Saturday, November 7, 2015

Kids Say The Darndest Things


Kids say the darndest things sometimes. Especially when you give them the opportunity. When we take the time to get to know our students and take the time to listen, I mean really listen, it can be pretty amazing what they choose to share. When you take the time to build relationships with your students, they trust you with the most vulnerable parts of themselves. They give you a glimpse into who they really are, what the desires of their hearts are, what their fears are. 

As educators, we have been given an amazing opportunity. Sometimes it is overwhelming. Sometimes it seems a little too much. But I believe that we have been called, we have been called to love these children, and love these families in a special way. We show this love through our understanding and our empathy, we show this through the many ways that we make learning engaging and accessible to all, we show this through our enthusiasm and our determination, and we show this in the ways that we engage with one another.

To love in this way is not easy. There are times when you will be ridiculed, your motives and methods questioned, and there will be times when your love will be dismissed. But remember that the children, and the families that are the most difficult to love, the ones that try to push us away the most, the ones that are continually testing us, are in fact the ones that needest us the most. They need us to fight for them. They need us to repeatedly show them how much we care. They need to know that our love for them is unconditional. We must remember that they are our children, our family, our community.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Loving Our Students

clipartpanda.com
I think one of my favorite conversations from today was with a student that I had to see for a discipline issue.

The student sat across from me, and sized me up. There isn't anything quite like being sized up by a skeptical fourth grader. As we talked he regarded me with much disdain, and through the initial discourse it was clear that he was sizing me up, and seeing if he could engage me in a power struggle. When it was clear that I would not go down that path, he tried a different tact. He launched into a decent monologue about how I must not like him. I was honest with the child, I told him I barely knew him given that I had only been an administrative intern in the building a few short weeks. But I also told him something else. I told him that while I certainly did not approve of the behavior that landed him in the office with me that afternoon, it did not impact my ability to love him.

At first he seemed skeptical. Then I shared with him a few things. First, that as a mom there are definitely times when I am frustrated by the choices that my own children make, but those choices do not cause me to love my children any less. He conceded that, that was possible, but that it was because they were my kids; so I continued. I showed him a picture that I had, of a former student and I together. I asked him what he saw in the picture. To which he replied, "You like that kid a lot; I can tell because of the way you both are smiling." I said, "You're right I do like that kid a lot! I love that student. But you might also be surprised to know that last year that student really struggled in school, he had a really hard time, and there were behaviors that I didn't approve of. Does it look like I love him any less?" He couldn't argue, and suddenly the sullen boy sitting across from me dropped his shoulders, and relaxed. Yes, it is possible to detest a particular behavior, to have to impart consequences, but it is also possible to continue to love the child.

I think one of the most important things that we can do for children is to have high expectations for learning and behavior. The other is to treat them with compassion, and to love them. Many are fighting a battle we know nothing about.

An Opportunity

I have been given a pretty amazing opportunity. This year I spend Monday thru Thursday morning, and all day Friday teaching in an Integrated Co-Taught classroom, and on Monday thru Thursday afternoons I am an administrative intern in another elementary building in my District. This came about through the tireless efforts of my Assistant Superintendent Dr. Maureen Patterson, and my amazingly supportive Superintendent, Dr. Mark Potter. Being split between buildings, and carrying out the roles and responsibilities that are required of each position is challenging, but it is also worth it. This unique opportunity is stretching me and growing me as an educator, and as a leader. I have the opportunity to see education through different lenses, and to gain a greater understanding of how our organization functions as a whole. I feel like this whole experience is Fullan's theory of action, The Six Secrets of Change, put into practice. In his book, Fullan talks about these Six Secrets:

  • Love Your Employees
  • Connect Peers With Purpose
  • Capacity Building Prevails
  • Learning is The Work
  • Transparency Rules
  • Systems Learn

I certainly feel that I have been given the opportunity to learn continuously, have purposeful peer interactions, develop new competencies and new motivation, and learn while doing the work. All of this is incredibly satisfying. Far more so than I would have anticipated, and I'm only a few short weeks in. I am grateful for this amazing opportunity, and am looking forward to the year ahead.

Epilogue...

I would be remiss if I did not take the time to mention another individual that has made this amazing opportunity possible, and that is my teaching partner Jeannine Oliver.

Jeannine and I have worked together for a number of years, and over that time have really learned how to maximize our instruction and play off our strengths. We balance one another, and over the years have really found a rhythm that works for us and for our students. I owe my teaching partner, Jeannine Oliver, a great deal. I am certainly a better teacher for having had the opportunity to work with her so closely. You would be hard pressed to find a more dedicated, and tireless advocate for students than Jeannine. More than that, over the last three years she has been one of my strongest supporters. Thank you, Jeannine! I couldn't have done this without you!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Grassroots Teacher Leaders



Nate Perry Elementary has always been like home to me. I began teaching there in 2003, and over the years my colleagues have become like family. They have been with me through everything, professionally and personally. They inspire me and challenge me, to be more, and to do more. In the last few years, many of the staff members that I began my career with have retired. I look around, and suddenly find myself one of the more veteran members of our staff. With that comes the realization that there are, or will soon be, people looking to me the way that I looked towards more seasoned members of our staff not so long ago. I looked up to these individuals not only because of their instructional expertise but also because of the way that they engaged the different members of the learning community. I looked to them to see how they interacted with colleagues and what norms had been established for our learning community. I looked to them for guidance and support, both formally and informally. All of this well before there was much mention of the role of teacher leaders. Teacher leadership seemed natural. It wasn't a specific job, title or role. It was something these individuals just assumed naturally. It grew out of the love they had for their profession, their students, and for one another. In our desire to promote teacher leadership, let's not forget the importance of this grassroots sort of leadership.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Planning, Organizing and Prioritizing.

