Click on any of the above links to register. While much will be shared to guide the administrator in learning more about these topics, teachers and other educators are encouraged to attend. Hope to see you there!
A short while ago I posted Learning as Leaders, a personal reflection of my experiences with our state’s PA Inspired Leaders (PIL) initiative. Our state enlisted the services of National Institute for School Leadership, NISL, as one of two curriculum providers for our state’s program. NISL has “worked with Pennsylvania to develop state standards for school leaders, design training programs that give participants the skills to meet these standards, and create assessment tools that measure the effectiveness of the program.”
Apparently at least one person reads my blog, because the post and its contents found their way to the PA Department of Education and supposedly to the NISL folks in Washington. The PIL program leader contacted me the week after my post was published and asked me to call him to discuss my experiences.
I nervously called the program leader, not sure how the organization would view my constructive criticism. We had a great conversation, and he shared that he and others had been working to ensure the program could continue to be funded for the future. He closed by asking me to put together my ideas for how the program could become more collaborative/networked in nature and meaningful for participants.
I think this is a really exciting opportunity, and I’m pleased that I have the chance to share my thoughts on this issue, even if the ideas never come to fruition. That being said, I know some folks at PDE and NISL are likely bothered by the fact that I publicly reflected upon my program experiences. I’m okay with that, because, honestly, we’re asked to put our feedback in writing after every single session. The evaluation form asks participants to rate the facilitator, the session’s organization, content, etc. on a Likert scale, and I’ve watched my table mates simply check off boxes to be able to get out of the room in a timely manner. Many do not leave descriptive feedback in the comments sections. I know there are other participants who share my sentiments, whether they chose to express them on those evaluations or not. My reflections found an audience, and for that I am grateful, especially if it helps to bring about positive change.
I’d like to reiterate that the NISL program content is very powerful, and I’ve been able to apply many of the concepts learned in my work as an administrator. The course organization and content delivery, however, assume that all administrators in the PIL program are in need of the exact same type of professional development, delivered in a one-size-fits-all-we’re-going-to-lecture-to-you-now mode. That has been my experience.
The online content portal lacks depth and includes no capabilities to connect with other course participants. I’d be interested to know how many principals actually spend time engaged with the online material. It includes specified areas for reflection- a “journal” if you will- but the mechanisms for doing so are cumbersome and do not allow for a continuous flow of reflective thoughts to enhance practice. The inclusion of a reflective mechanism for both individual reflections and those that could be shared with colleagues across the state would be very beneficial.
And while the issue of “powering down” during training sessions was irksome to me, and while most of the administrators and PIL facilitators I encounter in face-to-face PD sessions are not yet utilizing technology tools to facilitate their own learning experiences let alone the learning of others, the changes necessary to better connect administrators across our state and develop cohesive networks of school leaders are going to necessitate the use of internet-based, social media and communication tools.
In my PIL experience, some facilitators were able to better engage participants than others. Those facilitators planned opportunities for meaningful participant-talk time. As I stated in my previous post, most of us are just longing to have the time to speak with other administrators and learn how they are handling issues and strategizing in their schools. Our PIL cohorts are localized mainly to our county, with a few principals from neighboring counties in attendance. Imagine the power if we connected PIL participants across the entire state via social networks and created the mechanisms for true learning communities to blossom?
Over my past five years in educational administration, no matter how many principals I speak with, no matter if the principal works in a small rural school or a bustling urban district, and whether he has 2 or 20 years in the principalship, one thing remains certain: administration can be a lonely gig. To be the most effective leaders we can be, we need access to one another. We need to develop strong networks of support, resources, and knowledge. There is great value in developing personal and professional learning networks. More and more educators are starting to realize this, and they’re learning to use digital tools to take advantage of the wealth of knowledge that exists in the minds and hearts of educators around the world. Consider, too, that the U.S. Department of Education has declared August Connected Educator Month and has worked with a number of learning organizations to plan and share webinars, online professional development, and opportunities for collaboration among educators worldwide. I have professionally benefited from being a connected educator, and I know many of my administrative colleagues have as well. There is power in the network.
