Sunday, April 27, 2008

A New Book By Daniel Pink

This is the website for Daniel Pink's new book, Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need. I picked this particular post because the video is amusing and thought provoking at the same time. So many variables to consider for focus in this less than three minute peek into what the future may hold.

I have ordered the book and will share some of my thoughts in later posts. Right now I'm trying to read too many at the same time including one by Scott McLeod, Understanding Comics, that Pink lists as one of his five favorite books. I wouldn't list it as one of mine, but I am enjoying the quick read and thinking about how I use visuals in learning.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My discussion skills need work!

I don't normally blog this early in the day, but I am between preparing for and then facilitating an evening meeting so I thought I would share an experience today that caused me some dissonance and what I know will be continued reflection. I'll probably be too tired after the meeting, you know old age and all that.

I met with one of our administrators earlier today where we discussed a variety of topics, some mine and some his. One of the topics was a continuation from last year about support for teachers in the national board certification program. The topic isn't really important it is the conversation that causes me concern. It would not be what we label a skillful discussion, mostly because of my behavior. You need to understand, I teach this stuff so it doesn't feel good when I am confronted by my own behavior.

During the conversation I began to wonder why he couldn't let go and continued to repeat the same rationale and request multiple times. I started to move in the direction that I sometimes do of using positional power to stop what I get tired of, in this case a discussion where I had clearly stated my position and that I didn't want to be influenced. Fortunately, and this is one of the only good parts, I was able to shift and ask myself why does he feel the need to continue this conversation. I asked him a reflective question that gave me insight into his thinking and need that I didn't allow myself to hear or ask about earlier. I paraphrased and he added a little more so that I now understand his need and the reason for his request from him, not from my ladder or filters. I should have continued with a follow up question about how should we now proceed so that we could mutually agree on a course of action, but unfortunately I didn't. This once again demonstrates how hard this stuff is for me at times.

Well, what did I learn? I learned that I need to work on my listening skills. He wasn't really asking for anything other than that I demonstrate to him that I value his position and request. Yes, he wanted to influence my behavior, but as importantly he wanted to know that his supervisor cared enough to listen and would consider his request for further discussion with him and with teachers in the program. I really blew it, this is a fundamental need that all of us have.

What will I now do? Tonight when I get home I'll continue to mentally flog myself unless the meeting goes badly that will then give me something else worthy of flogging. The hard question is how will I respond to his need. I would like to say that it will be easy to have these additional conversations and then raise expectations that I will reconsider my position. It's not always that easy and right now I need time to reflect before deciding on how to proceed. That's not easy to write and probably not what some of you would want to read from someone in my position, but that's my private thinking at this time.

Thanks to my colleague's perseverance and commitment I have a learning experience and a chance to focus on my behavior and that is a gift. Whew, these gifts are sometimes hard to receive and own.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Terms travel easily, meaning doesn't (Michael Fullan)

Thanks to those of you that want to be part of a team to put together the Tahoma version of a video or some other visual tool to convey our rationale for change. Technically, I know very little, but I will bring much energy and commitment to this effort. I am excited about the potential to put this on the district web page for community and staff. I would also like to use it in a presentation with our Rotary Club.

In some way I would like to also address the issue of terminology in a visual format and perhaps in a district wiki (or some other format I don't know about yet.) When we get together about the use of technology in our schools and classrooms we use terms in interchangeable ways and without all having a common understanding of these terms. You know, words like information fluency, digital literacy -or- is it the other way around? I sometimes get confused. Then there are the others like embedded, not integrated. These don't even take into consideration the terms associated with the Web 2.0 possibilities for classroom use.

I am reminded of how difficult our PLC work is and of what we have learned from reading the DuFour books.

It is difficult enough to bring these concepts to life in a school when there is a shared understanding of their meaning. It is impossible when there is no common understanding and the terms mean very different things to different people within the school.

I think we face the same problem with the terms associated with this work and need to intentionally address this issue now, as we create a vision for what Classroom 10 looks and sounds like in our classrooms.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


I'm just about to start a board meeting to look at cuts or additional revenue streams to balance next year's budget and I ran across this additional video I thought I'd share. It is similar to the others I have shared, but is directed at teachers and has many of the words and phrases included in our Outcomes and Indicators, HOM, and thinking skills.

With all these versions it would be great to put together the Tahoma Way and share with the world. Anyone up for collaborating on this?

Anyone struggling to get into their account? I changed passwords and still can't get in. It is frustrating especially when I don't yet understand much of what I'm trying to do.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Why Blog?

I hadn't read any of my RSS feeds in a couple of days and now that I have it may have been better if I left them unread. Scott Mcleod on Dangerously Irrelevant started it with his Dear John post that seemed to be picked up by other bloggers that I read. It forced me to think about why I blog knowing that there are very, very few people in the blogosphere who actually read it.

