What I learned at the art show about teacher professional development.

2016 Fife Public Schools Art Show!

I had the pleasure of attending our district’s art show last night.  As always, the talents of our students with the brilliant guidance of their teachers, just rocked me.  The art piece above is from a 5th grade student at one of our elementary schools.  In addition to it being a cool piece of art, the way the student arrived at creating this art is also cool.  The teacher explained to me that the project is based on the Genius Hour concept.  The kids followed 3 steps to make their art happen.  1.  The Big Question.  About what did they want to learn more?  2. Research and create.  3.  Present.  The teacher, Erica Meske, does amazing work with kids.  As she was describing the way kids made this art and how the Genius Hour inspired her, she said, “The sky is the limit.  Anything can be art.”

The sky is the limit.  Anything can be art.

-Erica Meske, Art Teacher

This whole project and her approach struck me in terms of teacher professional learning.

This week, I had the chance to read Aaron Hogan’s article ‘41 Books Worth Reading‘.  This is a great resource (‎@aaron_hogan).  One of the books from the list I immediately started reading.  It’s called Personalized PD: Flipping Your Professional Development by Jason Bretzmann (@jbretzmann, ).  This book is already confirming in my mind where we need to take our professional learning opportunities for teachers.  Some quotes from the book that are shaping my thinking: 

“Personalizing professional development is one of the most transformational shifts in teacher training and school leadership today. The teachers we hire derive from different backgrounds and experiences, and the diversity and knowledge they bring to all of our schools increases the positive power of our school communities. It is a commonly held belief that no two teachers learn the exact same way, yet we have we been providing one-size-fits-all learning for teachers.”

“But we must first show our teachers the respect they deserve and trust them to learn from their experiences.”

“Our teachers should be encouraged to engage in education chats on twitter, attend EdCamps and conferences, make presentations in flipped staff meetings, and seek to participate in joint PD sessions with other schools and districts.”

“The process of Flipped PD seeks to find out where teachers are instead of disregarding it. It asks where you want to go instead of telling you where you should be. We start by asking, “Where are you? Where do you want to go?””

And my favorite quote, so far, “Wherever an individual starts, forward movement is key. Again, we aren’t talking about where teachers should be. We are talking about where they are, and then helping them move forward.”

Big question.  About what does a teacher want to learn more?  Time to research and create. Share.

“These people know what they are doing. It’s why they were hired, and why they are still here. They probably know what they need next. If we approach every professional development opportunity while repeating those three sentences, it will go a long way.”

Sounds good to me.

Professional Learning

We are building a new support department for teachers and building administrators in Fife. Part of our work is to read and study.  At least a dozen books have been utilized to this point.  Books on digital leadership, EdTech, visible learning, data, close reading, The Daily Five, EdCamp, autism, transformational teaching, ditching the textbook, project based learning, grit, successful teachers, successful principals, and an innovator’s mindset.  We’ve scoured twitter, utilizing a variety of hashtags.  We’re subscribed to blogs.  We’ve met with colleagues from neighboring districts.  We’ve hosted professional development opportunities.  We’ve done a lot of study on open educational resources.  And so on and so on.  I want to share the name of the resource that has had the most profound impact and the proof it has had such impact.

Kindle Cloud Reader is my reading tool of choice.  I can read anywhere.  I can highlight.  I can make notes.  I can share that which I have highlighted and noted.  One book has absolutely dominated.  I highlighted 195 passages and made 11 separate notes in this particular book.  The next closest book has 29 highlighted passages and 3 notes.

The book is The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity by George Couros.  This book spoke to me as a teacher and administrator.  As a learner.  As a dad.  As leader.

Here are just a few of the passages that have shaped and altered my thinking.  Most are from the author, but not all.

