#Truthbomb

Today I came across a blog post by Larry Cuban which deeply resonated with me. During my doctoral studies, I read several of his books and studies. You will find references to him peppered throughout my dissertation. And, I had a total #fangirl moment when he came to speak at Residency in summer 2017, and I was lucky (LUCKY!!!) to be able to sit down in a small group with peers from my cohort to discuss issues in education. His words of wisdom stem from his many years as a classroom teacher, administrator, researcher, and professor…and I hung onto every.single.word.

Yup. Totally #fangirling.

His latest blog post “One Way or Two-Way Traffic? The Policy to Practice Street” included a phrase that all stakeholders (e.g., policymakers, administrators, teachers) would be wise to remember:

Teachers are not passive recipients of policy but active participants in the policy-to-practice journey

Larry Cuban (August 17, 2019)

The disconnect between research and practice is only surpassed by the HUGE gap between policy and practice. Having been in the classroom for almost a quarter of a century (gosh that makes me sound old), I have seen the trends come and go. In fact, I have been in education long enough for the pendulum to swing back (almost) to where it started when I first walked into my own classroom.

I mention this because change is hard. Very few people like change. It’s easier to maintain the status quo. But what is progress without change? One cannot better themself in anything if they are unwilling to let go of past thinking, habits, etc. Now, I have not agreed with many of the restrictive policies that have come down the pipeline from legislatures far removed from the classroom. But I’m not insubordinate. I’m not going to NOT implement the policy. But I will add my own twist to it. As Cuban wrote in his blog post, “teachers are not passive recipients of policy but active participants in the policy-to-practice journey” (Cuban, 2019).

Most teachers will take whatever comes down the pipeline and add their own twist. Now, I don’t think that their twist is done out of malice, but rather it’s because of past experience and knowledge. We are not tabula rosa. Even new teachers have an idea of who they are, what they believe in, and what works for them. This reminds me of another phrase (also used in my dissertation) from Tyack and Cuban (1995) and that is the notion of the grammar of schooling.

Anyone who has gone through the American educational system believes they know how schools should work because they experienced it first-hand. Some of us experienced 12 years of American schooling as a child. So, sure, why wouldn’t we know how schools should be run? We knew which teachers were good (or bad); we knew which strategies we liked better (and hated); we knew which classes we enjoyed more (and why). So, yes, we all have an idea of how education should “look”…

But the educational experience is different when viewed through the lens of a teacher. Teaching is hard. And anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean that one can’t absolutely love it. I love teaching. It’s my calling, and I cannot image a more rewarding profession to be in.

Back to my point…

Teachers are not passive recipients of anything. The policies that come down the pike may be mandated (or highly suggested), but how those policies relate to practice is a whole other story. Each school is different. Every classroom is unique. Teachers are individuals and so are their students. Cookie-cutter anything does not work. It just doesn’t.

So…my point is that anyone who is in a leadership role (whether an administrator, program specialist, professional developer), please keep in mind the end-user of your policy or strategy: teachers. We are not out to thwart your efforts at change (at least most of us aren’t), but we aren’t an empty vessel waiting to be filled either. Don’t view us as passive recipients (and don’t mistake our bored looks as being passive-anything). Don’t patronize us because you’re the one standing in the front of the room. Contrary to what the media might say, we do care what happens to our students. We want the best for them. As I’m sure you do, too. Just remember that we’re the ones who will be doing the enacting, the real application-to-practice…in conjunction with 30 to 210 unique little individuals. So don’t judge or chastise us if we don’t implement your program or strategy as it was envisioned in your head. We are not robots, so it should come as no surprise that we will apply what we’ve learned…the best way we know how…keeping in mind the diverse set of individuals who walk through our doors every day.

And that’s just my two cents.

It Takes a Village

I am on Round 2 of edits for my Chapter 5 (findings from my intervention). While waiting on feedback from my advisor, I decided to begin putting together the presentation for my dissertation defense. I like to use quotes in my presentations (even in my classroom with middle schoolers). When reflecting on books, videos, etc. which have resonated with me as an educator, I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros is a solid read. I find myself going back to his book time and time again for inspiration, so it comes as no surprise that I found a quote from his book that I plan to use in the opening for my dissertation defense.

“If we want people to take risks, they have to know we are there to catch them and support them” (Couros, 2015, p. 7)

This quote serves aptly sums up the reason for my intervention design: a peer-to-peer coaching model.

