I was charged by a colleague and friend for being someone who wanted big change. Guilty.
I was charged by the same colleague and friend for being someone who expected people to recognize the need for change. Guilty.
Her claim was that I expected big sweeping changes and I don’t give enough credit to small incremental change and that the latter is the only thing that will make the big changes we need.
And she might be right. Maybe I need to focus on the little changes.
A teacher sets up a class website. Celebrate. A teacher uses some formative assessment. Celebrate. A teacher uses one less worksheet. Celebrate.
I see her point, that if I’m so stuck on waiting for the big stuff, I never acknowledge the movement that is taking place. At a certain point, I try to rely on that. I pride myself on my “incremental change” when it comes to the environment, my buying habits and parlaying principles into actions. I recognize that I can’t live free of all the damage we do. I always say the best step you can take is the next one.
But this is different, isn’t it? Education is already 10 years behind.
The way our students interact with the world is changing so much quicker than incremental change will allow. Check out youtube, Khan Academy, heck even Instructables, they are all a demonstration that education is now truly public. Something is being added to that list weekly. A spot where any student can get what they need and to know what they need is within reach.
Yet, we rely on textbooks and worksheets. A fixed place, time and subject of learning. We still expect students to sit still and listen to me. Non-stop, all day in subjects we deem important.
And so I say to my colleague and friend, I am guilty of wanting big change. I am guilty of expecting people to recognize the change and make it happen. Because, the way I see it, incremental change is important, but it’s not enough.
It is too easy to shut off when you don’t hear what you want. It is easy as a teacher to walk away, shut your door and go on with what you are doing.
At the opening ceremonies of a Fire Chiefs conference I attended yesterday, the opening speaker, the Fire Chief of Kitchener said, “To continue the progress that is needed, we must come together and have discussions and debates. Sometimes we will agree. Sometimes we will agree to disagree, but we must always agree to keep discussing.”
This struck a chord.
Too often there is disagreement and then silence. We can lose semesters easily in poorly designed and implemented professional dialogue strategies where the only people who suffer from our lack of discussion are our students. Silence is not leadership.
We need to disconnect the idea for education from our personal investment and be willing to undertake disagreement. If someone disagrees, it is not a personal affront.
No one theory, idea or reasoning is right. I get that. It is the integration of ideas in the discussion that often determines a great course of action. However, too many voices in the education discussion are silent.
For some, it is by choice. We need to encourage these quiet innovators to open their door to the world and encourage their participation. For some, it is by habit. We need to encourage these experienced educators to join the conversation. For some, it is because they have been silenced before. We need to encourage these professionals that our students and education need their voice.
These “difficult discussions” are essential to our mitigating of the rough waters of the education revolution.
In all my blog entires, I encourage you to disagree with me. Challenge my thinking. We will all come out better on the other side. Let’s agree to keep discussing.
If the first three days are any indication, this will be an excellent, interesting semester where I will learn much, be challenged often, and laugh every day. And isn’t that what it’s all about?
I tried something new in my Applied level class on Tuesday. First day, I gave them an assignment. An assignment that counts. In fact, an assignment that I knew would be difficult for them, an oral presentation. Most often, these are the most difficult of assignments to get the Applied level to do. This goes mostly to the nature of the students, but also to the confidence it takes to stand and deliver in front of a group of your peers. So, I decided, we’re starting with it. No ice breakers, team-builders, nothing. I gave them 15 minutes to prepare their oral presentations and then one by one they took to the front of the room and presented. Now the structure was simple. They had 32 seconds to tell us something. They had to show enthusiasm. I told them that, yes, it counted and frankly, this was their first impression of them as a student.
And they killed it. It was excellent.
At this point, they hadn’t built the roles they will play in the class yet, in fact, they hadn’t been introduced to each other.
Thirty two seconds is long enough to say something, but short enough that it doesn’t get awkward for those that struggle.
Most importantly, I chose to start with this oral presentation assignment because now they know, no one gets a zero. We strive to “be great” and now there are no excuses. We have established that they have all completed an assignment and that they have all, so far, achieved success.
So, first day, everyone’s passing. Everyone is successful. Now, I’ve also learned something about them, they’ve put themselves out there and they are able to immediately see how I give feedback. Honest and to the point.
With this they are on the road to success and we’re off…
Time to sharpen the pencils. We’ll be in the thick of things before you know it. And I can’t wait.
There is something about the wrap up of September that excites me. One of the many reasons I love this job. Every September we can refocus, declare our direction and set our trail. New chances for everyone, students and teachers.
As a student, I loved September too. Every year, I convinced myself that this would be the year of underlining my date, staying organized, doing all my homework and getting straight ‘A’s. Now, of course, the wheels would inevitably fall off by mid-September. But things are different this time, no really. The goals I laid out for myself last September have been more or less kept. I re-up my commitment to the education revolution that we are in the midst of having.
My Goals This September
- contacting parents more frequently. I’d like to start with three from each class per week. That ensures the connection with their child’s learning is constant and constructive. By trying to hit the number goal, I’ll also be calling regarding more positive things. I’m going to make a concerted effort early to get e-mail addresses for parents as that is the easiest form of communication in my mind.
