Teaching


This is a question that we are constantly trying to answer. It seems that we are currently in a time frame in education when things appear to be off-balance. Balance doesn’t mean that all things are equal all the time. It is defined as “a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.” How much technology integration should there be? How much writing should there be? Does this assessment reflect the learning that has occurred? Did I teach this standard? The list goes on and on with a common underlying element of balance. How do we determine these ‘correct proportions’?

Have we found it? My answer is, not entirely, but that doesn’t mean we will give up on trying to get there. How are you achieving balance?

The world of education is in constant evolution as we strive to improve the quality of the learning experience for all students. We have our own lingo, and it does not take you long to realize that within the educational world there are lots of ways to say things. We spend lots of our own money on resources aimed at creating a challenging learning environment. We speak of differentiating, increasing the rigor, developing critical thinking skills and using higher-order questions as means to deepening the academic experience for our learners.   We spend countless hours in professional development sessions learning new strategies. In fact, just look at the session agenda of any educational conference where you will find lots of sessions on “How You Can Have a Challenging and Differentiated, Rigorous Classroom Where Critical Thinking Skills are Developed Through Asking Higher Order Questions.” 

Just google the word differentiation and you get no less than 16 millions hits. Wow! With all of this emphasis on what these types of learning environments should be, we often neglect to talk about how things are in getting to these types of classrooms.

Let’s face it. It’s awkward. What do I mean by that? In our best intentions and desires to have a challenging classroom, we do not mention that it creates a time of awkwardness on the part of the teacher and learner. This awkwardness, or sense of being uncomfortable, is created when the learner struggles to achieve at higher levels. This can be seen in the form of students struggling before they answer, being unsure about what to do, students who typically respond with confidence getting things ‘wrong,’ et cetera. In reality, it is this awkwardness that you WANT within your classroom as you are designing an academically challenging class or school. If the instructional level presented by the teacher does not create a sense of dissonance (uncomfortable), then is the instruction at the appropriate level? Instead of this awkwardness causing the teacher and learner to give up, it should be seen as a sign of success and a step toward getting the type of learning environment that matches the learner’s needs.

If struggle indicates strength — an ability to face down the challenges that inevitably occur when you are trying to learn something — you’re more willing to accept it. (MindShift)

So, embrace this uncomfortable feeling as you are intentional about raising the level of instruction in your classroom. It’s a good thing!

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(Wonderful Staff at KME)

As a principal, I am accustomed to getting questions from parents, students, teachers, Central Office personnel, community members, and visitors to the building. I have to say that I really like questions. In fact, I ask questions. I’ll gladly admit that I have more questions than I have answers.

I agree that having questions asked of me causes me to clarify my thinking around educational issues. I love when kids ask questions as it opens unknown possibilities for them. Working with staff provides a great venue for asking questions about instructional strategies. It provides an opportunity to strengthen professional learning on the part of the teachers and me.

Recently, when asked questions by newly hired faculty members, I found that my response was, “I don’t know.” I comically realized that it was the answer I gave to most of their questions. At that moment, I know they were comforted and confident that they had every confidence in their principal. I was confident that our collaborative conversations would result in better answers than I could give any way.

There is one question that I have been asked that ‘strikes fear.’ It is, “So, what are you going to do in year two of Kelly Mill?” Yes, this is a simple and straightforward question, or so it would seem. As a principal of a newly opened school, Kelly Mill Elementary, that had an amazing first year, this is NOT a simple and straightforward question. It is fraught with exponentially high expectations and aspirations of grandeur which I can barely fathom. Yet, while this question keeps me awake at night, it also inspires me to be consciously competent of ways in which I can be a small part of attaining those high and lofty goals for KME.

As I think of it, I realize that the best I can do is to ‘Be Better Than Me.’ Be a better version of who I was as a person, principal and leader last year. Be an improved and more effective advocate for doing what is best for our KME Colts. Be the kind of supportive principal that enables teachers and other staff members to achieve at personal and professional levels they have never before. Be a reflective and evolving leader who takes advantage of ways to promote and share the great work done by phenomenal educators and parent community members of KME. Be a continual reader of current educational practices and issues. Be a learner through ‘listening to learn in order to lead.’ And even sometimes, just Be.

As we think about meeting new expectations, the challenge for each of us is to ask ourselves, “How can I be better than me?” If we individually commit to being better than we were last year, great things will continue to happen for our students and for our colleagues.

It could have been accomplished by telling the staff that we were low on funds to purchase cases of paper. It was true that each school had been allocated a specific number of copies that could be used before the local school would have to pay for the copies. For any amount of copies that exceeded the yearly allotment an incurred cost of $.04 each copy would be billed to each school. This may not sound like much, but left unchecked, this could eat away at the instructional dollars that could be invested in non-fiction books for the leveled library, technology to support technology integration, hands-on resources for STEM-based learning activities and other resources which are better for today’s learner.

What we did do was to frame the conversation around this essential question:

How could we more effectively engage our leaners without running this through a machine?

This simply worded question had profound impact across the teachers who all truly wanted highly engaged learners in their classrooms each day. Teachers gladly talked about and collaboratively planned a day, ‘No Paper Day,’ around this. What leaders have tried to get teachers to do in sometimes unproductive ways, resulted in teachers gladly embracing and willingly collaborating around this concept as their entire grade level worked to design lessons for ‘No Paper Day’ on their hallway. This level of engagement on the part of adults along with the excitement and energy that were created spilled over to our students at Kelly Mill ES.

On the day that teachers decided for their No Paper Day, students and adults eagerly participated and authentically engaged in their learning. For some teachers, this intentional ‘push’ allowed them to realize the effectiveness of the integration of technology as a normal mode of delivery for their students, They saw, first-handedly, that technology did not have to be nor should be considered an ‘add-on.’ Once teachers saw the level of excitement from their students and heard the depth of conversations that students were having regarding their learning of the content, they were hooked.

Teachers extended this ‘one day’ of purposeful and intentional focus on engaging without worksheets to be their normal way of collaborating and instructional delivery in their classroom,

This is the ultimate in professional development to take a concept from hearing to doing. Teachers translated what they learned into classroom practice that changed the learning activities and experiences for their students.

So, what about your ‘No Paper Day?’

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Experience Doesn’t Make You Better, Only Evaluated Experience Makes You Better. (Dr. Howard G. Hendricks)

I recently heard this quote in a series by Andy Stanley. As I began to think about this statement, I continued to see its application within the educational setting and mentoring aspects of leadership and leader and teacher development. Educators know that providing descriptive feedback to the learner is a critical element for learning and growth.

Marzano and others have long researched the benefits of consciously providing feedback to the learner.

W. Fred Mizer stated, ‘Feedback is an objective description of a student’s performance intended to guide future performance.’ Teachers have long understood that the more specific they are in their feedback to the student, the higher the ensuing achievement of the learner. No longer are ‘Good Job’ or Smiley-Face stickers appropriate for providing feedback about learning. Feedback is specific and non-judgmental. It is merely a statement of what was observed and what can be done to improve the next time.

The same goes for educational leaders responsible for providing feedback to the instructional staff. No longer are comments like ‘Good Job’ or ‘I enjoyed the lesson’ appropriate as end conversations about the teaching and learning that has taken place in our classrooms.

With the renewed interest in teacher evaluation systems and the emphasis on learner outcomes, it is important that current educators realize that our emphasis is also on the input. As Dr. Hendricks stated, it is ‘evaluated experience’ that improves practice. We must embrace the benefits of descriptive feedback that we can both provide and receive from colleagues. Too often we simply reflect on our practice by answering, ‘What worked? What needs to be improved?’ Please do not misunderstand me. These are valuable questions to ask, but we also need to utilize the benefits of having someone else provide feedback to us in the course of our daily practice in order to effectively answer these questions.

As building leaders, we must continue to provide the kind of descriptive feedback to teachers of all levels in order to promote growth and the best instruction for all of our learners, student and adult.

The next time that someone says ‘Experience makes you better,’ remember that only ‘evaluated experience’ makes you better.

 

Ron

One of my passions is photography. I absolutely love the ‘click of the shutter.’ I am an avid iPhoneographer, Instagram user, Photoshop editor, Canon, Nikon, and even Olympus 35 mm fanatic. Yes, I say I am an amateur. When people ask me about photography I simply reply, ‘It keeps me sane.‘ It is an outlet for me.

As a continual learner, I am also currently enrolled in a digital photography class. I am operating in my own sense of ‘flow‘. In our first class, the instructor said that basically a photographer’s job is to…

‘create art out of a cluttered and unphotogenic world.’ (via Phil Winter).

This statement has rolled around in my thinking since last Tuesday’s class. As I have thought about it, I see a parallel to the work we do in schools and as leaders. No, I am not implying that our students and staff are ‘unphotogenic’ on any level,  but I am suggesting that our role is to help the learners in our organization make ‘art’ out of the vast amount of information that is readily available to 21st Century learners at an alarming rate.

How do we do this? Well, I will be the first to admit this is not easy and has many factors, but one critical and nonnegotiable piece is enabling the learner-student or staff member-to take ownership of their own learning. We must become facilitators and not the traditional ‘sage-on-the-stage.’ We must help them create ‘art.’

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cc licensed (BY) flickr photo shared by nehodrawm

These simple two words have been ‘running around’ in my brain since I heard them spoken in a leadership team meeting last week. Of course, these words were used to create some comic relief about a topic we were discussing as possible and worth follow through as one of the teachers shouted out, ‘…Or Not.’ Laughter rang out across the room at this utterance. I laughed heartily as well sensing the irony of what we had just discussed.

Yet, a few days later, I find myself still thinking on those two simple words and the power that they hold. Actually, these two words made of five letters hold immense power to derail a forward movement, to negate a powerful idea or thought, to crush a respect, to halt development of culture. You see, these words tell what we all know to be true as part of the human race, that most things are a matter of choice. There are a few experiences that we feel are happenstance, but once explored, we tend to find a matter of intention and choice on our part or of someone else.

In education, we are not immune to these two words and their destructive nature. In fact, whether they are uttered or not, they are often used. We consciously, or subconsciously, use them when we hear ideas of innovation ‘or not,’ when we spend time learning a new instructional strategy ‘or not,’ when we decide that the colleague who is next door is worth having a difficult, but needed conversation ‘or not,’ when we decide that the student who is not understanding the content warrants another chance ‘or not,’ when we take the time to learn our students and their passions to build long-lasting relationships ‘or not.’

We can all benefit from being conscious of these two words…’Or Not.’

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