Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today

While authoring my forthcoming book, Building a Culture of Collaboration: School Librarian Leadership and Advocacy, I have read many professional books. This is the seventh in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your summer reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

On June 12, 2017, I attended an ASCD Webinar presented by authors Eric C. Sheninger and Thomas C. Murray. (If you missed it, I highly recommend the webinar archive.) Their presentation was centered on their hot-off-the-presses book Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today. After the webinar, I preordered a copy of their book and read it as I was completing my own manuscript.

This book focuses on creating a culture of innovation and leading change. In reviewing their table of contents, I found so many parallels between their book and mine that I was, at first, reluctant to read it… until after I had submitted my manuscript. However, my curiosity won out. And I am glad it did. Reading their work at the 11th hour in my process gave me an opportunity to further develop my thinking, reflect, and include some quotes from their book in mine.

In Learning Transformed, Sheninger and Murray identify “eight keys for intentional design.” They are:
1. Leadership and school culture lay the foundation.
2. The learning experience must be redesigned and made personal.
3. Decisions must be grounded in evidence and driven by Return on Instruction.
4. Learning spaces must become learner-centered.
5. Professional learning must be relevant, engaging, ongoing, and made personal.
6. Technology must be leveraged and used as an accelerant for student learning.
7. Community collaboration and engagement must be woven into the fabric of a school’s culture.
8. Schools that transform learning are built to last as financial, political, and pedagogical sustainability ensure long-term success (24-27).

I could not agree more about the importance of leadership and culture in creating the context for educational transformation. I believe future-ready librarians are positioned to be leaders and culture-builders in their schools.

For those of us in the school library profession, “inquiry” is the process that we promote for redesigning learner-centered/personalized learning. Sheninger and Murray offer thoughtful strategies for leaders to make student agency a reality in their schools. Among them are standards-aligned learning activities and assessments, student mastery of selecting the right tool for the task, portfolios as authentic assessments, student involvement in rule making, and participation in feedback loops—choice and voice (76-77).

Decision-making based on evidence also resonates with school librarians who develop library programs using evidence-based practice. One term that Sheninger and Murray use with which I was previously unfamiliar was Return on Instruction (ROI). They used this term in relationship to the funds and time spent on the latest technology tools and devices and ROI, evidence of improved student learning outcomes.

I found the parallel between ROI and Return on Investment an important one. School librarians who serve as technology stewards evaluate and field-test digital resources and tools based on sound pedagogical practices and learning goals can be leaders in their schools in ensuring a positive ROI. School librarians also provide formal professional development and job-embedded personalized learning for colleagues through coplanning and coteaching.

School librarians who have developed a learning commons model in their school libraries may be particularly interested in the chapter entitled “Designing Learner-Centered Spaces.” I suspect they will echo the authors’ contention that flexible spaces that “provide areas for movement, and promote collaboration and inquiry” (25) are needed if students are to explore creativity and reach for innovation.

As a reader, I found the format friendly, quotes thoughtful, and examples from the field compelling. I suspect many readers will compare their teaching and learning environments to those described in the book. It would be important to find as many similar assets with these sites and explore how your own school could further expand its areas of strength.

As an author, I was impressed by the endorsements Sheninger and Murray received for this book. Sir Ken Robinson, Linda Darling-Hammond, Daniel H. Pink, Robert Marzano, Michael Fullan, and many more education thought leaders have high praise for Learning Transformed.

If you are in a formal or informal leadership position in your school or district (e.g. future-ready librarians and school library supervisors), then you will want to read this book and discuss it with the decision-makers in your school and district.

Work Cited
Sheninger, Eric C., and Thomas C. Murray. Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2017.

Reclaiming Conversation, Part 2

While authoring my forthcoming book, I have read many professional books. This is the sixth in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your summer reading. The reviews are in no particular order. I published Part 1 of Sherry Turkle’s book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age last week.

In relationship to children, Turkle writes this: “If children don’t learn how to listen, to stand up for themselves and negotiate with others in classrooms or at family dinner, when will they learn the give-and take that is necessary for good relationships or, for that matter, for the debate of citizens in a democracy?” (14).

“In these new silences at meals and at playtime, caretakers are not modeling the skills of relationship, which are the same as the skills for conversation. These are above all empathic skills: You attend to the feelings of others; you signal that you will try to understand them” (27).

Response: When I lived in Denton, Texas, I regularly walked in a park where I would see children playing. I often observed their parents and caregivers using their phones (instead of watching their kids or playing with them). Recently, my husband and I were having dinner in a restaurant where at the next table each member of a family of four was occupied with an individual device before, during, and after their meal. (The children were about six and nine.)

I have been in meetings where people are using their phones and may or may not be listening to the conversation. Or they may be using their laptops and checking their email—sometimes under the guise of making meeting notes. It may or may not be intentional rudeness but most meeting facilitators and people who speak for items on the agenda feel disrespected by not having their colleagues’ full attention.

Turkle makes a strong case for conversation as the primary way we build empathy for others. As a book person, I believe that reading about other people’s lives has been a large part of my empathy building. Still, in face-to-face conversations with relatives and friends looking into their eyes, reading their faces and body language, that’s when I really understand what they are feeling. The same can be said for students in our classes and the colleagues with whom we work.

Response: I have felt that disrespect. For me, it leads to a lack of trust in the person who cannot be “in” the conversation. I also believe this is one of the challenges in teaching 100% online. Students want to feel their instructors understand them, especially when they are having a problem. However, many would rather text or email than talk on the phone. Emotions are simply not communicated as clearly and misunderstandings can and do result.

Turkle notes that some young people avoid difficult conversations at all costs. They will not even have phone conversations but would rather text where they can be assured of time to clearly organize their thoughts, edit, and avoid “too much emotional stuff.”

