From the Back of the Classroom

What’s your favourite place to work?

Where do you go to do deep work?

Is it different from where you do reading?

Where do you do most of your correcting?

Do you have that favourite chair where you love to read?

This is where, each morning, I spend time reading, free writing, and meditating. It’s my comfort space.

 

But it’s not where I spend time doing research or deeper writing.

Flexible Seating

I’m a big believer in flexible seating – providing students with different options for where they sit/stand when doing work during the day. I am noticing a stream of pictures and articles of classrooms focused on flexible seating. There are definitely some amazing looking classrooms with all kinds of seating arrangements and different options for sitting and working.

But is it all necessary? What are they key aspects that should be considered?

My wife, a Learning Resource Teacher, spends a great deal of time working with teachers helping them with implementing flexible seating in their classrooms among other things. Everything from standing desks to squishy seats. But, she is also very aware that this doesn’t work for all children.

As a parent, she knows that our 8 year old finds it difficult to concentrate in the classroom, especially with so many options. At times, according to his teacher, he is almost overwhelmed with the options. Although he likes the different options, flopping across a ball, bouncing on a squishy seat, he finds it very difficult to stay on task unless he’s at a more conventional seating arrangement. As parents, we’ve experienced this same situation with a couple of our children. Providing options can be a great thing but it can also become an overwhelming distraction.

As I discussed in my post Classroom Design – Not everyone likes learning at Starbucks about the importance of classroom design on learning, we need to be careful in decisions about classroom environment and ensure decisions are based on sound educational practices. As Eric Sheninger discusses in Research-Influenced Learning Spaces

We need to move away from classroom design that is “Pinterest pretty” and use research/design thinking to guide the work.” – Eric Sheninger and Tom Murray

Much like the ‘Ditch-the-teacher-desk’ that became a trend, flexible seating seems to be something that has become a topic of conversation.

The Teacher’s Desk

I know that there are great reasons for getting rid of the teacher’s desk. I got rid of mine years ago. But, I also learned that there were other considerations to keep in mind that, well, I didn’t consider before I made the move. I needed a working space in the classroom and had to make adjustments in order to manage this. When I was an administrator and a few teachers wanted to get rid of their desks, we met in each room to discuss the different ways to accommodate this while still providing options for the teacher to work. With 5 of us in the room, brainstorming ideas about the advantages and disadvantages was also a discussion about classroom design which eventually led to further classroom changes.

Barrett, Davies, Zang, and Barrett (2015) identified three dimensions, or design principles, to be considered in classroom design:

Naturalness: relates to the environmental parameters that are required for physical comfort. These are light, sound, temperature, air quality and ‘links to nature’. In particular there are specific requirements needed for children’s learning environments.

Individualisation: relates to how well the classroom meets the needs of a particular group of children. It is made up of Ownership, Flexibility and Connection parameters. Ownership is the first element and is a measure of both how identifiable and personalized the room is. Flexibility is a measure of how the room addresses the need of a particular age group and any changing pedagogy. Connection is a measure of how readily the pupils can connect to the rest of the school.
Stimulation (appropriate level of):has two parameters of Complexity and Colour. Colour is straightforward, but does encompass all the colour elements in the room. Complexity is a measure of how the different elements in the room combine to create a visually coherent and structured, or random and chaotic environment. It has been suggested that focused attention is crucially important for learning.

We all have different preferences for doing work and, usually, it depends on the work we are doing. When I’m doing research and writing, I like to work in a space that allows me to focus and is free from distractions and has natural light. My wife works at the kitchen table. Our 16 year old likes to work in the livingroom in a chair or at his desk in his room, depending on the work he is doing and his mood. The 14 year old likes the kitchen table as it allows him to be social while working. As for the 12 year old, you can find him on the floor, lying on the couch, sprawled across a chair or sitting on his bed but he likes a quiet space. The 8 year old will read to someone wherever but it usually involves a great deal of shifting and moving and probably a few side-bar conversations about something that catches his fancy. When our older daughter was in university, her favourite study place was the library (away from 4 energetic boys)


  • From the back of your classroom:

    How do you view the learning environment (as a student or a teacher)? Is this view based on opportunities for learning?
    What was the main focus for how you designed the learning space?
    Where did you get your inspiration for the space?
    Did you consider Naturalness, Individualisation, & Stimulation in the design?
    Have you asked others about the design? What were the reactions (learning focused or other)?
    Have you considered safety and movement in your design? Can it accommodate all learners?

