My First Edcamp – #edcampelon

customLogoSaturday 4.19 was the first day of my spring break. While that normally means testing the limit on the snooze button on cell, this day turned out to be phenomenal day of learning, connecting, sharing and growing.

For the past couple of months, I’ve had the fortunate experience to have been one of the organizers for @edcampelon. I’ve known several of the other organizers from my learning network here in NC and got to know the others through this planning venture. From beginning to now [we’re not at the end yet] this has been one of the most impactful learning experiences I’ve taken part in.

[Edcamps are local unconferences that capitalize on informal conversations and presentations to drive learning and growing for educators. Their grassroots approach and shift away from the formal, prescripted conferences.]

Personalized Learning At Its Best


BllprBwIMAA83cE These are greats shot of our initial efforts in building the board! There was a lot of work that went into making sure that all the voices in audience were heard. We started capturing ideas and topics on Twitter days before and began the visualization piece on the Padlet board you see on the right.

1397998743562Giving attendees the direct hand in creating the topics is a big part in creating a personalized learning experience. Not all attendees are as vocal/visible/knowledgeable of the edcamp process as some of the attendees in these pictures [no surprise there @plugusin @web20classroom] but we kept the building conversation active and as engaging as possible. Ensuring voices are a heard is a priority.

Great Learning and Sharing!

The sessions were phenomenal! To be honest, I was like a kid in a candy story during the first hour popping in and out of several conversations, joining in conversations and making connections.

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Personalized learning! Shifted professional development!

The Future of Professional Development

We ended the day with an incredible smackdown! Lots of people shared some great tools that are making a difference in their classroom. All tools are worth mention. Genius design facilitated the capture of all the tools on this link. This innovation is a testament to the genius of the group. Rob Breyer @rbreyer and Dayson Pasion @MrPasion were the gifts behind the app used for the event as well as the social media including the website, Twitter and Facebook account. This link leads to the site. From here you can access all the other media.

Here is why we need to change how we look at pd and shift to personalized experiences like edcamps:

  • Awesome lunch breakfast and lunch!
  • 1397998951381Connecting face to face with PLN members!
  • Embracing that learning can look leads to next level growing!
  • Embedding collaborative resources to capture thoughts and notes from sessions/gatherings and being able to reflect back to them is a major part of this shifted learning experience [Thnx @rbreyer51 and @MrPasion]
  • Organization is critical! Thanks to all who were involved and drove it forward! Thanks for allowing me to be a part of the journey: Steven Weber, Rob Breyer, Sarah Henchey, Jeff Carpenter, Faith Howell, Melissa Nixon, Dayson Pasion
  • Sponsors are critical! They enable teachers to focus on learning, sharing and growing! Thanks NCPDK, Elon University, Discovery Ed, Edmentum, Yapp [link to the sponsors here]
  • Learning is NOT over! We are planning a follow up chat to the edcamp! There was so much follow up chatter, we had to create another forum for everyone to post some follow up thoughts.

This was my first edcamp experience but it will not be my last. I can’t wait to attend another edcamp as a participant and if I’m fortunate enough, I will happy to serve as another organizer.

Please add your thoughts below! I would love to hear from you on your takeaways and thoughts of this event.

 

 

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!

Inspired Support

I took part in a truly inspiring meeting several weekends ago.

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We recently had the fortune to hire a new teacher from Michigan to join our staff. We are very excited about the prospect of her making a difference in our school. She contacted me recently to let me know her family was vacationing several hours away and wanted to stop by to see her room and get an idea of how to set up. Her stop through was going to be on a Saturday. Of course, I agreed to open the school and meet her and her family. I remember the excitement of starting the year off as a first year teacher and every year since so I wasn’t going to miss this experience.

I extended the invitation to my 8th grade teachers and was elated to see that three of my 8th grade leaders volunteered to give up some of their Saturday morning to meet and greet their new teammate and welcome her family.

It was all smiles and great talks that morning! I wanted to make sure that our newest staff member felt not only welcome to the school but also knew that she was supported in all of her endeavors. We were joined by experienced teachers and a first year teacher – all provided curriculum resources, suggestions for living spaces and advice for support for the family.

This meant a lot to me. I speak frequently about our works with our high needs population. Its exciting to see educators who are willing to commit to our schools promise to grow kids. Our students thrive because we find ways to wrap incredible support around kids. This experience is testament to how we continue to grow and support teachers – by providing that next level of support and encouragement they need.

In a time of dwindling resources and wavering support, we can always count on supporting each other.

Why Does Algebra HAVE to be at 11:34?

