Celebrating Failures

I remember the chaos, hearing people screaming and pushing to get to the exits.

I remember sliding down the airplane safety slide. I thought it was fun.

I was 5, and it was my first trip to Greece. The Olympic Airlines jumbo jet blew a tire during take off. We circled around JFK airport and made an emergency landing. We sat crouched down, holding our knees. I remember taking a peek and looking up at my Mama. She was calm, confident that everything was going to be alright. Her faith guiding her through this unforeseen failure to depart.

I always think about my first airplane ride, when I fly. And I did this summer, as I traveled to Greece with my daughter. Our trip to Greece was a homecoming of sorts for me. I knew it was going to be an emotional journey. It was time for me to heal and reflect on my personal failure; the breakdown of my marriage and divorce.

At times, I feel society is a bit obsessed with failure. The Silicon Valley mantra of “Fail Fast, Fail Often” is one that comes to mind. I think this ideology is misleading. People celebrate everything from failing early to failing quickly to failing cheaply to failing forward — whatever that means.

I also feel we celebrate failure a bit too much. Our learners have become accustomed to failing and celebrating the failure. Many times a player or losing team gets a “participation prize”, a reward for failing. As educators, we constantly tell our learners to embrace it.  “Mistakes are good”, “Failure is our friend”, “Lets celebrate our failed attempts!”.  

I can’t help but wonder, should every failure be celebrated? Are we celebrating the failure or the learning and risk taking? Is there something to celebrate from my personal failure?

I thought about these questions for a long time, a few things did come to mind. While this loosening of attitudes toward failure is without a doubt valuable, we, as educators, really need to be careful that we’re not focusing on the wrong thing. Failure is not our goal. Failure is simply a common byproduct — it’s not the desired end-product. 

The only way that failure becomes useful is if you reflect on it, learn from it. We should be celebrating this learning and risk taking, not the actual failure itself. And yes, there is much to learn from our failed attempts. Most of the learning from our defeat helps us to feel better about being defeated. Coming to terms with it provides us with a coping mechanism for an experience that is naturally and excruciatingly unpleasant.  Accepting it gives us the hope that we can live to see another day; it transforms a loss into a gain, and it increases our resilience as we imagine the possibilities of the future.

As I reflect back on my first plane ride, I can remember the thunderous sound of the plane skidding on the pavement and the smell of fumes. When it finally came to a complete halt, passengers began to clap, whistle and cheer. Were they celebrating the failure of departing? No. They were celebrating the experience of our pilot, the lessons he learned in landing a plane full of passengers. Even in all the chaos, the fear, and the failure of us reaching our destination, I guess there was STILL something to celebrate.

Undetected and Undernourished

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Some of you have asked why I have been absent from Twitter chats, reading & responding to favorite blogs and why I’m not as visible on other social media outlets. It has been a difficult school year for my children. After working a full day, I come home to assist my children with their learning. Sometimes I’m reteaching material and other times I’m assisting them with numerous worksheet packets, test prep sheets, and endless amount of homework. That being said, I thought I would give you a glimpse of what our school year has been like. Please no negative comments. Instead, words of encouragement and support for Sophie would be much appreciated. Thank you 🙂

I hear sobbing from her bedroom again. I hesitate to knock on the door. I know what she is crying about. A lump forms in my throat. My eyes well up. My heart is heavy. I sigh. I take a moment before I knock and ask to enter her room.

14368655_10211563700554859_2999918388971433763_nMy daughter, Sophia (#Sophiegirl) is my heart. She is my mini me. She has smiled and laughed every day of her life. She is our comedienne, our creative artist, and our resident athlete. It’s beyond difficult to see her so upset.

After numerous days and hours studying, memorizing rules and formulas for a math test, Sophie scored a 50%.

Sophie is a hands-on, creative, and visual learner. She is a thinker, “a doer”; she sees things differently. Every year we discuss her learning style with her teachers. We discuss how Sophie needs to make connections with what she is learning; her assignments need to be meaningful. Sophie doesn’t learn like other students in her 6th grade classroom; she does not learn in a linear way. She learns through creating, manipulating and questioning. She is passionate and curious about many things, and needs to express it. She likes a challenge. She likes to figure things out on her own. She is not accustomed to memorizing lengthy test prep sheets. In our home, my children know that learning is not memorizing facts. In our home, learning is anything but memorizing.

Once again, she had 3 days to study and to complete problems from a xeroxed math packet. Her anxiety and nerves were on HIGH alert. She put forth the effort and did not receive the success she was hoping for. Once again, we will reach out to her teacher, asking for assistance.

As I entered her room, I saw her on her iPad. Her eyes red, her cheeks tear stained. Her nose runny. She moved over and invited me onto her bed.

