Search ASCD EDge
I think I have always been a connected educator even before “Al Gore invented the internets”. I received journals in the mail, signed up for numerous workshops, attended any and all conferences I could get sent to, continually joined school committees, and I taught many in-service courses. With that type of exposure, I developed a fairly evident footprint in my school and district. People knew who I was, and what my educational philosophy was because I lived it. Of course looking back to my 20th Century career with a 21stCentury eye, there are many things I did then that I would never do today.
The idea of an educator’s digital footprint is a far more than just a reaching reputation. If one is to have any involvement online, that involvement better be positive and constructive, for it is there for eternity and for all to see. If one has amassed a number of good positives in one’s digital impression, it is not usually offset by the occasional misstep that we are all prone to have from time to time.
In regard to the recent “Jeff Bliss” viral video, I felt bad at first for the teacher in the class at Duncanville High School. Too many people were out to demonize her without knowing who she was, or if this packet curriculum she handed out was her personal style, or a mandated, packaged, paid-for curriculum of the school district. She had no digital footprint to go to. I looked, and I could not find one.
I am fortunate to work for SmartBrief as a contributing editor. I am sent to many education conferences in order to promote my connections with educators. Even before this however, I found the digital connections made through Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook were, for those people I wanted to get to know, more than introductions to people. They were the beginnings of relationships. Most of the people in education, that I call on as friends today, began as digital connections. Technology has helped me expand and deepen professional relationships to a degree never before possible. As a regular teacher I was now able to connect, and interact with authors and experts as an equal in discussions on education. These digital relationships were further expanded with face-to-face contacts at education conferences.
Since the interactions were digital, they took many forms on several places: groups, discussions, comments, and interviews, and my footprint grew. As I ventured out to write a Blog my educational philosophy took on a life of its own. People could now read my thoughts and views, as well as my personal beliefs, likes, and dislikes. All of this has fit into my lifestyle. I love the connectedness, I thrive on the interaction, and I live for talking about where we are going, as well as, where we should be in education. All of this, and age, has morphed me from an educator of kids to hopefully a wiser educator of educators. It has always been about the connectedness.
This year I was fortunate to attend the MACUL conference in Detroit. That is a statewide education conference for Michigan educators. MACUL is an ISTE affiliate. My connectedness led me to friendships with many of the featured and keynote speakers; Steve Dembo, Adam Bellow, Nick Provenzano, Kevin Honeycutt, Erin Klein and Gwyneth Jones to mention only a few. It was a great lineup of educators at The Cabo Center in Detroit.
My connectedness and its range along with my responsibility to be true to my image was driven home to me with an email from Matt Keillor an educator connected to me and who also attended the MACUL Conference. I left the conference as it ended. Having my luggage with me I found a line of cabs outside and went to the first in line. I had a pleasant conversation with the cabbie who was originally from an African country. As I was in the airport Matt tweeted me saying that he had a ride in the same cab as I did and he would email me the details. Here is Matt’s account:
MACUL13 Cab Story
From Matt Keillor
I hopped into a cab from Cabo to Detroit airport on Friday afternoon. The conversation with the cab driver went like this:
Me: Airport please
Driver: Sure. Are you a teacher?
Me: Why yes I am! There are thousands of us swarming Detroit, have you had many teacher customers?
Driver: My last customer was a teacher. He lives in New York and has been teaching for over 40 years!
Me: Did he have a mustache?
Driver: Yes he did!
Me: A nice full manly one…not a wimpy pencil ‘stache.
Driver: Ha Ha! Yes he did.
Me: I believe that was Tom Whitby! I pulled up Twitter and showed him a pic…
Driver: Yep. that’s him!! He was a very nice man, I could tell he is a man of principle…I saw him walking out and another cab driver tried to lure him in. He refused, kept walking and continued to my cab at the front of the line. He is a very nice man!
Me: Great to hear! I’ll be sure to tell him you said hello.
Driver: Ah yes, please do!
Lessons learned: It’s a small world. Twitter is cool. Always do the right thing; you may never know the impact has on others.
I am proud of my digital footprint. I am happy to be recognized for as much what I am as who I am. In addition to educators maintaining connections and providing a positive footprint, we need to also stress this with our students. There may come a time when your digital footprint will be your accomplishments for portfolio. Interviews may be have less of an impact on job procurement. It may also go a long way in maintaining a position. Of course that brings us back to our teacher on the viral video. Given the information on hand and their digital footprints, who looks better, the teacher, or the student? What impact will that video, and all that follows from it, have on each of their lives? YES, Technology and Social Media are important in our culture. It cannot be effectively and responsibly self-taught.
Unmuted: Using Student Feedback to Create an Effective Secondary Learning Environment
etire the school newsletter. Start a school blog
Many prefer to read news online
According to research published last year by Pew Research, a substantial percentage of leading newspaper readers get their news digitally. Currently, 55 percent of New York Times readers say they prefer to access news on a computer or mobile device, as do 48 percent of regular USA Today and 44 percent of Wall Street Journal readers. While this isn’t proof that nearly 50 percent of your readers prefer to access school news online, there’s a good chance that they do.
Blogs are current
By the time parents receive their monthly newsletter, much of the information is already outdated. Who wants to read about the “big game” or a service learning project three weeks after it happened? Blogs allow you to update readers as newsworthy events are taking place—not after. Another thing to keep in mind is that event information (dates, times, etc.) changes. Once a newsletter has been printed and shipped, there’s no going back. Blogs give you the flexibility to make changes whenever you want.
Blogs will save you money
Most blogging platforms are free. No more printing and shipping costs; no more envelope licking; no more label printing. If you are concerned about alienating parents who are less tech-savvy or prefer to read print, send home a survey and find out who your readers are and how they prefer to access school news.