Turkle says that in face-to-face conversations it is often when “we hesitate, or stutter, or fall silent, that we reveal ourselves most to each other” (23). Slowing down the conversation in this way makes some people feel anxious, or bored. Some feel so uncomfortable they will turn to their phones and check out of the conversation.

Response: Since reading this book, I have become more sensitized to my own feelings during the “silences” and “pauses” in conversations and during transitions from one activity to another. I have found myself reaching for my phone while waiting at the doctor’s office or standing in line at the market. I am catching myself more often and making a conscious decision about whether or not I want/need to consult my phone. Several times when I have opted out of connecting via tech, I have had an epiphany about an idea that’s be stuck in my head. I have even had pleasant conversations with the strangers sitting next to me or standing in line behind me.

Turkle writes: “Until a machine replaces the man (who scans your groceries), surely he summons in us the recognition and respect you how a person. Sharing a few words at the checkout may make this man feel that in his job, this job that could be done by a machine, he is still seen as a human being” (346).

Response: Turkle has given me another reason not to use the self-checkout machines. I have avoided them because they represent the loss of jobs. I will continue to avoid them and make an effort to engage in even a brief conversation with the person doing this work.

Turkle claims her argument is not anti-technology. Rather it is pro-conversation. She invites us on a journey “to better understand what conversation accomplishes and how technology can get in its way” (25). She charges us to become different kinds of consumers of technology and compares this to the ways many people have become more discerning and knowledgeable consumers of food.

In terms of understanding, Turkle posits three wishes our mobile devices grant to us:
1. “That we will always be heard;
2. That we can put our attention wherever we want it to be, and;
3. That we never have to be alone” (26).

Response: Questions we might ask ourselves related to these three wishes:
1. Who do we want to “hear” us? And why?
2. What amount of control can we give up in order to put our attention on things not of our choosing that need our attention? Can we do that even when it’s “inconvenient”?
3. What could we gain by spending time alone with our thoughts—in daydreaming or self-reflection?

As Turkle says people are resilient. We can change. We can pay more attention, listen more carefully, and respond to one another with empathy. We can do that by reclaiming the value of talking with one another face to face. We can do that by consciously deciding when to pay attention to people and when to pay attention to our machines. And we can model and practice this with youth, colleagues, friends, and family.

Turkle ends the book this way: “This is our nick of time and our line to toe; to acknowledge the unintended consequences of technology to which we are vulnerable, to respect the resilience that has always been ours. We have time to make the corrections. And to remember who we are—creatures of history, of deep psychology, of complex relationships, of conversations artless, risky, and face-to-face” (362).

Is summertime a time to start reclaiming conversation? It is for me. I hope it is for you, too.

Work Cited
Turkle, Sherry. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age. New York: Penguin, 2015.

Additional Books by Sherry Turkle
Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Basic Books, 2011.

Turkle, Sherry. Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Reclaiming Conversation, Part 1

While authoring my forthcoming book, I have read many professional books. This is the sixth in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your summer reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

Sherry Turkle’s most recent book is definitely thought-provoking and timely for me. I recently returned from the American Library Association Conference in Chicago where I met with colleagues from across the country and a reunion in Kalamazoo, Michigan with long-time friends. During that week, I enjoyed face-to-face conversations and late into the night confessions with people I usually communicate with via email and social media. I experienced the deep sense of connection and empathy Sherry Turkle’s research suggests may be missing for many of us who spend most of our time using technology to mediate our “conversations” with others.

To be transparent, I am a long-time reader (and follower) of Turkle’s work. I have read two of her previous titles (cited below) and have watched her TED Talks (“Alone Together” and “Connected, but Alone?”) I highly recommend everything she has written but Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age offered me the most powerful prompts for reflection related to how technology has affected my life and the lives of my family, friends, and colleagues.

Turkle, an MIT professor, studies the psychology of people’s relationships with technology. As with her previous titles, this book is filled with research, anecdotes, and testimonials (and confessions) from individuals and focus groups who have shared with her their experiences with technology. There is no way to adequately summarize this work. Instead, I am sharing a few quotes from the book followed by my responses and connections to my own relationship with technology. I am doing this is two parts–this week and next.

Disclosure: I own a smartphone. I do not use it to its full capacity in terms of apps and the like, but I do listen to audiobooks and music on my phone, send and receive calls and text messages, follow and post to my social media accounts, and use my phone to search for information and directions while traveling. I use my laptop more than my phone. I am a writer. I taught graduate students exclusively online for seven years; my laptop made that possible. My laptop (not my phone) is my life.

In this book, Sherry Turkle makes a compelling case for conversation. She writes: “We are being silenced by our technologies—in a way, ‘cured of talking.’ These silences—often in the presence of our children—have led to a crisis of empathy that has diminished us at home, at work, and in public life. I’ve said that the remedy, most simply, is a talking cure” (9).

Turkle says “recent research shows that people are uncomfortable if left alone with their thoughts” (10). Many “always connected” youth call this space “boredom” and avoid it at all costs. They also find that face-to-face conversations contain “uncomfortable” moments of silence or long pauses when someone is thinking. Some say they must fight the urge to glance down at their phones while waiting for another person to think and speak.

Turkle shares a new strategy some young people have developed to combat that urge. Some groups of young adults play “phone tower” when they go out to dinner. All the phones—left on—are stacked in the middle of the table. The first person whose phone rings AND they reach for it and respond has to pick up the dinner tab. It seems they could simply turn off their phones—but I guess not if they are “addicted” to them and would feel desperate if disconnected.

A new norm Turkle described is the “rule of three.” When a group of four or more people are having a conversation, at least three of them have to be verbally interacting and making eye contact. When those criteria are met, the others are free to look at and use their phones to text, find and present new images or information—always being mindful of their commitment to be one of the three when needed.

