Monday, August 6, 2012

Innovation is more than a checklist of tools

Anne Knock asks if you are becoming an innovative school in her post here.
It started my thinking - are we really innovating?
She offers a list of 10 points that schools need to consider as they look at their district.  They aren't earth shattering - or surprising - but they are quite comprehensive.

1. A vision for learning is incessantly and clearly communicated
2. Learning is future-focused
3. Culture takes time and persistence to embed
4. Engaged and motivated students are the goal
5. Equipped and supported staff are essential
6. Technology is an environment for learning, not the driver
7. Relationships matter
8. Learning is authentic
9. Spaces for learning are welcoming and comfortable
10. Creativity and innovation have expression
To me - the power comes in the final statements of her post...
When people visit Northern Beaches Christian School often hear them say:
“I thought I was coming to see buildings, now I know it’s so much more”
 So often we focus more on what it looks like to others.  But, that is only the low hanging fruit. The real power of innovation is way deeper than that.  I can have all the latest gadgets and tech tools in my room, but still be teaching with the same methods I learned 30 years ago and there is no innovation.  The power is what happens with the people.

That is my goal as a Learning Design Coach.  I need to help our staff move beyond the check list of gadgets and change the focus from teaching to student learning.  That is when true innovation occurs!  What an exciting time to be an educator!

Learning for the 21st Century Reflection

It is hard to even remember the details of our conference - Learning for the 21st Century - because so much has happened this summer.  I am disappointed in myself for not reflecting here - out in the open - about my experiences.

But - the past is past and it's almost time for the new year.

In so many ways I am already incorporating the experiences of the conference and the conversations and the observations into the new normal for the Learning Design Coaches at Mid-Praire.

It has all the potential to be a very exciting year!! Stay tuned!!!

Monday, June 11, 2012

A New Way of Thinking

I have been catching up on a lot of things now that scheduled school days are past.  One of the things on my list is this very neglected blog. I have a whole stack of blog ideas  - but they never seem to move from the idea stage.

I've been thinking and wondering why that is. What is it that keeps me from blogging?

What I have discovered is it's not the expected answer - TIME.  The truth is I have time for what I want to have time for.  And yes I ended that sentence with a preposition and am beginning this one with a conjunction - it's Summer! :)

No - what really freezes me out of this blog is the fear of saying something that will make me look stupid, of making a comment that someone else will disagree with, or showing my ignorance - in a word it's a fear of failure.

Good grief!  The most ridiculous part of that premise is that someone is reading this blog - and we have't really established that yet. 

And - well it's just an excuse I would not accept from my 4th graders. But, as I attempt to put my thoughts on the internet for my peers I realize the vulnerability my students felt.  It's a scary endeavor.  We are always one step away from the chance of total failure buried somewhere inside this task.

I have been reading different blogs recently - trying out some new ones, and I came across a 17 year old New York student, Nikhil Goyal,  who is really shaking things up. He is a published author, conference speaker and thinker on school reform.  One of his posts focused on failure...

Here’s a radical thought: Let’s make ‘F’ the new ‘A.’ Failure early, fail often. For instance, Thomas Edison performed 9,000 experiments before coming up with a successful version of the light bulb. From cardboard and duct tape to ABS polycarbonate, 15 years and 5,127 prototypes later, Sir James Dyson created his successful bagless vacuum cleaner. Compare entrepreneurship to the J-curve of returns: the failures come early and often and the successes take time.
Schools, on the other hand, paint failure in a terrible light. The poster ‘Failure is Not An Option’ is plastered on walls of brick and mortar classrooms far and wide. Kids crack under the pressure to be perfect all the time. Get that ‘A’ in science class or else you won’t be successful in life. It is simply ludicrous.
We are creating grade-obsessed students to “do school” — memorize enough information to perform well on a test, regurgitate, and then forget. 

What if we incorporated this idea into our classrooms...failure is part of life
we demonstrate it
we acknowledge it
we accept it

Could we do that, as teachers?

I think that is what paralyzes too many of us from incorporating technology into our classrooms. We are so afraid of failing and looking stupid that we can't bring ourselves to try - unless we have perfectly orchestrated the situation.  Maybe we need to turn that on it's head and create learning opportunities for our students - demonstrate how to deal with failure and move on to a new solution.

Just a thought!!

Friday, April 13, 2012

On making mistakes

This has been one of those weeks. A week that started out with promise and possibility and ended at a different place. This week has made me remember again that I am totally fallable (is that a word?)

It seems to me that as an educator I fight the thought that I know, I am capable and I don't make a lot of mistakes. At least not those that I fess up to.

 I can cover almost anything in my classroom. If I forgot to email a parent, misplaced a student's paper or forgot to do a recess duty as a 4th grade teacher - there were ways to cover. I could email the parent a day late and apologize profusely and things would be smoothed over. Searching through all the piles on my desk and maybe even in a student's desk usually unearthed the stray paper . And recess duty...well...hopefully no one got hurt!

All that changes when you move to a district position. Suddenly, you are much more visible. The mistakes don't just affect you - it ripples out to more and more layers. And - sometimes there just isn't a way to fix things.

So - this week I learned that again. I had to bow my head and admit that there were no excuses. There was only me and the error.

But - that isn't the end of it is it?


I can forgive anyone. Truly I can. And I almost always forget too!

 But, I can't forgive or forget when I am the perpetrator. It just keeps coming back. I keep beating myself up. I keep picking at the moment.

And through that attitude I don't move on. I spin and spin and spin on the same spot and dig myself in deeper and deeper.

 Good Grief!!!

When I see this happen to someone else I am quick to point out that we all make mistakes and just get over it. When it's me, it doesn't matter what someone points doesn't matter what they say... I am just stuck.

As an educator this is the very most paralyzing and counterproductive hole to fall in. We are all about second chances and learning from mistakes.
     We have preached that it's time to put away the red pen
            and focus on the next time.
                  We offer do overs
                         and try agains
                              and mulligans
                                  and free passes.

But, somehow that escapes our own understanding.

And I would promise that is because we believe we are perfect. Deep down in the recesses of our own psyche we believe that we know it all...if someone would just ask. And when we bump up against the reality it's a hard thing. Sometimes an almost impossible thing!

 Let me offer one more moment of perspective.

Last night a 23 year old man died in my community. He had been diagnosed with cancer the first time when he was a 4th grader in my classroom lots of years ago.
 During the years in between he had been
           healthy and sick many different times
                 and he had been funny and mad
                        and happy and sad
                                 and wrong and right
                                        and a son and a brother
                                                and a friend and a student
                                                        and and and.

Today no one - not a single soul - remembers his mistakes.

Instead they remember Theo Yoder, the whole Theo.

That is my lesson, my take away - Life is big and this week is small.

We will miss you Theo!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Professional Development


I would have to say that in the course of my teaching career this term has brought groans and cheers from me and I don't think I am alone.

It's such a tricky thing.  We are required to offer professional development - but it's so much more than just a requirement.  Education is constantly changing...all of us know and accept that. But, we have very different views on ways to keep abreast of those changes.  For some reason we seem to forget all we know about teaching and learning when we offer PD.

We know, for example, that our students are the most engaged with practical applications of the information and when we individualize that content as much as possible.  Yet, PD is most often offered in isolated chucks in a sit and get manner with all teachers getting the very same stuff.  No wonder many shut down.  Instead the presenters must offer a varied level of delivery.

While on the topic of is a SCARY thing to stand in front of a room full of your peers. I would take a classroom of students any day.  I know how to attempt to manage a room of students.  When they act up you use proximity, humor, and open commands.  With a room of teachers - those techniques just don't work.

I have watched as teachers check their email, shop online, chat with their friends and nod off in a group.  These same teachers would be appalled and irate if their students treated them with so little respect.  Yet, we seem to forget that when we become the students.  When we teach one another we have to offer the same grace, patience and respect that we would wish to receive and that we expect from our students.

Or...we need to accept the consequences.

There is nothing more demeaning than standing in front of a group of teachers and knowing that noone is listening to a word you are saying.  How do you bring them back to you?  I can't demand their attention like I used to with my 4th graders. I was told them more than once that I was the Queen of the classroom and I expected them to listen to the queen.  A group of my peers means that we are all kings and queens in our own world and we want to continue to play that role in PD sessions.  That just doesn't work.

So, what does?

  • honesty - I think we owe it to one another to be honest. Tell your peers when they are disrespecting you by not listening.  Remind that pair in the corner that they are distracting you and everyone around them when they discuss the weekend rather than listen to the speaker.
  • respect - i know that you might rather be grading papers - but the truth is every person in the classroom would rather be grading papers and might feel that is necessary at that moment.  Just like the kiddo in your math class feels it's more important  to write a note to their friend instead of listening to the lecture.  But - just as you feel that your math lesson is more important - so does the speaker think their info is more important
  • preparation - I have sat through way too many powerpoint presentations where the slides are read from the screen in minuscule print...if we are offering professional development to our peers we must be professional and we must be prepared.  Use the best teaching techniques with adults - pair and share, partner reads, chuck the info. all the things that we do to be good teachers - we owe it to our colleagues as well.
  • content - the biggest failure of PD in my experience was the isolated nature of the info.  Teachers, just like students, need time to process and incorporate new learning into their schemata.  PD fails when too much content is covered with not enough time to apply.  We create assignments for our students - why don't we do that for our PD?  Allow a bit of time for churning and working over the material, give some time to brainstorm and discuss before a product is required to show that the information is being used.
  • fun and life - think of the best teachers you had.  They were able to incorporate fun and reality into their lessons.  Everything seemed to connect and create a story line or a common thread. The same applies for effective PD.  Presenters need to remember that teachers lives are already full and overflowing and the thought of changing and learning one more thing is almost too much.  But, if that one more thing is couched in fun and reality  - then it's not another bothersome task.  Sounds like sound classroom management strategies to me!
This is all especially importnat to me right now - we have a full day of PD tomorrow. The afternoon sessions are being lead by Technology Committee members. I've worked closely with the organization of the afternoon, as well as being one of the facilitators.  I am excited about this new model - but also apprehensive.  You never know exactly what to expect.

We offered 8 workshops to the teachers in the district. They signed up for one workshop that they will stay with for the next three professional development opportunities.
Our workshops are:
  • The Flat Classroom
  • Web 2.0
  • Google everything
  • iPads
  • Smart Boards
  • Digital Storytelling
  • Social Media
  • Independent Projects
Each workshop is facilitated by a teacher who is learning the subject along with the rest of the group.  At the end of the three sessions - each group will have a culminating project of some sort that they will share with others in the district.

It is exciting to be a part of this.  I continue to be SO impressed with the expertise and willingness of our staff to stretch themselves and reach beyond their comfort zone.  Good things are happening at Mid-Priairie!!!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Google in the classroom

I've had a google kind of week.

First I was privileged to spend 1/2 a day at L & M helping them out with an intro to Google. It was a great and receptive staff. I could see the wheels churning from the front of the room.  I ran into their principal again last evening and he said that he already had 3 requests that day that focused on Google.  That makes me feel good!

Then today I will work with  2 sections of 5th grade helping them create their Iowa County sites.  We have changed the format for the traditional Iowa County projects as part of the Iowa history unit.  In the past each student has researched a county and created a tri-fold display of the county to be shared during the county open house.

This year each student is still researching their county - but instead of posting information on cardboard - they are posting on their own google site.

Today was the day to begin creating the site. Things went well after they all figured out their password...that was a bit of a challenge! :)  But, we got the site named and several pages added.

This all makes me think of the options that google offers and where exactly all this will take us.  I keep wondering if google will continue to be free - or of they are hooking us and then the costs will begin to rise.  I mean what an amazing treasure trove of options for us.  Just watching the collaboration efforts is so  amazing.

Until life changes - we will continue to take advantage of what google is offering...  Does that sound a little too much like how our economy was 2 years ago??? hmmmmm.....