'How do we better balance support, coaching, and modeling to develop leaders?’
It’s a fairly simple question that requires a complex response.
During #satchat the question 'What is the greatest challenge facing school leaders today?' popped up on the screen and it got me thinking again about the concept of balance in leadership.
It is an incredibly difficult leadership task where we are often balancing one thing against another. But, there’s more to balance in leadership than the typical dichotomy of balance. It’s not a see-saw. I see it more as a balancing of plates spinning. Each plate represents a different task, focus, initiative, or issue that needs to keep spinning. As a leader, you’re responsible for making sure that the most important plates keep spinning, but don’t misinterpret ‘responsible’ in this analogy. Yes, it’s your responsibility, but more importantly you need to develop and support leaders in your building to keep those plates spinning. You don’t need to touch the plates all the time. In fact, you shouldn’t. You need to support, coach, and model for others doing the spinning. Which leaders are right for which plate? Each of your leaders needs something different and each requires a different approach. If you have too many plates spinning, one (or more) might fall. That's probably because you're out of balance.
So, the question of balance in leadership is this,
'How do we better balance support, coaching, and modeling to develop leaders?’
It’s a fairly simple question that requires a complex response.
As always, thanks for taking the time to read these thoughts! Please feel free to comment, add-on, question, and push my thinking!
What is the Return On Time Invested (ROTI) for your assessments?
Excessive assessment has come under increased fire over the past couple of years and so this may be a 'little late to the party blog', but I've been verbally complaining about over assessing for years and the topic keeps coming up, so here's my two cents. My go to analogy has been one I stole from someone (too long ago to remember)...
"We need to stop weighing the pig and feed it!"
Let it sink in for a minute...
Weighing the pig=Assessing our kids
Feeding the pig=Teaching our kids
(Sorry to any vegetarians out there whom I may have offended...we can use a tomato for the next analogy.)
I will also say that this is not an anti-assessment or anti-SBAC/accountability blog. We need assessment and accountability in education (Blog for another time!) but what we don't need are assessments that are time consuming, underutilized, and that do not influence the instructional core. It goes back to what I have been writing about over the past couple of months on Return On Time Invested (ROTI). We only have so much time in education but we continue to mismanage that time with our energy going towards things that do not have an impact on learning. Assessment has been one of them...what I find interesting is this difference between what assessments we administer and what teachers and school teams actually value and use. It's not enough to just measure the time it takes to administer. You have to think about it's impact on classroom instruction and on teacher time outside of instruction.
Maybe it's that we're asking the wrong questions about assessments or asking the wrong people. Maybe we're not always paying attention to actually what is happening in the classroom with the information from assessments.
Here are the questions we should ask...
What does it assess?
How much instructional time is lost to administer the assessment?
How much time does it take to score and enter the data into your data system?
How valuable is the data to the teacher? How valuable is the data to the school?
How is it changing instruction?
In actuality, the chief complaint that I hear about assessment is that there is so much data that the teachers don't know which data sets to analyze and then the amount of time they have to analyze the data is almost nil. It's not a surprise that so many teachers cringe when we mention data. They are sick of collecting it and entering it and not using it. Our PLC's work hard to look at data, let's continue to leverage the power of the 'PLC room' and maximize our time focusing on the most important sets of data!
Stop weighing the pig and feed it! We definitely know how much the pig weighs, what it's measurements are, what it's BMI is, etc...how many other measurements do we have to take to know what kind of food to feed it?
So, let's listen to the teachers and watch what the teachers do with assessments, data, and instruction. Let's ask better questions and seek answers from the right people. What are they using to plan their instruction? Let’s invest in teachers and their time. If they need coaching around assessment and data, let’s give it to them!
Thanks so much for taking the time to read this blog! I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts.