Response: I do not have that kind of attachment to my phone or the need to feel always connected. These and others of Turkle’s anecdotes were new to me. I believe they are true, but I had some trouble relating them to my own life.

Response: I remember my surprise ten or so years ago when I learned that a respected colleague (20 years younger) slept with her phone. My phone and I are not that intimate. My daughter and my friends are often dismayed when I do not respond to texts within a “reasonable” time period. (Sometimes I do not respond for a whole day!)

Turkle points out how often she notices parents and babysitters interacting with their phones rather than with the children in their care. Many young children have stopped expecting to have their parents’ full attention. Some parents who ban their children’s phones at the dinner table are still texting or taking calls because they “have to” conduct business 24/7.

Turkle notes that even the mere presence of a phone on the table sets up the expectation that the conversation will be interrupted—an excuse to keep it light rather than of more consequence. She calls this “the flight from conversation” and compares it to climate change. Most of us know it’s true but too many of us don’t think of it as a pressing problem.

As a parent, spouse, educator, and storyteller, I believe this is true: “Eye contact is the most powerful path to human connection” (36). I can believe this loss of connection could result in a decline in empathy. With the large and looming challenges we need to confront in our country and in our interconnected global community, a lack of empathy for “others” is, to me, a very troubling loss.

Next week, I will post the second part of this reflective review.

Work Cited
Turkle, Sherry. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age. New York: Penguin, 2015.

Additional Books by Sherry Turkle
Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Basic Books, 2011.

Turkle, Sherry. Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

While authoring my forthcoming book, I have read many professional books. This is the fifth in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your summer reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

Chip Heath and Dan Heath’s book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard is a must-read for anyone seeking to change the behaviors of a group of people. I also found this book helpful for thinking about changes in my personal and family life as well.

During the months of March and April, 2017, I had the pleasure of participating in a slow Twitter chat with the school library Supervisors’ Section (SPVS) of the American Association of School Librarians. Our hashtag was #aaslspvschat. Thank you especially to Lori Donovan (@LoriDonovan14) for organizing the chat and posting the question prompts. Lori’s questions and chat participants’ responses furthered my thinking about Switch.

My experience: In every role I have held in education, I “worked” to change other educators’ thinking and behaviors. I served as a school librarian in six different schools at all three instructional levels. In each school there were administrators, educators, or parents who had no experience of the school librarian as an equal instructional partner with classroom teachers and specialists. As a district-level school librarian mentor, I was responsible for K-12 professional development for close to one hundred K-12 school librarians. As a literacy coach in an elementary school, I was charged with elevating the literacy teaching and learning practices in a high-needs school where a large number of students were English language learners. I also taught preservice school librarian graduate students for twenty-one years—many of whom were already serving in school libraries but did not come to coursework with a value for instructional partnerships—the professional hill on which I will die…

Connections to Switch: I literally have thousands of examples that affirm Heath and Heath’s statement: “For individuals’ behavior to change, you’ve got to influence not only their environment but their hearts and minds. The problem is this: Often the heart and mind disagree. Fervently” (5).

In Switch, the authors offer a three-part process for helping people make behavioral changes. They describe these as “directing the Rider” (the rational mind), “motivating the Elephant” (the emotions), and “shaping the Path” (the environment). They note that each person has both a “rider” and an “elephant” side that leaders must consider and successfully reach in order to influence behavior. “If you want to change things, you’ve got to appeal to both. The Rider provides the planning and direction, and the Elephant provides the energy” (8).

Change agents are also responsible for ensuring that there are no obstacles in the path that would keep people from actualizing the desired change. Shaping the path can also involve helping people establish new habits and making the target outcomes contagious among group members.

In my experience, I have found this to be true: “When change efforts fail, it’s usually the Elephant’s fault, since the kinds of change we want typically involve short-term sacrifices for long-term payoffs” (7). So much of what we are about in education requires the long view.

Heath and Heath offer this advice:
Direct the Rider: Provide crystal-clear directions.
Motivate the Elephant: Engage people’s emotional sides.
Shape the Path: What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem (17-18).

One way to “direct the Rider” is to point out “bright spots.” These are examples of where the change is underway and working well. In my experience, to be effective, this type of sharing has to happen in a non-competitive, sharing faculty culture, or in what George Couros calls a culture with “competitive collaboration” where educators push one another to improve.

For example, if coteaching is the change we want to see, administrators can point to the classroom teacher-school librarian instructional partnerships that are “working.” They can share data that points to coplanning, coimplementing, and coassessing learning as the path to increased student motivation and improved learning outcomes. They can point out that coteaching educators are continually learning, less stressed, and are more fulfilled in their work.

The problem of teacher isolation has a long tradition in schools. School librarians who begin to break down the walls between classrooms and libraries by coteaching with just a few teachers may feel as though they are not doing enough… when in fact they are “shrinking the change.” They are also helping the administration to “engineer early successes” (141). These successes give hope which is “precious to a change effort. It’s Elephant fuel” (141).

By coteaching with a few willing partners, school librarians are helping to gradually move the faculty forward toward job-embedded professional development in a culture of collaboration—one educator, one grade level, one discipline department at a time. Administrators and their teaching partners should assure school librarians that “big problems (like teacher isolation) are rarely solved with commensurately big solutions. Instead, they are most often solved by a sequence of small solutions, sometimes over weeks, sometimes over decades” (44). In the example of building a culture of collaboration, hopefully not decades!!!

As noted I noted in the slow chat, my number one takeaway was from Switch was this:

Tweet: Change requires leader(s) 2 act differently 2 direct Rider/motivate Elephant/Shape path (all 3 required!) #aaslspvschat

Chip and Dan Heath have also coauthored Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (2007). I highly recommend both of these books for anyone exploring the change process in their professional or personal lives.

