Wednesday, September 30, 2015

I Think My Teacher Hates Me and The Power of our Emotions

"I think my teacher hates me", the student said as he slid into the chair from across my desk and flopped the pass I had written for him onto my desk.  "Why do you think that?", I asked him.  "When I do good on quizzes she tells me I did a good job and it makes me feel very proud and good about myself.  But, sometimes, even when I do good, she gives me a look that makes me feel like I did not do well."  I am guessing that he had recently gotten that look prior to our discussion.

In his book Leaders Eat LastSimon Sinek spends Chapter 6 building the case that human beings are meant to work together, that when we work together we accomplish great things-greater than we would on our own, and that the chemicals Endorphin, Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin work together to provide us a chemical incentive to work together.  Specifically he labels Serotonin and Oxytocin as the Social Drugs.  "Serotonin is the feeling of pride.  It is the feeling we get when we perceive that others like or respect us. It makes us feel strong and confident." (Leaders Eat Last, pg. 47)

While Serotonin creates feelings of pride in us for a job well done, like when we do well on a test, Oxytocin "is the feeling of friendship, love, or deep trust.  It is the feeling we get when we're in the company of our closest friends or trusted colleagues. It is the feeling we get when we do something nice for someone or someone does something nice for us.  It is responsible for all the warm fuzzies....Without Oxytocin we wouldn't be able to build strong bonds of trust and friendship."  (Leaders Eat Last, pg. 49)

Oxytocin is the social lubricant that not only helps us develop trust and friendship, but also pushes us to do things that will help cement those trusting relationships.  It is why the words of a teacher, or peer, have such power to both build us up, as well as unfortunately destroy us.  Sinek's favorite definition of love is "giving someone the power to destroy us and trusting they won't use it." Sometimes, unfortunately, without meaning we create the opposite emotion from what we want.

The Power of a Positive Act.  These are notes that we have created at Plymouth High School and the Weidner School of Inquiry @PHS that we have given staff members and students access to so that they can share positive thoughts with each other.  Each month we hold a class meeting for each grade level in which we recognize a student as student of the month. In order to be nominated for this honor, the student must be recognized by a teacher for making a positive contribution to the school. When they are nominated they receive a certificate recognizing this nomination via email.  Also at that meeting, teachers write and read positive notes that they then give to the students.  Finally, we recognize a teacher of the month, but even those teachers who do not win are winners.  The students write comments on why they believe the teacher they are voting for should be teacher of the month and those are then emailed to the teacher once we announce who has won.

All in all it has been an interesting journey as we work to create a more positive school environment, and put our natural chemistry to better use.  Each month we send out certificates, recognize students publicly, and crown a few prize winners, but the real winners of this exercise are not merely the students who are recognized publicly, or even those staff members who win.  The true winning comes in the lasting power of those notes.  The ability to read them, reflect on those moment, and find the strength to carry on in midst of the daily grind.

How do I know, every time I look in the back corner of my office, and see the collage of positive notes I have received over my career, and the hard parts of the day get a little easier, I am convinced again of the power of recognizing the good acts and achievements we see in others.

Things I Learned from Students this Week:
  • We should all love one another
  • We shouldn't judge each other
Things I Learned While Visiting Classes this Week:
  • Papules and postules are the medical names for zits. 
  • Glands that produce sebum oil (cause of acne) are located in the dermis
  • The symbol for again in Chinese started as a drawing of a fish, which they would have for lunch and then AGAIN for dinner.
Things I Learned from my Reading:
  • Wired tells the story of how trillions of clocks in our body keep time and the fascinating research around how they may be linked to cancer.
  • Also in Wired, you can learn how Jon Hauser makes $50 per hour playing arcade games. 
  • In Fast Company I learned about the Trinity wind turbine.  Which you can fold up and take in your backpack with you.
  • Lifehack highlighted 3 things that about school that Elon Musk would like students to copy.
  • The New York Times tells how the Lighting Science Group is making light bulbs that can help babies sleep better and teenagers pay better attention in class.
  • Finally, in the sad but true department, The Chicago Tribune writes about a group of parents who are on a hunger strike to get better schools for their children. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Lessons Learned from Students this Week

This past Sunday our school suffered a tragedy when one of our students, David Bacon, committed suicide.  It has been a week of watching students and staff members hold each other close, hold each other up, and pull together to work their way through the many feelings a loss like this brings.

