Because Counting Our Blessings Just Isn't Enough

Posts tagged ‘Professional Development’

Why I Hosted Two EdCamps

Screen Shot 2014-03-08 at 11.05.30 AM

Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 7.43.10 AM

What is an EdCamp? Why has it been among my first priorities as a new Head of School to host not one, but two?

To begin, for those not yet familiar with EdCamp style professional learning, as shared on the Edcamp Foundation wiki, Edcamps are:

  • free
  • non-commercial and conducted with a vendor-free presence
  • hosted by any organization interested in furthering the edcamp mission
  • made up of sessions that are determined on the day of the event
  • events where anyone who attends can be a presenter
  • reliant on the “law of two feet” that encourages participants to find a session that meets their needs

Our first EdCamp of the year, organized as part of a year long series of  Jedcamp (Jewish EdCamp) events throughout the New York/New Jersey area, balanced elements of Edcamp and elements of more traditional professional learning events. Described to potential participants as an  Educational Technology and Social Media Conference, we sought to bring in educators not yet familiar with “unconferences”, for whom the thought of attending an event without knowing what sessions would be offered in advance still sounds foreign. On a chilly, Wednesday evening in Queens, close to one hundred educators from throughout the region came together to learn about ways educational technology and social media can enhance and even redefine learning and community for our students and their families. Sponsors covered the costs of dinner and snacks as well as door prizes and raffle prizes for participants. Attendance was free.

Session topics at our regional conference included: online and blended learning, project based learning and technology, educational technology for beginners, professional learning using social media, using educational technology to enhance the Judaic Studies classroom, using educational technology to enhance the Hebrew language classroom, eleven uncomfortable truths you need to hear about filtering the web, lessons learned from a 1:1 ipad rollout, using technology to more effectively differentiate instruction, smart use of smartboards in the Judaic Studies classroom, engaging parents through social media, collaborative learning with google docs, digital Judaic studies resources, blended learning in the Hebrew language classroom, and putting social media to work for school public relations.

The level of learning and engagement was extremely high and teachers from schools throughout the region gained knowledge, insight, and connections to continue their collaborative learning and exploration. Our own teachers who attended the event felt proud of our school as a place in which professional learning is taken seriously and asked for more, requesting that next year we have another conference and hold it, not on a week night but on a Sunday to allow more time for the learning and sharing. The talent of those presenting was impressive and the cost of such professional learning in traditional venues in which presenters are paid, would have been prohibitive. The open, respectful collaboration and commitment to engaging all participants was priceless.

Our second EdCamp of the year, planned on a professional learning day, was exclusively for our own teachers and ran as a pure “unconference”. We introduced the notion of participant driven professional learning and invited teachers to present and to learn. To our delight, session slots quickly filled with volunteers. While several adminstrators, including myself, stood ready to add our names to the sign up board to teach a session in the event teachers did not sign up to lead, we did not have to do so. Teachers stepped forward, excited about facilitating learning for colleagues. Topics included: classroom centers to support learning, bringing teacher passions into the classroom, making our teaching relevant to students’ life experiences, successes and challenges in implementing common core math, making modifications and accommodations for students with special needs, and helping students develop effective organizational skills to enable learning. Additionally, our educational technology coach, based on pre EdCamp teacher requests, led two sessions – creating online classroom spaces with Edmodo and educational technology tools to support reading comprehension.

“It wasn’t boring,” one teacher remarked, implicitly critiquing typical PD workshops well known to teachers in our school and in many schools. “No ‘expert’ read slides to us or spoke on and on without understanding our needs,” shared another. “I’m no longer afraid of technology,” excuded a third with a huge smile and a little dance, after attending both sessions taught by our ed tech coach. “We had fun,” said a fourth. “It was a fantastic day, and we all thought so,” asserted a fifth, confident she could speak on behalf of her colleagues.

Have you attended an EdCamp? Are there other opportunities for participant driven learning you have experienced? What ideas do you have to continue to make professional learning among teachers respectful, relevant, and impactful?

