Monday, November 23, 2015

Give Teachers Options

A few weeks back we had a full day professional day for teachers and staff that was focused on providing a more inclusive school for all students.  The professional day focused on four topics:  Social and Emotional Learning, Student learning about Race, English Language Learners and Supporting Transgender and gender questioning students.   The key questions around these topics were: what is one action that we can take "tomorrow' in response to these issues? and 2. What is a longer term action that we can take as an institution to support students around these issues?

The format of the day was to have a presentation on each topic by a pair of teachers and then provide an opportunity for faculty members to process the information further.  The presenter provided a 40 minute presentation, which included student perspectives on the topic.

Teachers had opportunities to choose their own way to process for a half-hour after each presentation. The options to process included:
1.  Go for a walk and process on you own.
2.  Have informal conversations with colleagues
3.  Participate in a facilitated discussion for people who feel like beginners on this topic
4.  Participate in a facilitated discussion for people who feel like experts on this topic

It was a risk for us to take on four very heavy topics in one day, but I think it worked because we gave so much time to process and various opportunities to process.  Additionally, teachers were very appreciative of the different opportunities.  Having observed the beginner and expert discussions, these discussions helped to further learning for all by scaffolding.  During the beginner session the facilitator answered questions and provided basic steps in creating a safe learning environment.  The advanced sessions allowed veteran teachers to further their understanding on each topic and discuss strategies that can be used to help our school move forward.  During the expert race discussiojn, for example,  teachers discussed strategies to empower students to be leaders in addressing issues of race in our school.  

Allowing teachers different options to process allowed us to scaffold learning and teachers were able to choose the option that worked best for their learning style.  Furthermore, one of the positive bits of feedback for the day was that teachers felt respected in having their own way to process.  Many teachers participated in the different discussions.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Small Changes Can Make a Big Impact

We are taking on so many big challenges in education, such as closing achievement gaps, integrating technology and addressing the increasing complexity of our students needs, that we can easily become overwhelmed and believe that a big challenge requires a big change.  Too often schools take on big changes and instantly recognize how unwieldy and problematic the big change has become.  Too often we see these attempts at big change in schools and too often we hear from veteran staff members that if they wait out the change long enough it will just go away.

 John Kotter was one of the foundational authors during my training to become a school leader.  In the program we spoke endlessly about transformative change and making big changes permanent--2nd order change.  Kotter focused on the leader's role in leading these big changes, including creating a vision and gaining buy in from staff.  Recently I have more questions about  Kotter's ideas about transformation and wonder if small shifts can lead to more sustainable transformation than a large overwhelming change.  Where large changes require a major overhaul of culture and practice, small changes all for teachers to focus and take their time as they make sense of the change.  Ultimately, this small shift allows educators time to adapt to the change and implement the change in their classrooms.  Small changes helps staff build energy to take on other small changes.

A few months a go, president Obama was interviewed on Mark Maron's "WTF", in which he compared change to a boat making a 1 degree turn.  With the analogy he described that while you may not see the immediate impact of the change as you move further out into see you will realize that you landed in a different place because of that turn.  Granted, the U.S. government is much larger and more complex than a school.  However, with our complexity this analogy may hold true for schools as well.

Questions I'm still pondering--

Can small changes make big impacts?
Are a lot of small changes more significant than one large change in a school?
If we focused on making small changes in our practice would we be able to address the needs of more students?
If we focused on making small changes in our practice would we feel more empowered to take risks with our teaching practice?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

I Believe in You

During of the first days of school in my 7th grade math class  I experienced an important moment when a teacher told me how much he believed in me.  During that Math class I remember my previous year's Math teacher, Mr. Kaplan, pull me out of the class and ask me "why" I was sitting in this class. I must have had a confused look on my face because he quickly responded "you're in the wrong class, you're supposed to be in pre-Algebra, I know you can do it".  Whether it was a scheduling era or a some other mistake, he was telling me that I was supposed to be in the higher level math class instead of the class that I was currently sitting in.  Immediately he told me that he was placing me in the pre-Algebra section.  This could have easily been a scheduling error, but I also could have been sitting in a lower level class the entire year if he had not pulled me out.  To me this is less of a story about Math leveling in 7th grade, but more about my teacher telling me that he believed in me.  I never forgot this story and in many ways I became a more serious student after he raised the bar of expectations for me.

As we move into the first days of school, here's to all of the wonderful teachers who set the bar high for their students and know that they will jump over the bar.  Setting these high expectations is the way to closing all achievement gaps.   To reinforce this message watch Dalton Sherman's message to the teachers of Dallas USD on the first day of school.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Creating more upstanders

This past week the district principals and central office administrators met with the teachers involved in the District Equity and Diversity Committee to discuss next steps in moving our district forward around Cultural Proficiency.   

