Tag: education

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Be an Edu Rockstar

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 12.58.43 PMInterested in becoming an Edu Rockstar? CUE, Computer Using Educators, has been supporting educators in California in doing just this through Rock Star Camps for several years now and has recently taken the experience and the opportunity to become a Rock Star Teacher or Edu Leader to a whole new level. Under the direction of Jon Corippo, Director of Academic Innovation, CUE has introduced Black Label Rock Star Camps, TOSA Rock Star Camps and my most recent favorite CUE Rock Star Admin Camp.

The first Rock Star Admin. Camp was hosted at the Luke Skywalker Ranch, in the foothills of northern Marin County, home of Edutopia, and took attendees on a transformational three day Hero’s Journey.

The learning embraced a collaborative approach that brought innovative educators and those looking to become more innovative together in great discussions and sharing of resources that are guiding inspired practices happening in school districts throughout the State. Tim Goree, Director of Technology of the Fairfield- Suison School District, showed attendees that, “You can’t break the Google,” as he guided Edu Leaders in learning how to manage their district’s GAFE domain and other IT secrets. Eric Saibel, Assistant Principal at Hall Middle School, with his calm, understated style, brought humor, nature and inspiration to question doing business as usual. Mike Niehoff, with his fabulous, slightly offbeat sense of humor, that attendees will not forget, brought his passion for a student’s right to be provided with high quality and engaging learning to the forefront. Jennifer Kloczko, Principal at Natomas Charter School, took her parallel passion for high quality and inspiring staff meetings and professional development and got everyone dancing while also showing them how to run a meeting that keeps adult energy up and engagement high. Ramsey Mussallam, teacher extraordinaire at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory and Ted Speaker, wowed everyone with examples of high interest, high rigor, high success instruction. Finally, Jon Corippo, who pulled the event together with his team and all their behind the scenes work. brought his usual high level of energy and no holds barred approach to introducing the administrators on hand to 21st Century tools that engage learners and develop real world technology skills.

Interested in becoming an Edu Rockstar Admin? If you answered yes, you’re already on your way. To become a Rockstar Administrator there really are only two requirements: 1) be willing to learn outside of your comfort zone, 2) be willing to “fail” (first attempt in learning) as you learn and redefine your professional practice with an infusion of innovation. These two qualities embed what Carol Dweck refers to as an Open Mind Set. With an open mind set, there are no limits on your ability to become an innovative and transformational leader, but you will want to connect with other like-minded leaders, not only in education, but in other industries as well. The 21st Century workforce whether it be business, Nascar or the military are using innovative approaches to redefine the way they do business. There is a lot we can learn from other industries to influence our personal leadership practice and expectations as well as our expectations of how schools are educating students and what skills students are graduating with.

As you begin practicing to become a Rockstar Leader be sure that you’re 1) engaging with others through social media, 2) be aware of what your personal brand online looks like, 3) create and maintain a blog, 4) get on Twitter, 5) participate in chats. As you develop your Rockstar skills and presence be sure to add 1) create a Google+ account 2) participate in a Google Hangout, 3) post to instagram 4) develop a Voxer group to collaborate with. Now that you’ve created these resources for yourself, create them for your organization. Connect, connect, connect and be a Rockstar!

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We Have to Stop Pretending

imagesI was challenged today, challenged by a great teacher who tagged me and four other educators worth keeping an eye on if you’re on Twitter. Third grade teacher, Lisa Nowakowski, also known as @NowaTechie and author of Nowa Techie, directed her challenge towards me, Kevin Ashworth, Andy Losik, Rae Fearing and Travis Phelps. The shout out is part of the #MakeSchoolDifferent Challenge which originated in a post on Scott McCloud’s blog dangerously ! irrelevant. Educators across the nation are tagging one another to acknowledge five things in education we need to stop pretending. That’s the easy part. The hard part is coming up with solutions to trends that educators are acknowledging in their posts.

So here it is. Five things we need to stop pretending…

  1. That school is engaging our students
  2. That our students see the relevancy in what they’re learning
  3. That class size doesn’t have a meaningful impact
  4. That standardized testing is bad
  5. That it isn’t okay to acknowledge that taking care of the teacher is putting students first

 

Here’s the thinking behind each of the bullet points.

