Thursday, January 29, 2009

Is Leadership One of the Essentials?

I found the statement below over on Leader Talk and immediately began to reflect on leadership and its impact on the culture of our school system and individual schools and departments. It should be no surprise to anyone of my belief and commitment to expanding our leadership base to support teachers and other staff engaged in changes to belief and practice. In the absence of leadership beyond the "official" administrative positions I don't believe that it is possible to successfully create and sustain PLC's. I also believe that our success in this work is partly the result of our leadership training that we have done with our administrative team, building leadership teams, and classified leadership groups.

"The real test of exemplary leadership is not making yourself an irreplaceable icon but developing a deep, talented bench who, when their turn comes, can unite a company and unleash creativity into their own way"

Unfortunately, my mind then began to go to the process we have begun to adjust our budget to the changing economic situation. I have shared before that this will require changes as we look to find those areas where we can suspend expenditures over the next biennium or adjust programs to the changing revenue picture. At some point in this process, it will be necessary to prioritize these adjustments so that decisions can be made.

One of the words that is often used in this process is identifying the "essential" components of our work. I have learned over time that for most people this means find those things furthest from the classroom and start with the Central Office. I understand and accept this and I am sure that there will be adjustments at the Central Office.

What I have also learned is that it is very difficult for most people to develop and maintain a system perspective in this process. When adjustments are proposed most of us view them from the context of the place that we work every day. We evaluate the proposed option from this vantage point. It is very difficult for most of us to suspend the assumptions that we have made that have resulted in ladders of inference that reinforce our beliefs and drive our behavior. To have a system view requires that we identify and suspend our assumptions, something that is very hard to do. In the absence of this capacity, however, there will be people that will not be able to accept certain proposed adjustments. This is to be expected and accepted as this is a very emotional process.

So, what is essential for one may be unbelievable to another. Does essential mean we make attempts to preserve the "most important" programs as whole as possible? Does it mean we make equal adjustments across all programs? Does it mean we eliminate all staff development and adult learning before we look at staffing adjustments? Does it mean that extra curricular athletics and activities are not essential if staffing adjustments are necessary? So many questions with so many varied answers driven by one's vantage point and assumptions about our work.

I feel badly that we find ourselves in this situation and for the added stress and anxiety that it is causing many in our system. I want us to consider that there are no right or wrong decisions there are choices, good or bad people, nonessential people or job functions. I also ask each of us to reflect on the assumptions we have that will drive our response to the decisions that must be made.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bye Bye WASL . . .

What do you think about the changes proposed by Superintendent Dorn to the WASL? I have been asked that question multiple times since the announcement last week and I am wondering what our teachers are saying. I must admit that I did not listen to the presentation and have only skimmed the written announcement. For me, it was expected. Since it was certainly the foundation of his campaign I would suspect that the majority of teachers are in complete agreement. Or, because he has kept some of the WASL components, perhaps there are some that believe he did not go far enough.

I believe that in the beginning the WASL served a useful purpose by creating a common focus around the EALR's and then the GLE's. The creative tension of knowing that all students would be assessed and that the scores would be made public led to collaborative efforts by teachers around what to teach. This resulted in a common focus and genuine effort to support EVERY student in meeting standard, something that was not present prior to this testing.

I also believe that there are other ways to hold us and students accountable to meeting the standards and that some of the proposed changes do that in ways that may save money while providing data in time lines that can influence instruction. So, in this regard I support those changes and believe that the WASL in whatever form or name has in the last two years not been the major focus of our work. That has been replaced by Classroom 10, a change that should become the focus of OSPI support efforts for all state districts.

My biggest issue remains the changes we are experiencing in math and science in both the learning targets and accountability timeline. However we measure them, we must stop changing targets. Far too much time and energy is being expended on alignment only to find that it must be revisited with the seemingly annual changes in one content area or another. Hopefully we will see an end to this as Dorn's assessment changes are implemented.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the change will be the conversation between the Superintendent and legislators. Dorn believes he can make the changes without legislative approval, but some legislators see his proposal as more than modification and may decide that he is over stepping his authority. It will be interesting to watch as the story unfolds.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My first guest blogger . . .