Recently, a colleague and I were discussing homework...actually we were 'going off' about homework...teachers giving homework, teachers grading homework, teachers overvaluing homework, and even teachers going over homework in class!...etc...I really can't believe that we're still having this conversation in 2016! Then, the same colleague sends me this article...Homework is wrecking our kids: The research is clear, let’s ban elementary homework-by Heather Shumaker (@HeatherShumaker). She goes on to discuss how much of a negative impact it has on the perception of school that not only does it not do what it's intended to do...it makes kids not enjoy school...I don't think this is really a revelation...isn't it one of the things we hated about school. Matt Miller does a great job in his blog on HW describing the issue as well. The research on the effect of homework on student achievement is extensive and it's pretty clear. For you data geeks out there, check out John Hattie's research as referenced in Visible Learning for Teachers...it has an effect size of .29, which is below the .4 line of having a significant (that's oversimplifying...maybe meaningful) effect...(Yes, there are some studies that have a higher effect size....that's not the type of homework we're talking about here.) Check out John Hattie on BBC talking about HW. Hattie doesn't 'kill HW' as much as I'm writing here, but he does have some great insight for educators. The impact should make every teacher wonder why we would spend any time on it at all let alone the amount of time that some students and teachers do. There are so many better ways that kids can spend their time outside of classroom that would have an impact on them as kids...exercising, socializing with friends, playing with legos, etc..... So, why are we spending time on homework? What is the return on time invested (ROTI) for homework?
Every teacher that spends more than a minute of their time deciding on an assignment, making the copies, distributing them to kids, collecting the papers, reviewing the homework in class (Please tell me you don't really do this anymore!), and grading homework should really pause. Actually, just STOP...give the kids a break for the night and read the research. Again, it's pretty clear...it doesn't make much difference so why are you spending so much time on it. Why, why, why give homework?
Teachers...isn't your time more valuable than this? Shouldn't the 'make every minute' count philosophy apply to how teachers spend their time both inside and outside the classroom? Is it even possible that a homework grade accurately represents a student's demonstration of a standard? (Again...please tell me that you're not really grading homework!)
Any parents reading this blog? Please take a minute to thank a teacher for not providing 20 math problems to complete at home, which the kids either already know how to do or don't know how to do...is it really extra practice? Is it the right kind of practice even if it's practice? Is it how you want them spending their time? Ok...so as a parent, you think that it's something that defines the 'rigor' of the school. Let me clarify....It really doesn't at all. I'm a parent of 4 and an educator. I have some experience in this area.
Ok, ok, ok...if you're still reading and haven't sent me a nasty email or comment...here's a couple exceptions that you might want to consider...flipping your class...send home a 2-minute screencast or video pre-teaching or re-teaching an important concept. That could be a valuable use of your time and the kids time. If they don't watch it, no worries, they could watch it in school the next day (if they even need to watch it.). You don't need to make a masterpiece...no retakes....just record, save, upload, and share. You might even find a video online that you could use...you don't even need to make one. Instead of parents giving their kids their phone to watch Minecraft videos on youtube or play Flappy Golf....they could say...watch this video of your teacher! (Ok...now all the NOT every kid has access to the internet people come out and yell. Seriously, try it for a year and then bring the argument to me.)
Or just ask them to read...read something that they like to read...develop a love of reading. What would the world be like if 1% more of the population loved reading? That's 3 million more people in the U.S. loving reading instead of hating school b/c of homework!
How about just asking them to 'think' about something when they go home that night...have them write down a thought-provoking question in their journal and have the parent initial it each night (if that's important to you and your parents). Then, you might be fostering some thinking...isn't that really what we want our kids to do?
There just has to be a better way to 'extend' learning outside of the school day if you find that to be necessary...let's seek the third way. Please share this and the article above to others...we can do better for our kids!
Anyway, as always, thanks for taking your valuable time reading this blog...I hope it was better spent than the time you spent on homework today!
A couple months ago I wrote about the experience of going to the White House and participating at the initial #GoOpen cohort with USDOE. Yesterday we attended the #GoOpen Exchange at Skywalker Ranch outside of San Francisco. We were greeted by lush green surroundings, rolling hills, intense quiet, and Yoda. As you step inside you find George Lucas’ collection of art adorning the walls of the ranch and a variety of spaces that allowed us to connect, collaborate, and think. It was the perfect place to find your creative/innovative side, which is critical in this time in education. We had thoughtful conversations about how we can best leverage the opportunity that OER holds for teaching and learning. Everyone had an opportunity to share their experiences and insights. Quite honestly, if anyone walked away without a new idea to support teachers and schools, then it was their own fault. If they walked away without making connections with other educators or companies, then it was their own fault.
That said, a couple big takeaways for me….