Work Cited

Heath, Chip, and Dan Heath. Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. New York: Broadway Books, 2010.

Most Likely to Succeed

While authoring my forthcoming book, I have read many professional books. This is the fourth in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your summer reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

This book seems the perfect segue from last week’s review of George Couros’s The Innovator’s Mindset. In Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era authors Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith offered me a great deal of food for thought. These were some of their ideas that prompted my thinking.

“The role of education is no longer to teach content, but to help our children learn—in a world that rewards innovation and punishes the formulaic” (197). This quote relates directly to what I think is one of the core beliefs of many (school librarians) who promote future-ready learning.

Wagner and Dintersmith go on to qualify this idea with an acknowledgement that a certain level of knowledge is necessary in order for students to be creative and innovative. “You cannot teach critical thinking without engaging students in rich and challenging academic content. The goal must be to choose the academic content selectively so as to create the required foundation for lifelong learning, without letting the quest for content coverage overwhelm the development of core competencies” (224).

Although I am sure youth need content literacy/knowledge on which to build innovation, students opportunities to explore/innovate during the school day are far too limited. In a recent Future Ready Librarians’ sponsored webinar “Empowering Students as Creators,” middle school librarian Diana Rendina shared her perspective on the importance of play and how her school’s library makerspace supports play as a “legitimate” activity for students. Legitimizing play may be a tough slog, particularly in some secondary schools with a focus on “accountability” rather than “innovation.”

When play becomes part of a “learn by doing” curriculum, educators may have a more successful route to gaining support for “making” and creating the conditions for students to be innovators. Wagner and Dintersmith note: “Our opportunity—and our obligation to youth—is to reimagine our schools, and give all kids an education that will help them thrive in a world that values them for that they can do, not for the facts that they know” (222). (Bold added)

In Most Likely to Succeed, the authors offer a set of pedagogical principles that should inform student learning (and educators’ teaching). Students should:

• Attack meaningful, engaging challenges;
• Have open access to resources;
• Struggle, often for days, and learn how to recover from failure;
• Form their own points of view;
• Engage in frequent debate;
• Learn to ask good questions;
• Collaborate;
• Display accomplishments publicly;
• Work hard because they are intrinsically motivated (205).

All of these relate to my understanding of the goals of inquiry and future-ready learning. The authors recommend that student-curated digital portfolios that show evidence of these principles is an effective way to document student learning.

I agree with Wagner and Dintersmith that educators should also be evaluated using digital portfolios. Educators’ documentation could serve as personalized accountability (232-233). These portfolios could include video-captured lessons and examples of students’ work that shows improvement and the impact of educators’ teaching. They could include focus-group feedback from students with regard to how the educator did or did not achieve the principles cited above.

To relate this to school librarian portfolios, the school library Web site or blog could be one aspect of such a portfolio. Linked learning plans and the resulting student work and feedback from coteachers, administrators, and other library stakeholders could show how school librarians hold themselves accountable for improving learning and teaching in their schools.

With an understanding that internally motivated students will continue to learn new knowledge and skills throughout their lifetimes, Wagner and Dintersmith write this: “So, the first question we must ask ourselves about any proposed change in education is: Will this ‘improvement’ likely increase or diminish student motivation for learning and how will be know? And to be clear, we’re not just talking about the thrill factor of learning. We are talking about the motivations that include grit, perseverance, and self-discipline” (223).

I know this question will continue to stick with me. Without intrinsic motivation, learning simply will not happen.

Tony Wagner, an “expert in residence” at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab, has authored other books, including Creating Innovators and The Global Achievement Gap. Ted Dintersmith is a “partner emeritus” at a venture capital firm. Their collaboration on Most Likely to Succeed makes it a compelling read for those seeking to prepare future-ready students and transforming schools into future-ready learning environments.

Work Cited

Wagner, Tony, and Ted Dintersmith. Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era. New York: Scribner, 2015.

Note: I would like to acknowledge Dr. Wagner for responding to series of emails with my questions. Many authors and speakers invite that kind of follow-up but not all of them follow through. Thank you.

The Innovator’s Mindset

While authoring my forthcoming book, I have read many professional books. This is the third in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your summer reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

I don’t remember when I first heard about George Couros. As soon as I did and before I read his book, I began reading his The Principal of Change blog, receiving his daily email blasts, and following him on Twitter (@gcouros).

One thing I especially admire about Couros is that he exemplifies an administrator/educator/leader who has a well-developed growth mindset. He shares his experiences—both his successes and missteps—and reflects on their significance in his learning. Couros is also able to communicate clearly and precisely. His mindset and his communication style pack a double punch…

…as does his book The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. On the paperback book cover, these keywords appear in red font: “innovator’s” (bold), “learning,” “talent,” and “creativity” (in an artistic font). With bolded and branded #InnovatorsMindset insets through the 232-page book, Couros’s book is a thoughtful, accessible book–one that school leaders will turn to again and again.

Couros makes a strong case for his premise: “There is a clear need for innovation in education” (4). He divides his book into three parts: a discussion of innovation, the foundation for a culture of innovation, and acting in an environment where change is possible. With a nod to Simon Sinek, George Couros clearly states his “why.” He believes “education’s why is to develop learners and leaders who will create a better present and future” (18). Couros goes on to define what he means in using the terms “learners” and “leaders.” All school stakeholders—young or more seasoned, students or educators—must inspire innovation both as learners and as leaders.

I use Couros’s definition for “innovation” in the book I am writing: “Innovation is a way of thinking that creates something new and better.” I especially appreciate his emphasis on innovation as “a way of thinking” rather than a thing, task, or tool. An innovator’s mindset impacts school culture.

I part with Couros a bit on his assessment that “establishing an innovative culture doesn’t require transformation” (20). I do think it may very well take something “dramatic” in many school cultures that seek to “develop and sustain systems that support ‘optimal learning experience’” for all stakeholders. I wonder if small tweaks and nudges are enough to respond to the urgency for change that many educators, students, families, and community members feel.