Blogs provide a rich, multi-media experience
Unlike print, which is linear and static, blogs allow you to easily integrate video, audio, photos and text. Now you can show, not simply tell, parents what’s going on in school. You’ll be surprised at how capturing students “in the moment” and posting pictures and videos of them throughout the day will impact parent engagement.
There are dozens (probably more) of blogging platforms to choose from and most of them are free. Blogger, for example, is Google’s free blogging service. It only takes minutes to set up and you can customize the theme and color of your site. If you already have a Gmail account, there’s good news: You’ve got a Blogger account too. Simply sign into Gmail and select “Blogger” from the “more” menu. Other blogging platforms you might check out include WordPress.com, Blog.com, or even TypePad Micro.
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.
Despite the fact that blogs have been around since the 90s, classroom blogs are a relatively new phenomenon and one, we might add, that we fully endorse. If you’re skeptical about the benefits of classroom blogs or simply don’t know where to start, read on.
A blog is nothing more than an online journal where writers—both new and experienced—can share their thoughts, post pictures or music, and connect with readers. We can think of a handful of sites that will host your classroom blog for free, but we suggest stopping by Richard Byrne’s site; he’s written an excellent article that will help you pick the best platform. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we’d like to talk about the benefits of classroom blogs.
5 reasons you should consider using classroom blogs
Classroom blogs encourage writing across the curriculum
“Writing across the curriculum,” is a pedagogical movement that began in the 80s, but the last time we checked, it’s still going strong. No longer are students simply writing in their English courses; they’re also writing in history, science, and even in their math and gym classes. Classroom blogs are a great way to meet federal and state mandated literacy standards while still allowing students to get creative with their content.
Classroom blogs are a liberating change for students
Blog posts are typically informal, short (500 words and less) and, generally speaking, you’ll find lots of paragraph breaks, bullet points, headlines, and even pictures. It’s not often that students get to use any of these things in their own work. Chances are that they’ll find blogging to be a nice change of pace from the traditional writing parameters they’re used to working within.
Classroom blogs expose students to a potential career path
One of our colleagues recently told us about a student who allegedly “hated writing.” Several weeks into the school year, she learned that this student—the same one who “hated writing”—actually wrote for several well-respected mountain biking blogs. In fact, he had worked out a partnership with a few parts manufacturers who regularly sent him bike seats, tires, helmets, and luggage carriers to review. He would try out the product for a month and then write a review for the company. Not only was he paid for his reviews, he got to keep the parts!
This student is certainly unique, but there are lots of people—apparently even people who “hate writing”—who make a sustainable living at blogging. You never know, but exposing your students to this medium just may open up a future career for them.
Classroom blogs making writing authentic
Ask your students about the purpose of their writing or their intended audience. Most likely, they’ll say, “I don’t know” and “You’re the audience.” These are fair answers. Most of our students write because they have to. And while we can ask them to write to a hypothetical audience, they know darn well that we’re the audience.
Classroom blogs make writing authentic. Instead of writing to you, students will be writing to an audience of (at least potentially) millions of Internet browsers.
Classroom blogs are a simple way to connect with parents
Researchers continue to underscore what common sense has always told us: Parental involvement (or lack of) impacts student success. Classroom blogs are quite possibly the easiest way to keep parents engaged and up-to-date on what’s going on in the classroom. They’ll also enjoy commenting on your students’ posts and sharing them with others.
Social Media Week is one of the two New York events that inspire me and inform my perspective on developing curriculum. The New York Comic Con is the other. While they may seem tangential at first glance to classroom teaching and curriculum design, they actually offer a model of and insight to creating moving narratives which I believe drives effective learning.
It was at a Social Media Week session two years ago that I learned about Timehop. Timehop is a social media service that places your tweets and wall posts into an historical context. On any given day, you are sent a reminder of what you tweeted and posted on the same date last year. This includes news items you retweeted and shared. When you compare what you tweeted a year ago to what you tweet today, you have the beginnings of an autobiographical narrative (a personal history).
Currently, Timehop only presents you with an account of day-to-day social media activity. What I am hoping to see somewhere down the line is a "timeline" feature. I am certain there would be some meaningful classroom applications, if Timehop users were given the option to view day-to-day activity over multiple days, weeks, months, and even years.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend as many sessions this year. I was particularly disappointed about missing the Cowbird workshop. Cowbird describes itself as a "community of storytellers". I like to think of it as a great online anthology of flash non-fiction filled with examples of folksy wisdom and lazy Sunday observations over coffee or tea. Cowbird is definitely meeting its goal of building a "public library of human experience".
I particularly admire Cowbird's resistance to video and hope it continues to ask its community to take the time to contemplate the pictures and sounds (the individual components of video) and text they chose to tell their stories with. There is a risk of forsaking these individual pieces when composing directly in video.
Cowbird offers classroom teachers in the age of Common Core a powerful tool to create personal narratives. It also provides teachers with a way for engaging in informational texts especially in "Integration of Knowledge and Ideas" where in eighth grade students are tasked to "Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums (e.g., print or digital text, video, multimedia) to present a particular topic or idea."
Happily, I managed to attend the "gsummitX - Gamification in NYC" presentation with Gabe Zichermann from Gamification.co. In the classroom, teachers understand that playing games is an effective way of engaging students. However, with the rise in the number of free online video games and the increased portability of traditional console games, students are much more sophisticated edutainment consumers than we Generation X'ers were with our Colecovisions and Commodore 64s.
