Friday, December 14, 2012

Students and Faculty, Learning/Growing Together


The Guthrie CSD faculty and student body engaged in team learning on Tuesday, December 11, 2012, as has been our practice for the last four years.  Faculty gathered in groups to have dialogue on how they have attempted to address the Guthrie Graduate Profile (GGP) dimensions in their classrooms over the last four months.  As well, discussions were had by the educators about how we might create learning tasks that address the academic curricula while at the same time aligning with the GGP.
     While faculty were learning and thinking together, students were assembled by age groups to engage in learning activities centered on one specific dimension of the GGP:  Effective Communications.  The students were guided in those activities by communications consultant Stephanie Stanley-Allen of Lubbock, Texas, who did a marvelous job of providing students with sound and practical strategies for effectively communicating.   
     The GGP consists of five dimensions, which the Guthrie community has deemed powerful components for living, learning, and earning in a 21st century global environment.  Those five dimensions are: 
·        >  Learners/Problem Solvers/Critical Thinkers
·        >  Effective Communicators
·        > Persons of Strong Character
·        > Productive and Valuable Team Members
·        > Compassionate and Responsible Citizens
     The professional educators of Guthrie have made a serious commitment to creating the best possible futures for our students, by focusing our efforts and resources in an intentional way on the whole child, not just the academic curricula.  In the process, we recognize that the individual growth of the faculty/staff along those GPP dimensions is an important and critical piece in accomplishing that goal. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Guthrie CSD’s Graduate Profile (Part 5)


By Nelson Coulter

The BUSINESS of school is LEARNING!  Schools are built and exist for that very purpose.  Unfortunately, it often seems that many interests and agendas other than learning drive what goes on at school.  Thus, it takes a very focused and deliberate team of professionals to keep their eyes, their energy, and their effort centered on LEARNING!

The community and educational professionals of Guthrie CSD have made a purposeful commitment with regard to what that learning should look like for students by creating the Guthrie Graduate Profile.  This is the last of a five part series of articles intended to clarify the Profile.  Below are the five pillars (dimensions) of the Guthrie Graduate Profile:

 v Learners/Problem Solvers/Critical Thinkers
 v Effective Communicators
 v Persons of Strong Character
 v Productive and Valuable Team Members
 v Compassionate and Responsible Citizens
 
The focus of this article is on the Profile dimension aimed at causing our students to be
Compassionate and Responsible Citizens which are:
       Socially responsible
       Knowledgeable participants in the democratic process
       Grateful/thankful/humble
       Courteous and respectful toward others/differences
       Contributors of their energy/time/talent in service to others and their community

Certainly, having the skills and knowledge to provide for one’s self and loved ones is an extremely important concept.  However, the Guthrie Graduate Profile addresses student learning beyond motives that are purely self-serving.  The Compassionate and Responsible Citizens dimension moves us, generally, to the concept of service. Guthrie CSD stakeholders are convinced that some of the richest blessings in life are those realized when we invest our time, resources, and energy to the service of others.  Consequently, we have concluded that a disposition for service to others is a concept important enough to teach to our children.

Encompassed in that concept is the idea that our children learn about and engage in the democratic process with integrity and fidelity.  Certainly, being knowledgeable voters is part of that process, but being participants willing to contribute in even more meaningful ways is a powerful life enhancement.  Those additional kinds of service might include volunteering at the church or community level, running for public office, serving on the local school board, helping organize disaster relief efforts, serving as a volunteer fire fighter, mowing the yard of an elderly neighbor, etc.  In essence, it means taking the time and effort to SERVE others, with no expectation of reward or recognition.

Highly aligned to these service components is an underlying mindset of thankfulness for the many blessings that most of us experience on a daily basis.  A disposition of respectfulness toward others is preeminent.  The Guthrie school community has concluded that the lives of our children will be enriched if they learn to treat all others respectfully and courteously.  Underlying that way of thinking is the innate understanding that there are many perspectives, faiths, philosophies of life that may differ from our own.  Our differing perspectives on life and living need not (and should not) prompt the discourteous or disrespectful treatment of others.

