As a father of two girls ages 7 and 10, married to an amazing educator of over 20 years, I have a 360-degree perspective of the teaching and learning experience. As a matter of fact, my 4th grade daughter is my wife's student. It's a complete family affair. Most people I share that with have an initial reaction of concern. The most common questions are, "How is that working out for your daughter? Isn't that weird for her? Does she feel challenged?" All these have merit. What this arrangement has created for our family is that we tend to continue the teaching and learning timeline at home.
This doesn't necessarily mean that the constructs of the school day are extended into our dining table or living room. It becomes more about expanding the subject matter, questions, activities, content, or curriculum, taking them in a variety of directions. Whether it's using origami to communicate lessons in geometry and structure integrity, talking about how biomimicry (the study of emulating nature's time-tested patterns and strategies) helps us become better designers, or appreciating the history behind the lyrics in Lin Manuel-Miranda's Hamilton, all of it has served as an immersive voyage into context, relevance, and meaning for our kids. The result of this approach has typically ended in them taking back what we expanded on as a family to enrich their learning during the regular school day.
My kids are lucky. As parents, we are also fortunate that our lives allow us to expand on the academic careers of our children. As a teacher, my wife knows she has a champion that ensures that the hard work she puts into the classroom is not gone to waste. In many ways, my family IS the village that we so often talk about in education.
Many kids are not this lucky. Many parents are not this fortunate. Many teachers do not have someone further inspiring what they started.
In 2002, I was offered the opportunity to help start what would be a series of afterschool programs in the City of Los Angeles. Alongside an amazing group of change-makers, we launched the After-School All-Stars program in East and South Central Los Angeles. These neighborhoods sit in unincorporated areas of the city, meaning that they are under-resourced, under-represented, and had definitely fallen behind in a "No Child Left Behind" era. These neighborhoods had suffered years, and one dare say a generation, of low expectations and high rates of poverty and crime. Looking back, it was easy to see the skepticism school principals had when we first arrived on the scene. These particular schools had seen their share of "help" coming in, and just as quickly head out. Teachers and school leaders had very few champions they could lean on. Students had grown accustomed to adults promising more and delivering less. Kids here had few other adults in their lives, as their parents were busy helping their families survive in the literal sense! Parents in these communities felt the helplessness of not having the ability to talk about what their children were experiencing during school. Kids weren't that lucky. Parents were not that fortunate. Teachers had no champions.
A colleague of mine made a keen observation early in the lifecycle of our programs quoting that "two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time". Basic law of physics. This same law existed on the blacktops of these two schools. Our job was to drive out the negative culture that was so prominent by being steadfast and committed to making a difference on these campuses. In doing so, we had the opportunity of changing the feel of the community. Think about that for a moment. For a program to enter neighborhoods such as these and set sights on transforming their aspirations and expectations was a tall order indeed, but it happened.
It started with engaging youth and their attitudes about what it means to learn. Standardized tests do not account for this. It continued with staff walking into an empty and run down school auditorium with the belief that they could fill the space with students and their families (something the school day had seldom seen). You had to be at this event for it to be "demonstrable". It was in moments that included a staff member having the vision of taking a handful of beat up acoustic guitars and grow the idea to become a nationally recognized rock music program. As programs grew from 3, 7, 10, 21, 34, and eventually 54 school sites, programs that our current White House administration claims as having no impact have resulted in students and school day leaders giving direct credit to programs like After-School All-Stars for their high school success, college entry AND graduation, with youth appreciating how we set them up for a lifetime of prosperity and giving back.
The stories are too many to keep up with. A young lady without a voice finding it in the All-Stars of Rock music program, building up her courage and vision all the way to a Yale Education. It was evident in a young man's memory of the program being the first place where he had a desk to do homework (home only offered the floor). That young man is now sitting at a school desk at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Another is the story of a young lady who thought our site leader's idea of her picking up basketball was a joke. There's nothing funny about her full athletic scholarship to Cal Berkley where she was one of the stars of the Pac 12 division of schools, playing basketball for the Cal Bears. She can look at the basketball she now dribbles for the Atlanta Dream and laugh at the irony of it all. You can see it in a young man out of South Florida who's on a mission to become a police officer, finish college, get into law school, and then the White House. Looking back, he shares, "After-School All-Stars helped me deal with my anger. I started writing poetry and played football. So through afterschool, I was actually working with my anger constructively. I was a lot happier." Part of his White House journey has begun with him meeting the former First Lady Michelle Obama during a summer experience with After-School All-Stars.
