Looking forward to learning with you!

On Monday, August 13, 2012, I’ll be facilitating four webinars for the Simple K12 Teacher Learning Community as the “spotlight” presenter. Join me!

10 AM EST – Getting Your School Started with Blogging – the what, hows, and whys of blogging for schools interested in getting started with student, teacher, and/or administrator and school blogs

11 AM EST – Google Apps for Streamlining Tasks: An Administrator’s Guide – easy ways to utilize Google Apps to make your life (a little) easier as a school administrator

12 PM EST – Innovative Professional Development: Host a Fed-Ex Day! – ideas for how to spice up professional development opportunities for your staff including the use of the #edcamp model, Fed Ex days, and other non-traditional types of PD

1 PM EST – Free Web Tools for Administrator Communication and Collaboration -an overview of some of the online, interactive tools administrators can use to enhance communications and collaboration within their learning organizations and among networks

Click on any of the above links to register. While much will be shared to guide the administrator in learning more about these topics, teachers and other educators are encouraged to attend. Hope to see you there!

Professional development for educational leaders- a follow-up post and request for input

A short while ago I posted Learning as Leadersa personal reflection of my experiences with our state’s PA Inspired Leaders (PIL) initiative. Our state enlisted the services of National Institute for School Leadership, NISL, as one of two curriculum providers for our state’s program. NISL has “worked with Pennsylvania to develop state standards for school leaders, design training programs that give participants the skills to meet these standards, and create assessment tools that measure the effectiveness of the program.”

Apparently at least one person reads my blog, because the post and its contents found their way to the PA Department of Education and supposedly to the NISL folks in Washington. The PIL program leader contacted me the week after my post was published and asked me to call him to discuss my experiences.

I nervously called the program leader, not sure how the organization would view my constructive criticism. We had a great conversation, and he shared that he and others had been working to ensure the program could continue to be funded for the future. He closed by asking me to put together my ideas for how the program could become more collaborative/networked in nature and meaningful for participants.

I think this is a really exciting opportunity, and I’m pleased that I have the chance to share my thoughts on this issue, even if the ideas never come to fruition. That being said, I know some folks at PDE and NISL are likely bothered by the fact that I publicly reflected upon my program experiences. I’m okay with that, because, honestly, we’re asked to put our feedback in writing after every single session. The evaluation form asks participants to rate the facilitator, the session’s organization, content, etc. on a Likert scale, and I’ve watched my table mates simply check off boxes to be able to get out of the room in a timely manner. Many do not leave descriptive feedback in the comments sections. I know there are other participants who share my sentiments, whether they chose to express them on those evaluations or not. My reflections found an audience, and for that I am grateful, especially if it helps to bring about positive change.

I’d like to reiterate that the NISL program content is very powerful, and I’ve been able to apply many of the concepts learned in my work as an administrator. The course organization and content delivery, however, assume that all administrators in the PIL program are in need of the exact same type of professional development, delivered in a one-size-fits-all-we’re-going-to-lecture-to-you-now mode. That has been my experience.

The online content portal lacks depth and includes no capabilities to connect with other course participants. I’d be interested to know how many principals actually spend time engaged with the online material. It includes specified areas for reflection- a “journal” if you will- but the mechanisms for doing so are cumbersome and do not allow for a continuous flow of reflective thoughts to enhance practice. The inclusion of a reflective mechanism for both individual reflections and those that could be shared with colleagues across the state would be very beneficial.

And while the issue of “powering down” during training sessions was irksome to me, and while most of the administrators and PIL facilitators I encounter in face-to-face PD sessions are not yet utilizing technology tools to facilitate their own learning experiences let alone the learning of others, the changes necessary to better connect administrators across our state and develop cohesive networks of school leaders are going to necessitate the use of internet-based, social media and communication tools.

In my PIL experience, some facilitators were able to better engage participants than others. Those facilitators planned opportunities for meaningful participant-talk time. As I stated in my previous post, most of us are just longing to have the time to speak with other administrators and learn how they are handling issues and strategizing in their schools. Our PIL cohorts are localized mainly to our county, with a few principals from neighboring counties in attendance. Imagine the power if we connected PIL participants across the entire state via social networks and created the mechanisms for true learning communities to blossom?

Over my past five years in educational administration, no matter how many principals I speak with, no matter if the principal works in a small rural school or a bustling urban district, and whether he has 2 or 20 years in the principalship, one thing remains certain: administration can be a lonely gig. To be the most effective leaders we can be, we need access to one another. We need to develop strong networks of support, resources, and knowledge. There is great value in developing personal and professional learning networks. More and more educators are starting to realize this, and they’re learning to use digital tools to take advantage of the wealth of knowledge that exists in the minds and hearts of educators around the world. Consider, too, that the U.S. Department of Education has declared August Connected Educator Month and has worked with a number of learning organizations to plan and share webinars, online professional development, and opportunities for collaboration among educators worldwide. I have professionally benefited from being a connected educator, and I know many of my administrative colleagues have as well. There is power in the network.

So, where does that leave us with planning professional development for educational leaders?

I’d love your help. I’m asking my fellow administrators and educational leaders to please take a few moments of your time to reflect upon your own professional development experiences and share them with me through the survey below. Direct link here. Also feel free to email me lynhilt@gmail.com and/or send your thoughts via tweet @l_hilt.

Your honest feedback on learning as an educational leader and the conditions necessary to yield the most powerful professional development possible will help me craft my ideas to share with PDE. I greatly appreciate your time and involvement in my PLN! Many thanks.

