Our educators continue to learn and read.

Recently each of our schools had the opportunity to do professional learning, based upon each building’s needs. We love that the bulk of our professional learning is directly tied to the individual needs of each school. We do all we can to avoid ‘top down professional development.’ The educators in our schools know the kids and know the kids’ needs best.

Here are a couple examples of recent events to drive home that our educators didn’t stop learning the minute they left college!

At one of our schools, teachers looked at What Great Teachers do Differently, The Innovator’s Mindset, The Power of Moments, and Who Moved My Cheese. This school called the activity Book Tastings. Served with treats and beverages, teachers sampled different books to determine which would suit their needs and interests!

At another one of our schools, educators reviewed GritHow to Differentiate Instruction in Academically Diverse Classrooms, and Classroom Management in the Digital Age. This school did a series of Book Chats. Broke into groups that rotated every 15-20 minutes. Had a variety of different activities for staff to get an introduction to each text.  Chats were led by TLI and building administrators. Teachers then made their selections via Google Form as to the text they want to read. The follow up will be a twitter book study, using #CJHreads in March. Also going to use a Padlet to have a digital dialogue with benchmarks for reading. All of this will launch next week and wrap up after spring break with a World Cafe activity!

Recently I had read a fantastic book, Grading for Equity. One of our principals asked to read it as well, based on the needs at his school. When I dropped the book off, he showed me the 2 or 3 books ahead of Grading for Equity. All books that the teachers had his school had been reading and were recommending to him.

Looking for a copy of this book!

Another great example of our dedication to continual learning centers on the book above. One of our teachers sent an email to her colleagues in her school looking for a copy of this book, based on the needs of her students. Then that request was shared with other building principals…then with entire other buildings’ staff members. All stemming from the request of a single teacher, wanting to learn more to help her kids in class. Amazing. But not surprising in our district.

It’s how we roll.

It’s like a family reunion!

This is a great book!

About a month ago, Dave Burgess send me a message letting me know that I had been selected to get a free book from DBC! The person who would be taking care of me was Tara Martin. I had the awesome good fortune to listen to and learn from Tara at ISTE last summer in Chicago.

The Tara Martin at ISTE with one of her many fans!

I let Tara know that I was excited to read one of DBC’s newest titles, Lead Beyond Your Title by Nili Bartley. I loved the title and had great hopes for another fabulous pirate experience. Tara let me know that this book was SO new, it wasn’t even released yet, but as soon as it was, I was in business. And, of course, she was good to her word. The book arrived, along with some cool pirate swag (I love DBC!)

So I’m well into Nili’s book. It’s fantastic. It’s like sitting next to a trusted colleague, sharing fears, hopes, dreams, aspirations. It’s so clearly written from a great teacher’s heart, it’s amazing. One of the things that struck me most powerfully was her use of quotes. Since I changed jobs, moving from being a junior high principal, to the executive director of Teaching-Learning-Innovation, I’ve had the opportunity to figure out that twitter is the best professional learning tool on earth for educators. And because of twitter and my PLN, I know every single person she quotes…and even cooler, have met almost all of the educators. That would NOT have happened if I hadn’t opened my mind to the possibilities available through twitter.

Here are just a few of my favorite quotes from Nili’s book from some of my favorite learning influences. Thanks to all for growing, sharing, and learning with me!

“When students put their phones in their lockers for the day and are asked to learn what we tell them they must learn, engagement immediately drops, no matter how good a teacher we think we are.” –Joy Kirr, Shift This

“People are less likely to tear down systems they help build.” –Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf, Lead Like a PIRATE

“It’s not supposed to be easy–it’s supposed to be worth it.” -Dave Burgess, Teach Like a PIRATE

“If you are going to crush apathy in our schools and create learning that’s irresistible, it won’t happen doubling down our efforts to reach proficiency. We have to start by developing environments where students can rekindle what it means to be a passionate learner. After all, they came to us this way, right?” –David Geurin, Future Driven

“Twitter is not going to change your life. But the educators you meet there will.” –Aaron Hogan, Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth

These are just a few of the quotes from the author educators. Reading them again, having read all their books, interacted with them on twitter, talked with them via Google Hangouts, or met them in person, makes this book, in addition to being a powerful, supportive well of inspiration and ideas for educators, a family reunion. A celebration.