Our intention at Guthrie CSD is to graduate students fully prepared to prosper in the world of work and school and life.  Moreover, we have made the conscious decision to teach our children ways of wholesome living with respect to their view and treatment of others.  Through teaching our children the ways of compassion and responsibility, we believe that not only will their lives be enriched, but the world will be a better place.  One could argue that there might not be a more important learning component in the education of our students. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

On nc’s Learning (and Maybe Yours, Too)


By Nelson Coulter

Funny how I’ve gotten much more attentive to research on the aging process in the last few years.  As part of that heightened interest I have become familiar with a good bit of information on the nature and capabilities of the human brain.  One thing that is abundantly clear is that our brains (even those that have some age on them, like mine) have a tremendous capacity to LEARN new things.

For a long time, neurological and cognitive researchers believed that the brain’s plasticity and malleability would peek and reach a plateau between the ages of 20 and 30; from there it would coast into a slow and steady decline for the rest of one’s life.  However, our most current understanding of the brain has debunked that view.  We now know that the brain can continue to learn, to build new connections, and to remain very energetic throughout one’s life.  Similar to other dimensions of our lives (e.g., physical, spiritual, emotional), we have significant ability to impact the vitality of our brains through some conscious choices we make.

That new understanding has caused me to engage in some careful reflection on how best to keep my brain growing, stretching, and learning even into the golden years.  Let me share some of the choices I have made for my brain, to that end.

Be curious.  Learning to be inquisitive and at the same time trying to suspend any previously held conceptions or assumptions is an exercise in mental acrobatics.  I have tried to learn to ask many and better questions of those who know things of interest to me.  As well, the Internet has provided us all with handy access to the sum of all human knowledge, which most of us now carry around in our pockets. I have been re-training myself to go beyond just wondering about things (like how a windmill works, or how peanut butter is made, or how to change the oil filter on a 1953 John Deere tractor, etc.) and to actively seek the answers to those interesting questions.  You probably have a lot of the same kinds of questions.  Amazingly, those answers are now readily available to ALL of us, almost instantly.  Wow!

READ!  I have committed myself to a persistent regimen of reading.  Reading a wide range of literature is part of that decision. I have found that mixing genres and reading fiction and non-fiction at the same time has caused my brain to engage in something similar to what is known as fartlek training in the physical fitness world (look it up!).  This exercise has caused my brain to make a lot of connections I would not have considered previously.  Reading is simply the most efficient method of learning known to mankind.

Write.  Through my many years as an educator, I have become convinced that there is not more cognitively challenging task we ask of students than to learn to communicate well through the writing process. (No, I am not an English teacher).  The task of organizing what we know and believe inside our own minds and presenting that information in a coherent, sensible, and crystal clear way in written form to others is a most challenging exercise.  (Engaged in that activity right now).

Embrace novelty. The brain naturally enjoys new stimuli, of all kinds.  Consequently, I have determined to expose my brain to new environments and situations.  (Choosing to read in a variety of genres is an example of this strategy).  Going to new places, meeting new people, tasting new foods, listening to new kinds of music have all provided me with some interesting “energy” as I become aware of my brain working to make sense of these new and interesting stimuli.  The brain constantly engages in a process of trying to categorize, compare, and contrast the new information with what it has previously experienced.  In effect, sense making.

Engage with many people (the smarter the better). This concept is closely related to the one above.  Humans are clearly one of God’s most interesting “inventions.”  We come in a million variations of size, shape, and color.  Similarly, our brains are just as diverse as our external qualities.  Making myself engage with more people has proven to be a very useful and healthy exercise for my brain.  This choice has been one of the more difficult for me, because engaging others (especially strangers) forces me well outside my comfort zone.  Think of it as “vegetables” for your brain.

Get better, on purpose.  Being on a journey of continuous personal and professional improvement has been an evolutionary process for me.  Interestingly, it naturally flows from engaging in the purposeful activities I’ve already shared with you.  In a strange sort of way, the more I have exposed myself to in the way of brain stimuli, the more aware I have become of my need to grow, stretch, engage – to LEARN!  I have learned that, contrary to commonly held beliefs, I do not have to be simply “the way I am” (to quote from a Merle Haggard standard).  I have the power to be who I choose to be, if I am willing to challenge my brain (and my body and my spirit) in purposeful efforts at growth.  The goal?  I can be a better husband, dad, granddad, son, friend, superintendent, professor, rancher, etc., IF I choose to be.

My vocation and my avocation is that of being an educator, a person whose fundamental mission is to aid and abet learning in others.  (Cool job, huh?).  Consequently, this stuff about how my brain works is pretty important.  It’s just an added benefit that my learning in that regard has such interesting connections and impact on my life as a whole. 

