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School staff focus on curriculum alignment, differentiated instruction, professional development, college and career readiness, standards, and academic interventions. Is it possible that schools can lose their focus on customer service? Customers include families, community members, and all guests who visit the school website or schoolhouse.
Customer service involves the front office staff, classroom teachers, teacher assistants, custodians, counselors, and all staff members. How are customers treated when they enter your school? Ask your school staff, “What does it mean to go the extra mile for the customer?” Do families feel like the front office staff answers the phone in a professional manner? Do teachers fire off emails when they are upset with students or parents? How do schools analyze the way they are treating customers?
Six Ways To Pour Some Sugar On The Customer:
The school website is the new front door. Families and community members make a judgment about your school before they arrive in the front office. Is your school website customer friendly? If you have a focus on technology integration, does your school website look like it was created in 1990? Does your website offer a welcome message or invite families to visit the school? If Open House was the biggest event between 1980-2000, then the school website opens your school to more than the all of the guests who attended Open House during that 20 year span. Your school is connected with the world. What kind of message are you sending? Would a family in Florida view your site and want to buy a house in your community, based on the information and message on your website?
Customer service involves phone skills, email etiquette, communication skills, and the way the customer is treated when they spend time at your school. Which restaurants come to mind when you think of outstanding customer service? Have you ever had poor customer service at a hotel? Have you ever visited a church and felt like none of the members knew you were in attendance? Customer service is easy to identify, especially when we are the recipient of poor customer service. When families have a bad experience at your school, they will spread the word throughout the community and through social media. As communities build more charter schools, private schools, and home school organizations, customers will walk rather than talk.
The media may promote your school once or twice a year. Administrators and teachers can promote the school on a weekly basis by posting on a school or teacher blog. Pictures from field trips, class projects, community service, guest speakers, and student awards can assist in communicating with families. Most blogs allow for families to forward the message to their family and friends via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. Blogs also allow for two-way communication. The traditional method of communicating with families was a flyer in a second grade student’s backpack. With a blog, the school can communicate with families and families can post comments or ask questions about the event before their child arrives home.
Several schools host a Principal’s Coffee Hour once monthly. There is usually a topic that the principal or a guest speaker shares with families. The highlight of any Principal’s Coffee Hour is the time that families are able to share their opinions, ask questions, and brainstorm ways to support all students. Coffee Hour provides a monthly time for two-way communication. Parents will provide you with their opinions and they will feel respected because the school provided a forum for adult conversation about their most prized possession, their child. How is your school promoting two-way communication with families and stakeholders?
Twitter allows home-to-school and school-to-home communication. Families can receive updates from the school. While Twitter may not work for all families, it is a great tool. Most schools see social media as one form of communication. The sign in front of the school reaches some families, the school website reaches others, and a flyer may still work for families without a computer or a Smartphone. The reason I feel like schools should consider Twitter is because it allows families to forward or reply to each tweet. If you have ever been in a relationship with someone you realize the importance of two-way communication. A strong relationship between families and school staff will improve your customer service and customer satisfaction.
As the number of people with Smartphones increases, your school should consider a school app. “Smartphone vendors shipped 216.2 million units in the first quarter of 2013, which accounted for 51.6 percent of the worldwide mobile phone market” (Bean, April 16, 2013). If the school website is the new front door in 2013, then the school app may be the new front door of the future. An app can combine all of the items highlighted in this article. A school app may not be nice to have, but the next step in your communication and customer-service plan.
Most schools have a professional development plan, school improvement plan, and a curriculum map. I have rarely seen a school’s customer service plan. When it comes to service, if you fail to plan you may be planning to fail. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, said, “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” There are only two kinds of schools; those with outstanding customer service and those without outstanding customer service. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rank the customer service at your school?
Questions for School Staff to Consider
1. Does our school provide outstanding customer service?
2. What are our weaknesses? What action steps do we need to take to improve?
3. What are the characteristics of outstanding customer service?
(Share your own experiences in school and non-school settings)
4. What can we measure every 18 weeks (semester) to analyze our efforts to provide customer service?
5. Do we have a school plan outlining what customer service looks like?
(Think Chick-fil-A; It doesn’t matter if the manager or a teenager provides you with service. There is consistency within and across stores).
After watching the Jeff Bliss’s, viral video, as well as the remix of it, created to popularize the event even more, I was almost moved to do a reflective post on the subject. After viewing a number of supportive blog posts for the Bliss position I kind of backed off thinking that I was off base in my position. Then I read Why the Jeff Bliss story makes me want to quit by a fellow English teacher.
The end of the academic year has all teachers stressed out. After giving one's all for a year, and having it come to an end, hoping all along for the success of the students, leads one to question much of what had been done during the year, and even why it was done. When I first saw the Bliss video, I saw a kid being asked to leave the class for whatever the reason, and the kid trying to get back at the teacher. The kid began to use an attack that echoed the focus of many educators seeking to reform the system with the same rhetoric. Without knowing anything of the student, I determined he must be active on social media and had an interest in what was being said about the change in education. This was some evidence of intelligence. I also felt that everyone would see this teacher as the “devil teacher” responsible for all the ills of our system. There is probably some accuracy to both of those descriptions but I think neither is a reflection of the whole truth in this situation.
As a retired teacher I encountered many rants from students that I removed from class for disruptive behavior. What is different in this instance is the addition of social media and the educator’s perceived opposition of the position taken by the student. This was further advanced by the teacher's negative responses to the student's critique. All of this recorded and published to the world in You Tube Celebrity.
I was moved by the frustrations of the blogger who feels overwhelmed with the on going blogging, reflection, and discussion in social media about all of the turmoil in education. Much of this is flamed by the mindless, senseless and poorly planned reforms put forth by non-educators. I am not arrogant enough to think only educators can intelligently reform education, but the general feeling among educators is that the reforms are being mandated with very little educator input. That is the most frustrating part to many educators who are being targeted and maligned even by fellow educators. Educators seem to be circling the wagons and shooting to the inside.
Most educators are doing what they have been trained to do, or what is supported by their school’s culture. I hate the fact that so many teachers use the work packets to present material, but that again is what is supported by the system that they must work in. We need to improve our professional development and be open to more relevant teaching methods, employing more relevant tools for learning, as well as more relevant attitudes toward student-centric learning.
My friend and colleague Lisa Nielsen is a great student advocate and passionate education reformer. We have collaborated on a few very popular blog posts. I do not fault her for taking the side of Jeff Bliss in his rant against his teacher. Bliss made a convincing, and passionate speech against an outmoded method of teaching that stymies our system of education every day. I hope Lisa continues to follow her bliss (not the student) in supporting students in education reform. I would only hope that an “us and them” mentality does not dominate the discussion of education. There is no group more in favor of positive education reform than educators. We must keep in mind that educators are also products of the same education system that we seek to reform. They should not be the targets for the reform; they are in fact victims of that system as well. In order to educate our students, we need to first better educate our educators, and continue to educate them as part of their job. To be relevant educators, we need to be relevantly educated. That implies continuous education in a computer-driven, continuously developing culture.
I would hope that this blogger was not discouraged by the reflection and conversation going on about education reform. We need more educators involved in the discussion that has been hijacked by business profiteers and politicians. There is a planned assault on public education. We need more educators adding their voices to the needed change. We need educators to tell other educators that it is okay to give up methods of the past, that are not working in today’s system of education. It is a question of permission, as opposed to confrontation. Educators are all in favor of kids succeeding; it is but a question of how to accomplish that goal. I would encourage this blogger to hang in and continue to speak out.
If the post by this English teacher moved me, others may be moved as well. That is a skill that is not mastered by many and it is a powerful tool for change. We need more educators stepping up and speaking out if we as educators are to take back the discussion that we left to other less qualified people to dominate.
