Sunday, July 27, 2008

Good responses lead to more questions . . .

The responses to my recent post have given me much to consider as I think about what I should say and what we should do on the all-district day. It makes me want to add more time so that I could include information about our Classroom 10 vision in some detail, share the journey we have been on for many years, and the importance of community in our work.

For some time now we have been engaged in the work of becoming professional learning communities at the building and system level. At its core, a PLC is a collaborative culture. I need to spend some time on this as well as on the need to expand this culture beyond our classroom walls. Have we engaged classified staff at the level necessary to understand and support Classroom 10? Does the community understand Classroom 10 and agree with this as the direction we should be taking to prepare their children for success beyond K-12? As we prepare for a spring 2009 bond measure, what should we be considering related to sustainability and the types of spaces that will support our academic journey? And again, what questions should I focus on for this wonderful opportunity with the majority of our staff in one place for the only time of the year?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What to say?

It doesn't seem possible, but August is right around the corner. That means the new school year is also rapidly approaching. As we have the past few years we will have a day in August for all staff that includes some time together, a shared lunch, and the remainder of the day for building and department teams. Since we have not invited a guest speaker to inspire us I will have an opportunity to share at the beginning of the day.

What do school employees want to hear from the superintendent at this time? What do they not want to hear? What could I say that would demonstrate appreciation and yet also challenge us as we continue our 21st Century learning journey?

I would appreciate any thoughts you might have as I begin to reflect on this important opportunity.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A final conference thought . . .

I got back about midnight on Friday and met the family to take the grand kids swimming for the weekend. We had a great time.

While at the hotel, I had some time to begin reflecting about the conference and the learning from my week in Vermont. It was a very rewarding experience for me working with quality people and being able to learn directly from Peter Senge whose work has had an influence on me for over a decade. I have a deeper understanding of the principles of systems thinking because of this experience that will change how I work with mental models and ladders of inference.

The bigger change, however, will be around creative tension as I shared in an earlier post. His sharing of this concept introduced me to a new way of thinking about vision, one end of creative tension. He uses the word aspiration to describe what we are trying to achieve or that better place to be. I like that word as a way to explain creative tension. He also reinforced the need to know our current reality as opposed to our assumptions about it. Too often we make decisions based not on the current reality, but on our perceptions of what we want it to be.

Visiting Burlington and experiencing what they are doing around sustainability is also something I will not forget and has me thinking about our schools and the communities that make up our school district. Should and could we be doing something similar? I think it will be important to consider sustainability in our proposed bond measure projects and it makes sense to work with the larger community in making decisions about how green we want to become. I will be sharing my thinking with the board and will be asking them for guidance as we move forward.

Well, tomorrow is back to a "normal" week. I'm looking forward to a less hectic pace while I continue to reflect and bring clarity to my thinking about the future.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A quality connection . . .

It seemed like a slower day today and it is only about 9:00 and we are finished. Actually, the learning ended around seven and the barbecue lasted until now. If I stayed here another week and continued eating like this I would look like a bowling ball. There have been no complaints about the food with the people in Burlington putting on lunches with local food, snacks between meals, and the ability to eat until you decide you've had enough. Unfortunately for me, that has at times been too much as it is becoming more difficult to walk by without sampling.

I made a connection today with the Superintendent of the Hewlett-Woodmere district on Long Island. He has worked directly with Peter Senge for 18 years and has a deeper understanding and experience base than I will ever acquire. I plan to continue our conversation after the conference as I believe there is much I can learn from him.

I also continue to enjoy working with the people from Washington state who have set an ambitious and necessary goal for bringing the issue of sustainability to our young people. We understand and have embraced this need, but have much yet to do before we can begin patting ourselves on the back, as if we ever do this. As we work as a site I want to sometimes cry time out and share SPACE because we really butcher silence, rarely use a paraphrase or ask a clarifying question, and spend far too much time in advocacy. But, they are dedicated people with much work to be accomplished in a short period of time and I am not in any position to impose our learning on their process.

This conference has given me an additional context to better appreciate the quality people I work with daily in our system. I'm hearing a lot about what others are doing and are trying to do and it confirms the expertise, commitment, and experience you bring to our efforts. Though our journey continues we have much to be proud of. I also want some of my colleagues to know that I have actually been participating in "ALL" activities so I may come to our retreat with higher expectations for participation. I can't believe what these people have me doing. Oh well, home tomorrow at about midnight so I won't be blogging until Sunday.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I would have paid . . .

We just got back from a very full day (8:00 am-10:00 pm) that included classroom learning this morning followed by a visit to Shelburne Farms. The farm is 1400 acres owned by a non profit that sustains 80% of their operating costs by revenue from farm projects and is focused on sustainability. They have developed a powerful working relationship with the Burlington school system and community.

