06 Jun Slice of Life: What is the State of Your Union? #SOL17
I have “state of the union” meetings in my family every weekend – typically on Sunday. While a part of this time is sharing schedules and the juggling act each of us will perform in the upcoming week, most of the time is spent talking about the progress each of us is making on a project, assignment or something we are working on. Things like finding a summer job, applying to college, building a bocce court in the backyard, refinishing the back deck or planning a family vacation are they types of things on the agenda for discussion. It is a time to check in on these long-term goals to determine what is working well, what is not working and next steps.
I notice that during these conversations we rarely model, explain, or instruct. We spend most of the time listening, asking questions and providing an alternative point of view. These conversations help each of us figure out where we are in relation to meeting our goal or finishing our project. When we take the time to reflect on our current position and why we are in that position, it helps each of us identify next steps in our process. We then help each other map out a few next steps to move towards success.
What is interesting is that there is rarely only one solution or direction to move towards success. There are typically many possible next steps. The step an individual chooses is based on preferences, schedule, interests and strengths. I find when each of us shares why we have or have not made progress it really helps us identify a path that suits our needs. The feedback and reflection helps us determine a course of action that is real and achievable.
At times, we realize we need more information or need to learn a new skill to progress towards a goal. Most times, however, we just need to identify our next steps and celebrate any steps we achieved in the prior week. We write the next steps for each long term goal and post them on the refrigerator. This allows us to check things off the list throughout the week and use it to reflect and set goals the next week. It also reminds each of us what type of week the others are having – who might need extra help this week; who is traveling; who has a full load.
I have been thinking about these “state of the union” meetings in my work in schools lately. Many of the reading and writing goals we are setting for students are long term goals. Goals they will not independently meet in a day or week. These are often goals they need to learn and practice for a month or more. If this is the case, how do we plan our small group lessons and conferences to support our students in meeting goals. Do we plan lessons that allow us to listen, observe and help our students identify next steps towards their goal? Are we helping our students identify multiple paths to meet a goal? When do we celebrate the progress each student is making towards a goal? Do we balance their “load” by making sure they do not have too many goals in too many subjects at one time? Are we honoring their voice in the process of learning by giving them the opportunity to decide how to meet a goal?
Schools are spending so much time learning how to write learning targets and instructional objectives. Hours are spent debating the perfect verbiage and ideal way to post goals. I personally want to spend more time with teachers and students planning how we can create time for students to meet these goals. Teachers cannot meet goals for students. We can teach skills and strategies to help them, but the student ultimately needs to meet the goal. Learning takes time, reflection, revision, celebration and planning. The learner needs to be a part of this process and we need to create time for them to engage in this process. Learning is not something that happens quickly –it takes time. Learning is not about a perfect lesson or articulation of a target, it is about many moments of imperfection and reflection on next steps towards that target.
I would love to say our family “state of the union” meetings always happen over a lovely meal, are leisurely and are never with disagreement or raised voices, but it would be untrue and unrealistic. Learning is messy – even in a family. I have learned for us that it is worth the time and the mess in the end. We are engaged in each other lives. We understand what is happening in each person’s life – the good, the bad and the ugly. We are in it, together. We are a work in progress. I believe it must be the same in schools. Classrooms are a work in progress. I hope we redefine learning in schools. I hope we focus less on perfect lessons and more on learning. I hope we help our students keep their eye on the prize and celebrate each step towards their goal. I hope we honor the learning styles of our students and provide multiple paths and next steps toward a goal. I hope we slow down and let students know that learning is messy, exciting, hard, and rewarding.