Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Snow Day

NY was recently hit by two major snowstorms that dumped enough snow on the ground to keep most schools closed... yes, that's right, we've recently had a couple of SNOW DAYS! There is something so incredibly special about a Snow Day and no other day can compare. A snow day is a gift... it is magical... it means fun (except if you have to shovel)... comfy clothes... snowmen... snow ball fights... doing what you want for as long as you want... exploring a new hobby... reading a good book (NOT for HW)... unexpected extra time spent with loved ones... no structure... and most importantly, no work. Yes, snow days are special and whether you are a kid still in school or an adult, whenever the possibility of a snow day comes on the radar we all secretly do the "snow dance" - you know the one! So, if these days are so incredibly special and fun and rejuvenating why don't we have more of them? I am totally serious - our schools, kids and staff need more snow days! Are you with me? Let's make it happen... NOW!!

Ok, let me explain. When I say let's have more snow days, I am not talking about praying to the weather gods or doing the snow dance every night or wearing our clothes inside/out for good luck... no, I am talking about creating our own snow days... in school! Yes, that's right - let's turn a random Tuesday or Wednesday into a snow day for our kids and us. How do we make that happen you ask? Especially if there isn't a cloud in the sky and the temperature is above 50 degrees? Well, you see, I am not talking about an actual snow day with feet of snow that makes driving conditions unsafe, keeps everyone home and leaves people dreading shoveling the day after. No... I am talking about capturing all those magical qualities of a snow day - the fun, the creativity, the unstructured activities, pursuing passions and interests with your "extra" time and maybe wearing comfy clothes (this is optional) - and build a day of learning around those qualities. Make the snow day come to life in our classrooms or in our schools... make a fun day of learning that kids will not forget. 

So, what does a snow day in school look like? I don't think there is one answer because the glory of a snow day is that it can be whatever we envision for us and our kids... remember, no two snow angels or snowmen look alike so no two snow days in school need to look alike either - let your imagine run wild! For example, we can create a day full of Project/Passion Based Learning activities that are driven by the students. We can give the children time to play with cardboard, tape and string to be creative and innovative. We can take the idea of the #GenuisHour and let it unfold over the course of day - #GenuisDay if you will! We can empower our students to pursue an interest or passion that has been on the back burner because it doesn't exactly meet the expectations laid out within the Common Core State Standards. We can encourage kids to collaborate through different games or hands-on activities - we should encourage them to come up with the activities. We can let kids read... for fun with no expectation to respond, take notes or use post-its. Teachers could line up multiple Mystery Skype sessions in one day so students can connect with others from around the world. Make it a day of service learning so children can go out into the community to make a difference; or stay in school and beautify the space! And the list can go on and on and on... 

Here is the thing... we control what happens in our schools and classrooms each and every day! We impact the tone and tempo of the day. We can decide what stays and what goes during the school day. We decide how much fun we have on any given day. We decide whether or not we can create a SNOW DAY in school... that's right, we, the educators, decide what happens in our schools. With that in mind, I think we should start considering the notion of creating a snow day in school! Maybe it only happens two or three times a year... or maybe it is once a month... whatever the frequency, trying to capture the magic of a snow day in school is something we should consider... our kids deserve it... we deserve it! Let it snow and bring on the SNOW DAY! 

Please leave a comment below and share your ideas for what we could do during our school snow day!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Feedback: It's All Good

"Hey Tony, when you get a chance can you come by my office so I can give you some feedback from my visit to your school yesterday?" The word I dreaded... the word that meant something went wrong... the word that meant things were not as good as I viewed them... the word that meant something negative was coming up... FEEDBACK! I am not quite sure why I viewed this word in such a negative way but I could trace its roots back to my days as a high school and college student. Anytime a teacher or professor had feedback for me I immediately braced for the bad news - what did I do wrong?? From those days over 20 years ago, the word FEEDBACK carried a very negative connotation in my world... nothing good could come from FEEDBACK because I always took it personally. 

Well, I am happy to share that all started to change about five years ago when I started my position as the Lead Learner at Cantiague. I can't exactly pinpoint what brought about the change - maybe I was more mature (unlikely if you know me well), maybe I had a thicker skin (I am sensitive so this one doesn't make much sense either) or maybe it was just that I started to realize that FEEDBACK was an opportunity to grow... an opportunity to learn... an opportunity to get better... an enhancement opportunity. In reality, there was nothing negative about FEEDBACK because it all boiled down to how I received it, processed it and how I used it. I control what happens with the FEEDBACK. I control how I respond to FEEDBACK. I control if and how I respond to FEEDBACK. The F word is no longer one that I fear; instead, I embrace it, welcome it and look at it as an opportunity to get better and fuel breakthroughs!

This week we had the honor of hosting the awesome Chris Lehman (Yes, Mr. I Love Close Reading) at Cantiague and it was a day I will not forget because it featured lots and lots of awesome FEEDBACK! In three short hours, Chris visited almost every classroom at Cantiague and used his critical lens to help us figure out ways to enhance our craft... to do better by our kids... to grow as teachers and learners! Chris saw everything we were doing well and immediately offered suggestions on how we could do things REALLY well by giving us specific, honest and best of all, actionable FEEDBACK. All the ideas he offered us were opportunities for us to get better collectively - who doesn't want to get better? Why would anyone want to stay the same or get worse? I am pretty sure Peyton Manning analyzes film of his own play each week and scrutinizes it as a way to get better - he wants to be even better as the Broncos QB from one week to the next - he does not want to stay the same - he wants to be the best! 

If Manning can see the positive in FEEDBACK, so can we as educators! Instead of viewing FEEDBACK as a dreaded word wrapped in negativity let's view it as the gate that opens up to a pathway of positivity. A pathway filled with opportunities, chances and learning. For example, Chris reminded us about the importance of having kids write frequently in their writer's notebooks as a way to take ownership over the own writing and to help them enhance their skill set (yea, kids need to be reading and writing every single day if we want them to enhance their literacy skills). Did it hurt a little when Chris pointed out something we weren't doing well? Yes, it did. But, only for a moment because I realized I controlled how I took in his FEEDBACK! Instead of seeing it as something we weren't doing well, I saw it as something we could do better; something we could challenge ourselves with; something that would enhance the learning experiences of our kids. The FEEDBACK Chris offered was awesome and I was immediately inspired by the opportunity to grow and enhance our craft. The FEEDBACK Chris shared with us reminded me that FEEDBACK ain't all bad!   

So, moving forward I challenge all the educators out there to shed their fears of FEEDBACK and instead, embrace it head on and use it to get better. We must learn to offer FEEDBACK to students, teachers and leaders and we must practice receiving FEEDBACK in a positive way... in a way that allows us to grow and enhance our skill set. We must remember that FEEDBACK ain't all bad!