Monday, February 25, 2008

Is There Anything As Important As the Economy?

In our quest to create a rationale for what young people need to know and be able to do in the future and for changing instructional practice we have come to rely on our reading of books such as the World Is Flat, A Whole New Mind, videos such as Did You Know, and the various organizations identifying 21st Century Skills. The focus of these works is on economics and sustaining our place in the world of the future. We talk about knowledge and skills that position our kids for options in the future that result in sustaining a high quality of life; in other words making enough money.

The following blog entry and video does a great job of putting this economic driver in a different context. It questions the focus on economics and forces one to think about the world these kids and future generations will inherit if we don't start thinking about the physical world and not just sustaining or improving our place in it. It questions competition as a driver and what are we intentionally doing to create a focus on what the economic driver has done to our world and will continue to do if we don't change our focus. We talk about much of what is shared in this video, we focus on much with our Outcomes and Indicators, but are we really teaching in a way that will change this economic focus? Should we be adding another level of complexity to our work? Certainly our legislators at the state and federal level see the economy as the main driver for change in our profession. We need more engineers and IT people to complete in this global economy is what we continually hear from them.

This video and the blog entry have certainly created more dissonance for me. I encourage you to view it and read the entry. It would serve as a wonderful point of departure for a conversation with staff about our Classroom 10 goal. It has also made me admire Bruce even more with his decision to buy a hybrid. I kidded him about it at the time and laughed about Hill calling him a tree hugger, but he cares and is aligning his behavior with his belief system. I still struggle to recycle when I go to the dump. At the system level what is our belief system and is our behavior aligned with it?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Some Time Off

Well, it has been over a week since I last shared anything. I took a few days off and sandwiched a weekend into the mix and I didn't turn on the computer for five days. When I finally booted up this morning I was a far cry from inbox zero, but I managed to leave today with less than ten which is my daily goal. In fact, I reached that number early this morning. I haven't started on my RSS feeds, but I know they will take longer and also be much more interesting.

I spent the better part of the day in Olympia supporting PSE and classified staffing needs. For the most part the news was not good. The house budget was unveiled this morning on the heels of the revenue projections showing a shortfall that had a negative impact on the supplemental budget proposal. Good news for certificated staff is the 1% increase over the 2.8% included in last year's I-732 budget for a 3.9% increase next year. The bad news is that the 1% is not included for classified staff.

We talked with four legislators and one assistant hearing that the money is not there to do what they would all like to do. All point to the group formed when Washington Learns did not include any proposals to fix what all agree is an antiquated state funding system. I didn't leave feeling very optimistic about the future though I believe that they care, but are simply overwhelmed with the process and politically difficult situation currently in place.

I also know that if this budget is adopted our district budget will be increasingly more difficult to balance because we make up the I-732 raise for non-formula staff with the local levy. This increase is eating up the annual levy increase. Combine this with NERC costs increasing more rapidly than revenue increases, our commitment to increase teacher pay, and slowing enrollment growth results in continued reduction in an already meager cash reserve as we have historically done. At some time, however, if the state budget formulas don't change we will need to make the commitment to change practice and actually look at the need for cuts to current levels of program and support. Not a very promising picture, but one we are facing today.

Oh, to cap it all off we didn't make the capital budget cut for our performance center. It went the way of the revenue projections, down and out. We'll keep hammering away until we get more positive results. Once again though the biggest losers seem to be the classified staff. Their roles and remuneration are not priorities at the state level and the work they do is misunderstood and under appreciated by far too many in and outside of Olympia.

It feels good to once again blog. I almost booted up Sunday but decided against it because the temptation to "do" e-mail might have been hard to ignore. It was a good decision. Hope you are enjoying your break.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Can't Seem to Escape the Technology Issues

I had the opportunity this evening to meet with our board and building members of our leadership team. It is an opportunity for board members and administrators to share in a more informal environment and one that the board has initiated. One of the topics of conversation was our Classroom 10 initiative that quickly led to the topic of technology.

The board members heard a variety of issues and concerns related to technology, some that have been expressed before and some that they may not have heard before. They responded with questions and comments expressing concern with the situation as described. If someone had been present with no attachment to our system they would probably be asking who was in charge of this zoo.

As I was listening to the conversation, three things came to mind. First, I was the only one present that had a system context related to this issue. There are others with this same context, but not in the room. It would have been interesting to watch the reaction had they been present. The issues and concerns being expressed are based on personal experience and are real for the individual. Viewing them from this context, the answers and solutions seem simple enough. If they were that simple, I would not be blogging on this topic this evening. We are engaged in what is still comparably new work to ours and other educational systems and the solutions require more than technical tweaks. We have begun to look for adaptive solutions, but they will take time.

This system context leads to my second thought. Those of us with this knowledge have and continue to do a poor job of communication. We have made some changes in the department, but based on the conversation there is a lack of clear understanding of how the pieces fit together. What we thought was appropriate engagement in the planning and implementation was not effective. Back to the drawing board.

Lastly, it became clear that there is a sense of urgency developing with those in the room. This is welcome and has not been present. The combination of having money through a technology levy for purchases and training, seeing the potential for some of this "stuff" to truly impact learning, and the third party (Meteri) audit of our buildings and system has resulted in some creative tension. We know from experience the importance of urgency in creating and sustaining successful change so we need to take advantage of this opportunity and respond to
the concerns.

The stakes are high and the potential is great resulting in a wonderful learning opportunity. On the agenda for Thursday as our combined tech groups meet for the second time to move toward forming a team we will need to spend some time discussing this opportunity.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Thanks to Assorted Stuff

I thought I'd share this post from Assorted Stuff about classroom rules in a college art class. In the post he shares the following rules.

Rule 2 - General duties of a student: Pull everything out of your teacher, pull everything out of your fellow students.

Rule 3 - General duties of a teacher: Pull everything out of your students.

Rule 5 - Be self disciplined: This means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

Going to the source of the rules I found two others that caught my attention.
Rule 4 - Consider everything an experiment.

Rule 6 - Nothing is a mistake. There is no win and no fail. There is only make.

I can see how these "fit" an art class, but shouldn't they also apply to our work in public schools, especially 4 and 6? With rules like these maybe kids wouldn't lose the sense of wonder and discovery that they bring to kindergarten. We wouldn't be stifling curiousity by the journey to find the right answer to get the right grade, that leads to the necessary grade point average needed for continued learning to prepare for a world where curiousity and creativity will again be part of the currency for success.

Kind of leaves a lot of time in between that can be seen as very boring for many of our young people that have been conditioned or refuse to be conditioned to the norms for success in traditional K-12 learning. If curiousity and creativity are requirements for success in the 21st century we need to ensure that our curriculum and instructional practices provide opportunities for all students to continually use and enhance their capacity with these tools.

(Spell check isn't working and didn't for my last post. Normally this would bother me and force me to read the post multiple times before publishing. Iv'e decided, however, to reread only one time and if I miss anything so be it. My self worth is no longer tied to spelling and typing errors on my blog. I will though, accept any guidance one can give me about my problem. Thanks for listening and overlooking the errors.)

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Building A House

Last Friday I had the opportunity to meet with our technology staff, both those that are responsible for the back end work and those responsible for the curriculum and instructional component of our work. Like most systems, we have had our share of problems with implementations and communication between these two groups. Our problems don't seem to be at the same level as many that I read about probably because of the size of our system, but they are evident and result in finger pointing and questioning.

I scheduled the meeting and as I reflect on and read the exit slips it was a good decision. These two groups had begun to change how they communicated on their own, bringing them together reinforced and energized this change effort. I learned many things during the course of this meeting. Among them are the following:
  • These two groups want to become a team with a shared vision around Classroom 10 and structures for effective planning and implementation.
  • We do a good job of creating a vision with teaching and learning staff while ignoring those that work the back end. I guess we think that they can create their own purpose for being and then somehow make sure that it is aligned with the system vision. This doesn't, however, stop us from making judgments when these two don't align.
  • We don't share a common understanding of what Web 2.0 means though we have been using the term for quite some time.
  • To a person, these people want what is best for our teachers and students, they want to be perceived as caring and competent and are tired of doing business as usual.

During our conversation a house building analogy emerged (thanks to Kimberly and Craig) to describe the tasks of the two groups in this work. The system has a vision of what we want young people to know and do and what that should look and sound like in classrooms, Classroom 10. Teaching and learning staff are the architects responsible for designing the content and process learning in these classrooms. Back end staff are the engineers responsible for designing, installing, and supporting structures that ensure effective implementation and continued use of the technology used to support learning in classrooms.

To be effective, the architects must engage their system engineers early in the process to ensure they understand not only what they want built, but the intent and purpose for the various parts of the house. This is one area we have done a poor job of, engaging the engineers in a timely way around not just the desired rooms in the house, but what the intent and learning outcomes are. Knowing this we believe, will enagage the engineers at a deeper level, will allow us to take better advantage of their expertise and experience, and will result in technology implementations that support 21st Century teaching and learning.

We will continue to meet. In fact, we have decided that the work is so important that we will meet more often than originally planned. I am encouraged and excited with the attitude and energy that these people are bringing to this effort. I am confident that they will design and implement adaptive changes to meet the challenges of supporting teaching and learning with new and promising tools. We should have seen this need long ago. Why does it sometimes seem like we lose sight of common sense? And, why can't I just feel good about this without it creating dissonance in another area? What would that be? Where do the teaching and support staff and students fit in this building analogy? Don't the users usually have significant influence before the architects take over?

Oh well, enough for now. Have a great day!