Edcamp Leadership

Dr. Timony’s session at Edcamp Leadership – photo by Kevin Jarrett

One week ago I attended the first Edcamp Leadership, held in Monroe, NJ. The event was attended by a lot of friendly folks from New Jersey and surrounding areas, including administrators, teachers, tech integrators, curriculum specialists, and other fine educators. I was especially excited to meet valued members of my PLN Akevy, Shira, and Jason for the first time!

For those of you unfamiliar with the Edcamp model, the day’s learning sessions are created and presented by the event attendees. Participants sign up on the “board” to share sessions throughout the day. Attendees then choose from the menu, and the “vote with your feet” rule applies: if you don’t like the session you’re in, up and leave and head to another session. There’s a focus on conversation and making sure the day is meaningful for you as the learner.

I attended a number of sessions, ranging from learning more about Evernote and its use in schools to a discussion about personal preconceptions and how they shape our supervision and evaluation of teachers. Here are some highlights of the sessions I attended last week.

Evernote – There are a lot of uses for Evernote in schools, most of which I’ve never fully explored. I mainly use Evernote for personal notetaking, thankful I can access my notes from any device. I will sometimes use the web clipper, but again, I’m not sharing my clippings with the world. I asked the Twitterverse how they’re using Evernote in schools, and many admin chimed in that they use them for note-taking during observations and walkthroughs, which can then be shared with staff (and some even include photos). Our session facilitator referenced Nick Provenzano’s Epic Evernote Experiment, which I recommend to any teacher interested in learning more about how to use Evernote with students in the classroom.

Google Sites for ePortfolios – I stopped into a session about the use of Google Sites since we are a Google Apps school, and I’d like to encourage the use of portfolios for student use. This Livebinder of resources was shared.

#satchat – Brad Currie and Scott Rocco began #satchat to involve educators in rich discussions of educational topics. Held Saturday mornings at 7:30 AM EST (thus my struggle to attend on a regular basis ;)), the Brad and Scott are passionate about learning and leading and did a fine job facilitating a session about the power of the PLN. To learn more about #satchat and the tools and features they use to support this endeavor (such as Storify, which I used only once, but found I really like), check out this post.

He, She, They, We: Tools for Faculty Evaluation and Development with @DrTimony – I always try to attend David’s sessions, because he’s wicked smart and I go in hoping some of his intellect will jump off of him and land on my shirt or my shoes or something and somehow seep into my brain. Our central question was, “How do our unspoken perceptions influence evaluation before decision-making occurs?” He referenced Michael Polanyi and tacit knowledge and its impact on our supervisory roles of teachers. We talked about good design and how something that is designed well requires few, if any, instructions to work it properly. How do our inherent feelings lead us to reasoning (making excuses to ourselves); how do our pre-cognitive decisions made by our brain (our brain is out to get us, I remember that clearly from EdcampNYC) force us into an agenda our brain has already put in place? When we start to process our perceptions, we start to make good headway. We can then intervene on our pre-cognitive decisions and prejudices. And while we can’t always change our prejudices/feelings that we have, we can use mechanisms to help us deal with them. We discussed frameworks for supervision and evaluation and the tools we could use to ensure we’re observing in an objective, constructive manner. Shira suggested asking four nonjudgmental prompts during walkthroughs to assist with this process: “I Notice, I Wonder, What if?, How might?” These questions help shape reflections and conversations following the learning walks.

David continued to stress the importance of observing in a purely supervisory role, not evaluative in any way. I struggled with this concept, because as an administrator, truly everything I see in a classroom could be taken into account in an evaluation. Do I think supervision needs to exist in its truest form to promote professional learning? Definitely, but it’s really hard to make that distinction sometimes. I know other administrators share that sentiment. On the whiteboard David reminded us Supervision = Coaching; Evaluation  = Judging.

Many participants shared that they became uncomfortable when being observed, whether by a single administrator, a team of observers, or by peers. One teacher said her students “froze” when the admin team walked in with their laptops. That, to me, indicates a bigger problem: the administrators/observers aren’t a regular presence in the classroom or school. The culture of the school should support a sense of openness: We don’t teach behind closed doors here, everyone is welcome at any time!

Conversations swirled around the term “effective practice” – determined by whom? What is the evidence of effectiveness? Are we asking students, “What are the characteristics of the most effective teacher you ever had?” Will those responses be the same for every student? Does every effective teacher practice the same way as every other effective teacher? What tool are we using? Checklists? Rubrics? David remarked that we use these standardized tools in a “prophylactic sense.” We want to be protected from what we might write in a more qualitative fashion in an observation report.

So, do our supervisory and evaluation methods operate under the assumption that everybody gets the same thing? Or does everyone get what they need? What’s alarming to me, is that in Pennsylvania and many other states, the teacher and principal evaluation systems have been revamped to be highly standardized, insanely time consuming, and tied to standardized test scores. I am being trained in this system in a few weeks and am eager to find the opportunities for teacher autonomy in professional development that districts can hopefully intertwine into the standardized process. A colleague of mine who has piloted the new system shared the details surrounding the 11+ page paperwork completion process for one formal observation, and I think I blacked out for a minute or two.

Some final thoughts on Managing Change, a session led by @dle59 (sorry, can’t find your actual name on your Twitter page!), who shaped the conversation around Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My CheeseYes, change is uncomfortable. Yes, we work with people who are entitled. “I’ve been teaching for 25 years! I’m entitled to doing things my way!” Yes, change is possible, even in large organizations, and many come to realize that it was silly of them to resist change in the first place. A great analogy was shared by a participant who asked us to consider professional athletes who are in the game too long. “It’s sad to watch, actually.” And then there are others, who realize that physically they can’t perform the way they used to, the way that’s necessary for the growth and performance of the team as a whole, so they find other ways to contribute to the profession. Look at your role. Find ways to be effective in this time of change.