Gabe was speaking from a Sales/Marketing perspective when he stated the challenge of retaining consumer attention. However, I don't think you need to stretch your imagination too hard to see how even with the onslaught of educational online video games that student attention retention can still be a challenge for teachers.
Gabe made several interesting comments during his presentation. First, he stated that gamification is a process not a product (Sound familiar?) It's what those who favor a constructivist approach to education believe. He then said that (I'm rephrasing slightly) games allow players to play with the limits of the reality of their jobs. In classrooms, this might mean games allow students to play with the limits of the reality of their... classrooms? subjects? tests? school? community?
Writing about Jane McGonigal's TED presentation, “Gaming Can Make A Better World” I suggested a game that addressed the school dropout crisis. The role playing games that Jane has worked on fit well into Gabe's statements on gamification. In creating a game that challenges students to solve the real world problem of dropping out, the challenge would be to convince the player to find value in the rewards and prizes. There are plenty of good commercial games available but also an equal (if not overwhelming) amount of bad video games. And there are instances where a game comes highly recommended but the player does not see value in continuing it.
Not every student needs to prepare for a Google-like workplace. And, as popular as STEM is presently, most students don’t want to become software engineers or scientists. But every student, in any job, will collaborate as a member of a team. I once talked with a student who told me he wanted to be a Fed Ex driver. “Just drive around and deliver things,” he said, “No teamwork there.” I urged him to look at the handheld device carried by every driver—the one that communicates with a worldwide network and plugs the driver into a global team.
Every student needs to be prepared for that environment, partly for employment opportunity, but mainly because the deeply embedded mental model of learning and creating as an individual process is obsolete. No one, any longer, can isolate themselves from someone else’s knowledge base, and collaboration has shifted from its earlier incarnation as a social networking skill into the chief way in which we talk to one another in order to get things done. Powerful collaboration is driven by incisive communication—and out of that process come the very best expressions of innovation, creativity, and critical inquiry. In other words, collaboration is now the foundational 21st century skill.
Thinking that students are ‘naturals’ at this is a fallacy. High performance collaboration requires training and the development of key personal skills. For teachers, two initial steps will help launch this process. First, reframe the conversation by using the terminology of ‘teams,’ not group work. Think of your favorite sports team and now call them a ‘group.’ Feel the difference? Teams focus on accountability and commitment; they form for a purpose and operate through norms and shared expectations.
Second, import and adapt the high performance principles common in the work world to teams in the classroom. This requires time, good coaching skills, a relentless focus on the quality of interaction between students, and a set of team tools, including contracts, rubrics, and exercise. But the payoff is noticeable. Once students form teams over an extended period and begin to collaborate well, they learn more, get better at teaching others, produce more powerful products, and enjoy the process. Here are ten principles that can help you design high performance teams:
Thom Markham is a psychologist, school redesign consultant, and the author of the Project Based Learning Design and Coaching Guide: Expert tools for inquiry and innovation for K-12 educators. To download the tools mentioned in the blog, go to the PBL tools page on the website, www.thommarkham.com. If you can’t find what you need, contact him at email@example.com.
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.
The current requirement that public and charter school students demonstrate their proficiency through standardized, top down tests has in many schools narrowed the curriculum, increased sterile test-prep classroom activities, and focused the public measurement of school and student success narrowly and imperfectly around a few traditional tests. This “test-centered” focus makes it more difficult for many schools to educate and assess students so that they are prepared for a world with exploding amounts of knowledge, fundamental changes in technology, and the new skill sets required for successful careers.
By contrast, a “learning-centered” focus starts with establishing meaningful, purposeful educational outcomes for a 21st century world, such as preparing students for both lifelong learning and citizenship, focusing on the development of key skills for a new era, and customizing learning in order to develop each student’s talents, interests and abilities.
Based on the above learning centered outcomes, here is a checklist of potential characteristics and qualities that we might expect to observe in classrooms, schools and districts:
√ A conscious effort to develop positive learning attitudes and values, such as curiosity, wonder, responsibility, motivation, persistence, effort makes a difference, and collaboration.
√A “deeper learning” curriculum in all subject areas, including the arts and social studies, that help students build focused networks of core background knowledge and understandings about the world around them.
√Inquiry based learning approaches that engage students in learning and support the development of critical learning skills, such as questioning and problem finding; reading for understanding; processing information and data; many types of writing; research and study skills; logical, inductive and creative thinking; discussion and presentation skills.
√Preparation for citizenship through rigorous, engaging, interactive history, geography, current events, and service-learning experiences.
√Customized learning opportunities that develop individual interests, talents and strengths, as when students can choose from an extensive array of classroom, school, curricular and extra-curricular activities and electives[i].
√ Research projects, field trips and other experiences that help students connect to “real world” events, activities, and individuals.
√ Internships and Internet course options for high school students that expand student horizons.
√An accountability system that uses multiple types of assessments to determine student progress and success[ii], such as writing of all kinds, research projects and performance tasks, essay tests, self-reflections, and plans for the future. Traditional tests are only a small part of the assessment process. Student portfolios – collections of student work - become part of a multi-faceted growth and evaluation process.
√Technology in the service of all of the above that supports students as they conduct research, process information, develop and write papers, collect work in electronic portfolios, create on-line presentations, conduct simulations, contact outside experts, and the like.
Does your classroom, school or district have a test-centered or a learning-centered approach to teaching and learning? Are the above components in place in your classroom-school-district? Not all of the checklist may be appropriate for your own situation, so feel free to adapt, change and add as necessary. Use this guide and checklist as a catalyst for your own thinking, discussion, and planning.
