by Heather M. F. Lyke
I had the pleasure this week of working with a third-grade teacher when our conversation turned to the distance learning we did this year. She shared a powerful takeaway. For her, the gem she honed in on was that she now had a better understanding of what students’ lives are like at home, seeing as she bore witness to certain at-home distractions, had to work more closely with parents as they worked together to keep students engaged, and as she became a sounding board for some guardians to share frustrations regarding discipline issues and learning struggles. Moving forward, this teacher shared that she wants to maintain that better understanding of the complex layers that students and families are navigating outside of school, as they have a direct impact on students’ engagement, behaviors, and learning abilities within school walls.
This got me thinking. There have been many discussion lately about the ‘learning loss’ that has occurred during the past year as we’ve been navigating ever-changing educational structures. Simply do a search for ‘learning loss’ and one will quickly discover that there has become an obsession with how Coronavirus has supposedly created a dip in our youths’ knowledge and skill growth.
While there may be truth to the idea that some of the types of skills that typical students may have typically attained in a previously typical school year could have been lost, have we not learned from the atypical nature of this past school year?
Looking for answers, the Third Eye Education team and I took to social media—asking educators and parents to share their thoughts on what we learned during this past year that we want to be sure not to devalue. In this online conversation, the following clear themes emerged.
The Learnings from Teaching During Covid-19 That Many Wish to Maintain
Inequity Awareness & Efforts to Create Balance
In many ways, teaching during a Coronavirus outbreak brought forth inequities (or at least an awareness of them) and, in some cases, fast-tracked solutions.
As students started to need to learn from home, it became clear who did not have access to computers and/or at-home-internet. Many of these students had likely been negatively impacted by these truths in past academic years, specifically in regards homework expectations, but as students shifted to all schoolwork being done at home, suddenly districts strove to provide laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots, along with other creative solutions. As we find ourselves seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, let’s be sure to maintain this awareness and continue to adjust as needed to support our students. Returning to in-building school doesn’t instantly place all students on an equal level—we need to maintain this awareness even as we come back together.
This year we’ve had a window into students’ home lives in ways we have not in the past, which has increased empathy and allowed for adjustments. Some students have learning environments full of distractions while others have a quiet place to study and focus. Some students have parents who can help them with their homework, while others (due to the time constraints or the specific skill ability of those living in the home) may not. Some students have responsibilities, such as taking care of siblings, while others do not. This imbalance is one teachers are able to continue to adjust for, as long as we maintain the awareness.
Other such discrepancies uncovered this past year to which adjustments were made in some schools included:
Flexibility, Autonomy, & Focus on Individual Need
Covid-19 created a constant need to adjust. Systems had to keep shifting as we learned more, as the virus morphed, as vaccines became available. So did the methodology used in many classrooms.
Particularly in the spring of 2020, asynchronous opportunities for learning became a must for many learners as their schools and families adjusted to spending most of their time indoors and at home. While not always ideal, and certainly not best for all learners, it did become clear that some students learned better this way, at least on occasion, in certain contexts, or in specific content areas. Therefore, we need to maintain this as an option when possible: when it makes sense to, consider utilizing a flipped classroom approach, experimenting with outdoor learning spaces, and supporting online/hybrid courses. (In fact, last year I taught Creative Writing in a hybrid structure: in-person three days a week, writing and one-on-one conferencing twice a week—a perfect balance for such a course.)
Other flexible environment suggestions emerged as well. Due to safety concerns, buildings got creative in what classrooms and shared spaces looked like:
Similarly, the realities that learning doesn’t always happen at the same pace and in the same order for students was highlighted during this past school year. As we have the opportunity to adjust back into more traditional educational structures, educators will want to maintain this realization. One way to do this moving forward is to consider creating more of a ROWE (results only work environment) or adjusting the focal points of what we teach.
Amber Henry, a teacher in Rochester, Minnesota, noted that this malleability has helped students grow skills in the areas of “resilience, grit, flexibility, and technology independence.” These may not be skills we see on a traditional academic report card, but they are exactly the skills we want them to grow none-the-less. Such skills will surely help them grow academically in the years to come.
Other new flexibility, autonomy, and individualization made this year include:
In such a complex year, everyone has been navigating life differently than they likely did in years past. What that looked like, or how it impacted each individual, varied. This led to an increase in empathy in schools in ways that many had never seen before. Students and staff were often reminded to “be proactive about spending time with people [they] care about,” district leaders and teachers exuded more patience, teachers wove more coping and planning skills into their teaching rather than simply making one-size-fits all structures for students to follow.