Couros believes that it is “not that teachers don’t want to change, but they sometimes lack clear guidance and support to make the desired change” (47). I share this belief and it makes a strong connection for me with the book Switch: How to Make Change When Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (to be reviewed later this summer on this blog). Educators, like students, require leaders who clear the path and model the change they expect to see.

Couros lists “8 characteristics of the innovator’s mindset” (pp. 48 – 58). He notes these characteristics can apply to everyone involved in education: empathetic, problem finders/solvers, risk takers, networked, observant, creators, resilient, and reflective. He also provides a similar set of characteristics for innovative leaders (pp. 88 – 90).

I am in total agreement with Couros (and Sinek whom he cites). We need to place a higher priority on the caring relationships within our schools/organizations. “The three most important words in education are: relationships, relationships, relationships. Without them, we have nothing” (68). This was also one of my take-aways from Timothy Walker’s book Teach Like Finland. The caring relationships among the people within an organization are everything. (Hence the title of this blog and the title of my forthcoming book.)

Couros discusses creating a vision, using technology as an accelerator, and effective professional development for educators. He includes “8 things to look for in today’s professional learning” and notes that “understanding the learning opportunities that we would like to create for our students begins by immersing ourselves in similar experiences” (185). I could not agree more!

Each chapter in Couros’s book ends with questions for discussion. His book and online resources provide a compelling book study selection for individuals and Professional Learning Communities. As Couros writes in his introduction, “Change is an opportunity to do something amazing” (3).

If you’re someone who is open to change and don’t know where to start, begin by reading this book and then talk about it with your colleagues. It will inspire you!

Work Cited

Couros, George. The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead in a Culture of Creativity. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, 2015.

How Children Succeed

While authoring my forthcoming book, I have read many professional books. This is the second in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your summer reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

Helping children and teens develop dispositions is one of the essential aspects of preparing future-ready students for schooling and life. In my research on this topic, I was happy to find Paul Tough’s book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. (I have not yet read his more recent book Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why.)

Tough frames his perspective as a possible new school of thought that calls the “cognitive hypothesis” into question. The “cognitive hypothesis” of child rearing/development suggests that learning is based on “inputs” and “outputs.”

These are some of the “cognitive hypothesis” examples Tough gives that may speak to BACC blog readers:
1. The fewer words a child hears and speaks before entering school the more likely she is to struggle in schooling.
2. Fewer books in the home puts a child at risk in reading proficiency.
3. More math homework means higher math scores.

These examples (two near and dear to my heart) suggests a linear view of cognitive development.

Tough’s “character hypothesis” adds a different perspective. “What matters most in a child’s development is not how much information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years. What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence. Economists refer to these as noncognitive skills, psychologists call them personality traits, and the rest of us sometimes think of them as character” (xv). In the world of school librarianship, we refer to these noncognitive skills, personality traits, or character traits as “dispositions.”

While I disagree with Tough’s use of the word “stuffing” here, I read on and found myself developing a hybrid view of these two apparently opposing hypotheses.

The “character hypothesis” explains a number of children I have met. In over twenty-five years of teaching, I have met and admired those “outlier” kids who seemed to have missed out on literacy enriched upbringings yet have excelled in every school-based measure of achievement. I have also met and wondered about very privileged children who seemed to have had every advantage yet were unable to persevere at tasks (even of their own choosing) and lacked grit. (Tough uses Angela Duckworth’s definition of grit: “self-discipline wedded to a dedicated pursuit of a goal.”)

I agree with Tough that there are many other ways to develop “executive functions” besides growing up with the advantages afforded (most? some?) privileged children. These higher-order mental abilities, such as the ability to deal with confusing and unpredictable situations, can be learned in many ways and at many points during a person’s life. “Executive functions and the ability to handle stress and manage strong emotions can be improved, sometimes dramatically, well into adolescence and even adulthood” (48).

I totally agree with Tough that: “Parents and other caregivers who are able to form close, nurturing bonds with their children can foster resilience in them that protects them from many of the worst effects of a harsh early environment” (28). And in my experience (and in the views of other researchers) when parents and other caregivers talk to and dialogue with their young children and enfold them in their arms while reading to them, children are indeed building the bonds that help children develop resilience. (Hence my objection Tough’s use of the word “stuffing” in relationship to talking to and reading with young children.)

Tough cites research that was new to me. Mary Ainsworth conducted studies in the 1960s/early 1970s. She found that: “Babies whose parents responded readily and fully to their cries in the first few months of life were, at one year, more independent and intrepid babies than babies whose parents had ignored their cries” (cited in Tough 33). This may seem counterintuitive but having been that kind of parent with my own infant daughter, my experience has borne out that finding. She became a VERY intrepid toddler and grew into a VERY independent woman (now in her mid-30s).

My question here is if babies are born into struggling families, does the parent who is working two jobs have the energy to respond “readily and fully” to a baby’s middle of the night cries?

Tough also writes about cognitive-behavior therapy and cites the work of Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism, which I haven’t yet read. According to Seligman, the best time to transform pessimistic children into optimistic ones is “before puberty, but late enough in childhood so they are metacognitive (capable of thinking about thinking)” (91).

For me, this emphasizes the importance of the middle school years. I believe middle school educators benefit from specialized training in adolescent development and empathetic skills in order to effectively support young teens social, emotional, and cognitive development. (I worked with some very “gifted” classroom teachers at Emily Gray Junior High who had what it takes during my one year of middle school librarianship.)

My experience supports the importance of optimism and other positive emotional states when it comes to learning. As researcher David Sousa noted positive emotions affect learning by helping students process information, engage in difficult tasks, develop a deeper understanding of learning experiences, and recall and apply what is taught later on (2016).

