Patrick Higgins, Jr.

Posts Tagged ‘educon20’

Re-Post

In reflection on November 19, 2011 at 6:57 pm

This afternoon, my phone made the familiar ping telling me that somewhere among the various networks out there, someone was mentioning me.  To my surprise, Kevin Jarrett had unearthed something I had written back in 2008 after attending his session (which he co-presented with Sylvia Martinez).

I’ll be the first to admit how easy it is to get lost in the minutiae of the work we do, to lose sight of the overall reason we are here and the bigger goals we have for the students and staff we work with.  Thank you, Kevin, for reminding that I do have these thoughts, I do have these goals, and that we can work to make learning, and the schools that go with it, an unbelievable experience.  Reposted, in its entirety:

Change is a loaded word. It strikes fear into the hearts of even the most secure of professionals. In looking at the idea of change, I see it as coming from one of two directions: either top-down, where those in charge of your program, your superintendent, building administrator, or your supervisor bring it about, or bottom-up, also termed “organic, or “grass-roots,” where change comes from the classrooms and spreads throughout a school building or district based on the practices of teachers and the work of students.

What I am seeing
When I started the process if looking at pedagogy rather than looking at tools as ways to help engage students, the world of technology became small. Granted, I really began this process in earnest about 5 months ago, so the sample size here is small, but nonetheless, what I see is what Chris Lehmann so aptly termed in his session at EduCon: “It’s not the product, it’s the process.” Learning experience matters infinitely more than the result. Focusing on that process rather than the final paper or diorama or wiki is a difficult thing to do when the tools that take us there are so unbelievably slick.

Our situation in regards to change
Our process of change that is occurring has been and continues to be top-down, where we as administrators and tech coordinators are introducing teachers to tools and pedagogies that are transformative and engaging, but we are relying on their trust and their willingness to open themselves to developing expertise. How well will this continue to work? It remains to be seen whether it is a model for systemic change with our staff. We are working within 5 buildings, each with varying levels of both adoption and readiness. When that is the case, your strategy involves as much trust-building as it does introduction to new ideas. We have worked hard on that, but there are elements that are lacking in our design:

  • overarching curricular goals written directly into our curriculum plans at the start. Technology and the pedagogy to use it transformatively is often left out of that process.
  • teacher’s as vocal advocates for change a building-level plan for helping teachers teach with these adapted methodologies (notice I said adapted methodologies because we are not re-inventing the wheel here; the methods we advocate are still the same we have touted for years: differentiating, cooperative learning, co-teaching, questioning skills, etc. Only now we are truly elevating their effectiveness through the use of social, collaborative and expressive technologies.)
  • An environment that allows teachers to be free from the fear of failure and it’s supposed administrative repercussions. If we expect our students to learn, unlearn, and re-learn, then we must give our teachers the freedom to create, experiment and play with content and its delivery to students.

I sat in Kevin Jarrett and Sylvia Martinez’s session about creating lasting change within a school district using the Future Search Process, and I remember thinking about all the ideas that were flying about the room in terms of gathering the necessary parties needed for creating change. The one that keeps sticking with me is the reference they made to something called “The Burning Platform,” whereby an individual is placed in a situation (a burning oil platform) where they must choose either certain death (staying on the platform) or the likelihood of death (jumping into the water). The analogy to education is that there is a situation whereby the outcome of staying still is obvious: student apathy and loss of engagement, but the outcome of changing and moving is less obvious but possibly a salvation.

I am looking at a situation where I don’t know if teachers understand that the platform is burning. They don’t know whether to jump, stay still, or get marshmallows. I want to create a community that is not afraid of change, that feels like they have a stake in the change process, and is willing to help create that change even if makes their role in the classroom change to one that is better capable of creating methods to solve rather than providing answers.

Prove It.

In curriculum, students on February 3, 2009 at 11:22 pm

I’ll admit it: I just watched my own session from EduCon 2.1 on video.  Granted it’s not the whole thing, but it’s enough.

I didn’t know whether to take the athlete track or the celebrity track here: athletes do it without question, while celebs, when asked, never admit to watching their own movies.  When it came down to it, I decided that watching would be so much easier to stomach than knowing it was out there and neglecting the chance to reflect on the session.  Tony Gwynn used to do this for every at bat. Why can’t I?