Now is about the time that I typically begin to think about putting things together for the next school year. Planning, organizing and prioritizing have all become part of my August routine for close to the last 15 years. This year, however, is a little different. In the past, July has been a time for me to sit back, reflect and recharge. This July instead was filled with conference attendance, training, and workshops (attended and delivered), coursework, and other professional responsibilities. I'm not complaining. It was hectic to be sure, but I learned a great deal. It hasn't been until now though, the second week or so into August that I have been able to actually sit, collect my thoughts, and reflect on what has transpired over the year, and look forward to what is to come.

So as I reflect on the past school year, here are some of the things that I am taking away...
  • You are not alone. Reach out. Be vulnerable. Ask for help. 
  • Try something that scares you a little bit. Be brave.
  • Look for the positives in each day, and thank the Lord for those blessings.
  • When facing the trials that are sure to come, bring them to the foot of the Cross.
  • Love. Love one another. Be in relationship with others. Be present.
Some of you may be surprised by that list. It doesn't include new instructional strategies, the latest app, or the silver bullet for raising student achievement. What it does include, are ways that we can make a difference as a teacher, as a colleague, and as a friend, and yes I believe that all of those things can have a positive impact on the work that we do as educators each day. Here's how...
  1. You are not alone. Teach your students that we all need one another. We are a learning community, and that we are better together. We learn from one another and inspire one another. When we ask for help, when we reach out, we give others an opportunity to lead, and to share their gifts.
  2. Try something that scares you a little bit. Taking a risk and trying something new is essential to our growth as individuals and as a learning community. Foster an environment in which it is safe to take risks, and encourage your learners to try new things.
  3. Take the time to reflect on, and appreciate the positives of each day. Encourage a thankful heart. Have your learners spend part of each day calling to mind all of the good things that happened throughout the day, and how they have grown.
  4. There will be difficult days. How we choose to handle ourselves in these difficult moments speaks volumes. Our students learn just as much from how we conduct ourselves and handle these moments, as they do from our formal lessons. 
  5. Love. It isn't always easy, but it is necessary. We need to love one another. Take the time to build relationships with your students, families, and colleagues. Practice understanding and compassion. I love the quote, "how bold one gets when one is sure of being loved." When we are certain we are loved, we are a little more willing to put ourselves out there. We are more willing to take risks, and to face difficulty. Imagine a learning community rooted in love, and how powerful that could be.
So, as I head into this August, a time of planning and preparation, organizing and prioritizing, I'm thinking about how we can continue to inspire, challenge, encourage and empower one another.  I'm thinking about how I might be more intentional in weaving these elements into each day, and I am looking forward to another year of amazing learning opportunities.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

More Questions Than Answers...

I am a work in progress. I truly have more questions than I have answers. Things that I once so strongly believed in, in terms of educational practice I now question. I wrestle with the idea of homework, I wrestle with grading, I wrestle with promotion and our determination of what constitutes a year's worth of learning, I wonder about the ways in which we engage in learning, and the impact our physical spaces have on us. It really boils down to me having a lot of questions. It boils down to a curiosity that isn't easily satisfied. I'm thirsty for knowledge, or at least ways of knowing. There's a fire in my belly that I can't really seem to explain adequately. I think this is what learning is about at its core. It's that natural bent towards wonder, curiosity, knowing, understanding. 

More on Instructional Leadership

It is through instructional leadership and supervision that principals have the ability to influence the educational practices of teachers, and the learning environment of students. Thus, it is imperative for school building leaders to understand, and be equipped with various strategies to engage and reflect with teachers around instructional practices. Instructional leaders have the responsibility of guiding their faculties through critical analysis, and refinement of instructional design and delivery, with the ultimate goal of improving student learning outcomes. There are specific actions that building leaders can take that will help to drive professional growth and lead to an increased willingness amongst faculty to innovate, take risks and share. These actions include: being visible, actively listening and observing, facilitating dynamic and open discussions, providing support and guidance, empowering teacher leaders and supporting peer observation and mentoring initiatives along with formal observations and individual conferences. When instructional leaders facilitate, rather than direct, they empower other in the learning community to take leading roles and strengthen collaborative practices. The key to all of this however, lies in laying the appropriate foundation and creating a culture that embraces self-reflection, thoughtful and critical analysis, leading to professional learning and growth. 
Building trusting relationships amongst the stakeholders is critically important work. Getting to know teachers as individuals, as well as professionals, establishing rapport and demonstrating care and concern are essential. I’ve heard the following many times in relation to student learners, and have found it to be just as true of adult learners as well, “they don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  Instructional leaders must be present and take a genuine interest in the work and the learning of those around them. Instructional leaders are visible and spend as much of their time as possible in classrooms observing, learning and reflecting on what motivates their learning community. The goal for the instructional leader should be to complete a number of walkthrough observations with each teacher several times a year, and to provide timely formative feedback on what was observed during each of the walkthrough observations. In addition to frequent walkthrough observations being valuable to individual teachers, and improving instruction and learning in individual classrooms, frequent walkthroughs allow building leaders to gain an understanding of the instructional practices of the building as a whole, and this is an important frame of reference.
Beyond building relationships amongst themselves and their faculty, it is critical for instructional leaders to connect their faculty to one another and to colleagues outside their learning communities. Instructional leaders do this by fostering purposeful, and continuous collegial interactions within their school by establishing professional learning communities, implementing mentoring relationships, peer observation and coaching, and supporting these efforts through time, training and resources. Instructional leaders also encourage their staff members to connect beyond their building through the creation of professional learning networks. These actions can motivate and empower educators to take charge of their collective professional learning and growth. With these elements in place instructional leaders help to shape and build capacity within their organizations, with direct consequences for student learning and achievement.
Exceptional instructional leaders understand that leadership is larger than themselves; they recognize that one of their greatest responsibilities is to build upon and further develop the leadership qualities of others in the organization. When leaders take the time to invest in others, the result is trust, shared understanding, and ultimately an increase in the instructional leader’s sphere of influence. One way that instructional leaders can nurture teacher leadership is through the use of peer observation and coaching. Peer observation and coaching has been proven to increase collaboration, lead to positive curriculum changes, and improve student results. It is a great complement to clinical supervision, as it supports goal setting, extends conversations about teaching and learning beyond a single classroom teacher and the building leader, further promotes reflection and critical analysis, and refinement of practice. Further it encourages teachers to come together to solve common problems, acquire knowledge and expertise together and to celebrate one another’s successes.