As programs like ours continue, so do the stories. More and more of our alumni are coming back with narratives influenced by our program's ability to expand their learning. Fast-forward to the NOW, we are standing at the cross roads of a revolution in what it means to prepare a young person for the future. More and more businesses are asking our educational institutions to expand the definition of what it means to learn. Scour the web and you will find a collection of credible research and articles asking questions such as, "We're Graduating More Students Than Ever, but Are They Prepared for Life After High School?" (Slate.com/ Laura Moser – April 2016).
Google cites intangibles when considering future employees. They call it "Googleyness" and it includes attributes like enjoying fun (who doesn't), a certain dose of intellectual humility (it's hard to learn if you can't admit that you might be wrong), a strong measure of conscientiousness (we want owners, not employees), comfort with ambiguity (we don't know how our business will evolve, and navigating Google internally requires dealing with a lot of ambiguity), and evidence that you've taken some courageous or interesting paths in your life.
Enrichment programs that include coding, video game design, makerspace, and entrepreneurship all have elements of ambiguity and a high need for collaboration and problem solving strategies. All this requires an expansion of the teaching and learning norms that we're familiar with. The new economy is pushing for new ways to facilitate the success of our students. Innovation does not look at test scores, homework completion, and compliance. The future calls our young people to take risks in their learning, to go after things that others think as impossible or unlikely, and to think oneself as the solution to today's and tomorrow's challenges. It requires expanding the definition of success. This calls for a village of adults that youth can count on, champions that teachers can lean on, and people that serve as an extension of a parent's concern for the academic and social wellbeing of their children.
As a leader of a national non-profit committed to expanding the opportunities of youth across the country through afterschool programs, it is imperative that the current administration do the following:
I look back at After-School All-Stars and think about how lucky students have been in having the opportunity to expand their academic experiences. I think back at how fortunate parents have been to know they can provide for their families without worry for the safety and development of their children. I think of school teachers that look at afterschool practitioners as having their back, trusting that the learning continues after the school bell rings.
We all know it take a village. Does our leadership really believe that taking away the village is the answer? If so, then village needs to stand up and say, "not on my watch!"
For breakfast I had an omelette, fresh fruit, and an iced coffee!
I'm grateful for the opportunity to host a Master Class on the topic of Strengths Based Leadership on Wednesday, April 19th from 2:30-4:30 pm during the BOOST Conference. In nearly 20 years of learning from and working for Gallup, I can't think of a more exciting and impactful topic to share with conference attendees this spring.
Gallup research proves that people succeed when they focus on what they do best. Each person has natural patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving that can be productively applied. Knowing your unique strengths and putting them to good use not only feels good – it has been proven to meaningfully improve performance in a variety of ways, as recently summarized at Strengths-Based Employee Development: The Business Results.
More than 15 million people have taken the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment since it was introduced several years ago. Learning about your strengths results is certainly a great experience, but it's simply the first step in a development process that continues well into the future. Strengths-based development continues beyond the identification phase as individuals take steps to integrate their strengths awareness into the way they view themselves. From there, real behavior change results in performance improvement across a variety of life and work domains.
This Master Class is for you if you've never learned about your own strengths and would like to take the first step. It's also for you if you've already learned your strengths and want to learn from others along the journey. We will discuss best practices from educators within the room and across the country, leading to tangible takeaways that you can apply with yourself, your colleagues, and your students!
Hope to see you on April 19th from 2:30-4:30! Click here to register!
Author and Masterclass Facilitator: Tim Hodges
What does personal development have to do with professional development?
I've had many people ask me some version of this question.
In other words, why bother working on myself? I should spend my time working on my job skills, my staff, my responsibilities, my "stuff."
And, okay, I get that. Tending to others, as I've pointed out, gives me a purr for sure.
But here's the thing that I've come to realize (slowly and begrudgingly and after being repeatedly put in situations to remind me of it):
If you tend only to others and neglect yourself, you will start to wither and die on the inside.
What kind of flowers do we love?
We love flowers in full bloom, showering us with their full lush petals, their beautiful fragrance, their delicate stems. Not flowers that have lost all their petals and have shriveled up for the winter, leaving behind a crisp brown stick of a reminder of the beauty that once was.
