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:
Your schedule for the next school year was a ‘Copy, Paste’ effort from the last year’s schedule;
Lessons for next year are planned based on interest from this year not necessarily needs of learners for next year;
Order of what’s taught is more important than who is taught;
You don’t have space and time planned for learners to have time and space for collaboration, planning or calm-down;
Your makerspace isn’t accessible to everyone;
Certain activities and clubs aren’t available to everyone;
Assessment comes in one flavor;
Your discipline policy and procedures are more about the number of offenses and less about changing behaviors;
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
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.
But 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.
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.
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.
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]
I can’t thank Chris Lehmann enough for the invitation. This event was about learning, change and the conversation needed to serve kids.
I often talk about the great things our school system engages in. Like a lot of educators who work for Rowan-Salisbury Schools, I am proud to be a part of the innovative endeavors our school system leads. Its great to work for a place that values innovation and change to better the lives of students and teachers.
I recently wrote a post about our school system approving the opportunity for educators to work from home, giving them credit for the work they did at home, planning and collaborating, on inclement weather days [Work from Home post]. This is a great move in valuing and trusting teachers and respecting the work that everyone does for the school system. When Dr Moody, our superintendent, brought up ‘Work from Home’ at a recent principal meeting, the conversation of Teaching from Home came up [guilty]. As a 1:1 school district in our 3rd year of deployment, our school district has been working hard to increase our competencies and capabilities with digital teaching and learning. I’m particularly proud of the hard work our school commits to in creating personalized learning experiences that challenge students to create and demonstrate what they know. This was the thought for proposing virtual learning on inclement weather days. Our immersion and commitment to digital learning has yielded some great success – now is a great time to demonstrate that learning can extend beyond the walls and schedule of the brick and mortar school.
We had to present this to our school board. Accompanying me was one of our assistant principals, Tricia Hester, and one of our parents. Our parent was my hero for the night. I asked her to speak from the heart about her daughter’s experience working from home on the last snow day. Even though it was not required work, most of our teachers posted assignments for our students to complete. Mrs Arnez spoke eloquently and plainly that her daughter and other children she knew completed the work with the expectation that this was expected and a new norm. This testimony carried significant weight with the board. They were able to hear that the resources and expectations set by our school district have changed mindsets and capabilities and that this next step is a natural step.
After some good, critical questions about our goals and design, our Board ultimately approved our recommendation for piloting a year of virtual learning on inclement weather days for the remainder of the year. Their detailed questions showed a commitment to innovative practices that accelerate learning and teaching [change to improve and not change for the sake of change]
The main concerns of the night about lack of access for some of our students. West Rowan Middle is the most rural school in Rowan-Salisbury Schools. Some of our students have 75+ minute bus rides to part that have little to no wifi at home. This is a main reason why West Rowan Middle is a great trial candidate – if we can make it work, it can work anywhere. Our instructional leadership team and our Executive Director of Middle Grades, Tina Mashburn, get major props for setting the vision, resource matrix and expectations for teachers and students and parents for developing the Virtual Learning Plan we developed and presented to the board. Creativity and practicality helped more than anything. Without going into all the resources involved the major focus and area of our plan centers on teachers being well trained and more than proficient with the digital tools we plan to use and fully capitalizing on any advanced notice we can take advantage of and prepare resources for students with limited access at home.
Our major goal is to not interrupt instructional plans created by teachers. As I assured the board, if teachers have planned to teach activities for the next week, we want to see those activities fully delivered or with whatever modification needed to make it happen. To my knowledge, we are the only school in North Carolina to try this [if I’m wrong, please let me know] but I do know very few schools or districts across our nation have tried this. #deepdivers
I have to give several shout outs for this:
Dr Lynn Moody – I constantly share her vision and innovativeness regularly whenever I can. This is a superintendent who gets it [if you are inclined to do so, you should visit]
Rowan-Salisbury School Board – They asked great, reflective questions. Travis Allen one of the board members used the analogy of the hockey puck not always coming to you – you have to go where it is – this is where learning and teaching is going. We should be there;
West Rowan Middle Instructional Leadership Team and Tina Mashburn – awesome plan and foresight! You guys rock!
The Great Teachers at West Rowan Middle – Nothing happens without great teachers, NOTHING! When I presented this to them, they jumped at this hard! They are ready for this endeavor!
