Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I'm Getting Engaged!

As a part of our South Zone Administrator Meetings in the Kamloops School District, we build in time for professional development and dialogue on a variety of educational topics.  For example, we have done book studies on Visible Learning by John Hattie, discussed strategies around Special Education, and examined the use of social media for Board Office administrators, Principals and Vice Principals.  I find these meetings invigorating and meaningful, as it gives me a chance to learn from other administrators of both elementary and secondary administrators through these topic lenses. 

In preparation for our meeting next month, our Assistant Superintendent invited us to 'crack open' a new book called Tuned Out - Engaging the 21st Century Learner by Karen Hume.  And while I have only read the first two chapters, I am fascinated by the format of the book.  Mrs. Hume has written the book very accessible language, broken it down into small and easily digestible chunks, and has created a dynamic web guide that provides online discussion areas, activities, and resources so the reader has an interactive experience with the book (and even with Mrs. Hume through a blog--Cool!).  It is very 'engaging', and models many of the characteristics of the educational experience that we want for our students.

I have several thoughts and questions about this book and engaging the 21st century learner.

1) What is a working definition of a 21st century learner?  Am I a 21st century learner?
2) How do we define (and perhaps even measure?) an engaged learner?  Is this a fluid definition that varies from person to person, or are there specific characteristics that I can look for in classrooms and with our faculty during staff meetings to let me know that the learner is actively interested and participating in the class?
3) What can we do to further encourage the creation of these rich and interactive learning environments in each of our classrooms?  What resources do we need to provide for teachers? Professional development? Tech infrastructure?  Time to collaborate on these topics? Peer-to-peer modeling?
4) In terms of technology, are we using web tools to their fullest potential to engage learners, or are we using simply doing with technology what we could do without it (ie. using powerpoint for notes, using digital projectors to show videos, etc.)?
5) What skills are we hoping for our students to acquire in these rich learning environments?  Are we engaging for the sake of keeping kids 'entertained', or are there some baseline competencies that we want for our students and for ourselves as educators?

And while I am going to write more about this book and about 21st century learning skills in future posts, right now I am looking forward to having a better grasp on the answers to these questions as I read Hume's book. 

I encourage each of you to pick up a copy--it looks very useful!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Uphill both ways in a snowstorm

Yesterday, I read yet another article on "The Entitlement Generation" published in the Globe and Mail.  It was a scathing account of the younger generation of today, written by some writer who cited a few disenfranchised university professors and all-knowing adults as experts for her piece.

A few quotes...

"Many students openly admit their goal is to succeed with the least amount of effort."

"Students strenuously object if they don’t get the marks they feel entitled to. “They got 80 per cent in high school and, when they get 62 per cent, they’re mad,” says Prof. Coates. “They bring assignments in late and think we’ll mark them without penalty.”

"Ms. Godmere, the student spokesperson... believes course reading lists need to be more relevant. “These works that we are expected to read are from a different time. More people need to cater to the younger audience.” To which Prof. Coates responds, “If you want to tackle the most difficult, interesting, challenging thinkers in the world, you have to read very thick books with lots of words.”

"Ken Coates believes we should bring back streaming and make vocational education far more important than it is now. University should be for students who are interested in, and capable of, high-level work. Colleges and tech schools can offer more practical, job-oriented education for everyone else."

“There is no easy route to great success,” says Prof. Coates. “A generation has lost touch with that.”

Let's pretend that all of these things are true (they are not).  My question with these sorts of posts or articles is this: what good are they doing?  Do the authors feel that they are actually helping anything by railing against the 'entitlement generation'?  Do they believe that somehow, our high school and university students are going to read these articles and have some sort of life-altering epiphany?  That they will run to classes?  Be 'less lazy'?  Feel 'less entitled'?  Read 'thick books with lots of words'?  Or my favorite, 'try to succeed with more effort' (as opposed to less)?

