mccoyderek

Signs You Need a Revolution!

Education is like most professions, full of good people with good intentions and strong desires to be productive and effective. For most professionals, this means finding things that work and ways to replicate success. After all, we all want to be successful and enjoy that feeling over and over.

But what does success look like? What does it mean for us teaching multiple learners with multiple needs?

We wrote ‘The Revolution’ as a call to reflect on what we do and why we do it and then – most importantly, make some changes. Are we looking for what the learners in front of us need or what we want or what we deem is best for them?

Its hard work and often harder realization to understand to come to grips with the fact that most of what we do in school is geared towards adults behaviors not learner needs. To bring that change towards learner needs requires more than just a shift or small changes sometimes, it requires real change, real action, real planning – a Real Revolution!

Some Indicators You Need a Revolution:

  1. Your schedule for the next school year was a ‘Copy, Paste’ effort from the last year’s schedule;
  2. Lessons for next year are planned based on interest from this year not necessarily needs of learners for next year;
  3. Order of what’s taught is more important than who is taught;
  4. You don’t have space and time planned for learners to have time and space for collaboration, planning or calm-down;
  5. Your makerspace isn’t accessible to everyone;
  6. Certain activities and clubs aren’t available to everyone;
  7. Assessment comes in one flavor;
  8. Your discipline policy and procedures are more about the number of offenses and less about changing behaviors;
  9. Clean, empty spaces are preferred over learning spaces.

We got into this for the noble, worthy cause of making a difference, not to replicate what has [or hasn’t] always worked well. Embracing that level of risk and challenge is the real work of Revolution@ries!

don’t raise your hand to ask, pump your FIST and start your Revolution!
#revoltLAP

Upcoming Virtual Learning Day

Last month, I proudly posted that our Board of Education approved West Rowan Middle to pilot Virtual Learning on Inclement Weather days [here – Teach from Home]. Our B.O.E. created an option for teachers to work at home on snow days by making them optional teacher workdays. We extended that thinking and proposed, and they approved, to allow West Rowan Middle to continue learning, instruction and creating, while teachers were at home and students potentially never got out of bed. Our teachers, students and community were all over-excited to be able to participate in this and not have to make up instructional days at the end of the year or lose any work days.

55b5bf6117cb4721980afbc6cd0b72b8But no one could know that this would be one of the hottest Februarys in recorded history!
We use more AC than space heaters this winter.

#visionaryleadership

Instead of embracing missed opportunities and what could have been, our visionary leader, Dr Lynn Moody, helped create an opportunity for our school to put in place the preparation for virtual learning we’ve been planning for these past couple of months and the overall next level instructional practices we have been engaged in since our 1:1 iPad dive 3 years ago.

March 17th is an early release day for the district. Students are already scheduled to be released 2 hours early making this the perfect day for virtual learning, teaching and learning from home. As soon as we got approval for it, we began communicating with parents, teachers and students about our plans for March 17th. With about a 3 week heads up, we made it an imperative to share our goals for the day and what we are planning on students to stay home to receive instruction and support from teachers through virtual means.

#innovationtrend

This will be a move more and more school districts begin to experiment and implement. Edtech integration has been an priority for districts and schools for years but with the proliferation of 1:1 deployments, create more options for educators. Just this week, Minnesota lawmakers are discussing this possibility with H.F. 1421. This is current proposed legislation that will give LEAs the option to hold ‘school’ for  up to 5 days on snow days. It requires advanced notification at the beginning of the year and when the snow day begins. [Read more of it here- Session Daily Article].

To my knowledge, we are the first school in North Carolina to try this. Given more districts are moving 1:1, including some of our larger districts, this will likely be shift many. The North Carolina Legislature controls the calendar of LEAs and this restriction significantly affects what we can and can’t do if we need to make up days. This is a great step in being able to save professional development days reserved for our teachers that they likely lose when a measure like this isn’t available.