This week I learned how being together may not be able to prevent tragedies, but it definitely helps us to get through them.  I also learned that our students and staff are amazing, ok I already knew this, but I saw it in many different ways this week.  I was moved to tears as I walked the halls and saw students and staff picking each other up, supporting each other, and holding each other close as they tried to find a way through a terrible week.  One of the most impactful displays was this amazing letter from one of our students to our football coach:

Hey Mr. B... 
I know you're overwhelmed and going through a very difficult time. We all are. I don't know if David went out with a reason, or if things have been leading up to this. Nobody knows what goes through someone's head and nobody will truly understand how it feels until they've been there too. I truly am amazed how many other communities have come together to support us. They've put aside the fact that we're top in the state and kicking butt, were undefeated this year, and maybe just they're "enemies". Who knows. But they put everything aside to support our team and community and that's what restores my faith in our generation. Seeing the pain in the eyes of my family that's on the team, and people on the team that I know for a fact are very strong guys that I thought I'd never see cry absolutely tore my heart in a million pieces. Seeing the pain in every single person at PHS including myself kills me. I'm also amazed at how our school has come together and everyone is supporting everyone. I've been there. I've been where David was two nights ago. I know how it feels because I'm still fighting it. But to see our school and community come together like it has totally changed my outlook on Plymouth. I want you to know that everyone is here to support you and the team including his family. Nothing will ever be the same. Yesterday it literally felt like a huge piece was missing from our school and it truly was. I hated seeing everyone so hurt yesterday. I want you to know that no matter how long it takes you to be your happy, energetic, enthusiastic, and normal self again, we will all be waiting for the day to see you smile and hear your laugh again. It's definitely going to be a while before we can all smile and be happy again, but eventually life will keep going, and this will only make us more aware and stronger as a school and a community. I've learned to love PHS, and this topped it off. PHS has totally proved how much they care about each and every one of us. I can't wait to hear about the win this Friday because those boys are gonna win it for David. Each and every one of those boys out there have a heart like fire and I know first hand they will kick butt and win for David. They'll go far this season for David. They won't want other teams to go easy on them because they are strong and David wouldn't want them to be looked down upon. You treat those boys like you treat your kids. You're a family and family sticks together in times like this. I have faith in the team to be strong on Friday and I know right now in practice it's probably emotional and beyond difficult to stay strong without David ever coming back, but you'll all make it through. Rockies always do. Just remember we're all waiting on the day we get to see you smile again after this terrible tragedy. Good luck on Friday. It'll be tough, but the team will come out stronger than before. I've been sending prayers out to David's family, and I consider the whole team his family as well. We're all here for you and you're not alone. 

These simple words from a student to her teacher, trying to find a way to get him to smile again, while knowing it will take a while.  Her eloquent words have done a much better job of summing up what I saw and learned this week, than I could ever hope this post would do.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Hey You Forgot to Write this Week!

Hey, you forgot to write this week, Mr. Davis said to me as we spoke in night school.  Yea, I said, my whole week got knocked our of rhythm and it threw everything off, including my writing.  Funny thing routines, when they are working we barely notice them.  All our little rituals, quarks, and superstitions all work together to bring comfort to us, provide us with a sense of security, and bring a rhythm to our life.  But if one thing is off, even something minor like waking up five minutes late, or leaving something at home so that you have to circle the block to go back in, can through your whole day out of wack.  Even planned interruptions, like days off from school/work, can have an adverse effect on our psyche, and our learning.

It is not so much the disruption of the routine that puts our learning in a less than optimal state, it is the way it alters our day and pushes us into times, areas, locations, and methods that do not fit our optimal learning pattern or environment.  Each of us has them, things that we do to help us prepare to learn, places that we learn best, and methodologies that help us to maximize our learning.

For me my best learning occurs in the morning, usually in a coffee shop where I can focus on what I am doing, enjoy a nice pumpkin spice latte, and have just enough activity to take short breaks to people watch.  Additionally, I learn better by reading than watching videos or listening to podcasts.  That might be why my second favorite place to learn, is walking early in the morning with articles pre-loaded on my iPad and along the trails in Winona Lake before they are crowded with bike riders.

Interestingly, while I am very attuned to how, where, and under what style I learn best, I am embarrassed to say that I was not always sure how they learned best, nor was I sure that they knew either.  Sadder still, while wondering about these two questions, I did little to either learn for myself about my learners, and conversely teach them how to learn.  How much do you know about our learners?  More importantly, how much do you want to know?

