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The Economist article, "In praise of misfits," lays out the business-related benefits of what the author calls "creatives," "anti-social geeks," "oddball quants," and "rule-breaking entrepreneurs." While the entire article is well worth the read, we have pulled out a few quotes to help frame the idea that we should work tirelessly to help our school system to support these "misfits." Rather than treat their uniquenesses as deficits, we would do well to build on their actionable strengths and affinities -- qualities that are proving to shape our present, and will surely impact our future. From the article:
Recruiters have noticed that the mental qualities that make a good computer programmer resemble those that might get you diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome: an obsessive interest in narrow subjects; a passion for numbers, patterns and machines; an addiction to repetitive tasks; and a lack of sensitivity to social cues.
Similar traits are common in the upper reaches of finance. The quants have taken over from the preppies. The hero of Michael Lewis's book “The Big Short”, Michael Burry, a hedge-fund manager, is a loner who wrote a stockmarket blog as a hobby while he was studying to be a doctor. He attracted so much attention from money managers that he quit medicine to start his own hedge fund, Scion Capital.
The article goes on,
Entrepreneurs also display a striking number of mental oddities. Julie Login of Cass Business School surveyed a group of entrepreneurs and found that 35% of them said that they suffered from dyslexia, compared with 10% of the population as a whole and 1% of professional managers. Prominent dyslexics include the founders of Ford, General Electric, IBM and IKEA, not to mention more recent successes such as Charles Schwab (the founder of a stockbroker), Richard Branson (the Virgin Group), John Chambers (Cisco) and Steve Jobs (Apple).
All that said, however, there must be balance between the "creatives" and what the article refers to as, "The Organisation Man," or the "'well-rounded' executives." The writer goes on to explain,
Where does that leave the old-fashioned organisation man? He will do just fine. The more companies hire brilliant mavericks, the more they need sensible managers to keep the company grounded. Someone has to ensure that dull but necessary tasks are done. Someone has to charm customers (and perhaps lawmakers). This task is best done by those who don't give the impression that they think normal people are stupid.
All of this hints at the need for the real career-ready skill of knowing simply how to get along -- to not just tolerate differences, but to appreciate and leverage these differences as opportunities to innovate and become more than the sum of our parts. Our learning communities can be (and already are) incubators of the social relationships that, in part, define a student's path beyond graduations, for better or for worse. What if we were so bold as to decide that each student is a learner, learning changes lives, learning happens in different ways, and learning empowers, and therefore we need to ensure that each student feels the work of schooling matters to them and that their strengths and affinities are not only valued, but embraced and employed as essential to the success of the community? Do we need to wait until these "misfits" graduate and enter the workforce to change the following?
Those square pegs may not have an easy time in school. They may be mocked by jocks and ignored at parties.
Because, after all,
. . . these days no serious organisation can prosper without them. As Kiran Malhotra, a Silicon Valley networker, puts it: “It's actually cool to be a geek.”
We, as educators and advocates of all students, have the power to change this trend. There is no need for students to wait until adulthood to find that their strengths matter, and no research suggests this is in the best interest of students, especially those "creatives, oddballs, and/or square pegs among us.
This post was originally published on the All Kinds of Minds blog.
We all know Peter Parker’s secret to becoming a totally cool super hero who used smarts, spidey sense, and a little bit of webbing to save his corner of the world: a radioactive spider bite.
The funny thing is, what our students need from education isn’t so different from the transformation Peter went through (n.b. the first transformation, not Spiderman 3 – I haven’t seen that one yet, but looks like what happened wasn’t good). We want school to hone our students’ talents and develop their passions so they can make the world a better place.
We also know that what we have been doing in education isn’t turning out superheroes they way we would like. The kids who become innovators and change the world are the exception not the rule. They are kids who beat the system and managed to salvage their creativity and passion from our industrial model of schooling.
So how do we create this change? How do we have an education system that actually develops creative innovators committed to a more just, sustainable, and healthy world?
We know we can’t just keep doing what we are doing and expect different results.
And we can’t just wait around for a radioactive spider.
I used to think what we needed was just more. If we only made the school day longer, made kids go to school on Saturday, the list goes on and on, we’d get there. I would say to myself “If only we had more time with students we could reach that goal” or “If only we get a little better at what we’re doing we’ll get there.”
Now I see that more of the same though isn’t really change; it’s just more.
I used to think that the answer was finding someone with the answer and asking for concrete steps and strategies. At the end of trainings, I would ask “How do I do this in my classroom?” and wait for a formula that would be the saving grace for my students and me.
Now I see that there’s no single strategy, no step-by-step process for creating innovators. Spending more time and doing what we do now better won’t get us to the superhero level.
Click here to read more....
In the long term, there is just one answer to the problem of school safety: More love. The short term solution, on the other hand, lies in the unhealthy mix of force, fear, guns, security, locks, and other devices meant to barricade our children from a small, but obviously lethal, subset of the population.
I’ll leave the short-term answers to parents and politicians. Instead, let’s support advances in education that take us closer to the ultimate goal of raising, nurturing, and educating children who feel psychologically safe. That, really, is the sole purpose of whole child education.
The formula is simple. Feeling safe is the central feature of feeling secure. Secure people do not feel afraid, except in the face of dire circumstances. In the absence of fear, positive emotions bloom. When positivity reigns, the brain responds by becoming more expansive, creative, and open to ideas. Emotions stabilize. The terrible effects of isolation, loneliness, depression, withdrawal, and other outcomes of emotional dysfunction disappear or are resolved. Many fewer people feel compelled to murder a child. Those who do receive compassionate help from a greatly enlarged safety net of understanding, emotionally mature adults.
The foundation for this transformation is love. However, I don’t mean a kind of greeting card, Valentine’s version of love, as in, “Oh, aren’t little children just the sweetest little souls? I just love all of them!” Rather, I suggest that it’s overdue to recognize the hard science informing us that care counts. It’s time, really, to get out of our own way by integrating the most recent evidence-based findings about positive emotional development into schools and make healthy emotional development the centerpiece of learning.
Until society is willing to turn that corner, unsafety will plague us. With that in mind, here’s my list of simple ideas for educators to embrace that reflect the science of the second decade of the 21st-century. These findings point us toward designing schools as havens of safety and seedbeds for stable individuals who can be beacons of love throughout society and the global village:
Emotions and thinking are not separate. The 200-year misconception that emotions and cognition are separate has been disproven. The brain is an integrated organ that processes thoughts and emotions simultaneously. In fact, positive emotions help power the frontal cortex. Rather than an academic downside, a greater focus on the emotional health of young people will result in better performance, particularly in areas like 21st century skills and critical thinking. See Barbara Frederickson’s book on Positivity for the evidence.
The brain changes with the culture. There is no greater story at the moment that brain plasticity. Neurons change every millisecond, and the neural pathways work as fast as they can (and they’re fast) to adapt to new surroundings and the incoming culture. Everything about schools should be reviewed in this light. What messages do the hallways and the classrooms send to the brain? What is the atmosphere and climate of the school? Is nurturing the norm or the exception?
Let go of the brain. Now for the flip side. Not everything occurs from the neck up. Recent science shows intricate connections between the heart, gut, and the brain. Fear registers in the heart before the brain, and then communicates via the vagal nerves. The body acts as a sensory organ for safety—and the brain follow the lead. More fear equals less activity in the prefrontal cortex, the favorite part of the brain for any teacher (that’s where attention and learning take place.) In other words, holism is a reality, not a wish.
Emotions and physiology are one conversation. When you see a child in emotional distress, that means the child’s body is not working optimally. For example, stress is an over-mobilization of the natural resources of the body (too many hormones, at abnormal levels, and a high octane sympathetic nervous response.) The good news is that by calming the physiology of the body, we also alter emotional states.
Emotions are good, not bad. Research into positive emotions is shaping up as the next big advance in science. The old model of emotions, focused solely on survival mode, is a legacy from the caveman days. We’ve evolved; now science has confirmed that humans who generate and experience emotions such as contentment, joy, inspiration, and love respond by becoming more fulfilled, higher achieving people.
Relationships change emotional states. The connections between us and others alter emotional states. The mind, in fact, is not just within us any longer; it’s somewhere in that space between us, as Daniel Siegel in Mindsight shows us. The constant interplay takes place subconsciously, either through mirror neurons in the brain or energetic exchange. Regardless of the mechanism, it’s now clear that humans communicate in real time, at all times, on an emotional level. Every message from teachers, conveyed through facial expression, body language, words, or hidden assumption, carries weight.
