Sunday, November 30, 2008

Lazy afternoon with LIFE . . .

Over the last couple of weeks I have run across many blog entries sharing the partnership between LIFE and Google to share thousands of photos. I didn't pay much attention to them, but this afternoon after the grand kids left I ran across another post and started to take a look at some of the photos. I am glad that I did as they bring back memories of my youth and growing up. They age me, but I am 60 and there is no hiding it.

Pick a topic and spend some time reliving the past through these photos. That's Willie Mays, the Say Hey Kid in the photo. I spent many afternoons watching him make basket catches and leading off in the all star game. What a player, always smiling and you could tell he just loved the game. You don't see that often enough in today's game; great players, but the passion seems to be missing.
In any case, you may be able to make use of some of these photos in your classrooms.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Honoring the teacher voice . . .

I very much enjoyed the many comments to my most resent post about a mandated curriculum. As expected, there are varying views about the importance of a common curriculum that includes daily lessons. It is interesting that the responses were I believe all from secondary teachers representing various content areas. Interesting, because we have had an integrated curriculum in place for many years at the elementary level that was received with mixed emotions when first introduced, but is now simply what we do. And, there were no comments from teachers at this level. I wonder what the future will be related to the units being developed in these secondary classrooms?

As always, the comments provided me and others with much to think about. We have not done an effective job of articulating the rationale and process for a common curriculum. The research is clear, but we have not found the vehicle to make all staff aware of this need to influence academic success for all students. It is also true that the process and parameters vary by content level with those like math that are textbook based and elective programs engaging in different work than other content areas. Even within the other content areas there are different processes in place. We will be discussing this and following up with a written response and opportunity for conversation.

I think it is important to understand that the work is partly in response to concerns from building administrators wanting to focus on instructional process, but struggling to do so in the absence of a common curriculum. Amy shared this in her comment that does a good job of bringing some clarity to the need. We will continue our work with a focus on improved communication of the need and process and increased understanding of who is doing what and why as it relates to implementing a common curriculum. We need to find a place for the teacher voice beyond those actually engaged in the writing.

Though I don't often respond to negative comments I will say that those of Anonymous are both interesting and disconcerting.

"If what teachers in the district lack is the wherewithal to integrate thinking skills and habits of mind into content lessons, why are our professional development hours spent listening to bland presentations about Classroom 10, grading CBAs and core assessments, or listening to expensive guest speakers? Wouldn't it make more sense to train teachers how to integrate thinking skills and habits of mind into lessons and units? It seems like this would all be moot and unnecessary if teachers were trained to do this work themselves.If what teachers in the district lack is the wherewithal to integrate thinking skills and habits of mind into content lessons, why are our professional development hours spent listening to bland presentations about Classroom 10, grading CBAs and core assessments, or listening to expensive guest speakers? Wouldn't it make more sense to train teachers how to integrate thinking skills and habits of mind into lessons and units? It seems like this would all be moot and unnecessary if teachers were trained to do this work themselves."
  • I have been superintendent for many years and I can only recall one time in all those years paying for an "expensive guest speaker" and that was Ian Jukes.

  • Understanding Classroom 10 is necessary before successfully implementing it.

  • Grading CBA's and core assessments in a scoring conference format the research would suggest is one of the most effective ways to influence and support quality learning and teaching when followed by conversations about instruction.

  • Yes, it does make sense to support integrating thinking skills and habits of mind into lessons and units. This is what the curriculum is doing and with it the focus can shift to instructional practice aligned with Classroom 10.

  • In regards to the "bland presentation" I think it would be important for you to give this feedback to your building leadership team since they are planning the presentations.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mandated curriculum, continued . . .

The two comments from my most recent post have me reflecting on our curriculum work; the intent, the process, the response, and the impact on student learning. I have asked a few people directly involved in the work to share their thinking with me that I will in turn share in my next post. Is there a right and wrong as it relates to a mandated curriculum? How much guidance is enough to guarantee consistency for all students?

Thanks to Crystal and Kevin for sharing their feelings that are similar to some I received from an earlier post. I look forward to others and am open to being influenced as we make these critical decisions.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

With "FIDELITY" . . .

Today, I was part of a conversation with administrators about what it means to implement a curriculum with "fidelity". We use the term and read about it, but what does it look and sound like when it is being done? Many questions surfaced in our conversation as we began to realize the importance of engaging teachers during initial implementation in this conversation. The parallel question also surfaced; What does it mean when teachers are provided the opportunity to "personalize" the curriculum?

These are important questions because of the work we are doing with curriculum development and because of what we are asking teachers to do. The units we are writing are not always openly embraced by all teachers, especially those that have had autonomy for many years with the content of units and lessons. It is a significant change of practice that emphasizes the need for us to focus on what we know about the change process as we balance high demand with high support.

