Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Rogue One

Like many, I was shocked today to learn of the passing of Carrie Fisher. Perhaps best known for her work in the Star Wars movies, she constructed a multifaceted strong character who happened to be female. Throughout her career, Carrie Fisher pushed boundaries, or simply ignored them.

Within educational innovation, some boundaries cannot be ignored -- we hold the sacred trust of our community to ensure the well-being of our kids, and to be exceptional stewards of public funds. 

But we can -- and should -- push our own boundaries (think comfort zone). How often do we really challenge ourselves to improve? How often do we look at the results of teaching and learning, and look at the students before us, and recognize that we need to learn to think/do/be better? How often do we go rogue, not out of anger or frustration, but out of a positive place and a strong desire to serve others?

Princess Leia was an innovator. She inspired others to join her quest because she believed in a better tomorrow. She never promised it would be easy or safe, and she led by example. She exemplified collective responsibility, even when going rogue.

Join the conversation...
What boundary will you push? How will you be an example of collective responsibility?

Monday, December 19, 2016

Turning Up The Volume On Student Voice

In an earlier blog post about our student voice project, I explained the student-generated survey that was going to be distributed to the 1,120 students at Forest Hills Northern High School. The 50 question survey was completed by 818 students -- a number fairly dispersed over the four grades.

(The day the survey was pushed out to the school, a reporter from the School News Network was visiting, and published a great story about the student voice project)

Since that time, my year 12 colleagues have been diving into the data, and fashioning some ways to use storytelling to show the results:

Today, 8 of them came to the FHN teacher school improvement team meeting and provided a mini-presentation, using their storytelling skills to get beyond the numbers. Some data from each of the four main categories (technology, scheduling, teaching & learning, and student wellbeing) were presented in a human-centered way. One example included the grouping of teachers in the room to show percentages of study time for tests and resulting scores.

Next steps include all 30 of the students spending a half-day with the 12-person teacher team to get teacher responses to the data, and build partnerships to address some of the issues that the survey data revealed. The students will lead those conversations through developed protocols and tools.

To see some of the inspiration for our work, check out this video from Mount Waverley Secondary College in Melbourne, Australia:

Join the conversation...
What stories might your students tell you?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

This One's a "10"

As we approach the end of 2016, many "top ten" lists have begun to appear. They offer the best and worst of a multitude of items, people, words, and ideas.

In fact, the number 10 itself purportedly has mystical qualities, such as symbolizing the completion of a cycle.

Rudy Mutter, the CTO at Yeti (a development and design studio in San Francisco) recently published a white paper titled The Ultimate Guide to Prototyping Success. As a design thinking learner, I downloaded and read it.

Toward the end of the paper, Mutter provides his top ten tips for successful prototyping. I thought to myself, "here we go -- another list of ten!" BUT...as I was reading through them, it struck me that they apply much more broadly than to just prototyping.

They really apply to the whole realm of education innovation. AND... if the number 10 really does symbolize the completion of a cycle, then it is the perfect number through which to look at education innovation.

Here are Mutter's prototyping tips, verbatim in title, with my own spin attached:

1. Identify your riskiest assumption.
Do you have a real problem, or do you have a really cool solution that is looking for a problem to solve? In other words, are my students actually experiencing the problem I am seeking to solve? Do they actually need this solution? Or, are my assumptions perhaps flawed?

2. Don't commit to one solution.
You do need to try solutions one at a time, but if you cannot be married to just one of them. If you are, you will look for ways to justify it. See #5.

3. Don't get lost in the details; simplicity is key.
Too complicated and you'll never make progress, or maybe even get started. You still need to be intentional and have a plan, but you also need to be action-oriented.

4. Utilize everything at your disposal.
Shortcuts are okay, unless they cheat you out of learning. The reason we want to innovate is to enhance student learning, but you have to be the original learner.

5. Be willing to throw it away.
See #2. Try it, evaluate its impact on student learning, and let it go if it doesn't work. The idea failed, not you.

6. 'Iterate' can't be reiterated enough.
We need cycles of inquiry. I repeat, we need cycles of inquiry. See #8.

7. Give every side a voice.
Is everyone at the table? If not, invite them into the process. Is everyone at the table actively participating? if not, invite them into the conversation and the work. An echo chamber serves no one.

8. Done is better than perfect.
The iterative cycles are meant to be completed in a timely manner, so that the learning continues. See #6.

9. Go with what you know.
Don't mix apples and oranges. If you're looking to solve a problem with reading literacy, don't use this process to try out a new tech tool, unless it is crucial to the process. Stick with frameworks and processes you know, and let the innovation be the variable.

10. Feedback is king.
The feedback loop is crucial for reflective practice and learning. And the next iteration.

Join the conversation...
What do you think about those ten? What would you add? Take away?

As always, thanks for thinking with me.

P.S. If you want more fun with the number 10, read The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Ask Permission or Seek Forgiveness?

And if the answer is no, what are you waiting for? Permission?

It's an interesting paradox in education that we teachers don't like to be told what to do, until we do want to be told what to do. We often do not grab the agency that is right before us, and just start doing. There are lots of reasons for that, and none of them get us closer to where we want to be. Use an inquiry cycle and just start somewhere. 

As  Bill Murphy's Jan 2016 Inc. article on the origin of the permission/forgiveness dichotomy informs us:
So next time you're on the fence--wondering whether to take a small risk that could propel you forward in whatever endeavor you care about--just do it.
Teacher-led, job-embedded action research to improve practice for the benefit of student learning doesn't need permission. Professional learning to support that endeavor doesn't need permission. And even if they somehow did, I would much rather be in the position of seeking forgiveness for my team or school acting on what we thought was best for kids as opposed to doing nothing.

In our district this year, teacher teams are working in iterative cycles under the umbrella goal "to improve instruction every day for every student through collaborative and continuous learning for all educators." The iterative inquiry cycle guidance is:
  • teams identify essential learning standards
  • teams develop and use a formative assessment process
  • teachers utilize research and evidence-based strategies to provide high-quality instruction to meet the learning needs of their students
  • teams develop plans to support differentiated instruction
Within those pieces, there is a lot of latitude for teacher teams to grab and run with their agency. For example, my team might be curious as to how to differentiate instruction in a high school math classroom. We could seek out learning from a variety of both internal and external sources without any need to ask if that is okay. Of course, we also might need to touch base with our principal if we need either time or money to make some learning a reality, but we don't need permission to learn and try. That is just an inherent part of being a professional.

I'll leave you with one more image, inspired by a Pablo Picasso quote:

Join the conversation...
What small risk are you willing to take today to improve student learning?