Our current schedule is a 7 period day. We have been working hard to transition to a modified block. Our leadership team has been involved in a great deal of planning and communication to make sure that this transition is seamless to our organization and that our teachers are supported and prepared for change. I’ve been writing about this through a series on my blog.

Recently, I was performing my instructional rounds and visited our 8th Algebra class. As usual, it was a great lesson designed by a great teacher – rigorous problems, kids working together, and a silly theme [kids wearing boas is always good]. Lots of laughter, group work and smiles in the room. As I was circulating, I noticed a student slow to get started. I know this student so I asked him what was up, was he ok? To paraphrase, he was just feeling the day. Algebra is offered 4th period, exactly in the middle of our day and that day was simply a rough one for him. I could only imagine what his night was like and, I could only hope, that his morning was filled with mentally exhausting and mind blowing instructional activities. I left his group with an image of the four students around the table – 4 capable students, one needing a mental break to help him better prepare for a rigorous class.

We are a small middle school, our numbers fluctuate around 500. As such, we have one 8th grade Algebra class [though my goal is to do a better job identifying our more of our students who are capable of handling rigorous, well-planned and well delivered classwork]. The confines of a schedule dictate when classes are offered, sticking kids in a narrow box. More class offerings gives the school more options but it doesn’t equate to being responsive to a student’s needs. I think of the student from earlier – it would have made a significant difference if he could have been able to regroup and participate in his group work and assignments when he was ready and better prepared to give his quality work.

Flexibility Maximizes Student Outputimages

If you’ve read Clayton Christensen’s ‘Disrupting Class’, you can understand what I’m referring to when I say flexibility and options. The student in Algebra would benefit from a disruptive change. None of us would object to laying out multiple assignments for the day and serving as facilitators, not sage on stages, to ensure the work is getting done.

This is a timely topic with us being in the middle of developing next year’s schedule. We have a great staff at Spring Lake Middle but we haven’t had any discussions about this type of shift so this topic isn’t on the table – yet. I think its our responsibility as planners and developers to at least have a talk about this and what it could mean for kids. I think the potential outcomes would far outweigh the shift in comfort and familiarity we adults have.

‘Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.’ Rabindranath Tagore

Even though my visit to the Algebra class is what started this thought experiment, the potential benefits apply to all students at every level. A shift like this is a matter of training and holding high expectations. I fully acknowledge that maturity levels and self discipline varies significantly in middle school students and that it would also take time to build this successful program. But student success begins with setting high expectations, monitoring and improving on the successes our schools realize. Any successful educational program that does a good job serving kids takes time and planning to build.

Shift starts with vision and is made successful with commitment. And shift has to be responsive to the needs of the kids we serve.

Sharing GoogleForms Observations and Teacher Feedback

   Several weeks ago, the principals in our cluster got together and did an instructional walk thru in my building. This is the second one we’ve done in our district, the first at our cluster high school. This great talk inspired me to offer my school as the next walk thru site. I’ve always invited open feedback into the instructional practices in my school – this transparency is a great way to make a difference in learning and teaching. I asked the visiting administrators to visit any and every classroom they felt like. Every classroom, even empty ones, has data we can use to provide teachers information that will affect learning. We had a great follow up discussion and shared several points my team acted on immediately but a great discussion to evolve was how we use GoogleForm as a walk thru tool and data collector. We shared our process and tool with the administrators. Since we use iPads for our visits, we shared iPads from our iPad cart. The experience left the administrators wanting to learn how to create their own walk thru tool.

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Sharing and Building

   This past Friday I led a collaborative share session with these administrators and school leaders on creating a GoogleForm for a walk thru tool. Our group consisted of principals, assistant principals, instructional coaches and teachers. This larger group represented the school leaders who play an active part in the instructional monitoring in their building.

   My talk broke down into two parts:

  1. Rationale for walk thrus and using GoogleForms as the tool;
  2. Creating the GoogleForms Walk Thru and installing the component that will enable feedback to be sent to the teachers.

   Collecting and reviewing data on teaching and learning is a critical part of instructional supervision. It has become an integral part of our dialogue, training, and planning process. I’ve written about it here in a previous post. Adding the component for enabling feedback has multiple steps and technical but we led the group through the process. Now everyone in attendance has a fully functioning, walk thru form that can email feedback back to teachers. This is a difference making process for the schools in our district.

   I‘m a firm believer that you get more from sharing and this experience has only validated that. There was a lot of dialogue generated from this visit. One great piece came from Kevin Hasinger @KevinJHasinger, Principal at Long Hill Elementary. Kevin had some great value-add regarding adding metrics to observations to help communicate engagement. That piece, in addition to the other observations made about the tool will help all the schools with their observation efforts.

