Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Why is "Change" such a bad word?

Questions about change are floating around in my mind after a teacher study group meeting. When I was listening to one of the teacher teams in our district, I heard remarks about the perception of change. We talk of change and reform quite a bit here in Van Meter, and this group offered suggestions for "changing" the word to something else.

Instead of change, let's call it enhancing our craft.
Instead of change, let's call it improving.
Instead of change, let's call it reflecting.
Instead of change, let's call it...

and then the conversation went on to say something like this:
"Why is change a bad word? Shouldn't we always be reflecting on what we've done to try and improve our practice? Don't you try new things in your classroom and analyze why it worked for one class and was less effective for another class? We want our students to problem solve and learn from failure. How are we so different from them? Don't teachers want that feedback just like kids about whether or not we are "doing it right?" Doesn't this feedback help us improve, enhance, and change our practice? We don't need to be flashy, we need to do what works."

Does it matter what we call it? This group ended up agreeing that it doesn't matter. What do other teacher's think? Is change a bad word? Does it always have a negative connotation? Why might some think so? As leaders, how can we communicate change as part of the vision and continual improvement efforts of our district, so it doesn't seem like change is done for change's sake? How do we make sure we are on the front-end side of change so that change doesn't become "done to us"?

I appreciate the conversations that teachers are having as we study professional learning communities. I believe the change in Van Meter professional development that has moved toward teacher-led collaborative groups in the PLC model is the right move for our district. Increasing the time for professional development by more than 50 hours this year was the right thing. Because teachers were clamoring for more collaboration time, I don't think this change was seen as much of a "change" at all. Makes me wonder... Is change a bad word only when we don't like what we are being asked to change?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Standards-Based Professional Development

This year our district is implementing professional learning communities (PLC's) as a process to use for our ongoing, job-embedded professional learning. We are using a book study for the first semester, On Common Ground, to lay the foundation for our work. Book study teams are made up of 5-7 people and each has an administrator as a support person. Each team must keep a running log of group reflections and discussions, and each team is expected to meet twice a week from 7:30 - 8:15am. The intent of our PD is to provide more structured learning at the beginning and tapper off as the year progresses, so teachers are confidently operating as collaborative teams in the PLC model by the end of the school year (focus on learning, focus on results, collaborative culture).

From this initial teaming, a piece of our vision has emerged. Teachers are clamoring for individualized learning. Teams are in different parts of the continuum regarding professional learning communities and collaboration and some are ready to move beyond the book. Without using the terms, what did they ask for within a month of school starting? They want a standards-based approach to professional development.

We have created the standards for professional development that all teachers will demonstrate before the end of the year (see below). We are starting to prepare for the supplemental and intensive professional development (should it be needed) that those who have not met the standards will be part of starting in January. No one will fail to meet the standards. All teachers will succeed. Some will meet them with little help from me or other administrators. Some will get to know me well over the course of standard-specific help sessions. Some will wish we could go back to the old way of "learning" where we didn't look at whether a teacher (or student) learned as long as the information was taught.

Honestly though, I don't think there will be one teacher in our district that will want to go back to the old way of sit-and-get PD where no one cared if you could demonstrate anything back in your classroom. I am convinced that teachers are learners not dissimilar from their students. They want to know what the target is; they want to know if they are hitting the target; they want to know they are held accountable for their learning, because that means it's important to learn. If we want this for students, we have to want this for our teachers. We are going to walk the walk for personalized learning starting with our teachers.

Standards for Van Meter Professional Development 2010-2011
Describe the difference between a focus on teaching and a focus on learning
Explain the purpose of a collaborative team including reciting the 4 DuFour guiding questions
Offer suggestions of ways to deal with negative behavior in a group
Describe ways groups can build consensus
Explain the role of discourse and conflict in a collaborative team’s success
Describe the big shifts in professional development in PLC model from PD of the past (traditional model)
Write SMART goals focused on student learning that should be considered for future work
Maintain focused, on-task discussion
Hold the group accountable for established norms
Give descriptive versus evaluative feedback
Give examples of discussions appropriate for Van Meter collaborative teams
Share examples of data you would use to discuss learning
Share thoughts on how collaborative teams will improve student learning in Van Meter
Defend a priority for common formative assessment development in your content area, grade level, or cross-curricular team

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Keeping Momentum Amidst Change

I have been attending School Administrators of Iowa (SAI) conference this week and I feel so pumped and positive for the upcoming school year. I heard great speakers like Alan November and David Warlick talk about changing education and I was nodding my head the whole time. How exciting! And I got to share this with other passionate administrators who are a part of my Personal Learning Network (PLN). I am excited; I am ready; I am wanting to make it happen... and then I think, how will I feel in a month's time when the start-of-the-year stress is at a high, or when there is the first of many hiccups in our planning, or when my thick skin is tested? How do I help others keep up the momentum and positive energy when real life hits us?

Here's one thing I am going to try: I am going to list the phrases and quotes that really mean something to me on a bulletin board in office. Nothing fancy, but big enough that I can see them and hold myself accountable for living them. Those on my list so far include:

"When do we lose the gumption to try and fail or to take risks and be wrong?" - Sir Ken Robinson
You can't lead anonymously
...so others may learn - Sarah Brown Wessling
Who owns the learning? In great schools, kids own it. - Alan November
It’s okay to be where you are, but it’s not okay to stay there.
Communication happens when what is said is what is heard and understood
Never waste a crisis - Michael Horn
Improving is work that is never done
We are all learners

So I reach out to you, my learning network, colleagues, and friends. How do you keep the momentum and stay positive amidst change?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Blame it on Compliance

Do you remember when your parents would tell you the reason to do or not do something was, "Because I said so!"? It would work, but it wasn't always the most effective way to get me to change my behavior (especially when my parents' back was turned).

I'm reminded of this as I was preparing for a panel discussion I am taking part in today at School Administrators of Iowa (SAI) conference. We are discussing how we are implementing the state mandated Iowa Core. One of the questions I've been encouraged to address is how we at Van Meter have dealt with the resistance to change. As I got thinking about this, I realized this is a big reality to deal with for some. So, my response will be short and sweet: We don't do it by saying, "Because the state said so." We connect it with our district vision and communicate why we are doing what we are doing. If we only did things for compliance, then our district would be in upheaval every election, every retirement at the Department of Education, and everytime the words "common core" were mentioned.

Compliance is not the way to make change happen. Shared leadership. communication, focusing on learning, creating meaningful professional development, removing isolation and providing teachers time to collaborate are all parts of Van Meter's district instructional plan. For those of you in Iowa, you might recognize this as the Iowa Core.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Digital Reading and Texts

I must preface this post with a personal note: I was a sophomore in college before I read any book front to back, word for word. It was a novel by Danielle Steele (I like to think of it as historical fiction rather than smut). I thought books were boring. I read 300 pages of Ivanhoe (a personal best up to that point) for English class until I realized it was on video. I got a "B+" on the test. I'll talk about the implications for finding a kid's passion and assessment practices at another time :-)

While on vacation, I picked up a book to read solely for pleasure. As I struggled to find time to read the novel admist pool time, family time, and time demanded by a 3 year-old and 7 month old, I came to the realization that I am much better at reading tweets, online articles and blog posts than I am novels. I read an article linked from a tweet about how reading is changing in the screen filled, digital world we live in. I thought immediately about how it connected with my day. I thought about how I read so much more than ever before, and I don't find it boring. I had to write.

An article in the Des Moines Register on Sunday, July 25 also talked about how reading is changing. It's much more interactive and takes more skills than just reading words from left to right. It's knowing what an advertisement looks like on a webpage; it's scrolling and skimming for information; it's gathering information from images and sounds as well as text. What's this mean for our teachers and classrooms? I just purchased textbooks for an algebra class and the ebooks we received have links to websites, video clips, and explanations through audio.

How will this change teaching? Do we teach reading in a manner that takes this into account? What's the impact to the first grade teacher as well as the high school teacher? Reading is still critically important... do we even define reading the same way anymore? My fear is that this won't impact teaching, that our teachers don't even know where to begin to teach all the skills for digital readers, that some teachers will continue to think this isn't their job. My fear is that the definition of literacy and reading for some hasn't changed since the use of 16mm film projector.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Professional Learning Communities

This week, our school improvement team (SIT) started studying PLC's and what they will look like at Van Meter Schools for the 2010-2011 school year for our entire district's professional learning model. In our discussion, one of our SIT members really hit the nail on the head. "Isolation leads to frustration." Our team went on to discuss that by ourselves there is a sense of anxiety and stress in trying to be what every learner needs. By ourselves, finding every kid's passion and helping them succeed seems an impossible task.

I got thinking about how as a director of teaching and learning, I feel the same way. I feel an enormous amount of responsibility for making our district the place we envision it. It was through the SIT retreat this week that I felt that stress turn into excitement (just as the research on PLC's says happens for members of a learning community). My learning community, the school improvement team, helped energize me for the work ahead of us. Our team encouraged me that the vision of Van Meter Schools is no one person; it is all of us working and learning together. We are a learning community.

After two exhausting, very full days of learning, collaborating, and planning, I am so excited for next year! And the 09-10 school year only officially ended on Monday. I love having a job that I feel so passionate about!

Monday, May 24, 2010

What looks different?: Lessons from Walk-throughs

One of our data components for assessing teaching and learning comes from conducting walk-throughs. These 3 minute snapshots help provide a photo album of data describing teaching and learning. As an administrative team this year, we spent a lot of time creating a template that would embody the vision for Van Meter schools. The 1:1 initiative and the Iowa Core are two big pieces that make a standard template less useful for us. For example, we don't really care about the posters on the wall supporting the curriculum.

Our template went through many transformations. A final draft of the template was loaded onto our iTouches so we could collect and email the data immediately. Teachers have helped create the template and join us on walk-throughs to share ideas. This helps create consistent meaning across our district. This conversation is a great professional development experience in and of itself.

Two examples changed my thinking about walk-throughs and the longevity of this type of tool for collecting useful data about the change in teaching and learning. First, a teacher was behind her desk and students were all on their computers (some talking to others and some working alone). It was an example of a student-centered classroom where the teacher was updating her wiki to help facilitate the individual learning projects that students were creating. This teachers wasn't disengaged, she was facilitating learning from behind the scenes.

After periodic walk-throughs into a science classroom, I noticed how some students seemed to engaged with the teacher's explanation of a problem and others weren't. It seemed like some students were even blatantly ignoring the instruction. I asked about it and learned that the "lecture" was actually recorded, posted online, and assigned for homework. A quick quiz afterward showed that a few students had problems in different areas, so class time was when the kids actually practiced the skill or did the traditional "homework." The teacher could explain things to a few students who needed it while the rest worked on what they needed in class. They were ignoring the instruction! And it's ok! The lecture was homework and class time became lab time, practice time, application, time to ask questions.

How does this translate to the longevity of walk-through data? As we progress, teaching and learning will be so individualized that there will never be a "predominate pattern" for data collection (We also use the work from Jerry Valentine, Instructional Practices Inventory). We will see all levels of engagement with levels of thinking. Our elementary teachers who implement the Daily Five are just another example of this. Some kids are reading to themselves, some working with others to make new words, some listening to their peer reading and asking them comprehension questions. How do we quantify that?

I will know that Van Meter Schools has totally transformed education when the only reliable way to collect data on teaching and learning is through products, reflections, and portfolios. Maybe our earlier assessment plan was setting the bar too low?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Role of Data

Last week, I was sharing the student achievement summaries with the school improvement team, and then let them loose to explore the data on their own. The professionals in the room, for whom I have great respect, were overwhelmed. It made me realize that we have not empowered our teachers to use the data to answer their own questions. Much like our traditional classrooms, we have in the past told our teachers what the data say and have given them the questions that they should hunt and find the answers to (and we know the answers already, so really we are seeing if they can come back with the correct answers). In a student-centered classroom, we want kids to make their own meaning from the information and make connections to their prior knowledge. This is no different than what we want for our teachers.

I don't believe that data say the same thing to everyone. Sure the overview or summary of percent proficient is a place to start, but based on my experiences, the kids I have in my room, what I saw happening during testing that day, and a variety of other factors, I will want to go into the data differently than another teacher. That's when data really becomes powerful. When teachers can look at data and generate more questions than answers, that's when I believe the data is impacting and informing instruction. I love it when teachers ask me to get them more data. I love it when teachers say, "If this data were correlated to that data, then I could see if..."

Here's my ultimate goal, teachers will be the driving force behind our data collection, analyzation, and communication, not some lady in the curriculum office. AND the students will be right there with their teachers making sense of the information and using it to inform their learning.

Some of my favorite data phrases:
- If we can't use it, don't collect it.
- Kids can't take a test seriously if teachers don't take the information from the test seriously.
- Shouldn't kids understand their scores? Whose data is it anyway?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

1:1 Conference Presentation

Presenting in front of peers is such a learning experience. Thank you to participants who helped me learn today. Here are the resources I used in the presentation.
I changed my keynote to a movie file, pause it as necessary.

Please keep in mind that our template is a working draft. I am happy to share, so please help us make it better if you have ideas. Our walk-through template: http://bit.ly/9Vtnh6

Wes Fryer's Blog on the presentation: http://bit.ly/ajLCcn

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

How can we tell if they've learned it?

Learning is an ongoing process that needs multiple and varied opportunities to demonstrate. At Van Meter Schools, we believe in a caldron of assessment measures that show learning. We show learning through self-assessments, products, performances, and standardized assessments. Any one assessment by itself doesn't show the full picture of learning. This may be a difficult concept to grasp sometimes, but think of the parent who states the low state test score isn't an accurate reflection of what their child can do. Aren't they right? Does ITBS/ITED for example, show a child's passion for comic books? Does it show the creativity and writing process that a child may go through to create their latest story? Does it show the growth in a child's ability to design and speak about their solution to a problem?

The greatest change in learning today is that information is not a secret held by the few who paid for it (through serious school loans). Have our assessments changed to reflect this? Information is abundant. Adults, educators and parents are not the "know it all's" we could once pretend to be. And even though we are admitting that we don't know everything, we are needed just as much to guide learners through the information abundance! Our system needs to change to show what real learning is. It isn't trivial pursuit. It isn't a multiple choice test.

Learning is creative, collaborative, full of problem solving, sharing ideas with diverse audiences. It's evaluating all the information that's out there. It's questioning "truths" and serving the people of this planet in a way that goes beyond Van Meter, Iowa. How do we assess that with a test?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Collaboration IS Professional Development

Often professional development is thought of as a speaker coming in and talking for 90 minutes and then the mass of teachers leave with a sigh and maybe one good idea. How many teachers have rolled their eyes at the thought of in-service day or early releases?

Our district is making a significant addition to the amount of professional development time that our staff has for next year. We know that the research clearly supports the efficacy of the teacher as the biggest impact to student learning. We are not adding more in-service days though. We aren't adding more lecture time. We aren't adding more one-time presentations. This stereotypical view of professional development doesn't make an impact. We are moving to weekly collaboration times using a process centered on the professional learning communities (PLC's) research.

PLC's focus on student learning by talking about these questions:
What do we want kids to know and be able to do?
How will we know if they learned it?
What are we going to do if they haven't learned it? have learned it?

Some teachers think they are getting more PD time with no collaboration time. PLC's are just the opposite of that. We expect student discourse and collaboration to happen in a student-centered classroom. We expect the same for professional development. It will be driven by teachers. PLC's differentiate based on the needs of the learners. Learning takes discussion and collaboration. Teachers are perfect pictures of life-long learners. It's finally time for the professional development to meet the needs of the all the learners.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Questions are not barriers

Change is difficult. It's also filled with questions, and rightfully so. Questions are not bad things. Questions help us sharpen our focus, defend our positions, consider things we might not have, and look at a topic from another angle. They also help us communicate better by sharpening our message. Don't we encourage questions from our students? Why are we often afraid of questions when they are raised by our peers?

One of my favorite quick reads is the leadership fable, Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Notice how one of the 5 dysfunctions is fear of conflict. Fear is paralyzing. Questions only become paralyzing when we take them as a sign of personal attack. Van Meter Schools is a progressive district where lots of things are changing. Teachers and community members have lots of questions. This is a good thing. This means we are all involved in the process of transforming education.

We are embarking on uncharted territory and I don't expect we will have all the answers. Even if we do not, questions are not barriers. They make us think. Questions do not hold us back; we do that to ourselves... if we choose.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Having a hammer doesn't make me a carpenter

I recently read a blog post about the release of another piece of technology, the iPad, and how it won't change education at all.
I totally agree that technology does not an education make. Our kids are not smarter just because we purchased laptops or Elmos or more projectors. Our teachers are making our kids better. Teachers are able to change the way they teach because of the access to information that our kids now have. A computer will "NEVER make a large-scale impact on education unless you consider it the catalyst for..." better teaching. Our school district is changing education. It's unfortunate that it is so difficult to do. The legislative rules make it hard to change, but that isn't stopping us. It can be done. I am sure other districts out there are doing it too. The iPad, or any one piece of equipment, will not change education. We must do that ourselves. Networking the knowledge on the internet is part of the answer.

The author and I share some of the same viewpoints. http://tinyurl.com/yfodyqp
Ahh, the power of social networking to make a person think!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

How do we know if it results in learning?

Van Meter is a 1:1(one computer for every one child) district in grades 7-12. One of the questions I get asked frequently is, "How do you know if all those computers are impacting student achievement?" My response to this question has undergone a transformation. I use to care about showing the difference the computer themselves make to a student's learning.

But then I got to thinking... Van Meter's Vision is about teaching kids to Think, Lead, and Serve. It's about helping kids find their passion. Our vision says nothing about making sure kids are using their laptops. After all, the laptop initiative is currently affecting only half of the kids in our district. What are we saying to kids, teachers, and parents in grades K-6 if our assessment system focused on the impact of the 1:1 initiative?

Instead, Van Meter Schools is focusing on the impact of teaching and learning in all grades K-12. Technology is a way of life for our students. We encourage teachers to integrate a variety of tools in their instruction to help engage learners and make connections. Thanks to many conversations with John Nash at Iowa State University, I was able to talk through an assessment system that shows the value of learning as assessed by performance and product-based assessments rather than just paper-pencil test scores.

Here's a quick list data that we plan on using to gauge the success of teaching and learning at Van Meter:

  • Behavior data
  • Attendance rates
  • Graduation rates
  • Achievement scores (writing, reading, math and science)
  • Technology literacy* (NETS rubric)
  • Student perception*
  • Parent perception*
  • 1 and 5 year post VM – Graduate survey*
  • Administrator Walk-throughs (aligned to Iowa Core Curriculum - Characteristics of Effective Instruction)
  • Instructional Practice Inventory – Jerry Valentine work
  • Administrator reflections
  • Teacher reflections
  • Student examples
  • Student and Teacher digital portfolios*
*action item, not yet fully implemented

What results in learning?

What results in learning? What makes a difference for kids? What type of professional development supports teachers to change their practices? What can we do to help our community of learners be more self-directed? How do we know what results in learning?

This blog is dedicated to exploring and sharing ideas, practices, and leadership that result in learning. All of us are learners, and thinking of educational reform in this light allows us all to play a role in teaching and learning. Learning doesn't mean that we make no mistakes. Learning is taking every opportunity to improve what has happened in the past. It is my hope that as I share what is happening in Van Meter Schools, I learn from others. And we then make teaching and learning the best it possibly can be for our students, our teachers, and our community.