Each Sunday afternoon there are five Topic questions posted on a poll to determine which will be selected as that week’s #Edchat Topic. There are two #Edchat discussions each Tuesday on Twitter, so the top two topics selected by the poll become the topics of the chats. The number two choice goes at noon, Eastern Time, and the number one selection goes at 7 PM, Eastern Time. The larger audience is the 7 PM Chat. If you did not know it before, I am the person responsible for making up the #Edchat Topic questions that are voted on each week. I admit that I do have favorites each week, but, more often than not, they are not the favorites of the voting public. This week it was a little different. I actually had two favorites, and fortunately for me, they were the chosen topics for the chats. I found both yesterday’s #Edchat discussions thought-provoking, and very much in need of public discussion. The topics were very much connected as well.
#Edchat is very much an open, public discussion by educators from around the world. Ideas on each topic are presented from various points of view as we discuss the varied topics in education each week. As in any public discussion, a person may pick and choose those ideas that suit his/her needs and in this case, educational philosophy. Sometimes it is a new idea, and other times it is validation of what is already being done. Since it is a discussion using Twitter as the platform, most of the participants are educators who are somewhat familiar with technology and social media. As a generalization they tend to be a collaborative group, more progressive in their approach to education, and open to the use of technology as a tool for learning.
The other day I engaged an educator who described himself as a 20th century traditionalist educator (my words). He said that he participated in #Edchat so that he could know his “Enemy”. When I called him on this, he informed me that “Enemy” was in quotes in his tweet. I guess that was to make it humorous, but there is much truth in humor. The point here is that most of the participants are striving to move from the methods and pedagogy of 20th century education to a place that we have not yet found. It is also a great help when authors and experts on these various topics join in on the Chats giving clarity and direction in their areas of expertise. Many of these thought leaders are connected educators.
Usually the #Edchat question is a singular interrogative. The Topics this week had more than one part in the hope of generating more discussion. The noon Chat Topic: What is the BIG Shift in education that everyone is looking for? Is there one big idea that can positively affect education? If not why? Of course there is no single idea because education is too complex for an easy fix. A point lost to most politicians and business people. The question, I thought, would prompt the chatters to present and promote their best and biggest idea.
From the folks I engaged in conversation on this topic the overwhelming objective was support of student-centric as opposed to teacher-centric lessons. The shift being from Direct instruction, and lecture to problem-based, or project-based learning. The teacher would no longer be the content-delivery expert filling the empty vessels of students, but rather a mentor, guiding their learning direction rather than mandating it.
The 7 PM Question: Children are anxious learners in the early grades of education. What are the factors that turn kids off to learning, as they get older? This #Edchat started slowly. I hate when that happens. My biggest fear in doing these chats is that there may come a time when nobody responds to the question. Going into moderator mode, I broke the topic down, and peppered the chatters with a series of smaller questions to loosen them up. That worked which immediately calmed me down. It was like the priming of an old well. It took a minute to get it going, but it came on strong.
Words that popped up with those who I engaged were curiosity, authenticity, and ownership. What I took from it was that students at a young age are curious about learning because it is all new and exciting. It is also relevant ant authentic since what kids are learning enables them to participate in more stuff as well as society. However, some reach a point where they think they have as much as they need and the curiosity is gone. The direction however continues providing to them things that they no longer want to engage in. They do not own their learning and cannot direct its direction to things they would like to learn. If this occurs in a student, it comes at different times for each student. Some teachers saw it on the elementary level others in Middle school where hormones play an even bigger role. The point here is that it happens to many students.
Engagement in learning is the goal of education and the ability for students to own that learning and for it to be authentic, and relevant was a theme for this #Edchat. Again it came down to the teacher being the guide or mentor and not a content delivery person directing content to kids who don’t see it as relevant or authentic. They prefer to create content instead of memorizing it. They prefer to use content instead of regurgitating it on a test.
Both of these #Edchats led me to the same place. For kids to be engaged in learning it will be more effective if they own it and direct it. Teachers can always guide the direction and, as content experts, they have the capacity to do so. Teaching kids how to learn, and how to continue to learn, is more important than whatever content the curriculum tells us the students should know for a test. If we can use their interest to promote our content, fine. If our content doesn’t interest students at all, then what do we do?
#Edchat is not the best method to introduce people to online chats for the first time without preparation. It requires some knowledge and a little strategy. If you are interested, this may help: #Edchat Revisited. If you are interested in viewing the past #Edchat discussions, we have archived the last several years here: #Edchat Archives. If you do not have time to read, you can download a podcast analysis of several of the #Edchats from Bam Radio Network, and The #Edchat Radio Show. #Edchat is one of many education chats. It was started 4 years ago be Shelly Terrell,@shellterrell, Steve Anderson, @web20classroom, and me,@tomwhitby. It was not the first chat, but it is the most enduring, and it has spawned many, many others.
Over this last year I have been fortunate to have been sent to many education conferences on behalf of SmartBrief in pursuit of content and guest bloggers forSmartBlog on Education. It is a dream job for a retired educator and an education blogger. The intent is to always keep the educator’s voice on SmartBlog authentic and relevant. In that capacity, I have attended and conducted a multitude of workshops on various education topics. Since I am no longer in the classroom, and have no need to apply what I learn about current teaching methods in a classroom setting, I often attend these workshops as an observer, or even a critical observer in some cases.
In conference after conference, and workshop after workshop I have observed successes and failures in the methods employed by presenters to get their material across to their audiences. Of course my biggest criticism is that too many presenters view the people in the room as audiences, and themselves as some sort of entertainer. Of course a successful presenter is part entertainer, as is any teacher, but more importantly, he or she is there at a conference workshop to educate educators and that is a primary goal. For that goal to be met presenters might be better served thinking of the people in the room as learners, and employ their best skills as an educator. In fairness to most presenters, the best do just that.
Much can be learned as an educator by watching what works with a bunch of teacher/learners. Of course there are some who would argue that these are adult learners and shouldn’t be compared to kids. I used to think that as well, but I am not as sure, after all that I have observed.
I found one of the best explanations of adult learning in this article: “Adult Learning Theory and Principles” from The Clinical Educator’s Resource Kit.
According to the article Malcolm Knowles an American practitioner and theorist of adult education, defined andragogy as “the art and science of helping adults learn”.
Knowles identified the six principles of adult learning as:
After considering these principles and observing many of them first hand at these professional conferences, I started to wonder if the reason why these same principles do not apply to kids, at least on the secondary level, is because we prohibit them from happening in our education system. Do we limit our students learning by blocking access to the very things that motivate us as adults to learn?
Can Students be self-motivated and self-directed? As adults some might say we are “pursuing our bliss” therefore, we are self-motivated and self-directed. Are our students bereft of bliss, or are we blocking out their bliss?
At the more successful conferences providing adult learning environments I have observed many things that aided the learning of adults. The best conferences provided Internet access for all. This enabled adults to use varied and sundry laptops and mobile devices. I still revel at the memory of a room full of learners listening to Chris Lehmann at the Educon Conference as he placed notes on a white board. When he was finished with his illustrated point in the conversation, 40 adults stood up and took a picture of the whiteboard with their mobile devices (mostly cellphones) for later reference. Student classrooms might have over 40 students in them but how many are allowed to take pictures of the teachers’ notes?
Of course the resounding positive comments from any of these learning environments is that there is a love of the conversation, as opposed to the lecture. That is common at Educon and it is the mainstay of the most successful Edcamps. Of course that conversation method is not the focus of teaching kids. Most educators focus on direct instruction and lecture as the mainstay for their lessons.
Then there is the cry from a multitude of adult conference learners that they hold teacher-presenters in the highest regard, because they are authentic. They have been in the classroom, and have paid their dues, so to speak. When real classroom teachers talk about education, it is relevant and real. This is a common sentiment among adult conference learners. I guess that relevance is important to the adult learner. When it comes to the kid learners are they even given a smattering of relevance or are we steeped in curriculum some of which may have been around since the mid 1900’s?