Stress and challenge differ. Love does not preclude challenge, meaning you can still test children to figure out what they’ve learned. But it does tell us that removing the unnecessary stress of learning is a good thing. Constant testing invokes stress; a few meaningful exams pitched as a way to understand the gaps in your knowledge stirs up challenge. Here’s one clue to the difference: Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, causing the armpits to perspire and one set of muscles in the face to contort; challenge brings a blended response of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems—and a genuine smile.
Mindfulness works. Whether you choose mindfulness, meditation, or heart-focused breathing, they all work. Each dissolves stress and liberates a calm, safe feeling that leads to positive health and better learning. It would be interesting to see the results on high stakes testing if every school day in America began with a five-minute meditation!
Love, compassion, and gratitude make you smarter. Some of the most powerful research recently shows the impact of gratitude on brain function and physiology in the body. Love calms, and the simple, yet profound, act of appreciation seems to have forceful consequences. As we move forward in schools and society, it is the job of adults to create a world in which children have ample reason to feel appreciative. If that happens, we’ll all feel safe.
Thom Markham is a psychologist and author of the Project Based Learning Design and Coaching Guide: Expert tools for inquiry and innovation for K-12 educators, and the forthcoming book, Redefining Smart: The return of the heart. Download Tools for PBL on his website, www.thommarkham.com or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In a recent MiddleWeb post, I blogged about digital tools that can help teachers align their instruction to the ELA Common Core standards. Now I’d like to do the same for Math.
As before, teachers want to make sure that the task is always the focus of lessons and units, not the tools. But we also know that with the right digital tools to help us, we can further engage our students around challenging content and deepen their learning experience.
In my new book with Janet Hale, Upgrade Your Curriculum, this is a persistent theme: Tools support the learning — they aren’t the purpose of the learning.Janet and I also advocate for
• upgrading curriculum one unit or even one lesson at a time;
• being considerate of the resources available;
• building on the new Common Core standards,
• collaborating with your colleagues.
We also concentrate heavily on our Transformation Matrix, which can help sustain a balance between learning and engagement. In a nutshell, the matrix encourages teachers to visualize a transformed curriculum where much of the teaching and learning is student-centered and thus student-owned.
The digital tools that I’m sharing here could be used on several levels in the math classroom. For one, they represent a moment-in-time assessment of student ownership. Because all of the tools are visual representations of learning, we can see a fairly clear picture of what a student can do with the knowledge/content.
These tools also offer an opportunity for engaging in specific literacy strategies around writing for new audiences and integrating domain-specific vocabulary into the literacy experience. While we may be specifically aligning to the CC Math Standards, we also need to integrate aspects of the ELA standards that help students comprehend our core content.
This integration helps students see relationships between what they are learning in multiple classes and helps contextualize learning moments, creating mental glue that holds on to that learning. This is a shift away from the traditional teaching and learning of isolated facts or processes — a much-needed shift that’s called for in the underlying Common Core principles.
A word of caution: These digital tools can also mask the learning that has occurred if we don’t stay on our teaching toes. Teachers have to be savvy about the ways in which the tools are being used. If students are just creating visualizations on the fly without (1) support for understanding the content well enough to dramatize it; (2) writing a script to go along with it, and (3) soliciting feedback from peers and their teacher before publishing it — then these tools aren’t being used in the most constructive way.
I’d like to think that any of these tools would be great as a formative assessment of learning and a student-created bank of resources for re-visiting the learning at a later time. Think of your own “Khan” style academy on your school’s website, where students share their learning with their classmates, the community, perhaps even the world!
Thanks up front to the teachers and students that shared their examples, particularly Ryan Graham, an 8th grade math teacher in Kannapolis, North Carolina. Please keep in mind that these are ALL middle school students, and all of the examples exemplify that age group. One in particular has a moment that other middle school students will find hilarious, and I suspect their teachers might laugh as well.
xTraNormal is a free web tool based on the premise that if you can type, you can make a movie. Students write out their scripts, use the web controls to manipulate characters and settings, and create a movie that talks, using the text (“script”) that they type in.
Both of the samples represented here are from 8th grade students working on Math Equations. In the videos, the characters suggest a particular way to solve an equation by isolating the variable. The students talk through it without showing the equation visually. While it seems that this is a very quick explanation for the amount of time invested in creating it, I’d like to remind you that this had to be articulated textually and the dialogue typed in before the video was made. That’s where the brain sweat appeared!
I’d also note that the student who added a humorous moment to his video did two important things. For one, he demonstrated a level of confidence and comfort with the material. Nothing says that learning happened louder than knowing the content so well you can laugh about it. The other thing this student did was create a mental “set point” for any other kid who watches it, even if the adults might roll their eyes a little. Kids will remember the funny moment as well as the content that was associated with it. Brain-based learning 101.
Prezi is a 21st Century presentation tool — something like a slideshow in the “Cloud.” It combines text and graphics in an innovative and easy-to-use interface that navigates through a presentation in a nonlinear and engaging way.
With xTraNormal, the literacy is in the background. We see the effect but not the cause. With Prezi, the literacy angle is front and center. Students write informatively to convey information about how to solve a multi-step equation. (Common Core writing standard #2) We get to see the learning that occurred and the explanation of the learning.
What better way to cement learning in a student’s brain than to have them teach it to someone? Prezi also allows embedding of YouTube videos (if that site is not blocked in your schools) which gives the students another opportunity, with a different type of media, to show what they know. Personally, I like multimedia approaches to learning and assessment.
Multi-Step Equations - Example 1
Multi-Step Equations - Example 2
Math Expressions - Example 3
Animoto is technically a slideshow type movie application. It uses still images, short videos, and text to convey a message in a “movie trailer” format that is visually spectacular. Students are using this tool in innovative ways to share the content they are learning as well as leveraging knowledge of other technology tools to make it work for them.
Both examples here are very quick and may potentially need to be paused so that the viewer has time to absorb what’s being shared. Additionally, both examples involved students who created images with an outside program, one being PowerPoint, saved as image files, and uploaded to the Animoto system.
Untitled Project – Tabb Middle
Animoto contains embedded images and opportunities to add text, but it’s not sophisticated enough to share all of the math formulas and explanations that the students wanted to share. This could potentially be a limitation, but the students found a way around it. Because they created their images in a different software program, the students had the opportunity to both textually and numerically represent their learning. This means that there is a dual layer of articulation here and pretty solid evidence that students are owning what is going on.
All of these tools allow students to both SHOW what they know and SHARE what they know. We change attention toward and engagement with the task, and the task’s associated elements, when we upgrade the potential audience. We also start to build in different types of motivation that lead to a better balance of engagement with and focus on learning.
iPad Math Apps: In the interest of adding additional tools to your toolboxes, I’d also like to share a Pinterest page that I created. It features Math Apps for digital devices, some of which are awesome for fluency exercises and others for the creation of fun instructional videos and other forms of engagement with math content that go above and beyond what students might traditionally experience.
I’ll be exploring more of these ideas with posts at my ASCD Edge blog as we lead up to the launch of our book in early March. If any readers would like to join Janet Hale and me in Chicago at the ASCD conference, we’ll be exploring what it means to Upgrade Your Curriculum in person. You can also use the Twitter Hashtag #UpgradeYC to interact online right now!
Upgrade Your Curriculum Book - Now available in the ASCD bookstore
Upgrade Your Curriculum - Edge Group
Following Your Mother's Advice - BE NICE
The Leadership Principles of Being N. I. I. I. C. E.
There is much talk among school leaders today about preparing our students to be 21st century learners. If that is so, then we should also prepare our school administrators to be 21st century school leaders. As a result of my prior experience and much thought, I want to offer this model for effective 21st century Leaders to follow. Take your mother’s advice and be N.I.I.I.C.E.
N. NEEDS: Understanding the needs of the school, students. and community.
The first step to improvement should be observing and evaluating critical needs, not necessarily taking action (Mom always said, "Haste makes waste."). The effective leader will analyze data, while listening to teachers, students, and community members to understand the critical needs of the school. The effective 21st century Leader will not waste time and energy chasing the wants of the organization, but instead will truly understand the critical needs and how those needs are to be met.
I. INSPIRE: The power of influence.
I have often heard that effective leaders do not change people, they inspire people to change. How is it that a new coach can come into a poor situation where the team has been unsuccessful for years and in a short time turn that program into winners? This kind of transformation can only happen through the leader's power to inspire. Effective leaders of the 21st century will seek to inspire change, not demand it.
I. INSTRUCTION: Be the instructional leader of the school.
Along with the many daily tasks and responsibilities of running a school, the effective 21st century leader must realize the importance of student-centered instruction, understand the meaning of rigor and relevance, and recognize evidence of highly effective teaching and learning. The 21st century school leader must embody a complete instructional leader: they must be able to offer their teachers constructive feedback and specific strategies to improve classroom instruction and student learning.