Sean Nash said it best during the panel Q & A with North Kansas City Public Schools…”GoOpen honors teachers as the professionals they are.” This was really so simply profound and his words were echoed throughout many of the conversations. Why is this so important? Text book adoptions and mandatory curriculum have hampered many educators abilities to balance the art and science of education. Textbooks and mandatory programs have stifled creativity and served as a crutch for the past decade in our district. I’m guilty of being one of the administrators that ‘enforced’ this at different points in my career. However, I am proud to say that I can be quoted saying to teachers on multiple occasions (beginning about 7 years ago), “If I come into your classroom and you can answer the question of ‘Why are you doing this (activity) with this group of students right now?’ then you are good to go…don’t worry about the ‘DISTRICT PEOPLE’". Now, I am one of the ‘DISTRICT PEOPLE’ and I want all teachers to effectively answer the question above. (For what it’s worth an acceptable response to this question is not…’It was next or my PLC planned it.’) If teachers want to be granted the autonomy to teach, then they should have no problem answering this question. Don’t misinterpret my words…PLCs are critical but every teacher should be able to understand the decision of a PLC to select a specific text or activity.
Systemic supports are critical to #GoOpen districts. One reason that schools and districts adopt textbooks and mandate curriculum is b/c their fear that teachers cannot develop and implement lessons appropriately to support the needs of their students and demands of the standards. We need to support our teachers as this is not easy work. Districts can’t spend hours and hours ‘vetting’ resources, we need to develop our teachers ability to identify, curate, create, tag, and deliver resources efficiently and effectively. We need to support them taking risks and if they miss the mark rather than ‘reprimand them’ or mandate a curriculum, we need to coach them and improve their skills in that area. Time is the eternal enemy of education (BTW-We need to make this foe a friend-another blog for another time) and this is no different…our roles as school leaders needs to continue a model of differentiated support and professional learning.
How can we get student voice out there through the #GoOpen Movement?
USDOE is committed to this work...to have the opportunity to Google Hangout with Secretary of Education John King on his first official day in office and my colleague @DougTimm34 to ask him a beautiful question about student voice in #GoOpen movement. The new secretary responded to this and other questions with understanding, humor and passion about the current and future state of education. They also reinforced that although there is only 300 days left in this administration that we should expect to see support and work in this important area in the coming months and years. It's hard to imagine an educational policy agenda that would NOT continue providing increased access and opportunity for all students. #GoOpen is all about access and opportunity!
Overall, it was great to make some new connections in education! Great to meet all of you and thanks for stretching my thinking! @E_Ochenduszko @kevinwhaleylsr7 @MsClaraGalan @ericflack
Thanks so much for taking the time to read this blog. I have a question for you to comment on before you leave...
How might we best foster a culture of collaboration, sharing, and risk-taking to support #GoOpen?
Designing a new evaluation system for teachers
Ok...so we are over a year into this work and I'm finally getting around to writing this blog. Here's the story...
We have been kvetching about our state teacher evaluation system almost since the minute the ink dried on the first manual...it's too cumbersome...it doesn't mean anything to teachers...too many rubrics...etc... I'm sure that the same holds true for many others across the state and nation. So, as a district we decided to take advantage of the state regulation that says 'If you don't like our system, go ahead and design your own!' (Actually, it doesn't read that way, but you get the gist.) So, we said 'why not' and formed a workgroup to tackle this challenge. We decided that we wanted a system focused on the following:
Continuing to grow as professionals and educators
Improving the quality of feedback to educators
Increasing the frequency of feedback to educators
Isn't that what everyone would like to see in an evaluation system? I think we may have really come close to nailing this model or as we revise it and make it better, then we will get there soon. We had an incredible work group design the system with the guidance from Insight Education who did an incredible job of facilitating the process and opening our eyes to the possibility of an eval system that kept our beliefs at the forefront of the work.
When you look at the model below, you will wonder how could we create a system that INCREASED the amount of feedback to teachers and still IMPROVE the quality of feedback? In a nutshell, we paired down the amount of 'rated' items from 18 to 5, expanded the 'who' can provide feedback, and created rubrics that were aligned to best practices and what was most important to teaching and learning in our district.
TLF Performance Standards
What's actually really cool is that we have reached an interesting point as we presented our new evaluation system to various educators over the past couple months. It's kind of crazy b/c we knew we were doing something different and unique but when you're really putting yourself out there and people get interested it changes your perspective. It's kind of like wearing a clown suit down Main St. on a random spring day. Everybody looks at you funny (maybe a little scared) and doesn't really know what to say to you. But, in this case...a couple other folks said 'Hey, where'd you get that clown suit? I want to put one on!'
Anyway, this blog has the potential of being super long....so I think I'll end it here and then set up a page dedicated to the topic. Stay tuned!
I started the page...CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE COLONIAL TLF!
As always, thanks so much for taking your valuable time to read this blog!
List of amazing educators on the Teaching and Learning Framework Workgroup! Thanks to all of you and everyone else who made this happen for our students and teachers in Colonial!
Kevin Wright-Teacher William Penn High School
Pam Ward-Teacher George Read Middle School
JT Callaway-Instructional Coach Wilbur Elementary School
Elaine Autry-Teacher Wilmington Manor Elementary School
Cindi Price-Teacher Southern Elementary School
Cecilia Hann-Music Teacher Eisenberg/Castle Hills Elementary Schools
Melissa Johnson-Teacher Wallin School
Carla Hood-Teacher New Castle Elementary School
Emily Klein-Psychologist Pleasantville and Wilmington Manor Elementary Schools
Rebecca Krieg-Teacher Eisenberg Elementary School
Victoria Ward-Teacher Wilbur Elementary School
Donna Fesmire-Teacher William Penn High School
Stephanie Ingram-Teacher New Castle Elementary School
Ann Fisher-Teacher Leach/Colwyck School
Renee Griffith-Student Advisor-Pleasantville Elementary School
Amina Baaith-Student Advisor-McCullough Middle School
Nikki Jones-Principal New Castle Elementary School
Holly Sage-Principal George Read Middle School
Dan Bartnik-Asst. Principal William Penn High School
Janissa Nuneville-Principal Castle Hills
Jeff Menzer-Director of Secondary Schools
Pete Leida-Director of Elementary Schools
Every once in a while, we're in a meeting or workgroup and it appears that the workgroup is focused on making things perfect before taking the next step...I'll hear comments like the 'administrators will need this'....'the teachers will say this...' 'they need to know ___, ____, and ____ before we get started.' etc, etc...to the point where rather than understanding that the outcome or the next steps will make our schools better even if the system of implementation is not perfect.
In some ways, isn't that better? Doesn't it show a sense of risk-taking to those around us? Doesn't allowing risk create trust? Doesn't it allow us to engage folks in doing the work rather than just talking about the work? I'm pretty sure it's akin to what Rick DuFour states in his writing that we 'Learn by Doing'...not by talking about what we're doing. It's very similar to a 1st generation model or taking something to the 'beta' stage. This is different than a pilot in my mind. (see future blog on Pilot v Beta). Please don't misunderstand me and think that we should half-a__ things just to get them out there...but there's a point in a work group where you begin to overthink every detail before really finding out all the details. This is all beginning to remind me of the concept of 'perfection paralysis'...a debilitating organizational disease. But, how do we break through or out of paralysis? How do we get others to break out of perfection paralysis? When is the right time to 'move-on'?
Compounding this situation is the fact that our the stakes are too high for our kids to wait until 'we' have it perfect. Our kids need better NOW...not in a month not in a year...not until the 'experts' think we have it perfect...they need better NOW!
Opponents to this concept or those that are conservative will say that the stakes are too high for us to take that risk and will filibuster a committee for months and years. It's easy to be conservative in these situations...it's not easy to take risks. (Another blog for another time).
I don't have the answers...just lots of questions on this topic. But, I think we need to reflect on this as we are working together as an organization or work group. So, what if we just sent it out there knowing it's not perfect and letting other know that it's not perfect...then say let's work out the kinks to make it better. What's the worst that can happen? It's a colossal 'failure'? Doubtful...If it's a good idea and has a researched background, then that minimizes the chances of 'failure'. Also, if we know we're going to use it as a launching point and not the ending point, then doesn't that create some level of buy-in?
Ironically, there are many times that I suffer from this as a writer and am making a conscious choice today to 'move-on' and leave this blog as is...and also think about some of my other blogs. They are not perfect...they need to be refined, but rather than wait to make them perfect, I'm going to let them all go to 'beta'...isn't that the beauty of a blog anyway that it can always be revisited and refined? Maybe, that's my New Year's Resolution for blogging...just get some words down...hit 'Save' and then come back later and make it better.
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog today...I hope to make it better soon!
School leaders are expected to juggle a number of responsibilities between the daily 'to do' lists that never have an end...I'm not even going to list them all...you've seen the list before. But, their primary responsibility is to serve as an instructional leader and with that responsibility comes a shorter list of 'to-do's'. This includes, leading professional development, analyzing student data, attending PLC's, and observing/evaluating staff. We're gonna spend a little time on the last one, well, specifically on walkthroughs.
Much has been written over the past couple of years about the impact of walkthroughs on student outcomes...some positive, some not so positive with regards to the return on time invested (ROTI). Yes, I am adding to the edu-jargon alphabet soup if you're not already using that term. The reason to add the 'T' is that in education it can be our most precious commodity, so it should be considered in how we invest it. I contend that walkthroughs are an incredibly important part of an instructional leader's responsibilities but with the caveat that they should have a strong purpose or the ROTI will not be strong. Why are you walking through today? This is a question that every school leader should ask themselves...just like everything else a school leader does, it should serve a valuable purpose as it takes up valuable time....so...
Why are you walking through today?
It's important that school leaders have a common understanding of what high-quality instruction looks like in classrooms. One of the ways to ensure that everyone is on the same page is through the use of 'side-by-side' or calibration walkthroughs with 2 or more administrators. These small teams of administrators walk into classrooms, observe the practice in action, and then debrief. A number of different protocols could be used for this process, but often times the Principal will lead this work with his instructional coaching team. In this case, it's as much about the teaching and learning in the classroom as it is about building the 'Instructional Eye' of the leadership team. The principal leading the work, must step back, listen to the team, and coach the team. The team should feel comfortable taking risks in this environment and being honest with what they saw in the room. This is where the coaching of coaches comes in...the principal must guide the team based on their observations and sharpen their tools. This could also include a process called Instructional Rounds (see below).
School leaders can always use this is a purpose for conducting walkthroughs and should in most cases. Qualitative and quantitive data can be gathered during a walkthrough and then, hopefully, used to determine next steps for professional development or to evaluate the impact of professional development. School leaders can create different forms using Google forms or another digital tool to collect specific information for the focus for their data collection walkthrough. School leaders collect data on teaching strategies, math practices, common core alignment, task level, teacher talk/student talk ratio, and many other topics. It's most impactful when it's on the focus of the school or the needs of the school. Sometimes the data that is collected is anecdotal and give leadership teams a better understanding of the pulse of the school. You may be doing a walk-through for a coaching session, but can walk out with 'data' on student culture...it's probably going to be qualitative. An qualitative data is very valuable in schools. Of course, the constant reminder with all data in schools is that it's not important that it's collected...what's important is how it's used...don't collect any data just to collect it...use it...draw meaning from it...make decisions or determine further investigation/next steps from the data.
We have spent a lot of time focusing on coaching our teachers after walkthroughs and it is one of the driving forces behind individual growth for teachers. Coaching sessions using Paul Bambrick's Leverage Leadership walkthrough/feedback model have allowed every teacher to receive regularly scheduled walkthroughs that are focused on student learning as it plays out in the classroom. This type of walkthrough allows our leaders and teachers to engage in an on-going professional dialogue about what can be tweaked, adjusted, or newly implemented to result in higher student outcomes. It may be that a newer teacher needs to 'shift the lifting' from the teacher to the student so the student is carrying the cognitive load or that the teacher needs to ensure all students are giving 100% when directions are given, so they need a strong, consistent attention strategy. Either way, both are connected to student learning and both are focused on what those individual teachers need to adjust in their classrooms. Whether you use Leverage Leadership or another model, the goal is that you are coaching your teachers...not evaluating them...coaching them.
Leaders often believe that being visible and showing a presence in the hallways, cafeterias, playgrounds, and classrooms is important to maintaining a strong culture and developing relationships with students and teachers. This is very true! So, let's make the most of that time...when in the cafeteria, the leader should interact with the students, the cafeteria workers, and the staff monitoring students. The same holds true for the hallways, playgrounds and the classrooms. The classrooms....yes, the classrooms. As a school leader, getting into classrooms to be visible is a low-level purpose in some ways, but can be very powerful. There are times when you want to learn alongside the students, asking them what they are learning, why it's important, and what are they going to do next. I would contend that you take the opportunity to make your 'visibility walkthroughs' more purposeful by having a specific look-for whether it be focusing on school culture or academics. When you get back from your 'visibility walkthroughs' take a minute to jot down some notes so that you can do some follow up walk throughs with a more laser sharp focus.