Some Big Ideas

  • The Best of Blended Learning – Since our 1:1 deployment, our district has made a concerted effort to help educators and parents understand how technology integration can enhance learning and blended learning is a core concept of ongoing talks. Several of our schools have become models of blended learning and the growing efficacy is evident district-wide. There will be a modification given for this day but we have been talking to teachers about the critical role blended learning will have that day in delivery and connecting with students at different levels and needs. We have done a good job this year with blended learning support and continued training. We were fortunate to have hired a blended learning coach from a nearby district to serve as our assistant principal. Bill Brown [I’m working on his Twitter profile] has done a lot to enhance talks and capabilities in our school. His next level PD talks have helped fill in gaps in understandings and enhance skills our teachers need for blended learning in our brick-and-mortar setting and in this new venture;
  • Dispelling Notions of Disconnectedness – Our school board, and many parents, have a legitimate concern that technology does not inhibit connecting with students. Our ongoing work is to show and assure that technology enhances, not replaces, the relationship in the classroom. In school, we use it as a critical part in our guided instruction. For this virtual learning, it will be used to connect with groups of students or one-on-ones, to provide support or differentiate instructional efforts. We cannot and will not sacrifice relationships for technology;
  • Communication – There is always advance notice for snow days, its only a question of how much notice. Whether its two hours or one day, this is critical opportunity to communicate with families our work and goals for the day. When I first communicated this with the community, I personally invited every parent to call me directly with concerns and questions. With almost a week past, I have had less than 10 calls, emails and messages about what to expect that. I’m proud and glad that parents have had questions and not complaints – to me, this illustrates that our parents get it. They understand this is a new day in learning and education – we can do more so we should do more. One message from a parent was only to communicate how in favor she was of this move. This shows the power of the positive messages from our school and district these past years;
  • Overcoming Access Limitations – We are the most rural middle in our district. Some of our students are on the bus for the full 90 minute state limited bus ride set by North Carolina. Living in remote areas there are sometimes problems with households not being able to secure reliable wifi and/or sporadic cellular service. This is a common problem with #ruraled schools. Our workaround is the opportunity for advance notice. On any given inclement weather day, teachers will have some time to prepare and send work assignments to students. The assignments, design and delivery, is not the real work or concern [relatively speaking]. The real work comes in creating opportunities to connect with students, answer questions, fill in gaps, feel out their frustrations and coach them through immediate obstacles. This will be the challenge we will have conversations about with staff as the day approaches.

What’s been most interesting to me is the conversations with students. Overall, this is not a big deal. On our previous inclement weather days, they have used that time to catch up on work or even connect with teachers to get a head start on upcoming work. This is a digital native norm. More support has to go to the adults who have to unlearn and relearn skills and understandings to function in a changed education landscape.

#Edcucon 2017

I had the pleasure of serving on a panel discussion at Educon 2017 on Sustainability in Education. The other panelists were Samuel Abrams [author and researcher/truth teller], Renee Moore [teacher activist and truthteller] and the legendary Deborah Meier. Below is an embed of the panel discussion [thanks to Educon, Chris Lehmann and the student production team for sharing]

I attended a session hosted by Samuel Abrams. If you aren’t connected with him, you should. We didn’t have much time to talk but in several minutes he showed a deep passion and investment in studying the field of education, motivations for businesses wanting to privatize education and trends for resourcing education. I went all fanboy and bought the book.

Later I attended Jose Vilson’s session on The Privileged Voices in Education. I should call this more of an open talk and sharing. This was a packed house and the contributions were all real and raw and needed. Because of the executive order signed pertaining to the travel ban, a valuable voice was missing from the room. Speaking of Rusul‘s absence further added to the urgency for our schools to be aware of the cultural differences in our schools and making sure students are seen and heard. I went all fanboy and bought Jose’s book. [I’m a creature of habit]

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I can’t thank Chris Lehmann enough for the invitation. This event was about learning, change and the conversation needed to serve kids.

