Walk TALL and Help Others Carry their BIG Sticks

Image taken by G. McGough
Image taken by G. McGough

In the spirit of Mothers’ Day, I would like to share a small story that I witnessed a short time ago.

I was in the waiting line to pick up my daughter from her elementary school when I witnessed an inspirational moment of servant leadership. A mother was walking her son home from kindergarten, and he pulled her to a stop to pick up a fairly large branch that was protruding out into the sidewalk. She waited for him to grasp it and then she proceeded at a slower gait so that he could manage his new burden. The stick jostled as it outlined each crack and separation in the concrete. Once or twice it poked her in the back of the leg.

After the third poke to the back of her calf, I knew that this was the moment of truth. I could empathize with her frustration at being poked by such a useless object. I thought that I knew her response. She is going to grab the stick from him and launch it into the hedgerow.

Interestingly, her response was just the opposite of my expectations. She took his little hand and showed him how to hold the stick so that it would not pose a threat to either of their legs. HE was important to her…and her efforts allowed her to look past the apparently useless BIG stick. It was within only a few steps that he pulled her to a hault and launched the stick into the hedge. Unencumbered, the two walked hand-in-hand the rest of the way home from school.

There are many times in a leadership moment when those we are leading pull the organization to a hault and take up a “big stick” of their own to drag. Whether its a new program or additional job tasks. Compassionate leaders understand that the new task was undertaken because of an innate interest in the mind of the individual. An inspirational leader cares enough about those s/he leads that s/he allows them the freedom to take on new tasks. In an effort to show organizational support, the leader should help the person position him/herself and the various resources so that success can be gained. If the task proves to be too much down the road, the individual can make the choice while still feeling fully supported by the organization.

Who in your organization could use some help with a big stick problem that they are dragging along the path?

Yours in Education,

Dr. Gregg McGough, CRI Blogger/CRI Podcaster

Who Wants to Be Saved By Superman?

The image was created by sciodrivver on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/65576902@N00/451466621/
The image was created by sciondriver on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/ photos/65576902  @N00/451466621/

 

 

 

When my son was ten, he uttered the words that no father, especially one who is an English teacher, wants to hear, “Dad, I just really don’t like reading.”

I was devastated, but I decided that to try a technique that I had picked up in one of the many national ELA conferences that I have attended over the years. My son has always liked superheroes and one in particular, Superman. After a small argument concerning superheroes, we ended up at the local comic book store looking for answers. I am happy to report that my son is currently an avid reader, although it appears as if I am now the one with a serious comic book addiction.

A recent career advancement has forced me to contemplate my approach to leadership.

Just the other day I was reading one of my comics, and I started to think about how leadership is displayed in this visually stunning art form. The beautifully drawn cells of the comic book display muscle bound super humans swooping into sometimes desperate situations and rescuing a person or people in some sort of trouble. This type of narrative makes for some compelling comic books, but I fear that too many leaders adopt the superhero metaphor when determining their leadership role in a new organization.

No one wants to be saved by Superman. Think about it! Everyone wants to don the red cape and be the savior. Too many leaders have the Superman complex and want to constantly arrive quickly on the scene and make quick fixes and save everyone. The problem with this leadership style is that before Superman swoops in he is flying too far above the problem to make an accurate assessment.

The true hero is Clark Kent because, in an effort to protect his anonymity, he sometimes delays the transformation into the blue leotards, and he remains the mild-mannered Clark, who supports those around him. (Clark Kent is Superman’s human alter ego that allows him anonymity in Metropolis.)This approach inspires people to try and identify and solve their own problems. This is the type of empowerment that allows organizations to reach new heights of organizational effectiveness.

One person cannot save an organization; but s/he can truly inspire the team to realize their hidden super-potential.

 

Yours in Education

Dr. Gregg McGough, CRI Blogger/Podcaster

Industry Modeled Assessments for Authentic Learning

Image captured from the ICLE Website.
Image captured from the ICLE Website.

