Hunting for Patience

Picture captured by Dr. G. McGough
Picture captured by Dr. G. McGough

Remember now the still and quiet places. Remember that they were here long before you, and shall remain long after you are no more. That you are but a small light passing briefly through the infinite darkness.

Tweet from Musical Artist Alexi Murdoch 

My headlamp danced to the gate of my walk while the crackling leaves voiced my quietly advancing presence on a lone trail in a dark wood. My tree stand sits silently waiting as the ultimate resting place for this bleary-eyed, early morning traveler.

Ultimately, my goal was to harvest a legal buck and fill my freezer with venison for the upcoming winter. This singular goal drew me out of a warm sleeping bag and into the cold autumn morning.

Disclaimer: NON-HUNTERS and even ANTI-HUNTERS please know that no animal was harmed in the writing of this blog post.

Geographical isolation and a thick canopy of Eastern woodlands prevented all technological interference, I was just a man left alone to his thoughts for ten hours. If one were to judge the day based upon the original goal of harvesting a buck, I failed…but failing has never left me feeling this good.

After a few hours of slowly acclimating to the cold environs, I noticed movement off to my left as several doe and their fawn meandered in a zig-zagging line down the silent hill. Their journey captured my attention and focused me on the solace of this quiet place. At this point, I was living in a moment of peace. The hours ticked by leaving my freezer empty but my spirit full.

Having goals will wake one up and help guide him/her down a darkly lit path in a dark wood…but the successful person knows when to patiently stop and watch life romp and play on the side of a forgotten hill.

As the busy holiday season descend upon us all, please do not forget to disconnect and hunt for moments of silent patience.

Yours in Education,

Dr. Gregg McGough, CRI Blogger & Podcaster

R.E.A.D… It’s Your Turn.

Image taken by Dr. Gregg McGough
Image taken by Dr. Gregg McGough

Please take a moment to scroll down to the bottom of this blog post.

      I’ll wait a moment until you come back…

          Seriously, you must see what is at the bottom of this page to understand this post.

 

Did you notice that each blog post invites YOU, the reader, to interact with the text?

 

Social media and Web 2.0 tools have truly leveled the playing field and allowed educators from the field to share their thoughts and ideas with other embedded practitioners. This new electronic medium provides users with relevant content, but it comes with different expectations and responsibilities for the reader. Let’s take a look at how one should interact with a blog post.

Emerging digital platforms are changing one’s reading habits by inspiring him/her to interact during and after the reading process. Here is an acronym to remember how to R.E.A.D. a blog post:

Reflect, Engage, Apply, and Discuss

Educators, many still in the field, are taking a moment or two to share some thoughts and reflections on what works or doesn’t work in today’s classrooms. Readers should reflect upon the implications the blog has upon their own experience. Next, blog readers should use social media sites like Twitter to connect and engage in virtual conversations with the writer of the post…by the way, my Twitter name is @McGough3R.

The themes and messages of a relevant blog post should have direct applications to the daily life of a classroom teacher. The blogger is placing ideas and concepts out into the blogosphere in an effort to start a virtual conversation where both parties, author & reader, benefit from the exchange. If the reader feels like the post and the blogger have brought up a good point…PLEASE HOLD UP THE OTHER END OF THE CONVERSATION!

In an effort to prove that this blog post is effective, please reflect upon how digital reading is changing the life of a teacher.

Dr. Gregg McGough, blogger & podcaster

Voices from the Field…1Skill Podcast

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The auditorium filled to the sound of teachers small talking. Several chairs populated by a rather diverse looking group of Lancaster County employers sat facing the teachers. The moderator stepped in to quiet the throng and start the conversation.

“Here they are sitting right in front of you,” she began. “What would you like to tell them about the preparation of your future employees?”

I have to admit that I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. The panel of career field experts sitting in opposition of our entire high school teaching staff consisted of local entrepreneurs and business owners. The purpose of this in-service was to explore the perceived disconnect from the school’s view of life after graduation and those who actually live in that world.

Educational institutions mean well; they really do, but it is filled with individuals whose view of life after high school begins to slip further and further into the past as they rack up years of experience.

The first speaker was complimentary and explained that his small technology start-up employed several Penn Manor students, and he was rather pleased. He was interrupted before he finished and a rather gruff gentleman voiced his disagreement.