At the board meeting while I was walking out, someone said ‘Let’s hope we don’t have to find out how well it works [meaning let’s hope we don’t have anymore snow days]!’ I quickly replied, ‘Naw, let’s hope we do!’ Our purpose for this isn’t to embrace change for the sake of change – our purpose is to replace a outmoded notion, make up days, with a relevant learning experience utilizing tools we already embrace and by doing so, eliminating the need for make up days. That’s right, as we continue to be improve on this and capability, our students families and teachers benefit by not having to make up days at the end of the school year of dipping into holidays. #worthit
We’re looking forward to this. I really applaud my teachers for embracing this as doable and continuing their work into digital teaching and learning. This is a great next step for changing our understanding of learning and education.
Some of the misconceptions of teaching and learning in a digital environment is that instruction comes from the computer and the teacher’s role is primarily making sure students have fixed attention to their computer screen. Part of this reasoning has developed from how we were taught and even our beginning teacher experiences. Delivery for most of us was one sided – with the teacher talking/lecturing or asking questions, maintaining the prominent role in the classroom. Over the years, better teaching strategies have developed and become widespread and technology has gained popularity as an engagement opportunity. Our ongoing work as connected educators is to provide clarity that its not just an engagement opportunity but an chance to empower students to dive into passions/interests and curriculum objectives free of printed limitations and empower teachers to create new ways to connect with students.
Our rural middle school went 1:1 with iPads 3 years ago. We are still discovering nuances about what digital learning and teaching looks like. In some recent midyear conversations with teachers, the topic of ‘filling in gaps’ with teachers has repeatedly come up. Our teachers have become very adept at creating inviting learning classrooms and integrating technology to help with delivery of concepts. As we bring data in the conversations, we discuss opportunities to change or adjust practices that will help us clear up any misconceptions students may have but may not share or even be aware of:
Guided instruction – This is a district initiative. Teachers create specific opportunities to have conversations with students on pertinent learning objectives. The difference maker for these conversations is if they are planned or unplanned. Unplanned conversations can end up being progress monitoring or conversations focusing on lesser important topics. Planning out these conversations ahead of time helps make sure we hitting on essential learning points we think student will have regarding the learning targets. Utilizing digital resources in a blended environment helps teachers have these impactful conversations and build up relationships with students;
Messaging with students – Regardless of your LMS, connecting and communicating with students either whole group, small group or individually can be effortless but again, there needs to be forethought given. Our district uses Schoology and our teachers are very adept at creating assignments and communicating with classes. Through the LMS, we can plan activities and discussions for targeted groups and individual students on very specific concerns we may have. Our teachers have shown us the data they collect on pre-assessments for upcoming units and standards. Using this information, we can plan check up questions for students who struggled the most or showed little understanding once instruction has began. Utilizing the LMS is a good low-key way to also engage our students who maintain a quiet voice in the classroom. And even though email is old school, email works if teachers work it;
Archiving instructional support – Our district hasn’t bought textbooks for several years [way to go]. As such we have to work to find and use impactful and relevant resources for students. Delivery is an important part of what we plan for but what do we do after we have taught a concept – where do we archive resources to easily allow students to access and refer back to if needed? An LMS [like Schoology], website like Google or Weebly or a blog are important assets to have. But we have to make them part of the learning landscape. Regular mention and specific talks about them help families know where to go and use resources regularly as part of instructional support at home.
Purposeful planning with technology is needed to enhance the great things teachers do in the classroom.
I’ve been meeting with our school based new teacher mentor about planning impactful on-boarding experiences for our newest teachers, both to the profession and the building. This is her first year in the role and she wants to make sure she does a good job in supporting our newest game changers.
During our last talk, I asked, beyond the normal paperwork and monthly meetings, what innovative things did she have planned for our new teachers? This conversation evolved into something wonderful. We all know the value of the gentle nudge, the right question that will inspire people to do move out of a routine pattern and think different. That’s what happened here. I don’t think our new teacher coach [and that’s the title I am giving her by the way] expected to be given a wide berth in this role. But that’s what I was asking for – extraordinary experiences to grow our new teachers.
We prefaced our list of learning opportunities with the premise that while we won’t overwhelm our new teachers, we will provide them with quality growth opportunities with consistent opportunities for reflection.
