Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Opening Day

The other day, I joined one of my daughter's on walk to the local book store. She had a gift certificate and wanted to select some new books for the start of school. After she selected a few texts to purchase she turned and asked about me whether I was getting a book to read. Even though most of my reading is accomplished on my iPad though the Kindle app, it was difficult to say no and leave the store without a book under my arm.

I ended up leaving the store with Hellhound on His Trail The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt For His Assassin by Hampton Sides.

"Sides follows Galt and King as they crisscross the country, one stalking the other, until the crushing moment at the Lorraine Motel when the drifter catches up with his prey.
Against the backdrop of the resulting nationwide riots and the pathos of King’s funeral, Sides gives us a riveting cross-cut narrative of the assassin’s flight and the sixty-five-day search that led investigators to Canada, Portugal, and England—a massive manhunt ironically led by Hoover’s FBI."

I just started reading the other night (my daughter is reading Diary of A Wimpy Kid) and came across a section in which Sides discusses an annual SCLC conference King convened in November 1967. It was at this conference that King shared a bold plan for the Spring 1968. King wanted to return to the mall in Washington with an army of poor people and camp out in the mall for weeks. It was a grand act of civil disobedience and represented King's belief that America was a sick society in need of “radical moral surgery.”(Sides) According to King, the government was focused on Vietnam, the space race and other industrial-military projects and that the real focus should be on the stark economic disparity between races in America. Sides recounts that King was worried about the country slipping into a race war that would lead to a right-wing takeover of the government and a kind of a fascist state.

To demonstrate King's desire for change, Sides included the following commentary from King:

“For years,” he said, “I labored with reforming the existing institutions of society, a little change here, a little change there. Now I feel quite differently. I think you’ve got to have a reconstruction of the entire society, a revolution of values.”

This may seem like a stretch, but the thought from King shifted my focus to education and rhetoric offered in response to how to "fix" our current education system. Where does the consensus reside? Is it behind reforming the system or is there wide-spread support to revolutionize schools? Taking a line from King I believe we need to witness a revolution of values regarding education.

Now is a perfect time, the start of new year, to begin dramatically rethinking the educational experience. I am moved to share at the beginning of school an old blog post from Will Richardson. In looking forwards to a new school year, Richardson offered thoughts on what he hoped for his kids and the types of questions his kids would regularly answer.

What did you make today that was meaningful?

What did you learn about the world?

Who are you working with?

What surprised you?

What did your teachers make with you?

What did you teach others?

What unanswered questions are you struggling with?

How did you change the world in some small (or big) way?

What’s something your teachers learned today?

What did you share with the world?

What do you want to know more about?

What did you love about today?

What made you laugh?

Being able to answer these questions would reveal much more about what kids understand and are interested in. These questions embody a shift in what we value as part of school experiences for kids. It moves away from an older model to one in which students are part of creative, passion-based, learner empowered global classrooms. Forget being an administrator, as a parent I would love to sit down at dinner and have a conversation sparked by things in my daughter's days that they loved and wanted to learn more about.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Communal Goals

Next Installment of my weekly podcast (summer addition)

"In looking towards this year, I believe it is critical that we embed learning networks into how we grow as professionals and the work we do with kids. To an extent it starts at the local level. We need to build a genuine network amongst professional educators at MHS. Through informal discussions, PLCs, staff and department meetings, planned PD sessions a wealth of ideas and resources can be exchanged. In turn, we can show kids how we embrace the ideal of being life-long learners and what steps can be taken to curate and share information."

A School of Individualized Plans

I am in the process of making sure 504 Plans are updated for the start of school. We receive plans from feeder schools that have to be reviewed and plans from current students that are reviewed in August as opposed to when the bulk of plans are evaluated in June. Additionally, it seems as if the number of families requesting 504 plans is on the rise. This week alone I am chairing five hearings in which a determination has to be made as to whether or not a student will receive a 504 Plan.

From a legal stand point I understand why a 504 Plans exists. However, shouldn't the concept of a 504 Plan or IEP be extended to the entire student body? To an extent, a 504 Plan recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of an individual learner and works towards constructing a plan that facilitates success in the classroom. Multiple stakeholders have a say in the plan, most notably the student. Additionally, a wide range of assessment data is collected and analyzed as part of the determination process. The plan is also a fluid document and can be changed to meet a learner's evolving needs.

