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 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.
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.
She 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.
For most schools, summer is a time for conversations and interviews for vacancies. Every new day in summer brings about new opportunity for hiring more staff to bring into the school, an opportunity to bring new skills, backgrounds and perspectives to make for a more diverse learning environment.
I look forward to these talks because I am always looking for different voices and thoughts to make my team[s] better. Creating and building a healthy schools means building a team [I avoid the word family here] that is focused on growth and improvement and school goals. A healthy school can weather conflict and challenge amongst team discussions and planning and come out better, stronger, even renewed at the end. Every principal is looking for these lead learners, at all levels, to make classrooms, grade levels, departments and groups better.
I’ve recently began to focus on why people want to work at West Rowan Middle. West Rowan Middle is a great school with a great reputation, academics and athletics. We are fortunate that our school has a special place in many local hearts. While we don’t get the attention of our larger neighboring school districts, we are lucky to get the love we do. So when we’re interviewing and the question comes up about why are you looking to join, the answers vary widely. Its great to hear prospective teachers say they are looking for growth opportunities/advancement, help with developing skills or just looking to teach in different environments. While this doesn’t guarantee a job, it does get us off to a great start. And its sometimes like finding the treat in the Crackerjack when you meet the educator who’s family has recently transplanted! Its a great feeling.
Recently some of my conversations have led to me probe even deeper into motivations of people seeking to join our school. One reason given is people have been ‘wanting to get close to home.’ At first, I took this as a welcome sign but as I’ve reflected on it, I am becomimg more indifferent about it, to the point now where I may not be happy with this answer.
This answer, on the surface, is about convenience. While I recognize it may make the teacher’s personal life easier, it doesn’t say anything about a commitment to making our school better or dedicating to working with our school population.
Our kids need and deserve someone who is committed to the vision, goals and mission of our school.
We have to make sure that the people we are inviting in for interviews are seeing the our school first. Our mission, vision and core values are setting a course for our school. Its made me change what I want to make sure I hear from candidates. I’ve added some questions to my interview expectations to gauge where the hearts and minds of the people wanting the join the #Bulldog staff:
How will you make our school better?
How will you make the world a better place?
What is the best learning activity you’ve ever created? Name two ways you can improve it.
If we were to interview kids from every year you taught at WRMS over the next couple of years, what would they say about how you have helped them grow?
We want and need everyone who wants to come to West Rowan Middle and make a difference for kids and our school to be a #bulldog. But all of our priorities have to align – kids first and making sure that our teams are the clear winners!
Randall Stephenson, Chief and Chairman at AT&T, has laid out a new, clear vision for where the company needs to go, specifically in terms of evolving employee skills.
“There is a need to retool yourself, and you should not expect to stop” ‘If you don’t develop the new skills, you won’t be fired … but you won’t have much of a future’ “Learn new skills or find your career choices are very limited.”
This is a good hard truth for many of us working with students and teachers in schools today. This article talks about the dire need to evolve – if the employees of this company do not continuously grow skills and adapt practices they could face some dire changes. The absolute same can be said for us in schools – if we don’t change beliefs, practices and approaches to learning and teaching, we will woefully underprepare students for their futures.
It was telling to hear that Stephenson’s own brother is one of the reluctant movers of the company – talk about a leadership conundrum. But in terms of what we face and do in our schools, are we having the difficult change conversations with our co-workers that will bring about the change we need? Are we having the ‘good’ conversations with others about:
flexible learning spaces
passion/problem based learning
Decreasing direct instruction
Do they know they have to change for their students? What do we do when they are reluctant?
This makes me think of one of my favorite quotes from Alvin Toffler captured in this visual. This was profound when I read it years ago and even more striking when I read it in the context of this article. Literacy is a fundamental skill but we have to teach everyone that fundamental skills today also include adapatability, communication, critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and grit. If we don’t promote these skills, students may not only find themselves ‘illiterate’ by new measures, they could also be unemployed or ‘have limited options.’ I want better for my students.
A few takeaways:
Do you have a clear vision of where you want to take your department, school, or school district and can people articulate it?
Stephenson needs his employees to be critical, flexible thinkers and solve problems they didn’t imagine when they first began working – are you training students for that mindset?
How are you fostering growth and change in the skills of people in your department, school, district?
If students returned to your school in 5, 10, 15 years would they say “This school really prepared me for my future” or “I’m riding the copper train all the way down”
Does AT&T have Twitter chats? Imagine the growth and potential for implementing PLN growth practices like Twitter chats or edcamps [or whatever is comparable].
You should share this article with every stakeholder group in your school.
Parents should read this article because if they aren’t educators they can appreciate a good business/work story and the implications of what happens when an employee can’t meet company needs.
Teachers should read this article because they are living this reality [or they should be]. We all have to check our great practices from 5 years ago and embrace that every year is a new year and we should be putting something in place that we have newly learned.
Students should read this article to begin to understand why they must develop dynamic skills and a growth mindset. We should be celebrating successes and growing hungrier from every opportunity given to us.
I took this picture last week in our media center. As I began to ask questions about what was going on, I was inspired to share some thoughts in this post.
How important is it to you to have things happen a certain way?
In the picture above, this student is not in trouble. He simply asked that for today, for that lesson, he sit by himself to work on his own. The teacher agreed knowing that he would miss some of the direct instruction that set up the lesson. I applaud her insight for valuing a perceived need of this student over the routine of making sure everyone hears her talking points. This student completed the work just fine independently and what he needed, he got later from the teacher.
This scene made me think of instances when I’ve seen practices that are more about tradition or habit than an opportunity to flex to accommodate student needs or desires to engage at a higher level. These are some recent pics I’ve taken that have sparked some questions.
How important are desks, rows to you?
How important is it that students sit in chairs/desks?
I love walking into this teachers classroom. When you walk in, kids are getting that work!! Its about what kids need to do and what they need to know and they understand those expectations. I like the two kids sitting under the whiteboard but I love how comfortable the young man is under the desk. He is in his own world doing what needs to be done. Teacher preference vs getting that work – #nobrainer!
How important is it that students sit?
How important is it that desks look like desks?
This picture came from the West Rowan High School on a recent visit. This is during their flexible period where students can choose where they work and what they will work on. I love that students who need to stand here can stand and get it done. But I love more that we are repurposing furniture. Instead of something pricey out of a catalog, we use what we have and in this case some redesigned old bookshelves [with the help of our cabinet class]. I will take functional and comfortable any day of the week.
Our school had a recent visit from Melanie Farrell and Kyle ‘My Info’ Hamstra. I shared a lot of the great things our teachers are doing including their building some collaborative work spaces for our students. Melanie shared a personal frustration in that her son’s room at home has a table that allows him to stand and do his work but at school, he is forced to sit all day, taking him out of his work comfort zone. When I think of the adults in my building that have to stand or get out of their seats after several minutes, I cringe for students who have the expectation to sit for long periods of time.
I have had to challenge my own personal thinking/philosophy on this one.
I’ve always prided myself on the fact that I have been very flexible with my grading policy as a classroom teacher. Every year in the classroom, I’ve told students and parents that if you turn it into me at the end of the quarter I will change any grade. While that was a good start, I didn’t focus enough on the learning. ‘Why were you so late turning that in?’, ‘Its been a long time, do you need some additional help now?’
Because my philosophy has evolved over the years I do ask my teachers is what they’re doing about the grade or about the learning outcomes that have been set? Does the grading policy get in they way of kids true learning potentials?
Please share your some of your challenge points below. Let’s keep the conversation moving.