Ideas, Influence, Impact

Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Leadership: Flawed and Forgiven

As leaders in classrooms, buildings and districts return to a new school year, we are faced with the same daily demands from students, parents, and stakeholders.  We are expected to give our best every day, to be innovative, to be responsive and more.  And we meet those standards on most days.  And yet, with any innovative, responsive, and thoughtful leader, we make mistakes.

As reflective leaders, we can obsess on those mistakes.  And many times, our stakeholders obsess on them as well.  The truth is – we must remember – we tried.  We are flawed human beings, and we can grow every day from our mistakes.  In fact, we SHOULD grow from our mistakes.

As the pressure may grow and people focus on your mistakes, make sure you focus on what you can learn from those mistakes.  Let the noise of our errors remain outside of you, and let the growth happen within.

We are not perfect.  We are flawed – and we are forgiven.

Personalized PD

Our district took an important step forward in its journey toward a competency-based learning system this semester.  Last month, our teachers began a personalized professional development plan.  Below is the document used to introduce this work:

Vision / Intent – (Why?)

  • For teachers to experience an individually-driven learning experience, similar to what is being discussed for competency-based education for students (CBE team)
  • Learn from our struggles implementing with teachers to make it a smoother transition for students

Timeline – (When?)

  • 2nd semester of this year
  • May still have some building or district PD sessions on Tuesdays – AIW, CBE, literacy, technology, etc.

Logistics – (How?)

  • Teachers are welcome to work independently or in a group – address your learning style
  • Maintain your reflections in the same PD reflection GoogleDoc
  • Complete the new iPD form  {below in bold}

Expectations – (What?)

  • Stretch yourself – focus on new learning
  • Use your time wisely – time not to be used for grading papers
  • Demonstrate professional integrity – support each other, share success and concerns
  • Need to share out with another teacher that day (Social Collaboration)
  • Need to share out with principal (Accountability)

Possible Examples –

  • CBE
  • Literacy
  • Standards-based grading
  • Technology integration
  • Performance-based assessment

Summative Evaluation – End of year

  • What worked?
  • What should be changed?
  • How does this impact PD plans for next year?
  • What are the success criteria?


Teachers need to answer the following questions:

  • What do you plan to learn?
  • How will you know you’ve learned it?  (What will be your evidence of learning?)
  • How does your learning support the work of your building and/or district?
  • What resources will you need?
  • How will your administration (building principal, superintendent) need to support your learning?
  • How will your building principal know of your progress in learning?

The design of this work is to have our teachers begin to experience the freedom (or fear) of personalized learning and use those experiences to develop a better system of learning for our students.  As we continue to look at our world, it is becoming more customized all the time.  Our educational system finally has the philosophy, tools, technology, resources, and leadership to transform itself into a personalized learning system.  We are proud of our step in this direction, and this work will allow us to take more steps faster.

BREAKING NEWS: Boeing Builds Plane Mid-Flight!

I am trying hard to imagine the reaction to a newspaper headline or the top story on the evening news that says, “BREAKING NEWS: Boeing Builds Plane Mid-Flight!”.  I wonder if the world would herald the respected company for its innovative new construction process or ridicule it for brazen disregard for engineering and aerodynamics.  Would stocks soar or plummet?

For me, I personally would feel unsafe getting into a plane that was being built while in flight.  I was recently traveling and during my layover, the plane of which I had just gotten off needed a mechanical issue addressed before I got back on it to continue to my destination.  Please be clear, the plane did not stop because of the mechanical concern; rather, it was just a part of its flight routine.  I boarded the plane a few minutes later, and I made it home safely and on time.

I share this story because I am extremely frustrated with educational leaders that use the term “building the plane while flying it”
in reference to any number of changes or reforms in which they are involved or leading.   I am not sure why we gravitate to this phrase, but we use it a lot.  In one week, I heard it seven times.  And it needs to stop.

Good grief.  Tell me, would we get onto an airplane knowing that it was going to be rebuilt in the midst of the flight?  Would we deem the company credible?  Would we consider ourselves sane?  I think the answer is “no” to all those questions, yet why do we use this phrase to discuss the improvements we are making to our educational systems?

In education, we deserve a better phrase than this to describe the intense work we are doing with continuous school improvement.  We need to use a phrase that speaks to the integrity and intensity of our work.  We need a phrase that conjures an image of professional competence, not willful neglect or ignorance.  We need a phrase that accurately describes the hard work we do daily.