Many will say that these ideas are unrealistic in light of the current emphasis on standardized tests, state standards, and the Common Core standards. My view is that a systematic learning-centered education will provide a long-term vision of a good 21st century education that will be a framework for educating students for many years to come. With a meaningful and purposeful learning-centered framework, students will be well prepared for standardized tests, programs will satisfy Common Core standards requirements, and we will be ready for any other regulations and changes that come down the pike!
We can only hope that, instead of a test-centered approach, “learning-centeredness” -defining and implementing a set of 21st century student learning outcomes, assessments, and practices - will become the predominant educational focus for governments at all levels, the educational community, and the public at large in order to think about, define and plan for educational excellence in the future.
Elliott Seif is a long time educator, teacher, college professor, curriculum director, ASCD author, school volunteer, and Understanding by Design trainer. You can read more about this learning centered approach to education in a new age at his website: www.era3learning.org
[i] Thematic schools, such as schools for the arts, sciences, engineering, business, culinary arts, and the like, would be likely to customize according to their themes.
[ii] This broadened accountability system suggests a different way for individual classrooms, schools and districts to judge success and achievement. For example, school superintendents might present a more complex picture of accountability to the public and school board by providing examples of the types of student work completed at different levels (average, excellent, and poor, with percentages of each), examples of books read by students at different levels, sample self-reflections, student survey data, research paper examples, and student presentations. The same broad-based data might also be presented by schools and individual teachers. While this data may be harder to collect and summarize, they should give a much better picture of student success and achievement.
On April 15 and 16, 2013 I visited the Philippines and did two talks on multiple intelligences. The first talk on April 15th was for 1500 pediatricians as part of a dinner symposium sponsored by Wyeth/Nutrition at the CMX Convention Center in Manila, coinciding with the annual conference of the Philippine Pediatric Society.
I focused on how multiple intelligences can be used to stimulate cognitive growth in infancy, enrich play experiences for toddlers, and enhance the environment of developmental preschools. I was surprised to learn that 80% of pediatricians in the Philippines are women. In the United States, the figure is more like 57% (and this has grown considerably over the past few decades when pediatricians were largely male). It makes a lot of sense to have more women pediatricians, because women are generally more nurturing than men, and young children can benefit from this more empathetic relationship.
After my presentation, there were talks by pediatricians, and as a surprise event, one of the Philippines’ most celebrated popular singers, Gary Velenciano, entertained the guests with his high-powered performance (he is known in the Philippines as Mr. Pure Energy!). He also had his daughter and one of his two sons perform with him in some very moving ensemble work. All in all, it was a great evening!
On April 16, I was involved in a press launch of a new Wyeth/Nutrition product, Progress Pre-School Gold, a powdered milk drink supplement, at a hotel in the financial district of Manila. Wyeth has tied the product to multiple intelligences. I researched the company and was glad to see that they promote breastfeeding in infants, so I entered into this relationship with a clear conscience. I was not asked to endorse the product, simply to serve an expert in the field of multiple intelligences. The event was attended by 50 members of the media, including television, newspapers, bloggers, and other online services.
I contributed to the event with a twenty-minute talk on multiple intelligences, a conversation with a celebrity mom, Dawn Zueleta, who is a well-known and highly regarded actress in the Philippines, and several individual interviews with television and print media.
My trip to the Philippines has been wonderful (I also lectured here last September). The people are so friendly and helpful, and the weather has been relatively pleasant (although I’m told that this is very warm for this time of year!). I’ve been reading the novel Nolo Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) by Jose Rizal, who is the Philippines’ national hero. He was an intellectual who traveled around Europe, held humanistic ideals, and ultimately was executed by the colonial Spaniards for his strong nationalist beliefs.
The Philippines is a vibrant society, with many cultural influences including those from the Malay peninsula, Spain, China, Islam, and the United States. The American influence on the Philippine educational system in the early part of the nineteenth century made it so that virtually all educated individuals in the Philippines speak English. I had a wonderful experience here, and I look forward to coming back to the Philippines in the coming years!
We started a Saturday program at my school in order to provide students with additional academic remediation, support, and some fun. I know that some of you might think this is just another "test prep" venture to raise scores considering we identified specific students, and it's April.... You would be both correct and incorrect (or maybe it is just how you define test prep).
Here is a little information about the program. We have targeted about 30 students in grades 3, 4, and 5 to provide math and language arts remediation through a very effective tool. The tool that we use is SuccessMaker which is a digital learning curriculum that is designed to assess, remediate and instruct based on the Common Core and New Jersey Model Curriculum. In addition to the online instruction and assistance, we have teachers who work with students individually on their specific needs. SuccessMaker can develop specific lessons for the teachers and students to master. Additionally, SuccessMaker also facilitates 21st century learning as the students are required to use high levels of Blooms Taxonomy to solve problems while also providing them with the experience for taking the online assessments such PARCC.
But there is more to our program then SuccessMaker. First, team-building and cooperative learning activities are embedded within the structure of the program because we feel urged to not only address the academic needs but also the social and emotional needs of our learners. We want them to feel confident as they approach problems and situations that involve critical thinking. Since we have the students grouped into three teams, we wanted to continue to push the envelope and challenge the students, and that is where Problem Based Learning comes in.
For our "problem", the students are going to have determine why there is an achievement gap and what they can do to "solve" the problem. During the first session, we presented them with the challenge and what the end result could look like (an invention, commercial, iMovie trailer, etc.). We also asked them to define what is a "problem" and why are some students achieving while others are not. For instance, in order to engage them in self reflection (we all know that kids like to point fingers), we asked the students this question, "Who is responsible for the achievement gap... is it parents, teachers, principals or students?" Most, if not all the students said the responsibility falls on themselves. Their rationale for owning the problem included items such as low self esteem, not paying attention, and not taking school seriously.
