Sunday, August 31, 2008

My word cloud . . .

Wow, a whole week between posts, I think that it is the longest I have gone. I should be able to get back to my normal two per week now that students will be back and I will have less presenting to do and "free time" with the family. Not much difference between one and two posts is there? Kind of embarrassing.

I think the sharing at the all-staff gathering on Wednesday went well. We were able to share our focus on Classroom 10 by reinforcing the why of the change and the goal this year for all staff to be able to articulate the why and what it looks and sounds like when in place in classrooms.

I came across Moodle in my reading and decided to see what my blog would look like in a word cloud. Kind of cool. I like the fact that teachers and learning are of importance in my posts.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Are my ladders in the way?

Two good comments from the last post that made me reflect on the data I am using to make assumptions about teacher leadership in our school system. Though we still have work to do, the comments lead me to believe that we have made more progress with teachers taking leadership roles than I have observed or accepted. It may be lack of feedback, a ladder that keeps me from seeing and hearing accurately, or some combination of both. Another opportunity for reflection, asking questions, and seeking support from a colleague.

I also experienced my first personal comment to a post. A teacher visited me Friday to ask some questions about some of what I said. I have observed in the teacher's classroom multiple times seeing much of what we describe as Classroom 10 on each occasion. I have much respect for the teacher and was pleased and honored by the surprise visit.

There was a concern that I was identifying a specific building in my comments about lack of success and specifically the teacher's building. He believes that much progress has been made in the building with leadership and is particularly pleased with our focus this year on instruction. At the time I said no I wasn't focused on a building, but in rereading the post I can see why the question was asked. The comments should have resulted in understanding that the model we were using for our secondary buildings did not work well for a variety of reasons. We believe this year that we have adapted to the current situation and that the model will be much more effective in supporting these teachers.

These comments and the visit again drive home to me the power of ladders of influence on my thinking that then influences my behavior. I strive to share my private thoughts and be a role model for the importance of suspending one's assumptions and always placing into the discussion what one is thinking, not just willing to say publicly. As I said previously, this has given me much to reflect upon.

More on leadership to follow with the issues of time and planning of concern. It would be wonderful to hear from teachers experiencing the learning opportunities and placing the knowledge and skill set into practice. What is different because of the learning and opportunity to influence your work with colleagues?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A partial leadership knowledge base and skill set . . .

My questions in the previous post didn't generate much discussion, only one comment, but I will continue to share my thinking about the importance of distributing leadership in our schools.

Our school board has blessed us with both early release and waiver days to support adult learning opportunities as we continue our Classroom 10 journey. We must ensure that we make good use of this time for teachers to understand what 21st century learning looks and sounds like in the classroom. We need to provide opportunities for staff to learn, observe, practice, and receive feedback and reflection time as they engage in this work.

Who plans and facilitates these learning opportunities? There are not enough administrators to perform this function because of the numbers of teams that form on any given day. I also don't believe that building level administrators are always best positioned for success in this work. They may not have the content knowledge or understanding of the learning targets that are necessary to support the adult learning.

Since there are not enough administrators, we must utilize the expertise and experience of teachers to support the collaborative learning of their colleagues. In our system, this is one of the primary functions of teacher leaders; planning for and facilitating these learning opportunities. We have experienced varying degrees of success in this work. Some of what we have learned is that these teachers need:
  • Learning opportunities to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to support effective communication. Learning to stay in skillful discussion and dialogue and to avoid debate and polite discussion. Learning how to balance advocacy and inquiry, how to make themselves and others aware of their mental models and ladders of inference, and how to bring private thoughts into the room instead of the parking lot are essential for sustaining a focus on this work.
  • They need to understand the stages of the change process because we are asking teachers to make significant changes to practice. Support over time is necessary to ensure that the changes sustain.
  • They also need support in creating the lesson plan for these meetings that aligns short and long term goals with active processing strategies with adult learners. Facilitating adult learners is not easy and is not something that we learn in college.

In our system, we provide opportunities for teachers to acquire this knowledge and skill set and we have observed success when they do. We have also seen a lack of success in the absence of this knowledge and skill set. Though there are many other variables that influence this work, this foundational set of knowledge and skills is essential.

Even with this work, however, we still have teachers that are uncomfortable in these roles and do not want to be perceived as a leader by their colleagues. At a time when we need to have the highest levels of support we can achieve it is not always possible because of teachers who are unwilling to assume these leadership positions.

What gets in the way? What do they believe will happen if they do assume these roles? Is it about more work and added stress? Is it about what they perceive their colleagues are thinking and saying about them? What do we do to create cultures where it is expected and appreciated when those best positioned for these roles perform them? After all, isn't this what professional learning communities do; commit to doing what is necessary to support colleagues, seeking support wherever possible, and holding each other to high standards?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Distributing leadership . . .

Sunday evening has become one of those times that I have reserved for blogging, usually with the TV in the background. Tonight, Costas is interviewing Michael Phelps and his mother, a middle school principal in Baltimore. It is refreshing to hear the success story in their words and the respect and love that they have for each other.

A lot of potential blog topics have been swimming around in my mind as we approach the start of a new school year. We have a primary election on Tuesday with the State Superintendent of Instruction position on the ballot. This could become an interesting race as there are many in our profession upset with Terry who see Randy Dorn as a formidable and worthy opponent. I could share some thoughts about this race, but I usually stay away from politics.