Great job Nili and thank you!

Where were these questions when I started teaching?

Sometimes I feel like I whale on my beloved university unfairly. But the further along I go in my career, I honestly wonder what in the heck we learned in the undergrad teacher preparation process. I specifically remember a solid week’s focus being on bulletin board preparation. Seriously.

Joe Feldman has written an excellent book shown above. He is flat calling me out as a teacher who gave no thought to grading practices. I made ’em up as I went, based on how I thought grades were supposed to work. I remember something about a bell curve, from teacher prep days in college.

And that was literally the extent of the thought to which I gave my grading practices.

I wonder sometimes if we’ve moved the needle at all with this topic. Here are some pretty hardcore questions/statements about the punitive nature of grading from Mr. Feldman.

  • Does traditional grading stifle risk-taking and trust between the student and teacher?
  • Are mistakes punished? Or encouraged? (Jo Boaler has an entire book about the brain growth nature associated with making mistakes.)
  • Simple question for teachers. Do the kids’ grades at the beginning of learning carry the same weight as at the end of learning? When they don’t know anything about the subject matter, do their mistakes as they learn punish them? Wow. That one kills me because it makes SO MUCH SENSE.
  • Do kids’ grades include things associated with behavior? Noisy class? Brining tissue for extra credit? How about wrong heading? Late work? Skipping problems they don’t understand?
  • The entire riff on grades being sought for the sole purpose of a grade—not learning. Does a teacher’s grading practices incentivize cheating? Getting the right answer, to get the right grade is the point. Not the learning.

I could kind of go on and on. I’ve just started this book. The above is captured over 3 pages(30-32). I’d dare any educator to read them and honestly ponder grading practices.

I did. I wish I could go back in time.

Would this fly today?

I bet most educators who do great things with/for kids, do a lot of those things via instinct. Just seems like the right things to do. Greeting kids at the door, for example. Doesn’t seem like rocket science, seems like a good idea intuitively. Then somebody does some research, slaps a name on the thing, and we’re off to the races. And virtually every teacher thinks, “Geez, I’ve been doing that for years. Didn’t know it was an official thing.”

One of the things I did, every Monday, for 16 years as a middle school teacher, was ask the kids how the weekend went. 6 periods a day. That simple. Sometimes the conversation in class would last the entire period. 47 minutes. It never occurred to me that I should/shouldn’t do it. It just seemed like a good thing to do. Spend time talking with the kids about how things were going with them. Sometimes, but rarely, we had to dive right into the work of the day, but the majority by far, of the time, we talked about how the weekend went. What kinds of things I was doing, what the kids were doing, or wherever the conversations went. And those same kids, now adults, still remember fondly those conversations. We really built strong relationships and a positive classroom environment. Paid off in many ways, including academic.

Back when jumping in the air and landing didn’t seem daunting or dangerous.

Another thing we used to do was play flyers up Frisbee with the kids. This was not a very technical process. One person threw the Frisbee towards a large group of kids/teachers. As soon as one person caught the Frisbee 3 times, he/she became the thrower. We had some the funniest and best things happen during this dumb game. Lifelong memories. Built strong bonds to school.

Yesterday I was having an awesome conversation with one of our principals. We were talking about grades and who the kids were behind the grades and how important it is to know the kids. The educators at his school are masters and getting to know the kids behind the grades. I recalled my time working at the same school….and some of the things we used to do. Spending a whole period talking with kids and playing.

I wondered if those things would still fly today? Does the tyranny of the urgent overcome the power of forming relationships as a classroom foundational must?

And I decided, based on this conversation with this great principal, that nope…relationships still matter and fun times with kids still fly.

Kind of think this is how learning is supposed to work.

We’re up to our eyeballs in designing our brand new, soon to be built, fabulous middle school. We have visited other schools, we have met with students, parents, staff members, community members, officials, and so on. We are visiting other schools tomorrow to look at kitchens. We’re trying to leave no stones unturned.

