Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Book Review: You Win In the Locker Room First

I am grateful, humbled, and honored to be a part of the Launch Team for this book. I got to see behind the scenes some of the process that goes into making the book, promoting the book, and interacting with over 300 other individuals who were on the team as well. Thanks to Jon Gordon, Coach Mike Smith, and Daniel Decker for the amazing opportunity. I greatly appreciate it and look forward to learning more from you in the future. Thank you. 

Matt Miller

The following is the Amazon Review that I wrote. 

I have read many of Jon Gordon's books and have enjoyed them all. He writes in such a simple, yet deep way that embodies conversations. His newest book, "You Win in the Locker Room First" is very similar except it's almost as if Jon and Coach Mike Smith are sitting at a table having a deep philosophical discussion on what it takes to build an organization. They go back and forth giving great examples of what they have seen that has worked in organizations and sports teams. What also takes place is that Coach Smith is very open and honest about what doesn't work as well. To offer this differing perspective not only validates both authors as authentic, but as real people as well.

As I read this book, I couldn't help but relate to so many instances that I have been a part of. I have worked in the business world as a graphic designer, the sports world as a basketball coach, and in the education world as a teacher. No matter what type of business that you're in, the "7 Cs to Build a Winning Team in Business, Sports, and Life" will bring everything to the heart of what sustains great organizations: Culture. As one who has seen great cultures and not so good cultures, I can attest that "Culture drives expectations and beliefs: expectations and beliefs drive behavior; behavior drives habits; and habits create the future. It all starts with culture."

Throughout the book there are the "7 Cs." Each chapter could be a whole book in itself, but Jon and Coach Smith give very small little "sermons" (my word) about each topic. Each of them are usually a couple of pages and give an encounter of that trait in action. Each one is beneficial to the reader as they see a real life example and not something that is fictional. I like how if I need an area to improve, I can go right to the small heading and read about "Letting Go of Your Ego," or "Consistency Wins in the Locker Room," or "Love Tough," or "Serve to be Great." and many others.

At the back of the book, Jon and Coach Smith included an Action Plan to help you get started in changing the culture of your team that sums out the entire book.

I will be using this book to reinforce the culture of my 6th grade Social Studies classroom, the teacher team that I belong to, my 8th grade basketball team that I coach, the school that I teach at, and most importantly, my family. Lost in the shuffle of creating good teams/organizations is that families can be neglected. Coach Smith and Jon reeled me back and reminded me that "We only get one shot to be a parent or a spouse and commit to our 'team' at home." Coach Smith also mentioned that "It doesn't matter how much success you have in your career; if you fail at home you are a failure."

One of the other sections that I greatly admire is "Beyond the 7 Cs." It talks about things like "Focus on the Process" (instead of the outcome), "Creating Your Own Style of Leadership"(something I had to do and can greatly relate), and "Lead Your Leaders." Lead Your Leaders states that, "No matter what role you play in your organization, you can lead from where you are and help your leaders be their best." No matter who you are, there is still leadership and culture to be taught. The rest of this section gives more great detail about how to conduct yourselves while leading an organization.

I have recommended this book to many people so far, and know that it is something that should be read by everyone. No matter where you are in life, "The past is gone. Every year is a fresh start to focus on the process, develop your fundamentals, and build a winning team."

Off topic, but something that I did a long time ago and really enjoy getting is Jon's weekly email. It goes out every Monday and I always find something in it that helps me throughout the week. I read this one http://www.jongordon.com/positive-tip-keep-your-eye-on-the-ball.html a long time ago and keep a tennis ball on my desk in my classroom. I bet I have one student a week ask my why there is a tennis ball on my desk. I then send them the link. You can sign up for it at JonGordon.com

For more information on the book and for great visuals-

To contact Jon Gordon
jongordon11 on Instagram

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Creatively Teaching: State of the Class Address

For some additional thoughts on creatively teaching see here
Last year, I would occasionally (occasionally meaning at the most often once a month) would send out a class newsletter. I post all of my assignments on Google Classroom, have a class website which houses all of my information, send out daily Tweets and Remind texts/emails, and I send out a weekly Plans of the Week email (which is copied from my class blog. The special education department at my school also has a working Google Doc that all 6th grade teachers fill out their plans for the week as well. Honestly, there isn't any excuse from parents or students to not know what is happening in class. There really isn't anything that I'm not transparent about. I've found that the more info you give, the less that questions you receive.

I felt that I wanted to give a little more info this year and decided to do a State of the Class Address. I've been doing them weekly. I'm not sure if weekly is too much because they do take a little time, but we'll see how that continues. 

We had parent/teacher conferences this past week and a lot of the parents brought up the State of the Class Addresses. They thought that they were very helpful in knowing what was happening in class (they also like Remind.) Most of them mentioned they appreciated the humor, as well. 