Of course the biggest outcry from adult learners at conferences comes when they are subjected to PowerPoint presentations that are text-ladened and read to the learners word for word by the presenter. This is the most egregious of mistakes and often the initiator of an exodus by the adult learners from the room. What alternative do kid learners have given the same set of circumstances?
Maybe as adult learners we need to take a look in the mirror before we resume our role as teachers for kids. In the final analysis, I do not think that there are differences in the way we learn as adults, or kids, but rather the differences lie in the opportunities afforded to learn. If we respected kids more as learners, they might be more self-directed and motivated in their learning. If they are allowed to participate in their learning, they might take more ownership. What learner wants to own something that is not in his, or her interest to own? If we can understand better how we learn best, maybe we can alter how we teach to be the best.
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.
If innovation is something new than the idea of technology-driven collaboration in the form of a PLN is old news and no longer innovation. Since it is no longer innovative, maybe educators will consider it, as a possible next step in education that will enable needed change. The idea that educators may be anti-innovative is my only explanation as to why the idea of a Personal Learning Network has not yet moved educators to accept it as a method to move educators, and education to a better place.
The term “innovation” has been thrown around through the halls of education for several years. Its creation in our education system is a stated goal by our Department of Education. It is a reason, although some would call it a justification, for charter schools being formed. Charter schools were supposed to lead the way to innovation for public education. A problem with innovation however is that we often do not know it when we see it.
The whole idea of innovation is that it is something new. The other part of that, which is implied, is that it is also a successful improvement. That may be the piece that prevents recognizing innovation in education. Teachers, when it comes to education, are a conservative group. Change comes slowly, and there is a comfort in holding on to what has worked in the past. This has long been reinforced by the many trends and fads in education that have come and gone. Teachers have been programmed to believe that whatever the change being mandated by the powers that be, it will be gone with the next change of power. “If we wait a little while, this to will pass” becomes the educators’ mindset.
The newness of innovation is probably its greatest obstacle to acceptance. Teachers generally rely on the tried and true methods, proven to work over a long period of time. Innovation requires a leap of faith on the part of educators that the innovation will be a success. Unfortunately for innovation, the conservative nature of educators does not support taking risks. It may have something to do with self-perceptions of many teachers that as “content experts” they shouldn’t make public mistakes. Supporting innovation that fails would be a commitment to failure in the eyes of many educators. Obviously, this slows innovation acceptance.
This entire process has been further complicated by the rate of speed that technology moves and affects change. Committees, research and approval are very big parts of change in education. Today however, change comes faster and more significantly than in years past primarily because of the advancements in technology. These advancements continue to move forward regardless of anyone’s committee, research, or approval.
Collaboration has long been an element of learning. The term social learning is now creeping into discussions more and more giving collaboration a facelift. Face to face collaboration is the oldest and most easily recognized form. It is also a positive reason for department and faculty meetings. When learning individually we are good, but more often than not, learning collaboratively we are better. Technology tools for collaboration have moved collaboration to the forefront.
Now, let us combine collaboration with technology and see if it fits into our education system. Technology has most recently provided many tools, or applications for collaboration. Social Media is not one tool, but rather a network of many that overlap and intertwine. Educators can: join a Ning community,and meet a colleague from anywhere, converse on that site, connect and collaborate on Twitter, continue face to face collaboration on a Google Hangout, or Skype, collaboratively create and publish documents, presentations, Podcasts and videos. The potential ability for educators to harness this power and use it to model and guide learning for their students is mind-boggling to me, as a 40-year educator. It is only surpassed by the idea that the same potential ability in the hands of the students will take collaboration, creation, and learning even further.
We have labeled this innovation the Personal Learning Network. It is what we use to connect educators for collaboration beyond their buildings, districts, towns, and countries. It is technology-driven innovation that may profoundly affect education in regard to collaboration and professional development. It connects teachers with students, administrators, thought leaders, authors, and experts in all areas. It enables collaboration and creation on every level for educators to learn and teach. We become connected educators giving us insights and relevance that has been enabled by technology.
This innovation has been percolating for several years now, yet it has failed to be accepted as innovation. There is a growing gap between the adapters, or the connected educators, and the unconnected educators. The continuous discussions of the connected are directed and led by thought leaders and collaborative reflections, discussions, and content. The unconnected educators rely on the past and whatever direction is given by the powers that be in their districts.
A year and a half ago I decided to implement a job-embedded growth model at the suggestion of some of my teacher leaders. They desperately sought time during the school day to engage in professional growth opportunities, learn how to integrate Web 2.0 tools, and develop their own Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s). After some thinking and looking at various options inherent in the current schedule, I decided to cut all non-instructional duties in half to create a Professional Growth Period (PGP). The inspiration for this idea came from Google’s 80/20 Innovation Model where engineers are encouraged to take 20 percent of their time to work on something company-related that interests them personally. Duties that we cut are now assumed by me and my administrative team.
The PGP was launched in September 2011. It virtually gave every New Milford High School teacher two to three, forty eight minute periods a week, depending on the semester, to engage in growth opportunities of personal interest. The only catch was that each staff member had to create and present a learning portfolio at his/ her end of year evaluation conference. This learning portfolio clearly articulated how they integrated what was learned during this time into professional practice. They also had to keep a log detailing what was done during each PGP day throughout the year.
A great deal was learned after I reflected on year one of the PGP. For starters, I read Drive by Daniel Pink this past summer and made a few slight changes. In order to give each staff member a greater level of autonomy, I removed all top-down mandates such as keeping a log and watching a certain number of PD 360 videos. This year teachers had true freedom to learn anything and follow their passions as long as the time was spent to improve NMHS’s bottom line – student learning and achievement. Sample PGP activities include the following:
I also used last year as an opportunity to work with my teachers and better articulate how to compile their learning portfolios. Last week I began conducting end of year evaluation conferences with my teachers. I was extremely eager to see their respective learning portfolios and discover what they had been working on over the course of the year. Let me tell you this, I was not disappointed. As each staff member presented their learning portfolio they all shared how appreciative they were to have this time. Below is a sample from some of the portfolios:
Similar to FedEx days discussed by Dan Pink in Drive, my teachers have been given the opportunity to follow their passions, unleash their creativity, and deliver a learning portfolio that illustrates professional growth to enhance teaching and learning. Based on the conversations I had with teachers after they presented their learning portfolios, they are already beginning to talk about innovative ideas to pursue next year. I am excited to see what some of my other teachers have been working on in the coming weeks and am proud that time during the school day is being used productively.
A high performance team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are equally committed to a common purpose, goals, and working approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. Members of the team are deeply committed to one another’s personal growth and success (Katzenbach & Smith, 1993).
As I observe classrooms and visit schools, I am always looking for high performing teams. I am impressed by a fourth grade teacher who can differentiate, analyze assessment data, lead professional development, teach students to think outside the box, and integrate technology on a daily basis. However, I am in awe of high performing teams. In The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, Maxwell (2001) wrote, “Communication increases commitment and connection; they in turn fuel action. If you want your team to perform at the highest level, the people on it need to be able to talk and to listen to one another” (p. 197). Does your professional learning team communicate on a regular basis? Do you plan to meet daily, weekly, or monthly? How often do you need to meet in order to make certain all students learn the essential learning outcomes?
High performing teams use the following strategies to take students to the next level:
Team norms are the foundation of a high performing team. Some teams feel like they can operate without norms, but conflict or a dysfunctional team member highlight the purpose of norms. When teams operate with norms, each member of the team understands how to communicate, how shared decisions will be handled, when to arrive for meetings, and how to professionally disagree. I have observed teams that developed norms five years ago, but they fail to revisit the team norms. When a new teacher moves from a different grade level or from another school district, it is difficult for the teacher to participate as a team member because the team norms are akin to living and working in a different country or culture. Solution Tree has developed a free online resource which supports the development of team norms titled, Developing Norms.
