Category: professional learning (page 1 of 2)

Don’t Look Back

Doing a little scattershooting about what I believe will have to happen to get education to a better place…educationalchange

  1. Scrap the existing accountability system. Bankrupt the testing companies while you’re at it, right up to those AP and college entrance exams. Accountability if okay, especially if taxpayers are footing the bills, but tests were not invented to drive the bus. Create a new system based upon a variety of standards, not just bloated tests of obsolete or low-level performance. New criteria might include such things as randomized evaluations of the curriculum by student portfolio/performance assessment, student/teacher evaluations, community evaluations, or post-graduation student outcomes (jobs, trade school, college, etc.). Allow local districts/schools and communities to create their own systems.
  2. Scale the curricula back. Way back. As the standards exist today in our state, teachers hit the classroom running and keep running until they collapse from exhaustion at the end of testing season. Meanwhile, students have been exposed to far too many facts, figures, and formulas to explore in depth or practically apply, meaning long-term retention is highly unlikely. Focus on broader, disciplinary skills and give teachers and students more freedom to set the contexts of those skills based upon interests, current events, etc.
  3. Re-train our teachers, and re-design pre-service teacher programs. The role of the teacher as a brilliant dispenser of knowledge and wisdom, well-versed in everything from phonics to plate tectonics, needs to be laid to rest. Our kids have more knowledge in the devices in their pockets and purses than we could ever hope to achieve. Create a new generation of educators who set the stage for learning and doing and make brilliant adjustments, redirections, and clarifications on demand.
  4. Rethink the fundamentals. Grade levels were designed to ensure every student followed the same curriculum at the same age and at the same pace, as we prepared robots for factory work. Does anyone who has ever studied human development think all kids develop cognitively or emotionally at the same time and pace? While we’re shaking it up, why have separate subjects and class periods at all? If school learning is ever going to reflect real, human learning, it will have to be much more integrated and messy. And let’s abandon those letter and number grades, which are as useful for learning as gasoline is for putting out fires.
  5. Ensure all students have access to specific, fundamental technology resources, especially high-bandwidth internet. The form can vary, but students without fast speeds and capable devices are at a disadvantage, as more learning moves online, and video and video streaming resolution continues to increase. A student’s access to the knowledge and resources available online should not be determined by their zip code.

I really am confident that the future of education will be exciting and drastically different than it is now–it drives me to get to work every day. Maybe I am overly optimistic, but I anticipate a period of rapid change, probably within the next decade, as policy makers and educators finally recognize the futility of doing the same thing, just a little bit more intently, and expecting better results.

There are more I’m sorting out, but I wanted to get these out and perhaps stimulate some responses/discussion. What other catalyst events/changes must we see to get where we want to go?

Seinfeld PD

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Image source: https://flic.kr/p/9C1u41

For more than a decade, I have been wearing myself out trying to plan the perfect PD session. I have taught on everything from how to save a file to how to build a robot and everything in between. I have done short, 15-minute mini lessons, all-day workshops, multi-day workshops, online courses, webinars, lunch and learns, etc. Something I have to admit, if I am honest, is  that probably only a small percentage of trailblazer attendees left my training and actually permanently changed their teaching practices. It doesn’t matter the enjoyment/engagement level or how amazing my presentation was, That is a cold reality. My success level is probably good for a power-hitting 3rd baseman, but not what I want as an advocate for innovative, effective classroom practices.

Something I have to admit, if I am honest, is  that probably only a small percentage of trailblazer attendees left my training and actually permanently changed their teaching practices.

An epiphany hit me this morning just as my 2nd cup of coffee kicked in. These aren’t the results I want, but I keep sticking with generally the same strategies (Something I constantly rail on with regard to our education system as a whole <slapping my forehead>.). What if I threw away the plans, the scripts? What if I “designed” professional learning about…nothing?  I shared the idea with my Assistant Superintendent, Bill Lewis, who like it and said it sounded like a Seinfeld PD plan. As a huge fan, I immediately stole the name.

What if I threw away the plans, the scripts? What if I “designed” professional learning about…nothing?

Here’s how it works. The goal is for PD to fit the curriculum and the classrooms’ needs as much as possible. So, instead of planning a session on Google Apps or digital storytelling, I will be implementing 3-hour sessions where teachers come with curricula in hand, and we collaboratively find ways that our available technology resources could be used to make the learning more powerful. This is what many of us have done for years on campuses we served–I just want to try it as THE district model for technology PD. There will be elementary and secondary sessions, and maybe sessions for specific subjects/disciplines. If someone suggests a tool for someone else, and we need to do a mini lesson or explore how it works, we will do so. The teachers, however, will drive the tech and the PD. Hopefully, everyone who attends will leave with a new skill or 2, sure, but, more importantly, with actual plans to put the tools to work as best fits their classes. My role will become that of facilitator (Ironically, a role I have advocated that teachers should take for years.). To be honest, sessions could be run and documented (for our district’s accountability purposes) by techno-savvy teachers. I also want to have fun with the setting. Meet at a local coffee shop? Why not?