   This was a great experience for our cluster school leaders. It is a real example of the need for educators to continue to share and connect. I learned information from my PLN and was able to share with school leaders in my cluster and district.

Middle School Schedule [6]: Book Review ‘Making Teamwork Meaningful’

‘If teams of teachers are going to accomplish anything of substance, they need regularly scheduled opportunities during the school day to collaborate. In addition, if a school truly want to provide differentiated learning experiences for students – the teachers need regularly scheduled opportunities during the school day to provide targeted interventions.’ Ferriter, Graham, Wight, 2013

   Fortunate circumstances or divine intervention led my friend Bill Ferriter, @plugusin, to share his latest collaborative venture with me. I feel honored that he thought enough to share this great book. Bill is an authority on PLCs and building collaborative, goal oriented cultures in our schools. You’ve probably seen a couple of his works on the Solution-Tree catalog.

   Making Teamwork Meaningful is a great piece that dives into looking at all the systems and processes in a school that affect how students learn and teachers teach and a big part of that is how we promote and protect collaboration. This includes taking a look at our hiring process, developing intervention efforts and of course increasing our efficacy in collaboration and as the book points out, the school schedule is a critical starting point. This is a piece that all school leaders have to key into if we are going to make student learning a priority.

   Related to my series on middle school scheduling, there are some takeaways I thought that really resonate:

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  • Teachers can’t be effective in ineffective structures
  • Outlining priorities and planning methods to protect them
  • The master schedule should support collaboration
  • School leaders have to create and protect opportunities for teachers to collaborate
  • School leaders should  consider how reflection and a commitment to flexibility will play a role in the schedule

   In addition these great points the book provides four key questions in guiding the building of the school schedule:

  1. What are our organization priorities, and who should help protect them?
  2. Who needs opportunities to collaborate to advance priorities, and how will we create time during the school day for that collaboration?
  3. What role will reflection and a commitment to flexibility to play?
  4. How can we be creative with positions and time to free teachers for intervention?

 I received this book well into our planning efforts for next year’s schedule but this was a timely read. Of course there are more aspects to this book developing a school scheduleIf you’re a school leader that’s involved in the decision making process including school improvement planning, building the schedule or designing interventions this is a must read. There are great points on every level for every level.

Middle School Schedule [4]: Our Schedule

Our current schedule is a seven period day. It affords 50 minutes per class in all subjects. The way the seven period day has run here over the last couple of years is grade levels are given one common planning period in the morning by having the grade levels go to electives during  either 1st, 2nd or 3rd period. Grade level teachers are given a second planning after lunch. This second planning is not with the grade level though and is not guaranteed to be with the common subject teacher.

Picture3   Our schedule next year has a block framework. We divide our day into four 95 minutes blocks with additional time added to first and third block for homeroom and lunch respectively. The first picture shows the framework for the school schedule. One huge difference we make next year is that all four groups will go have common planning. This is grade levels and grade level subject areas. Maximizing our opportunities to plan and collaborate will make a huge difference in lesson and activity design. Our leadership team has started developing a planning tool that will facilitate and drive our planning efforts. This tool outlines essential elements of what a great lesson looks like.

   Mentioned above, our grade level teachers have common planning in the morning but not in the afternoon. This has significantly hampered creating middle school teams. This has been one intervention that I think we have sorely missed. Our students come from elementary schools where they may see 2 – 4 teachers a day and are now put in a mix where they see seven teachers daily. This is how students get lost. The middle school concept began as a means to support students during this adjustment period by utilizing teams as an intervention strategy.  Transitioning to this new schedule shows that a schedule can either create or hinder intervention opportunities for students.    

Benefits of ‘The Block’

  Our new schedule has a block framework and creates some great opportunities:

  • By combining reading and language arts classes into a new ELA class we can teach a more holistic, integrated curriculum and the 95 minutes give us more time to play;11
  • We are able to increase math time to 95 minutes;
  • Changing to this format gives science and social studies classes the option to either continue teaching in 50 minute classes [daily] or alternate in a block rotation of their choice. Teachers have the autonomy to adjust the schedule to suit their needs based on what is being taught. Ex. They can teach all six classes in a day or do an A/B rotation by day or week however they see fit. Its important to note here that our Electives teachers, particularly our performing groups, want/need to meet with students daily. With this schedule, that is not a problem

We have constant talks with our teachers about changing our teaching practices – to decrease teaching and increase facilitation. This is especially needed as we move forward with this shift.