The key to any model or system of instructional supervision lies in laying the foundation and creating a culture that embraces self-reflection, thoughtful, critical analysis, professional growth and learning. Beyond that, it is critical to connect teachers with a purpose by fostering purposeful and continuous collegial interactions and empowering them to take charge of their professional learning and growth. When instructional leaders do this they build capacity within their organizations, with direct consequences for student learning and achievement.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Where Do We Go From Here?



Road Less Taken - Flickr

In a blog post I wrote earlier this year,  I wrote about the many days that I have contemplated, wondered and worried about the direction of our nation. I also wrote about how competition, ranking and sorting seems to bring out the worst in us collectively as a nation.  My message is not a new one, and I believe it is one that is echoed in many other corners of our country. We must do better! 


In the past few weeks I have found myself with copious amounts of time to think, driving to Philly for ISTE, and then trips back and forth "home" to Ontario have given me the time and space to mull things over. What my mind is presently stuck on, is how to continue to innovate and improve, push thinking and challenge the status quo, in such a way as to have a meaningful impact on my own learning community, but the much broader learning community as well. I believe that casting a small pebble into a large body of water makes a ripple, and that if enough of us do this we can make a much larger ripple, but it seems to take so long to perceive noticeable change. Patience is not one of my stronger suits, I know this about myself. But in this case, I also happen to think that time is truly of the essence. My children, your children, our children need us to actively engage and participate in shaping a system of education that values the learners and the journey, more than it values individual data points.

This is where I see an opportunity for teacher leaders to play a pivotal role. It is our teacher leaders, individuals who in spite of a myriad of obstacles, and flying in the face of the opinion of many, affect positive and meaningful change each day. Educators that are willing to acknowledge their own shortcomings, and who look far and wide for ways to improve. Risk takers that are willing to make mistakes on their own learning journey. Educators that choose connection over isolation. Leaders that embrace curiosity and cultivate wonder. Teacher leaders - together we are  called to be the architects, innovators and creators. We are called upon to inspire, challenge and empower others. So how do we realistically make this a concerted effort?


  • Continue to push conventional thinking and wisdom in your schools and in your districts.
  • Attend conferences, edcamps and other public gatherings and share your insight, challenge others, and push thinking at these events to consider different perspectives.
  • Engage in discourse on social media, blog, join online communities.
  • Advocate in your community, and at the state and national level as well.
  • Help promote initiatives that are attempting to shift the focus.

These are just 5 steps that we can take, there are certainly more and I hope that you will add your thoughts to the comments below.


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Thinking Through Instructional Leadership & Supervision

So I was tasked with composing my vision statement related to instructional leadership and supervision. If you follow me on Twitter you would have noticed a couple of tweets about writer's block and being on the struggle bus. I wasn't struggling because I lack the vision of what an instructional leader could be or should be, but I was very much struggling with how to make this complex idea clear and concise. Some of my initial thoughts around instructional leadership can be found in a previous post on the topic (see here), but for the purposes of this assignment I had to stretch myself to move beyond the roles of teacher leaders in instructional leadership, and look more at the specific role of the building leader. I'm pretty sure my final submission doesn't look much like a typical vision statement. Take a look and please provide feedback to stretch my thinking.

The Purpose of Supervision and Instructional Leadership:

Supervision and instructional leadership should lead educators towards reflection and action. As a result of the work of instructional leaders, educators should be inspired, challenged and empowered to reflect critically on their actions, clarify and make explicit their thinking, and share what they have learned with others.

Prerequisites:

  • Create a supportive environment. A building leader establishes a supportive environment in the ways that they handle formal and informal interactions, discussions related to instructional matters, and how loosely and tightly they manage procedures and policies. Placing emphasis on communication, mutual respect, tolerance, acceptance, commitment to sharing, courage, and risk taking are necessary to establishing an environment that will be conducive to professional and instructional growth.
  • Acknowledge the balance of power. To move beyond mere evaluation or oversight there must be a recognition of the current balance of power, and ways in which the hierarchy might be flattened in order for a more collaborative system to be put in place.

