I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Best Books of 2017

My list is not extensive by any means, but I need to share out my favorites from 2017 like I have the past three years. I read a bit for myself this year, along with books I thought my 7th graders would enjoy.
     2016 Favorites
     2015 Favorites
     2014 Favorites

Here are the books I would most recommend from my list of 75 books I've read this year... I tried to whittle it down to one or two per genre, but I read some genres more than others! I'm not going to describe them for you - you can check out the complete list with my thoughts for this year here.

     I'm not a Marvel fan, but Jason Reynolds hooked me with Miles Morales: Spider Man
 Historical Fiction
     From the Holocaust to Syria, these three refugees in Alan Gratz's Refugee really got to my heart.
     Student-recommended fantasy I had categorized under mystery, Victoria Laurie's When took me on a trip I hadn't imagined as of yet... What if someone could see death dates of people? A bit far-fetched, but awesome to watch unfold.
Poetry / Novels-in-Verse 
     Oh, I read so many novels-in-verse this year! One stood out as true poetry, written in "Tanka." Read Nikki Giovanni's Garvey’s Choice to learn more about Garvey, or to share a quick read-aloud.

     Oh my goodness - how many DBC books did I read this year?? The one I've gotten the most satisfaction from is Shift This. It was crazy surreal opening that first box of books Dave and Shelly sent. 
Here are the other professional books I've read and enjoyed in 2017:

Beers, Kylene, & Bob Probst - Disrupting Thinking
Casa-Todd, Jennifer - Social LEADia
Chandler, Amber - The Flexible ELA Classroom
Evans, Robert - The Human Side of School Change
Ferriter, William, & Paul Cancellieri -
Creating a Culture of Feedback
Hasson, Julie & Missy Lennard - Unmapped Potential
Hirsch, Joe - The Feedback Fix
Hogan, Aaron - Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth
McGee, Patty - Feedback that Moves Writers Forward
Miller, Matt - Ditch That Textbook
Musallam, Ramsey - Spark Learning
Nesloney, Todd, and Adam Welcome - Kids Deserve It!
Sheeran, Denis - Instant Relevance

Realistic Fiction
     I found another author I love this year - John David Anderson. Pick up Posted and Ms. Bixby’s Last Day for your classroom! 
     My favorite (I haven't read many, sadly!) adult realistic fiction this year was A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, and my favorite novel-in-prose realistic fiction was Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. 
     I cannot miss sharing with you three other favorites, however - Restart by Gordon Korman, Bluefish by Pat Schmatz, and Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson.

     I'm not a big fan, but I did love the adult book, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Thanks to a coworker for the recommendation!
Science Fiction
     LOVED. Wow. Neal Shusterman's Scythe
Short Stories

     Close call - Either Mitali Perkins' Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices or James Howe's 13.

     Again, not a big fan - I'm working on it! Top Prospect by Paul Volponi gets my vote this year. Please suggest more for me in the comments below!

What are your favorites this year? Please share in the comments below or tag your own post so I can add them to my "to read" list!

Change - Part 3 - Leading Innovation

Ever since Dr. Evan's Keynote in July at BLC in Boston, I've been working my way through his book. I've written about Part 2 - Reluctant Faculty, and now it's time to wrap up the book with the rest of my notes here. Consider most of the bullet points right out of the book - I don't want to alter Dr. Evans' message.