  • The Lure of the Listical


    When I began teaching, I struggled most with planning.
    And classroom management.
    And organization. Maybe time management.

    I was often stressed and tired, spending hours planning only to have most of the plans end up being replanned.

    The process would start all over again. Neverending it seemed.

    Oh, then there was correcting. On weekends. Usually binge correcting — the predecessor of binge watching before Netflix was a thing.

    I sometimes would borrow units from other teachers but this really didn’t cut down on the work time since I usually ended up retooling them, often only taking a few ideas from them. Often the units didn’t really work as new curricula were just coming out which was different and “resource-based”.

    Ahead of its Time — Maybe too Much!

    The curricula were ahead of their time. The idea of resource-based teaching meant that, well, there were no textbooks for each subject. Except math. There was a math textbook but one was suppose to supplement it with other resources.

    And manipulatives. All sorts of manipulatives.

    There was just one problem — it was hard to find resources besides, well, textbooks. The internet hadn’t yet become the firehydrant of information that it is today and accessing other resources was difficult.
    Thus began my obsession with resource hoarding.

    I Remember the “AHA”

    I was in my 5th year of teaching and my third as a grade 7 homeroom teacher. I was struggling more than I had ever struggled. I was entertaining thoughts of quitting. Not only did I have a large class but I was struggling with implementing the new curricula. Actually, struggling doesn’t quite cover it. I was suffering. I was exhausted. I actually cried at my desk.

    A few times.

    Then it happened.

    I remember the “AHA”. Clearly.

    I was planning in my room. I had copied the Learning Objectives and cut them into strips — a suggestion from one of the amazing teachers I worked with at the time — matching them together as I was building units. It was a unit in ELA and one of the LO looked vaguely familiar. There was that little niggle at the back of my brain but it took a while to become clear.

    It was similar to one of the Social Studies LO’s.

    That night I took my first foray into cross-curricular planning as I found that the LO’s in different subjects fit together. I could cover different LO’s by developing units that were cross-curricular. The beginning of Inquiry was seeded.

    I’d like to say that after that night things all fell together and shortly thereafter it was all better and I became an amazing teacher.

    It didn’t.

    See, that realization was just the beginning. What followed still required a great deal of work. A lot of work. Late nights. More binge correcting. I still had to plan the units, make connections and then figure out how to plan assessment. It was around this time that I came across Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins & Jay McTighe which introduced me to backward planning. I did improve. I began to explore teaching in new ways. Classroom design became important. The effort began to pay off.

    Need To Do The Work

    In his book, The Dance of the Possible, Scott Berkun discusses how part of the creation process is actually having to do the work.

    No matter how great your idea is, there will be energy you have to spend, often on relatively ordinary work, to deliver it to the world.

    The “AHA” was only the beginning. In fact, it would take a few years before I would become what I considered “good” at planning and being able to make connections. It would take even more years before I was comfortable sharing what I was doing. It took hard work, spending time working with curricula, making plans that didn’t work in order to develop the skills to make plans that worked better. Trying them and making adjustments.

    Pursuing the process was important. It meant never being satisfied with what I had done but always looking for ways to improve it.

    This means a central skill any creative person needs is a mastery of time, which means a mastery of habits. There will always be easier things in our lives than creative work. There will always be demands on our time that are more logical and lucrative than chasing an idea. Scott Berkun

    Indeed, there are easier ways to get plans and units and, given the present conditions that many teachers face at this time, this need is being filled in a number of ways.

    I’m not against teachers paying teachers to use their creations.

    Not in the least.

    Teachers are looking for ideas and sites like Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachersprovide a buffet of options. This is partly a result of a system that doesn’t always provide adequate resources and is geared toward efficiency and grades. The demands on teachers time have increased and teachers are looking for options that allow them to have some sort of life outside of school. Young teachers are not staying in the profession and one of the factors is the heavy demands on time.

    Teachers are not being provided the time to have those “AHA” moments themselves. Instead of being able to struggle through the process which leads to an “aha”, many teachers are just getting through the day.

    In his book, The Innovator’s Mindset: Empowering Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity George Corous suggests

    If we want to do better things for students, we have to become the guinea pigs and immerse ourselves in new learning opportunities to understand how to create the necessary changes. We rarely create something different until we experience something different.

    This is really how I ended up with my “AHA” moment — immersed in something new. But, in order to do that, there needs to be the conditions for that to happen. I would suggest this isn’t the present conditions in many schools where teachers are under extreme pressure to improve test scores and rankings. The focus is on data and documentation, making sure teachers are filling in the forms in the division-wide LMS.

