This week, I had the opportunity to attend the M.A.C.U.L. (Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning) Conference in Detroit. It was inspiring to see and hear all of the stories of innovation and creativity that are occurring across Michigan, and highlighting the efforts of several Saline Schools staff. It brought to mind an article I recently read, titled “Two Words that Kill Innovation.” The words are, “Prove it.” Those are the two words most deadly to innovation.
A variation of “prove it” in education is “research based.” Often, it makes sense to ask for analytical proof before making a decision, but this phrase can set a standard that is impossible to meet. There is no data to measure how a genuinely new idea will interact with the world or impact student achievement, so there is no way to prove that it will work in advance. While one might think that rigorous adherence to the strict norms required in academia germane, that rigor might end up killing innovation and potentially important new ideas. To keep these innovators and early adopters from being discouraged, we need to distinguish between when we are refining an existing system/program and when the aim is to create something entirely new. If refining, it is most appropriate to ask for supporting data. If truly invested in new ideas and strategies, one needs to take an entirely different approach. Giving educators permission to take risks with the implementation is important in the process. Throughout the Saline Area Schools, the focus is on prototyping, testing, piloting, rapid iterations, to test innovative ideas in small ways without much up-front investment. Iterative experimentation will generate data that can then be used to refine the solution.
Do not mistake our interest in looking for new ideas to help students as us as not being concerned about the impact on student learning. We continue to use various strategies and measure student learning to make sure growth is at or above targeted levels.
Innovation in a highly regulated system such as public education can be very challenging. As leaders, it is important that we both encourage and model the approach that allows staff to develop new ideas that help all students succeed.
Two weeks ago, during the “cold day” our administrative team got together and discuss the 4-C’s – Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity and Communication. They got into 4 groups and each one generated a blog post about what their “C” meant for Saline Area Schools. Here is the post about Communication produced by: Brad Bezeau, Carol Melcher, Kevin Musson, and Michelle Szczechowicz.
EdLeader21 articulates four areas that define the 21st century learner: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication. The future ready student will embody all of these skills and employ them with clarity and flexibility across a wide range of environments.
Previous blogposts have defined the first three of these. Finally, communication is explored. Several bullet points help clarify the skills that all students will learn and demonstrate:
Communicate Clearly (EdLeader21)
Use effective interpersonal skills during conversations and discussion to build positive relationships with others and promote collaborative learning.
Communicate interactively and effectively to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others using a range of contemporary tools, transmissions and processes.
Listen effectively to decipher meaning, including knowledge, values, attitudes and intentions.
Communicate ideas through the creation of authentic products using a combination of words, data, and visual representations to inform, persuade and entertain others
Communicate effectively in diverse environments (including multi-lingual). Show cultural understanding and global awareness when engaging with learners of other cultures.
Deliver effective oral presentations to communicate the results of inquiry. Field questions to demonstrate conceptual understanding and knowledge, along with details about the inquiry process.
Effective communication is purposeful, intentional and flexible. Megan drives home the point that students should embrace, not fear, oral presentations, and communicates well that ALL students can learn to communicate effectively.
In the end, when we prepare students with skills for open, interactive, effective communication, the potential for success is limitless.
Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.
~Stephen R. Covey~
Last week, during the “cold day” our administrative team got together and discuss the 4-C’s – Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity and Communication. They got into 4 groups and each one generated a blog post about what their “C” meant for Saline Area Schools. Here is the post about Collaboration produced by: Julie Campbell, Curt Ellis, Steve Laatsch, and Brian Puffer.
Mission and vision provide a roadmap for an organization to follow. In a collaborative environment, goals are clearly defined and understood and individual strengths are matched to tasks with the goal of benefiting the organization.
In a school setting, it can be difficult for people to understand the roles and responsibilities of others. While individual work is important, absent an understanding of broader roles and responsibilities, capacity and therefore achievement is limited. As a school district becomes more collaborative and the individuals develop a greater understanding and capacity to perform different roles within the team, the ability to withstand personnel changes and preserve the integrity of the organization is enhanced.
In an ever-changing society, the collaborative environment demands flexibility where respect and empathy for the thoughts, feelings and ideas of others is highly valued. High quality individual work is connected to the group, excitement is generated and productivity rises.
Highly collaborative groups are reflective and possess the capacity to self-critique. They are not afraid to fail and will leave no stone unturned until solutions are found. In highly collaborative environments, individuals feel connected to the mission and vision of the organization.
Last week, during the “cold day” our administrative team got together and discuss the 4-C’s – Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity and Communication. They got into 4 groups and each one generated a blog post about what their “C” meant for Saline Area Schools. Here is the post about Creativity produced by: Joe Palka, David Raft, Betty Rosen-Leacher, and Marie Schluter.
What is Creativity? How do you know if you are Creative ? Why is Creativity important? As the four of us sit here and ponder those questions, we realize maybe we could be a little more creative ourselves. Sure, we all have the ability to be creative in our specific venues of our life, but is that enough anymore? Author Daniel H. Pink in Forbes Magazine had some interesting thoughts. Pink foresees a power shift between left-hemisphere leaders and right-hemisphere leaders at the executive level. He believes that focusing more strongly on developing right-hemisphere potential, and corresponding values like intuition, creativity and empathy, is essential, and thinks the time has come for talented people with these attributes to take up leadership positions. This is an example of how creativity transcends our future educational and business world.
Sir Ken Robinson talks about the importance of creativity in education and how we are limiting our students in this area. He discusses how schools are narrowing and continues to narrow creativity based on the standardized testing among our students. We discuss the importance of being creative but, our curriculum and focus takes that away. After listening to Sir Ken Robinson it is clear that we need to continue to push the efforts of being creative in our schools. Take time to view Sir Ken Robinson, Why is Creativity Important in Education?
If we want to learn more about creativity we need to look at our children… do our schools teach creativity right out of our students? We can learn a lot from our children, how do we know? There are three takeaways we can learn from this video by Kid President:
- It’s okay to make mistakes, failure is the backbone of creativity
- We are not alone in this adventure, the more we work together the more creative we can be
- Kids are our most creative inventors, they aren’t afraid to try anything. As adults we need to stop telling them it might not work, you’re right it might not, but it just might and what can we learn from the mistakes?
Yesterday, during the “cold day” our administrative team got together and discuss the 4-C’s – Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity and Communication. They got into 4 groups and each one generated a blog post about what their “C” meant for Saline Area Schools. Here is the post about Critical Thinking produced by: Rex Clary, Patti Henes, Heather Kellstrom, Kendra Leib, and Janice Warner.
A Real-World Connection with Critical Thinking
When we think of Critical Thinking, the movie “Apollo 13” comes to mind. Remember the scene where the NASA engineers were placed in a room with only the materials available on Apollo 13 and they had to construct a carbon monoxide filter so the astronauts would live. Limited resources and “failure is not an option” really bring out the critical thinking and problem solving skills of individuals.
How Saline Schools Defines Critical Thinking
Critical Thinking is really quite vast as a topic. We’re teaching our students to reason effectively, use systems thinking, make judgements and decisions based off of analysis, synthesis, evaluation and reflection, ask questions that lead to better solutions and solve problems in conventional and creative ways. Using grade appropriate rubrics, our teachers and students are exploring deeper classroom thinking through hands-on content-driven experiences.
Critical Thinking Classroom Story
Encompassing all four C’s, but especially critical thinking, fourth grade Next Gen scaled an adaption of The Three Little Pigs challenge that first grade and Kindergarten did.
However to encourage high level critical thinking, the teams were introduced to new and more challenging elements throughout the design and creation process. First, they were given supplies, then later a budget with which they had purchase those supplies from Pig Depot introducing elements of math and economics into the project. Then they tested their prototype with a small hairdryer but were later introduced to the Bigger Badder Fan that their design really had to withstand to be considered successful. And their design had to be realistic as the driving question that the students came up with was “How can we design a structure that can withstand strong hurricane or tornado force winds?”.
The students tied this assignment to writing, literature, science, math, social studies.
Interested in the Learning More
A great place to gain a better understanding about Critical Thinking and other 4C’s is to go the Saline Next-Gen website. Here’s an example of teacher training that recently occurred on the concept of Critical Thinking & Problem Solving.
A couple of weeks ago the New York Times had an article called, “No Need to Be Afraid. It’s Only a Performance Review.” about the impact of feedback vs. a performance review.
The overall concept that I took away was the need to give and seek feedback frequently. Waiting until a review or not giving feedback at all, can have a negative or limiting effect on both my ability to lead and the ability of our staff to grow.
“Although we need three kinds of feedback, we don’t need evaluations that often,” said Ms. Heen, who is also a lecturer at Harvard Law School. “Coaching, however, should be happening day in and day out. If you’re clear you’re coaching and not evaluating, it lowers the stakes.”
Because, too often, as employees, we only hear the evaluation. “It’s like getting a paper back in high school,” she said. “The first thing you do is look at the grade, not the comments on the paper. The evaluation tends to drown out everything else.”
In practice, what I have found is that once it’s an “evaluation” the discussion moves from the depth of feedback and lands squarely on the “score”. In Michigan, teachers and administrators are placed into 4 rating categories – Highly Effective, Effective, Minimally Effective and Ineffective. They all come with loaded notions of what they mean to an individual – and some come with legislated consequences. I understand performance evaluations are an important part of managing organizations, however, frequent and specific feedback are an even more important aspect of leading an organization.
Dear Saline Families,
Over the past eight winters as the Superintendent for Saline Schools, I have been tasked with making difficult decisions about school cancellations. Weather is unpredictable, and especially so in Michigan. In previous years, there have been between zero and nine days where school was cancelled due to inclement weather.
This past week, school was open. In making that decision, I gathered information from a variety of sources, weighed the options and considered the alternatives. I posted to the school website the criteria used to consider cancellation. Based on all of the information, the decision to keep the buildings open was sound.
There is one overarching theme in this decision-making process: The safety of the students and staff will always come first.
As with other controversial matters, when decisions are made others may not agree. This week, some families did not agree with the decision to keep the schools open when the temperatures dipped below zero. I listened to, and read on social media, many of your concerns. I continue to reflect on the concerns raised, and appreciate the respectful criticisms voiced.
I urge students, parents and community members to use social media responsibly and respectfully when airing concerns. Making the safest decisions regarding weather closures is my aim. I appreciate your feedback and courteous use of the media. These difficult decisions are never easy. I am committed to making wise, purposeful decisions and I appreciate your support.
Scot A. Graden, Superintendent
Saline Area Schools