Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Going Deeper at NYSCATE14

Over the past few days I had the privilege of attending the NYSCATE Annual Conference in Rochester, NY.  It was something that I had been looking forward to for quite a while. Conferences like these provide the opportunity to meet face-to-face with many colleagues that I regularly engage with in online spaces, but rarely get to "see." They also provide the occasion to make new connections, forge new professional relationships, and learn about current trends in the application of technology in the education setting. As I sit back and reflect on the learning that happened over those three days, I wonder how many people would be surprised by my take-aways. In short, if you are looking for a list of the 20 best apps for use in the elementary classroom, or the newest tool that promises to change the lives of our students, this isn't that blog.

My personal learning intentions/objectives were different this year. I wasn't as interested in the latest and greatest apps or gadgets (though there were plenty of those to be sure, and I did win a pretty cool gadget from NYSDLC), I was more interested in the processes, the systems, the connections, the thinking and the discussions. Some of the most interesting conversations, and thoughtful discussions took place in the hallways, outside the session rooms on the way to the next session, or over breakfast, lunch or dinner. Conversations about the driving forces in education, the power of connections, the necessity of differentiation in many aspects of education, choosing the appropriate tools for a variety of environments, the skills that we anticipate students will need for an unknown future, and student voice. By the time my head hit the pillow each night, my mind was absolutely buzzing. The processing of these discussions, the information, advice, and suggestions will continue for some time to come. Certainly, as I write this, I find myself being pulled back into the curated content, to revisit and to continue to reflect, and push my thinking. For now, I leave you with the following take-aways, and hope that you will consider adding some of your own in the comments below.

Creativity, Innovation and Purpose
Mandela Schumacher-Hodge, Startup Weekend EDU
Sticking Point -> Know your purpose.
Key Question 1 -> Why did we start doing what we're doing in the first place?
Key Question 2 -> Are my actions aligned to this purpose?

Jason Latimer
Sticking Point 1 -> See beyond the illusion of knowledge.
(We don't know it all. Knowledge is a continuous pursuit of understanding.)
Sticking Point 2 -> The right question changes everything.
(We need to help teach each other, and teach our students about the importance of asking good questions.)
Sticking Point 3 -> Bring back wonder.
(We need to stop thwarting it in our young people, and we need to rediscover it in ourselves.)

Ask...and LISTEN
Students of Brighton High School
Sticking Point 1 -> Ask, and perhaps more importantly listen to your students.
Sticking Point 2 -> Encourage authentic partnerships with students in your schools and districts.
Sticking Point 3 -> Empower students, and give them decision making power.

Google For Education: Vision and Future
Stephen Fang, Sales Manager Google Apps for Education
Sticking Point 1 -> 10x Thinking. See the video.
Sticking Point 2 -> Find your passion and make things happen.
Sticking Point 3 -> Have the courage to try to do audacious things where you are!
Sticking Point 4 -> Teaching students to use a particular device, app, piece of software isn't going to get us anywhere, they change, and change quickly. The skills (creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, persistence, risk-taking and other soft skills) on the other hand are interchangeable and the skills will always be necessary.

Being a Relevant Educator in the 21st Century
Tom Whitby and Peter M. DeWitt, Connected Educator Book Series by Corwin Press
Sticking Point 1 -> Everyone has a voice.
(This includes students, families and faculty.)
Sticking Point 2 -> The worst advocates for connected education can be connected educators.
(Those who are connected can quickly overwhelm those who are not, we must be mindful, and meet people where they are. Start slow. Toss a stone into the pond and see it ripple.)
Sticking Point 3 -> The collective power of the group.
(We must engage, empower, and inspire all of our stakeholders.)

Moving from Administrator to Lead Learner
Lisa Meade and Victoria Day
Sticking Point 1 -> Excuses hold us back.
(That and fear. But the primary excuse will always be time and the lack of it.)
Sticking Point 2 -> Connections and learning beyond our classrooms, schools, districts, regions.
(We are better together.)
Sticking Point 3 ->  "Lead Learners" model and shape the conditions for all to learn. Read Vicki's post on what it means here.
("Lead learner" it is more than just a clever new name. It requires actions that back it up.)

Job Embedded PD
LHRIC Model Schools & Irvington UFSD
Sticking Point 1 -> Good instructional tech coaches are hard to find.
(Hard to find the balance of tech expertise and strong instructional practice.)
Sticking Point 2 -> The right model is job embedded.
(The why is clear, the how requires creativity. This is why getting a comprehensive peer coaching program in place is critical.)

Just a few pics from this year's conference. Be sure to check out #NYSCATE14 for curated content on Twitter, and Course Resources from Schoology

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Where You Invest Your Love...Lessons in Leadership Week 7

I am a fan of Mumford and Sons, and I love the line from “Awake My Soul” that says,"Where you invest your love, you invest your life." I come back to that song and quote over, and over. As well as the parable shared in the Gospel of Luke 12:48 (NRSV) "From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded." We are called to love one another, and to serve one another. It is a demanding and fulfilling thing. So what does this have to do with education, teaching and learning? Plenty, my friends! If you are called to instruct others, to lead learning, to participate in the education of others, then you have been given a great responsibility. You have been entrusted with much, and even more will be demanded of you. If you are a teacher think of the children in front of you each day. If you are a building or district leader think not only of the students you serve, but the staff you serve as well. It can be daunting at times. There are just so many needs. And yet, in these needs, and in this serving you will find that as you invest your love, and your life, the rewards that result will both be great, and unexpected.