So, where does that leave us with planning professional development for educational leaders?
I’d love your help. I’m asking my fellow administrators and educational leaders to please take a few moments of your time to reflect upon your own professional development experiences and share them with me through the survey below. Direct link here. Also feel free to email me firstname.lastname@example.org and/or send your thoughts via tweet @l_hilt.
Your honest feedback on learning as an educational leader and the conditions necessary to yield the most powerful professional development possible will help me craft my ideas to share with PDE. I greatly appreciate your time and involvement in my PLN! Many thanks.
One week ago I attended the first Edcamp Leadership, held in Monroe, NJ. The event was attended by a lot of friendly folks from New Jersey and surrounding areas, including administrators, teachers, tech integrators, curriculum specialists, and other fine educators. I was especially excited to meet valued members of my PLN Akevy, Shira, and Jason for the first time!
For those of you unfamiliar with the Edcamp model, the day’s learning sessions are created and presented by the event attendees. Participants sign up on the “board” to share sessions throughout the day. Attendees then choose from the menu, and the “vote with your feet” rule applies: if you don’t like the session you’re in, up and leave and head to another session. There’s a focus on conversation and making sure the day is meaningful for you as the learner.
I attended a number of sessions, ranging from learning more about Evernote and its use in schools to a discussion about personal preconceptions and how they shape our supervision and evaluation of teachers. Here are some highlights of the sessions I attended last week.
Evernote – There are a lot of uses for Evernote in schools, most of which I’ve never fully explored. I mainly use Evernote for personal notetaking, thankful I can access my notes from any device. I will sometimes use the web clipper, but again, I’m not sharing my clippings with the world. I asked the Twitterverse how they’re using Evernote in schools, and many admin chimed in that they use them for note-taking during observations and walkthroughs, which can then be shared with staff (and some even include photos). Our session facilitator referenced Nick Provenzano’s Epic Evernote Experiment, which I recommend to any teacher interested in learning more about how to use Evernote with students in the classroom.
Google Sites for ePortfolios – I stopped into a session about the use of Google Sites since we are a Google Apps school, and I’d like to encourage the use of portfolios for student use. This Livebinder of resources was shared.
#satchat – Brad Currie and Scott Rocco began #satchat to involve educators in rich discussions of educational topics. Held Saturday mornings at 7:30 AM EST (thus my struggle to attend on a regular basis ;)), the Brad and Scott are passionate about learning and leading and did a fine job facilitating a session about the power of the PLN. To learn more about #satchat and the tools and features they use to support this endeavor (such as Storify, which I used only once, but found I really like), check out this post.
He, She, They, We: Tools for Faculty Evaluation and Development with @DrTimony – I always try to attend David’s sessions, because he’s wicked smart and I go in hoping some of his intellect will jump off of him and land on my shirt or my shoes or something and somehow seep into my brain. Our central question was, “How do our unspoken perceptions influence evaluation before decision-making occurs?” He referenced Michael Polanyi and tacit knowledge and its impact on our supervisory roles of teachers. We talked about good design and how something that is designed well requires few, if any, instructions to work it properly. How do our inherent feelings lead us to reasoning (making excuses to ourselves); how do our pre-cognitive decisions made by our brain (our brain is out to get us, I remember that clearly from EdcampNYC) force us into an agenda our brain has already put in place? When we start to process our perceptions, we start to make good headway. We can then intervene on our pre-cognitive decisions and prejudices. And while we can’t always change our prejudices/feelings that we have, we can use mechanisms to help us deal with them. We discussed frameworks for supervision and evaluation and the tools we could use to ensure we’re observing in an objective, constructive manner. Shira suggested asking four nonjudgmental prompts during walkthroughs to assist with this process: “I Notice, I Wonder, What if?, How might?” These questions help shape reflections and conversations following the learning walks.
David continued to stress the importance of observing in a purely supervisory role, not evaluative in any way. I struggled with this concept, because as an administrator, truly everything I see in a classroom could be taken into account in an evaluation. Do I think supervision needs to exist in its truest form to promote professional learning? Definitely, but it’s really hard to make that distinction sometimes. I know other administrators share that sentiment. On the whiteboard David reminded us Supervision = Coaching; Evaluation = Judging.