A precursor to improvement is a clear understanding of the goal. Educators often enter a new nine weeks and don’t pause to reflect on the current reality (i.e., Where are we? Where are we going? How will we get there?). If six eighth grade science teachers each develop their own goals and learning outcomes, is it likely that students will end up at the same place when they enter ninth grade science? Blanchard (2007) contends, “Goal setting is the single most powerful motivational tool in a leader’s toolkit” (p. 150). A school without clearly defined goals is like a ship without a rudder; it lacks direction and a slight wind could easily blow it off course (Wiles, 2009).
Teams set goals, companies strive to meet sales or production goals, and successful individuals monitor their diet, finances, time management, life-long learning, leadership growth, and other established goals. If school teams are aiming for student achievement, then they must become crystal clear on how to help each member of their school district meet the goal. DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker (2008) wrote, “One of the most pressing questions a school must consider as it attempts to build the collaborative culture of a PLC is not, ‘Do we collaborate?’ but rather, ‘What do we collaborate about?’” (p. 28). A lack of clarity on intended results is a barrier to growth and continuous improvement in schools.
One strategy that is overlooked in schools is the power of small wins. When I memorized 1 x 1 through 12 x 12, my second grade teacher gave me a poster autographed by a Razorback basketball player (talk about a small win)! Memorizing my multiplication facts did not make me a mathematician, but my teacher took time to recognize the small win each time a new student reached the goal. When I played high school basketball, the coach would require each member of the team to make ten free throws before we left practice. This was a small win and it was psychological. New York Times bestselling author Daniel Coyle wrote, “Perhaps most important, the “small-win” approach is aligned with the way your brain is built to learn: chunk by chunk, connection by connection, rep by rep. As John Wooden said, “Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts” (April, 2012).
School teams are implementing common formative assessments, the Common Core State Standards, technology integration, reading programs, literacy across the curriculum, character education programs, state initiatives, and more! Most teachers understand the importance of celebrating a small win with students. We need to use this same strategy when we work with our colleagues. Small wins are identified and celebrated by high performing school teams!
Meetings have become a burden to teachers. If a school still operates where each teacher believes, “These are my students and those are your students....” – Then, it will be difficult for teachers to see why they need to meet as a team. High performing teacher teams realize, “These are our students and this is our community.” High performing teams have a meeting agenda, clear meeting outcomes, and action items. If team members are arriving at each meeting asking what are we going to discuss today, then it won’t be a very good use of time.
Some of the best ideas at my elementary school come from team meetings. A collaborative team of teacher leaders, motivated by preparing all students for the next level, is a powerful force to reckon with. This is the scene that every taxpayer should demand from a public school. Schmoker (2005) wrote, “It starts with a group of teachers who meet regularly as a team to identify essential learning, develop common formative assessments, analyze current levels of achievement, set achievement goals, share strategies, and then create lessons to improve upon those levels.” That is the kind of school I want to send my children to.
Essential Learning Outcomes
Effective teams develop and agree to provide all students with essential learning outcomes. In the absence of learning outcomes, students receive a disjointed curriculum experience. Why do some teams skip this step if it is such an important part of teaching and learning? From my observations, developing essential learning outcomes involves trust, conflict, debate, time, and the ability to come to consensus. If teams lack trust or don’t schedule a weekly meeting, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to identify essential learning outcomes. Swan (2010) wrote, "Learning outcomes refer to the skills, knowledge, and attributes students should have upon completion of a particular course or program of study."
Wiggins and McTighe (2005), wrote, “In the absence of a learning plan with clear goals, how likely is it that students will develop shared understandings on which future lessons might build” (p. 21)? If teachers claim to operate as a professional learning team, but they lack clearly defined learning outcomes, then students will experience a disjointed curriculum. If goal-setting is important in athletics and on business teams, then professional learning teams must take time to see how the absence of essential learning outcomes can interfere with the team’s common purpose. Does your team have essential learning outcomes for each nine weeks or semester?
Sports fans love to analyze the greatest teams of all time. The New York Yankees have won more World Series than any team in baseball (27). UCLA men’s basketball team has won more NCAA National Championships than any other college basketball team in history (11). Ten of those championships were won under legendary coach John Wooden. The Pittsburgh Steelers have won more Super Bowls than any other NFL team (6). What makes a great team? Great teams are made of great individuals. Mark Sanborn outlines the “4 C’s of a Great Team Member (1:44).”
If you entered the field of education to make a difference, ask how your individual strengths can benefit the entire team. Michael Fisher (2010) wrote, "If your schools/districts are made up primarily of those with an ‘island mentality,’ then they need to join the continent.” High performing teams are needed in our schools. Students deserve our best and we can work more efficiently if we turn our school teams into high performing teams.
I just spent the morning viewing a livestream from an Education Forum from Education Week. For those who may be unaware a livestream is a live transmission of an event over the Internet. This was a forum that recognized Education Leaders. It was titled Leaders To Learn From 2013. I think what Education Week did was great and I hope not to diminish their contribution. I do have some observations that I would like to share.
My friend and colleague Kyle Pace, @kylepace, was the person who drew me to this forum. Kyle is a connected educator known to tens of thousands of educators as a collaborative, connected educator who engages people with knowledge and information in the realm of technology in education. If any educator deserves an award for collaborative leadership, Kyle would top my list of candidates. It is a well-deserved recognition.
What struck me about the other award winners recognized for their leadership accomplishments that other educators are supposed to learn from was that we as an education community have not heard from them before? I realize that not all educators are connected through social media. It also seems to me as an observer of social media in education that it is often more difficult for Administrators to connect than teachers. There are reasons for that, both real and imagined, and I understand that. It would seem to me however, that if collaboration is part of a reason for recognition, the award winners should demonstrate some proficiency in modern collaboration as educators.
I also attended a Discovery Education forum recently where a number of Superintendents were recognized. When asked about their professional Social media involvement and collaboration, each claimed Twitter accounts and some claimed to have blogs. Of course sitting with Josh Stumpenhorst, @stumpteacher, we were able to quickly fact-check each of their claims to discover that most of them rarely tweeted and few had Blogs.
In a time when mobile devices can vet any speaker in a few seconds, people should not speak out of hand. In addition to education leaders, all leaders should get the fact that they can, and will be held more accountable for what they do compared to what they say. The world and information distribution has changed. Their failure to recognize that fact is testament to their relevance in a technology-driven society.
I have made my views on sharing as a professional responsibility known in many previous posts. A question from Dean Shareski really summed it up for me in regard to professional collaboration. What would we say about a doctor who found a cure for cancer or even a partial pathway to that end, but failed to share it with medical colleagues?
If educators are doing things in a better way, why are they not collaborating using the methods of today? Educators may not have the Journal of the American Medical Association, but we do have Twitter and we do have Blogs. I am tired of educators who espouse technology for everyone else, but fail to employ it for themselves and their profession.
Many Administrators use the Internet to vet out teaching candidates. They get to Google information about individuals that they are legally precluded from asking about in an interview. If that has become the standard then let’s have at it. We should look at everyone’s digital footprint including administrators. What is their educational philosophy as it is stated in the digital world? What does their Professional Learning Network include? What is it they have collaborated on in the Social media world? How effective are they in the very collaboration skills that they claim to have? How reflective are they based on their public blog? Do they hold to their principles in their public reflections?
We are moving forward in the way we access and obtain information. If an administrator has not contributed and that information is not obtainable, then that may be an indication of ability, or relevance, or both. At the very least it should be a red flag. I am not suggesting that any administrator who is not on social media is a Luddite. I am suggesting that the best leaders in an age of technology are those who understand it as a result of effectively using it, as well as modeling it for those who follow. We need to consider relevant collaborative skills as a requisite for administrative positions if we have hope for changing the system in positive ways.