In Think Again, Adam Grant’s newest book, he notes that “we live in a rapidly changing world, where we need to spend as much time rethinking as we do thinking.” If nothing else, Coronavirus has illustrated how rapidly changing our world really is, and has forced educators to rethink certain aspects of how we run our schools and support our learners. As the concern around the virus subsides, let’s not lose the power that rethinking can have.
Grant goes on to state that, “questioning ourselves makes the world more unpredictable. It requires us to admit that the facts may have changed, that what was once right may now be wrong.” This is not an easy feat, as “we’re mental misers: we often prefer the ease of hanging on to old views over the difficulty of grappling with new ones,” but there is no denying that it’s the new views that are the ones often helping us move forward into a world we don’t yet understand.
Is ‘learning loss’ really the concern we should be having? Or, should we be concerned that we may lose the learning we’ve gained from such an atypical school year?
by Jean Prokott
Part of an educator's job description includes insomnia, but nobody tells you that at teacher-school. It's more on-the-job training. The sleeplessness is nerves, mostly--did I remember to print those worksheets? how is that student's mental health? what if my zipper is down tomorrow?--but it's also anxiety-ridden in that instead of counting sheep, we spend hypnagogic moments counting our failures.
We make hundreds of decisions a day, and a healthy portion of them are mistakes. Failing hurts, and it is uncomfortable, yet we tell our students they learn through failure. It's only fair we know this for ourselves.
To reframe, we're counting the moments we learned. If a lesson plan goes awry, the students watch you flounder (if they're paying attention). If, like me, you say the phrase Netflix and chill in class thinking it's literally about relaxing while watching Gilmore Girls, you're going to sit in that for a while, and you're going to save Urban Dictionary to your Favorites bar.
Physiologically, we can attribute this to the amygdala, where emotions are processed, and which hangs out next to the hippocampus, where memories are retrieved. We recollect emotional experiences more precisely and colorfully because our brains are built that way. Theoretically, as educators, we know Lev Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development, (ZPD), which they did teach us in teacher-school, and which explores the sweet spot of comprehension. In a parallel, one can look at this as emotional intelligence, this sweet spot where you feel just uncomfortable enough to remember. A student ignores or forgets a class where they are not emotionally or intellectually challenged. A student does not feel safe or confident in a class that challenges them, content or skill-wise, too much.
Our job is to hover in the ZPD. It's not easy to create these moments for our students, to get their hippocampi to remember how we made them feel and what we taught them. Especially because every student's ZPD is different. So is mine, so is yours. And they fluctuate.
But, as I mentioned before, we must do for ourselves what we ask of our students. Teachers might not experience the anxiety of feeling intellectually or emotionally unsafe in our classrooms (not to be flippant, but aside from the fact that a student could kill me with a gun, or that I could be fired for saying the "wrong" thing). However, educators can find themselves complacent in the nucleus of the ZPD. Not because of laziness, but because of survival. In those rare circumstances when opportunity and time presents itself to us, we should strive for the next layer.
Education, as its own institutional beast, struggles to evolve on its own. For one cog to move, myriad others in the government and community must be greased. Fortunately, (hopefully), teachers have control over their classrooms. To move to the outer ring, we can challenge ourselves with new curriculum, new projects instead of tests, cross-curricular activities if the school structure can be manipulated for it. With support from our administrators and colleagues, we can set plans in motion for "hard conversations."
It isn't a leap to explore how this, too, is exactly how poetry works. (Everything is a metaphor, even a metaphor.) Third Eye Education is ever grateful for the conversation and new poems from poet Taylor Mali, who opened a door to the joy of discomfort by way of poetry, teaching, and shaking dice for a symbolic gamble.
Mali's new poems, "Momentum," and "Are You Going to Come for Me'' explore the Gestaltian circumstances when we're thrust from our comfort zones. Mali tackles how one new experience can change our big picture.
In "Momentum," the speaker challenges his sister on the accuracy of her memories with their father: "I repeated a story he had only ever told to me [...] his brothers locked him in a windowless shed—/ piled firewood against the door outside—and dared him/to escape in under five minutes." While the speaker uses the story as evidence of "joy," his sister interprets the story as evidence of "destroying everything around him to become free," which warps the memory of his father. This discomfort leads the speaker to rearrange his past relationship with his father, and perhaps to question whether any of his memories can be trusted. I think, here, of how this ties to the lessons I've learned in my classroom. How might I look at my prior discomforts now, as a seasoned teacher? Discomfort breeds when our Truths are challenged. Do we accept this, or do we double-down?
