Saturday, January 9, 2016

Looking for a Good Read?

In an effort to blog more this year, I rummaged through some posts I drafted and never finished in the last year. I found this post I'd almost finished sharing some of my favorite summer reads from 2015, both personal and professional. A good book is usually still a good book six months later, so I figure it's not too late to share.  Besides, winter is the best time for reading, isn't it?!


Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline 


Kline writes of the parallel stories of Molly and Vivian.  Molly is living in the modern-day foster care system, while the elderly Vivian was put on a train as a child and taken to the Midwest to find a family.  The "orphan train" stops were advertised in towns around the country and families would come to find a child, a popular model in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Orphan Train is an endearing window into the similar experiences of two girls from different time periods.  It will make you appreciate the stability and love of family and a place to call home.  Though historical fiction, Orphan Train provides great insight into a slice of history I knew nothing about.  I was much more intrigued with the story line of Vivian and the orphan trains, but the comparison with Molly's life and the modern foster care system is a really compelling way to tell this story.



The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah 

The Nightingale is the story of German-occupied France during World War II and the lives of two sisters fighting in very different ways to survive and preserve a fractured family.  The oldest sister Vianne watches her husband head off to fight the war and is forced to protect their daughter on her own.  Soon after, she is required to billet a Nazi soldier in her home, which ends up to be the first of many unbelievable decisions she is forced to make to survive. Vianne's youngest sister Isabelle is a determined rebel who joins the Resistance movement and becomes a war hero in the eyes of many.  As the lives of these sisters collide, the gripping story of how war reveals our true character is told.  You will see parts of yourself in both characters, but are sure to identify with one more than the other, and thus The Nightingale will also teach you about yourself.


Thousand Words by Jennifer Brown 

This Young Adult book catapults readers to reckon with the lack of control we have in a digital society.  After high school student Ashleigh sends her boyfriend a naked picture of herself, things quickly spiral out of control in what becomes a bad break-up.  I would recommend this book for any middle or high school student, or for parents.  Brown does a phenomenal job of creating a reality where you can see how this situation can happen and also showing the impact on Ashleigh, her boyfriend, her family, her friends, and the broader community. Thousand Words is a great conversation starter with young adults and will give them an opportunity to consider how they might handle a similar situation from a variety of roles.



School Culture Rewired by Steve Gruenert & Todd Whitaker 

If the idea that "culture trumps strategy" is true, this book is a must-read.  Gruenert and Whitaker give a simple breakdown of the elusive differences between culture and climate, and offer practical tips for educators to evaluate the current state of affairs and begin shifting into a more positive and productive culture.  Whether you are a teacher or principal there is some practical food-for-thought that you can use beginning tomorrow.




Three Signs of a Miserable Job - Patrick Lencioni 

In his classic style of using a fable, Lencioni makes the complex simple by challenging us to think about what really makes us happy in our work. There are parallels with Daniel's Pink work on motivation explained in the book Drive, but Lencioni frames it in way that makes it seem tangible to accomplish in the way we interact with one another on a daily basis.  As I read, I could recall leaders that seemed to follow these successful principles so naturally.



Sunday, January 3, 2016

Setting Resolutions with Students

Graphic created using Canva
In my first post of the new year, I shared my 4 favorite 2015 recaps that are worthy of sharing and discussing with your students as you kick off the semester.  It's only logical to lead into some goal setting, and I've got a few ideas that will add a little twist to this year's resolutions.

Begin with some quick reflection using paper and sticky notes.  The Start-Stop-Continue is a simple enough prompt that is sure to get some ideas on the table, especially with 3 to 5 minutes of continuous writing.  I love when students create goals centered around our classes, but I also think it's fun to encourage students to set personal goals related to their lives beyond the classroom. They appreciate so much when you really want to know who they are.

Here are 3 ideas to formalize the goal-setting process that will hopefully add an original spin to your lesson.  Better yet...give students the opportunity to choose from one of the three ideas below.

Pictorial Head by Dr. Sivartha

1. In Your Head

Allow students to artistically represent the goals in their head. Several years ago I discovered these brain maps, and I've used them several times to inspire students to represent ideas.  I'm always amazed at the creative representations that come from the process.  Illustrating one's goals for 2016 could produce an intriguing mindmap that can be displayed in your classroom or hallway as a reminder of the resolutions.  A quick google search of 'Dr. Alesha Sivartha' or 'phrenology' results in several illustrated brain maps that are sure to inspire.


 Original Photo by Wicker Paradise

2. The Ungoal

I don't know about you, but it seems everyone I know sets resolutions with high hopes, only to realize in a few short weeks that they've already fallen off the wagon.  The Ungoal activity encourages students to focus on what they want to STOP doing, rather than what they want to start doing.  For example, perhaps they want to stop procrastinating on studying for tests, or stop hitting the snooze button three times every morning.   Celebrate the habit you plan to undo with your ungoal by dumping those bad habits in the trash can at the end of the class period.



Graphic created in Canva

3. Remind Me Later

Put your goals in writing using a delayed email service. These sites will allow you to compose and send the email now, but set a delivery date for a specified date in the future.  Students might set the email for a delivery date shortly before spring break, which could be a good time to check in on the progress toward those 2016 goals.  Boomerang for Gmail will allow users to set delivery for a later date, which is perfect for GAFE schools.


Rock that first day!

The Best 2015 Recaps You Really Should Show Your Students

Faucet Image by Steve Johnson adapted using Canva
Happy New Year!  As the winter break winds to a close, you may find yourself wondering how to kick off the semester and get your students back into the groove.  I always love the start of a new year and the opportunity for reflection and resolutions.  In fact, one of my personal goals is to blog more in 2016. Blogging has been on the back burner over the past year; as I tackled my Ed Specialist degree, my posts have been leaking out at a slow and unsteady drip. As I only have one class left this spring, I'm planning to crank up the faucet a bit.  Hold me to it!

I've been scavenging the 2015 recaps and have a few favorites that could be perfect conversation starters with students as we launch into 2016.  It's an opportune time to challenge students to consider our place at this moment in history.  Of all the times and places we could have existed, we are in the here and now.  Take a moment and think about it using these recaps as a catalyst; be sure to preview as some of the content may be too mature for the age of your students.

If you have only 5 - 10 minutes of class time to spare, here are my two favorites:

"Google Year in Search 2015"

"Facebook 2015 Year in Review"

If you can devote 15 or more minutes to the inquiry, there are two standout recaps worth exploring. The "Year in Pictures 2015" from The New York Times is a phenomenal collection of photos and captions that somehow creates a thorough, yet concise recollection of poignant moments throughout the year.  "A Year in Graphics" from The Washington Post is a treasure of information that tells the story of 2015 in a unique way; it's so intriguing you will find yourself lost down the rabbit holes of unexpectedly intriguing infographics. 

Launch into conversation by challenging students to compare the recaps.  Do the sources present the same events or different? Why? Which events will have the most significance 1 year, 10 years, or 100 years from now?  What do the events say about our overall values as a society?  What worries you? What inspires you?  The possibilities are endless. 

I'd love to know your ideas for including these recaps in your lessons. In my next post, I'm sharing a few ways to get students going with some goal setting in ways that hopefully have a new twist.  

Happy New Year! Wishing you the best for 2016.