After EduCon 2.0 last year, Dan and I came back a bit overblown by the whole thing.  We knew what we were walking into, but sensing the passion the presenters had and the depths to which many of these people were willing to reach to change public schooling made us really reflect on what we were doing.  What we heard was that “top-down” change was not enough.  Grass-roots change had to happen in order for systemic change to sustain itself.  We took that back and tried to make it happen through our actions.

That idea, that change had to be a marriage between administrative direction and teacher action, received yet another tweak as we learned through the weekend of January 23-25 that the student element was missing from our curriculum redesign process.  We took our two major redesigns last year, Technology Career, and Consumer Sciences and our critical thinking class called Connections, and put them through the ringer with what we had learned from the sessions we had attended at EduCon 2.0.  Now, a year later the idea that we haven’t included students to the level we need to is chasing me around as I plan to work with Visual and Performing Arts as they re-make their curriculum this summer.  What’s their role?  How much input should the greatest source of human capital in a school district have on the creation of curriculum? It’s no longer just a “top-down/bottom-up” issue, but instead it’s a “who should be in the room” issue.

Although he didn’t appear in the video of our session, Chris Lehmann popped into our session for the opening discussion.  I’ll attribute these words to him:

“If we say that we believe in something, we should point toward something in your schools that show, illustrate those values, those beliefs (and how they resonate in the school community)”

And, although he didn’t say it officially until Sunday, he implied it all weekend: if you believe in something, show me where your actions, your systems, and your decisions make it true.  We are at a point in our discussion and our study of what we know about about what works in education that we should be able to show in our own practice as educators what we are doing in light of our beliefs.  That works for everyone from superintendents to students themselves.  What are your ideals?  Where can you show me in your practice that these are reflected?  When we look at the inclusion of students in the curriculum redesign process, how does it reflect our beliefs about learning? About the students we teach?

I need to nail this stuff down on the local level.

In change, curriculum, education, reflection, school 2.0 on July 20, 2008 at 9:02 pm

I love writing and sharing, and while I don’t profess to have a “great process” for getting it out there, I willingly share my practices, both success and failure, with anyone who cares to listen. That being said, and after listening to Clarence and Darren on Friday morning as they laid out the real possibilities that our teachers and students have before them, I know I live in perpetual beta. What that means for me is that, yes, I will continue to write about my personal struggles and successes with motivating today’s student and helping teachers understand changes that can help their instruction and effectiveness, but I will keep things close to my vest too.

Before I get up there and share like mad and give it away, I want to run it through the ringer here. I went to BLC with our administrative team, and my focus was on finding ways to make the goals we had set work well. That meant that we worked together almost exclusively. I missed sharing with some of the people there, but I felt the conversation pieces were lacking (or not built into the conference like at EduCon). My first priority in all of this is to the people I work with and for, the students, teachers, and parents in my district. Until I feel a sense of accomplishment within the audience of that crowd, I am finding it difficult to begin to share our practices. In other words, I don’t want to just get in front of people and talk about the cool things we do with this tool or that tool. I want to give the people I am fortunate enough to share with solid methods and practices they can go back and share with their students, teachers and parents. That hasn’t arrived for me yet.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve accomplished some wonderful things, and we are really trying to up the ante this year with our staff at every building; however, where’s the proof that what we are doing is better? or at least creating fascination and wonder on the part of both teacher and student? I need that before I jump out of beta and into limited release.

Image Credit: “Goatopolis-v2 (beta:Matthew Broderick)” from Goatopolis’ Photostream

Writing Technology into your Curriculum: Top-Down or Bottom-Up, Does it Matter?

In change, curriculum on February 2, 2008 at 1:42 pm

“In order to think outside the box, you need to know what is in the box.”web-20-meet-sparta-township-public-schools-1.jpg
Change is a loaded word. It strikes fear into the hearts of even the most secure of professionals. In looking at the idea of change, I see it as coming from one of two directions: either top-down, where those in charge of your program, your superintendent, building administrator, or your supervisor bring it about, or bottom-up, also termed “organic, or “grass-roots,” where change comes from the classrooms and spreads throughout a school building or district based on the practices of teachers and the work of students.

