We Need You to be the Lead Learner.

[slideshare id=4806056&doc=nyscate2010-100721094405-phpapp02]

This morning I had the opportunity to present at the New York State Association for Computers and Technology in Education’s annual Leadership Summit in Troy, NY.  When I pitched the proposal a few months ago, I was really leaning heavily on technology as the focus: what strategies could leaders employ to model learning and collaboration?  As the last few months have unfolded and my thinking has been influenced less by technology and Web 2.0 and more by things like Understanding by Design and designing learning communities, the impetus behind this presentation changed to reflect that.

Above is the slide deck I used, which, as the participants in the session will concur, most of which we did not see.  Again, we took time to talk to one another and to discuss some of the questions that came up, which is the real reason why we were there.  However, when I began designing this in its slide form last week, I wanted to do it in the style that I would ask a teacher to design a unit of study, so I used UbD to do it.  I started with what I wanted my audience to leave with: my transfer goal.  I came up with this:

I want you to learn the specific challenges facing education today so that, in the long run, you will be able to, on your own, create innovative and collaborative solutions to overcome them.

From that point I looked at the understandings they would need to have

  • Students today are not as academically tech savvy as they need to be.
  • We take in an enormous amount of data each day as consumers and our students need to be equipped to handle it critically.
  • Leaders responsibilities include that of growing future leaders, and in doing so, we must model the behaviors that we deem valuable for leaders to have: willingness to try and of fail, transparent learning, and collaboration.

and the questions I would use with them to help guide them:

  • Do the teachers in your district own the technology, or do the students?
  • Are your teachers more technology “savvy” than the students?  Is that a problem?
  • What is the dominant mode of learning in your school/district?
  • What is your role as a leader in your school/district?

From there, I realized that there would be no real way to assess them as they left the presentation, but I felt good about designing the presentation this way.  It had that “walk-the-walk” feel to it as I put it together and delivered it, and there is a lot to be said for feeling that way about the work you do.

In a nutshell, if students’ intake of information breaks down like this:

Should your classroom instruction look like this

or this?

There is no right answer here, but the real meaning lies in the discussions that have to happen along the way to deciding what they look like.  I spoke today about the lack of “grey area” thinkers as espoused by Dan Meyer in his TEDxNYED talk, and it applies here.  Leaders need to be very comfortable with difficult conversations about what we expect of our students and our teachers.  We need to be able to confront people’s belief systems (nod to Andy Greene).


It’s Obvious, but Only If You See It.

Yesterday, I met with the district professional development committee, a committee that meets annually to discuss the plan that has to be submitted to our county and state for approval.  That statement, in and of itself, is inherently backwards, but I’ll get to that.  This year, the design of professional development is much more formalized in that each school must have its own individual plan, the ideas of which must find their way into the overall district plan.  Previously, the district plan was all most districts had, and all that was counted in the end.

Not so anymore, and I am hopefully optimistic about this.

See, I am a big believer in having a stake in the direction of your place of employment.  If you work somewhere, your voice should matter in the governance of that place, and your actions should be allowed to contribute to the betterment of that organization.  I don’t see that much in the schools I either work in, or visit, but I’d like to.  What I see and hear is a lot of the mentality whereby there is little control of the direction of schools and school philosophy by teachers and administrators–things being “done” to them, rather than them “doing” things to contribute to the greater cause of student achievement.

I plan on changing that.

Committees are funny things; they have life for the short time they are together, and high ideas are exchanged if the right people are in the room.  For example, we were critiquing our professional development programs from the previous years, and we came up with this list:

  • lack of follow through or follow-up from the initial class or by the presenter
  • not tied directly to student achievement
  • notification and publication of classes and sessions to staff

But what next?  We sketched out our direction for next year after synthesizing the individual building goals and definitions of student learning, but how is the plan going to be communicated to the staff?  How are they going to look at this plan and see anything that gives them ownership, or reverses that feeling that they are disconnected from the definitions and realities of their building philosophy?