I. INNOVATION: Fresh, cutting edge, and technologically advanced ideas.
The effective 21st century leader will live on the edge of innovation. They will lead the way in new ideas, new technology, and new instructional strategies. The leaders will be innovative in the curriculum, pairing educational standards with the students' goals to ultimately prepare them for a successful career. The effective school leader understands the importance of being connected in social networking groups such as Twitter, Pinterest, Edutopia, or Educator’s PLN. The effective leader will constantly be looking for ways to improve their staff and encourage their teachers to try innovative strategies.
C. CONNECTION: Building relationships.
The ability to connect your employees in a collaborative relationship is a vital component to the success of a 21st century school leader. The demands on the time of our employees have never been greater than they are today. From work to school to family, the stress and strain can be exhausting. The effective leader will provide time for their employees to bond socially and work collaboratively with their co-workers. An effective leader will seek to connect with their employees, providing a risk-free workplace where sincere conversations can take place, problems can be addressed, and solutions can be developed. The 21st century school leader will have a genuine interest in their employees, fostering an environment of trust and promoting physical, mental, and emotional health among them. The effective leader will also provide a safe environment where teachers can better understand and connect with their student learners. The success of an effective 21st century school leader will be based on their ability to directly connect not only with their employees but also with the community and stakeholders. They will break down the school walls, expanding their reach and advancing their vision.
E. EMBRACE: Eagerly and affectionately lead the school.
Finally, the effective 21st century leaders will promote a culture that embraces the school and the community. The very fabric of their being will exude the passion of being totally invested in the great things to come. The effective leader will promote all facets of the educational process while seeking to educate the whole child. The effective leader will provide opportunities for the staff and students to be engaged in the school and in the community. Through activities, academics, and athletics the effective leader will reach out to each and every student, promoting a positive and fun school experience. Through the leader's own actions and attitude, they will be an advocate for their school, while totally embracing and advancing the mission and vision for the school.
The leader that can use these simple principles to lead their school and community will be most effective. These leaders will understand that to lead our students into the 21st century, we must lead our teachers into the 21st century armed with the tactics and strategies necessary for the success of those students. It's as simple as doing what mom always told us: Just Be N.I.I.I.C.E.
"If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there." -- Lewis Carroll
There is a tendency when beginning a new journey to simply want to get on with it. Pack up, head on out. I have certainly been guilty of this myself. In the frenetic pace of activity and competing demands, jumping into action is second nature for me. Yet, without a clear vision of where we are heading, we run the risk of following any road and ending up nowhere.
The many ways that the term "21st Century learning" has been applied -- to various technology deployments, to flipped classrooms, to any number of digital tools -- can blur our view of its meaning. At times, the discussions that swirl around these initiatives seem to place more emphasis on the device or tool, rather than on the larger purpose -- what it is we want our kids to learn and be able to do as active, thinking, engaged citizens.
Now, don't get me wrong. I am not opposed to digital learning tools or their use in classrooms. I am firm believer in the potential of technology to transform learning by providing opportunities for students to explore, create, collaborate and communicate. And, I also understand that there is a need for caution in not mistaking the tools for the outcomes.
Two thoughtful educators have helped me along my journey in bringing my vision into focus. In his recent blog post, "Varied Visions of 21st Century Learning", Daniel L. Frazier (@DanielLFrazier) points out, it is not just about applying new tools to outmoded instruction, but rather making a real difference in how students interact with others, make meaning and share their learning.
Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) takes this idea a bit further. Drawing upon the work of Robert Marzano, Richard and Rebecca DuFour and Richard Ainsworth, he argues that we need to focus our attention on the knowledge and skills that meet the "endurance-leverage-readiness test" -- those that will have lasting impact, will have broad application and will prepare kids for the next level of learning. In short, he astutely concludes: "Wiki's and Skype aren't skills. Instead, they are tools that can make working with individual skills easier" ("Making Good Technology Choices", accessed January 3, 2013). I couldn't agree with him more.
If we want to make sure that we are on the road heading toward true transformation of our schools, then clarifying the outcomes our students will need to be fully prepared for their future is an essential first step.
If there is one thing that Social Media in education has taught me it is: Never answer for someone else’s need to know! In a world of discussions using tweets and posts there is an audience for discussion on any level of experience on any given subject. The subjects that I deal with most often involve Education, Social Media, or Social Media in Education.
The Posts and Tweets I ponder the most are those that deal with the very basics of these subjects. I always worry if a basic explanation is just too basic for an audience of professionals. I too often make an assumption that what I am about to write in my post is too basic, and therefore no one will have any interest. To my surprise, almost every time, those are the posts that are more often, the most read on my Blog. Writing a blog is a subject that I have covered before, “What’s the big deal about Blogging?“
Doing that first post was the biggest hurdle for most bloggers. There are a number of ways to start that first post. I started by doing a guest post for Shelly Terrell Sanchez, @ShellTerrell. She encouraged me and took a chance that my post would not turn off those who followed her Blog. Step one then might be find a Blogger and make a friend. There is another way to take a first step. Many Ning communities have a page for Blogpost contributions. Contributing a post to one such site enables one not only to see an idea published, but it may elicit responses from other community members as well.
However one gets there, the ultimate final step is to create a personal Blog. There are a number of Apps one can use to house the Blog. I use WordPress. Many friends use EduBlogger. Google now offers free Blogging space. All of these Apps walk a novice through the setup with easy to follow instructions, and prompts. It is far less complicated than creating a website.
Creating the Blog is the most work one will need to do. After that it is all Reflecting, Writing, Promoting, Rinsing and Repeating. It is amazing how with a little time the subjects keep popping into one’s head. I did not put myself on a schedule, but I attempted to think of something to write each week, sometimes two weeks.
Reflecting and writing should be reward enough, but any idea not shared is just a passing thought. The whole idea of the Blog is to publish one’s ideas for the purpose of sharing. With that in mind, promotion of one’s site becomes a part of the experience. Twitter for me is the tool that I use to drive people to my site. A quick description, title, link, and the range-expanding hashtag #Edchat combined go a long way in attracting readers.
Once I publish a post on my blog, I also return to those Ning communities of educators. I place my post on The Educator’s PLN, ASCDEdge, and School Leadership 2.0. at the very least. I sometimes go to other sites as well. There is no single path to the success of a Blogpost. I have offered the strategies that have worked for me. However one gets there, there will be benefits of learning along the way. Once the Blog is established however that is when a learning transformation can take place. The computer is the 21st Century publisher. Blogging has now become a large part of our culture as educators and citizens. Those who participate in the writing posts, benefit much more than those who only read posts.
As 2012 comes to a close, I thought I would end my ASCD Blogging year with this recent post that I originally published on Smart Blogs in Education a few days ago. There are still so many that are overwhelmed with all the recent changes in education and my end of the year message is simple: talk to each other. Talk to each other physically, virtually, any way you can at any time you can. We are stronger as a chain of connected people and we can do great things for the children we teach. Good luck to you all in 2013, and I hope to see many of you in Chicago in March at the Annual conference!
Many teachers beginning the process of deep curriculum work and/or practice / teaching transformations start in zones of comfort. It's difficult sometimes to articulate the changes needed when everything is new, and starting from a known point, i.e., current curriculum unit, current assessment, current methodologies, strengthens foundations and helps to solidify the systemic growth I’m always advocating for. I call this "Knowing Your Harbor."
Harbors are places of refuge, a shelter from the rough seas; they are known places. The assumption in the harbor is that you know where you are anchored, as well as know where to find what you need within that safe zone.
We have to realize, though, that even when you are anchored in a harbor, you are still on a ship. A ship is not designed just for anchoring. In order to be a working vessel, it must be on the water, sailing. There's a big difference when we break down the nouns and verbs here. Ship is different from shipping. Boat is different from boating. Sail is different from sailing. It is the verb, the action, that matters. This is a very important realization, and I discuss it often in my work with curriculum design and practice. If we are looking only for endpoints, for harbors and anchors as the barometer of our work, then we are not meeting the needs of ourselves, or our students.
We have to know our ships, too. We have to know that they are designed for action and are not about the ship itself, it's what the ship can DO that matters. The ship, in curriculum terms, could be you the teacher, it could be the collaborative group you work with, it could be the system you operate within. Whatever you determine your ship to be, the actions you collectively take are what matters to the shipping event. You must determine who and what needs to be "on board" with you as you plan your journey. This includes content experts, interest experts (this could be students!), resources and technology, and could include elements beyond the ship. (Virtual experiences that relate to the learning.) All of these elements have roles, and those roles could change with different shipping adventures: Captains, mates, or other crew.
