Thursday, October 30, 2008

Skillful conversations . . .

I had the good fortune to be in four meetings over the last two days that I would label as skillful conversations. Two were with principals and Teaching and Learning staff, one was with colleagues at the central office to begin planning the process for budget cuts, and one was with our Technology Fusion team. In each, people were using paraphrases to ensure understanding, asking clarifying questions, and attempting to balance advocacy with inquiry. SPACE skills were alive and well.

I was particularly pleased with the willingness of some staff to openly share private thoughts with difficult content. In each case it enhanced the conversation allowing us to explore issues at a deeper level. In the Fusion meeting, we were able to openly discuss the loss of TRUST some are feeling because of a recent process that did not include all parties in meaningful roles. We were able to sustain through the sharing without some going to fight or flight, or falling into group practices that bring the meeting back to safe conversations. Though it will not be easy, we now have an opportunity to mature as a team as we process this issue.

Once again it is energizing to be able to engage with my colleagues when we use the skills we are learning. It validates our leadership training program and reinforces my belief in the need to distribute leadership throughout our school system. The work we are doing demands dialogue and skillful conversations around important content. These are not possible in the absence of a solid foundation of communication knowledge and skills and skillful facilitation to take advantage of this foundation. We are beginning to hit the mark in our system.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Should we recruit teachers from the private sector?

I found this poll on Edutopia about recruiting teachers from the private sector without the undergraduate training that most of us have had. The poll allows you to say, Yes, No, or Maybe to the question. You can also see the status of the poll and read posted comments. When I took it 69% were saying that yes, we should be recruiting these people for teaching positions.

I wonder how many of the respondents, 105, are from parts of the country struggling to find teachers and not just for math and science positions? I believe that the tendency to see this as a necessary and positive move would be greater in these situations. When you are struggling just to find people for positions it makes sense to look for those that have content expertise.

I still believe that both the content knowledge and learning experience are important preparation for being responsible for the learning of young people. There is an art to our profession that can be acquired through actual experience, but given a preference, I prefer that this learning start prior to assuming the responsibility of a classroom. Not everyone can be successful in this work and the preparation programs are necessary for prospective teachers to make decisions about the commitment that they can bring to this difficult work.

Do I think that some could move from the private sector straight to a classroom and experience success? Yes, in a collaborative culture with quality support from experienced professionals and a shared commitment for the learning of all young people in a school. Unfortunately, this does not describe the majority of schools where these people are being asked to fill difficult teaching positions.

What do you think, should we be recruiting teachers from the private sector without any undergraduate teaching experience? Check out the poll at Edutopia.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Glacier Park Elementary, 2008 School of Distinction

Yesterday, I had the privilege of accompanying three staff members from Glacier Park Elementary, representatives of the PTA, a board member, and our public information officer to Garfield High School where they received an award for being a 2008 School of Distinction. This is the second year of the award begun in our state to honor schools that perform above the state average on the WASL and achieve growth over a six year period. Glacier Park is one of only 53 elementary schools in the state that received this honor.

It truly was an honor for me to share in this ceremony and see Emilie, Ruth, and Renae on the stage to accept the award from Terry. Their commitment to all students is evident in their success as measured by the WASL, in the leadership from Emilie and the leadership team, and in their focus on instruction. It has been a pleasure to watch and in some small way support this school on their professional learning community journey.

Did anyone notice that I didn't include football scores in my last Sunday blog entry? All I can say is thanks for the BEARS or it would have been another sweep in the wrong column. Looking to this weekend the best thing going is that the Cougars have a bye and the Seahawk's opponent fired their coach this week. Maybe that will help them find a passing game and the ability to stop someone on third down.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

21st Century Literacy - What is it?

I ran across this short video on Free Technology for Teachers that in two minutes describes 21st century literacy. Once again, it validates our Classroom 10 focus to prepare young people for the world they enter following their K-12 experience. It begins to create an image of what it means to be literate in the world we live in today. Since we live in it now, there is a heightened sense of urgency to begin this work in our classrooms as we are doing with our curriculum writing institute.

In the student's world outside of school, one way communication of the printed text has been replaced with interactive communication through the hardware and software readily available to most of them. The question becomes, how quickly can we effectively and efficiently replicate that in our classrooms? The world we live in today and the one that we face tomorrow requires a different knowledge base and skill set for success. It is our responsibility to create and support classrooms where these interactions and the learning that follows occur each day.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Education, is it a priority?