What I am seeing
When I started the process if looking at pedagogy rather than looking at tools as ways to help engage students, the world of technology became small. Granted, I really began this process in earnest about 5 months ago, so the sample size here is small, but nonetheless, what I see is what Chris Lehmann so aptly termed in his session at EduCon: “It’s not the product, it’s the process.” Learning experience matters infinitely more than the end result. Focusing on that process rather than the final paper or diorama or wiki is a difficult thing to do when the tools that take us there are so unbelievably slick.

Our situation in regards to change
Our process of change that is occurring has been and continues to be top-down, where we as administrators and tech coordinators are introducing teachers to tools and pedagogies that are transformative and engaging, but we are relying on their trust and their willingness to open themselves to developing expertise. How well will this continue to work? It remains to be seen whether or not it is a model for systemic change with our staff. We are working within 5 buildings, each with varying levels of both adoption and readiness. When that is the case, your strategy involves as much trust-building as it does introduction to new ideas. We have worked hard on that, but there are elements that are lacking in our design:

  • overarching curricular goals that are written directly into our curriculum plans at the start. Technology and the pedagogy to use it transformatively is often left out of that process.
  • teacher’s as vocal advocates for change a building-level plan for helping teachers teach with these adapted methodologies (notice I said adapted methodologies because we are not re-inventing the wheel here; the methods we advocate are still the same we have been touting for years: differentiating, cooperative learning, co-teaching, questioning skills, etc. Only now we are truly elevating their effectiveness through the use of social, collaborative and expressive technologies.)
  • An environment that allows teachers to be free from the fear of failure and it’s supposed administrative repercussions. If we expect our students to learn, unlearn, and re-learn, then we must give our teachers the freedom to create, experiment and play with content and its delivery to students.

I sat in Kevin Jarrett and Sylvia Martinez’s session about creating lasting change within a school district using the Future Search Process, and I remember thinking about all the ideas that were flying about the room in terms of gathering the necessary parties needed for creating change. The one that keeps sticking with me is the reference they made to something called “The Burning Platform,” whereby an individual is placed in a situation (a burning oil platform) where they must choose either certain death (staying on the platform) or the likelihood of death (jumping into the water). The analogy to education is that there is a situation whereby the outcome of staying still is obvious: student apathy and loss of engagement, but the outcome of changing and moving is less obvious but possibly a salvation.

I am looking at a situation where I don’t know if teachers understand that the platform is burning. They don’t know whether to jump, stay still, or get marshmallows. I want to create a community that is not afraid of change, that feels like they have a stake in the change process, and is willing to help create that change even if makes their role in the classroom change to one that is better capable of creating methods to solve rather than providing answers.

Five Ideas To Think About

In change on January 26, 2008 at 9:14 am

schoolhouse

 

I don’t know if this was prompted by the fact that he came up and said hello to me last night, or by the fact that the title of his post, Reality Bytes, struck me, but David Jakes has got me thinking about the five main points he brings up in his most recent post at TechLearning. When we spend so much time speaking of changing schools, whether you buy into what Alvin Toefler is saying or not, we often forget that we are a supreme minority, we edubloggers. That real change is a much bigger elephant that we are going to need a lot of help in biting over time.

According to David, “the conversation forgets:”

1. That schools, like the one on Main Street in Downers Grove, and the schools that are in your community, can indeed be successful.

I work in a public school system. We are bound by a state-mandated curriculum, bound by every regulatory principle under Title 18A of the New Jersey State Constitution, and participate in every mandatory data collection via assessment. That system is not changing; those responsibilities are not changing.

We are also a state with a powerful and active teacher’s union who does some great work for teachers. Any changes that are made within my schools will have to done with these two aspects in mind. This is possible because of the staff that we have and the vision that we have for our students. It’s just going to be much different than some of the visions we see and hear about as we read.