“What are you afraid of?”  I asked myself after listening yesterday.  I also followed that one up with a “what are you waiting for?”  This is a great opportunity for someone to take this place in a new direction.  Why not me?

Problem Solved

After you’ve done a thing the same way for two years, look it over carefully.  After five years, look at it with suspicion.  And after ten years, throw it away and start all over.

The above is from Alfred E. Perlman, a railroad visionary in the 20th Century.  Much as we take inflation rates into consideration when comparing dollar amounts from past eras, I think we should do the same with time figures.  When Perlman made this quote in 1958 in the midst of turning around the New York Railroad, time and change moved at a much different rate.  Let’s look at this quote and remove the time factors that Perlman used.

How often do we need to review what we do as educators when it comes to our classroom or leadership practices?

Image Credit: “RETHINK” from depone’s photostream

Re-Thinking a Few Things

It’s the end of the year, and with that, we are running into the usual pressures associated with a year of impending change.  For some reason, June gives educators an amazing amount of stress.  I was reviewing some posts from this time last year, and was amazed to find that there were odd similarities between what I was noticing then and what is happening now.

This summer is going to be an incredibly busy one, and an incredibly short one.  It has the feeling already of one that will be fleeting. If that is the case, I’d like to begin by setting a few goals for my own growth this summer:

  1. Read.  Here is the short list that I’ve put together for the summer:
    1. Readicide, by Kelly Gallagher
    2. Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell
    3. Rethinking Homework, Cathy Vatterott
    4. Write Beside Them, by Penny Kittle
  2. Re-Organize.  A year in which I either ran or helped plan over 10 meetings a month can lead to a lot of paperwork and notes that need both organization and reflection.  Pulling all of that back together will take a good few days.
  3. Re-Focus.  As I indicated in the paragraphs above, the month of June has been crazy, but wit that crazy has come some good dialogue.  I’d like to take part of the summer to craft goals that I have for each of the departments I work with and the elementary schools I am involved in.  I’ve had many meetings this month where it was apparent that I am getting very little buy-in from the departments I work with.  As with everything in education, the factors that go into producing that are only partially controllable by me, but that which is under my control, I’d like to sharpen and hone.  I need to have goals regarding what I’d like to move towards with each of the departments, and then combine those goals with those of the members of the departments I work with.  A shared vision; yes, I think that might work.

There is probably more, but it’s getting light out, and the kids are waking, which brings me to another goal for the summer.  Leave work at work, and make the most of the daylight hours with my family.

School. Different.

Beginning on March 23rd, I will be leading a discussion with teachers and administrators in my district about ourselves and our professions, but most importantly, about our students and how they learn.  What I want to know is this: are we teaching with their learning in mind?

Here is the description I gave for the workshop:

In this conversation we will examine our goals as educators in the face of a rapidly changing climate in American education.   We’ll look closely at the shifts that need to occur in our profession and the very question of what it means to be well-educated today.  Each group will meet three times: one online session, and two face-to-face sessions.

Essential Questions:
•    Who are the students you want leaving your classroom every day?
•    What do you hope they know how to do with that they’ve learned?
•    What do you hope they care about?

Essential Understandings:

School should be less about preparation for life and more about life itself.
-John Dewey

We must connect our students with information, people and real world contexts that will inspire and engage them throughout their curriculum.

We teach a subject not to produce little living libraries on that subject, but rather to get a student to think mathematically for himself, to consider matters as an historian does, to take part in the process of knowledge-getting.  Knowledge is a process, not a product.

-Jerome Bruner

When our students know how to evaluate media and make sense of its complex messages, they are better able to use it as information for learning.

Our rapidly changing society, both nationally and globally, demands a change in the way we view education and the teaching profession.

This idea was originally inspired and adapted from Jeff Plaman’s LrNing site where he has gathered international educators from around the world to participate in an online class centered around the movements and changes that our students and the profession of teaching is undergoing.  I asked him if I could modify it slightly for my district and he was all for it.

In looking at television lately, I caught this commercial, or should I say, it caught me:

I look at that and I contrast it with Doyle’s recent post regarding his school’s motto: “Learn to Live.”  Are we teaching our students to live?  Are we teaching them the skills to be wise?  Do they have the moral skill to know when to make the exception to the rule?

Oh, I worry some time that we get bogged down in the minutiae of this standard and that standard, and this score and that score, and we forsake the true goals of education: learning to live well.

Matching the Two.

My wife asks me all of the time if I am happy in what I am doing, because it is so much different than teaching, or even being tech coordinator; the successes are not as easily seen by either her or I.  There never is a real straight answer given by me because what I do is so difficult to get an immediate read on whether it works or doesn’t.  In October, I presented at TechForum in Palisades, NY and had a blast.  I got great feedback from those in attendance and truly had fun talking and listening.  Something clicked on the way home that day: how much fun I had, how passionately I had expressed myself had to be the way I addressed the departments and staff I work with.  I was holding back, and it was showing in the way I was received.

I dig this learning business.  There are some great ideas out there about how to get more people to learn in myriad ways using unlimited methods.   My goal in coming back from TechForum was to let the ideas just fly, let the people I work with shoot them down.  Coming off of EduCon, I realized I hadn’t yet done it in my practice.  Being in the presence yet again of such passionate advocates for kids, for their futures, made me promise to myself as I drove up I-95 towards home that this month would be different.  And so far, it has.  From my last department meeting:


Let’s see that this continues.

Effective School Leadership in the Digital Age

A few posts back, I stated that I would try to get out the audio that accompanied my slides from the TechForum Northeast Conference on October 24th.  It’s taken me a while, and along the way I lost my notes, but here it is, as best as I could deliver.  I am already rethinking the format of this and the content; it’s like with our students when we ask them to read their writing out loud–it takes on a whole new level of awkwardness.  In the end it’s great for the piece, but it sure feels weird while you are standing there.  I’ll make one glaring admission before you view:  I need to include the student part of this the next time I deliver it.  It was in the planning, and I spoke about it at the conference, but did not get to it here.  What is their role in school leadership today?

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Effective School Leadership in the Digital Age on Vimeo

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In the rush to get caught up with everything that is swirling around me here, I’ve been trying to get both Slideshare and Google Docs to play nice with my slide deck from Friday’s Tech Forum Northeast Presentation I did.  The presentation, called Effective School Leadership in the Digital Age, was a blast, and I hope all who attended enjoyed it.  I ended up just exporting the keynote file to quicktime and then uploading it to Vimeo.  I hope to do some audio work on it shortly, but here is the rough-ready version.

From Scott McLeod

I am really digging the work that Scott McLeod is doing via his blog.  Over the last few months he has recognized great commentors, blogs that deserve a bigger audience, and sponsored a button making contentst for NECC.  But what really grabs me is his call to leaders in our field to “get it,” and do so quickly.  This button sums it up for me.  How are you making something happen?

Make a Difference

Using Cooperative Learning Structures to Teach Teachers

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Each month, we meet with our first year teachers in the district to help them adjust to the expectations and the rigors of being in the classroom everyday. I have spoken about this before, but the program uses Marzano, et al’s, book Classroom Instruction That Works as a framework for teaching strategies that are research-based and effective. More than anything we do instructionally, the workshops always help the teachers come together to discuss success and failure in their classrooms; it provides them with a support structure in which they can reflect on their practice and share their uncertainties about what they are doing.

Last month we spent some time with cooperative learning structures and how to use them to help students take responsibility for their own learning through collaboration. The feedback we got from that meeting was really positive, so this month we decided to use the structures as a means to teach the next theme in the book: Goal-Setting and Feedback.

One of the most significant parts of my own learning this year has been to make every attempt I can to be a practitioner of what I teach. You have read it here before: “Be the change you want to see in others.” So when we were planning this month, Dan and I created the sessions entirely around learning structures and reaching as many intelligences as we could. Here is a list of what we did and the accompanying structures:

  • Clock Buddies: as soon as they walked in we handed them appointment clocks on paper and asked them to make appointments at 12 (with someone not in your building), 3 (with someone in your building), 6 (someone in your subject area), and 9 (random). We used these throughout the session to organize ourselves.
    • this got them moving and engaging and really set the tone for their activity level for the day.
  • RAFT: Sternberg created this concept based on his three intelligences. What we did is ask the teachers to write an entry on their blog using the idea of choosing a Role (object in their classroom, a student in their classroom, an observing administrator), an Audience (a parent, an administrator, a reluctant c colleague, etc.) a Format (classified ad, instruction manual, letter to the editor, observation narrative, etc.) and write about a Topic (why should we use cooperative learning structures in the classroom?).
    • immediately it got them thinking differently because we asked them to reflect via a different modality then they were used to. A little cognitive dissonance is a good thing!
  • Walk and Talk: They read a section of the book on their own, then we used our 12 o’clock buddies and asked each group to do some guided reflection using a graphic organizer. However, we asked them to do it while on a Walk and Talk. Since yesterday was a gorgeous day here in New Jersey, we allowed them to walk anywhere on the school grounds, inside or out, and asked them to discuss the reading and fill in the graphic organizer as they strolled.
  • Wows and Wonders:” More reading was done independently and then we used our 3 o’clock buddies and paired the groups up to form larger groups. Since we were talking about goal setting, we asked each teacher to write a brief statement about how they use goal setting in their classroom. We then used a Round Robin format where they passed their statement to the left. Each person was responsible for writing a “Wow,” on the page and then passed it along to the next person in the circle until eventually they all received their own page back. We did the same again, only this time we asked each person to write a “Wonder,” statement on each other’s page.
    • This allowed everyone to get positive feedback, but also framed the constructive feedback in the form of a suggestive question, which works a lot better than a “you should have done this” statement.
  • Four Corners: After reading the feedback section in the book, we asked the teachers to pick one of the four research points made in the reading as the one that they would like to have a discussion about. Each corner of the room represented a different point. They moved to that corner and were asked to use a graphic organize to lead their discussion about that point.
  • Numbered Heads: as they discussed, we walked around and gave numbers to each group member. When it came time to wrap up, we picked numbers randomly and asked that that person tell us what their group discussed about a certain point within their topic.
    • this gave everyone time to add additional information to their organizer and hear points that pushed their own thinking.
  • Parking Lot: also as they were discussing feedback, Dan and I circled the room and distributed a blue and a yellow post-it not to everyone. We asked that on the yellow they tell us something about their own learning from the day’s session–what did you learn today? On the blue, we asked that they help us with our learning–what could we have done differently today? As they left the room for the day, they put the yellows on one wall and the blues on another.

We are in the process of sorting our notes out and going over the feedback (it was just yesterday), but I could already see that the teachers were engaged with one another at a level that we’d seen glimpses of before but couldn’t sustain. Also, on a selfish note, I did so much less talking, used so much less tech, and spent so much more time listening than I had in any of the the previous meetings.

If we are truly about changing the way our schools work, about reforming our practices to meet the needs of students, modeling said practices and methods should be the first order of business. Think of your next factulty meeting. How much will you move about the room to discuss an issue or concern or theory (trips to the food area don’t count)? Will the dialog be one-way, two-way, or circular and constant?

I realize that all meetings and sessions vary, and that decisions about presentation and lesson design are germane to the material itself, but when we can we should use what we know to produce lessons, meetings, professional development courses that we would want to sit through. Ask yourself, would you want to be in your class?