Monday, August 8, 2016

Note to Self - Wellness is not Selfish

I'm sitting in my office after another great SAI Conference thinking about all that I've learned. A common theme in this year's "Reimagine" conference is to take care of your well-being, so you can take care of those around you (and be a better leader). It reminds me of the airline safety demonstrations regarding oxygen masks:











I'm reimagining my outlook that personal wellness time is time spent selfishly. I'm reimagining how a healthier me can positively impact my work, my life, and my school district.

I know my attitude affects the culture of the building. I believe myself to be a positive person and consider my dedication to my work as a plus. It's that dedication and busy-ness that has helped me let my workouts and nutrition slide a bit. They hadn't seemed as important as getting that email sent, creating a graphic for a presentation coming up, or getting my kids' bags organized or room cleaned.

The closing keynote speaker, Anese Cavanaugh, helped me see something from a new perspective. I had never considered my lack of self-care as a negative toward all the things I care about: my ability to be a good mom and wife, my ability to lead, my role in creating a positive environment. I hadn't considered that giving more to the organization at the expense of my health and well being could actually be negatively impacting the people and the place that I care so much about.

Big Idea #1: If I show up tired and lacking energy, I create a culture around me that reflects that.

At the opening keynote, Eric Wahl encouraged us all to "UNthink" schooling. Creativity isn't reserved for the Picasso's of the world; traditional school makes us think so. Sir Ken Robinson's TED Talk on the subject a few years ago gave me some background to that idea. Hearing and seeing the presentation by Eric Wahl made me think about my role in encouraging and supporting our teachers to be creative themselves. How can our organization have the kind of climate for the adults that we want to foster for our students? Just as I know I have to support each teacher in their role in creating this environment, I was able to see that I have a role in it for myself too.

Big Idea #2: If I believe in supporting teachers to be creative, innovative leaders in our work of educating children and if I believe that they do that better if they are healthy and surrounded by a positive environment, I must also believe that for myself.

Even SAI had a message directly to administrators to support this message of personal wellness. SAI's catch life program operates on the belief that to be the best leaders we can be, we need to have a work-life balance that focuses on our personal wellness as a way to support our organizational wellness.

Ok, I'm in.

So, here's the the little note I'm writing to myself to re-read throughout the year to remind me of the energy, excitement, belief and commitment I have in the 2016-2017 school year:


Dear Jen,
Today you recognized your personal role in impacting culture. You see how you are as important in the culture of the district as the teachers you are working to support. Your health and well-being allow you to come to work energized and to be present for the people who look to you for resources, guidance, and support. You believe the greatest resource this district has are the teachers within it; these adults are the ones that make a child's day - your two boys' day - be what it is going to be. You are not more or less important than they are. You are as important. Your health and well being are important to the work you believe in so much. You are not giving the best of yourself to anyone if you don't take care of yourself first. 
 Choose to make this a great year!
-- Signed your inner voice

Monday, March 21, 2016

Moving Towards Badges - Not so fast!

Google "badges" and a variety of images appear
Let's bring in a badging system to recognize all the great work going on! 

I thought I had this great, quick little idea to generate some celebrations in our school. There are so many teachers doing so many great things that badging seemed like an idea that could really support our culture of continuous improvement and add in some celebration and recognition. More importantly to me, it would be a way to share those great things with others, so great ideas could spread more rapidly.

While the idea was met with support, it was also met with caution. What will this do to the culture of our district? Will it be a competition with a leader board? Will this be another hoop to jump through? "I don't want people to think I'm bragging. What will I have to do to get one?"

To start, I read what higher ed institutions were doing as well as organizations in the world of work. I wanted to see how others were addressing some of the same questions we had as we started creating this system. I enjoyed the resources found here from the educators in Auburn, Maine. I also read an article on the University of Indiana's badging pilot. There are many other sites out there. These are just a couple I found helpful. There are some local districts in Iowa who have used badges too. 

