Thursday, October 29, 2009

Processing vs. Doing

You may have noticed that the last couple of posts have been a bit more action-oriented that many of the posts on this blog. In the past, many may have been more philosophical in nature. Part of the reason for becoming more action-oriented is due to a conversation my wife and I were having last week about taking action versus doing too much thinking. In addition, a couple days ago, I read an e-newsletter from Steve Pavlina, a noted personal growth writer, about creating abundance in our lives.

In the newsletter, Pavlina mentioned that two things help us create abundance, creating value and delivering that value. One of the quotes I really resonated with was that we should make sure "our talk doesn't become a substitute for action." To create and deliver value, we must take some sort of action daily, whether that is individually or collectively. What small thing can you do today that provides value to someone else? Continually asking yourself that question and committing to looking for the answer and then acting on that answer will lead us to get better and better at value-creation and delivery. This will help create the path that will take us toward our goals.

What action will you take today that will deliver value to someone? Think about it and then act on it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

More Action

If you read through the previous post, you will notice it was written by Ken Griffith. I would like to thank Ken for guest blogging and hope that you got to read the article and pass it on to anyone you know who might have young children. I truly believe we can drastically reduce the number of students coming to school behind their peers by this simple process.

Along the same lines, I found an on-line article by educational psychologist Michele Borba that offered parents some more ways to help their kids be successful in school. I'll summarize briefly and if you want to read the whole thing, click here.

1. Make sure your kids are getting enough sleep (about 1/3 are not and missing sleep impairs thinking.)
2. Encourage your child's efforts (not his or her intelligence.)
3. Respect his or her learning style.
4. Pay attention to peers (they do have an effect on study and work habits.)
5. Make family meals a must (studies show this helps grades and good choices.)
6. De-stress the home.
7. Tailor expectations to your child's abilities.

As Borba writes in the article, "none of these tips require you to take out a second mortgage or get a second job. What they do require is your time, attention, and engagement." Practicing even one or two will certainly give your child a head start on school.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Language Dancing

After 35 years in education, I read a book entitled, Disrupting Class, by Christensen, Horn and Johnson. I am sure my Jr. High school teachers thought I had the book memorized over 40 years ago but that discussion is for another time.

Having worked in K-12 districts most of my career, I have had the opportunity to see the whole picture. That is, I have been able to watch kids go from Kindergarten to college. I have watched then grow, develop and learn throughout their time in school. I also have had the opportunity to visit with college students about their school experiences.

Disrupting Class, while written to discuss education in the future, had some interesting research around babies. I knew I needed to share it with the community and I have finally put those words on paper. It should appear in the Gazette one of these days.

I hope every young parent gets the opportunity to read it and respond.

Here it is, Language Dancing.
Language Dancing

“Goochie Goochie Goo,” “Goochie Goochie Goo,”

If you have a baby or are going to have a baby, know someone who has a baby or will be having a baby, this article is for you. The number of strollers I see traveling the sidewalks of Guernsey indicates this is important to many folks. Parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, this is for you.

“By some estimates, 98% of education spending occurs after the basic intellectual capacities of children have been mostly determined.”

“…a significant portion of a person’s intellectual capacity is determined in his or her first 36 months.”

That research alone should get this article cut out and hanging on refrigerators all over town. But let me tell you the story, and you decide.

Everybody is researching education these days. You can’t open a newspaper, magazine or book without someone quoting statistics about what education is doing or not doing. The studies that led to the statements above come from a significant sampling of parents and their children in their homes for the first two and a half years of the children’s lives. Based on that research, it was determined that parents speak an average of 1500 words per hour to their infant children. That’s the average. Talkative parents average 2100 words, taking the bottom numbers down around 600 words.

This comes out to the difference between hearing 48 million words and 13 million words.

But, the story gets better. “Interestingly, the most powerful of these words, in terms of subsequent cognitive achievements, seemed to be those spoken in the first year of life---when there was no visible evidence that the child could understand what the parents were saying.”

I have always known that reading to your child before they enter school or pre-school is very important to their success and self esteem, but this research got my attention.

So, what is this “extra talk,” or “language dancing,” that is so important? It is face-to-face, adult, sophisticated, chatty language. It is talking to the child as if they were listening, comprehending and fully responding to the comments. It can occur anytime, in a shopping cart, folding laundry, changing a diaper or simply cuddling and talking. It takes the form of commenting on what the child is doing, what the parent is doing and planning, thinking aloud and just chatting.

It is not, “business talk,” like, “Finish your food,” or Hold out your hands,” or “Get in the car.” It is also not “background noise.” If your child is lying in front of the TV listening to a purple dragon, it is having an insignificant impact on their intellect.

