Sunday, June 9, 2013

One peril of "the way we were taught"...

I've just started reading "Sensible Mathematics" by Steven Leinwand.  It is required reading of district administrators in our district.  (Side note: I love how it combines leadership principles with working towards changing content.)  Chapter 2 is called "Making the Case for Change".  To sum it up, it basically says that we are going to have to have our ducks in a row to change some of the teachers' minds about fully switching our mindsets to execute the CCSS.

As I was reading, I began to think about a few things which I wanted to share with you.  We all know that we teach how we were taught.  And we all know that we were not taught to be problem solvers like we are asking our teachers to teach now.  We also know that many educators are very uncomfortable about this change, yet are unwilling to work towards solving the problems that are needed to make this change work. lies my conundrum.

We are going to ask "non-problem solving" educators to teach in a way that facilitates problem solving among their students.  Now I'm scared.


Say we do convince the masses of educators to take a problem solving approach to teaching, will anything really change in the long run?  Do I struggle so bad with finding people willing to not only pose problems, but solve problems because that have been given answers for so many years, or because much of the population of educators just don't want to take the effort to solve problems?  Is it that many people don't know how to solve a problem...or do they just not want to solve the problem?  If we teach our children to become problem posers and solvers, will they carry that skill with them into the work place?  Do all current and future jobs really need problem solvers?


I want to see a study done that determines whether some people are just bad problem solvers.  Am I just a natural problem solver or have I just honed my skills?  Is problem solving nature or nurture?

I know these are random thoughts, but isn't that what blogging is for?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Morale is...

I've heard it said that, "Morale is trust in the leader."

Building the trust of a large staff is like trying to hold on to large amounts of sand with out any equipment to assist.  You can try all you want, but it's just going to slip through our fingers in the end.  You can labor and toil, but is it all for naught in the end?  Okay, that may sound "downer-ish", but that's just the way I feel tonight.  Now is a time I need wisdom, wisdom I haven't yet earned from stripes and scars and failures.  I feel like I can give everything and make myself as available as possible and take risk after risk after risk, but it doesn't just guarantee trust.

The more I reflect on the above quote, the more I think about the stupid trust fall activities we would do at summer camp.  However, those trust fall activities make sense now.  If "morale is trust in the leader," then morale is not solely dictated by the actions of the leader.  The group on the ground with their arms weaved together as a safety net can be ready to be trusted, can have said all the right things, can be as able bodied as a group made up of World's Strongest Man competitors.  However, if the trusting person doesn't fall...then no morale will be built because no trust was given. can push the faller, but that doesn't build trust, just relief from escaping death (or serious injury).

I truly feel that initiation of trust should be made by the leader.  He should work to earn trust through integrity and self-sacrificing service.  Trust, although, is not a one way street.  Maybe morale isn't as much about the leaders actions as it is about the reciprocal trust from the followers.  If the leader stands firm, is capable, consistent, available, and reliable then the burden of trust shifts to the follower.

What do you think?

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Quadrant A of the Rigor/Relevance Framework

This post is what I wrote for the curriculum section in our Friday Forecast sent out to the teachers. It is based on the Rigor/Relevance Framework from the International Center for Leadership in Education

Curriculum in 300 words or less!

Rigor = higher order thinking, not more work.  (Use Blooms and Webs DOK for verbs)
Relevance = learning in which students apply core knowledge, concepts, or skills to solve real-world problems.
Rigor/Relevance Framework is not a continuum.  You do not progress through the 4 quadrants, but your instructional practices fit the mold of a single quadrant.

Today we are just going to focus on Quadrant A of the Rigor/Relevance Framework.

Quadrant A - “Acquisition” - Students gather and store bits of knowledge and information.  Students are primarily expected to remember or understand this acquired knowledge.

Quadrant A’s position on the framework encompasses instruction requires students to understand, comprehend, and apply knowledge that can only be used or applied in one discipline.  This box is titled “Teacher Work”.  When instructional practices match best with the characteristics of this box, a classroom observer would find the teacher doing the majority of the work.

Examples of Quadrant A activities might be:
Writing spelling words three times each.
Completing a word search.
Calling out answers on math flash cards.
Looking through a story to answer non-rigorous questions.
Categorizing foods into various food groups.
Recalling various vocabulary terms.

Implications for Instruction:
Nothing is inherently wrong with instructional practices that fall in Quadrant A.  Some standards that are set before us are close to impossible to apply to real world situations.  When the questions comes, “why do we have to know this?”  There may be no answer other than, “for the test.”  Also, some standards use the verbs recall, define, solve, etc. which all fall in the lower levels of Bloom’s and DOK.  At times, there is just no way around Quadrant A instruction.

Canvass your instruction and pinpoint the practices that match the characteristics of Quadrant A.  Examine these practices and ask yourself the following questions:  Why am I teaching this skill, standard, or student using these practices?  What can I do to this activity to increase the level of rigor(think verbs)?  What can I do to this activity to add knowledge that can be applied across disciplines and even used in real-world situations?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Turning the corner...

I have realized recently that I have begun to turn a corner in my ability to live the life of an instructional leader.  I am beginning to define more clearly within myself exactly what I am looking for during learning engagements.  From that, I am beginning to be able to better pinpoint strengths and weaknesses.  I am even slowly beginning to work out plans and put together resources for improvement.  Now I need to learn how to coach.  I think when I get the coach thing down, that's when I'll really begin to make progress as an instructional leader.  Furthermore, my teachers will benefit directly affecting the students and their learning.  I've got a lot to learn, but I'm turning the corner!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Inquiry is...

...the way to go about teaching and learning in the 21st century and the 20th century and the 19th century and the 22nd century, etc.

I have been an administrator for just over 100 school days, so I am no self-confessed expert at being on of the chief instructional officers of a school.  However, I do feel that in my short time as an admin I have renewed my passion towards inquiry-based learning.  According to this website"Inquiry is defined as "a seeking for truth, information, or knowledge -- seeking information by questioning."

For example, I watched my daughter the other night as she played with a few newly discovered toys.  My daughter, Tinley, is a BEAUTIFUL 8 month old (I am definitely  smitten in every sense of the word), so everything is very new to her.  She heard the toy as I made it rattle, then she grabbed at it.  She messed with it on a larger scale, swinging it back and forth and then began to pay closer attention to the different parts of the toy.  She began to feel the textures, admire the bright colors, and even taste different parts.  She was seeking for information as she interacted with the toy.

This new toy is sooo cool!
Taking a picture break!

It's even got a tag!
As I watched her, I couldn't help but think about the hours upon hours that children helplessly sit in desks neatly placed in rows or table groups as an adult pours out information just hoping that the little sponges will soak it all up so it can be squeezed out onto the upcoming high-stakes test.  Tinley was so excited about her new discovery, most students are not.

How do we take the excitement that my 8 month old experienced and make it similar to the excitement that a multitude of students can experience each and every day inside the brick and mortar walls of a school?  I feel the answer lies in an inquiry-based approach.  Instead of funneling information into kids, funnel kids towards information.  Create environments that allow for information seeking and finding.

The new buzz word in my district is student engagement.  I truly believe that ALL students deeply long to be engaged.  An inquiry approach will meet that students where they are and push them to where they need to be because an inquiry approach naturally makes things more rigorous and relevant, and relevance always brings about differentiation.  If inquiry is seeking information, then usually it is because there is a problem to solve which creates a challenge that must be tackled with a project.  If you look at it that way, then you have tackled project-based learning, problem-based learning, and challenge-based learning all in one big swoop!  I'm sure there is more "buzz words" that inquiry involves, but that is all I've got for now.

I really do believe that inquiry is the only way to fully prepare our children for the 22nd century.  The good thing is...children do it naturally.  The bad thing is...we as adults always seem to get in the way.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Other Stuff...

Preface: our district is currently in the midst of the AdvancED recertification process. With this comes a ton of reflection, data analysis, and writing.

Much of my time the past few weeks have been consumed with "the other stuff." The "the other stuff" consists of things that takes me away from visiting classrooms and spending time with my "Boyz in the Wood" and researching best instructional practices and matching teachers with resources and being available to model and allowing time just to talk and committing total attention to whole child discipline. I am in no way minimizing the importance of "the other stuff". I lament the fact that it takes me from what I think matters. However, doesn't data analysis, reflection, and writing matter?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

If failure isn't an option...

I like to think that I'm a risk taker.  I like to think that I'm bold and live life on the edge.  I like to think that change is good for me and will make me better.  But I also like to think that I'm much better looking than I really am and can still keep up with 16 year olds in basketball.  (Well I can keep up with 16 year olds on the court, but I pay for it in the morning.  However, I'm still as ugly as I've always been ***see profile picture!)

Needless to say, what goes on in my mind and what really happens are two VERY different things.  In all honestly, I like to play it safe.  I like the guaranteed route.  Like most educators, I want the greatest success with the list bit of resistance.  Change is good, as long as it doesn't change me.  I'm an education reformer that just happens to be closer to the "way we've always done it" mindset.

I can remember day after day preaching to my students about taking risks.  Step out there and be willing to "fail successfully".  (FAIL SUCCESSFULLY was an expectation in my classroom).  However, rarely was I willing to step up to the plate.  Rarely was I willing to put myself out there and do something that was edgy and offered an opportunity for failure.  Likewise, rarely did I achieve excellence as a teacher...

...until I began to put myself in situations that afforded failure.  I will admit, at first I was like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.  I was skiddish and still wanting t o hold on tight to the outcome.  However, once I got my first taste of I'm not just talking about about success as in a bunch of students making "A's".  I'm talking about success when I looked at a piece of students work, their finished creation, their blood (yes I said blood), sweat and tears, and stood in awe of the amazing that I would have NEVER-not in a million year- created or thought to create.  It gave me a rush.  I have chills now just thinking about those times.  Now, those times in my teaching were scary.  I had a clue of what was going to take place.  I'd plan and outline like crazy.  I'd dream and hope and pray, but I would never allow myself to control the outcome (even though I wanted to oh so very badly).

My fear in education is that we have eliminated the option for failure.  Failure for us and failure for the kids.  We have grown so accustomed to cookie cutter ways; ways that are guaranteed; ways that have ALWAYS "worked".  The elimination of failure has a residual affect as well.  When the option to fail is removed so too is deep problem solving, any type of real world relevance, and even motivation.  I guess this brings me to my final thought for this post: If failure isn't an option, than neither is excellence!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

I was in a squirrel trap...

(My fear about using the following analogy and giving you a glimpse into my messed up head will scare you away, but it's worth taking that risk because I was scared away from education today.)

I am an outdoorsman.  I love the outdoors; it is a supreme release for me and something my heart and body uses as medicine.  On occasion, I will "harvest" animals.  In regular city folk talk you'd say that I shoot and kill poor defenseless animals.  I started my hunting hobby by hunting squirrels with a close buddy.  Don't cringe too much, but YES I do skin, freeze, cook, and eat the squirrels that I harvest.  One way I go about hunting squirrels is by using a trap very similar to the one in the picture.  I have found that squirrels are absolutely addicted to bird seed.  I mean to the point that I think that squirrels have BSA (Bird Seed Anonymous) Meetings somewhere in the tree tops.  "Hello my name is Squire the Squirrel and I'm a Seed-aholic!"  I have trapped as many as three squirrels in one day by using bird seed as my bait.  I won't go into any further squirrel trapping details since it is so close to dinner time.  However, I felt like this analogy was perfect for what I suffered through today.

I was chosen to be on the 2013 Math Textbook Adoption Committee for my district.  I was honored to be considered valuable enough to be placed on such a prestigious committee, but I'm not sure that whoever placed me on it understands my background.  I taught for 6 years at a WONDERFUL inquiry-based school that chose not to use textbooks.  I was allowed to write my own pacing guide and make instructional decisions based on the needs of my students, not the textbook page we were required to complete.

As I sat in the 4 presentations, each an hour long, trying to practice the skills I am picking up from my current book, "The Lost Art of Listening," I could not help but to feel more and more paranoid that the doors in the room were going to shut and a loud voice was going to say in a slow country twang, "look -er boys, we got us her -notha one!"  As each presenter (all apparently self-professing former teachers...clever) pitched their product as the best thing since they aligned sliced bread with the Common Core back in 2012 (gotta feed students brain food now), I started looking around for the bird seed.

The more the presenters talked, the more I realized how we continue to move further and further away from rigorous and RELEVANT instruction and fall deeper into the quick-fix curriculum trap.  We have taken the same thing that students did in 1920 and dressed it up in a pretty cover, added an iPad app, some differentiated instruction, a few Tier 3 interventions, aligned it with the CCSS, sprinkle in some higher order thinking questions and called it innovative.  Mr. Winkle would still feel comfortable!  We fork over thousands of dollars for curriculum that doesn't meet the needs of this year's students and probably won't meet next year's needs either.  We supplement with PD.  We buy supplemental resources.  We groan and grunt as, yet again, another program doesn't work.  We're trapped again until the next adoption.

I am new to my school district.  It is an amazing place, filled with amazing educators.  I honestly feel that we are moving in the right direction by implementing data teams and the PLC model.  I know that we HAVE to adopt a textbook, and since we will fork out a ton of money; we will HAVE to use it with fidelity across the district.  I just get so skiddish about the use of textbooks as curriculum.  I honestly feel that the kids should set the curriculum.  The kids interests should guide how we use the standards, ESPECIALLY in math and language arts.  It's hard to solve real world problems when you must be on page 107 by Thursday.  I understand that some teachers need that guide.  However, why don't we put our money into teaching those teachers how to make informed decisions about their students' needs rather than buying books that will, AT BEST, be used as dust collectors on shelves, book bag weights, or desk filler-uppers.  We have already placed a significant amount of money into training for data teams and PLC's.

I could ramble on forever about this, what are your thoughts about the squirrel trap we are in?