02/9/17

Professional Learning: Discipline Over Default

I’m a huge fan of the content produced by the Focus 3 team of Tim and Brian Kight.  They recently started releasing podcast episodes and they are fantastic!  I’ve read the book Above The Line but I’ve yet to see Tim or Brian in person.  This morning I listened to episode 2 of the podcast, titled Discipline Over Default.  Tim and Brian struck me this morning because the topic related so much to the journey of my own learning.

Let’s review the history of professional learning for educators.  In fact, let’s separate periods of history into pre-internet and post-internet.  Both periods of history have this one thing in common.  Educators have always been provided learning opportunities by the school-district.  Professional learning days have always appeared in the calendar year.  Those days are typically called professional development.  Before the boom of social media, educators also attended conferences, read books, or subscribed to education literature.  The connection to other educators primarily took the form of face to face collaboration that appeared in various formats within schools.  The disciplined educator became a disciple of their craft by engaging in those learning opportunities and sharing their learning with others, given opportunities to do so.

Since the boom of social media, professional learning opportunities have skyrocketed.  I’m learning via the podcast produced by Tim and Brian and I’m sharing my learning via this blog I created.  That’s just an example of opportunities that didn’t exist for educators of the 20th century.  Listening to the podcast episode just reminded me that the real barrier in education is still the same as it was yesterday.  The barrier is discipline over default.

A disciplined educator feeds intention over impulse.  Auto-pilot for educators is simply relying on whatever learning opportunities the school and district provides, but as many education leaders have been proclaiming for years now, we’re experiencing rapid change in the way technology impacts our learners.  If we aren’t discipline driven in pursuing improvement, we are rapidly approaching irrelevance.

01/27/17

What Do I Do Now?

What do I do once I have damaged that relationship?  This question was born out of a recent conversation with a student-teacher in my building.  It was a great thought and one that every educator should be considering.  I have to imagine that even the best managers of classrooms have messed up and damaged a relationship with a student before.  We’re human, after all.  So let’s set the stage a bit.  That one student who has been tip-toeing the line for several days or even weeks, decides to jump over the line head first one day.  The irritation overcomes you and you lay down some punishment.  The next day the student comes in with a chip on his/her shoulder and you are forced to dig deep into your toolbox in a relentless search to engage that student, but your efforts are to no avail.  So you’re left wondering, “how long will he/she come to my room with a negative attitude?  Do I just let this student have his/her space?  If I ignore them, I’m afraid they’ll just distract others.”  Chances are, they will distract others.  That student is seeking an audience and will do what they can to pull more students to their side (there are sides now, you know).  So what do I do now?

Let’s say for sake of this post, this student is Jeremy.  This, in my opinion, is the best piece of advice I can offer to the teacher in this situation: DO EVERYTHING YOU CAN TO PREVENT MORE JEREMYS FROM APPEARING IN YOUR CLASS.  Right now, you’ve only got one Jeremy.  But, if you do nothing, more will appear.  So what can you do to prevent Jeremy from multiplying?

No doubt, in this situation, Jeremy already has some followers or at least some people that may be considering joining the fold.  You better seek those students out like a Sidewinder missile!  Now, you have to do more than identify them.  Start recognizing anything even remotely positive that those students are doing in your class.  “I appreciate how you came in and got your stuff out so you’re ready to go, great job man!”  “Hey Daniel, I’ve never seen someone persevere over one problem quite like you have! Way to go!”  “Chasity, thank you for picking that pencil up off the floor for me!”  With each of those praises, you look them in the eye and dap, shake their hand, or high-five.  Make a positive contact if possible.  

Next, go the extra mile.  Don’t just rest on a positive praise that requires 5 seconds of your time.  Write those students a handwritten note and deliver it to them.  Make a phone call home and tell mom or dad how much you appreciate that specific behavior you observed in their child.  You want those behaviors to continue, right?  Then put in the effort.  It’s worth it!  Meet those students as they arrive at school early in the morning.  Talk to them.  If your schedule permits, see them at lunch and sit with them, talk to them.  Great relationships with tough kids don’t happen by accident.  If you’re willing to do the things few educators are doing, you’ll reach the kids few educators are reaching.

