Collaboration Inspiration

How do you focus change efforts to create a more collaborative and mentoring culture for both educators and students? This was the topic of the 7/13 #edchat, and it sparked quality conversation among participants.

I have worked in both self-contained elementary and middle school team teaching environments, and I truly believe that I developed as a professional, took more risks with my teaching, and became a more skilled communicator when I was a member of a teaching team. It is far too easy for educators to fall into their own, safe routines without much considering how things could be done differently. The scary this is, this routine and sense of complacency can continue for years upon end.

We embarked on the PLC journey last year in our school, and it of course was not without its bumps along the road. We got creative and ran a whole new master schedule, where grade level teams now had “specials” at the same times throughout the cycle. This allowed for two days out of six that could be earmarked as “common” planning times. Within the confines of the contracted teacher day, there was not a lot of flexibility to provide teachers with additional collaboration time. We learned about the characteristics of PLCs, developed team norms, discussed what collaboration looks like, developed team feedback sheets, etc.

In the first year, I felt as though teachers did embrace the “idea” of collaboration, and many commented that they appreciated having common planning times so they could “touch base” with one another during the day, but very few teams experienced true collaboration during these times.

Our school’s leadership team noticed this, and the reasons became clear that from the teachers’ perspective, their planning time was “theirs” and they should not be held accountable for meeting with others during that time.

While, in my opinion, there are just so many things wrong with that line of thinking, I have already addressed that concern in a prior post, so instead I ponder ways of righting that situation in a hopes of helping my teachers create a new mentality and attitude about collaborative planning. The first thing our admin team did was to schedule PLC time for each grade level team, once per month, for 1 hour at the end of the day, where two support specialists and myself covered their classes for that time. This tactic proved successful, and many of the teams truly immersed themselves in student data and planning for instruction to help meet the needs of students. The downside to this plan is that I could not be a participant in these meetings, nor could my support team.

A realization made through an interaction with Michelle Sumner @edtechdhh during #edchat was that some teachers would rather just close their doors to collaboration due to all of the personal “planning” they feel needs to get accomplished, however if they engaged in the team approach to planning, the time spent on clerical/mundane “planning” tasks would decrease significantly. I have to help them see the benefit of collaboration!

The purpose of this post is to encourage those building leaders and teachers who thrive for collaborative opportunities to keep searching outside-the-box for solutions to the lack of time and opportunities that typically plague, in particular, an elementary teacher’s schedule and resources. I established a wiki for our school to encourage collaboration within the first few months on the job- I believe we had one post. My teachers aren’t ready to collaborate in that type of environment… yet. I think as their comfort with the tools grows, we can make it work. As teachers see the value in collaborating among themselves, my sincere hope is that they will infuse the power of team thinking and doing in their classrooms with students.

Thanks for reading! I leave you with a little collaboration inspiration and please comment as to how you have achieved success with all forms of collaboration in your schools!

All Things PLC

Classroom 2.0

The Educator’s PLN

The Lesson Study Project

The Benefits of Teacher Collaboration

What is Teacher Collaboration?

Teacher Collaboration on WikiEducator

Leading the Net Gen., Part 2, Will Richardson

Will Richardson’s words, whether presented via a live session or found on his blog, Weblogg-ed, always inspire me to rethink.

Richardson stressed that we have to start rethinking our linear way of doing things. Education is in a moment of severe transition. My absolute favorite words of the day?

“Buckle up: you’re going to have to be open to the changes and shifts no matter how uncomfortable they make you.”

Richardson made the point that the shift in education is not around technology;  it’s around curriculum.  Consider the following:  if we know reading and writing are changing, what are we doing about it to change what our students are doing differently? He encouraged the educational leaders in the room to stop talking only about technology and reflect upon current curricular and instructional practices. How are we getting our students where they need to be?

As I tuned into Heidi Hayes Jacobs’ live Elluminate session last night, I realize she echos this sentiment as well. Her book, Curriculum 21, is currently sitting on my desk, waiting to be devoured.

This summer I will work to brainstorm and plan K-6 professional development opportunities for teachers in the areas of curriculum and technology, thus I appreciated Richardson’s remarks on offering PD to teachers: Don’t schedule how-to workshops; make it a prerequisite for teachers to learn the skill/tool BEFORE the workshop. At the workshop, make connections to curriculum, develop skills, and collaborate to produce meaningful, actionable plans for student learning. This recent blog post by Terry Freedman explores professional development in technology and highlights quality resources for those in tech integrator and admin roles to consult.

On a personal note, I appreciated having the chance to showcase this blog and be featured in a take-a-look-at-what-Twitter-is-all-about session in the afternoon. Richardson asked for a show of hands from those who blogged, and my lonely hand sloooowly went into the air. 🙂 I was glad it did, although at first the shock of seeing your blog plastered on three giant screens in front of hundreds of administrators is a tad bit intimidating. He offered compliments on my use of linked text and some of the content of my posts. We examined my ClustrMap, and it was affirming to see the diversity of visitors that read my blog!

The day’s take-away ideas from Richardson are that the most important aspects of successfully infusing 21st century skills into our classrooms are to model, emulate, and show the shifts in your schools. Consider your classrooms to be laboratories for learning, and realize that  in every lab, there is failure. Expect failure, yet try to mitigate it to yield positive student learning experiences.

Next year my elementary school is taking a cohort of admin and teachers to participate in Powerful Learning Practice,  “an ongoing, job-embedded opportunity built around emerging social Web technologies.” The great minds behind this endeavor are Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach.  I have confidence that the cohort I’ve selected has the enthusiasm, energy, and desire to be the catalyst for positive changes and will work collaboratively to set the stage for rethinking teaching and learning in our school. Read about the Year 1 experiences that await us.

Many thanks to both Jason Ohler and Will Richardson for an amazing day of reflection and inspiration.

Leading the Net Generation, Part I, Jason Ohler

Last week I attended a conference at IU13 – “Leading the Net Generation” – featuring Will Richardson and Jason Ohler. The conference was designed to be a two-day experience with several different presenters, but due to snow days and the school year extending into the original conference dates for most of the schools in the county, it was reconfigured into one day of immersion into the minds of Richardson and Ohler. Not too shabby! This post highlights the information shared by Jason Ohler.

Ohler began the morning with his keynote, asking us to consider, “How do we open doors for our students?” He remarked that his most meaningful teachers opened doors for him to engage in new types of learning.  Ohler also defined

Literacy- consuming and producing the media forms of the day, whatever they are

In the past, students were simply consumers of information. Now, students have Screasals (screen+easels); what some adults consider a simple phone for communication or a laptop for consumption of information, students use these tools to create! Students need to be able to write well whatever they read! Ohler goes on to explain the differences between Web 2.0, Web 2.1 (read, write, paint) and the evolving Web 3.0 – read, write, paint, THINK.

Ohler emphasized ensuring our students understand and create with visually differentiated text (from large blocks of text to collage) and need command of  the DAOW of Literacy:


Ohler also made a convincing argument for storytelling in the classroom. Since infancy, children have been engaged with story. They want information delivered in story format and respond emotionally when done so. Teachers should strive to incorporate story elements and storytelling into instruction and student initiatives. This will result in more meaningful learning!

This conference was for administrators, so naturally, we wanted to know how we can best support our teachers in these endeavors. Ohler presented the acronym CARES in summary of what administrators need to do to help teachers and students in their digital literacy and learning journeys:

Compensation – pretty straightforward (not always possible monetarily) but provide other types of compensation that make taking risks worthwhile for teachers
Assistance – provide needed resources and personal assistance; research grants and other opportunities to bring new resources to your schools
Recognition – celebrate those teachers who are taking risks with learning and literacy!
Extra time – get creative with schedules, provide opportunities for teachers and teacher teams to work on projects on company time
Support risk, pilots – if a teacher comes to you with an idea, support that risk; encourage teachers to participate in pilot programs; allow them to show you what learning opportunities are out there!

