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I recently participated in what might possibly be a one-time experience for an educator, an education conference in Las Vegas. Of course that probably doesn’t hold true for Nevada educators. Solution Tree Publishing sponsored the Leadership Now Conference in Vegas. It was a Quality event with high visibility speakers keynoted the event.
The speakers at the event were Solution Tree authors and each was a leading expert in their area of expertise. They were also all affiliated with the Marzano/DuFour group. This was a big showing of the PLC at Work institute. For the most part I happen to be a believer in most of what they preach, so I was quite happy with the topics presented.
Of course the backbone of most of what was discussed was the idea of collaborative learning communities within individual school districts. I love the idea and I believe in the concept that collaboratively we all benefit more in learning and teaching. I do find the idea of stopping that collaboration at the district level somewhat limiting however. We need global networks of collaboration. We should not stop at the borders of our own school district or just the network of a group of paying participants of some larger group. Collaboration through social media is free and global. We need to explore and use it to our best advantage as educators and as students.
The First keynotes by Robert Marzano and Richard DuFour lasted an hour and a half each. They were lectures with text-ladened slides to keep the audience (learners) on track while laying out the research and philosophy of the grand plan. There was a printed and bound compiled text of the presentations along with worksheets for the learners. I actually weighed it. It was THREE pounds.
The highlight for me was the keynote by Sir Ken Robinson. He did a keynote that covered many aspects of several of his TED Talk videos. Although I heard much of it before, it meant more live, presented in sir Ken’s unique blend of humor, irony and common sense. This was a vast improvement over the last time I saw him at ISTE with a disastrous panel presentation after what seemed like a ten-minute keynote. In contrast to that, Sir Ken’s Solution Tree retrospective presentation was one to remember.
The workshops following the keynotes were again 90-minute lectures with text-ladened slides that corresponded to the three-pound, bound, text workbook. The material covered in the workshops was essential. The research seemed sound. It was all a common sense approach to the complicated problem of education reform. Each workshop was a clear presentation of how we might best approach what we are doing now in education with what we might be doing even better.
I only wish that they applied the same amount of time, research, and development to their methods of teaching and presentation as they applied to their subject material. First rule of PowerPoint: Don’t read from text-ladened slides to the audience, even if it is from a book written by you, the presenter. To do such a presentation differently is not going to be an easy task and it will probably take several iterations of a presentation to eliminate so much text from slides, but it will help the learners or should I say audience. Although there is a certain element of entertainment in education presentations they are designed to inform and teach. That means the seats are filled with learners and not audience members.
The workshop leaders of the workshops that I attended were wonderful, knowledgeable, and experienced educators. Leaders included: Rebecca DuFour, Tammy Heflebower, Timothy Kanold, Anthony Muhammad, Phil Warrick, and Kenneth Williams. The workshops that were most striking and helpful to me however, were the workshops of Anthony Muhammad. He dealt with changing the culture of the school in order to affect any meaningful change in the structure of the school. I found him to be a shinning star in a room full of stars. He was dynamic, engaging, and most of all gave out meaningful ideas to deal with the real changes for education reform with the most “elephant in the room” problems. He later gave a rousing, closing keynote.
The low point for me anyway came when they had the panel discussion at the end of the sessions of the second day. It was not very well attended by the participants of the conference. The panel was made up of the key members of the Marzano group. Of course the lead panel members gave the longest answers. It was the questioning of the panel that struck me to be rather archaic in our world of technology. The audience was asked to write questions on a piece of paper that would be picked up and delivered to the moderator. There was no microphone stand for open questioning. There was no hashtag back channel screen. The moderator was not monitoring an iPad for questions. I guess this was made difficult because there was also no Internet service for the conference, which should be a mainstay of any education conference.
Criticisms aside, I found this to be a very informative conference. I wish it could have been live streamed to the many connected educators who were following the conference hashtag over the three days. I think the Marzano approach to collaboration and addressing the whole system in order to affect change is a sensible and sound approach. I would simply love to see an updated methodology in their approach.
I recently suffered through one of those days that makes a teacher wonder if it isn't time to move to a different work place.
I work at a grade 7 and 8 middle school that is filled with wonderful teachers, counselors, administrators and support staff, many of whom will stop at nothing to help students learn. Some of them are quirky; some are funny. Some have marvelous ideas about how to make education better; some just wear a never-ending smile that always makes your day.
Sounds great, right? So why would anyone complain about a place like this?
The problem, you see, is that while these marvelous people are willing to go the extra mile for kids, many of them think the best way to do this is to control students.
As I watched my students work cooperatively, independently, quietly and noisily in my results-only classroom, an e-mail landed in my inbox, quickly followed by another and several more -- all on the same subject.