2. That school change, school reform, whatever you want to call it, can emerge from within schools themselves.

The most important aspect, and this came up in a brief conversation with Kristin Hokanson last night at the Franklin Institute, is that there are so many people involved in this conversation that are classroom teachers. I love to hear what Scott Meech, George Mayo, and Brian Crosby are doing because it is practical change. For someone like me, and this point was reflected in the comment from John Maklary, I am out of the classroom so I may not “get it” as much as I used to. Seeing best practices evolve from around the world helps me speak about change in practice with my teachers, and then show them the examples and put them into contact with these practitioners.

This is a grass-roots movement in that it’s not mandated from above. No one is telling you that you have to connect your classroom to the world. We would like you to see it for yourself.

3. That we know how to educate kids.

Our teachers did not suddenly unlearn how to teach, how to care, and how to lead. There is in every school those that should not be there, but you would find that in any profession. Currently, I am immersed with several groups of veteran teachers in professional study groups centered around the ideas of questioning skills, differentiated instruction, cooperative learning, collaborative teaching, student assessment methods, instructional practices, and unit and lesson design using Understanding by Design. Our teachers are still learners, and they want to hone their practice. If they don’t, well that is a different story, but one that again, plays out in any field.

This is as, Ben Wilkoff used the term last year, a “ripe environment” for change. Professional development in New Jersey is mandated. Mandated, but not enforced. Still, teachers are continually looking for development. Let’s make sure we offer the kind we need to facilitate the change we want to see.

4. That students still need to be placed in rigorous, challenging learning environments where they learn things like writing, math, civics, and science.

The relevance of this statement will always remain profound. It’s the geography of it that will change. By this I mean that where we teach these subjects, not just physically but topically, will change. We are currently in a re-design phase for our business and technology department at the high school and we are thinking of creating a series of open classrooms where the students are not only taught in the specific class that they signed up for, but exposed to other classes and ideas as well in one large open room. The possibilities for collaboration and exploration are boundless. We will have our subject areas, but the boundaries between them won’t resemble anything we know now. Still, this has to come from within your staff and not from a mandate. Let it be organic.

5. That not all kids are tech-savvy.

This fact is becoming a hot topic, not only in the edublogosphere, but in our individual buildings. Our students are not terribly academic online. I’ve written on several occasions about my experience with students and content management, and we had an instance the other day where a student was complaining about having to check the class wiki for update. What he is missing, and what our role as teachers in this era should be, is to teach him how to set up a reader to monitor it for him through RSS, rather than having to be a slave to a page load.

Either way, David got me thinking about these things. I love radical change as much as the next guy, but will it get us where we want to go. What is it they say about asking for what you want….

 

Image credit: “schoolhouse in a field of oats” at Mc Morr’s photostream

 

What are you Aiming for?

In change on January 25, 2008 at 11:10 pm

After a short day at the office, Dan and I headed down to Philly for Educon 2.0. Leaving work behind, I have to say, was a relief; I think we both needed some time away from the rigors of work (but I have to say, leaving the family was not easy–miss them way too much right now).

I laid kind of low tonight and avoided the really big gatherings, not for reasons of anti-socialness, but more to get centered before tomorrow begins. To be honest, this is my first “big idea” conference, where most of the people whose conversations I have participated in are here. There are definite goals I have going into tomorrow, and tonight was a good time to get them ordered and centered.

  • we’ve worked very hard to establish the groundwork for change in our district, but where do we go from where we are?
  • How do we create a “felt need” for open professional development and creation of personal learning environments for teachers to participate in dynamic learning alongside their students?
  • What are the best practices involved with this thing we are calling School 2.0? If I am going to continue pushing for innovation, I am going to need to be armed with strategies and materials for them to grow with.

My schedule for tomorrow breaks down like this, at least for now:

  1. Session 1: Influence without Authority: Finding the Common Ground to Frame Innovation and Change with Kevin Jarrett and Sylvia Martinez
  2. Session 2: Tearing Down the Walls – Practicing What We Preach with Vinnie Vrotny and David Jakes
  3. Session 3: Building School 2.0 — New Tools and Dewey’s Dream with Chris Lehmann

At the conclusion of the sessions, I will be leading a reflection session from 4:00-5:00, which I hope to do as little interfering with conversation as possible.

Sunday is still up in the air, as it should be. I want tomorrow’s conversation to dictate where I end up.

I look forward to hearing from all of you out there as the weekend goes on.