If you follow through with these actions, chances are great that you have done well to prevent more Jeremys from appearing your class.  Read my next post to determine what to do with the original Jeremy.

01/20/17

Improving the way we measure and communicate learning

We recently carved out 30 minutes of time for teacher learning every Friday around our lunch hour.  These lunch & learn sessions are short, but they are what we have to work with at this point, so it’s been my challenge to maximize the value of these opportunities.  I want to share just how we’ve been able to align and model a learning path that mirrors the path of learning for students.  Our target has been to improve the way we measure and communicate learning.  That’s been the driving force behind the opportunities provided for my teachers.  With a clear target in mind, I decided to plan backwards and model this process throughout our time together.

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My plan would follow and align with the template I created here.  This template will eventually be shared with my teachers.  In fact, this template is the evidence that I’ll solicit from my teachers later.

I identified needs through walkthroughs and various conversations with teachers.  My school, not unlike others, has a lot of missing assignments, low motivation from students, teachers working harder than kids, and lots of grades.  We have classic signs that point to a grading and assessment problem.

Here is the document detailing our learning path as a staff.  I would love your feedback on the plan.  Feel free to ask any questions.

12/27/16

#High5Challenge

This is a collaborative blog post from Derek Oldfield, Jodie Pierpoint, and Paul Bailey.

Paul Bailey, Jodie Pierpoint, and I are in a Voxer book chat group reading Kids Deserve It with some other friends.  The three of us were Voxing each other recently about developing authentic relationships with students.  Born out of our conversation is this fun challenge we considered posing to our PLN via Twitter.  Our purpose is to get more educators engaged in the extra effort that is required to build true relationships with tough students through positivity.

We have designed a challenge where educators keep track of “positivity points” daily by giving high fives, writing handwritten notes, or making positive phone calls home.  We use the word points loosely because we will not be posting a leaderboard, giving away a million dollars, or any other award.  The only reward given will be a smile on a kids face, the gift of being a champion for a kid, or joy from the happiness in a parent’s voice.  Utilizing points will provide feedback for the participants to track if they are being positive throughout the school days.  The hashtag #high5challenge can be used to post photos, point totals and/or goals and gain ideas of how others are promoting positivity within their buildings.

We value the power in turning negative behavior through a simple high five or a sincere handwritten note.  In a lot of ways, managing tough kids isn’t hard, it just requires effort that few people are willing to put forth.  Meeting that tough kid in the parking lot as they get off the bus in the morning, just to slap him five and tell him you’re glad he’s here, doesn’t require a PD session or a training day.  These simple gestures send messages to kids and we believe every kid deserves to be recognized.  This is not designed to be a competition among adults.  It is set up to be an easy challenge for individuals to begin promoting positivity within their building.  Fourteen points one day with a goal of twenty the next ultimately means there will be more positivity shared. However, individuals are not to be discouraged if a colleague earns fifty points in a day.  Together 64 points (plus the points of other staff members in the building) of positivity were shared in one building on one day.

11/10/16

Learning with EdPuzzle

Jennifer Hogan’s recent post inspired me to write about my experience with EdPuzzle.

I’ve used EdPuzzle in facilitating PD.  We may use it a bit more as a staff later this year.  Edpuzzle is really powerful.  It allows you to clip videos, add in audio, and insert questions directly into an instructional video, providing an opportunity for formative assessment.  There are a number of “channels” available to pick and choose videos.

I signed up as a teacher using my Google account.  I used the one-click Google button to sign in.  You can see from the image below there are a variety of channels available.

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In the next image, you’ll see the dashboard.  From here you can apply due dates to the assignments (videos) you create.  You can also view the progress of students who have completed the assignment, and you can prevent or allow skipping (fast fwd) during the video.