“Once you stop learning, you start dying.” -Albert Einstein

“Inspiration is one of the chief needs of today’s students. Kids walk into schools full of wonder and questions, yet we often ask them to hold their questions for later, so we can “get through” the curriculum. We forget that our responsibility isn’t solely to teach memorization or the mechanics of a task but to spark a curiosity that empowers students to learn on their own. To wonder. To explore. To become leaders. We forget that if students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them.” -George Couros

“The structure and type of learning that happens in many of our schools does not fulfill the needs of the twenty-first-century marketplace. When students graduate, many of them are good at one thing: school. They have mastered rubrics, they know how to ace tests, and they have figured out how to work within specific parameters. But the world is not a series of rubrics! To succeed, they will need to know how to think for themselves and adapt to constantly changing situations.” -George Couros

““Look at the world today; it’s amazing!” Think about it: we have the world at our fingertips, the ability to connect and create with people around the globe through so many different mediums. Yet what do most schools focus on when talking about technology? “Cyberbullying” and “digital safety.” Yes, these are important concepts that should be discussed, but we need to go way beyond that. We are spending so much time telling our students about what they can’t do that we have lost focus on what we can do. Imagine that if every time you talked about the ability to write with a pencil, you only focused on telling kids to not stab one another with the tool. What would you really inspire in your students? Creativity? Unlikely. Fear? Almost certainly.” -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. That means that change for the sake of change is never good enough. Neither is using innovation as a buzzword, as many organizations do, to appear current or relevant.” – George Couros

“What is often misunderstood is that the higher up any one person is in any organization, the more people they serve, not the other way around.” -George Couros

“Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?” -George Couros

“Would I want to be in a community where I was the principal?” – George Couros

““The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.”” -George Couros

“The three most important words in education are: relationships, relationships, relationships. Without them, we have nothing.” -George Couros

“One quote from the blog post about a student’s perspective of her class really shook me. “I asked my tenth-grade host, Cindy, if she felt like she made important contributions to class or if, when she was absent, the class missed out on the benefit of her knowledge or contributions, and she laughed and said, ‘No.’” Can you imagine going to a place every day where you felt your voice didn’t matter? I was struck by this takeaway in particular. It made me realize that so many students share this experience of having almost no autonomy and very little opportunity to directly choose their learning experiences.” -George Couros

It is easy to lock yourself in an office, connect with people on Twitter, and appear from your room with some great idea or new thing. If you want to be an innovative leader, your role isn’t simply to come up with new and better ideas but to involve your staff in that mission. If you have lost focus on and connection with the people in your building, even if you offer new ideas, they might not be embraced by those you lead. When people know they are valued and safe in trying new things, they are more likely to strive for something new and better.” -George Couros

“Vision without execution is hallucination.” – Thomas Edison

John Dewey is quoted as having said, “We do not learn from experience; we learn from reflecting on experience.”

“…throwing a bunch of high-tech devices into a classroom, with no shift in mindset on teaching and learning, is cosmetic. There’s no depth, no real change.” -George Couros

“Today, isolation is a choice educators make. Our connectivity and learning opportunities have changed in recent years, and, thankfully, many teachers are taking advantage of those changes to benefit themselves and, more importantly, their students. We have access to information and, equally valuable, to each other.” -George Couros

And finally, “When we know better, we should do better.” -George Couros

This is a small smattering of what moved me.  Thank you George Couros for your thinking, words, and work.










Stopped me in my tracks.

Sometimes things stop you in your tracks.  Jar you. Make you rethink.  That happened a couple of minutes ago.  I’m reading The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity by George Couros.  I just read this, “Today, isolation is a choice educators make. Our connectivity and learning opportunities have changed in recent years, and, thankfully, many teachers are taking advantage of those changes to benefit themselves and, more importantly, their students. We have access to information and, equally valuable, to each other.”

Isolation is a choice.  This almost makes me laugh out loud in its simple truth.  One of the ‘old school’ messages about teaching is that it’s an isolationist practice.  Everyone knew that when teachers share and work together, better things tend to happen for themselves and their students.  I just hadn’t thought about the point blank fact that isolation is a choice now.  There are many easy to find, enriching ideas.  The use of twitter for example is well exemplified by Couros’s brother’s statement, “Social media is not meant to be another form of email, but, as my brother would say, more like dipping your cup into a stream of information. You do not need to keep up with everything. By simply being in the space, the best ideas will make their way to you.”

The fact is that this is true.  For a teacher today to be isolated is a choice.  Professional learning opportunities are everywhere.  They do not need to be overwhelming. Be in the space.  Dip one’s cup into the stream.  The best ideas will make their way to you.