    There are teachers, outliers, who do things differently. They do things differently, often without great supports.

    These outliers form pockets of innovation. Their results surprise us. Their students remember them as “great teachers,” not because of the test scores they received but because their lives were touched. George Couros

    As an administrator, there were always teachers like this in each school where I worked. Part of my role was to provide them with time, to give them the opportunity to be creative, to try new things, to have “aha” moments.

    But it wasn’t all teachers. Some weren’t ready or willing to chart new territory.

    And we have to be okay with that.

    We can’t expect everyone to be an outlier. In the past, I would suggest that often what these outliers were doing eventually found its way into many classrooms. There needs to be the opportunity for this to happen. It cannot be demanded of everyone.

    It takes time.

    And it’s hard work. Very hard.

    To create means to make something new, at least for you, and to do something new is like going off of the map, or more precisely, deliberately choosing to go to a part of the map that is unknown. In this case it rarely matters where or how you start. Scott Berkun

    Not all teachers work in an environment that supports creating. There are many students and parents that focus completely on grades. Constant accountability is stealing away time from the creative pursuit of learning in many jurisdictions.

    But there’s something else happening.

    The Draw of the Listicle

    We are living at a time of information overload and struggling with managing the amount of information that is available. As teachers struggle with ever-increasing demands, the draw of the Listicle is powerful — 5 Easy Ways to …., 10 Innovative Ideas for …, 7 Creative Ways to…. — why struggle with your own when there are lists and books which provide the options.

    Cut and paste.

    Lesson done!

    There are still teachers doing amazing things.
    However, too often the product, what you see, the highlight reel lessons, overshadow the relationships and the process. The spectacle of learning replaces the wonder of learning. The process is the learning.

    We always have more freedom than we think, we just forget. We spend so much time trying to be efficient that doing anything interesting feels like a waste of time. And in this tendency is another misconception: creativity is rarely efficient. It always involves taking chances and trying things that might work but might not. The question then is: are we willing to spend time to be interesting, to think interesting thoughts and make interesting things? We all have the power, but perhaps not the willingness. Scott Berkun

    To be willing means to forgo what’s easy. It’s hard. We need to support teachers so they can find their creativity, to delve into the process that leads to “AHA”!

    It requires hard work. It means doing and making, trying and retrying. All the while building relationships with students, parents, and colleagues.

    It’s such an amazing experience. It fuels the wonder…

    I Wonder ….

    How often do we see the struggle as being an important part of the process?

    How can teachers be supported to embrace an iterative process that, often, doesn’t end?

    What is the impact on teachers of all the ‘Listicals’ and ‘How to’ offerings?

    I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas about this topic. Leave me a comment or send my a note on Twitter at @kwhobbes.

    Until next Wednesday, seek what is vital, focus on the important; find your own creative voice.

    Balance – is it really the Key to Life?

    Key to life?

    Is work-life balance the key? Or might there be a different way to approach this? What might that be?

    A few years ago  I read Chris Brogan’s post Work-Life Balance?  which offered a different take on the concept of work-life balance .

    I think the question is part of the problem. I don’t think balance is the goal. I think we seek to thrive. Grant Cardone says that he wants excess in both quadrants: work and home life. Why settle for a balance where you can seek really thriving levels of success with both? And I agree.

    I agree. I want to thrive in all areas of my life. To do that I had to reconsider how I was approaching this whole thing and the mindset that I had. The first was to rethink how I was viewing what I was doing. I was categorizing things as work, family, spiritual, body, etc and trying to figure out how to balance each of them. Like many others, it wasn’t working. I was frustrated because I often felt guilty when I spent too much time working on particular projects or would exercise instead of spending time with my family. Instead of finding balance, I was always trying to juggle things so I wasn’t feeling guilty. I’d give up on projects I wanted to do because the things I “needed” to do were crowding them out.

    I wasn’t doing well on balancing and I wasn’t getting any further ahead.  I was running faster and harder but making no real progress. Eventually this led to burnout and almost a break down. The cycle repeated itself a few times.

    I couldn’t continue this.

    Change was in order but what? How?

    Simplifying

    The book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown explores the concept of work/life balance through discerning what is essential. The book begins with a vignette of an executive working in Silicon Valley. At one point, the executive begins to be selective about what he says “Yes” to do and, in doing so, begins to reignite his creativity.