Here is what is happening when” language dancing” is taking place. Our brains have about a bazillion neurons or brain cells. These guys spend their days and nights sending messages back and forth, like teenagers text messaging. Each neuron has an axon, or filament that hangs out sending signals and dendrites, which are like “baseball mitts,” catching signals. Little electrical signals cause all of this pitching and catching. When this “practice” goes on between neurons, just like with baseball players, they get better and more efficient at pitching and catching.

“Extra talk,” or “language dancing,” in the first three years of life, with a focus in the first 12 months pushes the efficiency of the brain’s ability to pitch and catch up about 3.7 times, give or take a catch or two. Simply put, the child has been “wired” to think in more sophisticated ways, and the payoff later in life is immense.

I know, I know, you are thinking, “Griffith has finally gone around the bend.” That may have happened a long time ago, but it has nothing to do with the importance of this research and language dancing. As a member of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, I meet with 24 other administrators from across the nation four times a year. Part of our work involves professional development and homework. Can you believe it? Someone gives me homework?

Anyway, one book they assigned me was, Disrupting Class, by Christensen, Horn and Johnson. The book’s major premise is that education has to think beyond brick and mortar to where we might be in 10 or 20 years. It speaks to disrupting how we do things now to get to how we might do things in the future. I was able to spend a morning with Michael Horn, one of the authors, discussing the book and their findings. A large part of the conversation centered on the ability of kids to think in ways they will need to in the future and nested in that conversation was the language dancing and preparing children for the rigor of education and life in their future.

Since that day, I have been pondering how to share that thinking and my thinking on the subject to my world.

I just did, and I apologize to the authors if I stumbled on some of their words. I think I had more, “business talk,” than, “language dancing,” when I was an infant.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


“Democracy is both demanding and inspiring … (it) is about who we are as individuals and how we live together as families, friends, neighbors, and citizens.”

The above quote comes from a page on the Institute for Educational Inquiry website. As I looked for information on stewardship, I came across this and thought it was a good lead in to describing the responsibilities we have as educators.

Stewardship is one of the four core principles of the Agenda for Education in a Democracy. It can be defined as the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care. As communities, we are responsible for the education of our students. Too often, segments of that community either neglect their responsibility or point the finger at other constituents as the reason our children are not finding success. Stewardship is realizing we are all given certain gifts and with those gifts certain responsibilities. A commitment to excellence and toward stewardship from all involved is the key to providing our students an excellent education and a head start on a successful life.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Community Advisory

The timing of this post fits well with my return from the 10th annual NNER Conference in Bellevue, WA. The National Network for Educational Renewal is focused on improving the quality of education P-12 and providing our students a foundation in building and sustaining a democratic society.

I will post more soon on some of the highlights and principles of the NNER, but for now want to announce a community advisory meeting scheduled for Monday night, October 26 at 5:30 p.m. in the PCSD2 board room. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss education in the district and gather input from the community. As part of our continued effort at providing an excellent education to our students, it is important to have all the voices in the community heard.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Be Proactive

Each Sunday, the Scottsbluff Star-Herald has a column on relationships by a therapist from the area. This past weekend, the column was about being proactive in the latter part of the year to make sure the end of the year was the best part.

Now, you may be wondering why I would write a post on relationships, therapy or the like. As I read, I realized that much of what was written can certainly pertain to anything we do, whether in our relationships with family and each other, our health and welfare, or our business and work.

From the article, and according to Viktor Frankl, a Nazi concentration camp survivor, "proactive people take responsibility for their own life," and focus on the things they can change. This includes our own attitude toward a situation, viewing it in a more positive light or looking for the positive that might be gained. An example of this given was the Apollo 13 crisis. One man lamented the oncoming disaster while another saw it as a chance for NASA to have its "finest hour." Of course, we know the outcome was a successful landing and a wealth of knowledge gained from the experience.

This pertains to PCSD#2 in the fact that we are all responsible for creating the change we want to see in our district. By being proactive and seeing the opportunities that surround us, we can move forward to a better future. Although the pace of change can sometimes seem slow, I assure you that we are moving forward. I liken it to gaining momentum in moving an object. The first few steps are slow and laborious, maybe even difficult at times; it always takes more energy to get started. However, as the object gains momentum, the change is more noticeable and the distance covered becomes greater. After a certain time, we look back and are amazed at how far we have traveled.

As the author of the column stated, "the brightest futures remain reserved for those who are proactive. Those who will not longer make excuses for mediocrity." It's time to be proactive and move toward a bright future.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Be unreasonable

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man." - G.B. Shaw

I found this quote interesting as we continue to read about and discuss the 21st century skills that are necessary for our students to have post-graduation success. As the debate to determine what is best for our students continues, the concept of change becomes a central point. Change can happen so quickly in the business world, yet quite slowly in education. Too often, it seems, we tend to adapt ourselves to the world instead of trying to change the world. The status quo has worked for us and now we are being asked to step outside our comfort zone and change what we have been doing. Uncomfortable as it can be, it is necessary if progress is to be made.