Friday, August 28, 2015

Summer Reading #2: Switch

Wow, this week has passed rather quickly. It's the last week of holidays before we head back to school to prep for students to return. (But, don't be jealous if you have already returned to work; in order to make up for the late start of school this year, we are shaving off holidays during the school year, ie. the buffer days that used to exist in between terms, which I would have probably rather kept.) Since I am nursing a foot injury (plantar fasciitis on both feet, sigh...), I did some planning, read some books, and hung out with the hubby*. It is so luxurious to be able to have lunch and coffee dates with my husband during the week! I love it.

*The hubby works from home.

Anyhow, I thought I'd jot down some notes about Switch, which is written by Chip and Dan Heath of Made to Stick fame. Switch is a book about how to initiate change in other people or in a system, when people's natural inertia is to resist change. I wanted to read this book because I think that as teachers, we are constantly trying to change our students' approaches and attitudes towards their learning. In our minds, there is a vision of what an ideal student does, and we are striving to move all of our students a bit closer to that model. For example, for me, an ideal student is always actively engaged and reflective of their learning. They are always asking questions and trying to draw connections between topics. They are risk-takers, communicators, and they have a deeply rooted growth mindset. The ideal student does not necessarily always enter the class with all of the skills from previous classes ( fact, sometimes they can be missing significant skills...), but they have a big, open heart, ready to take on feedback and to re-tool their learning processes as needed.

The book outlines a deceptively simple framework for initiating change, and then it illustrates the use of this framework through a variety of almost unbelievably successful stories. The framework is basically this:

* Motivate people emotionally. In order for someone to change, they have to want to change. You don't motivate people using numbers or research, because our intellect is not what causes us to change; you have to find a way to give them a vision and trigger their emotions. Sometimes, this can mean helping them to envision or build a new identity, because we tend to behave in a way that we wish to see ourselves. (This is a silly example, but have you ever wanted to buy something from a store that looks really stylish, but whose clothes are not very flattering on you? You're subconsciously trying to assume the identity of the type of person who would shop at that store, and you're shifting your behavior to match that identity. Another example is how Geoff and I started composting. In Seattle, it's part of our collective identity because the city provides infrastructure and even a small financial incentive to compost, as compost-collection costs less than regular garbage. Now that we have grown to see ourselves as composters, we can't seem to break the habit of looking to compost everywhere, even when we're away traveling. It has changed our behavior permanently!)

* Give clear directives and "shrink the change". Once you get people on board emotionally to change (which, I know, isn't easy), you have to give them clear, achievable, and black-and-white goals in order for them to get started and feeling successful. The example given in the book is that instead of telling someone to "eat healthy", to say instead to "drink 1% milk." This clear health directive has completely shifted the way America now consumes milk. When you script these directives, think in terms of something immediately achievable, although you can link it to a longer-term vision that it will hopefully pave way to. Give the brain a reason to follow the change and give it also a clear path to follow.

* Follow the bright spots. Change is hard and change takes time. Instead of focusing on what isn't working, look for what is working and highlight those consistently. Find ways to duplicate the success until it creates a positive momentum. For example, are 70% of the kids turning in their projects on time? Praise those kids and ask them to share what strategies are working for them to help them stay ahead of schedule.

* Shape the path. Are you making it as easy as possible for people to create and maintain the change? For example, if your students are not in the habit of doing homework, are you posting homework online and giving them organizers in order to help them ease into the habit? Are you finding ways to create a positive group culture wherein the norm is to do homework? If the change you wish to see is kids volunteering to speak in class, are you providing a structure wherein it's the norm to speak up?

I liked the book, but what I would like to hear is what other teachers think are challenging changes to institute in their classroom, and how we can use this framework as a lens to help us think about transitioning students into more successful learners over time. For example, one incentive that I want to try this year is the ability for the class to earn "homework passes" by showing consistency in completing homework. It's not so much the homework that I care about, as much as I care about them doing and thinking about math consistently outside of the classroom and really attempting problems when I am not there by their side. I figure that if I start with an incentive system, over time the learning will hopefully become its own reward, and I can wean them off of "homework passes." But, in the mean time, it can help me to shrink the change from "be a more proactive learner" to "try your homework", to help the kids who don't already have good study habits to start to build them.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Summer Reading #1: Thanks for the Feedback

OK, web, I am back! I had a fabulous summer. My husband and I did a big trip! We started in New Zealand and ended in Iceland, covering a total of 12 countries in 60 days, so it was quite a sprint.

