Sunday, August 30, 2009

Blog and table . . .

I usually do my post in word and transfer to Blogger, but tonight I was just about finished and the computer crashed and word will not open, you know the routine Windows checking for problems, the blue circle,and Microsoft Office has stopped working. It really ticks me off when this happens and I lose my work. I don't like trying to redo, because it never sounds as good, but here goes.

I was pleased to see the comments to my last post. They certainly provide us with differing views on what Classroom 10 might look and sound like in our classrooms. Though the sample is small, it does capture the difference of opinion and the need for continued conversation and learning opportunities as we continue our journey.

It is good to see that there is no disagreement on the need for the 10 characteristics. The disagreement lies in what a targeted thinking skill means when included in every lesson. We still have much work to do as we move toward a common understanding of this work in progress. It is an initiative unique to our school district and one that will continue to undergo refinement as we broaden the scope of those involved in decision making. Sharing private thoughts is important and can influence the decisions we will make on the what and how of Classroom 10. I believe that the sharing over the last few posts has already had a small influence on the thinking of some of us as it relates to a targeted thinking skill in every lesson.

I also received an e-mail about this post from someone who shared that this should be a skillful discussion at a table not on a blog. This is from someone who uses technology effectively and who will engage and influence the decisions made when the discussion moves to the table. I do not disagree that the discussion needs to be at the table, however, I think this becomes the venue when it is time to make decisions. While we are simply sharing thoughts and asking questions the blog and other less formal contexts serve to enhance the conversation. It provides opportunities for some to share in a safer environment and can promote dialogue as we read the thoughts of others and reflect on our own.

I believe that using the blog is one way of balancing advocacy and inquiry. In the comments to the previous post people share their thinking and beliefs about the work, but they also ask many questions. It feels different than being in the same room where many of these comments would be perceived as advocating for a particular position. In the blog I don't get the same feeling because I can only read what is being said; I am not influenced by the nonverbal behaviors, the timing of the comments, and the other human factors that influence my behavior. I think it is important to include the thinking of as many of us as possible before we reach conclusions and make decisions and this blog, other blogs, and social networking sites are one way to achieve this. Of course, I also encourage you to share your thinking with your colleagues at work, especially with building administrators as they prepare for the skillful discussions that will soon take place at the table.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Continued focus on Classroom 10 . . .

I spent much of this week at buildings for the opening meetings and sharing by the principals. It is one of my opportunities to observe them in important teaching situations and to provide them with feedback. Today, I was at the high school where I was entertained by staff using humor to share information from The Brain Rules and also impressed by the focus and conversations around Classroom 10, teacher/student relationship, active processing, and Ethan’s continued sharing of strategies to check for understanding. It sounds like a lot in the context of focus, but all of these initiatives contribute to an understanding and implementation of Classroom 10.

Terry shared the draft Classroom 10 characteristics document that will be shared at all buildings to identify the five that are included in every lesson and the five that will be observed over the course of a unit. I posted about these on August 23rd where I also shared the difference of opinion at the administrative level related to a targeted thinking skill included in every lesson. When this first emerged, I was open to being influenced as there are many of you much more knowledgeable about this than I am. Since then I must admit that I have been influenced by Nancy, Kristin, and Jonathan’s comments, especially as it relates to wanting students to be thinking every day in every lesson and the teacher and students being able to label and use the thinking skill in their work. It is not about teaching to a thinking skill in every lesson. I encourage you to read their comments.

Though I could still be influenced, my space is only being filled by those that believe thinking and labeling these skills should be included in every lesson. In the absence of another voice it will become more difficult for me to unpack space and be open to influence. It is interesting that the comments from my post come from only one perspective. I wonder if it might be the voices, one from the assistant superintendent and another from a T&L staff person that are making it more difficult to share. Perhaps it might be the lack of experience or comfort engaging with the technology. Or, it might be that those holding a different opinion are not among those that follow my blog. In any case, it would be interesting and important to hear from them as we reflect on this important question. The outcome will have significant influence on our Classroom 10 journey so it is important to hear from all voices.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pink on motivation . . .