- bringing my lunch to school. This is connected to my training for Ironman, in which, keeping good energy is essential. But it is also connected to my desire to maintain my energy throughout the day. I want to be as engaged and passionate at 2:30 as I was at 8:30.
- sharing more in my building. My reading, my experiences, my thoughts/ideas, the tools that are working. But more importantly, try to get people to share with me more and develop the rich conversations I have online around pedagogy with those folks I’m teaching beside. As I’ve mentioned previously in this blog, I have been encouraged to share more. I think I will. And I’ll hope for my colleagues to share more too.
- using Evernote with every student to provide feedback. It worked so well in Summer School and the second half of last semester, I will be employing these methods across the board. This tool allows me to provide timely, personal feedback but more importantly, have a reservoir for all that feedback so a student/parent/myself can look back from the beginning of the course and see all the feedback I’ve given.
- keeping an organized calendar. This will be essential as I am always busy, but with Ironman training as well, this year will be madness. This is one of the goals I’ve tried before, but this year it will be even more essential. Keeping a calendar will allow me to maximize my time working towards my why.
- choosing the right battle. My father always told me to, “Pick my battles.” This is the year, I stop picking the wrong ones and I stay focused on those that are most important. Too often I get mired down in the small battles that cost much and accomplish little.
- answering emails promptly. I’m one of the world’s worst for receiving an e-mail, reading it and planning on responding later. Of course, that inevitably leads me to forget about it and never respond. This September, I am going to stop waiting for tomorrow what can be done today, especially around e-mail.
- my daily gratitude notes again. I once heard an interview with Seth Godin and he was asked, “What is the most important thing you could do today to make the biggest change?” and his response, “Say thank you to someone every day.” I employed this idea a year ago when I left a thank you note in someone’s mailbox every day. I fell off the wagon last year, but it is time for me to start again.
- “It is not what has been taken from you, but what you do with what is left.”
- student’s learning at the end of every class. What have we learned? Why have we learned it? If it is minor or major does’t matter, I think clarifying what we are doing every day will help us prepare to learn for the next day.
- the why, every time it gets muddled.
- the role of the teacher, student and administrator.
- the door of the classroom.
- the either/or frame of thinking and embrace the both/and. (A blog post dedicated to this concept and my thoughts around it is coming.)
And there they are. As with any goal setting, I’ll be constantly adding, revising, removing these as I buffet in the wind, but this list will help fix my direction and help me set my sails.
What are your goals for the year?
In Seth Godin’s free ebook What Matters Now, Dale Dougherty writes, “John Dewey’s idea of “learning by doing,” which emphasized the primacy of experience over the accumulation of knowledge. “I believe that education is a process of living and not a preparation for future living,” he wrote. As students realize that the tools for living are the same for learning, they will naturally expand the range of things they can do.”
Not only will they expand the range of things they can do, they’ll also expand upon where they get their learning. To be honest, they already have. If we think that all this is happening in the future, we’re wrong. Schools, and more importantly teachers, need to realize that it is done.
We need to stop talking like there will come a day when this change happens and recognize that it already has.
And no, the educational revolution is not about technologies, but philosophies. It is about learner autonomy, mastery and purpose. It is about flexibility, authenticity and distribution.
What this looks like at work is difficult and messy. It is time for teachers to be the leaders in getting our hands dirty. It is not about tomorrow. It is about today.
People keep telling me that it takes baby steps. “You’ve got to hold on to some of the ways things have been done to make it manageable.” I say, if we hold on any tighter to ways that learning is not working, we just may lose grip.
Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.
This is an incomplete, unsorted, yet fully considered list of my goals for this school year. It is hard to really put this together and to make it feel complete, however, I’ll do my best to put something coherent together.
Teach completely paperless — that includes assignments submitted to me, notes, assignment sheets and an attempt to eliminate school memos, permission sheets and all the other extraneous paper that I wade through everyday. I’m almost there after my success of last year. I’d like to ratchet it up a little. One limitation I’ll deal with is the diminished time my class will have in a computer lab. I’m going to find a solution for the timing issue.
Remove quantitative grading from my practice — portfolio building, parent involvement, better assignments, immediate feedback, student progress awareness, continuous conferencing with students and work that is geared towards a ‘real world’ audience. The documentation and the research is all out there, yet we are stuck in our ways when it comes to the numerical value we give everything, I’m going to try to break this trend. I’ll be writing much more on this major adjustment to my practice.
Citizenship building — trying to integrate real world experience, recognize global and social effects of our choices and to make students responsible for/to each other. Anchoring everything we do in the classroom to the ‘real world’ and more importantly the effects our decisions and actions have on the world.
Community of Learners — each class to exist as a true community, past the typical teenage dramas, recognizing and using the strengths of all. My plan is to really re-frame the idea of the classroom, away from me and instead spend alot of time reconfiguring the web in the classroom. This may be challenging, but oh, so worth it.
Focus — not to let the drama of the English department, school and anything else derail my plans and my focus. This goal is less about my practice, but more about my sanity and my effort to eliminate negative vibes and building momentum.
More to be added, however, this is the first sketch…
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