This year in our state we will see schools and districts not meeting NCLB's adequate yearly progress in greater numbers. I know this is the situation for our school system. So, I could share some thoughts about this potential public relations issue.

Though either of these topics may be worthy of a blog post, I want to start a conversation about teacher leadership and why it is both so important and so difficult to achieve. I make no secret of my belief that we must distribute leadership throughout our system if we are going to realize our Classroom 10 goals. There are not enough administrators in any system to provide the direction and support over time that are necessary to develop and implement curriculum and instructional practices that place young people in situations to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for success in post high school learning and work.

Some questions to consider in no particular order:
  • What are the attributes of successful teacher leaders?
  • Who becomes a teacher leader?
  • What do teacher leaders do?
  • Why is it difficult to sometimes be a teacher leader?
  • What knowledge and skills does one need to successfully perform the role of teacher leader?
  • What support do teacher leaders need from administrators?
  • Is being a teacher leader the same as performing administrative functions with out the pay?
  • Is this just for teachers or should we consider the same support for leaders in other classifications in our system?

What other questions do you have as you think about the need for distributing leadership beyond those with the title and positional authority? I'll share more of my thinking on some of these questions in upcoming posts.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Thank you OLPC . . .

I learned of this article from the Times of London on Assorted Stuff. It is about the struggles that the One Lap Top Per Child (OLPC) initiative has had to overcome from Microsoft and Intel. Though I don't see us using the XO, the latest version of the OLPC computer, we have much to thank them for. It was their initial efforts to provide lap tops to the world's poorest children that began the proliferation of cheaper lap tops that we are now seeing come on line. At some point in time I do see us finding the lap top that works on our system, that provides the access our work demands, and that is priced in a range that allows us to significantly increase access for all students in our district.

Did you know that the OLPC is driven by the constructivist philosophy, the driver of our curriculum work? Negroponte was influenced by the work of Seymour Papert, the father of constructivist learning.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Thoughts from Desert Canyon

I'm sitting in our room at Desert Canyon with the Olympics on TV (women's beach volleyball) the hot tub right below me and my lap top in my lap. Can't get pay per view for my son to watch the UFC fights so he's trying you tube on the other lap top. We're having a great time, but I can't say the same for my golf game. Some good and some not so good, but god fun and beautiful views anyway.

I didn't do any blogging about our board or administrative retreats late last week and earlier this week. Both went very well. Our board is engaged in establishing priorities around Classroom 10 through our response to the Meteri study and through our technology plan. They are asking good questions that cause us to be reflective about our goals, time lines, and focus. They want to ensure that what we do is aligned with what we learned from Jukes and from our reading, that we find ways for students to use personal devices, and that it prepares young people for success after graduation. These are people with vision, commitment, and concern for our school system and for our community.

I will sum up my thoughts about our administrative team very simply. They are knowledgeable, skilled, and committed. I am privileged to have the opportunity to both support their learning and to learn from them.

I'd still like to know what you think about CORE 24 and the potential impacts on our students and on our school system.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Our state's answer CORE 24 . . .

Last week our state board voted to recommend CORE 24 to the legislature for implementation over a six year period. The changes include increasing graduation requirements from 19 credits to 24 credits with increases in math and science. Students will be choosing between three pathways each with different content requirements designed to make them ready for college, job training, and the workforce. Since there is also a significant price tag for these changes that must be included for it to become law, it should be an interesting 2009 legislative session. This, combined with any recommendations from the Basic Education Task Force on school funding may carry it beyond interesting.

Those organizations advocating for the math and science increases are celebrating as they believe these additional requirements will result in all students being better prepared for post high school learning and work. Will these changes lead to increases in the number of students who want to become engineers, one of the issues that seems to be a driver for the change? What are we not considering that may have negative consequences for students and for districts?

What are your thoughts about this recommendation?

Friday, August 1, 2008

It is not about what we are against, but what we are for . . .

I want to share this post from Chris Lehmann because he identifies one of the legacies of NCLB better than I could.

". . . Today, under NCLB, we have created the myth of the lazy teacher who, if only there was something to hold them accountable for the way they teach. The myth of that lazy teacher who could get students to achieve if only they worked harder is just that -- a myth. Are there bad, lazy teachers? Of course, but they are the vast, vast minority. Most teachers went into the profession because they wanted to make a difference. But our system is broken, and if you put good people in bad systems, the system will win more often than not. And as a result, we have lost the ability to negotiate the terms of our own profession."

It saddens me to know that this is what some people think of our teachers and that the only thing that we need to be better is more effort, time, and commitment. They simply do not understand that the shifts we are asking teachers to make will not be accomplished through more of the same. It requires opportunities to understand why we need to make changes in what students need to know and be able to do for post high school success. We must also find ways to support teachers in learning and observing new instructional strategies, in practicing them in classroom settings, and being provided with feedback and support over time. When we can do this, we can then begin to hold ourselves accountable for all students meeting standard.

Later in the post he makes this statement.

"It's not enough for educators to be against NCLB, we've got to be for something else."

He is talking about the need for a vision, a picture of a better place to be that truly does provide opportunities for success for all students and staff. A place where we can be proud of our efforts and where the community and greater society acknowledge teachers for the important work that they do. For us, that vision is captured in our Classroom 10. I believe that our journey has captured the essence of Lehman's post and will bring us to this better place.