This is a little bit similar to the so-called “un-conference” approach of events like EdCamp, but it differs in that the learning is even more individualized. It is immediately, directly applied to the teachers’ goals and needs.

Is it too open-ended? Too much teacher control and ownership? Will it even appeal to educators used to having these things planned out for them? I can’t say, at least not yet. I think it will be a success, though, because this will be about ownership over the learning, professional collaboration, and relevance. There are other considerations, such as having a variety of resources ready and waiting, just in case an iPad or a MakeyMakey becomes the tool of learning of the moment. Regardless of these questions, I like change, and I like risk, so I am going to give it a go. I will share my observations and assessments and teachers’ reactions as it moves forward.

Ready for Some Solid Food?

Image source: https://flic.kr/p/6Abr9K

Image source: https://flic.kr/p/6Abr9K

I had some great conversations in the past couple of weeks with some folks that I really respect as educators. We talked about an array of topics that gave me lots of opportunities to stretch the mind, but one that struck a particular chord with me involves the subject matter and objectives that our professional development programs aim for. Stated more directly, do we fill our conferences and school/district training with enough really powerful, high-level thinking about pedagogy and how our kids learn? Or, do will continue to churn out top 10 lists of Web 2.0 or rapid-fire run-downs of the latest apps for learning fractions?

As I reviewed proposals for my own district conference and for others I am responsible for, I saw plenty of both. There are some very insightful educators sharing some really challenging concepts and powerful strategies. There are also lots of fast, fun proposals from which to choose that are, honestly, a lot less cognitively taxing. I tend to lean heavily toward the former, as I believe we educators need to experience things that make their brains sweat (That may be an event theme in the very near future!).

However, conference planner me knows very well that is not what sells the best. No, the lists of websites, the parade of new gadgets, the endless array of apps win every time. At my own conference last week, one such session required around 20 extra chairs to be brought in. Meanwhile, a workshop on metacognition had 5 folks that I had trapped and forced to attend. Clearly, they are what the people want, and they are not without value.

So the discussion revolved around just whether or not this really was the worrisome thing I saw it as, or was it enough that they were there, learning something. Also, if it is terrible (which has not been fully established), how do you attract them to the more challenging, brain-stretching sessions? Should we never schedule the sessions that seem more fluffy, and simply force-feed the sessions on cognitive theory and connectivism to the masses in attendance (I actually spoke to a friend in a district-that-shall-not-be-named last week where they just did this very thing.). Maybe we bribe them with double door prize tickets if they attend the less sexy sessions!

Original image source: https://flic.kr/p/97yJpb

Original image source: https://flic.kr/p/97yJpb

Actually, I think the most important factor has nothing to do with the conference sessions. It happens well in advance of the PD offerings. It is the professional climate in which the teachers work. If our leaders value new ideas and encourage teachers to learn, share, and take risks, we will probably see more butts in the metacognition seats, so to speak. If we celebrate the efforts teachers make to be on the cutting edge of practice and technologies and research half as much as we celebrate high bench mark test scores, we’ll have created a climate that encourages teachers to push themselves. If, on the other hand, we value compliance, lock-step adherence to a rigid curriculum, test scores above all else, and PD attendance with the primary goal of earning a comp day, then we get standing room only in the sessions on funniest cat videos of all time.

The Online PD Experiment

This morning, I was updating some district professional development data, including assessing online coursework and giving teachers the credits they had earned. I started offering a few online technology courses to our teachers in November of 2013. To this point, we have offered courses in Google Apps for Education, iMovie, digital storytelling, and flipped classrooms. Our teachers are required to complete at least 6 hours of instructional technology focused PD yearly. We offer a variety of forms, including traditional, in-person sessions after school and during the summer, a summer technology conference, etc. Since the beginning, I have been admittedly skeptical about online professional development, at least in the voluntary context present here. I am all too familiar with studies of online learning and low completion rates, and I know from my own online studies how busy we can get, and how deadlines simply pass by our good intentions. I want our teachers to have opportunities to learn in ways that meet their needs, however, so I created the courses using Moodle, recruited instructors, and put them into the district PD catalog. I decided to make the typical course last roughly 6 weeks, although a few have been shorter due to school scheduling constraints.  After a little more than a year, I did a little data gathering, and I was actually pleasantly surprised at the results.

