Resistance to change is normal!

Recently, my headmaster gave me a chapter from a book by Robert Evans, Seven Secrets of the Savvy School Leader.  The chapter,  The Third Secret, is about understanding the psychological effect change has on people in general, but even more importantly for schools, how and why change can be difficult for educators.

Dr. Evans, an organizational psychologist, says that humans are by nature “pattern-seeking animals.”  We are born this way, and we seek understanding through continuity.  This statement means that we are naturally reluctant to change.  After learning this, I now realize that people do not fight change purposefully, resistance is instinctive.

Evans looks resistance to change from a school’s perspective and says that understanding change is the key to successfully managing change.  He says “teaching attracts people for whom continuity is a good fit, people with a strong security orientation and a strong service ethic, not etnrepreneurs with a thirst for risk and competititon.”  Think about that for a minute…you teach what you know.  What you know about math, does not change much over time.  The classics in  literature remain the classics.  A verb will always be a verb.  Teachers are experts in their subject area because curriculum (knowledge) is slow to change (says Evans).  It was like a light bulb went off for me. Teachers are expected to be experts. When we change things on them, we are placing their competency at risk.  Anexiety should be anticipated.

Now that we know why change is difficult for teachers, how do we manage change in a way that lessens anxiety and increases competency? Evans has the answer to that, too. Stay tuned for the next piece of the puzzle…”Pressure and Support.”

I bet that most administrators do very well on the pressure part and fall far short on the support part!

Collaboration at it’s best!

gatortunesIt was about 7:45 am, I am doing “Commons Duty.” My favorite duty where you are assigned to greet upper school students as they arrive in the morning. I am sipping my coffee and exchanging, “Good Morning” with students and faculty when Mrs. Deeley, an upper school science teacher, comes around the corner with a bounce in her step and a smile that lit up the room. She was giddy.

Mrs. Deeley is the Team Leader of our PLP team. She is hard working, dedicated and focused. Her commitment is to our students and as we have been developing our Action Research project she always brings us back to the students – whatever we do has to have an impact on the students. Mrs. Deeley’s classroom is on the other side of the building, so what was she doing on this end and why was she so excited? It did not take long for me to find out – a new blog.

You see, Mrs. Deeley had an idea. What if we created a blog about music? A blog where faculty and students could write about music, share audio files and YouTube videos of their favorite songs and artists. She had shared her idea with Mr.George, a ninth grade teacher who teaches a course called the History of Rock and Roll. Mr. George plays in a band, too. He was thrilled with the idea.

Together, they created, Gatortunes It is only a few days old, but it already has some great posts.

Why is this so cool? Mrs. Deeley and Mr. George are not “team mates.” Mrs. Deeley is in the science department and works on one end of our building. Mr. George is in the English department and works on the other end of the building. Mrs. Deeley is a veteran teacher with grown children older than Mr. George. Although they are from different generations, the share a love of music, a love of writing, and a desire to connect with students.

We think differently now. We seek collaboration. Sharing with one another has become the norm. Without PLP, this would not have happened.

To Give or Not to Give – Part 2

A few months ago I wrote a blog about homework.  I had just begun reading Alfie Kohn’s book, The Homework Myth.  Alfie takes a pretty radical approach as he believes that there is no correlation among homework and improved academic performance.  Further, he says there is no evidence that supports the notion that homework teaches good habits (organization, study skills, time management, etc).  He believes schools should stop giving homework.  Here is a link to an article he wrote in Education Week in September, 2006.
Recently, I began another book, Fires in the Mind by Kathleen Cushman.  Kathleen is not against homework, but believes that it should be meaningful practice and that students must understand how the homework will benefit them
I think I lean more toward Kathleen’s (I have not finished either book) perspective because I do believe that homework can be engaging and even something students want to do.   The key to making homework meaningful is to ensure that is not an afterthought, but a part of the plan from the inception of the lesson or unit.  Speaking personally, I have to admit that as a young teacher, I assigned homework based on what I got through in my lesson.  In other words, I knew minutes before I assigned it what it would be.  Certainly my homework, in those early years, was not meaningful. 
Today as I was “surfing” Twitter, I ran across a blog in the Harvard Business Review about sleep  It reminded me of my earlier blog and promoted this follow up. 
If research tells us that sleep is more important than food, why do schools not take a stand to ensure that getting eight hours of sleep each night over-rides staying up late to do homework?   
How do we get teachers and parents to believe the research?  How do we get them to stop equating hours of homework with rigor?  How do we get teachers to collaborate on their assignments and provide students with integrated opportunities vs. subject specific assignments?  Do teachers talk to one another about what they assign so that they make sure they do not overload students?  
Does any of this matter?   