In these austere times, schools are feeling the effect of the slowing or stoppage of public funds. Even though there is a temporary kink in the supply chain, there is a still a societal expectation that schools must be willing to do more with less in preparing students for the advanced career skills required in the 21st century.

One direction that many schools take to implement new State standards, which are meant to increase rigor, is to purchase pre-packaged curriculum materials from commercial vendors. So often, it is expensive to purchase new pre-packaged programs/workbooks that, when used in isolation of authentic assessment practices, make learning artificial by removing it from direct applications with the real world. These “canned curriculae” promote a one-size-fits all approach that can devalue the professionalism of the teaching staff. It is not hard to see the popularity of this approach given the prevailing metaphor that public schools are tiny businesses that manufacture human capital. By creating a uniform assembly line, the raw materials all undergo a linear process of change that is easy to implement and control.

In an effort to transform educational institutions to better serve the students and faculty, it is time to adopt a new metaphor for the learning process. Schools should be viewed as a Guild of Skilled Craftspeople that serve unique geographical communities. One needs only to look at the economic landscape of of the community it serves for the answers to relevant curricular assessment. Many district’s include phrases about creating partnerships with the community in their mission statements, but I challenge districts to go deeper when forming these community relations. Invite local business, industry, and social services to participate in the assessment development process.

Teachers are professionals in the education of children and experts in their chosen academic discipline. It is important to let them have a voice in creating the learning plans of their classroom. In an effort to create small works of curricular crafts, they must be given the right inspiration and time to collaborate with the right people. Local commerce has always relied on schools to educate and train the next generation of workers. By inviting industry professionals to the table when educators are creating authentic assessments, the school and community are truly working together for the educational benefit of the young learners. It is important for both institutions to claim sponsorship for the authentic assessment materials by placing their respective logos on the document. Sharing ownership of the learning outcomes may result in industry providing “real world” materials and tools for students to use in the classroom. Cash-strapped districts can know use their new assessments and learning materials to trigger inspiration at the classroom level.

When schools can develop authentic assessments that mirror the spirit of the local cultural, learning will reach a level of relevancy that allows students to develop strong community relationships while achieving highly rigorous academic goals.

Yours in Education,

Dr. Gregg McGough, CRI Blogger/CRI Podcaster

Assignments Designed to Inspire Career Readiness Skills

The 11/3/42 Image recaptured digitally by Dr. G. McGough
The 11/3/42 Image recaptured digitally by Dr. G. McGough

“Relevance makes rigor possible.” Dr. Bill Daggett

As an ELA (English Language Arts) teacher, I am sometimes asked about how I design rigorous, standards-based lessons that are also relevant enough to inspire relevant career readiness skills. I have decided to blog about a recent lesson that I designed and implemented with my tenth graders/seniors at Penn Manor High School, a 1:1 laptop school.

At the beginning of the Spring semester, I welcomed my students with a unique Internet-based challenge. Back in the mid 1990s, my father and I along with my cousin were granted permission to explore an abandoned mansion on the outskirts of my town in Biglerville, PA. We entered the property and began looking around the empty rooms. It was obvious that at one point this was an place of opulence and the love of a family. Now, the hollow rooms played host to anything or anyone who wandered in through the cracks.

On the second floor, I found a series of random black & white photos and other various artifacts in a dusty closet. After our day of wandering and wondering, we returned to the Marion Thomas Harbaugh and thanked her for granting us permission. It was then that we showed her the small items that we found, and she was grateful to have the World War II medals back. The rest of the dust covered items were of no interest to her, so I neatly organized the items and packed them away in my attic. This small treasure chest of memories survived a move and various Spring cleanings.

For some reason, this semester I digitally archived the items using Padlet and designed a small hyperdoc lesson around the various artifacts. The students were given the simple, real world challenge of trying to determine the identity and one fact about the man pictured above. The only other piece of information that I provided was the name of the lady who granted us permission. In less than three class periods, the class had narrowed in on his identity, Charles William Harbaugh, and were able to locate various glimpses of his life that were archived on the Internet. Sadly, my students discovered that “Willy” died at the age of young age of 46, but not before dancing at the Inaugural Ball of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. This lesson allowed me to assess my students’ critical thinking skills, research skills, technology skills, reading skills, and writing skills. It was wonderful to see them hit dead ends and work around them by collaborating with others.

When I design a lesson, I try to forget that I am an ELA teacher and attempt to look beyond the classroom walls to the real world problems that build careers. I find that when a lesson is situated in a problem faced by career-focused individuals the students are actively engaged and develop valued career-ready skills.

Yours in Education,

Dr. Gregg McGough, Blogger & Podcaster

Every Child Succeeds Act: Changing the Policy of Standardization

Image captured by G. McGough
Image captured by G. McGough

As of December 10, 2015, President Obama signed the Every Child Succeeds Act into legislation thus replacing the No Child Left Behind Act, President George W. Bush’s spin on President Johnson’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965). After several decades of legislation, the federal government is finally retreating from educational policy management and is looking to States to take a more active role in the governance process of public education.

Education Week (January 4, 2016) published a wonderful article titled, Will States Swap Standards-Based Tests for SAT, ACT? One of the benefits of having a blog is the ability to take one’s musings publish them to start a virtual conversation. Take a moment to click the hyperlink and go read the article. I will wait…

Please feel free to leave comments at the end of the blog so that the conversation can continue.

The article claims that seven states are looking to abandon their current, high school standardized testing practices and sub-contract the process out to SAT or ACT, to determine college readiness. As a strong advocate for college and CAREER readiness, I wondered why states didn’t include other possible CAREER assessment measures like the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute. If states are truly been given the freedom to redefine what high-school testing looks like, why not begin to give credibility to CAREER readiness. Career assessments demonstrate student competency in the areas of job and task-based analysis.

In the hierarchy of academic disciplines, the label “career prep” has a connotation as being lesser than “college prep.” It is time to elevate “career readiness” at this critical change in educational policy.

Schools could be designed to have students demonstrate their college and/or career competencies in one of two tracks, SAT/ACT or NOCTI. This type of differentiation might trigger the type of education reform that allows all students to truly find success in the training of their vocational track.

Please leave comments, so that we can clarify our thinking about this groundbreaking topic and possibly push for reform.

Yours in Education,

Dr. Gregory M. McGough, Blogger & Podcaster

Career Ready Skills: Nature or Nurture?

Drawn and digitally photographed by Dr. G. McGough
Drawn and digitally photographed by Dr. G. McGough

Just the other day, I was discussing my podcasting project with a colleague. Our conversation focused on whether career skills are pre-programmed, genetically-inspired personality traits or abilities that can be taught and/or fostered: nature vs. nurture.

According to BusinessDictionary.com, a soft skill is…

An ability and capacity acquired through deliberate, systematic, and sustained effort to smoothly and adaptively carryout complex activities or job functions involving ideas (cognitive skills), things (technical skills), and/or people (interpersonal skills).

Can school students learn to develop the “soft skills” that are called for by most businesses and industries?

In the argument of nature versus nurture, I tend to side with “nurture” because of my belief in the presence of a “hidden curriculum.” There is a stratification of learning that occurs when a concept is taught in a public space. The social piece of delivery and assessment has a very subtle yet profound impact on the learner and his/her ability to work through new learning with compassion and thoughtfulness. Those individuals who want to teach “soft skills” need to be mindful of the “hidden curriculum” of their learning space.

I would like to dedicate this blog post to taking the 1Skill mentioned in my first podcast episode and demonstrate how to teach this “soft skill” …at least one employer thinks it is important. (If you would like to hear the podcast, please click here.)