I’m working with a new group of collaborators who happen to be in the fourth and fifth grade.
Nine to eleven year olds from the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School (http://www.mjgds.org) are creating a book based on some kids’ poems I wrote decades ago and are illustrating them and publishing them and selling them and creating a marketing plan around our work. Eventually, they will use what they’ve created as a fundraiser for their school.
These students are participating in a new form of learning that involves a mentoring relationship, new classroom roles, and embedded virtual learning. I’ve been able to Skype with them, email feedback about their work, and create additional learning “side trips” based on in the moment opportunities.
Their art teacher, Shana Gutterman- http://shoshysartroom.blogspot.com/, their classroom teacher, Stephanie Teitelbaum- http://teachblogandtweet.wordpress.com/, their Learning Coach, Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano- http://langwitches.org/blog, and I virtually collaborated on the development of this project, via Skype, email, and Twitter. We came up with objectives and lesson activities and planned virtual sessions. We had a modern learning plan in place and launched our project with the intent of changing the level of engagement and learning with students.
Then, we discovered something. Something big.
Because of the depth of instruction and the built in time to negotiate new roles for the students and the upgrade of seeing themselves as collaborators rather than passive learners, we struck oil! Silver! Gold! Students began to self identify interests that were related to their planned learning and lead us down paths of unplanned learning that enriched the designed project.
While students were working on designing pictures to accompany poems in a book for multiple audiences, they also opened up cans of worms that were unforeseen in the curriculum design. These were some of the “teachable moments” or “side trips” that came out of our collaborative work:
Students learned new contextually specific vocabulary words such as emphatic, explicitly, iteration, synesthesia, and negative space.
Students were invited to investigate the meaning of “chiaroscuro” as it related to contrasting elements in their illustrations.
Beyond the chiaroscuro investigation, they were invited to read a book, The Tale of Despereaux, which explores chiaroscuro as a metaphor for the characters and action.
Students were asked to investigate and learn about Grandma Moses and art techniques that involved the layering of backgrounds and foreground elements in a painting.
Students learned about warm and cool feedback and improvement for the sake of the team versus just getting good grades.
They learned to articulate the reasoning behind the “why” of what they were doing and to be as specific as possible in deciding why their illustrations were a good fit for the poem’s text. They did this both with me and their peers, which I personally think is hugely significant. Once again: their peers helped to inform their improvements.
They became open to suggestions that were rooted in improvement versus identifying what was wrong with their work. This positive take on “doing what’s best for the intended audience” was a huge shift in meaning making.
They learned that its okay to explore different interest areas that were outside of the intended learning, particularly with one student that wanted to create his own comic books. We were able to have a conversation about the usage of Comic Life on the iPad to start designing his own graphic novels.
They learned to respond to different types of feedback from their formal teacher, their virtual collaborator, and their peers as they shaped their work.
I would also like to add that the students referred to me as their collaborator; that the work we were doing was OUR work. I loved that. I also loved that their classroom roles included roles like “Skype coordinator,” “Twitter Expert,” and “Illustrative Notes Expert.” So far beyond “Reader,” “Writer,” and “Notetaker.”
Authentic learning experiences that ask students to be part of the instructional design process AND the product are critical in the modern learning classroom. Student-centered work becomes student-owned learning even if teachers maintain an instructional anchor. In this case, the anchor was the product: the book. Everyone is contributing to it, though in multiple ways and with multiple extensions around their individual learning.
I should also mention that this project, because of the level of collaboration between teachers and students, was not a neatly contained event. It took some time to develop, to interact, to collaborate both virtually and in person, and even after these several weeks, the students are just now gearing up to start working on the marketing plan. As teachers, we had to find a new common ground of comfort when balancing the time it takes to do something like this with the deep learning that was possible.
Also, if you’d like to look at the project from several points of view--there’s a lot of blogging going on around it:
Learning in the Modern Classroom - by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano
And my favorite on vocabulary: Wacky Wacky Words!
Needless to say--but I’m REALLY proud of my collaborators! I will be presenting with them at EdJEWcon in Jacksonville, Florida in a couple of weeks. I couldn’t be more excited to finally meet them in person and see our finished product! I’d also like to say Thank You to Shana, Stephanie, and Silvia for all of the great professional collaboration.
Upgrade Your Curriculum - Now available from ASCD
An advantage that I have as one who is fortunate enough to attend many education conferences, or special education events is the contact I have with many of the thought leaders in education. Of course most of those folks do not think of themselves as thought leaders, but just educators. The fact is that we are often defined by the perception of others. This holds true for institutions as well.
I recently bumped into a friend at an education Conference. This friend is what I consider a thought leader in education. He is a well-known speaker and author and a person who many educators deservingly look up to for both guidance and wisdom. I thought that I would take advantage of the encounter by asking for a guest post for SmartBlog on Education, an education blog with which I am associated. He must have been having a bad day based on his response.
“I am tired of teaching everyone”, he said.
Knowing how much this person always offers to all who listen, this reaction was out of character and a clear indication of a frustrating day. Sharing is a learned behavior. It is not a behavior common to everyone. It can be easily abused and discouraged. If a person shares and gets the feeling that his or her sharing is not appreciated or under-valued, that spigot of sharing may quickly be turned off.
My teaching career started about two days after the last Dinosaur died in the eyes of many. Back in the day there was not a great deal of sharing. People would share advice very quickly, but lessons were kept under lock and key of the filing cabinet. It was at the end of the year if one was lucky enough to know a retiring teacher that the sharing took place. If someone from your department were retiring, on the last day of their service there would be a gathering in their room. The File cabinet would be opened and the sharing would begin. Files, annotated books, tests, lessons, worksheets, overheads, and dittoes would all be bestowed onto the junior members of the department. The senior members actually got the empty file cabinets. The senior members of the department always had the largest collection of file cabinets.
That was then and this is now! Sharing has become part of the culture of teaching. It is the currency of social media. We can’t be just takers. If we are using social media to gain information, we should have an obligation to provide information as well. It does not have to be original. It can be something that we learned from others. In Twitter terms that would be a ReTweet or an RT. Never assume people know what you know. Always share information at all levels of expertise. Social Media has people from all levels participating in the exchange of ideas.
Every person has a different level of understanding and participation in social media. Some folks read more blog posts than others. Not everyone reads the same Blogs. If you find a good post share it. There are hundreds of thousands of educators on social media. Most Blogs do not have those numbers reading their posts each day. A good post needs to be shared. “A rising tide raises all boats.” The more we share, the better off our profession will be.
Also keep in mind that everyone has a different Personal Learning Network. No two people are following the exact same list of people on Twitter or LinkedIn or Facebook. If you see something of value, share it. Others may not have seen it. Even if they did, your emphasis on it may cause them to view it differently. Never underestimate your influence on others.
Education is about the free exchange of ideas. The exchange part is where the sharing comes in. Without sharing, there is no exchange. At one time content was a commodity that was doled out for a price by institutions that housed the texts that contained the content. That is no longer the case. A combination of content on the Internet as well as the advance of social media and it is a whole new paradigm. Of course this only works if exchanges of information takes place.
If we are to benefit from the Internet as a profession or a society we need to feel an obligation to be more than takers. We need to be makers and exchangers as well. We need to keep the exchange alive by not counting on the few, but by involving the many. We need to believe in the premise of Share and Share alike.
I am still waiting for that guest post that I requested.
People who know me understand that I have hot buttons that set me off when it comes to certain topics of education. That would actually encompass a huge number of topics including the rights of teachers. As I scanned the news channels last week, I came upon a story covering a teacher strike in one of the urban districts of the U.S. The reporter covering the event kept repeating and repeating a single line during his coverage that just set me off. “These teachers care more about their jobs than they do about the kids”.
