Real Education Improvement Actions, Part One

Here is my Bill- Education Improvement Actions That Work

Act One: Deep, not Drive-by, Professional Development (or what teachers are already doing all over the place)

a. The Travelling Road Show: There are some amazingly innovative and inspiring educators in our province – around the world, in fact. They have so much to offer. In my teaching practice, I have been lucky to learn from some of the best – Adrienne Grear, Layton Schnellert, Faye Brownlie are a few that have changed my practice because I have been able to listen to them several times, I was able to buy their books, and other teachers in my building had the same opportunity. It improved my practice as an educator by leaps and bounds. The Ministry of Education needs to get educators like these into every District.

b. The Network for Performance Based Schools is another effective way to improve education. Taking on this project with one of the colleagues in my building was great Pro-D and I have used that learning over and over in my classroom.

c. The Travelling Road Show, II – Hire teacher-leaders to take their practice to other teacher’s classrooms. Look around the District. Find teachers that are engaging in innovation. Get them out of the classroom for a year or two and have them become co-teachers with other willing teachers. People want to learn, but we learn best in concert with other teachers. We can’t figure this out in isolation. We need time and we need each other.

d. Collaboration time in the timetable.

e. Informal PLNs – support educator ‘book clubs’.

Blah, blah, blah – I feel like I am pointing out the obvious and I am wasting my time.

Real education reform comes from autonomous educators engaging in deep collaboration with other educators.

It costs money.

It takes hard work and focus, and we are wasting a lot of time and forward momentum right now because the government has decided to solve problems with the wrong tool. This didn’t need to happen this way.

I know there are issues in the system. However, how we choose to create change can make all the difference. We can inspire with our leadership, or……

We’ll shake off this demoralizing attack on our profession and get back to work because we don’t know how to do it any other way. However, I am not underestimating the damage this has done to morale. A lot of teachers aren’t feeling inspired by their leadership right now. Too bad. This job is complex and we need everybody on the same team.

What I’d like to hear from my leaders

It is hard to get excited by blogging today. I feel quite exhausted after watching the twitter feed, reading Bill 22, and trying to imagine where this is all going. I watched the Premier (on the legislative channel) all worried about how students were not given report cards. This on a day when I called some parents to ensure student assessments made it home. It is too bad that myth is being put out there by our leader. All of my students have received term, and end of semester assessments and grades, as well as several interim reports to keep them up to date. They were better assessments than in previous semesters when I have been more constrained by a computer program and a specific deadline.

I have been one of the teachers working hard toward integration of technology and education reform. It is discouraging to think how the events of this school year may impact our ability to move forward toward real “Education Improvement”.

Some things I would like to hear from my leaders:

“We are aware that teachers and their families will be falling backward financially because of our net-zero mandate.”

“We know many teachers volunteer many, many hours of work, because they care about students.”

“We understand that teachers have paid a lot of their own money to purchase supplies for students, to buy access to Web 2.0 sites, to buy digital content from sites like iTunes and, to buy technology.”

“We are grateful that teachers have continued to make schools work and put kids first through this job action.”

“We value your voice and experience. Let’s continue to work together to create the first class education system we want and need.”

Well, you know what, I am going to go work and hang out where I get my energy – from students, from designing curriculum, from twitter pro-d, from my dedicated and inspiring colleagues.

#NothingButPositiveTweets Blog

Okay, a nothing but positive blog post, via John Stumpenhorst, The Nerdy Teacher‘s advice that we tweet nothing but positive tweets this week.

Today, I had a great, if somewhat chaotic, chat with students about the economy (the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services, currency, medium of exchange, subsistence, trade economy, status goods, monopoly). This will set us up to study the trade networks in use in BC prior to contact. It was fun – I like to see them learn the language of my subject area, and apply it to their own lives. The status goods in our town- a big truck with a couple of sleds on the back, brand name clothing, iPhones.

We have a fabulous group of students working to put together STAAR Day -Students Taking Action Against Racism. Today, they met with the local newspaper – the excitement is building. Wow, that is going to be quite the day! Five hundred students at an all-day event. Yay, diversity! Here is a jpeg of a logo one of our students (Rachael) created by ‘just fooling around’. Awesome.

I loved teachers marching together downtown with vibrant signs saying, Kids Matter, Teachers Care. Support Public Education, and Support Education, Reduce Incarceration! We had a lot of supportive honks!

I had a quick check in with a parent and student in the grocery store today – a proud student sharing that she ‘had made it’ (not failed). Now, to push her even further toward success. I love that kid!

That felt great. Maybe I’ll stick with this trend for the rest of the week.

But then I deleted it

What am I going to blog about?

What I want to blog about is the strike, the escalation, the demonstration, the possible walkout….

I find that hard.

