The Small Win

I love reading fiction. It is my escape from the world, my way to relax. I very rarely read nonfiction for “pleasure” because it feels like work. But recently I checked out an e-book from the Jefferson Madison Regional Library called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.index

This book by Charles Duhigg has ended up being one of those books that really rings true for me, both personally and professionally. The author presents a very few key ideas, which he illustrates with fascinating examples from many venues, from the football field to Wall Street, from ones’ personal life to the classroom. Each vignette drives home the efficacy of the concepts Duhigg puts forward about how habits are formed and changed, as well as how key habits influence our success or failure in…well everything.

One of the concepts that the book explicates is the idea of “small wins.” Duhigg explains,

Small wins are exactly what they sound like, and are part of how keystone habits create widespread changes. A huge body of research has shown that small wins have enormous power, an influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves. “Small wins are a steady application of a small advantage,” one Cornell professor wrote in 1984. “Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win.” Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.

The author goes on to give examples of the “small win.”

  • The new Alcoa CEO whose focus on improving safety records across the company, lead to Alcoa recovering from a multi-year slump to a thriving corporation willing to make changes based on the excellent suggestions of its workers
  • Michael Phelps who became one of the most successful Olympic athletes by employing a visualization technique suggested by his coach

Which started me thinking about how the small win applies to students and teachers at Burley.

Remember Rick Stiggins, the Assessment for Learning guru? One of his major points was about how it is no surprise that some students give up. In our “old” view of assessment, the test at the end of the unit constantly reminded some students that they didn’t measure up. Who would keep trying when all the numbers were telling him that he was a failure? Enter assessment for learning, where the student, through timely, targeted feedback and multiple attempts, had many opportunities to end up a winner.

But I think the small win has power way beyond this context. What about the student who has trouble staying on task in class? Think about ways you have structured his learning environment to help him make the small win, by giving him the tennis ball that he can squeeze when is body needs to move, or breaking a larger task into discrete parts so that he has an excellent chance of attending and feeling good about himself.

I also recall a first grade teacher who I walk with on weekends who described to me how you get a whole class of 5 and 6 year olds to do independent reading.  Sounds impossible, right?   You start by having students tell you what it would look like if every student where actively engaged in independent reading. Then you set a small challenge. “Class, how long do you think we can all read silently?” When you get to sixty seconds the first day, it is a win. When you get to 2 minutes, it is another win.

I think about all the ways Burley teachers provide those small win opportunities for Burley students. How we can change a downward spiral for a student into an upward spiral by challenging them to set those small goals and celebrating with them when achieve them.

But it also makes me ponder how our own success and progress as educators is built on small wins. All that PD is not about completely rethinking our educational philosophy and practices. It’s about being willing to try out a new tool here, or take a strategy that you saw or heard of from another teacher and giving it a go in your classroom. It’s about the constant acknowledgement that how you practice your craft is never going to be perfect, but continually searching for better ways to reach students and help students reach for success.

So each day, we don’t have to take on the world. We can feel satisfied with all the small wins we can claim.

  • Connecting with the student who previously saw us as “the enemy”
  • Seeing the light come on for the student who couldn’t grasp a concept until we found a way to break down an overwhelming jump into smaller manageable steps

These are the satisfactions that move us forward and keep us learning.

Sorry, I am in danger of getting maudlin here. Try the book! I think you will like it!-

What small win have you celebrated recently?  Share with the Burley team by commenting below…

My P.D. Day and Teamwork

By Susan Scofield

I could feel the wet rims slipping through my fingers as the chair slid slowly down the rain-soaked, grassy knoll. Leslie was beside me carrying our travel mugs, visibly concerned about my predicament. She was trying to buffer my decent even as the impatient UVA employee was trying to hasten our progress.Susan“Perhaps we ought not to go so quickly,” Leslie advised the young leader of our team building seminar without pointing any fingers.

I was more direct. “If you are not careful, I will slide out of the chair, and we’ll have more to worry about than just traversing this mess.”

Leslie remained worried and alert and constantly checked to make sure I was okay as we made our way across the grass. We made it to the picnic tables in the middle of the field, but now I saw that was not to be our destination. A white, canvas tent stood out among a canopy of trees in the distance, uphill now, positioned next to a rock-studded gravel path. For most, an easy five-minute jog, but for me another story entirely.

It was raining steadily now, and I was finding it almost impossible to get a solid grip on my slippery wheels. Leslie, guiding my casters and offering moral support, suggested that Tara help push now that we were on the rock-strewn path—she had stopped trying to propel me forward at Leslie’s insistence down the slope. The three of us made slow progress, but we were gradually inching closer to our shelter. As we ascended, the ground on either side the road sloped steeply off and Leslie was getting alarmed again. It was difficult to maneuver my three-inch casters over the huge rocks on the trail, and I had to stop and rest more than once. Leslie kept checking in. “I think you are too close to the edge, Susan. Move to the right just a bit. How are you doing? We called and were assured this was accessible [much eye rolling].”

“Accessible for whom?” I thought to myself.

Finally, we reached the tent, only it was not on the path. It was now angled several feet down a pine needle-laden decline. Straight down. I sighed.

“How do we do this, Susan?” Leslie questioned cautiously. I’m pretty sure she already knew the answer and wasn’t too excited about the prospects.

“I’ll have to go down backwards, and you two will have to break my decent.” I didn’t see how this would end well knowing how difficult it would be for them to keep their footing in the shifting pine needles. I was really going out on the thin limb of faith here. I suppose they were, as well.

A few seconds and a several grunts later, I was on solid ground under the tent. The ladies prevailed and all three of us felt relieved and accomplished, and I put the return trip out of my mind for now.

Thus my ‘aha!’ moment—even before the team-building session began: we were already a team. A working, viable team that produced visible, measurable results inside the classroom and out. The session that morning concentrated on games that brought us together—young and old, new and not, with different abilities and background knowledge—to complete tasks as a group. Each person was a vibrant, essential member, appreciated and respected, and we were challenged to pool our talents to get the assignments done quickly. We did not blame or point fingers (as we knew our kids would do). We did not banish members from the tasks. We refused to give up, and instead inquired and considered, using trial and error until the desired results had been obtained. Had Leslie and I not already done this getting to the venue?

I have loved this group of people at Jackson P. Burley Middle School from the first day I rolled into the main office. No, before I walked in. In 2005, I was newly retired on disability from the U.S. Postal Service, and I was looking for part-time work. I had always been interested in teaching and decided to try my hand at substitute teaching. I filled out all the paperwork, passed all the background checks, and got my name on a list. I waited. The phone didn’t ring. After a few weeks I was venting my frustration to Julia Weed at church. I can still hear her response. “You are on the list? Great! You will be subbing for me this Thursday at Burley Middle School on Rose Hill Drive. I teach 7th grade science.” She vacated, I subbed, and fell in love. I started carrying Jolly Ranchers for clout and motivation. Diane Bressan worked the front desk and scheduled the subs. We formed a mutual admiration society right off the bat, and she let me have first pick of all of the sub positions from then on. Other schools began to call and I visited them off and on, but Burley was my first love. It was home. I subbed for three years while I worked as a bookkeeper for a couple of CPA’s in town, and enrolled in the state’s Career Switcher’s program in 2008 to snag my teaching certificate. To complete my student teaching, the acting AP, Doug Granger, set me up with Joy Tanksley, the only full-time 8th grade LA teacher at Burley at the time. It was a perfect match, and she became my mentor, colleague, and my best friend. Keith Ellen provided the opportunity for me to join the teaching staff when he took a year-long position at Western Albemarle that same year.

It is incredibly disheartening to see such negativity about teaching from the press as of late. My Burley family is extremely important to me, and keeps me grounded and focused on what is truly important: the kids. You are professional, yet caring, relaxed, yet accountable, and understanding while being firm. The 8th grade team knows my physical limitations and absorbs them without complaint. Our setup is not perfect (don’t get me started about the 7th grade workroom or the extra set of doors), but every day we go to school, do the dance, and our kids benefit. And I benefit. My life is better from knowing you. Anne Lamott, a favorite author of mine, told this story in a recent Facebook post, about a girl who couldn’t fall asleep even after her mother tells her that Jesus will be there with her in the dark, and the child haltingly responds with, “I need someone with skin on.” You, my fellow teachers, are God with skin on, and it is a pleasure to work with you.

3D Printing in Social Studies by Chris Shedd

photo6photo7 photo8 Burley students are mastering 3D printing technology. They are researching and creating 3D models to enhance their learning, collaborate with another local middle school, and even to help a group of college students. The 3D printer offers a great opportunity for students to develop new technology skills and to use their creativity.

Last semester students began using a 3D printer in my social studies class. Students researched and created 3D models of structures including Jamestown, Monticello, the Rotunda, the Mayflower, and Burley. One student created an almost exact replica of a specific Civil War bullet. Nine Burley students attended the Tom Tom festival to show off their work to the public. Many students made 3D models for their Creative Projects and researched their historical significance.