I was very happy to empower our lead learner/new teacher coach with the freedom and support to help our newest game changers grow and develop. Instead of a checklist, she needed support and encouragement to take risks. It made it safe to give her the three things we need to grow and support our new teachers:
Game Changer Initiative 1 –Support: During our last faculty meeting the outgoing new teacher coach gave a very moving and heart felt appeal to our new coach – ‘You have to get to know them.’ Those words still resonate with me. On her last day, she told me that getting to know new teachers and seeing them grow gave her personal/professional joy and fulfillment, in turn I’m sure it enriched their lives as well. This opportunity to build relationships and have different conversations has to get beyond the check-in and check-out mode we fall into. Our newest game changers need to know it is safe and always welcome for them to come to us with what’s on their plate. They have to know they won’t always get the answer they want but they will always get the support they need. #relationships Game Changer Initiative 2 –Motivation: We can’t change the realities and demands of teaching. While we can challenge traditional thought, we can’t shield/protect/avoid the things that can easily despirit us. Its our charge as lead learners to keep new teachers inspired. Visiting other schools and seeing best practices, getting new teachers to find and share a great Pinterest collection with the group, share a new PLN building experience are great ways to start conversations and keep everyone focused on moving forward. Getting better is the goal. Carol Dweck’s Mindset, is a great read and it dispels the notion that we have to stay in cheerleader mode 24/7. While I believe in a positive disposition, we have to keep new teachers focused on growing and improving, not at an arrival. No matter they victories or barriers we are living now, we have tomorrow to make another difference with students. Game Changer Initiative 3 –Keep Them Hungry: This is a goal for every lead learner. How does a teacher keep his class motivated to keep learning more difficult materials? How does a department chair keep her teacher group focused on trying new teaching methods? How does an administrative team keep teachers focused on continuously growing new skills to match new learning needs? I share resources I collect from my PLN regularly with my staff. I embrace my role as a researcher/reader and filter out what is not needed, what can be useful later and what will make good PD/discussion points now. My team makes a point to challenge traditional concepts when we can and at the same time provide alternatives, mostly found from our PLN. But alternatives and a suggestions don’t create fire in new teachers – a lead learner focused on seeing learning and teaching that is responsive to student needs does. Good talks about our new vision, mission and core values is a good start. Not settling for what is convenient is great mindset and students-first is a must.
Friday Feb 12, our school district, Rowan-Salisbury Schools @RSSinformation, held a half day of systemwide professional development on blended learning. Our district’s entire teaching staff met at South Rowan High @SRHSRaiders to hear Alex Rodriguez’s presentation on blended learning. This was a great presentation on the history and future of learning and teaching, where we need to go and specifically the role blended learning can/will play in that transition.
I was first introduced to blended learning almost nine years ago when I working closely with some mentors/friends from North Carolina Virtual Public School. Bryan Setser and Don Lourcey were two pioneers who truly changed my learning and growth trajectory – not just with helping me understand digital learning [which I thought I already had an idea of] and blended learning, they helped me become a connected educator. I credit four people with helping me in my evolution as a learner and leader and these two played a fundamental role. His presentation hit on some major points that I’ve been schooled on before about blended learning, particularly the goal of having students become more independent learners. So often, our talks on blended learning center on the tech instead of the desired outcome of making better learners of students. This gradual release model visual is a focus we should have for all classrooms wherein we shift focus/work from the teacher to the student. Blended learning provides a means and framework for that to happen.
Rodriguez’s presentation gave us a great jump point for future planning. Part of his wrap up was an intro to three questions that we carried into smaller group conversations. With Daniel Herring, assistant principal at Corriher-Lipe middle and connected educator, we co-lead a discussion with the district’s 6th grade math teachers on these follow up questions:
What’s your next step in blended learning?
What can blended learning look like? Upcoming lesson?
How will your group stay connected after the workshop?
It was a pleasure to help lead this discussion. Our group was on fire with strategies, tools, shifting and staying connected. Even though we had a short session, we were able to cover some essential ground. We skimmed the surface of:
looking at the role of the teacher during different aspects of the lesson/activity
what do we want students to do and how do we want them to do
the critical need for formative assessments in an evolving classroom
how tools help us in our role as facilitators
I was inspired halfway through our discussion to host all the district 6th math teachers at our school next month to continue to conversation and begin drilling down further how to change our practices to take learning to deeper level. Whether you are a 1:1 like us or a school with some tech resources but looking for a way to change learning and teaching, a deeper dive into blended learning structures can help. I’ve decided to dust off some of my resources and reconnect with some PLN members to help me with my re-acclimation. Let’s connect up!
[AND if you are a 6th math teacher in driving distance of my school and want to join our talk, it will be the first week in March. Any and all are welcome!]