Okay, harsh maybe.
But you get my point?
Full, lush beautiful flowers are absorbing the gifts of the sun and the soil and the rain and the bees and the butterflies and the hummingbirds and the loving gardeners that surround them.
So should you.
When was the last time you asked yourself: What do I need?
What do you need?
Personal development is about figuring that out.
Personal development says: hey, there, beautiful flower... time to think about yourself for a sec, here. Do you need more water? Do you need more warmth? Do you need company? What do you need?
The more you listen to the answers to that question, and—more importantly—the more you heed the answers to that question, the more fully you will bloom. The more fully you will be in bloom.
And do you know who that's good for? You, obviously, because you start to feel better...great... beautiful.
But everyone else too.
And there is the big AH HA! Of it all. The more you tend to YOU, the more you ultimately are tending to OTHERS.
Sometimes you have to be selfish to be giving.
Sometimes you have to look inward to be able to give outward.
Hey there beautiful flower. You need some water? Ask for it, please. We'll all be better for it.
How can you tend to you today?
For breakfast I had coffee. Lots of coffee.
Spending more than half of my life in and out of a locker room, one gets very used to sound of competition. Sayings like, "failure is not an option" and "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing," were common echoes in my upbringing. From one coach to the next, it was always about winning, getting better, playing your best, minimizing mistakes, practice makes perfect, etc., etc. It's no wonder that I wanted to quit after losing my first soccer game in 4th grade or quitting during the 4th quarter of my first contact football game in 8th grade. I was convinced by others, that if we weren't winning or if I wasn't playing well, we were losers (or I was) and should concede. As I look back, all I remember about my playing days is that every coach I ever played for was obsessed with one thing – winning. That is, except for one. My dad.
Frank Escobar Sr. never officially served as one of my coaches but I'm certainly convinced today, he taught me more about sports than any formal coach I ever had. You see, my dad had what we call growth mindset. A former junior college athlete himself, it wasn't that he lacked competitive drive or a will to win, he simply had perspective. And, that perspective helped me find my balance and competitive spirit for years to come, even today.
I do consider myself competitive, even hyper-competitive at times. The difference is my competitiveness is not tied to winning, rather just competing. I went 0-10 my senior year in college and while most of my teammates (and coaches) were rather embarrassed of our performance, I didn't seem to mind telling friends and family how my last hurrah in college football ended up. You see, I was just happy to have been playing college football. A 5-foot, 100-nothing pound little Mexican kid from Nowhere, California was just lucky to attend a college, let alone convince a college to pay for me to attend. This is how I kept perspective and as a result, didn't allow an 0-10 final season discourage or distort my beliefs about who I was, what I was capable of, or what I should or shouldn't pursue in my future. Call me uncaring, of low expectations, accepting of failure, and I'll call me keeping perspective and exercising an attitude of learn from your mistakes and move forward.
Today, our American culture makes it difficult to accept a loss. After all, we have to be the best at everything don't we? Whether in finance, business, sports or education, America was built on competition, and not just competition but winning that competition. Now we strive to place our children in the best institutions, raise them in the best neighborhoods, give them the best advantages in life so that we can help them live the American dream – to be a winner. It is quite scary how we have become a society consumed with wining at all costs and accepting nothing less. This is all too evident in our material wealth, showroom lifestyles, and obsession with Facebook stalking the reality-show lives of the rich and famous.
I believe if we are to willing to win, we must accept failure as a part of that process. We must also accept that winning is up to one's own interpretation and right to define. Where one may define winning as earning a 4-year college degree and entering their dream career, another not so far away might define winning as a stay-at-home parent committed to their child's upbringing. I wish America, in all it's diversity, would better accept that winning is as diverse in definition as the very social-fabric that clothes it. And where one may define a loss another defines it a win.
I choose to believe that losing is an important, necessary experience in life. And not just for the sake of winning but for the simple sake of living. I also believe that the more we teach our young one's to lose, the more they'll win at whatever it is they define as winning in life. In our after school sports league, RIZE, we constantly tell our coaches they should be hoping for a loss. Obviously, we get lots of blank stares and every now and then a good laugh. But the honesty in it all, is that when our students lose in the after school program, whether in a sports game or a dance competition or on a quiz, our staff "win" the opportunity to develop their grit, resiliency and growth mindset. The social-emotional skills and perspective that will help them deal with the real losses in life that will inevitably challenge them in their years to come.