Nevada Community Schools - http://badges.nevadacubs.org/
Bettendorf Community Schools - Technology badges (as they moved to 1:1)
Waverly - Shell Rock Technology Integration

There are cultural considerations to take into account as we proceeded with the idea. Here are a series of questions and steps we took as we've started to implement badges. My hope, like with all posts, is that maybe by sharing I can help others learn and avoid the mistakes already made. Make new ones!

What's the purpose? What will we gain by doing this?
  • Recognize: We have teachers doing amazing things and they don't always get the recognition they deserve. Most don't care about that recognition, but we all know that being told you are doing great work matters.
  • Celebrate: We want to bring ideas into our culture that support the positive, continuous learning environment. Badges seem like a way we can create winners in our organization for work they are already doing.
  • Share: Even though we are small and operate as a K-12 culture, teachers are often reluctant to share with other teachers the great things they are doing because they don't want to come off as bragging or boastful. In their modesty, we lose out on ideas spreading more quickly. If someone earns a badge, their idea/work is shared on a Google Site we created to house our instructional framework. Badges help colleagues see that they have a colleague they can go to for more information, ideas and support related to a particular topic.

What is badge-worthy?
  • We had to define what we expect for all teachers before we could say what was above and beyond. We created, "Learning Targets for All Van Meter Teachers" as a way to define what we expect from everyone (and that PD will directly support).
  • Badges are for work toward our district vision that is above and beyond the learning targets we expect from all teachers. See examples of badges here. 
    • Big Discussion Item: Badges aren't required in our district.
How will this tie into performance reviews, evaluations, Iowa Teaching standards and Individual Professional Development Plan's?
  • In our learning targets for all teachers document (linked above), we showed how each of the Van Meter specific items relate to the Iowa Teaching Standards. We listed suggestions for artifacts in a teacher's portfolio as well. 
  • Big Discussion Item: Badges are not part of our evaluation process.
What process will we use to submit work for consideration?
  • We created a Google form to use when a person or team was ready to submit work for a badge. This formal process is a little long yet and is something we are still refining. We want it to be quick yet thorough.
What will a badge look like? Who can create it?
Sample badge created by Basno.com
  • I started out by trying to create my own. Clip Art is pretty amazing. Then, I realized I needed a system to help organize and track the badges.
    • Big Discussion Item: We want to get the great work communicated out to a larger audience. How will we track badges and why do we want to? For us, getting the names and work of our teachers out to a larger audience was an important piece.
  • There are a variety of systems to help. We used Basno.com (fee based) for the creation of the badges, digital presence and ability to track a badges traffic online. There are others that are free and can do much of the same. Basno was the only one I found that tracks online analytics though. I investigated credly.com, classbadges.com, openbadges.org
  • We want our badges to be digital so staff can link them on their webpages and email signature lines if they wanted. 
How will we communicate with our staff about this?
  • Our teacher leaders were critical in sharing information with staff and bringing back ideas for us to consider as a leadership team. It was from their work that the Learning Targets for All Van Meter Teachers was created. 
  • Administration had to communicate to all staff on more that one occasion the true purpose of the badges. We wanted to be sure it didn't come across as "one more thing". Teacher leaders commented on how they benefited from the administration taking lead on the communication and then they followed up with reassurance and ideas.
    • Big Discussion Item: We don't want this to feel like a competition. At one point we did consider a leader board so everyone could see the badges of their colleagues in one place. Instead, we are using our intranet to highlight the work submitted, not the badge. This way we are sharing the examples of changes in instruction and student learning as the focus.
How will we hand-out the badges so it is seen as a celebration? 
  • An idea we picked up from Waverly - Shell Rock folks was to hand the badges out to teachers in front of their students, instead of in front of other staff members. The idea of being recognized in front of peers was a little more embarrassing, while recognizing a teacher's work in front of their own students seems more rewarding and celebration-like.
What expectations do we have for people once they earn a badge?
  • Share your learning with others. Keep on learning. That's it.
How will we know that it is impacting the things we want it to?
  • We have collected data for the past 5 years on Tracking and Assessing Cultural Shifts as we implement the PLC model. The celebration section of the data has been consistently our lowest category, while others have improved over time. We decided we had enough of the other pieces in place to address this part of the data. 
We hope that implementing badges will make a significant contribution to our positive culture. We are just in our initial phases and I look forward to sharing more about how the work of our teachers is making this such a great place to be!