Many participants shared that they became uncomfortable when being observed, whether by a single administrator, a team of observers, or by peers. One teacher said her students “froze” when the admin team walked in with their laptops. That, to me, indicates a bigger problem: the administrators/observers aren’t a regular presence in the classroom or school. The culture of the school should support a sense of openness: We don’t teach behind closed doors here, everyone is welcome at any time!
Conversations swirled around the term “effective practice” – determined by whom? What is the evidence of effectiveness? Are we asking students, “What are the characteristics of the most effective teacher you ever had?” Will those responses be the same for every student? Does every effective teacher practice the same way as every other effective teacher? What tool are we using? Checklists? Rubrics? David remarked that we use these standardized tools in a “prophylactic sense.” We want to be protected from what we might write in a more qualitative fashion in an observation report.
So, do our supervisory and evaluation methods operate under the assumption that everybody gets the same thing? Or does everyone get what they need? What’s alarming to me, is that in Pennsylvania and many other states, the teacher and principal evaluation systems have been revamped to be highly standardized, insanely time consuming, and tied to standardized test scores. I am being trained in this system in a few weeks and am eager to find the opportunities for teacher autonomy in professional development that districts can hopefully intertwine into the standardized process. A colleague of mine who has piloted the new system shared the details surrounding the 11+ page paperwork completion process for one formal observation, and I think I blacked out for a minute or two.
Some final thoughts on Managing Change, a session led by @dle59 (sorry, can’t find your actual name on your Twitter page!), who shaped the conversation around Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese? Yes, change is uncomfortable. Yes, we work with people who are entitled. “I’ve been teaching for 25 years! I’m entitled to doing things my way!” Yes, change is possible, even in large organizations, and many come to realize that it was silly of them to resist change in the first place. A great analogy was shared by a participant who asked us to consider professional athletes who are in the game too long. “It’s sad to watch, actually.” And then there are others, who realize that physically they can’t perform the way they used to, the way that’s necessary for the growth and performance of the team as a whole, so they find other ways to contribute to the profession. Look at your role. Find ways to be effective in this time of change.
As part of Pennsylvania’s Inspired Leadership (PIL) program, as a principal I have the opportunity to participate in professional development sessions offered through the National Institute for School Leadership.
I’m now involved in the fourth and final course of the program, which includes three units: The Principal as Driver of Change, Leading for Results, and a culminating simulation.
The program is comprehensive, and over the past few years I’ve experienced sessions that have greatly enhanced my understanding of my role as a leader, and others that have barely made an impact on my practice. Sessions are led by various educational professionals, both retired and practicing administrators, and I can definitely say the quality of the session and my learning is highly dependent upon the skills of the facilitators. (Sound familiar?)
Another potential beneficial aspect of these sessions is the ability to network with other principals and administrators in our local area. The most meaningful time in our days of coursework came when we were given the opportunity to talk, at length, with our colleagues. Not all sessions are designed in this fashion, and in far too many we were being “spoken to” rather than actually involved in the conversations. While the curriculum itself was designed with a purpose, in some sessions, the needs of the participants clearly varied greatly than what was delivered. (Evident by audible sighs and grumblings.) On those days, most of us were busting at the seams to talk to one another about actual situations we were experiencing, roadblocks we were encountering, and just reaching out for a general sense of support from someone in our role who “gets it.” Just this week I had the chance to talk about the Daily Five with another elementary principal who was looking for a literacy framework for her school. She had never heard of it, and without the opportunity to discuss ideas with one another, she would have left the session not knowing it existed.
In my first few courses, taken about two years ago, we were given strict instructions to “power down.” That, obviously, didn’t go over well with me, or the other 30 principals in the room who were out of their buildings during the school day and who felt a need to be connected to their buildings. For me, I obviously wanted the immediate access to information. If a facilitator mentioned a great book I should read, I was forced to write the title down on the side of a piece of paper located in my ginormous binder of resources (the contents of which are difficult to easily reference and share with others) rather than quickly access it on Amazon and add it to my wish list or add it to my Shelfari list.