Today, I couldn't be more proud of my colleagues and our field for the wide embrace that we have given the act of failure. As odd as it may seem and indifferent to how I was raised (in the locker room), I do believe that my losses in life and work, have not only defined me, but have also helped me developed into the person of resiliency and persistence that I am today. For me, I truly believe that losing is the new winning.
For breakfast I had oatmeal, 2 pieces of wheat toast and glass of water.
The students in our programs come from diverse backgrounds and face unique challenges in navigating the world they are growing up in. It is a privilege to be their guide in this journey called life. Many of the students we have in our programs are having experiences that may be similar to the staff working in our programs. The true challenge is being able to create an environment that supports the staff and students to feel emotionally and physically safe and not just survive but thrive in spite of whatever obstacles they may face beyond the walls of the space on a campus. This challenge needs to be met by reflecting and expanding your awareness as an educator and then demonstrated through your leadership. The key is to ask yourself – What is your identity? How does that allow you to connect with your staff and your students? Do you have an implicit bias that influences your attitudes or interactions with those that differ from you? Do you lead from a place of compassion?
In looking at my own journey, I have discovered that my own identity is "under construction". My grandfather came to this country from the Azores Islands off the coast of Portugal. He worked hard in seeking the American Dream. He did not teach us the language and we were exposed to very few elements of Portuguese culture. Although there was clearly a disconnect, he always said how proud he was to be Portuguese. While my mother is Portuguese, my father is a mix. I was raised without a clear connection to my Portuguese heritage through customs and traditions and only knew that the rest of what made me who I am was a mystery. There was never a discussion about what made up my cultural heritage. I will admit that this is something I have only recently begun to delve into and reflect upon. In 2014, I was asked to be part of a group of strong talented leaders who are women of color. As the women shared their stories I realized that I have not had many of the experiences they have faced. I am fair skinned so most people cannot typically identify what my ethnic background is. I have been asked if I am Native American or Asian, and then there is the comment, "well you are white – right?" The fact that I can pass as white has sometimes afforded me privileges in my life that I have come to realize through listening to the stories of my sisters. They have experienced blatant racism and discrimination based on the color of their skin. I truly have not. Through participating in the Sisters Inspiring Change, I have deepened my journey of self-discovery. This journey of self-discovery has empowered me to encourage others to dig deep to their roots since our identity shapes who we are and allows us to connect with others. It has helped me better understand how different life experiences can be from one person to the next and understand the importance of our roles in shaping the lives of the young people we work with.
I am sharing this very personal journey to urge you to examine your level awareness and compassion. In my experience, I have witnessed that awareness when teamed with compassion can be empowering. As educators and ambassadors of youth development we have the privilege and the power to continue to support the young people in our programs and support the staff to realize and share their own cultural identity. We can do this by serving as an example to those around us and through being mindful and intentional about the environments we create for students and staff. Now, more than ever, it is important that our programs serve as a safe space for young people where they are valued, accepted and celebrated for who they are. This can only be achieved if the staff in our programs have the same opportunity. Finally it is important to remember that each one of us has the power to make a positive impact. It is imperative that we engage in reflection to identify how we as individuals can create a ripple effect that supports not just one but all.
For breakfast I had a banana & protein shake.
We have the power to light a fire in every child with whom we work. It only takes one person to change a child's life. Think back on your educational influences and you will likely find someone who lit a fire in you that still burns today. Across the country I've asked leaders, "What childhood science experiences do you remember?" People share about baking soda volcanoes, science fairs, field trips, and dissections that lit a spark in them. I never hear about textbooks.
During a recent out-of-school time staff training in Richmond, California, I asked, "What are the important characteristics of science during out-of-school time?" The usual responses—hands-on, engaging, and fun—were offered up. There was an uncomfortable wait time until a young man raised his hand and said, "Enthusiasm. It is important that the leader is excited when sharing the lesson." This sparked an important conversation about the power we have to influence children—either positively and negatively—and their attitudes towards learning. I recall my sixth-grade teacher starting the year by saying, "I spent my whole summer learning about new math," in the most negative and exhausted voice. It wasn't until the teaching credential program that I discovered a love for and success with math. There were many factors besides that teacher, but I remember her remarks like it was yesterday.