Things I Learned from Asking Students What They Learned Last Week:
  • The lighter, in color, a crystal is the clearer it is.  Bismuth  is rainbow colored due to oxidation.
  • I learned how to create a 2D game on the computer in my independent study class.
  • 1 of our students is writing a book that is a crossover fan fiction combining Percy Jackson with Star Wars.
  • Explorer 1 has left the heliosphere
  • Denmark has 4 extra letters:  å æ é ø on their keyboard

Things I Learned While Visiting Classrooms:
  • MathXL has a feature called Virtual Nerd that explains how to do problems to students when they are stuck.  I sooooo wish that I had this when I was in HS math.
  • Tu' (the singular you in Spanish) is to be used in informal settings for example with people you know well.  While usted is to be used for you in more formal occasions.
Things I Learned from Reading (Due to it raining when I went walking on Saturday shortly after I started, these articles are actually from the week before-rhythms and routines again):
  • Elvis Presley once flew 2 hours to Denver, CO from Graceland to get a 8,000 calorie sandwich called the Fool's Gold that combines a hollowed out loaf of bread, an entire jar of peanut butter, an entire jar of jelly, and a pound of bacon.
  •  A new pool opened in a London high rise, that spans the two towers of the high rise and is made of glass so that swimmers can see people on the street below them. And people thought having a pool on the second story of a school was crazy.
  • Google Docs now has a voice option that allows students to speak to type from the tools menu in Docs.
  • From the Cybersecurity Division, be ware of ATM skimmers which look like a regular ATM slot, but are designed to steal your information when you go to get cash. Krebs on Security has the story.
  • Ed Week discusses research that perfectionism both helps and hurts students in the learning process and in life. 
  • This long and interesting article from Helen Rosner tells of the 127 Sale which runs for 1 weekend each year and is billed as the world's largest yard sale stretching from Alabama to Southern Michigan along US Route 127.
  • Finally, Edutopia evaluates 3 classroom tools to use for formative assessment.  My favorite-Kahoot.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Learning the Power of Social Media

It started with an email, continued on the phone, and then moved to social media, but ultimately it was a tale of communication.

Sometimes learning comes from experiences that we never believe are going to bring us new knowledge.  Monday I received an email at 3:05 AM (I did not actually see it until 5:30 AM) informing me that our data plan was about to go over, we were .5 GB under our limit.  I immediately texted my family at home and told them to not use any data.

This was a new experience for me, as we had previously had unlimited data. In July in an attempt to lower our bill I chose a plan with a limited supply of data and after reviewing our historical data us, I chose one that was basically double our average use for the past year to insure that I would not get emails like this.   The problem came when I looked online at our usage data. While it showed we were almost maxed out, when I added the individual totals we had used 1/2 our allotment.  This lead me to call Sprint Customer Service, to find out what was wrong.  The individual I spoke to was not able to tell me why there was a discrepancy, but that he would put in a ticket and get back to me with the results.

The next email I received told me that we were now over our limit, by .5 GB.  and then after school we were over by 1 GB.  I called Sprint, after seeing that my daughters usage had doubled in a few hours, with no notification as to what the earlier problem had been.  I quickly called Sprint and spoke to another customer service person, who said they would remove the overages from the bill and then was going to work with me to expand our plan to the next highest level, which was about $15 more at the time I considered my switch, but at $15 per GB over it was worth it.  Unfortunately, before I could finish this, I had to end the call, while I was on hold, to go into a meeting at the courthouse.

When I got home I received a 4th email saying that we were know 1.5 GB over and owed an additional $22.  I quickly called Sprint again, to find out how it was still going up when no-one was using data and to find out why it was spiking so suddenly today.  This is when my waiting and frustration began.

I was on hold for roughly 15 minutes and then when the call was answered, the person on the line could not explain to me what was happening, would not remove any charges, and when I asked about a new plan she said all I could sign up for was a plan that would triple my data limit, and cost $10 less than when I had unlimited data.  When I asked about the next highest plan that I had almost signe dup for, she said that plan was no longer available.  It was at this point that my frustration boiled over to anger and I asked to speak to her supervisor.  She said she would get him and I was put back on hold.  After 20-25 minutes she returned to say that she was looking for her supervisor still and asked me to wait.  After another roughly 30 minutes, at which point the thought crossed my mind that this was a delaying tactic to get me to merely hang up in the hope that I would not call back, she returned and said that she still could not find a supervisor and would I wait.  I responded that no I would not, that I wanted to speak to a supervisor now and that I was considering leaving Sprint.  She said she could not get the supervisor right then, but she would take my number and have him call me.