"Research on intelligence and the brain suggests that we learn best when we are engaged in meaningful classroom learning experiences that help us discover and develop our strengths and talents." (Silver, Strong and Perini, 2000) When we think about the College and Career ready student, what are some considerations for preparing them to be Captain? If they are always crew, then they aren't really being prepared to sail the ship themselves. How can we assure that the students are ready? By having them take on multiple roles. I’ve mentioned in multiple blog posts and online conversations how important it is for students to use collaborative and communicative technologies, and we need to make sure that they are "on the boat" with it all. In terms of communicating, this would be a good time to work with students on something like Thinking Routines, where students articulate how they are exploring, interpreting, and justifying through communication and conversation. This moves communication from a planning event to an action event, as well as a teaching and learning event. Teachers could use the Thinking Routines as a mechanism for establishing and sustaining curriculum conversations.
The final step is about knowing your Journey. We have to know the destination, and we have to make plans for what it will take to get us there.
"To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding
of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you
better understand where you are now so that the steps you take are
always in the right direction." (Covey, 1994)
If our destination is unclear, it's going to be hard to figure out what needs we may have along the way, what roles we need to plan for, and how we keep to our intended path along the way.
When a teacher commits to a particular transformation or improvement in their professional practice and begins the process of revising and aligning curricular elements, the process of continued communication and collaboration (like we’re asking the kids to do!) allows for constructive feedback and additional revision moments. Committing, Communicating, and Re-Communicating are vital to meaningful and systemic transformations.
To complete the metaphor, these processes illustrate the "round trip" nature of good curriculum work. A boat sails out into the ocean on its journey, arrives at its destination, and sails home again to prepare for the next journey. The ship is always on the move, and always finding new places to visit.
Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people. New York, NY: Simon
Project Zero, . "Project Zero." Introduction to Thinking Routines. President and Fellows of Harvard College, 2010. Web. 13 May 2011. <http://pzweb.harvard.edu/vt/VisibleThinking_html_files/VisibleThinking1.html>.
Silver, H., Strong, R., & Perini, M. (2000). So each may learn: Integrating learning styles and multiple intelligences. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Originally posted on SmartBlogs on Education:
Mike on Twitter:@fisher1000
Upgrade Your Curriculum: Practical Ways to Transform Units and Engage Students - coming in Feb. 2013 from ASCD
Cure for the Common Core - eBook available now from Amazon
This past month my family and I suffered a devastating loss as my grandmother passed away only a few weeks after being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Abiding by her wishes not to inconvenience anyone, my parents organized and planned a quick viewing an hour before the service, which was followed by the service itself that lasted less than thirty minutes. The shortness of the service combined with the fact that my grandmother did not want anyone going out of their way to mourn her death resulted in her two sisters not being able to physically attend the service in NJ. One of my great aunts resides in rural Arkansas while the other in Texas.
My family was heartbroken that they were not able to attend as we both of my great aunts. The night before the service we called the funeral home to see if they had the capability of streaming the service over the Internet so that they could be connected with us in some way. Unfortunately we were informed that the funeral home was currently working on setting up this service and that it would not be operational in time for us to use it. Even after receiving this deflating news I still took my Mac Book Pro with me to the funeral home. At this time I still do not know why considering I was told that there was no Internet connection to work with.
I arrived early the morning of the service and on a wing and a prayer I booted up my computer to find that there was a strong WiFi signal that I could connect to. At this point I created a free Ustream account as I had heard about this service through many of the connected educators that I communicate with on a regular basis. After creating this free account my brother contacted my great aunt in Arkansas and we tested out the live stream. To all of our surprise it worked! I then proceeded to stream my grandmother’s funeral service live to her sister in Arkansas. She was able to watch the entire service uninterrupted. Afterwards she sent me an email that brought me to tears as she expressed the priceless moment that I was able to provide her. A few days later my grandmother’s other sister was able to watch the archived recording of the service. None of this would have been possible without technology.
That night I returned home as I was hosting the third annual Edscape Conference at my school. It was a bittersweet moment for me as I was still grieving the loss of my grandmother, but excited to welcome 350 educators from ten states and Canada to my school. Using the knowledge I gained the day before I was determined to try to establish a live feed of the keynote address as well as some sessions. Not only was I able to use Ustream to share the keynote address with the world, but I was also able to establish a feed presented by some educators who traveled to NJ from Canada so that their superintendent could watch from their province. Again, something like this would not have been possible without technology.
I have shared both of these stories in that we see the potential that technology has in re-shaping school cultures and how we learn. Technology is not just a shiny tool that can increase engagement, but a conduit to endless possibilities that can enhance ever facet of what we do in education. It is not a frivolous expense that is not worth the investment that many make it out to be. As I demonstrated above the inherent power of a laptop, Internet connection, webcam, and a free streaming service was able to touch the life of someone a thousand miles away and leave a lasting impact. Imagine what it can do for schools and educators looking to enrich the curriculum while making learning more relevant and meaningful for students? I see technology as a needed resource in education that can break down the walls of traditional school structures while creating new opportunities to learn.
Technology can engage, connect, empower, and enhance educators, schools, and stakeholders. The driving question we should be asking is how well do we use the technology that is available to us to improve what we do instead of why should we use it to improve what we do. Technology is here to stay although there is never a shortage of naysayers who question its value. Its value rests in how we decide to use it effectively to positively impact the lives of our students, achieve learning goals, communicate with stakeholders, share best practices, and connect like never before. The results and impact will speak for itself in ways that a standardized test never can.
View the FWPS website with power standards for over 400 courses. These power standards were developed and continue to be revised by K-12 teachers in FWPS. Check out the multi-media and research around standards-based education (SBE) while you're on the site!
If you're interested in the FWPS Common Core State Standard (CCSS) transition plan, you can find it here.
As the election plays itself out this coming week, we as educators continue to work on behalf of children and our communities as a whole. Whatever the outcome of the vote, the work goes on and our efforts must continue. So I want to keep this post simple and straightforward. Whatever your political persuasion, there are certain objective, observable realities we can all agree on in looking across the education landscape:
When you look at these statements in the progression in which I offer them here, does it seem that there are forces at play far beyond our immediate influence? There are. These forces are forever changing society and, therefore, will forever change education. Are these forces of a particular political bent? No. regardless of your personal views or even those views of the candidates running for office, this kind of seismic sea change will continue to happen in spite of ourselves. Of course one party or another will sway the dialogue on the methods and priorities for getting the job done, but in the final analysis the transformation of public education is bigger than all of us. What a sobering realization. So...does this mean all our efforts are for naught?
No, of course not. Whichever candidates you choose, get out there and vote on Tuesday. And after the election results are in, continue to work to make a difference in the life of each child and each colleague with whom you come in contact each and every day. Because when your career is complete and you look back at the difference you have made, it won’t be measured in monetary or political terms. You will see the difference you have made in the life of each student you become reacquainted with in their adult lives...and this has become much more commonplace with the rise of social media. So here's a political primer you can actually reconcile with your professional life:
Walter’s blog archive: http://surfaquarium.com/blog.htm
Mirror site: http://surfaquarium.blogspot.com/
This is a cover letter written last winter. In it, I expressed not only my interest in the job I was applying for but gave a heart felt reflection of my own transformation into a life-long educator.
Friday, November 11, 2011
Dear Naadia Shafizadeh,
I am writing you this letter to communicate my interest in becoming a CTF Selector for the 2012 selection year. Please accept this letter as my formal intent to pursue open positions as a Selector for Chicago Teaching Fellows.
In the email that I received expressing the need for Selectors this year, I read a quote that embodies one of the most meaningful reasons of why I am applying to be a Selector. “Last year, one of our new Selectors shared a sentiment felt by other members of the team, ‘It was invigorating to meet new potential teachers and people very excited about teaching. I left each selection day feeling excited and energized.’”
I remember how excited I was on the day of my CTF interview here in Chicago. It was my first time in Chicago and it was snowing as I walked up the steps of a brick school where the interviews were held. I arrived early and was waiting nervously in an auditorium with the other candidates. Then you and Kate walked on stage and gave a wonderful introduction that calmed our nerves. Your energy was amazing. Next, you introduced the Selectors and outlined the day’s schedule. I knew then and there that CTF was a very special program and that the information I had read about it was true: Chicago Teaching Fellows is closing the achievement gap in Chicago. I knew it was true because there were people like you and the Selectors (people embodying the values of hard work, dedication, and compassionating) making sure that it became true.
