Sunday, August 27, 2017

Notes to self on the eve of the first day of school

Here are some notes I'm making to myself as the school year starts up again. Maybe you can relate.

1. It’s like jumping in a cold pool or starting a tough workout. You just do it, and then it gets better.

2. Remember that it’s the same for the students. We’re all jumping in together.

3. Remember that it’s about the students. This is for them.

4. Do the best you can. There will be obstacles you can’t overcome. Students will have difficulties that are beyond you. No one expects you to work miracles. No one, that is, except you.

5. It’s OK if you don’t feel passion all the time. Maybe what is called for is just dogged determination and focus.

6. It’s OK if you fail. As Conor McGregor said, “I never lose. I win, or I learn.”

7. There’s value in the work, even if you don’t get the results you want. Not only are you learning, you’re making money, you’re supporting your family, you’re expressing love and honor and doing what life is asking of you.

8. There will be successes. There always are. There will be smiles. There will be rewards. You will help people, even if they don’t realize it.

9. There will be breaks. There will be rest. It won’t be a non-stop grind.

10. Make sure that it’s not a non-stop grind. Plan in plenty of rest and fun. Burnout is a very real thing.

11. Don't be an island. Don't be a hero. Lean on your supports.
12. Allow whatever is to be enough. Not that there is no need for improvement, but there is no NEED for improvement. The universe will be just fine without it.

13. Enjoy yourself. Every day. Find the pleasure in every moment. It will be tough, but have fun with it.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Give it your best shot. Assess. Repeat (Project Block v. 2.0)

Tracking student progress in Project Block
"It stings. It stings bad, but this is the fight business. I've been on the end of many defeats in my life and I've rose back, so I will not shy away from it. I will not make excuses for it. I will assess it and come back."

-Conor McGregor


It’s easy to get caught in the trap of evaluating your success in terms of actual results.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for data and evaluation, but what do you do when the data don’t show the success you want?

Option 1: Despair. You suck. Your job sucks. Your life sucks. Lay on the couch and give up.

Option 2: Roll with it. Regroup. Rebound. Reassess your efforts, and adjust. Hey, this is a fight, right? You are in a battle against entropy and gravity and whatever other frictions and fictions are trying to drag you and your clientele down.

For me, I’ll take Option 2. I’ll let that despair roll over me like water off a duck's back. I’ll acknowledge the failure and pain, but then I'll get right back in there for another round. I never thought this would be easy. I always knew it would be a fight. From they day I struggled through the birth canal, I knew this world was a tough place. So let’s go, shall we?

Case in point: Project Block. Our whole school program was founded on the idea that autonomy and independence are keys to motivation and learning. My first year here, students were given several hours per week to work on whatever they wanted to, but the lack of productivity and success I saw changed my mind on motivation and led me to create a more structured approach called Project Block.

In Project Block, students worked through a series of structured science projects of increasing complexity, each of which focused on different aspects of the project process, and then graduated to fully independent projects about midway through the year.

That was the idea, anyway. 

Well, the results are in. While almost all students (88%) finished the 8 structured projects and earned 0.5 science credits, fewer succeeded in completing their first fully independent project (71%), and even fewer succeeded in completing additional independent projects and/or meeting their own deadlines for key milestones after the first 9 projects. Of 19 additional independent projects begun:

8 completed the research step on time (42%),
6 completed their Trello/Bullet Journal planning assignment on time (32%),
2 completed their projects (11%), and
1 completed it on time (5%).

Not exactly the results we had hoped for. My current hypothesis is that these students, many of whom struggle with ADD and related issues, are simply not ready for independent work like this. 

We could give up. Roll over. Play dead.

But it's worth another shot.

We had a whole-school deliberative discussion at the end of last year to talk about how we could regroup and improve Project Block. The students came up with the following idea: Split the school up into groups by credit needs (science, social studies, English) and maintain structured projects throughout the whole year (unless students demonstrate the ability to work independently). 

We will also build in lots of explicit instruction in project planning and execution, and the whole thing will be guided by daily checklists.

Maybe we'll never have a successful independent project program, but we'll learn in the process, and as Marcus Aurelius wrote: 
"The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way."

The obstacle becomes the way we hadn't looked for--the way to new strengths and new paths.

Give it your best shot. Assess. Repeat. Advance.