Don’t Look Away


Photo Credit: AHMED... via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: AHMED… via Compfight cc

I spent last Saturday at edcamp (@edcampblo) in Buffalo, New York. Naturally, it was filled with New York educators: teachers, technology leaders, consultants, and a handful of principals. These are teachers and principals who are dedicated to students and to their own learning enough to show up at Canisius College on a weekend.

Edcamp Buffalo was a day of dichotomies for me. While it was exhilarating to meet new people and explore new ideas, it was also sad to see dispirited educators who seem to have lost the joy of teaching and learning.

From conversations in workshops, it was clear that unless you work in an independent school, New York educators are overwhelmed, discouraged and downtrodden by the new system of yearly teacher appraisal and the yearly grade 3-8 standardized state tests in Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies. Although we had profound conversations about leadership, about trust, and about building 21st century skills and personal learning networks, educators also often said, “Yes, but” and “We can’t because” with rueful or even angry expressions.

This Saturday, I participated in #satchat, a Twitter Chat for educators. The topic was “Leading in a standardized education world”.  You can find the Storify archive of the April 20th chat here. During the chat, educators shared many ideas and feelings about standardized testing and testing prep. It underlined why New York educators are feeling undermined.

After these conversations, I feel very strongly about where we need to focus. It’s not on standardized testing. Educators know we can’t look away from what is really important: student learning. We need to spend our time understanding curriculum expectations and standards. We need to work at figuring out what students don’t know through diagnostic assessment and observation. We need to focus on what we don’t know as educators and then use an inquiry framework to learn how to do it better. We need to respond to student needs daily by adjusting our teaching and checking how well students are learning. We need to be trusted to measure student achievement. When these things happen, we feel a tremendous sense of purpose and accomplishment. We feel hope.

Can we free ourselves from the shackles of standardized testing to focus on what’s important and worry less about test prep?

5 Meeting Norms You Need

Photo Credit: notsogoodphotography via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: notsogoodphotography via Compfight cc

We work in principal learning teams (PLT) in our district to further our professional learning.  Our team is made up of eight principals and vice-principals from five schools. Over three years, we have worked hard to build trust and now have a respectful working relationship where we can challenge and support each others’ learning.

A key component to our success was creating and committing to meeting norms. Once we had established our team’s purpose, these norms emerged.

  1. We will collaborate not compete.  Too often in education, people feel that they are in competition with colleagues for recognition and rewards.  There is a fear that if someone else looks good, then you look bad. It was important to emphasize that we are all in this together.  We need to share our knowledge and expertise.  When one of us looks good, everyone looks good! (more…)

Jump Start Your PD

Did you wish you could do this at the last meeting or learning session you attended?

Boring Presentation

Maybe you did! Or maybe you just spent most of the time surreptitiously checking your email or texting your friends and family. Maybe you even arranged a “fake call”, so you could get out of the session early.

Time for a reflective question:

Do people ever feel like that in your meetings or learning sessions?

(If you don’t know the answer to this question, ask for some honest feedback. It’s the best way to find out.)

We all know that the problem of boring PD and meetings is a common one.  Many books have been written about it, including Death By Meeting by Patrick Lencioni, which I recommend. While I can’t fix all your problems in this area (you’ll have to do some hard work on your own), I can share this experience.

The third topic in ETMOOC (Educational Technology Massive Open Online Course) was all about digital storytelling.  Alan Levine, @cogdog, recently presented a session on this topic as part of the course.  In it, he talked about how the energy in a room changes when people are asked to contribute creative ideas or add parts to a story. My brain lit up when this exact thing happened at our latest learning session.

Organizers of ETMOOC had challenged us to experiment with digital storytelling.  Six Word Stories caught my attention immediately. They present a seemingly simple challenge but are difficult to get right. I introduced them to staff at the beginning of the  session and shared Hemingway’s legendary efforts, said to be the genesis of the genre. Then I challenged staff to come up with their own six word stories about school life. Wow! The energy in the room changed. People talked. People collaborated. People scribbled. And there was a lot of laughter.  When we shared our stories, topics ranged from disgruntled rants about our parking lot to inspirational words about newcomer experiences at our school. It was a great way to see what people were thinking about as well as introduce a new teaching idea for a classroom. It also set the stage for the discussions that followed, as staff had had a chance to share something personal and have some fun.

What about you?  At your next session, how can you expand the energy in the room?


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