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This semester we have an exciting partnership with an 8th grade class at Sutherland Middle School. Burley students are going to research and recreate spy gear from the American Revolution. Sutherland students are going to look at modern spy gear and some of the science behind it. We are hoping to have our classes Skype with each other, share what we have learned, and discuss how spy gear has changed over time.

Burley students are also creating models from natural history for Randolph College in Lynchburg, VA. Randolph’s Natural History Collection is considering buying a 3D printer and scanner. They want to scan items from their collection and paint them. They have asked Burley students to create 3D examples to test their paints. So far students have created a snail, a trilobite, fossilized dragonfly, a crab, and a lobster. Three copies of the snail have already made it to Randolph College, and they liked it so much they have requested more copies. Mrs. Schoppa has been helping us keep up with the printing of objects. I am hoping some of her students will create models for Randolph as well.

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All students have modeling software on their computers. I encourage students who are interested to download Autodesk 123 D. It is a free, basic CAD program.   Give it a try!

Intrigued?  Comment below to ask Mr. Shedd or his students a question or to let them know what you are thinking.

Staying Connected

I really admire my 83-year-old father…for many reasons. But the one I am going to reference today is his willingness to embrace and keep up with the changing technology of our world. The farmhouse he grew up in in rural Kansas didn’t have electricity, and water for cooking and cleaning had to be hand pumped from the well. Fast forward to 2014. Dad uses the GPS in his car to get around to the estate sales he loves, he used his smart phone to text me pictures of my niece’s wedding this weekend and he spends hours reading e-books from the public library on the tablet he bought this summer. His latest adventure is Facebook. Look out world, here Dad comes!

However, one thing that hasn’t shifted in Dad’s mind concerns organization. His paradigm includes the importance of keeping things neat and orderly. Sounds like a great trait, right? The family finances are in neat folders in his desk and his socks are still arranged in neat rows in his dresser drawer. That desire for order extends into his electronic world also. When he receives notifications on his phone (updates, news alerts, notifications that a wireless network is available to join), he can’t rest until he assesses each one and deletes it. When I tried to explain to him that those alerts weren’t all that important and that he certainly didn’t need to fret about “clearing them out,” he just didn’t buy in. In his world, they were part of the work he needed to do before he could rest.

big_All_aboard_v3b-1412121018.jpg.pagespeed.ce.B91LrzdPXuMy point is this: We all move along accepting change and new technologies at different paces. We fit them into our paradigm of the world in ways that make sense to us. And so it should be. There are so much new social media and new technologies out there. If we embraced it all, we would be swamped.

The challenge and the opportunity is to be open to new ways of interacting, learning and connecting while holding on to our key values and finding the balance that works for us.

Here is an image that has stuck with me over the years…

At a PD session about 5 years ago, an ACPS teacher used a metaphor to explain her approach to social media tools like Twitter: Think of Twitter as this stream of constant communication. Just decide to stick a toe in and enjoy the result, whenever it works for you. It is not something that you need to keep up with. It will be there when you have the time and the energy to test out the waters again.

That feels right. Whether it is the newest educational tech tool, an online PD session, an educator blog, or a hashtag-driven conversation on Twitter, dip your toe in when you have the time. It is not a lifetime commitment, just a chance to learn and grow in a non-threatening, horizon-expanding medium. What you take away in a few minutes might end up in your classroom tomorrow. Like so much in life, it is not all or none. Here’s to finding the right balance!

Some places you might want to dip a toe…

Twitter Handle/ Hashtag
#CE14 Connected Educator Month
#flipclass Flipped Learning
@ddmeyer Dan Meyer http://blog.mrmeyer.cominteresting math problem solving
@edutopia/ @ASCD Edutopia/ ASCD
@edrethink John Spencer – a thoughtful, reflective educator
@coolcatteacher Vicki Davis
#ACPS@pammoran For the local “news”…

What blog, website, Twitterer, or platform do you recommend to reach out and sample the waters that are constantly flowing by in our connected world? Please add your ideas as a Comment below this post.

Hello, Burley!

Welcome to the Burley Bears blog!  We will use this blog to…

  • express our ideas about teaching the “little bears”
  • start conversations about issues we care about
  • share with each other our successes and challenges going 1-1

This blog belongs to us all, so…images

If you are willing, we would love you to be the next blogger.  Please let Jim, Tracey or Diane know and we will make it happen!  This is a great opportunity to “integrate” on the PD rubric by writing about what’s on your mind.  It doesn’t need to be long or formal.  Our goal is to share ideas and start a conversation.

All Burley staff have the ability to comment on any post…that’s where the conversation comes in.  So, to get us started, we are going to throw out a topic…

What is your favorite tech tool for engaging students in learning?  Why do you like it?