Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Creating Original Thinkers

I think it is safe to say that most of us admire creativity?
Although I am not one to spend a lot of time at events such as craft fairs, when I do have a chance to meander through one, I can hardly believe how clever some people are. I am amazed at the things that some people think of.
Does it get me to thinking about originality and how we can create the conditions that support original ideas and independent thinking in schools? You bet.
In January, the Board of Education in my school district in Dobbs Ferry, New York, will be hosting a book chat with our parents and community to discuss Adam Grant’s new book, Originals - How Non-Conformists Move the World.
Grant wrote an interesting essay in the New York How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off In his Times Sunday Review last year, essay, he notes that  “Child prodigies rarely become adult geniuses who change the world. We assume that they must lack the social and emotional skills to function in society. When you look at the evidence, though, this explanation doesn’t suffice: Less than a quarter of gifted children suffer from social and emotional problems. A vast majority are well adjusted — as winning at a cocktail party as in the spelling bee.
What holds them back is that they don’t learn to be original. They strive to earn the approval of their parents and the admiration of their teachers. But as they perform in Carnegie Hall and become chess champions, something unexpected happens: Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new.”
To go back to the craft fair, it makes me wonder about  …… what if all kids ever learn or value  in school is how to “follow the directions” or “follow the recipe?”
Questions like …. Is this going to be on the test? Or …… “what do I need to do to get an “A”? These queries should disturb teachers and disturb parents. And for the record, parents need to stop asking these questions too.
A perspective shift is in order in our schools. Societally, non-conformists are the “thorn in our sides” …..  the people who ask the annoying questions …. the rule breakers …. those who are “piping to their own drum.”
In Dobbs Ferry, our vision is to create “independent thinkers prepared to change the world.”
Let’s understand the intersection of non-conformity with independent thinking so that we create and support more kids prepared to change the world.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

There is no such thing as a new normal

I am ruminating over a powerful blog post by my friend and colleague Will Richardson entitled Our Uncertain Moment

And because I have a propensity for living “in the moment,” this blog pokes at me and disturbs me. This is a good thing. I actually relish being disturbed. My favorite essay of all time is Margaret Wheatley’s piece, Willing to Be Disturbed

Will’s blog links to a post by Ziauddin Sardar who has been writing for the past six years about what he calls “postnormal times.” Sardar is the Director of the Centre of Postnormal Policy and Future Studies, East West Chicago and the editor of its journal East West Affairs. His work really captures the disconcerting nature of our current reality and should challenge school leaders everywhere.

He writes that all that was ‘normal’ has now evaporated; we have entered postnormal times, that in between period where old orthodoxies are dying, new ones have not yet emerged, and nothing really seems to make sense. To have any notion of a viable future, we must grasp the significance of this period of transition which is characterized by three c’s: complexity, chaos and contradictions.”

We live in an in-between period where old orthodoxies are dying, new ones have yet to be born, and very few things seem to make sense. Ours is a transitional age, a time without the confidence that we can return to any past we have known and with no confidence in any path to a desirable, attainable or sustainable future.

Do you find this disturbing? Do you find it disturbing because we know this to be true but continue responding so impotently?

I feel responsible as a school leader to tackle this. To find others who share my urgency about creating the conditions for learning that will help our kids cross between where we are now and where we need to go.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Getting Off Course On Growth Mindset

A growth mindset isn’t just about effort. Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort. Certainly, effort is key for students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches—not just sheer effort—to learn and improve. (Carol Dweck)

I have read and re-read Carol Dweck’s seminal book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,  a number of times and read it again last year with our Board of Education.

In a Commentary Piece in Education Week, Dweck talks about what keeps her up at night.
It something that keeps me up at night too.

In her research, Dweck uncovered that how students perceive themselves and their abilities – mindset – affected their motivation and achievement. Students who believed that their intelligence and abilities could be developed – growth mindset – experienced greater success and increased achievement. Students who believed that intelligence was fixed – fixed mindset – performed more poorly in school. This is, of course, a thumbnail sketch of her research which culminated in her book published ten years ago.

But as is often the case  …. We have run off the rails.

So what keeps Dweck up at night?

It’s the fear that the mindset concepts, which grew up to counter the failed self-esteem movement, will be used to perpetuate that movement. In other words, if you want to make students feel good, even if they’re not learning, just praise their effort! Want to hide learning gaps from them? Just tell them, “Everyone is smart!” The growth mindset was intended to help close achievement gaps, not hide them. It is about telling the truth about a student’s current achievement and then, together, doing something about it, helping him or her become smarter.

The research about mindsets has the clear goal of increasing the capacity for learning. It’s about helping us to become smarter. And it applies to people of all ages and all walks of life.

A growth mindset needs to exist at all levels of a school organization. It needs to exist among school board members, superintendents, principals and teachers. We have absolutely no shot at transforming our schools without the will and the effort. But without getting smarter about teaching and learning – we will never be on the right track.