After that first adamant directive: “Turn off your devices, folks,” I was brutally honest when completing the session evaluation that afternoon. The devices give us access to information; some people learn very effectively in that manner; we’re principals whose schools are in session and our people need to be able to contact us; oh, yeah, and WE’RE ADULTS. Day 2? They changed their tune. “We understand some of you might use your devices to take notes or access information, so you may use them, just please be respectful of others in the group.” There’s an idea.
On subsequent evaluations I always mention the need for a course that includes learning about the role of the connected educator and the need for skills in networking and familiarity with technology and innovative teaching and learning practices. In one session I was given 15-20 minutes at the end of the day to promote the use of social networks in education, and from that talk I convinced a handful of folks to give Twitter a try and work to update some of their school communications. But even this past week, when asked by the facilitator, “Who among you are using social media for the task of communicating with parents and staff?” (the thought of using it for professional growth wasn’t even mentioned), my hand raised, and after my explanations I again answered questions about safety, fear regarding negative comments on blogs, etc. I’m not surprised, considering the facilitator began her social media discussion by sharing how 9th graders in her school used Facebook to coordinate an end-of-the-year food fight, and it was clear the majority of the blame fell on the tool, not the individuals involved.
So, on one hand, the NISL folks are telling us how the US is lagging behind other countries in so many areas of educational performance, including global awareness, and on the other hand, many facilitators admonish the use of the tools that can GET US CONNECTED.
We leave the sessions, the only connection we have to one another are our shared conversations and a mass email list that goes out to remind us of the session assignments and location. There would be great benefit in developing an online, interactive portal in which participants could network. One time, we tried setting up a cohort wiki, but it didn’t take. I understand there’s a tremendous cost involved to the state for funding this type of professional development for administrators, and perhaps therein lies the problem. We’re neglecting the use of the free and on-demand tools that can connect us together in learning.
It was a privilege to spend my time at ASCD as a member of the press. On Sunday at an author’s luncheon, I had the chance to speak with Heidi Hayes Jacobs along with several members of my PLN. I read her book, Curriculum 21, shortly after its publication, and also enjoyed Jacobs’s TedxNYED talk. She asks all educators to consider, “What year are you preparing your students for?” and the content and ideas she shares cause you to reflect deeply about your school’s current practices and how shifts in curriculum, organization, professional development, and the types of learning in which our students engage are imperative. Joining in the discussion were Mary Beth Hertz, Josh Stumpenhorst, and Jason Flom among others, all passionate educators looking to lead this shift in their schools.
“We need a new type of pedagogy and a new type of teacher.”
Jacobs shared her views on the varied pedagogies, including “antiquated pedagogy” (“drive-by” teaching, when there is no relationship between teacher and student); classical pedagogy (teachers are sensitive to their students and know how to engage with them, when to talk, and when to be silent; classical pedagogies are timeless), and the new pedagogy, where teachers realize they’re going to need to shift their roles. She referenced David Langford who referred to the student-teacher relationship as “colleague-colleague” relationships. We’re all colleagues… we’re all learners here.
Teachers (and administrators) need to be learners. They need to be literate in digital media, and they need to be globally literate. These two characteristics are interconnected, but different. Mary Beth shared that she’s working to establish the colleague-colleague/learner-learner relationship with her students as many of us are, and Jacobs mentioned that the latest in value-added teacher evaluation methods tied to high-stakes testing are “irrational” and will do little to support new pedagogies.
She applauded those educators who are using digital tools to establish an online presence to reflect upon their learning and for use with students, and she said it’s difficult for teachers to get started with this without knowing what “quality” looks like in this area. When she first began blogging, she looked to Mike Fisher for inspiration. We need to show teachers examples of quality digital learning and share with one another. Mary Beth described trying to explain the power of connected learning to non-connected educators as “trying to imagine a sunset in a room with no windows.”
Jacobs raved about the global forum they presented at an opening session of ASCD, where schools, students, and teachers from China, Mexico, and New Zealand came together via Skype and other digital platforms to engage in powerful learning with one another.
