Friday, December 9, 2016

What Really Motivates Us; What Really Motivates our Kids?

A few years ago I wrote a summary about Daniel Pink's findings on motivation. I highly recommend spending a few minutes taking a look at the RSA Animate YouTube video:

I see this as even more relevant in our discussions and direction today about this whole concept of personalized learning and student achievement. The video challenges the "why" behind what schools do today, how we organize and approach our classrooms, how we attempt to implement teaching and learning, and what we have students do within and outside the school day to set them up for learning and success. Daniel Pink's findings create an opportunity to filter everything we do in light of the three key areas that motivate people: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

Autonomy: Our desire to be self directed in our lives. That tells us that if we want true engagement in our work and in our learning,we have to be doing more complicated and more sophisticated "stuff."  We measure our curriculum and our approach to both the types of things we have kids know and do, and our expectation to such at higher levels. Does our curriculum, our planning, our expectations and our results match up to this? The big question here is are we afraid to let go, allow our students to try things, take risks and even fail? Our Einstein Hour approaches this concept.

Mastery: He defines this as the urge to get better at "stuff." He gives great examples of how people will go out of their way even without pay to get good at playing an instrument and even work for free to do highly technical things like create open source software material (free software that is now available world wide that is operating millions of servers). We can liken this to how students can get into hobbies, music, technology and video games - everyone is rewarded as they get better and better at something!

We can compare this to the types of opportunities we provide our kids to learn based on their own interests, pace and mastery. Do we develop lessons that provide choice, that provide relevant and timely feedback to determine their learning and mastery? Is what we are offering our students challenging, interesting and provides opportunities for them to contribute to getting better?

Purpose: All of us are more motivated especially when we recognize what we are doing has a more transcendent purpose. He posits and infers things are not always good if we disconnect learning from the purpose motive. This is when people are not inclined to do great things and the environment are not inspiring places to learn and work. He mentions that people are "purpose maximizers."

The challenge for all of us is, do we connect what we have students know and do to purpose, the big idea and to what Jim Collins calls BHAGS? (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). Is student learning about their personal lives, their desire to break limits and does it play into their desire to achieve? Do we challenge our kids to be the first high school graduates, college graduates, doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. in their families. Do we succeed in connecting their learning to their dreams, goals and pursuits to make the world a better place for others and the world around them?
As you can see these are great guideposts associated with questions that will evoke high standards and the right types of results for each and every CUSD student.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Change and No Change?

For some of us who have been in education over the years, we see two things: 

  1. Things change and 
  2. Many things stay the same. I think the wisdom for all of us is to discern what we need to change and what we need to keep the same.
  • What has not changed: Reading and writing are more important than ever, and without Math foundations, students do not have a chance with the more rigorous curriculum.
  • What has changed: An area we strongly need to consider is the fact that student focus and attention spans have decreased dramatically over time. It is estimated that from 2 to 7 minutes we can continue to talk to kids before students are clueless.
  • What has not changed: Worksheets are still prevalent in classrooms throughout the nation, and the strategies, layout and the setup of many classrooms have not changed for decades.
  • What has changed: The examples and availability of research-based methods, varieties, access, strategies and tools to enhance and personalize student learning abound more than ever!
  • What has not changed: Checking for Understanding and Checking for Mastery remain one of the highest level strategies to ensure student learning for all kids, yet if we go into most classrooms throughout the country, teachers tend to call on only the kids who know the answer (hands raised).
  • What has changed: There are more tools, methods, techniques, software, and technology to help teachers check for understanding and mastery than we have ever experienced in educational history!
All of the above provide the rationale for what Corcoran Unified believes and does. This is why we are so proud of our staff who have had the humility and the wisdom to be able to move forward with our initiatives to make sure each and every student in our District is served.
We walk into many classrooms today that look much different than they did a few years ago with kids working in organized, structured cooperative groups (Kagan Structures); where students use technology to advance their learning using 21st Century Skills; where teachers track and monitor student learning by checking for student understanding and mastery using a variety of research based techniques and relevant technology; where more and more of our kids are doing more relevant reading and writing and more rigorous math; where more and more of our kids are engaged in their work solving problems, asking and answering tough questions and doing research to construct projects that make them think at higher levels; and, where teachers use a variety of direct instruction and have the wisdom to know when and how long to speak directly to students while using interactive strategies to make sure kids are involved and are doing more speaking using more academic language than teachers do throughout the day.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

What's in a Number?

Numbers are in every part of our daily life, daily routine, and in and around each and every one of
our own worlds.  Numbers are only important to the extent that have any meaning.

I can think of some numbers that affected me throughout my own personal and professional life.  The numbers really did not directly affect me, but the message behind the numbers made a difference to my life.  For example, the numbers 280 and 27 mean nothing without my explanation that those numbers indicate my total cholesterol number at age 27.  I had to react to the meaning behind those numbers and make some changes in diet, exercise and medication.

Our theme for this school year is "We are relationship driven," and this stems from our big emphasis on being "Improvement Driven," (our mission) and the means to get there is through being "Data Driven."

