mccoyderek

Blended Learning PD at Rowan-Salisbury Schools

CbCwsW6UcAAExJfFriday 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.

Our district began the digital conversion two years ago. We have developed a strategic plan that focuses on the learning needs, environments and structures of our students and schools. A particularly well developed piece of this strategic support we have put in place to help teachers with this transition. [our district’s strategic plan including goals, vision and strategies are accessible here]

10-drivers-of-blended-learning 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. GRR-modelThis 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!]

We are Always 2 Questions Away…

Earlier this week, we got a call to one of our teacher’s classrooms to get some help in dealing with a ‘disruptive’ student. When I arrived, the teacher greeted me at the door with a very perplexed and slightly frustrated look on her face. She pointed out wpid-20150421_092044the student and began to explain that he was very disagreeable, argumentative and even combative. Her confusion came from the fact that even though we have had moments with this student before, his behaviors were out of character, very ‘odd’ and ultimately disruptive.

As I walked him to the front office and began asking him what was going on, I quickly began to see the behaviors the teachers described. He was even short and borderline disrespectful to me. [For clarity, I don’t write that to sound like, “How dare he talk to the principal like that!’, I say that because over his 3 years at Spring Lake Middle, I have come to know him, his family and situation very well and he and I have a good relationship]. As I approached the front office, one of his support teachers, Mr Cooper, saw us and inquired about what was going on. I asked him to join us, thinking that two heads were better than one.

When we arrived in my conference room, I asked the student about the night before, ride on the bus and arrival at school, thinking that this was either a turbulent night in the neighborhood or some issue with students at school. Other than arriving to school on the bus late that day, there was nothing out of the ordinary. I had to leave out of the office for a quick minute and when I returned, Mr. Cooper shared some a powerful piece of information he got from the student in an astonishing 60 seconds.

The student had not eaten in 40 hours. He was absent from school the day before and in all the hurry never ate anything more than a half a peanut butter sandwich. Our cafeteria makes a point to always be ready for every late bus but that day he wasn’t with the bus. We were literally seeing a student whose personality, health, mood, emotions were being seriously affected by grave hunger.

I snuck the picture above to share with my staff later but in it you see a desperate principal who reached out to the first adults he could find to get whatever donation they could give. Its not in the picture but I did give him a bottle of water from my office so it wasn’t totally unhealthy. 12 minutes later, Mr Cooper and I were dealing with a different young man. He was back to being mild-mannered, pleasant and conversational. We even joked about how he doesn’t eat the outside part of the doughnut, only the part that touches the inner hole. Like I said, we know and love this kid.

BlogActionDay_large

At a faculty meeting earlier this year, I shared with the staff that we are always two questions away from learning something significant about our students, our classes and our school. If we are willing to ask questions, we can learn something that will allow us to make a profound difference in the lives of students.

What Can We Do?

dd-school-breakfast-2013-info-graphicBuild Relationships – [‘Relationships, relationships, relationships.’ Jimmy Casas] I’m thankful the teacher was sharp enough to see that something was off with the student and knew to reach out for support to get some help. I’m grateful that his support teacher saw us in the hallway and was able to get to the two questions. While I’m confident that others could have had success in this situation, I don’t think others would have had the patience to deal with an ‘unruly’ middle schooler. Its only because we knew this student that we were able to intervene, see through the pain and intervene.

Don’t Take ANYTHING for Granted – Educators are busy and overworked and have the TREMENDOUS task of leading the learning in the classroom – a lot goes into that responsibility. But even through that, we have to be vigilant and mindful of what’s going on with our students. Sometimes, we go beyond the two questions just to make sure all is well.

Keep Some Snack for Students – You just never know.

This was a profound reminder. Those who know me know a lot of my passions are in the best teaching and learning practices, what learning can look like and what best leadership practices and strategies help us get to where we need to be. But I started teaching in schools like the ones I have led and am grateful for the unique experiences that have helped shaped me. All of us in our different communities and schools, have to keep in the forefront that we serve kids and all kids have needs of some kind. I will always work on my ‘2 Questions’ skill.

 

Informal Learning at its Best

This weekend, I had the pleasure of participating in an edcamp held at the Rowan-Salisbury School district, @EdCampRowan. Months ago, I received an invite to give the opening talk. I have shied away from calling it a keynote because keynote doesn’t fit the motif of an edcamp – I am calling it the ‘tone-setting talk!’ True to form, this event did not disappoint – it was all about personalizing learning for participants and making creating forums for sharing and connecting.

This day was a make up day of pd for teachers who lost several days because of snow. We learned at the start of the day that vast majority of our 200+ attendees were participating in their first edcamp. Lots of smiles made the eagerness to connect and grow visible and evident!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I want to mention a couple of very impressive things about this event early in this blog [there are many more below]:

  • This edcamp became a makeup opportunity for RSS staff having missed some days for snow [I know I’m repeating this but it bears repeating], what a great way to value and promote learning time for teachers #innovative;
  • Superintendent Dr Lynn Moody, @lynn_moody, was an active participant from beginning to end;
  • There were a good number central office and school administrators participating in this informal learning;
  • A board member showed up around midday and sat in on one a session I dropped in on personalizing PD!