He went on to explain that if we really wanted to know what was needed in an future employee…it was initiative. He explained that recently he had tried to explain a process for studding a wall that his company uses on projects. The young man listened intently and then began work. During the instruction, the speaker had to leave the young man to work because he was called away to attend to another task. Upon return, he found the young man sitting and waiting for the next set of instructions. The frustration in our speaker’s voice was evident as he recalled this experience. The employee did not have the initiative to finish the wall. The panel voiced their support for this skill and the conversation was underway.

The fascinating part of this innovative professional development was the speed with which the perceived confrontational tone shifted to one of mutual collaboration and respect. It is the job of education to prepare students for life outside the schoolhouse walls. When considering mission statements for schools, one must consider not just college but CAREER readiness skills.

Although many people agree with this concept, the difficulty is attempting to develop a learning plan that teaches initiative. How does one develop an assessment or rubric for initiative?

The 1Skill podcast project has attempted to recreate what happened in that auditorium. The voices from the field were instrumental in starting the conversation between faculty and administration about infusing career-ready skills into already existing curriculum offerings.

In order to start the conversation with your administration, staff, students, and parents, plan on listening to the free podcast offerings in one of the four career pathways. They are designed to be springboards for conversation for participants. They are around 3 minutes in length so that the entire activity can be implemented within 15 minutes. We at the Career Readiness Institute hope to help districts save time and money in the transition to focusing equally on college and career ready skills.

What is the 1Skill that you look for in an employee?

Yours in Eduction,

Dr. Gregg McGough, Blogger & Podcaster

Making a Case for the Emoticon :)

Emoticons Screen Captured by Dr. Gregg McGough

 

 

Many of our daily digital correspondences, both personal and professional, slip silently across virtual pathways shedding much of the human touch of the sender. In the name of efficiency, we allow our virtual selves to conduct business through quick text/email responses rather than getting tied up in face-to-face or phone conversations.

Who has time for that? 😉

Sean Convey’s text 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens dedicates an entire chapter to explaining how successful people “Seek First to Understand Before Being Understood.” He explains that when a person encodes a face-to-face message, s/he blends it using three essential elements: “words,” tone of voice, and body language. Not all of these elements carry the same importance in the successful delivery of the message. The actual words that someone selects is of minor importance…only 7% of the message. A full 93% of the message is comprised of the non-verbal cues that the sender displays during the conversation. That is why many disagreements feature the comment, “That is not what I said! 🙁 ” Maybe not in so many words…

Here is Covey’s mathematical breakdown of communication:

“words” – 7%

tone of voice – 13%

body language – 80%

Using these percentages, it is easy to see how so much of a digital message is lost when we text/email friends or colleagues. Nearly 93% of the message! When someone texts or sends an email, s/he is only sending 7% of the message, and this could ultimately cause confusion in the mind of the receiver.

Enter the emoticon :)… (a portmanteau of emotion and icon) . In an age of digital communication, this little symbol allSmiling emoticon captured by Dr. Gregg McGoughows for the quick display of the sender’s emotional state when composing the message. Although it is an artificial replacement for actual face-to-face talking, the widespread use of emoticons may help clarify digital messages.

In preparation for 21st Century careers, should schools begin teaching a new form of digital writing that infuses emoticons into a text to pick up the subtle tones and body language of the writer?

Dr. Gregg McGough, CRI Blogger & Podcaster

 

Labeling Career Readiness Behaviors, Mindsets and Character Traits

The reality of today’s workplace requires an individual possess the skills that will allow him/her to: work effectively on cross-functional teams and across disciplines; persist and persevere in the face of setbacks and challenges; analyze complex data and make sound decisions; react swiftly and thoughtfully to dynamic circumstances. There is no doubt that readiness for todays and future workplaces require strong academic foundation and technical expertise. But more and more educators are acknowledging that true readiness requires a third domain of learning that involves behaviors, mindsets and character traits.

This third domain of intangible readiness traits is often titled in research as non-cognitive, soft, employability or social-emotional skills. No matter the nomenclature, they are the abilities that make one resilient, tenacious, sociable, personable, trustworthy, reliable, nimble, confident, self-aware, self-regulating and armed with the grit necessary to navigate life and career in a rapidly changing world.

We at SPN prefer to call this domain Life/Career Abilities; we find it a misnomer to suggest these skills are devoid of cognition when using the term non-cognitive. In fact, to gain, evolve and adeptly and flexibly apply these skills in a nuanced fashion to a variety of scenarios takes high-level cognition. Further, soft skills seems to imply they are soft and not hard to teach, in reality they are hard to teach and even harder to assess. When using employability skills with school audiences, there is a tendency to only consider these the responsibility of Career and Technical Education rather than the entire school. Many academic teachers do not consider their work as readying students for employment.