My intervention (conducted during the 2018-2019 school year) focused on peer-to-peer coaching supports in helping teachers to design lessons that reflected meaningful learning with technology for students (Jonassen, Marra, Howland, & Crismond, 2008). My passion for technology stems from my love of trying new things with my students. I am not afraid to jump in with both feet. However, I know that many of my colleagues are not at that point (yet or maybe ever, and that’s ok). While they understand the role that technology can plan in helping students to acquire important skills, the learning curve both on a personal and professional level can be quite daunting.

Cue the needs assessment I conducted in spring 2017. Although I knew that my colleagues relied on each other for support, what I didn’t realize was the extent to which they provided support for each other. When questioned about external versus internal support structures, all of the teachers interviewed mentioned that they relied on peers. Proximity (location) and real-time support were two crucial features that teachers mentioned which helped them feel more comfortable with trying to integrate technology into their instructional practices.

It wasn’t hard to make the jump from an informal network of support to a more formalized support structure (i.e., quarterly release days with afterschool follow-up sessions), which formed the basis of my 8-month research study.

The findings from my study showed that teachers appreciated having a group with whom they could rely on for help. Real-time support occurred in-between classes (during passing period), before school, at lunch, and even calls or texts during class time. Data from the focus group revealed that teachers were more open to trying something new because they (1) were given time to explore and plan during the release days, (2) knew they could receive real-time support, and (3) knew they weren’t alone.

Would the teachers at my school have tried to integrate technology to support student learning outcomes in their classes without my intervention? Sure. Many of us were already doing that. But by gathering an interdisciplinary group of teachers (i.e., English, history, mathematics, science, special and general education) and giving them time to learn about technology, they were exposed to different ways of using technology to support the acquisition of important skills such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. They took risks, built relationships, and forged bonds over shared successes and failures. Teachers were willing to go outside of their comfort zones…and I believe it’s because they knew that their village would be there every step of the way.

References

Couros, G. (2015). The innovator’s mindset. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting.

Jonassen, D., Howland, J., Marra, R. M., & Crismond, D. (2008). Meaningful learning with technology (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Let Creativity Shine

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In our study of life in Europe during the Middle Ages, we explored the power of the Catholic Church. Students were given the task to choose a generalization from the Universal Theme of Power. From there, they were expected to sketchnote their understanding of the power the Catholic Church exerted over people living in feudal society.

I’m highlighting two of the exceptional sketchnotes from my talented GATE/PreAP World History class. Giving students the option to demonstrate their learning in a creative fashion allows students to showcase their talents. Not all students can draw, but some can…and these two students are among them. I am not only impressed with their work, but I can see that they are able to demonstrate their learning about the influence the Catholic Church exerted during that era.

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I am firm believer in student choice in the areas of content, process, and product. Differentiation is the means to support the individual needs of my middle schoolers. Not all of my students take me up on my offer of free choice, but I think that’s the by-product of the focus on test scores to measure learning. Would a quiz on the power of the Catholic Church show how much these students could recall? Would it have been faster to administer a quiz instead of allot multiple days to complete the sketchnotes? Of course, but would a quiz have allowed students the opportunity to engage in a bit of creativity? Rhetorical I know.

As this semester comes to a close and I get ready to say goodbye to these kiddoes, I’m glad that I have their work to remember them by. They not only inspire me, but they remind me of why I chose this profession in the first place.

I am truly blessed.

 

It’s the Little Things

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This has been a great summer. I spent a good deal of it enjoying #lakelife in Michigan. Anyone who’s been in the classroom knows that teachers don’t turn their brains off when school is out. I mean, our brains might shut down from sheer exhaustion but once we’ve recovered, most of us are busy catching up on things that we couldn’t do during the school year. For me, it was reading and learning about new technology tools. I also spent quite a bit of time in my #happyplace, sketchnoting the book Innovator’s Mindset. I’m working on my last one which is perfect since school starts in two weeks.

What was reinforced to me from the book is that we need to get outside of our comfort zone if we want to grow…to be innovative. Comfort is nice. After all, who doesn’t love snuggling up by a fire with a good book on a cold day?

This summer, though, I was introduced to several really cool new technology tools…one of which is featured in the image above – Momentum. As a Mac user, I used to swear by Safari; but Chrome has continued to impress me with their features…and the Momentum extension takes the cake! Thank you Caitlin McLemore (@EdTechCaitlin)! Who doesn’t love opening up a new tab and being personally greeted? Momentum also allows users to type in one focus for the day – essentially a goal, a To Do. What I like is that it only allows users to type one thing at a time so there’s not the ability to create a monster list and then feel defeated at the end of the day when there are so many unchecked boxes. Am I the only one with this problem? With Momentum, I type in one focus, do it, check it off, and then I’m on to a new one. Being that it’s summer, sometimes my focus is a little less taxing (see the image at the top). However today, I’ve already completed one focus (Review RefWorks – I know, exciting, right? But I’m back in grad school…) and I’m now onto my second one (Finish blog post). I like that because I’m only allowed to set one focus at a time, it helps me to not multi-task.