Instructional Rounds is a process adapted from the medical model of teams doctors visiting patients and working collaboratively to determine the best approach towards treating a patient. This builds off the collaboration of the team and allows multiple perspectives and can result in great growth for a school. It differs from traditional calibration approaches in that the 'Rounds Team' is looking for a problem of practice in the school that has been identified. They then take copious notes on what the teachers says and does, what the students say and do, and what the task is that students are being asked to complete. The team then convenes in a room and dissects the classroom using the 'evidence' collected and draws conclusions based on the 'evidence'. The team can then work to determine classroom or school-wide next steps in professional development or instructional focus. Teachers, most likely, will not receive feedback from this process, but it happens at times. Recently, we have embarked on this process in our elementary schools...game changer for thinking about instruction! (See future blog on Instructional Rounds!)
Leaders can take data on the number of higher order thinking questions using a 'question audit'. A 'question audit' is when observers spend 10 to 15 minutes in each classroom recording every question asked and only the questions asked. It usually occurs in a 'locust' kind of effect as multiple observers break out into schools and rotate from room to room over a period of a couple of hours. Questions are written on post-it notes and then sorted into categories using a taxonomy such as 'Blooms'. School teams then analyze the data to determine questioning trends across grade levels and subject areas. As with most data collection walkthroughs a professional development session focused on changing the level of question to a higher level typically follows.
So, as you can read from the descriptions above and it's not all encompassing...there are lots and lots of reasons to spend time in classrooms, but there are still principals that are not spending enough time in classrooms...so why? That's a blog for another time. Thus, the 'Part 1'. Most importantly though is that school leaders have a purpose and a focus...don't just walk through to walk through...our time is too valuable and walkthroughs are a valuable way to spend your time. What is the ROTI of your walkthroughs?
As always, thanks so much for taking the time to read this post...I hope it has a strong ROTI!
Hey...I forgot one reason for 'walkthroughs'....Evaluation....Well really this is more from the teacher end than from the leader end. We tell all of our leaders that 'walkthroughs' are about growth and feedback to improve practice or to inform our leadership team that it's not an evaluation tool. It's others that are concerned that walkthroughs will end up in their evaluations. And really even when it's a formal observation...really "The primary purpose of observation should not be to judge the quality of teachers, but to find the most effective ways to coach them to improve student learning" Bambrick-Santoyo (Leverage Leadership, 2012). So, our real challenge is changing mindsets around feedback, walkthroughs and observations...focus on growth for everyone involved.
Thanks for taking your valuable time to read this blog...please feel free to comment or debate my premise any time!
*Instructional Rounds in Education by City, Elmore, Fiarman, and Teitel
My colleague, Doug Timm (@DougTimm34), and I had the opportunity to represent our district and participate in the Open Education Symposium at the Eisenhower Building in Washington D.C.. This was an amazing event that announced our commitment as a district along with 9 other districts in the country to work to #goopen in the coming months and years. It was incredible to see the collaboration between so many different perspectives coming together for our kids.
In the 15th century, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press…at the time this was a revolutionary invention and provided access to common text throughout the western world with the mass production of books and rapid dissemination of knowledge. It created opportunities for people to learn in a way that was not achievable prior to the printing press. Since then it seems that we have worked hard to instill copyright laws and block the sharing of resources and materials to the masses. Open educational resources (OER’s) has the potential to be the next 'printing press' for education. Our involvement with USDOE’s #goopen project breaks down the walls to curriculum and in the same way as Gutenberg over 500 years ago, it provides access for our students to materials, resources, and knowledge that was not freely available before. This allows them an opportunity to learn using the same high quality resources as any other child in the state, nation, and world regardless of their income.
In Colonial we have embraced the motto 'Where Access Meets Opportunity' which is so apropos for this conversation. We serve an economically diverse community with many of our students coming from low income households. And like many other districts in tough economic times, our district funding and resources are limited. Thus, the opportunity to access open educational resources helps us to level the playing field for our students and bridge the digital divide.
Going 'Open' is not new to us...
We began our work with open educational resources three years ago, when we were faced with an outdated elementary reading series and the coming of Common Core. We made the strategic decision to shift our funding from a new reading series to investing time and effort into open educational resources. Over the last three years, we have learned a lot about alignment of resources to the core, level of rigor, and creating a blended environment through which to deliver resources. We have worked closely with Schoology (our LMS), our teachers, our instructional coaches, and leaders to do this work in Colonial. This has not been easy work, but it’s been powerful. Our teachers are developing a deeper understanding of the standards and resources. They are working to facilitate student learning by leveraging technology. Our teachers, coaches, and principals are providing professional development and coaching to support teachers.
This process is a journey and we are taking steps on that journey. Our educators need to continue growing their skills at not only culling through content and resources, but also learning to create high-quality content and resources. This process pushes our teachers to truly understand the learning targets and student needs and to leverage OER’s to meet their needs. It’s not easy, it’s not perfect, but if something is worth doing, it’s rarely easy or perfect. It also frees up our teachers to become facilitators of learning and provides them an opportunity for autonomy and creativity. To paraphrase Richard Culatta (@rec54) from yesterday, 'teachers want to create a healthy dinner for their students not reheat someone else’s dinner'.
In my notes, I wrote this down...(sorry for being able to cite the source), textbook adoptions are expensive and when we make that commitment, it locks us in for almost a decade…how much does the world change in a decade? A decade ago, George Bush was president and Pluto was a planet. The textbook companies didn’t send us revised copies or any additional support materials.
With a continued shift towards OER’s it creates an opportunity for our students to access current and relevant materials as they are developed, which will result in increased engagement and learning. Leveraging OER’s opens the doors to content and experiences beyond the four classroom walls. It allows us to personalize and support student learning anytime at any pace, and anyplace. As an adult, I recognize and leverage the value of OER’s through the use of the internet, Twitter, and recently through a digital leadership MOOC out of NC State…why would we deprive our students of the same type of learning experience?
A traditional curriculum cannot provide you access to a presidential debate, up to the minute information on events in Syria, or an online tour of the sculpture garden in our nation’s capitol. Our students need access to this information to connect with the world and compete in a global economy. The stakes of our children are too high to leave it up to a static curriculum in an ever evolving world.
An incredible thanks to Arne Duncan (@arneduncan), Richard Culatta (@rec54), Andrew Marcinek (@andycinek), Joseph South (@southjoseph) and many others for making this happen for our kids.
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog...I look forward to connecting with you in the future!
So...this blog may be a bit 'late to the party' by about 10 years, but for some reason, I was spurred on to write about it today. Maybe because I spent 7 years off and on reading, writing, and researching 'Using Technology to Differentiate Instruction' for my dissertation. I submitted my final draft about a year ago, so maybe it does make a lot of sense that I'm coming back to it now...who knows, but here goes...
Differentiated instruction in the truest forms based on Tomlinson's work focuses on differentiation in process, content, product, ability, or interest. For years, master teachers have been leveraging differentiated opportunities skillfully and have met with great success in increasing student achievement. In spite of the research to support the impact of differentiation, these foundational differentiation opportunities are not consistently found in classrooms for various reasons including a perceived (or real) lack of time and/or a lack of understanding of data and/or lack of knowledge about differentiation. Foundational understanding of your students, their learning styles, and their abilities based on data is needed to improve classroom differentiation. Educators must also have a developed understanding about how to utilize this information to drive their instructional planning and implementation.
With the use of technology, you can do all of that in a much more efficient and effective manner, but you can also differentiate in ways that you can't absent of technology. With technology you can differentiate by time, pace, place, and path. As an example, a teacher can use their Learning Management System (LMS) to design a unit with specific learning targets and objectives. Students can proceed through the unit at their own pace with the teacher monitoring both face-to-face (F2F) and/or virtually. Some students may need multiple lessons to master a skill, while others may be able to do it the first time around.
Those teachers that are leveraging technology to differentiate learning are experiencing this new found pedagogy that has moved them from 'teaching' to 'facilitating'. In this role, teachers have more time to have to facilitate individual and small group conversations. As an example, leveraging screen-casting or videos of rote tasks to support learning. Or by developing tasks that extend learning in a personalized way. This is done in a virtual environment that has been created by the teacher or facilitated by the teacher. Again, this allows teachers the opportunity to facilitate conversations around complex questions rather than conduct a re-teach or not even re-teach at all.
Technology holds the potential to be an accelerator of learning, but are we putting a governor on the gas pedal? We're not looking to replace teachers...we need them now more than ever. It just changes their role. As we figure this out, it leads us into the realm of personalization...the holy grail of teaching pedagogy. But, that discussion is for another time, let's achieve differentiation or customization first.