Why write a blog?

In my office, Monday morning, nice day outside.  Why write a blog? Contemplating this idea snaps my brain back into school, teacher, and student focus.  I can see why Matt Miller (ditchthattextbook.com) recommends that all educators take a bit of time and write a blog. I’m going to share some of Matt’s latest blog post (http://goo.gl/Bu0O9j).  This is from April 28th, 2016.  The blog post is entitled “Cultivating an Innovator’s Mindset in schools today”.

Here’s some of what struck me this morning.  And the cool thing about this is….I’m reading a blog to get ideas about a blog post.  And my thinking is right back into classrooms, with teachers and students.  Matt Miller is correct.

We can’t continue doing the same teaching and learning that we did with new tools, ideas and practices available to us. They just don’t “plug in” to the old ways. To take full advantage of what’s available to us, we often have to modify and redefine what we’re doing instead of just substituting and augmenting what we’ve done before. (Hat tip to the SAMR model and Dr. Ruben Puentedura there.)

Students have access to better resources online than what teachers could possibly offer. (p. 3)

Teachers used to be the gatekeepers to information. (I wrote a whole chapter about that — Chapter 6 — in by book, Ditch That Textbook.) If we wanted to learn, we had to get it from their minds or from books at the library. Now, information is no longer at a premium. What we do with it is what’s really valuable. If we only offer our students what resides in our brains, we’re limiting them.

Kids walk into schools full of wonder and questions, yet we often ask them to hold their questions for later, so we can “get through” the curriculum. (p. 4)

I think about my own curiosity as an adult learner. When I’m curious about something, I’ll ask someone who knows the answer or will do a quick Google search to start. If I’m still curious, I’ll dig deeper, asking questions and gathering information as I work it over in my brain. It’s learner-driven, and that’s the kind of learning that’s possible with all we have available to us today. Schools need to do some foundational changing to take full advantage of that potential.

We’re expected to raise our hands to use the restroom, then three months later be ready to go to college or have a full-time job, support ourselves, and live on our own. It’s not logical. (p. 5)”

21st century skills.  In the TLI department, we spend a lot of time thinking and talking about them. How we can help teachers include opportunities for kids to swim around in those skills.

And that’s why I write a blog.  Thank you Matt Miller.

More opportunities for more kids.

One of our core goals in the Teaching-Learning-Innovation department is to do everything we can to support Fife’s educators as they work with all of our students.  Different students have different needs, obviously.  One of the great opportunities we now have, as a result of Superintendent Alfano’s vision to consolidate different departments from our district office into one department, the TLI department, is that we can explore more support models for our students.  Recently, we hosted two meetings to learn about two programs we intend to offer to our educators and students.  The first program is called AVID.  Advancement Via Individual Determination.  “Simply, AVID trains educators to use proven practices in order to prepare students for success in high school, college, and a career, especially students traditionally underrepresented in higher education.”  The core phrase there is ‘underrepresented in higher education.  First generation college kids. This year, in Washington State, there are 71 districts and 287 schools using AVID.  Marlyne Johnson is taking the lead on our AVID work.  The second program is called Open Doors Youth Reengagement, or simply Open Doors.  Open Doors is a dropout reengagement system that provides education and services to older youth, ages 16-21, who have dropped out of school or are not expected to graduate from high school by the age of 21.  Open Doors reengages disconnected youth through programs that encourage community partnerships, create multiple pathways for students to realize success, and provide an on-ramp to post-secondary achievement through a performance based, individualized support model.  Open Doors programs are currently in 92 school districts in Washington.  Vanessa Lindgren will be heading up our Open Doors work. We are very proud to offer these programs to Fife’s students.  #TogetherWeAreFife

Stuff I learned about in just one week.

As I mentioned before, I was a Twitter neophyte.  I wish I had understood earlier the learning power of 10 minutes of twitter feed review.  I understand it now. I’m not going to be shy about sharing this simple personal learning network resource.  Looking at last week, here are a few things I learned over the course of one week.  One of things to which I pay attention is how often I see the same or similar ideas being mentioned.  These are often very good ideas.

