Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Joyful Noise: An Examen for Teachers

In #catholicedchat yesterday morning, the topic of gifts was on the docket.  Gifts given and received.  Not an unusual or surprising topic given the season and the audience.  It just happens my personal Advent journey this year includes reading James Martin SJ's book Between Heaven and Mirth . Again, not terribly surprising given my day job and personality.  In Fr. Martin’s introduction “Excessive Levity”, he gives several reasons for the seriousness of religion.  He writes, “…the aim of religion is sometimes seen as one of overriding seriousness.” Basically, we don't laugh, dance or make a joyful noise to the Lord because... by goodness... Church is Serious!!  In light of recent news stories in Indiana (check out State Impact Indiana for dramatic details) and nationally (The Answer Sheet is always good for a depressing glimpse of the state of education reform), I think it’s safe to say the aim of education is sometimes seen as one of overriding seriousness. And heaven help those of us in both realms.

Lately, the seriousness has been bringing me down.

  Right now, if you are like me, the joy comes back after a day or two of 8+ hours of sleep and not obsessively checking email waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Joy is slowing down, spending time with friends and family and laughing.  I realize we don’t laugh enough in education.  We tell students to quiet down and we frown upon frivolity of Ugly Sweater Day as we busily read the state data reports to see if our school is on The Nice List or The Naughty List.  And we are unhappy. And those students we seek to serve are unhappy.  We create locked down atmosphere of serious study - every activity aligned to a standard and every classroom silent. We lose sight of the focus … children.  Broadening their horizons with messy experiences and time for reflection.  Children laugh… sometimes a lot… sometimes loudly, messily, obnoxiously and for no reason.  They are seldom full of overriding seriousness.

I found myself journalling yesterday on this concept of joy and my vocation.  The path I found myself on looks similar to what I write below and I thought some others might be interested so I offer you this Examen for Teachers.  (What's an Examen you ask?

  • Take a few moments to sit in silence – in a place that gives you comfort.
  • In this silence, see in your mind those laughing faces that made you want to be a teacher.  Bring to mind faces of former teachers, colleagues, students and parents.  Anyone who walks with you on your journey as an educator.
  • Fr. Martin writes that “Joy…. is what we’ll experience when we are welcomed into heaven.”  Recall the people and places where you were welcomed.  What did you see?  Hear?  Feel?
  • Reflect on what stops you from being joyful - those barriers which hinder feelings of welcome, comfort or laughter.
  • Overwhelm those barriers with earlier faces of joy.  If you are so inclined - pray for strength and patience overcoming these barriers.  
  • Be grateful for the faces which overcome the barriers.  Enjoy the welcoming calm. 
And with that I wish you a joyful holiday break fully of wonder, peace and laughter! 

Monday, October 7, 2013

So You've Gone 1:1... What's Next?

I remember when my husband and I brought home our first child.   We had prepared for months… reading books, building furniture, attending child birth classes, buying accessories, talking to friends… our entire lives were dedicated to the arrival of this child (and my husband’s PhD coursework so I guess we weren’t totally myopic).  The day came when she entered the world and we were sent home by the hospital staff to begin our lives as a family.  We came home, my husband put the baby (in her car carrier) on the coffee table… and we stared at her…. and we stared at each other… we stared at the cat… and suddenly all the prep was over and we asked “So.Now.What.Do.We.Do?”

Brett Clark wrote a fantastic post about prepping a 1:1 program being like prepping for the arrival of a child.  And he’s total right.  So now that you’ve gone 1:1… what do you do?

  • Hint: If you happen to be in Indianapolis at ICE13 on Friday, October 11th this is our presentation.  Join us!

Taking a page from the research of Elizabeth Heitsch and Robert Holley and their work on the Learning Commons model of library design, there are three main areas to consider in your "What's Next" reflections:  the Physical; the Virtual; and the Cultural.  Let’s try a series of reflections based on your learning environment … what it is like now and how the environment changes through the lens of 1:1.

