Friday, February 17, 2017

Book Review: Making your School Something Special by @rushtonh



Making your School Something SpecialRushton Hurley (@rushtonh) is a story teller. His first and latest book, Making your School Something Special, will help you tell your story, the story of your students, the story of your school, more effectively.

What is it that makes your classroom, your school, your district special?


Rushton argues that there are three key attributes to what makes every school special:
  • Meaningful experiences for both teachers and students
  • A strong, shared school culture
  • Opportunities for professional growth
In-class instruction and activities go a long way to fostering these three attributes. Learning activities, Rushton suggests, can be categorized into four big (and broad) buckets:
  • Learning that is powerfully memorable
  • Learning that is generally effective learning
  • Learn that is weak but easy
  • Learning that is a waste of time
This lesson framework is very effective both inside and outside of the classroom. School administrators, workshop leaders, instructional technologists, and conference speakers can apply this framework as well.

Are your staff meetings “powerfully memorable?”
Is your professional development “powerfully memorable?
Is parent teacher night “powerfully memorable?”

It is not expected that every single lesson in every class be categorized as “powerfully memorable.” That would be unrealistic. Some days will feature “generally effective learning” and ever every teacher has lessons that fall into the bottom two categories; if you don’t, then you probably don’t need to read this book!

Reading and understanding Rushton’s categories for learning caused me to reflect on my own teaching practices (I taught HS science) as well as the professional development events that I coordinate. A few “powerfully memorable” lessons come to mind, and a fair number of “generally effective” lessons. Sadly, I can also think of some “weak but easy” activities as well as some lessons that, in retrospect, were a complete waste of time.

I found this section (chapter 3) of Making Your School Something Special to be the most insightful and helpful section of the entire book. Not only is Rushton’s framework simple and effective, he also provides concrete ideas and examples for what “powerfully memorable” learning looks like.

Now that we know that “powerfully memorable” learning is what makes your school special, we need to identify and celebrate these exceptional moments. That’s hard to do, if no one is looking!

Educators (both individually and collectively) have a very difficult time talking about and celebrating their successes. Rushton summarizes this problem:

“This reluctance may be based on the belief that openly discussing one teachers successes represents a critique of another teacher's’ shortcomings” (pg. 72).

A lack of sharing and collaboration is also the result of the professional isolation that most teachers experience. Most teachers (myself included) rarely have an opportunity to share, learn and collaborate with colleagues from their own school. This isolation is one of the primary reasons that individuals leave the teaching profession.

Is everything in your school broken, messed up, or on the verge of collapse? Based on the conversation from last staff meeting, you might think so!

“Arguably, a byproduct of this reluctance to share good news, interesting ideas, and cool possibilities is a conversational void too easily filled by complaints...” (pg. 80)

This is where school administrators can have a profound impact. Providing built in, scheduled time for lightly structured collaboration will foster communication between individuals and an opportunity for victories successes to be shared. Chapter 4 provides specific, actionable ideas for school administrators so that they can develop an “exploratory culture.”

The culmination of Making your School Something Special is the idea that awesome things ARE happening in every school. Memorable learning is taking place. It is your job to find and share those moments with others.

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