I’m Not Afraid of the Door Handle

We are very intentional in our work to make change and trying make teachers feel safe and respected in our endeavors to change students’ lives. I’m very careful to avoid using words like ‘successful’ and ‘right’ because I think it promotes previous stereotypes and mindsets that things have to be done a certain way and/or failure is the worst thing in the world.

Recently, one of our teachers gave us a great compliment during her midyear progress talk. It really floored me and inspired this blogpost. This is our 3rd year in our iPad 1:1 deployment, my second year here at West Rowan Middle. With a new principal, assistant principal and instructional design coach, we essentially have a new leadership team. There is a lot being asked of teachers – from us and the district and we are aware of this. I know I am asking them to reconsider a lot of fundamentals about education they hold on to or value. This is tough for anyone. But during our talk, this teacher-leader spoke a lot of the fact that this change is needed change and it has to happen at our school if we are going to be responsive to student needs. That was good to hear but not the great part.

who-wants-to-lead-changeShe talked about her conversations with other teachers, in and mostly outside of our building and their feelings on change and support. She created a powerful image of teachers being unsure of a lot of things, hesitant of new conversations, trainings and directions. Even visits to classrooms were stressful for some because people never knew where conversations would go or what they reaction they could expect. But she finished her talk by saying, ‘I’m not afraid of the door handle.’

She’s referring to a new direction our team has taken since I’ve joined West Rowan Middle to not just visit classes but also to provide immediate feedback and make sure we are having growth conversations with teachers -taking the ‘gotcha’ out of growth and change. But in the bigger context, she also meant that she is not afraid or leary of having conversations or trying new things that may come up in conversations with us or anyone else. It was validating to hear. To say it made my day is an understatement.

A lot gets lost or neglected in our efforts to lead people in these endeavors and it takes purposeful work and attention to make sure we are connecting with and growing our teachers. Change is hard and leading change is a significant endeavor. Point of clarity – if you think you are leading initiatives you are mistaken, it important to remember you are leading people. And people come in all flavors of confidence, competence, tolerance and understanding. A good leader’s job is to balance all the needs of the people in our school and differentiate support as much as possible.

Our talk has made me reflect on some of the things we have done this past 1.5 years to help ease the fear of our ‘opening classroom doors’:

  • Transparency – When we develop plans or figure out next steps or are considering shifts, we immediately start sharing what we can. We want staff involved as much as possible – the more input the better. Flatten the organization;
  • Conversations – Nothing will ever replace having a good conversation because nothing is more important than building relationships with staff – letting them know they are priority in our mission to reach and support kids;
  • Empowering Teacher Leaders – Its a myth that one person can change a school single-handedly. If you’re a principal, get over that fact. If you’re a teacher, embrace the fact that your students need you to be a positive voice of change in your school;
  • Visibility – We have to be in classrooms more than our offices. If administrators are visiting classrooms and kids asking ‘Who is that person’, something is wrong. I love the fact that our kids know of my fondness for my selfie stick – I want them to know me. Same for teachers, when we come into the classroom, they don’t get shaken they maintain an instructional pace. The real work comes later when we have growth conversations about the visit – ‘What can we do to get better?’ Having good working relationships help us have those conversations;
  • Building up Collaboration – I use the saying, frequently, that I don’t make big decisions in the hallways. When a concern comes up, I bring in the group the decision affects for the discussion. I do make a point to be in the discussion if needed but I want to build capacity and trust in our teachers to make student centered decisions.

Do what you can everyday to lessen the fear of hearing the door open.

When Does Profound Learning Occur?

