Category: professional learning (page 1 of 3)

Observations From a (Social) Distance

Child working on computer.

Source: https://images.app.goo.gl/oQKmWhhQ2WG8mx957

Well, hasn’t this been an interesting couple of months? Little did we know when we left for spring break that we would not be returning to our campuses and classrooms for the remainder of the year! It has certainly been a strange, bewildering time. While we miss our kids, colleagues, our schools, and our normal routines, there have been some remarkable changes happening at a breakneck pace, and some real positives may come out of this when we are all back together again. Here are a few of my own, personal thoughts and observations:

  1. Teachers and administrators and support personnel have been amazingly resilient and adaptable. The immediacy of all of this has forced change on the fly and a great deal of professional learning to happen all at once. This has been a great opportunity for the world to see the dedication, talent, creativity, and hard work of educators everywhere. Undeniably, there have been bumps and a learning curve, but obstacles continue to fall. In a time when stories in the press about schools are overwhelmingly negative, this has been like a B-12 shot for education public relations and goodwill.
  2. Digital divide by income level

    Source: https://images.app.goo.gl/rd86LsbGfH1zfDKw5

    The digital divide continues to be a real barrier for our students. We now have a much larger body of evidence that many of our kids don’t have the kinds of technologies and connectivity to make learning outside of the classroom successful or even feasible. Additionally, many parents don’t have the technology knowledge or skills to adequately support their children in their online learning. Schools are being forced to address these inequities, which should be a good thing in the long run. Some are buying student devices to implement 1:1 programs. Others, like Seguin, are purchasing wireless hotspots or are even going so far as to install community wireless towers.  Along with the devices and infrastructure, schools will need to find ways to ensure students and their families have the necessary experiences during more normal times to succeed in times of crisis.

  3. For a variety of reasons, some students are thriving in this new reality. Perhaps learning via short videos, websites, and student-selected online tools provides better opportunities for on-time reteaching. Maybe it gives them multiple styles of presentation of information, allowing them to find what best speaks to them. I think some students can better focus on learning without the distractions of the complexities of the classroom social structures. It doesn’t matter how fluently they read out loud in front of their classmates, what they wear to school, or how disruptive the classmate next to them is. They can do the essential work without the negative, extra “stuff” that goes along with being a kid. For my own son, who generally finds football the only exciting part of the school day, it has been a chance to get the “boring” stuff out of the way of the things he’d rather be doing. He misses his friends, but he manages to keep connected via a variety of online games and networks.
  4. Sad teen

    Source: https://images.app.goo.gl/mjp1vCAccF3UQYxh7

    Some students are struggling mentally and emotionally during this time of physical isolation. Schools provide more than just access to knowledge and skills. They are places where kids can connect positively to other people. They can laugh, share secrets, complain, unload their painful thoughts, get support. Sadly, teachers are often the only positive, supportive, loving adults some of our students encounter on a day-to-day basis. School administrators and counselors provide invaluable support to kids with a range of mental and emotional issues. School lunches are the only reliable meals for many students. These kids, even the ones who are often the most challenging, miss the consistency and positivity that schools provide. The social distancing situation we find ourselves in has to force schools to think about ways to creatively and effectively take care of these kids.

  5. Inexperience or misguided priorities have been an issue for some schools or districts. As I have followed the news and the Twitter-sphere, I have seen some likely well-intended but hopelessly off-base policies and practices being advocated or implemented. For instance, some schools have sent full-day, detailed schedules for students to follow while learning at home. Such schedules reflect a complete disregard for the home life realities of students and parents, many of whom are either at work or working from home. Other schools have issued edicts that students continue to wear school uniforms, or that teachers wear “professional dress” while working from home. While certainly sensible during virtual meetings by video, it is dubious that a teacher is less effective in a t-shirt and pajama pants while grading essays at the breakfast room table. Still other schools have reminded staff that lunch breaks should be limited to a half hour. These kinds of administrative decisions are likely rooted in experiences limited only to normal, physical school, and we will, hopefully, learn better how to structure the schedules and environment of online learning, as we have no guarantees that we won’t be returning here next year or in the future.
  6. Now that we are mastering the basics, the next step is empowering online learning. The past few weeks have required on the fly learning and transitioning curricula into the online learning environment. Now, we need to work on the work. How can we move beyond viewing a video and completing an electronic worksheet? How do we make learning more relevant and meaningful and engaging? Can we use this opportunity to empower students to construct their own knowledge, with teachers serving to prompt and guide? I think there is a hesitancy among some educators thus far to give students more open-ended, student-driven tasks online. However, if the learning activities online would not have been good enough for the physical classroom, should they be acceptable in the virtual setting? The reality is, students have access to more diverse, powerful tools for learning and for creating, collaborating, and sharing online than in a typical classroom. We need to structure our online courses to take advantage of these.
  7. Professional development may be changed forever. This is not to say the face-to-face workshop or conference will become a thing of the past. However, more teachers are taking part in PD through book studies or Zoom or Google Meet. Having offered these types of professional learning for years, I know I have seen countless more participants joining in now. Will this be a positive experience that affects how they choose the grow as educators in the future? I think it is a real possibility, so long as they find it worthwhile in the present. A related benefit is that a lot of educators have become much more familiar and proficient with the use of technology tools that they might not take the time to learn in normal circustances..
  8. Teacher hugging student

    Source: https://images.app.goo.gl/QgqmiuUb1vQzr8Xd6

    The heart of the educator is all about the kids. Given an unprecedented time of separation from their students, teachers have shown time and again how their love for their students is at the heart of all the work they do. Teachers genuinely miss their students (and vice versa). I have read countless stories of teachers going out of their way to express how much they miss their students. Teachers in my own neighborhood and many others put together parades, honking, waving, shouting support. They have hand written personal letters to students. Others have read bedtime stories to their students at night. They have organized Zoom meetings just to catch up on the latest news from their students. They have worked to put together virtual proms and graduations. It has been a remarkable and touching display of the deep affection of educators for their students, and that is truly encouraging to me in such difficult and challenging times.

Something else just occurred to me. There will continue to be successes and stumbles in our new, virtual existence. We will learn from this in the most effective way there is, through real-life experience. I hope that may be the biggest takeaway for educators. Just like their teachers, students benefit from authentic learning experiences. It makes learning relevant to their real lives and makes it durable. After we return to the classroom, perhaps we can work harder to create these kinds of experiences.

Best wishes for success and continued good health all of my education peers.

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

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