Monday, July 10, 2017

Cultivating Lifelong Learning in Every Moment

Time is the most precious commodity we all possess, and I'm sure we all can attest to not ever having enough. When perusing the nonfiction shelf at my high school's library the final week of summer, one book, 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute by Richard Wiseman, caught my eye. In the likeness of Dale Carnegie's How To Win Friends and Influence People, this book's cover seemed to promote methods to improve communication skills, persuasion, and the ability to engage with others - all skills I could implement in my speech classes and communication-based lessons. After finishing summer school and some pre-speech team prep, I have finally found a few fleeting moments to read for my own enjoyment. This book, among a few other nonfiction books, has been far too neatly stacked on my dresser for a month too long.

After reading Joy Kirr's Shift This, I have begun reflecting upon minor ways to improve classroom teaching and instruction this fall that will save time and yet still promote meaningful discussions and experiences for my students. Since time is such a valuable resource, the more meaning infused into a lesson or activity, the greater the chance to impact student growth - both academic and social/emotional. When students recognize the value of a lesson or even a moment of a lesson, they are more likely to remember their experience in class, which can ultimately lead to lifelong learning, which is the goal - right?

Depending upon educational pursuits and career choices, my students will need writing skills to varying degrees. Regardless of their vocational paths, they will need to express themselves, communicate, and be able to discern what they hear, read, and see. 59 Seconds does an exceptional job using psychology experiments and well-researched studies to explain how the messages we construct influence our relationships, our ability to persuade, our motivation, and our overall effectiveness as communicators and leaders in our classroom. While this is not a book focused on education, I appreciated the insights and the broader perspective on human engagement as a whole.

As teachers, we are responsible for sending thousands of verbal and nonverbal messages each day. From face-to-face interactions, hollers in the hallways, and abundant amounts of emails, we are constantly being bombarded with and expected to return clear and thoughtful statements to well over one hundred people a day. These communicative exchanges have not even accounted for the expressions we constantly send nonverbally and often inadvertently. Our profession requires us to be loquacious and engaged communicators on both conscious and subconscious levels. Every action sends a message to our students that influence the overall classroom environment. Even our placement in the room at the onset of a period can send a message and impact the tone of the room. (No wonder many of us struggle with making a straightforward decision about what to eat for dinner at the end of the day! Our communicative circuits are overloaded).

At the school in which I teach, a single class period is only 45 minutes in length. This minuscule moment in time is full of possibility and opportunities to convey critical skills and life messages students, but the brevity is certainly noticeable. Teaching requires a great deal of persuasive techniques. When students have thousands of ideas that they can access from their smartphones, why would they want to turn off their devices and tune into what we are selling? Can't they Google the information that we are projecting to them? Herein lies our daily struggle with engagement and student motivation. What I appreciated about Wiseman's text was his attention to captivating an intended audience. Whether the audience consists of teens in a high school classroom or adults in a professional development setting, the techniques and conclusions he outlined could not only strengths the messages exchanged in a given setting (such as a classroom), but they could also add value to those interactions.

Here are my educational connections and takeaways from 59 Seconds. (I cannot turn off my teacher brain - even when reading to satisfy my own curiosity):

1. Live with and instill an attitude of gratitude in others.

I loved the "attitude of gratitude" concept, which was touched on early in the book. The "attitude of gratitude" was a major theme and focus for my speech team this past year. Being thankful for each opportunity, experience, and person strengthen the team. Living this motto and demonstrating it through actions makes any environment and those within it thrive. Reading through this section of text was a convicting reminded me that this concept does not need to stop with a competitive team. Our attitudes impact our outlook on situations, which in turn affect those around us. As I am developing my curriculum for Junior English this fall, I have spent a significant amount of time thinking about the life of Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye and all the Holdens I encountered in my teaching career. Being a teenager is challenging. Whether it be as intense as the death of a loved one or common as a breakup or the loss of a first love, their problems are real and painful to face. Promoting positivity and a grateful outlook on the gifts we are given can help students learn to cope with the struggles they face and even promote empathy, which along with the growth mindset are two areas I want to explore in the 2017-2018 school year). My goal is to have the "attitude of gratitude" promoted on a bulletin board, incorporated into lessons, and even infused into my weekly life challenges that I have been developing for my juniors this fall.

Side note: "Want To Be Happy? Be Grateful" is an awesome TED Talk that touches on a grateful attitude.

2. Be a giver; it's contagious.

Along with an attitude of gratitude, the act of giving is another way to increase happiness and an inviting classroom environment. During the first semester, I am working on a weekly life challenge assignment in which students will be asked to do a simple task that typically involves showing kindness to others. Talking about giving to others needs to be a part of our conversations, especially as we read about characters in texts that are often disliked because they are misunderstood and needed someone to extend a branch of support. Giving to others, whether it be tangible objects or just giving our time or attention, is a fulfilling act that not only brings joy to others but brings joy to us. I want my students to see how easy giving can be and how significantly it can impact our environments. I am excited to see where the life challenge project goes. My students will be blogging about it this fall, and I cannot wait to read the results.

Image result for quotes from the giving tree

3. Praise effort over abilities.

Yes, the growth mindset is everywhere! My mother's school district and several others have taken to Dr. Carol Dweck's research. While I have watched a few TED talks and perused a few articles, I have not read Dweck's book. I'd also like to read The Growth Mindset Coach: A Teacher's Month‑by‑Month Handbook for Empowering Student Achievement by Annie Brock and Heather Hundley, which has been on my radar for a while. Encouraging students to identify their strengths and recognize how hard work truly affects the outcomes of their endeavors is critical. Praising an "A" or winning a medal is not as impactful as praising the journey that it took to reach the achievement. Emphasizing the process of success, in turn, makes students more successful. As a parent of a young family, this concept has become even more important to me as I consider how I praise my daughters and recognize their growth. This year, I want to learn more about the growth mindset and actively discuss and apply this concept with my students, not just in a passive way.

4. Visualize yourself doing instead of achieving.

This concept struck me. I have always thought that I should challenge my students to see themselves achieving their end goals, but shifting our mindset subtly can have a significant impact on the outcome of their achievements. Instead of writing down a goal and looking at the end result, we should challenge our students to focus on the process. Envision how one would work toward the goal rather than completing the goal. This concept makes a great deal of sense. Creating smaller sub-goals and tasks that ultimately lead toward a greater accomplishment is a powerful thought process and can create conversations that last a significant period of time. Our students need to be taught this type of skill before they leave for college or enter the workforce, places in which they will be asked to handle a great deal of responsibilities that require achievement over time. This concept will help me a great deal second semester during the I-Search, a major research project that consumes the greater part of 2nd semester.

5. Consider your legacy.

As teachers, our legacy is never fully realized or seen by us. Often, students venture off into the world and find success, but unless it is through social media, we do not frequently witness how they impact the world. Even with social media, it is hard to discern and articulate our impact on our students, however, the lives we touch are many and do truly have a lasting effect. Promoting lifelong learning is challenging amidst the culture of busy. Students and teachers alike can fall into the trap of being task-oriented individuals, working to complete the daily checklist and not necessarily stopping to think about the intrinsic value of what is being learned on a given day. A personal goal of mine is to allow time, even if it is just a minute in length, each lesson to talk about the why. Why are we doing this? Why are we working on a particular skill? Why are we reading a certain book? I want to challenge myself and my students this year to use why on a daily basis. This word is important, and this word can truly make our students more thoughtful, introspective lovers of learning.

(This picture is a quote from the last page of Joy Kirr's Shift This)
Tweets by @Steph_SMac