As for professional development, it is essential in bringing about school-wide improvement, but it must be differentiated. She reminded us to “declare our century” and shared her disappointment in examining standardized tests from the 70s whose questions mirrored those from the 90s. Where is the progress? She urged us to look at our school websites. “Does it look like you’re selling car insurance?”
A focus of Jacobs’s work has always been mapping and standards, and she shared with us her current ventures working with Common Core 360 to create the LiveBook and LivePlanner, professional development platforms for teachers. She spoke excitedly of the capabilities of the highly customizable platform, an “interactive ebook experience that gives educators the theory, research, and case studies behind curriculum integration.” She described it as a “new type of reading experience.”
The conversation shifted to ebooks and textbooks and what our kids need educational materials to be. Jacobs believe “every kid should have an annotated clearinghouse” that they, themselves, develop. We need to help children become curators and develop digital literacy skills.
I asked how school leaders can get this process started. What must every educational leader understand in order to help their schools progress? She believes every admin and teacher needs to commit to “upgrading.” Look at what you’re doing now, and make a change to at least one aspect of your leadership. When she and her team work with administrators, they spend the day forcing a culture of sharing- getting them using the tools, opening their eyes to the opportunities for globalization. She encourages admin to “get rid of meetings” and connect virtually. In regards to professional development, we discussed the #edcamp model, and how an autonomous learning model such as those provided in #edcamp settings would address the needs of a variety of adult learners. Jacobs helped us visualize a quadrant that organizes adult learning needs.
High Curriculum, High Tech Competencies – These teachers need autonomous learning, feedback, modeling, and the opportunities to share
High Curriculum, Low Tech Competencies – Need 1:1 support with the tools to help make ties to their strong curricular knowledge base
Low Curriculum, High Tech Competencies – Workshop model can be successful to reach these teachers
Low Curriculum, Low Tech Competencies – These teachers “need a career change” or “a lot of support.” (That honesty was refreshing.)
“The biggest mistake you can make is selling something in education,” she said. When administrators are working with their teams to decide how to proceed with instruction, curriculum, schedules, anything – imagine there is a student sitting at the table with your team. The guiding rule of the discussion is that any idea or concern that is raised has to be in the child’s best interest. While all team members won’t always agree, it will always be a good conversation if the child remains the focus. According to Jacobs, it’s a “no brainer” that we need to use technology in our schools. We have to prove it’s NOT good for kids before we should say it shouldn’t be used in schools, but ultimately, the first issue should not be ADULT comfort with the technology. “It’s not whether we use technology, it’s how.” Technology purchasing decisions are another great challenge today’s school administrators face. Today’s high school juniors have very different technology needs than our incoming kindergarteners do. How do administrators best manage to prioritize, purchase, manage, provide professional development for, and support learning with a large variety of tools?
Jacobs is an optimist in that she believes that many times, people are willing to change, they just don’t know how. We want our children to be able to live and learn independently of us, and frankly we’ve done students a disservice by creating such dependencies on the adults in the classrooms.
Jason keenly stated, “I want to be obsolete by the end of the year.”
I left Educon 2.4 with questions. I think that’s the point. For every new “a-ha” moment, a handful of extending questions surfaced in my brain. Some energized me, some exhausted me.
“What if?” This was the first question I was asked to ponder at Educon. David Jakes led a session that caused us to truly expound on our thinking about topics ranging from hallways in our schools to shopping cart design. Design Thinking for Educators is a resource that I’ve referenced in the past but would like to explore in depth. I see tremendous power in this process, yet could also see how many of us were extended past our comfort levels in thinking about change. Our experiences tell us that the ideation process should typically have limits. The design thinking process says, “No, it doesn’t.” We need to start asking, “What if?”