"This place is out of control, and it has to stop," was the gist of the lot. The students, it seems, are listening to their Mp3 players and iPods in the hallways, and the safety of the school, perhaps even that of the entire civilized world, is at stake. (Okay, that las part was poetic license run amok.)
Still, a steady stream of loud complaints cascaded throughout teachers' email, demanding a change. By the end of the day, new policy was in place, scaring the bejesus out of any student who might give further thought to walking the halls with earbuds dangling.
As you may have guessed, my take on this was quite different. Sadly, my suggestion to teach the students appropriate use, rather than take the devices away, was met with criticism.
It makes me wonder, will we ever join the 21st century digital age? Or, do I need to look for a new place to hang my hat. . . and my iPod.
Follow me on Twitter, where we can continue the conversation.
My wife and I had been saving up our rewards points from airlines, hotels, and credit cards in order to celebrate a 24th wedding anniversary in Las Vegas. We finally did it this past week. As a lifelong “Rat Pack” fan I looked forward to the Landmarks, the Legends, the Lights, and the Luxuries of the Las Vegas Strip. Ironically, however, our most enjoyable venture was a helicopter tour and landing in the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
One of the most impressive feats of Las Vegas Casinos, to me at least as an educator, was their ability to engage people in the casinos without regard to time. There were no clocks. There were no windows. There were no skylights. The only bells going off were on the slot machines. There seemed to be a total engagement in the moment. Time was not a limitation. The goal was to get a person’s complete and total involvement. In that environment, it seemed to work. Time is a major component of any form of competition, with the obvious exception to games of chance. The main goal in casinos is to get one’s complete engagement for the longest time possible. Time is on the side of the Casinos.
Of course education is another area where each participant’s total engagement would greatly improve the ability to achieve the stated purpose. We educators however, do not attack our purpose with the same ferocity as Casino owners. We force students to limit their engagement based on time. Clocks and schedules are the central theme of a school day. The clock determines when engagement will begin and when it will end. The school calendar is mapped out a year in advance. Considering a student’s age as a unit of time, it has an enormous impact on where a student will be placed to learn.
In general terms in New York for example, a secondary teacher has four, ten week quarters. Each week has 5 periods of approximately 43 minutes. Depending on the school the periods could be longer or shorter, and depending on the vacations within a quarter the ten weeks could be shorter. That is the time frame around which most educators plan the year.
Back in the day, giving a lecture and using direct instruction for a 43 minute period was doable. That was the way that many students were educated for years. Anyone over 60 certainly identifies with this model. That was the time when the teacher had to deliver the entire structured curriculum in the time allotted. Each year there seemed to be more and more added to the curriculum without adding time to do it. I remember referring to that as the “Spandex curriculum”.
As teaching became more creative, and project based learning began to expand, as well as group work and collaborative learning, and simulations, little could be done with time to accommodate those activities. Some schools tried flexible scheduling, but that never seemed to have caught on as mainstream concept in education. To make things worse today, we now have to add in all of the required high stakes testing schedules. In addition to the tests themselves, many schools require test preparation time. In some cases as much as a whole month of test preparation is required in each subject. Even spandex can’t accommodate these additions.
Classroom teachers are not alone in these time accommodations, administrators have had to make adjustments for their time as well. In order to run a school there are many administrative duties required, all of which take time. The more these administrators have to address dealing with their school community, as well as their community at large, the further they are taken away from education. There is no time to be a mentor, a lead educator, or an educational leader. Many admins, not all, survive by serving the bureaucracy. Even now this is being further complicated with a call for more frequent assessments of teachers. The most dedicated administrators will be hard pressed to find the time to adequately address all of the tasks which will be required.
If we are ever to address reform in education, there are a many changes to consider. There are many readjustments to make. There are many myths to be left behind. In order to change the system, we have to consider changing the culture. Addressing time as an issue in education should definitely be a goal for reform. We should never however, just add time in order to continue to do the same stuff for longer periods of time.
Time has always been a hindrance to innovation in education. We cannot expect to fit innovative 21st Century programs for education into an old model time schedule based on the 19th Century. There is nothing more disturbing than to watch a class full of students looking at the clock, so they can get their books ready to leave at five minutes before the bell. If we approach time differently to give educators a better allotment to engage students with better models of instruction, we may be on our way to positive change.
If we recognize the fact that the administrative hierarchy based on a 19th Century model cannot work within the time constraints given to a 21st Century administrator, then let’s change that model as well. Time in education is an issue to be dealt with aggressively, not passively. We need to control time and not let it control us. Casinos have it right! Controlling time for education is a goal worth pursuing, and on that, I am willing to bet.