What is the harm in transferring this approach to all students? In theory, the process of how a 504 Plan is conceived could benefit aeveryone. This is not to say that an identical process should transpire for the entire school, but how can one object to a school where each student has an individualized learning plan. What is the compelling argument against developing individualized learning plans that resulted from the collection and analysis of data and also was born from conversations between teachers and students. Also think about other critical components of individual learning plan such as personal goals/objectives statements and information about unique interests and passions. Imagine the start of school where a teacher could sit down with students to review personal learning initiatives and engage learners in a genuine discussion about how they can build a meaningful partnership so that skills are developed, goals achieved and unique interests have a place in the classroom. This would certainly beat the one size fits all fast food model of school where too often the unique talents and needs of individual learners are never fully embraced.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Common Goal

I am in the process of reading Personal Learning Networks: Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education (Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli). Either before or after reading, I spend some time reviewing my notes and highlights. As I scrolled through my archive, I was thinking about how commentary from the book could support numerous presentations being considered for the opening of school in September.

In thinking about the upcoming school year, this excerpt from Personal Learning Networks is worth sharing. Richardson and Mancabelli promote the need for schools to invest time and money towards establishing 1:1 learning environments and to see that teachers and students are actively building personal learning networks. The excerpt is issued to those who would challenge the pressing need to establish global classrooms.

The environment they are struggling to manage is the same one students are going to experience each day when they go to work in their adult lives. Students will need to participate in these learning networks to stay on top of their fields of interest and to advance in their careers. If we don’t teach them how to navigate these messy environments in our schools, if we instead teach them to learn from a book in chapters and to expect an “end,” then they will be ill equipped to participate in the most powerful learning available to them during their lifetimes.

I see this quote as a not so gentle reminder of what a mission for all schools should be. We need to prepare students for the professional world they will enter and arm them with the skills and dispositions to make a positive impact on a complex global community.

As we approach September, all educators are challenged to think about how they can better prepare kids to successfully meet the demands of the 21st Century. In doing so, it is impossible to ignore that a redesign of schools and our classrooms is required. What we value has to be a reflection of the world that exists outside of school.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

New Opportunities for Students

Teachers are putting the finishing touches on curricular documents for new courses being offered during 2011-2012 school year. Like last year when a series of new courses were introduced into the program of studies, students are being presented with a wider range of intriguing options. A primary goal has been to provide challenging and intellectually stimulating opportunities for students and support a belief that unique pathways through high school should exist.

I think we are certainly taking steps to provide unique pathways. I provided below some excerpts to courses being offered next year. I appreciate the fact that teachers are willing to challenge traditional notions of what is offered to high school students. Furthermore, these courses remind us of how important it is to create passion-based experiences. Teachers are being allowed to follow personal passions and share with students ideas and topics that interest in them. In the process, I see teachers mentoring students on how to be life-long learners and that education is a place where personal interests matter and serve as a driving force behind curriculum.

Curious as to what others think about these courses.

AP Government and Politics (Chris Kenny)

Digital Citizenship Component

Jefferson once stated that “if a Nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” In the 21st century, becoming an informed citizen has become easier than ever in some ways because of the resources made available by the Internet. Conversely, the free-flow of information can be overwhelming and full of misinformation and bias. Students will develop their skills at finding information relevant to their decision-making process and evaluating the veracity of the information effectively. This process is constant, making it significantly different than history classes to the extent that topics we discuss are always unfolding and changing; a conversation discussed one week could be made irrelevant by events the following week. To that end, the most significant part of this class will be creating a personal learning network (PLN) for each student so that students remain on top of the ever-evolving national discussion, especially in regards to their chosen political issue.

Students will share these findings with the the class through Diigo, a social bookmarking site, so that as students investigate their issues, articles will be gathered in a space where they can be accessible to the whole class, giving students a rich database to draw discussion from. This will be helpful for the purposes of presentations, papers, and class discussions and will make concepts students learn more meaningful.

Every student will be expected to contribute regularly to a class blog as the resident expert on their issue. The diversity of issues and exchange of ideas will create a level of discourse that will help them learn from one another. The blog will be open to the public outside of the classroom, expanding the number of “teachers” and learning opportunities. To compliment this, students will also use Twitter accounts to follow politicians, journalists, academics, fellow students, and institutions that are related to government and specifically to their field. Hopefully they will find resources and commentary that will be bookmarked in their Diigo accounts and commented on in their blogs. In addition, there is also the opportunity to enter into a dialogue with individuals that have an expertise in politics, journalism, or in the field the students are researching.

The World According to Dante (Maria Laffler and Marya Wilpert)
In this course students will explore Dante’s classic writings through an analysis of Italian culture and late medieval and early Renaissance history. La Commedia is as much a reflection of the time in which it was written as it is a reflection of Dante’s life itself, especially his own personal struggle to reconcile and atone for his own behavior in Florence’s brutal political arena. Immersion in the history, culture, religion, and politics of the time as well as the study of the poet’s earlier works will therefore enable students to better understand Dante’s inspiration and overall purpose in constructing his famous poem. With this in mind, Dante’s writings become more accessible in that students will explore La Commedia through historical, biographical, and linguistic lenses that will in turn increase their analytical abilities, leading to not just a contextual understanding of Dante’s world and work but an appreciation for Dante in their own lives. Specifically, students will reevaluate and think critically about the world today to gain an understanding of how this classic piece of literature shapes the modern world and its beliefs. Overall, this course aims to give students insight into how and why this classic literary piece matters to the world at large.

Latin American Studies (Marietta Scorsune and Bertiana Caprioli)
Latin American Studies (LAS) is a ten-credit, interdisciplinary course which is divided into four major units of study. This course will provide a in depth look into Latin America1 from both a historical perspective and will spend significant time examining the contemporary world. LAS will focus on the similarities between American and Latin American history, current events, and the interrelationship of the two. It will also provide intense discussions revolving around the themes of identity, culture and their connection with the private and public spheres in which we move.-

How Sports Explain the World (Brian Kiernan)
Abstracts: Abstracts are concepts that are exhibited in ways that go beyond concrete objects. They express ideas that we see are a part of a society’s non-material culture. In examining events, a reflection on certain abstracts will be made evident.

The intent is to provide proof or an argument as to how a particular sporting event is a reflection on the following:
  1. Politics- A greater issue between nations that deals with power, manipulation, and influence in the world. (1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic Hockey Team win over the U.S.S.R., The Black Power salute by American athletes in the 1968 Olympics)
  2. Economics- An issue involving wealth, globalization, and power to achieve means to an end. (The “Black Sox Scandal, Realignment of collegiate conferences)
  3. Culture- An issue where specific socially accepted traits has made an impact on that society and possibly beyond. (Lary Doby, Jackie Robinson, and the breaking of the color barrier in Major League Baseball, The rivalry and violence of Hooligans and other fans of the English Premier League)
  4. Ethics- An issue where morals and values have influenced the decisions made by a culture, government, or organized civilization. (Steroids in Sports, The “Hand of God” goal by Diego Maradona in the 1986 World Cup)
Graphic Storytelling (George Lavigne)

Definition of Course: The Graphic Storytelling course is a full year elective English course offered to all students who have an interest in the rich variety of graphic novels that exist today. Students will read and analyze works in a literary framework while learning about the history, fundamentals, and genres within the graphic novel universe. This course will appeal to visual learners, fans of art and comics, and students who enjoy reading works not typically found in traditional English courses.

Purpose of Course: As an elective, the Graphic Storytelling course can provide students with alternative reading experiences to capitalize on their enthusiasm and motivation and produce stronger connections to reading and writing. The course will use graphic novels to engage student interest, improve literacy, expand vocabulary, enhance understandings of storytelling skills, foster creative expression, and examine prevalent themes in popular culture.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Separation Between Personal and Professional

The other day I was asked to join several other administrators at central officer to review language for an acceptable use policy. The policy in question was for teachers who are provided district technology. At the high school, a majority of the professional staff receives a laptop as part of a teacher laptop program. Additionally, we have teachers who are part of 1:1 iPad and iPod Touch programs and have received a device from the school district. I am not sure if those in charge of the task thought it would be a quick and easy process. However, an examination of the acceptable use policy instigated a longer conversation about expectations and common understandings regarding teaching and learning.