Perhaps you can find connections for yourself in my experiences and rambling.  

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Guthrie CSD’s Graduate Profile (Part 4)


By Nelson Coulter

The BUSINESS of school is LEARNING!  You may be getting weary of hearing this mantra, but it is worth remembering (and reminding others of) daily.  We often get busy and distracted in schools, doing a gazillion things that are not really focused on LEARNING.  At Guthrie CSD we have made some serious decisions about what that learning should actually look like for our students.  We have attempted to define the learning of our students to be something that goes far beyond knowledge and skills (both of which are voluminously articulated in the state curriculum).  The stakeholders of Guthrie CSD have agreed that perhaps the most powerful learning for our students exists in ways of thinking and ways of behaving.  Thus, our focus has moved toward educating our students in a more holistic and meaningful way.

This is the fourth of a five part series of articles intended to clarify the Guthrie Graduate Profile, which has emerged from community- and school-based conversations that have been ongoing in Guthrie for the last year.  Below are the five pillars (dimensions) of the Guthrie Graduate Profile:

v  Learners/Problem Solvers/Critical Thinkers
v  Effective Communicators
v  Persons of Strong Character
v  Productive and Valuable Team Members
v  Compassionate and Responsible Citizens

The dimension that will be discussed here is that of our students becoming:

Productive and Valuable Team Members
They are/can/have:
      Good leaders
      Self-aware and self-managing
      Work collaboratively with persons of different beliefs, interests, backgrounds, and cultures
      Engaged and accountable
      Authentic and transparent
      Effectively use tools and technology for collaboration

Guthrie CSD stakeholders have a clear understanding that our students (unless they become hermits) will work in teams for the rest of their lives.  Those teams might be families, churches, workplaces, communities, etc., and they will assuredly be populated with others who may look, think, and act differently than themselves.  Thus, at Guthrie CSD we have deemed it immensely important that our students develop a strong degree of emotional and social intelligence.  They must understand themselves and their own beliefs in a profound way.  As well, they must learn to “read” and listen to other people carefully, developing an understanding of the perspectives, thinking, and behavioral motivations of others.  Associated with these deep understandings is the idea of acceptance of and tolerance for diversity – diversity of thought, diversity of interests, diversity of backgrounds, of culture, of beliefs.

Beyond these understandings and bases of interaction, we aspire for our Guthrie CSD students to learn the value and power of being fully engaged in endeavors bigger than themselves.  Embedded in that idea is the belief that to work/live/play effectively with others implies a personal responsibility for being fair, transparent, honest, and authentic in those interactions.  

And finally, we believe at Guthrie that our students can only be responsible and valuable team members if they have well-developed skills in the use of the “tools of the trade,” whatever that trade or collective endeavor may be.  Being able to learn (and unlearn, if necessary) how to use a wide range of communications and job-specific tools will be critical to the success of our students, no matter where they end up working and living.

Guthrie CSD is deliberately educating our students to be successful, happy, and productive in the global marketplace or in any setting in which they choose to live and compete.  Choosing MORE for our students is proving to be a very interesting and energizing endeavor.  However, we have decided that if we want the best for the futures of our students, we must invest our best efforts/thinking in the present. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Guthrie CSD’s Graduate Profile (Part 3)


By Nelson Coulter

The BUSINESS of school is LEARNING!  At Guthrie CSD we have chosen to be proactive and intentional about the kind of education we deliver to our students and the kind of powerful learning they experience. 

This is the third of a five part series of articles that will provide some clarity about the Guthrie Graduate Profile, which has emerged from community- and school-based conversations that have been ongoing in Guthrie for the last year.  Below are the five pillars (dimensions) of the Guthrie Graduate Profile:

 v Learners/Problem Solvers/Critical Thinkers
 v Effective Communicators
 v Persons of Strong Character
 v Productive and Valuable Team Members
 v Compassionate and Responsible Citizens

Part 3 of this series we will focus on the Graduate Profile dimension of:

Persons of Strong Character
We intend that our students are/can/have:
       Healthy habits and lifestyles
       Persevering toward achieving personal goals
       Honest and trustworthy
       Assertive and competitive

We have determined that in order for our students to achieve their/our highest aspirations for them, they must understand how to live healthily.  This means that they must understand that personal nutrition and fitness has several dimensions: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.  We intend to guide our students to an understanding that their personal health and happiness are their own responsibility (not that of others, or their government) and that each of us makes informed (or uninformed) decisions on a daily basis that contribute in some way to that health and well-being.