“You okay?” I asked.

She stared intensely at the screen, her eyes becoming moist. She bit her bottom lip (just like her mama) and nodded.

“Did you see my test?”, Sophie asked. “I told you, I’m just not good at math.”

“What are you working on?” I asked.

“I’m re-designing my house. I thought I would add more organized closet space as well as a more detailed laundry room with shelves and a counter. I’m just having a hard time with the measurement, but I think I figured it out.” she said.

As she showed me her creation on a home design app. She discussed how she needed to increase the dimensions of the rooms, which also increased the area of her house. The additional square footage would also mean an upgrade in the heating and cooling system. In the laundry room, she had chosen a plywood based counter but realized it would not be strong enough for the weight of a slab of marble. So, she made the decision to cut into her budget once again, to purchase a solid wood counter. She continued on about her designs, her budget, her measurements, the functionality and proportions of the space.


I sat there a bit dumbfounded. She has such an understanding of design, working within a budget, measuring and proportions. So many math concepts. She learned this all on her own. Why are we still drilling and killing our learners in math? Why hasn’t the xeroxed math packet died? Will her teacher ever realize her potential?

Sophie is a visual spatial learner. These learners think in pictures rather than in words and learn differently than auditory and sequential learners. They learn all-at-once, visually and creatively. When the “a-ha” moment happens, the learning is permanent. Visual spatial learners do not learn from repetition, or the dreaded “drill and skill” methods that we see in classrooms. They need to see the big picture first before they learn about the details. They are also non-linear, and do not learn in a step-by-step manner. The fact is, most teachers today, teach in their own learning style. As adults, this tends to mostly be an auditory, and sequential modality.

Success in today’s schools still depends upon a learner memorizing facts, handing in assignments, following directions and having fast recall. These auditory sequential skills are actually limiting the potential of all students to be successful, and gain employment in today’s world.

Great teachers appreciate that no two students are alike and great teachers recognize differences among students due to readiness, interests, and learning styles. Many teachers try very hard to accommodate the various learning styles of their students, but this can be an overwhelming task, as some of the learning styles inventories and models are quite complicated. We live in an age where multi-modal approaches to teaching and learning are absolutely necessary for our learners’ success. Students need opportunities to engage in mastering concepts and skills by creating, exploring and working with hands on materials and integrated technology.

I know someday, Sophie will be a phenomenal architect and she will meet a teacher who will appreciate her way of thinking. Some day, her gifts will be acknowledged and celebrated. And someday, learning math and studying for a math test will not mean completing problems from a math packet.

Hang in there #Sophiegirl, we’re working on it.

Focus on Hope

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So many posts about the election results on social media today. It was too depressing to even log on. So many people crying, complaining, wringing their hands of what’s to come and worrying for our children and the future. I am worried about our future. I am worried for our children. But it’s not Trump that worries me. It’s the way we are modeling change that we don’t agree with.

I was quite shocked at behavior that was shown during the election, but I guess that is the state of society nowadays. We scold children for being mean to others but, it’s perfectly normal for adults to say horrible things to friends that don’t have the same political views. We tell students to persevere through difficult times. But we throw out how we should move to a different country and abandon ours. We tell children to not be a spoiled sport, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. And yet, here are grown adults voicing over and over again that the “winner” – our President Elect is a –  “loser”.

Trumps degrading words, attitude and phrases that he uses scare me. Yes, I will not lie. I am not 100% on board. But I refuse to stoop to his level.

I know I influence my children and my learners more than Trump ever could. What scares me though, are the adults, parents and friends that have been using similar degrading phrases back at Trump. Do you not see the similarity? You are modeling his behavior. Would it be ludicrous to say maybe our President Elect will change his ways? It’s possible. I’ve seen it.

I remember one school year, my administrators called me into the office to discuss a learner I was to receive the following year. They sat me down and shared some information. He was a tough kid. He did and said some not so nice things. He was being placed with me. I remember thinking “How am I going to reach him? How am I going to have my learners accept him? How am I going to embrace him?” Now, many teachers would probably have persuaded administration to not have him placed in their room. I enjoy challenges. I can deal with change, I knew it was going to be okay.

As I look back, I don’t remember how it happened or when it happened. I just know that by working WITH this learner, by accepting him and his faults, by modeling compassion and empathy…he began to change. He began to blossom. He was invited to a friend’s house and later in the year a classmate’s birthday party.  We embraced him and he followed our example. I didn’t change my love for my students. I didn’t show my frustrations or anger. I didn’t change myself in anyway. I lead the change with the love that was in my heart, the passion that I have for my learners and learning. I met my learner where he was. I accepted him and because I did, he learned a valuable life lesson and so did I.