  1. Students sit, sit and sit throughout their school day. As Alex Wiggins noted in his blog post after shadowing a student for two days, sitting is exhausting. I sat with our students on the same uncomfortable bench without a backrest for a 45 minute assembly on the use of social media last week. I found the topic very interesting, but we just sat and listened for 45 minutes. I started to become more aware of my need to stand up, stretch, urge to share a comment and started to look around. As I looked around, I saw students distracted in a variety of manners and I understood why. It wasn’t that the content wasn’t interesting, there just wasn’t an opportunity to engage/interact with it. Kids want to learn! They need to be able to interact with the learning and we need to create classroom structures and environments that will make them feel welcome, comfortable and allow them to interact with one another and move around as they learn.
  1. It continues to be a tradition honored by each generation of students that attends school to ask, “Why are we learning this? Why do I need to know this?” As a profession, we continue to struggle with showing our students the relevance of much of their classroom instruction. My anecdotal observations show that teachers who take a project based learning approach to classroom instruction have students who have a greater understanding of the relevancy of their learning.
  1. John Hattie’s research, as published in his book Visible Learning for Teachers, shows that there is a limited correlation between class size and student achievement. One thing we don’t pretend is that a teacher’s job is so much more than a focus on student achievement. As a profession, most of us share an interest in teaching the whole child and having strong school to home relationships. It makes a difference if an elementary teacher has 25, 32 or 38 students assigned to their class. It makes a difference if a secondary teacher has 150 student contacts per day or 200 or 250.
  1. Standardized testing has earned a bad rap. Politicians and the media have taken what can be useful data to evaluate student progress over time and program effectiveness and turned the testing results into a way to judge and punish schools and to create a perception that some schools are better than others based on a snapshot of academic testing. The truth is the data from these types of assessments do give us useful information. It is unfortunate that these tests have been given the power to negatively judge our schools and that the results are so often used to criticize or are misused when making comparisons.

5. Every educator will tell you, “It’s about the kids first.” This phrase is also used to stop a counter argument in it’s tracks.The quickest way to win an argument in education is to imply in any way that the other’s person’s opinions are not putting kids first. Taking care of our teachers and all educational professionals is putting kids first.

imgres I now challenge some of my colleagues who I have great respect for to join this challenge and to share their posts with us on Twitter. Ken Durham, Kaleb Rashad, Dr. Eric Chagala and Sammie Cervantes what do you think?

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“Stepping Very Much Away from the Traditional”

I enjoy starting my mornings with a look at my Twitter feed. There’s always something there that is intellectually stimulating, thought provoking and entertaining. Some posts stand out more than others and some continue to resonate well after the initial reading of the post. Eric Saibel, assistant principal at Hall Middle School and author of the blog Principals in Training, shared the video A Tour of Copenhagen’s Noma with Chef Rene Redzepi this morning. The analogy of the chef’s observation of his professional field were stunningly similar to those of the education profession.

The story of Chef Rene’s kitchen begins as he describes the kitchen’s reliance on local resources, not unlike the classroom and the LCAP, as well as changes that have been implemented in his kitchen the past couple of years, not unlike changes occurring in our classrooms as the impact and possibilities available through the use of 21st Century tools are continuing to work their way into classroom pedagogy. There is a lesson in Chef Rene’s insight on the importance of the design of the working environment to support openness, light and creativity that can have a powerful impact on the learning environments we create for our students.

We almost ruined our own trade by making it too tough, too hard… People are entering our trade for the wrong reasons and are surprised when they work 85 hours and then they feel tired one day and they’re out. We need to change this.”

It is important to employees in all industries that they feel valued and invested in, yet it is not uncommon to see teachers’ passion for education being taken advantage of as evidenced by the recent economic downturn in which many of our schools survived because of the furlough days and pay reductions taken by the professionals in our field. A July 2014 report from the Alliance for Excellence in Education showed an annual turnover rate of 20% for teachers in the education profession correlating to 1 in 5 teachers leaving the profession every year. While the reasons vary among those leaving the profession, the most often cited reason is “dissatisfaction with working conditions.” This high rate of turnover is costly bringing with it a national annual price tag $2.2 billion to replace the vacated positions.

“We work a lot in the trade. There’s no way around it. You’re going to work your ass off and so do we, but with a little less of the pressure…”

There continues to be a myth that has run through generations that educators are done by three, have weekends off and enjoy long summer vacations. Every teacher will tell you about the late meetings they stay for, the committees they serve on, the lessons they plan and the papers they grade at home during the evenings and on weekends as well as the work they do over the summer to prepare for the upcoming year and investing in their own professional development. Yes, educators work their asses off which makes Chef Rene’s next quote also fitting to the industry.

“It’s a business where you work so much for very little money that it needs to be very inspiring, it needs to be very cool. It needs to be family. It needs to be a tight team.”

What would happen if we truly invested in the on-going professional development of educators allowing teachers to take the lead in the decision making of the direction of their professional growth? What if we designed classrooms and teachers lounges to support 21st century tools? Would they become, as Chef Rene describes of his staff, more confident? Would they make more decisions, be less afraid to try new things, to be creative and innovative? What can we do to make our industry/our passion cool? How do we create tight teams that feel like a close and supportive family so that members don’t want to leave?

“It’s the cook that cooks the food that creates the magic it’s not the recipe.”

translated…

It’s the teacher that the teaches the lesson that creates the magic, it’s not the script.

There are quotes throughout the interview that are open to analogies with the education profession. I hope you enjoy watching the video, consider sharing your favorite quote and it’s analogy to our profession and your ideas for making life in education “cool” so that we grow together as we educate each group of students that come through our classrooms.

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Traveling a Road of Accessibility with a Desire for Independence

imgres-1A few years ago I had the opportunity to find out what it’s like to live with a physical disability. The experience was eye-opening, stunning and a gift as I was overseeing the special education programs for the County Office of Education in San Luis Obispo which included services for the orthopedically impaired. I spent six weeks in a wheelchair and four weeks on crutches and discovered that what might meet the legal requirement of being handicap accessible and what meets the functional requirement of being handicap accessible are two very different things particularly when it comes to parking, navigating entry through a closed door and using the restroom.

There were some more challenging and memorable highlights both in schools and in public places at that time that I was reminded of yesterday. My favorite of the challenges I faced was going to use the restroom in a facility specifically designed for the orthopedically impaired. Upon rolling into a restroom, I discovered it was being used for storage. I rolled in, the door automatically shut behind me, there were no sensor lights so I found myself in the dark and because of all the boxes in the restroom could not turn the wheelchair around. I had to wait several minutes before I heard someone outside the door to whom I could call for help.

I traveled to a lot of different school sites throughout the county and was surprised to find how many handicapped parking spots are at the bottom of a hill and how many parking lots and sidewalks leading up to our schools have cracks with large bumps in them. Looking uphill and knowing the amount of upper body strength it would take to get where I needed to go often felt daunting. Scarier was looking downhill and being conscientious of not gaining too much speed and being able to come to a stop. I gained a new appreciation for why people in wheelchairs wear gloves.

I was also surprised by the parking available and people’s perception of handicap parking. In the downtown area of a town I spend quite a bit of time in, all the parking at that time was in alleyways. In addition to receiving a very clear message that there was a community interest in hiding the disabled, the other challenge was that the culture of the community lent itself to a lot of four wheel drive trucks that also parked in these alleyways. It was not uncommon to get out of the vehicle and realize that the truck pulling out directly behind my car could not see me at wheelchair height. I quickly realized that going downtown was not a wise idea. I am however proud of this community as it has since that time changed it’s handicap parking layout and curb accessibility.

At one of the school’s I frequented a couple of times a week, I was originally impressed by the forethought put into the handicap parking. The parking lot sat quite a distance away from the campus, but just in front of the bus loading and unloading zone was a blue handicap parking zone with two easily accessible ramps with well designed inclines that took out the daunting feeling that often came with the uphill haul at other facilities and the speedy downhill trips. I soon discovered though that the culture of the school community, viewed the handicap parking zone as the principal described to me, “a suggestion.” It was agreed within the school community that the parking lot really was quite a ways away and it was easier for parents to just be able to park in the handicap zone.

I’m finding myself temporarily on crutches again and not able to bear weight on my right hip. After a week of being home and mostly bed bound, I was able to venture out into the world again yesterday. My husband and I had a three and a half hour trip each way to get to a follow up appointment which meant stops to use the restroom, stretch and grab a bite to eat. Our first stop quickly took me back to some of the experiences I had a few years ago.


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The parking was great at our first stop. It was easy to get out of the car, there was plenty of room and the sidewalk was easily accessible, but…

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…I soon found myself with the first hurdle. I was lucky enough to have my husband with me, but wanting to be independent created a roadblock. How do I pull open one of these doors without bearing excessive weight on my hip and still holding on to both crutches while also moving forward as gravity starts closing the door? The weight of the door will make a big difference to the success of this task. This door however – too heavy for success. I was blessed with one of the kindest moments from a stranger as I stood to take a picture thinking about the blog post I wanted to write. A very kind gentleman, who I soon discovered spoke a limited amount of English, looked at the situation and used one word, “Help?” The moment felt like a blessing, not because of the offer of help, but because of the kindness and compassion that was in this gentleman’s eyes. I wish I could share my mental picture of this man. Challenges can bring out the best in humanity and this gentleman exuded goodness. 24 hours later and my heart is still warmed by the kindness not only of his gesture, but the expression of it.

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The next obstacle – how do I push down on that handle, push the door open, stay on my crutches and protect my hip? Hmmmmm, I’m glad my husband was with me.

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This one was a little tougher. The door was closed when I walked in, and the hinges slightly off center, caused it to stick. Once I got the door open, it didn’t start to come back and close automatically like many doors of handicap accessible facilities. Once in the stall that door was going to need to be closed – a slow but sure process. Darn, wish my husband could come in here with me.

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Next, two doors to navigate to get out. The first one sticks which normally wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but crutches are a game changer. Next, I found myself eyeing the handle on the second door thinking, “Seriously, what is up with the handles around here?” As I got the door open to exit the restroom, one of the store employees had come in to check the toilet paper. She snuck around to my right, navigating around my crutch and thanked me for opening the door for her. Hmmmmm.

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Ah, almost out of here. I can totally navigate this door with a little left hip action. Whoops, I forgot how heavy this door is and it’s not going to happen. God bless my husband who’s on the other side of the door, being patient with me and my photo shoot, knowing that it’s best to let me discover that I need his help before stepping in and opening the door for me.

It’s hard to lose one’s ability to move around independently. I’m glad my glimpses into the world of physical disabilities have been temporary and short lived. I am however struck, that given the assistive technology at our disposable and our knowledge of physics concepts, how difficult it can still be to get around independently. It is my hope that by sharing my experience, someone will hear or read this story and use the content to consider design and the associated physics concepts when creating accessible environments. I also hope that it assists us in stepping in to help others with compassion and an understanding of the desire for independence on the part of those who find themselves with physical limitations, whether they be temporary or permanent, when they require assistance in gaining access to the places we normally take for granted.

*As a side note, I’d like to share a shout out to Jack in the Box. The rest of our stops for the day were at Jack in the Box locations. At each location, the ramps were easy to access, the doors were light and easy to push through and also closed gently on their own. While I’m not usually a fast food kinda gal, I know Jack in the Box will get my business whenever we’re on the road out of my respect and appreciation for their accessibility design.

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Tools of the Professionally Connected

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My Professional Learning Network continues to grow and I’m loving it! I noticed on my Twitter profile page today that I’ve been active on Twitter since April 16, 2011 – four years. Four years, 4,674 tweets, 1,763 followers, 1,760 following, 3,079 favorites, eight lists and numerous weekly edchats. While my venture into the PLN began with Twitter and Twitter continues to be my favorite source for connecting with like minded professionals and for professional learning, I’ve been enjoying my Google+ and Linkedin Connections as well and have mostly recently added Voxer to the mix.

Voxer has added a whole new element to professional learning and relationship building with colleagues who share the same passion for education, technology and leadership. Jon Corippo (@jcorippo) recently introduced me to the Rule of 150 which originated with anthropologist Robin Dunbar and was made more widely known in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Tipping Point. The Rule of 150 is based on the premise that 150 is the threshold for the number of relationships we are able to maintain within any subgroup. So, while I love the growing numbers of my Twitter PLN, I also know that my regular interactions are with a much smaller subset of followers.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 7.33.26 PMVoxer, which allows users to send texts, voicemails and pictures has been a great tool for breaking down this larger network into more manageable subgroups. While this tool is still relatively new to me, I’m enjoying the more specific and funnier conversations that can be had with a smaller group that also isn’t posted publicly on the web. I’ve been able to connect with a subset of of innovative school administrators doing great work around the country, empowering teachers and having a blast engaging students. I’ve been able to connect with a subset of female education leaders who let the girl and the bling shine through in this venue. Next, I’m hoping to connect our SLO CUE professional network in some smaller ongoing conversations around the great work teachers are doing in local classrooms and finally I’m looking forward to trying Voxer out with family as we share pictures and voice messages and take our current texting conversations to the next level.

I invite you, the reader, to check out Voxer on your mobile device and share ideas for using the app both professionally and personally.

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The Learning Continues… PBL and Developing a Customized Search Engine

imagesToday began with a continuation of building my knowledge base and expertise in designing Project Based Lessons. The Buck Institute for Education also known as BIE is a treasure trove of resources in which one can get pleasantly lost in. I focused most specifically on the resources found in PBL World discovering a variety of project based lessons and different formats for planning the PBL lessons. What each lesson had in common though was it’s focused on being student rather than teacher centered. The best lessons created room for a variety of outcomes allowing students to use their previous experiences, creativity and collaboration skills to come up with their own solutions.

As part of my exploration, I discovered the 21st Century Educational Technology and Learning Blog written by Michael Gorman. In his award-winning blog, Gorman has brought together a wide variety of resources to use as idea starters and resources in planning PBL units. There is a strong emphasis on STEM resources, but the blog is by no means limited to these as it also provides PBL resources on gamification, language arts, philosophy, history and character development.

The most exciting part of today’s discoveries, playing and creating, was the development of my first customized

Google Custom Search Engine which can be found at pgildersPBLsearch. The customization feature allows the developer to refine the search results thus helping students to learn the basics of online research while providing parameters that will keep them on topic and with grade and reading level appropriate material. The developer can limit key word searches to the topic at hand. The pgildersPBLsearch allows the researcher to search the open web for articles and images, but the site emphasizes the customized online resources I specifically want users to go to. Keywords added to this site include:  PBL, Project Based Learning, Custom Search, Google, Google Searches and Grading. I’m looking forward to refining the site and getting feedback from teachers as they made suggestions for resources to add from their personal repertoires.

If you’re interested in creating your own search engine, Gennexttech has a nice youtube video tutorial to guide you through the process which can be found at Gennexttech Google Search Tutorial.  

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Positive Outlook Confirmed

Positive, Spontaneous, Charismatic, Idealistic, Empathetic

I just finished taking the Kingdomality Vocational Personality Profile sponsored by Career Management International. My results – A Dreamer Minstrel. I was surprised at first to see “Dreamer” in the description, but as I read the personality description, I was very entertained as it described me to a T.

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“You can alway see the ‘Silver Lining’ to every dark and dreary cloud.” – Yes, and this is not always well-received. I was once referred to as “pollyanna” in unkind terms by a colleague in my field. I’ve chosen to carry the reference with pride!

 

“Look at the bright side is your motto.” Yes, I believe everything happens for a reason. It’s not always clear why something happens at first reflection, particularly when the experience has not been positive or rewarding. Nevertheless, I do believe that with time, we gain awareness of why certain experiences have been a part of our lives and how we benefit from them.

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“There is nothing so terrible that you can not find some good within it.” True. I’ve taking care of a lot of student discipline lately and a child who get’s sent to my office during 6th period, has made it successfully through 5/6 of his or her day. A student who comes to tears in my office is facing acceptance and is starting to heal. My son got a 50% on a quiz (darn kid is usually a straight A student); he mastered half the content before the quiz and the other 50% afterwards and learned a lesson in perseverance as well as a valuable life lesson as he continued the learning process even when the grade wouldn’t go up.

Positive, Spontaneous, Charismatic, Idealistic, Empathetic – yep, I like this!

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Implementing a Blended Learning Approach to Professional Development

Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 1.05.00 PMAs an administrator with responsibility for providing professional development (PD) for certificated and classified staff,  I had the opportunity to be part of a team that implemented a blended model approach to PD the last few years. Working with a county office of education, I had staff located throughout a 50 mile radius. In addition to the challenges that come with being separated by so many miles, staff also had different areas of expertise. While there are many similarities to good teaching across specific student populations, there are also distinct differences to be found in best practices for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, visually impaired, emotionally disturbed or diagnosed with autism. By implementing a blended learning approach to professional development, staff were able to engage in more personalized learning focusing on skills and curriculum that would best support the success of their students. Additionally, this provided staff with greater flexibility to engage in learning and developing their individual areas of expertise at times that worked best for them. It also provided staff who were interested in engaging in further development, resources to guide their learning.

This blended model of professional development incorporated the study of online modules, video, Google presentations, Google forms and Google documents. Teachers and classified staff whose expertise was being developed in supporting students with moderate to severe handicaps chose evidence based practices to study from AIM (Autism Internet Modules. Teachers chose two practices a year that all staff would study and one to two evidence based practices (EBPs) that they would study individually. This course of professional development was supported by two monthly in person meetings.

One meeting was a presentation style lecture led by a guest speaker, expert in developmental disabilities, and the other meeting was a small group gathering with a specific monthly format that allowed teachers to share what was working and not working within their practice in addition to sharing examples and materials from EBPs being used in their classrooms. This approach allowed for a shared base of instructional knowledge on the part of all staff while also allowing teachers the opportunity to develop expertise in areas that were of specific interest to them. Classified staff were provided with the access to the same materials as certificated staff, were invited to the larger monthly meetings and were provided with follow up training by the classroom teacher that focused on the specific implementation of evidence based practices that supported their classroom instruction.

As individual teacher expertise began to grow, a coaching component was added to this model. When a teacher would develop an interest in an area that a colleague had expertise in or encountered a student or situation that would benefit from a another teacher’s area of expertise, release time would be provided for the two staff members to conduct observations of each other’s classrooms and to work together to incorporate the new evidence based practice into the classroom’s instructional model.

In addition to the internet modules, Google presentations and videos were created and presented via an online format. For example, staff studied the evidence based practice of video modeling this past year. The video modeling presentation was was made available for all staff to view and review as per their preference. The presentation  was easily modified to offer suggestions applicable to general education classroom instruction and to provide a guide to consider when creating video models. This presentation was supported with researched based articles for staff to read as well as steps to guide the process of creating a video model for students. The unit ended with a brief reflective assessment and submission of videos that were shared with all staff to use as fit their needs.

The outcome of implementing a blended learning model was a highly skilled and motivated staff who had confidence in their specific areas of expertise, foundational knowledge in over 30 evidence based instructional practices as well as in person and digital resources to access to supplement further learning. Teachers engaged in higher order thinking skills as they evaluated which evidence based practices their students would benefit from the most. They synthesized their knowledge to design instructional programs that incorporated these strategies into the curriculum while creating materials based on the practices they had learned. Additionally, staff began to create video models to support increased student learning.

The blended approach solved several of the logistical challenges of having staff spread across such a significant geographical area. It engaged staff as adult learners, provided flexibility for staff to engage in learning at their convenience while also capitalizing on their professional knowledge of their students’ needs and interests. This supported the implementation of instructional strategies to maximize student’s individual success. Added bonuses to using 2.0 tools and having materials available on the web were that parents and substitute teachers started to access the resources as well. This allowed for greater than expected fidelity of instruction when substitute teachers were in the classroom, particularly when staff was out for coaching. All in all, the implementation of the blended learning model to support professional development proved to be a resounding success with a positive impact on student learning.

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An Online/Blended Teaching Approach to Staff Meetings and Professional Development

teacher_cartoon-257x300After spending seventeen years of my career as a classroom teacher, four years ago, I was hired for my first administrative position. Nevertheless, I continue to find that at the core of my being, I am a teacher. Having had the chance to mentor both new and experienced teachers in my administrative role, I have become aware of the skills and insights that I have as a part of my repertoire and how to share these with other educators. I am also highly cognizant of the fact, that once out of the classroom we, as educators, must stay knowledgeable with current as well as innovative practices that have the potential to be “disruptive” to our profession. Disruptive is used here to reference the work of both Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn, both of the Christensen Institute, who have collaborated to explain how new technologies can enter a market such as education. Through success with a previously untapped base, “disruptive” technologies and practices can grow to introduce effective innovations in a market that previously may have been inaccessible.

Online and blended teaching models have been a “disruptive” force in education. These models have tapped into students who have experienced struggles with the more traditional brick and mortar school system and traditional lecture style approaches to education. Online programs tapped into the market of students requiring credit recovery to graduate from high school. Given the opportunity to learn at their own pace, at a time that worked for them and with access to a computer and the internet, online learning made a significant impact in assisting students to earn their high school diplomas. This same approach was used by students who were receiving home school instruction or who required accelerated course work.

The successes did not go unnoticed and educators began to incorporate online learning within the more traditional education structure. Thus the blended learning model was born. As I reflect on how I might incorporate a blended model of instruction into my own practice as an administrator in the field of education, I see the opportunity to use this pedagogical structure to enhance professional development opportunities for staff and model how to incorporate a blended approach to a previously more traditional classroom.

Let the days of boring staff meetings be gone. Let those of feelings of our time as educators being wasted disappear. Welcome, the blended model of teacher professional development and staff meetings. I believe face to face time with staff and as a group continue to be essential components of site based communication and identity, however, using a blended approach, similar to the rotation model of a blended learning environment, could allow staff to more effectively use their preparation and professional development time. Let’s give staff access to announcements via video (and let’s make those videos entertaining), engage in discussions through a Google+ Community and focus on personalized learning to enhance individual teaching practice via internet modules and readings. In-person meetings and professional development or guest speakers via Skype or Google Hangout can be enhanced through back-channeling via Twitter discussions or by using Today’s Meet to comment and ask questions. Staff can comment, ask and answer questions for one another and share resources without ever interrupting the flow of a presentation. The level of engagement increases dramatically when the learner has the opportunity to actively engage in a presentation. These approaches offer a more effective method than the previous, “Write your question down on a piece of paper so you don’t forget it and wait until the end of the presentation,” expectation.

In order to engage staff in a blended approach to staff meetings and professional development, it is essential that the staff know how to access and use each of the technologies that will be incorporated. This requires planning and training in addition to well prepared materials to present to staff. It was not uncommon in my teaching experience to hear from the principal during lunch on a staff meeting day that the agenda for the afternoon had not yet been set. This led to the perception that administration did not place a high value on the opportunity to meet with the staff which was often reinforced by overly general agendas with a lot of “discussion” topics being made available at the time of the meeting. By incorporating a blended approach to staff meetings and PD, administration has to engage in thoughtful planning. Creating a rotation to include activities such as meeting as a large group, taking on online courses, creating an innovative lesson to share in an online community or reading an article and discussing it in a community create opportunities for increased engagement and personally relevant PD.

The intention would be that by modeling the skills and strategies used in an effective blended model of staff development and communication, staff would feel positive about their higher level of engagement as well as feel increased respect for their personal expertise within the profession. This would allow for discussion on how students could share in the same experience. Using the tools of the blended model, part  of the PD would be to learn, discuss, create and share lessons and ideas for relevant, rigorous and engaging learning.

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The Common Core – A Challenge or an Opportunity?

When looking at the Common Core, I see more opportunity than I do challenges. I see the opportunity for teachers to engage more in the “art” of teaching. I see the opportunity for greater focus and financial support to integrate the 21st Century tools our students use in their personal lives. I see the opportunity to take all students to application and synthesis as part of their learning.   I see the opportunity for teachers to engage in the art of teaching. As a profession, we have spent significant time and resources on training our teachers in the science of teaching, direct interactive instruction and implementing researched based curriculum in a structured and consistent manner. The importance of this can not be understated as we consider Bloom’s taxonomy and providing our students with the foundational skills needed and acquired through gaining knowledge and developing skills to support comprehension. However, as we get into the higher levels of learning that support students as critical thinkers where they begin experimenting, comparing ideas, evaluating outcomes and imagining possibilities, we need to engage with them from the heart. Teaching and learning involve emotion. We can inspire a student. We can also bore a student. The Common Core with it’s focus on critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration create opportunities for teachers to engage the mind and help students understand the “why” of their learning and the “why” of what they are learning.   Part of the transition to the Common Core will be in changing the mind-set of educators on how they approach the presentation of lessons in the classroom. There will have to be a shift in professional development, the tools used to support the learning of both the teacher and the student and how we teach students to express their understanding. It will take a while to adjust from a long-held practice of filling in bubbles and circling the correct answer to supporting students in articulating how they have arrived at their conclusions, but this approach will ultimately engage the learner in much deeper learning.   Transitions can cause trepidation. Thirteen years after the No Child Left Behind Act, a policy that strongly encouraged a very regimented approach to teaching, our educators are being asked to make quick shift in their practice. It will take time to make the mental adjustment, to engage in professional development and reading that support our teachers’ expertise and to implement changes in the classroom that support the Common Core. Educators are by a nature a conscientious group of people. They want to do what is best for their students. They want to meet the expectations set forth by their profession. It can however feel challenging to have to sway with the winds of both the State and Federal legislature as politicians define the focus of instructional expectations and the funding that is allocated to support the changes of those expectations.   It is our responsibility as administrators to teach our teachers and our communities. It is our responsibility to support our educators in understanding the origin of and the “why” behind the Common Core. It is our responsibility to assist our teachers in understanding the caliber of input that was provided by our professional colleagues toward informing this educational policy.   In order to successfully make this shift with buy-in from the teachers who are charged with modifying their current practice, we need to provide them with the knowledge, tools, professional development and time to adapt their practice. This will be done through an allocation of resources that will allow for the opportunity to engage in study and professional collaboration combined with the sharing of ideas, successes and failures. A well-organized Professional Learning Community focused on the successful implementation of the Common Core can support this. As the teacher’s pedagogical approach shifts they will need access to 21st Century learning tools that will support their instruction in conjunction with on-going professional development on how to incorporate these into the classroom instructional model.   Ensuring and monitoring the success of Common Core implementation will be measured not only by the data collected from students’ Smarter Balance testing results, but also by how teachers’ instructional practices change, the tools they use, their knowledge base and comfort level with teaching to the higher level of learning that the Common Core has set forth as well as student work samples and projects. In order to evaluate on-going progress and success, site leadership should take time at the beginning of the year to collect baseline information on their staffs’ comfort level with the new standards, how confident they feel in the professional development they have been provided with, what tools and instructional strategies are currently being used in the classroom, the level of buy-in they have to the Common Core. After gathering this information, site staff and it’s instructional leadership team can decide on goals for the year and what type of professional development should be provided to support the goals for the site as a whole and for individual teachers looking to gain specific areas of expertise. The same survey given at the beginning of the year should be given to the staff again at the end of the year. Once the results are analyzed, they should be presented to the site’s instructional leadership team and then to the full staff. This process should be cyclical and can become a part of the planning done during the spring to plan for the following school year.   Are these challenges or opportunities? I understand the mind-set of viewing these as challenges, particularly in terms of funding a transition of this magnitude, but I do see great opportunity in the process of making this change. It appears that as educators, we may be participating in a revolution of our education system; a revolution that may have a similar impact on how we teach as the industrial revolution did. I suspect this period of history will one day be studied for the influence it is having on society in the same manner in which the impact of the industrial revolution is studied for its effect on our culture. This is an exciting time.