The Physical:
1:1 will dramatically change how you see and use space in your learning environment.  There is new hardware all over the place needing be connect to a wireless network, print and create.  Also how your learners use the chairs, desks and floor changes dramatically.  We have learned that the 50’s model of desks in rows doesn’t work so well in 1:1.  Students and teachers need flexible spaces to fully engage the capacity of collaboration and access these devices create.  And speaking of creating, students will need creation spaces outside the classroom to continue their experiences. 

Reflect a moment:  Picture your classroom.  See each student with access to a personal device for learning.  What works in the space?  What doesn’t? What would help?

The Virtual:
Every time I think this is the obvious consideration BEFORE going 1:1, I read a post on the State of Indiana Learning Connections that asks for input in digital curriculum/resources AFTER a school district has gone 1:1.  The virtual considerations are more than just digital textbooks… it’s your school web presence, it’s a learning management system or content distribution platform.  It’s creation tools like Google Apps for Education or Microsoft SkyDrive.  It’s social media use like Edmodo, My Big Campus or Twitter.  It’s apps designed to drive the school calendar of events and feedback from families.  As the students of LA schools showed us, students know the power of the device … and they want to harness that power (legitimately or otherwise because they are very, very smart).  These resources will change (improve) every few months. Be prepared to be flexible with upgrades and expect change.

Reflect a moment: What virtual resources do you use now in your classroom?  How does 24/7 access change that use?  What new doors may open?  What challenges may arise within the classroom, the school building, the larger community?

The Cultural:
The most nebulous, but most important of all three, are the cultural considerations and growth possible in 1:1.   Your 1:1 program will facilitate growth in the mission and identity of your school.  That mission statement the committee wrote?  Use it!  These devices are amazing at connecting global learners, creating active citizens, developing critical thinking … all those lofty ideals posted on the letterhead.  You’ll find more opportunities for professional development in asynchronous instruction, webinars, streamed conferences and social media PLNS.  Identify the values of the community and shift those values through the access 1:1 offers.

Reflect a moment: What are the key values of your community?  What are the key values articulated in your mission statement?  How might these be developed in 1:1?

1:1 initiatives do not stop when the devices roll out!  They do not stop with the last formal training.  Arguably, the real work begins after delivery… when the rubber meets the road… when it’s not new any more.  And boy, can it be amazing! 

Categories influenced by:
Heitsch, Elizabeth K. and Robert P. Holley. “The Information and Learning Commons: Some Reflections.” New Review of Academic Librarianship, 17:64-77, 2011

Sunday, September 8, 2013

OMG We Learned A Lot (About Distractions That Is)!

In 2010, Fr. General Adolfo Nicolas, SJ spoke to a gathering of higher education types in an address called “Depth, Universality and Learned Ministry: Challenges to Jesuit Higher Education Today.”  In the address, he focused on 3 advantages modern technology allows for (I am paraphrasing here): 
  • Appreciation for the depth of thought and imagination shared via technologies 
  • New possibilities of acquaintance and dialogue 
  • Creation of a “learned ministry” - going beyond our walls to recognize inequalities and become voices for the voiceless

All these things are still true 3 years later.  We are sharing ours thoughts and imagination, opening new possibilities for dialogue and supporting students who understand the lived ministry of becoming voices for the voiceless...But even in all this wonder - we educators are still charged with developing young, impressionable minds - with developing frontal lobes. Minds that are trying to figure out that while this world is full of possibilities … it is also full of distractions.  So how do we do this?

Fr. Jason Roll (National Director of Youth and Adult Ministries for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America) recently blogged on this issue in light of parenting the next digital generation.  One can easily interpret the same ideas into education. Our roles include:
  • Responsibility to keep up with how children use technology and what to look for as signs of problems (hint - same signs as depression, suicide, drug addiction: marked changes in behavior, weight loss or gain, lack or change in social group, dropping grades
  • Obligation to teach our children responsible behavior and use of technology
  • Taking charge of technology rather than letting it take charge of us 
  • Our commitment to engage all the children in our lives with and without electronic tools

In light of all this... the Brebeuf faculty spent an hour this week in a delayed-opening PD workshop on our roles in guiding young people in a digitally distracted world. It's a lot of stuff to think about!!  And of course we ran out of time... but here's what we did...