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In the next image you see who has watched the video till the end and you’ll see their score.  By clicking on a name you get a more detailed view of their responses, how many times they’ve viewed the video, etc.

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This is an individual student’s view provided to the teacher.  You can see this student of mine viewed this video 2 times after the question was proposed.  You are not limited by the numbers of questions you can ask.

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So here’s the most important question: why would a teacher incorporate videos into their instruction?

  • Videos give students an opportunity to learn in ways that are relevant and important in the year 2016 and beyond.  Ask your students how many have watched a video to figure out how to fix a 4-wheeler, braid hair, or flip a bottle.  Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.
  • Videos can liberate you to provide the support that is difficult to provide when you’re instructing the whole class.  So many times I hear teachers say it’s difficult to teach their class because the skill level gap is so wide.  Videos can actually carve out MORE time for you to do what you do best, support students. 
  • EdPuzzle is like videos on steroids because you can insert questions to check for understanding and guide thinking.  The charts that are provided after your learners complete the videos can inform you about what to do next. 
09/13/16

Just Serve

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http://jongordon.com/carpenter/

I’m one month in to my first year as assistant principal.  I’m thankful to have a network of people I can call on for support.  Within my first week, I had several great friends and edu-heroes check in with me to see how things were going.  I actually told my friend, Jodie Pierpoint, yesterday that I feel like I’ve been so busy I haven’t had any inspiration to blog.  I’ve actually entered a stretch here where I feel either so disoriented that I can’t locate my target, or perhaps I don’t have a target.  I imagine it’s a feeling only school administrators can understand.  I typically attack or pursue education activity like a wild dog.  I’m often my own worst enemy because I lose sight of small victories or my zeal pushes people too far.  But recently I have struggled to focus in on one thing.  I feel as if I’m bringing little value to my school.

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My advice to other educators that may be in a situation where they feel like they don’t know what to do: just serve.  Serving others is like defense and rebounding.  Those two things don’t require near the amount of skill as scoring, they just require focused effort!  I realized that in the midst of my frustration about not knowing what to do, or deciding how to address this need or that need, I just needed to take a deep breath and go serve people.  It doesn’t require much thought to check in on teachers between classes.  It doesn’t require much preparation to greet teachers in the morning and ask if they need anything.  It doesn’t require any planning for me to write teachers a thank you note.  These may seem like small, menial tasks to some.  You’re right!  Those aren’t the kinds of things I aspire to do after reading the latest blog post from my edu-heroes or listening to a recent podcast on my way to school.  But I think it’s important to note that I won’t get to see the results I’d like to see if I’m not serving others.  I needed the reminder that I didn’t have to be engaged in a furious pursuit of the next staff meeting or professional development session in order to have an impact on my school.  And neither do you.  Just serve.  The relationships you build as a result will yield far more impact in the long run.

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08/8/16

Did I Leave Too Early?

Photo by Derek Oldfield 7/16/16

Photo by Derek Oldfield 7/16/16

I feel like that photo represents my career right now.  I’m stepping out of the classroom and into school administration.  This passion has been something I’ve invested in heavily over the last couple years.  I feel as if I’m looking back, through the side mirror, at a beautiful sunset!  What lies ahead is a bit dark and my way isn’t nearly as clear as it used to be.  I’m writing this as dusk falls on my time in the classroom.  It’s really bittersweet.  On one hand, I need this.  It’s possible my principal from last year may feel a sense of relief.  I look at nearly every event that occurs during the school day through the lens of a school leader.  The inbox of my principal will be lighter next year as I won’t be there to share my reflections, the questions that resulted in books I read or blog posts shared the night before.  My activity over Twitter, the blog posts and books I read, and the edchats in which I engaged, have had a rather narrow focus lately: school leadership.