The More Things Change...Lessons in Leadership Week 6

Lately, I have been thinking about the number of initiatives, innovations, research and just plain changes in schooling, education and learning. Specifically, I've been wondering about how they are introduced, rolled out, how and to what extent they are implemented. There's no shortage of good ideas, worthy causes, and meaningful work. How do we decide what could, and should be tackled first? Do we tackle more than one initiative, two initiatives or three at a time? I propose the following considerations:

Embracing numerous initiatives at once blurs our focus. A lack of focus and direction seems to point to a change initiative that is doomed to fail. I mean just think about the number of high-priority concerns that present themselves in a given week, a given day even. All things that require immediate action. If there are too many competing priorities what gets done?

Pilot, and by pilot, I mean truly pilot initiatives. This gives the faculty, staff, building or district, an opportunity to test the initiative before implementing it system-wide. During this time it is possible to determine best practices, identify barriers, and improve buy-in down the road. Too often we see the "mock pilot". You know the type of pilot where a handful of individuals get early access, and yet don't really have the opportunity to be changemakers, providing feedback and direction or re-direction as necessary. If we take the time to pilot in meaningful ways we are able to increase buy-in and problem solve or adapt based on the obstacles that arise. In this fashion we move from reactive, to proactive.

Cascade of Information
Critical to the success of any initiative is timely communication, and involvement, of relevant stakeholders. Insufficient communication paired with change leads to high-anxiety. There are times when a whole group situation makes sense, but the reality is that if you want competence, you must have clarity. If you think about this in terms of teaching, the most powerful lessons are those that are differentiated, and actively engage students, and more often than not are done in small groups.

Usability & Value
In short, those that are being impacted by the change initiative need to understand the why. The reasons may be compelling to you, the individual initiating the change, but until your stakeholders are also in tune with the why, it's not likely that the change initiative will gain much momentum.

How often have we heard that timing is everything, or it is all in the timing? Yet, sometimes I think these nuggets of advice are ignored.  These are stressful times for many in the world of education. There is no shortage of mandates, and must-do's, and regardless of how fantastic this new initiative is, it is competing with these. Before initiating a change it is wise to get a lay of the land, and to mindfully consider what the present demands are. Is there a time that is perhaps not as laden with other competing demands?

Change is inevitable, as we are constantly in search of innovative ways to do things, but in our excitement to implement these innovations we must do the legwork to ensure a successful implementation.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Effective Teacher Leadership

I am enrolled as a participant in the CNY Leadership Development Program (CNYLDP) which is a joint effort of Le Moyne College, OCM BOCES and participating school districts. The aim of the program is to develop effective teacher leaders. Throughout the program we reflect on what it means to lead, and how we lead. We engage in action research in our districts, and we share our experiences with our colleagues from neighboring districts. Undoubtedly these experiences have improved my professional practice. Yet, I continue to wrestle with what it means to be an effective teacher leader. I wonder if our systems are set up for effective teacher leadership, and whether or not the requisite culture is in fact in place in our schools, and districts to take advantage of teacher leaders.

I've read a ton on the topic of teacher leadership. I've poured over the Teacher Leader Model Standards, had discussions with teachers and administrators and those outside education, I've read countless articles, and what I've learned is that there is a lot to overcome if we are indeed to make the most of teacher leaders, and their various roles.

1) Formal v.s. Informal Teacher Leaders
You have the formal or designated ones, the department chairs, and the instructional coaches for example. Then you have the informal, organic teacher leaders, the ones that just develop naturally in schools and districts. The folks who are often looking to innovate their practice, that are willing to share their journey as they improve their instruction, and facilitate student engagement. These are not mutually exclusive of course, indeed many of the informal teacher leaders often go on to have more formal roles in the future. Whether formal, or informal, the value of teacher leaders lies in their ability to work alongside their colleagues. From what I have observed, the moment a teacher leader is perceived as being "above their colleagues," their overall effectiveness decreases. Teacher leaders must be in the trenches. They are able to lead their colleagues effectively because they bring their own challenges and experiences to the table, they champion learning, and they engage others in very real and authentic ways.

2) Professional Communities  & Culture
For teacher leadership to be truly effective, our organizations need to work to create a professional community, and move away from more hierarchal models. This is no easy task, as it requires active participation and interdependence, genuine concern for all parties, authentic and meaningful relationships and breaking down walls. We need to create an environment in which the expertise of many is honored, celebrated, shared. Leadership must be distributed amongst the faculty.  We all benefit from empowering and encouraging others to acknowledge opportunities to lead.

3) Time
There are many obstacles to effective teacher leadership, but perhaps the one that we hear time and again, is just that - time. There just never seems to be enough of it. We feel pulled in many different directions, important work vying for our attention. It is a constant juggling act. If we are going to improve our overall effectiveness we must address the issue of time. Looking at other high performing countries can shed some light on this issue. See "How High Achieving Countries Develop Great Teachers."

Please share your take on teacher leadership, how we can capitalize on it, and improve it.

Outside My Comfort Zone - Lessons in Leadership Week 4

Stepping outside your comfort zone, well it's uncomfortable. Those who know me, know that I am not particularly spontaneous, that I like things well-planned and predictable. I don't handle ambiguity or uncertainty well. Yet, so often lately this is where I find myself. And as uncomfortable as it can be, I am recognizing that these moments  also tend to be some of the richest opportunities for learning and for growth.

These moments of uncertainty and unpredictability have taught me some pretty valuable lessons:

1) Sometimes you really do just have to let go, and let God. Pray. Never underestimate the power of prayer.

2) Derive strength from supportive colleagues and friends. This has been huge for me over the past few years. Having individuals that you can call on, confide in, and elicit honest feedback from are critical.

3) Quiet the doubting voices in your head by continuing to move forward. Even if it's just baby steps, incremental progress is infinitely better than no progress at all.

4) Check out the long-range forecast. Try not to focus too much on the present turmoil and look beyond it.

5) A little humility goes a long way. Be willing to laugh at yourself.