Why do I blog? When I started, it was my attempt to be a role model for others in our district. To demonstrate for them that if someone with my skill level could do it anyone could. It wasn't long, however, before I realized it had become more important to me. I enjoy the opportunity to share what I read that I believe can be helpful to or stimulate reflection with others in our system. I also find it energizing to share my own thinking as it has helped me on more than one occasion to refine my thinking. So Scott, I don't care about my word count or how many read it, I am going to continue. I am not on the inside with you at the cocktail party and I don't need to be. I don't blog often, but I enjoy it when I do.

Before I close, I want to share this post on cool cat teacher blog that lead me again to the Horizon Project and the keynote by Dan Tapscott author of Wikinomics. It is a short video sharing the need for changes in pedagogy. This is a project with students that you can join, share with, and learn from. Check out the wiki.

Monday, April 7, 2008

It's nice to be affirmed!

I found this post on All Things PLC that rings so true for me. The topic is about what staff does when students don't learn; one of the fundamental questions of a PLC. What I found particularly interesting were these words.

. . .that effectively implementing RTI practices is not possible and should not be pursued until a school effectively begins implementing the three “Big Ideas” of a PLC-a focus on learning, a collaborative culture, and a focus on results. These first steps create the foundation needed to more effectively respond when students don’t learn. To skip these vital steps and move directly into creating a RTI/POI program would be disastrous. How can a school be expected to create powerful interventions if the staff has not built a culture that believes all students can learn, has not identified what they want their students to learn, and has not created a timely assessment system that can accurately identify which students need additional help?

Response to Intervention (RTI) and Pyramid of Intervention (POI) are research-based strategies for supporting struggling learners and are in place or being planned in all of our schools. But, are the "Big Ideas" referred to in the post in place in all buildings. I agree with the post that these foundations need to be in place before we begin the focus on what to do with RTI and/or POI.

Simply putting teachers in a room with or without facilitation does not ensure the capacity to make the critical decisions necessary to support all learners. We need to intentionally teach the skill set necessary to engage in dialogue and skillful discussion that results in effective decision making. I believe that the first big idea, a focus on learning will not become part of the school's culture in the absence of these crucial conversations. Until a staff grapples with what is important and identifies what they individually and collectively are committed to, there will be no common purpose. These are not one time discussions, they are on-going and require an effective communication skill set. A collaborative culture is not possible in the absence of these skills or the conversations that ensure that all staff are aware of their ladders of inference and willingly share their private thoughts. I know that I have not effectively reached that place with my team (ELT) to be labelled a PLC.

We focus on this skill set in our Teacher Leadership training and believe that the capacity to engage in skillful discussions is a foundation skill. So, reading the post affirmed our belief and aligns with what we say are necessary skills to become a PLC and focus on what is important; student learning. It's always nice to have what we believe be affirmed by those perceived as experts in the field. It's also good timing as we approach that time when we make critical decisions about next year's Teacher Leadership learning and support structures.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The difficult work of bargaining . . .

Well, we reached a point last evening with PSE where we have agreement in concept and now need to draft contract language for approval. Though there is always the potential for things to fall apart at this stage I do not think this will be the case. Earlier in the day I and most others did not believe we would reach this point. It became possible only when it became clear that we were asking for significant changes to existing contract language and practice.

What should be a celebration, however, is instead bitter sweet. Because of the financial situation we face we were forced to ask for these concessions from people we respect and care about. I take no pride in this situation and I thank the leadership of this organization for their understanding and willingness to look at the bigger picture. In many respects I believe they have the ability to focus at the system level better than many others I work with on a regular basis.

I am not proud of what we accomplished over three difficult days of debate and skillful discussion though I am thankful that we have a three year agreement and can move forward on finding some way to balance a difficult budget. Something is wrong when the state can give a 4.4% raise to classified staff that forces us to find the revenue to ensure that all staff receive the raise. For us, that means approximately $250,000 because the formulas that drive the revenues are from the late '70's when we didn't have technology staff, security staff, ELL programs, the diversity of special needs we now see, and the list goes on. The state raise in essence, places a significant burden on the local district if we want to treat all staff equitably. Something must change if we are to maintain current program or have any ability to find adaptive solutions to the issues we face.

I find myself growing impatient with the words we hear about how important our work with students is and how our society sees this as important work. Facing people at the bargaining table and asking for concessions because of circumstances over which we have no control pierced me like a knife yesterday. I have over the years had many conversations with legislators, the place where change must start. I think it may be time for me to take a more active role in this work and join others in a different conversation with our elected representatives.

Those of you that know me know that this has never been an area of focus for me and to make this shift will be very difficult. But, it is time that my behavior begin to better align with my words.