I had a great time with my tone-setting talk! It focused on several points: 1) Keep an open mind about learning – what is absurd today will be absurd tomorrow for a different reason; 2) embrace the power of collective learning and 3) we have to shift our focus of teaching to address the needs of learners and the skills we need them to embrace.

My talk was about embracing new modalities of learning, especially the informal and making sure that we connect with others here to further and continue the learning. As a challenge for the day and a way to get the group think started, I charged the group to come up with 4 C’s for our learning  of the day! I gave the first two, Courage – be willing to try something new, start or join a conversation and Connect – be intentional about connecting with someone that day who could be a help later. From the audience we got two more Contribution and Commitment – great sentiments to kick off the day. Kelly Hines, @kellyhines, being the innovator she is, took the idea and made it a living theme! Armed with a whiteboard, dry erase markers and a camera, she went to individuals and captured their personal messages, their own ‘C’ for the day! Looking through this slideshow you will be very impressed with creativity and passion the edcampers showed that day! I encourage you to look at her Twitter feed for the day to see all the diverse messages. This was a great learning legacy to document the day.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

20150307_094437For a first time endeavor, this district hit a homerun! I can’t say enough about the vision and drive of Tiffany Carter, @tpizzie1, and Rachel Lawrence, @Tchr_RachelM for their vision and drive to bring new learning opportunities to their district. Shift happens with an ‘absurd’ thought! I even heard that Dave Burgess, @burgessdave, made a guest appearance during our Teach Like a Pirate talk!

 

The learning was a great experience but connecting and reconnecting with friends I haven’t seen for a while really made this experience worthwhile. Learning and growing knowledge without building relationships builds isolated experts and we are about tearing down silos and building community.

20150307_091029Take a look at Google+ picture collection here – http://ow.ly/K4WbI

Great day of learning!

Digital Tools as Difference Makers – Your Blog

I’ve had some recent conversations with some of my PLN members about how digital tools are helping me make a difference in my practice. Its always an honor to share some aspects of what I do with others. Its gives me a great sense of community to engage in these real, share conversations but I also benefit from these opportunities to share because they give me the opportunity to reflect on not only what I am doing but some of the other aspects these tools bring to my administrative function.

One conversation this week was about blogging. I was sharing my personal journey as a blogger with a principal here in NC, a newly connected learner and [hopefully after our conversation] a prospective blogger. I shared with him my need to overcome my hangups about writing to get to the real need and goal for my blog – to be a resource to my teachers and school. I am not a prolific blogger like many of my PLN but I do rely on my blog for several critical reasons.

Voice & Vision

We all have conversations with teachers and community members about what we are trying to do in our classrooms and school to have a positive effect on learning and teaching – this is an ongoing function of school leaders in and out of the classroom. So between and after conversations with our stakeholders what serves as a placeholder for the conversations we have? What can serve as the place to go to get a question answered as far as what is this principal/teacher/educator trying to accomplish? The blog is a great tool to not only share your thoughts but to paint a very clear picture of what your organization is about, what the goals are and where we are headed.

For several years I had a personal blog where I recorded experiences and thoughts about what I was thinking and doing to make a difference. Earlier this year at the @NASSP conference, I had a chance to meet Dwight Carter @Dwight_Carter, 2013 Digital Principal of the Year. One of the great conversations we had was on blogging, specifically how he not only maintains his personal blog Mr Carter’s Office, but also his weekly blog for his school and staff filled with announcements and resources and a blog to keep his community informed about what is going on. Hearing and seeing this made me rethink my communication efforts. I always ask myself what else can I do help my teacher and staff and this was a small consideration. What a great way to celebrate, inform, inspire and lead groups!

My NC colleague shared how he creates weekly and biweekly newsletters. With this transition, he will be able to maximize on the archiving and search features of the blog – his staff and community will be simple searches away from accessing and re-accessing difference making information.

Resources

I shared my new school blog in our discussion and what drew the most conversation was the resource section. In every blog, after our celebration and upcoming events, I make sure to share resources that I have gathered from my PLN over the week that I think will make a difference with our instructional goals. These are mix of blogs, articles, infographics – anything that reinforces recent conversations and past and future trainings we have had in the school. This is section has helped reduce the number of emails I send out to my staff through the week [I’ve been told I may have a problem]. One of the best examples of this that I’ve seen is from Jason Markey @JasonMMarkey, 2014 Digital Principal of the Year. Check out his central hub site – from here he links to all the resources and communication blogs for his school. From here you can clearly see a focus on keeping everyone informed and keeping everyone resourced.

The different aspects and benefits of a good blog can’t be spoken of enough. It starts with intention – making a difference. I am fortunate to have some great examples in my PLN that I can continuously learn from and share with others in their journey.

Its About Learning AND Sharing

A recent Twitter post inspired a great exchange between me Jennifer Marten,@jenmarten. I wanted to share this conversation because it epitomizes what effective educators are about. Effective educators should be about learning new information that will make a difference in their schools or classrooms and making sure that students in classrooms reap benefits as well. That’s the essence of a PLN – helping other educators help their students.

 

 

 

 

Thanks Jennifer for this great conversation!

Take a moment to reflect on what your PLN means to you or better yet, what you want your PLN to do for you! Now’s the time to engage with the difference makers who will help the learning in your classroom! We are all committed to growing students!