One of the people I have the pleasure to work with is Dawn Wakeley. She is creative, thoughtful, fun to be around, and an important part of my network. She has at times been an effective coach and consultant to me when I am struggling with an issue or a situation. One of her many job functions is to provide leadership in our technology work. It is because of this leadership and the support of many others that I believe has placed us in a good position to take advantage of new technology. In a short period of time she has become the person in our system with the most knowledge and expertise with Sharepoint, a tool that we believe will become an important resource for our teachers. Below she shares some information on this new tool.

Oh, Dawn is also a great cook and baker! I don't know where she finds the time, but on a regular basis there seems to be some treat that comes from her kitchen.

My thanks to Mike for inviting me to share with his readers a few of the exciting things happening in technology to support Classroom 10.

How often have you looked for something on the p:drive and been frustrated? There are multiple versions of the same document and which is the “right” one? Maybe the version you want is in a team member’s personal folder, which you can’t access. Have you e-mailed out a document to work on with your team and now there are 10 versions, each with different edits and now someone must synthesize that?

One of the new resources we are excited to unveil is
SharePoint. SharePoint is a powerful system that gives us new options for teacher and student collaboration spaces, staff networking, and secure access to documents from inside, and eventually outside, the district. Our first phase of implementation takes advantage of SharePoint’s ability to organize and provide easy, manageable access for staff to documents and other resources like forms, slides, and videos.
We have so many wonderful resources that are sitting on a shelf in a binder – unused because they aren’t in a handy, easy-to-use format. How many of us spend hours creating a great strategy that works well but isn’t shared and made easily accessible to our team? As we implement Classroom 10 in our classrooms SharePoint supports easy quick access to all the curriculum materials in one spot with new versions immediately available, not waiting for the next time we republish the whole binder. SharePoint also gives us a vehicle for teachers to share with their colleagues – let everyone benefit from that powerful strategy or great visual.

Click in and see what we have been designing. Go to your web browser and type in the word “curriculum” in the address line and hit return. You have to do this from a district computer – right now the access is only internal. Making the access to SharePoint available from outside the district is an upcoming phase of the TSD SharePoint implementation.

Here are a few of the things Tahoma Staff will find NOW on SharePoint.
· All the curriculum units that have been developed or revised this year including unit overviews, lesson plans, student worksheets (everything!).
· A slide library with active learning strategies – teachers can see at a glance all the slides, select one and click it open, make a change if they wish, and use it for a lesson with students.
· A document library with thinking skills strategy charts and graphic organizers. · Habits of mind resources including slides with the habits, quotes connected to the habits, looks-like/sounds-like checklists.
· Planning resources to support teachers with Classroom 10 lesson design.
· Teacher facilitator resources including planning templates, a quote library, facilitation resources, and a team discussion board to share ideas.
· Principal resources with the Classroom 10 modules, a quote library, Presentation Zen slides, and collaborative team workspaces.
· Building assessment coordinators – all the up-to-the-minute resources needed for WASL and WLPT II testing.

Am I excited about the work– you bet! Take a peek at the site – let me know what ideas you have to make it better. Be a contributor to help build a resource that helps us support each other as we bring Classroom 10 to life every day in every classroom.

Monday, January 19, 2009

So much to be thankful for . . .

Many of us had the privilege today of a day free from work - an opportunity to be with family, to relax, to catch up on tasks, to . . . So many opportunities. I know I have taken advantage of it. Why the holiday? Because one man chose to lend his voice to those that came before him and the many that followed in the fight for something that should not have required a fight; equal opportunity to take full advantage of being a citizen of the United States.

Oh, what a voice it turned out to be! We are a better country and a better people because he made this choice. We owe all those that started this fight and those that later joined him to show the rest of us what it means to live in a free society a great deal of thanks. I have done little to assist in this movement and feel inadequate to even comment, yet I reap the benefits and want to join in giving thanks and appreciation for being able to live in this better place because of them.