I was once one of the potential teachers who was exciting about the potential of becoming a teacher in CPS. I know the quote referenced above is true because I could see that the Selectors left the session that day feeling excited and energized.
Having traveled all the way from Florida for my interview, the Selectors made me feel at ease and I could tell that I wanted to be like them one day. My close friend whom I was staying with picked me up after the interview. It had stopped snowing but while I was in the school, everything had become covered in snow. I had never seen a city covered in fresh snow; it was quiet, beautiful, and magical. I got into my friends car and before taking off for the airport I turned to her and said, “This is the group of people that I want to work with. I’ve never felt like there was a more perfect organization for me to work for in my life, I really hope that I did well and am selected.”
I found out about a month later that I was invited to join the 2009 Cohort of Chicago Teaching Fellows. I had interviews setup with Fellows Programs in Denver, D.C., and Oakland. I also had secured a full-ride for graduate school with a generous living stipend at two prestigious universities. I faced a tough decision.
I knew the decision would be either be my top choice graduate program or Chicago Teaching Fellows so I canceled the interviews with the other Fellows programs. I filled out the paperwork for both opportunities and signed the commitment forms for both of them. Next, the paperwork and forms were put into their respective envelopes, which were addressed and stamped. I thought it over for a week, day and night. I knew both were great opportunities and that I wanted to do both equally but I knew that I had to decide between the two and that my decision would determine the next 5 to 10 years of my life.
On a Friday night, after a long day of work, which was also the last day that I could have possibly waited to send out the commitment forms, I found myself standing in front of a mailbox with both envelopes one in each hand. Intellectually, both opportunities weighed equally and both would require the same amount of hard work and dedication over the next many years of my life. However, only one led to making a difference in the lives of other people. Only one of the decisions was more selfless than the other and when I stopped thinking, asked myself which one would lead to a better world and which one was the right path for me, I got quiet and started listening to my gut. The answer was simple. Within 30 seconds, I was putting the CTF envelop into the mailbox and ripping up the full ride to graduate school.
I immediately got on the phone and told everyone who would answer that I was moving to Chicago to become a teacher in Chicago Public Schools and that it was going to be the best decision I had ever made. At the time I could not have imagined how right I was. I could not have predicted how CTF would transform me into a better person. I could not have seen the amount of lives that I would be able to effect in a positive way. I also could not have possibly predicted how closing the achievement gap would become the most important mission of my life thus far and how dedicated to it I would become of the next several years.
Closing the achievement gap in Chicago has become my life’s mission and goal. It is the work that I tirelessly devote myself to daily. I want to be on the forefront of selecting new teachers to join me in my mission of closing the achievement gap. I work hard and have seen much success because of the training and experiences I gained through CTF. I am able to shape the lives of about 140 children each year because of the opportunity that CTF gave me. It is not just a one-sided relationship either; over the past several years I have learned more from the teaching profession and from my students that I ever thought possible.
Furthermore, being a CTF Selector is aligned with my professional development and career path. I plan on applying to be a CTF Site Visitor or a CTF Trainer during the 2012 Summer Institute. Being apart of the selection process will prepare me for that job, show you that I am capable of being an excellent staff member of CTF, and also allow me to be apart of the selection process of the new cohort. Finally, just as I plan I teaching in CPS for many more years, if I am given the opportunity of becoming a Selector for CTF, I plan on returning each year to be apart of the selection process.
I believe that I would be an excellent addition to the Selection staff at Chicago Teaching Fellows. Since moving to Chicago, I have demonstrated a passion for teaching and raising the academic performance of my students. I set high expectations for my students and myself and commit myself to the hard work and dedication necessary to achieve those expectations. Finally, since I started my student teaching in the summer of 2009, and even more so now that I am starting the second quarter of my third year teaching, I have exhibited strong time management, organizational and communication skills, and a history of high expectations for and success with students and teachers. I have also demonstrated all of the characteristics that are listed under the qualifications section for the Selector Job: Strong critical thinking skills, flexibility and persistence, the ability to work in a cooperative setting, and openness and responsiveness to feedback. In conclusion, I believe that I am a perfect fit for the job and I hope you do too.
Thank you for your time in reviewing my application, cover letter, and resume.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Robert Thollander Jr
ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) News is a monthly e-mail newsletter for ASCD constituent group leaders that builds capacity to better serve members, provides opportunities to promote and advocate for ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, and engages groups through sharing and learning about best practices. To submit a news item for the L2L newsletter, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Your To-Do List: Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Vote in ASCD’s 2012 General Membership Election
ASCD's General Membership Election is open from September 1 through October 15, 2012. You can help determine the association's leadership by voting for President-Elect and members of the Board of Directors. Successful candidates will take office at the conclusion of ASCD's Annual Conference on March 18, 2013.
The election is online-only. Here's how to vote online: go to www.ascd.org/vote. You will need to log in using your ASCD username, e-mail address, or member ID and password. If you are eligible to vote in this year's election, click on the Vote Now button to connect to our secure online election system. If you don't have your log-in information or password, contact the ASCD Service Center at 1-800-933-ASCD (2723) and then press 1, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Candidates’ photos and biographical information are included with the online ballot and will also appear in the September issue of Education Update.
Have questions? Not every member has voting privileges. You are ineligible to vote if your membership was unpaid as of August 16, 2012, or you hold a complimentary membership. Please contact ASCD Governance Director Becky DeRigge at email@example.com or phone (1-800-933-2723 or 1-703-575-5601) with any questions.
Register Today for ASCD’s Legislative Conference!
What will the presidential election and the new Congress mean for education in 2013? How will policy decisions related to the Common Core State Standards, educator evaluation systems, and education funding affect what’s happening in your districts, schools, and classrooms? ASCD’s 2013 Leadership Institute for Legislative Advocacy (LILA) will address these and other timely topics that influence your day-to-day work as an educator. Register now for an outstanding opportunity to hear from national education leaders about the latest education policy developments, network with fellow educators, and share your expertise with your federal lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
The conference, to be held January 27–29, 2013, at the Westin Georgetown Hotel in Washington, D.C., will also feature
· Sessions with Capitol Hill and U.S. Department of Education insiders who will share their perspectives on the fate of the No Child Left Behind Act.
· The introduction of ASCD’s 2013 Legislative Agenda, which will outline the organization’s policy goals and vision for the coming year.
· A Capitol Hill boot camp featuring video vignettes that will address the dos and don’ts of conducting meetings with your legislators.
No matter your level of education policy and advocacy expertise, LILA offers something for you. Emerging leaders new to advocacy will get easy tips to apply throughout the year. Seasoned affiliate leaders will learn how to maximize their influence and deepen their relationships with federal policymakers. Access the conference agenda and registration and travel information. Questions? Contact ASCD’s policy team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ASCD Student Chapters: They’re Learning to Teach, Now Learning to Lead
ASCD is proud to announce great new resources for ASCD Student Chapters, including an infographic on how to start a student chapter, a video on why ASCD student chapters are beneficial, and updated web pages for current student chapters. Also, for the first time, a student discount is available for the ASCD Fall Conference; students can access the discounted rate by selecting the student registration rate at checkout ($139 for members, $159 for non-members). Please use these resources to spread the word about ASCD Student Chapters in your community! Contact email@example.com if you have any questions.
ASCD Emerging Leaders Sound Off on ASCD EDge
Check out these great posts from ASCD leaders on the ASCD EDge community site. Please read, comment, and share!
· Questions We All Should Ask by Steven Anderson, 2012 Emerging Leader
· 21st Century Connected Educator by Craig Martin, 2012 Emerging Leader
· Five Top Resources for Aligning Your Social Studies Curricula to the Common Core by Robert Zywicki, 2012 Emerging Leader
· Not a Disadvantage by Jason Ellingson, 2012 Emerging Leader
Also, be sure to check out 2012 Emerging Leader Amy Fowler Murphy’s first blog post Be Prepared to Let Go to Grow.
OYEA Winner’s School Sustains Significant Fire Damage
Last weekend, a three alarm fire ravaged the Hoboken Charter School, where 2007 Outstanding Young Educator Award Winner Deirdra Grode is currently serving as Principal. According to the school website, classes have been moved to a new facility while repairs are made to the severely damaged school building.
Help Stop Sequestration!
Members of Congress returned to their Capitol Hill offices in Washington, D.C., this week. Contact them today to help ensure that stopping sequestration—the 8.4 percent across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending—is at the top of their agendas. Unless Congress repeals sequestration, federal education spending will be cut by about $4.1 billion beginning as early as January 2013.
In addition, ASCD's policy team wants your stories about how sequestration is affecting (or will affect) you, your schools, and your school districts. Please e-mail your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will share them with lawmakers on Capitol Hill as part of our effort to urge Congress to repeal sequestration.