If you are implementing badges at your school, I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Physical Space Makes a Difference


Empowered Collaborative Learners
One of the things we believe in for our students is the need to be collaborative learners.  Problem solving and creativity rarely happen as solely an individual pursuit. We are social creatures who depend on others for so many things including our learning.  Our vision for learning requires a different kind of space to support the interactive, messy, sometimes chaotic, always changing, and noisy process that is learning. So, how do we support this type of student learning?

Team-Based Professional Development
Professional development, is certainly part of changing the learning environment.  Learning for adults mirrors the type of learning we want for students. We are team based with 3 hours of collaborative PD time in each week. K-12 teams and grade level/content area teams meet weekly. This supports our professional learning community (PLC) model where teachers own the learning and decide the direction they need to take to work towards our district vision.

Setting team goals, viewing and giving feedback on instruction and discussing articles and student work require a collaborative space. As our PD model has become more entrenched, teacher teams naturally started gravitating to rooms where there were tables instead of desks. They went where there were comfortable chairs on wheels and spaces that were more open.  They started asking for different types of furniture in their own rooms. Now, all our team meetings happen in rooms with no student desks (and we still have plenty of rooms that have student desks yet - finances are still a reality).

The Difference Furniture Can Make
The furniture in a learning space says a lot about what you believe learning should look like. If desks are all placed in rows, it says, "No talking. Be Quiet. Listen" Likewise, when furniture is arranged in groups, it communicates something about cooperative learning. What does it say when there are a variety of types of furniture that are easily movable for students? We believe it says, "You have a choice. What type of setting is best for what you need to learn and accomplish?"

When it's a chore to move furniture, it rarely gets moved. If it does get moved, it is usually through a planned lesson on the teacher part where he/she allows the furniture to be moved. It's a chore and rarely spontaneous.

As we encourage students to take more ownership in their learning, to become empowered learners, it seem contradictory to say, "Now do it quietly in these nice rows of desks." Instead, flexibility in space and furniture has become key. Sometimes we need to sit and listen; sometimes we need to sit and work alone; many times we need to talk with others to do our best work. Our space design tried to take into account flexibility. We planned a variety of learning spaces with a variety of furniture to support student choice, comfort and need. The picture below is the furniture design for a collaboration space in our building.



Here's the actual picture of the collaboration space. Campfire seating (circular) lends itself to conversation. You should have heard these students (left) when they walked in the collaboration room as they prepared for the technology class. They were so excited to enter the room and they raced to the middle area seating where they just started talking about their projects. No one wanted to be left out. Some pulled up chairs to join. Besides this campfire seating there is a high top table with 8 seats, three white board tables that can be grouped to seat 6, there are two soft seating groupings in the room, bean bags and easily movable stools.

Thinking About Unique Learning Spaces
When you envision a place for your teachers to collaborate and learn, how does the furniture support that?  This space pictured to the right was too small to be a classroom, and is just off the collaboration space pictured above. This became a perfect place for adult learning resources. You might not notice the technology access in the space. An interactive whiteboard, Apple TV, mobile devices, and Swivl recording devices are all housed here. Yes, there's a treadmill in the PLC Room for teachers to use while they watch video, read, learn or just have down time (desk for it is being designed by our high school shop class). The furniture can be easily moved from the sofa look to a campfire look.

The lobby space has had a variety of furniture in it over the past 7 years I've been here. It has always been a congregation place for students. Various pieces of furniture have come and gone in the space. As students gave input on the types of furniture they preferred, one high top table seating 8-10 students (instead of shorter, smaller tables) is the main seating area in our lobby. Along with a long sofa piece and a smaller grouping of soft chairs, the lobby is a hub for student learning throughout the day.

When thinking about the types of learning experiences students need to be regularly engaging with as 21st century learners, collaborative problem solvers is surely part of the mix. With just a couple of furniture changes made in these existing spaces, we are already starting to see our students gravitating toward these spaces. It supports the feel of our building that learning happens everywhere.

Monday, March 2, 2015

My Learning on Dyslexia

The state of Iowa added a definition of dyslexia into code last spring, and it's bringing attention to the learning disability in public schools.  Really I'd liken it to an awareness similar to that of recognizing how many cars of a particular type are on the road once I bought one. Now that there is a definition in code for it, I'm surprised by how many resources there are (and aren't, in most cases) for dyslexia.

My journey started a couple of months ago when I attended a Decoding Dyslexia Iowa evening event. I was an educator-listener attending with my friend who has a dyslexic child; I was support for her. I was also prepared to be in defender of public schools. While there were moments that I felt those hairs on the back of my neck stand up, most of the evening was spent sharing information and seeing schools as partners (yay!). It was helping parents understand that schools had no training in specific strategies to use with dyslexic students and that information and training was a key part in helping the child.

While I believe strongly in partnerships between home and school, I left that meeting thinking that it shouldn't be on parents to educate me or my teachers. As an instructional leader, I should take on the responsibility of understanding it more and deciding how I can best help my team to address the learning needs of students who may be dyslexic. So that's what really started my journey. I didn't want to be the school leader that told some parent, "Because your child learns in different ways, we can't help him/her."

While this post is far from a complete, all-you-need-to-know description of dyslexia, I hope that sharing my learning may help someone else in their journey. There are students we know are there, but aren't reaching well enough. Understanding dyslexia may help some of those students.

To start, these two videos have been helpful for me to understand what dyslexia is and why I should care. This short video explains the brain research behind dyslexia. It doesn't get overly complicated, even though it talks about the neurology behind the disability. Another much longer video (50 minutes), is a documentary that does a nice job of putting faces, families and feelings to the learning struggles. It also talks about what it is and what we can do to make a difference.

I also appreciate simple FAQ's for starting to understand a topic. The International Dyslexia Association offers this set of questions and answers to help. The response to my burning question about how do I help students with dyslexia comes in a simple and extremely complex answer, "multi-sensory approach to teaching." That's my next step in this journey to understand dyslexia.

More to come...

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

K-12 Writing Resource


Teaching writing is never a quick and easy process. One idea that may help teachers and students can be found in collaborative conversations around student work using a common tool. Achievethecore.org has a series of writing samples annotated with the language of the standards. Teachers and students at various grade levels can read the student work samples and see the notes left by experts in the field highlighting examples and non-examples of the standards in action. Teachers and students alike can discuss what makes some pieces of writing better than another. Collaboration amongst teachers around these tools could really help transfer the learning from discussions into instructional changes that could be made to help students avoid common pitfalls. It could also help infuse the language of the standards into writing instruction with samples of work to support the conversation as models.

http://achievethecore.org/page/507/in-common-effective-writing-for-all-students


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Start CCSS Now with These Ideas

How many changes in literacy instruction have happened over the years? Whole Language, Guided Reading, Daily Five and CRISS strategies along with many more have circulated through our professional development catalogs. What is the Common Core saying about it now. Is it guided reading and instructional level, or is it grade level text, whole group? My time at the CCSSO materials work group this week in Chicago left me with a lot of great ideas about where to start in the work of implementing the Common Core literacy standards. It starts, like with all things, with great teaching. How can I help teachers implement these strategies?

Text Dependent Questions
I'm not proud of this, but it's true; I got through high school without reading a book all the way through. I'm convinced now it was because of the lack of text dependent questions. If we really want students to grapple with more complex levels of texts, we have to ask them to interact with the text in ways that actually makes them read it! Sounds simple, I know. Look at the examples and non examples from the Council of Great City Schools below. Makes a world of difference. Join the Edmodo online community sponsored by the Council under Basil alignment study to learn more about writing text dependent questions yourself.


Guided Reading with Accountable Independent Reading (GRAIR)
Our teachers are learning how to address grade level standards with students who are above and below grade level. Our approach up until now for differentiation was accomplished by guided reading were students used "instructional level" texts to learn reading skills. The Common Core talks of complex texts for all students, so how we do help our weaker readers with these grade level skills? Authors David and Meredith Liben would suggest to use, "Both And..."  Their white paper outlines components of a literacy program, but my favorite part of the work is the appendix where a teacher can see an outline of things to do in the classroom to implement both a guided reading approach and a whole group grade level standards approach to instruction. Don't miss this part!

Be intentional about what is intended for independent reading and what is intended for grade level instruction. Independent level text has a place in a child's reading experience to help them build fluency. Scaffolds for grade level, complex texts must exist to provide all children with an opportunity to learn the core standards. Close reading is one great example of how to provide student multiple opportunities to interact with the same text to get at deeper levels of understanding. This is what we've missed in our guided reading literacy instruction in the past. Weaker readers were taught were lower levels texts, and therefore, were rarely/never exposed to more demanding types of interactions with the text. The gap just widens for them.

Fluency Practice
Remember that to build fluency, students should be able to read the text independently. Teacher guidance in helping student pick books they are interested in and that will be a good fit for their reading level is sometimes a challenge. There are tools out there to help navigate text complexity. CCSSO has a site to help.  For secondary classrooms especially, there is a lack of fluency materials for practice and progress monitoring. Check out the fluency packets for students in grades 4-12 on achievethecore.org.


Materials for the Common Core
No one resource or one publisher will be able to address all of the standards and instructional changes the Common Core demands, at least according to all the speakers at this week's CCSSO Instructional Materials work group meeting. Instructional changes can be made to help prepare students as we sort through the materials questions. I hope some of the above strategies/pedagogical shifts help. To skip the issue of quality instructional materials wouldn't be a fair representation of the conference, however.  So, I thought I'd link just two free online resources for curriculum that came up over and over again:

EngageNY: http://www.engageny.org/english-language-arts
Core Knowledge: http://www.coreknowledge.org/ckla

It's also worth mentioning that SCASS is putting together text sets which are a series of books on the same topic to help students to make meaning from multiple texts, not just comprehend the texts as individual books. This helps get at more non-fiction (50% goal for elementary in the Core) but building knowledge from a series a non-fiction texts. Their work is still to come, but I'm anxious to have it released later this year.

English Language Arts instruction in the age of the Common Core is complex work. I have more questions than I do answers, but hope some of these notes have helped. Understanding the complexity of ELA is the work my district is embarking up now; more work to come.






Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Open Educational Resources (OER)


If it's free, can it be any good?

Bill Schmidt from Michigan State talks about the majority of teachers go to textbooks as their first resource a majority of the time. Then they go to supplemental resources. As we continue to move away from mass textbook adoptions in my district, questions arise about quality of open source materials.  Teachers feel overwhelmed in creating everything on their own. How do we know what we find online is of quality though?

Open Educational Resources (OER) are readily available and many states are individually tackling the issue of quality.  The CCSSO hopes that this work start to come together and states share the load, but in the meantime, there are a variety of places teachers can go to get a sense for quality open educational resources. In listen to these states talk about their work at today's conference, each would give caution to considering a few things before blindly accepting their evaluations and resources.

First step before evaluating any tool? "You have to first understand the Common Core," said one state of Washington representative. "None of this works if you don't understand what you are evaluating or looking for," notes Sandra Alberti (@salberti) from Student Achievement Partners. The work is not around the score, it's around knowing the tool you are using (what criteria is uses to determine quality), knowing the terms and focus of the tool (different groups may look at the same resource differently), and then trusting the scores given (inter-rater reliability that comes through common training). Here are some sights that have evaluated different open educational resources. Don't reinvent the wheel, but be a savvy consumer.

Two sites for tools to use to evaluate any OER

http://www.achieve.org/oer-rubrics
http://www.oercommons.org/


Sites that have searchable resources based on evaluation (note: criteria used in evaluation may differ)
http://ioer.ilsharedlearning.org/ (Illinois)
http://digitallearning.k12.wa.us/oer/library (Washington)
http://myoer.org/index.php (South Dakota)


I wrote this post from my learning at the CCSSO Instructional Materials work group held in Chicago on March 12, 2014. I represent the state of Iowa on this work group and hope to provide one district's perspective to common issues teachers face when implementing the Iowa Core.