On the other hand, as I look back at that beautiful sunset I’m reminded of things that I feel were left unfinished.  I didn’t meet my goal last year for #goodcallshome.  I just spent an hour reviewing student blogs and screencasts they submitted.  I remember embarking on the mission to establish portfolios of learning just two years ago.  That mission is not complete.  Last year I placed an emphasis on asking students to demonstrate learning and understanding at a deeper level.  I told myself that I would no longer tolerate rote memorization and regurgitation of procedures and algorithms as “learning”.  So I spent some time reviewing the assessments I created and the evidence my learners submitted.

Desmaze Example 1

Megan MarbleSlides

Pacman Example 1

Keela Inequality Screencast

I reviewed some of the Kahoots students created, then shared with their class as a means to prepare for upcoming assessments.  Just last week I had an opportunity to share with teachers how I intentionally reach the hearts of my learners during the first week and throughout the rest of the school year.

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I’m worried that my relentless pursuit for the highest quality learning experiences for students may weaken as a result of the limited opportunities school leadership may provide for me to teach.  As a practitioner, I remained in a constant state of improvement.  I spent every ounce of down time seeking after ways to better reach my learners.  I had a 50 minute drive to work every day last year.  I must have listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts, Youtube videos, and audiobooks while on the road.  I pride myself on my instructional knowledge and the art that allowed me to inspire learners to drive their learning and reflect on how they were learning.   Will stepping out of the classroom still provide me with opportunities to unleash experiences on students (teachers) then reflect on how to improve those experiences the next time?  I hope so.  Did I leave the classroom too early?  I hope not.  I invite your feedback, especially from other school leaders.

07/4/16

Two Questions Around Standards Based Learning

Last week I completed two days, approximately nine hours of instruction at AFT-WV (American Federation of Teachers – my union) summer camp for teachers.  I’ve been honored to serve as an instructor for the week-long event the last three summers now.  The emphasis is always on technology integration.  This year I decided to take the opportunity to engage participants in an interactive conversation on grading and assessment.  This represented about two hours of our class time.  Over the last year, I had developed a two-part academy, via Nearpod, designed to expose a staff to standards based learning.  The goal or target was to generate momentum for a staff to begin improving the way they communicate learning to students.  I had 20 participants in my class at AFT-WV summer camp and they represented a wide variety of content and grade levels.  I wasn’t sure what to expect as this was the first time I had ever used the content I designed.  My participants stepped up and fully engaged in some incredible discussion.  I was really shocked.  Navigating the waters of grading and assessment requires some intense reflection about century-old practices that have dominated classrooms and teacher mindsets.  During the lesson, as the participants began to really consider how to more accurately communicate learning to students, they brought to my attention some common problems or even misconceptions that I remember grappling with during my own journey towards a culture of learning that is standards based.  I’m going to offer these issues to you as they were offered to me, then I’ll follow up with my response.

Derek, it does make sense when you asked us to consider if we believe all students learn on the same timetable or conveyor belt, as you put it.  But, I can’t figure out how you seem to manage different assessment schedules in the same classrooms?  That almost seems like a moonshot idea that isn’t practical or possible in the real classroom.

Penalized for learning different rate

First, I’m a math teacher, so this issue was something I really struggled with for some time.  I recall passing out tests in my classroom and as I walked around handing the test out to students, I would almost cringe as I placed that test on some students’ desks because I knew that student wasn’t ready.  At that time I began to leverage technology quite a bit more in my classroom.  I could tell when he or she hadn’t completed the assignments and tasks I had prepared and the formative results indicated such.  Here I was handing out a summative opportunity to students that I knew weren’t quite ready.  I asked myself “would this student be ready if I just gave them an extra day?  Was there any data I could view that would indicate where this student was struggling?  Could I meet with that student in a 1-1 or small group setting to better prepare him or her for this summative test?”  Of course, in my mind, none of those questions were possible because I had asked students to learn according my timetable.  Why?  After much thought and reflection, the only answer I could come up with was that my timetable was easier and more convenient for me.  If you’re reading, stop there and think.  Ok, I hope you’ve given some thought to my answer for why I was so committed to my timetable for learning.  At this point, I think it’s safe to say that little can improve in your classroom or your school if our focus is on keeping teachers comfortable, keeping instruction convenient, and keeping our work easy.

