Reflecting on Presenting at #NAISAC13

One of the things I love best about learning is sharing that experience with my students. After all, learning is what I ask them to do each day. I learned so much from presenting at the National Association of Independent School’s (NAIS) Annual Conference, and it’s great to share the process with my second graders.

Today, for example, two of my students had to present something to the class. One shared with the class the adventure of her Flat Stanley, and the other presented a book report. It was important to let them know that what I am asking of them isn’t arbitrary, but something their own teacher engaged in last week. I didn’t talk about the topic of the presentation as that wasn’t pertinent to them, but I did briefly talk about the process.

The session at the conference was called “Revolutionize Your Professional Development.”

Description of session from conference program.

Description of session from conference program.

I presented with Kim Sivick, Liz Davis, and Shannon Montague. We all teach in different states, met initially through social media, and all had different reasons for wanting to present on this topic. One thing that we all had in common, though, was that we were passionate about this model of professional development, and wanted others to bring it to their schools.

Kim is a founding member of edcamps and on the edcamp foundation. Liz was instrumental in getting edcampIS to happen and has been involved in many other unconferences. Shannon and I have both helped organize edcamps, and Shannon recently organized PD in her school using the unconference format.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of risk involved when collaborating with four educators from four different parts of the country, but we trusted each other and we trusted the topic.

I remember that we all had this grand idea that we’d run a mini un-conference in order to inform, persuade, and have participants experience the process itself. The beauty of unconferences is that people get to partake in the conversation, not just sit and listen. We wanted to model good teaching practices and move away from the ‘sit and get’ lecture format that large conferences and other professional development workshops tend to favor.

During our first google hangout, about halfway through the meeting, after we had talked about resources, chart paper, and getting people moving out of their seats, we realized that we were possibly headed in the wrong direction. We needed to think about who our main audience was, and what our space would be like.

We all worked on what we thought our strengths were and started there. Liz suggested the framework: “What, So What, Now What.” We worked on our parts and played with google presentation, so that we could collaborate on the same document. Then once we were more or less agreed on our slide deck, we transferred them to Power Point and shared it through our dropbox accounts.

I was happy to give the ‘So What’ part of the presentation as I am a person who will dive head first into anything if there is a clear and meaningful purpose. I can list many reasons why I believe in this format of professional development, but I’m not an expert, so I pulled experts where I could. Daniel Pink for motivation, Carol Dweck for mindset, Roland Barth for collegiality, and Sir Ken Robinson for teacher leadership and bottom-up approaches to things (in which he used the word ‘revolution’). We couldn’t be happier. Just for good measure, I threw in a quote by Albert Camus for people to reflect upon when they were leaving. I knew it might have been a little much, but there are those who love philosophy. Besides, the quote fit, which was what was important.

“Methods of thought which claim to give the lead to our world in the name of revolution have become, in reality, ideologies of consent and not of rebellion.”

I also agreed to try and go through our slide deck and try to give it a uniform look, while respecting the content of my colleagues. I’ll share my thoughts about Power Point in a later post, but all four of us came from the same place, so that was easy.

The four of us met several more times virtually, gave each other feedback, revised, edited, and finally met in person the day before to make our final tweaks.

I have to say, I was anxious. Public speaking is not my strength, but I believe strongly that I  have to push myself to do what I ask my students to do. I also believe that in order to get better at it, I have to do it.

Well, I’m glad I did it. To spread the word of something I believe in, to collaborate with such amazing educators, to push myself to try something new, to have my school recognized, and to learn, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I’m glad to be back in my classroom, but glad to know when I say to my students, “I know what I’m asking you to do is hard, but it’s rewarding,” I can say so truthfully.

Thanks to Kim and Shannon for uploading our slides.

What about Talent?

If you’ve taught long enough, I’m sure you’ve been able to recognize certain talents in your students. How much of that talent was nurtured so that your students were able to practice for over 10,000 hours? If you’ve read Sir Ken Robinson‘s books or seen him speak, you’ll know that his main message is to find the talents that lie within your students and then fuel them to ignite their passions. In Daniel Pink’s book Drive, he claims that passion is a key ingredient for intrinsic motivation and learning. The Harvard Business Review often has articles about hiring, inspiring, and retaining your talent. They often have entire issues dedicated to talent.

On the other hand, Carol Dweck’s Mindset, based on over a decade worth of analyzing research, says that it’s important to praise and focus on effort, not intellect. It builds resiliency and helps kids become life-long learners. In Outliers, Malcom Gladwell cites the 10,000 hours study and asserts that it is indeed effort, not IQ, that make a difference in becoming successful. And Dan Cole’s, The Talent Code, also looks at the 10,000 hours study, pushing the idea of talent to the side.

An article came out in today’s nytimes saying that we can’t dismiss IQ (or talent), and simply think effort alone will help us get from good to great. The title of the article, “Sorry, Strivers: Talent Matters” doesn’t suggest that effort and practice doesn’t count. It just wants us to know that we cannot dismiss intellect and talent.

If you asked me which is more important, talent or effort? I’d say both, but both should allow for mistakes – something some kids are being deprived of in the name of ‘accountability.’

In any case, I’d like to end this post with a quote from Sir Ken Robinson.

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

Hold Fast to Dreams

I was listening to Roland Barth, founder of the Principal’s Center at the Harvard Graduate School of Ed., Allison Gaines Pell, founding principal of The Urban Assembly Academy of Arts and Letters, and Irvin Scott, deputy director of education for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation who were on a panel discussing the role of the principal today. While they all approached questions from different perspectives, there were many things they all felt strongly about.

Barth began with this quote from E. B. White: “A man must have something to cling to. Without that he is a pea vine sprawling in search of a trellis.”

That trellis, according to Bart is learning. A principal shouldn’t be one who is learned, but one who learns. One who takes risks in order to find out better ways to do things. In order to find out how to better instruct, principals must also keep engaged in instruction. “Teaching is at the center of a principal’s role,” said Barth. “Effective teachers need to be supported by effective principals.”

On knowing, Pell stated that every principal needed to know the new common core standards. She herself admitted to be very “anti-standards”, but she said they were good, because they were simple (in terms of knowing them) and, for the first time standards in Washington would be the same as standards in New York.

When asked what was hurting education, Barth replied, accountability. Both he and Scott believe accountability was a good thing, but the way it is currently framed in education is “corrosive.” Basically the message from all the policy makers is “Learn or we will hurt you.” This doesn’t matter if you are a student or a superintendent, the message is the same. It is pernicious and extinguishes life long learning. It is pervasive throughout our profession. Instead, accountability should be framed as, “Learn or you will hurt yourself.”

On Saturday, I sat through a two-and-a-half hour lecture by Richard Felmore who basically said that teaching in the US is NOT a profession. He gave various reasons including how we compensate our teachers, fail to actively recruit bright young minds into the field, and many others. One thing teachers need to do is to start engaging in what he calls, “Instructional Rounds.” Like in the medical field, teachers observe each other instruct, give feedback by describing to each other what they see, and look for ways to improve their instruction. It’s not punitive and the only reward is improving your craft. What is needed, however, is a) the culture to change so that being observed isn’t always equated with being evaluated, and b) the structures and time for this to occur.

I just finished reading Elmore’s book Instructional Rounds in Education and believe there are a few ways I can engage in this even though the culture, time, and structures don’t yet exist at my school. I just have to find those already willing to change the culture, be creative with the time, and figure out my own structure for doing this. It is not the easiest read, but if you’re interested in the concept it’s not unlike coaching. In fact, a great article in the New Yorker by Atul Gawande appeared a few weeks ago and addresses this idea really well. I highly recommend reading it.

Irvin Scott closed the panel discussion saying that people enter education for a reason. A good one. And he ended the evening by  quoting Lanston Hughes’ poem Dreams:

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Quote of the Day


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.