  • online completionNumber of courses created: 4

  • Total course sessions: 13

  • Total teacher participants: 215

  • Number of participants completing courses: 98

  • Percent completion: 45.6%

 

Now, there is a sneaky little trend that can’t be ignored buried in those figures. January completion rates are, well, a wee bit higher:

online course januaryI am sure, of course, that is simply due to the fact that the winter break has teachers energized and ready to learn, and it has nothing to do with the fact that teachers who have completed their training receive a February comp day. After all, the experts say the best motivation is purely intrinsic, right? 🙂

There is a plethora of studies of completion rates of online courses, and they are pretty pretty dismal as a rule. However, I’m coming around on this type of PD, and I will be putting together more courses. Here are some observations that I think will help us be successful in our online PD program moving forward:

  • Do what it takes to get participants participating in the first week. Set a “post or be dropped” deadline and enforce it. Most folks who don’t get involved right away never do at all.

  • Expect regular (at least weekly) communication on the part of the instructor. This can be as simple as a group email or post to the course forum. Just a word of encouragement or a helpful tip reminds folks to get going. I’m not completely sold on purchasing subscriptions to online PD, by the way, because I haven’t seen the level of instructor participation I think is critical.

  • Respond to participants’ posts and submissions. I freely admit that I am not as good about this as I should be, but I know from my own experiences how reassuring it is to read something from my instructor about my own posts.

  • Encourage participants to interact. I say encourage instead of require, because I think it is even more powerful when we get a comment or question from someone who is not being coerced into doing so.

Seguin ISD Summer Tech Conference

Just wanted to share the promotional video for this year’s event. This year’s conference is titled “Century 21.14: Tomorrow is Here,” and will be held at Seguin High School on June 10th. Registration is available through Eduphoria. We’ve got some serious talent from around the state and within the district coming to share powerful strategies and tools to help you use technology to make teaching and learning better than ever. A full schedule will be available next week. Hope to see you there, SISD staff!

What’s Taking Us So Long?

The pace of educational change is frustrating.

The pace of educational change is frustrating.

Dean Shareski, an educator friend whose ideas I highly respect, recently shared a post  on his blog entitled “Why Teachers Aren’t Making ‘The Shifts'”. His post was in response to an earlier post by Will Richardson, one of my earliest ed-tech influences, entitled “My Summer of Confusion“. The two posts both address the issue of a lack of change in most classrooms, despite increasing resources and evidence supporting such changes. Why do so many teachers attend conferences, read articles, or hear in the teachers lounge about amazing, innovative practices, yet fail to implement any significant changes in their own practices? Here are a causes of this inertia that I took from each blog post.

Will:

  • Many teachers and administrators lack a clear vision of what teaching and learning, particularly with technology, should be.
  • Educators lack the technology experiences needed to take those tools and skills and put them to work.
  • Educators don’t do enough to stay abreast of the “latest research, technologies, and news that impact learning.”
  • Resistance to change as a by-product of defending the old system against corporate reform efforts–a bunker mentality.

Dean:

  • Lack of autonomy.
  • Demands on educators’ time are just too great.
  • Inadequate or misguided teacher training–teachers are told by “experts” who have done the legwork what to teach and how. They need time to work through what that means in their own classes.
  • Some (a small percentage) teachers are just more prone to change like this than others, for a variety of reasons.

So much to discuss there, but I’ll just touch on a couple and add a little to the discussion. The vision, experiences, and research are intertwined. As Dean touched on so well, they are also time-consuming. I am fortunate to have a job that encourages me to do all of these things. I do a great deal of the vision building on my own time, reading blogs, tech sites, magazines, and engaging in professional conversations outside of school hours. But I don’t sleep enough, either, so it’s probably taking years off of my life. Seriously, Not everyone can or wants to devote significant portions of their own time to grow professionally. Families, recreation, and other demands do matter greatly. I believe, therefore, it is critical to build in much more time for professional learning, planning, collaboration, and vision building during the school day. The US falls behind most other high-performing countries in the amount of time devoted to growing its teaching pros. In the highly respected educational system in Finland, teachers devote less than 600 hours per year to actual teaching, versus 1,600 for US teachers. Much more time is devoted to research, professional collaboration, mentoring, etc. Singapore provides 100 hours  of PD each year, plus 20 hours/week for co-planning, observing other teachers teaching, etc. Here in the US, we talk about longer school days and years and rarely discuss the role of time for learning and collaboration as a route to improvement.

Inquiry learning works for adults, too!

Inquiry learning works for adults, too!

Dean’s reflections on the typical nature and quality of his professional development sessions are important. Think about what we know about the ways kids (people) learn best: inquiry, problem solving, and discovery. This is precisely the opposite of most technology PD, at least most that I’ve delivered over the last 11 years. I, the expert, have done my extensive legwork, developed my vision, and attempted to impart it to the willing masses. Interestingly, however, some of my favorite professional development sessions have been the few where I’ve asked questions, guided teachers to the resources and tools they needed to answer the questions in their own way, then sat back and watched professionals get after it. I have, admittedly, not conducted research into how the “stickiness” of these sessions compared to more traditional ones. I did read the very positive post-session surveys, however, and I suspect that the sessions probably produced greater levels of change than my standard fare.