  • Read an article that asked, “Business survey: Which of the following would you say are the most critical skills for employees in your organization to possess today? Select up to three.”  Here are the results.  Are we giving teachers and kids enough opportunity to practice these skills?

21st Century Skills

  • Learned a whole bunch about Harriet Tubman.
  • Professional learning for educators. Over and over again the idea that PD must be led by teachers.  Top down rarely works.  A great phrase popped up when describing what it’s like sometimes to be in education.  People have lots of conversations “about us, without us.”  This is true.
  • Lots of news and articles about the testing pendulum swinging back to sanity.  A piece of information about a student on a given day.  Helpful, but limited.  More helpful to look at larger group information, but still limited.  Not the be all and end all of anything.
  • Learned about a woman named Grace Hopper.  “The most dangerous phrase in the language is ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” -Rear Admiral Grace Hopper.  Bio: http://goo.gl/zDFt3t.  We’re adopting that quote all over the place, including in a draft vision we’re creating for our 1:1 work with kids and teachers.
  • Read about the idea of schools having become ‘distribution centers’ rather than ‘discovery centers’.  This notion makes me wonder when and why does curiosity fade?

These are just some of the ideas from one week.  I should have set 10 minutes aside everyday as a principal or a teacher to swim around in the resources and thinking.  I would have been better at both jobs.


Last week was fun!

Lincoln and the Internet

We read, learned, and shared a lot last week.  Including this great quote from Lincoln. About the internet.  Who knew?  We are swimming in new acronyms, because we love acronyms in education.  SAMR and OER.  Those are occupying our time a lot lately.  We just learned that Amazon intends to host an OER platform.  That might be something.  And we ran a workshop with all of our building administrators that started with a very simple slide that said SAMR.  We gave them 15 minutes to become SAMR experts, using any tools they’d like.  Then they shared resources and learning.  A 2-3 minute presentation was the concluding activity.  And we had some great ones!  The blatant contrast in energy and learning, doing an activity like this, compared to us simply reading from a powerpoint was obvious.

Thanks admins!

Another blog post. Because it’s been awhile and I promised myself I’d keep going.

On the road again!  A number of the TLI leadership team members are off and running, studying, questioning, and learning.  All of this work is in preparation for the 1:1 rollout, slated to begin in the fall of 2017.   We have visited Sumner, Auburn, and North Thurston school districts.  In fact, we visited North Thurston with our colleagues from Auburn.  Networking with professional colleagues is one of our favorite things to do.  We ask a lot of questions during these visits.  Our most important questions center on instructional practice.  How do we best support teachers and students in using 21st century skills?  Here’s a great quote from one of the books we’re studying, “Technology can be used as tools for consumption or as tools for creating and producing.  The first approach assumes that students learn mostly by receiving and absorbing existing knowledge, that they are consumers of knowledge, and that technology is there to help them better take in knowledge and improve their academic outcomes.  The second approach, on the contrary, views the most critical role of students as creators.  Students learn by creating projects and products, forming new knowledge during the process, and communicating and sharing their experiences, feelings, and ideas, often in a collaborative learning context.  The role of technology is to empower students in this process.”  While being aware of the first approach, we’re focusing on the second approach!

Welcome and…..this is new.

In the TLI department, we’re reading Digital Leadership by Eric Sheninger.  He is an excellent resource for us.  Here’s his website.  One of his suggestions is to try something new.  I’ve added tweetdeck with a variety of hashtags to have PD ideas pushed to me.  My current hashtags are #ditchbook (Matt Miller’s excellent book Ditch That Textbook), #transformationalteaching (an idea about which I’m spending a lot of time thinking), and #thegooglegooru (https://www.thegooru.com/).  The cool thing about using tweetdeck for these kinds of resources is the instant connection to resources.  I have told a number of my colleagues that I would be a better principal already had I taken the little bit of time necessary to set up a twitter account and tweetdeck.  I had a twitter account as a principal, but I only used it to push information.  An important idea to tell our story.  I hadn’t considered using twitter to pull information.  I’m not sure I’m using push or pull there correctly.

Anyway, one of Sheninger’s suggestions is to start a blog.  I’ve never blogged. So, practicing what I want to preach, I’m trying something new.  A blog.

Thanks for reading!