The Courage To Teach

sssqteacherorientation

  • The question we most commonly ask is the “what” question-what subjects shall we teach?
  • When the conversation goes a bit deeper, we ask the “how” question-what methods and techniques are required to teach well?
  • Occasionally, when it goes deeper still, we ask the “why” question-for what purpose and to what ends do we teach?
  • But seldom, if ever, do we ask the “who” question-who is the self that teaches? How does the quality of my selfhood form-or deform-the way I relate to my students, my subject, my colleagues, my world? How can educational institutions sustain and deepen the selfhood from which good teaching comes?

Parker Palmer, The Courage To Teach

firstmeetingsssq

Beginning my position as a new Head of School, I opened our first full staff professional learning session with the above quote from educator Parker Palmer. Determined to shift from my voice to our voices as quickly as possible, I moved almost immediately to a learning activity modified from one Palmer describes later in his book.

Imagine a moment when everything was going right for you as a teacher; when your teaching was so good you felt you were born to teach, and you knew you were making a difference for students.

The happy social buzz of first day greetings, which had begun shortly before our learning session as we arrived for a welcome breakfast, continued. The ebullient, celebratory mood of greeting friends and colleagues after a summer apart gently moved deeper, broaching seldom asked questions about qualities of teachers that lie at the heart of learning; transcending curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

After a short time, I invited teachers and staff who wanted to do so to share with the whole group; acknowledging teachers’ humility and reluctance to speak in a manner that might feel like boasting. The stories inspired. Some were about individual students’ triumphs in overcoming challenge or adversity; some about entire classes making remarkable progress; and others about a key attribute of a teacher that positively impacted students year after year. We applauded each and every speaker, beginning our year with appreciation.

We then moved just a bit deeper as Parker Palmer encourages us to do. I asked teachers to focus, not on their own celebratory stories, but on those of their colleagues, identifying the gifts, the personal strengths and qualities within their colleagues, that  bring success.  Colleagues talked about care, the ability to listen, patience, perseverance in the face of challenge, and grounding in enduring values. They spoke, meaningfully and thoughtfully, not about skills or specific knowledge, but rather about qualities that enable teachers to connect and build relationships with students. Intuitively, teachers reached beyond themselves, emphasizing the need to understand our students, equating greatness in teaching to connection with students; as individuals, as a class, and as a school-wide community of learners.

As we concluded the session, I shared with teachers my commitment to being present in classrooms regularly, not to judge, but to engage, learn, appreciate, and support. In time, I plan to offer ongoing non-judgemental feedback to prompt teacher reflection. Yet in the beginning, as teachers at my new school and I get to know each other and develop trusting relationships, I choose to refrain from offering feedback and instead to focus almost exclusively on presence and heartfelt appreciation. As the Head of School of an independent school, in which the format for teacher evaluation is not mandated by a district or the state, I have that freedom. I can take some time, engage with teachers, and collaboratively design a feedback framework emphasizing growth.

In the past I interpreted, or more likely misinterpreted, educational research as indicating that paradoxically praise is  judgmental and disrespectful of teachers’ and students’ abilities to reflect on their own learning; successes and mistakes alike. Teachers opened my eyes; sharing the pain of giving heart and soul and only infrequently, if at all, receiving appreciation from supervisors. I have heard from teachers about how disconcerting it is to feel as if one is “on stage” as a supervisor, even a caring supervisor, observes. Trained to focus on learning from mistakes, teachers often, almost obsessively, analyze what went wrong in a lesson,while glossing over what went right. We frequently see ourselves through intensely critical lenses and imagine those observing us do as well. We too often neglect to celebrate our successes, inadvertently missing out on the potential to build from our strengths.

As Parker Palmer boldly asserts, it takes courage to teach. That courage deserves appreciation.

And so, I reach out to teachers in my own school, and to colleagues more broadly wondering about ways of structuring appreciative, reflective exploration of teaching practice.  If you were able to structure a system of feedback for professionals to promote growth, in lieu of formal evaluation, what process would you use? What components would you include? What would be helpful for you?

It’s Not About The Technology

Screen Shot 2013-05-12 at 10.21.12 AM

“It’s not about the technology, it’s about the learning and the relationships,” is a statement that has become almost a refrain within   conferences and conversations about educational technology. And, that was the message at a session on educational technology to support school twinning programs I was privileged to present at recently as part of the International School Twinning Network Conference with my friends Amihai BannettAaron Ross and Tzvi Pittensky.