The next awesome technology tool is Grammarly. I heard about this tool from Beth Holland (@brholland) when she presented to the #JHUEdD16 cohort of doctoral students at Johns Hopkins University. I’d like to think that I’m pretty good at spelling and grammar but who couldn’t use a little bit of extra help? Grammarly can be added as an extension for both Chrome and Safari. The benefit of adding Grammarly is that it will give options for grammar and spelling as one types online. For example, Grammarly has already given me three suggestions for revision as I type this blog – I accepted two of the three so far. But you can also download Grammarly as a desktop app which will come in handy as I write and write and write in the pursuit of my doctorate. I’ve already tinkered around with the desktop app using my Classroom Expectations for my students…and yes, there were corrections to be made. #sigh

It’s the little things that make the true difference and in the case of technology, these two tools have already made their impact…I mean, I’m already at #9 (see list below). When it came to these two tools: I skipped #1-8. I’m already there. I’m all in. I mean, seriously, how did I live without these two tools?

I know that several districts are already back in session. But I’ve checked off my focus in Momentum and now I’m off to have lunch with my girlfriends from work because we don’t have to be back until August 30th…Happy summer to all!

 

#InnovatorsMindset – Pedagogy

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Those thinking about or new to using technology in the classroom may be under the impression that technology is the magic potion that is going to radically change student engagement and achievement in the classroom. That is a huge misconception. Technology in and of itself is not the magic potion. If teachers simply hand students a mobile device without changing the task, it’s no better than using the more affordable alternatives – pencil and paper. In fact, the technology tool (in this case) becomes no better than a $1000 pencil.

What needs to change is the task itself. And this is where pedagogy comes in.

Dr. Ruben Puentedura is credited with defining how technology can transform learning tasks through the use of the SAMR model. John Spencer sums it up quite nicely:

Now let me be clear. There is nothing wrong with tasks at the Substitution level. After all, teachers and students need to start somewhere. But if that is all that is done…then the technology tool becomes an expensive alternative to paper and pencil. Those of us in the educational field know that money doesn’t grow on trees (remember when we used to have department budgets?) so the thought of spending vast amounts of money on technology only to have it being solely used at the lowest level of SAMR is a travesty.

But in order for teachers to understand the need to change the learning task, they first have to understand the pedagogy behind the meaningful integration of technology in the classroom. This is where the TPACK model comes in. Candace M does a great job summing up TPACK in 2 minutes.

So you see, teachers have (or should have) the content portion down pat. And some may even have differing levels of technology prowess. But without understanding the pedagogy, the learning tasks associated with technology will have little to no connection to authentic learning. And now we’re back to the $1000 electronic pencil analogy.

But I recently came across a term that is making me think more about how I structure learning tasks for my students and PD for my teachers: pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). In the book How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition, pedagogical content knowledge is defined as “knowledge about how to teach in particular disciplines” (p. 167). In other words, it’s not enough to know the content, teachers must educate themselves on how to teach that specific content. The discipline of history needs to be taught differently than the discipline of math. In fact, the National Research Council states “expert teachers are sensitive to those aspects of the discipline that are especially hard or easy for new students to master” (p. 166). Take the discipline of history, for example. History is more than a mere list of names, dates, and places. Shocking, I know. Good history teachers will help students develop skills to critically read and interpret primary and secondary sources, corroborate evidence, as well as understand the problematic nature of historical interpretation (National Research Council, 2000).

So on top of clearly articulating the pedagogy behind meaningful integration of technology to teachers who attend my PD sessions, I also need to keep in mind the reading, writing, and thinking skills of how students should approach the study of history in my own classroom as well as how teachers should approach lesson and task design in their history classrooms.