Over the Labor Day weekend, faculty were invited to journal their personal digital distractions. I made up the handout below - but many used their own note system

Our Multi-Purpose Room was arranged for table conversations (8-9 people each). Groups were assigned (yes, broke up the nature groups). We started with a reflection via the video "I Forgot My Phone" and the distraction journals. Groups shared observations and experiences for 10 or so minutes (my watch battery died about this point so I am not exactly sure... and my phone was put away thank you very much).

Two students shared their reflections on BYOT at Brebeuf and their personal challenges with distraction. Both admitted to falling under the spell of distractions but both also confirmed that by being aware - being allowed to make mistakes and be called out for them - creates a better sense of personal responsibility. This will serve them well as they leave our halls and head into the world.

Two teachers also shared reflections on BYOT at Brebeuf and how distractions manifest in classroom, coaching and personal relationships.

At this point the clock was running down... but we managed 5-10 minutes where the tables discussed techniques for dealing with distractions. Each table jotted down some suggestions. The most frequently recorded were:

1. Walk around the classroom
2. Be clear in expectations for work submitted, classroom activities and behaviors
3. Let mistakes happen - we learn from failure
4. MODEL desired behaviors - whether it be single-tasking, leaving phone in handbag or just turning off the Outlook notifications on your laptop... model, model, model. The students are watching everything!
4. It's not a bad idea to ask for phones to be left on the desk during bathroom breaks (that's just basic hygiene there people!)

There is no silver bullet to solving the distracted behaviors. Just as we admit every child has their unique gifts, every child has their unique challenges. But if we take up the mantel of modeling responsible behavior, recognizing the signs of dangerous addiction and engaging young people in digital and non-digital experiences... I think this generation of students is going to be better at recognizing distraction and taking control of technology rather than letting technology take control of them.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

OMG! Classroom Management in a 1:1 Learning Environment

We are gearing up for the first day of classes at Brebeuf Jesuit.  When the bell rings at 8:15 on Tuesday morning, students and faculty will find themselves in Year 2 of our 1:1 BYOT program.

We learned a lot in Year 1... JD writes over at Confessions of a Jesuit School CIO and I reflect here on things such as:

  • Taking time to discern how any technology initiative fits into the mission and values of the school community is key.  We took 3 years from idea to pilot to full implementation.
  • Having a learning objective to frame academic activity and technology initiatives is a good thing.  We used a classic backwards design process.
  • Professional Development can no longer revolve around teachers watching as a trainer performs "follow the bouncing mouse" large group instruction.
  • Classroom design is important.
  • Students will struggle at taking control of their learning.  Teachers will struggle with letting go of control.  Struggle is not a bad word...
Those of you of the Jesuit persuasion and lovely followers of this blog are familiar with the Context-Experience-Reflection-Use- Evaluation model (Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm for any new readers).  We are in a year of Use.  After lots of experience and reflection moments, we are living the reality of BYOT.  But as much as we talk about "Verbs not Nouns", empowering students, moving away from teacher-centric teaching, new furniture and classroom layouts... mostly what people want to talk about this August is distracted behaviors.  All that ed tech theory is all well and good until a 15 year old plays Temple Run in the back of the room - distracting herself, her neighbors and eventually the teacher. 

Discussing distractions in the learning environment is a good thing... but let's not kid ourselves... it's not new.  Puttering around on Google Scholar this weekend, I found articles (all behind paywalls...but that's another post) on students daydreaming; the evils of Tom Swift and other adventure series; the ball point pen; radio; comic books; television; video arcades; the BetaMax/VCR/DVD... and the cellphone/tablet/Internet.  Pretty sure you could plot the course of human history by looking at what distracts us from the reality in front of us. 