Over the next few weeks the students in PBL will be presented with data about the achievement gap as well as what adults say about the achievement gap. Ultimately, the students will solve this problem and present their findings to parents, teachers and other students at our culminating event on May 11.
I will make sure to report back on their progress each week as well as their solutions to this age old problem... why do some students achieve while others do not.....
Thanks for a fantastic 2013 ASCD Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois!
Your To-Do List: Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Register for the Whole Child Virtual Conference: May 6–10, 2013
Join ASCD for its third annual Whole Child Virtual Conference. This free online event offers thought leadership discussions; presentations from leading authors and experts; and an exploration of the steps outstanding schools, communities, and individual countries take as they move along the continuum of a whole child approach—from implementation to sustainability to culture. No matter where you are on this continuum, you’ll find lessons you can learn and questions you can ask to improve and grow your schools.
This year the conference will include 24 sessions over 7 days between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. eastern time, with sessions on May 2 and 3 specifically for Australasian and European audiences. This year’s conference speakers include authors and experts Thomas Armstrong, Michael Fullan, Andy Hargreaves, Eric Jensen, Wendy Ostroff, William Parrett and Kathleen M. Budge, Pasi Sahlberg, and Yong Zhao.
Sessions will also feature presentations from ASCD Emerging Leaders, ASCD’s Outstanding Young Educators Award winner, the recipient of Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award, and members of ASCD’s Whole Child Network of Schools.
Registration is now open. Go to www.ascd.org/wcvirtualconference to sign up.
ASCD Nominations Committee Applications Open in May
ASCD is seeking ASCD leaders who are interested in serving on the 2013–14 ASCD Nominations Committee. More information—the committee’s charge, qualifications for service, and time commitment—will be available starting May 1 on www.ascd.org. ASCD will be accepting applications May 1–31. We invite ASCD leaders to consider their interest in this opportunity over the next few weeks before the application becomes available.
ASCD Leaders in Action: News from the ASCD Leader Community
ASCD Student Chapters Help Chicago’s Hungry During ASCD Annual Conference
On March 15, 46 ASCD Student Chapter members volunteered to make a difference in the fight against hunger in Chicago. Working together the Friday morning before ASCD’s Annual Conference, the students packaged more than 15,000 pounds of food to help feed the nearly 678,000 people who rely on emergency and supplemental food from the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Thank you and congratulations to our ASCD Student Chapter volunteers! Read the full Conference Daily article.
ASCD Forum Session at ASCD Annual Conference Gives Educators a Voice on Teacher and Principal Effectiveness
On March 17, ASCD Past President Debra Hill facilitated a discussion of the ASCD Forum topic “how do we define and measure teacher and principal effectiveness?” Ten ASCD leaders stepped forward to help lead the discussion:
· Jason Flom, ASCD Emerging Leader
· Ben Shuldiner, Position Advisory Committee Member
· Amy Vanden Boogart, ASCD Emerging Leader
· Jeffrey Lofthus, Alaska ASCD Executive Director
· Daina Lieberman, ASCD Emerging Leader
· Mamzelle Adolphine, Professional Interest Community Facilitator
· Laurie McCullough, Virginia ASCD Executive Director
· Alice Wells, Arizona ASCD Executive Director
· Matthew Cotton, ASCD Emerging Leader
· Torian White, ASCD Emerging Leader
Session attendees stepped up to the front of the room to share their thoughts and also posted tweets to the #ASCDForum hashtag. Many thanks to the ASCD leaders who participated to make this session a success!
Congratulations to ASCD Affiliate Recognition Award Winners
Please join ASCD in congratulating the ASCD Affiliate Recognition Award Recipients:
Two affiliates were recognized for the 2013 Overall Excellence Award: Iowa ASCD, for its increased focus on integrating technology into professional learning opportunities and their influence and advocacy work with ASCD, and New Hampshire ASCD, for its work to increase membership and provide increased professional learning opportunities, such as Common Core workshops.
In addition, New Jersey ASCD received the Area Excellence Award for Programs, Products, and Services for their leadership in their state as a trusted source for professional learning. Texas ASCD received an Exceptional Progress Award in Influence and Policy, and Alberta ASCD, Ohio ASCD, and Vermont ASCD were all recipients of the Exceptional Progress Award in Programs, Products, and Services.
Welcome to the “Educating Beyond Disabilities” Professional Interest Community
Please join ASCD in welcoming our newest Professional Interest Community, facilitated by 2011 ASCD Emerging Leader Christina Yuknis. Please join her group on ASCD EDge.
Tennessee ASCD Featured in ASCD Inservice Blog Series
Weasked some of our affiliate leaders to tell us how the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has been going in their home states. In the sixth post of the series, Tennessee ASCD President-Elect John Combs writes about the challenges and successes that Tennessee has had with CCSS implementation.
Meet ASCD President Becky Berg
Becky J. Berg is from a family of educators. "My dad was a school board president; my mom was a career educator; and my sister, my grandmother, and my great-grandfather were educators," she says. Despite the genetic pull, Berg wasn't completely convinced she would follow in the family's footsteps until her experience as a summer camp counselor while she was in college. It was then that she realized how much she loved working with kids. Read the full Conference Daily article.
Congratulations to the 2013 Outstanding Young Educator Award Winners!
ASCD salutes a new generation’s passion for education excellence through this year’s selection of two Outstanding Young Educator Award winners: Joshua Garcia, deputy superintendent of Tacoma Public Schools (Wash.), and Parkville High School (Parkville, Md.) teacher Ryan Twentey. Twentey teaches art, photography, and interactive media production and also serves as the school’s technology liaison. Read the full Conference Daily article.