The Authentic Leader
   In the chapter prior, Dr. Evans makes the point that leaders are guided by purpose and followership. These two form the heart of transformational leadership. Chapter nine then goes into explaining what goes into being an authentic leader... Here are my notes (in many instances quoted directly from the text):
  • Transformation begins with trust. (Once damaged, it's "nearly impossible to repair.")
  • Leaders need to "begin thinking of what will inspired trust among their constituents."
  • "We admire leaders who are honest, fair, competent, and forward-thinking."
  • Innovation..."needs more than trust - it needs confidence." Leaders "must inspire ... confidence along with trust."
  • The key to both confidence and trust is authenticity.
  • Most of us seek a "combination of genuineness and effectiveness" in a leader. "It makes him authentic, a credible resource who inspires trust and confidence, someone worth following into the uncertainties of change."
  • "Integrity is a fundamental consistency between one's values, goals, and actions." Followers are looking for values, goals and actions to be congruent.
  • Honesty and fairness play a large role.
  • Leaders "typically hold the same standards for their school as for themselves." These "provide the larger purpose that gives work direction and meaning," and their followers may be motivated by the same commitments.
  • Transformational leaders have ethics, vision, and belief in others.
  • "Authenticity also demands savvy, a practical, problem-solving wisdom that enables leaders to make things happen." They should have "common sense and empathic sensitivity, courage and assertiveness, and resilience."
  • Educators "will rarely follow leaders unless they seem to 'know their stuff' - ...the realities of school life."
  • To "be effective, leaders must demonstrate and foster [hardiness]."
  • "Authentic leaders build their practice outward from their core commitments rather than inward from a management text."
  • Although not all leaders "have what it takes," uncovering their potential "is the key to becoming authentic."
  • Leaders should ask themselves, "What do you stand for?" and then "Where does it come from?" Its origin is "almost always personal - deeply personal." This helps recruit followers, as we can learn the reasons WHY leaders want innovation. Almost all of us have the same values or the same desires for education. We can get on board when leaders share what they stand for and WHY.
  • "Principals who were successful change agents all fulfilled four key roles (resource provider, instructional resource, communicator, visible presence)..."
  • Leaders are aware of their strengths (and should share them!), and also of their faults.
  • Leaders need to know what they want.
  • Those above principals of schools need to provide time to hash out questions of values and goals when initiatives are coming from the top. Principals need to believe in them, as well, or nothing will change, as staff will see right through them if they're indifferent or opposed to the ideas.
  • A leader "must not just advocate but exemplify the change before asking staff to do so."
  • Risk-taking "has always been - and remains - rare in schools." Principals have a dilemma when "they are given more responsibility than authority, and their success requires maintaining positive connections not just with their superiors but also with their staff." We can NOT ask them to lead projects they do not fully grasp or endorse. It just won't fly.
  • If teachers want reform, they need to "realize the importance of bringing the principal along early..." This was so important for me, and I would not know where my teaching would be now if I didn't go ask for administrative support first.
So much of this relates to teachers and students! And so much of this relates to when I'm speaking in  front of a group, as well. What is the message I'm conveying? Why should my audience trust me? Look back at these, substituting "teacher" for "leader." See how you can use these ideas, even if you're not part of administration.

