Emotions available upon request.

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user Darwin Bell

For the past two days another elementary principal and I have hosted a variety of teacher candidates in my office for round after round of interviews for long-term substitute teaching positions. These positions are for extended periods of time in order to serve during family leave absences.

That being said, while there is no contract attached to the positions, I would expect as much out of a LTS candidate as I would for a full-time, contracted teacher.

Know this.

A bit about the process:
a) candidates submit complete applications in order to pass the first level of screening- we use the service PA Educator to screen electronic apps according to criteria we set
b) out of the hundreds (yes, hundreds, for one elementary position) that pass the screening, our assistant superintendent reviews apps and sends to the principals for review apps that may be a “good fit” for the open positions
c) principals review paper copies of the candidate’s documentation: resumes, cover letters, reference letters, transcripts; we then narrow the stack and schedule interested candidates for interviews. (Note: I have an incredibly hard time discerning qualities of candidates on paper. GPAs are similar. Canned reference letters are abundant. Extracurriculars are the same. Somehow, work to make yourself shine on paper. Proofread. Twelve times.)
d) at least two admin run the interviews; depending upon length and type of position offered, central office personnel are also involved, and there may be multiple interviews

I didn’t want this post to be about the process. A lot of schools use similar methods to narrow the field of candidates. I wanted this post to be about the quality of responses I received from candidates in our interviews.

Since I was the host, I selected the questions. A few years ago our administrative team read James Stronge and Jennifer Hindman’s The Teacher Quality Index: A Protocol for Teacher Selection and worked together to develop an interview protocol for our district, including sample questions for five domains: The Teacher as a Person, Classroom Management and Organization, Planning for Instruction, Implementing Instruction, and Monitoring Student Progress and Potential. Each question’s intent is outlined, with ideal responses summarized, and rubrics guide “scoring” of candidate responses. There is a writing sample included in the protocol, as well as providing the candidate with a “prerequisites of effective teaching score.” This pertains to how experienced the candidate is, the level of professionalism exhibited, etc.

Not surprisingly, the majority of my questions came from the “Teacher as a Person” category.

That’s what I’m looking for. Genuine people.

Here are some highlights and lowlights. If you are a teacher candidate, please, read and reflect upon your current preparedness to impress your interviewers. If you are someone who works with pre-service teachers, I implore you to pass along my sentiments. Not every administrator and school is looking for the same thing. I understand that. But even my colleague and I, who have very different building climates and who were seeking different qualities in our new hires, could agree on the strengths and needs of those before us.

The Highs

  • When asked about ideal physical space for a classroom, nearly all candidates indicated the desire for students to be grouped in order to facilitate collaboration, communication, and teamwork. One candidate mentioned that group work helps students “build knowledge together.” I loved that. Many mentions of cozy spaces where kids can enjoy independent reading and learning.
  • Positive reinforcements shone through as ways to “manage” a classroom. There was not a lot of talk about elaborate systems for classroom management, or discipline.
  • Many mentions of the importance of building community and getting to know students on a personal level in order to be successful.

The Lows

  • Lack of elaboration with responses. Please provide concrete examples of how this looks in your classroom, or how it would look. Paint me a picture. Even if I don’t get time to look through your portfolio, ask if I want to see it. One of the candidates actually left her portfolio with us, and included a self-addressed, stamped envelope for us to return it to her. Genius- although, better yet, give me the link to your online portfolio.
  • Too many buzzwords, some of which included: differentiation (I throw up in my mouth a little when I hear that, UNLESS you proceed to tell me what that looks like and why you would use such a word in the first place); think-pair-share, guided reading, manipulatives, blah blah.
  • A general “Technology is so important for kids today” notion, but not being able to articulate meaningful uses for technology in the classroom.
  • When the opportunity arises to ask the interviewers questions, don’t ask anything you can find on the website or principal’s blog. I enjoyed this question: “How would you describe your school community in one or two sentences?” Happy to do so.
  • A disheartening observation: When asked to describe an instance when the candidate had difficulty with a particular child’s behavior and how it was approached, within seconds of beginning the response, there was a mention of the child’s diagnosis: ADHD, ES, Asperger’s, etc. Guess what? I don’t care what the diagnosis is. I want to learn how you responded to the needs of the child and best supported her as demonstrated by her behaviors. Done.
  • Since I’m me, I asked: “Outside of taking formal courses through college or graduate programs, what are some things you do to help you grow and stay current as a professional?” Typical responses: I read professional books. I read articles. I listen in the faculty room when other teachers are discussing education. (I am quite skeptical of the quality of those discussions 🙂 Since I sub, I get to learn about a lot of different programs and methods. Okay. So now what? Who are you going to talk to about the things you’re learning? There were zero responses that indicated any level of professional connectedness. One person mentioned going online to find ideas – but not to connect with others. We need to get our teachers connected.
  • A general lack of passion. Can some of that be attributed to nerves? Meh, maybe. Practice your responses. Talk to yourself in the mirror. This will help the nerves subside.

For the love of God, be emotional with me. Show me you want to be with my kids. Tell me. Tell me all about the activities you’ll do together. Give me details. Share your ideas with me. I won’t think you’re crazy. Be passionate in your responses. If I have to wonder, for one second, if you love kids? You’re not going to be offered a position. I can teach you programs. I can develop your content knowledge. I probably can’t transform you into a human being who loves being a teacher if you don’t inherently love doing so.