What does this all mean?  We want to know every reliable and relevant indicator of student learning, academic growth and progress.  We want to know exactly how each student in our district is doing, and we want to know every piece of information that tells us how they are doing.  With that information we can do a much better job of intervening and providing more support when we know immediately if our students are not growing.

Therefore, we are placing a huge importance on numbers that represent the most important element in our district: our kids!  And, that importance is only manifest if we understand each and every number that is relevant to our students' learning.  Learning is extremely important because our students are extremely important.  When the right numbers have meaning, we now understand we have to have an urgency to know, understand and respond to how our kids are doing, and how we can ensure they continue to thrive.

I am reminded of the story of what some people famously call the "Starfish Story."

A young man is walking along the ocean and sees a beach on which thousands and thousands of starfish have washed ashore. Further along he sees an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean.
“Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?,” he asks.
“Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.”
“But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.”
The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea. “It made a difference to that one.”

What's in a number?  The meaning that makes the difference to each and everyone!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Who Owns the Learning?

Ideally students should own their own learning, and that is the goal of every teacher, every school, every parent, and every institution of learning.  Unfortunately, that is not what happens with every student who dawns our classroom doors.
Ackerly 2013
In order to get students to own their learning, we as adults and educational leaders in our classrooms and schools have to own their learning whether kids own it or not.  When we own it, we have the capacity and drive to bring each and every child to the place of their personal ownership of their learning.

The table on the below illustrates the power in this continuum.

The following is a description of the shift we need to make in order to create the student learning "ownership" environment we need to create: 

(From an article in the Reinventing Schools Coalition: (Gross 2014))

Our goal is to shift from teacher-driven to a student-centered environment allowing ALL students to learn. Here is what we need to consider:
  1. Learners need to know why they are there and how to be successful learners…having a Shared  Vision and Code of Cooperation
  2. Learners need to understand clearly what they are trying to learn and what is expected of them (transparency)
  3. Learners need to understand what quality and successful work looks like.
  4. Learners desire to be engaged in the self-monitoring, goal setting, and strategizing.
  5. Learners need to celebrate successes and stretch to reach new goals.

Gross, H. (2014, February 17). Voices from the Field: Owning the LEARNING!
«Competency Works, Retrieved February 11, 2016, from
Ackerly, R. (2013, January 17). Education: Taking Responsibility vs Responsibility Talk - The Genius in Children. Retrieved February 12, 2016, from

Friday, January 29, 2016

John Couch from Apple Computer and The New Learning Environment

I had the privilege of recently listening to Mr. John Couch  (Vice President for Education at Apple Computer) at the ACSA Superintendent's Symposium on January 27, 2016. He is one of the original 54 employees at Apple Computer and understands how technology can and should be a key part of educating our young people.

In keeping with the growth mindset philosophy, he stresses how Apple Computer does not look for the most educated or the people with the highest IQ.  Instead they look for potential employees with the most curiosity. John advises us to inspire that trait in our students. 

It comes down to how we educate children. The question is, what should our classrooms and student outcomes look like if employers are no  looking for students with the best grades, but the most skill and experience?

Technology is technology only if it happens after you are born. Therefore, the emphasis for today'sstudent is not about the device, but the ecosystem in which it is used. To use a telling example, when the iPod became popular, the popularity was much more about the opportunities to access and play music at any time and location than the device itself.

  This begs the questions we should be asking: Why are we in the education business? What is school for? "If you're not asking that, you're wasting time and money."

We have to consider the focus has to be for students and to take on the challenges of meeting the personalized needs of student learning today. Understanding how access to information has changed requires us to move the classroom from memorization and consumption to curiosity, exploration and creativity. 

Apple Computer has a philosophy that all of us should adopt: every student has its unique genius. The 21st Century classroom should be designed and implemented with this understanding in mind.

  It was interesting to hear how the Apple Computer 1974 Classroom of Tomorrow had these four characteristics in mind:

-Relevant -Creative -Collaborative -Challenging.


These look uncannily familiar to key words we use in our conversations about 21st Century Learning classrooms. The need to redesign the classroom is even more apparent today. Consider the following: Working memory lasts only 30 seconds; Short term lasts only 2 hours; Long term memory lasts 10 years.

  This has obvious implications in how we should design our classrooms and lessons.  Where should we invest our time when it comes to the type of student learning we want to see happen in our classrooms?

Dr John Medina's quote is an indictment to the gap that still persists in our present day classrooms: “If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a classroom.”

We are asking teachers to create and work in an educational ecosystem they have not seen before. We are creating a environment for learning that most of us are unfamiliar with. This includes the now ubiquitous access to content and the unlimited ability to collaborate, synthesize, create and communicate in and outside the classroom walls.

Seth Godin quoted: “The people who are the best in the world specialize at getting really good at the questions they don't know.”

This is a personalized learning challenge that is exciting but can be scary because of the unknowns. That is why a quote by Emerson is fitting in messaging to all of us to be ready to be the type of educators we need to be to serve today's and tomorrow's students:

 “People are only prepared to see what they are prepared to see.”

That is why we painstakingly are constantly creating an environment for all of us to see!