We consider social-emotional, non-cognitive, employability and soft skills overlapping categories and synonyms, in our work in this domain — collectively referring to them as Life/Career Abilities. Life/Career Abilities is a positive term that also implies focusing student learning with a relevancy beyond school – life and career. Life skills might be too broad as a single label. The combined term also denotes that many of these essential behaviors apply to personal lives and the workplace.

To further clarify and also follow “begin with the end in mind” approach, we are including in the list Life/Career Abilities those behaviors that can be observed. It is behaviors that teachers can most easily give student feedback on. As for teaching, there are knowledge topics that teachers can introduce and skills that students can practice. However, most facilitation of Life/Career Abilities will be through giving students feedback in student projects and performances of their academic and technical skills.

We must thoughtfully move forward with curriculum, instruction and assessment approaches to incorporate this Life/Career domain. It cannot and should not be taught and tested in the same manner we handle basic reading or math. Neither should we ignore it, because it is hard to test with our current tools.

Do you have any “sleepers” in your Fantasy Classroom Draft?

Original photo taken by Dr. G. McGough
Original photo taken by Dr. G. McGough

At this time of year, my attention drifts to one of my favorite past times, Fantasy Football. For those who do not participate in this pigskin rivalry between family and friends, here is a small tutorial…for those of you who do participate in this annual Fall event, you may skip ahead to the third paragraph.

Football fans join fantasy leagues and draft players at the beginning of the season. Players are selected from the different NFL organizations at the various positions: quarterback, running back, wide receivers, etc. One tries to select a team of players that will accrue the most points during the weekly match-ups. Players score points for their fantasy owner with the sum total of their weekly performance. Much of the selection process at the beginning of the season is made based upon a complex rating system that takes into account a player’s past performance. Each week of the regular season, two individuals put their “fantasy roster” teams against each other in a head-to-head competition. The winner is determined after the Monday Football game is over and all the players’ points from both teams are tallied.

At the beginning of this school year, I participated in my district’s “data day” in an effort to establish new curricular goals that will help my student’s find academic success. It was during this data event that I made the rather obvious connection between my ELA class rosters and my fantasy draft. The competition of high stakes assessments is looming at the end of the semester, and just like my Fantasy Football Team, my class/team is a combination of individuals projected to be winners and losers.

In the early stages of most Fantasy drafts, the franchise players and premier players go quickly because they are predicted to earn big points week after week and carry their fantasy owner into the playoffs at the end of the season. This year I took another strategy and began looking through my fantasy magazines for those players who qualify as “sleepers.” A “sleeper” is a poorly rated player who is underestimated at the beginning of the season and through hard work and determination in the off season scores more points than was predicted.

During my extensive research, I began to wonder what factors cause a player to exceed expectations? The variables are too immense to truly predict. Sometimes a trade to a new football club is all it takes to transform a mediocre player into a star. This type of player fascinates me, so I spent my summer looking for the best “sleeper.” I took my experiment to the next level this season and drafted my “sleeper” in the first round…much to the dismay and ridicule of my league. Call it my teacher instinct, but I think my “underdog” pick might prove the numbers wrong!

As school districts look at data to determine college readiness and future success on standardized assessments, I wonder how many of our poor performing students are actually  “sleepers” who will break out one year and demonstrate the type of performance that exceeds low expectations.

Many of my former tenth grade students leave the traditional classroom setting their junior year and go to the Career and Technology Centers to learn a skilled trade. In this new learning environment, they understand the relevancy of their learning and find academic success. Sometimes it takes a different team and the right coach to take an underperforming individual and help them to achieve greatness.

How will you look for those “sleepers” in your classroom who just need the right coaching and support to wake up and have a great year? What would happen if core subject teachers infused career readiness skills into their courses?

Post Script: For those who are wondering, my “Round 1 Sleeper” in my Fantasy Football League was projected to score 7.35 in the first week of the NFL season, and he ended the game with 17.30! Sometimes the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Yours in Education,

Dr. Gregg McGough, CRI Blogger

“We Got This!”

Original photo taken by Dr. G. McGough
Original photo taken by Dr. G. McGough

At the start of a new school year, I tend to become very reflective on my past practices and the perceived impact on student achievement. As a member of the Career Readiness Institute (CRI), I am constantly analyzing my learning plans to make sure that they stress college & CAREER readiness skills. In an era where standardized assessments drive teachers to push students to be college ready…it is important to help students develop those career readiness skills that are so respected in the workplace.

