Friday, January 30, 2015

Reducing Cognitive Load

I've been reading Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less by Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao.  Beyond the obvious benefits of reading a book written by a grown man named Huggy, the book is wonderful.  I first discovered the book when the authors were interviewed by Daniel Pink for his podcast, Office Hours.

I enjoy reading business books and seeing how the principles can apply to education.  What I read in the chapter: Cut Cognitive Load set off alarms in my head! The authors say "People also have a greater capacity when they aren't worn down by work or worry." That makes sense, we all know we need to be well rest to do our best work. We tell kids this all the time, get a good night's sleep before a test.

But it's the study of Israeli judges that was really interesting.  Judges paroled prisoners at a rate of about 65% in the morning.  But right before the judge's morning break, the percentage drops to almost ZERO percent.  After break, back up to 65%.  Right before lunch, low rates.  After lunch back to 65%, at the end of the day back to nearly zero.  The paroles "required more mental resources".

The authors then say
The implication? If you want to make good decisions as the day wears on, watch for signs of fatigue.  Even seemingly trivial levels damage performance.  Build in ways for yourself and others to take breaks, whether it's getting a bite to eat or taking a few minutes to stretch your legs.  It sounds easy to implement.  Yet too many hard-charging leaders and busy teams don't do it. 

I immediately thought of the school day.  Elementary teachers don't seem to get many breaks.  Middle and high school teachers get 3 minute breaks between classes.  Are these breaks enough to clear their minds and mental rest before the next class?  Often not, sometimes it's not even enough time to use the restroom or get a drink of water.  And what about those teachers who have their break first thing in the morning or last period?  What happens in those classrooms?  It would definitely be an interesting study.

Jose Vilson's article on Edutopia, Less is More: The Value of a Teacher's Time offers up a solution to the problem.  Mr. Vilson's contention is that teachers need more time at work to do "the unseen work".  He cites a study that says that Finland's teachers log the least amount of time face to face with students.  This frees them to attend to more reflective planning, administrative tasks and problem solve with and for their students.  

This may be the answer to the cognitive load dilemma.  When teachers' days are split into blocks from planning and teaching, they may be free to take more frequent and valuable breaks.  

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Bouncing Back

I was going to say that 2014 was a year of my greatest highs and lowest lows.  Then I remembered that my daddy and my first son were born in the same year.  That probably trumps last year.  No one died (in my immediate family) and no was born (to me).  And also, hyperbole of that nature is usually ridiculous.

I have written extensively and even published some of my struggles from last year.  I'm kinda sick of myself. I'm tired of overthinking everything.  Oh wait! Overthinking is my hobby.  Maybe I should say I am sick and tired of being sick and tired mentally.  My brain was in a fog a lot of the time last year.  Paralyzed.

The Saturday before Christmas I was getting my hair did and finishing our Christmas shopping.  Ryan was hanging out with the boys.  They decided to go to Target and get my stocking stuffers and gifts.  They really hit it out of the park.  I knew my boys love me but these gifts made me realize that they also get me.

  • Archer Farms Sugar Cookie flavored coffee (Archer Farms is the Target brand and the best flavored coffee around!)
  • A giant bag of Jelly Belly Jelly Beans - 2 lbs!
  • 1/2 lb Reece's Peanut Butter Cups
  • And this book 

In case you didn't know, I want to be Amy Poehler and/or Tina Fey when I grow up.  They are smart and funny and goofy and kind (seemingly).  If you have the opportunity to introduce me to either of these women and do not, we are finished.  You are dead to me.

Moving on...

Yes, Please. was the perfect book to start the New Year and get my head right.  As I've read, I've realized that I am on the upswing. I am more comfortable with myself and my situations that I have been in a while.  I know that I am loved.  I have found my tribes. I have friends who get me and don't care that I'm the world's largest goober. I feel loved now more than ever by my long suffering husband. I'm learning my own style.  I've found my voice again.  I'm writing everyday.

I've also learned that it doesn't have to be publishable to count as writing everyday.  I remembering what I'm passionate about and why it matters so much.  I'm thinking deeply about how to serve teachers better.  I don't know what my next step is but I know I'm ready.  I am bouncing back.

What about you?  What have you learned so far this year?

Friday, January 9, 2015

What is Creativity?


I used to think that I wasn't creative.  I can not draw to save my life.  My children ask me to stop singing in the car.  My instrumental career screeched to a halt at the end of 6th grade.  I've always written but I have not always shared my writing so I didn't think of it as creative. I guess I've always thought creativity needed an audience.  Creativity had to equal art.

I've just finished listening to Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull.  The subtitle of the book is "Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration".  Catmull recalls the creation and life cycle of Pixar. He also talks about the Disney/Pixar merger.  I loved this book so much that I've ordered a hard copy (the danger of a bibliophile having -I have to have hard copies of my favorites).

I loved it when Catmull describes how they solve problems at Pixar.  They have a group called the 'brain trust' that meets to work out problems in stories.  But I really loved something Pixar did last year.  They needed to cut costs by 10%.  So they had a 'notes day'. Notes at Pixar is equal to feedback.  They turned to their people to help solve the problems they were facing.  And they had a plan to hear and implement the ideas that came as a result of notes day.

Of course, I thought of the problems of education. Wouldn't it be wonderful to gather educators together to try to solve the problems of education? I immediately thought of EdCamps.  I'm so please to be a part of the planning team for EdCamp Awesome.  I love to attend EdCamps.  Getting together with other passionate educators really lights my fire.  But I always struggle with the after.  How do we translate these awesome ideas back to our campus?

I'm written before about rejecting one size fits all solutions.  Every district is different.  Campuses within a district are different.   Creativity, Inc has me thinking more about this.  Could campuses benefit from 'notes days' to solve the challenges they face?  I think so.  I'd love to give it a try, that's for sure.

As for creativity, I'm starting to think of creativity in terms of creative problem solving as well as artistic endeavors.  I'd love to hear your thoughts in creativity.