What Are Teacher Leadership Standards?

It was a marathon of a day with little time between to take in all that I was learning between sessions. One session that resonated with me was the call for identifying teacher leaders and giving them various responsibilities – not as add-ons, but by providing them the structures to take on these responsibilities. According to Kathryn Boles, we lose too many of our best teachers and attrition rates are too high. Many teachers do not want to become a principal/head of school, but they aren’t given the opportunities to be the change agents they want to be while still in the classroom. There are seven domains/standards for teacher leaders that have been identified.

Domain I: Fostering a Collaborative Culture to Support Educator Development and Student Learning

Domain II: Accessing and Using Research to Improve Practice and Student Learning

Domain III: Promoting Professional Learning for Continuous Improvement

Domain IV: Facilitating Improvements in Instruction and Student Learning

Domain V: Promoting the Use of Assessments and Data for School and District Improvement

Domain VI: Improving Outreach and Collaboration with Families and Community

Domain VII: Advocating for Student Learning and the Profession

You can get a lot more information about all these standards at this site (still under construction, but already very good). Every administrator should know about this site. Not only have standards for teacher leaders been developed, but the supporting strategies to support these have also been identified.

  • Increase the capcity to create staffing models that include differentiated career options for teachers. It’s shouldn’t solely be just teacher ==> assistant principal ==> principal ==> superintendent.
  • Develop new structures for licensing and/or credentialing teacher leaders.
  • Engage stakeholders in developing criteria-based models for the selection of teachers to serve in formalized leadership roles.
  • Develop systems for reward and recognition of the contributions of teachers in formal and informal leadership roles.
  • Establish compensation systems that recognize teacher leadership roles, knowledge, and skills.
  • Establish a performance management and evaluation system that is consistent with the identified and varied roles of teacher leaders.

I’ve a lot more to add on this one topic alone, but as I mentioned, the schedule is packed solid – Fantastic, but full. In fact, I’m getting ready for another 12-hour day of learning which starts in 15 minutes. Hopefully, I’ll be able to break some of the things I’m learning down into little chunks and how they apply to the classroom. In the meantime, check out that link above.

Are You a Life Long Learner?

If you ask any educator what one of their main objectives is for their students, you are more than likely going to hear the term “life-long learner.” In order to meet that objective, however, one also has to be a life-long learner.

So here I am in Massachusetts at a New and Aspiring School Leaders institute for four days, learning. It’s been a great start so far. There are many types of leadership styles ranging from the coercive to a coaching style. The important thing to note is having the wisdom to know which type to employ. According to research on these styles (Coleman, HBR March April 2000), the two most effective styles are authoritative (not to be confuse with authoritarian “do as I say” – this style represents “come with me”) and coaching (“Try this”). The first mobilizes everyone towards a common vision, the second develops people for the future.

The other styles are coercive (good only in crises), affiliative (a team builder), democratic (consensus builder), and pace setting (highly motivated, competent, and  results driven). Of course there are pros and cons to all the above and are context dependent. One has to realize though, that all styles have the intention of positive change. Unfortunately, if you choose the wrong style for a certain situation, things can go awry quickly. Of the two most effective styles they have one thing in common, they require you to have a high EQ (Emotional Intelligence).

Unlike IQ which is more or less genetic and fixed, EQ can be learned. Developing one’s EQ requires one to be self-aware, have self-regulation, be motivated, have empathy, and good social skills. As I learn to develop these myself, I also think about how I can develop these in the students I teach.

I know for me, I have all the above skills, but it varies with the context in which I’m placed. I have a lot of self-regulation with my students and peers, but not a lot with my administrators (it’s a growth area of mine). I am becoming more self-aware, but it takes time. Social skills are great in certain situations, horrible in others. I’m always motivated and my empathy for others deepens each day, but has a lot more room to grow.

Being this reflective as an adult is not an easy task, but an important one. If it’s not so easy for me, then how hard must it be for 7 and 8 year-olds. I always like watching the different leadership skills emerge from my students. Some are doers, others want to question and have a clear purpose, others want to make sure everyone is heard, and still others are interested in organizing all the details and having a well-thought-out plan.

Leadership is not easy, but the more aware you become of yourself (strengths and weaknesses), the more you become a better leader. There is a large amount one can learn from a book, but being able to adapt and inspire, those are the traits of our next leaders. If we as teachers can truly call ourselves life-long learners, hopefully we can inspire the next generation of true leaders.

Elite New York “Pressure Cooker” Schools are Rethinking Homework

An article about homework in this weekend’s nytimes couldn’t have happened at a more appropriate time, as I continue to search and explore ways to make homework (now called “home learning” in our second grade classes) be meaningful.

Sending a worksheet home, so that it can be returned the next day for the sake of compliance is not the message I want students to get. If I have to assign it, and kids have to do it, it has to have purpose beyond that. Being prepared to share something in class with their peers is valuable.  So is practicing various skills as long as there is immediate and meaningful feedback. Unfortunately, over the course of a regular busy schoolday, one often doesn’t have a chance to check a child’s homework until after the end of the day, so by the time a child receives feedback, was the home learning task really that successful?

Towards the end of last year, I thought I’d give Kahn Academy a try, and while it worked for some, it didn’t achieve what I was hoping. What I did like was the immediate feedback kids were getting at home. Sal Kahn spoke at our regional conference this year and I was surprised how novel his ideas seemed to many teachers.  He isn’t the only one who’s been trying new things, but he’s been endorsed by Bill Gates and has also done a TED talk, so he’s definitely more visible.

So this year, my teaching partner suggested some other online tools which were more age appropriate than Kahn’s, covered multiple subjects so that kids could have some choice in their learning, used tech in a way that allowed for immediate feedback, and allowed us to still included elements that required kids to be prepared to share as well as take some responsibility to bring certain things back to school (even though it might not be daily).

Well, I wouldn’t call it a complete success after the first month. There were a lot of elements to consider, and some we have reconsidered.  Many things, however did work. There are elements that really seem to be doing what we hoped, and they just need to be revised and tweaked. In the classroom, my students have begun to start appreciating the idea of process and revision and not always about getting it right on the first try. It’s great that I can show kids that it is also how adults learn. We didn’t get it right on the first try, but we’ll see how the adjustments go, and report back. Thanks to all my students’ parents who provided excellent feedback in helping us refine it.

It’s nice, though, to know the most elite independent schools in New York (not that it should be a measure of anything) are also working on similar issues. We too, will be giving a “Home Learning” holiday on October 31st!

A Few Things I Learned at the Fall PNAIS Conference

PNAIS11 Innovation and Change in the Classroom

This year’s PNAIS fall conference was an exciting one for me. As a member of the planning committee, a presenter, an attendee, and an exhibitor, it was quite the juggling act to wear all these hats. I did learn a lot and had a great time doing so. It was held at The Overlake School which has a beautiful campus in Redmond, WA.

There was a lot of discussion over the keynote: Sal Khan. His TED talk is at the bottom of this post. Some were intrigued, others inspired, some puzzled, and others were left shaking their heads.

  • I learned that when educators leave having to grapple with many questions, rich discussions often emerge.
  • I learned that I can continue to meet people face to face that I’ve only tweeted with before and make new virtual colleagues that I will no doubt meet in the near future.
  • I learned that many people have never heard of an edcamp or ‘unconference’ before which is going to make co-organizing it a lot of fun (I’ll post more on that in a few weeks).
  • I learned a lot about change.
  • Teachers were validated by the closing keynote, TJ Vasser, one of the first African Americans to attend the same high school Bill Gates attended, talk about social change – And that social change happens because of teachers.
  • I learned I could get over my fear of public speaking.
  • I learned I could adapt.
  • I started out preparing a presentation about using social media to network and learn, and instead realized that in order to learn one really has to embrace uncertainty.
  • I learned that in order to inspire ‘life long learners’ you have to be one yourself.
  • I learned that starting to serve on an accreditation team the Sunday after the fall conference on a week that ends with parent conferences may have been a bit ambitious.
Learning can be rejuvenating and inspiring. I am looking forward to more opportunities to learn this year.

Start With Simple Purposeful Tech Tools

One problem of web-based or other tech resources for teachers or students isn’t really how to use them, but that there are often too many tools. There is no way to really keep up with them, nor should one. If you subscribe to a few websites or twitter feeds, the lists resources can be overwhelming. Some of the tools are amazing, but may be start-ups that will be gone just when you get comfortable using them. Still, it’s great to know so many people are thinking of innovative ways to make the web more kid friendly. Two of the three tools below I got from Tech & Learning. Warning: most will be overwhelmed with that site.

Take youtube for example. There are amazing, short videos that are great for launching units, independent study, and other kinds of learning. Unfortunately, for every great video posted, there are hundreds of terrible ones. If a child simply uses the youtube search window, there’s no guarantee what they’re going to get (teaching kids how to search better is also a key).

If you have a specific youtube video in mind that you want a young student to visit, try safeshare.tv. It allows you to enter the youtube URL, and then gets rid of all the unwanted ads, and additional clutter.

There are also some great websites out there, but they are just too cluttered with ads that get in the way of the real content you want your students to view. Thankfully, most browsers have settings you can turn on to block banner adds and content that may be too irresistible for a second grader. “Click Here to Win an iPod,” for example. Yes, you want to teach kids how to avoid ads, but especially when they are working independently, a little help goes a long way. Along with the browser settings, there are some third party tools such as adout.org which is a website where you can enter a url and have it come back ad free. There is also the software you can download, like AdBlock which is also a browser ad-on to help eliminate those ads. I know many websites rely on ads to survive, and I know most adults can live with them. For very young kids, though, sometimes, it’s just nice to remove clutter.

It’s often because the web is so overwhelming that many don’t even want to think about it. But, as much I overuse this word, it’s a mindset. Think of your goal or purpose, find a tool, and start.

Doodling Improves Comprehension

I haven’t posted a TED talk in a while, but this one is great short one.

“Studies show that sketching and doodling improve our comprehension — and our creative thinking. So why do we still feel embarrassed when we’re caught doodling in a meeting? Sunni Brown says: Doodlers, unite! She makes the case for unlocking your brain via pad and pen.”

 

Great Article on Homework in the NYTimes

I almost missed this great article about homework in the NYTimes Sunday Review, but thanks to a parent who forwarded me this story, I had a chance to read it yesterday. I’ve always struggled on finding that balance in working within my school’s homework policy and making homework as meaningful as possible. My teaching partner and I are also looking at ways to have homework be more flexible (for those whose kids are suddenly inundated with extra-curricular activities depending on the season), and we want homework to encourage time together with families rather than a battle with some to get it done.

The article in the times stresses three main findings in looking at neuroscience, psychology, and education.

1. Spaced repetition

2. Retrieval practice

3. Interleaving (the article describes this really well)

Along with recent studies on motivation, we are going to try and incorporate these practices into our students’ home learning assignments. I’ll keep you posted on how things go.

Do We Really Need Technology To Learn?

When I first picked up this Sunday’s New York Times, I was delighted to see a photo of kids standing in front of an interactive whiteboard. A whiteboard which was mounted to a wall with the children’s height in mind (Many of my students have to use a stool. It’s unfortunate, but at least I’m lucky enough to have an interactive whiteboard in my classroom). Then I read the article that accompanied the picture which questioned the necessity of technology in schools, and how districts are spending a lot of money on state-of-the-art equipment with very little effect in terms of higher test scores and student results.

Unfortunately, the question shouldn’t really be whether technology is needed to learn. The question should be “Are you teaching kids to use technology to learn?” I am a huge proponent of technology, but it is merely a tool. It’s not about the ‘state-of-the-art stuff’ one has in a classroom, but how the kids are using it. Technology is a mindset and until teachers start to understand that, technology just takes away time from other curricular activities. Rather than see technology as a separate subject or skill, it should be integrated into what you are already doing.

I had kids head to our computer lab yesterday, our first day of school. Of course there were certain things I had to show them, like how to save a file to a particular folder, but the idea was to engage the kids in the writing process. Earlier in the day, we had generated ideas for our poems. Then the kids wrote a draft using pencil and paper. As they were doing this, I provided feedback, and gave them suggestions to help them revise their work. It was only then that we headed to create our good copies. Many of my students have not had a lot of exposure to computers, but its the questions the generate that excite me. “How do I move the cursor to the next line?” “Can I change the size of the letters?” “What does that red squiggly line mean?” It’s then that you start to give individualized instruction to each child. Another great thing that happens is the dialogue that happens between kids. “How did you do that?” “Oh, let me show you.”

We don’t use a lot of tech in my class, but when we do, the kids need to see a purpose to it. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a mindset. It’s not about whether or not the computer is running Apple or Windows 7 (I’m actually writing this on an Apple running Windows 7). It’s not a question of Google vs. Bing. It’s not about whether they are using MS Word, PowerPoint, or Google Docs. Twitter is an amazing tool, but who knows if it will even be around in 5 years. Technology should support what the kids are trying to do. And in the case of my class this week, completing the writing process by editing and typing their poem was the task. When kids want to learn how to do something, they will.

So, do we need technology to learn? YES! But we also know how to make it meaningful, and how to use it to enhance learning.

What Can a Book Do?

It’s back-to-school time, and it’s always exciting and busy. I love this time of year, and this week has been a great one. We started our all-faculty gatherings this week. Though there’s a lot of work to do, it’s always nice to catch up with colleagues you haven’t seen over the summer and welcome new teachers, getting to know them a little better. It was also a great week as this blog was mentioned on cnn.com. I had never really been interviewed by the media before, so I wasn’t sure how I’d come across. It was a good experience, and I learned a lot. I was thankful for the first aid training we were required to take. I just hope I never have to use CPR on a child. There were numerous good moments this week, but I never expected it to end this way:

From Anita Silvey's Children's Book-a-Day Almanac

In 2004, one of my students announced that they would not be returning to our school. His family would be moving to Italy. As a farewell gift, I gave him the book Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, a children’s mystery that I thought he’d enjoy.

Almost 7 years later, while visiting Seattle, they paid a visit to the school today and presented me with a different book with the same title. It was a photo book of my former student and his younger brother in front of every Vermeer painting. Inspired by the book and taking advantage of living in Europe, they planned many of their vacations around where these paintings were kept and set on a quest to see all 35 undisputed paintings (the 36th is stolen).

It’s always great when former students visit and I get to find out what they’ve been up to. It’s also rather incredible to know a children’s book can inspire such an adventure. Looking through the photo book this evening and seeing a third grader grow into a tenth grader standing next to all those paintings was truly a special way to end the week.

 

5 Things I Did for PD this Summer

An indepentdent school IT director from CT,  Lorri Caroll is another educator who blogs. I also found her through twitter as I continue to try to grow my professional learning network. I’d recommended reading her blog from time to time as she has some amazing insights. She also runs the weekly #isedchat on twitter every Thursday 6pm on twitter. Her recent blog post titld 5 Awesome things I did for PD this Summer inspired me to do the same.

If you want kids to be life-long learners, I believe you have to model it yourself. Summer is a great time for relaxation, but I also managed to find some good PD in that time.

1. Taught summer school. I’ve read about problem/project based learning, 90 minute class periods, multi-aged classes and such, but never tried it. So I took a three week teaching gig with the Summe Institute for the Gifted and boy, did I learn a lot. Some of which I’m going to try and incorporate in my classroom this school year.

2. Attended the ISTE conference. I was blown away by the shear size of it, let a lone the incredible amount of learning that took place.

3. Participated in our school’s Summer Plannng Institute. It was incredible. Change is hard, but I believe our school, through this institute hit critical mass interms of developing a culture of professional learners who share, are clear, trust one another, and want to get better all the time. I love it!

4. Read A New Culture of Learning which is one I highly recommend (it reframes how one might look at things). Short easy read, but powerful insights. Partook in the twitter book club for this book, and looking forward to a follow up webinar by the author.

5. Learning how to use social media responsibly. The riots in London last week were sobering, but a good reminder about how we need to teach responsible use to our children. How can we do this if we don’t engage in social media, blogging, etc. ourselves. A silly post I made had almost 15,000 hits. Then I got a call from cnn.com for an interview. I said yes, because even if they misquoted me to sound ridiculous. I would have learned something. I think I played it too safe. They did not use any of our conversation. Still a good learning experience.

But wait… there’s more. Maybe another time.

Autonomy vs. Collaboration: Are they Exclusive of Each Other?

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know that I’m a huge fan of Daniel Pink, and his book Drive. If you haven’t read it yet, I repost a great animated summary at the end of this post. Using a lot of current research, Pink makes a case for autonomy being an integral part of motivation. The other two parts: mastery, and purpose.

I’m also a big fan of collaboration, and in todays world of sharing everything openly, its also really important. The summer issue of the Harvard Business Review is all about collaboration. In the book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Stephen Johnson, he makes a very clear point that great individual a-ha moments are rare and that it’s often the confluence of two or more ideas that lead to game changing innovations. There’s a great quick animation of this as well (posted below).

My personal answer to the question posed in the title of this post is, NO!

A large percentage of our faculty just finished a summer institute at our school that was organized by our school leaders. I can truly say, that I left feeling more excited, motivated, and inspired of the potential that our school has to continue growing. If the aim was to begin cultivating a community of professional learners with growth mindsets who are both autonomous AND collaborative, the institute was an incredible success. Another underlying principle is that everything we do promotes the same kind of purpose, relevance, and collaboration for students.

How was this done? By finding the strengths within each individual, yet creating a safe, trusting environment to share these. By making the purpose a clear and shared one. And by promoting mastery. It was hard work, but work everyone was so eager to do because it had meaning. It wasn’t busy work. Aside from that, the institute was run using a variety of effective models of instruction. That kind of modeling is key for inspiration and the transfer of effective teaching practices into the classroom.

If you’ve read the book Switch: How to Change Things When Things are Hard by the Heath Brothers, the way to do this is to find a way to motivate both our emotional and rational minds, and set a clear path for how this will be done. I sense the beginning of purposeful changes happening at our school this year, and I couldn’t be more excited.

An App a Day: Stick Pick

There are many teacher tool apps out there, but not all of them work well. If you’re an elementary teacher, drawing sticks with kids’ names on them out of a can isn’t a new idea. It’s a great tool to randomize the way you select kids. If this app simply replaced this concept electronically, it wouldn’t be that innovative. The person who designed this app actually put some thought into it so it does much, much more.

There’s no point describing it here when their website does it so well.  It was developed by a 6th grade teacher. I can’t wait to use it with my new class this year.

