Creating spaces for sharing

spacesThis past month we have been running a project in our school district we call #STSDLearns. Throughout the week, teachers and administrators provide a glimpse of what goes on in our schools via tweets tagged with the #STSDLearns hashtag. I’m pleased with how it has developed over the past month with a few additional teachers sharing out each week.  You can view a Storify of each of the first four weeks on SalisburySD.US.

The logical next-step question is, “How do we provide the space for students to share out what they are learning?” Right now, this project has been limited to the adults. We have not engaged the students in such sharing, but we need to figure out how. Baby steps. Move slow to move fast…

In Pennsylvania, our administrators are now evaluated using the Framework for Leadership consisting of four domains and various components within each domain. For evaluation purposes, each administrator selects two (2) components in each domain to focus on, creating individualized goals to work on for the year. As we wrap up the current school year and think about next year, I see three areas that will be a common focus for all administrators on the team moving into 2015-16:

  • Component 1e: celebrates accomplishments and acknowledges failures
  • Component 2e: communicates effectively and strategically
  • Component 4a: maximizes professional responsibilities through parent involvement and community engagement

While these are sufficiently broad for each administrator to develop a goal tailored to their needs and the needs of their school or department, based on our particular context, I see these as high leverage areas where goals, successfully met, will propel us toward our vision and the kinds of student, teacher and parent behaviors we value most. The #STSDLearns project is one example of how we are trying to model the importance and value of sharing and how our administrators might develop similar projects in their schools.

Several days ago I encountered an older blog post from George Couros that helped me make a connection between the #STSDLearns project and the goal focus areas mentioned above. In the post, George shared a compelling argument as to the importance of sharing online – the WHY:

I often get the argument about why students need to share online and I ask the same two questions of parents getting relatively the same two answers.

“What do you ask your child when they get home from school?”

“What did you learn today?”

“What do they say?”

“Nothing.”

Then I talk about the possibility of seeing through a blog and now changing the question to, “I saw that you wrote about _____ today. Why don’t you tell me more about it?”  This is a totally different question because of the work that we are doing, that will get a much more meaningful answer.  Parents don’t want to be just involved in schools, but engaged in the process of their child’s learning.  If you can show them how that is possible with real examples, you are more than likely to have them excited about the possibilities and more critically, feeling like a partner in the learning process and sharing their expertise on their child with us.  That is a beautiful thing.

Something as simple as sharing online is not only communication, but it often celebrates achievements and acknowledges challenges faced in the learning process while providing parents and the community with an uncommon lens through which to engage our students about what they are learning. If we are going to make sharing online – by both our students and our teachers in whatever digital format – a part of the culture, something that naturally happens and is expected, we need to think about compelling reasons why such as the one posed by George. I’m looking forward to seeing the kinds of innovative goals our administrators develop and what kind of spaces we create for our students and teachers as a result.

What are other compelling reasons we as leaders need to create space for students and teachers to share their work? What innovative spaces have you, your students and your teachers created for communicating, sharing successes and engaging parents?

 

Practitioner Voice

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 8.59.53 AMSeveral items crossed my various feeds this past weekend, prompting me to surface ideas about the importance of practitioner voice in advancing the vision we seek for teaching and learning:

While our PLNs may appear to consist of lots of practitioners – teachers and leaders working hard to transform daily practice and writing about it/sharing to a wider network – the #edreform conversation seems to be dominated by those who have little to do with actual teaching and learning in our schools. Take for example what Lia De Cicco Remu shares in the Microsoft article referenced above.

She believes pencils, paper, and chalkboards are all outdated methods of teaching. If De Cicco Remu has her way, “inking”, or using a stylus and a tablet, will be the new handwriting. Also, kids need to have the appropriate products–all Microsoft, of course. (She plugs Office 365 and OneNote as being helpful for classroom settings.)

Who is De Cicco Remu? Check out her LinkedIn profile – certainly not someone like you or me. So why do corporate, non-practitioner voices drown out the voices of practitioners doing the actual work? Not that we shouldn’t listen to anything she or other non-practitioners have  to say, but let’s be critical about the context which many of the “edreformers” are working in. She is just one of many – many just making waves at the surface.

While the formalized media floods the #edreform channels with these voices, practitioner voice is, in my opinion, more powerful and practical since practitioners speak from experience not just the théorie de la journée. They have a unique perspective that must be more valued. They are teachers and leaders innovating in classrooms and schools, reflecting on their practice through writing and sharing powerful experiences and new ways of thinking about education, leading, teaching and learning with a wider audience. Actually doing the work! Many have mastered the six key principals of influence/persuasion outlined in the video linked above as demonstrated by their success and popularity.

There are many influential practitioners with whom to connect, but we simply need more to join the conversation. Here is a very, very limited list of my favorite practitioner voices. They are doing the work, writing about it and sharing it for the benefit of all of us.

How do we propel the practitioner voice into the mainstream of the #edreform conversation, drowning out the nonsense that currently exists outside of our echo chamber? What can we do as leaders to create the space and time for teachers and other leaders to reflect on and share their practice? (Admittedly, I need to do a better, more consistent job of this myself.) How might the six key principals of persuasion help us influence others to make the effort to share their practice?

 

Don’t wait for things to be perfect…

#stsdlearnsOver the past few weeks I’ve been reflecting on my work in my new role as Superintendent. The greatest challenge I’ve experienced is to not be consumed by the day-to-day work and find time to slow it all down, making space for both reflection and professional reading. It’s analogous to the person who doesn’t find the time to exercise. Put it off long enough and you begin to see and feel the effects. In our field of education, reflection and professional reading together are the exercise of the mind, and I need to do better at making a more conscious effort to pause and reflect. When I do pause, I feel my mind is fresh and I’m physically re-energized. I’ll get there…

This past week, I was inspired to revisit Creativity, Inc., the story of innovation and creativity at Pixar Animation and Disney Animation written by President Ed Catmull. I shared a short post earlier when I read the book. The story of innovation and creativity at Pixar is inspiring, especially for those of us school leaders looking for ways to transform schools into more innovative and creative places and spaces. Even though we have a long way to go to transform our schools in Salisbury, I find myself drawn to the ideas Catmull writes about as we work to make school different.

In the final chapter, Catmull sums up the key ideas that drive innovation and creativity at Pixar. It has been fun to take each of the 31 firestarter ideas and think about how they might apply to what we are currently doing or need to do. Where are we falling short? And where are we doing some innovative work? I’m finding there are plenty of answers to both of these questions and much work yet to do!

As I reviewed the ideas summarized by Catmull, one in particular struck me and I made a connection to some of the work we are doing this month through the end of the school year.

Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way. And that’s as it should be.

As educators, we’re good at hiding what we do. It’s easy to close our classrooms and make it a challenge to even visit the school. I know, it’s the fear of judgement. But we can overcome these perceived barriers and the fear of judgement by embracing transparency and sharing more widely what is going on in our classrooms and schools. Now more than ever, it’s easy with technology.

In Salisbury, we’re wrapping the year up with a project that provides a space for teachers and school leaders, district-wide, to share their work. With #STSDLearns, staff are encouraged to share snapshots of learning with the community through social media and offer a glimpse into the work our students and teachers are doing. Arguably, learning is more about process and less about product. Because we often feel the process isn’t worthy of “going public” and we fear criticism and judgement, we hide that work until it’s ready for prime time. When the work is “finished”  there typically ends up being no time for sharing, and little ever gets pushed out. What a missed opportunity.

We need to work to change that routine. Why? For two reasons. First, because by hiding that work we deprive our students of a wider audience and potential feedback and interaction with other experts, not to mention the opportunity to develop their digital footprint. Second, We reinforce the traditional concept of school and our education system as not creative and not innovative. We want our schools to be vibrant places for learning. And in many ways they are. It’s our job as leaders to shape that reality and help share the work with our constituents. I hope that #STSDLearns contributes to a shifting culture where sharing our work and the work of our students is just another everyday occurrence. Check out the Storify from the first week of #STSDLearns!

How do you provide space for your teachers, students and leaders to “show early and show often”? Why do you think it’s important in a culture that values creativity and innovation?

 

 

(Re)learning Change is Complex

relearnI’m one of those people who finds myself reading (and listening) to multiple books at the same time. I’m not sure why, but it has it’s pros and cons. Probably something I should think about changing. Currently, I’m working my way through Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers (for about 2 months now) and Ritchhart’s Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools (for about the same time).

One of the pros of reading multiple books at the same time is that you get to make connections between the ideas, even in books that focus on seemingly different areas of our field. For me, the connections often result in surfacing previous learning. Take for instance these two excerpts:

From Hattie:

In many ways, our schools have emphasized the ‘software’ (the programs in schools) and the ‘hardware’ (buildings, resources) rather than the ‘Intel inside’ (the core attributes that make schools successful).

From Ritchhart:

I believe that culture is the hidden tool for transforming our schools and offering our students the best learning possible. Traditionally, policymakers have focused on curriculum as the tool for transformation, naively assuming that teachers merely deliver curriculum to their students. Change the deliverable – Common Core, National Curriculum, International Baccalaureate Diploma – and you will have transformed education they assume. In reality, curriculum is something that is enacted with students. It plays out within the dynamics of the school and classroom culture. Thus culture is foundational. It will determine how any curriculum comes to life.

For me, the common message of both texts is that too often in education we define our gaps and never really get below the surface to address and enact the change. Hattie shares extensive research to help us understand what truly makes the difference to student learning. Ritchhart helps us understand the complexities of culture (through 8 forces) as the key to transforming our schools.

What have I (re)learned? Change is complex. Really complex. If the solution seems too easy, it probably isn’t an effective solution. We’re probably just scraping the surface and need to dig (and think) more deeply. Authors like Hattie and Ritchhart provide inspiration (and frameworks) for us to move through what can be the fog of leadership. Thinking about getting below the surface prompted me to revisit an old presentation I did at Educon 2.3 back in 2011 – Leadership: A Missing Piece – Reimaging School and District Leadership. Making connections across the various writers, thinkers and frameworks I find helps me in addressing the day-to-day challenges of my own leadership practice.

What (re)learning do you experience when you take part in professional reading – whether books or blogs/online articles?