I’ll take a break from Classroom 10 to share this TED Talk with Daniel Pink on motivation, the topic of his next book. Pink wrote A Whole New Mind the book that suggests that the future will require much more right brain thinking for success. This was one of the books that influenced our thinking when we revisited our Outcomes and Indicators and influenced our Classroom 10 initiative.

As I listened to the talk it made me think not only about how we support learning and motivate young people, but also about the interest in merit pay for teachers. Pink shares the results of research over time that show that bonuses for tasks that involve “mechanical skills” work as expected. When the task, however, called for “even rudimentary cognitive skill”, a larger reward led to poorer performance. Wouldn’t the act of teaching require much more than rudimentary cognitive skill to make the critical decisions necessary to create and sustain a classroom where all students experience success? I wonder if those supporting merit pay would call it a bonus or would they see it as an incentive? Is there a difference?

Should the research Pink shares have any influence on the merit pay debate? We are asking teachers to guarantee that all students learn; a task that requires much preparation and decision making. Is it the key to increased performance or might these financial incentives have similar results to those experienced in the business sector? It is interesting that many of those promoting merit pay come from the business sector where the data suggest that incentives don’t work for complex tasks. It doesn’t seem to have any influence on their zeal to move forward with this initiative. Maybe I’m just missing something or my ladder might be leading me to make erroneous assumptions.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Questioning thinking skills . . .

Thank you Nancy for your comment and sharing of the importance of the five characteristics in our Classroom 10 work. Reading her comment to the last post makes it difficult to believe that any of the five characteristics would not be included in every lesson. She speaks to each of them; Habits of Mind, active learning, thinking skills, rigor, and key concepts and content as critical components of a lesson and learning embedded in Classroom 10. She is very convincing and I again feel fortunate to be able to learn from her and include her as a member of our leadership team.

The one characteristic of these five that has resulted in discussion is thinking skills. There are some on the administrative team that question whether there should be a thinking skill identified in each lesson. From her comment you can see that Nancy believes that there would be one. Why do you think there are others that might disagree? When might a lesson not have a thinking skill as a component? Please know that the importance of teaching thinking skills is not being questioned just the inclusion of one in each lesson.

I would encourage you to reflect on this conversation about thinking skills and enter into the discussion. You can share your thoughts in a comment to this post and also with any of the ELT members. It would be good if one of the administrators that are questioning the inclusion would share their thinking so that we can have that information as we continue to reflect on this question. I am looking forward to the continued conversation. I am also wondering if there is a right or wrong answer. Whatever emerges from the conversation will influence our Classroom 10 journey and become part of the Tahoma way as we prepare young people for success in post high school learning and work.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

More Classroom 10 . . .

Since no one responded to my question of which are the five characteristics that would appear in each lesson and of the five, which one is open to continued discussion I will share a little more. Below, I have highlighted in red the five that are being proposed for consideration as characteristics that one would see in every lesson.

Habits of Mind
Projects/activities linked to the real world
Active learning
District Outcomes
Use of technology
Thinking skills
Authentic audiences
Key concepts/content

The intent of identifying these five is to dig deeper into the what of Classroom 10. Knowing this will increase our understanding of what contributes to Classroom 10 every day in every classroom and what characteristics that we would see and hear over a unit of study, but not necessarily every day. It also provides guidance for unit and lesson development. They are not presented as a hierarchy with the five being the most important, though there are some that would suggest that three of the five are the foundation characteristics.

We still have much to learn on our journey and need to find structures for engaging more voices in digging deeper and designing support structures that meet the needs of individual teachers and teams of teachers. During the August building meetings we will continue this process by sharing information and focusing on how to move forward on our journey to prepare young people for success in post high school learning and work.

As you review the five above, what one seems to you to be the characteristic that might not be found in every lesson? Perhaps one of the administrators would share their thinking that has resulted in an on-going conversation either for or against inclusion with the other four that are not being questioned.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Still digging deeper . . .

Great news, my Mom is back home!

I’d like to revisit a recent post about digging deeper into Classroom 10 and my challenge to identify the 10 characteristics. Crystal’s comments about not being able to name all 10 from memory is supportive of what I and some other administrators experienced as we were trying to recall these characteristics. Some of us were not able to recall them from memory. This captures where we are at in our system with even those in formal leadership positions needing to spend additional time to understand the what of this initiative. It is a learning journey for us all and we are at various places on this journey.

Crystal goes on to share how she could recognize and explain all 10 if she was presented with them. I’m not so sure that I feel as comfortable on the explaining side. It makes me question my capacity to engage in conversation with a teacher or community member who had questions or concerns about this initiative that required deep understanding of this knowledge and skill set. In continuing conversations with administrators I know there are others that share this same concern. It is an area of focus for our learning team this year.

At the system level, we have individuals at various places on this Classroom 10 journey. Many factors have contributed to this reality including opportunity to learn, curriculum development through the Learning and Teaching department, individual building projects, and use of waiver and early release days. Since Classroom 10 is our own creation, we do not have a road map to follow. Like all journeys, we chart a course and plan along the way. There are times when we reach our destination in the time identified and others that require more time to reach. We continually modify and adjust as we dig deeper, learn more, and support our learning.

As we look to the future, to move forward we must create opportunities for all of us to understand at a deep level what Classroom 10 is and what it looks and sounds like. We have begun the conversations to identify what these learning opportunities must include, when they can take place, who will be involved in the planning and implementation, and how to differentiate the learning. Success will require adaptive thinking on our part as we explore the patterns of behavior and structures that have driven how we historically approach this work. There is much opportunity for system learning in this process.

If you have not yet been introduced to the 10 characteristics of Classroom 10 here they are.

  • Habits of Mind
    Projects/activities linked to the real world
    Active learning
    District Outcomes
    Use of technology
    Thinking skills
    Authentic audiences
    Key concepts/content

They can also be found on our Share Point site that is currently only accessible from district buildings. In a few weeks we will have software in place that will allow staff access to Share Point from home.

Last spring, to support high school conversations about the what, we identified five of the ten that would be included in each lesson though we do not have consensus on all five. The other five would be visible over a unit of study. What do you believe are the five to be included in each lesson and of those five, what one do you think does not yet have consensus of the administrative team?

As always, I encourage others on the administrative team to share your thoughts about the journey and learning either through comments on this post or in your conversations with staff.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Mom could be home tomorrow . . .

Thanks to those of you who have sent good wishes and prayers. It looks as if they are working. If all goes well tonight my Mom will be on her way home tomorrow. She is off the intravenous antibiotics and on pills. Her temperature has been normal for two days and her breathing is markedly improved. The changes over the last few days are the result of the miracles of today’s medications. It has been a learning experience for us and we will now need to reflect on past decisions concerning care when she becomes sick so that we make the appropriate decisions when we again are faced with these difficult choices.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A shift in focus for awhile . . .

I missed my normal day for posting on Thursday and haven't really been connected for any length of time since Wednesday. At 5:00 am that morning I got one of those calls that you know must be bad news. My first thought was my kids or grandkids, but it turned out to be about my Mom. She is 93, lives in an adult home, is not mobile, and had come down with a fever and pneumonia. It has been up and down since then, with today looking better. No fever and breathing easier.

It has been an adventure with decisions on what to do and not do. It has forced me to reflect on the decisions we reached with her about treatment and life support in the event of something like this occurring. The decision to allow antibiotics appears to be working and if everything goes well she should be able to go home on Monday. If we had not I don't know where we would be, but it would probably not be ending with going home on Monday if at all.

I will try to follow up on Crystal's comments to my last two posts soon. Don't stop reading, I'm still around, just needing to focus my time differently for awhile.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Relationship as a Classroom 10 characteristic . . .

As I shared earlier this summer we spent time at a conference with four high school students, two entering grade 10, one grade 11, and one grade twelve. One of the topics that came up in our discussions was the importance of the relationship between student and teacher. The topic was raised at least twice by these students and they were eager to share their thoughts about what creates a positive relationship from the student’s view.