What is it that enables people to vilify teachers for placing the security of their families before the demands of their job? Of course the security of a teacher’s family must come before the demands of the job. Doesn’t everyone value their family and want to insure their safety and security as a first consideration in life?
The fact is that here are many teachers who grapple with this very issue throughout their career. Teaching is a noble profession that does require sacrifice on the part of each educator to do right by his or her students. It is that self-sacrifice and “teacher’s guilt” that has enabled some districts to take advantage of teachers in regard to labor issues since the beginning of public education.
As a generalization most teachers do not market themselves well. They do not expound upon their accomplishments. They view that as flaunting one’s self, and that is frowned upon by teachers. They do not like it when any teacher publicly claims credit for accomplishments. They consider it as bragging or showboating. Most teachers are humbled by public recognition. By and large teachers do what they do, not just because the public expects it, but it is they who expect it of themselves. That is their strength and their weakness. It is that very feature in teachers that enables a reporter to repeatedly state: “These teachers care more about their jobs than they do about the kids”. That question tears at the teacher more than it resonates with the public.
People have been convinced that the American Education system is failing our country. Too often we try to simplify complicated issues. There are many, many reasons why our education system needs improvement. An objective analysis of the issues is warranted and should be done. Tax reformers, politicians, and business people looking to profit in an education market however often obscure that needed objectivity. To sell the snake oil, they simplify the problem, and target a simple solution, the teacher. It is a travesty that the very group that is maintaining the best of a system, which is in need of repair, while being maligned and even corrupted by the interference of non-educators, has come under attack. Teacher morale is the lowest it has ever been. Teachers are leaving the profession and youngsters are hesitant to enter it. This will only add to the problem.
Teachers need to take back the discussion of education that has been hijacked by so many non-educators. They need to shout out their accomplishments. Administrators need to lead, as well as call out the praises of their teachers. Superintendents need to claim their leadership positions in education to stand against mandates being imposed that are detrimental to education and educators. We must have our leaders connect and collaborate on the needs and solutions for education and not have them dictated to educators by non-educators who are unaware. Public Education is very much in jeopardy if left to the politicians and profiteers. Timidity is not a virtue in a modern educator.
I was recently contacted by Barbara Madden, a Missouri educator with a Mississippi dialect, who is conducting a survey of educators, who use Twitter for Professional Development asking for some feedback. Barbara had been in contact with a college professor who wanted to know the effect of Twitter as PD and it’s effect on student outcomes. That really got me thinking about PD and Twitter. I have heard many, many educators claiming that Twitter is the best PD that they have ever had. Others have said they learned more from Twitter than any graduate, or undergraduate education course they have taken. I would have doubts about both of those statements, or at the least questions about our higher education system if that were true.
Education has always been an isolated profession that called out for collaboration, but it did not have an effective way to collaborate. Department meetings and faculty meetings potentially provided limited collaboration. Education conferences were slightly more collaborative, but educators really had to put themselves out there to find ways to collaborate with other educators in an effective way. Collaboration is a very personal way for an individual to learn. It requires trusting other individuals, which is not easy for many, but it is also, for many people, the best way to learn.
Social Media is simply a conduit for connections. These connections then lead to collaboration. It enables connections to be made globally with ease and in numbers never before possible. It is this ease and quantity of connectedness that fosters collaborative learning on subjects that interest the connected participants. When educators are connected to other educators the natural discussion is education.
The way I look at it is that educators discussing education force each other to think and reflect on what it is that they do in education. Educators are a reflective bunch as a profession. It is the resulting change from all of this collaboration and reflection that enables educators to view what they have been staring at for so long with a new lens.
In addition to viewing things differently, a new level of relevance is added with technological advances being shared. Technology changes so fast that few can keep up with all that is going on. Collectively however, and through the power of collaboration, things are shared, discussed, and experimented with. This is all done with the safety net of collaboration. Failure becomes an option because do-overs become possible. It’s not about how many times you are knocked down, but rather how many times people help you back up. That is what educators do with Twitter.
If we were to measure anything, we would need to know what educators were like before Twitter to evaluate how they interact, reflect and teach or administrate after the Twitter emersion.
Can we measure how an educator views education differently after experiencing collaborative learning as a professional tool? If that experience changes that educator’s outlook, relevance, and educational philosophy, does it change that person as an educator? In what way do we measure that? How do we measure that in regard to its effect on the students’ outcomes? If a teacher is employing different methods of teaching that he, or she has never used before, how do we gauge that as effective or not? If a teacher has gained a better sense of confidence in the classroom, how does that translate to positives for students? Giving teachers the confidence in knowing that there are no longer boundaries to the questions they may ask, or the people they may ask them from may not be measurable. Twitter is more about ideas than titles. In the area of education Administrators, Authors, Teachers, Students, and Parents are all equals on Twitter. Exchange of ideas and experience is the currency of that medium. How do we measure the effect of that on education?
There is now a new gap in education. In a system riddled with too many gaps, this is not good news. Technology and social media specifically have provided tools that enable educators to connect, communicate collaborate and create. That ability makes a difference in individuals. It enables reflection and relevance. It is also creating two groups of educators, the connected, and the unconnected. The discussions of the connected seem to be focused on the future and moving toward it. The discussions of the unconnected seem to be steeped in the past with little or very slow-moving forward movement.
I do not think of Twitter as a tool for providing Professional Development, but rather a tool that enables collaboration. That leads to a curiosity, or more, a love for learning that takes some learners further down the road that all educators should be travelling. By any measure that must be a positive result for educators, that will impact their students in a positive way as well.
What is S.T.E.M? Science.Technology.Engineering.Math.
Do you like building things with toothpicks, marshmallows, and straws? Would you like to design and construct a raft that will float to hold the most pennies? Then this is a learning opportunity for you. In April, there will be two after school STEM events for you to participate in. You can participate in hands-on activities and experiments. You can design, construct, and build cool stuff using everyday household items. You can learn the concepts of Newton’s Laws of Motion and build a balloon rocket car. You can utilize an iPad to dissect a frog.
Who is invited to participate?
Middle School students...girls only.
Why is this for girls only?
Women are generally underrepresented in the STEM fields and according to a 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce, only one in seven engineers is female. Today only 27% of all computer science jobs are held by women. There is a need to create interest in the STEM fields with engaging, hands-on opportunities for girls. At Westmont Junior High a learning opportunity has been created for girls.
When is the STEM event?
Thursday, April 4th and Thursday, April 18th from 3:30-5:00pm. STEM event sponsors. Mrs. Laura Riley and Mrs. Amy Jordan will meet with participants in Room 309.
What are the benefits of participating?
This is an opportunity to enhance their understanding of STEM career opportunities. Girls will learn skills that are needed in a high technology workplace. Girls will get to interact with other girls, test their ideas, meet new people, and learn about new careers.
I have long been a David Letterman fan on any of the shows he has hosted. Over the years one of my favorite Letterman bits has been when he and Paul Shaffer would discuss the possible ability of a specific item to float in water. After their predictions the item would be tossed into a giant, transparent vat of water to determine who was correct. The results were apparent and immediate.
Professional Development has long been an element in American education. At one time things changed slowly so that the need for development seemed less a concern. The country’s shift to being a technology-driven society has increased the rate of change, forcing a need for a more rapid rate of absorption of developments for people in all jobs and professions, but especially education.
The difficulty in education is its goal; it is not just to educate kids about their past and how it relates to the present, but also what to expect in the future. Of course we have no idea what the future holds, because the present is moving so quickly. Consider for a moment the effect of Smartphones and iPads on our culture. iPad technology is but three years old and has had a profound effect on those places that have embraced it. Smartphones have been around a little longer and have taken longer to be accepted by educators, but they are creeping successfully into the system after changing forever how the country communicates and accesses information. All of the technology and its effects have had a great influence on how kids learn and are motivated to learn, as well as what it is they are learning for. In many cases teachers have no idea what they are preparing their students for because their students’ future will be different from our present, and light years from our past. These are all reasons for educators to be relevant in terms of what is needed to teach as well as how to teach today.