When you hear people talk about creating a brighter future, think of the spark that started your career. Think about the contribution you can make by sharing that spark with every child you meet. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you are genuinely excited about the work you are doing and the activities you are leading, your students will want to be a part of it. We all have an enormous role to play in the future of the world. Lend your voice, your passion, your time. 25 years from now, in a gathering of passionate educational leaders, someone will share a story of a person who inspired them and sparked a fire that continues to burn brightly. Be that spark of inspiration. Choose to contribute.
For breakfast this morning, I had Malto Meal for breakfast with brown sugar and milk. Yummy!
The past few weeks have been very fun and proud for me, as this baby of mine, this pet project, this seed of an idea that was planted more than three years ago, finally saw the sunlight.
The interactive journal—the book born out of a weekly blog that I write—On Wings & Whimsy: Thoughts on Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary—was published as the first product of The Leadership Program for 2017. It's a journal designed for personal reflection and development, rooted in stories of mine that are designed to ignite reflection in others.
At The Leadership Program we focus on leadership development. We are rooted in our work with young people—helping them see, and step into, their leadership; as well as with the educators that work with those young people—helping them see, and step into, the best version of themselves so that they may be an inspiration to those young people. We are passionate about our work with businesses and professionals who are trying to elevate the level of leadership and culture on their teams. We eat, drink, and breathe leadership—and how to ignite it in anyone in our path.
So, it's no wonder I've had more than a few people ponder on what the heck Wings & Whimsy has to do with leadership? And how personal stories lead to professional leadership?
And my answer is simple.
It has everything to do with leadership.
Not the kind of leadership you read about in business books, necessarily. No... this is different. This is magical leadership.
Wings is about inspiration and motivation—the things that lift us up. Whimsy is about joy and laughter—the things that lighten us. I talk about this in the context of life, but leadership is a part of life, right?
Think about the very best boss you ever had. Chances are, they did things to lift you up and to lighten you. Chances are, you felt seen and heard by them. Chances are, they filled your bucket instead of emptying it. Think of the moments when they thought of you when you weren't expecting to be thought about. When they went out of their way to make something just that much better than it needed to be. When they cared for the extras and the details. When they remembered that connecting and being human together is almost always more important than any deadline. That is someone who is practicing magical leadership. I'm sure you've seen it in practice by more than just a boss.
Magical leadership is about seeing people as people first, rather than employees. And magical leadership is about loving those people and making it your utmost goal to make their lives better, whenever possible. Magical leadership is about taking in every single ordinary moment and pondering what extraordinary just might be contained within.
Sounds easy, right?
But, it's just... thinking about magic allowed me to stumble across this quote from Nigerian writer Ben Okri: "Our time here is magic! It's the only space you have to realize whatever it is that is beautiful, whatever is true, whatever is great, whatever is potential, whatever is rare, whatever is unique, in. It's the only space."
And I thought... well that's just it, isn't it?
There isn't one way to be a magical leader. My way is to literally include glitter. But your way might be totally different. There are as many ways to be magical as there are people contemplating it.
That's why the personal stories matter. Magical leadership isn't meant to be contained in your workplace. There are opportunities for magical leadership everywhere. The key is simply to remain dogged in finding what's beautiful, what's true, what's great, what's potential, what's rare, what's unique. Try to find that in your people, in your workplace, in the world around you.
If you do, you'll start to notice differences in the way people respond to your leadership, I bet.
It just might start to feel magical.
For breakfast, I had coffee and a leftover half-eaten bag of goldfish that someone left out last night.
Based on personal experience and observation, I want to discuss risk-taking and transitions and the ability to recognize that this process is part of being creative and uncomfortable. This isn't just for artists, it is for the creative youth worker, entrepreneur and/or leader. What we do with and for youth each day requires creativity and innovative thinking: we are card-carrying problem solvers!
I want to discuss reinventing yourself. Sometimes this process is otherwise known as F E A R.
I want to talk about taking a leap off a cliff -- where you feel like you're over the edge, hanging by a thread of a rope, and there's no one out there but you to figure out how you're going to pull yourself up. You have to decide if you're going to either fall into the deepest abyss or pull yourself up to safer ground. What is the question that you ask yourself in that moment?
What is that you're fighting for? I want to discuss being courageous enough to go against the grain and experience what it feels like to sit in the uncomfortable zone -- the space where you feel upside down. I want to discuss what happens when you stay in that space long enough to be pushed to the edge of your limitations, where you become so stretched that you have no choice but to keep fighting or let go. I want to discuss letting go of all the things that hold you back. And how, once you let them go, you are catapulted forward -- otherwise known as a breakthrough, or simply as FREE. Let's take that leap into the unknown in order to get to the next level.
It is my belief and experience that risk + fear + courage = change.
While none of this rhetoric is new, I think the process is always new when you're entering the next stage of your life. You may hear this message differently today because you aren't where you were last year or last week or even yesterday. Whether your challenge is personal, physical, intellectual, or professional, I believe that in order to progress to the next level a struggle must occur (whether it be caused by internal conflict or external factors). Your colleagues, family or friends may not see your choices as beneficial or 'making sense.' But the fact is, it's your journey, it belongs to you. Sometimes the right choices are not always what they seem to be at the time -- but there is always a reason for those choices and a lesson to be practiced.
We know these as teachable moments.
As a youth service provider you will be faced with constant challenges and obstacles. The more risks you take, the more creativity you push forward -- whether the challenges come from systemic issues in the school district, or from other teachers, or from parents, or your students. It's vital to remember the mission: working with young people to inspire them, to help them understand their possibilities, and sometimes even to save their lives. Don't let the naysayers hold you back from your mission, even when others don't understand your methods or goals. Stay strong and find your true self in your work. Remember, when you're feeling frustrated and cannot seem to break through, it's time to dig deeper into your ideas and methods -- think outside the box, get out of your own way, and fight creatively for the innovative work you do.
Persistence, passion and ritual are the keys to building path for our kids, and for your own future as a source of inspiration.
By the way, FEAR can also mean:
Let me conclude with references to three of my favorite thought-leaders. I follow these energetic daredevil coaches for action and inspiration, especially when I feel apprehensive about making choices for the methods and approaches I use. I look to these stimulating entrepreneurs who are making waves across the globe -- coaching adults and mentoring young people. Enjoy!
For breakfast, I am STILL having the same protein shake, with bananas, celery, carrots, green leafy stuff, almond butter, frozen fruit and I throw my vitamins in the Nutra-Bullet (tips from my wellness coach Jeffrey L. Jordan). #ritual #risk #change #transformation
Now that we are a few weeks into the school year, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on how to get into the groove. We have weathered the lead up to program start up and are now several weeks in...so, how do we turn the corner, how to we get ourselves on track for success throughout the year, how do we get in tothe groove? (play the Madonna song for inspiration!)
Here are some of my strategies...
1. Celebrate start up success. Celebrate getting through start up activities and acknowledge yourself and those you are working with who are working hard to make the program a success.
2. Get on a more regular schedule. We can all do some crazy hours trying to get everyone hired, screened, trained, and settled in. I admit I need to practice this one more but I think it is helpful to start planning for a schedule that will be manageable for the rest of the year.
3. Seek inspiration. Now that the pace of back to school is winding down, seek out ways to stay inspired throughout the year. You can take class, start a book you have been wanting to read, set up a standing lunch date with a mentor, or spend some time with Ted Talks, whatever gets you in a productive zone.
4. Evaluate your workload management. Do a time study on yourself and encourage others you work with to do the same. You may need re-calibrate from start-up mode to make sure you are allotting appropriate time for the important components of your work.
5. Measure your progress. Plan opportunities throughout the year for your team to revisit progress towards goals and evaluate program quality. This is key to keeping the groove going and ensuring your and your team's motivation remains high.
How do you get into the groove?
For breakfast I had a boring piece of toast but some much more exciting pineapple and a really amazing and needed coffee.
Due to the nature of my work as a researcher and evaluator, I do not work directly with students. My classroom and out-of-school time visits usually involve me sitting in the back as a non-obtrusive visitor noting the interactions between the teachers and students. Typically, I will note the types of questions students ask and how the teacher responds. At the end of the session, I thank the teacher for letting me observe the classroom, and that usually ends our interaction.
That being said, it is a real treat for me to be able to engage with students and hear from them about the work they are doing, what they learned from it, and how the experience ignited their passion for learning. I had such an opportunity when my sister, who is an International Baccalaureate English Language Arts (ELA) middle school teacher in Traverse City, Michigan, invited me to visit her classroom to see the products her students had made for National History Day (NHD), a national competition that allows students to showcase their learning through a variety of medium.
To meet NHD requirements, students must address a theme selected annually by NHD. They then must put a presentation together. Students may also choose to work collaboratively in groups or individually. The presentation can be a documentary, exhibit, paper, performance, or website. A process paper, which explains how the student put the presentation together and how the topic relates to the theme, must accompany each presentation.
Last year's topic was Leadership and Legacy. The projects evolved from the books students were reading in their ELA book clubs. The topics from the students who showed me their projects ranged from Catherine Rosamund Fitzgibbon, Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr., Charles Lightoller, Nelson Mandela, Oskar Schindler, and Emmett Till. The projects were a mix of exhibits and websites.
My sister explained what she hoped the students got out of the experience:
I hoped they would develop the skills needed to comprehend informational text as well as skills required for argument writing. In addition, I hoped they achieved these skillsets through an authentic mechanism. Researching a topic in history and having it be displayed as an exhibit or website form hopefully made it more meaningful. The projects gave students a more authentic context for which to display their learning and show their engagement.
From my conversations with the students, they agreed. The group who presented Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr. said they learned that "being nice and peaceful and not violent is definitely the way to live your life. If you ever become a leader, that's how you can lead."
Part of the Malcom X/Martin Luther King Exhibit representing picket lines and the Civil Rights Movement.
Students also learned that not everyone starts out as a natural leader. For example, the students who presented Oskar Schindler explained that Schindler "was not a good leader at first until he switched against the Nazi's." Taking their learning a step further, the students compared Schindler to one of their IB learner profiles, "He was a risk taker," they said. "He took the risk of helping so many Jews be safe and not be harmed."
Part of the Oskar Schindler Exhibit representing the Jews that Schindler saved.
Students also took the opportunity to use the exhibits to create symbolism for their projects. For example, the student who created the Nelson Mandela exhibit explained that he chose the fake wallpaper to represent a jail cell. He also used chains around the display because they did not use handcuffs.
Part of the Nelson Mandela representing symbolizing a jail cell and chains used on prisoners.
Some students also took the opportunity to discuss historical figures that may not be as well known. For example, Catherine Rosamund Fitzgibbon, who helped establish the New York Foundling Hospital, was highlighted by a student because "she was a girl who wasn't recognized as much as other people. I wanted to do something I could to let other people know about her."
Part of the Catherine Rosamund Fitzgibbon exhibit representing the New York Foundling Hospital.
After the students' exhibits were judged locally, some students were selected to go to the state competition. From the students I visited with, two were selected to go to the state competition. One student had an exhibit on Emmett Till and a pair of students submitted a website on Charles Lightoller, a survivor of the Titanic, who saved over 300 lives the night the Titanic sunk.
Part of the Emmett Till exhibit representing the fight to end segregation.
These finalists spoke about the preparation that went into the presentation. The student who created the Emmett Till project said that you need to "put all of your effort into it and eventually you'll come up with a really great product. Have fun with it."
For the students who created the Lightoller website, this was the first time they had created a website. When asked what advice they would give to other students, the group said,
We would tell them at first it seems like a big project you wouldn't want to do. It doesn't appeal to you. But really think hard about someone who left a huge legacy or whatever your topic is. Think about that and all the people you read about. Dig deep into the information and try your best. Try to find the best information, get credible information and do your best.
Another lesson that came across from all the students was to not procrastinate. Everyone agreed that planning ahead and not waiting until the last minute would result in a much better product than one thrown together at the last minute.
Through my conversations with these young students, I was also reminded of some valuable lessons. Students want to be engaged and challenged. These incredible projects emerged from books they were reading in their classes. The extra push came from asking them to find a subject that interested them and then dig deeper and create something meaningful to them. It does not need to be a competition to allow students this extra creativity. It is an interesting question for those who work regularly with students—how can I ignite their passion and creativity and fuel it into something meaningful?
This is just one example that I came across. I'd like to thank my sister and her students for allowing me the opportunity to visit and to share what they learned with all of you. I hope you found it as interesting as I did.
For breakfast I had key lime whipped yogurt, fresh strawberries, and orange juice.