A Roadmap to Instructional Leadership and Supervision:

1. Connect
Be visible, be present and be connected. By doing these things you are better able to understand what motivates your learning community, analyze what is happening in terms of curriculum and instruction, and find ways to inspire, challenge and empower your faculty. Walk around, and talk with students and faculty. In business it is known as the Management By Wandering Around or Management By Walking About model. This model increases approachability and ultimately trust. By the very instance of you being there and being truly present, your faculty is more likely to share what is happening within their classrooms. As the leader you are more apt to find areas that are strengths, and weaknesses, in terms of curriculum and instruction, and opportunities to promote and empower the work that is happening in your building. As you spend more time interacting, and connecting with staff and students trust is eventually built. When you interact daily with a determined and genuine effort, there is heightened accountability on both sides.

2. Plan
Effective instructional leaders must understand the many facets of instruction, learning, motivation and engagement. They engage in self-reflection and professional learning alongside faculty, model expected behaviors, and are involved in instruction in very tangible ways. It is incumbent upon the instructional leader to encourage, empower and engage all school community members (faculty, students and families) to actively participate in the ongoing growth of the learning community.  In leading this important work, they are able to assist faculty in evaluating curriculum and instructional approaches, and collaborate in the framing and the aligning professional learning opportunities.
Much in the way a teachers are charged with empowering their students and differentiating instruction to meet individual needs, building leaders too are charged with empowering their faculties and sharing ownership for professional learning and growth.  Recognizing that each member of the learning community has different strengths, and different needs and approaching supervision and instructional leadership through that lens is critical. Working with faculty members to develop an action plan that best meets their learning needs, the needs of the students, while also attending to the goals of the larger learning community is a chief responsibility of an instructional leader.

3. Act
There are specific actions that building leaders can take that will help to drive professional growth in buildings, and lead to an increased willingness amongst faculty to innovate, take risks and share. These actions include: listening and observing more than talking or directing, facilitating dynamic and open discussions, providing support and guidance, empowering teacher leaders and supporting peer observation and mentoring initiatives along with formal observations and individual conferencing. When instructional leaders take the time to listen and observe and reflectively question they gain critical insights regarding not only instructional practice, and student learning, but the overall experience of a learner in their community. When instructional leaders facilitate, rather than direct, they empower others in the learning community to take leading roles and strengthen collaborative practices.

In just about every case, actions speak louder than words. Instructional leadership is no different, in every instance the words and deeds of the instructional leader must match. If we say we are instructional leaders, then our actions need to match. We must cultivate leaders and learners throughout our learning communities by inspiring, challenging and empowering them to do so.

Monday, July 6, 2015

ISTE Take 2: Connecting and Learning

In ISTE Take 1 I blogged about "The Bigger Picture" and how ISTE is more than just another edtech conference. In this post I'm trying to tease out a little more about what the experience is like. I think perhaps by the time I get to ISTE Take 3 I might be ready to dive into specific take aways from individual sessions or experiences. So here are a few things that have been percolating over the past few days...


  • The size of a conference matters. Clearly large conferences like ISTE have the ability to draw diverse participants from all over the world, and that is truly wonderful.  It allows us to engage with others with vast experiences, different skill sets and expertise around issues in education and the integration of technology in education.  For me, it was also an opportunity to finally meet face to face with colleagues that I have connected with and collaborated with online, an opportunity that may not have happened otherwise. At the same time, the sheer volume of people, exchange of ideas, and the pace can be overwhelming. Trying to balance learning as much as you possibly can in four days, with connecting with friends and colleagues, with taking time to reflect on what you've experienced is tricky. 


  • Personal learning matters. No two people will walk away from a given session, experience, and certainly an entire conference with the same learnings. What drives you may not be the same as what drives someone else. We are all different. Our learning journeys are different, our experiences are different, and what drives us is different too. What we learn is as much dependent on our personal frame of reference and experiences, as it is on a given presenter's message or expertise. It's one of the things that I love about reading the blogs and tweets of others; seeing how similar and how different our responses to a shared experience can be.


  • Connecting matters. We are relational beings. At our core we desire to be known by another. Taking the time to connect with others is important to us. While large conferences like ISTE pull many of us together, its sheer magnitude can make it difficult for us to connect in the ways we would like or the ways we find most meaningful.

Monday, June 29, 2015

ISTE Take 1: The Bigger Picture

So I have only been in Philadelphia for two days for the ISTE Annual Conference, and my mind is already bursting from what has been shared. There is much diversity in the kinds of sessions that are offered, the topics that are covered, the delivery or mode of presentation, etcetera. And in spite of the great diversity there are a number of common themes. Here are a few...


  1. Connected Education: Being a connected educator is a game changer. Being connected globally changes your frame of reference. Being connected exposes you to ideas, opportunities and innovative practice that you would not likely encounter otherwise.
  2. Relationships: The importance of the relationships we cultivate in our classrooms, schools, districts, and communities (online too) cannot be underestimated. Relationships are the underpinning of what we do.
  3. Reflection: Reflecting on what we do, and  why we do it is critical to our growth. Much the same as it is for our students.
  4. Question: Question everything. Challenge the status quo. Be brave. 
  5. Learn: Be open to learn. No one expects us to be experts in everything, and there is much we can learn from one another if only we remain open to it.
But, Christina I thought this was a tech conference, and you hardly talked about tech at all! That's true. The tools are awesome, they can allow for amazing things to happen, but they are just things. It's what we do with them, and why we do it that matters. That's why these 5 themes are so important!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Inspiration



Where does your inspiration come from?

Occasionally people ask me why I do what I do. Or rather, given the present climate in public education, why I continue to do what I do? There are a number of reasons, and here are a sampling in no particular order:


  1. I have two children of my own. I want the best for them. That includes having access to amazing public schools and educators that will inspire them, challenge them and empower them. My two children strengthen my resolve, and determination for fighting for a system of education that honors, and respects the whole child. Our children need passionate, dedicated and innovative teachers in their classrooms. They may need us now, more than ever.
  2. I believe that I can make a difference. I believe that I can positively impact the lives of children and families.
  3. This is my vocation. Not just on the days when the days are easy and the load is light, but on those difficult and trying days as well.
  4. I'm inspired by my students. Their curiosity, their wonder, their creativity, their struggles and their triumphs.
  5. My PLN. Colleagues in my district, neighboring districts, across the country and around the world that challenge me and empower me daily.


So who, and what inspires you?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Instructional Leaders




So what makes an instructional leader...

Peter DeWitt recently created a Facebook group dedicated to Instructional Leadership. Within the group he posed the question, "what makes a leader an instructional leader?" I spent the drive into work today contemplating how instructional leadership compares and contrasts with other forms of leadership, and here are a some things that came to mind. The list is not exhaustive; indeed it probably just scratches the surface. Hopefully some of you will read it and then add to it.

Instructional Leaders...
  • While historically the administrator has been considered the instructional leader in a school, it has become clear that the role of instructional leadership is not solely theirs. There are many teacher leaders that take on the role of instructional leader in their buildings and in their districts. Regardless of title or position, the instructional leader affects positive change by putting the needs of the student at the center, and creates the conditions necessary for learning to thrive.
  • Understand the importance of building trusting relationships with students and colleagues. 
  • Spend time in classrooms. Observing, learning, reflecting, questioning, challenging, modeling and empowering.
  • They research instructional strategies and techniques, and mindfully plan for the implementation of those that seem most promising. They don't just jump on the latest fads. 
  • They encourage collaboration. To quote George Couros, "the smartest person in the room, is the room." Instructional leaders know that they, themselves do not have to be an expert in every instructional strategy, but they need to be able to tap into, develop and facilitate the expertise in others. 
  • They need to be connected, and encourage connectivity so that their faculty and colleagues can benefit from the wealth of expertise that exists as a collective.

How do you define instructional leadership? What might you add to this list? Look forward to others sharing their thinking on this! Please add your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks!

Worthwhile

Love my work!
The role of an educator is multidimensional.  It requires a deep understanding of pedagogy and a thorough content knowledge. An understanding of human development and what motivates learners is essential. It requires patience and humility. This work is not for the faint of heart. 

I think maybe it was the Peace Corps that had the tag line, "the toughest job you'll ever love." I never worked in the Peace Corps, but there are days that I believe that tag line perfectly defines teaching. The week that just passed was one of those weeks. It seemed like a hundred different things, and a number of students were vying for, and demanding my attention. No two ways about it, it was a tough week. I know that I handled some parts of it better than others. In spite of the difficulties, the frustrations, and the tears that came easily, I love my life's work. It isn't easy, but it is worthwhile.




Sunday, May 31, 2015

EDCAMP US DOED Reflections


 EDCAMP US DOED Reflections from the Day
EDCAMP US DOED Session 1: We Need to Stop Pretending in EDU
I have been blessed this school year by a number of amazing professional learning opportunities, one of them took place over the course of a couple of days in our nation's capital - EDCAMP US DOED. You can click on the link to learn more about the nuts and bolts of the experience, read session notes, and learn about the edcampers, whom collectively represented many aspects of education, from across the United States. To read some of the takeaways from this EdCamp, and to connect with the edcampers check out the hashtag #edcampusa on Twitter (I will warn you that at points during the day we were trending, so be wary of the posts by some trolls.)

There are so many things that I could write about from these two days, but I have chosen to focus on the critical elements of people, relationships, connection, and conversation.

People. Relationships. Connection. Conversation.
  • Edcamps are about people. People that are passionate about learning; their learning, and that of their students and colleagues. People that are lead learners in every sense (regardless of their official position or title).
  • The people that come to an Edcamp drive the learning of the day. There are no prearranged topics, presentations or expensive keynote speakers. It is an opportunity for individuals to drive their learning, to actively participate in meaningful discussions focused around the critical work that we do. Edcamp US DOED had topics such as: What We Need to Stop Pretending in EDU, Gamification and Badging, Bringing Edcamp to the Classroom and Equity and Social Justice. The session board represented the desires, the questions, the expertise, and learning objectives of the larger group.
  • There are many folks that can attest to the fact that at larger conferences some of the most meaningful learning doesn't take place in the formal sessions at all, but out in the hallway between the sessions, and while sharing a meal together. This can certainly be true of Edcamp as well, though I would argue to a lesser degree because sessions at Edcamps are highly interactive and discussion driven. And while some of the most amazing conversations we have are the more intimate ones, without the larger conference (the reason to get together) many of those opportunities for more intimate conversations would not exist. And in the case of Edcamp US DOED, some of the pre-edcamp conversations on train rides, shared cab rides, trips up the elevator and over dinner, led to session proposals for "the board" and an opportunity to engage in an even more diverse and nuanced conversation.
  • Edcamps connect people and ideas. As a result of Edcamp US DOED I was able to meet for the first time many of the folks that I engage with regularly on Social Media. It was an opportunity to tell these people, in person, how much their friendship and leadership has meant for me both professionally and personally. It was also a way to expand my PLN. I am now connected to individuals involved in education from Wisconsin to Florida, from rural schools to the Department of Education. For me the connection to people, the building of relationships and sharing of experiences is one of the most important aspects of Edcamp.
  • Edcamps are a grassroots driver for change.  They are a beginning, and not an end. People from different backgrounds, locations, with varied experiences will go back to their home districts, schools, institutions for higher ed, and communities inspired, challenged and inspired.