And tomorrow, a new voice. What will this voice bring to our world?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Reflecting on the technology challenge - one year later . . .

On the teacher request I shared in the previous post he referred to this post from December of 2007. In this post I asked myself the following three questions.

What should we be doing as leaders to respond to this challenge? Do we know what changes are needed that create learning environments that take advantage of current and projected technology advances? How do we create focus here with all the other issues that we face as leaders in school systems? Do we have the commitment necessary to make the changes?

The challenge I was referring to was our capacity as a system to take advantage of technology to support teaching and learning. In reflecting on these questions today I believe that we have made significant progress in creating capacity for technology to significantly influence what teachers and students do in the learning process. I shared some of why I feel this way on my last post. The other reasons include:
  • The changes that we have made to the Technology Plan, the Technology Summit, and the decision making model. The focus of the plan is clearly on the classroom with increased technology use aligned with curriculum implementation. This provides for vertical and horizontal alignment of student opportunities to acquire the necessary literacy and fluency skills that are not dependent on what a building, individual, or team of teachers want to pursue. The Summit process has been revised to increase teacher voice and to provide additional support at the building level for teachers engaged in change. This team of Ten Tech Teachers is an important layer of support in our plan.

  • The Fusion process where we brought our tech staff together with our teaching and learning staff to develop a common understanding of our goals and to identify and implement structures that provide for consistent opportunities for these departments to merge their focus, work, and support. In many systems both in the public and private sectors, these departments work independently resulting in lack of common focus, loss of energy, and finger pointing. We have been successful in merging multiple silos into one working collaboratively to support Classroom 10.

  • We have differentiated the responsibility of the technology coaches that includes an intentional focus on staff development that is at the same time focused on system training needs while also providing for specific building needs through the teacher leaders.

  • Recent publication of the state technology standards and increased system understanding of the NETS is providing increased direction for those engaged in the curriculum development process.

  • As a system we are acknowledging our mistakes and attempting to create the changes that result in system learning and successful Classroom 10 implementation. We believe that the focus is on the learning embedded in Classroom 10 and that technology is one of those essential learning's, not THE FOCUS. I can see how some people in our profession see technology as the answer, but for us it is one of the vehicles for supporting learning as well as one of the basic skills that position young people for success in post high school learning and work.

Yes, I believe that we have learned much over the last year and that we are in a better position for technology to influence teaching and learning. Of course, I have the opportunity to influence and know what we are doing that most of you do not. Unless you are in one of the classrooms experiencing curriculum implementation you are not seeing or experiencing these changes and that makes it more difficult to accept or support the Technology Plan. And, if you are one that believes that buildings and individual teachers should have autonomy in technology implementation decisions our model will again be difficult to support. I would encourage you to share your thoughts with the Ten Tech Teacher representatives at your building and ask that they bring them to a meeting for discussion.

Perhaps someone from the Summit would also like to share their thoughts about where we are and the model we are using to make these critical decisions.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

When will we see increased student access?

In late November I had a request from a teacher to consider a post about questions I had asked in a blog post last year. He also had many other questions, but ended with this question.

I guess I actually have a lot of questions about where we are going with tech and would love to hear some thoughts on what may be happening to allow kids more access in the classroom? I guess this last question is really the one I am most interested in.

I have waited this long to respond for many reasons with the primary one being the need for our Technology Summit to review, understand, and implement a decision making model that has undergone many revisions over the last year. This model places teachers from the Summit together with technology staff and technology coaches on teams to plan for and implement new initiatives. We now have that model in place on two initiatives that directly speak to the above question.

First, however, I believe it is important to share some of the earlier decisions that we made that have not been as visible to teachers and students and the reason for those decisions. One of those is the decision to prioritize work on the back end to build the infrastructure necessary to effectively and efficiently increase student and teacher access. We had a consultant audit our system and have used the recommendations from that audit to plan and implement changes designed to increase the capacity and health of the system. These are changes that are invisible to most of us, but are critical to our ability to increase the number of users as well as taking advantage of the multitude of Web 2.0 uses.

