See the Good: Thank you, Mr. Buist

edugoodSeveral years ago, I was in the midst of a hard year of teaching.  I had also, around the same time, discovered the power in connecting with other educators through social media.  I was on a mission to notice the good. I started a photo project called #edugood.  A small group of us took a photo a day of something positive and shared it.  Some days it’s easy, others?  It’s harder.  Our classrooms, hallways, and schools are filled with so much good. The more we share it, the better for us all.

Enter Michael Buist.. who sent me a state license place with EDUGOOD on it.  To this day, it’s in my office.  I don’t know how in the world I’ve never met Michael in person– I mean, he’s one of the most positive folks EVER and he’s a maker creator du’jour with his students.  But he’s had a positive impact on me and my teaching in so many ways.

I think I’ve come full circle when it comes to connecting online.  I’m in a great place.  I see tons of good every single day.  Should I stop sharing it? Nope.  Because there is a teacher somewhere who was that teacher I was a few years ago, in the midst of a challenging year.  The truth is, we ALL need each other.  We need people to support us, challenge us, listen to our crazy ideas.  I count my blessings everyday that I have colleagues in my hall who “get” me and I would do anything to help them.

Speaking of good things…. Michael just beat cancer.  (Michael I hope you don’t mind me shouting out for your success, but seriously, nothing’s more #edugood than YOU!) So for someone who helped ME see the good in everyday a few years ago when I just needed it, I’m sending out an international call for help to share the #edugood in YOUR day. For Michael’s success in his journey.  For the teacher down the hall. For the colleague who needs it.  For yourself.  For our kids.

Our students all over the world deserve our very best selves and we need to do everything we can to be our very best selves.  And the days we feel like we can’t carry on with our best, we can lean on each other.  One hug, one tweet, one positive message on Instagram, one secret good deed that only you know about?

Unpacking Empathy

When I think about teaching empathy in the elementary classroom, I like to think about tools that will help support kids in their understanding of the entire concept of empathy.    I’ve been exploring Stanford’s empathy maps and really like the idea of kids taking an empathy walk as they explore one’s story.

Imagine a suitcase filled with items. Students unpack the suitcase and use the clues to learn about the owner.  The suitcase could include items to help build a character profile: a letter from the suitcase owner to a friend, a set of postcards to be mailed, a favorite snack, an itinerary for a vacation… maybe the suitcase could even be a favorite book character’s suitcase.   In thinking about seeing a situation through another’s lens… empathy.  While we try to help support kids in understanding thoughts and feelings, we have to start with simple, concrete examples like “What does he or she see?” or “What does does he or she hear?”

“Unpacking the suitcase” is really about unpacking a person’s (or animal’s) story. There is always more there than just the suitcase. Every ding, scratch, and mark on the case means something.  Every compartment inside contains something meaningful.  Through the power of observation, students can learn to look at people through a set of lenses, but it takes practice.  Often we just watch someone, and immediately decide what the story is.  Empathy slows us down to make sure we connect before we make any assumptions.   I made a set of cards (PDF here) to put on a ring so that kids could have prompts to help them think and process.  These are version 1 and I’m sure I’ll make changes as this story unfolds.

Has technology made us too quick to judge? Or is that just us being human?  Either way, empathy is a skill our kids need. Today, tomorrow, and in the future.




The Conditions for Invention… Not Just a Room Full of Stuff

Irole1‘ve been searching for excellent articles on the implementation of makerspaces in schools.  My search has led me down many dead ends.  Lots of articles on the makerspace in the library.  Many articles on stuff and things to stock the spaces with.  What’s missing in the articles?  The heart of it all. This quote refocuses my attention on what I love about making and on what I think it offers schools and classrooms:

This quote from Seymour Papert: “The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge.”  It says it all really.  We don’t need to spoon feed kids. We need to provide opportunities for them to explore, tinker, dream big, fail, bounce back, and repeat. Over and over.  The highs and lows of that will be a bit like a rollercoaster. Great learning really is.  A great classroom is built on the very thing that feeds those conditions…

Community.   Getting kids to help each other, rely on each other, be a team. The kind of community that has give and take and supports each other.  Community takes practice and constant work to build and generate, but it can happen at the youngest levels of learning.

