Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Join me for a FREE Common Core Webinar today at 5pm EST!

Are you free today at 5pm EST? Then, please join me for a free webinar on the Common Core Standards. Entitled "Guiding Instructional Change Through Student Outputs," the session will explore ways that we can align our instruction to the CCS by focusing on student work samples. See below for the full description. CLICK HERE TO JOIN US!!!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Crisis Squashes Innovation

In the busy world of schools and education, it's easy to slip into the dreaded "crisis mode." When this happens, you tend to denigrate into survival mode. Solutions tend to be reactive, not proactive. You feel overwhelmed and exhausted. In some ways, "crisis mode" becomes a reinforcing cycle that can be difficult to escape. Here are a few ways to break free from a world of "crisis."

1. Say no. Does this particular tasks or activity support your overall mission for kids? If not, skip it. You might let some people down, and this might be tough. However, prioritization is absolutely necessary for success.

2. Don't make changes without consulting stakeholders. Unilateral changes often tend to ignore  critical implications or consequences. While you certainly don't have to rule by majority, asking for feedback before making an important decision will help you avoid constant "do-overs."

3. Prioritize people and relationships. When you are very busy, the need to build relationships can seem secondary or less important. Relationships are always the key to organizational progress, and any time spent with teachers and children is WORTH IT! There will always be more paperwork, spreadsheets, and forms than you can complete in the time allotted. So, get out of your office already!

CC Photo Credit: My Chernobyl Adventure Part 2 by Stuck in Customs

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Edcamp Organizer Hangout On Air: Installment 2

Please join me and the Edcamp Foundation for the second installment in the Edcamp Organizer Hangout On Air Series. For this event, we will be answering any questions you have about how to manage the finances of your Edcamp Event. Details are embedded below. I hope to see you there! (Can't see the embedded poster? Click here.)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

My Thoughts on How Children Succeed by Paul Tough

How Children Succeed by Paul Tough has been featured on TV, in the Huffington Post, and on NPR. After seeing it reviewed on one of my favorite blogs, I decided that I needed to read it. All in all, it was a quick read that featured ideas from many of my favorite authors, including the Heath brothers, Malcolm Gladwell, and Daniel Pink.

Of course, any good book inspires questions, not answers. Here are mine.

  1. Should we really minimize the role of excellent curriculum and instruction in education? While I find many of Tough's arguments compelling, I think that ignoring the curricular incoherence that exists in many large districts to be a mistake. Yes, kids need character. But they also need well designed learning activities that engage them and make them love school. 
  2. How do we find the "right amount" of failure? At one point in the book, Tough refers to Riverdale, an exclusive private school in New York. He notes that these students had experienced very little failure in their lives, leading to low "grit." I agree with this premise, but I'm struggling to find an appropriate balance. How do we structure school so that kids experience failure and learn to cope with it? My initial thoughts relate to ungraded transfer tasks..... More on that later.
  3. How can we structure schools as places to promote all aspects of a child's development? There has been a lot of talk lately about anytime, anywhere learning. While I think this is true, I also think that school as a community center is necessary. Kids need a safe place, and families need comfortable access to resources. How can we redesign school so that is holistically meets students' needs yet learning happens in and out of the classroom?
Have you read the book? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Digital Ties Run Deep

Note: This is cross posted at Smart Blog on Education.

A New Adventure
     Through a very unpredictable series of events, I will be living in Toledo, Ohio for the next ten months. As I consider myself the consummate “Philly Girl,” I anticipated a relatively rough transition. However, the strength of my digital network has completely astonished and surprised me. In short, I realized that I my colleagues can support me regardless of my postal address!
     As soon as I unpacked my laptop and router, my thought partners were available. I could debate essential questions with Marybeth Hertz via email, Skype with a former teaching partner to discuss a new guided reading series, or blog about all the drive thru chilidog stations in Toledo. In short, I picked up right where I left off.

New Relationship Dynamics
     Although I still miss cheesesteaks and soft pretzels, my first days in Toledo have caused me to evaluate and reflect upon the strength of digital ties. While I know that many of my Twitter followers are a far cry from “true friends,” I do believe that the close digital relationships we cultivate persist beyond temporal changes. Due to the mix of personal and professional interactions that I have shared with some members of my professional learning network (PLN), these people have become much more than avatars on a screen. They’ve become friends.
     I believe teachers who are engaging in digital professional development are committed, highly responsive educators who crave intellectual stimulation and debate. They aren’t intimidated by change or sharing across long distances.

The Student Connection
     When I consider how my access to people, ideas, and conversations has become almost entirely location-independent, it causes me to consider the implications that this holds for our students (a.k.a. the future workforce). Given the power of modern networks, we need to explicitly teach students how to broaden their experiences and influence via social media. We need students to be able to FIND:
·      People with similar questions- Today’s students need to clearly articulate their questions about the world using public spaces. This will help them find people who share their questions, interests, and curiosities. For example, I have many questions about the best ways to design online learning environments. By sharing this interest with my social networks, I have met Matthieu Plourde, Ted Borgiovanni, and many others who have helped me refine my curiosity in this area. Students need to be able to do the same.
·      A healthy balance of personal and professional sharing- Where is the line between personal friends and professional contacts? Social media and digital networks have only served to further blur this distinction. Students need to know how to cultivate a professional image that isn’t dull or impersonal. For example, a picture of my napping puppy can help my followers feel as if they know me. However, only posting personal information makes you irrelevant and superficial. Students need to be able to navigate this gray area.
·      Confidence that collaboration can happen regardless of location- Since workplaces desire graduates that can flexibly work from anywhere, we need to teach our students that this is possible. Maybe students can work from a coffee shop one day instead of coming to class. Perhaps a study group can be held on a digital hangout. Helping our students to see all places as workspaces will give them the confidence they need to be effective in settings where remote work is required. (This was a skill that I’ve had to teach myself in the last few years. Boy, do I wish I had some previous practice in this area!)