During my interview with the student services coordinator, she mentioned the importance of “teachability.” Granted, there are some students who are just better suited to be learners, but can “teachability” be nurtured into existence?

The 1Skill podcast episode defines “teachability” as the ability to learn from one’s experiences and from others within an organization. How does one design a learning plan to teach and assess the skill?

Ahhhh, it is not WHAT one teaches rather it is HOW one sets up the assessment protocol.

Take any open-ended assignment that you currently teach and allow for “radical formative assessment,” the idea that the learner continues to fine tune the assessment until s/he finds success. Literally, they are encouraged to redo any aspect of the assignment for FULL credit. The teacher should just provide side comments that “hint” at the changes that need to be made. Allowing students to return to assignments to demonstrate learning of a concept fosters the attitude that one can learn through repeated trial and error and tutoring from those who understand.

When an educator establishes an environment where learning is open-ended, the “hidden curriculum” will help learners develop the soft skill of “teachability.”

Dr. Gregg McGough, CRI Blogger & Podcaster

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

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 4.02.42 PM

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

Don’t Try to “Teach” Soft Skills

not-teachingEfforts to teach soft skills frequently lead to teacher frustration and disappointment. This is not because these critical aptitudes can’t be developed, but because the “teaching” approach used often mimics teaching content knowledge.

Soft skills – or as I prefer to call them, Life/Career abilities are the behaviors, mindsets and character traits that contribute to students’ life readiness. Life/Career abilities is a positive label to identify this important domain of student learning. Regardless, of what you call this domain, it is an integral part of learning along with acquiring knowledge and developing skills. Educators must emphasize Life/Career abilities, but embrace a different mindset and not attempt to “teach” these in a traditional sense.

This is because a traditional approach implies that “teaching” is simply imparting new knowledge with expectations that students will retain and recall that knowledge – Present-Practice-Test. This simplistic model may work well when teaching basic vocabulary or other forms of rote learning. However, as learning becomes more complex, experienced teachers understand that more enhanced teaching strategies are required, including developing the context for students, providing applications of knowledge, and using engaging approaches such as inquiry and discovery. While there is some knowledge that is essential to the domain of Life/Career abilities, this domain is primarily focused on behaviors, for which even an enhanced teaching approach will not necessarily result in desired student behavior.

A model for describing and practicing the teaching mindset required for developing Life/Career abilities is that of the parent. Any experienced teacher, who has also been a parent, (or, uncle, aunt, grandparent or other caregiver) recognizes the overlap in skills between effective parenting and quality teaching. This is particularly important when focusing on the behaviors of Life/Career abilities. A better term to apply to this type of instructional mindset is perhaps nurturing: just as a parent nurtures a child’s development, teachers need to nurture the development of Life/Career abilities.

There are five elements that are critical to nurturing; relationships, expectations, providing experiences, modeling and feedback. Any attempt to influence behavior is deeply influenced by human emotions and frequent, positive interaction builds relationships essential for nurturing behaviors. Another essential beginning element is establishing expectations. Using such “presets” – i.e. having students think about a behavior before being in the situation to exhibit that behavior – greatly influences a student’s decision-making and therefore his or her response. A parent also nurtures developing behaviors by providing experiences and opportunities for children to practice those behaviors. Providing richer experiences can take many forms, such as creating play dates with other children, enrolling children in arts or sports activities, traveling as a family, or even assigning appropriate work chores around the home. Throughout our own development, we regularly – consciously or unconsciously – imitate some of the behaviors that we observe in others. Consequently an essential way for teachers (or parents) to nurture Life/Career abilities is to model the expected behaviors. The final element of nurturing is providing feedback, not in the form of a grade, but as constructive and consistent reminders when learners’ behaviors do not meet expectations.

Soft skills can be taught, but not in the traditional or stereotypical sense of teaching facts. Begin to use a nurturer mindset to evoke the parenting role in developing a child’s behavior. Using such an approach better defines teaching practices to develop students’ soft skills or Life/Career abilities.