The definition of innovation. In action. Today.

We are very lucky to have Mr. Keith Hannah as our District Instructional Technology Facilitator. The fact that he is also a National Board Certified Teacher and an ISTE Digital Citizenship PLN Leader are bonuses for our district, our teachers, and most importantly, our students.

This morning, he sent an email to all of our secondary teachers, inviting them to go on an adventure with him, as he offers this learning opportunity: Bring the World to Your Classroom with Google Expedition. This invitation struck me as the very definition of innovation, as described by George Couros. “I’m defining innovation as a way of thinking that creates something new and better. Innovation can come from either “invention” (something totally new) or “iteration” (a change of something that already exists), but if it does not meet the idea of “new and better,” it is not innovative.”

Creating opportunities for kids to see and experience vast resources, “From Mount Everest to the Louvre, there are over 900 VR Expeditions in the Expeditions app for you and your class to explore,” is something new and better, it is, by definition, innovative

Students using Google Expeditions!

If you haven’t ever watched kids, or adults for that matter, experience VR or AR Expeditions, do yourself a favor. It is a thrilling experience for all involved!

Thank you Mr. Hannah!

We're in the people business people!

Caught this brilliant tweet below from the inspiring Aaron Hogan. Aaron is a monster educator who wrote a book titled Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth. I highly recommend this book.

His cool idea is detailed above. My immediate thought was, “Man, principals should do the same thing!” And I was fixing to adding my searing insight, when I noted that Aaron had already beat me to it by adding his own comment. Oh well, great minds and whatnot.

As a principal, I would literally run over the school building in my mind to make sure I had touched base with each teacher/staff member each day. I didn’t always make it out to all, but the simple exercise helped me. I tended to drift to the staff members I had known and worked with for decades. An odd choice, but a comfortable one. Realizing that I hadn’t talked with a particular educator in a couple days, caused me to scoot on down and just check in. Not to observe, not to get a kid. Just see how the teacher was doing.

As we rightfully focus on kids and their needs, we can simultaneously focus on the educators on the front lines, taking care of the kids and their needs.

We’re in the people business people!

Take care of the people taking care of the people!

Today’s smackdown prompt.

Our talented Director of Teaching-Learning-Innovation has our educators in the middle of an awesome #FifeTwitterSmackdown. Thank you Elaine Smith!

Today’s prompt is “Who was your favorite teacher and why?” Such a cool question to ask teachers. Choosing one favorite teacher is a rugged chore.

Here are three of mine and why.

Stewart Elementary School was a tiny school when I attended, starting in 1967 or so. One classroom for each grade level. I had the same teacher for 1st and 3rd grade. Mrs. Mary Rawlings. For some reason, I can bring to mind many memories from that long ago time. She was a wonderful teacher. I loved when she read to us especially. Brilliant. At one point in my 3rd grade year, I promised to buy her a fur coat. Not sure why, but there you have it. Probably because I loved her. Fast forward 20 years, I’m teaching away as a middle school teacher. A kind looking, slightly older woman, slid into the classroom and took a seat in the back. She didn’t look too threatening, so I just continued on with my schtick. Eventually I asked if I could help her. And she said, “No, I’m just here from the school, to observe.” Oh ok. “What school?” “Stewart Elementary.” I about fell on the floor. She was my beloved Mrs. Rawlings come to see me teach. Wow! And she mentioned the fur coat. That part of the equation hasn’t come to pass, but how cool is it that she found one of her millions of students to swing by and say hi?!

My other two favorite teachers were both from high school. This is not to slight my junior high teachers. I had some fantastic junior high teachers. And this is also not to slight my own dad, who was one of my teachers. He’s just in a different category altogether.

Mr. Jim Taylor was my senior year AP English teacher. AP was in its second year at my high school at the time, and the English class was the only AP offering. Mr. Taylor was hands down brilliant. A searing sense of humor. A depth of intellect. He oozed intelligence. And ooze was one of his favorite words. One time I was popping off to impress my dudes in the class. He called out, “Nelson, your face.” “What about it?” I retorted. “We’re going to have a class discussion.” Well that pretty much just shut me down completely. The last thing I wanted to do was to hear my colleagues discuss my face in class. Yikes. I didn’t realize how much I had modeled my teaching self after him until after he had passed away. I ran into his wife at a grocery store. She and I were also close. I had done my student teaching with her, just before being hired as a teacher. She is a monster teacher, gifted in her own right. Anyway, she was acting very strange and distant. I asked her if she was ok. And she said, “It hurts too much to be around you. You remind me so much of Jim.”

Wow.

Mr. Taylor, also a world class drummer!

And finally, Mr. Ken Edmonds. Mr. Edmonds was a great teacher, but where he had the largest impact on me was as a coach. He was the jv wrestling coach. He made a point of coaching all the kids, not just the superstars. He saw potential and through a combination of toughness and compassion, moved you forward as an athlete, but more importantly, as a young adult. My favorite thing about Mr. Edmonds is his greeting anytime I see him. He acts like there is no one else in the world he’d rather see and greet than you at that moment. That is a good technique, and one I bring to action as often as I can.

Mr. Edmonds, a fantastic role model!

We are all the result of the combination of our influences. I am lucky to have the influential teachers I’ve had in my life.

Thank you all.

Getting uncomfortable to learn and grow.

Our superintendent met with me recently to talk about my professional growth goals. One of my goals is to closely, uncomfortably, and necessarily challenge my own biases and understand my privilege. A colleague recommended the two books below. I’ve finished So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo and am about a third of the way through Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving.

Why, at this point in a 36 year career, is it important to examine biases, prejudice, and privilege? Because to do better work as a leader, a learner, and communicator, I need to understand from where I come, from where my thinking and opinions come, and challenge them. I know I can do better.

