All It Takes Is One Person

There were so many great ideas shared at the NAIS conference. Some were new, some validating, and some that challenged my own philosophy about education. While I need time to process and reflect, I also want to dive right in and push myself to try new things.

The theme of the conference was “Think Big, Think Great” and the main keynote was Jim Collins, known prominently for his work “Good to Great.” He left the audience with 12 questions to ponder which I hope to do in the coming months. Rather than summarize his entire talk, which you can find here, I want to highlight something that stuck with me. He said that a great enterprise, be it a business or school had to pass three tests:

  1. Superior performance relative to your mission.
  2. Makes a distinctive impact on the world it touches. (If your school went away, would it leave an unfillable hole? Who would miss you truly and why?)
  3. Achieves lasting endurance, which means it’s great beyond any one leader. (Your school is not great if it cannot be great without you.)

Throughout the conference, I was reminded about these three things several people I heard speak. Here are two examples:

One of the general session speakers was Tererai Trent who grew up in what is now Zimbabwe. Married at 11 and mother of three by 18, her biggest dream was to get an education. She earned a doctorate in interdisciplinary evaluation. With the strong belief that education is the way out of poverty and a way to stop the mistreatment of women, she wanted to start a school back in the village where she grew up. As of today, she has helped build 8 schools.

Another session I attended was led by Lee Hirsch who made the documentary “Bully.” You can see the positive impact the film has been making at CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 page here.

Both these speakers set examples that pass the three tests mentioned by Jim Collins. Whether their intention was to impact one life or hundreds of thousands, their mission remained focused. It was clear to me that they let their projects become bigger than themselves, big enough to endure without them.

Both speakers did not do it alone. Tererai Trent, for example, received help from Oprah. Their dreams of change, however, were their own, and their belief that this change was achievable never seemed to wane.

The kids we teach are all dreamers. For lack of a better analogy, those dreams are like seeds. Maybe we play a role in planting some of those seeds. Maybe we don’t. Whether those dreams impact one person or many, part of our jobs as educators is to nourish those seeds and help them grow.

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.

Inspire Life-long Learners by Being One

Today, I had the added privilege of presenting at the conference and was both humbled and honored with the opportunity to do so. I’m also amazed at the kinds of innovative success stories that are being shared. I am learning plenty!

Needless to say, after day 1, I’m completely exhausted, but I thought I’d try writing about the first session I attended: ePortfolios – Teaching Children to Curate and Manage Their Digital Footprints.

Right now, student work is celebrated on bulletin boards, when parents visit classroom events, uploaded to the class website, and by sharing it with each other.

According to the Garrison Forest School in Maryland, students often ended up with huge stacks of paper. But before embarking on their project, they wanted to make sure there was purpose to creating ePortfolios. The lower school team had very compelling readongs. One of their considerations was time. They needed something simple so that students the work of scanning documents, etc didn’t take so long.

Then, they had to find on a format. One that would be customizable and easy to use. They considered google sites (which they used at their middle school), edublogs, or Evernote, and , for the lower school, they decided Evernote was the simplest.

I think it’s important to learn how to control your public profile as well as to highlight your work digitally. One of the things I really liked about this presentation was that they recognized that first graders would need help from adults to curate their digital portfolio. The part I liked best was that the children would use these to showcase their work, assess it, and learn to choose which pieces of work to include.

Giving children some autonomy is necessary to its success, and when children choose their work, the idea of growth becomes evident to them.

The group did a marvelous job presenting and gave compelling reasons which you can read here: bit.ly/NAISePort

There are challenges to this of course, but once you have a common vision of why ePortfolios are important, these difficulties will naturally dissipate.

As I mentioned, It’s been a long day, but I hope to share with you the main points of my presentation and the experience leading up to it, Jim Collins’ keynote address, and the final panel of four voices, each with a take on youth culture and social media.

Tomorrow, I look forward to hearing from the filmmaker Lee Hirsch of the documentary “Bully.” He’ll be interviewed on AC360 on CNN tonight. I’m also looking forward to hearing Tererai Trent’s story of overcoming obstacles and turning oppression into opportunities in a session called, “Education is a Human Right.” I will also be attending sessions on purposeful use of technology in classrooms and Cathy Davidson who will try to convince us that education needs a paradigm shift.

Tech Tools are Great, but Nothing Beats Face to Face Interactions

I remember at time when there were classes for specific products like MS Word. Apart from very specific programs that are fairly intricate, those days have long past. With new tools and apps arriving daily, and new ones getting updates by the minute, the idea of teaching a certain technology seems a little dated. Unless of course one is talking about coding, but even then, the most industrious and resourceful student will be able to figure out a lot on her own. 

Students need to know when and how to use technology that is appropriate to the work they are doing. They need to learn how to find out on their own, be discerning of the information they get, and try things out several times until they get it right. 

It’s not that google, bing, yahoo, or something else is better than the other, but which one you’re more comfortable with or which one has more features that you personally use. Same with web browsers, office documents, creative platforms, and others. It also depends on the group of people you’re working with and what tool set they’re using. 

If a student needs to use a spreadsheet for whatever reason, they should be able to figure out whether excel, google docs, numbers, or another program would be right. They would then most likely teach themselves how to use it. 

I’m really excited about the opportunity to present at the National Association of Independent Schools annual conference in a few days. I’m presenting with colleagues from Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. 

Being from different regions, we relied on various technologies to plan and communicate. I was beginning to think of the different ways we have interacted and the different tools we used up to tonight. 

Twitter – Before meeting my colleagues in person, I found them on twitter first. It wasn’t until 3 months after that I met them in person. 

Email – This is a pretty standard form of communication, but we rarely used this as we wanted to share documents and it was easier to house them somewhere (we used google drive and dropbox) rather than send version after version back and forth. 

Google Hangouts – Video Conferencing has been around for a long time, but for people like teachers who don’t have boardrooms or expensive equipment, google hangouts is free and worked like a charm. It even worked on my smart phone. 

Google Presentation – when we were first building our slides, we wanted one single document for our draft. This let us create the bones of our presentation without having to worry about several of us working on separate documents. This helped reduce any redundancy in our collaborative efforts. 

Power Point – While most people shudder at this tool for a presentation, it’s not the tool’s fault. Most people don’t use it well. The slides are there to enhance your presentation. To help make what you say clear. Any text on the slide is for your audience to read, not your written outline. Text needs to be big enough for people to read. Graphs have to enhance the data you’re describing. Power Point is a great tool, it’s just that too many people fall into the trap of using its built in templates. Start with a blank canvas and know what you want to say. 

iMovie – we just needed to trim a video by a few seconds.

image editing – we needed to make some images appear less pixilated, shape others differently, remove backgrounds, etc.

I’m sure there were other tools we used, but the point is that none of us went to a class to learn any of these tools. We picked ones that worked for our group – for most of us, google hangouts was new. We used the opportunity, not only to video conference, but to learn how to use some of its other widgets by playing. 

And of course, none of this replaces face to face interactions, which is why I’m excited about seeing everyone I’ve collaborated with on Wednesday when we make our final revisions before Thursday’s presentation. 

I think the same goes with kids. Face to face interactions are the most important. Technology is just a tool to help get a job done. Nonetheless these tools are crucial to extending the learning process and teachers have to be judicious in discerning when to use them for maximum benefit to students. 

“It’s Not Scientific!”

“It’s not scientific,” yelled one of my students earlier this week when we were discussing whether a shadow of a groundhog in Pennsylvania could predict an early spring. I inquired further and asked what would be more scientific. Some mentioned using weather data would be more scientific. Some questioned whether the weather in Pennsylvania could even do anything in Seattle.

Then one of my students said, “You would have to pull a groundhog out hundreds of times and see if your data was just by chance or if it really matched.” I think she might have a career as a statistician some day.

That made me think about our own biases as teachers. Often we think we know what works. I’ve taught for 18 years, so when I approach a lesson a certain way, how do I know there isn’t a better way to do it? Can I randomly assign half my class to be taught the lesson one way, and the other half a different way? Can I then repeat this? Can a peer try it too? And what about the sample? We all know that each class is unique. So, even if I could do this every year, 18 years where I taught one class each year, wouldn’t yield enough reliable data. I believe experience does help us make wiser choices about how our profession, but as my students told me, “It’s not scientific!”

That’s why it’s important that we have organizations who are committed to being more scientific. I’ve heard many say that they could have told you student test scores aren’t enough to evaluate teachers, and millions didn’t have to be spent. Often our gut feelings are right, but unless it’s tested, reviewed, and analyzed, it’s not science.

Research in education can be tricky as some studies contradict each other, some are poorly executed, and while organizations may be able to take larger sample sizes, I want to emphasize that each child is unique. There may be a ‘best practice’ but a good teacher should know a few alternate practices or try new ones when they encounter a ‘best practice’ that doesn’t seem to be working. Any kind of research in human behavior is complicated.

The context for learning keeps changing (as it always has), perhaps at a much accelerated rate, but if second graders can begin to discuss whether or not Groundhog Day is scientific, then I think I’m doing an ok job.

Gorilla or Fish? It’s a Win/Win

Video

“Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot. Everyone knows the peels are the best part.”      (from The One and Only Ivan)

Told from the perspective of a silverback gorilla and inspired by a true story, The One and Only Ivan is a book that deservedly won the Newbery Award which was announced earlier this year. Katherine Applegate’s doesn’t waste a single word in this heartwarming tale. She tackles the issues of animals in captivity in a way that will make kids think twice about zoos. Are zoos good or bad? Children will be able to grapple with this question and realize that the question isn’t really boolean.

Cover image taken from npr.org

The Caldecott medal this year was given to John Klassen’s This is Not My Hat. Beautifully illustrated, it tells a tale of a fish who steals a hat from another fish. A great picture book is one that uses illustrations to great effect in the story telling. Even though it’s designed for very young readers, it is refreshing as the main character isn’t exactly one with upstanding character traits (after all he does steal a hat right at the beginning of the story).

In the end, both books are fine examples of storytelling at its best.

Here’s a trailer someone made for The One and Only Ivan:

Data: Is it Reliable? And What do We do with it?

It’s been almost a couple of months since my last post, and I find myself thinking of data again.

Earlier this month, the Gates Foundation released its cumulative findings on its 3-year Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) research project. They recommend a balanced approach which included observations and student perception surveys in addition to achievement test scores. If you look at the data in the report, much can be gleaned, yet it’s easy to see that effective teaching is a very complex thing to measure.

Also in the local news this week, teachers from a two different Seattle Public Schools, for various reasons, have stated they are going to boycott the district standardized test known as the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP).

There are many reasons standardized tests cause anxiety among students, teachers, parents, and school leaders. Often they are used as sorting mechanisms (admissions into schools, teaching effectiveness, and putting students on a certain track are just a few examples). Yet, if one approaches the data from these assessments with more purpose (to set new goals, to inform ones teaching, provide meaningful feedback, or guide learning), these measures can be useful.

Data today is abundant, but is it the right data? How data is collected, analyzed, and interpreted; how reliable it is; and what we do with it can make all the difference. Though the Gates Foundation and those Seattle Public School teachers are doing it differently, I’m glad there are many out there asking these questions.