Getting to “I Can”

Educator Kiran Bir Sethi shared this inspirational message in November 2009, so perhaps you’ve already heard the story of how she and her colleagues in India’s Riverside School empowered their students to lead change among themselves, their school, their community, and their country. I just recently viewed this talk and found her message to be so simple, so real, and so attainable that I wished to share it with you.

Sethi sought to design a process that could “consciously infect the mind with the “I Can Button.” She believed that if learning was embedded in real world contexts, thus blurring the boundaries between school and life, that children would embark a meaningful learning journey. The steps of this process involve students seeing the change, changing themselves, and then leading the change in others.

Aware – Enable – Empower

Feel – Imagine – Do

This process directly increased student well-being and allowed students to become more competent and less helpless in their own learning. I was so intrigued by Sethi’s descriptions of the authentic examples of how her students changed the perceptions of child labor in their community. Having first lived the experience, they enabled themselves to transform their own thinking. These experiences changed mindsets. They caused her students to passionately educate and lead adults in their community to understand more about this issue. And these weren’t high school students taking to the streets with their message- these were 10 and 11-year olds.

The “I Can” mindset is a shift from “teacher telling me” to “I can do it.” Isn’t this what we want for all of our students? How can we make this happen in our classrooms on a daily basis? This technique may seem well-suited for lessons involving the social sciences, but what about math? Reading? What about the pressures for students to succeed on those pesky standardized tests?

The Riverside School parents had the same questions. While they appreciated that their children were becoming better human beings, they said to Sethi, Show us the grades. As she replied in her talk, And we did. Her students outperformed the top 10 schools in India in math, reading, and science. When children are empowered, they have the tools they need to do well in all aspects of their lives and education.

The Riverside School students influenced their city to devote time and “give to the children” because in the future, the chlidren will give back to the community. As we debate over tax increases to fund our schools and deal with incessant budget crises across our nation and beyond, I sometimes think our taxpayers and politicians fail to recognize that an investment in our students’ education is an investment in human capital. We want our children to return to the communities that educated them, and use their gifts to enhance our lives in many ways. Sethi’s students inspired their communities to recognize this important fact.

Sethi ends with, Contagious is a good word.  As we work to inspire children to say, “I can,” their enthusiasm will empower us as a learning community to say, “We can.”

How will you infect your learning community this year?

Losing humanity?

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user shapeshift

I think natural fears of immersing oneself in virtual environments to learn through digital media are a) that facets of your personality will be clouded and b) there is an inability for true “human” interactions to occur. I would agree this is a possibility, but I argue that it is not a guaranteed result of working in these environments.

When I first began reading You are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier, I was skeptical that I would agree with his many points of how our society’s use of social media and technology are causing us to lose pieces of our humanity. But after reading a few of his opening thoughts,

This book is not antitechnology in any sense. It is prohuman.

and

You Are Not a Gadget argues that certain specific, popular internet designs of the moment—not the internet as a whole—tend to pull us into life patterns that gradually degrade the ways in which each of us exists as an individual.

I was on board.

These are my main take aways from the reading and the connections I see to our work with students.

We shouldn’t seek to make the pack mentality as efficient as possible. We should instead seek to inspire the phenomenon of individual intelligence.

The central mistake of recent digital culture is to chop up a network of individuals so finely that you end up with a mush. You then start to care about the abstraction of the network more than the real people who are networked, even though the network by itself is meaningless. Only the people were ever meaningful.

People are meaningful. We can’t forget that behind every tweet, blog post, Facebook status update, and 4Square check-in, is a person. A person with feelings, ideas, hopes, and dreams. I wrote about the day I decided to rename all of my Google Reader subscriptions to include the author’s name, because I wanted to associate the ideas expressed with the actual person who shared them. A child who blogs about what he has learned is the same complex human being who summarizes his learning orally in front of the class. We must ensure the responses we craft to the ideas shared by students and adults alike are respectful, constructive, and meaningful. We must model this for our students.

Much discussion has occurred regarding the pack mentality of Twitter, and how perhaps we all jump on the same sharing bandwagon, virtually high-fiving one another whenever we reiterate common themes and beliefs that drive us. I see that. Do we want our forums to become “mutual admiration societies?” No, we don’t, and we don’t want our children thinking that they have to agree with the thoughts of others simply because they’ve surrounded themselves with like-minded learners. We all need to hone the skill of expressing dissent respectfully and justifying our beliefs and ideas.

Demand more from information than it can give, and you end up with monstrous designs. Under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, for example, U.S. teachers are forced to choose between teaching general knowledge and “teaching to the test.” The best teachers are thus often disenfranchised by the improper use of educational information systems. What computerized analysis of all the country’s school tests has done to education is exactly what Facebook has done to friendships. In both cases, life is turned into a database. Both degradations are based on the same philosophical mistake, which is the belief that computers can presently represent human thought or human relationships. These are things computers cannot currently do.

We have to keep our wits about us when faced with the power of information technology. Data, data, data. Do we want our lives turned into a database? Do we want to create a data wall where a child’s performance/worth is represented by a few benchmark scores? Do we want to give every kindergartener an iPad? Do we want the successes of our schools to be reported in the percentages of students who are proficient on state assessments? Or the value of our nation based on a comparison of how our students perform on international testing measures? No. Look past the numbers. Look past the tool. See the child.

I always said that in a virtual world of infinite abundance, only creativity could ever be in short supply—thereby ensuring that creativity would become the most valuable thing.

It’s not about the technology, it’s about the learning, and it’s about what students create with the tools that matters. I think we all recognize the beauty and value in witnessing a child express her creativity in a way that only she could imagine. We owe it to our students to allow them to think and work creatively.

The excerpts I’m sharing here merely scratch the surface. Lanier explores technology’s historical developments, the social impacts of these developments and questions the merits of information freedom. It is a fascinating read.

I think we need to also consider how the use of social media allows us to be more humanistic in our interactions with the world. Without the use of social media, for example, my students and others would have more hoops to jump through in their efforts to stay informed about world events and contribute to a cause. Another recommended read is Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith’s The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective, and Powerful Ways to Use Social Media to Drive Social Change. The authors explore how passionate individuals and groups harnessed the power of social media to make extraordinary changes and impacts on our world.

There are days when I wonder what the impact to my learning would be if I allowed my connections through social media to dissipate. I have made a conscious effort to read more books (okay, they’re Kindle books), and not to spend as many hours of my week reading and commenting on blogs and tweets. I have not posted to my blog as often. This transition has caused me to feel a bit out of the loop, but no matter how far removed I become from social media, I know the technology will always allow me to jump back into the conversations when I find a relevant need to do so.

I’m human, after all.

Lanier, J. (2010). You are not a gadget: A manifesto. Knopf.

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.

Living on the edge.

Shared via Imagebase

Since much of the most relevant knowledge on the edge is tacit knowledge, edge participants naturally place a heavy emphasis on building diverse networks of relationships that will help them to collaborate more effectively with others in the creation of new knowledge. For this reason, conferences and other gatherings where participants can share stories and experiences, learn from each other, and identify potential collaborators become particularly prominent on edges. The Power of Pull (Brown, Davison, Hagel)

Do you live on the edge? Are you an educator who uses the power of pull to access, attract, and achieve in shared, passionate-filled learning spaces? Having recently attended Edcamp NYCEducon and Pete & C, with ntcamp Burlington to follow next weekend, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that the educators involved in the passion-driven organization of these events harnessed the power of pull to make these learning experiences a reality for attendees. What’s so great about gathering together in these types of learning environments? Why do so many of us count down the days until the next Educon, Edcamp, Ntcamp, ISTE…  what’s in it for us?

As our passions become our professions, we begin to see how social networks can provide us with an unparalleled opportunity to achieve our potential by allowing us to access resources and attract people who can help us while we help them. We construct our own personal ecosystems, an interesting blend of local relationships and global relationships, and a mutual leveraging occurs.

Not long after arriving in Philadelphia for Educon, I was surrounded by familiar faces. How was that possible, considering I had never before met most of those with whom I interact in the Twitterverse? Because we’ve spent the last few months…years… connecting. We’ve reached out to one another in times of need, shared our excitement and successes, and revealed personal tidbits of our lives to help connect with one another. Throughout that weekend, I was able to engage in meaningful discussions about learning (and sometimes nonsense), breaking free of the 140-character limits to really get to start to build relationships with the educators in attendance. There was much laughter, camaraderie, and a little karaoke. Once the connections are made, they require attention. Forming meaningful relationships requires time and a lot of hard work. Those of us in attendance benefited from face-to-face interactions that provided a whole new insight into the hearts and minds of our colleagues. These interactions allowed us to identify those with whom we could exist “on the edge” and continue learning from.

Edges are places that become fertile ground for innovation because they spawn significant new unmet needs and unexploited capabilities and attract people who are risk takers.

Would you describe your school as a “fertile ground for innovation?” Most would not, although I think some of us are starting to see glimpses of what is truly possible! This is because in many organizations, businesses, and schools, push is the preferred mode of operation. Teams of administrators or policy makers forecast needs based on past performance, then design efficient systems using a standardized method to ensure that the right people and resources are available to meet system goals. We push standardized curriculum, lesson plans and strategies, and learning materials onto students and teachers. Push models treat consumers as passive recipients of information, and can lead to boredom and stress among program participants. These conditions are necessary in a push environment because they yield somewhat predictable results that can then feed into the cycle of forecast planning. Push programs are important when explicit knowledge is valued over tacit knowledge. But I do not believe any of us want our students to be passive, bored, and stressed recipients of information that may or may not be relevant to their lives and learning.

Pull differs from push in that it escapes institutional boundaries, seeks to help individuals realize their fullest potentials, and values knowledge flows and experiential knowledge more so than standardized bodies of unwavering factual knowledge. The authors of The Power of Pull examine three powerful levels of pull: access, attract, and achieve:

At the most basic level, pull helps us to find and access people and resources when we need them. At a second level, pull is the ability to attract people and resources to you that are relevant and valuable, even if you were not even aware before that they existed. Think here of serendipity rather than search. Finally, in a world of mounting pressure and unforeseen opportunities, we need to cultivate a third level of pull—the ability to pull from within ourselves the insight and performance required to more effectively achieve our potential.

Pull also requires awareness of trajectory (what’s your vision?), sufficient leverage (how will we best use the passions and abilities of other people?), and the best pace (how fast will we move with these changes?) to make meaningful forward progress a reality in a world that’s constantly changing.

Sometimes it truly amazes me how I managed to assemble such a powerful learning network of educators in such a short period of time. Serendipitous encounters definitely played a role, facilitated by social media, as I know others have also experienced. We can’t be satisfied with the connections we’ve made, however, and not continue to branch out and bring new people to the edge. A comment that has often been made following an Edcamp or Educon is, “Well we’re all just preaching to the choir. Everyone here gets it.” Let’s get new people on board so they, too, can connect, build relationships, and contribute to the tacit knowledge flow that we all seek to learn from. As we increase the number of people we connect with, our ability to pull from that network grows. Doing so will help us all achieve the third level of pull, where we reach within ourselves to achieve our fullest potentials.

The subtitle of this book is How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion. And isn’t that what we’re constantly discussing, debating, and detailing? The educational reform movement is a “big thing” that we are starting to put in motion with each one of our smartly made, small moves. We have to continue to connect, build relationships, share knowledge, and live on the edge to make our collective ideas the new reality for today’s students.

Cross-posted on Connected Principals

An #edcamp experience

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Photo by SpecialKRB via Flickr

Yesterday I attended my first “unconference,” Edcamp NYC, held at The School at Columbia in fabulous New York City, which was definitely a day of learning that warrants reflection.

The session board filled up quickly upon arrival, and I’m thankful that everyone took the time to share their expertise and talents with others. That’s what this day of learning is all about.

I had the pleasure of meeting and learning from Lauren Goldberg, whose involvement with the Peers Forum for Excellence in Teaching has shaped her experiences with best practices in teaching and learning. Along with Kevin Jarrett and David Ginsburg, we discussed the current emphasis on covering curriculum and how we can shift to a curriculum design that focuses on “the big ideas,” spanning content areas and centering on student learning. I enjoyed hearing from an elementary math instructor at The School at Columbia who detailed their assessment practices: 1:1 interviews with students, portfolios with authentic student work samples, and plenty of anecdotal notes on student progress. There are two teachers in each classroom, so while one teacher leads instruction, the other transcribes the lesson, which is saved to Google docs. When it comes time to report on student progress, the transcripts of learning can be accessed by any teacher, who can draw upon students’ actual learning experiences to shape their report. Amazing!  I absolutely loved hearing about Lauren’s experience with a school-wide topic of study, and would love to bring this practice to our school. She described a school whose study topic was “India,” and every grade level, across all content areas, sought to plan experiences that helped students engage with that topic in some way. My other take-away from Lauren’s session is the list of ideals shared in their learning organization: Caring, Responsibility, Respect, Honesty, Excellence, and Joy.  The two most important ideals? In Lauren’s words, “You just can’t learn without excellence and joy.”

Next I had the pleasure of stepping way outside of my comfort zone and learning from Dr. David Timony, who declared, “Your brain is not your friend and may actually be out to get you.” Frightening, eh? Our group discussed the fallacy in learning styles, the differences between traits (characteristics of a person that are generally not going to change; the ways you look, act, things you do) and states (temporary; affected by an interaction with education). We pretty much debunked the ideas of learning styles, multitasking, and differentiated instruction (the importance of what most consider differentiated instruction “is that you’re teaching the same thing four or five different ways!”) and how some of the things we think we know, but really don’t know, about our brains are severely impacting our educational organizations and student learning. Recommended reads: Self-Efficacy, the Exercise of Control (Bandura), Polanyi’s work on tacit knowledge, and What Kids Can Do. Recommended viewing: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

I caught the end of the Skyping session led by Mary Beth Hertz and Dan Callahan, demonstrating the power of this tool in the classroom. At the start of their session they actually Skyped with an #edcampcitrus crew, and when I arrived, teams of teachers were discussing the use of Skype with students. Great resource from the session found here.

Following lunch (“Are you really going to eat that, Nick?”), it was time for Things that Suck, hosted by Dan Callahan. A popular session whose format is borrowed from Barcamp Philly, Things that Suck asks participants to consider a topic, then physically move to sides of the room indicating their stance on the topic as either “Sucks” or “Rocks.” Indifferent folks stand in the back middle. (I have to admit I spent a lot of time in the middle on most of the issues.) And then the debate ensues. Topics we discussed: the federal department of education, differentiated instruction, the current structure of schools, homework (by far the most heated, opinionated conversation- secondary English teachers represented loud and clear their ideas about homework), and your school’s discipline policy (the topic where I found myself on the “Rocks” side. Hey– I’m the principal.) A most spirited, thought-provoking session. Think of how meaningful this type of session could be in your classroom with students!

It was a pleasure meeting one of my Connected Principals colleagues, Larry Fliegelman, who agreed to moderate an end-of-the-day session with me entitled (hat tip to Deven Black), “Talk back to administrators.” How many teachers would love to candidly speak to administrators about what’s on their mind, yet don’t often have the opportunity? We wanted to give them the chance to do so by leading a discussion about the qualities of administrators that teachers most need and appreciate. We ended up hearing from Deven, David, another instructional consultant for New York City public schools, and two teachers, one of whom has served children for over 40 years. We discussed best practices in teacher supervision, the importance of administrators defining and developing vision in their schools, the absolute necessity for administrators to be visible in their schools and develop relationships with students, the struggle for administrators to put their leadership responsibilities well above managerial tasks, and the use of peer evaluations and “critical friend” reflections in professional development.

Each of the four sessions I attended were filled with insights that made me reflect upon my own practice and how our school operates. Something George Couros has taught me is that it wouldn’t be enough for me to passively soak in the wealth of information being shared; the real learning would occur when I’d take that next step and consider how I’d put into practice those ideas to positively impact my school. I’m excited to start uncovering our curriculum, designing learning experiences that focus on the big picture, trying alternative forms of assessment, helping my teachers understand the science (or lack thereof) behind “learning styles,” evaluating our differentiated instruction and homework practices, and strengthening my supervisory role and increasing teacher ownership in lesson observations and teacher professional development.

As someone who engages in frequent discussions with colleagues via Twitter, it was truly meaningful to have the chance to meet these fine educators in real life. You quickly realize, within seconds of meeting them, that they are exactly as genuine, intelligent, humorous, and engaging as their online personas make them out to be. Getting the chance to meet so many great people in my network was certainly the high point of my day. (Well, that and finding myself in such close proximity to a plate of oxtail.) I’m really looking forward to catching up with everyone (including, but not limited to, Nicholas Provenzano, Mary Beth Hertz, Kevin Jarrett, Rob Griffith, Mike Ritzius, Hadley Ferguson, Joyce Valenza, Dan Callahan, Larry Fliegelman, Deven Black, David Timony, Lauren Goldberg, and David Ginsburg) again at Educon, TeachMeet NJ, ISTE, and any other opportunities that arise! Thank you so much to the organizers of Edcamp NYC for their efforts in planning a fantastic learning experience for all.

Win the battle.

Robert Bruce Murray III - Flickr
Robert Bruce Murray III - Flickr

A few weeks ago I starting drafting a blog post titled redundancy.

I was becoming pretty flustered. I felt like I was saying the same thing over and over again. I felt like the articles, blog posts, and tweets I read and composed just yappity-yapped the same ideas. I kept thinking, “This is super… now what??”

Clearly, there are many days when I feel like Will Richardson:

But here is the thing…read between the lines in most of these descriptions and you get the sense that we see it, we want it, but we ain’t gonna get it very soon. Budgets are being cut. The people in charge don’t really see this vision. We haven’t figured out that assessment thing very well. And so on.

But as one of the “people in charge” (so I like to think), I have to muster up all of the stickwithitness in my soul to make change happen in my school. For my kids. I have to suck it up when the district officials impose more budget cuts and think creatively to do more with less.

Not all teachers are on board with the shift in thinking I’m trying to embody within our school walls. I can’t force them to collaborate. I can’t make them follow me blindly. I can only demonstrate the incredible power in sharing knowledge with one another, for the benefit of our children. I am going to provide my teachers with learning opportunities that allow them to see the benefits of autonomous, masterful learning with a purpose in action.

I have to model for them that I am passionate about learning. Every day I want to learn something new. I want to do something differently, better than I did the day before.

I will take risks, and I will fail. But I will learn from the experience. When I do fail, I know there will be people to support me.

We can do this, you know. We can, little by little, individual by individual, exalt student learning opportunities to the levels they deserve to be. There are success stories everywhere. I think of the VanMeters and the Identity Days and the Karl Fischs and Dan Meyers of the world. I think of organizations such as PLP that are raising an awareness as teachers and administrators taking on the lead learning roles in their schools. I think of my Connected Principals colleagues, who, in a matter of a few short months, have become such an integral part of my professional life. I think of the countless teachers and administrators who blog and share their experiences and make me want to be better.

Right now we’re swimming upstream in a river of redundancy. We’re not clear how we’re going to join forces to completely revolutionize education for our students, but that begs the question- can we win the war before we win the battle?

Start with you. Your school. Your teachers. Your classrooms. Your students. Your community. And for heaven’s sake, SHARE what you are doing. Help us all become better at serving our kids.

What are your plans for reform? Share them on your blog, and don’t forget to post here: http://www.wallwisher.com/wall/BRR2010 . See all contributions here: http://coopcatalyst.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/ideas/

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Now I know.

thinking

This post was written for November’s Project PLN: The Admin Issue.


I used to think students should sit in rows. (Made it harder for them to chit chat while I was imparting wisdom on them.) Now I know they should sit…stand…hang…together. (Makes it easier for them to talk and learn from one another.)

I used to think I needed to cite standards in my lesson plans. (This handy-dandy cheat sheet will help me quickly identify standard 2.1!) Now I know we should evaluate the standards, using them to guide instruction, yet allow students to pursue their passions. (What does this learning mean for you, children?)

I used to think my good ideas should stay in my classroom. (I worked hard developing those lessons!) Now I know more students will benefit from the expertise of teachers who share. (Collective genius. Sharing is caring.)

I used to think I never had enough time. (Lesson plans…grading papers…surviving…) Now I know it’s important to work smarter, not harder. (Make time for the things that matter most.)

I used to think a child who scored poorly on an assessment didn’t study hard enough. (They had a study guide one week in advance! What is the deal with that kid?) Now I know a student who doesn’t perform well on an assessment does not have the problem. (The teacher does.)

I used to think sitting down with a parent was scary. (They’re older than me! They’re parents, for crying out loud! What could I possibly know that they don’t?) Now I know talking with parents about their children is enlightening and meaningful. (Parents are tremendous assets to every school.)

I used to think in-services were an opportunity for me to address my staff about important issues. (If I’m going to wear a suit to work, I may as well stand up in front of you with this PowerPoint presentation!) Now I know that I am not comfortable spending 6 hours of the day leading professional development sessions in which teachers have little ownership. (Let them lead the way).

I used to think teacher supervision was something that happened to teachers. (Everything’s ship-shape in here. Sign on the dotted line). Now I know teacher supervision is something that happens for teachers. (I appreciate your strengths in these areas. Where can we find opportunities for improvement? I will support you.)

I used to think a child who did not follow the rules was non-compliant and clearly did not want to learn. (A rigid system of consequences will help students realize what is expected of them.) Now I know every child who demonstrates the need for behavioral supports deserves an arm around the shoulder and our relentless care. (Let’s problem solve this together.)

I used to think people who put their lives out there on Twitter were crazy people. (Okay, some of them are actually crazy people. Why would you write about what’s happening in your school?! What if your superintendent reads it?!) Now I know my involvement in social media is the most powerful professional development opportunity I’ve had in the past year. (Thank you, PLN.)

I used to think bragging about our accomplishments was pompous. (Ugh, will that teacher ever stop yapping about how great her students’ projects are?) Now I know celebrating our successes spreads good ideas like wildfire. (It ignites teaching and learning!)

I used to think I wanted to be a teacher. Now I know I was right.

And more so, now I know I want to be a learner.
(Always.)

A recipe for change

Photo by Lara604 on Flickr

(I don’t cook, so, this should be a real hoot.)

Bringing about organizational change is quite an undertaking. Reference any shelf in the business section of Barnes & Noble and hundreds of books have been written addressing the subject.

What if change didn’t have to be difficult? Maybe we’re making educational reform into one superhero-sized mess without much reason.

I’d like to think it boils down to these simple ingredients.

  • An abundant supply of eager, fantastical students, ready and willing to learn
  • A dedicated teaching staff, willing to model problem-solving, creativity, and innovation in the classroom
  • Forward-thinking administrators, willing to take risks to bring the very best to their schools
  • Supportive parents and community members, willing to trust and invest time in their schools and children’s lives
  • Government officials and politicians, willing to become educated about education
  • A network filled with inspiring, connected educators that support and build on each other’s strengths

Directions:

1. Preheat. Get excited. Cheer for stuff, have a pep rally. Look ahead, see the vision. This is exciting!!!

2. Mix together the above ingredients.

3. Work really hard, each and every day. Don’t make a decision unless it’s based upon what’s best for kids.

4. Throughout steps 1-3, Smile. Repeat. Make someone laugh. Be someone’s friend. Connect with someone new.

5. Wait. Patiently. Assess. Is it working? Are our students learning? If not, what can we do differently? If so, let’s tell someone!!

6. While engaged in Steps 1-5, go learn something new. Take a risk and try something. Be a model for ingenuity and creativity. Make a mistake, and learn from it.

Oversimplified? Sure.

Nice to imagine? You bet.

Collectively, educators are starting to create a living, breathing, actionable presence and making positive impacts to change our schools. Not all of us are fortunate enough to have true autonomy with the decisions we make that impact student learning, but every individual who works with children does have the opportunity to make changes that will indeed make a difference. We can’t forget that.

Start with tomorrow- do something differently (think: better) than you did the day before. In your classroom, in your school, in your interactions with students and parents, in your interactions with your administrators.

And don’t forget, it’s okay to enjoy one right out of the oven. 🙂

This post was composed for Tom Whitby’s REBELS Day. Please visit and read the other contributions!!

To cover or uncover?

frustrated teen student long hair adhd

The standards are here. They’ve been here. For many of us, the common core standards are coming, and the weight of their impact on our daily practice is overwhelming. Have you ever sat down, really, with that three-ring binder stuffed full of standards documentation, and read the content we’re expecting students to master in each content area, at each grade level? Do it. It’s staggering.

Teachers are presented with state standards, district curriculum maps, pacing guides, textbooks and long-term planning templates and charged with the task of covering the specified content in the most ideal time frame possible.

Is it good to have a plan? Yes, and pacing guides and curriculum maps can be fine tools to help us wrap our heads around content expectations. However, I don’t think any one of us assumes that every child will learn x amount of content given the same number of days or weeks of the year to learn it. Nothing irks me more than hearing teachers describe how they’re expected to teach lesson 2.3 on Monday, 2.4 on Tuesday, 2.5 on Wednesday, and following a day of brief review, test and move on. And as the content becomes more specialized, who’s to say that every child should learn each and every standard? Are we keeping the focus on individual student needs?

Karl Fisch adds his commentary on this topic in his recent post, What should students know and be able to do?

My bias, however, is that too often in schools we err too much on the side of content. I once heard Cris Tovani, a wonderful reading teacher in Colorado, say,

Yeah, as a teacher I can cover my curriculum. I can get to that finish line. But often when I get to that finish line and look around, I’m all by myself.

That’s even more true today, when we live in a rapidly changing, information abundant world. We live in exponential times. There’s just too much content out there.

So… should schools strive to cover content? Or rather to UNCOVER content? To allow our children to explore, question, and dig deeper into overarching concepts and apply skills learned in real-world, contextual situations?

Simply covering the content does not ensure mastery. It does not promote learning. It does not unleash the learner.

Uncovering content takes the learner on a journey from absolute knowledge, where the student plays a passive role, accepting knowledge as either right or wrong, taking all cues from the teacher….to contextual knowledge, where the learner’s knowledge is built upon evidence in context, and the student’s role is to think through problems and integrate/apply knowledge at a formal operational level. Uncovering content asks students to assume no knowledge is sure knowledge. It asks the student to embrace questioning, testing of ideas, reasoning, forming judgments, and interpretation.

So how can administrators encourage teachers to uncover, rather than cover, content? Here are some thoughts:

1. When writing , revising, and evaluating curriculum, make it a team effort. Include teachers from all disciplines and have them work together to build the foundations. Look for the logical opportunities for integration of disciplines to allow for students to make meaningful connections with the content.

2. Don’t dictate that teachers abide by strict pacing guides. Help teachers develop long-range plans that are comprehensive enough to ensure the curricular needs are met, but flexible enough to support student learners. This includes providing both additional time and intervention for struggling learners as well as compacting of the curriculum and enrichment for students who are capable of moving beyond proficiency in those areas.

3. Make assessments awesome. As we’re rethinking curriculum, we can’t forget about assessment (or instruction, for that matter). Help teachers develop formative, authentic, comprehensive, real-world assessments to evaluate student learning. Be sure self  and peer-evaluation components are included.

4. Stay afloat. Don’t drown in a sea of standards, anchors, and bullets. Consider the big picture, and encourage your teachers to encourage the development of collaboration, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills. Help them be literate. Teachers and administrators need to model for children that the process of true learning is never-ending, reflective, and powerful.

Go out and uncover something wonderful today!

Many thanks to my grad professor, Dr. Elias, who always leads us in stimulating conversations and whose words helped spark this post.