I would add but one thing to Dean’s and Will’s fantastic assessments: administrator influence. Administrators have an enormously powerful influence over how teachers do what they do. First of all, administrators in schools where teachers are making exciting changes encourage teachers to take well-educated risks. If you’ve researched it, can reasonably demonstrate that it should have positive effects, then do it. It doesn’t matter that it hasn’t been done in their schools before–change and risk are welcome (and even exciting). Administrators who feel the need to have their hands in every move made by their employees or to enforce a one-size-fits all, misguided philosophy of teaching and learning, will likely never see innovation in their classrooms. Additionally, and I’ve said it before, administrators who are using technologies in powerful ways in their own lives and work will encourage others to do so. Administrators I have seen who fit this description show up with the new Galaxy or iPhone the day after release, are rarely seen without a smartphone or iPad in hand, tend to mix it up with how they share information (YouTube channels/videos, streaming, Prezi instead of a PowerPoint, shared Google Docs, etc.), and they actually attend technology-focused professional development sessions.

This is a vital discussion. Clearly, there is a disconnect between what we know is possible and what we know is happening, and it shows glacially-slow signs of changing. I don’t purport to have the answers down, just a few insights from a long time in the business of trying to foster change. What are your thoughts? What IS taking us so long? What do we need to do differently, or possibly throw out entirely?

Image credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/52748818@N07/4995276801;
http://www.flickr.com/photos/andercismo/2349098787

1:1, Certainly

We are exploring some options for our district’s future student technologies right now. We have a significant need to increase accessibility for our students, but I’m not sure what that means, exactly. Does it involve a 1:1 program? Perhaps buying large numbers of wireless laptop/tablets and carts? Labs? iPads? Chromebooks? Laptops? Oh, my! Lots of questions in my mind right now, but I have come to a few certainties at this point, particularly after looking at quite a bit of the research on 1:1 programs. I’ve also received some great insight from colleagues trying different 1:1 programs around the state. In no particular order, my conclusions thus far:

  • Students are more than ready.Certainly, not every child is a budding, young Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. However, all students are quite ready to research, create, communicate, etc. using technology (and most are doing it without our assistance or blessing, anyway.)

    Why are some 1:1 programs more successful than others?y).

  • Teachers are, for the most part, not. Currently, most of the teachers I know either lack the technology know-how and experience, or they utilize a teacher-centered style that does not take full advantage of the capabilities of today’s tech tools. This isn’t an indictment–they are doing great things with the tools they have at their disposal. We’re just talking about a whole new set of tools, which leads to the next point…
  • Professional development is vital, essential, critical, mandatory, and supremely important. Teachers and administrators need to be trained so that they can, for starters:
    • Recognize opportunities to use technology to transform learning.
    • Identify available resources.
    • Understand methods of assessment of technology-rich products and activities.
    • Teach in a less teacher-centered, more problem- or student-centered manner.
  • Don’t rush the process. Districts who hastily rollout technologies without sufficient planning and training are committing themselves to struggling mightily for the foreseeable future and not likely to get much out of the resources. A small-scale pilot, heavy on the PD, can help head off problems before they are unmanageable.
  • Have positive, yet realistic, expectations. Technology offers students many incredible ways to improve their learning. It’s not a panacea, however, and it is not an overnight solution to what ails education. Test scores are unlikely to be directly influenced (Sorry, but read some of the research–it’s hit-and-miss here, at best.), but school climate is likely to improve, and students will have invaluable opportunities to learn and to gain needed technology related skills. The SAMR model is a great thing to keep in mind, too. It will take a few years to see the real impact happen (and only IF the necessary training and expectations have been provided). It takes real commitment to start seeing the maximum potential reached.
  • Students first. Every school’s population is unique, and so it stands to reason that there is no universal solution. It is imperative to resist keeping up with the Joneses’ shiny, new devices and instead looking for what will most benefit the kids we serve, based upon things like prior experiences, curriculum, academic needs, community expectations, etc. As I’ve said before, there is no perfect technology tool. If there was, we’d all have it, obviously.

We’re only beginning to embark upon this effort, so it remains to be seen how this will take shape here. I’m very encouraged at the conversations happening, though, even if they are in the very embryonic stages–at least conversations are happening. As anyone in a school knows, of course, there are many obstacles to an implementation such as this (e.g. infrastructure, money, staffing, money…did I mention money?), but it has to begin as a concept at some point. If it grows to more than that, I’ll do my best to share the process. Meanwhile, what are your thoughts/experiences here? Any other absolutes or experiences you might be able to pass along?

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vblibrary/8465390293

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