Friday, August 11, 2017

Dear Comfort,

Dear Comfort,

It's been fun Comfort, but  it's time for you to go!
My old friend, welcome to another school year.  As we start weaning ourselves off of summer break and begin to think about setting up our classrooms and readying our plans and resources to take on another group of kids, I thought I would let you know I have been doing some thinking.  Though this is not easy for me to bring up for fear of rocking the boat and perhaps being isolated or viewed as a rogue, I must take a stand for our kids as I truly believe we can make a difference in preparing them for their futures.

You see, I have been thinking a lot about our important role as teachers. Maybe it’s because I’ve been realizing things through my own child’s experience, whose education to this point has resembled my own when I was his age. Unfortunately, we discuss the same game plan of how to get that A and simply survive school. To tell you the truth, I get really angry when I have to coach him through this game we call school, all the while knowing that there is little joy in his learning experience and he is simply doing school because I preach to him that we have all had to go through this and he will just have to suck it up in hopes it will lead to a much more prosperous college experience, knowing that even that is probably a lie. Selfish reasons aside, we have to realize that the needs of our kids are no longer the same as when we wrapped up last school year. To tell you the truth, our kids have been needing much more from us for a lot longer than that, which is hard for me to admit as it is my job to educate and help our kids to grow with their future success as the goal.

My friend, those routines we used to really look forward to -- setting up our seating charts and sending in our first semester worth of printing of those worksheets aligned with our carefully mapped out pacing in order to get our content in before the end of the grading period -- are things we do because that is what we have been taught and what is comfortable for us. I gotta tell you, those days are gone! Though I don't know exactly how or what something different will look like, or how we will assess it, or how our evaluator will respond to a change of any kind like this, ethically and morally, and selfishly, I need to find a different way of doing things. I can no longer stand by and do the same thing because that is the way we have always done it. I have to change the way I look at educating our kids for their sake, and I know this will mean work and discomfort for me. I might not know exactly what I'm doing, which is a real fear!  I Know I will be tempted to fall back into my previous routines, checking boxes because that is what is comfortable, but I know that I have to try.

My hope for us is much more than just another comfortable school year. My hope is that you will join me in taking some risks, trying some new things -- for the kids!  I am done with watching kids as they wait for permission to take part in their education, or worse, find no value and take no part in it altogether.

I challenge you to come on this journey with me. It will not be predictable, and it is not like anything we have ever done before. But, what I do know is we can no longer choose to sit by in comfort as we watch our kids increasingly become disengaged and view their education as pointless.  We have a great opportunity to do something amazing here, and I challenge you to come along with me!

I have learned a lot from you my friend, but Arrivederci!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Weekly Wonderings: What Are Our Non-Negotiables?

What are our non-negotiables?

This past week I took part in the Shadow a Student Challenge where school leaders are encouraged to walk in the shoes of one of their students for a day. I shadowed a student in the past and was looking forward to this experience once again. The selection process was a random draw of student who had volunteered, and this year's lucky winner was a 7th grader named Sydney who was very excited about the opportunity. Throughout the day, I was able to talk with students about their thoughts about school, what they liked, and what they wished was different. The whole day was very positive and insightful and, even though I got pulled away for about an hour and a half due to a power outage, I was able to see some of the things I appreciate about our school and which were validated by students I talked with throughout our day.  

Recently I came upon a blog post by George Couros, Principal of Change. In this particular post he gave his top four non-negotiables upon which a school should base its work and which very closely match those traits I hold dear. Though not intended to be evaluative in nature, the Shadow a Student Challenge gave me an opportunity to step back and see through the eyes of our students, providing me with feedback about our school. As I reflected upon my day as a student, I used these four traits as a framework to summarize my observations to share with our staff in our Weekly Wonderings.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Weekly Wonderings: Is Technology "Just" a Tool?

Is Technology "Just" a Tool?

This seems like a silly question I am sure.  This post is meant to celebrate the progress that we have made the past few years in regard to technology integration and look toward the next phase or phases that will come as we find new ways and purposes for the tools at our fingertips.  We have gotten past the skepticism and fear that can be linked to technology and its usefulness and/or distraction in the hands of kids. This has been a great accomplishment. We then conquered the next phase of finding the tools that can help us as teachers be more efficient while at the same time teaching our students to use the technology appropriately. Now that this phase has been completed, our next steps, may be the most challenging.  How do we use technology as a tool to both accomplish the work we need them to and to raise authentic engagement through its use?

Back to the question at hand, is technology "just" a tool?  By definition a tool is something that gets a particular job done. Using paper and pencil gets the job done on writing an essay.  Paper and pencil are basic tools used to accomplish the task and we have learned that we can easily replicate this by having a student write an essay using Google Docs. Same task just different tool, the use of technology has not changed the original task of writing an essay, though it definitely opens the door to expanding the possibilities.  Tools like Google Docs can open the door to many other valuable skills like collaboration, peer review and perhaps creativity which will be valuable for our students in their future endeavors.

Another question that we should be asking is how do we jazz things up a bit? How do we make the experience for kids a bit more personal in accomplishing the tasks we are asking them to do? Most of our experiences with kids and their motivation would tell us that a standard format (essay using Google Docs) assigned to all students often bares similar results as we are used to getting from an older form of technology, the pencil and paper. Though using Google Docs has allowed us to advance in the jazziness of how we accomplish the task, it would probably rate very low on the creativity scale.  What if we allowed students to figure out alternate creative ways to do the same task with perhaps with a slightly different tool to boost their creative-problem-solving abilities which also drew upon their strengths and interests? It's a bit intimidating, I know!

Weekly Wonderings: Is Technology "Just" a Tool?

Technology can be "just" a tool to get a job done, this is a fact.  From my own experience I have only been limited by my own comfort level and knowledge of this subject.  I will admit this has not always been easy.  For me, a light bulb erupted, when I saw students take a pretty average task and with permission take it to the next level in ways I never could have imagined and they were excited about it! When students are allowed to work to their interests and strengths, their confidence goes up which also raises investment and engagement. Having seen this from students who struggle with standard tasks lead me to question what is most important, the task or the process? I think we can all come up with examples why this is not always possible and I would agree with many of them, but perhaps we believe things are not possible because like me, I was limited by what I was familiar with and the way I had always done it. I know we can learn to be creative in our approach to teaching kids, through working together and sharing different methods and tools I know we can look at technology as much more than a standard tool. We can look at technology as something that will help us tap into the potential of our kids.

I believe this a good direction toward which we should travel and look forward to the journey!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Inside the Box Thinking?

Layers upon layers, upon layers!

In education we could come up with many reasons to not stray from the way we have always done things. Policies and regulations can leave us feeling trapped, like we live in one of those  never-ending nesting dolls. As soon as we open up one doll, there is another, and then another, fiendishly winking at us. It’s no wonder that many educators become frustrated working within this sort of system.  

Recently, I had a chance to begin diving into The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros, which has helped to solidify many thoughts that have never quite made their way out of my head. Part one of the book talks about change in how we approach education, the need for it, and how hard it can be for some people because, as human beings, many of us just don't like change, period.  He poses a few questions that are important to consider.

Do we as teachers want something different for ourselves?
Do we want to be innovative?
Do we know how to be innovative?

I have become a believer of what is referred to as “inside the box thinking.” Understandably, it’s a fact of life that in most situations we encounter there are rules or guidelines that dictate how to operate. I believe, though, that there is still room inside the box for creativity and innovation and we are only limited by our own thinking and perception as we work toward finding ways to benefit our kids.

"Vision without execution is just hallucination" - Thomas Edison

I often wonder how many teachers are not motivated by what they feel they are being asked to teach, and that leads me to examine the culture within our school. Do our teachers feel free to take risks for the sake of the kids? Have we created a vision that is clear and meets our kids' needs?  Our job as school leaders is to help teachers navigate this not-so-comfortable, but important, thing we call “change.” I have heard from a number of teachers who say, “I wish we could be more innovative!”  So, this is where we all get to decide if we want something better and, if we do, are we willing to ask for help? Answering these questions for ourselves will be important for our future success!

Message to Staff: Empowered?

In school we stress creativity and critical thinking, we ask our students to problem solve, and we stress that these are important skills for their future success. We need to give ourselves the flexibility and freedom to explore in the same kinds of ways. We owe it to our kids to continue to be thinkers and problem solvers on their behalf.