Little Interlude:
One of my favorite lines from the abstract of "Why Do Children Watch Television" by Eleanor E. Maccoby (1954), "The study reported here was an attempt to discover whether highly frustrated children seek active fantasy lives by spending more time watching television."

Answer: Yes 

So just as we teach students how to tie their shoes, wear their bike helmets, use "words not fists"... it's time to intentionally teach strategies for dealing with electronic distractions... 'Cause they aren't going away and marketing campaigns are intentionally focused on making sure we stay distracted (and don't get me started on social bots in todays NYTimes! Wow!).

So here it is... my personal Top 7 things we should be intentionally doing in our classrooms:

1.   Have Clear Expectations 
  • Turning in electronic assignments?  Where?  
  • Accessing electronic textbooks?  Where and how and for how long?  
  • Communicating between classmates?  Which platform?  Guidelines for engagement?
All these questions and more need to be asked, answered and written out in the course expectations document.  This is old school communication of expectations folks and it is as important today as 50 years ago.

2. Be Consistent with Policy and Enforcement
Even CNN Living has been covering the empty threat concept lately.  One thing kids are really good at figuring out is which teacher is consistent with cause-effect situations and which teacher yells and does nothing.  If the ramifications for turning in an assignment to the wrong dropbox is posted "lost points for late work" then make sure every student, every time.

3. Guided-Practice for Success 
Students (especially those new to the learning environment) will succeed if given practice with expectations.  Take handing in homework electronically.... practice the first week (in class) using the dropbox.  Maybe week two is "give some room for error" week.  The week 3 the policy of lost points for late work arrives.  Students, just like adults, need time to practice new habits to ensure success.

4. Organizational Skills
Speaking of new habits, organizational skills are learned.  Guide, practice, mentor, model.  

5. Communicate with Parents
Parents are your best ally.  Remember though, most of them (myself included) went to school in the days of the 3-ringed binder.  Parents want to support their student... but if they don't understand the expectations and process the entire support network falls apart.  

6. Remember Why the Device is in the Classroom
Use the device as a reward toy and that's all it will be.  I cringe at stories of elementary students allowed to use their classroom devices only when "their schoolwork" is done.  This type of tech as prize reinforces tech as toy thinking.  Day 1 that device is for the work of learning.  Model with your own technology use that this tool can open the world (parents this goes for you too)... and occasionally reach the high score in Bejeweled.    

7. Get Your Move On
I argue the days of desks in neat rows with a teacher at the front are over.  Move the furniture to encourage collaboration.  Put yourself in the middle of the excitement and move around!  It's another classic but proximity still encourages attention and focus.  

If you are interested in reading more ideas... here is a list of articles I shared with Brebeuf faculty last week.  Round table discussions will begin on the 20th to share ideas, practices and reflections.  I'll be sure to share what we talk about!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Feedback versus Evaluation

In my brief July hiatus from daily life at school, several topics have filtered through my less stressed brain.  Time for reflection, without a timeline, is to be treasured… even if treasure does not automatically appear in the form of a report or initiative (that’s another topic though)…

Today I am processing the idea of feedback versus evaluation through the lens of professional development.  I live in Indiana… a state at the “forefront” of the Ed Reform Movement.  2012-13 marked the beginning of an evaluation system and pay scale tied to big testing, Student Learning Objectives and growth models (the state model is called RISE but districts can write their own model).  Some issues have arisen, not the least of which is it’s mid-July and we still don’t have access to our state exam scores to base salaries on, but arguing the deficiencies of the system is not my goal here.  My goal is to reflect on the idea of feedback for professional growth and evaluation of professional effectiveness.  Because my friends, these are two different concepts…

I’ve written on this topic before, and today the folks at SmartBlog on Education picked it up too… “teaching” is not an end goal.  We didn’t take up our graduation gown and announce to the world “I am done!” If so, I wouldn’t be typing this on a laptop, on a wireless network, in MS Word, on a color monitor, hyperlinking articles found on the Internet… Because none of these things were commercially available when I graduated with my undergrad!  So teachers like to learn… okay… but what current discourse is trying to present is that evaluating that learning is the same as developing knowledge.  And THAT I will argue is a deficiency of the system.