I like to read the blog of Scott Adams creator of Dilbert. Early in September, at his own expense, he commissioned a survey of 500 economists to determine which candidate has the best plans for the economy. The results were interesting, but the most interesting for me was the fact that the number one economic priority was education with 71% rating it an eight or higher on a scale of 1-10. These are economists representing democratic, republican, and independent political perspectives. The survey was completed before the events of the last month, but that is not my purpose for this post.

Why this post considering I try to stay away from political conversations? Because finally the candidates talked about education in last night's debate. Not long, but long enough for Obama to say "that education has more to do with our economic future than anything . . ". That sounds like education is really important though the questions didn't provide for much time or a better understanding of their positions. It was mostly about vouchers, waivers, early childhood interventions, and teacher salary; things that we hear much about and that lend themselves to sound bites.

If it is so "important', then why do we not hear more about it? Why is the majority of information about our profession negative news about what we are not doing or accomplishing? Why is it so easy for politicians to say it is a high priority and then to lose sight of the priority once in office? Why would a diverse group of economists suggest it is the number one economic priority?

What would it look, sound, and feel like if someone with the authority and commitment actually aligned their behavior with their stated beliefs that education is in fact the number one priority or I'd even settle for a top five?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Can it get worse?

Another terrible football weekend. I left the Seahawk game before they scored their final, meaningless touchdown. It was late in the fourth quarter and they had less than 100 yards in total offense. They entered the game last in passing offense in the league and I am sure maintained that position today. What actually started to wear on me was the defensive players waving their arms to get the crowd into the game as the Packers made third down plays and marched down the field. Maybe if they flapped their arms less and made more plays we would be more into the game and stay until it was over.

The Bears and the Cougars also lost, that's two in a row for our Bears. The Huskies had another bye or it would probably have been another clean sweep for my teams. Not doing well this year and no expectations for changing in the short term except for the Bears.

On top of this grief, I aggravated both my back and knee yesterday mowing the lawn, going to the dump, and unloading stall and stove pellets. I'm getting too old for all this physical labor. Thank goodness tomorrow is work where I can stress my mind not my aging body and bruised feelings.

Friday, October 10, 2008

New learning for me . . .

Well, another day with Peter Senge and others has left me both energized and tired at the same time. I am also feeling more cognitive dissonance while seeing many opportunities. A world of contradictions, but that seems to be the way it is when I am given the opportunity to meet with Peter and the others engaged in conversations around sustainability and system dynamics.

We met first at South Seattle Community College's Duwamish-Georgetown campus where a green expo was being held. This was followed up by a meeting in one of Boeing's Renton sites. It was here that the emotions kicked in. I found myself in a conference room with ten Boeing representatives, mostly program managers, with a couple of VP's thrown in. Our group was composed of two representatives from OSPI, a prof from Western, the Director of Indian Education from Toppenish School District, and Abby Ruskey, Executive Director of EEAW. Abby and Peter facilitated these meetings that were hosted by Boeing.

Those that know me know that I do not network often and the above environment would be one that I try to avoid. I don't like representing superintendents or public schools other than those in our system. Being the only public school administrator in the room was difficult for me because much of the conversation was around the relationship between business and public schools and what must be done to embed sustainability and system thinking in schools with teachers and students on a larger scale.

In a short period of time, however, I found myself immersed in the dialogue and seeing both tremendous opportunities and concerns for lack of focus in areas where I have missed the boat. The opportunities are around the relationships that are being formed that have potential for bringing people resources from the business sector to our Classroom 10 work. It also became clear to me that in my reading of Senge's Fifth Discipline and in the work of his organization, SOL, I have only touched the surface of the potential for system dynamic tools to support our work. The Boeing people demonstrated some of what they are doing to adapt their business practices using these tools that are resulting in significant changes in short periods of time. I was impressed with their skill level at understanding their organization and where the leverage is at to influence and support necessary change.

I have read all three of Peter's Fifth Discipline related books and see that for me, understanding these difficult concepts and then translating them into practice is difficult without the support of others that know more and have prior experience with the tools. I have asked Peter for support and guidance as we move forward. I see a place for system dynamics beyond the communication foundation that we have put in place and especially see a need for actively engaging young people in learning about and using these tools. Causal loop diagrams are one of the tools. Believe me, they become much more complex as I saw today than this simple model, but they provide so much insight. I need to become more knowledgeable and proficient in the work of these tools.