Clarity and Focus
    In chapter ten, Dr. Evans shares more about what leaders need to do in order to be able to share their vision and have followers. The number one thing is for the leader to be the model he or she wants staff to be. Leaders should lead by example.
  • Authentic leaders know what they want, and they pursue it.
  • Again, go with hearts and bellies - 1) a shared vision is crucial to innovation, and 2) the roots of vision are deeply personal.
  • A vision's main function is to inspire people and to concentrate their efforts. You can do this if you appeal to people's emotions and they buy in with their hearts and their bellies.
  • Formal vision work is time-intensive.
  • We can't simply designate a small core of teachers to draft a vision. We must have buy-in from all staff, or there won't be a commitment to goals. (Hence the time commitment!) Collaborative vision building is a longer and slower approach that requires persuasion, negotiation, compromise, and patience.
  • It would help to have a motto! A good motto is short enough to be remembered, and direct without being so literal that it limits the imagination. A motto can keep staff grounded and it can help us figure out what can stay and what can most likely go.
  • Clarity in a vision helps foster trust, foster commitment, and garner attention. The WHY, what, and how should be clear. The ultimate goal of clarity is a shared, community-wide consensus about values and goals.
  • Focus in a vision means the leaders decide what few things are important. These are then pursued with a vigor and skill.
  • Few people can accomplish more than one significant change at a time. Focus means pursuing one major change at a time per person and per work group.
  • If a vision has multiple dimensions, individuals must not be expected to master all of them at once.
  • Three ways leaders can push for focus - 1) accentuate the positive  2) ask "What can we quit doing so we can do what we need to do?"  3) stretch out time lines of individual items.
  • When leaders can explain change in clear, focused terms and connect innovation to long-standing values that matter to constituents, they help staff link the new with the old and bear the uncertainties and losses of change.
  • Leaders must reach out and create a more informed public. They must help people understand the true strengths and real needs of the schools.
  • When staff believe a leader will stay put to see an innovation through, confidence and energy are enhanced. (When there is often turn-over in superintendents and principals, staff do not put much trust in the fact that this "newest" plan will be around in a few years.)
Participation - Without Paralysis
    Most of this chapter centers around the leader.
  • The prospect of a committed, empowered, collegial community served by an enlightened leader is exciting. It is, however, an IDEAL, and beyond the capacity of most schools.
  • Organizations that draw on the knowledge of their staff make more informed choices and enjoy higher levels of productivity and morale.
  • People are much more likely to invest themselves in something they help shape.
  • Ideally, teachers who are empowered to help make decisions will structure their classrooms to empower students, as well. (Later, Dr. Evans says this appears to be a fallacy, largely due to the demands on the teachers executing change.)
  • Why Dr. Evans says it's really an ideal... 
    • Teachers' relations with one another are mostly marked by congeniality (being pleasant) but not collegiality (serious professional interaction). The entrenched norms that prevail among teachers remain those of autonomy and privacy.
    • Shared governance and collaboration always mean more work - and more complex work, and more work with other adults rather than students. They require higher levels of sophisticated adult interaction. (And many teachers prefer to work with children than with adults!)
    • The teaching career is an idiosyncratic craft - in many respects, a teacher is an "independent artisan..."
    • Schools observe strong traditions of conflict avoidance. Teachers rarely engage in the open expression and negotiation of conflict with colleagues and leaders.
  • Binary leadership seems to be optimal...
    • Powerful principals that have conviction and confidence lead with help. Ideas can move both up and down in the organization. Organizations need leaders, not bosses. Since change requires unfreezing and disconfirmation, the challenging of deep assumptions and the raising of appropriate guilt and anxiety, it demands someone with the power to get and keep people's attention.
    • Authentic leaders expect to play a primary role in shaping change, and they see empowerment as a later outcome, not a starting condition.
    • Authentic leaders decide who needs to be involved and when - they are consistently clear with staff about who is making which decisions and how.
    • Authentic leaders have open-door policies - teachers are starved for this kind of support, attention, and acknowledgement.
    • Authentic leaders ask for feedback, checking in from time to time, even if it means bad news. Squelching opposition only drives it underground and delays the chance to resolve it. Asking for feedback offers opportunities to empower staff, reduce resistance, reinforce collegiality, and can build momentum for change. If nothing else, it helps staff ventilate feelings and fears and clarify misperceptions. Everyone involved needs to hear and be heard - and the leader needs to model this.
Recognition: Reversing the Golden Rule
    We wouldn't go days or weeks, never months or years, without recognizing our students and their accomplishments, would we? Why do we do so without recognizing coworkers, educators, or administrators?? If we want any change - especially tough innovation - to work, we've got to recognize and acknowledge all involved. And OFTEN.