The Major Disconnect

In Uncategorized on January 21, 2008 at 2:45 pm

I had such selfish reasons for choosing to do this workshop at Franklin Lakes School District today; not only was it a great opportunity to talk about some really fun topics and make some extra money, but Alan November was the keynote. Alan’s message conveys a sense of urgency like no one else I have ever seen, and I always leave feeling recharged.

Today’s presentation by Alan centered on student content creation, much like the last one I saw, but this was the first time I was able to see him interact directly with a small group. His ideas, juxtaposed against the usual smattering of teacher doubts, really resonate with “no excuses.” Counterpoints to every dissension. Creation in the face of doubt.

When I think of my own practice, I wonder if I am doing enough creating of community. Darren Draper posted about bloggers who create community, but focused on the online environment. How do I do it in my buildings? Alan talks about allowing students to create material that is public, debatable and viewable by people from a global environment. I was twittering about the amount of teachers in a room here that do not have Google Accounts, or how few of them have heard of RSS feeds, and wondering to myself whether or not I could say the same for my district where I had worked on this for almost two years. What have I done to create the sense of urgency that Alan does?

This is perfect fodder for thought as I enter the week before EduCon, and I hope I’ll be able to gather some resources for this there.

Looking back over the course of the time I have spent at Tech Coordinator and now as Director of Curriculum, I don’t think formal professional development worked to the extent that I expected it would. I taught classes which were not well attended, or attended by the same group of people. I held in-service days where teachers were exposed to applications and strategies to help them implement social technologies in the classroom. But where did it get us? Sitting here, listening to Alan push these teachers, a very receptive bunch no less, I can’t help but place myself in a daydream where this is my district. How many of my teachers would know what RSS means? How many would have a Google Account? Did I make a difference, or did I just keep the same model that has not worked and made it look nicer?

I am feeling the need to break the mold, to present a shift so sudden yet so necessary that teachers would look at it with both fear and longing–saying “I want to do this for my own development!” or “This has to happen!” But what it looks like is escaping me. How do you make someone feel like they need something?

Counting Down to EduCon 2.0

In education on January 20, 2008 at 11:42 pm

educoniconmedium.jpg

What a whirlwind month and a half it’s been in my little world. The shift from technology coordinator to curriculum director has brought about tremendous changes, ones that were predictable and ones that took a while to surface. Add to that the fact that I agreed to give some presentations lately (Turning On Learning, Franklin Lakes School District, TechSpo), and my time to reflect and write has been hampered considerably. And where I used to use late hours or early morning hours to write and reflect, those times have been taken up, rather gladly, by falling asleep with my son at his bedtime (if you have children, going to sleep with your child at their bedtime is such a guilty pleasure). So now on most nights, I am crashing at close to 8:00pm. Say goodbye to any late night reflection.

One of the most immediate changes I noticed was the natural progression from focusing solely on technology and its integration to focusing on issues of teaching methodology and long-term planning of instruction. In a perfect world, one that we are trying to create in our district, the two, technology and teaching methodology, curriculum planning, and long-term planning for success are all seen as one job. However, I am thinking more about aggregating that whole now than I ever did before, and the solutions to the problems will take much longer to sort out than those that I ran into as tech coordinator.

I must say thanks to several of you out there, like Kim Cofino, Barry Bachenheimer, Robin Ellis, Kelly Christopherson, Darren Draper, and Scott McLeod for pushing my thinking on the topics of school change, idea management, and coalition building. It took me a while to see just where my thinking was taking me as I was reading their writing over the last few months, but as I look at the different challenges that are put before me, I see more clearly that a good deal of my “quality ideas” have come through conversations on their blogs or with them directly.

Konrad Glogowski posted recently about his relief that he is able to approach the upcoming EduCon 2.0 Conference in Philadelphia with a focus on reflection. I couldn’t agree more, and while my reflective space has change, as has my ability to commit time to it, this conference is something I’ve been looking forward to for some time. I remember hearing and reading from people throughout the summer (post-NECC and BLC) that there was a need for more conversations about what really needed to happen in our schools. EduCon 2.0 is a step in that direction.

As the days get closer, I am sure I will be linking out to some of the venues for virtual participation.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,932 other followers