I gave her my number, and hung up on what was a 1 hour and 18 minute call, in which I spent the majority of time on hold.  Thank goodness for speakerphones.  After 20 minutes I still had not received a call from a supervisor.  At this point I got online and began looking at Verizon.  Then I remembered that the new Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure was very active on Twitter, so I took a shot that he might see a tweet, never expecting the response that I received.  At this point, I will let the tweets to the talking:

After mutually following Marci Carris, Sprint's Senior VP of Customer Management, and Googling her to make sure that this was a Sprint employee, I sent her my information.  Within 10 minutes I received a call from Timvre with Sprint who listened to my story with as much empathy as can be conveyed on the phone, took down my information, and said she would look into the data issue and get back to me.  She then gave me a direct number to her and told me her working hours and the days she worked.  While I was on the phone with Timvre, I received a call from another 800 number.  When I played the message, after being called twice, I found out it was another Sprint employee named George from their corporate office in Colorado. 

I called George and he again listened to my problem with empathy.  Looked into the data usage issue with me on the line, remarking how their must be something wrong because my daughter's phone was using huge chunks of data early in the morning when she would be at home and on wifi, and said that he would erase the overages on my bill and work towards getting me the plan I had asked for a month ago that was no longer available at close to my current price.  He also gave me a direct number and said he would call back when he had information.  This lead to this missing word tweet.

I then received a call back from George in which he said that he could double my current plan for $10 more a month.  I took this deal, and will remain with Sprint for the foreseeable future, as they were able to turn a negative into a positive.  The reality is, Timvre and George communicated so well that even without the deal, I was prepared to stop looking and stay with them for awhile.  The deal, which was all I had asked for earlier, ended all thoughts of leaving.

It was when I was able to relax and reflect that I was able to think of the all the learning this night had brought to me.

  1. You need to advocate for yourself and your issues, not simply say they are a big company and they won't care about my issue or help me.  Sometimes in school, or life, we believe that our problems are insurmountable, or that the teacher or administrator we are talking to is too busy to care with our minor issues, so we accept less than what we deserve because we are afraid to ask or that they might say no.  Even if they say no, you have not lost anything as you are still were you just were.
  2. Sometimes you need to keep going until you find the right person to help you.  Just because the first person that you talk to can't, or won't help you, that doesn't mean that you should just give up.  Maybe another teacher can explain what you need to learn a different way.  Don't stop at the first no, keep seeking the assistance you need. 
  3. People respond to social media, even if you think there is no way they will.  In this case the CEO helped me to solve a problem, but think of all the experts that the internet can connect us with.  How much knowledge or help in learning we might be able to access.  The list is endless, and the possibilities infinite. 
  4. Communication is more than simply listening and responding to someone, more than even how we respond.  While I am happy with the outcome of this situation, it all would have been avoided if the 1st customer service representative had emailed me back to let me know what the problem with the data was, prior to the company changing the totals on my daughter's account.  This made me feel as if they were cheating me.  It didn't help that the usage of my family, despite no major changes in where or how they were using their phones, had more than doubled since I switched plans.  This ambiguity, and the unclear way in which data was explained on the website, made me feel as if the game was rigged against me. That my good deal, was not really a good deal. I quickly began to distrust Sprint and their accounting.  An email response to me, telling me what they had found and why the data usage was so high, would have likely lead me to accept the explanation and move on. How often do we give students vague answers as to why a policy is the way it is, or a decision had been made about a grade, without truly hearing their concerns and addressing the simplest of requests-please explain to me and help me.
  5. Correcting the problem, even after angering the person, goes a long way towards repairing relationships and beginning to rebuild trust.  I am not a big customer, Sprint could have easily let me walk away from their company.  Even if I complained, it is not like I have thousands, or even 1 thousand, Twitter followers or Facebook friends.  They made this right not because they were going to lose money, or look bad on Twitter, but because they valued the relationship.
Things I learned by visiting classes this week:

  • You can make a hologram viewer from an old CD case.  This one you need to see, so go ask Mr. Scheiber to see it.  Then after he shows you the first model, look at the giant one his students crafted to use with a tablet computer.  The great part is not the device, but the excitement I got to see in Mr. Schieber and his students as they worked on it.
  • The robotic arm that takes socks off the sock form is called a stripper.
  • Extension lines are used with dimension lines on a drawing to show you how big the part is.  They also do not touch the part, to avoid confusion.
  • When you let students hold a jam session in the hallway, where they have to create music on the fly, you get some amazing sounds.
Things students told me they learned this week:

  • How to create a's a long story.
  • The months in Spanish August is Agusto.
  • Learning about racism and reading articles about it.  I really like it because when I got to the US that affected me a lot and I have learned to stand up to it.
  • I learned that I am pretty good at math based on my PSAT/SAT work.
Things I read this week that impacted my learning: