Thursday, April 16, 2015

How Will You #MakeSchoolDifferent

Earlier this week Scott McLeod pushed our thinking with a post titled We Have to Stop Pretending…..#MakeSchoolDifferent.  Please be sure to check out his post and the many thought-provoking comments.  My colleague and friend Jackie Gerstein tagged me so here are my additions:

When it comes to education, we have to stop pretending…

  • that just because kids are engaged they are always learning
  • that technology is a silver bullet that will transform education
  • that the only leaders in a school or district have a specific title
  • that the best schools are so because they work well for the adults
  • that instruction has to be delivered in a uniform fashion.

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So what do you feel needs to change in education in order to make school different?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

To Disconnect or Not

I just returned from a much needed eight day Disney World vacation with my wife and two kids.  It truly was a magical time where we spent literally twelve or more straight hours together each day laughing, enjoying rides, and engaging in conversation on hundreds of topics.  As the vacation leader I made sure the alarm went off at 5:40 AM each morning so we could get to each of the four parks early to avoid the lines and heat. Early on I took some heat of my own for this from my wife, but boy did it pay off.  Each day we rode the most popular rides numerous times by 11:00 AM and then got to relax by the pool, stay in the park to enjoy more rides, or even take family naps. My wife eventually complimented me on ensuring that the kids had the best experience possible. This vacation was like no other as each of us was totally exhausted at the end of every day, but we happily pressed on as Disney really does have such a magical appeal.  

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Prior to leaving for Disney we decided as a family not to bring any computing or tablet devices.  I tried to talk my wife into letting me bring the Chromebook solely for the purpose of enriching our Disney experience, but once I got "the look" I decided it was in my best interests to leave it at home.  We did take our smartphones and allowed our kids to each pack their iPod touches.  From a parent's point of view technology really did enhance our vacation experience. Disney has an incredible app that allows you to check the wait times for rides in real time as well as access/change FastPasses and dining reservations.  There were also detailed maps and descriptions of all rides and entertainment experiences that allowed us to customize each day based on what our kids wanted to do.  The wait time feature alone allowed us to get on more rides during the most popular time to visit Disney World.  Each park was jam packed every day, but our technology helped us make the best of it.

Now some of the ride lines were long (45 min or more) especially in the afternoons.  We tried to avoid these, but in some cases with the most popular rides we couldn't.  This was torture for an eight and nine year old so as parents this is when our kids had access to their iPod Touches. The time then flew by as our kids collaborated on Minecraft while showing us their creations. By the way, all Disney World parks have free WiFi.  At other times our kids asked for their devices to take pictures, especially at Animal Kingdom, and create iMovie's of their magical experiences during the vacation.  Technology used wisely and with purpose in my opinion.

Then there was me. Just like my kids there were times where access to my technology enhanced my vacation experience.  I did check Twitter each day and tweeted a few times, especially when waiting in long lines.  It is cool in my opinion to make the best use of even vacation time to learn a little.  Twitter has long been my number one tool for professional learning as the main tool to form my Personal Learning Network (PLN).  I was also able to keep my email in check during some downtime.  For the most part though my phone was used to take pictures on Instagram and cross post to Facebook.  This is the point of my post.  I choose not to ever disconnect.  With the evolution in technology balance becomes key.  I learned long ago to never let technology interfere with family time.  If there is a need or desire to go cold turkey and disconnect for a period of time then that tells me balance has not be attained yet. 

For me technology is a huge part of both my personal and professional life, which is why I embrace it.  It is important for everyone to find balance as technology will become even more embedded in our lives in the the coming years. If you find balance when it comes to technology in your life then you will not have to make a decision as to whether or not you need to disconnected.....unless you want to.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Needed Revolution

I routinely write and speak about the changes leaders need to address in order to create schools that work for kids.  The most important job of a school leader is to remove the barriers that teachers encounter so that they can be the catalysts for change.  After all, it is our teachers that work with, and are the most connected to students, on a day-to-day basis.  This places them in the most important role to usher in and sustain meaningful change in the classroom that will ultimately shape school culture for the better.  With or without leadership support, teachers need to be open and willing to change as schools, for the most part, continue to prepare students for a world that no longer exists. To overcome this unfortunate reality a revolution is needed.

Award-winning teacher Josh Stumpenhorst has created a much-needed resource to guide teachers through this process with the publication of The New Teacher Revolution. Josh articulates how teachers have to be ready and willing to change the way they think about teaching to be able to effectively work with this new generation of learners. Education needs a revolution of ideas, pedagogy, and the very way in which we talk about teaching and learning. The status quo has largely been upheld and the system is rarely challenged or pushed back upon. Josh emphasizes that teachers need to take control of their profession and look for ways in which they can encourage and foster change.  Josh’s book outlines and discusses five key areas that teacher’s should focus their energy on if they want to see change and start this revolution.

  • Classroom Management - Simply put, teachers cannot force a child to do anything they do not want to do. They must find ways to use relationships and empowerment rather than fear and punishments as a way to effectively work with kids.
  • Motivation – Teachers need to move past the notion that kids will do anything for a Jolly Rancher or extra credit points. Rather there is a need to embrace the power of choice and autonomy to motivate and empower students. A renewed family dynamic is needed.  It is no longer acceptable to interact with parents simply on conference and open house nights. Teachers must reach out and engage parents and utilize them as key players in their child’s education.
  • Technology as a Lynchpin – In the age of education technology, teachers have to be savvy in their use but also wary in their adoption. Moving past the notion of shiny and new, it is crucial teachers utilize technology to engage and amplify learning for their students beyond the superficial.
  • Distractions – Many a teacher has played buzzword bingo during a conference or staff meeting. How can we recognize which bandwagons to jump on or which fads will last? There are also inherent issues with education traditions.  As in any industry, traditions and legacies exist largely to continue and perpetuate the status quo. In education we have grades, homework, testing, competition and many other practices that we do because “that is what we have always done.” Rather than sticking to what is easiest for the adults, we need to push back, question, and change to meet the needs of our current students.
  • Evolving Practice – For most teachers there is an outlined path to becoming a “better” teacher. It often involves advanced degrees, certifications and evaluations. Yet, most of these fall short of actually improving teaching practice. Teachers need to be seeking alternative ways in which to continue to evolve as educators to stay relevant for the sake of their students.

To embark on a journey of revolution can be a daunting task. Keep in mind there are always those ahead of you on this journey that can advise and guide you. However, it is critical to keep in mind those behind you on this journey as well. It is your obligation to reach out and help bring them along and mentor them as well. The book by Josh Stumpenhorst will not only inspire teachers to become a part of this revolution, but also provide them with the practical strategies to take action and drive change.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Inspired Learning to Get Results Now at #ModelSchools

Rigorous and Relevant Adult Learning Fuels Rigorous and Relevant Schools

Solving ill-structured problems. Collaborating with peers. Integrating concepts across disciplines. Adapting to unpredictable scenarios. These experiences are hallmarks of what Willard R. Daggett calls “Quadrant D” learning – learning experiences that are both rigorous and relevant. Quadrant D tasks push students to their intellectual edges while engaging them in authentic and meaningful work.
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Most teachers and education leaders today agree that our schools need a nudge in the direction of rigor and relevance. However, even as they talk about the need for a shift in teaching and learning, educational conferences often model a very familiar learning experience—what Daggett refers to as “Quadrant A” (or what many teachers call less kindly: “sit n’ git”). It can be easy to leave a conference with a tote bag full of materials and new jargon, but very little else.

This year’s Model Schools Conference is going to be worlds apart from the traditional education conference. The organizers understand that in order to support students in engaging and challenging learning experiences, teachers and leaders need to be engaged and challenged. Rather than just listening to people talk about Quadrant D, participants will have the opportunity to engage in a range of Quadrant D learning experiences from the student perspective. Quadrant D opportunities at the Model Schools Conference include:

  • A focus on “makerspaces,” including a real makerspace provided as part of a conference partnership with Table Top Inventions. Makerspaces—collaborative, creative spaces chock full of tools and materials for informal creation, invention, and learning—are becoming increasingly popular at forward-thinking schools and libraries. Students are using the Model Schools Conference Makerspace as its venue to engage in a shared design challenge, working together to invent solutions to complex tasks. Participants will also have the opportunity to attend a variety of makerspace-focused sessions, and learn from colleagues at schools that have successfully implemented makerspaces on their campuses, including Clark Burnett, a 4th grade teacher from Lang Ranch Elementary School in Thousand Oaks, CA.
  • An opportunity for all participants to share, collaborate, teach, and learn in unpredictable ways through the DIY Design-Your-Own-Session strand of the program. Inspired by the popular EdCamp movement, and facilitated by Jimmy Casas, Principal of Bettendorf High School in Iowa and Jim Warford, of the International Center for Leadership in Education, this strand makes it possible for any participant to take the stage and present on an education-related passion.
  • Proven effective for the past three years, these sessions provide teachers and instructional leaders with two options for immersing themselves into practical strategies ready to be implemented including:
  • Engaging in simulated classrooms that allow conference participants to experience Quadrant D learning. Instead of just hearing about Quadrant D work, teachers and leaders will be able to see, hear, feel, and learn from real Quadrant D activities and lessons.
  • Realizing that decision-making goes way beyond just giving a “yes” or “no” answer; for each decision made, factors must be weighed and looked at from every angle and a game plan for dealing with pushback must be devised. Ideal for both current and aspiring leaders, this high-energy, interactive session will challenge and inspire you with thought-provoking, real-life leadership dilemmas and real-time feedback and discussion among peers.
This type of professional learning—immersive, creative, engaging, and challenging—is focused more on transformation than information. Providing teachers and leaders with Quadrant D experiences for their own learning is one of the most critical ways to shift the learning we ultimately provide to students. I’m excited to see the paradigm of professional conferences changing, and look forward to more rigorous and relevant learning for all members of our school communities. Register now to attend this years Model Schools Conference.

P.S. I will be there as well leading sessions on digital leadership and learning. Hope to see you there!