“Social media-fueled PD: is it making a difference?” Lots of chatter here. Jon Becker, Meredith Stewart, and Bud Hunt asked us to consider whether the time we spend engaged in learning through Twitter and unconventional methods. The #edchat and #edcamp folks amassed in this session, I believe, to stand firm and defend their methods of learning through social media. I don’t think the facilitators questioned the value we find in these methods so much as they wished for us to consider how we would defend the impact of this learning to parents, administrators, etc. A few months ago a conversation on Twitter emerged about how we measure the effectiveness of this PD. What actual difference is it making in our schools? How is that impact measured? And should it be? My take-away comment from this session came from Shelly Blake-Plock, who essentially declared that this type of learning “ruined his life,” in so much as it turned his life upside down; changed his way of thinking; caused him to relocate, change jobs, and devote himself to working with at-risk students. I’d imagine his students are quite thankful for this transformation.
“How do we ask the right questions?” Zac Chase’s session asked us to consider our inquiry-based practices in schools. What questions are we asked our students? Teachers? Why? He opened with a story about a young boy and his mother in the airport. The mother seeking to keep her son distracted from through a proposed “game” involving the arrivals/departure board; the son asking to change the “rules” of the game in order to better meet his needs. So when we allow the learner to change the rules- if it gets us to the same goal, does it matter? Perhaps more importantly, are the questions we’re asking leading to the right goals?
“So you’re connected… now what?” Team Couros & Larkin again hosted a session to discuss the administrator’s role in propelling learning organizations forward through immersion with connected learning. This follow-up session also sought to define and describe real ways in which connected learning are influencing students. Not surprising, the topics of administrative fear, apprehension, and skepticism were raised. Many administrators are still uncomfortable with the ideas of connecting themselves, their teachers, and their students. Are you an administrator? Or do you know one? Send them to Connected Principals. Get them connected with one of us. It starts with tough conversations, but it has to start somewhere.
“How can we rethink learning spaces?” Michael Wacker and Glenn Moses kicked off their conversation by asking us to consider, “What is the most meaningful PD you’ve ever had?” Many mentioned Twitter (I stand in my position that Twitter in itself is not PD – the conversations and connections with other learners through that vehicle could constitute development, but Twitter is merely a tool), #edcamps, and the like. I remember when I taught 5th grade, one of my colleagues ran a PD session as a requirement for one of her master’s courses. It was the first time information was formally presented to me by a colleague. As I think back on that now, I found that session to be very engaging and informative, and I believe it was that much more meaningful since the ideas being shared were from someone I worked with on a daily basis. It was personal and real, as all PD should be, no matter if the learning space is physical or virtual.
Elemeducon. I proposed my conversation because in past years, I felt there hasn’t been much of an elementary focus in the conversations at Educon. I think that’s now changing, as there were several sessions this year with an elementary focus. My hope is that we can continue the discussion raised in our energizing elementary innovation session on the final day of the event. We asked a lot of questions. I’m working on a separate space to share our thoughts from the session, to create a place where the many passionate elementary educators in our world can share ideas and support one another through this journey.
Do you have ideas for what you would like to see in this space? Format? Must-haves? Essential components? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Stay tuned!
Chris Lehmann‘s travel woes detained him in Chicago, so he was unable to open the conference, but to our great pleasure, Diana Laufenberg stepped up to the plate. Opening with the need to transform learning due to the shift from an information-deficit environment (students went to school to get information from their teachers) to a world where information-overload is the norm, it becomes necessary to embrace a “Less us, more them,” perspective in the classroom. At Science Leadership Academy, students and teachers explore, “How do we learn? What can we create? What does it mean to lead?” through the core values of inquiry, research, presentation, reflection, and collaboration. Diana’s enthusiasm for empowering her students was evident. “We teach kids, not subjects.” She shared with us examples of inquiry-driven student learning experiences. It was powerful to hear how her students spend countless hours (outside of school) ensuring they submit high quality projects and assignments, because they “just don’t want to put crap on the Internet anymore.” Students need meaningful tasks and an authentic audience. They must ask questions, research, share ideas, and be reflective in public spaces. She spoke of the need for transparency and relevance, as well as developing collaborative learning environments that embrace risk-taking and support failure. “If you want innovation and creativity, create a space that allows failure in the learning process.”
Here’s Diana’s TED talk if you have not yet had the opportunity to hear her speak about 3 surprising things she has learned from teaching, including learning from mistakes:
Teq helped sponsor the event and offered a variety of Smartboard-related sessions, which I heard were well-attended. Too often schools outfit their classrooms with a specific type of technology, yet fail to provide adequate support and professional development for teachers in order to help the tool be used in order to truly impact learning. I am sure the Smartboard sessions were useful for many. During the first session, I had the pleasure of facilitating a Skype-enabled conversation led by Patrick Larkin and Andy Marcinek from Burlington High School, who shared their experiences implementing a 1:1 initiative with iPads, and also shared strategies for developing ePubs for student and teacher use. They shared a Google doc chock-full of resources: Building a Collaborative ePub.
Over breakfast, Tom Whitby, Adam Bellow and I had a great conversation about how presenters are often fearful they’re sharing the same ideas over and over again, and what if no one learns anything new from what we have to share? I think each of us felt a certain pressure to provide new (or at least tweaked) material at the next conference/workshop/meeting. Then Tom brought up a great point about the amount of educators there are in this world (he threw out the number 7.2 million?) yet, when you stopped to consider the group of teachers & educators that are “connected,” we guesstimated anywhere from 200,000-500,000. So, chances are good that as more people become connected, any ideas you have to share will be new and beneficial to someone just embarking on the connected learning journey.
For that reason, I so appreciated the many folks who stopped by my session. It was wonderful engaging in conversation about the need for educators to share, ideas on how to become a more connected educator, tools to try, and ways that my teachers and students have become connected learners. Afterwards I enjoyed talking to a few attendees with some follow-up questions about Google docs, Wikispaces, and Twitter. I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to touch base with other educators in face-to-face learning environments! Later in the evening I received a tweet from Katelyn, who attended my session and decided to give Twitter a try. She’s a 5th grade teacher – reach out and connect with her! And that’s why I love sharing what I do.
Another great element during my session was the amount of open dialogue. First Aaron Eyler interrupted me (mid-sentence) by broaching the subject of the “virtual high-fiving” in certain Twitter communities. He cautioned the group not to get swept up in retweeting things just because someone who is “high profile” sends it out. He encouraged everyone to read for themselves and determine the value of ideas before freely sharing them. This was an excellent point, and I’m glad he raised it. We discussed that as relationships build via Twitter exchanges, commenting on blogs, etc., it’s important to respectfully push others in their thinking.
In session 3, Brian always-dressed-to-kill Nichols led a conversation about leadership in the age of mobile learning. He shared examples of student work, admitted freely that he was the kid that always got in trouble in school, and he shared some great apps for mobile learning. Check out his Twitter stream for the great resources he always shares.
I ended the day in a session about innovative teaching and learning. I struggled a bit with the use of the word “innovative” to describe some of the resources shared, and I’m not certain it’s necessary to decipher the differences between technology integration and technology infusion, but I think the fact that these conversations are starting to happen across our schools is an important first step. My final comment to the group during that session is that we have to stop focusing on the tool, and that we have to stop insisting teachers become the experts with technology. We have to focus on pedagogy. Teachers need to be partners in learning. We have to get tools in kids’ hands. We have to help students ask questions, dig deeper, work together to solve problems, and create evidence of learning. And we have to get out of their way.
Due to some scheduling conflicts I was disappointed I didn’t get to hear Paul Bogush or Shelly Blake-Plock speak, as they are two educators whose blogs I read regularly and whose ideas I respect greatly. I regret not having the chance to say hello to Paul, but it was great meeting Shelly for the first time. I missed out hearing David Timony, which was sad, because I always leave his sessions thinking that my brain really is out to get me. (That’s a good thing.) I know there are others I missed…
This was a day filled with positive energy. I was able to share some virtual laughs with Patrick and Andy before their session started. Aaron and Brian kept me on my toes all day, and our post-conference debriefing with Aaron, Adam, Dave Zirkle, Dr. Timony, and Mike Ritzius was full of good cheer. I love these days because I can honestly say some of the most enjoyable times I’ve experienced over the past few years have been in the company of those in my PLN. I’m one lucky learner.
Thanks, Eric, NMHS & students, sponsors, and attendees for an excellent day!
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.
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.
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!
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
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?