I enjoyed learning from Ohler last week and encourage all of you to explore his blog, which contains plentiful resources for educators.

We can all list reasons why not to branch out and take risks in the classrooms. Ohler’s final words:

Turn your concerns into goals.

Develop capacity in your teachers, administrative teams, students, and school community, and you can attack the concerns in a productive manner. Go forth and open doors!

Here is what we are doing right.

Started reading Leading Change in Your School by Doug Reeves on Friday. Figured I’d skim the content and garner some inspiration for the upcoming new year…. I started on page 1 and only a mere 75 pages later did I finally pause for an iced tea break.

Picture 2

One of the most meaningful concepts I’ve encountered in Reeves’ early chapters is this: Don’t start a change initiative with mighty, charismatic speeches about what will change… instead, address with your faculty those things that will not change, because they are non-negotiable pieces of educational goodness that should not change.

What does your school do well? What things must be maintained in order to bring about positive changes in your organization?

I created a Wordle showcasing the qualities of my organization that are top-notch. We are so lucky to have phenomenal students, and though improvement in certain areas is needed, we will have no problems continuing on the journey to improved academic success for students due to these qualities and skills we already possess as a faculty.

Picture 3

So the next time you need to introduce a change initiative in your school, be sure to complement your team, and encourage them to consider that the new change is not a result of all that they have been doing wrong, but rather a way to build upon all that they are doing right.

Haircuts, fresh starts, and dead weight.

Last weekend I got a haircut, and I had several inches trimmed from my length. I loved my longer hair, but as the inches grew they became less vibrant, and I realized those extra inches didn’t serve much of a purpose. Summer’s-a-coming, and this shorter new “do” made me think about what we, as educators, need to let go of this summer in order to start fresh in the new school year.

Old lesson plans? Resistance to change? Grudges against colleagues/parents/administrators?

Teachers -what standby lessons do we continue to pull out of the filing cabinet year after year, despite the fact that we know they’re becoming more ineffective as the years pass? How could we tweak our delivery and lessons to include the integration of more technology, collaborative opportunities for students, and project creation? Instead of using common planning time for cursory collaboration/complaining/housekeeping tasks, how can we use the gift of time to engage in more meaningful collaborative planning sessions with colleagues?

Administrators- the summer months are when we actually have the chance to breathe and reflect upon the year. Did we spend enough time in our classrooms this year? What structures and routines can we put into place to make sure we devote more quality time to supervision in the coming year? What tasks did we complete this year that were dead weight- just sinking us into a deeper hole we feel we can never get out of, sucking the energy right out of us?! How can we streamline our work day to make more time for what’s most important? What supports can we put into place to help our teachers and students shine and meet building initiatives? How will we empower teacher leaders to support us in these endeavors?

Summer is a wonderful time for reflection, and as it approaches, I hope you will consider how you can plan for a “fresh start” in 2010-2011!


This is for the administrators out there. The administrators who have, at one point or another, felt the way I feel now.


Emotionally drained.

Like a truck has run over you.

Convinced that no matter what we do in the best interest of students, SOMEONE will be unhappy.

Yet, mind racing. Processing and planning. Reflecting.

Today’s post is short and the message is simple: Take time to reflect. Take time to appreciate who you are, what you have, and the good things you’ve done. Because chances are, if you’re an administrator or teacher who works FOR THE CHILDREN each and every day, you’ve made more impacts upon the lives of others than you can even comprehend.

Every word you say, every decision you make, every alliance you establish… do these things in the best interests of your students, and for no other reason. Be honest. Be real. Be brave.

I’m a quotes person. Here are some that have inspired me recently. Thanks for allowing me to reflect!


Any one can hold the helm when the sea is calm. –Publilius Syrus

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit. –Aristotle

Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. -Albert Einstein

The secret of many a man’s success in the world resides in his insight into the moods of men and his tact in dealing with them. -J. G. Holland