We also made the decision to provide all of our buildings with wireless access, another necessary part of the infrastructure for increasing student access. Again, it did not significantly increase the number of students online, but without it our options would be much more limited. At the time we did this we were not aware of any other local districts that have this availability in all their buildings.

We also made the decision that major hardware purchases will be aligned with Classroom 10 curriculum development. As new units are developed and/or purchased the necessary hardware and software for implementing the curriculum will be purchased. We did this knowing that there is a set of knowledge and skills embedded in technological fluency and information literacy that all students must have opportunity to learn. Our guidance for this comes from the student NETS and the state's Educational Technology Standards that were recently unveiled.

We believe that we have established a solid foundation for growth and that the refined decision making model is bringing together the right voices to make future decisions. I briefly observed an example of this process today when a team of two teachers from the Technology Summit, two tech staff, and two coaches were making decisions on piloting the smaller, less expensive notebooks that are now on the market. The pilot will be this spring where a new ninth grade social studies unit will be implemented that requires students to have considerable online access. The team identified three models for the pilot. This is very exciting as the cost of these smaller machines, if they prove effective, are about half of the cost of the machines we have been purchasing for student use. More machines for less money is one way of increasing the number of students online at school at the same time.

A second way to increase access is by allowing students to use their personal devices. We have a second team, with the same number of staff and constituencies represented, exploring this issue. We can find no one in our state that is currently allowing this access by all students so once again we have no road map to follow. This team is working with the directive to revise board policy to make this possible. This is a significant change and undertaking for any school system, yet we are committed to exploring and finding ways for this possibility to increase access.

These are two examples of our current efforts to increase student access. I believe that we have positioned ourselves to successfully increase student access over time as well as the scope of what students and teachers will be able to do once online. I am also excited about the decision making model that required much perseverance over time and is an example of leadership demonstrating flexibility and adapting to new and changing circumstances. Please consider asking your Technology Summit representative for further information and updates on the initiatives currently underway.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

21st Century Learning, is it simply BUNK?

Over the last week I've been trying to clean out my RSS feeds, but only succeeded in adding more than deleting. There is so much "out there" that I want to keep up with and very few that I find I can delete without wondering what I will miss in the next post. The funny thing is, I only seem to worry until I push the yes to the do you want to delete question. Probably because I know I will be adding something I think might be better. Though I try not to let myself add a feed without deleting, I'm still not at a one-to-one.

One site that I added was FLYPAPER. I was interested in this site that is a follow-up to Mathews editorial in the Washington Post about 21st century learning. From the comments on the FLYPAPER post one can see there are people that support the notion that this 21st century learning stuff is simply a ruse to down play the teaching and learning of content. Where the post I believe is shortsighted is in seeing technology as the focus of this change. As we have shared, technology is another of the content areas that provide opportunities for students to engage in acquiring our Outcomes and Indicators, Habits of Mind, thinking skills, and core knowledge as identified in the GLE's.

Certainly there is a body of knowledge that is essential and a component of 21st century learning as is the acquisition of information literacy and technological fluency. Not all young people come to school with the skill set described in the FLYPAPER post and there is much more to learn than downloading and playing. We are trying to create an understanding of our Classroom 10 focus with staff and with our community because we believe that this understanding is essential if we are to create a learning community committed to this effort. I think we are doing a better job though I know there are those that still struggle with the content/process balance. I will continue to share information that both supports and questions this focus and my response.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The "messiness" of collaboration . . .

Kimberly's comment on my last post I believe is so true and one of the reasons why our profession continues to be more isolated than collaborative. She said:

True collaboration is messy and takes a lot of time (at least at first as teams learn to really work together, not just assign tasks, etc.). I think we often bag the collaborative approach (or at least only give it lip service) because whenever we bring together a group we are very mindful of how busy everyone is, and so we go with the fastest approach, not necessarily the best approach.

Once again, the issue of time combined with the sense of urgency that teachers bring to the work can become the driver for how we approach and accomplish our work. The issue of balancing process with content is also a part of this "messiness" inherent in our profession. For many of us, dialogue and skillful conversation take too much time, time that could and should be spent on product development. We need to believe that we have accomplished something and that usually means we need to be able to see and feel it.

