Monday, January 28, 2013

Don't take the basics for granted

I understand that there is a certain amount of technophobia when presenting to a group of teachers. (There was even an article on EdWeek about technophobia in 2007.

The article talks about how if we let fear dictate our actions, we will never grow and change. I am all for that. We need to push the envelope and encourage innovations and creation, both in teachers and students. But we cannot make pushing the envelope a push off of the cliff.

When I would present to a group of teachers that had a high level of technophobia, I would begin with the simple question of "How do you break a computer?". The group is always taken aback by this question and eventually, someone will raise their hand and off the suggestion of "With a baseball bat?". I would congratulate them and tell them that a baseball bat is definitely one way to break a computer. This would break the ice and people would then start getting REALLY creative: push it out a window, pour acid on it, strap it to a sumo wrestler's stomach...

Once we had a few laughs, I would then ask the question of "Where is the button that you can hit that will delete everything on your computer"? People's ears perked up because they wanted their innate fears justified...(i.e. I KNEW that there was a button like that...). Once we dissuaded all of those fears, we could then start getting into the ideas of change.

The big thing to remember, once we got into the training on the nuts and bolts, was never to take the basics for granted. We need to remember this when dealing with our adult learners and our young learners. Let's keep our composure when anyone asks a question and remember, in most cases, that someone asks the question, they are seeking an honest answer.

Some of the most common questions:
  • How do I save this?
  • What is my login?
  • Where is this file?
  • What report do I need?
  • Can you send me my password?
  • What do I do next?
It is important to be open and inviting with people and do not roll your eyes or sigh. Even when someone asks "Does a right click mean I have to use my right hand?" (I have had to clarify that) or any of these.

As educators, we do not always have to give the actual answer, but we can direct them on how to solve their own problems.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Me vs. We

As I (and many others) have said before, Words Matter!

A relayed conversation got me thinking about Me vs. We. I think it would be an interesting study to interview Superintendents and Principals of comparable schools and districts that are considered successful and unsuccessful (it would take a long time to define that right now) and ask them questions using indefinite articles concerning the schools, students, academic programs, etc. under their charge.

What got me thinking was a conversation told to me of a Superintendent from a school district that is not considered successful through the lens of percentage of students who meet and/or exceed expectations on the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE). [Note: The PSAE is the NCLB mandated 2 day test which consists of the ACT for Day 1 and the Work Keys and a state developed assessment of science content.] When this Superintendent was talking about the schools, students, and academic programs, they continually said "my schools", "my students", etc., but when posing questions to the building principals, this superintendent used "you" and "your". (i.e. What is your building doing for the School Improvement Day?). The superintendent would then respond to the principals, again using "me" and "my".

In my humble opinion, there seems to be an inherent disconnect. Almost an implication that the superintendent could claim credit for any successes found within the schools or district, but then use the distance created between me and you in order to be shielded from an problems or failures. Wouldn't this also feed into an "us vs. them" mentality, if one existed?

I would be curious, in this proposed study, to see if the more successful schools and districts have building and district leaders that continually used "we" and "us", creating that sense of community and the thought that everyone is in it together.

What happens in your school/district? Is it a ME or a WE?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Get out there, connect, listen, share and learn!

Please excuse my absence. I missed tweeting and blogging over the last two weeks. I was home with my wife and our newborn daughter!

Today's Twitter #EdChat (Tuesdays at 11 am CST) was all about educators collaborating. Tom Whitby posted the question "What specific forms of collaboration do you use & specifically how does collaboration impact your profession?". It was a great discussion today.

One idea that I added to the discussion is that before was can begin collaborating, we must have a culture that will support this type of learning. I received some positive feedback from this tweet and the idea further evolved. We discussed how teachers and administrators must work together in the learning process and fore go the idea that one person has to have all of the answers. Of course, this is a challenge for teachers in the classroom as well, especially in high school.

High school teachers have been trained to be content experts that impart knowledge to their students. The game has changed though, and teacher need to stop asking questions that can be googled and start students asking and exploring their own questions. When this happens, there is no way that the teacher can be prepared with every answer. If teachers can give up that sense of full control in the classroom, more learning and less teaching can happen. When we see this in our classrooms, then we might begin to see this is our adult interactions.

One of the biggest killers of collaboration is the required tolds that happen after school, once a month. You know these things, all of the faculty gets together in the auditorium or the library, they bring papers to grade or text their neighbors so they will not interrupt the administrator running the told. Questions may be asked of the faculty, but this only reinforces the idea the when it comes to the decision making for educational practices, teachers will have input, but not impact. The worst example illustrated today during the chat was a two hour meeting where teachers met and discuss some ideas and develop something for the school and at the end they were all handed a pre-Xeroxed, pre-formatted handout. (You see, a told is when we get together to be told things that could have been covered in a memo or an email. A meeting would imply that there is going to be some idea development, goal setting, and objective defining to revisit at the next meeting.)