I contend that if we could provide teachers the professional development and coaching support to truly understand the elements of differentiation and how to leverage technology to do so, then we would see an emerging pedagogy in the classroom come to life where the teacher is now a facilitator of learning. It would also help in shifting the cognitive load to the students...the students should work harder than the teacher, right?
Christen (2009) wrote, “Technology has the power to make the instructor a better facilitator or coach, bringing greater resources to bear in the classroom and adjusting the instruction to fit the individual” (p. 29). Isn't that what we want? Why is it so complicated? What keeps us from teaching that way? How can we make it happen?
I could probably go on and on, but I don't want to write another dissertation..at least not today.
We recently had 2 amazing days in Colonial that highlighted our incredible students (Ss), teachers (Ts), and admins (As) in action! The Power of WE was in full effect to put together these couple of days. We hosted a 'Site Visit' for over 20 educators and then held our Colonial Tech Conference: PK to 12 Connected Learning for over 200 educators on Saturday...it was a very busy time for our Tech Oversight Committee!
On Friday, we hosted a ‘District Site Visit’ for over 20 educators from across various districts and organizations in Delaware and Texas (thanks for visiting Amanda aka @TheEdsaneT...she reflected on it in her blog). It was an amazing day as we took the time to visit several classrooms in three different schools (Gunning Bedford, William Penn, and Carrie Downie). We are very proud of the work of our Ts and showcasing their hard work and efforts is a terrific opportunity for us.
As we toured, what was really interesting was how much student interaction was occurring. On 'tech visits' to classrooms, people envision a lot of Ss w/headphones on and working independently…that was not the case on this visit in most classrooms. Ts were facilitating learning…Ss were face to face (F2F) collaborating to create questions for other Ss in other states…Ss were digitally collaborating…Ts were working with small groups. So much differentiation by ability and interest at the Ss own pace and in their own time. It wasn't the case in every classroom as we expected and observed. We had some classes with less differentiation and others with more. But, that's part of the journey...tours like this allow us to see all ends of the spectrum and to help us identify where we need to learn and grow. It helps us, take our Ts from where they are to where we are going...personalized learning.
We scheduled time to host a ‘Q & A’ with both the students and the staff who shared how technology has impacted their planning, teaching, and learning. The genuineness and thoughtfulness of both the students and teachers was so moving.
Here’s what the students said…
At each school, but particularly at William Penn, the students were super reflective and honest about learning using technology. They shared which classes it has helped them to learn better and when they really need that F2F interaction. It was interesting to hear that it really depended on the students preference…not that we didn’t suspect that to be the case, but to actually hear it from them was awesome! Their maturity really showed through their comments and insights. I wish we had a video of the entire Q & A session.
Here’s what the teachers said…
In each Q & A session, our Ts were super reflective. They discussed their use of @Schoology and GAFE in the classrooms and how it has helped them to submit and revise assignments…how it has helped them provide differentiated support to students…how it has helped them to plan better. And what was super interesting was that it is not nearly as complicated as or time-consuming as they thought it would be before they started using it. They reflected on how tech has changed their planning and how they are integrating multiple digital tools on a daily basis. They talked about how they are flipping lessons and getting students to be creators of content not just consumers of content.
We were humbled by the fact that we had educators interested in spending a day with us...yes, us...learning how we’re leveraging tech to improve teaching and learning. We have been on several site visits in the past and learned so much. We felt (if people were interested) that we would ‘pay it forward’ and that's what we tried to do. We shared our Vision for Technology and our ‘Big Buckets’ that help make it happen. Like showing a stranger our 'drawers', we opened our thoughts and approach about Digital Leadership, Professional Development, Curriculum, and Devices & Infrastructure. We opened our classrooms, shared our practices, and repeatedly asked them to ask us questions about what we were doing in Colonial. It forced us to reflect on what is working and things we need to still consider or improve. The comments and questions from our guests were very insightful and helped push our thinking. We learned a lot about ourselves and more importantly made great connections with our expanding PLN.
But, when it was all said and done, I took a minute, took a breath, and reflected. Often times in a journey you get so fixated on the destination that you don’t take the time to celebrate how far you’ve come and what you’ve achieved. For us, it’s time to stop and smell the roses for we have much to celebrate!
(You'll have to tune in later to read about the tech conference. Here's a link to Lori Minka's Top 10 from the Tech Conference...it will definitely give you a great re-cap of what it was all about)
Thanks to everyone for making the visit such an enormous success!