I’m becoming more cognizant of how and how often I am using the term ‘learning.’ Like most, I’ve been using it mainly to describe how well students regurgitate facts and associate it with an achievement score.  I was recently sharing with some principals in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and about halfway through the presentation I started to key in on how we were all using this word to talk about our essential work and the essential components of our work. Some of the mentions applied to a newer understanding of what we want our students to be able to do but some were still under a standard from 10-20 years ago.

wp-1479003284678.pngWhen you’re in a conversation and the term learning comes up, do you know if its a reference for a newer understanding of learning and exploring or can you see that its a mention of regurgitating facts and an end score? For instance, describing the process we go through when we encounter setbacks and what we go through to overcome them. Or describing how we as lead learners create opportunities to shift mindsets of educators in our building and departments to challenge the status quo. Or just to describe that everyone, students and teachers alike, have to commit to being lifelong learners and continue to acquire new skills and embrace the work in evolving understanding and mindsets to make sure we are reaching kids.

Profound Learning

We can talk about the acquisition of facts, which many adhere to as the definition of learning, but this limited definition does not fit the vision and scope of what learning and school need to be. Learning is not a destination or a grade or a final report. We should be willing to embrace the different direction we see instructional design and passion inspired investigation taking us.

Profound learning occurs when:

  • Learners have choice – When we personalize opportunities for students, enable students to dive into areas they are passionate about. The question I get often is how do we align this to standards? This is where instructional design and student conversations come in. Guiding students through a learning process with our understanding of learning targets and CCSS is a new skill set for teachers. As lead learners, we also need to embrace personalized learning paths for our teachers and co-workers.
  • Learners are empowered – Engagement vs Empowerment – Check out my previous post;
  • Learners are creating – For so long, education has meant teacher centered practices and activities [I include copying worksheets for students to complete here]. When we create open ended learning activities for students and embrace different the varied result we will get from students;
  • We make timetables secondary;
  • We hug/encourage learners more than assess their work;
  • When we make edtech a critical part of throughput and output [not necessarily the only part];
  • When students can intelligently and passionately talk about their work with others;
  • When we make goal setting a priority;
  • When we shift from supervisor/teacher centered practices to learner centered practices.

#profoundlearning

Lowered Expectations

Teaching is one of the most fulfilling professions ever. Ask any teacher who’s had a previous student return to talk fondly about their time in the classroom and you’ll know what makes this job so rewarding. But along with this fulfillment comes some of the greatest challenges – committing to lifelong personal growth and professional development and being willing to shift beliefs, personal and professional. We can’t be great teachers if we don’t agree to change and adapt practices to suit every new group of students we receive every year.

I think this is one of the baffles for pre-teachers or non-educators – why not simply teach the way we were taught? Why not run classrooms and schools like they were 10/20 years ago? Straight rows, teacher at the front of the class answering questions, 10 neat problems on a sheet of paper, raising hands, etc. We know this way and how things can be. The problem with this thinking is we have had years to look at why and how this model ends up marginalizing different learners and different types of learners in the classroom. By embracing new and better, we can truly change our practice to reach more students where they are and grow them as learners and citizens.

I was recently sharing with a great group at NC Association of Compensatory Educators and we started talking about the need to shift thinking and teaching practices to reach all students, especially in our most challenging schools. Its easy to settle or make excuses for what we think is the good of students. Settling can come from a good place but it has harmful consequences.

Lowered Expectations is a New Form of Discrimination

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When we accept student limitations or make judgements/predictions based on their family or neighborhoods or race or gender, no matter how we phrase it or who we speak to, we are putting them in a box. The bias we are creating eventually becomes a reality of practice in the classroom or school.

The above visual is one of my favorites. The first box represents the one size fits all classroom it is so easy to create. Its easy to see how the student who needs us the least gets the most, often unnecessarily. And our neediest student, who may not always ask for help or doesn’t know how to ask for help, gets left out or hurt the most.

What can we do to ensure we have high expectations for our students?