This day would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of Kristen Swanson and Hadley Ferguson of the Edcamp Foundation, and their team working behind the scenes. It also would not have been possible if it weren't for the support of the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan and the Director of the Office of Educational Technology, Richard Culatta. 

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for this amazing opportunity to connect, to learn, and to engage.

Photo Courtesy of USDOED
 




Monday, May 25, 2015

5 Things We Have to Stop Pretending




I was challenged by my friend, and fellow educator, Scott Bedley to add to the growing number of posts dedicated to the 5 things that need to change in education. You can find links to the thinking of others by researching the hashtag #makeschooldifferent and you can read Scott's post here. Trying to narrow my own list down to just 5 things that need to change in education was challenging; here are the 5 that I came up with, in no particular order.

1. That one size fits all (or even most) learners. 

  • This goes equally for the students in our classrooms, as it does for our colleagues in professional learning environments.

2. That education will cure all of society's ills.

  • It would be awesome if having access to high quality education alone would cure many of the issues we currently face, but education alone is not the answer. In many ways we have forgotten that we belong to one another, and that we are bound to one another. We have forgotten about the common good.

3. That quiet compliance is an accurate measure of engagement.

  • When we are actively engaged we wrestle with ideas, we challenge current thought, and engage in discourse. Learning is often noisy, and messy.

4. That the homework most of us assign is meaningful.

  • It's not. The students that complete it without difficulty probably don't need it. The students that need it often need more structured, and directed reteaching opportunities. Children are naturally curious, and have a desire to learn, but I fear we squash that with redundant and meaningless tasks that are assigned as homework.

5.  That improved test scores are indicative of improvements in learning and opportunity.

  • Test scores are a single snapshot, and tend to focus on things that are easily measured. Yet, the skills and capacities that institutions for higher education and employers claim to be looking for are those that are not as easily measured. 


In keeping with the pattern of these posts I'm supposed to challenge 5 other educators to share their lists of things. Well, I'm not going to tag 5 educators, partly because I have lost track of those in my PLN who have already responded, and partly because I just want to read a wide range of responses. So if you have a list of 5 things of your own, pop a link to your post in the comment section, so we can continue the conversation. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Annual Professional Performance Review

Background

Observations of teacher practice, measures of student growth tied to standardized testing, and locally selected measures of student growth currently play a role in the teacher evaluation system in place in New York State. With the passage of Governor Cuomo's recent budget, and the education "reforms" tied to it, a new teacher evaluation system is on the horizon. The proposed changes make an already horrendous evaluation system even worse. We move to a system in which 50% of a teacher's overall evaluation is based on student performance on standardized tests. As I understand it, in grades 3-8 these would be the much contested Common Core assessments, and at the remaining grade levels the tests would be either created by NYSED, or selected from tests provided by vendors on the NYSED approved list. The other 50% of a teacher's evaluation would be based on two, possibly three observations. One observation would be completed by the teacher's administrator and the other by an independent evaluator from outside the building in which the teacher teaches. With the high-stakes involved it is critical for all of us to question the methodology proposed by the Governor.

Let me make something very clear at the outset; I believe in an Annual Professional Performance Review. I really do. I believe that professionals must reflect on their practices, and evaluate areas of both weakness and strength. Teachers should set goals for professional learning and growth. Sadly, the narrow and punitive evaluation system proposed does not encourage, nor support what we know about professional learning, growth or best practice.

"Value Added Measures"

The use of Value Added Measures (VAM) is highly suspect. A teacher's VAM can change significantly from year to year, and rarely, if ever have to do with an increase or decrease in the competence of the teacher. Value Added Measures assume that student learning is measured well by the given test, and that the teacher alone influences student performance on the test. I am not opposed to using student growth as a component of a teacher's evaluation, but to base a child's growth solely on a standardized test is utterly ridiculous.

Observations

Evidence based observations are critical to improving the education system. They provide opportunities for the teacher and their administrator to have meaningful conversations about teacher practice, student learning, and the dynamic relationships that exist in the classroom. These observations give us the opportunity to reflect on the learning of all stakeholders, particularly when a number of observations (formal, informal or a combination) are used to collect data. Using a rubric such as the Danielson rubric, can help focus these conversations, and assist a teacher in setting professional learning goals. But when vital performance characteristics are translated into a numerical score, the result can lead to invalid inferences regarding a teacher's overall performance. It remains unclear how the use of outside evaluators, with no connection to the teacher or the students, will impact this process. It is hard to imagine that there will be opportunities for the outside evaluators to conduct pre and post conferences (as they are an unfunded mandate), thus neglecting the major benefits of evidence based observations.

In Conclusion

Annual Professional Performance Reviews are indeed important for professional growth. An effective annual review of professional practice should include measures of student growth, and evidence based observations. However they should also include things such as an educator's commitment to professional growth, their dedication to their students, their involvement and connection with their school community, reflections from students and families, and this is just a start. In short, a review of annual performance should encompass and reflect all of what a teacher does each day. The present, and proposed system is far too narrow, and unbalanced. I fear that it will lead to greater numbers of teachers teaching to the test, and ignoring the wider range of skills that are so greatly needed. Our children deserve better.