Follow me on Twitter: lreynolds65

Dreaming – The begining

As a part of the PLP process I have access to hundreds of teachers and administrators all across the US and Canada all exploring teaching and learning in the 21st century.  Much of the conversations we have center on shifting the way we think about how teachers teach and how students learn.  My personal pedagogy shifts a little bit each day as I learn with them.

Recently, there was a post referring us to read a book called, Dream Manager.  I must say that I was intrigued because the person posting about the book was in graduate school and she was reading the book for one of her classes.  A few folks decided to read the book so I decided to join them.

I finished the book in two days.  The story is a little predictable (and maybe even a little hokey), but the message is powerful…once we stop dreaming, we start to lead lives of quiet desperation, and little by little the passion and energy begin to disappear from our lives.

Wow!  Those who know me know that this kind of thing is right up my alley.  I started a school, I am a dreamer!  But, the book directed the reader to make a list of 100 dreams (in 12 categories).  I could not write down one dream.  Not one.  Not sure that I have ever been challenged to write down my dreams.  It is easy to dream in your head, no one knows if you fail to accomplish your dream.  But, to put my dreams in writing meant I had to own them.  I could not (would not) do it.

Then, a colleague inspired me.  She read the book, too.  I did not know she was reading it until she invited me to lunch to share dreams.  I showed up to the meeting with nothing written down.  She showed up with 35 dreams and she shared each one with me.  Some very personal, some relatively simple to achieve, and some that blew me away.

After one hour, I knew more about her dreams than I did about my family’s dreams.  Honestly.  I have never asked my children or my husband about their dreams.  I know MY dreams for them, but I do not know THEIR dreams for themselves.  And worse, I do not know my own dreams.

I have been inspired to dream and I have been inspired to inspire others to dream.  But,  I am going to start with me.  My first goal is to follow my colleague’s lead and write down at least one dream in every category.

Matthew Kelly said, “Living your dreams is often about facing your fears and rising to the challenge.”   I am ready for the challenge, are you?

Does praise motivate?

I have  just returned from the Virginia Association of Independent Schools Annual Conference.  The Keynote Speaker was Ashley Merryman Newsweek columnist and coauthor of NurtureShock.

Her address was about motivation and how we motivate kids today.  She said adults start using praise as motivation with very young children.  Nothing is wrong with praise, when it is specific, but when it is generic or given without merit, it can actually be a demotivator.

She gave some rules of praise:

  • Be honest
  • Be specific
  • Praise the process, not the product
  • Do not promise future success
  • Do not confuse praise with encouragement
  • Do not use praise for manipulation
  • Do not praise publicly (public praise can backfire)
  • Use it when it is appropriate, do not interrupt work to praise
  • Praise them so that failure is OK (focus on the learning)
  • Scale back praise, less is more

She asked us to think about the difference between these two comments:

“Mary, you are so smart!”


“Mary, you studied hard for that test and it paid off!”

 The first says to Mary that she is smart in everything.  Mary knows that she is not smart in everything, so Mary will doubt the sincerity.  Or, what will Mary do when she encounters a problem or task that she doesn’t do well on?  She will very likely quit or cheat because she will not want to risk no longer being “smart.”

 It was a great presentation and if you are interested in learning more check out this clip from a Nightline segment on praise and motivation. 

 The Inverse Power of Praise

To give or not to give. That is the question!

Almost six years ago I had the opportunity to start a new school. I remember the pressure. The school could be anything – what it would be, became the essential question.

I knew two things for sure…I wanted the school to be academically enriching and fun. I wanted to create a place where students would be challenged beyond parental expectations, but I wanted them to learn in an environment where fun was a priority.

I think that we accomplished both goals with Hampton Roads Country Day School. As I look back on it now, those two goals were pretty safe. I was not brave enough to take some of the other risks that I believed would create an ideal school environment.

Back then, I did not believe in homework for elementary aged students.   I believed that if students gave us 6 1/2 hours of hard work, they deserve to spend their afternoons playing, spending time with family, or enjoying extra-curriculular activities. I believed that if students received a challenging and enriching school day, there would be no need for homework as a regular occurrence.

I did not have the courage to implement that belief.  I did not have the research to back up my thinking that most homework is nothing more than busy work.  I did not have the guts to say that in the younger grades, homework is more often parent work or at the very least a great source of tension between children and their parents.  I did not stand up for what I believed because it was only a feeling and nothing I could support with data.

The  feeling came back to me recently in an upper school faculty meeting.  We began talking about our students and the fact that many spend far more time on homework (on a daily basis) than we intend.  We talked about the importance of sleep and how our students need to sleep so that the information they have learned has time to process and to move from the short-term memory filing cabinet into their long-term memory filing cabinet.   We talked about why we give homework and whether or not we are comfortable giving our students a break periodically.  Finally, we talked about routinely checking in with our students and asking them if it is too much. 