Passion is necessary. Don’t make me request your emotions -provide them, in every word, every response, every example of why you want to teach in my school.

Are you a writer? Show them.

Nate shares his Storybird about friendship with his class.

For the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to spend multiple days in many of our classrooms. Last year I wrote this post about my “principal’s visit” days and how enjoyable it was to spend quality time with students and staff.

These visits not only serve as an escape from the drudgery of office tasks, they allow me to see instructional strategies at work; how we address curriculum; the engagement of students in a variety of learning scenarios; how resources are being allocated; teacher-student relationships and peer interactions; whether schedules are appropriate; types of assessment being used; and planning processes.

There’s no better feeling than the jubilation of seeing a child excel at a task or when a teacher’s heart and love for kids lead her work with students each day. On the flip side, it’s possible for an administrator to develop a certain “gut feeling” when something doesn’t seem quite right in the classroom.

So far this year, I’ve had the chance to read interactive stories with kindergarten; facilitate small reading groups, review time concepts, and introduce Little Bird Tales in Grade 2; spend the entire day with Grade 6 inWashington, D.C.; help students create their first Prezis and collaborate using Google docs in grade 4; explore point of view through reading different versions of The Three Little Pigs (with one of my favorite tales, The True Story of the Three Little Pigswith some of our young English language learners; help students in our Life Skills classes interact with math activities on the iPad and explore phonics patterns; and analyze text structure and write collaboratively, complete small group math activities, and discuss the writing process in Grade 5. I am looking forward to time in grades 1, 3, and our special classes in the weeks ahead!

A month or so ago, Dean Shareski wrote a post entitled It’s not 1985, about the need for us to ensure our students become fluent in digital literacy, particularly in writing. That, if we continue to teach writing as we always have, we are doing a disservice to our students. I agree wholeheartedly, and one of the reasons why I so enjoyed my visit with grade 5 writing classes is because I had the chance to discuss with them my journey as a writer.

Had I taught this “lesson” a few years ago, there would have been no mention of blogs. Or digital footprints. Or comments and interactions with others. ClustrMaps. Blog analytics. Storybirds. iPhones. Facebook. Or authentic audiences.

It went a little something like this:

I have always loved writing. I filled spiral-bound notebooks with story after story. Then, when I was in middle school, my family got its first computer: an Apple II GS. And suddenly, I learned how to type. I became more prolific in my writing and could edit with ease. I learned how to cut, copy, and paste text. My pieces were more polished. So, as technology changed, so did my platforms for writing.

I showed them my blog. We talked about purpose and audience. I told them what a “digital footprint” was, and how it is shaped by everything we do online. Every photo we post or tag, every word we write. I emphasized that it is important that they control their digital footprint and make it a positive, lasting impression of which they can be proud. We talked about how I use embedded hyperlinked text, videos and images to lead my readers to other resources. I showed them my ClustrMap and Feedjit stream. They wanted to know how dots appeared in the middle of the oceans! I shared comments with them, and many of them understood the importance of quality commenting from their work with Kidblog in fourth grade. Then, I walked through the process of how I wrote my first Storybird, which I shared with them at our opening assembly. I had the idea while I was driving in my car. I didn’t have access to paper or pencil. I use my iPhone to record my ideas. Ramblings, really. I told them how my brainstorming paragraph was riddled with errors and that, when I started using Storybird, I was inspired by the amazing illustrations so much that I revised a lot of my original text. My story took on a life of its own when I engaged with the Storybird format. I shared how I shared it with my primary audience – our students and staff at an assembly, but also published it on my blog and shared with my virtual community as well.

Using my repetitive writing pattern as a model, grade 5 students have begun writing their own stories. I had the opportunity to read several of their stories, and they are beautiful. I am looking forward to working with their teacher so she can embed them on her webpage to share with families.

Do I think this conversation was meaningful for my students? Yes. I received a lovely thank you email from the teacher expressing her gratitude for taking the time to share my “story.” And isn’t that what we should be striving to do at every opportunity? Share our stories with students?

My “gut feeling” is that when we teach students to write, we do so too methodically. We sometimes allow adherence to form trump creativity. We assess according to state-issued rubrics that call for a certain structure to be followed. We “score” students on their abilities to be focused, include enough content, stay traditionally organized, use proper grammar and spelling, and use “style.” We neglect audience. We’re churning out writer-robots who spit back the format they think we want to see. We graphic-organizer-them to exhaustion.

Yes, we need to help them learn structures of writing. But we can’t stop there. We can’t repeat the same lessons year after year and expect them to produce the same types of writing over and over again. Snooze.

In a #cpchat conversation recently, we pondered, How do we know that our use of technology is improving learning opportunities for students? And we talked about the typical measures that schools/states/nations are using to determine if students are “proficient” in academic areas. Historically, our school has been high-performing on the state writing assessment. Last year we were in the top quintile of performance for schools in the state. What does that mean? That our students can write in response to a prompt, demonstrating they have control over conventions, organization, style, content, and focus?

(Incidentally, I hear many teachers state with great exasperation, Style is just so hard to teach! when we ponder over students’ lower scores in this area. Perhaps… if we allowed students’ creativity to flourish, and make it a priority… style would take care of itself? The students whose Storybirds I read were able to embrace style like they never would have on a paper-pencil assessment.)

But how would students’ command of writing on traditional state assessments translate to proficiency in digital literacy? According to the NCTE, what do 21st century readers and writers need to know and be able to do?

Today, the NCTE definition of 21st century literacies makes it clear that further evolution of curriculum, assessment, and teaching practice itself is necessary.

Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies.

These literacies—from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms—are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities, and social trajectories of individuals and groups. Twenty-first century readers and writers need to

• Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
• Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
• Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
• Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
• Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts
• Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments

Administrators and teachers, consider the influence you could have on your teachers and students; on instructional methods and curricular choices; on developing your students’ 21st century literacy skills. If you are an administrator who has discovered the importance of ensuring your students are fluent digital readers and writers, how are you modeling this in your learning organization? How are you sharing with your students?

Where’s the hype?

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user guccio@文房具社

Just a few hours ago, many of us lurked the Internets, like a bunch of goons, drooling over the prospects of Apple’s “big announcement” regarding the iPhone-5-release-but-actually-it’s-the-iPhone4S-instead-ha-we-fooled-you!-now-get-back-to-work!

Indeed.

What is the source of that widespread anticipation? A phone? Nah. How does Apple manage to leverage the loyalty of so many customers and fans in order to create such a buzz around a new product? A new idea?

And, more importantly: How can we create that hype in our classrooms?

I’m not talking about hype without justification, I’m talking about genuine enthusiasm about the “big reveal.” Hype surrounding what is yet to be learned… about what is yet to come… about what I have yet to discover I can understand and do.

How do our teachers help students develop a legitimate desire to learn more, do more, say more, be more? How do we encourage our teachers to design learning opportunities that leave students wanting more at the end of the school day? When parents ask, “What did you do in school today?”, don’t we want students belting out accolades about the day’s projects, debates, research, and collaborative interactions?

Yes. We want that. Right now, many of our students leave our schools empty-headed at the end of the day. They’re not pushed in their thinking. They’re not busting at the seams thinking about the next big reveal, or how they can get ahead of their learning to be the one who shouts, “Spoiler Alert!” before moving ahead with an idea before the “pacing guide” calls for it. (Did you ever witness that? When a teacher halts the class discussion because tomorrow’s concept is covered too soon? Painful.)

I don’t really have any answers for how we accomplish this, and I’m sure it’s different for every classroom and every school. I think engaging kids is #1. I think knowing how to design learning opportunities that embrace students’ passions and interests and allowing them to interact with peers within their own schools and with others around the world is key. We must allow them to use technology in order to facilitate learning experiences, and our teachers must partner with students to help support them, to challenge their assumptions, and to show them that they’re capable of greatness.

Apple disappointed many today, and while I’m not here to criticize their strategies (I love my iPhone and all things Apple), we need to instill in our organizations an intense need to bring on the hype. Get kids excited. Get teachers excited. Get parents and community members and board members excited and wanting more.

Then deliver.

It’s kind of magical.

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user susanvg

Yesterday was our full-day “in-service” for teachers at the building level. This is a day always filled with anticipation, nerves, and the feeling that I probably neglected to do something before the clock chimes 8 AM. But this year, a feeling of calm spread over me. The task of planning 6 hours of professional development for teachers can be daunting for a principal. But when you turn the learning over to the learner, things tend to run a bit more smoothly.

Providing teachers with the autonomy to do as they please on a day of learning isn’t something that would be met with success in any school. This type of opportunity comes only when teachers and administrators work in a culture of mutual respect and trust. For the past three years I’ve attempted to build this culture in our school, and I am now able to see the benefits of our efforts together. It was not without trials and tribulations, ups and downs, or successes and failures. But what results is special.

And it’s kind of magical.

I expressed these sentiments to my teachers yesterday. I told them that they don’t have the luxury of seeing this faculty as a whole as I do. How I notice every change in peer-peer encounter; every positive comment and word of encouragement; how formerly there were only questions raised without accompanying solutions offered; how they’re seeking out one another in times of need, when thirsting for knowledge, and using each other as resources in a collaborative learning environment.

So here are a few details about our opening day to avoid this being one of those fluffy posts void of any real information. 🙂

We started with a welcome and introductions of new staff members. My administrative assistant prepared a folder of important documents for our teachers and spent about 10 minutes highlighting the folder contents. I then wanted to get everyone moving around and discussing “life.” There is nothing that irks me more than encountering someone in the hallway after summer break and hearing the dreaded, “So, how was your suuummmmer?” question. Meh. So I turned to the intertubes to compile about 60 discussion-provoking questions. I printed them out in different colored ink, gathered strips of colored construction paper, and made sure each staff member chose a colored strip. This helped group our faculty members, and each group took turns choosing a question (“What do you keep in the trunk of your car?” “If you could be any comic book character, which would you be?”) and discussing the answers as a group. It didn’t take long before the room erupted with bursts of laughter and a lot of smiles. Mission accomplished!

I next had a responsibility to share with our staff building-wide achievement data. I compiled a simple Keynote highlighting some of our students’ accomplishments from last year, and the new approach our district is taking with data team meetings throughout the year. I stressed a sense of urgency in continuing to meet the needs of all of our learners, as well as the fact that we will all be transparent in our learning this year. All elementary buildings will be working together to enhance learning for students. I stressed that we will not equate our students to numbers. None of us should be afraid or unwilling to share our student data, successes, failures, ideas, and anything/everything related to the needs of our students. Together, we’re better.

I ended with this phenomenal clip of Michael McBride, a graduate of the Plano Independent School District, addressing 7,000 of his district’s teachers, eloquently describing how his K-12 teachers made an impact on his life. It was very moving, and I loved his message to teachers: “Act out. Misbehave! And teach with passion and excitement for every moment that you have inside the classroom and out.” Special thanks to Matt Gomez for including this video in a recent blog post! Made my day when I found it.

It was kind of magical.

“Wait, Lyn, what about the laundry list of informational items you have to share with teachers on Day 1? Schedules, lunch and recess routines, important dates, blah, blah, blah?” I’m blessed with a faculty full of teachers who are capable of reading print. This….is huge. 🙂 What that means is that I have the luxury of providing informational items in print for them to peruse and approach me with questions if necessary. About a week prior to opening day, I compiled a Google doc (it was a lengthy one, but I made them aware via email that it was a very important read) filled with informational items for teachers to read and consider before our meeting day. They were asked to email me with any concerns or questions. If a question arose several times, I knew it should be addressed whole-group. The only topic we discussed in our opening meeting was our changes to recess and lunch schedules. I was able to anticipate this need since teachers had the information ahead of time, and one teacher emailed me specific questions which helped guide our discussion. I received compliments that teachers enjoyed having that information in one place to refer back to as needed, and since it’s a living document, I can add/revise as needed.

Magic, indeed.

So, there I was, a full hour and 1/2 ahead of schedule. I was so thankful I now could provide my teachers with more time to meet in their teams. They used it wisely. I circulated about the building, peeking my head into various team meetings. Every conversation I encountered and work being done was meaningful in preparation for students’ arrival on Monday and the year ahead. Why don’t we trust our teachers with their time? Why do so many administrators feel as though they must dictate every second of teachers’ time on PD days? I can’t wrap my head around that.

We enjoyed a pizza lunch together. I’ve found having lunch together on this day to be a very important component of the team building process! We have a fabulous food services department who provides us with everything we need.

Then… the afternoon… the unconference! We’ve done differentiated professional development previously, including a Fed-Ex day and various teacher-led sessions during a district-wide technology day. In the past I would come up with a list of session ideas, plan the resources, run some of the sessions, etc. This time, I took a piece of blue poster board, whipped up an informal edcamp-inspired session board, placed some notecards on a nearby table, and asked teachers to sign up their conversation/session ideas to fill up the board. We had three session slots for the afternoon, and each session was filled with two or three options for discussion. We’re not a huge school, so it worked very well. I was especially blown away by the Daily 5 group that amassed in our kindergarten teacher’s room. The teachers are so excited to start this initiative this year! And where did the idea stem from? Not me. One of the teachers shared with me her Daily 5 conference experience this summer, and I thought it would be great to include others in learning more about it. In about one week, a “study group” had formed, so I ordered books for teachers. Word quickly spread, and now the study group includes representatives from all grade levels and special areas, too. Impressive.

And magical.

Last night on Twitter two of my teachers offered words of encouragement in regards to this structure of professional learning. I hope it’s okay with them that I’m sharing.


So… where do we go from here? Despite some constraints on our time this year with central-office scheduled data team meetings, I will continue to work to provide opportunities for my teachers to collaborate together. We will use those data team meetings to springboard conversations about teaching and learning and how we can best serve students. I will provide time for my teachers to spend time observing one another and discussing what they see.  Many of my teachers have discovered the value of developing a professional learning network, and I believe their influence will help others reach out to our colleagues around the world to help bring new ideas into our school. I will provide support in any way I can- through monitoring and walkthroughs, allocating time, materials and resources to their efforts, to celebrating their successes and being someone they can confer with in times of concern.

I know my days here will only become more meaningful as soon as the children walk through the doors on Monday morning, but I’m very much encouraged by the learning my faculty and I shared yesterday. Wishing all of you a magical year!

Out with professional development, in with professional learning.

Image by Doug Johnson

As a classroom teacher I engaged in several years of “professional development” before transitioning to a role of technology specialist, my first opportunity to design and facilitate learning sessions for my colleagues. Now as a building administrator, I often think back to the PD I experienced as a teacher.

There are very few instances I can recall with clarity. I can’t tell you most of the the topics discussed. I fail to recall activities we completed. What this indicates, to me, is that I was not a learner in those instances. I do have a rather clear picture in my memory of the workshops offered by Apple trainers when we were learning to use our new MacBooks. Perhaps those days are memorable because I’m a Mac-junkie, but more likely, it’s because I was an active participant in my learning on these occasions. We completed projects. We collaborated in teams. We were given autonomy and owned the day. We learned.

Consider the last time you experienced professional development offered by your school or district. Were you engaged in learning? How do you know? How did your learning impact your practice and influence student learning outcomes?

Learning Forward, formerly known as the National Staff Development Council, has undergone an important shift in focus and message: from one of development to one of learning. Stephanie Hirsch, Learning Forward’s Executive Director, reported in Education Week on the council’s release of the newly revised Standards for Professional Learning.

These standards call for a new form of educator learning. The decision to call these Standards for Professional Learning rather than Standards for Professional Development signals the importance of educators taking an active role in their continuous development and places emphasis on their learning. The professional learning that occurs when these standards are fully implemented enrolls educators as active partners in determining the content of their learning, how their learning occurs, and how they evaluate its effectiveness. The standards give educators the information they need to take leadership roles as advocates for and facilitators of effective professional learning and the conditions required for its success. Widespread attention to the standards increases equity of access to a high-quality education for every student, not just for those lucky enough to attend schools in more advantaged communities.

The standards are of great interest to me as an administrator who is charged with planning and implementing professional learning opportunities for my teachers and staff. In particular, I was curious to see how the standards addressed the need for educators to connect and collaborate with other educators in a variety of ways to enhance learning opportunities. I wanted to know:

How do these standards guide educators in “taking an active role in their continuous development”?

Is there a balanced approach that includes and respects teachers’ desires to individualize learning through professional learning network connections?

Is there ample opportunity for teachers to own their learning, supported through the typical professional development structures of a school system?

Hirsch’s quote in bold is quite meaningful. I appreciate that the standards focus on teachers as learners. Teachers are not to be treated as vehicles through which schools deliver programs and policies. This, in my opinion, has been the focus of traditional professional development frameworks for way too long.

Teachers, like students, are first and foremost individuals who have passions, interests, and an inherent desire to learn. The goal for administrators should then become how to foster the learning spirit in each and every one of our teachers through a system of learning opportunities that cater to their individual needs. This, in turn, will ignite a true excitement for learning in our teachers, which will transfer into their practice. The result? Students who spend their days with teachers who exhibit a true desire to grow professionally and who model that learning matters.

The revised standards emphasize collaboration & community

Educators can access the Standards for Professional Learning via Learning Forward’s website. They are organized into 7 domains:

Learning Communities: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students occurs within learning communities committed to continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and goal alignment.

Leadership: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students requires skillful leaders who develop capacity, advocate, and create support systems for professional learning.

Resources: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students requires prioritizing, monitoring, and coordinating resources for educator learning.

Data: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students uses a variety of sources and types of student, educator, and system data to plan, assess, and evaluate professional learning.

Learning Designs: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students integrates theories, research, and models of human learning to achieve its intended outcomes.

Implementation: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students applies research on change and sustains support for implementation of professional learning for long term change.

Outcomes: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students aligns its outcomes with educator performance and student curriculum standards.

Am I thrilled to see that Learning Communities is a component of the standards? Absolutely. As I addressed in my recent Reform Symposium presentation, Teachers as Learners, adult learning is enhanced through collaborative opportunities with colleagues that focus on shared passions, visions, and goals. Learning Forward describes learning communities as necessary to ensure continuous results for students, the development of collective responsibility, and the achievement of goals.

Within this domain, it is encouraging to see the standards highlight technology use as an integral way to form and foster a virtual learning community:

While some professional learning occurs individually, particularly to address individual development goals, the more one educator’s learning is shared and supported by others, the more quickly the culture of continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and high expectations for students and educators grows. Collective responsibility and participation foster peer-to-peer support for learning and maintain a consistent focus on shared goals within and across communities.

 

Technology facilitates and expands community interaction, learning, resource archiving and sharing, and knowledge construction and sharing. Some educators may meet with peers virtually in local or global communities to focus on individual, team, school, or school system improvement goals. Often supported through technology, cross-community communication within schools, across schools, and among school systems reinforces shared goals, promotes knowledge construction and sharing, strengthens coherence, taps educators’ expertise, and increases access to and use of resources.

This component is often neglected in typical “professional development” plans offered by school systems. How can we work to include more variety in the types of learning communities we’re forming and supporting? This coming year several of my teachers are working to implement The Daily 5 framework into their literacy blocks. I purchased books for them to read, and they will be meeting in study groups and observing classrooms throughout the year to support one another.

But some of my teachers took their learning a step farther. This week I was so pleased to see some of them engage in the #daily5 hashtag chat on Twitter. I had no idea they knew about the chat (I didn’t!), yet they sought out support and felt the desire to collaborate with other teachers who have experienced implementation of this framework. I watched as they shared ideas and knew they were indeed learning from this experience. This wasn’t dictated by our PD plan. It was something they had a passion for learning more about, and they used their PLN to facilitate their learning in this area.

I am also pleased that Leadership is a component of the Learning Forward standards. The Standards state that Leaders of professional learning are found at the classroom, school, and system levels. For far too long we have neglected to recognize our own teachers as experts in the field. Our teachers need to be given the opportunity to lead learning for their colleagues. It is essential to allow teachers to run district and school workshops and design and implement their own PD. How is this supported?

To engage in constructive conversations about the alignment of student and educator performance, leaders cultivate a culture based on the norms of high expectations, shared responsibility, mutual respect, and relational trust.

What do we need professional learning to be?

We need teachers to

  • be active participants in the learning process, one supported through a culture of trust
  • determine what content is important to learn
  • decide how they will best learn and implement this content
  • collaborate with others in communities of learning
  • assume leadership roles in the learning process
  • evaluate how effective their learning has been, including systemic reflection

To become more familiar with the Standards for Professional Learning and how they can support the frameworks you develop for teacher learning in your school, I recommend reading the research-base supporting each component, as well as checking out the FAQs and More FAQs shared by Learning Forward.

If you are a teacher, how will you take ownership for your learning this year? How will you communicate your needs to your administrators? If you are an administrator, how will you design and implement opportunities for your teachers to learn this year?

Written for the Powerful Learning Practice Voices blog. Originally posted on August 18, 2011.

I learned to love to read.

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user alex.ragone

Sometimes we as administrators take for granted how easy it is to contact a teacher during the instructional day. Call the room. Leave a personal voicemail. Email them. Send a Skype message. While the lines of communication are open, they can also potentially interrupt instruction and learning. Flashback to the early 1980s, when I was in first grade. My teacher, Mrs. Koller, whom I adored, needed to step outside into the hallway to have a conversation with another staff member. Times were different then… no one had to arrange for coverage by a certified teacher to watch her class of  sprightly six-year-olds. We would be just fine on our own.

I can still picture very clearly in my mind where we were sitting when the other teacher popped her head in the door to get Mrs. Koller’s attention. My classmates and I were seated criss-cross-applesauce on the carpet. Mrs. Koller was seated in her rocking chair, the place from which she engaged our minds and hearts by reading aloud to us. When her colleague requested her attention, she had a variety of options. She could have had us talk quietly to our neighbors until she returned. She could have asked us to return to our seats and complete another task. She could have given us no directions and allowed the free-for-all to ensue. 🙂

Instead, she looked at the group of students seated patiently at her feet. She handed Charlotte’s Web to me, and said, “Lynmarie, I would like you to continue reading to the class. Please sit in my chair!”

My heart swelled with pride. My mind raced! Would I be fluent enough for my classmates to understand me? Would I be able to hold their attention? I pulled myself onto what felt like the world’s most distinguished chair, and confidently read the next several pages of the story to my classmates. I remember feeling so incredibly proud that she chose me for this task. Perhaps it was because I was seated near the front of the circle. Perhaps it was because she was confident in my abilities to read the text. For whatever the reason, it is one of my most cherished memories from elementary school.

She trusted me. She empowered me. She believed in me. I always loved stories, but when Mrs. Koller handed that book to me, I learned to love to read.

#schooldidagoodthing

Thanks, @thenerdyteacher, for encouraging us to take the time to remember and share the wonderful things school has done for us!

#iKnowaTeacher…

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user Warm 'n Fuzzy

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week! While those of us who have the privilege of working with phenomenal teachers on a daily basis may have planned a little extra something extra to show our gratitude this week, it’s become apparent that many across our nation display an unfortunate, somewhat negative perception of teachers, with little regard for their tireless work and care they show our children each day.

Bill Ferriter shared this post with me, written by John Holland, #iKnowaTeacher -A Teacher Appreciation Meme, and I share it here in the hopes that we can begin to flood the Twitterverse with snippets of recognition for the teachers in our lives. As John writes,

The Gallup poll describes that 77% of Americans gave their local schools a grade of A or B while 18% of respondents assigned schools nationally a similar grade. What this poll tells me is that the American public has been swayed by a narrative. There are all kinds of reasons for statistics like this and why we shouldn’t trust them. The explanation for this graphic that I favor is that there is a mask  that the public sees when it thinks of the collective idea of teacher but when the public is asked about their child’s school or teacher, they see specific faces of specific people.

Everyday for the next week I will post on twitter about some specific teachers I know and the valuable, caring, life changing, and important work they are doing. Of course there are negative examples of teachers too but, these examples always get attention. I want to change the focus, the narrative. Tell me about the teachers you know that are working to give students the education they deserve.

I encourage you to post stories of those specific teachers who have touched your lives and the lives of others. For those of you that are not Twitter-users, please make the time to call, email, write a letter, or speak personally to a teacher who has changed your life and/or the life of a child. Let’s help change the narrative….

#iKnowaTeacher who encouraged his students to summarize their learning through artistic expressions, helping the students make connections with the content.

#iKnowaTeacher who allowed her students’ desire to change the world transform their classroom practices for the year.

#iKnowaTeacher who refused to allow his students to sit passively in class, but rather engaged them in discussion about chemistry, keeping them on their toes and setting the bar high, always expecting more.

#iKnowaTeacher who planned a day of positive thinking to celebrate the beautiful gifts and talents of every child.

#iKnowaTeacher whose love of literature shone through in every lesson, which sparked an interest in the same in his students.

#iKnowaTeacher who drove his government students to an off-site location on a tip that President Clinton would stop there after his visit at a local university; who helped them make a giant sign to attract the President’s attention, and who smiled alongside the students as the official White House photographer snapped the group’s photo with the President.

Sharing is contagious!

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user Funchye

Last year I spent some time throughout the school year snapping photos of student work that was displayed in the hallways and classrooms, creating slideshows using PhotoPeach, and posting “I Spy” tours of our student learning displays on our school websites to share with parents.

I Spy, March 5! on PhotoPeach

I admit that I have not been posting these slideshows regularly this year, and today I made a commitment to do so, because there is so much fantastic learning going on in our school! But then I considered why I didn’t feel as compelled to do this.

It’s not because what I see in the hallways or classrooms is any less enthralling or interesting than it’s been in the past … it’s because more teachers and students are sharing student work and learning themselves! It’s like we’ve all been infected with some sort of wonderful, crazy, addictive sharing disease that is spreading like wildfire throughout our school!

My teachers have grown so much in their willingness to engage students in different types of learning experiences throughout this year. Much of our increased ability to share student work can be attributed to the use of social media and the integration of new tools to enhance student engagement with the content.

Our primary students have created Voicethreads and teamed up with intermediate grade reading buddies to create digital stories with Little Bird Tales. They’re trying Voki, Skyping with virtual pen-pals (check out their visitor map!), and have really been dedicating time to writing on their blogs. We’re sharing our school events with descriptive slideshows.

Intermediate students have been broadening conversations with Today’s Meet, working with Xtranormal, garnering input for math data projects with Google forms, and creating Voicethreads. We’ve jumped into collaborating with Google Docs and students use Glogster to summarize their learning. They’re engaging in conversations with their families and visitors around the world! One of our fifth grade classes created a video tour of our school to share with their Oregon penpals, and some students even participated in our staff Sharing Showcase last week! I’ve seen some very eager Prezi creators, and enjoyed reading these Kidblog reading reflections. Our school “newspaper” has been moved online to help easily share our students’ writing and project work. Parents and teachers can more easily comment on what’s happening!

 

The benefits of sharing are endless. Parents have a wide open window into classroom happenings. Students are connecting with other teachers and students throughout our country and world. Students are active, engaged, and motivated learners in these experiences.  Teachers’ and student excitement is spreading…

Initially, I believe the teachers that felt comfortable risk-taking and trying new ideas with students were hesitant to share their joys about the process, for fear of “bragging” or looking they were trying to out-do their grade level colleagues. Similarly, I think teachers were timid about sharing the struggles they experienced throughout the change, worried that their frustrations might dissuade other teachers from taking risks themselves. We need to overcome this mindset. We need to encourage growth in ourselves and others.

Reading Shelley Wright‘s post this morning, I knew I immediately would share her words with my teachers, because her message to Improvise, Learn, Don’t Regret is one that I want my teachers, and students, to embrace. She has taken the time to document her journey into project-based learning and share that experience with all of us. We have gained insight, perspective, and appreciation for the process because she has done so. This doesn’t happen without honest transparency.

Thank you, Justin, for the challenge to share the wonderful things happening in our schools! We all need to spread the sharing bug… it’s an ailment worth enduring!

Three simple steps on a never-ending journey.

If it is one-of-those-days (weeks, months), and you are in need of inspiration, please watch Sarah Kay’s TED talk, If I should have a daughter.

Sarah is a spoken word poet and a gifted storyteller. She shares some very meaningful lessons with us through her talk, lessons that while simple in design, require commitment to achieve. She detailed three steps to embark on the journey of achieving life’s goals:

Step 1: “I can.”

Step 2: “I will.”

Step 3: Infuse the work you’re doing with the specific things that make you you, even when those things are always changing.

She challenged the audience to list three things they knew to be true, and explained that in leading this exercise with her Project V.O.I.C.E. students, participants realize that they often share items on the list; they have very very different items on the list; there are things listed that some participants have never before encountered; and there are list items that a participant thought they knew everything about before seeing the concept through another’s perspective. She stressed the importance of using experiences you have collected to help you dive into things you don’t know, and I was so moved by her sentiment, I try to walk through life with palms open, so when beautiful amazing things fall out of the sky, I’m ready to catch them.

Educators have the ability to help students realize they can. We possess the determination to help students act- they will. We owe it to our children to ensure they’re able to infuse their passions into life and learning experiences, because, as Sarah tells us, Step 3 never ends.

What do you know to be true? What do your students know to be true? Is your school a place where your students and teachers can discover, un-discover, and rediscover the things they know to be true and meaningful in their lives?

Crossing the finish line.

 

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user iman Khalili

It’s not whether you win or lose… it’s how you run the race.

Jonathan Martin provided us with a detailed summary of his reflections after viewing Race to Nowhere, a documentary film that highlights the lives of high school students, parents and families, and teachers and administrators, all in the context of a system that is broken and failing our children. As Jonathan stated, it is “emotionally manipulative,” and the first sentence of the About the Film description on its website indicates that it indeed features “the heartbreaking stories of young people across the country who have been pushed to the brink, educators who are burned out and worried that students aren’t developing the skills they need, and parents who are trying to do what’s best for their kids.”

I didn’t know what to expect from the film, and I actually wasn’t prepared to take notes, but about 20 minutes in, I knew that I needed to write a reflection on the film’s contents. I covered the fronts and backs of scrap pieces of paper I had in my purse with seemingly incoherent scribblings. (I had owned my iPhone for about 1 hour prior to attending the screening, so, unlike Jonathan, was not yet skilled at taking notes on my phone in the dark. 🙂 The quotes below are my reflections as I remember them and may be paraphrased.

These are my take-aways:

On happiness:

  • Children are trying to balance lives that few adults would be comfortable balancing. Something that resounded with me was a student explaining how people always want to know from her, Aaand… “I’m a member of the student council.” And? “I have straight A’s.” And? “I play sports.” And? Why aren’t you doing any community service??!
  • We are basing students’ successes not on how happy they are, but rather on a systemic assumption that they need to get into a good college and make a lot of money, which will lead to happiness.
  • Why cant happiness be a metric used to determine the success of our schools? Why just reading and math scores? Focusing on academics alone does not respect the child.

On accountability:

  • We have a “tremendous preoccupation with performance.”
  • Our educational system is an inch deep and a mile wide. What is important is NOT “knowing a whole bunch of things.”
  • We’re always preparing kids for “what’s next.” Think about it: “In middle school, you will have to do X, so in sixth grade, we’re going to make you do X to prepare you.” “In fourth grade, your teachers will expect you to write in cursive, so in third grade, we’re going to learn cursive.”
  • Due to the pressures of No Child Left Behind, we teach students formulaically so they can pass a test, but if they encounter something unlike that which is on the test, they fall apart. The tremendous pressure to produce leaves out time for critical processing. Cheating has become “like another course.”
  • Kids want to know exactly what’s on the test and not go beyond it. We give them study guides! We base our teachings off of those guides!
  • Teachers feel like “yes men” doing what the district, state, or government wants, even if it’s not best for kids. One teacher cited the example, “like teaching them what a semicolon does.” She went on to explain the need for us to teach students critical thinking, problem solving, and how to work in groups. This passionate teacher explained that she wants for her students to be learners. She stressed that if you’re not teaching what you love, you can’t do this job. “I’m a mother to my students. I see them more than they see their families.” This teacher’s frustrations with the system and feelings of helplessness eventually caused her to resign.
  • The tutoring industry has exploded because we are treating all kids like they need to be in the top 2 percent academically. Children are nervous about upsetting and disappointing their teachers if they don’t perform. And that they may “lose recess” for incomplete work.

On homework:

  • “At what point did it become okay for school to dictate how a child will spend time outside of school?” It’s not about learning anymore.
  • There is no correlation between homework completion and academic achievement in elementary school. (This was my absolute favorite line of the movie.) In middle school, there is a slight correlation, but past 1 hour of homework, it lessens. Past 2 hrs of homework time in high school, the effect lessens. Reference made to Sara Bennett’s and Nancy Kalish’s work, The Case Against Homework.
  • We all need to educate ourselves about the effects of homework. Why do we insist upon assigning it? Teachers think it’s necessary to cover content. Parents expect it.

On passion-based learning:

  • Our kids have grown up in a “world of training wheels” and have been coached from a very young age. They don’t realize they can fall off the bike and pick themselves up.
  • Instead of taking 5 classes, think, here are 3 classes I’m really interested in taking. One student expressed his belief that college is going to be a place where I “start to learn.” What does that say for his high school experience?
  • “Smart” has so many different meanings. The system is ignoring a great group of kids that is talented artistically, visually-spatially, etc. “Absolutely no appreciation for that kind of talent, or thinking.”
  • What creates the opportunity to be innovative? What does it take to create a creative human being? Children need time, so we must provide that downtime. Play is children’s work. It’s a tool to figure out how the world works. They’re not able to figure out what they love to do or find their passions without that freedom.

I was surrounded by a very emotional audience at the screening I attended. The movie was shown in the high school auditorium of a neighboring school district, one whose name is synonymous with wealth and high academic achievement. We have often looked to this district for ideas about how to implement programs and structure schedules due to their documented successes. The parents in the audience were likely those of high school students, and it was clear, from only 30 minutes into the film, that they would start to reconsider the types of discussions they would have with their children about learning and achievement. I wonder how this movie’s message made them view their roles differently?

There was a member of the audience with whom I’ve interacted on several occasions in her role as consultant. She has spent hours with our administrative team, reviewing the RtII framework, discussing data at great lengths, and yet, her best intentions noted, not once did we mention a child by name, or discuss actual, meaningful learning. I wonder how this movie’s message made her view her role differently?

The president of my parent-teacher organization approached me about the film and asked if I thought it would be beneficial for her to view. I agreed it would be, and she is taking a group of our parents to see the film in a few weeks. I wonder how this movie’s message will cause them to view their roles differently?

One of my colleague principals had a chance to view the film, and I feel it’s important for us to share our thoughts with the rest of our administrative team. I wonder how this movie’s message will cause them to view their roles differently?

I’m actually overwhelmed composing this post, as I decipher my notes to try to articulate just exactly what I’m feeling about this film’s message. I agree with the conclusions shared at the end of the movie that we need to rethink how we “do schooling.” What do we want to invest in? What matters most? The quality of teaching is what matters most.

We have to start asking ourselves how films like this, articles we read, success stories we hear, problems we encounter, and convictions we hold cause us to think differently. And then we have to do something about it.

There is no easy fix to the flaws in the system, because the inherent problems are so complex. But there is so much that we are doing right in schools across the nation and beyond. What I’d love to do is create a Race to Nowhere-esque documentary that captures and celebrates the extraordinary learning that’s going on within and outside of our classrooms each day. (Many of us do this with our blogs. But is it enough?) We need to share our successes with a wider audience. We need to inspire each other and start to build a collective body of knowledge that can help lead us in the direction of a finish line worth crossing.