We spoke of Skype, Edmodo, Facebook, twitter, google docs, google plus, student created videos and wikis. We spoke of the challenges inherent in connecting over different time zones, in different languages, with different facility and access to technology tools, while utilizing different curricula. We spoke of synchronous and asynchronous means of connecting students and of varying approaches to creating collaboratively. We spoke of a range of differentiated approaches effective with lower, middle, and high school students. But most of all, we spoke of nurturing understanding and friendship across distances and in the face of language and cultural divides. We spoke of understanding.

In some ways, educational technology is like cooking. There are talented professional chefs and skilled avocational “foodies” who relish experimenting with flavor. I am unabashedly not among them. While cooking is not one of my favorite hobbies, I can follow a recipe, and can even deviate playfully to an extent, so long as I don’t stray too far from the instructions. Similarly, I am by no means a “techie”. Indeed, I was humbled to present at a conference with colleagues far more knowledgable about educational technology than I am; educators who I met via twitter and would not have known had it not been for the ease of developing community and relationships via technology.  While not an expert, I can follow instructions on how to use educational technology tools, even deviating playfully to figure out applications relevant to the goals of a particular project with which I am engaged. Just as I use a telephone to speak to family and friends, emphasizing the emotion, connection, and substance of the dialogue and not the telephone itself, I can use newer technologies as means to connect, collaborate, and create.

School twinning programs are not new. When I was in high school, I corresponded with a pen pal from Greece. Our handwritten letters to one another took days to arrive. Yet, we connected and even met each other when my pen pal had the opportunity to visit the United States. Today, technology enables us to strengthen global connections beyond what we could have envisioned in the days of handwritten, stamped letters sent via the postal service. We weren’t able to conduct an international holiday celebration with two classes via Skype, send instantaneous written communications via e-mail, speak to one another without travel via google plus hangouts, participate in shared learning experiences in an on-line classroom via Edmodo, nurture relationships in a fluid ongoing manner via Facebook or twitter, or create together via google docs or wikis. Our technology can positively impact our learning and our relationships. It is important; it’s just not the essence.

Ultimately, our session about educational technology was not about educational technology at all. The tools we shared are easy enough to use, either playfully figuring them out or by following user friendly instructions freely shared and posted in writing and in videos. Instead of those “how to’s”, we strove to remind those with whom we were learning of the “why”. Technology helps us connect in synchronous and asynchronous ways, nurture relationships over time, and create together. Which tool we use depends primarily on our purpose and our personal preferences among numerous good options. There is no one “right” way of using educational technology in connecting students globally. The technology itself is easy. It’s the learning and the relationships that need nurturing.

Crowd-Sourcing For Learning

Survey results are in!

As the newly appointed facilitator of  YU2.0 , an on-line community of practice dedicated to educational technology integration in Jewish schools, I anticipated the results of a survey we sent to all members with excitement. I sat with the data when it arrived, a plethora of questions swirling in my mind. So much feedback; so much insight. And yet, something felt not quite right. But, what? Pondering further, it struck me. Sitting alone analyzing data for a community negated the wisdom of community. Why not collaboratively reflect, wonder about implications and dream about possibilities collaboratively?

And so, in search of creative collaboration and multiple perspectives, I share with you our data. Your insights, perspectives, wisdom, and reflection will support a Community of Practice better to meet the needs of members.

Who are the members of YU2.0?

We are teachers, technology coordinators, administrators, and more. 37% of us are Judaic studies teachers, 25.9% of us are general studies teachers, and 5.6% of us are department chairs. 31.5% of us are technology coordinators and there are a number of technology directors as well. 11.1% of us are principals and 7.4% of us are heads of school. Also included among our members are a school board president, the Director of Educational Leadership at a Board of Jewish Education, a curriculum writer, student programming directors and coordinators, a parent, a religious school director, and a learning strategist.

We work with pre-k through twelfth grade students, with the following distribution:

Pre-School 19.1%

K-2 35.3%

3-5 39.7%

6-8 55.9%

9-12 42.6%

Why do we participate in YU2.0?