Interactive ASCD 2012 Annual Report Features ASCD Leaders
Check out the ASCD 2012 Annual Report, entitled “Creating Solutions: The ASCD Revolution in Motion.” This interactive report features videos footage of ASCD leaders, including ASCD Emerging Leader Steven Anderson, Florida ASCD President Alina Davis, Alabama ASCD Executive Director Jane Cobia, ASCD Board Member Harriet Arnold, and Connecticut ASCD President David Cormier.
Throughout April at wholechildeducation.org: Principal Leadership
Principals are the key players in developing the climate, culture, and processes in their schools. They are critical to implementing meaningful and lasting school change and in the ongoing school-improvement process. Principals who have a clear vision; inspire and engage others in embracing change for improvement; drive, facilitate, and monitor the teaching and learning process; and foster a cohesive culture of learning are the collaborative leaders our schools need to fully commit to ensuring each student—and school staff member—is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
What qualities do principals in today’s (and tomorrow’s) schools need to fulfill their roles as visionary, instructional, influential, and learning leaders?
There are two episodes of the Whole Child Podcast in April for you to download and share. The first episode, “Leveling and Raising the Playing Field,” features school staff from Oregon’s Milwaukie High School, winner of the 2013 Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award, and is available now. On April 11, the second episode will be available. It will focus on principal leadership and include guests Kevin Enerson, principal of Whole Child Network school Le Sueur-Henderson High School in Minnesota, and Jessica Bohn, ASCD Emerging Leader and principal of Gibsonville Elementary School in North Carolina.
The Best-Case Scenario
As we review and reinforce our schools’ safety measures, we aren’t planning for the worst-case scenario that might happen; we are working to make sure the best-case scenario—where schools are learning environments that are physically, socially, and emotionally safe for students and adults—is an everyday occurrence that does happen. Read more on the Whole Child Blog.
In February and March, we looked at what we, as educators, believe is crucial to making our schools safe—not just physically safe, but also safe places to teach and learn. Listen to the Whole Child Podcast with guests Joseph Bergant II, superintendent of Chardon Schools in Ohio; Howard Adelman, professor of psychology at UCLA and codirector of the School Mental Health Project and the Center for Mental Health in Schools (a whole child partner); and Jonathan Cohen, adjunct professor in psychology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and president and cofounder of whole child partner National School Climate Center.
Have you signed up to receive the Whole Child Newsletter? Read the latest newsletter and visit the archive for more strategies, resources, and tools you can use to help ensure that each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
Something to Talk About
I have an article in the April 9, 2013 online issue of Education Week Teacher entitled: ”7 Ways to Bring Out the Best in Special Needs Students.” In the article, I share the experience of a music teacher who had a young student with Asperger’s syndrome in her class who said he hated music and proceeded to make her and the class miserable for the rest of the year. But then she introduced him to GarageBand, the Apple software program that allows users to easily compose music. He took to it like gangbusters, and soon, he was winning acceptance from others for his music, and had a whole new way to express himself in the world.
This story suggests that we focus on the strengths of kids with special needs rather than focus too much time on their weaknesses. I share seven tips for doing this: 1. discover students’ strengths, 2. provide role models of people with disabilities, 3. develop strength-based learning strategies, 4. use assistive technologies and Universal Design for learning methodologies, 5. maximize the power of your students’ social networks, 6. help students envision positive futures, and 7. create positive environmental modifications. To read the entire article, click here. You can also leave a comment just below the online article if you wish. I’d love to get your reactions!
Across the globe, nations, districts, schools, and individuals face a timely and complex issue:
How do we define and measure teacher and principal effectiveness?
Is there a definitive answer to this challenging question? We’re not sure, but since January, ASCD has convened the ASCD Forum to focus educator conversation and insight on this important topic.
From now until April 12, ASCD is seeking feedback on the following questions:
How to join the discussion:
ASCD EDge® social networking platform: ASCD invites you to join the ASCD Forum group on ASCD EDge and write one or more blog posts on educator effectiveness. We ask that blog posts adhere to the following guidelines:
We also invite you to comment on other ASCD Forum posts to help us cultivate a deep and comprehensive conversation on educator effectiveness:
You can also join the conversation on Twitter: All tweets relating to the ASCD Forum should include the #ASCDForum hashtag. If you would like to share a resource on educator effectiveness or promote your ASCD EDge blog post, please add the hashtag to your tweet.
We hope you will join us for this conversation, which is the first of its kind for ASCD. The ASCD Forum was created to give educators a voice on education issues of worldwide significance. We are excited for this unique challenge and we hope you are too.
Questions? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter @msimps01.
When I first became a teacher in Ontario, Canada, we were evaluated once a year by a Superintendent of Education who flew in from Toronto to evaluate teacher performance against expectations contained in a small grey book. We were made aware of the date and time of their visit and were expected to teach a lesson upon their arrival. We coached our students to look engaged in the lesson and folklore has it that some teachers even told their students to raise their right hand if they knew the answer and their left if they didn't. Hence, all appeared to be engaged. The Superintendent also evaluated the "climate" of the classroom. In those days, this was reduced to checking the thermostat, the consistency of the level of the blinds and the general tidiness of the room. This evaluation obviously had no impact on teacher development or student learning.
How things have changed! Ontario now has a comprehensive teacher evaluation system which is an integral part of a continuum of professional learning that supports effective teaching. The goals of the Teacher Performance Appraisal (TPA) System are to:
Teachers and principals are partners in the process which focuses on the continuous improvement of teaching practices. The process is different for beginning and experienced teachers as well as for those experiencing difficulty and those with a strong record of performance. In consultation wtih principals, teachers create an Annual Learning Plan that focuses on areas in which they can continuously improve. As a principal, I guided my teachers to set routine, creative, problem solving and personal growth goals. They would then develop action plans for each goal and I would be engaged in ongoing support and follow up discussions.
