Thursday, October 29, 2009

A communication focus for learning . . .

I can’t leave this COMMUNICATION theme without a follow-up to last week and last evening’s learning opportunity. In a meeting this week with one of the same people from last week’s conversation, the ill-advised statement I made was returned in an answer he gave to a question I asked. My concern was reinforced when I asked him if it was from what I said last week and he confirmed that it was. This poorly timed comment had an impact on what he heard and on what he took away from last week’s conversation and it was not the intent or outcome that was intended. Ethan hit it on the head in his comment when he said:

  • Unasked for advice, regardless of our relationship with the advisee, is perceived as criticism.
My statement led to the assumption that I was being critical of the listener’s behavior when that was not the case. It was instead an attempt to be more supportive of the initiative being discussed and the person’s important leadership role in the initiative.

Communication is an essential component of my work and as demonstrated above, I find myself continually learning how difficult it is. It seems to be a topic of concern for me with the many difficult issues we are currently facing in our Classroom 10 journey, our continuing struggle with budgets, and in identifying a comprehensive capital improvement package that meets the short and long term housing needs of our school system. It reinforces for me the need for a solid foundation of knowledge and skills that intentionally drive my behavior. I should bring my SPACE tent, my ladder reference, my advocacy/inquiry balance, and my private/public reminder to all my conversations.

Last night I attended a Diversity Forum at Tahoma Junior High and was surprised by the number of students, staff, parents, and community members that were present. My guess would be about 125 people with a representative sample of adults and students. Once again, COMMUNICATION was a critical component of the message that we were given. Young people shared their experiences in our schools; the words and behaviors that adults and their peers use to communicate in ways that are supportive and in ways that are demeaning and critical. We have much to learn and much to do to make our school environments conducive to learning every day, for every child, in every classroom. The committee will take the feedback that was given to identify strategies for continuing this crucial conversation and plans for influencing the culture young people experience in our schools.

Please thank your building’s representative to the Diversity Committee for their effort and support of this work and the board for the direction and focus on eliminating non-academic barriers to student success.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Seeking skillful conversations . . .

Last week I had conversations with two separate people at the high school that I find myself revisiting because of a comment that was made toward the end of one conversation and the next day in a phone call with the second person. In both cases, the comment referred to something I said that stuck with the other person and influenced their ability to maintain focus. It troubles me because these were important conversations and my intent was to create energy, reflection, and support, not questioning or concern on the part of the listener.

This experience once again reinforces the need for me to use SPACE effectively and to be more intentional about the questions that I ask and how they are asked. I know that my questioning at times can feel like interrogation that is not supportive of skillful conversations. When you leave a conversation with a colleague that is energizing, what did the other person do that leaves you feeling this way and wanting to continue the conversation?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Reflection, not always easy . . .

The comments to the post on James Paul Gee on Edutopia identified two of the areas causing me dissonance. Ethan’s comment about can we transform schools into cool places is making me think about the upcoming bond measure and the importance of thinking carefully about the new spaces we want to create. Will they be places where students want to be? Will they have flexibility of use to accommodate a variety of approaches to learning and teaching?
Mike’s comment focused on what Gee labeled professionalism and yes, it made me revisit the journey we have been on to create a documented Classroom 10 curriculum. Mike captured it with these comments.

I see the later content of the segment as a cautionary tale to a prescribed, scripted curriculum with no flexibility for teacher ingenuity (his comments on professionalism).When revisiting the posts about implementing the curriculum with fidelity from a year ago and processing the information provided in the video I can see where it may cause some questions not about our curriculum work but about the level of professionalism allowed the teacher in implementing (and being involved in creating) new curricular pieces.

Early in our work our practice would not be aligned with what Gee describes as professionalism. We were prescriptive and “teaching with fidelity” meant losing autonomy over what was taught and how it was presented. As we have responded to feedback and have adapted our model to increase the rate of unit development, we are aligning more closely to Gee’s proposal. As we expand the content areas doing this work there will be opportunity for teachers to influence the content and focus through the development of the curriculum framework. Unit and lesson development will follow with authors coming from the team of teachers in each department. Revision and changes to lessons will also come from a process involving teachers responsible for implementing the curriculum. More flexibility is being built into the design as well as more opportunity to influence as materials are created.

Dissonance is a good thing as it makes me reflect on our practice and on my beliefs. I continue to be supportive of a documented curriculum that ensures all young people have the opportunity to learn and to acquire the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary for success in our learning journey and in post high school learning and work. At the same time I am influenced by the need to find balance between a common curriculum and a teacher’s capacity to influence the delivery in his or her classroom. This balance is not always easy to find as some have shared on comments to past posts and in my words and behavior over time.

Thanks guys for labeling my dissonance and putting it out there. I strive to continually learn and to be open to being influenced. This is especially the case in our Classroom 10 journey where we are creating the road map as we go and where the itinerary has been influenced thus far by a small number of people. I believe that most successful initiatives that sustain in change over time begin this way, but are ultimately successful only when all engaged in the change are heard and we answer the two critical questions; is it worth it and can I do it? Today, we are engaged in answering these questions and finding that balance that leads to reenergizing the system as opposed to the energy drain we experience when out of balance.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Football and education reform . . .

Two days of football on three levels each ending in defeat for my teams. It was good that I made the Bear’s cross country and volleyball games last week both ending on a more positive note. It doesn’t ease this weekend’s losses, but it does reconfirm that it isn’t my allegiance to the Bears, Huskies, and Seahawks that are causing the defeats.

Here is a video interview of James Paul Gee on Edutopia that I learned about on Daniel Pink’s blog. The title Grading With Games is misleading as he shares in about 12 minutes many more thoughts than just those related to games. His comments on professionalizing teaching and school reform have left me with some dissonance. I have viewed it two times now and it is causing me to reflect on my thinking and on our work.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day 2009, my small contribution . . .

Today is Blog Action Day 2009 that I first learned about from thehurt at Edumacation. It is an annual event where bloggers from around the world share their thoughts on an identified topic. The theme this year is climate change. If you follow my blog, you may know that I have shared some of my experiences with sustainability and the importance of engaging our young people in understanding the importance of this work, how we have arrived at this place in our history where global warming is an important issue, and how we will move forward with implementing changed practices that do less damage to our commons.

Though I am no expert on climate change or sustainability, I am concerned and believe that it is an issue that must be addressed with a sense of urgency and collaboration not yet seen in our world. Regardless of how we got here and who is to blame we will not successfully meet this challenge unless we can embrace it across this world of ours. Our country must play a significant role in this effort by acknowledging our historical contribution to climate change, by honoring the need for those in other countries to improve their quality of life, and by taking a leadership role in changing practices. We must unleash our creativity, our technological prowess, and our competitiveness to invent, implement, and sustain clean energy practices that first slows and then reverses the rate of global warming.

Can we do it? I struggle with saying yes when I read this piece by Thomas Friedman where he shares the Applied Materials story. This is the story of an American firm, Applied Materials, the world’s biggest solar equipment manufacturer that has built 14 solar panel factories in the last two years with none of them being built in our country. Why? Friedman suggests that it is because our government has not created the incentives that others have for businesses and homeowners to switch to this power source.
Then I read about this EPA document that was suppressed by the Bush administration citing global warming as a serious risk to the U.S. By suppressing it what was gained? The science hasn’t changed since then, there is only additional data to support the link between our behavior and changes to climate. Add to this the issues that are emerging between countries as they prepare for the December Copenhagen Climate Conference and it makes me doubt that we will see significant change in a short period of time. It feels sort of like health insurance reform on a global platform.

So what am I doing? I am trying to change my personal behavior beginning with recycling and practices to use less energy at work and at home. I am doing much better, but I must admit it is not easy and transferring these practices to others in my family has proven more difficult than I anticipated. It is not much, but I see it like the starfish story. If each of us committed to similar behavior across this planet we would have a significant impact on our commons. I’m not real proud of this meager beginning, but it is where I am.

I also believe that it is essential that we engage our youth in this work. They must have factual information, they must understand the story of how we arrived at this place, and they must be positioned for making decisions that influence how we will live in the future across this planet. They must have Classroom 10 capabilities to embrace the challenge, to understand the importance of global cooperation, and to discover new ways of living and sharing the resources of this world. I have confidence that this is possible if the world leaders of today can create the environment that unleashes this capacity.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Much better weekend of . . .

Well, a much better football weekend with two wins and one loss. The Bears suffered the loss to Kentridge, but played well. Other than the first play of the game where Kentridge scored on about a 65 yard touchdown run the Bear’s defense was superb. They gave up only two first downs the entire game. We just couldn’t get going offensively in the second half.

The Husky game was unbelievable, I guess. I decided to sword fight with my grandson with about four minutes left thinking they wouldn’t come back. By the time I quit after being smacked on the hand the game was over and I had missed the comeback. Upset with myself, but they won.

The Seahawks were stellar in all phases of the game winning with a shutout. I’m still going to take LoomDog’s advise and try to get in some other Bear athletes this week; volleyball, cross country, and soccer. Go BEARS!

Speaking of LoomDog, did you see his comment to the last post where he shared part of a conversation with a teacher from North Carolina? I share his concern with the potential unintended consequences of our state possibly adopting the standards after two years. How many more years will that mean of aligning new standards to our developed curriculum? More time and energy to do curriculum and assessment work at a time when we are intentionally shifting our energy to instruction. Another shift that contributes to the frustration that many of us feel with constantly changing targets ending in some adopting negative attitudes to change and the don’t worry this too shall pass syndrome. Some stability in targets would be welcome and appreciated.

There are some positives to this potential alignment with national standards including the fact that that they are currently written for only the content areas of Reading/Language Arts and Mathematics. This means that the majority of our work will not be interrupted unless and until other content areas become worthy of national attention.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

NCLB assessment comparisons . . .

I thought that Flypaper post sharing the comparison of state NCLB assessments was interesting enough to share. It compares the difficulty of these assessments in reading and mathematics and ranks them by difficulty for each of the twenty-six states in the comparison based on cut scores across all grade levels.

The point being made in the article is that the wide range of results is evidence for the need for common standards; a movement I have referenced in several previous posts. Though there is currently no agreement across states on standards, one would have to take acceptance of the standards one step further to agreement by states to use the same assessment and same cut scores. That might become more difficult to achieve as many states may not want to see the rankings based on common standards and cut scores. Politically, it is much easier to publicize state results when the cut scores are determined at the state level.

As of today, there are forty-eight states that have signed on to the common standard initiative with one being our state. OSPI is monitoring this process that includes K-12 standards in English/Language Arts and Mathematics and College and Career Ready standards. It was a wise political move to indicate interest as this is certainly a high priority for the Education Department and the current administration. Adopting the standards, however, will be a more difficult decision. Agreement on common assessments and cuts scores, the larger goal, will be even more difficult to achieve. There are so many obstacles to achieving this; imposing of federal authority on state’s rights; loss of local control over the content of what is taught, and the potential adverse publicity and political upheaval for states whose students will score at or near the bottom of the rankings where under state control students are meeting standard at a much higher level.

Rankings in this study suggest that our students would fare well as we are 16 out 26 in the reading assessment and 21 out of 26 in the mathematics assessment comparison. Of course this comparison does not include about half the states, but over time we have been led to believe that our standards and assessment are among the more difficult in the country. The study can be found here. It is lengthy and I have only looked at the information for our state. In general, our cut scores range from the middle to the upper third in the comparison except for grades 3 and 4 reading that are lower in comparison.

Of interest was the comment in the report referring to a “walk to the middle” by states with high standards who are concerned with meeting the 2014 NCLB requirement to have 100% of students at standard in reading and mathematics. There is a tendency to lower the cut score so that the requirement can be more readily achieved.

I'd post the comparison charts for you to see like the Flypaper post, but I still have not learned how to get them into my posts. The same for files I would like to refer to and PDF's, and . . . So much to learn - I guess I need help.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sharing our leadership journey . . .

The first zero wins, three loss weekend of football. The Bears, Huskies, and Seahawks all lost. Three straight days of agony. I’ve got to find another sport; these guys are driving me crazy.

On Friday Connie and I are making a presentation at the fall WSASCD on our teacher leadership learning model. When we responded last spring to the request for proposals we were engaged in the training with teams from all of our schools and also from the Riverview and Snoqualmie School Districts. After we were informed that our proposal was accepted we ran headlong into the budget adjustment process with teacher leadership being one of those programs that was placed on hold. It was a difficult decision for me, but given the circumstances the appropriate one to make.

As I began to think about preparing for our Friday presentation it bothered me that we would be sharing a model and experiences that are not in place this year. I shared my concerns with Connie and she made me understand that it was my call. I decided that it would still be important to share so we will be there on Friday. Amy has agreed to join us to share the Tahoma Middle School experience.

Why did I decide to share? Because I believe that the foundation that we have created to support our Classroom 10 initiative was made possible through this work. As a system, we have put in place mental models and skill sets that support communication and learning environments that engage in change and embrace a focus on the needs of young people. Planning templates, influencer strategies, system thinking, and the capacity to engage in skillful conversations have assisted in this work. We are also transferring much of what we learned to our work with our Ten Tech Teacher Leaders and I was also asked to work with Rock Creek’s leadership team last week and for one additional day. So, we are still doing the work, but in a different context.

Our success with the Classroom 10 initiative will be influenced by our ability to distribute leadership across our system. We need teacher leaders to support their colleagues in this change effort that have the communication skills and the capacities to develop, implement, and assess adult learning opportunities. In many cases they are better positioned to do this work than are those in formal leadership positions. Yes, I’ll share our journey because I believe that others might gain a better understanding of the importance of teacher leaders in ensuring that change sustains over time.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Is it cheating?

I found this article from a post on Cool Cat Teacher Blog September 19th about student cheating and their attitudes towards cheating. The article identifies the top five ways that students cheat electronically and goes on to discuss that many of today’s students do not see this as cheating.

They quote a survey by Common Sense Media that states:"35% of teens use their cell phones to cheat by:
*26% store info on their phone and look at it while taking a test
*25% send text messages to friends, asking for answers
*17% take pictures of a test – and then send it to their friends
*20% use their phones to search for answers on the Internet
*48% warn friends about a pop quiz with a phone call or text message"

I am wondering how prevalent this is in our district. I don’t have any data and I am not aware of conversations where administrators are seeing this as a significant issue. Are our students not engaging in this behavior in similar percentages or perhaps they are more adept and avoid being caught? I would be interested in your experiences. Is this just a high school and college issue or are similar behaviors and attitudes seen in younger students?