Speaking of “discomfort,” the next poem contains content
that might make some uncomfortable. But isn’t that the point?
By Mark Barden
Constraints get a bad rap. People see them as wholly negative: they impede progress and diminish potential. Entrepreneurs, in particular, seem locked in a perpetual grim struggle against scarce resources and abundant obstacles.
But constraints can also be fertile, enabling—even desirable. They can make people and businesses more than they were rather than less than they could be. Constraints force people to reframe problems and get creative, and from that fresh perspective and creativity emerge new opportunities: superior alternatives at which smooth, open roads would never have arrived.
In these “interesting times” when our lives seem chock full of constraints thanks to the pandemic, it can be liberating to think about the possibilities in the constraints.
Examples are everywhere:
Google and Zappos were responding to external constraints, which is the typical scenario for startups, but the NBA and Seinfeld created their own constraints. Can you imagine becoming so confident in your ability to transform your limitations into gold that you might impose them on yourself?
As advisors to the plucky challengers of the modern world, we’ve been wrestling with this subject for 20 years. Our research spans four continents and numerous industries and we’ve reached some simple, but powerful conclusions about the mindset, method, and motivation required to make constraints beautiful, including:
With the right mindset, method and motivation, the thing that binds you may just be the thing that liberates you to achieve greater success. Good luck!
Making Educational Constraints Beautiful
with Mark Barden | 3.16.2021
Barden shares a wealth of information on how to leverage the constraints in education to create more than if no constraints existed at all.
by Third Eye Education, consolidated by Nick Truxal
Third Eye Education’s Core Collaborator’s February discussions have been rotating around “Human-Centered Design.” It’s been a blended conversation: covering the threads of voice, disparity, equity, practices of application, training, and onward. The following is our attempt at a concise representation of these discussions.
First, if you are new to the ideas of Human-Centered Design (HCD)…
To return to the dangling click bait of an introductory quote, we do have a chance to establish new normals as we emerge from the pandemic. For example, Rochester Public Schools in Rochester, Minnesota is exploring establishing a Design Team: a group with diverse viewpoints and skill sets designated to solve problems from the large to the small in innovative ways. In exploring this idea with the Third Eye Collaborative, John Alberts pointed out the obvious: “We were attempting to solve the problem of how this team might function with traditional tools, while the team itself would be functioning through the lens of HCD.” This idea can apply to this article, and to Third Eye Education, as well. Why discuss Human-Centered design when we can apply it?
The Rules of the Room
The Third Eye
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My concept of storylining blends the phenomena-based storylining that science curriculums are moving towards (Illinois example), with the Montessori principles of a three-period lesson, the Visible Learning work of learning intentions and success criteria, and student inquiry-based, place-based, and experiential learning. I taught four sessions to interested teachers in our district this summer. Our teachers are using this as a tool for human-centered design in learning. All students have a voice in the storyline as they explore their interests and perspectives with success criteria.
Storylining Folder with Professional Development Links and Step-by-Step Guidance
In our meeting, I recommended not thinking about just having one design team, but setting up a system where educational stakeholders rotate in and out of the design lab. Then, by using storylining as a tool the different stakeholders map the Ideate, Iterate, and Implement steps of Human-Centered Design in a way that tells a story of growth, voice and equity. Here is an example of how we are starting to track our story and growth. This is the skeleton of what we are building:
Experience Mapping - Coaching and Transformational Documentation Tool
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Identify a specific, actionable “teaching problem.” Use the above Ideation process, or others, to choose the problem.
Design a lesson around a hypothetical fix with your instructional coach or with your team.
One teacher in your group teaches the hypothetical lesson; others come to observe...
Come back together with the entire team to make tweaks and improvements.
Then, repeat steps 2-4 as needed. This is the true definition of iteration.