At the beginning of the year, it was more about what was happening. After viewing some of my friend, Joey Holt's Last Week In Review, I decided to add some content recap. So, now I'm adding in some content review (mostly testable material) as well.  It offers up another way for the students to hear the content one more time and help some to remember it from the weekend. 

For me personally, it's kind of been my creative outlet this school year so far. Because I'm repeating a lot of content from last year, this provides me a way to feel creative and keep me from being stagnant.

Here's A YouTube Playlist of My State of the Class Addresses.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

4 Thoughts on Creatively Teaching

This is a post for a class that I'm currently taking. 

The last few years, I have put a lot of thought into the being creative aspect of learning. I am much more interested in how and what students create after consuming content than I am in giving grades. I have tried to set up my classroom in a way that is focused on creating instead of memorizing. Although I give test grades for the sake of grades, I have found that students love creating when given the opportunity. Seeing total engagement because of choice and creation is something that is really neat to observe. Students become more self motivated and self-directed as learners.

We’re in the middle of my unit on Greece. The final product, is to either make a historical marker or monument to commemorate either an event, person, or item from Ancient Greece. There is a lot of content that could be be given, but instead I give about 8 people or events and tell the students to choose one of them. I also give them the option to choose something else that interests them about the Greeks (possibly fashion, sports, or architecture). I give them some links to get started researching, but most find other sites on their own to help. I also give them the option to create something else if they desire.

Once they decide on their topic and do their research, I also let them choose how to showcase their knowledge. Anything is game. I sometimes give them an idea, like, “You could create a podcast, create it through Minecraft, create with Build With Chrome, or create a newscast,” After that I drop it, I let those that are interested in creating something “cool” do it. While others seem to only do what I tell them from the original directions. They see others thinking “outside the box.” The best thing is when someone comes back tomorrow and tells others what cool thing they created using whatever tool they want. It’s neat to see the creative juices flowing once something like that happens. What I almost always initially see is that students need a little spark. Once that spark happens, you might see fireworks. Something else that is interesting, is that students don’t want to outright copy the ideas of other students. They want to take other students’ ideas and improve them.

1. Creativity is something that needs to be taught. Students need to feel comfortable in class to break away from the teacher’s directions (if allowed) to follow a passion. I would say that more and more students are becoming less creative because of the greater (some would say stupid) emphasis on standardized testing. I feel there is usually a handful of students that are innately creative at the beginning of the year.  Those where I could give them a state standard and say, here it is, show me you know it seem to be few. Throughout the year, through small projects and helping them think about their thinking, I hope to continue to help students improve their creativeness, which leads us to point 2.

2. Creativity is Improvable. Deep down I am a rule follower and an introvert. Most people wouldn’t think that I’m introverted, but I think I do a good job of masking it. Creativity requires you to break the mold of tradition. It took me a while to understand this concept. More importantly, it took me a while to apply this concept. I always thought being creative was something artistic. Could you draw well? Make a cool poster? Design a logo? Those are what made someone creative. While there is some truth to that, I didn’t think you could push the boundaries of teaching creatively. I was wrong. When you look at a state standard, there are really only a few ways to attack it in social studies. Read about it then answer some questions to show you know it or consume as much content as possible to become an expert on it, then, regurgitate that knowledge in a way that pushes creativity. The latter takes the focus off the actual content and onto the application of the content which is a far more deeper level of thinking. The key is after you consume greatly, take it to the next level of creation.

I play guitar. Well, I play 4 chords. Only until last year, did I bring that guitar into the classroom to use it creatively. I didn’t feel safe doing it. What if students made fun of me because I’m not that good? What if I messed up? What if I was goofy? What if I messed up chords? What if ______? You don’t know until you try it.

3. Creativity takes courage. While creativity is improvable, you still need courage to improve it. Once I got over myself and my insecurities, it was one of the best things to happen to my teaching style. This was the first hurdle that I had to get over to teaching creatively. You had to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I had to get out of my comfort zone. My first year’s as a teacher look so much different than today. I’ve given up a lot of control to the students. I’ve relaxed my guard, while keeping order in a sometimes controlled chaos atmosphere of all students working on different things using different tools. I’m goofy in front of the students. I dance. I make fun of myself in videos I create. I think differently now. I’m personally more interested in finding creative ways to get students content. The technology tools that are at our disposal are almost endless.

4. Teaching Creatively Requires Finding Connections. The first time I feel I did something truly creative in the classroom while teaching was when I wore a football helmet the entire day. I did this because I did a writing lesson (I used to teach writing) on word choice and the focus was on onomatopoeia. I tackled a tackling dummy in class. Pop! Boom! That was my start. Not much. Just a spark. All it takes is one connection from something in the lesson to something else. I chose the football thing because it was football season and I had a Colts jersey, but I wanted something more. I talked to the football coach at the school. He got me a helmet and a tackling dummy out of storage. That was it. One connection to a memorable lesson.