This morning provided me with a wonderful learning experience that if I had known it would happen I would have paid to be here. Peter (yes I now call him Peter not Mr. Senge) shared with us the concept of creative tension, a concept that we have been sharing in our system for over a decade. I learned that there is more to it than what I took from reading his books. I had not seen the connection to emotional tension and what people, including us, do when faced with this tension. I have been much more focused on ladders of inference that I now believe I should have integrated more with mental models and creative tension.

Another big aha for me was a connection I am beginning to form between the tension concept and what Heifitz talks about in his work with technical and adaptive change. Creative tension results from the gap between our current reality and the vision of a better place. In the absence of this better place we live constantly in our current reality that for many is a comfortable place to be. When we are disrupted or when what we are doing doesn't seem to be working we look for changes to improve the situation. In the absence of a shared vision we look for changes that are tied to our current reality that will be technical, tweaks to something that works a little or that we heard of or have read about.

In this same disruptive situation if it is caused by the gap I believe we are much more likely to begin thinking about changes that will be adaptive because the conversations will be driven more by a focus on what we want to be, not from our current reality. I'm still a little fuzzy on this and it may not be totally accurate, but I look forward to sharing with my support group.

Also this afternoon our team was able to meet for three hours in a beautiful house on the grounds and Peter spent the entire time supporting our conversation. It was very energizing for me and thanks to the others in our group he was able to hear some of the Tahoma journey. Later, I shared some of the documents we have used in our leadership training and how his foundation principles have influenced our PLC journeys. It was rewarding for him to see this and for us to have him share positive thoughts about what we are doing and where we are going.

The days have been long, but for the most part I have been rewarded with learning opportunities and the dissonance that makes me be reflective about my practice. And yes, Nancy, I have even begun to network a little, just a little.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

More learning from others . . .

I can't believe it and probably some of you might not either, but it is 11:15 pm and we just completed our last meeting of the day. The Washington state site met this evening for three hours to bring some clarity to our work together and to prepare for tomorrow's opportunity to continue the conversation. I am impressed with and privileged to be with these quality people doing important work in our state. In a short period of time I have been influenced to revisit important parts of my belief system because of them and others attending this conference.

We visited a school system today here in Burlington that has formed truly impressive partnerships with the community, with nonprofits, and with local colleges to create a system focused on equity, excellence, and sustainability. This visit and the conference have created dissonance for me personally and professionally. As you know, dissonance for me always results in new learning and at times new opportunities for us. Don't worry, they will not change the focus of our journey, but they may provide some additional stops for consideration and review as we continue to move closer to our Classroom 10 destination. I am looking forward to sharing with our ELT at the retreat. It may mean I need to add a couple more slides to my "Zen" powerpoint.

It is also interesting to watch and learn from Peter Senge. It is obvious that he is a master at thinking and acting systemically as he shares with us his work and the foundations of systems thinking. It is also interesting to watch him as a presenter to see how he uses active processing strategies and wait time to continue conversations. He waited for over one minute this morning as well as some other "long" waits, each time someone came forward to add to the conversation in meaningful ways. Guess what Connie? He uses no projectors or computers, he uses chart paper and colored pens, always posting and keeping a running record on the wall.

Well, this old body is feeling the results of a long day so I believe I will shower and call it a day. I shower at night because sharing one shower stall in the morning means lines, but since I can hear it next door right now I guess I'll have to wait anyway.

Monday, July 14, 2008

One day over and not yet counting . . .

Well, the first day at the SoL conference is over and it was not close to what I had anticipated. It is much more about personal learning around system thinking and sustainability as opposed to what I thought would be team learning. I'm not making a judgment, just an observation though I think our team may practice some risk taking to carve out a little more time together. I use the word team loosely as this is the first time we have been together.

Senge took us through some of the foundations of The Fifth Discipline including the difference between Structural Relationship and Pattern Behavior Over Time. I must admit that I am not as intuitive as many around the archetypes at seeing the relationships though today helped some. I can see how this concept is critical for understanding sustainability. I did, however, feel better when the topic switched to personal mastery and am looking forward to the session tomorrow on creative tension.

I must also admit that I am beginning to see the urgency around this issue and the need for us to play a significant role with the young people and community we work with. There was much mixing and conversation with people I don't know around issues I am not well versed in. We also played some games and other activities that I would normally walk out of or excuse myself from doing. Please know, I participated in all of them. I succeeded in having some question my commitment when I shared some of the struggles associated with our journey and others wondering if I have the beliefs necessary to take advantage of this learning opportunity. But, I persevered and will even be ready for tomorrow's challenge.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Tired, anxious, and excited

I am in a college dorm room at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. I had forgotten how spartan a dorm room can be. I asked if there was a place where I could get water or a diet coke and was directed to the basement where there is a water fountain, but no cups. I got to make my own bed and collect my towels. I wonder if there will be a towel check on the last day. It will be an interesting week.