Then I was looking at our latest design documents and found myself pondering the layout of our Collaborative Learning and Innovation Center (CLIC). Some schools might have referred to this area previously as the ‘Library’. We intend to build on and enrich the basic idea of a library. One of the parts of that build is the ‘Makerspace’ area. Well it occurred to me that I knew virtually nothing about a Makerspace.

So…I did what I do when I want to learn something. Probably what a lot of people do when they want to learn something. I googled. I found Laura Fleming. Laura Fleming has a couple of books. I bought this one.

Great book, great resource!

It didn’t take me too long to hammer my way through it. Not because it is slender in its resources, import, and impact. Nope, because it’s rich and fat with resources, import, and impact.

Here’s one of the pages from which I learned today.

I like books in which I can write and scribble.

I’m now sharing the book with the fantastic principal at our middle school. I tried to tell him how much Fleming’s book brought me up to speed with my Makerspace learning, and failed utterly. He’ll figure it out himself as he reads through it. I can’t wait to talk to him when he’s done with his reading and initial Makerspace learning.

I’ve ordered two other books to flesh out my learning and thinking. It’s kind of a sickness I have, I think. I like to learn about new stuff and think about possibilities for teachers and kids.

It also occurred to me that this is how learning is supposed to go. One wants to, or has a compelling reason to, learn about something. So he finds resources…and learns. Happened to me today. Made it a great day.

Looking forward to learning today.

Our district is hosting John Tanner today. John wrote The Pitfalls of Reform: Its Incompatibility with Actual Improvement. It’s a great book for all educational leaders to read.

As I head into our learning, I’m keeping George Couros’ challenge in mind:

“Three things I ask you as you read this text: Identify what has challenged you. Identify what has been reaffirmed. Identify what you will do moving forward.”

I’ll keep those questions in mind today!

Midvale School for the Gifted

One of the greatest cartoons of all time.

This morning, we have our principals’ meeting. We’re leading off with this quote from Don Wettrick,

“We do our students a disservice when we prepare them for a world that no longer exists and fail to empower them with the skills and abilities they will need to navigate rough and shifting seas. We don’t need students who can fill in bubbles on a multiple-choice test; we need students who can create, innovate, connect, and collaborate. We need students who can identify and solve complex, real-world problems. Changing the way we educate students is not only necessary…it’s a moral imperative.”

Working with our principals and teachers, thinking about Don’s quote, I am reminded of the great Gary Larson cartoon above. As leaders, we sometimes feel like we’re pushing against a door that says to pull. And nothing happens. Teachers and principals absolutely know that kids deserve and need a different type of learning experience. Different types of learning experiences. Plural. We need to be able to push the door open.

But the door still says pull. What are some of the reasons that the door requires us to pull?

One of the reasons to still pull the door is the focus on kids’ test scores. Clearly the significance of this single piece of data as the be all and end all is dimming. But it’s still there. We can’t ignore it. Still need to pay it some attention. But not as much and not anywhere near enough to not attend to Don’s idea. We can’t pine for kids who can create, innovate, connect, and collaborate, but blame the need to attend to test scores as reason to keep pushing on the door.

Another example of pushing against the door that needs to be pulled is a notion that teachers don’t want to try new things or don’t think the skills Don describes are important. Simply not true. Here’s an idea from Elisabeth Bostwick on that notion,

“But I’d like to challenge the notion that just because someone appears to be unwilling to change, they are fans of the status quo club. It’s entirely possible that those of us who fear change or are uncomfortable with it simply require more support, encouragement, or time to process along the way. Perhaps some individuals aren’t certain why it’s crucial to step forward.” -Elisabeth Bostwick, Take the L.E.A.P.: Ignite a Culture of Innovation

I love this quote. Our job as leaders is to provide more support, encouragement, and time to process.

The most important part of Bostwick’s quote is the responsibility of leaders to explain why it’s crucial to step forward and push the door open.

Because, “Changing the way we educate students is not only necessary…it’s a moral imperative.”