And since I’m a serial book reader, I get all excited when topics of my books come together. Having finished The Innovator’s Mindset earlier this month, I’m stoked that the book How People Learn is helping me to make more sense in how to design meaningful learning opportunities for students. The sketchnotes below is my reflection on Chapter 9 from the #InnovatorsMindset book.
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Resources:

#InnovatorsMindset Part 4 

“Nothing stops an organization faster than people who believe that the way you worked yesterday is the best way to work tomorrow.” — Jon Madonna

My quest to sketchnote each chapter as a reflection of Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset continues…

Chapter 6 focused on discerning the difference between engagement and empowerment. Truth be told, empowerment wasn’t high up on my radar because I was one of those teachers who focused more on the engagement side of learning. Oh, but I’ve had tons of conversations with my #PLN about teaching skills versus content and I understand the important role that both play in student learning. But what stood out to me from this section is the importance…no, the imperativeness (I hope that’s a word) of empowering my students to truly take charge of their learning. It’s not enough to introduce them to the tools and the content, but rather I need to make sure that each child that walks through my door understands that they have the power of choice. In my department, student choice is actually part of our classroom expectations. And we don’t merely pay lip service to the term either. Using a revised version of Marzano’s learning scales, we’ve broken down the standards by skills: Level 3 – describe/define, Level 4 – analyze, Level 5 – synthesize/evaluate/create. Students choose their level of learning for each unit and complete tasks, assignments, and activities for that level. But what I see that we need to do better is give students choice in what they want to study. Sure, we have standards that students will be tested on (district benchmarks, anyone?) but why not give students the power to choose which aspect of the content they would like to explore further? Because we use Haiku Learning for our classes, we could easily create a place for students to curate their learning. In fact, Flipbook is something that we tried last year at the 7th grade level and we (the teachers) loved it! Actually, our students really enjoyed it as well because they could see the Flipboard magazines from the other World History classes and comment/like what they saw. Hmmmm, and the wheels are turning in my head…

Now because I’m about ready to start my doctorate…and because I’m a HUGE geek when it comes to schooling, I’ve already started to read two of the books for this upcoming semester (I know, I know. Please don’t judge me).

What I found interesting is that Couros isn’t just taking about pie-in-the-sky learning experiences for students; what he’s proposing is supported by research. While Couros (2015) states that “it is imperative that we teach learners how to be self-directed and guide their own learning, rather than rely on others to simply engage them” (p. 1368 eBook), the National Research Council (2000) explains the importance of active learning, “New developments in the science of learning also emphasize the importance of helping people take control of their own learning. Since understanding is viewed as important, people must learn to recognize when they understand and when they need more information” (p. 12). Sounds a lot like empowering students is important in order for them to become self-regulated learners.

But it’s not enough to simply talk theory and what if’s. In order to truly make a difference, Couros next focuses on shared vision-making. What the admins want is nice. What the teachers want is nice. What the students want is nice. But without coming together and creating a shared vision about what learning should look like, everyone is really just out for themselves. It’s not easy bringing many stakeholders together for shared vision-making, but it’s one that is absolutely necessary. And I think that schools (mine included) may need to go back to the drawing board or stay at the drawing board until a shared-vision is created and accepted by all.

Reference:

National Research Council (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school: Expanded edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi:10.17226/9853

#InnovatorsMindset Part 3

So this is my view from the deck as I finished this latest set of sketchnotes and blog post…

I would rather be out on the dock but I’m afraid I’ll either drop my new iPad Pro or Apple Pencil. 😁 But I couldn’t ask for a more serene setting with which to reflect on Chapters 4 & 5 of George Couros’ (@gcouros) book The Innovator’s Mindset.

As I’ve previously mentioned, I am not an administrator but I do consider myself a leader, a change agent. I’ve always found myself in some type of leadership position even from a young age…which is a bit odd to me since I don’t like being in any type of limelight. But I do have the gift of being able to empathize and relate well with people which brings me to the main focus of Chapters 4 & 5 – relationships. George brings the issue of successful and sustainable change back to the idea of people…understanding them, empathizing with them, building a relationship with them, connecting with them. His idea of being a leader is more about servant leadership. Through consensus building of a school-wide vision, stepping into the shoes of the end-user (teachers & students), removing barriers to success, scaffolding the change process, and most importantly, keeping in mind that at the heart of innovation are the people, not stuff…not policies, not initiatives.

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I think all too often educators at all levels feel the pressure to conform to policies and regulations…and get stuck right there. But George’s idea that we need to innovate inside the box is exactly what we need to remember when feeling discouraged or bogged down by issues that are behind our control. Innovation is happening at this moment…it’s better that it happens beyond “pockets of innovation” (p. 226) but it has to start somewhere. We’re not all fortunate to have a George Couros in our districts or at our school sites, but we do have leaders who understand the necessity of change and the importance of cultivating an innovator’s mindset.

Step aside naysayers, there’s a new mindset in town.