If you decide to allow multiple pathways to that summative, standards aligned, assessment you create, I think you’ll find that what happens is not quite what you had in mind.  See, my participants last week had this thought in their minds that if they had 23 students in class, nearly all 23 would choose a different day to take that summative assessment.  WOW!  How in the world could a teacher manage 23 different days of testing, provide adequate feedback to those students after their tests, then keep them busy while the rest of the class tested for days after.  Let’s be clear.  That doesn’t happen.  In my experience, being more fluid with when your students test means you’re not as concerned with when but more concerned with results (learning).  I think you’ll find that most students still move through your curriculum, those assignments you’ve designed as opportunities for students to practice or engage in that new skill or concept, together.  This is especially true if you successfully nurture a culture of collaboration in your classroom.  If students know that talking, sharing, and working together is appropriate and encouraged, learning rates for students will begin to merge together.  You’ll find that your attention is given, more appropriately, to those students who begin to move at a slower pace.

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Students Helping

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Let me give you an example of how allowing more choices about when students test will actually benefit the teacher.  In my own journey towards improving the way I communicate learning to my students, I began shortening the tests I gave to my students.  I more accurately aligned my tests to specific learning targets I had communicated to my students.  So instead of a 25-30 question/problem test that likely takes an entire 45-minute period to complete, I started offering shorter, targeted assessments.  This allowed me to provide 1-1 feedback to students immediately after completing those assessments.  If all 23 students take that assessment on the same day, it becomes more difficult to meet 1-1 with each student after their assessment.  Time becomes an issue, I just can’t meet with all of them in 45 minutes.  However, if 12 students take that assessment on Thursday, I can then meet 1-1 with all 12 after they complete their assessment.  This conference becomes crucial to the learning process.  My goal is for each student to leave my conference knowing where they are, where they need to be, and how they can get there.  Students leave my conference knowing exactly what they need to do to remediate and strengthen those learning targets in which they failed to demonstrate proficiency.  Some of those 12 leave my conference and go back to work.  Some students provided evidence of learning in every standard or learning target.  My point is, if 7 more students test on Friday and go through my 1-1 conference after, that leaves just 4 students for me to check on before pushing students ahead to the next set of learning targets.  It’s more manageable than you think.  As I often tell educators, find someone who is already doing this and lean on them.  That’s what I did!

The second issue or misconception I want to address is around the idea of allowing retakes or redos.

Derek, if you allow retakes and redos on every summative assessment, what do you do if you hand a student a test and he or she says “I don’t want to do that one, I’ll just take the retake”?

This was a great question and one that I’ve heard before from educators at the beginning of this journey.  Hopefully my last response brought some clarity to this issue.  Is this student ready for that test?  Let’s consider why that student is saying “I’ll just take the retake.”  If that student was ready for the test or at least felt they were ready, what reason would they have to not take the test?  Another issue here may be that students have learned that your retakes are easier than the first version of the test.  Be sure your summative assessments, all versions, are clearly aligned to learning targets you’ve already communicated to students.  In fact, it’s good practice, especially at the secondary level, to allow students to explore what would be considered mastery of your learning targets.  For example, take the following learning target from 9th grade language arts: I can cite strong and thorough textual evidence that supports my inferences and analysis of the text.  After providing your instruction, try allowing your students to provide examples of mastery and examples that do not provide evidence of mastery.  How would they measure if another student could demonstrate mastery of this standard?  You may find some deep learning occurs during this activity.  To summarize, if this issue appears in your classroom, it’s likely you’re placing an emphasis on when students learn and it appears this student isn’t ready to demonstrate learning.  Otherwise, you may have an issue with the validity of your retakes.

05/9/16

What’s In The Mirror?