I don’t like talking about what teachers deserve because we work so hard. Of course we do. But I expect no less than that from myself.

Well, I did write the blog post, but then I deleted it.

Maybe another day.

Thinking about themselves as learners, collaborators

I was reading on Luke E-Learning Blog about his struggles to mark collaborative work. It is worth a read -here’s an excerpt:

I tried to comment on his blog, but my Word Press ID wasn’t working. I was mentioning that I had been reflecting on something similar on my blog post on assessing oral language. Still looking for any concrete work teachers are doing on assessing oral communication in the busy classroom.

In the case of oral communication, there is no ‘written record’ of what happens when students talk to each other. I wrote in my blog how hard it is to manage the class and have the assessment hat on, and have something solid to say about each student on a report card. (Wait a minute -we could record and then assess….)

Students have to be really clear about what effective communication and collaboration looks like, through building these learning intentions together. Then students can assess and reflect on that learning. I wonder if we made the collaboration or disucssion the main product, instead of the product the product, if that would make it even more clear.

This is really about students thinking about themselves as learners, producers, and collaborators, and being very clear about what skills they bring to any situation. Reflection on that is very powerful.   Students would need to complete a kind of checklist of skills, or rate themselves on a rubric, but more importantly, they should write a letter or blog post to the group, or to themselves and the teacher. That reflection could be part of the product and would answer questions like:

  • What skills did I bring to the group?
  • What did I notice about myself as a learner?
  • What was the hardest for me to do?
  • When did the groups struggle and how was it solved? Do you have any ideas for how groups could avoid problems?
  • What did I think about the product – how could it have been better. What was really good about it?
  • …and so on.

As I often tell my students, they are doing X project or work because it satisfies some aspect of the curriculum. More importantly, they are doing this work to figure out who they are, what they believe, what kind of life they want to have, and to improve skills and options for their future.

Sick and tired, and Keep Moving Forward!

Sick and tired. I experienced the perfect storm of circumstances – sick kids (mine), sick kid (friend’s), sick kids (students). Stress, both personal and professional. A couple of bad nights of sleep and by this morning, voila!, chest cold and headache. I went to school so I would not miss out on my double block of Grade 8s. Of course, I also can’t prep 5 hours of teaching and instructions for my TOC in an hour, from my house.

I came home at noon to lay on the couch, drink tea, and ignore the twitter frenzy over something else I am sick and tired of.

Bah, that’s another post, maybe.

Something that went right, this week:

My Grade 8s have been dealing with some pretty ugly issues. We had a long conversation. I didn’t have any answers, but at least I could acknowledge their feelings. We got out a piece of flip chart paper. While we listened to some of their favourite music and hung out, one student wrote a title “Make the world better” on the banner. Graffiti-style, they wrote down some ideas for how we can make a better world. Here were some of their ideas:

  • Protect the weak
  • No more drugs
  • Forgive people their mistakes
  • Educate people about the effects of alcohol and drugs
  • Be yourself
  • No more wars

It was powerful, and necessary. We connected, communicated, processed.

Lest I get too full of myself, today’s class was less stellar. Maybe because I was sick and tired, or maybe because I was pushing for quality and hard work, and they were pushing for, well, not that.  Maybe because of both.

Anyway, it is important to keep moving forward. Failure, success, no matter which, keep moving forward:

Real-real work

I was recently reading Chris Kennedy’s post on how his teaching has changed. I really appreciated the three different styles of teaching/learning situations that he outlines – basically, sage on the stage, real-fake situations like simulations, and real-real situations in which students create real products that are presented in the real world.

It came to mind today as I read this article in the New York Times;

Today, I just wanted to honour the teacher and the students, who did some very courageous, real-real work.

I Paint video – Awesome!

I shared this with students today. In one class I did a quick lesson on how when we are viewing, we are thinking. We did a quick whip around to get a sense of everyone’s thoughts. In another class, I just mentioned that we get the opportunityto be amazing in our lives, which is an exciting alternative to being bored. Actually, what I usually say is, “Don’t be lame. Be awesome!”

I love the texts that come to us through our contacts with each other on Twitter. What a world!

Great teachers easily do this

Ran into a blog by Justin Tarte on some of the qualities of a good teacher. I didn’t really quibble with much of what he had to say, although sometimes these kinds of lists make me uncomfortable. I have met a lot of incredible educators, and they all brought their very unique selves to the profession. However, most of the points were general enough to work.

There was one that got my attention, however. It is not that I disagree with the idea, but I stumbled when I got the word, easily.

Easily. Hmmmm…. Okay, pushing thinking, yes. Asking questions and getting students thinking more deeply, yes. Getting a room talking, sure. Getting a room discussing in a skilled manner, and then assessing that skill, not that easy. This is one area that I have struggled with over the years. It is not as simple as it might seem. Some students are reticent. Some talk too much. Some students can be cruel. The age of the group can play a role, for sure. It takes community-building to enable students to be vulnerable and real. As I have written before, not all groups are created equally. Some groups are more ready than others to have a conversation.