This morning on the way to work, I made a call in my car (Bluetooth--obeying the law) to my wife to see what time an appointment was for my daughter. I went through a drive through ATM to get some cash, and then rerouted my car through another drive through to get a Starbucks coffee.  While I was waiting in line for the staff at Starbucks to prepare my coffee, I sent a text message to a friend about an upcoming golf tournament.  I came to school to find a report on my desk that one of my outstanding staff members had prepared for me, and then got on to Tweetdeck looking to 'steal' some ideas from people on integrating Personal Learning Devices into classrooms at our school.  I found three articles on #mlearning and a blog by Chris Kennedy in the span of a few minutes, and will modify parts of them and use them at our school over the next few days.

According to the first hour of my day, I am easily distracted and focused on technology (phone call in the car), I am lazy (going through a couple of drive-thrus), entitled (grabbed a coffee at Starbucks), have lost my communication skills (sent a text rather than speaking to my pal about golf in person), am expectant (had someone provide me with some information in a report), and plagiarize the work of others (with my brief scan on Twitter).  Apparently, I am a poster boy for the 'entitlement generation'.

In my opinion our students of today are as intelligent and motivated as students at this age have ever been.  I would also say that students are much more well-rounded than I ever was--they are more socially responsible, more globally aware, and more tolerant than any generation before them.  When graduates cross our stage at commencements, I absolutely marvel at how involved they are in their academics, the arts, athletics, the school, and community issues.  I wish I went through high school with the same verve and alacrity that our students do and have done.

But regardless of my opinions, the so-called 'entitlement generation' is THE generation that is going to lead us over the next several decades in technology, innovation, research, and global issues.  So the question that we must ask authors and those who continue to deride the generations younger than their own is this:  when you malign the 'entitlement generation' with condescending comments and cliches such as 'there are no easy roads to success', are you really helping anything?  I don't believe so.  Quite the contrary for me, I am cheering for them.

In conclusion, enough already.  The 'uphill both ways in a snowstorm' analogy got old a long time ago.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Pink PLC

Over the past ten years, I have been an advocate for the concepts of the Professional Learning Community.  I have read countless books on the PLC and taken or sent dozens of teachers and administrators from my schools to PLC Conferences.  I have worked with a number of different staffs in different districts on developing a collaborative culture, as well as creating structures within the school and time within the timetable for teachers to collaborate effectively with their peers about curriculum, instruction and assessment.  I have several Solution Tree T-Shirts.

We provide weekly collaborative time for teachers in our school.  In previous collaborative models I was very crystallized in terms of what I envisioned happening during this time.  In following the PLC Model verbatim as I thought I should when I started working on ideas from the Professional Learning Community several years ago, I wanted my different staffs to establish norms (which I still believe to be important), to develop common learning outcomes, common assessments, analyze data...the gambit of ideas described in the PLC.  I had weekly feedback sheets that my team leaders would diligently fill out, debriefing at coordinators meetings, I wanted to be 'in the loop' each step of the way. 

But I have noticed an evolution in the way that I have approached the Professional Learning Community.  As time has passed, and most notably in the last two years, I have changed my approach to our learning community model at SKSS.  I am attributing this to some different points of view that are shaping my thinking right now.   Many of these points of influence have come from people and theories that are circulating around my Personal Learning Network; one of these being Daniel Pink and his RSA Animate video on motivation.

Pink talks about a variety of things in this clip, but what truly resonated with me was his description of how a software company (Atlassian) gives their employees time to innovate and come up with different ideas.  To quote Daniel Pink on this concept-- "You probably want to do something interesting, let me get out of the way".  As Pink describes his own challenges with accepting this, I struggled with my not having a finger in all of the pies.  To completely 'get out of the way' was a challenge for me, mostly because I want to believe that I am not 'in anyone's way'.  I want to feel as though I am just an actively interested member of the team.  But looking at how things were going at that time with our Learning Community, I have to admit that I likely was 'getting in the way'.  As a result, I have made some changes to the way I approach collaborative time, and how we work together in our learning community.