    It felt self-indulgent at first. But by being selective he bought himself space, and in that space he found creative freedom. Grep McKeown

    Through this story, which could be anyone in a similar position, McKeown introduces the reader to a different way of seeing the things we are doing. Instead of trying to find some sort of balance with all the things that are going on, one seeks to thrive through learning new habits and making decisions that are focused on what is essential.

    only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter. … It is about pausing constantly to ask, “Am I investing in the right activities?” Grep McKeown

    This isn’t easy to do. We live in a social period of being constantly connected and plugged in. Social media bombards us with the “perfect” lives of the people around us, showing us what we’re missing. Parents feel pressured to ensure their children have “the ultimate childhood” while the pursuit of keeping up is magnified through the lenses of cameras in everyone’s pocket. We’re inundated with new articles, lists, books and courses, telling us they can help us – In 6 Easy Steps – to reach/do/achieve almost anything. We bite, looking for some way to do/be in order to rush on to the next thing, always worried that we’re falling behind.

    Being a Great Teacher

    As a teacher, I was always trying to improve, to finally have someone say “he’s a great teacher/principal”. Over time, it drove me … almost almost over the edge. I was trying, reading, implementing, doing – trying to do it all but still driven, in some crazy alternate reality, to find ‘balance’. Deep down I knew it wasn’t going to happen. But it didn’t stop me from continually doing and trying. It wasn’t until I was so frustrated with my work,  emotionally drained, and dissatisfied with the current state of life that I decided it was time to act.

    Today, technology has lowered the barrier for others to share their opinion about what we should be focusing on. It is not just information overload; it is opinion overload. Greg McKeown.

    I didn’t want to find balance, I wanted to THRIVE in what I was doing. I wanted to be able to create, to use my abilities to their potential, to regain my health, both physically and mentally, and share and support others like I glimpsed was possible.

    Connected Doesn’t Mean Doing it All

    I consider myself to be a connected individual. In the past, I would have said a connected educator but I’ve come to realize I’m more than that – it is only part of who I am. That’s where Chris Brogan’s article really had me begin thinking – I wasn’t looking at the whole me, but as me as separate parts. It wasn’t until I stepped back to view things holistically that I began to understand the depth of the change that needed to happen.

    If we don’t purposefully and deliberately choose where to focus our energies and time, other people – our bosses, our colleagues, our clients, and even our families – will choose for us, and before long we’ll have lost sight of everything that is manful and important. Greg McKeown

    In learning to say “No”, I have learned to say “Yes” to what is the most important. In discerning what is important, I have been able to slowly move from being ‘busy and seeking balance’ to ‘focused and thriving’. To do this, changing my mindset was so incredibly important.

    In Essentialism McKeown outlines three core concepts for an essentialist mindset:

    • Individual choice – we can choose how to spend our energy and time.  This is more true than we often first believe. Deciding to get back in shape wasn’t the hard decision. Following through was the hard part. It meant I had to eliminate habits and change routines which, as many know, is so incredibly hard. In fact, we often fail because we underestimate how hard it is going to be. We don’t account for the triggers and cues that reinforce the habits that undermine our success. Just because we have choice doesn’t mean we’ll be able to follow through if we don’t take time to understand our current position and what needs to change and then take inventor of our current habits and how they affect what we do each day.
    • The prevalence of noise: Almost everything is noise, and very few things are exceptionally valuable. Todd Henry calls this Peripheral Paralysis – too often we are too concerned with what else is happening around us and aren’t focusing on our path. Yes, it’s important to see what others are doing but it doesn’t mean doing what they are doing. It also doesn’t mean comparing what you are creating and doing to other’s because they are at different points of the journey than you. To often we compare ourselves to others without knowing the full story of the other. There is so much noise around us we’re distracted, ‘busy’ but lacking focus. Choosing to focus on what is vital and essential is difficult because we are suppose to do it all.
    • The reality of trade-offs” We can’t have it all or do it all. This is hard. I want to do it ALL! But to thrive, I can’t. I need to focus on specific things, to eliminate what isn’t essential and vital.  Saying ‘No’ isn’t just about the mental discipline of discerning what is essential but it’s also about the “emotional discipline necessary to say no to social pressure.”  Using the “Three Whys” that Chip and Dan Heath outline in their book Made to Stick, I  connect what I am doing with why I am doing it at an emotional level. Chip and Dan suggest that once you have decided to do something ask “Why is this important?” three times. So, why do I exercise? Because I want to be healthy. Why do I want to do that? So I can live longer and be active in my old age? Why do I want to do that? Because I want to be able to spend time  with my wife, spend time playing with my kids, be able to see my grandchildren and enjoy my doing things with my family. Yes, exercise is about being healthy but when I drill down to emotions, it connects with my future and what I dream to be able to do.

    What does this mean for Educators?

    Educators are constantly making decisions. I would suggest that many teachers suffer from decision overload which eventually affects their ability to make future decisions. How many educators are exhausted at the end of the day? Week? Focused on making it until the next break?  Counting down until summer vacation?

    By being asked to make more and more decisions, educators are not able to use their energy for the vital/important. Educators want to be creative, to use their energy to creatively engage students and develop engaging learning environments.

    How can teachers begin to change this for themselves? Teachers often are asked to do things which, it seems, provide them with little choice. Yet, there are decisions teachers can make about their use of time to determine what is essential and vital.

    Areas to Explore

    Outcomes/Curriculum – What are the Essential Questions and Big Ideas that can be used to connect outcomes? Are you familiar enough with the curricula to be able to combine Outcomes? Are you using a process such as Understanding by Design to  plan learning events and connect assessments with learning and develop cross-curricular learning?

    Assessment/Feedback – Is the focus on assessment or feedback? Are you providing more feedback than assessment? Do you assess everything or just the vital/important? Do you know what is vital/important to assess?

    Daily routines/habits – Do you employ daily routines – morning/afternoon/night  which encourage you to focus on what is vital/important? Do you connect what you are doing with your “Why”? Have you taken a habit inventory? Can you identify the triggers and cues for these habits?

    Relationships – This is one area that everyone talks about – having relationships with students and families but what does that really mean? This is where the Three Why’s from Chip and Dan Heath can really be useful. Why are relationships with students important? Because they allow educators to connect personally with students. Why is connecting personally with students important? It provides insights into the students lives. Why is this insight important? It allows for trust, caring, and sharing. We share emotional life experiences with the students. This can be done with all relationships. Unfortunately, negative individuals drain us of energy. Do you need to reevaluate the relationships with colleagues?

    None of this is easy. Actually, making the decision to change is the easiest part. When things are going easy, one really doesn’t need to be too creative or innovative, things happen. It’s when things aren’t going well and there are challenges that we need creativity, to see what isn’t obvious, to find solutions to the complex, to initiate change that isn’t obvious. There are no 5 Easy Steps or 10 Instant Remedies. But, in order to thrive, developing new habits and focusing on what is vital and important can help us to be our creative best.

    I Wonder …. 

    What might change if we focus on the vital/important in our lives?

    If choice is important, how can teachers be empowered to make choices about what is vital/important?

    How can teachers develop and be supported in developing habits that allow them to be creative in the work they do during times of seemingly constant change?

    I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas about this topic. Leave me a comment or send my a note on Twitter at @kwhobbes.

    Until next Wednesday, seek what is vital, focus on the important; find your own creative voice.

    Habits, Groups, and Growth Mindset

    How often do you think about which hand to brush your teeth with? Or comb your hair? What about where the bowl for cereal is located? Or the spoons? How is your refrigerator is arranged? Or your clothes drawers? Why are they that way?

    Habits build up over time, often being introduced to us when we are children and developing as we grow older. We don’t often even pay attention to what we are doing or wonder why we do things that way. They can be helpful, allowing us to focus on other details while we go about the day. They can be harmful and destructive, something that we struggle with for years.

    But not all habits are created equally.

    Keystone Habits

    Keystone habits are habits that have a profound affect on other habits. They shape and influence other habits. They can be good habits which then affect other habits. For example, when I began a morning routine, it had an effect on the rest of my day. The routine had an influence the other habits I had around organization and productivity. These have slowly developed into routines – a series of habits that I use in the morning and in the evening. Over time, some become automatic, allowing me to focus more on moment that I’m in or what I am reading. It also works the other way, keystone habits that aren’t so good.

    According to Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit, keystone habits

    say that success doesn’t depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers. … The habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns.

    We all have habits that we rely on throughout the day. These habits affect all aspects of their lives. When we combine these habits into routines, the habits can help us to build even more habits. Now these habits can be good or bad. By knowing that some actions trigger other actions, we can begin to take action, either to reinforce the good habits or begin to change habits that aren’t so goof for us.
    But individuals are’t the only one with habits.

    Group Habits

    So if individuals have habits, can groups also have habits?
    According to Hudigg, when you have a group of people, these habits become routines. In the classroom, the routines are what influence individual habits. Everything from how the room is set up to the structure of the day influence what is taking place. Determining trigger points for students can help to determine where a particular habit or routine might need to be changed. By examining the behaviours and tracing what is happening to the trigger points, it is possible to begin to identify some of the reasons behind certain things that are happening in the classroom.

    But how to determine what might create change or how to change the habits and routines? According to Hudigg, this requires what research calls “small wins”.

    Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.

    Too often in the classroom, we react to the actions of individuals without taking time to identify what is causing the actions or reactions. There are many systems that are used and implemented in classrooms that try to manage behaviours of students without taking the time to determine if there are habits that may be causing the behaviours.

    Are there are specific triggers or cues that might can be identified? What is the routine that might be resulting in the behaviour?

    Habits for a Growht Mindset

    Carol Dweck, author of The Growth Mindset, outlines how the mindset people have influences their ability to make changes and continue to grow and learn. Recently, Dweck began discussing what she calls a “false growth mindset” in which people praise an action but don’t take the necessary steps to go deeper to understanding what needs to change in order to improve.

    False growth mindset is saying you have growth mindset when you don’t really have it or you don’t really understand [what it is]. It’s also false in the sense that nobody has a growth mindset in everything all the time. Everyone is a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets. You could have a predominant growth mindset in an area but there can still be things that trigger you into a fixed mindset trait. Something really challenging and outside your comfort zone can trigger it, or, if you encounter someone who is much better than you at something you pride yourself on, you can think “Oh, that person has ability, not me.” So I think we all, students and adults, have to look for our fixed-mindset triggers and understand when we are falling into that mindset.

    I think a lot of what happened [with false growth mindset among educators] is that instead of taking this long and difficult journey, where you work on understanding your triggers, working with them, and over time being able to stay in a growth mindset more and more, many educators just said, “Oh yeah, I have a growth mindset” because either they know it’s the right mindset to have or they understood it in a way that made it seem easy.

    As Dweck suggests, identifying the triggers that keep us from growing and developing are important in order to make changes to what we are doing and they take time. If change and innovation is what schools are seeking, then starting at the source, with the habits and mindsets of the teacher and students is essential to creating lasting change and innovation.

    How do we identify the triggers?

    One way is to develop a journaling habit. As a full-time teaching administrator I fully get how busy teachers are in the classroom and, in recent years, this ‘busyness’ has increased. Yet, with all the tracking and record keeping, management systems and reporting systems, teachers are frustrated with what is happening in the classroom. In almost all instances, the systems don’t get to the root of the issues but are directed at recording the implementation of different systems of behaviour management.

    In order to change the culture of any group, there needs to be a change of culture. Without examining the keystone habits of the group, making changes will run into the embedded habits which can be difficult to overcome. Unknowingly, old habits won’t be changed. So, despite people’s best efforts, change may begin but the cultural change needed will be hampered by systemic habits which may, ultimately, undermine even the best intentions, ideas, and plans.

    Cultures grow out of the keytsone habits in every organization, whether leaders are awere of them or not. … Keystone habits transform us by creating cultures that make clear the values that, in the heat of a difficult decision or moment of uncertainty, we might otherwise forget. Charles Duhigg

    In schools and classrooms, spending time examining the habits of people and the systems being used is essential to determine whether there are triggers and cues that will undermind the change efforts. In my experience working through change in a number of schools, a great deal of effort goes into explaining and laying out why change is necessary/important. Very little time is spent exploring what is currently happening and examining the existing routines and habits to determine the affect they have upon the current system. Trying to innovate or change will be very difficult if the current routines and habits are not explored.

    This work takes great effort and isn’t very “flashy” or “innovative”. It take patience and some time to determine the current triggers and cues in place and, if possible, determining if there are any keystone habits that might be key resistors to change. Too often, change agents want to get the process underway. Innovators want to implement their innovations. But, like so many gym memberships that are purchased at New Year’s by coaches who extol the virtues of the gym and exercise, once they have your membership, it’s off to the next one.

    I Wonder ….

    What would happen if we started to innovate or change by asking “Why do things happen this way?”

    How the change/innovation process would benefit from a deep exploration of the current systems and habits within the organization?

    How teachers might use reflection in their classrooms to explore how behaviours are affected by the current routines and habits?

    I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas about this. Leave a comment or you can connect with me on Twitter @kwhobbes

    Creative Habits

    Screenshot 2017-06-29 17.37.14

    Habits – they help us to get through the day. We develop them over time. Many of them are helpful but there are some which can be damaging.

    We become so use to them, we don’t even notice how much they influence what we do or affect the choices we make.

    Until we do something like move.

    Moving Habits

    Our family has moved a number of times – 10 I believe but I might have missed one or two somewhere. When you move, you briefly become aware of your habits although you usually don’t see them as habits.

    • Why are kitchen utensils in THAT drawer?

    • Where is the large roaster?

    • Has anyone seen the shampoo?

    All these little things that we use each day are in specific places for a purpose – they help us to go about doing various tasks and getting on with our day without having to pause to wonder where we put your socks this week.

    It’s like so many of the things we do. We tend to take the same route to work each day. It’s easier for us to navigate. Ever notice how you feel when you have to make a detour because of road construction? Does it mess things up? Do you talk about it when you get to your destination? Would you discuss your drive if it was just routine?

     Routines and habits are necessary for us. They help us to navigate through each day without becoming exhausted from decision-making.

    But (you knew that was coming)

    these routines and daily habits can eventually lead us to be less creative. As we go through each day, our habits often have us doing things before we really know we’re doing them – turn right at the lights, turn left two lights later – Did you notice the new sign? Was anyone sitting at the outdoor patio? (If it was winter you might notice!)

    The routines and habits do serve a purpose as they help us to focus on areas of greater need and not become overwhelmed figuring out where we put the cereal. It’s also why sometimes solving problems is more difficult or coming up with ideas is strenuous, especially if we are in a routine-structured environment such as a school.

    What if we want to be a bit more creative?

    Kafka Effect

    Franz Kafka  was a German-Language writer whose stories would take unexpected turns and twists that seemed to make little sense.

    His work, which fuses elements of realism and the fantastic,[3] typically features isolated protagonists faced by bizarre or surrealistic predicaments and incomprehensible social-bureaucratic powers, and has been interpreted as exploring themes of alienation, existential anxiety, guilt, and absurdity.

    The Kafka Effect, named after his writing, describes how a person’s creativity seems to increased after something in a person’s life happens which doesn’t seem to make sense such as a spouse leaving, a major move, or another such event. Nick Tasler in The Kafka Effect describes how scientists have discovered that people’s creativity seems to increase  when things don’t seem to make sense.

    •  In a series of correlational studies and experiments, Heintzelman and King found that when people believed their lives made sense, they let their intuitionguide their actions. But during times when they didn’t feel life was as meaningful, their brains shifted gears. “Before a trauma,” Heintzelman and King write, “a person was likely on auto-pilot, relying on intuitive processing. However, after a traumatic event, effortful processing may be crucial to making or reinstating meaning.”

    This change in the normal creates dissonance. We aren’t sure what we’re suppose to do and our brain begins to look for patterns.

    It works like this: When we detect something that doesn’t make sense—when the spouse we rely on to be our rock suddenly starts flaking out, or the neighbor in the Kafka story acts like a horse for no discernible reason—a cluster of brain functions called the salience network immediately activates a powerful set of cognitive skills that go to work finding other meaningful patterns around us. Once it starts, your brain won’t stop looking until it finds something to fill the void in meaning.

    According to Tasler, such events create dissonance which creates a “seed incident”.

    A seed incident is what stimulates people to explore new ideas because something happened which the same old stories we tell ourselves couldn’t quite explain. The seed incident sends us on a journey of discovery. What we end up finding on that journey is another story.

    This seed incident introduces a change to our habits and routines which then opens us up to new ideas or ways of seeing things. These events can can lead us to see things in new ways which allow us to solve a problem unrelated to the event being experienced.
    But no one is waiting for a major life-changing event to happen just to be a bit more creative.

    Tasler suggests that this isn’t necessary. Instead, we can do things in our daily lives that help us to create dissonance that can lead to creativity. He suggests such things as taking a different route, going for a walk in a different part of the city, meeting with people in a new location or trying something you haven’t tried before can all open us up to new ideas.

    Schools are Built Around Routines

    Schools and classrooms rely on routines to help organize the people who are there. This isn’t a bad thing. Routine is comforting and helps us to be able to focus more on the non-routine things. Any teacher will tell you that disruptions in routine can really affect students and their ability to focus and concentrate.
    However, the routines don’t always lend themselves to students being creative. So how can this be changed? How can we help students be more creative?