We are motivated to participate in YU2.0 for a range of reasons, shared below in order of expressed importance:

1. Using educational technology and social media to more effectively support student learning High: 49.1 % Very High 41.8%

2. Keeping updated on trends and advances in educational technology High 41.5%  Very High 45.3%

3. Using educational technology and social media more effectively in our own professional learning High 38.2% Very High 38.2%

4. Extending and strengthening the network of educators with whom to learn High 49.1% Very High 21.8%

5.Interacting with others specifically interested in educational technology integration and social media in Jewish schools High 30.8% Very High 34.6%

6. Making a contribution helping and mentoring others High 47.2% Very High 13.2%

7. The opportunity to work collaboratively on projects with others High 21.8% Very High 20.4%

One member wrote in an interest in increasing and strengthening connections between Israel and those outside of Israel. Another wrote, “educational technology is one tool. I am a big techie but find that people who are very into the tech side of education forget that it is about the kids because they are so into the technology.”

What do we hope to learn with YU2.0?

We are seeking to develop a range of skills, shared below in order of expressed importance:

1. Educational technology resources for student learning High 44.4% Very High 48.1%

2. Keeping up to date on emerging trends in educational technology High 45.5% Very High 41.8%

3. Educational technology resources for our own professional development and growth High 41.8% Very High 38.2%

4 Web 2.0 resources for our own professional development and growth High 40.7%  Very High 37.0%

5.Web 2.0 resources for student learning High 40.0% Very high 32.7%

6.Developing school wide learning plans for technology integration high 35.2% Very high 38.9%

7.Using the Smartboard interactively High 34% Very High 39.6%

8.Google apps in the classroom High 38.9% Very high 24.1%

9.The Judaic Studies classroom, integrating technology and social media High 29.6% Very high 31.5%

10. Technology coaching and technology peer coaching to support other educators implementing technology High 22.2% Very High 37.0%

11.Creating videos with students High 34.5% Very High 21.8%

12. Ipad use in the classroom High 31.5%  Very High 24.1%

13. Planning for school wide iPad implementation High 18.9% Very High%

14.Connecting students with other students using social media and educational technology High 25.9% Very High 11.1&

15.Blogging and portfolios with students High 20.8% Very High 15.1%

16.Podcasting with students High 16.7%  Very High 9.3%

One member wrote of interest in flipped learning both for classrooms and faculty meetings. Another wrote in interest in fundraising for moving to a technology based education and communication system. Several wrote in about interest in blended and on-line learning, including school-industry partnerships.

What are obstacles we face in terms of more effectively utilizing educational technology and social media?

1. Too many other demands on my time 57.4%

2. Competing school priorities requiring my focus in other areas 50%

3. Insufficient technology tools available 42.6%

4. Insufficient professional learning 38.9%

5. Competing professional priorities of mine requiring my focus in other areas 38.9%

6. Insufficient knowledge of available resources 29.6%

7. Being overwhelmed with the multitude of options available 27.8%

8. School policies blocking access to sites and resources I might use 20.4%

A number of members wrote in that financial constraints are a significant obstacle. One wrote in that lack of interest among teachers who have little time is an obstacle. One wrote in that educational technology duplicates preexisting materials without proven benefits.

What are the benefits of YU2.O to our members?

Benefits, in order of importance, include:

1. I am learning new things from my colleagues on YU2.0 that are helpful to me Agree 63%  Strongly Agree 6.5%

2. There is a feeling of community and shared identity as Jewish educators Agree 46.7% Strongly Agree 20%

3. The conversations on Yu2.0 are interesting and important to me Agree 59.6% Strongly Agree 4.3%

4. We are creating new knowledge together Agree 51.1%  Strongly Agree 8.9%

5. I am not comfortable sharing my questions on YU2.0 Disagree 48.9% Strongly Disagree 13.3% (on this question disagreement indicates comfort in the community)

6. I do not feel that members on YU2.0 have a common purpose Disagree 37.8% Strongly Disagree 24.4% (on this question disagreement indicates members do have a common purpose)

7. I am sharing what I learn from YU2.0 with colleagues at work  Agree 48.9% Strongly Agree 8.5%

8. There is a growing sense of trust, ease, and valuing of relationships with peers on YU2.0 Agree 44.4% Strongly Agree 13.3%

9. I am confident if I ask a question I will receive helpful, respectful feedback Agree 48.9% Strongly Agree 8.9%

10. I am able to contribute something of value to the group Agree 44.4% 4.4%

11. Participating in YU2.0 has not changed the way I use technology at work Disagree 38.3% Strongly Disagree 6.4%(on this question disagreement indicates that participation has changed the way members use technology at work)

How might we expand our Community of Practice?

We expressed interest, in order of priority, in:

1. Face to face conferences or Edcamps High 40.7% Very High 27.8%

2. Presentations from guest experts High 56%  Very High16%

3. Streamed conferences or decamps High 48.1% 16.7%

4. Webinars High 44.2% Very High 19.2%

5. Opportunities to coordinate visiting each other’s schools High 39.2%  Very High 27.5%

6. Peer presentations and collaborative problem solving High 41.5%  Very High 18.9%

7. Connections for collaborative projects among YU2.0 members High 38.5%Very High 19.2%

8. Connections for peer mentoring among YU2.0 members High 34%  Very High 15.1%

9. Google + Hangouts High 23.1% Very High 19.2%

10. Real time conversations using social media High 30% Very High 14%

11. Twitter hashtag High 23.1% Very High 9.6%

How might we use our periodic e-mail updates?

40.8% of members find the periodic e-mail updates valuable and  4.1% find them very valuable. 38.8% find them somewhat valuable and 16.3% find them not so valuable. Items members would like included in periodic e-mail updates in the future include: top post, best links to new information, technology that improves a specific aspect of education rather than how to integrate technology into education (focus on education with technology as a tool, rather than technology as the goal with education being the platform), information on teaching Judaic Studies with technology, event updates, innovations, ideas, resources, how other professionals and teachers are using various tools in the classroom, connections to current events, what schools are doing, and new groups that have formed within YU2.0.

What are leadership roles of interest to members?

Members wrote in that the would be interested in:

  • Being a regular guest blogger
  • Sharing knowledge about teaching Hebrew with technology
  • Connecting on twitter and Facebook
  • Teaching a webinar
  • Facilitating a subgroup
  • Organizing an online conference
  • Organizing face to face or online meetings to strengthen relationships
  • Teaching about iPad integration in schools
  • Speaking about creating student movies
  • Supporting schools to implement hybrid learning approaches in which technology is a tool to improve the quality of learning
  • Just about anything if it will further my knowledge and abilities in educational technology

What questions does this data raise for you? What recommendations, based on the data, do you have for our Community of Practice? How might we reflect, analyze, dream, and plan?

 

 

Gooooooal!

cc licensed image shared by flickr user Sean MacEntee

cc licensed image shared by flickr user &DC

Gooooooal! declares the sports announcer. Gooooooal! exclaims my jubilant husband. The excitement of my Argentinean spouse as his soccer (or rather football) team scores a goal is contagious.

Gooooool! I cry. Or, at least I do in my mind. The goals I celebrate are different than football goals. They are aspirations.

I am a principal, serving students with a broad range of interests, curiosities, and capabilities; helping them discover themselves as they are in the present and supporting them to embrace the potential in themselves as they are becoming. I am a supervisor, assisting teachers to recognize and build on their current skills, while guiding them to envision themselves as the increasingly skilled activators of student learning they are becoming. I live in a world of imagining the possible.

It’s professional goal setting time at school and I’m so proud I feel almost ready to sing out in celebration: gooooooal!

I meet, one on one, with each teacher. I meet as a group with our professional leadership team (myself, assistant principal, psychologist, and admissions director), during which time each of us set a professional goal; a particular area that will support student learning in which to delve deep. These are not necessarily our school-wide goals and strategic plan, although often times they reflect school-wide momentum and effort. These are individual goals; reflecting our unique professional journeys. By no means the whole of our work; our goals nonetheless ground our aspirations, reminding us that professional learning, like learning more broadly, is a process, benefitting from focus, time and dedication.

Some goals our teachers have chosen for themselves include:

  • To develop a broader, more nuanced approach to assessing student learning and to utilize gleanings from those assessments to plan ongoing instruction
  • To create a learning environment in which all students participate actively in both full class and small collaborative group activities
  • To gain greater skill in designing differentiated learning experiences for collaborative and independent student learning 
  • To strengthen relationships with parents utilizing technology and face to face connection 
  • To develop greater comfort and skill in teaching math, including differentiation for strong students
  • To in a serious way collaborate with members of the grade level team in order to support student learning

My own goal is to improve the quality and effectiveness of our supervisory, evaluative, and support processes for teachers.

We’ve only just begun, and many of our teachers are still setting goals. Each goal includes an action plan, supports for meeting the goal, and means by which we will assess success. We will monitor progress throughout the year and evaluate ourselves based on growth.

cc licensed image shared by flickr user carnavalboquense

While proud of our teachers, I worry. Will we be pulled back by the many obstacles constantly present – limited time, limited resources, the priorities of others? Will we be distracted by the crises that inevitably occur? Will we be drained by the pressures to move perhaps too quickly toward our goals, neglecting to reflect, change course as needed, and adapt when necessary?

cc licensed image shared by flickr user Niklas Hellerstedt

 Or will we ponder, embrace support, and consider our course carefully? Will we pace ourselves thoughtfully in order to make meaningful progress over the long haul?  Will we consider multiple approaches toward meeting our goals? Will we remain open to alternative perspectives and approaches? Will we seek to learn from our strengths and successes as well as from our missteps and mistakes?

What advice do you have for us? We welcome your wisdom.

Who’s Afraid of Principals?

Principal's Office

cc licensed photo shared by flickr user ecastro

“Do you know, there are kids who are afraid of principals?” I asked with a smile, turning to the first grade teacher who sat with me and a nervous six year old. We had just finished reassuring this child that we had spoken to him about his behavior on the bus the day before, not because we were angry, but because we were  concerned about his safety. We knew from his mother that he was indeed afraid of principals, so afraid that he convinced his younger sister that she should be terrified of her gentle and caring nursery school director.

The child began to giggle and I turned to him, smiling. “You’re laughing. You must have heard of kids who are afraid of principals.” 

“I’m one of those kids. I’m afraid of principals.” he said emphatically, his eyes widening and his giggles  transforming into a deep belly laugh. The teacher and I burst into genuine laughter right along with him. The teacher then stated what had already become obvious to him; he need not be afraid. He left my office chatting happily with his teacher, having gained newfound trust in me and, I’d venture to say, principals generally.

I imagine he is not alone. I imagine there are not only students, but also teachers in many if not most schools who, if answering honestly might declare, “I’m one of those teachers. I’m afraid of principals.”

As I prepare for upcoming individual conferences with each teacher to discuss professional learning goals, supports, action plans to meet goals, and ways of monitoring, assessing, and celebrating progress, I wonder. As I visit classrooms, offering feedback, compliments, and engaging with learning and teaching, I wonder. As I seek ways of meaningfully showing appreciation, admiration, and respect for teachers, I wonder. How might we hold high expectations, without blame and criticism, but rather with support and mutual accountability for student learning and well-being? How might we transform judgmental evaluation processes, with the potential to be fear-provoking, irrelevant, or both, into a commitment to meaningful professional learning, sharing, and growth?

It’s not only students and teachers who are afraid. Sometimes, principals are afraid as well. Our fear struck me upon reading a recent tweet, with a link to a blog post: I’m Afraid!

Ron McAllister is a colleague to whom I frequently turn for insight and his words resonate powerfully with me as he poetically states:

I am afraid that I will not inspire my staff.
I am afraid that I will not appreciate them enough.
I am afraid that I will not provide enough support to them.
I am afraid that I will not give specific enough feedback directly linked to improved teaching and learning.
I am afraid that I will not be learning quickly enough to stay current with best practice.

I read Ron’s words with respect for his honesty and with admiration for his aspiration. And, I wonder. What if we reframed our  fears as aspirations?

I aspire to support teachers to find inspiration within themselves. 

I aspire to show appreciation and gratitude to teachers by recognizing contribution and complimenting effort and accomplishment.

I aspire to put a wide variety of supports into place and to trust teachers to choose the supports of greatest value to them. 

I aspire to provide feedback in the form of nonjudgmental observations and questions, specifically linked to teachers’ professional learning goals and evidence of student learning.

I aspire to take in feedback with humility, to remain open to ideas and possibilities, and to continue learning and aspiring. 

How might we transform our fear into creative, energetic aspiration? I welcome your insights.

What Would School Look Like If? Reflections on Edcamp Leadership

cc licensed image shared by flikr user kjarrett

“What would school look like if we could really do what we are being asked?” teacher leader Mike Ritzius (@mritzius) passionately inquired at Edcamp Leadership during a session he titled, organizing for organic leadership. Mike’s answer for the public vocational tech high school in New Jersey where he teaches involved a radical rethinking of the use of time and space in school, along with a dramatic redesign of curriculum and student support. While the scope and specifics of Mike Ritzius’ innovation address vastly different concerns than those we face at my school, his emphasis on the importance of empowering teachers with the authority to make decisions based on student need prompted me to wonder. What would school look like if we could really do what we are being asked? What would school look like if teachers were really empowered to make decisions, even bold decisions requiring rethinking and redesign, based on student need?

Edcamp Leadership, which took place this past July in New Jersey, was my very first edcamp experience. For those who have not yet attended an edcamp, they are “unconferences”; free participant driven professional learning experiences. At Edcamp Leadership, a poster board listing times and room numbers, but no session names, was propped up on a window sill. Volunteers passed out brightly colored post-it notes, encouraging participants to sign up to facilitate a session. While many of us tentatively stood by, wondering whether we should facilitate a session or not, other brave learners stepped forward and stuck a post-it note up with their session topic, their name and their twitter handle onto the board. The day’s schedule was born! The schedule was immediately posted on Edcamp Leadership’s web page for all to access and off we all went for a day of engaging conversation and learning.

In addition to Mike Ritzius’ session, I attended Evernote for Teams, Professional Learning Communities and students with Sharon McCarthy @ienvision; He, She, They, We: Tools for Faculty Evaluation and Development with Dr. David Timony @DrTimony; and Managing Change with @DLE59 (who I still know only by twitter handle). The “what would school look like if” theme permeated all of the sessions I attended. What would school look like if we used web 2.0 tools such as Evernote more effectively to promote true collaboration within schools? What would school look like if faculty evaluation and development was truly designed around the needs of teachers as professional learners? What would school look like if we provided effective supports as we manage change?

Throughout Edcamp Leadership, I learned with some of the smartest educators I have ever met. Principals and school administrators struggled openly, sensitively and wisely concerning the challenges we face. Yet even more compelling to me were the voices of the teachers present. Dr. Timony’s session was particularly relevant to me. As dedicated, knowledgable administrators talked passionately about the time we spend in classrooms, equally dedicated, knowledgable teachers shared their frustrations with administrators’ visits, explaining that students don’t act as they naturally would during administrators’ walkthroughs and observations, teachers feel as though they are “on stage”, and most significantly, administrators do not offer the feedback teachers‘ crave to improve practice. The teachers’ words resonated with me. I wondered and I probed, seeking to learn what might make principals’ engagement in learning and teaching more valuable to teachers. It is a conversation I am pursuing, both with teachers in my professional learning network and even more poignantly, with teachers in my own school.

At the sessions on Evernote and managing change, teachers and principals had more similar perspectives to one another. We shared ways of using Evernote, an app for note-taking and archiving, to collaborate more effectively. We reflected on the difficulties of change: insufficient time, insufficient support, negativity about new directions, a sense of entitlement among individuals who feel they do not need to change, and finally, the threat of extinction if we do not change. While we spent most of the session sharing insights into ways of patiently addressing difficulties with change, we ended with a potent conversation about how schools’ declines are generally gradual. A participant shared the often used anecdote of a frog in cold water that is slowly heated, with the frog not realizing the danger until it is too late. I left wondering how we can we balance patience with the urgency of our students’ needs; how we can be mindful of recognizing when the water is boiling and help each other to jump out, or rather jump into more effective ways of supporting student learning, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable that jump may appear.

I left Edcamp Leadership wondering; wondering about using Evernote more effectively, wondering about supervision, evaluation, collaboration, and coaching to meet teachers’ professional learning needs, and wondering about managing change. Most of all I wondered about Mike Ritzius’ essential questions. What would school look like if we could really do what we are being asked? What would school look like if teachers were really empowered to make decisions, even bold decisions requiring rethinking and redesign, based on student need?

What do you think?

%d bloggers like this: