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!

cc licensed by flickr photo shared by Robo Android

Today was one of our monthly administrative meetings for all principals in the district. It started off with some training on the SLDS (Student Longitudinal Data System) that is in operation in the state. The training was designed as an overview of the functionality of SLDS. Due to the length of the training, we were promised lunch and time to chat with colleagues. I have to say, that was when the real meat (no pun intended) of the meeting actually began.

The lunch was a great meal of hot soup, breads, and desserts prepared by the culinary program at one of the local high schools. During the meal, we watched a video entitled, A Game of Hope about the Gainesville Tornadoes. It is a moving video about the power of encouraging the human heart and what happens when you intentionally decide to believe in another person. I highly recommend seeing this inspirational video if you have not already seen it.

Our facilitators then posed a series of guiding questions focused on ways that we, as school administrators, provide ‘hope’ for our teaching staff through alleviating their stress or improving staff morale. This was a great opportunity to spend some uninterrupted time with colleagues and learn from their ideas. We then shared out some of the ideas such as Leave Early Pass, Jeans Pass, giving lots of chocolate, providing meals, and other variations on the theme.

One that I found most interesting was from a colleague, Steve (@Otwell_MS), who said, ‘Let your presence be your presents.‘ Wow! How powerful. I thought about this in terms of its impact far beyond what a leave pass, a piece of chocolate, or other ‘trinkets’ as presents could have. (There is nothing wrong with chocolate…sometimes that’s all you need). But, to improve morale, something long lasting helps and that’s when your presence is needed.

Some examples of your ‘Presence as Presents’ could be…

  • Physical Presence: Nothing replaces you being visible on car duty, bus duty, in the hallways, the cafeteria, and don’t even think about not being in the classrooms…
  • Mental Presence: Truly listen to the conversations that teachers have with you in passing in the hallways, at the coffee machine, in the lunch line, etc. The FISH philosophy stresses the importance of ‘being there’ (physically) and in the moment…
  • Leadership Presence: Yes, you are the designated ‘leader’ in the building, but this presence is a continual awareness that every encounter and exchange you have with everyone in your building is an opportunity to help lead them into fulfilling their professional and personal goals. It’s a presence that allows you to provide resources and strategies that help them be more effective in the classroom today than they were yesterday…
  • Human Presence: This is one that may be difficult for us as leaders as we sometimes feel that we are ‘supposed’ to have all the answers, do everything well, know the latest educational strategy, have read the latest educational publication, provide all of the support, answer every question, address every concern, and the list goes on and on.  But I have found that teachers, students and parents need us just to be human-someone who doesn’t have all the answers, who can’t do everything, who is still learning, and most importantly, who makes mistakes and doesn’t get it right all the time…

As you enter this holiday season, what ‘presence’ could you give to those around you, at work or at home? I look forward to hearing from you…

~Ron

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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.’

As I have had the opportunity to attend the GaETC over the past couple of days, I am reminded that today’s K-12 learners are VERY different from the type of learner that I was. We, ‘older learners,’ are prone to say,’Well, it was good enough for me to learn that (traditional) way, and look how good I turned out.’ Ok. I am not sure that is a good thing in some cases, but I digress.

In order to reach today’s learner we must use today’s tools. As this powerful video portrays, Shift Happens. Incorporating technology into instructional practice is as essential to today’s learner as paper and pencil. It is NOT optional.

So, shift happens…have you??

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photo by @rondmac

 

The above tweet was one that I recently read while on Twitter. I have to admit that it has stuck in my head ever since. It has added another reason why, as an educator, I believe Twitter and other social media tools (Facebook, Google +, and many other sites) can facilitate lasting and meaningful improvement in education. This facilitation is because of the connections to thousands and thousands of other educators who are passionate about striving for excellence in themselves and for the students they teach and the adults with whom they work.

Another post from @gcouros, entitled Summer Blogging Challenge, gives the following illustration.

In this example, the author shares his advice to new teachers everywhere. This advice can be given to more educators because of the facilitation through social media tools.

Connecting with others on Twitter is a powerful way to continue to learn and grow as a professional. I was personally reminded of this when two of my Twitter connections, @shiraleibowitz and @S_Blankenship, agreed to have a live conversation with my staff during our retreat.

‘So?’ you ask. Well, it is only possible because of these connections on Twitter as we are all in three different states!

So, more advice to other educators, get out there and engage with others through social media tools in ways which facilitate improvement in education and you as a learner and educator. Enjoy and Grow!

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‘Don’t Panic!’  These words, usually spoken when someone is experiencing a threat to self or others, were actually the ones which rang through my own mind as I was attempting to complete my Statistics homework for my doctoral program.  I was attempting to complete a Factorial ANOVA and an ANCOVA on some data that was provided by my professor.  Believe it or not, I actually have enjoyed parts of my Research Class, but this was truly new learning for me.

Like any ‘good learner’ I had read the textbook, watched online tutorials, re-read the textbook, re-watched the online tutorials, and yet I still struggled to complete the assignment.  Did I mention that I had read the text and watched the tutorials??  After I had completed what ‘the teacher asked me to do’, I began to attempt the assigned homework. It did not take me long to realize that even though I had read the text, I had no frame of reference for this new learning. (Educators refer to this ‘framework’ as schema).  I literally had no mental ‘hinges’ on which to ‘hang’ this new information.  I instantly felt true panic as I momentarily realized ‘I do not know what to do.’ I could not think of even the very next step I needed to attempt the assignment. I thought, ‘Well, Ron, you have reached the limit of your intellectual capacity!’

I also instantly made the connection that this must be the way our students feel when they are learning something new, but we have not taken time to assess their schemata, framework or background, to which they can ‘hinge’ this new learning.  It was a powerful lesson to me as a leader and educator.  I realize that even adults can have this moment of panic when, as leaders, we introduce concepts and expectations that are new to the learner.

I took a break for a while from the homework, and completed it later…hopefully successfully, but I will ALWAYS remember the feeling of panic, and will use this as a motivator to make sure that when new learning is involved for children and adults, that I make sure that I help build their framework for understanding.

So…Don’t Panic!