This will look familiar to #Jesuit types
In education we refer to the feedback loop.  This is an idea that the learner engages content.  The learner then practices and plays with the content while the teacher/director/facilitator comments along the journey giving feedback while the learner adapts and modifies use of the content.  It is a loop – circular – in conversation and experimentation and commentary.  It’s formative… commentary given during the formation of a skill.  This is what is missing from many professional development programs - space for teachers to experiment with methods and content, within a safe feedback loop.   Evaluation, by contrast, is measuring the effectiveness or productivity of action.  And I do believe we should evaluate – this can be a powerful tool for ensuring the experiments are working.  BUT evaluations are summative and should not/cannot be done without a prior period of comment and feedback. 

Some questions to ask yourself as you shift from an evaluation model to a feedback model….

1. What is the end product of the current process?
The current system I work with attempts this feedback loop but is really more of an evaluation system.  How do I know that?  The end product is a form to put in an HR folder.  The end goal should be a supported faculty member and productive classroom environment... not a form in a folder.

2. Is the feedback given without judgment?
Feedback does not evaluate. One of the best ways to break the evaluation trap is to get rid of any ranking system (you know the one – scale of 1-5 from Atrocious to Proficient).  As soon as anything is ranked, rated or graded it’s an evaluation.

3. Do the administrator and teacher meet face-to-face?
Feedback is a very personal activity.  It requires trust and relationship…and I have yet to see a form or spreadsheet in relationship with a human. This is why many successful programs refer to coaching or mentoring programs.  

4. How much time is taken/offered?
A true feedback process takes time.  The teacher must have time to gather and consume new content and have time to practice/experiment with it.  The administrator gives feedback in dialogue and the process continues.  Time is also needed to reflect and review – this may mean release time from the classroom, flexible scheduling and broadening participation of mentor teachers to provide feedback for newer teachers.

5. Are teachers rewarded for participating in the feedback process?
There should be no negative consequences for failure in experimentation.  This is why it’s a loop – failure is to be expected.  We grow by learning from our mistakes and moving through them.  Researchers are just beginning to understand the value of failure … if teachers are not free to fail, no growth will take place.

My reflections looking at our current evaluation system is just that – it’s an evaluation system.  Not a bad one necessarily, but not one that allows for a lot of time or process of feedback.  Walk-throughs were a great step forward for formative visioning of the classroom, but there is no regular follow up conversation other than a written summary by the evaluator.  What I am sketching out is a process of goal setting, practice, feedback with an administrator and time for reflection of success/failure (or in Ignatian Pedagogy speak: Context – Experience - Reflection) as process… meaning every faculty would have the opportunity to meet regularly, every year, with a support person who would offer feedback on experimentation.  Logistically there are some issues – but to meet the strategic goal of excellence in teaching and fully support our amazing faculty it’s a logistic we need to overcome. 

(*** not to be assumed a new initiative for next year – but something I will be bringing up throughout the year, O’ Readers who may work at the same school as I J)

Feel free to leave ideas, processes or plans for developing feedback loops for professional growth in the comments section.  I know I’d love to read them and I am sure others will too!

Monday, May 27, 2013

End Passive PD!! The Building Blocks to Professional Growth

 In the end of the year rush, many of us fail to take a breath and be present in the moment.  I am admittedly horrible at slowing down.  I get caught up in all the stress and rush of year end.  To help with the stress (and ensure our marriage makes it to year 20 in 2014) my husband and I rented a little cabin in the woods to rejuvenate and reconnect this past weekend.  Of course, we still talked about our academic administration lives (he is chair of a university Communications and English department)… but somehow the conversation outside the school walls always seems more reflective.

As a college type, he has a hard time with our K-12 theory of “Professional Development”.  The idea that a teacher just sits and passively waits for development to fall from the Sky of the PD Office is very foreign to the PhD.  The things we call innovative – Personal Learning Networks, Personal Curation and Research – he calls standard Day 1 PhD lessons of the Professional Growth Model.  I’ve said it before and am saying again, we in K-12 have to get over the idea that PD equals Training. 