Why am I here? I am the last person signed up for a week long conference on sustainability, Schools and Communities Learn for a Sustainable Future. I am here because our gifted curriculum writer Nancy Skerritt could not make it so she gave my name to the person coordinating the Washington State team. I think at the last minute they wanted to round out the team so they gave me the chance. The others have bona fide environmental credentials and work at or have worked at OSPI, the college level, and the coordinator is the executive director of E3 Washington.

Normally I would have said no way, but when I saw that Peter Senge is a big part of the week it made my decision more difficult. After a conference call with the other participants, I felt like I might be able to contribute a little and with Senge, and our focus on embedding sustainability into our Classroom 10 units here I am.

It's about 10:30 ET and I started at 5:00 am our time. The trip was not uneventful. I had the opportunity to spend three hours in the plane sitting on the tarmac at Dulles due to weather and congested skies. Then, when we finally got into the air we had about five minutes of turbulence that felt like a modern roller coaster ride. I'll check in later this week.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Unlike some, I am blessed

I want to share this post from Chris Lehman because it is similar to others that have been shared recently. Sharing these frustrations has become more evident following the recent NECC conference that did not generate the same enthusiasm for some that it has historically. Many are beginning to question why it is so difficult to create and sustain change in our profession and what needs to happen for systemic change to begin.

It makes me feel good about our culture, our focus, and where we are at in creating Classroom 10 environments. I have a tendency to not focus on what we have accomplished because I seem to always be looking at where we need to be and where the leverage is to continue our journey. Posts such as these force me to reflect on this journey and to be thankful for the commitment and quality of people that we have in our school system. So much to be thankful for.

I believe that we are experiencing success because of the following work that has been ongoing for some time in our system.

  • A focus on the knowledge and skills that young people need for success following graduation that have kept us from being driven solely by NCLB and WASL.

  • The leadership work that we have done both with principals and in distributing leadership to teachers in formal positions of influence.

  • A focus on system learning and Senge's work; mental models, ladders of inference, left and right column.

  • A focus on developing skill and capacity for engaging in skillful discussion and dialogue.

  • A focus on creating the foundations of PLC's in each building; mission, vision, values, and core commitments.

  • A focus on supervision and growth over time instead of the traditional evaluation process.

  • A Teaching and Learning department with unparalleled expertise and commitment that we have intentionally developed to meet the challenges of our work.

I am sure there are others, but as I look at the list and think about what I have read over time we have put in place much of what the literature would suggest is necessary for engaging in change that sustains over time and that influences learning for students and adults.

Oh, I need to also thank the caring and committed staff, students, and community members that are making this happen.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A missed learning opportunity

This is the first July that I have been engaged in regularly reading blogs and creating my own and things seem to have slowed down in respect to the number of blogs I usually receive through my RSS feed. I know that this was the case last week during the NECC conference. It will be interesting to see if it continues this week and for the remainder of the month.

We didn't send anyone to the conference this year for a variety of reasons and I have come to the conclusion that it was a mistake. I followed through the various blogs I read and on the community network, but the experience is obviously not the same. Though by nature I am not good at or look forward to networking, I believe that my desire to learn and expand my experience base with this content is changing how I approach these opportunities.

I could actually see myself attending Edubloggercon, at least I think I would after reading so much about it. I want to learn from those that are real bloggers and are having an impact on how technology can support the classrooms we need to prepare young people for success and options following graduation from our school system. Next year we will reconsider the importance of attending this learning opportunity.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A new approach to planning

It doesn't seem possible, but we are only one month from the board retreat followed the next day by the administrator retreat with teachers right behind. It seems like the kids just left.

I always enjoy the retreats because they provide me with an opportunity to continue to tell my leadership story, to share what I believe are the important components of our work, and to observe committed people planning for another year of learning. This year is a particularly important year as we plan to focus more closely on the instructional practices embedded in our Classroom 10 journey.

Our principals have wanted to make this shift from a focus on why we need to move to Classroom 10 for quite some time, so it is exciting to be planning knowing of their desire. I shared some of our planned leadership journey for next year during my end of year feedback conferences with the principals. The feedback was good and it energized me to already begin planning my opening presentation. From some of my recent blog posts you know that early planning is not my norm.

Yet, as of today my powerpoint story is almost complete and I started just yesterday. It began with a vision of a great Presentation Zen slide that I couldn't get out of my mind so I just started. For the first time I also followed the author's advice and did my planning with sticky notes on a white board that Dawn gave to me. Using the notes and the board made it easy to move the notes around and try out different sequences and ideas. To my surprise, this process saved me time and I believe assisted me in condensing ideas and having a story that will actually fit the allotted time. It feels great!