    Tasler suggest that it’s in the messiness that creativity take shape.

    researchers like Kaufmann make a compelling case that it’s right there in that messy, scary period of search and discovery that many of our most important innovations—our legacy-leaving creations—begin taking shape.

    Classrooms of Creativity

    Re-image the classroom as a place of creativity. There is a time for sitting and working deeply which is an important skill. However, by also allowing for flexiblity in seating and the design of the classroom, students can move out of the regular routine.
    Take new approaches.

    • Go for a walk before settling in to do learning tasks.
    • Take journeys around the school or the school yard but not in the usual ways.
    • Have everyone draw pictures with their non-dominant hand and share them and discuss the process with another student.
    • Write across the page from right to left.

    There are any number of ways to break away from the regular habits creating a little dissonance which may lead to a bit of creativity. It may not but, by building in these ‘seed incidents’, the normal routines are slightly disrupted which opens things up to possibility. Besides, it’s fun and who doesn’t want to have a bit more fun!

    I wonder….

    How do you already break the regular routine(s) to allow for creativity?
    Have you every experienced something like the Kafka Effect?
    What are ways you help develop creativity in students within the classroom?

    I’d love to hear your ideas and insights.

    Welcome to Teacher Creative

    Welcome to Teacher Creative

    This is the beginning of a great adventure. My hope is that this site will develop as an exploration of the Teacher Creative; helping educators develop their own unique voice.

    What is Teacher Creative?

    The inspiration for this comes from a few different sources the most notably being Todd Henry’s The Accidental Creative. Todd’s work focuses on helping people be creative. As he states “We teach people and teams how to be prolific, brilliant, & healthy”.

    My goal is to help teachers see the creative within themselves and unleash their brilliance in the work they do with others.

    Teachers as Creatives

    I believe teachers are some of the most creative people around. They come up with amazing lessons, ideas for meeting the needs of students, work with other teachers to help create and sustain cultures of learning and exploration, and so much more. Often, however, they don’t have the time to really think about how creative they are or how they might unleash greater creativity in themselves and their students because of the demands on their time and resources.

    As an educator I didn’t think of myself as creative. I had bought into the whole idea of a teacher as just someone who works with kids. Although I often had great ideas, I didn’t know how to implement or grow those ideas into practices within the classroom.  I wasn’t aware of how my own habits and frames of thinking were holding me back from being the teacher I knew I could be. This happened again when I became an administrator. I could see there were many possibilities but didn’t have the time, skills, or knowledge to bring those ideas to fruition. Although I learned a great deal, I was often frustrated because I knew I could do so much more if I just had the tools and time. Over time, I have come to understand that I was spending all my time building someone else’s version of me as teacher instead of developing my own voice and using my strengths to become better as a teacher.

    It Takes Effort

    In a world filled with ‘Listicals’ – a concept I borrow from Todd Henry, teachers have become inundated with lists of How To’s and What For’s. Add to this the constant barrage of “quotables” found on social media, which sound great but have little substance, and teachers are being overwhelmed with what others think they should do and what others think it means to teach.

    You can’t argue with “All students matter” or “Do what’s best for students” but how do teachers and administrators get beyond the quotable? What does it mean to live “All students matter” or “Do what’s best for students”? What does it mean in your classroom? In your school? In your community?

    More and more teachers are being told to be creative but then told how to be creative according to someone else’s ideas. Worse yet, they don’t value their own ideas but instead are directed to this list or that list, this book or that book with an outline or steps of what someone believes good teachers do. Their periphery vision leads them from one thing to another but they don’t focus on developing their own unique voice as a teacher. Todd Henry describes this a ‘peripheral paralysis‘ – unable to make progress because you are constantly drawn from one thing to another, comparing what you do to what they do.

    Develop Your Voice

    We’ve all read somewhere the quotes about you’re either building your dream or you’re building someone else’s. There are many people who will sell you their idea of education and teaching. Many sound great and get you excited but eventually you’re looking for the next book or list or conference workshop.  Why?

    Like anything that is worthwhile, you need to build your own version not someone else’s. It requires putting in the effort to truly find your own voice as a teacher, what works for you within the classroom, and developing the habits and structures to nurture your own learning and growth and that of your students.

    Finding your voice as a teacher is so important. Now more than ever, teachers need to find their own voice and develop their own uniqueness, talents, and gifts.

    That is what Teacher Creative is all about – creative, inspirational, sustainable, healthy – create your own voice to help others create theirs.