  • The single best low-cost, high-leverage way to improve performance, morale, and the climate for change is to dramatically increase the levels of meaningful recognition for - and among - educators. This includes praise or positive feedback, but also validation.
  • The more profound and far-reaching an innovation and the more pressure, anxiety, and uncertainty in involves, the greater the need for recognition. When demand rises, support must rise proportionately or else stress will.
  • Teachers are starved for the tiniest scraps of validation - letters or visits from students, comments from parents and administrators.
  • Across America, we are turning to educators who feel chronically overpressured and underthanked and are asking them to change, to do more and to do it differently and better - quickly.
  • Dr. Evans makes the point that recognition should not have extrinsic rewards.
  • Though it is sad that teachers' work lives should leave them pathetically grateful for fragments of praise and validation, it creates an opportunity and points a very direct path for leaders: almost any kind of recognition will represent an improvement.
  • Leaders should apply recognition whenever possible - accept errors as trying, even seeing it as part of the cost of research and development. This is especially important when setbacks occur during innovation. With your recognition, be specific so followers know you're sincere.
  • If leaders cannot, with sincerity, recognize teachers, at the least they should hear them out. They should acknowledge that they heard concerns and they take them seriously, even if nothing (right now) can be done.
  • Dr. Evans wrote almost three pages about the conundrum of teachers not wanting to be singled out for recognition, or becoming upset when someone else in singled out, but not them. He offered direct advice as to how this resistance can - and should - be resolved if innovation is to have a chance.
  • Leaders and teachers should also nurture lateral recognition.
  • It doesn't just go top-down. Teachers should also be recognizing administrators. If this is difficult, then leaders should arrange more occasions when they can gather as peers and share feedback, praise, and acknowledgement.
Confrontation: Avoiding Avoidance
    Authentic leaders must not avoid resisters. Dr. Evans shares the behaviors of what he calls "cyrogenics" - those unwilling to accomplish change, and seem to not care. They don't even try. He then shares insight on why school leaders often avoid potentially serious conflict - and he makes a ton of sense. I feel sorry for principals who really don't have leverage when they want something done. In corporate America, cyrogenics are fired. When protected by a union, there are only three choices that remain - forcible transfer, seduction (cultivating and converting), and "voodoo death," none of which are good options. However, "unprincipled resisters who actively oppose change can and must be vigorously challenged" if the leader truly believes in the change. Then teachers who are on board and know (and believe in) the reasons needed for change need to step up to resisters, as well. What saddens me is that there is no hope for these "deadwood" cyrogenics. They won't change, even when they are challenged. They might, however, stop affecting others negatively.
     Dr. Evans also talks about the challenges the "unfreezables" bring to leaders. These are educators who talk the talk, but don't walk the walk. They think what they're doing is innovative, and yet it is not what was asked of them. This is a different difficulty to confront, as when teachers believe they are doing all they should and someone tells them they're not, it's likely to cause them genuine distress and serious loss of face. It may make them sad or angry, and hence defensive, even when negative feedback is delivered thoughtfully. This is another reason leaders avoid confrontation.
     There is so much involved in this short chapter, and it makes me feel so sad for leaders who truly believe in change, but run up against others who cannot, or will not, open their minds to the possibilities the future can hold.
     Side note: In my original post about Dr. Evans' keynote in Boston, I quoted him as saying, "The characteristics (nurturing, sacrifice, kindness, etc.) that make us good with kids don't help us work well with ADULTS." Some of my PLN on Twitter didn't agree with this, so I've tried to find the words that help support his ideas. He first says in this chapter that "From a school perspective, the competitive corporate ethos can seem cruelly hard. From a business perspective, the school ethos seems childishly soft" (275). He further explains that "Education attracts the contemplative and the nurturing more than the competitive and the assertive, drawing people whose guiding occupational interests and values are more likely to emphasize service to others and job security for oneself than, say, entrepreneurial risk taking or the projection of personal power. More simply, people who work in schools tend to like people - and to want to be liked back." Teachers "are used to looking for the best in students because they look for the best in everyone. It is a trait most of us wish them to keep, but one that inclines them to fear and avoid negativity that in other settings would seem mild." The "avoidance of open disagreement or friction is thoroughly entrenched in the culture of schooling and..." "coupled with the structural limits on leaders' leverage, it makes administrators' reluctance to address opposition understandable" (276). However, resisters can and must be challenged.