Thank you for taking the time to reach out to your legislators about this important topic.
Sign Up for ASCD’s Whole Child Down Under Webinar Series
This three-part series, presented by Australian educator and ASCD Director of Whole Child Programs Sean Slade, aims to further engage ASCD audiences in the work of ASCD and its Whole Child Initiative, which seeks to ensure that each child, in each school, and in each community is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
The Down Under webinar series* runs from late September through the end of October and will outline a whole child approach to education through the role of the principal, school improvement, and alignment of health and education and how it links to current debates in Australia regarding the National Curriculum, findings from the Gonski Report (PDF), and the value of a well-rounded education.
Learn more and register here.* Please note the series sessions are conveniently timed for Australian residents.
Something to Talk About
· ASCD Announces Additional Common Core State Standards Institutes for Fall 2012 and Winter 2013—ASCD announces additional two-day and one-day Common Core Institutes for fall 2012 and winter 2013.These new institutes are part of the association’s ongoing effort to support educators at all levels nationwide as they implement the Common Core State Standards. Read the full press release.
Recently, I wrote an article titled, “Are You a Risk Taker?” The article asked educators, “What risks will you and your colleagues take in 2012-2013 in order to move students closer to the goal of College and Career Readiness?” One of the biggest obstacles to taking risks is the fear of failure. After all, who wants to hear students on the back row snickering “Epic Fail” when you attempt to integrate technology or experiment with a new instructional strategy?
Failure is part of the learning process. If K-12 schools are going to make the instructional shifts required by the Common Core State Standards, then failure will be part of the implementation process. In education, we typically associate the letter grade “F” with failure. Superintendents, principals, counselors, teachers, and other school staff don’t want to fail students. However, if we avoid taking risks and continue to operate schools in the same manner then we will fail our students. Dr. Tony Wagner’s research highlights “Seven Survival Skills Students Need For Their Future.” The seven skills outlined by Wagner are: 1) Critical Thinking and Problem Solving; 2) Collaboration Across Networks and Leading By Influence; 3) Agility and Adaptability; 4) Initiative and Entrepreneurship; 5) Effective Oral and Written Communication; 6) Accessing and Analyzing Information; and 7) Curiosity and Imagination. In order to teach students these skills, educators will need to change assessment practices, reform instructional strategies and assignments, encourage students to become risk takers, and understand that failure is part of learning.
It has been observed in Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes that some of the nation’s brightest students struggle with failure. The first time some gifted students make a B on a paper, they want to rush to the guidance office and enroll in an honors level course. Teachers have reported that students become overwhelmed with emotion when their ideas are challenged, because they have always been able to pass other courses with “the right answer.” College and Career Readiness involves more than having “the right answer.” Based on the list of skills outlined by Wagner, all students need to be problem solvers, risk takers, and have the ability to think outside the box. Do our schools currently teach students to think outside the box? Do high stakes tests, which separate high performing schools from low performing schools, indicate that we are preparing students for college and careers or for selecting “the right answer?” The era of NCLB brought about many positive changes for K-12 education. However, the fear of sanctions and public scrutiny left many states and school districts lowering the bar for students. Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond wrote, “Ironically, states that set high standards risk[ed] having the most schools labeled ‘failing’ under NCLB.” Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, wrote “The act’s emphasis on test scores as the primary measure of school performance has narrowed the curriculum, and the one-size-fits-all accountability system has mislabeled schools as failures even if their students are demonstrating real academic growth.”
College and Career Readiness will require failure. It is not politically correct to promote failing schools, failing teachers, failing superintendents, failing state departments of education, or failing students. However, when you see people failing you see learning and understanding. Think of the times in life when you learned a lesson. Many of these lessons were learned through failure. Think of the day you were 0-for-3 in Little League or the time you tried to take your bike over a speed bump. How many times have you tried to cook before you found the secret recipe? In science class, students learn to experiment and develop a hypothesis. When you developed your first teacher website, you learned from your mistakes. If you are a parent, you have made mistakes but they have made you a better parent. Do you permit failure or are you happy with the “right answer?” The fear of failure will keep your school from improving.
Ways You Can Support Failure:
State Department of Education
I recently had a lengthy discussion, ironically on Twitter, with a very tech-savvy educator friend about his concerns that big ideas in education might be getting drowned out as a result of the continuing discussions about Social Media and connectedness for educators. I hope I am categorizing that correctly. My friend felt that Social Media is a powerful medium that can be used to learn, but too much attention is given to it at the expense of other powerful ideas. According to him,” it's still all pretty much primordial soup".
Of course, being a social media advocate, his comments have been tumbling in my head since we had our conversation. Did others believe this? Is Social Media being discussed and addressed as a more important idea than education reform or, pedagogy, or methodology in education? Is it a distraction rather than a means for transformation? Are the big ideas being missed?
We all learn from other people. We created places where we could come in contact with people who could share their ideas with us, so we that we could learn. Those face to face connections have never been completely replaced, but rather enhanced, by technology. Of course when we first developed our social learning, we were limited as to how we made those connections, because of limited technology. In ancient times with little or no tech learning was always face-to-face learning. Eventually, technology involving ink and paper opened the limited circles of learning. The printing press really got things moving in order to share ideas, and learning. Electricity enabled even more tech stuff to connect people with ideas without having to be in the same place, or space. Technology historically allowed learning to expand from face to face contact to distances beyond the limits of both time and space, and the Internet has moved that to a whole new level.
Now that we are in the second decade of the 21st Century, we are no longer preparing people for that Century, but rather how to use its tools of technology for learning in order to efficiently, and lastingly learn. Of course this doesn’t have to be a replacement of the tried-and-true learning of face to face encounters, but rather an expansion of that experience. We can now connect with almost anyone at anytime, anywhere in the world. The circles of learning probably can’t get any bigger unless time-travel technology is ever discovered.
The idea of PLN’s or Professional Learning Networks is still a great strategy for learning as an educator. The idea of connectedness goes beyond the limitations of a PLN. Understanding the use of Social Media enables educators to reside on the internet using links provided by their PLN to expand their learning on any subject. The connectedness that we talk about is only a vehicle travelling to content or sources in order to address the important questions of education.
Teaching has always been an isolated profession. Teachers were limited to sharing the experiences of their colleagues in their building or district. If they were in the group of a fortunate few, they might have gotten to experience a professional conference. Of course another shared experience of many educators was the required graduate courses taken by many for professional development. Some districts provided an occasional workshop during the course of the year. These experiences, if shared, would be shared with only a limited number of educators within the school or district.
Social Media has the potential for expanding that circle of learners. I say potential, because a majority of educators are not yet involved with Social Media as a tool for professional development. With all of the Social Media outlets that I have at my disposal, I may be personally connected to 50,000 educators. Looking at the memberships of all of the education Ning sites, education websites, and the greatest followings of the most popular education tweeters, we may have as many as 500,000 connected educators, globally using social Media for professional learning. Although that is a large number on its own, it is small considering the 7.2 million educators in the United States alone. To use the idea of connectedness for educators for the purpose of affecting a transformation of education, a primary imperative must be to get most educators connected. Although the continuing use of Social Media should be to share ideas on content, pedagogy, methodology and sources, as well as the big ideas, some time must be spent on involving, and explaining the use of SM to all educators. I would hope that we would strive for a balance, but the more educators that we connect; the faster a transformation in education can take place. A majority of educators are not yet involved with the connectedness of Social Media and need to be educated. If we transform the way we educate educators, can transforming our students be far behind?
Education is currently at a crossroads as traditional methods and tools are changing as a result of advances in technology and learning theory. We are beginning to see some schools across the country take the lead in merging sound pedagogy with the effective integration of technology. These schools and educators, whether they realize it or not, are not only enhancing the teaching and learning process, but they are also providing their learners with essential skill sets pivotal for success in today’s society. These skill sets include critical thinking/problem solving, media literacy, collaboration, creativity, technological proficiency, and global awareness. The ultimate result with this shift has been increases in engagement as well as a sense of relevancy and meaning amongst learners, all of which are foundations for improving achievement.
Even as we are seeing more schools and educators transform the way they teach and learn with technology, many more are not. Technology is often viewed either as a frill or a tool not worth its weight in gold. Opinions vary on the merits of educational technology, but common themes seem to have emerged. Some of the reasons for not embracing technology have to do with several misconceptions revolving around fear.