Through the organization of this committee, over the past three years educators throughout the district have worked together  to discuss and learn about creating a culture that is physically and emotionally safe for all students by standing up to hateful acts and addressing acts that can be viewed as insensitive or offensive.  Over this time we have learned about important teaching strategies, such as "assuming good intentions" and "asking a curious question" when potentially insulting comments are made.  For example, if someone makes a stereotyping or potentially hurtful comment, to respond by asking "what did you mean by that" and "why do you think someone may find that comment offensive" instead of making an immediate judgement and shutting the student down.  

As a response to this professional development and due to the strong culture already existing in our school,  I have seen teachers take courageous risks and incorporate these strategies in their classrooms and in the hallways.  Through these courageous conversations, they engage with students around the topic of difference and use student comments to serve as launching pads to help kids grow and become more culturally aware.  While these responses by teachers have been impressive, we need to continue to model to our students and empower them to stand up when they hear comments when they are with their friends.  

One way to empower students is to encourage them to be upstanders in their school and address these comments and acts in the same way that the Equity and Diversity Committee has been encouraging educators to respond to comments. As one of our teachers said, we need to provide PD for our students on how to become more culturally proficient.

Being an upstander around issues of difference is no different that being an upstander in a bully free zone.  Upstanders in a culturally proficient school and in a bully free zone are:

*  Willing to step in and stop a bullying or hate incident
*  Willing to ask a curious question
*  Willing to be an ally to a victim or target
*  Willing to tell a teacher or administrator about a situation
*  Willing to promote a school culture that celebrates differences

Please feel free to add additional actions in the comments section

If you are interested in understanding more about students are standing up to hateful comments and bullying,  check out the "Not in My Schools" Organization 

How do we create more upstanders in schools?

Monday, July 20, 2015

EdCamp Leadership--Bring in the Disconnected!!

Last week, Bedford High School was one of 16 sites around the world that participated in EdCamp Leadership.  This was an amazing event of learning and sharing between educators.  One of the major accomplishments of EdCamp Leadership Boston was the large number of participants who have never participated in an EdCamp or are not connected to social media as a professional learning tool.

While EdCamps are popular among the connected educators, we should be looking to pull in educators who may not regularly participate in social media.  One of the challenges of connected education, is the large amount of agreement happening on social media.  Learning happens when we are challenged.  Therefore, the more diverse opinions that connect to social media the more improved learning we will experience.

The diversity of opinion that was present at EdCamp Leadership Boston helped make the event an exceptional learning experience for all of the participants.  Digital converts learned from folks who are skeptical of the digital change as much as the skeptics learned from the converts.  Diversity of opinion is the power of learning and the power of EdCamp.  

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Leaders Modeling Innovative Strategies

A few weeks back, I had the pleasure of learning and sharing at the ISTE Conference at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, PA.  Certainly a highlight of the conference was reconnecting with my research teammates, Peter Cohen and Gina Flanagan as we presented a paper on "How Superintendents Gain Acceptance on Large-Scale Technology Initiatives".  In addition to that presentation, I connected (and reconnected) with impressive educators and learn through outstanding workshops.  One of the most memorable workshops was a presentation from George Couros on leading innovation.

During George's presentation he described an important characteristic of leadership...modeling innovative strategies.  He described that leaders can learn how innovations can help kids if they first tryout the innovation.  As leaders our best attempt at fostering a connection to an initiative is when we truly understand the benefits and challenges to the initiative.  I loved George's risk taking in creating a blog to better understand how metacognitive development better helps him as a learner before he asks teachers to monitor students using a metacognitive skills.  George asked the audience, how can we understand how digital portfolios helps kids understand their own learning, if the adults in the building are not reflecting about their own learning.

His discussion of risk taking was even more relevant me as our I try to better understand benefits of digital portfolios as a metacognitive learning strategy.  While I conceptually understand the benefits of digital portfolios, I have a lot of questions about them as well.   Therefore in my pursuit to better understand digital portfolios as a learning strategy, I have decided to develop this blog to reflect upon my learning.

The goal of this blog is to document my learning as a leader, to reflect on my personal and professional growth as a high school principal and to evaluate the benefits of personal reflection as a form of digital portfolio.  Ultimately I want to come out of this experience with a new tool to explore my learning, but to also understand whether the undertaking of personal digital portfolios can have a transformative experience for all students.

Certainly as educators we focus on modeling good behavior and habits of mind for our students, but do we regularly model learning strategies with our students.  George's discussion of the leader as role model, was an important reminder for me that we need to model effective learning behaviors in order for us to share these strategies with our students.  So here I am using this blog as my resource to reflect on my learning as well as an opportunity to better understand how portfolios can be useful in helping learners reflect and analyze their learning.  While a bit nervous, I am looking forward to this new venture of blogging my learning.