But, please, until we find that phrase, can we at least stop telling parents, students, legislators and community stakeholders that we are “building the plane as we fly it”?  I am never taking that flight with you as long as you are, nor are many others.

iNACOL 2014

It was an extraordinary opportunity to attend the 2014 iNACOL Symposium.  I was able to learn so much about competency-based education, personalized learning and blended instruction.  Throughout this conference, one key them continued to arise – “change the mindset”.  Session after session spoke about the need to change the mindset of teachers, of administrators, of parents, of community members and of policymakers.  For our system to truly be transformed, each of these groups need to think differently about what is learning and how we develop a system that fully supports it.

Every group, that is, except students.  Students were lauded as willing and able and excited to learn in a new system, a new ecosystem.  Students are ready for this new system.  From this international conference, and from my interactions back home, I know there are teachers, administrators, parents, community members, and policy makers already with mindset to change the system.  In fact, they have not only the mind for it, they have the heart for it.  They have the fire for it.  And, with each day, we gain more skills for it.

From the WILL set to the SKILL set, we are ready.  We need to be.  My sons and daughters – and yours – need this transformed system of learning NOW.

Teachers as Validators of Learning

As I continue to read about competency-based education and personalized learning, I continue to see a shift in education for the role of teachers.  For years, we have discussed that teachers should not be the “sages on the stage” but rather “the guides on the sides.”  We continue to discuss that teachers should be facilitators of learning.  They should support students in developing metacognitive skills, and they should help students apply knowledge instead of just teaching content.

 

As we continue to transform our industrial, factory-style model of education to a more personalized learning ecosystem, I am excited and intrigued with the transformation of the teaching profession as well.  I believe that for a truly personalized learning system to occur, teachers will need to let go of some of their “instructional” duties as currently defined.  There are so many opportunities to gain knowledge and practice skills beyond the scope of the classroom, that teachers will need to do less “teaching” and more validating.  No one, especially I, believes that the role of the teacher will be less in a personalized learning system.  I think the role will change.  In fact, I am inclined to believe the stature of an educator will actually grow.

 

As teachers will be called upon to check the learning progress of students, to see that the students are meeting the learning expectations of the school system whether through blended learning, direct instruction, or community internships, it will be teachers that will be looked to to validate the learning of the students.  Teachers will need to have strong content knowledge, learning styles knowledge and assessment techniques.  The stature of teaching should increase as more specialized skill sets will be needed in a new personalized learning ecosystem.  It is only be teachers who will have the brain research, the social skills knowledge, the content knowledge and the pedagogical knowledge to truly determine the extent of a student’s learning progress.

 

As we move toward a more personalized learning system, I am excited that the role of the teacher will be enhanced not minimized.  I am excited that new skill sets will be developed, and teachers, once again, will be at the forefront of the education profession.  I look forward to their leadership being validated – as it should be.

The Boxes Arrived

The boxes arrived last week.  Those boxes stacked high, full of Iowa Assessment test booklets, answer sheets, and directions for administration.  They arrived and are sitting against the far wall of my office – not physically, but philosophically in the way.  In two weeks, our students will take those tests.  They will spend multiple hours over a course of a week filling in bubbles to demonstrate to the federal and state governments that they have grown academically in content areas like reading, math, science, and social studies.  There will be no test on grit or perseverance – except their ability to complete the test without creating a pattern on the answer sheet.  There will be no test on creativity – unless they do create a pattern on the answer sheet.

All of this will happen in the midst of a year where my district has truly pushed itself to know the learner better to grow the learner better.  We have pushed hard to mold ourselves into what our students need, not mold the students into what we need.  We have more teachers that ever using data to revise instruction, using standards-based learning, and thinking about competency-based education.  We work toward a new goal of personalized learning in our district – and it is exciting, invigorating, daunting, and … the right work.

So, those boxes sit in my office while I have the pleasure of attending a convening hosted by the Nellie Mae Foundation and KnowledgeWork on the federal accountability framework in light of competency-based education.  The convening was a great two days focused on assessment, core CBE principles, the role of the federal government in education, and the unintended consequences of building a new framework that is easy to understand (and which may do more harm to CBE than the current one).

The discussion on accountability traveled far and wide.  Some of the main points and questions raised included:

  1. We do not want to see competency education mandated from the federal government. We want to have federal accountability policy be structured to enable competency education and its core principles.
  2. Is it possible to establish policy that builds upon a continuous model so that districts can use one set of reporting systems that tracks student achievement rather than two, one for themselves and one for the federal government?
  3. What would it take to have teachers make the determination of proficiency and then have that data roll up into a school, district, state and federal reporting system focused on student progress and achievement?

I was excited by the opportunity to impact federal policy, yet realistic enough to know that it would not be done when the convening was complete.  We must struggle with the enormous task of changing a federal mindset that accountability is one battery of tests once a year.  This is completely antithetical to competency-based education and personalized learning.  We must work to change this mindset and the system of accountability derived from it if we are truly to have an opportunity to meet every student where they are at and guide them to where they can be.

I know it will not be an easy fix, but it is the right work to do.  We must persist, we must challenge, and we must ask the questions that change policy, challenge politics and improve the learning environments and experiences of our students.  A student is not a series of data points.  Each student is a complex combination of dreams, passions, fears, and possibilities.  No test, or battery of tests, will ever fully measure all of that. But we can – and should – get a lot closer to it.

Relax. It is You . . . And Them

When Collins-Maxwell began a 1:1 iPad initiative for all students in grades 6-12 in the fall of 2012, one of the largest concerns among teachers, parents, and board members was the management of the device.  Teachers were worried that students would be off-task in class, refusing to do the assigned work.  Parents felt that students would bring the devices home and fill them full of games, songs, and inappropriate pictures.  Board members felt that teachers would not know how to manage the new technology in classes AND that parents would be frustrated that taxpayer dollars were spent on devices so kids could listen to Pandora while playing Angry Birds.

Yes, it all happened.  Everything we feared would come true did to some degree.  We had students that got off task in class and missed the assignments or the lecture or the project.  We had students download music in the hallways between classes so they could listen to it in the next period.  We had students at home not doing the work they didn’t do in class because they were playing games, or on Facebook, or tweeting, or listening.  Yes, it all happened.

But not for every student.  And not for every teacher.

We had our students who followed the rules to the letter.  They never downloaded anything that was not teacher approved.  They never got on the iPad in class unless there was a reason explained by the teacher.  And they certainly did not use the iPad at home inappropriately.  It was only used for schoolwork, and then charged for the next day.

And we had teachers that had no problems with students off task.  Here is the success of the management of iPads.  We had teachers treat the iPad like any other tool in the classroom.  For the past few years, we have allowed cell phones in school for student use.  Many students have used them to take photos of problems on the board, use calculator functions, or text answers to an online poll.  The teachers who have used cell phones in this manner in the class were the same ones who had little problems with the iPads.  They realized the iPads were tools to help students learn, so they worked to see the iPads as supports for learning.  Now, those teachers did not feel the need to use the iPads every day, just to use them.  They used the iPads only when it suited the learning.  When the iPads were not in use, they were turned off and put under the desks or set aside in the classroom.  Those teachers who saw the iPads as possible improvements to learning also knew when they would be impediments to learning, so they created clear rules for engagement in using the iPads.

Other teachers who were not as comfortable with iPads struggled to see how to use them in their classrooms.  Therefore, they used them for artificial purposes thinking the administration wanted the iPads to be used a lot in classes.  The truth was the administration never gave a clear expectation for how often the iPad was to be used in a class.  We wanted it to be a natural extension of support for learning.  For some teachers, that was a good idea.  For others, they felt like they were not using it enough and that would be a disappointment to the administration.  When those teachers tried to integrate the iPad into a learning activity that did not suit it, problems occurred.  Or if the teachers tried to ignore how to use the iPads in class, then the students had them out and engaged in off-task behaviors.  Interestingly, by not addressing the iPad as a tool that may or may not support learning in specific instances, the teachers inadvertently allowed the iPad to become a bigger obstacle to learning in every instance.

From the various viewpoints of the teachers implementing iPads in their classrooms, the administration began to notice a unique paradigm: there were some that were truly trying to manage the iPad while others were trying to lead learning with the iPad.  It became clear to the administration that those teachers who used the iPads to lead – or support – learning were more successful in using the iPads.  Those that tried to manage the devices seemed to have more struggles with students.  The administration also noticed that learning tasks began to change.  Many teachers found that using iPads to do the same type of work before their introduction caused more problems and off-task behavior.  When teachers changed the learning target or asked students for their input in how to use the iPads, there was greater student engagement, higher quality learning, and greater teacher satisfaction.

In all, we also worked to tighten our security of the iPads to limit downloads, added some consequences for how to use the devices, and supported parents to better understand how to use the iPads at home.  But our greatest discovery in managing iPads was learning to not manage them, and instead lead learning – where appropriate – with them.  Now, teachers and students are making better decisions about how iPads support student learning.  Our philosophy to technology – and not the iPads themselves – are helping our students be better prepared for the 21st century of learning, earning, and living!

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