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Yes, Polarity Thinking is Crucial for Leaders!

Corwin, November 2013

Corwin, November 2013

In its most recent e-letter, the Center for Creative Leadership listed leveraging polarities as the second-most important strategy for leaders to master, right after strategic learning. I couldn’t agree more–my next book, Unleashing the Positive Power of Differences, is all about using polarity thinking in conversations about education reform.

What is polarity thinking? The term, coined by Barry Johnson, describes situations where there is truth and wisdom on more than one side of an issue–each side is incomplete without the wisdom and input of the other. Think of how often we fight about the “right” way to organize, when in fact we need some of both. It isn’t either/or but both/and for things such as

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The Truth About Math Curriculum

question markA few years ago, two of the school districts I work with adopted new mathematics curricula–they each chose the one the other was abandoning. Golly, they could have saved a lot of money by simply boxing up all the teacher and student editions and swapping!

When student performance falls short of expectations, most educators seem to go hunting for new tools such as the ideal curriculum, the ideal personalized intervention program, the ideal iPad app, and so on.

But take a look at my post from last week, The Right Kind of Lazy for Math. What depth of math knowledge do teachers need to guide students in the deep number sense required for this kind of mathematical agility? 

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The Right Kind of Lazy for Math

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Is math a chore or a fun puzzle?

What if students approached math problem sets as if they were fascinating puzzles rather than boring worksheets? And did great work while being lazy? Sound crazy? It’s not–and there’s a neuroscience connection!

Quick–multiply 19 x 24. Are you reaching for paper and pencil? Or a calculator? That’s what students (and adults) trained in algorithms do. My colleague, Dr. Dario Nardi, has gathered EEG images of dozens of college students solving such problems. Those trained in algorithms use just a couple areas in their brains for calculations. The good news is that they solve these problems quickly and accurately. The bad news? They don’t access the part of the brain used for skillful working of unusual problems.

Instead of reaching for paper or calculator, did you say to yourself, Well, I can make this easier and do it in my head…20 x 24 – 24. If so, you used more parts of your brain, connected with understanding the steps in a process, rotating images, and viewing things holistically. And, if you learned to use  strategies such as “friendly numbers” in collaborative groups, you also activated the speaking and listening areas of your brain. You did less work and fired more areas of the brain, creating new synapses for later, even more complex mathematical thinking!

This is the right kind of “lazy” for math.

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Avoiding Educator “Summer Slide”

The Perfect Place for Professional Development in the Summer? Your Own Favorite Spot!

The Perfect Place for Professional Development in the Summer? Your Own Favorite Spot!

We all know about the “summer slide,” the fact that many children’s reading and math skills slip back over the months they are not in school. But what about the adults in your school community? What about you? Was your school year so draining that you are thinking a 10-week break from any thought of lessons or students or whiteboards might be your best plan for the summer? Are you feeling duty-bound to read certain recommended books or articles on pedagogy? Is summer when you pursue your own content-related passions? Or, are you still wincing from falling short of the goals you set for last summer?

Rather than have summer resemble the guilt of failed New Year’s Resolutions, consider how you might use the research on motivation to recharge your batteries and be ready to reboot your classroom in the fall with new enthusiasm. In Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink lays out three important factors.

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Any Initiatives Not Working?

P6141528Three times this weekend, friends relayed tales of woe regarding initiatives, strategies or decisions that aren’t working. All in casual conversation.

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  • An accountability test for science is given to students with disabilities via computer voice. The computer mispronounces words such as “wind” and “lead” so that question meanings are changed. And students can’t adjust volume once it is set, even though portions are so loud that they pull off their headphones
  • Late in the year, teachers are asked to add a specific read-aloud to their curriculum to prepare for a school-wide event. Not only will it keep some teachers from finishing key curriculum units, but as they preview it, several do not believe it is age-appropriate
  • District-wide cuts in school office staff hours are made without consulting office staff workers. Turns out, several key personnel will not be in the office during the traditionally busiest weeks of the year.
[/list] All three of these situations are the result of two common leadership imbalances:

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Common Sense for the Common Core?

Let's Exercise Caution When Taking a Stand!

Let’s Exercise Caution When Taking a Stand!

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS)…once again educators, politicians, parents, and business leaders are taking sides on an issue. But is declaring “for” or “against” really going to help education? I mean, with which of these arguments for the CCSS can one truly disagree? Don’t we need

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  • A common set of learning targets–what Marzano calls a “guaranteed and viable curriculum.” Enough standards that we know students are learning what needs to be learned, but limited to the quantity that can actually be taught in the time available.
  • A bit of efficiency–without the CCSS we’ve got 50 teams in 50 states creating and revising standards. That’s a lot of time and effort.
  • A way to know whether students are learning–great measures of student learning. Creating good assessment items is really difficult. In fact, I know of at least one instance where a state’s publicly available sample items were rejected test questions; they couldn’t waste good questions.
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Did you say, “Well, yes, but…” to any of the above statements? For example,

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Yes, Play is Crucial!

 

Children's Flying Creations

Children’s Flying Creations

When did you last play? How about your employees or your students? As Linda Stone pointed out in her blog A More Resilient Species, self-directed play (experiential, voluntary and guided by one’s curiosity) is essential for developing resilience, independence and resourcefulness, let alone creativity. She quotes scholar Brian Sutton-Smith, “The opposite of play is not work. The opposite of play is depression.”

This kind of play can’t be guided by adults—adult-directed soccer or chess club or playground games have their place, but they don’t build the same skills as exploring your own interests, or negotiating with other children as you form your own club or develop your own game or turn a tree house into a castle.

And this kind of play does not happen at the expense of time spent on academics. In fact, researchers are finding that creative play is essential to the kinds of learners we are aiming to create: scientists, innovators, inventors, creative problem-solvers, great writers, and more.

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