I am also excited because Peter said that in December he would provide us with an opportunity to video him for our Classroom 10 video. I also have three Boeing staff that will do the same. They said things today that validate the focus of our work at preparing young people for options and success following graduation. They can do this through the experiences they are going through while keeping Boeing at the fore front of the aerospace industry world wide.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

An energizing day . . .

We had our first teacher leadership training day of the year with four of our buildings and visiting teams from Carnation Elementary in Riverview and a TOSA team from the Snoqualmie Valley School District. Connie and I really look forward to these learning and sharing opportunities and today didn't disappoint us. Our focus for the year is on change and the role of leadership in supporting change initiatives at the building and district level while increasing our individual and collective facilitation capacities.

Today, we spent time reflecting on previously introduced mental models and skills, the focus of last year's team goal, and beginning the process of bringing clarity to a "meaty" goal for this year. We shared some new learning around the difference between mental models and skills and discussed the mental model of creative tension in a new way. We asked the teams to think about the potential that creative tension brings for supporting learning and change and the need to create emotional ties to this effort.

We use Tony Wagner's five rigorous questions to focus skillful discussion in the afternoon for each team as they work to support the PLC journey that each site is on. We didn't get an opportunity for much feedback today so if you are reading please consider sharing your thoughts in a comment. Connie and I will appreciate it and the readers will have a more objective opinion of the usefulness of what we do in this work. Speaking of Connie, she is so gifted and an invaluable support to me and to our school system over time. I am blessed to have her as a colleague and a teaching partner.

Tomorrow is our first waiver day and I had planned on attending some of the learning opportunities, but I have been invited to spend the day with Peter Senge. This is an opportunity I couldn't refuse as so much of what I do has been influenced by his work and his writing. I'll share my day in a later post.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Football - losing hope . . .

Not a good weekend of football for any of my teams. The Bears, Huskies, Cougars, and Seahawks all lost. Not only did they lose, but none of them were able to even make it close. I'm rapidly losing hope with all but the Bears. They played a very good team in Federal Way as did the Seahawks in getting trounced by the Giants. The college teams can't say the same, losing to two Pac 10 teams that should have been beatable or at least ones that could be scored against.

If the Huskies don't change soon the stadium might look like this on game day.

An affirming video . . .

Chris Lehman made this presentation on Ignite Philly. It is an interesting format, you get five minutes -- you prepare twenty slides, and you get fifteen seconds a slide. I have never met Chris and he doesn't know about our Classroom 10 initiative, but this video should be on our web page because it captures the essence of the focus of our work. If you have five minutes and are interested in school reform, this short video is both thought provoking and affirming.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Social studies curriculum institute . . .

Our social studies curriculum writing institute began today. I was able to attend for a couple of hours this morning and was given an opportunity to share some of my thinking on the importance of sustainability and engaging our young people in this work. We have a wonderful opportunity to bring Classroom 10 learning alive with this content, to bring authenticity to classroom work, and to provide opportunities for problem solving and creative thinking to flourish.

The institute brings together teachers from our system with support from our Teaching and Learning Department, Gilda Wheeler from OSPI, and Kayleen Pritchard from PEI. This morning Gilda shared information on what sustainability is to create a common understanding of this fairly new and critical concept. Both Gilda and Kayleen will continue to support our work during the continuing institute days and bring a wealth of knowledge and experience with them. We are fortunate to have these resources and we are fortunate to have teachers that are committed to writing the units and supporting the work of their colleagues.

Nancy and Kristen have created this writing model as an adaptive solution to bringing the curriculum into our classrooms on an accelerated time line. It is a new model that will require further adaptations as the teachers and others continue this work. I am excited about the potential as is Gilda who sees it as a model that she may be able to use across the state. She complemented our T&L Department and our teachers for being on the cutting edge of not only sustainability curriculum, but other curriculum work we have done.

I shared two books that I may have shared in earlier posts, but will share with you again on sustainability and the importance of changing our behavior while we can. If we don't, the world that these young people will inherit will be significantly different than the one we live in today. The first is Peter Senge's, The Necessary Revolution. The second is Thomas Friedman's, Hot, Flat, and Crowded a follow up to his The World Is Flat. Both books, in different ways, create a picture of current reality and what will happen if we cannot create a vision of a better place that influences our behavior and releases our creativity. Today's youth will become significant contributors to the creative solutions that are required in the revolution that each author says is required.

It would be great to hear from anyone that attended today's institute. If you are reading, please take a moment to post a comment.