Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Embracing the Struggle

One of the things I push with my students is the importance of embracing struggle.  We should be actively looking for our weak areas and working to shore them up.  This means that we need to be willing to grow and change.

This year I decided to practice what I preach. I was in a comfortable place at my old schools.  The rotation of themes I taught each year was in a good place.  Everything was routine.  My students were challenged with design thinking, Kohlberg's stages of Moral Development, the circle of control, collaboration, leadership, etc., along with deep and rigorous content. But there was a new school in town, and I liked the concept:  a gaming school.  The school focuses on students who game, and those who typically do not do well in a traditional classroom.

Let me tell you, I am embracing the struggle.  It has not been easy.  There are NO gaming schools on which we can model this school.  We're breaking new ground. This year we made mistakes.  I will start the year differently.  I will break up my classes differently.  I will prepare in a broader way.  And I will cast a vision to my students. 

However, once again, my students have taught me so much.  They know SO much more about their technology than I do.  I now know how to make multiple desktops, how to use shortcuts, and how to "rollercoaster."  But more than that, I know there are kids who are so resilient in the face of their circumstances.  I know saying, "I hope you have a good day" can make someone's day. I know they listen because they tell each other "All you have to do to pass math is listen to Mrs. Hughes." I know pets die, family members die, hearts break, and friends leave, but 11 and 12-year-olds have it within them to keep going and rise above.

So, here's to last year's struggle and growth.  Bring on next year.  I can't wait to see where it leads!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Growth mindset is something I have been studying for awhile.  The term was coined by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, and the idea has taken the educational world by storm.  The idea is fairly simple, but as I've learned, life is made up of simple rules with complex consequences.  This idea enables us to find the simplicity in things but allows for complexity and beauty. This idea can also make things more complicated.
Growth mindset, simply stated, divides how we react to and learn from situations into two categories: fixed mindsets and growth mindsets.  Carol Dweck relates these ideas to learning. Someone with a fixed mindset believes they are not able to grow, they don't have the mental capacity to do so.  Their intelligence is fixed, so their learning is fixed. If someone with a fixed mindset makes a mistake, their inner voice (or the actual voice of others around them) reminds them of their fixed state, and that failure means learning and growing is futile. Growth mindset is just the opposite.  Failure is expected, but instead, it is seen as part of the growth process.  The expectation then is to learn from the failure and let that learning inform future decisions.
This is great for me in the classroom, and I have found that growth mindset is transformational not only for my high achieving and gifted students, who tend to be perfectionists, but also with low achieving students.  Those who are low achieving very often have higher ability, but are crippled by the fear of failure.  They have voices around them that look forward to failure, or tell them, "See, I told you you'd fail." Additionally, lower achieving students have been put in a box, and are expected not to achieve, so they conform because it is too exhausting to fight. 
Enter my epiphany as a teacher.  I need to be careful not to put and keep students in a box. I have conceded that I might have a fixed mindset about them!  In taking Carol Dweck's idea of fixed mindset a step further, I came to the realization that our fixed mindsets about others may be preventing growth in them.  My influence on some students may be fixed, and it may be stifling their growth.  That's a weighty thing.
When students are frustrated, a lot of their energy is placed in something they can't control.  They are angry about things outside of their realm of control: other's thoughts, other's actions, other's words.  It is quite possible that students are also frustrated by the mindsets teachers have about them.  That also is out of their control.  What if we used a little empathy, and worked to understand the motivations of our students' frustrations. What if we identified our role, and worked to change that?  We might open up a whole new world of possibilities for our students.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Catching up

I'm feeling a little shame-faced.  I had every intention of taking a blogging break for a few months and then get back to it.  Now here I am, two and a half years later, and the break has been a bit too long!
A lot has happened since this last post!  I am now a mother-in-law for one amazingly talented young lady and am about to be a mother-in-law to another amazingly talented young lady. Our last child graduated high school, our oldest has successfully navigated the job force even through her disability, and we are blessed beyond measure. I've entered into the part of life in which my parents are not as healthy as they once were, and we all have learned to navigate the healthcare system and insurance companies. (Lord help me and them!) I earned my Masters and changed positions from teaching gifted children to teaching 6th-grade math at a gaming school (Texas' first!).  And of course, our Student Spaceflight experiments have continued to make it to the International Space Station every year, and our students are continuing to present their experiments at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC.  Life is full and good.
Writing this blog started out as a way to express my thoughts about things going on in my life, then I went through a phase of using it to communicate to someone indirectly (bad idea), and then moved on to documenting our family activities and keeping track of some of the fun/funny things we've done.  One friend told me it felt like she was reading my personal diary.  I don't want to be that personal at this point, but I do want to use this blog to document life as I learn it and to reflect on the things I have learned.
I never want to come across as an expert on life, or that you all should be learning from my experiences.  While I may have an experience you can gain insight from, we each are still bringing our own experiences to the table, and applications, insights, and results will be different for each of us.  SO, I will never feel like I have "arrived" and you all should listen.  Instead, these are conversations, give and takes if you will.
Life is good, is perfectly imperfect, and this is Life as I Learn it.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Celebrations in order

First, I just noticed this is my 401st post.  I should have celebrated 400.  Oh well, I do feel a little accomplished with that number.  I don't write as much as I used to, and looking back on old posts, I see I used this space for making sense of some things.  I'm glad I had this outlet, but I'm also glad that part of my life is through.  It sure takes a long time for me to process things!  But hey, lifelong learner here.

Second, I personally took some big risks in the past year.  They paid off, and I am thankful for those friends in my life that push me.  I like my little comfort zone, but I wouldn't have had such a fantastic year.  I took on the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program for our district, which was huge.  I didn't do it alone, of course, but I had a lot of responsibility in it, and it turned out to be such an amazing adventure.  I even got a hug from Dr. Jeff Goldstein out of it.  He's a rockstar in our world, and that was fun.  I also put myself out there for a bigger job/role in our district.  That is something I never would have done.  I didn't get the job, but applying for that led to my third big thing, applying for my master's.  That DID happen, and being accepted into the University of Texas at Arlington masters program makes me feel very accomplished.  It is going to mean a busy year and a half!

Third,  my focus this year is on team building.  There have been some negative people on the campuses where I work, and even just one negative person can inhibit so much growth!  My goal is to foster growth mindset in my work relationships, so that it spills over to their relationships and so on, so that we all are thinking of positive change, problem solving, and constant improvement.

T has been such a great support for all of these changes.  I rely on him so heavily these days.  I bounce ideas off of him, get his insights, and he helps by checking my blind spots.  He is so detail oriented and I'm not, so his insights are truly valuable to me.  I adore him.  Besides that, he's another reason to celebrate, as we enjoyed our 27th anniversary yesterday. :)

So see?  Celebrations all around.  Should I call myself blessed?  I'm not sure.  Just because things are going my way doesn't mean I have God's blessings on me.  I'm blessed as in happy, but I also am thankful for God's blessings that don't go my way.  Otherwise I'd get too comfy.

Go celebrate.  The good and the difficult.  Keep growing!

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Those who teach, learn.

One of my tasks as a teacher of gifted children is to not only teach my students content, but also teach them how to handle difficulties they face.  These students are in a unique position, because their intelligence allows them to understand problems and difficulties in life that they aren't emotionally ready to handle yet.  So even though they are quite smart, their intelligence makes them vulnerable to emotional manipulation by others. They also want so much to be liked and accepted by their peers, though it is rare that it happens for them, unless their peers are other gifted children.  That love and acceptance of themselves and their own identity is one of the biggest challenges I face as a GT teacher.  I have found, however, that teaching these things to my students has had an effect on me as well.  The teacher is learning, and possibly learning more than her students in this case.  

Lesson one:  Don't put my energy into things I can't control. 

This can be events or people.  Gifted children are notorious for taking on world problems or being upset about failed relationships.  One of the big items on our wall is the "Circle of Control."  It's a borrowed concept from Stephen Covey, but the gist is that the students should put most of their energy into things they can control.  This is huge for them.  A lot of their worries, and mine for that matter, are on people pleasing and wanting others to be OK with what they are doing.  As I digest this "control" concept, I find I personally care less and less about pleasing others.  I can't help, for instance, if someone wants to believe a falsehood about me (apparently I have brain-washing abilities) because it makes it easier for them to ignore the real issues they are facing. I can't help if there are people in the community who do not believe in gifted education.  It is a waste for me to worry about those things.  I can't tell  you how freeing that is.  At this point in my life, I am reaping the benefits of not allowing that manipulation to take place.  I have learned to just put my head down and get busy.  That busy-ness has turned into rewards, and the results are what I wanted in the first place!  Others appreciate someone who is genuine and not working an angle, and that approval has come in tidal waves.  I get teary-eyed just thinking about it.

Lesson number two:  Growth mindset

This is such a big concept, and solves so many issues GT kids face, that it's almost magic.  Growth mindset tackles persistence, creativity, grit, perfectionism...anything that will keep a gifted child back.  We all have internal tapes or voices, telling us we can't do things, we'll never make it, and so on.  We worry about all of the what if's and make decisions based on fear.  There are also external tapes in the form of people in our lives who take on the role of that external voice, keeping us in the past by not recognizing our growth, actively trying to keep us from growing.  They allow growth for themselves, but not for us.  Growth mindset allows for the filtering of those voices, and that's what I love about it.  It also helps us identify how we need to grow.  There was a student who was working a math problem with a friend in class, and they were stuck.  I would come around and ask how they were doing.  "We don't get it," was their reply.  I would ask for specifics, but they would just repeat.  In asking them to think about their mindset, they found that they had given up.  "What would get you to a growth mindset," I asked.  They determined trying harder was they key.  Then they asked the right question regarding the math problem.  Once they did, they were able to finish, and hand in a correct answer.  At that point, I could care less if they answered correctly.  The lesson learned about trying harder was way more important!

Life is messy and complicated.  Having some simple truths that help guide our thinking and decision making is so important.  I wish I had known these things about twenty years ago.  Boundaries in relationships would be different, and relationships might have been saved.  But that was then.  By moving forward, I'm finding I'm attracting the right people in my life.  It sure makes life more rich and complete.  Life is definitely good.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fixed mindset vs. growth mindset

I teach gifted kids.  By gifted, I mean the educational definition.  I am aware that every child has gifts and every child has something special they bring to the table, but I am talking in particular about children with an IQ of 130 or above.  There are many myths about the gifted child, with one of the worst being "they'll be fine" without services in school.  It's a catch-22 for a gifted child, really.  On the one hand, they are never really challenged the way everyone else in their class is, so they learn to give 25%-50%.  (I came up with those figures because most gifted kids go into a classroom knowing 50% to 75% of the material to be presented already.)  Yet this is the same complaint teachers give when working with gifted children:  they're lazy and they give up easily.  This topic could really be its own blog, and there are many GT teachers across the nation taking up this cause.

However, I am in the classroom, with only gifted children.  I struggle with this aspect of gifted children quite a bit.  From the time they are small, things come easy to them, so they avoid things that are difficult.  Human nature on steroids.  By the time they get to me, many really don't like to be challenged, and will do as little as possible, all in the effort to avoid the uncomfortable.

I came across the notion of fixed mindset vs. growth mindset, and I have thought about these concepts as they relate to my GT kiddos.  I started realizing that these kids have a fixed mindset about learning ("I give up," or "This is hard," or "I just can't learn math.") and it was be in my best interest to try and change it.  It worked well last week.  Two students have a mind block about math, and any time they learn something new, I get arms crossed, with "I just don't get it" coming out of their mouths.  This week, when it happened, I looked at them and asked which mindset they were experiencing.  "Fixed" was the response.  I asked what they need to say to themselves to move it over to growth mindset.  They told me, then they worked through the problem to be the ONLY students to get the problem completely right.  That was proof enough for me.

I've applied these thoughts to my own life as well.  I'm recognizing some fixed mindsets I have about a difficult relationship that just won't go away.  On one hand, I have begun to only worry about the things that are in my control.  I can't help if they have fixed mindsets about me and my family.  There's nothing I can do to make them see that me or my husband have grown over the past thirty years. (It's a little frustrating to be locked into who you were 30-something years ago).  I can, instead, see how they have changed and possibly speak to them from that point of view if we ever come in contact again, even if they may not do the same.

I share with my students the fact that I apply these principles to my life as I learn them.  I want them to see adults as lifelong learners.  I want them to know that they aren't expected to have it all figured out and try to come off as experts.  It's OK to be in the learning curve.  In this way, I'm hoping to influence genuineness in children who won't be concerned with keeping up with appearances, but are instead growing into the people they are, with the strengths they possess, so that they aren't trying to "Keep Up" with anyone.  I learn along with them.  We're growing, together.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Kid President

Here's a little pick-me-up.  Such great thoughts with simple reminders about daily life.  You're alive.  You're awesome.