like classwork in that it was assigned to be accomplished at a specific time as established by the team. That they were doing it together means it wasn't an isolated and isolating task; and I think it is important to understand the nature of the assignment, too. It wasn't unsupported repetition of a skill or something they were supposed to learn during organized practices.

Their task, while out on their date, was to come up with three ways the team could improve their pregame, locker room experience. Friday (the next day) the team had a pre-practice meeting scheduled during which each "date team" was to present their ideas to the whole team.

Lesson 3: Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose (have they been reading Dan Pink?!) They were being asked to contribute to a goal that mattered to all them, both individually and collectively. Everyone had a reason to be invested and feel a measure of safety when brainstorming ideas. Each "date team" had complete autonomy in how and where to accomplish the task. They had complete license to be creative in their own ways. They were aware of the unique perspective they could bring to their ideation process because they knew why they had been paired with each other.

While they were eating yogurt and brainstorming their ideas, they received a Snapchat message from the captains. "Please send pictures of where you are and what you are doing."

Lesson 4: Accountability and celebration. I was so interested in this and pressed my daughter for more information. "It wasn't that they didn't trust us," she said. "When we checked in, they sent us back a 'good job!' message." The captains let the team members know they were interested in how they were doing -- not just what they were doing. And the dates were excited to share their process and progress. It was a celebration. And the documenting of it allowed for fun reporting back at the team meeting on Friday.

While on their dates, they also received a message instructing them to watch their step when they returned to their dorm rooms. Here is why: the captains were part of the fun, too! Outside of each players room was a muffin tin liner with an egg cracked in it. Next to the egg cup was a note that said: "Let's Yolk Mt. Holyoke" (their opponent in that weekend's game). Sending the team off campus meant they could distribute their items without being caught. I asked my daughter what everyone did with the eggs, and she said, "I don't know about everyone, but one of my friends walked right to the dorm kitchen, scrambled it, and ate it!"

Lesson 5: Be an active participant! Anything I ask my students to do, I should be doing myself.

My daughter has joined a wonderful community: one that is challenging, accepting, supportive, and creative. They focus on the individual, the collective and the relationships that bind and bond them. I want my students' families to know that same is true about their children in my class!

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Empowered by design thinking

As the new school year begins, I have a concern. I am not concerned about the new course I am teaching or the new students I will soon meet. I am not concerned about inclement weather and the forecast for a snowy winter interfering with our learning mojo.

I’m concerned about buzzwords.

More specifically, I am concerned that a tenet of learning, a foundational principle for how I understand my role as an educator, will be reduced to a buzzword. What is that word?

Design Thinking.

OK, that is two words. And those two words represent the mindset from which I approach planning, collaborating, teaching, relationship-building, and my ongoing learning. Being an educator with this mindset helps me embrace and empower what I value most in my colleagues, students, and myself: creative possibilities.

When I was a social studies teacher working with students in an American Government course we would discuss what makes us human. As we set about to examine how and why the founding generation established our systems of government, we wondered: what sets us apart from the kingdom of animals co-existing in prides, packs, gaggles, herds or any other animal collective? Students had all sorts of thoughts about what makes us human, what defines our humanity. Some of those ideas were dark, like cruelty. But most were breathtakingly optimistic.

To be human, they decided, was to be curious. Not the kind of curiosity that killed the cat. Instead, unbridled wonderment. To be human is to have an imaginative capacity that inspires others to join together in pursuit of ambitious quests, to persevere against odds and obstacles, to new frontiers of exploration, discovery, and action. Why do humans do this? Because as we benefit from the very nature of those who preceded us, we are bound to serve a greater good, to meet challenges with solutions, to make a bright future for those who come next.

And that, in a nutshell, is design thinking. Design thinkers see problems as opportunities. Constraints only fuel more unusual and untried solutions. Design thinkers have empathy for the many different points of view surrounding the problem they are trying to solve. They design, prototype, and redesign to create a more perfect solution, to improve the lives of people in their schools and communities small and large.

The best part of design thinking is that anyone can do it. Anyone.

Building this capacity in ourselves, in our colleagues, and in our students is an essential component of future-ready skill development. When Google plans for the evolution of its products and the development of new ones, they think about and empathize with what they call “the next billion users”. They aren’t planning for now, they are planning for a future they can only imagine. Consider, for a moment, who those next billion users are and what their experiences have been. Think, for example, about vocabulary we use for which they have no context, words that are meaningless to them. Words like: clockwise, desktop computer, MP3 player, pay phone, gasoline-powered engine, and more. How is their navigation of the world via a handheld device that gives them access to all the world’s information, organized and made useful, an essential component to how they will learn, communicate, and contribute?

Now consider the issues and challenges that face the next billion users’ local and global communities. As their educators, we have accepted the challenge of equipping them with the skills and habits of mind they will need to jump into the void and tackle those challenges. They will suffer defeat. Some of their setbacks will be heartbreaking. And they will be resilient. They will persevere in tearing down obstacles. They will push limits and defy odds. They have no choice. The world needs them.

Remember the best part of design thinking? Anyone can do it. I was so fortunate to take a deep dive into the processes of discovery, interpretation, ideation, experimentation, and evolution that underpin the design thinking process when I worked with and learned from the Future Design School at the Google Innovator Academy. Learning to think this way, to fall in love with problems and see every challenge as an opportunity, and then to apply my energy to the steps inherent in designing solutions has transformed how I work with students and my colleagues from how I plan lessons to how I facilitate meetings and write curriculum.

In fact, one of the latest resources created by the Future Design School is a curriculum series for elementary, middle, and upper grades. The grade specific, modular programs are mapped to relevant standards and can be implemented across disciplines; the carefully crafted curricula keep student interests at the forefront. Each course contains: videos, assessment, slide decks, a robust, teacher's guide, handouts to deliver exceptional learning experiences for all students. They are a tremendously supportive resource for educators experienced in design thinking and those just getting started with this approach. Create a classroom culture that empowers students to solve-real world problems!

What will you empower your students to do?