The question is: does the system address the need for relevance in education? Many systems require teachers to acquire a specific number of PD hours over a period of time by selecting and taking courses or workshops on topics pertaining to education. These choices are left to the individual teacher to select and obtain. Of course some obvious questions pop up here. If the teacher is not comfortable with technology will technology be part of that teacher’s training. If a teacher has not kept up with current trends and research in education, how will he/she make choices that will best benefit his/her students? Is the teacher versed well enough in technology to relate to the technological changes that effect our population? It always comes down to relevance. Is the teacher able to make relevant decisions based on experience in a technologically driven culture?
Rather than try to hold millions of teachers accountable for these questions, a better method might be to look to the districts and the education leaders. Are they maintaining relevance? Are they providing professional development to their staffs to maintain relevance? Are they supporting teachers with time to collaborate in order to incorporate what they should be doing. Have they gotten beyond the keynote lecture and hourly workshops once, or twice a year as their total commitment to teacher training?
Most educators consider Professional Development a key component to what they need to be an effective teacher. Most Administrators point to Professional Development as a key component to what their teachers need to be effective teachers. Most districts point to Professional Development as the key component to what their district needs to be an effective district. Yet after all of this, TEST Preparation and not Teacher Preparation is still the priority in American education.
Professional Development must be part of a teacher’s workweek. It must be prioritized, paid for, and most importantly PROVIDED. We should not expect anyone to take an uncomfortable path down into unfamiliar territory without some sort of guidance or leadership. It cannot be left up to people who may not know what it is that they do not know to decide on what they need to be effective.
A lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client, and physician heal thy self are commonly understood. Maybe we need a phrase for educators trying to educate themselves? The system of PD in most American schools has become another victim of a fast paced technology driven culture. It no longer works as it did. If we do not change and adapt to meet the changes in our culture, we will surely be irrelevant as an institution. Now here is my question: PD in its present form; Will it Float?
Have you ever had the chance to meet your favorite celebrity? To shake his or her hand and even have a casual chat over lunch? I have. . . well, sort of.
I recently attended the ASCD Annual Conference in Chicago. This was a tremendous weekend, filled with fun and learning opportunities. As an ASCD author and presenter, I spent time with luminaries at the education publishing and professional development giant, including the publisher, editors, department heads, publicists and other authors. These people are solid professionals and smart educators. I presented on results-only learning, signed copies of my book, Role Reversal, and I even participated in a videotaped interview for the ASCD website. All of these were thrilling experiences.
The most amazing part of the weekend, though, was meeting people I interact with often on Twitter, people I hadn't met in person until the conference. I have communicated on Twitter and via email with some of my favorite authors and thought leaders -- people like Daniel Pink, Alfie Kohn and Donalyn Miller. Meeting any of these remarkable individuals would be thrilling, for sure, but I felt no less awed, when I met some key educators I follow on Twitter.
At the ASCD author press luncheon, which I was honored to be part of as a new book writer, I sat down with @TomWhitby, Steven Anderson (@web20classroom), Josh Stumpenhorst (@stumpteacher), @KristenSwanson and @PaulaWhite, among others. These people may not be as recognizable as Pink or Kohn, but they are clebrities in education to me, and meeting them in person was sort of like talking to movie stars.
They may not be seen walking the red carpet at the Oscars -- though some might mistake Swanson for Kate Beckinsale and Stumpenhorst for Brad Pitt -- but these intelligent teachers, bloggers and speakers are true celebrities in their field.
So, when you get the chance to meet the fantastic educators you follow on Twitter, enjoy the experience, and be careful not to be starstruck.
Cross posted at Resultsonlylearning.com
One of my favorite arcade games is Whac-A-Mole. When you drop your token in the machine, you have a limited amount of time to ‘whac’ as many moles as you can. In the beginning of the game, one or two moles pop their heads up and it is fairly easy to hit each one. About twenty seconds into the game, the moles start popping up three at a time and when you smash a mole with the mallet it may pop up again.
Whac-A-Mole is similar to the daily routine of a principal. From the time you arrive at school in the morning until late in the evening, moles pop up. Your job is to address each mole and to prioritize which one is most important. In this article, I am going to describe the ‘Six Moles’ a principal must address in order to be a good leader.
Six Moles A Principal Must Address
Principals receive phone calls, emails, and face-to-face messages from families. If you work in the car rider line at an elementary school, a parent or grandparent may share a concern with you as they drop their child off at school. When you check your email, you may have an email from multiple families with a concern about something that happened the day before. There are times when a family member has a concern about something that is a district level concern, but it is the principal’s job to advocate for families and contact the central office or assist the family in navigating communication with the central office. Families are not ‘moles’, but concerns pop up frequently and the principal cannot ignore family concerns. It is not wise to ‘whac’ a family member, but the concern must be addressed.
A principal wears several hats and the instructional leadership hat is critical to the success of the school. If a principal is focused on email, returning phone calls, developing professional development, and attending meetings, he or she will not be able to focus on the main thing. When a principal visits classrooms for formal or informal observations, it helps him or her get a pulse for student achievement and curriculum implementation. A principal should be a coach, cheerleader, critical friend, and more! If a principal does not visit classrooms on a regular basis, then the school will not continue to grow. Instructional rounds cannot be something that a principal does when the ‘mole’ pops up. This important leadership role must be part of the principal’s regular schedule.
Student Discipline pops up unexpectedly. There may be a student issue on the bus ride to school. Students may have a dispute on the playground. A student may break a school rule on the way to the next class. Handling student discipline is one of the main roles of principal leadership. Teachers and staff assist with student discipline, but when this ‘mole’ pops its head up, the principal cannot ignore it and move to the next three moles that pop up. Some of you reading this article may be thinking, “If student discipline is a mole, then ‘whac’ it.” You cannot use a hammer to hit every problem. When you use the Whac-A-Mole approach to student discipline it means you handle the problems as they arise, rather than waiting for more problems to pop up.
One of the most challenging ‘moles’ for a principal is email. If you sit at your desk from 8:00 am – Noon, you will see multiple moles pop up on your screen. More building principals are carrying a personal or school assigned smart phone on their hip. At one point, it was easy to avoid email because you could walk away from the computer. Principals have the ability to check email in the hallway, in meetings, while they are off campus, at home, and any time day or night. If principals focus on each email as it pops up then they will get distracted and miss out on other important leadership duties. Email is a great analogy to the game Whac-A-Mole. When you reply to email it continues to pop up. Time management is important and Whac-A-Mole Leadership involves more than whacking each email, hoping to bop all of the ‘email moles.’
Leading professional development is important. When a school staff stops learning, they stop growing. It is easy for principals to spend several hours developing a video, presentation, or hands-on learning activity. Quality professional development requires planning, learning goals, and materials. Principals are wise to develop a teacher leadership team who can assist with professional development. This will allow the principal to have a role in leading professional development, without having to plan the entire session. This year, our school has conducted professional development on the Six Instructional Shifts (Common Core State Standards), Technology Integration, Literacy, and School Safety. If the principal ignores professional development, then it may not happen. However, a building principal cannot sit in the office and develop every PD, while ignoring other ‘moles’ throughout the school.
Communication is an important responsibility and it cannot be ignored. Principals need to communicate through the school website, email, newsletters, video, blogs, face-to-face meetings, PTA meetings, Coffee Hour, phone calls, and informal meetings in the parking lot. Principals need to be intentional about communication. Principals need to communicate with classroom teachers through classroom observations, email, blog, faculty meetings, notes, and informal meetings. A principal could spend his or her entire day developing communication documents or preparing a speech for the next meeting. It is important to see communication as a mole that you ‘whac’, but also as something you plan for. If you are not communicating and marketing the great things about your school, then who is marketing your school? You cannot afford to let the ‘communication mole’ pop its head up too many times.