 

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What are you sharing?  I heard someone tweet recently during an edchat, what educators say online is just a mirror of their heart.  I thought that was a great metaphor that connects well with educators.  Those who share uplifting, positive content generally have an uplifting and positive attitude.  I imagine the opposite is also true.  I’ve never been immune to professional struggle and frustrations.  During those times I have to intentionally reflect on every tweet, Facebook post, etc. to ensure my internal frustrations don’t come through my social media activity.

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Creative Commons Image

No educator would question that we are under attack!  In fact, public education has been under attack for some time.  With the prevalence of social media use, I feel it a tremendous responsibility to fight back.  As Jennifer Hogan put it in her recent blog post, we must be active in diluting the negative stories flooding the media about public education.  I challenge educators to inspect their social media activity and analyze which side of the fight they support.  Educators that use their Facebook account to share the latest Why I Quit Teaching… story or to vent their frustrations about their students, parents, or school, do nothing but add to the concentrated amount of negativity surrounding public education.  Frustrated about certain issues that exist in public education?  So am I.  But instead of contributing to the negativity, let’s fight back by flooding our digital footprint with positive news occurring in education.  Doing anything extraordinary in your classroom?  Please share it!  Active in your teacher union?  Great!  Just 15 years ago, this conversation didn’t occur.  I know educators already have enough responsibilities that even the greatest educators can’t fulfill them all adequately.  However, we can no longer afford to work in isolation, doing great things, without publishing those accomplishments to the rest of the world.  Maybe public opinion could begin to swing in our favor if more educators took responsibility for shifting that story.  Maybe state legislators would take notice if educators flooded their world with evidence of the hard work poured into the hearts of our students every day.

Like I said, I don’t write to you as an educator that’s never had a bad day.  I’m not immune to failure, frustration, unfairness, etc.  I’ve questioned my commitment to this profession as I’m sure you have.  If I can provide any advice, though, it is this:

  • Connect immediately with other likeminded educators.  They can provide you support, encouragement, relief or just a welcome set of ears to absorb those moments when we all need to vent.  Will it require some of your time?  Yes.  Can you afford to continue working in isolation while others benefit from the support of their tribe?  No.
Support PLN

From: http://www.thecompellededucator.com/2016/02/join-compelled-tribe.html

Here are some great resources to support you in growing your own personal learning network.

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Creative Commons Image

04/21/16

Side Effects

You’ve heard them right, those pharmaceutical commercials where everyone appears to live a better life by taking that drug?  Then I’m sure you’ve noticed the often lengthy list of side effects that are read at the end of the commercials.  I find it comical, because there’s always happy people on the screen with soft uplifting music playing as the narrator reads a long list of side effects that are often worse than life without the drug.  View this real commercial for Chantix and try not to laugh.

Ok, so we know sometimes what is intended for good can have some pretty harmful side effects.  Let’s turn that around.  I hope that our students don’t feel any harmful side effects from attending our classes or our schools, though that is something to consider.  Instead, I wonder what positive side effects would be experienced by students that attend our classes and our schools?  It’s a thought that has been on my mind a lot lately, especially as schools across the country enter standardized testing season.  There’s a lot of conversation in my PLN that would suggest the side effects could be more important than the effects that we acknowledge up front.  For example, one could imagine that students who attend my math class should leave my math class with a breadth of knowledge as determined by the content standards.  However, year after year I become more interested in those side effects and the impact those can have on student success beyond school.  It’s not that I’m uninterested in the content I teach, but I’m more in tune with the side effects that I want my students to experience as a result of attending my class.  For school leaders, what side effects do students experience as a result of attending your school?  I invite you to consider the side effects that students experience from attending your class, school, or district.  Please share those side effects in the comments section of this blog post.  Here are mine:

  • increased awareness of one’s learning preferences and style
  • perseverance
  • empathy
  • tolerance
  • confidence in their ability to leverage digital sources to learn anything
  • a growth mindset