Anyhow, I have been doing some summer reading after returning from our trip. I had picked up two professional books prior to the start of the summer, but didn't get around to reading them until I got back. (Traveling with a smallish backpack made carrying paperback books unrealistic, and as it turned out, it was hard to find places to reliably charge our phones while staying in hostels, so I did relatively minimal digital reading also while away!) I thought I'd jot down some notes about the books I read, as the books were very useful to me!

One book I read this summer is called Thanks for the Feedback, and I had picked it up because I wanted to get better at hearing and parsing through feedback myself, as well as giving feedback effectively. I highly recommend the book! It was a great lesson in thinking about nurturing my own growth mindset, because how we receive feedback has everything to do with our own growth mindset. The book, for me, contained a lot of valuable information regarding why hearing negative feedback is challenging and how we can frame our minds around this more effectively.

To give you a small taste of why I really liked the book, it talks about how sometimes someone we really don't get along with would try to tell us what they think about us. They would probably present it at the wrong time and in the wrong manner, and you can easily, based on many legitimate reasons, write them off and think to yourself that what they have to say does not apply to you, and that they're in the wrong for X, Y, Z reasons or disqualified to give you feedback for M, N, R reasons. Well, the book encourages you to put aside all those factors and to ask them questions about why they feel this way. Dig further into the data that they're looking at. Do they have information that you don't have? Is their role giving them a reason to consider other factors that are not on your radar? Instead of deflecting negative feedback as is tempting for most people to do, embrace it actively and ask probing questions in order to start a conversation. In the end, you don't have to accept all parts of their feedback, but the first step to growing is to understand where they are coming from, particularly because the people you get along with the least are most likely to offer you an honest look at yourself.

The book also talks about examples of when someone we are in a close relationship with tries to give us feedback. While reading this, I related this in my mind to my husband, who from time to time tries to give me critical feedback about something in my personality that he thinks needs some work. The book talks about how people often react to this by essentially redirecting the conversation to include a new thread about how you are also dissatisfied about something that the other person does. I know I'm certainly guilty of this, and the book gives specific strategies about how to tackle this type of impulse / conversation trainwreck to guide it towards a productive conversation, wherein you focus on one conversation at a time and really try to hear the other person's point of view.

One of the things that I really liked also is a diagrammed model in the book about how our own behaviors are invisible to ourselves. We, as individuals, are only aware of our intentions and the impact that we intend to make, but we have no visibility into our outward behaviors (particularly our micro-movements and our body language) and their impact on others. On the flip side, the people who are experiencing our actions have no visibility into our intentions, even though both parties think that we are seeing the full picture. For example, I am only aware of what I say to my students and why I am saying it, but I'm not aware of how it is coming across in the moment and whether it has the intended effect. This is why getting feedback from our students is very, very important. It helps to close that feedback loop and to make sure that the messages that I hope to send are actually aligned with the messages that the students are receiving, particularly when it comes to my instructional choices and what I think are important aspects of their learning!

The book also helped me reflect upon how I give feedback to my students! The book distinguishes between feedback forms that are evaluation, coaching, and appreciation, and gives examples for why it can cause a lot of frustration for the receiver if they are constantly missing a certain type of feedback. It also talks about the importance of giving feedback in the manner that a person prefers to hear it. So, one of the things I will do this year is to find out, from each student, how they prefer to receive feedback. I'll have to think about how best to phrase this, but the book has some good suggestions for probing questions.

Wow! It is turning out to be a fairly hefty entry here, particularly because I have gone for so long without posting much at all. I'll come back and talk about the next book tomorrow, but if this quick summary sounds intriguing to you, I highly recommend checking out Thanks for the Feedback as written by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. Worth a read and worth taking notes!