As I begin to plan my learning experiences this year, there was one moment that stands out from all the rest that will inspire my future thinking.

I was in the middle of my problem-based unit concerning at-risk teens, so I was planning on showing an old VCR video about the Lords of Chaos(LOC) that I captured many years ago. The students laughed at my old timey teaching tools. No sooner did I place the VCR tape in the machine…pop…the tape tore, and the screen went blue.

My students were obviously upset, and I was out of luck. I had a reading about the LOC as a back-up plan, but the students wanted to witness the in-depth interviews first hand.

As I was figuring out what to do, I heard a voice exclaim from the back of the classroom, “We got this”! I walked back and handed the tape to three boys and asked if they had ever seen a VHS tape before. They laughed and said that they had seen them, but they never had the chance to take one apart. They assured me that they take stuff apart and rebuild it all the time on their farms. Their confidence at tackling a new problem was based upon years of tinkering and problem solving.

Before I had a chance to respond, the three had produced tools from their pockets and were busy slowly taking the tape apart. In less than three minutes, they asked for some Scotch tape. They rebuilt the cassette and walked it up to me. I slipped the tape in the machine, and it worked! They appeared to be slightly offended when I was surprised at their success at tinkering.

These senior boys were the three hardest working students both in and out my class. They went to high school full time and then worked 40-hour-a-week jobs in various agricultural industries. They also enjoyed full membership and leadership in the Future Farmers of America (FFA). The ability to collaborate, problem-solve, and tinker was developed over years of on-the-job training.

They wanted to fix the VCR tape because of their personal commitment to our classroom community of learners.  They took their past experiences with tinkering and focused their collective energies to figuring out how this device worked and fix it.

Students need repeated, real-world experiences in problem solving to develop the type of confidence in problem solving and tinkering that my three young men demonstrated so well.

How do you promote real world problem solving and tinkering in your classroom?

Yours in Education,

Dr. Gregg McGough, CRI Blogger

Is Your Teaching BORING?

One of my favorite questions of high school students is to bored-studentsask them to describe their school in a single word. Describing the complexity of school in one word is challenging and students in great schools do use complimentary words just as caring, challenging, fun, or family.  But the most frequent word I hear is “boring.”  Try asking a group of teenagers about schools and see how many reply boring.  Part of this feeling reflects teenagers aspirations and desires.  But, there is some truth and reality in the negative connotation of school is boring.

Boring is a result of traditional teaching practices. My use of the term BORING  is really an acronym  for  instructional practices that do contribute to boring classrooms.  When teacher create boring, they:

Build lessons around learning large chunks of content knowledge with little context

Overlay curriculum pacing guide with expectation all students learn at same speed and do the same work

Reward students for good behavior and test on recall of facts

Isolate learning from developing interpersonal skills and collaboration

Narrow student thinking as passive accumulators of knowledge

Guide students to a single right answer

The cure for boring are these six practices, labeled BETTER.

Build connections with relevance

Engage students as independent learners

Test  and grade for proficiency

Target personal skills and work habits

Empower students with hope and confidence

Reward creativity and innovation in student work

Learning more about the BETTER Learning Model and how you can use teacher reflection surveys to improve your practice and move from BORING to BETTER.

Crowdsourcing Learning

Original design by G. McGough using Easel.ly
Original design by G. McGough using Easel.ly

The students sat in relative silence and completed the online pre-quiz using Edmodo, a free social media and 1:1 learning platform. The moment the students submitted their responses the program provided immediate feedback on their current level of  knowledge and awareness in the area of subject/verb agreement. As I made my way around the room, students analyzed their incorrect responses and asked me to interpret the assessment data.  If the class average was 90% or higher, the students could skip this particular lesson. Less than 30 seconds after the last quiz submission, I explained that the class fell short of expectations and would be crowdsourcing the learning of subject/verb agreement. The pre-quiz provided the students with individual data as to their current academic level in this small grammar lesson. Now they were aware of their learning deficiencies.

It is easier to fill the gaps in a student’s understanding when s/he has the ability to stand on the edge of misunderstanding and peer into the darkness. The decision to alter the focus and direction of my students’ learning was a direct result of a specific in-service.