I will admit, for good or bad, that I prolonged the process. Initially the acceptable use policy stipulated that teachers could not use district issued devices for personal use. Devices could only be used for school related endeavors. I objected to this delineation in usage for educators. I shared that I would not recommend teachers to sign this policy and that I would also feel uncomfortable agreeing to this policy as well. I saw the policy as limiting and counterproductive to what we hope to achieve if the language in the acceptable use policy played out.

It is well agreed upon that educators need to follow personal interests and passions. I have shared on numerous occasions through posts and podcasts that a teacher’s personal interests should be infused into the classroom. Creating a policy that restricts following personal passions handicaps educators from creating a rich and rewarding experience for growing learners. Often times a personal pursuit can compel educators to reflect upon their profession and the individual needs of students. Furthermore, a personal interest can serve as a gateway towards developing a media technology rich classroom. As someone who works with teachers to rethink the high school experience, I consistently encourage teachers to follow personal pursuits and often use this as an in to further conversations about how technology can facilitate the rise of student-centered global classroom.

I understand the numerous concerns that lead to this meeting. In difficult economic times, funds cannot be wasted. Funding has to be rewarded. Beyond the counter points, I had a hard time thinking about the separation between what is professional and what is personal. The line between personal and professional has been blurred in the 21st Century. Through vehicles such as Facebook, Youtube and Twitter personal and professional pursuits bleed into one another. In fact, this might have always been the case for educators, but access to information is more transparent than it has ever been. Learning is conducted in the open and shared amongst personal, professional and anonymous acquaintances.

In the end, the language was changed to encourage ethical and responsible use. I know I feel better about the change and the freedom educators have to explore. Curious to hear and see what other districts have come up with. If you have any thoughts please share.

Monday, August 1, 2011

What Does The Data Tells US

I am coming to the end of an extended data-driven project. For the past two weeks I have been engaged in examining student performance at the high school where I am a supervisor of instruction. From results on standardized exams to final grades to cumulative discipline reports, data was collected, organized into tables and compared to outcomes from previous years. Results were examined across seven subgroups that were delineated by gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and special education.

Motivation for this project stemmed from the high school’s commitment to collect and analyze a consistent set of data points. As part of the accreditation process for the Commission on Secondary Schools, the high school agreed to examine academic performance and investigate stakeholder feelings about the climate and culture in the building. Target goals for both academics and climate were established at the start of the accreditation process with the hope of being achieved by 2013. Over the span of seven years a consistent positive trend is supposed to develop. In short, a massive amount of data has been and will be collected over the seven-year span.

At first, the amount of data that could be analyzed is imposing. Consider data that is collected in regards to the focus on academic performance. We are accruing information on final grades, HSPA and S-Test results and outcomes on SATs and ACTs. Grades alone could grab the attention of our faculty for a significant period of time. The number of A’s, B’s, D’s and F’s are collected across all academic disciplines and all levels offered at the school. Final grades are broken down across seven subgroups (Male, Female, Asian, Black, Hispanic, White, LEP, Economically Disadvantaged and Disability). An analysis of grades could spark countless conversations about instruction and the types of experiences being offered to students.

Moving beyond the mountain of evidence, an analysis of the data could instigate genuine exchanges between educators our school and specifically, what is working, what is not and what changes need to transpire to ensure that the needs of all students are being met. However, I have found throughout my career in education that data about students and or a school is provided a cursory examination. Each academic calendar generates a wealth of information that could be used to make informed decisions about programs, educational initiatives, reforms or the redesign of a school. Data also compels educators to face a certain reality and spend time reflecting on their craft. How many teachers are constantly surveying students or comparing outcomes from year to the next? Outside of anecdotal information or gut instinct, what evidence suggests that you are connecting with students and creating a class where interests can flourish and needs are met?

In moving forward, it will be a personal responsibility to see that this data is shared with the staff and that public forums are created to facilitate dialog between the professional staff. Additionally, a responsibility exists to help teachers take an inventory of their class and infuse results into our conversations about teaching and learning. Without following through in either measure, a crucial step is omitted from the decision-making process. Intentions may be heartfelt and have the “best interests” of students in mind, but informed decisions have to also include the examination of hard evidence.