How many of us truly feel that we can accomplish more by working individually or at most with a partner than we can with a grade level or department? I often find myself in that situation though I have come to understand and accept that I am much more effective when I work in collaboration with colleagues than I am individually. Fortunately, I have the privilege of working with colleagues who have the experience and expertise to be effective in a collaborative environment that has resulted in "feelings" of accomplishment even when we have not completed our task or have a tangible product to show for our time. Yet, that hasn't changed the "feeling" at times of wanting to just shut the door and get it done.

I believe that we need to find ways to "feel" successful collaboration because most of us change our beliefs and behaviors through a see/feel process. In her comment, Kimberly shares a positive experience working with students that she attributes to her teaching a skill set to the students. I share the belief that it is important to have a common understanding of what collaboration looks and sounds like and then to teach a communication skill set that will better position us to end these opportunities with a positive feeling about it. I also believe that this is happening throughout our school system as more and more of us acquire this understanding and skill set.

Our system has embraced the need for collaboration as evidenced by our consensus decision making model and use of staff development time. What is your experience with your grade level, department, or colleagues as it relates to collaboration? Do you leave "feeling" a sense of accomplishment and support and looking forward to the next opportunity? Or, are you in the collaborative meeting wishing you could just shut your door and get it done? What data are you using that results in the feeling that will then control your behavior and level of engagement in the process?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Collaboration and more . . .

The quotes below are from Karl Fisch at The Fischbowl. So much is being written about collaboration and the need for young people to acquire a knowledge base and skill set that positions them for success in collaborative environments. The post is about the changes currently in place at Cisco that demand that all employees share and build upon the ideas and work of each other. Fisch then challenges us to think in the words below.

So, if you’re an administrator, what are you doing to foster collaboration among your staff, and especially your teachers? And I’m talking more than just PLC’s, although that’s not a bad start. What are you really doing to fundamentally change the structure of your school(s) from one of isolation (close the door and teach), to one of sharing and collaboration (knock down the walls)? Is it unacceptable to share in your institution?

If you’re a teacher, what are you doing to foster collaboration among your students? And I’m talking more than putting them into groups of four and having the students create a PowerPoint presentation together. What are you really doing to fundamentally change the structure of your classroom from one of isolation (do your own work), to one of collaboration (work with others)? What are you doing to build their skills to succeed in a corporate environment that requires them to collaborate on a global scale?

If you're a student, what are you doing to improve your own collaboration skills - and those of your peers? What are you demanding of your schools, your teachers, your administrators to help prepare you for the collaborative marketplace that is your future?

I know that I believe deeply in the need for collaboration, sharing leadership responsibilities, and valuing diversity. I believe that my behavior is aligned with this belief as it relates to sharing leadership, but I wonder what others perceive as it relates to the importance of collaboration and valuing diversity. Do others see me promoting the need for collaboration with and between administrators, teachers, and students? What would one see and hear from me that would suggest this? Am I doing anything that would suggest that we need to ensure that our young people are prepared for a much more diverse world than the one they encounter in our school system?

Any thoughts?

Friday, January 2, 2009

An inspiring story and a challenge . . .

I follow Vicki Davis on her The Cool Cat Teacher Blog and was influenced by a the story she shared in a recent post and the challenge that has me thinking. How can I be a "reacher" like John Baker? I encourage you to read the story and to give some thought about what being a reacher would look and sound like for you.

I'm going to continue to reflect on this and make a decision about where I should focus my attention. I don't know if I have ever given 100% effort on a goal; what does it feel like? How do I respond to challenges like the budget issues we face, do I find the "other side of the hill" or am I buried by the immensity of the issue? Where should I focus my potential goal; with teachers, with principals, with students, with some combination. I'll share my thinking on a later post.

As promised, here are the books that emerged from my table cleaning on Monday and Tuesday. I didn't get as far as I wanted to and still have some prioritizing before sharing the articles that emerge from the deep piles on the table.