  • Embrace PBLs;
  • Hugs and high fives every class period;
  • Build time in classrooms to have interviews/one-on-one talks with kids to find out what they know, don’t know and what YOUR role is in making sure they truly grow;
  • Commit to learning about personalize learning and find a way to implement in your school, classroom or department;
  • Let students listen to music in a classroom while they work and give them a choice of where to complete the high level work you are developing;
  • Commit to getting honest feedback from a planning partner/PLC about the quality of learning activities developed and that there are real opportunities for discussions with students;
  • Have real data talks planned;
  • Change your learning environment to reflect comfortable spaces;
  • Being willing to be a voice of change that benefits students.

We have to agree that all students can learn at a high level. We have to agree that  all students can grow, that they can leave us better than when they came to us. And we have to accept this will be hard, great work to see it through.

Our parents send us the very best they have, we have to do the very best we can to improve every aspect of their lives the best we can.

 

 

Knowledge vs Intelligence: A Discussion for Digital Learning Age

I came across this article  some weeks ago – Does knowledge matter in the age of Google? http://buff.ly/2brmg2N.  Heads up, the first couple of sentences may be slightly bothersome to some but bear through it as it gets to the heart of the discussion – how we as a society, particularly our growing millenial workforce,  view knowledge and more importantly, the value we place on knowing facts. There’s a great statement about how we are ‘outsourcing memory’ and are at the detriment of not knowing what we don’t know. It has a great conclusion, ‘Knowledge is not wisdom, but it is a prerequisite for wisdom..,’ after all, we do have to know why we have made decisions we’ve made and why we should or shouldn’t make decisions.

But we have the hard reality of living and working in the information age. This article, Knowledge Doubling Every 12 Months, Soon to be Every 12 Hours –  http://buff.ly/2bJV5TH hits on this point. Prior to our world being connected and our developing the ability to share conversations and information with the click of a button, gathering this knowledge was work and saved for exclusive groups. Now, information, more accurately access to information, is a right! We can get to it by making a casual decision to do so. With our inventions and innovations and our deciding to share, we are growing the amount of information in the world. We once held libraries in reverence for holding all or most information we needed. Now, we can take a smart device, with or without service, to a public wifi and get those same facts.

All of this leaves me with some questions:

  • What key facts should we insist on knowing/teaching?
  • What is pertinent information?
  • Who should be determining ‘pertinent facts’?
  • Are we allowing and promoting that pertinent facts should mean different things for different people?

Call to Change

The solution here of course lies in the how and the what we do in education. Our expected learning outcomes and demonstrations of learning can’t be tied to regurgitating facts or filling in blanks or solving naked math problems. It calls on us to unlearn most of our own K-16 learning experiences and embrace delivery methods that require kids to ask questions, solve problems and challenge existing viewpoints. We have to embrace that the grade of 50 or 70 or 100 cannot denote the end of learning.

We have to embrace that where our emphasis and value was on knowledge, now it has to be placed on growing intelligence and perseverance of every student. Changing these perspectives should be our top priority.

Last year, my instructional team developed a learning activity for the staff. We gave them fact recall questions OUT of their content area and told them NO TECH! There was a little stress at first but when we allowed them to use tech to answer the questions they felt a little better. Imagine how this makes our kids feel. [Fact deficits should not impact a child’s comfort in class] Later we gave them a the real activity that required them to dive deeper into the concepts and create a project that really demonstrated understanding. For this outcome, it really didn’t matter what facts you brought to the table, the tech helped with the fact gathering. What counted was the team working together to achieve the goal and building upon each other’s strength. The lesson design made the day. We have to continue to work with our adults to change their perception of good work to ensure that our students are able to participate in that work.

There are new skills and mindsets our students need that we can dive into while teaching our standards:

  • 21st-century-skills-4-cs-graphicWe can design with the 4 C’s in mind;
  • We can coach perseverance;
  • We can help stoke the fire in our students to be compassionate and service-oriented;
  • We can bring the value and need for curiosity to the forefront;
  • We can unlearn and relearn what’s ‘important’ in education to design learning and delivery that will help students with their future needs and problems.