Tough analyzes the character education program at  KIPP Schools. In order to prepare KIPP students for college, students are given a college persistence rating in four categories: academic preparedness, financial stability, socio-emotional wellness, and non-cognitive preparedness. This score is monitored regularly and educators/counselors provide support and interventions to keep students on track. The success rate for less-privileged students who attend KIPP schools and go on to succeed in post-secondary education suggests “character” counts.

Tough concludes: “Character can function as a substitute for the social safety net that students at Riverdale (a high school serving privileged students) enjoy – the support from their families and schools and culture that protects them from the consequences of occasional detours and mistakes and bad decisions” (103).

In summary, Tough writes: “Character strengths that matter so much to young people’s success are not innate; they don’t appear in us magically, as a result of good luck or good genes. And they are not simply a choice. They are rooted in brain chemistry, and they are molded, in measurable and predictable ways, by the environment in which children grow up” (196). Agreed. Agreed. Agreed.

I learned a great deal from reading Tough’s book. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in child-adolescent development and education.

Writing this review has helped me further reflect on the complexity of creating an environment in which future-ready children and teens can development the knowledge, competencies, and dispositions they need to succeed. In my hybrid view, the combination of family economic security, the “cognitive hypothesis,” and the “character hypothesis” could all be applied to create a supportive and effective birth through adolescence environment for children to succeed.

Why not imagine and create the best of all possible worlds for our children?

Works Cited
Sousa, David A. 2016. How the Brain Learns. 5th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Tough, Paul. 2013. How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2012.

Teach Like Finland, Part 2

While authoring my forthcoming book, I have read many professional books. This is the second in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your summer reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

Timothy D. Walker, author of Teach Like Finland, identified six strategies Finnish educators use to approach their work: seek flow, have a thicker skin, collaborate over coffee, welcome the experts, vacate on vacation, and don’t forget the joy. I wrote about the first three last week.

Welcome the Experts
Walker was not comfortable at first with welcoming colleagues or other experts into his classroom. After he visited other classrooms where he saw this modeled, he became a convert. Walker writes: “I found that the more I welcomed experts into my classroom, the more I began to view myself as a resource manager who could design great learning experiences for my class by tapping into talents outside my own” (183).

School librarians have a long tradition of inviting guests into the library. We regularly invite authors, illustrators, scientists, politicians, and local experts of all kinds to share via the library program. (And it’s important to remember that all educators may not be as comfortable with this practice.) The very best of these presentations are directly aligned with classroom curricula and are coplanned and cofacilitated with classroom teachers and specialists.

Two of the most successful expert presentations during my time at Sabino High School were visits by Arizona Daily Star editorial cartoonist David Fitzsimmons and our then Arizona State Representative Marian McClure. In both cases, I worked with the social studies classroom teachers to prepare students for their visits and to follow up afterward. Editorial cartoons became the topic for “questioning” reading comprehension strategy lessons. (See lesson 5-2 in Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact.) In addition to civics information, the connection with Representative McClure provided advocacy for school librarianship at the state legislature.

While school librarians are adept at bringing in outside experts, they may not be as experienced with using the human resources in the library and on campus. School staff and faculty have abundant expertise and talents to share. As school librarians build relationships in the school community, it is incumbent upon them to uncover the lights that are hiding under barrels in their own buildings—lights that could make a difference for students’ enthusiasm for curriculum-based learning as well as their pursuit of independent learning.

In a recent Knowledge Quest blog post titled “Library as Incubator,” Mark Dzula wrote about how he supported the school library paraprofessional aide in sharing her language and culture expertise with students during a weekly lunchtime drop-in Arabic program. Mark wrote: “She was motivated to share her love of the language to help expand students’ worldview and to overcome any social stigma that the students may have encountered in association with Arabic.” A dozen students attended and were very inspired in various ways to pursue more information about Arabic language and culture. With support from the World Language Department, one student is taking an independent study in Arabic with the library assistant next year.

Vacate on Vacation
According to Walker, Finnish teachers “literally” vacating during the summer. Shocking! This practice is in sharp contrast with the summer practices of most U.S. educators. In the summer, most teach summer school, work another job outside of education, or prepare for the next school year. (Some even time their pregnancies so they can give birth in the summer in order to return to the classroom in the fall.) Walker, who feels the “vacate on vacation” strategy is too extreme, says he prefers a hybrid approach. In the summer, he dedicates a “healthy chunk of time for disconnecting and a healthy chunk of time for professional development” (186).

The pace of life for most U.S. educators is intense during the academic year. Relaxing during the summer (and regularly throughout the school year) seems to be the healthiest choice. Making time in the summer for extended periods of reflection can be an excellent use of one’s “free” time. Interspersing professional books with other types of reading (adult novels, YA literature, and school curriculum-oriented reading) is one strategy some school librarians use to find balance. Extending conference attendance to include touring new parts of the country or visiting with friends and relatives is another way to combine professional learning with personal interests.

Some would suggest that regular technology holidays could also improve one’s ability to relax. In his book, Walker offers a summary of a study conducted by the Harvard Business School. The study involved two groups of consulting firm workers. One group worked 50+ hours per week. didn’t take vacation time and was always connected via their electronic devices. The other worked 40 hours per week, took vacations, and coordinated unconnected time with their coworkers so they could be disconnected without worry or guilt. The team that took time off reported higher job satisfaction, better work-life balance, increased learning, improved communication with their team, and were more efficient and productive in their work (187).

By “vacating” the always “on” culture for selected days, weekends, or even months might also prioritize engaging in enriching face-to-face interactions with family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers. One thought-provoking book to consider on this subject is Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age by Sherry Turkle. She proclaims: “It’s time to put technology in its place and reclaim conversation. That journey begins with a better understanding of what conversation accomplishes and how technology can get in the way” (25).