At Guthrie CSD we also plan to design learning tasks that teach our students how to persevere, how to be resilient, and how to be relentless in their own learning and growth.  This means that we must teach them how to take risks, yet not to fear failure.  Powerful learning often comes from trying very hard, yet failing, then trying again, until you get it right.  The world’s greatest musicians, athletes, and business people know this reality by heart (and hard experience).

Guthrie CSD is also committing our resources and professional efforts toward facilitating within our students a deep respect for honesty and trustworthiness.  We intend for our students to learn that with those two character traits comes a personal responsibility to “own” one’s decisions and behavior, to say what you mean and mean what you say, to make promises frugally and honor them unerringly.  In short, our intention is to create within our students an understanding that a person is only as good as their word, but those that are as good as their word are worth their weight in gold.

Finally, we intend for Guthrie CSD students to learn how to “play hard” at whatever task/endeavor they deem worthy of their time, effort, and energy.  We intend for them to learn how to win with modesty, to lose with dignity, and to understand that all people experience both winning and losing in life.   Competing honorably and fairly make for a substantive life experience (and ill-gotten gains are, in fact, cause for disdain rather than celebration).  As well, we plan to teach our students how to understand at a deep level what they believe in and value, and to be willing and able to articulate those values assertively (yet without offensiveness or disrespect).

Some would say that we are dreamers to believe that there is enough time in the school day or years in a child’s life to make these kinds of learnings a reality.  At Guthrie CSD, we have chosen to emphasize these kinds of learnings as it is our intention to graduate students fully armed and prepared to compete in the world marketplace of work and school and life in a way that will make them the gold standard in any setting in which they choose to live and serve.

At Guthrie CSD have chosen MORE for our students (not less), without apology.  Does this educational approach require heightened effort and investment on the part of the adults?  You bet.  However, we deem it worth every ounce of that extra effort and investment. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Embedded Professional Development: Team Learning at Guthrie CSD

By Nelson Coulter

For the last three years, Guthrie CSD has embarked on an interesting model of professional development.  On three days during each school year, both the instructional staff and the students come together for collaborative learning, during the school day.  The underlying driver in this model is that each person on the campus, regardless of age, is a LEARNER.  As well, an assumption in this model is that the learning of the adults in the organization is just as important to the health and well-being of the school as is the learning of the students.

On October 4, 2012, Guthrie CSD instructional staff and all students (Pre-K through grade 12), gathered to learn about the Guthrie Graduate Profile (GGP).  The GGP is a model of the intended skills, abilities, and knowledge for which the Guthrie community aspires for each of its graduates.

The key dimensions of the Guthrie Graduate Profile are:

  • Learners/Problem Solvers/Critical Thinkers
  • Effective Communicators
  • Persons of Strong Character
  • Productive and Valuable Team Members
  • Compassionate and Responsible Citizens
The agenda for the school-wide learning on October 4, 2012, consisted of the following:

1)  JagFirmations - members of the group share affirmations for individuals or groups among the GCSD family who are doing extraordinary things on behalf of the school 
2)  Acceptable Use Policy Overview - presented by student Ashton Gilbert
3)  Guthrie Graduate Profile (GGP) Overview - presented by superintendent Nelson Coulter
4)  GGP dimension of Learners/Problem Solvers/Critical Thinkers - presented by secondary teacher Danny Sloan
5)  GGP dimension of Effective Communicators - presented by secondary teacher Janie Canales
6)  GGP dimension of Persons of Strong Character - presented by elementary teacher Aleshia Withers
7)  GGP dimension of Productive and Valuable Team Members - presented by principal Kevin Chisum
8)  GGP dimension of Compassionate and Responsible Citizens - presented by counselor Lynn Hill
9)  GGP– Rubric Overview - presented by elementary teacher Buffy Wilson

Making a collective commitment to producing graduates that possess the skills, the behaviors, and the ways of thinking expressed in the GGP alludes to an important mindset of the stakeholders of the Guthrie CSD.  That mindset is one of choosing more for Guthrie students than solely academic instruction; rather, it is a commitment to the development of the students as whole persons, each possessing the qualities and skills that will make them successful in future school settings, in the world of work, and in life.