Links to resources that you may find useful in further researching this topic:
http://programs.governor.ny.gov/puttingstudentsfirst
http://www.nysed.gov/
http://dianeravitch.net/2014/04/12/breaking-news-american-statistical-association-issues-caution-on-use-of-vam/
http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/2015/02/04/nate-silver-explains-the-problem-with-vam-teacher-accountability-without-talking-about-it/

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Lead Learners - At All Levels

This post is actually the basis of a talk that I will be giving as part of a course requirement in the CNY Leadership Development Program later in June.  I'm posting part of it here today because I'd like to piggyback off of a recent post by my friend Dr. Peter DeWitt. You can read Peter's post by clicking here.

http://pixabay.com/ CC0 Public Domain

I have been in this profession for close to 15 years, and next year I turn 40, so as you can imagine, one of the questions that I get pretty frequently is, "So when exactly are you going to take the leap into building administration?" Or, "So when are you going over to the dark side?"  My answer is the same - I'm not. I'm not taking the leap into building administration, and I'm not going over to the dark side, wherever or whatever that may actually be. I love where I am right now. I love what I'm doing. For a long time the questions, and the disappointed looks from some of my friends and colleagues bothered me. Don't get me wrong, I'm flattered that they think that I would make a worthy building or district leader, but I have to wonder what is wrong with leading from the classroom? You see, what I contend is that we need leaders everywhere, and that leadership is much more than the position or title you may possess whether it be instructional leader, lead learner, or some other title.

We need leaders, of course we do. We need learners too. Here is where maybe I'll play a little with semantics, but I really believe it is more, much more. In schools, and in districts we need lead learners. Not one but many. I know many leaders, principals particularly, after reading the work of Viviane Robinson and Michael Fullan, have decided to call themselves the lead learner, rather than the principal. I appreciate the shift, but I also believe that words matter, and that they have power. I really believe that the intent is not to have "the lead learner", but to be "a lead learner." Semantics? Maybe or maybe not.

My position is quite simply this; we need many lead learners throughout our organizations. We need faculty and students to take on the role of leading the learning at different points, at different stages, and to different degrees daily. This is one of the reasons why I am more than content to remain in the classroom, and believe that I need to be there. It is part of what excited me about the CNY Leadership Development Program in the first place. I believed that the skills and knowledge that I would acquire in the program would help me to have a greater impact in my classroom, my school and my district. It has. I have been able to see our organization in different ways; I have a greater appreciation for all the working parts, and how all the working parts fit together. I have had the opportunity to meet, and to work with some amazing colleagues that I would not have otherwise.  I have increased my professional learning network, and it has caused me to think more deeply about how each role within a district is important, and how we truly need to think about how we encourage leadership at all levels. This brings me back to being a lead learner. We need lead learners at the district level, we need them at the building level and we need them in the classroom, and when I say in the classroom I am referring to all the individuals in a classroom the students, teaching assistants, teachers. Everybody.



Monday, April 20, 2015

Teacher Leadership & Blooming Where You Are Planted



The past few days I've had the opportunity to dialogue with members of my PLN in a few different places about the role of teacher leaders, the inherent value of teacher leaders, and some of the struggles that go along with teacher leadership. This post is a bit of synthesis of those conversations.

Defining teacher leadership...
One of the things that I feel is both a strength, and a weakness (for lack of a better word) of teacher leadership, are the unique and flexible roles that teacher leaders can play. In some cases there are formalized positions in a school or a district, including, but not limited to committee or department chairs, instructional coaches or teachers on special assignment. Then you have the much more informal roles that can evolve, and vary, depending largely on the interest and passion of the individual teacher, and the needs of their students. These more informal roles seem to develop more organically out of the day-to-day work, and interactions of classroom teachers. Having great diversity can make it difficult to adequately define teacher leadership, and yet the implications of both forms of teacher leadership on the larger system, seems pretty clear.

Formal Teacher Leaders...
Formal teacher leaders are accomplished and respected educators. They have content and instructional expertise. Formal teacher leaders play critical roles as instructional coaches, peer coaches, facilitators of professional learning, and curriculum coordinators. Their impact on teacher practice and student learning are quantifiable. These individuals often promote evidence-based instructional practices to increase teacher expertise, student achievement and advance education reform. At their core they support student learning and teacher practice.

Informal Teacher Leaders...
Informal leaders are also accomplished and respected educators. They engage in professional learning and share it with their colleagues. Informal teacher leaders are risk takers and innovators. They conduct action research and facilitate study groups. They lead from the classroom, but much like their formal counterparts, they are looking to improve instructional practices, and positively impact and support student learning.

We Need Formal and Informal Teacher Leaders...
A couple of days ago I was discussing this same topic in some detail with Ashley Hurley. She provided some great insight. Our conversation really impressed upon me the need for both formal and informal teacher leaders, and the conclusion that one is not any more, or less important than the other. It comes down to recognizing your true purpose or mission, and that regardless of your position that you "bloom where you are planted."  This resonated with me particularly strongly, because I often find myself trying to justify my desire to lead from the classroom, rather than making the jump to a more formal teacher leader role, or to administration. As a side note, Jeff Zoul, also blogged on this topic recently (you can read it here), and it really struck a chord. What I think it comes down to is this, one calling is no more noble than the other, but that we each have a unique role that we can play, and a unique impact on the educational system as a whole. We need to appreciate those who take on the formal roles and encourage and empower others to take on the informal roles. Leaders are all around us.

Share Your Experiences!
I would like to invite you to share your experiences and thinking in the comments below. I'm very curious about how teacher leaders perceive themselves, their roles, and their impact. I would also like to hear how district and school administrators have embraced and promoted teacher leadership in different ways. There is so much we can learn from one another!

Looking to Learn More About Teacher Leadership?
There have been numerous articles and blog posts written on teacher leadership, what it can look like and potential impact. Here are some links to a few that I have found to be particularly helpful and/or interesting, not an exhaustive list by any stretch, but a place to start if you're interested.

      The Teacher as Leaders issue of Educational Leadership magazine by ASCD
      What Does the Research Tell Us About Teacher Leadership
      Three Do's and Don'ts of Transformative Teacher Leadership
      Teach to Lead: Advancing Teacher Leadership
      Teacher Leader Model Standards


Monday, April 13, 2015

Are We Too Humble?

As part of the blogging group #compelledtribe we are sharing something new we attempted in our work this year to better ourselves as educators. One of the things that I have tried, is blogging more regularly, and having the courage to put my convictions, learning and reflections, out there, in print for all the world to see. Blogging more regularly has helped me to reflect on my own learning, and to think more deeply about what truly matters in education and leadership. It has helped me to engage with others and to wrestle with some of the challenges that we face. It has helped me to recognize that there are many opportunities for educators to share their stories and the stories of their school community, and that this can be one way to impact and influence conversations about the education system. I'm not sure that we take full advantage of our sphere of influence, and it is imperative that we do. What stands in our way? Maybe we are too humble. And with that, I give you...

Are We Too Humble?

Teachers are a pretty humble lot. Most of us don't like to boast, stand in the spotlight or "toot our own horns." We quietly go about our work, and are both gracious and polite. I mean just look at the definition provided to us by Google Search...




Anything surprising? The definition seems to fit, I'm almost surprised that a picture of a teacher doesn't pop-up alongside it. I think our humility, at least in part stems from the fact that for so many of us teaching is much more than a career or profession. For many of us teaching is a vocation, a calling. Whether we chose teaching, or teaching chose us, we do it in service of others. This has had a profound impact on the professional culture, and I think it has, in part made us targets. I won't spend a lot of time in this post talking about the current state of education in this country, you can read about my thoughts regarding it, in my last post titled, Better Days. Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that we become a boastful lot, but I do think we need to challenge the idea of being humble, at least a little bit.

As noted in the definition provided by Google, humble is both synonymous with self-effacing, but it is also synonymous with meek, submissive and unassertive. This my friends, is where there is a problem. We need teacher leaders. We need educators that are bold, that are willing to stand up for the profession, advocate for students, take risks and tell the true story of education in this nation. We must do a better job of sharing our stories, the educational journeys we embark on with our students, the ways in which we have collaborated and pushed one another to innovate and improve the system, and we must celebrate the hard-work and dedication of our colleagues. If there was ever a time for meek, submissive and unassertive educators, that time has certainly passed. Now is the time for us to be bold, to speak up and speak out, and recognize our sphere of influence and the impact that we can have.

Speak Up...

I was truly honored this weekend to be nominated for a Bammy Award. The Bammy's are a powerful way that we can share our stories, support one another and celebrate all that is good in education. What is really great about these awards is that all of us can nominate our colleagues to receive recognition with the Educator's Voice Awards (learn more here). I nominated Steve Garraffo, LCSD Director for Elementary Education, for such an award. (This will take you to his nominee's page.) I think it is truly important for us to share all of the wonderful things that are happening here, and across the nation. I hope you will help spread the word, vote for some of the nominees, and nominate others. There are great things happening, and we have the responsibility to share them!



Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Better Days


If you were to listen to mainstream media, and any number of politicians, you might believe that education in our nation were in shambles. It simply isn't true. Are there struggles? Of, course. I'm not going to bury my head in the sand and pretend otherwise. The education system is not immune to society's ills, at times as a classroom teacher you see them amplified. Indeed, there are days when it seems almost too much to bear, and yet we do. We do, because teaching is more than a job. It is a deep calling, a vocation that can scarcely be put into words. We are committed to the young people, the families, the communities that we serve. We know their faces, their hearts, their stories.

There are days when I have wondered, and flat out worried about the direction of our nation. Competition, ranking, and sorting; it seems to bring out the worst in us. It is as if that we have forgotten that we are all ultimately connected to one another, and bound to one another. We have forgotten that for us to prosper as a nation requires collaboration, far more than it does competition. We must do better. There needs to be less isolation, and more connection. We must acknowledge our shortcomings, and look far and wide for ways to improve, we may have to admit that we don't have all the answers, and we need to be willing to make mistakes. We need to embrace curiosity, and cultivate wonder. We need to play, and infuse joy. This need not be a pipe dream, some pie in the sky ideals; no. We are the architects, the innovators, the creators, the voices that together must demand it, and make it so.

When I become discouraged by the state of affairs I do three things. First, I pray. I pray for strength, I pray for hope and I pray for faith. Second, I look at my own children, which strengthens my own determination and resolve. Third, I read my Twitter feed and am inspired and empowered by colleagues, many of whom I have never met. I believe in better days, and I believe in our power to make them better.