Don’t Forget the Joy
This adage could be the overarching theme for Teach Like Finland. According to Walker, in 2016, Finnish comprehensive schools implemented the newest core curriculum, “where joy is being practiced as a learning concept” (189). When I read this, my U.S. educator mind sadly went directly to these questions: Is joy measurable? How will it be tested? (Ugh!)

There is a palpable feeling of excitement in a joyful learning environment. I once served as the school librarian in a truly “joyful” preK-5 school. Our school was led by a joyful principal whose most often heard phrase was “what a wonder!” With a positive school climate and a commitment to a culture of collaboration, faculty, staff, and families made our school a joyful place to be—every day of the academic year (and in summer programs, too).

Joy begins inside of each individual and from there can spread out to all members of our learning communities. Walker notes that prioritizing joy may not be easy for many U.S. educators but regardless of where he teaches, Timothy Walker commits to remembering and prioritizing joy. The last line in his book: “How about you?”

Note: This photograph of our seven-month-old puppy Pearl playing with her friend Vicka captures (for me) the pure spirit of joy. (Pearl is the poodle.) Every morning when we awake, she reminds us there is a truly joyful way to greet each day.

Works Cited

Dzula, Mark. “Library as Incubator.” Knowledge Quest Blog. 18 May 2017. http://knowledgequest.aasl.org/library-as-incubator/ Accessed 26 May 2017.

Moreillon, Judi. Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2012.

Turkle, Sherry. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age. New York: Penguin, 2015.

Walker, Timothy D. Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms. New York: W. W. Norton, 2016.

Teach Like Finland, Part 1

While authoring my forthcoming book, I have read many professional books. This is the first in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your summer reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

Since 2001, many educators in the U. S., including yours truly, and around the world have wondered why Finnish students continually rank as top scorers on the international PISA exam. I recently read Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms. This is some of what I learned.

Before I even opened the book, I reflected on the use of the word “joyful” in the subtitle. In my work as a school librarian which included thirteen years at all three instructional levels between 1992 – 2009, I cotaught with classroom teachers in their classrooms as well as in the library, computer labs, and out in the field. I had the pleasure of working in many “joyful” classrooms, libraries, and even one very joyful school!

I agree with Teach Like Finland author Timothy Walker that joy is one of the too-oft missing ingredients in schooling today. Walker organizes his book into the four elements of happiness — belonging, autonomy, master, and mind-set — identified by Rag Raghunathan author of If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? To these Walker adds “well-being.”

There were many other aspects of the Finnish education culture that “spoke to me.” Children start formal schooling at age seven. Elementary schools, in particularly, strive for a holistic, child-focused curriculum that addresses all subjects evenly. All subjects including art and music as well as what U. S. schools consider “core” subjects get equal time. Finnish schools apply the research that has shown art contributes to innovative thinking and music knowledge can help learners grasp mathematical patterns. The holistic model gives children opportunities to cultivate multiple aspects of their personalities and talents.

The average time that Finnish educators spend in actual instruction is also shorter than U. S. teachers per week (18 hours versus 26.5 hours). Finnish students and teachers have 15-minute breaks after every 45-minutes of instructional time. Collaborating with colleagues is one way that educators use that “free” time every day. (See below.)

Walker identified six strategies Finnish educators use to approach their work: seek flow, have a thicker skin, collaborate over coffee, welcome the experts, vacate on vacation, and don’t forget the joy. All of these are well worth considering.

Seek Flow
As a writer and educator, I know and strive for that feeling of flow when my mind and body are totally focused and I do my best work. Walker writes: “Being teachers who seek flow, not superiority, is something that’s not just good for us; it’s also good for our students. Our students are watching us, and if they see that we’re seeking to do our best work, free of comparing ourselves to others, I’m confident that this kind of example will foster a noncompetitive culture in our classrooms… This positive change we want to see—as is so often the case in teaching—starts with us” (Walker 173).

Have a Thicker Skin
Having a “thicker skin” that allows us to give, receive, and respond to constructive criticism is another important strategy. Principal leader and author of The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity George Couros just last week posted “It’s Okay to Be the ‘Boss’” to his blog. The thicker skin strategy totally aligns with Couros’s idea about providing adults with feedback.

Couros writes: “As long as people know that you are both on the same page (that you want them to be successful), they will accept the feedback. For some, it is harder than others, but when they know it is because you want them to be better, it is a much easier pill to swallow.”

Walker goes on to write about how he uses journaling to work through anxieties and challenges in teaching. He also writes about how noting “gratitudes” can boost happiness and giving thanks can strengthen relationships.

Collaborate Over Coffee
Of course, the aspect of daily life in Finnish schools that jumped off the page at me was educator collaboration. Walker interviewed several Finnish teachers and asked: “What brings you joy as a teacher, and what brings your students joy?”

One of the most popular answers was collaboration! He noted that nearly 50% of the lessons he taught during his time in Finland were cotaught.

“Teachers in my school were not just collaborating in the traditional sense, by planning and teaching lessons together—they were truly laboring together, sharing the burdens of teaching with each other. They were helping each other track down the resources they’d need for an upcoming lesson. They were discussing better ways to support needy students. They were analyzing curriculum together. They were talking about how to improve recess for the kids. They were grading tests together. They were offering tech support to each other. To my surprise, this work often happened in between sips of coffee, during those fifteen-minute breaks throughout the day” (Walker 178-179).

His comment made me think about what I mean when I write about collaborating in the “traditional sense.” I believe coteaching involves all of the aspects that Walker describes, but maybe others, who have not experienced classroom-library coteaching between equal partners, do not perceive the same depth of partnership that I have experienced.