I share it now because in our administrator retreat the high school representatives discussed this at length and shared it with the rest of us. It is part of the rigor, relevance, and relationship focus there and at the junior high. In the conversations that followed some thought that it should become one of the characteristics of Classroom 10 so that we would have eleven instead of ten.

Though these students are not representative of the demographic at Tahoma High School I believe that their insights are important for us to remember as we focus on classroom environments that will support Classroom 10 work. All four students get good grades and would work hard in any classroom with any teacher so in this regard they are not like all students. But, they did share what makes them feel that the teacher cares and does that results in a supportive environment conducive to learning. Terry then shifted the conversation to the need for relationship that also goes the other way, how what students do impacts the teacher’s perception of relationship.

What do you think the student’s shared about relationship and also what they think about those students who are disruptive in class?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Deeper learning . . .

I feel good about the administrator retreat. Our focus was on our Classroom 10 journey and the shift from the why and what to the what and how of implementing Classroom 10 practices in all of our classrooms. We reviewed some already learned information and went deeper into some of the other concepts that we have shared on our journey. We have discovered that some of us, including me, must dig deeper into what Classroom 10 looks and sounds like in classrooms if we are going to be able to support others.

We are also exploring the need for increased accountability throughout the system as we focus scarce resources on this initiative. This is a significant shift that will require new learning for many of us and changes to the behavior patterns and structures that have long been part of our culture. Looking below the surface to identify these behavior patterns and structures is part of using systems thinking to better understand how our actions influence behavior and support change. This increased understanding will assist us in identifying adaptive solutions to the issues that we face in this work.

The retreat also resulted in dissonance that for me is positive because it will become creative tension as I focus my behavior on the gap between current practice and our desired future. Many questions were asked and concerns were raised that require us to reflect and examine the behaviors that result in this gap. The Learning and Teaching staff and I spent some time yesterday debriefing what we learned that will result in some changes to current practice and some additional questions to fuel further conversations.

One of the things that I wish we could change is not coming together as an entire staff in August. It will be important to share our work and to clearly articulate the next goal in our Classroom 10 journey. This could have easily been done at a barbecue, but we will need to find a different way to communicate this message without this opportunity.
For now, can you identify the ten characteristics of Classroom 10 learning? There are five of these characteristics that we believe should be in every lesson while the other five should be visible over a unit of study. What might those five be and why? The answer to this question will be one part of this year's learning journey. It is part of digging deeper into what we in Tahoma believe is important for every student, every day, in every classroom.
Perhaps some of the participants will share their thoughts, questions, and concerns in a response to this post.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A new start, new opportunities . . .

I spent Friday and most of Saturday meeting with the board in our annual retreat. This meeting is the one that signals for me the end of summer and the beginning of a new school year. It feels like with all my travel there hasn’t been much of a summer, but I’m stretching it out with family later this week for a few days with the boat on the Columbia River.

We discussed many topics at the board retreat, but the primary focus was on student housing and the many maintenance needs that we have that will take more than general fund revenue to fix. The board has made the decision to include a capital project bond or levy measure on the ballot this spring with the maintenance and technology requests. They are in the process of reviewing the recommendations from a team of community members and staff that spent over a year studying housing needs and identifying options for the board to consider. The task before the board is a difficult one given the current economic climate and the many needs that have been identified since our last successful bond measure in 1997. I’ll share more as the board continues this process and reaches consensus on a package to put before the voters.

Tomorrow we meet with the administrators in our annual retreat that will continue into Tuesday. Our focus is on our Classroom 10 journey and how we can support teachers and hold ourselves accountable to the goals that we establish. We are making the shift from the why and what to the what and how of Classroom 10. Since we are at very different places on this journey depending on content area, grade level, and curriculum development we will need to differentiate our staff development time. This process will begin with the discussions that we have over the next two days. Once again, I’ll share more as this process unfolds.