So, how do you get started building this collaborative culture? Some ideas presented were:
  • Open your doors and step out of your classroom (especially high school) and go into a different one.
  • Make sure there is dedicated time for everyone to meet and discuss with the understanding that somethings may be messy and mistakes will be made.
  • People must be willing to secede control to other (Thanks @John_DAdamo)
  • When designing meetings (as opposed to tolds), sometimes we need to start at the very beginning by defining what each person's role will be in the discussion group. We would do no less for students in our classroom...
  • Understand that collaboration must begin with reflective practitioners. Encourage blogging as a form of reflection and sharing.
  • If you don't Skype someone into your class now and then, you're missing a collaborative opportunity (Thanks +Douglas Green )
  • Administrators need training in how to do this!

Really, a culture of collaboration can happen when all of the participants within your community of learners love to hear the sound of other peopls' voices over their own.

Get out there, connect, listen, share and learn!

Thursday, January 03, 2013

You want the buck to stop? Stop passing it then!

This post is a commentary on the shifts that are needed in schools in order to make the role of a data coach more effective.

The shift that I will comment on is this:
  • Individual accountability needs to shift to collective responsibility
As I was perusing my Twitter feed today, I came across a blog post that was titled This is how democracy ends -- Apology from a former teacher. It was posted by Lisa Nielsen, but was written by Kris L. Nielsen. The title caught my eye because I am a Star Wars fan and I had written a post about the Citizens United decision with a similar title.

As I read through Kris's accounting of the influences on modern education (Common Core, Textbook companies, Foundations (i.e. Gates, Wal-Mart), and politicians) and how it is trying to make everyone fit a cookie cutter mold and that schools will become the factories of which their design was based, I could not help but shudder at the thought of this bleary educational future.

I will respectfully disagree that the Common Core is one of the signs of an impending apocalypse. Working in Illinois, where the previous set of standards were a mile wide and inch deep, the Common Core has a lot of positive potential effects to education, if teachers and administrators only had to worry about implementing the new standards instead of making sure that every student does well on the ACT (Day 1 of the 2 day test mandated by NCLB for Illinois). Unfortunately, the latter is more the case than the former, so I can see what Kris's point is getting at.

Having, personally, eagerly awaited the release of the Next Generation Science Standards, I have a good understanding of the effort of educators who wrote these standards in an effort to directly improve instruction by narrowing the focus to the skills needed perform science at all levels--not merely focusing on a content area, but its connection to other concepts, how science and engineering work together, and a development of critical thinking skills. The Common Core for mathematics and English/Language Arts had many of the same goals.

How does all of this relate back to the needed shift? My other posts related to the shifts that are needed to make an instructional coach effective have been directed at the activities of the coaches, teachers, and administrators. I have discussed the removal of teacher isolation and that will assist with a sense of collective responsibility. Kris makes a very valid point about how all of these outside influences are pushing and pulling on education to squeeze it through a play dough mold. What made me connect his blog post with this shift if who is the individual responsible?

With all of those outside influences, the amazing (scary) thing is that the individual that the outside influences, parents, general community always talk about is the classroom teacher. I agree with what Marzano says about the teacher being one of the largest influences on the learning that the student will do in the classroom, but again, the shearing forces of those outside influences might rip that apart.

With all of the politicians, foundations, and corporations (who must have attended school therefore they know how a school should work) exerting direct influence into the classroom, I think that those people should shift from the individual responsibility of the teacher to a collective responsibility that if we want the entire nation to improve, then we are ALL in this together! It seems like politicians all want to quote Truman and have the buck stop right on the teacher's desk. I say that they need to stop passing the buck.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Get connected to other educators

This post is a commentary on the shifts that are needed in schools in order to make the role of a data coach more effective.

The shift that I will comment on is this:
  • Teaching in isolation NEEDS to shift to collaborating with colleagues

Happy New Year!!!

We are now well into the 21st century in case you were not aware...because of this, here are some resources of which you should be aware:
Even this:
All of these resources can help alter the instruction and learning for students and educators. Strangely enough, all of these resources emphasize, in one way or another, the necessity and (dare I say it) mandate, that teachers need to remove the barriers of communication between themselves and the best practices of their colleagues. Moreover, teachers need to be connected to not only other educators within their school and district, but across their county, state, country and the entire world! I feel like I am preaching to the choir right now...if you are reading this, chances are that you got to this link from a post on a social network (Twitter, Plurk, etc).

There have been many discussions about education in the ivory tower and staying isolated from the real world. Connected educators can bring that real world directly into their schools and classrooms in order to make the learning that occurs more meaningful for the participants of that learning. I feel like I am repeating myself from --> this blog post

When teachers  ALL educators get connected, coaching can be more effective. It cannot just be teachers, the instructional coaches, administrators, psychologists, social workers, deans, counselors, need to be connected to each other and other professionals within their field. Everyone needs to demonstrate to students what continuous learning looks and feels like. Just as teachers encourage students to ask questions, the best coaching conversations get the coach and the person being coached asking questions and seeking answers to learn together!

Let's make 2013 be the year of learning together!

Leave your Twitter handle in comments, I would love to connect with you and learn together! And, other readers can connect with you to increase their learning potential!