Time: The time excuse seems to rear its ugly head more than any other excuse not to move forward with technology integration. The fear of not being able to meet national and state standards, as well as mandates, leaves no time in the minds of many educators to either work technology into lessons, the will to do so, or the desire to learn how to. Current reform efforts placing an obscene emphasis on standardized tests are expounding the situation. This is extremely unfortunate as integrating technology effectively does not take as much time as people think. Educators would be well served to spend a little time investigating how technology can be leveraged to engage learners. Once they do, their fears will subside as it will become apparent that standards and mandates can still be met while making learning more relevant, meaningful, and engaging for students.
Cost: With budget cuts across the country putting a strain on the financial resources of districts and schools, decision makers have become fearful of allocating funds to purchase and maintain current infrastructure. This is unfortunate as there are many creative ways to cut costs, as well as to free resources that can be used with existing infrastructures. Schools can utilize cost-effective lease purchase programs for computers, investigate the implementation of a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) program, or promote the use of a plethora of free Web 2.0 tools. Where there is a will, there is a way. Cost can be prohibitive at times, but there are ways to overcome this and move forward.
Assessment: Many teachers and administrators alike often fear how students can be appropriately assessed in technology-rich learning environments. This fear has been established as a result of a reliance on transitional methods of assessment as the only valid means to measure learning. Projects involving the use of technology that unleash creativity, promote critical thought, have students solve problems, and enhance communication/collaboration can easily be assessed with teacher-developed rubrics. There are also many software and web-based computer programs aligned to standards that have assessments embedded into them while offering real-time results and feedback.
Control: For technology to be not only integrated effectively, but also embraced, a culture needs to be established where teachers and administrators are no longer fearful of giving up a certain amount of control to students. The issue of giving up control seems to always raise the fear level, even amongst many of the best teachers, as schools have been rooted in structures to maintain it at all costs. Schools and classrooms do not, and will not, spiral out of control when we allow teachers the flexibility to take calculated risks to innovate with technology or permit students to learn using social media or their own devices. To truly create an innovative culture of learning we must not fear failure either. When we give up control a certain level of failure will follow. However, it is from failure that we learn best and get better.
Lack of training: With the integration of technology comes change. With change comes the inevitable need to provide quality professional development. Many educators fear technology as they feel there is not, or will not be, the appropriate level of training to support implementation. Rest assured, training can be provided and, in most cases, it turns out to be cost-effective. Schools can leverage tech savvy teachers to facilitate professional development. There are also numerous free webinars available throughout the year. One of the most powerful means of professional development is through the use of social media where educators can create their own Personal Learning Network (PLN) based entirely on their unique needs and passions.
All of the above misconceptions that promote a sense of fear when it comes to educational technology in schools were a reality for me a mere three years ago. It wasn’t until I took the time to educate myself to better lead my school in the 21st Century that I soon realized my fears were solely built from misconceptions. The end result has been the transformation of New Milford High School, a transformation which is still continuing today. Don’t let fear based on misconception prevent you from creating a more student-centered, innovative learning culture. Rest assured everything else will fall into place.
Embracing revolution is a quick way to be terminated in education. More than most jobs, teaching demands fealty to higher powers, no matter their expertise, fidelity to the standard curriculum, harmful or otherwise, and the willingness to narrow your horizons to fit the prevailing winds of politicians and other suits who can best decide whether you’re doing a good job or not.
But it is time for teachers to revolt. In spiritual literature, there is reference to the ‘dark night of the soul.’ It seems to me that teaching as a profession is now fully entered into that darkness. Over-standardization of teaching practices, a narrow, test based curriculum, packaged solutions to every learning problem, value-added evaluations, and the tightening of industrial work rules hostile to 21st century learning are overt signs of a more profound struggle that will decide our nation’s future. Will we celebrate and advance human capacities, or diminish them? Will we devise education that liberates the best in children, or seek to contain them in little jars labeled testing data, pacing guides, or a hundred other ciphers borne of the desire to regulate and limit human behavior in the name of ‘objective’ measures?
One can oppose the trends by speaking up, political action, or occupying education. This is fine, and I applaud the resistance. But I doubt that trench warfare will succeed until teaching is reinstated to its preeminent position as an ennobling profession that puts all its resources towards the development of well-rounded, capable, and emotionally stable young people. To my mind, defending union rights, sniping at testing, deriding corporate charter schools, protesting public shaming of teachers, or ridiculing the U.S. Department of Education engages teachers in skirmishes. The real battle is to reclaim and articulate a vision that transcends the current debate and carries the American public forward with a new and more inspiring narrative around learning in the 21st century.
This is a task for teachers, not political luminaries and media CEO’s, and it will not be easy. Education is a sedentary, conservative industry, held inert by tired truths and ossified structures. That doesn’t help. But even more, the standards and testing mania has paralyzed teachers themselves. The result is self-inflicted disempowerment. Yes, teachers may have been beaten down by the system. But their willingness to accept the status quo has become part of the problem, too.
It doesn’t have to be this way. There is too much latent power and talent in the teaching ranks. I always return from workshops with teachers feeling inspired and energized by the number of bright, committed, high quality human beings I see in the classroom, who offer world class learning everyday to their students. I can’t resist one recent example: Working alongside a vivacious, energetic 25-year old woman who was designing a very complex, challenging project for her third graders, I wondered aloud whether her students would succeed. No worries. She nearly jumped from her chair, and whooped: “Oh, yeh! My kiddos can do this!” It wasn’t bravado; it was the loving conviction and sheer knowledge that she—and they—could pull this off. There are many more like her.
Her enthusiasm and care for her students stayed with me, but as I thought about it, I realized that she, though clearly at the high end in terms of her craft, no doubt sees herself as a worker in the system, subject to the next testing schedule and comings and goings of the experts and evaluators. And, the fact is, that’s her defined role: She has power over those 30 third graders, but little else. And, another fact: If she objected too much, she would be sanctioned.
So how can she revolt without losing her job? More important, how could 7 million plus teachers in the U.S. come together, foment a revolution, and still draw their paychecks? Instead of conflict, I prefer to think of a powerful, positive, collective vision that would bring about revolutionary change without the extreme polarity that characterizes our daily discourse today. I’m reminded of Gandhi’s reply to the British Viceroy who asked, “Do you believe the British will just walk out of India?” And the reply: “Yes.” If educators hold to a more expansive vision of learning, those who believe teaching is an assembly line job will eventually walk away.
As with Gandhi, it’s more about taking a personal stand rather than tearing down your enemies. Here’s a short manifesto for teachers:
Reclaim your power. Revolution begins with understanding that you have influence. The old adage that ‘Those who can’t do, teach’ needs to be countered at every turn by a new generation of teachers who have left behind timidity, resignation, a ‘punch the time clock’ mentality, or any other trappings of the industrial mind set. You work in the most creative, challenging arena possible: the world of preparing young people for the most fluid, dynamic, unknown future faced by any generation. Stand tall and speak out. Be conscious of your lineage. Be proud of your willingness to engage in work that directly affects the future of the planet. Know that millions of teachers in many countries feel just as you do.
Professionalize your profession. I know I’ll be dinged for this, but pay less attention to union leadership, District curriculum objectives, strict adherence to standards, or similar dictates than the vast rumblings and fresh ideas flowing from a profession seeking to reinvent itself. Keep an open mind and ask yourself: What does 21st century education look like? How do I help reinvent education that serves our present generation of children? What new ideas are out there? Who is a good source for professional expertise? One practical step: Get on Twitter! 50 new ideas come through the phone each day.
Teach what is true. A study recently published by the Brown Center on Education Policy University found that more ‘rigorous’ standards didn’t lead to increased achievement on standardized tests. And if they did, so what? Every teacher I have worked with in the past ten years knows that tests alone are insufficient to measure learning. For that matter, most administrators feel that way, too, as do parents. Recognize that constant testing is driven by forces unrelated to good education, mostly by the desire to measure, quantify, and monetize learning. But the bottom line for the visionary educator? True learning is about thinking, understanding, and solving. So, if you need to teach to the test in April, do so; but don’t make that your year around objective. Also, know you’re in the majority: A recent report indicates that only 28% of teachers regard standardized tests as an essential or very important gauge of student achievement.
Stand in the light. You’re in a gotcha’ situation. If your performance is measured by tests, then test data will determine your future. If your performance is measured by understanding, depth of thinking, and student engagement, then no one knows how exactly to tell if you’re doing a good job. It’s like trying to invent a meter to measure an artist—it can’t be done well, at least now. The only way out is to leave the box—stand tall in the light—and admit that, yes, it’s difficult to measure learning, but that doesn’t mean you will settle for a reductionist approach that limits young humans to data points. Instead, commit to multiple performance measures, peer evaluations, collective reviews of student work, and portfolios—along with a few tests, but not too many—to measure the learning. This is key. The revolution will catch fire when the test and measurement mania subsides, and new measures prove far better at capturing the broad array of skills and habits of mind necessary to succeed in the 21st century.