In English Language Arts in BC, we need to be able to assess this skill. Oral Language is supposed to comprise something like 20% of their mark. If we are assessing it, it must also be taught.  That part I have done, and I have no problem thinking of different ways to bring students to the concepts of good communication. The assessment is where I run into trouble.

Even when I do have a group that is respectful and will talk, I am often circulating, pushing thinking, sometimes dealing with a behaviour issue. How can I assess this regularly enough to have something valid to say on a report card?

I’d be very grateful if anyone has some assistance on this.

Working with students to help them be self-directed

A colleague sent me the link to this blog by Darcy Moore. Here’s my second instalment. I am working my way through the list, answering each one, in no particular order.

Here’s what Darcy wrote:

I have never had a parent ask me any of the questions listed below, except, perhaps, the one about ‘happiness’ in a number of guises. I wish someone would.

How would your child’s teachers fare if asked these questions:

1. What is your educational philosophy?

2. How are you assisting our child to become a self-directed learner?

3. What professional reading are you undertaking at the moment?

4. What are you reading for fun? Done. 

5. How do you use technology as a tool to leverage learning in the classroom?

6. What online resources have you created for your class?

7. How do you assist students to learn about digital citizenship?

8. What professional networks and associations are you involved with regularly?

9. What observations can you offer about our child’s happiness at school?

10. What reflections can you make about our child’s growth as a learner and citizen this year?

How are you assisting our child to become a self-directed learner?

I am taking ‘self-directed’ to mean a few things – the ability to know your opinions and interests, and the ability to implement a plan.

We work with students ranging in age from 13 to 19, and from completely independent and self-directed to just showing up for the social life.

Here are some of the ways I am working on getting students used to being in charge of themselves as learners:

1. Choice in independent reading, fiction and non-fiction (English and Social Studies)

2. Multigenre Research Projects (English and Social Studies)- These are projects where students get the pick a topic. They have to create 5 to 7 pieces of writing, all of which are related to the topic but deal with different aspects of the topic in each piece. Last year, I also gave students the option of creating one longer writing project (fiction or non-fiction). I have enjoyed some success with this, but I have also had students who did not create a project. I manage that by giving them products to create for a topic they choose, or giving them topic and product.

3. Genius Hour (Humanities 8) – I have blogged about this elsewhere, but basically the students get to pick what they want to learn about. I am not assessing this, although they will get a 100% for doing it, and a 0% for not doing it. They have to report their learning to the class.

4. Product Choice– I give students choices in terms of what they write about, or what they create.

5. Class Website – I am pushing my senior students to use the website to keep themselves organized. They will need this skill if they go on to post-secondary education, but it also puts the ball in their court. In the past, students who had been absent would walk into class and ask, “What have I missed?”. I don’t like to use the beginning of class like this- I am usually set up to launch a lesson. In the past, I reminded them to check the back bulletin board for extra copies and see me later. Managing the paper was endless, and it was always up to me to keep them organized.

Now I can say, “Check the website , and then see me for help”. Every day, I post what happened, provide videos or PowerPoints, and upload any handouts or assignments. After about three years, it is finally starting to take hold. For a while, it felt like I was doing it for nothing. Last week when one of my students responded to a query with, “I got everything from the website”, I was overjoyed.

Added bonuses: Sometimes a year or two can go by with courses I don’t teach regularly. The website is a good reminder of the order in which I did something. I print the site out and refer to it to remind myself what  I used, created, linked to. Also, I can let parents know where to go to help students. Finally, I can upload instructions to the website from home when I am sick.

I use Edublog for all my course and classroom information. You can see it here.

6. Thinking about themselves as learners- I am working hard with a group of students to get them to be actively aware of themselves as learners. About once a month, we work on the skills, attitudes, and routines of successful learners. Here’s a description of one, “Bob, It’s Time to Engage!”.

7. Knowing and Showing Thinking – I spend a lot of time on this, and blogged about it here, and here.

8. The small stuff – I know it sounds ridiculous, but just getting students to get up and get their own pencils (which I provide) rather than waiting for me or an EA to hand them out can take weeks or months. Sometimes we never crack that one, and focus on the learning rather than the getting. We work on baby steps. We are always reminding about school skills and the benefits of staying organized.

I am keen to improve my skills around this. Sometimes I use the work by Carol Dweck to talk about fixed and growth mindsets. I post the qualities, make them into book marks, discuss the idea in the context of a character in a text we were using, and so on. I would sure love to hear what else many of you are doing. I am planning to show this TED talk tomorrow as part of our work on school skills. What other texts do you use?