Reach and Realism, Experience and Hope
    Dr. Evans wraps up with his big lesson... "We must recast our expectations for leaders, for teachers, and for the larger task of improving schools."

  • This includes realism - being aware of how much we can grow, and in how much time.
  • This also includes hope. We need to preserve and nurture genuine hope.
  • Nearly all natural systems have intrinsically optimal rates of growth, and school systems need to find their own. There's a balance between going to fast and going too slow.
  • The formula for success is to set mutually agreed standards and to hold people accountable for achieving them - but to free them to do so in their own way whenever possible.
  • What we need is a triumph of hope over experience. Hope is an ability to work for something to succeed. Hope is the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out...
  • Innovation / transformation / change... may be slow, but slow is better than none.

After reading the many stories and quotes from educators and leaders included in this book, and Dr. Evans' interpretations of research, I hope to have much more patience for those who want immediate change, and those who do not want change at all. I feel as if I understand my own role, my principal's role, and my superintendent's role a teeny bit more. I can appreciate just how complex our roles are, and how complex innovation initiatives really can be. I hope to share lateral gratitude more often, along with gratitude for those in leadership roles.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

What Is the Purpose of School?

This question was posed by Kim Darche in the ICE Google forum book study about Shift This.

Here are some of the responses...
  • school is a place where students learn how to be successful people
  • the purpose of school is to show students the benefits of learning
  • as an educator, we are to help our students see their capabilities
  • Our purpose it to be and create independent, life-long learners. 
  • I look for the "lightbulb moments" where I see when a student truly understands and has made a lasting connection.  Then I know that what we are doing in the classroom will translate to what they will be able to do with that information outside the classroom...and if they are able to apply what they've learned on their own there is a true purpose.
  • to give kids the tools to be successful in life
  • school has three main purposes: cognitive, emotional, and civic development
  • a place for students to gain the skills necessary to be life long learners - to be problem solvers - to learn how gain their short term and long term goals
  • to have children grow in their abilities
  • to educate and prepare any learner for their future
  • It should be a place where kids learn to think for themselves.
  • it's about developing their skills with all of the resources that we have to make them successful
  • school is a place where students learn about the world around them through with from others
  • school is meant to help prepare students for the future by leading them to become critical thinkers
  • creating learners and future citizens, cultivating ideas and creativity, and teaching collaboration and critical thinking
  • to learn
  • learning
What IS the purpose of school?
Does your classroom reflect what you believe?

Please use the comments section of this blog post to share your thoughts and ideas and keep the conversation going!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Lessons from Ms. Bixby

Have you read it yet?

If not, head to the library right now - oh, forget it. Get it at the book store - you'll want it for your classroom!!

A huge thank you to Michelle Gledhill, who shared pages 25-26 with our seventh graders, where Brand details the time he picked his friend's nose... That was the hook that got me to read this one.

The same author as Posted, which I read this summer (and had to purchase for room 239 readers, as well), Ms. Bixby's Last Day is a story you want to last and last. It's got everything. From Iron Maiden to Tchaikovsky, from "The Princess Bride" to To Kill a Mockingbird, and of course, the Beatles, April Fool's pranks, "The Charge of the Light Brigade," "Star Wars," legos, and The Hobbit. On page five, Topher begins to explain the six kinds of teachers in the world, and he's spot on. You know them, and you probably are one of them: Zombies, Caff-Adds (or Zuzzers), Dungeon Masters, Spielbergs, Noobs, and the Good Ones.

Ms. Bixby, of course, was one of the Good Ones. Which is why I was surprised when I came to the conversation about grades she had with a parent who was upset with his child's "B" grade. (Pgs 86-89) Steve's dad has a meeting with Ms. Bixby... (If you can't read it, try clicking on the photo to make it bigger. Or, better yet, go grab the book.)

Lessons (Re-)Learned...
  • Parents and teachers want children to learn.
  • Parents and teachers care about their children.
  • Parents and teachers sometimes think differently about what a grade means.
  • I wish parents and teachers could stop talking about grades, and only talk about learning and progress.
  • I feel like I'm in good company with Ms. Bixby.

Pick up this book.
Give it a read.
Give it to someone else to read.
Read it aloud to your class.
You won't regret it.