Whac-A-Mole Leadership is a humorous way to describe the day of a principal. We can all laugh and relate to the moles that pop up throughout the day. You can probably describe several more moles that principals must address if you reflect on your past week. “Leaders are usually distinguished by their ability to think big. But when their focus shifts, they suddenly start thinking small. They micro manage, they get caught up in details better left to others, and they become consumed with the trivial and unimportant. And to make matters worse, this tendency can be exacerbated by an inclination toward perfectionism” (Sanborn, M.). If the goal of leadership becomes whacking the next mole, we may miss the most important things. Stephen Covey shared the Leadership Matrix (as shared by Michael Hyatt, Intentional Leadership). Principals must ask, “Is this mole important and urgent?” or “Is this mole urgent, but not important?” As the moles pop up at your school, I wish you the best. Keep whacking moles, but make certain you are focused on the right mole.
As I have traveled around this country participating in education conferences I have made several observations in regard to the effects of the Internet and social media on various levels of education as a profession, as an industry, and as an institution. These are often the topics of sessions at education conferences that draw thousands of educators in to look at, examine, talk over, consider, and move on. This all takes time and has been going on since tech was first introduced to education in various forms as tools for learning. It may be time to step back and look at the bigger picture.
As technology advances there are consequences for many industries that either fail to adapt, or whose product is replaced by what technology offers. Horse drawn carriages were replaced by horseless carriages. Typewriters were replaced by word processors. Instamatic cameras were replaced by digital cameras, which are now being replaced by cell phones. Photographic film is not found in any of the millions of stores from which it was previously sold in mass quantities. The news cycle no longer faces deadlines because of 24-hour news cycles. Newspaper and magazine stands have only a fraction of the offerings they had even five years ago. There is no longer a Kodak, Polaroid, Underwood Typewriter, or Newsweek magazine. They were all giants taken out by technology.
With all that, we as educators should have learned from all the examples of those industries that preceded us as victims in the advancement of technology. Why is education so slow in making decisions that would employ tech rather than resist it. Kodak was huge. It was in the “too big to fail” category. Its products included cameras, but its main product was film. Once digital photography moved into the industry it was a very short run to ruin.
The product of education is content. My path of reasoning must be getting clear about now. The key to content was always held by the academics to be shared by those who attended and prevailed in the education system. Teachers were the content experts. The Internet has now strained the value of content experts. Few content experts will ever be able to retain and command the content held by the power of the Internet. The shift that should take place in education is to teach students the skills to responsibly and critically access that content in order to create additional content.
We shouldn’t be guided by the demands of industry to teach skills that may not be in existence over the course of a student’s academic career. The idea that business can best direct the needs of learners is surpassed by the fact that business will only direct education to meet the present needs of business.
If education is to direct its own path and avoid becoming as irrelevant as a film company in a digital world, as educators we need to change. We can’t continue contemplating the use of technology for the sake of protecting our comfort zones. We need to update and restructure the way we administer Professional Development. We need to employ strategies to incorporate social media for collaboration. We need to better understand how to use technology to help us do what we do best even better. Our professional organizations need to move from the models of the past and lead teachers through professional development, discussion, and collaboration to a deeper understanding of their profession in a modern world. We are not a profession of the 1800’s, yet in many ways we carry ourselves and approach it that way. This to must change.
Professional development is a necessary component of the teaching profession. It must be part of every teacher’s workweek. It needs to be prioritized, funded and supported with time. Too many educators have no idea how much they do not know about their own profession. This will require a good amount of directed professional development, which is never popular with educators. Technology has changed things and continues to do so at an incredible rate of speed. If educators are to be effective they must be relevant. If harnessed, technology can be used to our advantage with proper training. If ignored, or not taken seriously by the entire profession, it could very well make educators irrelevant. Our education system is not too big to fail.
I have traveled the world going to Education conferences. All have good points and bad points. All of these conferences have come from the sweat, tears and blood of many volunteers. They are all well-intentioned and I believe in their necessity in our system for Professional Development. The point I feel we must fight for however is the need for relevance in the world in which we teach. This is the same thing we should strive for in all of education. Many of the goals we strive for to support our students should also be the same goals to address our needs to educate our educators.
After a marathon attendance at a number of education conferences this year I have stored up many observations on the approach these conferences use to engage educators in their profession. Since I began attending them over 35 years ago I do have some historical perspective. More often than not my experience on the planning of the “Education Conference” is: So it is written, so it shall be done! Many reshuffle the deck and deal out the same old hands. If we always plan conferences on what worked last year, progress will never catch up to relevance.
In our technology-driven society we have come to recognize that our students are learning differently. I would suggest that our educators are learning differently as well. That difference needs to be addressed by the conferences that help educate our educators. The reasons we as educators are reflecting and changing our methods of education to meet the needs of our students are the very reasons education conferences need to change to meet the needs of our changing educators. Resistance that we too often provide does not prevent the fact that there comes a time when we just must reinvent the wheel.
If all educators need to do, in order to keep up with modern education, is to listen to lectures, they can do that cheaper and more conveniently with webinars and podcasts over the Internet. What do conferences provide beyond the lecture? If the answer is face to face networking, then provide the spaces and times to do that. Select venues with ample lounging spaces or build them into the venue. Sessions must be planned with time between sessions for educators to connect and network. Schedule, encourage, or incent presenters, and featured speakers to circulate in these spaces.
Reflection rooms might be a unique addition. Spaces where speakers, presenters, and attendees could gather for reflection and discussion. This would be the best place for educators to connect face to face as well as digitally through social media to continue discussions online, beyond the conference and through the year. Those creative juices that flow during the conference will continue throughout the year. Current models get people thinking during the conference and in many cases the juices will not flow again until the next conference.
Planning the sessions is key to success in any Edu conference. If, as educators, we know that lecture is not the best way to learn, why would we encourage it in sessions? Interactive sessions, as well as discussions, and even interactive panel sessions are the very things that excite, engage, and educate educators. These should be encouraged and highlighted. The method of delivery should always be a prime consideration in addition to being clearly stated on the session description.
The selection of speakers and sessions needs to be examined. Connected educators are often on the cutting edge discussing education topics as much as a year before it hits Faculty meeting and lounges. If the committees made up to judge and select RFP for sessions than those educators need to be relevant as well. Again, a topic that was popular last year may not be as relevant this year. What upset me was that some of this year’s presenters were filling out and submitting RFP’s for next year’s conference. Maybe we should have staggered RFP deadlines with a quota for each date. Planners could then observe trends and avoid replication over a period of time. It also offers the opportunity to analyze the needs and send out requests for specific RFP’s.
Of course the biggest change in PD for educators in years has been the EDCAMP model of conference. Sessions are planned on the fly based on interest and expertise with the assembled group. These sessions are dynamic discussions, which dive into the depths of the selected topic. Every conference should set aside time for the EDCAMP model. Four hours should do it. Planning it for the middle of the conference will enable educators to get a handle on the topics they would need to delve deeply into.
Today’s technology has enabled educators to connect and collaborate globally. Only a few conferences have understood how to harness the power of the tweet. In order to show a conference to the world, the attendees, when moved by engagement will tweet out all that is needed. This draws into the conferences many who are not physically in attendance.
Every conference should have a connected educator space. Many Bloggers have claimed the Blogger’s Lounge as their space and have continued with great connections with other bloggers. We need that for all educators. The connected educator space must be present at every conference.
My final concern is in the Registration fees. Conferences are expensive to run. There is no option on charging money for attendance. The structure however may be flexible with several options. Consideration should be given to discounting for teams of teachers coming from the same district. Maybe we should have a discount for first-time attendees.