Forging Ahead
     I am thrilled with the challenges that lie ahead for me over the next ten months, and I am excited about the new people I will meet. However, it’s reassuring to know that my favorite colleagues are a few clicks away. Digital ties run deep.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Common Core White Paper from Grant Wiggins

As many districts begin to implement the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS), the need for coherent ways to operationalize the document has grown exponentially. A few weeks ago, Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe crafted a brief white paper that gives schools a clear framework to use when preparing to share the Common Core Learning Standards with staff.

The paper shares 5 big ideas:
  1. Common Core Standards have new emphases and require a careful reading.
  2. Standards are not curriculum.
  3. Standards need to be "unpacked."
  4. A coherent curriculum is mapped backwards from desired performances.
  5. The standards come to life through the assessments.
Each big idea is a perfect sized chunk for discussion at a faculty meeting or professional development session. Give teachers the white paper now, and then roll out processing opportunities as they allow.

I hope this helps!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Hey! That Essential Question Didn't Work. Or Did It?

Last week, I had the amazing opportunity to work with Lower School Teachers at Greens Farms Academy in Connecticut. They are a dedicated group of individuals who care about students and well designed learning experiences.

This was my third opportunity to learn alongside the staff, and many teachers were sharing their experiences and reflections relative to their instructional design implementations.

One teacher's reflection really resonated with me.

When she entered the room, she smiled at me coyly. Without warning she exclaimed, "Hey! Remember that essential question you helped me write last Spring about the Civil War? It didn't work!"

The question we had crafted last spring as as follows: How can we mediate conflict and solve problems? It served as one of the touchstone pieces in a simulation-based 4th grade unit on the Civil War.

Intrigued, I asked for more information. As it turns out, at the end of the unit, one of her students aptly raised his hand. Somewhat spontaneously, the student offered, "Well, I don't like this question because I don't think the Civil War actually worked." When asked to clarify his point, the boy simply stated that Reconstruction didn't actually fix the divide between the states. Lincoln was shot, and the economy took time to recover. So, war didn't really mediate conflict. In essence the Civil War was the perfect example of what not to do.

Hmm. I think the question worked just fine. Consider the takeaway for that student (and the entire class): War doesn't mediate conflict.

Sometimes big questions don't warrant the answers we expect. This is all part of the design process. And remember, it's not the answer that's valuable. It's the process.

Follow Up: The teacher and I did work to reframe the question, and here's what we brainstormed: "Can every conflict be solved? What would you have done?" Do you like our revision? Feedback welcome!

CC Photo Credit: Untitled by katybate

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Want to run an Edcamp? Watch this hangout!

Are you thinking about running an Edcamp for your school or regional area? Be sure to check out this 30 minute panel session from Edcamp organizers across the country. Topics include building an Edcamp team, marketing your event, creating a schedule, and finding sponsors. (If you can't see the embedded video below, click here.)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Girl's Best Friend (Is a critical friend!)

Although the old adage claims that diamonds are a girl's best friend, I tend to disagree. What do those shiny, inert rocks really do for you anyway???

In my mind, the best friend a girl can have is a critical friend. Put simply, a girl needs someone to tell her when, despite her best intentions, her message isn't effective.

In an Educational Leadership article from 1993, Costa and Kalick define a critical friend as:
A critical friend can be defined as a trusted person who asks provocative questions, provides data to be examined through another lens, and offers critiques of a person’s work as a friend. A critical friend takes the time to fully understand the context of the work presented and the outcomes that the person or group is working toward. The friend is an advocate for the success of that work.
A few weeks ago, I met someone who took an interest in me and my work. Using a fresh set of eyes, this person reviewed many of my blog posts, my TEDx talk, and a few other things. And although it was a bit hard to hear, this person told me that my message was a little confusing. More importantly, he noted that some elements of my delivery and vocabulary were condescending.

At first I thought: Me? Condescending? Never! <-- here.="here." indignant="indignant" insert="insert" look="look" p="p">
But then I looked at my work again. And again. I began to notice that he was right. I wasn't building enough rapport with my audience and I certainly didn't spend enough time breaking down tough concepts or ideas.

However, merely recognizing this weakness wasn't enough. I went straight to work, thinking about a workshop that I was planning to deliver to a group of teachers the next day. I carefully and thoughtfully inserted several activities and messages to build rapport and generate participant confidence.

At the end of the day, one participant wrote the following on her exit slip: "At first I thought we would be talked down to, but now I think that we are valued."

Success! Yup, a girl's best friend is a critical one.


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