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The TLDR Takeaway
I came to like two notable landmarks that broke the monotony: grain elevators and farm silos. Most dictionaries cite two definitions for silos. One, of course, is the tall cylindrical farm feature that is used to store grain or silage--a feature of many cattle farms. The second, which also has ties to my community and its proximity to the Canada-US border, is the military connotation of a silo: the underground chamber used to store a guided missile and the equipment used to fire it. According to the Grand Forks Herald (2015), by the late 1960s, northeastern North Dakota was home to 300 nuclear silos. I was born in 1972, and like so many others in my generation, I was inundated with news stories and movies that allowed me to, “grow up strong and proud, in the shadow of the mushroom cloud.” Thanks, Freddie.
As I looked around for various definitions of silos, I came across a third, metaphoric definition. Beyond food storage for domestic bovines and apocalyptic subterranean nukes there is:
An isolated grouping, department, etc., that functions apart from others especially in a way seen as hindering communication and cooperation
In their fascinating and relevant book A Beautiful Constraint: How To Transform Your Limitations Into Advantages, and Why It's Everyone's Business by Barden and Morgan (2015), we’re challenged to identify and break our ‘path dependence’ in order to solve seemingly unsolvable problems and, well, make our constraints beautiful. The authors point out that ‘path dependence’ can be formal, such as the myriad ‘how-to’ manuals and long-standing protocols and procedures to which we all adhere. On the other hand, ‘path dependence’ can “exist in a more informal, pervasive sense of “the way we do things around here”—the learned best practices, processes, values data sources and partners that people pay attention to” (page 38). Breaking path dependence requires us to look outside for new ideas.
I suppose there is a sort of collision occurring in my thinking that prompted me to write this article now, in January of 2021.
- We are living in the COVID silo, and the endless array of constraints brought upon by it. I don’t know of a year in my life that’s been more punctuated by the phrase, “we can’t do … like we used to”.
- I’m working once again in my school district as an administrator and we’ve had to look outside of our school for solutions, ideas, and support like never before.
- I am a dad of two high school students, and I am caught in a see-saw of emotions. On one hand, I’m frustrated that my kids, and their peers, are missing out on so many things they’d normally do. On the other hand, I catch myself thinking of Mark Barden’s recent comment to my leadership class that, “we may one day look at 2020 as a real gift--a time to world came together to solve a common problem…a dress rehearsal for how we can solve much bigger problems yet to come our way” (Zoom presentation, Summerland Secondary Schools Leadership class, October 22, 2020).
WE CAN IF . . . WE ACCESS THE KNOWLEDGE OF . . .
WE CAN IF . . . WE ACCESS THE KNOWLEDGE OF ADVERTISERS.
Here are three to consider:
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Know What You're Selling
Did you recall it? Maybe you remembered, “Michelin…because so much is riding on your tires.” O’Reilly argues that the French tire giant wasn’t selling tires, it was selling safety (O’Reilly, 2017). The late Tony Hsieh founded Zappos as a ‘customer service’ company that just happened to sell shoes (Alcantara, 2020). Heineken commercials over the past few years have shifted from flogging beer to the selling of inclusion, tolerance, and surprisingly--moderation!
Observe this remarkable evolution in beer ads here:
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Coin Your Own Elevator Pitch
I empower and engage learners to push the boundaries of their own competencies.
I strive to prepare today’s students to be tomorrow’s citizens--ready for challenges seen and unseen.
In every aspect of assessment, we will engage and empower the student by offering opportunities for student voice, choice, self-assessment, and self-reporting.
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How Will You Know if Your Pitch is Working?
Scott Cook’s idea, from well outside my silo, inspired me to try something I never imagined doing. I transformed Cook’s line into my own inquiry:
Is a school no longer what we tell the student it is--it is what they tell each other it is?
So let’s say you’re at a party or something in the summer and a new kid is talking about moving into our area. In trying to decide which high school to attend, they ask, So tell me about Summerland Secondary…I mean really, what do you think of it?
The bottom line...
So, whether you are stepping out of your silo to the sound of cows, or squinting into the North Dakota sun as you exit your atomic catacomb, be sure that the silo is not one of your own making. There's a lot for us to learn out there.
Airport Stories: Piloting Students Beyond the Silos | with Myron Dueck | 2.2.2021
Myron Dueck and the Third Eye podcast team discuss how to help students navigate beyond the silos, in which we educators and our students frequently dwell.
Myron Dueck is a teacher and administrator from BC, Canada. Published four times in EL Magazine, he is also the author of the best-selling book, Grading Smarter, Not Harder– Assessment Strategies that Motivate Kids and Help Them Learn and Giving Students a Say: Smarter Assessment Practices to Empower and Engage. Connect with him at @myrondueck.