Know that standing still is moving backwards. I work with several Districts focused on transformation, but I walk into other schools in which nothing has changed in 50 years or in which teachers engage unenthusiastically in half-baked reform efforts. Worse, I encounter too many teachers who have given up. As one English teacher told me with a shrug when I visited a high school and inquired about reform efforts, “This is just a school,” she said in a resigned tone, meaning it was business as usual, nothing more. In 2012, with the headlines screaming at us, the world swaying with change, the problems looming, and the creative opportunities dangling, how can this be? Every school should be in some stage of transformation—and every teacher needs to be participating as a change agent, an insistent voice for reinvention and redesign.
Finally, I believe every teacher needs to take stand. The debate over education is not an argument about short term test results, or global competition, or getting more students into nameplate universities; it’s a referendum on the fundamental character of our nation. It goes to the heart of what we wish to be as a society and contributor to global progress. Deciding your non-negotiables in this situation is not easy (remember the poll numbers from the American Revolution: 40% for Paul Revere, 40% for King George, and 20% with their fingers in the wind.) Where do you stand, what do you believe, and how will you act?
This past week I was fortunate to attend the NASSP 2012 Annual Conference as a presenter, 2012 Digital Principal Award recipient, and most importantly a learner. On Friday morning I attended a session facilitated by Dr. Gary Stager, a progressive educator whose work I have come to know over the past couple of years. Gary’s message is one that resonates with me and many other educators who frequent digital spaces. All around the world there are ideas that are put into action. These ideas, for the most part, put student learning front and center and consist of experiences that enhance essential skills that all learners should possess. These include creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, technological proficiency, global awareness, media literacy, communication, and collaboration.
Ideas like the ones Gary discussed also lead to the promotion of ingenuity, entrepreneurialism, and self-directed learning. As he weaved together stories and firsthand accounts of these ideas in action one thing became painfully apparent and that was that the majority of schools in the United States to not place a high value on this type of learning. Current reform practices and a system of education still entrenched in preparing students for an industrialized society squash many schools attempts or desires to embrace a better way of learning. Gary is not one to mince his words and is blunt when it comes to the reasons why many schools and educators in our country are not changing. In his opinion the problem is incrementalism and he stressed that this is the greatest enemy of change. It is not secret that the policy of making changes is a process fraught with issue after issue. This is, after all, what we hear and experience from those that resist change. Now I have posted in the past some of my personal thoughts on factors impeding the change process and can now add this one to the list (thanks Gary).
As leaders, whether in the capacity as a teacher or administrator, it is our duty to be agents of change. We must collaboratively develop and implement our own ideas to improve the learning process in a way that emphasizes our student’s cognitive growth, passions, and strengths, while challenging them to push their own boundaries. It is difficult work to transform a culture of learning that has been embedded for nearly a century, but as Gray eloquently put it, every problem in education has been solved sometime or somewhere before. The time is now for all of us to critically analyze our respective schools and take a stand against the status quo in order to do what is best for our students.
Best ideas in the world don’t succumb to incrementalism or any other type of excuse or challenge. As Gary stated they evolve around the following:
1. Respect for each learner: We need to have actual conversations with our students. They must be part of transformation efforts and their voices can provide invaluable feedback in efforts to reshape everything from curriculum, to pedagogy, to technology purchases, to how time for learning is allocated. Respect also entails we will consistently seek paths to grow professionally in order to discover and implement new ideas on their behalf.
2. Authentic problems: This is as real world as it gets. In my opinion there is no other powerful learning strategy that to have students exposed to and tackle problems that have meaning and relevancy.
3. Real tools and materials: Students are using technology to solve problems outside of school. They are also creating their own technology in some cases. As Gary emphasized, learners are capable of incredible things if they are placed the right environment. Just take a look at some of the Super AwesomeSylvia videos he shared. It is our responsibility to create these environments. To do so me must relinquish control, provide support (purchasing the right tools and providing quality professional development), encourage calculated risk-taking, exhibit flexibility, and model expectations.
4. Expanded opportunities: I could not agree with Gary more on this one. We have made great strides in this area in my District through the development of the Academies at NMHS. With this initiative all students have the opportunity to be exposed to authentic learning experiences, online courses, specialized field trips, independent study, credit for learning experiences outside of school, and internships. We plan to eventually incorporate capstone projects into our Academies program as well.
5. Collegiality: Let’s face it, as educators we need to work together in order to successfully implement the best ideas in order to improve teaching and learning. We must overcome personal agendas, bring the naysayers on board, implement a system focused on shared decision-making, and move to initiative a change process that is sustainable. The best ideas will only become reality through collegiality.
The best ideas in the world can and should be cultivated in our schools. As leaders it is our responsibility to see that they are. The time is now!
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Years ago, I conducted several research studies on the topic of teacher evaluation, specifically on student evaluations of teaching. These included my dissertation, as well as studies resulting in publications and conference presentations. Increasing accountability measures are currently fueling the debate regarding the most appropriate way to measure teacher effectiveness--and to reward teachers for doing excellent work. At the risk of adding more fuel to the fire, I am willing to argue that a “one-size-fits-all” model of teacher evaluation--based, at least in part, on standardized test performance--may not be the best system.
Further, I would argue that a much more appropriate system would be one that incorporates my model for transformation innovation in education, allowing educators to customize their own professional development, focusing on specific aspects of their teaching they want to improve. This could then serve as a basis (at least, in part) for their annual teacher evaluations.
Using a transformational innovation approach (see the figure below), which integrates action research throughout the year, educators would begin the school year by developing specific PD goals for themselves for the year.
Now, please note that these should not be the kinds of goals that I was required to submit prior to each school year back in my high school teaching days. I was required to complete a form listing three goals for myself for the year. I was never held accountable for achieving any of them! If we permit educators to develop their own PD goals, and to systematically collect data and investigate their own practice, we need to hold them accountable for the degree of their successes (or at least for what they learn as a result of engaging in such a process).
In my opinion, they have greater ownership over (at least part of) their annual evaluations. And, I would venture to guess that they would take more pride in what they choose to investigate about their own practice since the focus was theirs (unlike when the focus is on test scores). They are responsible for collecting their own data, which comes from their actual work in their own classrooms, and typically not from standardized tests. These data could also include student feedback or student evaluations of teaching (SETs), which provides a voice for students in the process, as well.
As I mentioned above, this process might start with the development of personal, individualized PD goals. I’ve used the following “5 Why Process” worksheet with teachers and schools with whom I’ve worked in the past to help them develop the focus of their systematic classroom action research investigations:
Once they have narrowed the focus of their classroom investigations, these educators then used the following to develop a plan for conducting those studies of their own practice:
Finally, I guide them through the use of the following worksheet in order to plan for the collection of a variety of data for their studies of practice:
At the end of the year, or if their action research cycle, they would be required to submit a summary of their investigation, what they learned about their own practice, and to describe their next steps in improving that aspect of their practice.
Arguably, this is a potentially unique approach to teacher evaluation, especially in today’s educational climate. However, how much more would educators buy into this type of evaluation process?? I think they would do so at a much higher instance. This would also potentially solve the problem of evaluating teachers who teach in non-tested areas. Also, this could open the door for other teacher evaluation possibilities. Imagine groups or teams of teachers “transformationally innovating” to solve an issue common to their classrooms, subject matter, or specific course. The result could be collaborative, or group, teacher evaluations. Think about it . . . we expect teachers to work together, but we evaluate them as individuals.
Does that make sense to anyone???
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again . . . we need to treat educators like the professionals they are, and to allow them to utilize their expertise and resources to improve their own practice. Then, we can truly hold them accountable for the work they are charged to do. This system and process provides us with a mechanism for doing so.
Everyone that knows me is well aware of my professional affinity for Twitter. As I have previously mentioned many times on this blog, it was Twitter back in March of 2009 that served as a catalyst for my transformation into the leader that I am today. Prior to delving into this 140 character world I utilized traditional mediums for communication and professional development, had no idea what Web 2.0 was, and adamantly believed social media had absolutely no place in education. I would say things have changed a bit.
This past December I was honored to have Scholastic visit my school. They were led here, after all, by Twitter. This video below details my thoughts on this game-changing resource that is available for free to all educators.
I have some questions for those of you reading this post. Why do you use Twitter? If you don't, what are your reasons? Finally, how can we move more schools to embrace social media in general as a valuable educational tool?
(You can view the entire winter Scholastic Administrator magazine HERE).