Training: the process of bringing a person, etc., to an agreed standard of proficiency, etc., by practice and instruction

Just what I always wanted when I was a child… training to a standard of proficiency.  Bliss!

What if we took a hint from Fleet and Patterson

Rather than conceptualizing professional development as either enabling participation in formal upgrading of qualifications (an approach that might be seen as ticking off the boxes involved in getting a piece of paper) or as providing steps towards acquiring a recommended change in practice (perhaps a mandated curriculum document), other possibilities may be more useful. For example, the recognition of staff as owners of personal professional knowledge, with intellectual and emotional investment in possible contributions to their own development

(emphasis mine)

So how to move away from Training to Professional Growth?  Here are my thoughts on the Building Blocks of Professional Growth…

Personal Learning Networks (or as university types call them – colleagues)

Teaching and learning does not happen in a void.  Social learning theory (Bandura) allows that we really learn through observation and modeling.  At it’s simplest, we learn by watching others… ideally by interacting with others on a common experience/topic we can build off their experiences innovating and moving the profession, our classrooms, our personal lives forward. 

Methods to build a PLN
  • Twitter – find a #Chat and start learning. The good people at Edudemic have created an excellent list of educational hashtags here.  Not sure how to get started with Twitter?  There are several decent tutorials on YouTube, including this one from Paul Hill. 
  • Attend a Conference – particularly one for your content area or school’s teaching paradigm
  • Eat in the faculty/staff lounge – get out of the classroom and interact with some in-house colleagues. 

Curating Scholarship (seriously it’s called READING)

For whatever reason, many of us stop reading professionally once we obtain the last required piece of paper for certification (another sign of how we’ve internalized the training model… but I digress).  With today’s resources (i.e. the Interwebs), there is no excuse for not keeping up on current educational theory and practices.  It’s just a matter of setting a reasonable goal (say one article per month) and actually doing it.  I use the term curate because this pillar is more than just reading – we need to “select, organize and present … using professional or expert knowledge

Resources for curation
  • Web-based tool such as Pearltrees, Diigo or Evernote work well for web curation.  Find a great article online? Hit the browser-based extension and bookmark according to category.
  • Peruse or your favorite publishers (I like University of Chicago Press and Oxford University Press for the hard academics) for upcoming books in education.
  • Find a blog you enjoy and actually subscribe to it! This way, each time the brilliant blogger writes a post you will receive notification. 
  • Ask your school librarian – trust me, they love to help find articles and research!  If the topic interests you, it probably will interest them as well (we are a bunch of information collectors as a breed).

Sharing Scholarship

It’s really not enough to sit and hoard information… we have to share it!   Get active and present at conferences you attend. Jump into the conversation during a Twitter chat.  I have said it before, we are our own best resources.

Resources for Sharing
  • Recently I started using Scoop.IT! for sharing/curating my web surfing. does a similar thing.  Think self-curated magazine on a topic.
  • Link your Curation tool mentioned above to your Twitter of Facebook account.  Then your colleagues can see what you are reading – and your family will think you are really smart.

Creating Scholarship

The final pillar is creation - what we ask our students to do every day!  Think high level Blooms here – analysis and synthesize what you’ve learned from colleagues, conferences, research and reflection.  Write an article, a blog, a book chapter (seriously… Routledge published JD Ferries-Rowe and I … anything is possible).  Promotion and tenure at university requires some creation of knowledge for the future … why should we in K-12 sell ourselves short?  We have a lot to say down here in the trenches. 

Resources for Creation
  • Many free blogging sites are available… Blogger, Edublogs, Wordpress
  • Respond to a call for papers!  Seriously, it’s how we connected with the editors of The Handbook for Mobile Learning.
  • Take all those notes and ramblings from your blog and write a book!  Heck, self-publish… iAuthor or Amazon have tools for self-publishing… who knows, you may change the world J