A diverse panel of employers from our local Chamber of Commerce came to Penn Manor High School to speak with the faculty and staff. The panel was formed to speak with the school faculty and staff to share what they are currently looking for in future employees. After expressing gratitude and some general niceties, their remarks echoed three common themes on the qualities of a successful 21st Century employee: initiative, ingenuity, integrated thinking. These employers are looking for workers who show initiative to meet problems head on, demonstrate ingenuity to locate unique solutions, and collaborate with others to develop complex integrated thinking models. The “sit-and-git” method of lecture and 20th Century assessment will not prepare students in the type of career readiness skills that employers are now requiring.

Back to the grammar lesson in my ELA classroom…once an individual learning goal was established, the students were encouraged to leverage the Internet for unique learning resources for subject/verb agreement. The assignment encouraged students to seek out answers using their school-issued laptops. Some listened to teachers from all over the nation/world lecture on TeacherTube and SchoolTube, while others played interactive video games that covered key concepts and ideas. The heightened level of engagement and quality of resources allowed for students to seek out their own differentiation in learning. Although the lesson was labeled grammar, the hidden curriculum demonstrated the type of individual ownership that students must develop if they are going to exist in the 21st Century world of careers.The post-quiz data showed an average of a 4% gain in the average class score.

In an era where teachers are suffering “initiative fatigue,” a condition caused by requiring a staff to implement too many reform initiatives in a short period of time, the Career Readiness Institute is attempting to spread the word for a small scale reform measure. Instructional leaders and teachers must redesign the very focus of instruction to help students develop important career-ready soft skills while learning the content contained in rigorous academic standards.

Please share stories from your classroom where students have to take initiative, to develop ingenuity, or to integrate complex ideas while solving real world problems.

Please follow us on Twitter @CareerRI

Gregory M. McGough, blogger & social media strategist

The “Soft Skills” Gap

Harvested from the CRI Website
Harvested from the CRI Website

As she exited the room, she smiled and spoke sincerely, “Thank You, Mr. McGough.” This display of positive social interaction appeared to be as natural for her as kneeling to tie a pair of noisy shoelaces that tap out a tickling beat on the school floor. As the only student who thanks me on a daily basis for my teaching efforts, she certainly stands out from the rest of her technology-infused classmates who exit the room connected to some type of electronic music device.

Her gratitude and kindness is rare and exceptional, but should it be?

In the second decade of the 21st Century, public schools are evolving to meet the economic, social, and political demands of a new technologically-connected era by adopting higher academic standards and infusing technology into classroom practices. At the end of the schooling experience, the ultimate goal for any parent or guardian is that their children find a career pathway that is challenging and allows them to be financially independent. Although I am an advocate for these reform initiatives, there is a hidden sociocultural force threatening the equitable nature of schooling. As students begin to navigate a more rigorous and technologically-connected school experience, they are losing a host of “soft skills” that place their future employability in peril.

As a high school English teacher, I work from the simple premise that ALL students have the capacity to learn. As a result of this foundational belief, I find myself helping students who truly do not ask for…nor do they appreciate my efforts. A negative attitude does not stop me from trying to help a student to understand a concept or develop an appropriate skill, but do the surly or complacent receive the very best I have to offer? The simple answer is, “No.”

What can be done to address the inequality that is developing between those students with “soft skills” and those who are left wanting?

First, a little background is necessary to understand how this new “soft skills” gap is beginning to emerge. The very programs that are trying to reform education may be contributing to this new form of inequality. Let’s look at a small example. The Common Core State Standards(CCSS) in English Language Arts (ELA) were developed to standardize curricula across the nation at the state-level. The marketing strategy of the CCSS promotes the message that all students who meet the rigorous demands of these standards will be “college and career ready.” English language arts instruction has been divided into four pillars of instruction: reading, writing, language, and speaking & listening. The inequality is not in the standards themselves but in the overemphasis emphasis placed on some of them.

The current, high-stakes, standardized testing regiment places more value on three of the CCSS pillars (reading, writing, and language), and it appears to devalue the fourth (speaking & listening).  It is difficult to develop an objective assessment for the type of “soft skills” that are required in Pillar 4: speaking and listening.  Those standards that have assessment items on the state test are receiving a larger amount of attention while “soft skills” development is once again skipped as a non-tested skill. Let’s be honest…expressing genuine gratitude and developing positive relationships is a career readiness “soft skill” that will be more useful to the learner than the knowledge of the proper use of the semicolon.

The Career Readiness Institute is built on the belief that technology innovation and increased academic expectations are necessary for the advancement of the American education system, but it is equally important that our students never lose the capacity for those career ready  “soft skills” such as kindness and the ability to communicate in a positive manner.

Please follow us on Twitter @CareerRI

Gregory M. McGough, blogger & social media strategist