Atlanta Public Schools Open Amid a Testing Scandal – NYTimes.com

Atlanta Public Schools Open Amid a Testing Scandal – NYTimes.com.

This article from todays NYTimes is alarming, but not all that surprising to me. What is really being assessed when tests create so much anxiety and pressure on students, parents, teachers, and administrators?

As a teacher, I’ve gone from worrying about how well my students do, to actually focusing on their mistakes. Mistakes actually provide you with a lot more information. Being able to analyze kids’ errors helps me understand and reflect on what I need to change. When I look at a test item, and see that more than half of my class got the item incorrect, it’s a good place to start asking myself why.

Unfortunately, standardized tests are good for expediency, but not always good for learning. The wrong answer doesn’t always provide enough insight. Take 2-digit subtraction with regrouping (borrowing), for example. If a child got the answer wrong, was it due to a misunderstanding of place value, did the child have a directionality issue, did they miss a step in the algorithm, did they simply add by mistake. A good standardized test may include incorrect answers that reveal some of the reasons, but not necessarily all. The only way to know for sure is to observe a child doing the problem and then asking them to explain what they did and why. It’s amazing the kind of insight you can gain from a few simple questions. Furthermore, with a test that provides four possible answers there’s a good chance your student had no clue, but guessed correctly. The correct answer provides very little information.

The other problem with some of the standardized tests out there, is the timeliness of the test-makers correcting and returning the results. By the time many schools get them back, it’s well past the point that they can inform the teacher with something useful about what they can change. With NCLB (No Child Left Behind) and RTTT (Race to the Top), the focus of test scores often becomes, “How did we do?” rather than “What can we learn from this?”

Many test companies are going to computer testing, which I think is great in terms of timeliness, but I wonder how kids 7 and under will do with a mouse. I’d rather the little ones touch their answers on a touch screen, but I suppose a mouse isn’t that far removed from filling in bubbles with a pencil.

This news story isn’t the first of its kind, but I hope it helps change the kind of pressure and anxiety that these tests can place on everyone involved. I’m not opposed to standardized tests; I think there’s a place for them. We have to keep asking, though, what are these tests actually testing and how can they help us be more effective. I hope that the policy makers behind NCLB and RTTT can learn from their mistakes and make student assessment something that’s actually FOR students and teachers rather than an assessment OF them.

I have one other minor criticism about these tests: they create a mindset of having only one right answer to a problem. While this may be true for a test item, we know that innovation comes from thinking outside the bubble and entertaining many possible solutions to more complex problems. By all means use standardized tests, but also include student interviews, their own reflections and assessments, observations, and the myriad of other assessment tools available.

A New Culture of Teaching

I recently finished a book called A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change by Doug Thomas and John Seely Brown. The book, was recommended by the independent schools Special Interest Group at the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference. It’s a fairly quick read that had several themes resonate with me.

As the title of the book suggests, the culture of learning is changing, and as teachers we have to think about teaching differently. Apple computers coined the term ‘Think Different.’ and over a decade later, teachers are starting to make those changes. Great teachers have always been those that teach kids to learn, but according to the authors, the context of in which learning takes place has changed due to technology. The authors use the ‘teach a man to fish’ phrase as an example of that shifting context: What if fishing is unsustainable and the supply of fish is depleted? What if the water’s polluted? We need to know how to ask those kinds of questions, grapple with them, share, collaborate, and try to come up with solutions.

Vinnie Vrotney, who hosted a book club twitter chat tonight of A New Culture of Learning has a great post on his blog reflecting about delving into blogs 5 years ago, and how five of his colleagues are now sharing their summer reflections via blogs.

I only began fooling around with twitter in February to try to follow a couple of colleagues and others attending the NAIS conference in D.C. I had no idea what hashtags were, or what @ signs meant. I had attended the conference the prior year, when I started this blog, and was eager to participate (albeit remotely), and was beginning to learn how twitter fit into all of this.

Did I take a class or read a manual about twitter? Nope. I’m still learning how to use it: I even failed tonight, forgetting to put #isedchat in one of my tweets. I also had to leave the chat early as I had other plans, but a transcript of the chat was posted afterwards. For those who want to reflect a little longer and deeper, each week, Vinnie Vrotney will post a prompt on the Independent School NING in order to continue the conversation asynchronously. The book talk will also include a synchronous web conference with one of the authors of the book: John Seely Brown.

What do some of those things in the previous paragraph mean? NING? #isedchat? I could explain in another post, or you could be resourceful and find out. I think one of my jobs as an educator is not only to inspire my students to be resourceful, but to encourage my colleagues to do the same. It’s a mindset.

This mindset is cultivated by learning through others, sharing, asking questions, knowing, making, playing, taking risks and learning to fail.

Some may wonder what kind of ‘deep learning’ can happen from an hour long chat where participants can only use 140 characters or less per tweet. Aren’t those just soundbites from like-minded people? Well remember, we did read a book, tonights tweets included polite counterpoints, and also led me to read an interesting blog post on Scientific America called, “The Educational Value of Creative Disobedience.” There will be further reflection each week on the book, a web conference with one of the authors, and one can read transcripts of interviews of the authors like one by Steve Denning from a Forbes column on leadership named ‘Rethink.’

I hope to post more thoughts on this book, but want to end with this: Vinnie Vrotney, the person I mentioned earlier who led the chat tonight is not just a random educator I follow, but an inspiring educator I’ve actually met face to face. That meeting wouldn’t likely have occurred if I didn’t have a twitter account.

Quote of the Day

Quote

I just stumbled across this today and really liked it.

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Alvin Toffler

When Toffler published FutureShock in 1970, he predicted that change would accelerate in way that would leave most in some sort of culture shock. If you think back to 1970 (my birth year), things have indeed changed, and that change continues to accelerate. Many of us, however, aren’t really facing that culture shock. Why not? It’s because most of us who can learn, unlearn, and relearn, can adapt to that change. Just think about how home video has changed in that time: From the introduction of Betamax in ’75 and VHS in ’76 to Blue Ray DVDs in the mid 2000s to digital streaming from the cloud. There are some VCRs that have been flashing 12:00 since they were first plugged in. Nonetheless, the advancements are pretty amazing for less than 40 years, and great if we can all learn how to adapt to the new technology. It’s also important to teach kids of all kinds how to adapt.

Great Professional Development Resource

It’s been a couple of weeks since I was at the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference, and my head is still full of resources and information. Today, I got an email from them with a few statistics about this year’s conference.

“More than 17,850 educators and exhibit personnel attended ISTE 2011, held in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Convention Center June 26-29. Conference highlights included:

  • 13,336 registered attendees
  • 4,562 exhibit personnel
  • Dozens of workshops with more than 2,611 tickets sold
  • An exhibit hall the size of 5.5 football fields featuring 1,423 booths and 501 companies
  • 149 registered journalists from around the globe
  • 1,025 attendees sent more than 3,000 letters to the U.S. Congress
  • Among the attendees were 1,152 presenters and 940 international attendees from 63 countries”
As I mentioned in an earlier post, it was daunting. Also in that email though, was a link to their ‘white paper’ on Coaching. ISTE’s webpage summarizes the details of the paper like this:
    • Situation: Effective use of technology is essential for teaching and learning in a global, digital age.
    • Problem: Many teachers do not know how to design and support technology-rich learning environments.
    • Solution: Coaching, combined with communities of learning, is a highly effective job-embedded professional development model
    • Result: Teachers experience technology as an effective tool for professional learning and develop the skills to powerfully use technology to improve student learning.
The paper’s content highlights include:
    • Introduction to three coaching models that provide highly effective professional development
    • 10 tips for leveraging technology, coaching, and community
    • 5 key benefits that result from the integration of technology, coaching, and community
    • Introduction to the NETS×C
You can download the whole paper here. It’s really a great read for all teachers/administrators who are trying to make changes in tech to better enhance student learning.

Is Cursive Obsolete?

In the news this week, Indiana’s Department of Education announced that schools would no longer need to teach cursive penmanship in schools. They would, however, let schools decide for themselves. It’s part of the common-core curriculum to phase out cursive in favor of digital skills. I disagree.

According to the WSJ, which has a good piece on writing in cursive, it’s still an important and relevant skill. It’s even good for aging adults and helps with learning, memory, and ideation. Ironically, the article cites a study in favor of cursive writing from Indiana University.

There are several debates going on.

One is that teachers who do believe in cursive, have certain preferences as to what ‘style’ of cursive is being taught. Now that, to me, is simply a debate about aesthetic preferences. We do no write in the same script Thomas Jefferson did when he wrote the Declaration of Independence.

The second debate is whether or not cursive writing itself is irrelevant. Some educators believe it should go the way of the dodo bird. Others, like me, believe it should be taught. I have no problems with children reverting back to printing later on.

For struggling writers, cursive allows them to be more fluent and thus lets their ideas flow on the page more readily. If you integrate penmanship with other literacy activities, the formation of letters really does make a difference in the way kids retain information. Even in a one-to-one laptop school, teachers ask children to write a lot by hand (journals, responses to prompts, note taking, etc.). My school is not a one-to-one school, and I don’t think it needs to be. Pre-K students do not need their own devices. The ‘worry’ about kids not being able to type is a silly one. I didn’t learn how to type until I was in college (yes, I know I didn’t need it in the era I grew up), but with a simple software tool, I taught myself and was typing about 90 words a minute in two weeks.

Sure, I barely use cursive now. Emails, these blog posts, report cards, texting, etc. are all part of today’s reality. And it depends on the situation. On my laptop, I’ll type. But even on my Ipad, I prefer using a stylus and taking notes by hand, even though my cursive (once beautiful) is barely legible.

Kids will drop cursive writing if they see its need go away , but that’s not the point. It’s what they’re learning simultaneously when engaged in learning cursive. Purposeful formation of letters has to have some intrinsic value, let alone stimulate all kinds of connections in the brain. When, for example, do we stop teaching kids how to tell time on an analog clock? Even though I haven’t worn a watch in the past 6 to 7 years, I hope the answer is never. If nothing else, reading dials is an important skill.

Will a simple handwritten note look like hieroglyphics to the next generation?

The Downside of Being an Early Adopter

I managed to get invited to google+ (a new social networking platform) today. There are a lot of interesting things it does that facebook doesn’t. Here are just a few from PC Magazine.

For me, I love the circles feature. It’s much simpler than fb’s privacy settings. I made the mistake of accepting parents of kids I taught that I will no longer teach, but then started getting friend requests from parents that still have young ones that I may end up teaching in a couple of years. I’ve ignored accepting those requests. But is that rude? One really has to think through how to utilize social media, and netiquette or digital citizenry keeps evolving.

The downside of google+ is that very few people I know are actually on it right now, let alone using it. I guess, I’ll need to have more people using the tool before I can really see if all its features are worth Any tool has to be better and easier to use for people to adopt it. Google+ isn’t facebook, it isn’t twitter, but it has a lot of potential. I was late to My Space, didn’t see its purpose and gave it up when Facebook came around. I was also late to twitter, but it’s purpose is becoming much clearer.

I suppose the slow roll out is to let people ease into the tool. There are features that I haven’t begun to play with. The rate at which technology changes, though, something may replace it in 6 months, so should I even bother learning how to use it? Why not?  Well, back to tinkering with it.

Reading Fiction

The final Harry Potter movie in the franchise will open in less than two weeks. I remember taking my class over a decade ago to see Ms. Rowling at the Vancouver International Writers’ Festival. The festival is a great event in Vancouver that promotes reading and always has events for school children. In previous years we saw John Scieszka and other kid-lit authors in an intimate setting on Granville Island. In Vancouver, to read and talk about her fourth book, The Goblet of Fire, they needed to host the event the Pacific Colleseum (at the time, the arena for the local NHL ice hockey team) for Ms Rowling. The event was like a rock concert. Kids screaming at the top of their lungs. How great though to have children that psyched about a book.

Like many of my students, I devoured the Harry Potter books, but it’s been a long time since I last read one. Yesterday, when I saw a trailer for the film, I couldn’t remember from the clips what happened. Aside from kid-lit, I used to read a lot of fiction each year: Jonathan Franzen’s Corrections, Ian McEwan’s Attonement, Rohintin Mistry’s A Fine Balance, Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi, Margaret Attwood’s Blind Assassin, Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex and so on.

A couple of years ago, though, I started reading more non-fiction and got hooked on it. I continue to do so with little time to fit in any fiction. I was simply fascinated by Dweck, Pink, Chip and Dan Heath, and Seth Godin, just to name a few. I picked up the graphic novel Logicomix thinking it was fiction. It was, sort of. It turned out to be, in some ways, a biography of Betrand Russell.

This past year, I think I have read only 4 pieces of fiction: American Born Chinese, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, The Help, and The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. The first two were more middle school reads that piqued my curiosity and the last two based on recommendations for airplane reading. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back at all four books, they all deal with race. Reading fiction, if written well, allows the reader to empathize with characters and sometimes pretend to walk a mile in their shoes. It’s not exactly the same thing, but it gives you a sense of what that mile might be like. Having just read The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, which is set in Seattle and includes a sad piece of American History where the country interred the Japanese, it struck me that 1942 was not that long ago. Many still live in this area and have vivid memories of that time. Thanks to all who recommended it. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It also reminded me that I need to read more fiction. Any recommendations?

What Would You Be?

“If a year from now you weren’t in the profession you’re currently in, what would you be in your wildest dreams?” The month-long writing prompts for reflections based on Ralph Waldo Emerson quotes have ended, and I wasn’t able to keep up with a post a day.  Nonetheless, I found the quotes very meaningful and indeed prompted reflection, even if I didn’t write it all down. The group responsible for the website has decided to continue posting prompts (even without the Emerson quotes), and the above question seemed like a difficult one to respond to.

I find it hard to respond to that prompt because even if I were to leave teaching, I would pursue something in administration, consulting, or higher-ed. Nonetheless, it would fall within the parameters of the education profession. Here’s why: It’s what I know. It’s what I love. It’s what I think I do well and can continue to get better at. It gives me purpose which is to make learning both meaningful and relevant (both for students and teachers).

Maybe I don’t dream that wildly, but even if I won one of those ‘set for life’ lotteries, I would not quit my day job.  Perhaps writing a children’s novel would be something I’d pursue. Years ago, I wrote one. It’s awful, and I won’t show it to anyone. It was merely an exercise to see if I could get myself through the process and write 30,000-50,000 words. One of these days I may try again.

The world of education is vast, and who knows what a year will bring? I’ve also learned not to say never, because we all evolve, and we all continue learning. Who knows what tomorrow brings (other than some fireworks, food, and friends), let alone a year.

Calendar by Nenad S. Lazich for Smashing Magazine

8 Failures (Other Things I Learned) at ISTE

Yesterday, I stumbled across a great ed. blog post yesterday titled “11 Mistakes I Made at #ISTE11”  from the blog Finding Ways for All Kids to Flourish (great blog by the way). I think it’s very powerful to see teachers/educators/administrators as vulnerable and willing to reflect on mistakes in order to learn. All too often the idea of risk and failure are part of a schools’ values, and we expect our students to put themselves out there. As adults, however, we sometimes forget or fear to do the same, let alone acknowledge them. Anyway, inspired by that post here are 8 more things learned (failed) at ISTE this past week.

8 ) Book early. Registration begins in September even though the conference is at the end of June. Housing through ISTE’s block of rooms at nearby hotels begins in November. This year, when I booked in May, hotels in town were sold out (except the Ritz Carlton – the per diem rate wouldn’t even come close to the rates they wanted) and I had to slog it in from an airport hotel each day. These airport hotels were at capacity, either occupied by ISTE attendees or pilots/flight attendants. In fact, I’m going to see if I can find a hotel in San Diego with a cancelable rate for next year’s conference.

7) Bring as small a computer as possible. For the Bring Your Own Laptop (BYOL) sessions, lugging a 15 inch or larger laptop with you all day makes the portable device seem less portable. My ipad worked for the remaining two days just fine.

6) Have cash and credit cards. Meals on a flight can only be paid with credit cards. You can only use cash to pay for Philly train fare.

5) Plan your meals – The first full day of the conference when one of the concurrent sessions ended at noon, it seemed like over 10,000 people swarmed out of the convention center at once to find lunch. There were lines everywhere you looked. Decided on a later lunch during the next break – you could eat anywhere.

4) Don’t try and do everything. You can’t!

3) Meet more people. I met some incredible people, but need to be more outgoing and meet even more. Many of those I met were incredibly passionate, resourceful educators so willing to share everything.

2) Attend more informal sessions by vendors. Even though I could barely decide what to attend during some sessions, vendors like Microsoft, Google, Adobe, SMARTboard, etc. were all offering specific sessions in the exhibit hall on how to use their tools for your class/school. The few I caught were great.

1) Don’t go it alone. I was encouraged to ask another from my school to go, but after two said they couldn’t, I stopped asking. It was May, and it was a crazy time to be asking people to extend their school year by attending a conference. Maybe I can go again next year since it’s on the west coast and bring a team. If given the green light, I will plan much earlier.

Another 8 Things Learned at ISTE

The final day of ISTE came fast and furious. To squeeze in more sessions, the breaks were shorter and there was no shortage of information overload. The ending keynote was given by the principal of the Philadelphia Science Leadership Academy (a public school working in partnership with the Franklin Institute), Chris Lehmann. Before he was introduced on stage, we were given three bits of advice: 1) Get it out of your brain (write about it, blog or old-style journaling), but organize and put it all somewhere; 2) Don’t wait to get started (try some of those new tools, reflect on how you’d use it with your class/school, etc.); 3) Share! I plan to do more sharing, but for now, here are 8 things I learned today.

8) I’d love to come back to ISTE and have others from my school to share the experience. It’s in San Diego next year, which might make this more feasible. Perhaps partnerships with nearby public schools.

7) We should take no greater pleasure than seeing our students eclipse us. (Paraphrased from Lehmann’s keynote.

6) The great lie of education is to tell kids, “You might need it some day.” Make it relevant. If they need to know it now, they will be motivated to do it now.

5) I understand resources cost money, but some companies are selling devices that no smart teacher would use if they knew the much much cheaper alternatives out there. There are document cameras at our school that cost over $600 (I won’t say who this vendor was). I found one for $75 from the company iPevo. Apart from no light source it’s a great simple to use document camera. The company had a booth and the people there were extremely helpful. When I asked about light source when lights are off, they offered a couple of solutions – one) a cheap desk lamp; 2) a small flashlight and some zip ties; 3) the exposure mode in the software (something new I learned). They were more about, “How can this tool help your kids,” and less about “buy this version now. It’s improved.” I know, different sales tactics, but if you start your pitch with my students, I will be more inclined to take the time to listen.

image from ipevo site

4) Jobs that are facilitated by tech are growing. Design, architecture, engineering, science, and in fact most jobs of the future will depend on the creative class (current trends, Daniel Pink, Richard Florida). Technology facilitates creativity. Those that can be replaced by tech will and should be (i.e. online math tutors in India for fractions of the cost). You cannot compete with price. This includes teachers who don’t see themselves as creative and aren’t learning when to use tech to facilitate teaching/learning. A teacher needs to matter to a student. If you look at Dale’s Learning Cone from 1968 or Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956), they still hold true for how we learn and how important it is to focus as in the case of Dale’s Cone (the bottom) and in the case of Bloom’s Taxonomy (the top). With Bloom’s you cannot do the top if you don’t have the skills below it.

Bloom's Taxonomy

Dale's Learning ConeModified Blooms Taxonmy

3) A cartoon I saw that I loved had a boss yelling at an employee, “Get back to the cubical and start thinking outside the box!”

2) More early literacy resources at Readilicious (again, thanks to all presenters for posting their links, resources, etc.)

1) Don’t give your kids the answers. Let them grapple with it, predict, apply, be resourceful. A good metaphor was the horror movie: If there is a real intense scene and someone tells you, “don’t worry, the cops will arrive just in the nick of time,” that experience is lost. That is the same for kids’ learning. If you TELL them rather than let them DISCOVER it, you have just spoiled their learning experience/opportunity.

What an incredible 3.5 days! I have never before been this overloaded with information. Still the bottom line is this: No matter how much tech is out there. No matter how extensive your PLN is, you have to remember it’s all about relationships. The response you received from a question you tweeted didn’t come from a google algorithm. It came from an actual person. What a great experience to have met some of the actual people in my extended PLN. It’d be great to find educators public and independent elementary teachers who tweet locally. I’ll leave you with this: I am smart. My colleagues, students, parents of students, are collectively much smarter. My PLN is brilliant!

I will continue to share bits and pieces review the resources I’ve learned about and talk about a great book I’m almost through called The New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the  Imagination for a World in Constant Change  by John Seely Brown. The independent school group at ISTE has chosen this book as a summer book club book, and they’ve got the author to agree to a web chat sometime between mid-August and early September depending on the author’s schedule. I’m more than half-way through. It’s quick easy and thought provoking. If you’re a twitter user, Vinnie Vrotney will be hosting an #isedchat on July 21st. More details to follow.

If you’re interested on Chris Lehmann’s talk, you can get an idea of his philosophy through his TEDxPhilly talk.

8 More Things I Learned at ISTE

I’ve only been to a couple of really large conferences. At these, it seems that keynotes are usually preceded by a local group of performers. Today’s keynote had a great local dance group, but that group was preceded by dancing robots. They even bowed at the end. Anyway, it was another fun filled day of learning. I’m exhausted and while I know my way around the convention center in Philadelphia now, it’s still overwhelming. Anyway, here are 8 more things I learned today.

Bring on the Dancing Robots

8 ) The keynote speaker today was Steven Covey author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People from a gazillion years ago. He was here to talk about leadership, especially in kids. On the website for his book The Leader in Me, Covey has the phrase – “Leadership is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” During the keynote, he defined leadership as the communication of other people’s worth and potential. He then started to incorporate his 7 steps and use the terms skill sets, tool sets, and mindsets (of which the first two lead to incremental changes and mindsets lead to quantum leaps). Perhaps I’m too cynical, but hasn’t Covey written about these “7 habits” over and over again. This time he just melds Dweck’s work (without giving her credit) and uses the term mindset as the underlying foundation of his 7 habits. Don’t get me wrong. I think his habits are really applicable and relevant to both teachers and students; it’s just not exactly new and innovative. Nonetheless, I left with some great quotes and a good reminder of these seven habits:

“The best way to change the future is to create it.”

“Live life in crecsendo.”

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

He also mentioned how test scores are the “worst form of identity theft we can give [kids].”

7) I met some great teachers (one who is an NAIS teacher of the future), who are planning on putting on an EdCamp in May in Seattle. I’m diving head first into volunteering to organize. I actually only learned what an EdCamp is today for the first time and look forward to being part of the team. The video below explains it. A very cool way for teachers to share.

6) I learned of a math fact fluency program that is adaptive and individualized, can be used anywhere (classroom, lab, home), is easy for teachers to monitor progress and will save countless hours of photocopying fact sheets, correcting, and keeping track of something that should be an automated mindless task these days freeing up the teacher to analyze where the gaps are in the students’ memory of math facts. Reflex is the name of that program.

5) I learned about a free QR code generator at qrcode.kaywa.com. QR codes are those square barcode like symbols seen on this sidebar, that can be read with your camera on your mobile device. That one just takes you to this blog. There are some very cool applications for this.

4) Hitachi has a product to help simulate an interactive white board on your pre-exsisting one. Unlike ebeam, however, you don’t need a stylus (just your finger will do), you can have three kids up there simultaneously, and the multi-fingured and whole hand gestures are pretty cool. Priced at $750 it’s a fraction of the cost of SMART boards.  I also saw some great portable systems that help lower the interactive whiteboards so kids can use it – both the white board and the projector is mounted onto the cart. The interactive whiteboard wars are starting to shape up and there aren’t just two major players anymore. That’s good for everyone as long as people don’t get to set on each company’s proprietary software. It’s funny how most of the whiteboard demos, elementary, middle, or high, were designed with the teacher standing in front of the class and the class sitting and responding. I get that teachers will use that tool frequently, but I hope students actually get up there and are the ones interacting with the board. Below is a page from Samsung’s brochure. Notice the desks in rows and the students all sitting passively?

3) I learned that I still don’t know how so many companies are selling single use devices for outrageous sums when a $9.99 app on an ipad will do the same thing.

2) I went to an incredible session on how to develop global empathy in children. Some examples: Grandparents in Ireland reading to the class via skype or podcast. Using twitter hashtags, a middle school teacher found a few adult directors who were tweeting about various scenes. The kids who were directing their version of the play tweeted their directions and got feedback from adult directors in England.

1) The steps Rocky ran up to the Philadelphia Art Museum aren’t that arduous but make for a great scene in a movie. By the way, why is it that almost all attractions shut down the same time each day the conference is over?

View of the city from the top of the steps to the Philadelphia Art Museum

8 Things I Learned Today

One of the sessions at ISTE that I attended was called Google to the Max: The Power User’s Guide by Dr. Howie Di Blasi. The title was not an understatement. After a nice introduction where he talked about 8 things he learned today, the speaker powered through example after example of incredible ways to utilize the free tools available through google that kids and teachers can use. One simply has to be creative. Thank goodness those resources and examples will be posted tomorrow, so I could sit back an actually learn a few things. Here are 8 of the many things I learned today.

8 ) There are so many resources out there that it’s extremely hard to sift through them all. Thank goodness others are sharing the wealth. An example, would be from a session I attended today called Resources for Emergent Literacy Teachers by Boni Hamilton. Here is her resource page on early literacy alone. Of these resources, I really liked the reading assessment database which gathers all available reading assessments for preK to 3rd grade, groups them into either criterion referenced or norm referenced assessments, tells you how much they cost, and what these assessments do and do not test. For example, you can see on the chart that the DIBELS assessment, one of the tools we use at our school, is a free resource that assesses reading comprehension (through retells), decoding, cipher knowledge, phoneme awareness, and letter knowledge (depending on the grade). What it doesn’t assess is language comprehension, background knowledge, linguistic knowledge, phonology, syntax, semantics, lexical knowledge, alphabetic principle, and concepts about print.  Depending on the age of your kids, you would look to other assessments then, to glean more information about the other areas or reading.

7) Collaborative writing is interesting, and I participated in a demonstration this morning using the tool MixedInk. This would have a lot of potential for teachers who want to create a shared document on school policies, beliefs about education philosophies, or other subject areas. Having said that, I tried a shared google doc with our faculty this year, but did not get any participation. I also think peer editing works for older kids and that younger kids aren’t ready to ‘critique’ their peers’ work without it becoming a popularity contest. Some teachers say they assign code names to their students, so only the teacher knows, but in the end many shared theirs with each other. I would also find it difficult to have 8 year olds deciding which of the different sources is best. The fact that this tool allows users to rate others worries me too.

6) I’ve never seen so many ed Tech vendors gathered in one space. You can tell who the big players are as their ‘booths’ look like full-blown stores. What’s even better is that many have their own sessions – and they’re good. Here’s an example. What I liked was that you obtained their schedule by snapping a QR code with your smart phone. No paper. It’s a tech conference. I do not want fliers, pamphlets, or google logo beach balls. As it is, the conference program is over 200 pages. I will however claim an ipad if my name is drawn – so far, no luck.

5) Tech Ed. does not belong to the young teachers. It belongs to those motivated to learn. I would say most here are over 40. Neither age nor gender seemed to play a factor in tech ed. Except that during the purely elementary school sessions I attended – males are still grossly underrepresented. Using tech in education is a mindset.

4) I love infographics. I attended a great session with Kathy Schrock. Again…resource/info overload. Thank goodness for a site she put together for this presentation with all the links.

3) Administrators need to play, explore, use technology to teach (hold meetings, reflect, share resources, engage in PD, blog, etc.) as well as teachers and students to really make change happen as better decisions on the type and implementation of tech is more likely to happen. This message was repeated by several presenters.

2) Tech seems designed to bring out the problem solvers in us. Let it bring out the problem solvers in kids. Kids in second grade or younger should work in pairs when on a computer. It’s not simply the tech that’s helping them learn different literacies, but the conversation they’re having with each other is even more important for development.

1) People from Philly are direct. Walking through the massive maze-like conference an attendee asked one of the security workers for directions. After giving him directions, the attendee started walking the wrong way. The security agent rolled her eyes, yelled at the gentleman and said, “Sir, did you hear anything I said? It’s that way.” As he reversed direction, she threw her arms up in the air and in a voice loud enough for all to hear she continued, “That’s a man for you!” I felt for the poor guy, but was so glad it wasn’t me.

Rubik's Cube solver made of Lego - I really liked this.

Mixing Work and Play

Philadelphia's City Hall (taken from the main entrance to the ISTE conference)

After three full days of fun in NYC, I arrived in Philadelphia this afternoon for the ISTE conference (my first). It’s overwhelming. For someone who is distracted by shiny objects easily, there’s so much to do and see here, Times Square would be considered tame. The opening Keynote tonight was John Medina (author of Brain Rules) who gave a different and thought provoking talk from the one I saw him give last year. I felt lucky that I got there in time. The largest conference room at the convention center (and it’s massive) couldn’t accommodate the attendees. I learned later that there was a large screen where people who were turned away from the conference room gathered to watch the keynote. I also learned that the sound didn’t work. Well, that’s the first lesson everyone should learn about tech: it doesn’t always work. Despite the hiccup, I have to give ISTE credit for having an app for this conference that has the entire program (it’s massive too) available at your fingertips.

Later, I joined a large group of independent school educators for dinner. I met people from New Orleans and Michigan, and people in that group came from as far away as Australia. It was an interesting coincidence that I ended up sitting next to a large group of teachers from a middle/high school that’s less than a 10 minute drive away from where I teach: Seattle Academy. I also noted that most schools sent their tech teachers, tech directors, CTOs, etc. Classroom and subject teachers, apart from me and the seven or eight from SAAS, were not well represented. How are schools going to get teachers to change and arrive at their own aha moments if they don’t send classroom teachers? I’m not a big networker, but I learn from others all the time. One of the best ways to do that is to read, see, hear, what others are doing (whether they be the teacher down the hall, or one halfway around the world). Another thing I noted was the age group. Technology and education isn’t an age thing. I’m 41, and I would assess myself among one of the youngest in the group.

Finally, if there’s one lesson I’ve learned about technology over the past few years, it’s learning how to turn it off and be present in the moment. I’m going to try and share as much as I learn here, but my posts and tweets will come either at the end of the day or between posts. There was a administrator at this dinner who is dedicated to maintaining 4 blogs on education. I’ll do my best to keep up with this one.