We must find ways for all staff to make the connection between Classroom 10 learning and the units that are being developed. The units are not being done because we are on a curriculum cycle, because our data suggest poor student achievement, or because our observations suggest poor instructional practice. They are being done to ensure that young people are given the opportunity in all classrooms to acquire the knowledge and skills embedded in our Classroom 10 initiative. Consistency is critical as we begin this initiative as is the need for collaborative work environments as we implement and refine the vehicles we use that enable young people to gain the knowledge and skills necessary for success in the world they find post high school. Over time, we may find that the definitions of "fidelity" and "personalize" may change, but initially it means teaching the lessons as written with a focus on skill acquisition through process based learning opportunities.

Any thoughts on how to support making this connection and creating a sense of urgency for all as we make this change over time?

Monday, November 17, 2008

One way to slowly kill your blog . . .

I made a big mistake by not acknowledging some comments to my November 9th post on process and product balance. I don't get so many that I can afford to not respond. As usual, those that did comment provided me with thoughts for reflection and questions to consider. I've shared some below in red with my comments in black.

Ethan asks: What steps will you and Connie be taking to make sure that the participants ALL agree to at least keep an open mind, to at least humor you? I think we will continue to share our belief in the importance of the process, the impact on the product when quality time is given to Wagner's questions, and cash in some of the balance of our credibility index with those that struggle with too much process. What steps will you and Connie be taking to make sure that the participants keep the big picture goal at the front of their brain at every minute of the day? We will revisit Wagner's questions at each meeting always with a focus on the problem to be solved, the goal to be reached, and the strategies identified to reach the goal.

Amy shared: The leadership institute is valuable for both its training of processes and the time for product. While active learning strategies support the training in the morning, I am not sure a specific product needs to be a result of the morning. The freedom to practice the skills learned that morning or in previous institutes is valuable as we work towards a product in the afternoon. With this comment, Amy has captured the intent of the Leadership Training Model. Connie and I attempt to provide learning opportunities and skill focus in the mornings with the afternoons being the opportunity to practice new skills in a safe environment. To use our language, we introduce mental models that support process and product work. This year we are differentiating between the mental models and the skills and tools that allow the mental models to influence our work.

Jerry shared: Finally, though our team had some struggles and will reflect on them, there is no question that growth occurred on many fronts. (the point of the day, right?) Yes, Jerry, that is a goal that Connie and I have for each meeting. I spent time with Jerry's team giving them feedback on multiple occasions. The feedback was direct and based on the non-verbals and partial verbal sparring later in the meeting in response to the feedback it did raise some dissonance for some. I touched base the next day with some team members asking for feedback and found that some of my assumptions were not accurate and that Connie and I could have done a better job in establishing the process for the afternoon. It was good learning and a reminder for me to watch more closely for the lens that I have on as I observe the afternoon discussions.

Crystal offers: But in the interest of being completely honest, I think that if I were asked to trust in listening I would of course do it, but I still probably wouldn't like it. I am a very goal-oriented person and if I can't see/touch/feel the progress I'm making towards a goal then I feel like I'm wasting my time. My original post was partly in response to a posting on her blog, maybecrystal. Crystal's comment supports what Ethan and Jerry say about students and teachers and what I call cashing in on an earned credibility index. But, it still concerns me that there are multiple people in the room feeling as Crystal does when progress seems to be difficult to reach.

Connie and I will continue to seek balance, but we will not lose sight of the need to provide time for learning new skills and tools that identify and reach goals that influence learning in all our classrooms. Teachers attending these learning opportunities are critical components of the support side of our high demand/high support culture. If we can effectively get each of them to feel this and see the importance of the role it may help when it becomes difficult to persevere. Knowing that there is a larger goal and responsibility can sometimes influence our commitment that will in turn influence our behavior.

In any case, keep up the comments. I will do better in the future.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Generation WE . . .

I saw this video on the Blue Skunk Blog and thought I'd share it. He got it from our friend Ian Jukes who helped us set the stage for Classroom 10. A powerful message from young people about their views on the world of today and of tomorrow. What also struck me was the differential in age. For some reason my mental model was one of high school to college age young people. Seeing it visually had more of an impression on me than the many times I have read about the millennials. Check out their web page that is referred to in the video, Project FREE was of particular interest to me as it is aligned with our new focus on sustainability.

Check out this new version of Bloom's Taxonomy that I found on Darren Kuropatwa's blog. I like the change in order and the addition of creating. What are your thoughts? Do our units provide opportunities for this learning?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Where have my teaching skills gone?

Well, today was the second day of leadership training this week and I am not feeling good about my teaching. Connie carried the load both days and did her usual admirable work. She truly is gifted and it is an honor for me to work and learn from her. I think today was a little better as far as my presentation, but yesterday my contribution was of poor quality. I believe the content is appropriate and adds to the quality of the work, but my delivery is not. Too much talk on my part and too little engagement by the learners. It is a good thing I am not being rated on the Classroom 1, 5, and 10 scale; it might be embarrassing.