In the course of coplanning and coteaching, classroom teachers and school librarians are analyzing curriculum together. They are sharing resources and providing technology support to one another. They are strategizing how to differentiate to meet the needs of all students. And in the most effective partnerships, they are assessing students’ work together and using assessment to adjust their instruction.

Walker writes: “More than anything, I think collaboration is all about mind-set. If you truly believe that you are a better teacher when you are working in concert with others, then I think you will naturally find small, simple ways of collaborating… Their work together seemed like a by-product of their teaching mind-set” (181).

Bravo! And yes! To a mind-set that believes collaboration is the key to better teaching.

I will reflect on the other three strategies next week: welcome the experts, vacate on vacation, and don’t forget the joy.

Works Cited

Couros, George. “It’s Okay to Be the ‘Boss.’” The Principal of Change blog. 18 May 2017, http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/7360 Accessed 20 May 2017.

Raghunathan, Rag. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? New York: Penguin, 2016.

Walker, Timothy D. Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms. New York: W. W. Norton, 2016.

Educators Chat about Making Notes

Dedication: To the Moderators and Participants in #txlchat and #cvtechtalk

As a now “retired” educator and an advocate, I made a pledge to myself to spread the word about the expertise of school librarians in non-school library circles. I believe that school librarians’ potential to positively impact student learning outcomes has not yet been fully realized. Sharing and showing how school librarians can lead through building instructional partnerships with classroom teachers has long been my raison d’être.

Last week, I stumbled upon the #cvtechtalk. Coincidentally, they were talking about “notetaking” – one of my all-time favorite topics. I share this experience here because one of the on-going issues in school librarianship advocacy is that other educators do not know what we can do to support their teaching and help their students learn effective information literacy strategies.

Even though I arrived when participants were on question #4 of their 8-question chat, I jumped in:

CactusWoman: A.4 Let’s call it “notemaking” rather than “taking.” “Making” implies Ss questions/connections/own ideas count! #cvtechtalk just dropped in

I got some likes, retweets, and replies and decided to stay. (This is my personal measure of whether or not a chat group is “listening” and learning from one another or simply broadcasting. See the dedication below.)

I followed up with:
CactusWoman: A4 #FutureReadyLibs #schoollibrarians r trained in notemaking skills > Classroom-library collaboration 2 teach essential skill #cvtechtalk

Then a reply/question about students using Twitter for notemaking:
CactusWoman: A5 Yes! @_____ I 2 use Twitter 4 notemaking when involved w/webinars/conference presentations, etc. have not tried w/6-12 Ss #cvtechtalk

(Note that should have been *w/8-12 Ss* – Twitter “suggests” participants should be 13 and up.)

Then:
CactusWoman: A6 When Ss compare notes they may c that one person’s “main ideas” do not match the others’ > convers abt determining importance #cvtechtalk

Since this was a “tech” group, they shared many electronic tools for notemaking. When one person noted she had read somewhere that hand-written notes were more effective, I shared a research-based article about the possible differences between handwritten and electronic notes in terms of student learning.

CactusWoman: A6 My concern copy/paste/highlight does not = learning: Article about notemaking by hand vs computer: http://www.npr.org/2016/04/17/474525392/attention-students-put-your-laptops-away … #cvtechtalk

According to my Paper.li report, the article was accessed (read?) by several #cvtechtalk chat participants. (Like all librarians, I enjoy sharing research/knowledge that can make a difference in educators’ practice and in students’ learning/people’s lives.)

CactusWoman: A.7 Creativity bcomes more important w/what Ss DO w/notes: What do notes mean 2 Ss? Does info inspire creative response/action? #cvtechtalk

The final question was perfect and one that I believe all Twitter chat groups should adopt. “Based on tonight’s talk, how will you empower students in note-taking?” (or whatever the topic).

CactusWoman: A.8 Encourage Ts #schoollibrarians collaborate 2 teach Ss notemaking strategies (reading comp) & create/do something meaningful #cvtechtalk

One person posted this:
A8 Will start #notemaking w/ Ss asap! Can’t handle guilt after these great ideas! Will intro #Sketchnoting & bulleting key ideas #cvtechtalk https://twitter.com/techcoachjuarez/status/862500760981983232 …

Cha-ching!

CactusWoman: Gr8t ideas on notemaking 2nite 5/10 when I dropped in on #cvtechtalk #FutureReadyLibs #txlchat #tlchat >opportunities 4 classroom-lib collab

It was interesting to me that many educators noted they would NOT model notemaking strategies for students and were “anti-direct instruction” for this skill.

As someone who connects notemaking with the reading comprehension strategy of determining main ideas, I believe that is a mistake. In my experience, if students are not taught several strategies from which they can choose or use as models to develop their own strategies, they will opt for copying/highlighting everything. They will not pass the information through their own background knowledge and purpose for reading and make their own connections, write down their questions, and their own ideas related to what they are reading. (Notemaking strategies include Cornell notes, deletion-substitution, trash ‘n treasure, and more…)

I created a Storify archive of the chat’s final question for my review and for yours if you are interested.

I know I will drop in on #cvtechtalk again when I can on Wednesday evenings at 7:00 p.m. Pacific (?). They are an active, caring, and sharing group of educators. I appreciate what I learned from listening and participating in their chat.

If you are a school librarian who is participating in non-school librarian chats, I hope you will add a comment to this post. Readers may appreciate knowing what you perceive as the benefits or drawbacks of those professional learning experiences.

Dedication: This post is “dedicated” to #txlchat. This chat’s home base is in Texas, but more and more school librarians from across the country are joining in. In 2014-2015, I had the opportunity to conduct a research study of #txlchat. Thanks to #txlchat moderators and participants, I was welcomed into their learning space and learned about the norms and benefits of their chat culture. I continue to connect and learn with #txlchat whenever I can get online on Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m. Central. Y’all are invited, too!