Can we meet President Elect Trump where he is? Can we model the change that we hope to see? Maybe this lesson is a life lesson of acceptance and compassion for you, maybe it’s for the President Elect, maybe it’s for all Americans. Can you lead the change with your heart? Will you?

When things don’t go our way, when we hit a snag in the road; we need  to think of other things that we have overcome. We need to think of how we can turn a negative situation into a positive. We need to model compassion and acceptance. As Americans, we need to focus on hope. Isn’t “hope” what America is all about?

Small Packages Lead to Great Innovation

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“There’s so many pieces of candy to choose from!” Sarah said excitedly. “I’m not sure what to pick! I’m getting all confused!”

Every new school year I try to incorporate a new idea, unit, tech tool…something…into my lessons. I’ve realized that for me and my teaching…new is a must, I am not a rinse and repeat teacher; I like taking risks.

This year I signed up for George Couros’ Innovators Mindset #IMMOOC course. I had constructed a unit over the summer, Creativation, and thought the course would be a perfect opportunity to try out my unit.

My inquiry based unit infused DeBono’s  Six Thinking Hats method to assist learners in a debonohatsgreater understanding of their critical thinking and problem solving skills. When I studied DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats in college, I automatically connected with it. I am a thinker. I use these hats when putting forth an idea or discussing a concept. Naturally, my lessons and created units emulate this as well. By using this model, it will require my learners to look at a problem with different types of thinking.  Each type of thinking is represented with a hat color, and at the end of the discussion, learners should have a better understanding of the problem from different approaches in order to reach a highly creative and innovative solution.

My unit revolved around issues, dilemmas and problems that would arise from my children’s everyday life. For example, my daughter Sarah continues to get monkey bar callouses; how can we construct monkey bars to alleviate this? Change the design or add a garment to wear? The assessments were formulated, the lessons were constructed, the materials were gathered and made, and I felt confident in my plan. I was pumped…then the #IMMOOC course started.

When George Couros does something…he does it BIG. Go BIG or Go Home must be his motto. There were over a thousand people signed up for the #IMMOOC course. He also had assistance from Katie Martin, a passionate educator and Director of Professional Learning at the University of San Diego. I signed up to every #IMMOOC  Facebook page and even an #IMMOOC group on Voxer. I received constant updates about the course and various challenges from George and Katie. The highlight was tuning into their #IMMOOC YouTube channel for guest interviews, words of encouragement and ideas.

There were a plethora of ideas. Ideas were coming at me so fast, and so furiously, my head was spinning. I was reading blogs, watching the videos and listening to other’s ideas on Voxer. The more ideas I came into contact with, the more I doubted my own unit and plan. The more I read, the more confused I became. This confusion led to more doubt. The more I doubted, the more I hesitated to proceed. The more I hesitated, the more I began to think and re-think my work.

athis My question then became, can large group collaboration hinder innovation?

When innovating, is it best to innovate independently at the start, then after some time, bring forth ideas to a small group of others?

Is there something to be said about innovation and small group work?

When I think of innovation, I naturally think of Steve Jobs.  Many see him as an inventor, however I do not. He began with an idea to make something better, and from that idea, asked others to assist with his product. He didn’t invent the technology for his products, but he found ways to use the inventions of others to bring forth innovation that could benefit everyone. He worked independently at the start, then consulted with his tribe. Does innovation have an independent side?

I greatly enjoy the podcast, Coaching For Leaders with Dave Stachowiak. In his post, “This One Process Change Will Drive Innovation“, he mentions how beneficial it can be for participants to brainstorm independently, and then (after a few days) release their ideas to a small group. He continues to say that there is less immediate judgement; that everyone’s ideas are heard and discussed. Because of this, there are more diverse contributions. There isn’t a “run with this one idea and leave the rest behind” moment. All ideas are considered.There are many avenues, but one main road to focus on.

As I continue to reflect on the #IMMOOC, I realize I became lost. There were so many wonderful ideas and interesting viewpoints, I could not keep up with them all. As a learner, I was overwhelmed; hence my lack of participation in the course. My take away is simple; innovation needs collaboration, but in small doses. This small group needs independent time to think, brainstorm, and construct ideas. Once all ideas are presented, that small group can elaborate, and even collaborate with other sub-groups, before considering all input and choosing a clear path. It’s difficult to state an idea, have hundreds of others add to it, then know what direction to go. I will continue on with my unit. I will ensure my learners have independent time to brainstorm and reflect, as well as contribute to their small collaborative group.

This #IMMOOC course gave me a better understanding of the importance of collaboration and innovation. It helped me to understand that great innovation comes in small packages.