This thing called teaching is not easy. These experiences for me are both humbling and confirming. They confirm my belief that it takes hard work and commitment to become a good teacher and working with these leadership teams also confirms for me the high quality of teacher that we have in our schools. They persevere through my speeches and still have the energy to engage in the given tasks. They also appear to put up with my questions and feedback though I wonder what the parking lot talk is like after a session like today where I spent quite a bit of time with one group trying to bring clarity to their goal.

This evening Dawn and I had the opportunity to share with the Rock Creek PTSA our Classroom 10 focus. I feel much better about this, probably because it was a presentation and it is expected of the presenter to stand and deliver. A long time ago I was a good teacher, but now I think I have become a good presenter and have lost much of my teaching skill. Presenting is far easier even when trying to use the presentation zen model. It still takes hours to plan, but the skill level necessary to deliver with fidelity is far less than that required of a teacher.

In the morning I present again this time to our Rotary Club. These people are a wonderful support to our schools and to our students and families. I am proud to be a member of this organization. I'll try to represent you well. I think I have a good shot because again, it is a presentation, something I think I can do when I give it quality preparation and planning time.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Process - Product Balance . . .

An 0 for 4 weekend means there is no need to say much about football. The Bears played well enough to win as did the Seahawks, but couldn't score touchdowns when they both had multiple red zone chances. The college teams scored for once, but neither made it a game.

This is a short week with Veteran's Day on Tuesday, but it is filled with teacher leadership training for me on both Wednesday and Thursday. I also have the opportunity to share something from the district at Friday morning's Rotary meeting. Planning for one of the leadership days is complete as it is a repeat of an earlier day with a different group. Connie and I have made changes following the first day experience to create a heightened focus on the need for a "meaty" goal to guide the teams' efforts.

I haven't been able, however, to finish my contribution to day 2. As always, there is too much to share in the time available and we are struggling with the need to balance process and product. The mornings are designed for learning with the afternoons set aside for the teams to work on their goal. Both sessions are predominately discussion so there is not enough product work for some in the room.

Connie and I have a deep belief in the need to develop a communication and facilitation knowledge base and skill set to influence the quality of the product and problem solving work, but we need to create a better balance during our morning activities. We believe that we may be talking at the participants too much and need them to engage more often with us and with each other. If you are part of one of the leadership teams, please share your thoughts about this dilemma.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A tough week . . .

My Aunt Dora suffered a massive stroke on Sunday and passed away this afternoon. It has been a difficult week seeing her in this situation and watching my cousins make the difficult choices associated with the aftermath of this event. Over the last year she has had a series of minor strokes that she endured with some loss of mobility, but nothing like this last one.

She and my cousins were a big part of my childhood. We lived a mile from each other and because of this proximity and being just a few years apart in ages we spent many happy and carefree days together. She was there when I needed help and support and she never hesitated to give me good advice. In reflection, she is one of the few people I know who never hesitated to share her private thoughts.

She lived a simple life devoted to raising her children including my cousin Mike who has Down's Syndrome. Her husband died when two of the four kids were in their early teens and Mike was not yet ten so it wasn't always easy. She worked hard to provide for the family. Her and my Mom were "Bingo Queens" for many years. I think I'm probably beginning to ramble with all these memories popping into my mind so I best just close for now.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Keep the dim sum running . . .

I shouldn't do this for fear that I might lose what few readers I have, but I can't help myself. Yes, another terrible football weekend. Once again, I give thanks to the BEARS for making it bearable. They have more wins than the Huskies, Cougars, and Seahawks combined. There are no words to describe the depths to which the two college teams have fallen so I will only subject you to a few about our professional team. It is probably a good thing that the Sonics left so we will have some time to recover between the Seahawks and Mariners.

The first quarter was a good ball game with the Seahawks 90 yard touchdown on their first play from scrimmage and the defense forcing three and outs on the Eagles. It felt like maybe we had turned a corner and had returned to previous year's when we won more than we lost. Oh, what I would give for a .500 record. Sadly, it was down hill for the next three quarters. No rush leaving a vulnerable secondary more vulnerable and no offense. We couldn't even get 11 guys on the field to punt on two occasions. Oh yeah, have you ever seen a quarterback ground the ball on third down to force a fourth and ten. The best part of the afternoon was watching Holmgren fume on multiple occasions. I wonder how he can sound so controlled and not point blame in the post game news conference?

One positive we did see today was the west coast offense. Unfortunately it was when the Eagles were on offense. I think today the stands emptied earlier than at any time since 2002, the first season at QWest Field. It started with about eight minutes left and by about the five minute mark it was well over half empty. The only good thing that happened was the walk out of the stadium was uncrowded and quick compared to a game where we win or are at least competitive. If the season ended today I think the only thing that I would miss is dim sum at the House of Hong. I'll probably keep going knowing the dim sum carts will get more yardage than our running backs.