Deep Thinking.  The grueling and exhilarating process of figure out what works from testing, trying again, and trying one more time. Improvements that come from experiences and ideas born out of collaboration.

Growth Mindset: We’re not just reaching for a grade, we’re reaching to improve ourselves.  Not understanding it today just means that you have some learning to do.  The only REAL way to experience growth is to experience REAL learning. Authentic learning is at the heart of growth mindset… or maybe growth mindset is the heart of authentic learning.  Either way, the two are connected.

Challenge:  School *needs* to be hard.  Kids crave challenge. They thrive on it.  It’s fun for them and it’s often like play.  When they overcome? Nothing beats that kind of joy and pride. Real experiences.

Creativity: When we talk so much about kits with instructions, we fence kids in. Yes, we need to help them understand the basics. But, the beauty in the open ended-ness of kids designing and inventing? It has to be at the forefront of it all.

When I think of these aspects and how they become threads that sew the makerspace into the school like the arteries that lead to a heart to make it beat, I get excited in thinking about what school can become. Those conditions for inventing? They have to be present, or the makerspace is just a room full of stuff.  A MakeyMakey might excite students for a day, or a week, but after that? The real work of challenging them, supporting them in growth, pushing their creative thinking, asking the right questions so they can dig deeper in their thinking, and fostering the sense of community…. that work begins. It’s hard. Grueling. And will make you question your own ability to really teach. And that’s when you’ll know something special is happening.  Because if you’re not willing to push your own limits, how can you expect your students to?





The 4Cs Are About to Become the 5Ms of the 22nd Century

makeadifferenceThe pendulum in education swings.  The 4C’s seem to be where it’s at right now… creativity, collaboration, connection, and communication.  Getting kids to connect and create is important.  But what are we missing when we KEEP talking about 21st century learning? The 4M’s.  I think it’s where we are heading.  No, I hope it’s where we are heading.

Meaningful, mindful, moments, and making.

The chaos of beeping devices, shallow connections with no meaning, blinging flashy websites, and apps that make satisfaction instant are about to be exchanged for a slower pace.  Apps that are worksheets are being exchanged for apps that are about creating a message and telling a story. Deeper learning. Learning that’s built on deep relationships rather than shallow connections.

The empathy our world is craving?   The empathy we NEED to survive the future?  It’s in the meaning and the mindful moments that are coming.  The way we connect when we play, tinker, explore? Making is going to save us all.

I’m tired of people thinking gadgets will change education.  I get ticked off when I see “making” watered down to activities and kits.

The future?  It’s bright and meaningful and WITHIN our kids.  The little souls that come to our classrooms are filled with joy, deep joy.  Joy that’s tangible and released when we all slow down and are mindful of where we are, make meaning out of moments, and go for deeper connections rather than shallow clicks and simple sharing.

The PLN of the 21st century is becoming about promotion and collecting followers, we need to push past it and get back to deeper relationships… the kind where you share when you rise, and when you fall… hard. But more importantly than the sharing, it’s the relationships and the meaning in them.

Design thinking, maker mindset, and play are about to swing the pendulum away from short bursts in test scores and gaining points on a test.  At least I hope so.  Our kids deserve it, and to be honest, our future needs it.

Is it extra dreamy if I think there just might be a 5th “M” in there? Magic.  Learning, when it’s right, is so magical.  Not like unicorns and rainbows magic, but like, “Wow, that blew my mind” magic.  And couldn’t we ALL use a little of that?

Do I sound crazy? Angry at the education that is?  Over the top dreaming about the future?  Yes.  All of those things.  That’s just called passion and the 5 M’s are fertile soil for it to develop.  Meaning. Mindfulness. Moments. Making. Magic.