A couple of quotes that are guiding my thinking and learning now.

“Ask yourself: Am I trying to be right, or am I trying to do better?”

“Yet I don’t believe that avoiding all potentially upsetting conversations serves anyone.”

“Right through my senior year of college, life exposed me mostly to other versions of myself and the customs and traditions I considered normal.”

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” -Anais Nin

“Privilege is a strange thing in that you notice it least when you have it most.”

And this whomper quote,

“What else don’t I know?

Your playing small does not serve the world.

Can’t get that idea/quote out of my head this morning. Part of the line,

Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won’t feel insecure around you.

Which is all part of the entire poem:

Our Greatest Fear —Marianne Williamson

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

-Marianne Williamson

Why do we play small sometimes? Or often? Convenience? Fear? Laziness?

Let’s check ourselves and let our lights shine. The kids and our colleagues deserve our best light.

Parent, Family, Community Engagement

We have 4 district strategic goals. These goals were developed through a series of interviews and meeting with 13 different groups and over 150 people. The goals center around: Academic Excellence, Transition Readiness, Parent/Family/Community Engagement, and High Quality Work Force.

I will now brag on our educators in the area of Parent/Family/Community Engagement. I might also mention how modeling practice pays off.

Our Director of TLI asked everyone in the department to develop an aspiration for the year. My aspiration has been the same for two years. To get our leaders to write more, as a means of reflection and learning. And I take the point in this effort by writing a blog. This is my 141st blog post since I started. Practicing what I preach.

We don’t have any building leaders doing blogs just yet. Still hoping on that one. But we absolutely have building leaders writing. All of them. And just got word from one of our principals that her teachers are now writing as well. Sharing good news and information from the school and classroom.

Here are a few examples!

All of this serves the Parent/Family/Community Engagement strategic goal literally by definition! We are engaging with all of those groups. We are NOT working in isolation. We are telling our story. We are being transparent.

Congratulations to all of our gifted educators for doing this work!

We know what works for kids.

John Hattie’s organization, Visible Learning, has synthesized findings from over 1600 meta-analyses of over 95,000 studies, involving 300 million students. This is not an inconsequential body of work. They have published a document called ‘250+ Influences on Student Achievement.’

A score of .40 is considered a ‘hinge point’. That is, anything above a score of .40, has a positive impact on kids’ achievement. Doing virtually anything will have an impact, but the idea is to find that which has the biggest bang for the buck.

There are some very negative things on the list. For example, retention. Holding a kid back has a score of -.32. Yes…a negative score. Another negative whomper is boredom. -.47. Ouch. Depression checks in a -.26 and anxiety at -.44. I bet 5 bucks that absolutely no one is surprised by the fact that these items have a negative impact on kids’ achievement.

On the flip side, there are some things that really work to help kids. In the teacher area, number one is ‘teacher estimates of achievement’, with a score of 1.29. That is huge. How a teacher thinks a kid is going to do. Remember, .40 is the hinge point. RTI, for example, has a score of 1.09. One of the reasons we do RTI things.

The number one thing we can do, in the area of ‘school’ is Collective Teacher Efficacy. Score of 1.39. The biggest impact item of the 250+ items. And it’s something over which we have control. Something we can do.

Collective Teacher Efficacy “refers to educators’ shared beliefs that through their combined efforts they can positively influence student outcomes, including outcomes for those who are disengaged, unmotivated, and/or disadvantaged. When educators share the belief that they can influence student achievement, regardless of some of the difficult circumstances faced in schools today, the results can be very powerful. In fact, research shows that collective efficacy matters more in relation to increasing student achievement than the neighborhoods where students come from and their level of income.” (Donohoo/Katz, 2019). “Collective teacher efficacy proved greater than three times more predicative of student achievement as SES, double the effect of prior achievement, and more than triple the effect of home environment, and parental involvement.”

We recently asked our principals this tough question. “Do you think the teachers in your school believe that, through their combined efforts, they can overcome just about anything going on in a kid’s life?” If the answer is yes, they likely have collective teacher efficacy.

If we start a sentence with, “Kids these days,” or “Man, the kids we have now, whew, they are different and have more needs than when I started,” as reasons kids can’t achieve at higher levels, the sense of efficacy is gone. The belief is not there. “Teams who lack collective efficacy become preoccupied by constraints, show significant reduction in the goals they set, and lower their efforts.” The statement, ‘kids are different or have different needs’ very well may be true. But they’re the kids. We’re the professionals. It’s our job to make changes, to do something different. It’s not the kid’s job to adjust to our needs. It’s our job to adjust to his/her needs. One place to start is our beliefs. Beliefs about how a kid can do. Or beliefs about what we can do.

We are working on collective teacher efficacy, starting with our building leaders, starting with a crystal clear understanding of its definition. What it is and what it is not. It is not just sharing beliefs. It is not working together collaboratively. Both good things, but not collective teacher efficacy. Another definition of what it is, “The judgements of teachers in a school that the faculty as a whole can organize and execute the courses of action required to have a positive impact on students.” (Goddard, Hoy, and Woolfolk, 2004)

We talk about and work on 3 things in our district.

  1. Our districtwide strategic goals (Academic Excellence, Transition Readiness, Parent/Family/Community Engagement, and High Quality Work Force)
  2. CEL 5D+ Instructional Framework
  3. Collective Teacher Efficacy

These 3 things overlap, mesh, weave, intersect, layer, and so on each other all over the place. A rich and fertile ground for growth, learning, conversation, and challenge.

We know what works for kids. We know what doesn’t. We can control what we can control. Let’s continue to work on the shared belief that through our combined efforts as educators, we can overcome just about anything going on in a kid’s life, and positively influence student outcomes.

It works.