We have very motivated students and they will wince at not doing what is asked of them.  The majority give us what we ask them to give.  Do we ask too much?  If we believe that our students should excel in the classroom, on the field/court, and be performers and artists, should homework be the factor that keeps them from doing so?

As I thought about this issue, I ran across a new book by Alfie Kohn called The Homework Myth.  Alfie debunks our beliefs about homework.  I have not read the book, but I’ve just downloaded it only my Kindle. 

More to follow…

Meaningful Work

The September issue of Educational Leadership is titled “Meaningful Work.”  The articles in the issue challenge the reader to examine traditional classroom practices and their effectiveness.

As I think about my role as an educational leader, I wonder how I can help teachers understand that the days of surface learning are gone.  Kids today don’t need to memorize basic facts nor do they need to regurgitate information.  Any fact they ever wanted to know is at their finger tips through that little thing called the World Wide Web.

What we have to do is to connect them to what they are learning.  We have to start by explaining why it is important or better yet, show them why it is important.  However, it is much faster to just give them worksheet.  We were all taught that a worksheet documents the learning in the classroom.  But, does it really? 

Does a student really understand the concept of fractions because they can demonstrate mastery on a worksheet you gave them ten minutes after you taught them?  Do they understand how we use fractions almost daily?  Cooking, shopping, financing, sporting events, McDonald’s (i.e. The Quarterpounder!), construction, experiments, medication dosages…the list goes on and on.

How many times have you reviewed a concept that should have been mastered the year before and the student says, “She didn’t teach us this last year?”  You storm down to the (insert teacher here)  to ask her why she didn’t teach (insert concept here), only to find she spent a month on it.  Why didn’t they remember it?  I bet 99% of the time it will be because the learning wasn’t meaningful.

My Obituary

Did you see the article in the New York Times this week about challenging students to write their own obituary?

This made me think about my own obit. What would I like people I work with to say about me? Wow, harder than you think.  But I’ll give it a try…

Leanne Brock Reynolds, died this weekend. She was 110 (OK, maybe not 110, but this is my obituary, so give me a break!).

Leanne was known by her colleagues as an inspirational and compassionate leader. She always made time. She made time to learn, she made time to listen, she made time to watch and she made time to help.

Her passion was to grow and embrace the 21st century skills that her students embraced and to lead her faculty to do the same. She coaxed, she cheered, she guided and she challenged. But, never ridiculed, never yelled, and never got frustrated. She remembered to celebrate every success, no matter how small.

Leanne was a great wife and mother.  Her girls flourished in our school and have gone on to become very successful entrepreneurs (remember, it’s my obit!).  Her husband, Keith, is still alive and playing wheelchair tennis.  He said this about his beloved Leanne…there is a hole in our heart that only Leanne can fill, but we are comforted by her legacy.  She taught us…to live, to laugh, to learn and to make a difference!

Going in Reverse

4962246Have you ever considered that homework should be done in school and the lecture should be homework?

What would class look like if we had students listen to podcasts or watch youtube videos as homework?  The “lecture” becomes the homework assignment leaving class time for application of the learning with the teacher right there to step in and help when needed.

Interesting concept. Would it work? How would it change the role of the teacher?

Educating for Success?

I was driving down Warwick Boulevard today and noticed the scroll outside the Newport News Public School District Admin Building. It read, “Educating for Success!” I wondered, should that exclamation point be a question mark?

I’ve spent the last three months immersing myself in the changing world of education. I’ve read more professional articles, blogs and books in that time than I’ve read in my 10+ years as an educator. Of course, if you read my last two blogs, you will know that RSS and Delicious have made that possible.  I’ve just added a Kindle to my arsenal so that I can stay current while on the fly!

The sign on Jefferson caught my attention because it made me think about what I’ve been reading and pondering.  Are we educating our students for success in the world in which they will enter?  I know we are educating them for success in the world in which we entered, but what about their world?  It is much different from our world and we cannot even pretend that we know the world of their future because we struggle with knowing their world today.

How can we make the claim that we are Educating for Success (exclamation point)?  We can claim we are educating, we can claim we are teaching, we can claim that many of our students are successful.  But, can we claim that it is because of us?

I know this sounds harsh, but I am beginning to think that what we are really doing is limiting our students’ success.  If they are successful in a 20th century model of education, imagine what they would be doing if we were teaching using a 21st century approach. 

Connecting, collaborating, sharing, designing, analyzing, synthesizing,  managing information…that is Educating for Success!