The vision of the TPA System is that every teacher in publicly funded education reaches his or her potential. When this is achieved, our students will also reach their potential. WIthout a focus on continuous improvement relative to comprehensive quality standards, our schools will be stuck at meeting minimal standards on standardized tests and will not begin to address important issues such as personalization through learning styles and brain research; creating safe and caring cultures, climates and communities; reducing bullying; and simply making a difference.
School districts currently spend approximately 10% of their budget on staff development and evaluation. This is a lot of money. Too much of it is spent far removed from the relationships in the classroom and the school. Teacher evaluation systems too often get out of hand. A recent on-line discussion group asked the question of whether we should bring in outside experts to "do" teacher evaluations in order to free up some of the principal's time for more important things. This would be a huge step backwards. There is nothing more important for a princpal to do than develop his or her staff to meet their full potential. Only then will our students be getting the personalized, supportive education they need.
We need elegant teacher evaluation systems that focus on what is important in promoting meaningful student learning and development as human beings. This is what matters. This is priceless!
NetDimensionsApplications Development Group assists organizations in the
achievement of goals with effective custom learning solutions and
applications. We begin by understanding the learning requirements for
successful goal achievement. Learning requirements might entail
compliance, product knowledge, software, leadership or
other performance related training. We then build custom courses,
applications and tools to support and satisfy those requirements. We are
capable of scaling to any size project, from building complete end to end
solutions, to providing specific skills to assist in the completion of an
existing project, lesson or course. We've built long term relationships with
organizations of all sizes and they rely on us for innovative and solid
* We've assisted organizations like yours to satisfy a broad range of
learning requirements from planning, defining requirements to align with
goals, design, professional development and deployment
* We are tool agnostic and will build with selected tools already in
place with your organization or make recommendations for tools following a
detailed requirements analysis
* We develop across any platform - PC, iOS, Android - using the most
* We work with your internal team of educators to augment their efforts - from
specific skills and resources lent to a project, to advising on best
practices and mentoring, to take a project from start to finish
* We have a proven approach and methodology to deliver high quality,
efficient results to accommodate any budget
* Our team has been together for more than 6 years, with our team leads
with up to 13 years of working together.
* We are more than content developers - we can bring sophistication and
technical expertise to problem solving with instructional design, creative
design, programming skills and software engineering - to meet most any
Backed by a global company focused on learning and workforce performance
requirements, our group can work with any size organization and across many
cultures, languages and countries.
Even if you didn’t want to like that Lady Gaga song, there’s a good chance you can faithfully parrot the sugary chorus of it. Be honest now, you know it: “Can't read my/ Can't read my/ No he can't read my poker face.” Some hooks are unforgettable, even after a single listen, and though you may not be able to glean anything particularly academic from “Poker Face,” we think a case can be made for using the pop-song formula as a teaching and studying tool.
It may sound ridiculous (and we suppose it is to some extent), but students have long been putting information to music and using it as learning tool. In fact, we know of one medical student who starting writing anatomy and physiology songs so that he could pass his exams. Included in his oeuvre are crowd-pleasers like “Integumentary System, How Do You Do It?” and “If I were a Skeletal Muscle Tissue.” Let’s get to the point though:
We’d like to introduce Flocabulary, an online learning platform that delivers educational hip-hop songs and videos to students in grades K-12. Flocabulary has been around for a little over a decade and boasts a weekly audience of 5 million students. Their mission: “To motivate kids and help them reach their full academic potential, not only by raising test scores but by fostering a love of learning in every child.”
Flocabulary’s database of songs covers anything from the discovery of America and the Bill of Rights to the scientific method, grammar and Mark Twain.
You’re free to try Flocabulary at no cost for 14 days. Thereafter, you can choose from three plans:
Here’s a sample of what they have to offer:
If your students are anything like ours, they love it when technology is integrated into the classroom. To help you do this, we’ve put together a resource that offers 50 of our favorite teacher-friendly websites and apps. Our descriptions of each resource are brief and lighthearted—and hopefully, substantive enough to give you a sense for whether or not they will fit your students’ and your needs. Check it out and share it with your friends and colleagues!
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.
As an elementary school principal, I recognize the importance of teacher leaders. Teacher leaders play multiple roles in a school and they serve in leadership positions outside the school. Harrison and Killion (2007) described ten roles for teacher leaders in Educational Leadership. In the past month, I have observed multiple teachers serving in leadership roles.
Car Rider Duty
At an elementary school, it takes several adults to help students during the morning and afternoon car rider line. While this may not seem like leadership, it is an important role. Standing in 28 degrees or the rain is not a skill that you learn as a student teacher. Any role that supports the school and student safety falls under the category of leadership.
In the national best-selling book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell (2002) described the importance of ‘Connectors.’ Gladwell says that Connectors have the gift of bringing the world together. Connectors are important on grade level teams, in faculty meetings, during crucial conversations, during times of change, and on a daily basis. Teacher leaders who are connectors bring out the best in their co-workers. They help connect the school with families and community leaders. They can be very important in securing grant money for a school. Who are the ‘Connectors’ in your school?
“Curriculum development is the essential function of school leadership. Whether this role is carried out by a principal, an assistant principal for curriculum, a team leader, a department head, or by leading classroom teachers, the curriculum defines all other roles in a school” (Wiles, 2009). Curriculum leaders have played an important role as our school has transitioned to the Common Core State Standards. They have the ability to create curriculum individually and with a team of teachers. I have witnessed teachers from our school share strategies with teachers across the district and state. Curriculum mapping, alignment, and revision require strong curriculum leaders. When teacher leaders are involved in designing and revising curriculum, you will have a strong product. High performing schools have multiple curriculum leaders.