As time has passed, I have been able to reflect on our journey toward a more collaborative culture. I realized that it has been a long, windy, and bumpy road with many opportunities for detours.  There were a number of occasions where it seemed as though I was really driving the PLC bus, and at some points, I was getting out of the driver's seat, walking around the back, and pushing on the bumper without a great deal of movement.  Furthermore, a number of staff members were not particularly engaged in (and sometimes incredibly frustrated with) the collaborative process, which made the collaborative meetings a bit 'hit and miss'.  And finally, some (not all) the products of collaborative time were disjointed, with varying levels of involvement by members of different departments.  The learning community that I so valued (and still value) was not always firing on all cylinders. We needed to something to change.

The learning community continues to thrive at our school, but it has a very different feel.  I attribute this change to our Coordinators and our departments putting their stamp on the structure and makeup of collaborative time.  Coordinators host weekly meetings, and set up the tutorial schedule that allows for them to give support to students in a way that works for their department.  The departments develop norms for their collaborative meetings that serve the needs of their group.  They have worked collectively to develop goals via measures that they developed on issues that they determined were vital to the success of students in their areas.  The coordinators track progress, and will present to the school (and the public through our School Improvement Blog) the things that they are proud of in their departments with respect to student and teacher achievement in the goal area they have come up with (here is an example from Math).

I would like to think that Rick Dufour might call this a loose-tight approach.  While I am tight on the fact that I want each department to have norms for their meetings, but how they set up those norms is up to them.  I am tight on the fact that I want departments to set SMART goals for their departments, but what those goals actually look like comes from the particular department.  I need to have our staff give students support in our tutorials, but how they schedule so that it is fair and equitable to students and staff is up to them. I want them to report out on their progress, but in a manner that they feel puts their best foot forward to students, parents, and the rest of our partners in the community. The list goes on. 

However (and clearly I can't speak for him), Dr. Dufour might also call what we do in terms of collaboration at our school 'collaboration lite' - where portions of our collaborative meetings are comprised of more sharing than action, more brainstorming than results.  But I believe that is where I have changed, and where I want to take ideas from Daniel Pink.   Of course I want our departments to improve teacher achievement and student achievement by working together; of that there is no doubt.  But I also want our staff to use some of the time that we have created to be CREATIVE, to come up with points of inquiry to investigate in their classes, and to really 'think outside of the box' to establish a rich learning environment for their students. 

We are not Google, and not able to free our staff up for one day per week to work together and 'create' as some companies do.  However, we are able to provide a bit of time for teachers to look at curriculum, instruction and assessment as a collective to improve the learning at our school.

I think we will try to call it 'Dufour with a touch of Pink', or 'The Pink PLC'.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Drinking from a firehose

For schools across British Columbia, today was the first day of school.  And what a day it was!  Does any of this sound familiar to you?

“Can you tell me where J216 is?”

“Where do you want the coffee and muffins for the staff?”

“Welcome to South Kam, you are going to love teaching here!”

“How was your summer?  How are your little girls?”

“What does Mr. Smith look like?”

“How long are the classes today?”

“Someone is parked in my parking spot, can you find out who it is?”

“I went to my class and the class wasn’t there, do you know where they went?”

“We just moved here and want to register our son.  Where should we go?”

“Thanks for the coffee and muffins and the golf shirt.  I will wear it on Titan Fridays!”

“When time are volleyball tryouts?”

“There is a bolt on the locker I was assigned. What do I do?”

“Sally broke her leg last night and we need a sub, can we get someone to cover?”

“Did my textbooks come in?”

 “Can I change this class so I can get Art?”

“The floor in my class was supposed to be replaced and it wasn’t.  I moved all my furniture out—what I am I supposed to do?”

“When do our international students show up?  The LINK Crew is ready for them?”

“What is the site license code for the marks program?”

“My key doesn’t work, do you have another one?”

“Where do I get an agenda book?”

“What time is the staff getting together on Friday?”

“What is the password for the wireless for my Blackberry?”

“What time is the last bell?”

Sigh.  And the next thing you know, you blink, it’s the end of the day, and the last bus is pulling out to take our students home.  The first day of school is always hair-straight-back-buzzing-with-excitement.  Everything comes at a hundred miles per hour.  It's no wonder that I rarely sleep the night before, and  always sleep soundly the night after.  I am certain that tonight will be no different.

The first day of school--it’s kind of like trying to get a drink from a fire hose.

It's also my favorite day of the year.