Recently, I have observed teachers from our school serving on district teams such as ELA Curriculum Mapping, Science Curriculum Mapping, and Math Curriculum Mapping. Serving on a district leadership team gives teachers a voice in the process and the opportunity to impact student achievement across the district. In The 360 Degree Leader (2005), Maxwell wrote, "You will develop the ability to be a 360-Degree Leader by learning to lead up (with your leader), lead across (with your colleagues), and lead down (with your followers).” High performing school districts have teacher leaders who have the ability to lead up, down, and across.
Inner Circle Leadership
As a principal, you need to have an Inner Circle. In The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (1998), Maxwell described The Law of the Inner Circle. The Law of the Inner Circle states, “A persons potential is determined by those closest to him.” In some schools, this group of teacher leaders serve on the School Improvement Team. Sometimes, the inner circle consists of a group of individuals who carry out the role without a title or committee. A teacher leader can make or break a principal. If you are a school administrator, you cannot lead alone. You need the input and feedback from one or more teacher leaders.
Maxwell (1998) gives us five questions to ask when considering who should be in our Inner Circle:
If you have this type of teacher leader in your organization, then you will see his/her impact throughout the school. Teacher leaders are critical to a school’s success. By reviewing the five questions above, you can see that a principal needs this type of leader. The principal who tries to lead without teacher leaders will fail.
Leader as Facilitator
This year, teacher leaders have led professional development (PD) at our school. They have developed PD related to the Six Instructional Shifts outlined in the Common Core State Standards. It is difficult to plan and lead staff development in front of your peers. One thing that makes this such a difficult task is the different needs of a kindergarten teacher and a fifth grade teacher. Our teacher leaders have developed PD which meets the needs of all teachers. We have also had a series of technology integration sessions, led by teacher leaders. When a school has multiple teacher leaders they feed off the creativity and experiences of each other. Having multiple teacher leaders also allows each person to utilize their strengths.
Technology leaders can wear several different hats. A technology leader could be the best one on the team at developing technology integration units. The technology leader that I am describing is the teacher leader who uses Google Docs, serves as the note taker, develops an online discussion thread, starts a school wiki, or reminds the group that planning can take place online. The technology leader is similar to a ‘Connector.’ The teacher leader who connects others through online tools is valuable to a school district. Face-to-Face meetings are still important. The teacher leader who connects others understands that communication never ends in the online world. Wesley Fryer (2005) wrote, “Technology has broken down communication barriers connecting teachers and students around the world and supporting collaboration in ways that would have seemed impossible even a decade ago” (p. 27).
Most teachers have developed a teacher website. However, some teacher leaders are more skilled than others. Google, Weebly, WordPress, and other sites are used to create websites. Teacher leaders utilize websites to share curriculum updates, post videos about how to help your child with mathematics, share links to videos related to the topics being studied, and more. Some teachers have designed a blog within their teacher website. A blog allows teachers and families to have two-way communication. Teacher leaders are leading the way and the product is much more elaborate than a wrinkled letter in the bottom of a third grader’s backpack. Teacher leaders understand the importance of communicating with families in real time.
Who are the teacher leaders in your building? What are you doing to develop teacher leaders? What are you doing to help leaders grow? “Teacher leaders are most often the missing piece of education reform” (Ratzel, 2012). If you don’t have teacher leaders in these roles, there may be one or more teachers waiting for you to recognize their talents. Maxwell (2008) wrote, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” I would argue that everything rises and falls on Teacher Leadership.
“I’ve got two turntables and a microphone.”
I’m sure there are better examples of connecting multimedia in pop culture than this line from Beck’s song “Where It’s At” from 1995, but this lyric and the song title speak directly to my current upgrade idea.
I think in multimedia. I believe I always have. I suspect many of you do as well and certainly, your children and your students do. Our modern world is creating a new breed of student, all synesthetes, who learn best by involuntarily connecting words, pictures, moving images, and sounds.
In terms of modern learning opportunities and upgrades, I think Infographics are “Where It’s At.” Two turntables and a microphone, indeed, as well as a word processor and a camera and software to remix it all together.
They’ve been used in advertising and news media for decades and are starting to become a viable instructional strategy in classrooms around the world. The act of creating them addresses multiple standards and the finished product is a demonstration of integrated reading, writing, comparative analysis of text and more, all done in an illustrative and artfully designed way. The brain holds on to that. It’s mental glue.
In terms of the Common Core, creating Infographics of the content you are ALREADY teaching addresses the following specific standards:
If you’re looking for a quick upgrade, this is a good place to start! There are dozens of tools online that will help your students start visualizing their learning in new ways. Here are a few resources to add to your toolboxes:
By the way, in this day and age of modern learning, learning isn’t just about SHOWING what you’ve learned, it’s also about SHARING what you’ve learned. Encourage your students to use the Social Components of some of the Infographic websites. Encourage them to post to the Flickr Group. Encourage them to solicit feedback about their work and then encourage them to upgrade their work. This is AMPLIFIED learning. This is OUT LOUD learning.
This is WHERE IT’S AT!
Join Janet Hale and I as we discuss potential Upgrades at the ASCD Annual Conference this weekend. You can catch us here:
Upgrade Your Curriculum - Edge Group
Upgrade Your Curriculum Book - Now available in the ASCD bookstore
Also, if you just can't get the Beck song out of your head, and you've hummed it the entire time you've read this...here's the video: