Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Common (Mis)Understandings About Innovation

In the article Becoming a Learning Organization, Chris Bigenho describes one team's journey to talk about innovation across schools and organizations. The difficulty they encountered, one which is likely familiar to many, was the lack of a common definition of "innovation."

After some learning, Bigenho's group landed on a definition from John Kao: "a set of capabilities that are possessed by individuals, teams, countries, or geographies that allow the continuous realization of a desired future."  Using that as a lens, the team continued its learning journey, and found many common attributes of meaningful school innovation:

  • deliberateness in approach, with the innovation visible as systemic change
  • knowing thyself first (embodying the mission and vision, and knowing the school's place and role in the market and society)
  • accepting and participating in the tension that innovation creates, through active communication and building of social capital
  • utilizing diverse, functional teams with a prescribed purpose
  • active and supportive school leadership
  • hiring for innovation to support growth toward the desired future
If you choose to read the article, three different schools are highlighted for their efforts toward systemic change. In case you don't have the time right now to read the full piece, I will highlight two quotes from Bigenho that I am still contemplating:

"If a school has the funding, it's fine to construct new STEM/STEAM buildings or find new ways to use technology in the classroom. But I want to make it clear that a tight focus on adding more technology into a school program isn't, in and of itself, innovation. It may represent a movement toward innovation within the organization but is not innovation as an organization. The latter should be the goal."
"I often ask schools: Is your school an institution of learning or a learning institution? Schools with a strong sense of identity and with systemic programs that move the school toward some desired state are schools that are getting smarter as organizations. These schools are learning organizations. And in the era of such quick and constant change, they are the schools most likely to thrive over time."

Join the conversation...
What do you think about using the Kao definition for school innovation? Should innovation be thought of as systemic change? Anything in the last two quotes resonate with you?

Monday, June 5, 2017

This Book Will Change Your Life

Aspire High

My friend (and student voice research colleague) lent this book to me. I've been meaning to read it, but it has sat on my desk for a few weeks. This morning, I started thumbing through it and read so many nuggets of truth. Here are just five:

  • "Students are neither your customers nor your clients; they are your partners...their points of view on your classrooms, school, and district provide vital information if you are to improve their education."
  • "[T]here is no 'color-blindness'...race is a factor in students' experiences of the world, as are other physical attributes such as gender or being differently abled. As a result, students can teach their teachers a great deal about how their backgrounds, thoughts, feelings, and worldviews are shaped by race, particularly if student and teacher come from different racial backgrounds."
  • "In nearly every learning situation, point of view matters. One student may count the paragraphs in eager anticipation of his turn to read aloud, whereas another may dread the very thought of speaking in front of others."
  • "[A]dults are the school's 'leading learners." They are learning role models, continually curious, constantly questioning, wondering, probing, failing, and pushing themselves and the young people in their classes to go further, deeper, and broader."
  • "[T]he focus is not on evaluation in this sense, but rather on teacher growth and formation based on what the teacher is consistently , constantly learning and applying. Teacher learning, in turn, is directed by the teacher and is informed by the school's goals. Teachers are not just learning for learning's sake, but for their students' sakes -- more to the point, for their students' aspirations' sakes. Obviously, students are integral to this growth process. Teachers are held accountable for their learning as it applies to student learning and outcomes."
This book has and continues to change my thinking (if not my life). Any of you out there want to join in a book study this summer? We could engage in a chapter-by-chapter discussion through technology. 

Join the conversation...
Have you read the book? What are your thoughts on the bulleted items? Interested in the book study?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Without The Why We Just Comply

Back in 2014, under an instructional coaching blog, I wrote about the importance of understanding the Why behind any program or initiative we are engaged in. A lot of it was based on Simon Sinek's TEDTalk. if you haven't seen it, or watched it lately, click the link.

As much as I believe we need the "why" to innovate, I still see a lot in education that is about compliance. Sometimes that comes from government entities when we fill out reports, and sometimes that comes from within, in the form of "please just tell me what to do."

This is why (pun intended) I was hesitant in the last post to talk about checklists. Compliance and innovation are antithetical. Here is my wondering: does a tendency toward compliance arise because we as leaders fall short on building a consensus around the "why"? It reminds me of the stereotypical answer of a parent to the child's question of "why" -- "because I said so." I'll admit that as an exhausted parent, I dreamed of compliance! But our teachers  deserve so much more from us. They are intelligent adults who have the capacity to not only understand the why, but to embrace it, make it their own, and enrich student learning from it. After all, we all went into education because we are passionate about kids learning.

In terms of students, they also deserve a "why" to avoid compliance (memorizing for the sake of test regurgitation only). I've seen teachers do it masterfully in the unpacking of a well-crafted learning target, or using students' passions to drive teaching and learning around the standards.

But with compliance having such a long life in education, and the traditional roles of principal, teacher, and student being so deeply embedded, it is really hard for many to move beyond compliance. That is why the "why" is so desperately important.

If I could only pick one "why" around education innovation, it would probably be that we need to prepare and empower our kids to be change agents in multiple fields (see earlier post on the T Profile). The "what" and "how" must also be generated, but this is my "why" because the world is not organized into neat categories.  

Join the conversation...
What is your "why"?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Most Innovative Schools - A Checklist?

A few days ago, I came across an article entitled Wild and Thoughtful Innovation. Intrigued, I tore through it, and then immediately shared it with our superintendent and assistant superintendent for instruction. Why? First of all, it fully supports our ongoing work around implementation of an instructional framework with fidelity, and second, it fully supports the iterative inquiry cycle we are engaged in with essential learning standards.

The authors researched and visited more than 100 "innovative" schools across the globe, and while differences abounded, there were emergent themes that arose from all of them. While I am hesitant in describing them as a checklist for innovation as it may infer compliance, what we can learn from those emergent themes outweighs the risk. 

First, the visits identified these common themes for both innovation and learning excellence in terms of teacher moves:
• took collective responsibility for learning;
• actively collaborated;
• used laser-like learning targets;
• established common expectations for learning;
• provided timely feedback;
• acted on the information from formative assessments to differentiate learning through intervention and acceleration strategies; and
• used varied instructional strategies to meet the needs of all students.
As I look down that list, it is the exact intentional work we are engaged with as administrators and teachers in our district. We may not be there yet, but it is the vision we are working toward. 

Second, anyone who had read this blog in the past or had discussions with me knows of my advocacy for student voice. The visits in the article identified student voice as a common theme for innovation and excellence in the 100+ school visits:
[T]eachers developed partnerships with students in the learning process. Students had a voice in what they learned and could produce an expected plan for their learning that included how they would demonstrate their proficiency. Teachers honored their students’ unique attributes, developed positive relationships focused on each child’s strengths and passions, and provided personalized learning structures.
Student voice lives within our instructional framework, the state school improvement framework, and our inquiry cycle.

Now I'm wondering how the schools and teachers in our district would view themselves if we used the bullet points and statements from the articles as a formative assessment on our journey to become more innovative and excellent. Any takers?

I've only scratched the surface here with what's in the article. I encourage you to read it in its entirety, especially if you're interested in how the concept of disruptive innovation meshes with continuous school improvement. I'll leave you with one teaser from the article: "We decided to throw off some shackles. Wisely, we also chose to keep some core tenets that serve the present and the future. This includes professional learning communities as our foundational collaborative structure and an institutional commitment: a way to keep us honest about student learning and educator growth."

Join the conversation...
Whether you're in our district or not, does this resonate? What measures would you recommend to know if your classroom, school, or district is on the right track to achieve its goals?

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Cooper's Treasure

No, not the show on the Discovery Channel. I'm talking about the recent treasure I discovered sorting through stacks of articles and notes from my dissertation. 

About two years ago, I took a class with Dr. Kristy Cooper, titled "Organizing for Learning." Each week, steeped in the learning sciences, she would have us partake in meta-cognitive reflection, using these four questions:
  1. What have you learned this week?
  2. How have you learned this week?
  3. What is your current state of knowledge on this week's concepts?
  4. How does your learning this week apply to your current and future work?
Not only are these great questions as we support both student and adult learners in more structured settings, I'm also considering how they might help me in my own growth. What if I took time at the end of each week to answer those questions?

Trying it out for last week, I reflected as follows:

  1. Much of it was focused around personalized learning and competency-based education. What if we graduated to a system where students were learning and accelerating based on mastery, not seat time? What conditions would need to be in place for success? Where are we in our own unique journey vis-a-vis culture, transparency, and vision? We would really need to think differently, as it is a huge paradigm shift and pushes on both educator and student identities. It's not a "program," it's a second order change.
  2. Attending conference work sessions with leaders from Kenowa Hills and Virgel Hammonds, taking handwritten notes, and then having time to dialogue with learning partners about the ideas.
  3. I still have a lot to learn, and I need to seek out additional sources. Perhaps a visit to Kenowa Hills might help. I do feel like I have a good starting base of knowledge.
  4. As we look for ways to re-imagine the secondary experience, this idea has potential. It would have to be a multi-year inquiry process to assess all stakeholder group perceptions and readiness, engage in learning, and develop an implementation plan. My one burning question right now is: what do students think about it, especially if post-secondary institutions are not yet on board?
I allotted myself 15 minutes to reflect, and that seemed like enough. I went back afterward and inserted the hyperlinks. 

More importantly, it has deepened my own thinking around the concepts. Without it, I might have just put my notes into a file folder and called it good. Now, I am more invested in discovering additional "treasure" around competency-based education.

Reflection is key to learning. If I were back in a classroom, I would use these four questions to help deepen my learners' knowledge about themselves as learners and around concepts. That would be an innovative move on my part. As for now, I am committing to doing it for myself each week.

Monday, May 1, 2017

#StudentVoice in History - Birmingham, Alabama

As much as I am a proponent of student voice, I do worry that it is seen as a fad, or the next "new thing" in education. Frankly, student voice has been rooted in education and our country for more than fifty years.

In 1963, in Birmingham, Alabama, student voice was in the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement, specifically through what is now known as the Children's Crusade or March, during the first week of May. Thousands of students walked out of their schools and prepared to march through downtown Birmingham:

Of course, what happened to them during the march is seared into our collective conscience:

The willingness of those students to use their voices, suffer brutality at the hands of the police and fire departments, and go to jail, was a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement.

When we talk about student voice today, it is usually not in these same sort of circumstances. But, we do discuss it within the same theme: democracy.

The bravery of these students in 1963 changed our country, for the better. Our students today want to use their voices as change agents, too. How will we respond, both in our schools and in our society?

Join the conversation...
How do students use their voice in school and society today? What are your experiences?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Add Clarity

I've been staring at this post-it note on my desk, which encompasses some to-dos for an upcoming professional learning session. If part of school innovation is introducing new methods, might "add clarity" be a great innovation for just about every single thing we do or say?

Clarity is a critical component of how we plan and deliver instruction, how we create and implement initiatives to enhance student learning, and generally how we communicate. Another way to think about it is the term "sensemaking," which meets the human need to create order and make sense of what has and is occurring.

To be intentional about it, what if we consider "add clarity" as we focus on problems of practice in our collaborative teams? It fits perfectly within a collaborative cycle of inquiry. Our district has an inquiry cycle graphic we designed to fit our specific needs, and maybe yours does too, but if not, many examples exist. Here's one I found in less than a minute through a Google search:

My current "add clarity" opportunity sits within the green pie piece, although because the cycle is fluid, it might very well shift over time. And most certainly, other "add clarity" opportunities will touch every single pie piece many times over.

Join the conversation...
Where in the pie do your current "add clarity" opportunities exist?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Giraffe Cam

I'll confess: I am obsessed with the live stream of April the giraffe, beamed live from the Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, NY. She is a media sensation. For those of you who have not heard about it, April is a giraffe that is on the verge of giving birth to a baby calf. She has viewers all over the world anxiously awaiting "the moment". Given the length of gestation (15 months or so) and other unknowns, the animal keepers and vet are not able to predict a due date. In addition, labor is only confirmed when the calf's hooves begin to appear. I told you I was obsessed. Thank goodness I am on vacation this week, and can afford to be sleep deprived.

As I watch April pace her space and watch for any tell-tale signs like the amateur vet I've become, it strikes me how incredible a live stream out of a classroom might be. Like the giraffe cam, there might be things you see and don't understand, and there are also routines that you pick up on quickly. April never really mugs for the camera unless there is a carrot or piece of lettuce in it for her, and I suspect students and teachers would quickly forget the cam in the corner.

Just like we are all watching and waiting for the big event, never knowing when it might appear, how might that also be true watching a classroom? Many times the "lightbulb" or "flow" moments occur in a classroom when we least expect it. As teachers, we plan for those moments, but just like April's vet, our ability to predict the actual timing is speculative at best. 

In addition, just like I've learned more about giraffes in the last few weeks than I ever thought I would, how much might non-educators learn if they could just put on the live stream of a classroom at random times during a day? How might we draw back the curtain on teaching and learning for millions of people across the globe?

Certainly, it would take a brave teacher and willing students to make it a reality. There are times I see April do things that I wish I could wipe from my mind's eye (chewing her cud in a regurgitative cycle quickly comes to mind). Not everything that happens in a classroom is pretty, and it is certainly not perfect. However, the moments when everything is clicking and learning is in the "flow" are pure joy to watch and experience, and people outside of education rarely get to see that.

You might think everyone will stop watching April once the birth occurs. I don't think so. First, we'll have 6-12 months to watch her with her calf. Second, I believe it has created an awareness and appreciation for learning new things in real time. Yes, there are people who watch and make less than positive comments. And we already have that in education; but how might a live classroom cam help educate those who don't yet have a full understanding of what happens in a classroom day in and day out? We will never get rid of all of our critics, but we can build more allies.

Join the conversation...
How might we build a brave space in one classroom to install a teaching and learning cam? 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

You Can Call Me Al

If you're familiar with '80s music, the title of this post likely sounds familiar. It is the title of a Paul Simon song, whose meaning is briefly described here: 

In the documentary Under African Skies, Simon explained: "'You Can Call Me Al' is really the story of somebody like me, who goes to Africa with no idea and ends up having an extraordinary spiritual experience."

Over the last few weeks, I've had the pleasure and the privilege of engaging with students in three schools outside of our district. I interviewed students at Detroit Country Day School and Orchard View Middle School around student voice, and I spent an hour with students at Novi High School in their AP Seminar class to learn what this new class looks and sounds like. 

Like the song character, I went into these three experiences with little to no idea of what I would experience, and wound up having an extraordinary experience in each. Moreover, I approached each setting with something I've been very purposeful with in the last 7 or 8 months -- introducing myself to students by my first name -- "you can call me Judy," so to speak.

It started when I visited a secondary school in Australia. I found myself introducing myself to the adults I was meeting, and then it came to a student. My self-talk in my head went something like this: "You're here to learn about student voice. They don't know you. Make a connection!!!" So, I fumbled with something like, "hi, I'm Judy Walton from the U.S.," as I shook each person's hand. Eloquent? No. Sufficient? Yes. And extraordinary experiences ensued.

Then, I did the same thing with students at Forest Hills Northern High School when we embarked on our student voice project. And extraordinary experiences ensued.

My intent is simple: to level the playing field. A title, such as Ms. or Dr., is only one measure of respect. We have a lot of hierarchy in education, and I believe it can sometimes get it in the way of conversations, authenticity, and innovation. My unscientific research leads me to believe, or at least sense, that interactions with students are more relaxed and free-flowing when we call each other by first names. Never once have I felt disrespected.

In meeting the 30 or so students from the three school visits over the last few weeks, I found the same thing. It really seemed to put students at ease, especially when I was this stranger who was spending time with them and trying to learn from them. It was not the only condition conducive to learning, but it certainly helped.

I will note that it's not easy for some students to take to. It goes against everything they know in school. Some students prefer to use a title and last name, which is also fine by me. I offer the option of being on a first-name basis, and they make a choice.

I also know this is not something every teacher feels comfortable with, and many teachers successfully create a great learning environment without it. It's just one idea to consider.

Join the conversation...
What is your opinion? How do you create conducive environments in your learning space?

P.S. For any of you who want to look, listen, and have an ear worm for the rest of the day, here you go:

Thursday, February 16, 2017

This One Day, In Sixth Grade...

Back in 1973, I started 6th grade at Guardian Angels School in Clawson, Michigan. My teacher was Miss Schaldenbrand, and I was the luckiest kid in the world. You see, she had been my 5th grade teacher, too, and because our class was so big, she moved up to 6th grade with us. Miss Schaldenbrand was the young, cool, hip teacher who actually listened to us, and took us on learning adventures outside of our classroom and school walls.

Yesterday, I spent the day shadowing a 6th grade student at Knapp Forest Elementary as part of the national Shadow a Student Challenge initiated by School Retool. The purpose is to develop empathy for students, and to drive action for improvement in our schools.

My host student (let's call her Phoebe) was so welcoming and included me in everything, even the bus ride to school:


My school did not have school buses, so in 6th grade, just like the years before, my mom drove us to school. Phoebe's mom actually works in the district, so she doesn't have to take the bus, but as she shared with me, "I love riding the bus!"

Well, that was a good thing, because once we got to KF, we didn't even get to go inside. We waited outside for another bus, one that would take us to the middle school for music. We had a little fun during the wait:

Thankfully, I had the right cold weather gear. Not as colorful as that of the other kids, but hey, at 54, I'm all about not freezing to death.

You might think that Phoebe plays the violin. Nope, one of her buddies had his violin out and played while we waited, and then let her take a try. This scene did not last long; we were asked to put the instruments away. In hindsight, perhaps not a good idea to be passing the violin around on a concrete area. In the moment, I was disappointed, and almost started with "why"? However, sensing that I had not yet acquired enough allies for a full-blown musical revolt, I bit my tongue.

Phoebe is a flute player, and really seemed to enjoy the moments of making music:


Once music was over, we boarded the bus and went back to KF. As we entered the classroom, it was like 1973 all over again: I was the luckiest kid in the world -- I was in Miss Kittridge's class. I say that with only a slight smirk on my face; the parallels between Miss Schaldenbrand and Miss Kittridge (as well as the other members of the 6th grade teaching team) are plentiful. 
[Side note: not so much between my principal, Sister Margaret Moran, and KF's Scott Haid.]
Miss Kittridge made me feel most welcome. I had my own desk, right next to Phoebe, and materials for Language Arts:

At this point, the 44 year gap in my 6th grade education became evident: I was not sitting in a row, and I was not in the back of the class because my last name begins with "W". I was in a quad, 
[Side note: would "squad" be appropriate here? Somewhere, my daughter just cringed.]
and when we lined up, I was #8.5 in line! No more last or near last (always grateful for the Zalenski family).

And we did line up pretty quickly -- it was time to go to Spanish. Hola -- didn't we just get here??? So, we went to Spanish. Here's a big change. We had no foreign language in my 6th grade. Well, except for the Latin we heard in our weekly school mass.  And of course, the pig Latin we all were fluent in. During Spanish, I had to use the restroom. I asked Phoebe where it was, and if I had to ask permission. Phoebe directed me to Senora Neely's handy poster ("Puedo ir al bano"), I raised my hand and tentatively uttered the words. Whether or not I was clear, she responded with "si." 

After Spanish, we headed back to Miss Kittridge's classroom. Finally, a little time to relax! We sat on the floor for read-aloud, and enjoyed a snack. I forgot my snack, but Phoebe graciously gave me a box of Nerds. We listened to Miss Kittridge read from So B. It, and just like my classmates, I was devastated when she stopped. I wanted to know more! But before she stopped for good, she did stop earlier, and let us process our learning with a partner. Such rich conversations! We then moved into Language Arts, and worked on finding evidence to support our third body paragraph in that great debate of whether school be year-round.

Next, it was time for Science. 
[Side note: the Nerds made me hungry. When is lunch? An hour from now???]
I appreciated that in making our individual brainstorming chart, Miss Kittridge gave us several choices. I got right down to work, and I also found myself giving Phoebe some ideas on our two big questions: 1) How does the world around us impact my daily life? and 2) How does my daily life impact the world around us? A few minutes in, my (s)quad mates complimented me on my nice printing. Take that, Mrs. Leinenberger.

We finished up Science, and it was time for lunch. Hooray! Seriously, hooray! I never went to a school with hot lunch. This was my time. Spicy chicken patty sandwich and baked tater tots. Yes! As we were going through the line, we got to the salad and vegetable bar. Phoebe clued me in: "you have to take a vegetable, but you don't have to eat it." Good to know. I chose carrots and cucumber slices. By the time I got to the table, serious eating was already in progress. See, the faster you eat, the more time you have outside for recess. Unsure if I even chewed, the food and chocolate milk were consumed by me. I also wondered if perhaps Phoebe needed a break from her shadow at this point. I offered to let she and her friends just do whatever at recess without me, and quicker than a 6th grader eats lunch, she said okay. I needed to massage my esophagus anyway.

After lunch, the rest of the day was spent in Mrs. Stiles' room for math and social studies. Phoebe told me that math is her favorite subject. She asked mine. I replied "sociaI studies." Phoebe and the others gave me the look. Apparently, one does not just say that in 6th grade. So I quickly added, "I like Language Arts, too!" Heads began nodding. I'm ok.

In math, I experienced our new math curriculum (CMP3), and for the first time in my life, really "talked" math with others. As my two partners and I grappled with questions around surface area and volume in rectangular prisms, I found myself using my hands to create a shape to help us talk about the formulas. Pretty darn cool.

As social studies started, Miss Boles brought her class in, for a joint review for the micro-entrepreneur test. After directions were given, we broke up into groups of 5. 
[Side note: why did it have to be economics? I'm a social studies teacher, but that is the one thing I never taught. Seriously? Throw me a bone here. Ahhh, looking at gender disparities in certain African countries. Now I have a shot at pulling my weight.]
Here is what our group came up with:

Each group presented some information to the large group. Time for a confession: I totally sprawled out on Mrs. Stiles' bean bags. Exhausted! Mrs. Stiles and Miss Boles took pictures of each group's board, and shared them on the 6th grade website so that everyone could study from all work. I'd like to think that if we had such technology back in 1973-74, Miss Schaldenbrand would have done the same. Perhaps not Sister Agnes, but you never know.

Oh my gosh. It's the end of the day. 
[Side note: Phoebe looks excited to go to her after school civic theatre activity. Me, I plan on begging a ride from Miss Kittridge to get back to my car so I can go home and collapse. If I take the bus (Phoebe tells me it's 45 minutes on the way home), I will slump to the floor and wake up at 2am in the bus garage.]

A big thank-you to Phoebe, her classmates, Miss Kittridge, Senora Neely, Mrs. Stiles, Miss Boles, Mr. Haid, and everyone else at KF who made this experience possible and awesome. I cannot wait to debrief with the other district-level administrators who shadowed in different schools, and then take next steps!

Join the conversation...
Did you or anyone in your school take the SAS Challenge this year? If yes, what did you learn? If not, what are you waiting for?

Monday, January 30, 2017

30 for 3

No, it's not a typo. And yes, it's a play on ESPN's "30 for 30" series.

Last Friday, 30 students from Forest Hills Northern High School spent 3 hours with teachers and administrators collaborating around school improvement. The students planned and facilitated the time as part of amplifying their student voices, using a model created by Mount Waverley Secondary College in Melbourne, Australia.

FHN has three school improvement goals for 2016-17: an increase in reading proficiency for all students, an increase in critical thinking skills for all students, and a minimum of one year of growth for all students. As you read through this post, you will see how the collaborative learning efforts focused in on all three.

The morning began with a 1/2 hour "soft start," as a way to build trust and relationships in an informal setting. A continental breakfast was provided, and staff were invited to enter the collaborative space at their choosing:

During this time, staff were also asked to think about where they perceived student voice currently resided in the school.

Once 7:45am hit, we had an official "hard start" to the next three hours. Students outlined the agenda and goals for the morning, intentionally utilizing a "what-why-how" for each section. Here, a student is taking the group through the Norms of Collaboration that guided the learning and work:

As the norms were discussed, the facilitator sought input from the large group on how those norms might look or sound in a classroom.

If you recall from an early blog post, the students drafted and sent out a survey to the entire student body. During Friday's collaborative time, staff were placed in carousel groups to experience a 10 minute data dive in each survey category (teaching & learning, technology, student well-being, and school structures). Here is one example, as staff experienced an interactive activity with the students in the well-being group:

The data dive with this group centered around the number of students who perceive that there is no adult in the school to whom they could approach with a problem. Students highlighted that they knew teachers cared, and dialogue took place on how a collaborative effort might demonstrate this to all students.

Once the carousel data dives were completed, staff were asked to vote on one issue to spend the remainder of the morning focused on. It was the issue of the inclusion of a seminar period in the school day, where students could achieve one or more of the following needs in a structured setting: 1) extra help in content where they are struggling; 2) explore passions and interests more deeply around a co-created curriculum; and 3) build supportive relationships with a specific teacher and a set group of peers. These support all three of FHN's school improvement goals, and touched upon survey data from both the student well-being and school structure dives.

Students and staff were purposefully re-grouped, and the next 75-90 minutes were spent developing a vision, using the Force Field protocol out of Gregory & Kuzmich's Teacher Teams That Get Results:

By the time the protocol was completed, lots of ideas -- with timelines and names of responsible persons -- were generated:

Members of each of the five groups will be checking back in with each other over the next month.

The students also sent an evaluation to the staff who collaborated with them, and some great "soundbites" were collected...

Students thoughts/feelings are not necessarily what I would have predicted.
Students have a lot to say and we need to listen more. 
It was fun and thought provoking to work with the students today. This is a dialogue that we should work in more frequently. Perhaps a seminar would be a vehicle to do just that. 
It is encouraging to see that students are passionate about the direction of schooling and the structure of how things are done. 

My year 12 colleagues and I will debrief later this week, and make plans for moving forward. In the meantime, if you're an educator and haven't asked students their thoughts about school lately, try it!

Join the conversation...
How have or might you amplify student voice in your school around school improvement?

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Pep Talk From Teddy Roosevelt

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a thing for TR. See, right there, I refer to him as TR, as if we are contemporaries. I have books, posters, postcards, coffee mugs, magnets, a finger puppet, a doll set (see above), and many other items of memorabilia.

Now, after reading an address he gave to the Iowa State Teachers' Association in 1910, my admiration has deepened even more. If you click the link and read the whole speech, remember the time period. Yes, it is sexist, and perhaps a bit nationalistic, but it's essence is golden:

There are a great many professions that are important, but of all the professions in the United States I think that there is no one quite so important to the country as a whole as is yours. There is no other profession which exercises so profound an influence upon the national growth, for you shape the whole course of the development of the nation of to-morrow.
                                              *              *                *
Great is your task, and therefore, thrice over are you to be congratulated because your task is great. Nothing in this world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty. No kind of life is worth leading if it is always an easy life. I know that your life is hard; I know that your work is hard; and hardest of all for those of you who have the highest trained consciences, and who therefore feel always how much you ought to do. I know your work is hard, and that is why I congratulate you with all my heart. 

Doesn't that just sum up education innovation, too? Especially the "effort, pain, difficulty." Finding time to learn about new things and try them in small bites while continuing to do your absolute best day in and day out is exhausting.

And it is exhilarating! Which is why we keep coming back for more. I look at TR, a man who was shot during a speech two years after this one, and finished it before going to the hospital for medical treatment. Now, I'm not advocating effort that would be detrimental to your health, but I do think the zeal and enthusiasm with which he approached life is similar to how many educators I know approach teaching and learning.

As we head toward the second half of the school year, here is one last quote:
Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.
To all educators, thank you for choosing to do work worth doing.

Join the conversation...
If you want to know more about TR, check out this site. What resonates with you?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Are We Really Ready For Change?

It's a snow day in our district, so some items came off today's calendar. I decided to look through my stack of unread articles and journals, and pull out one to catch up. I opened the pages of my October HBR to an article around why organizations fail to sustain change, even with training, development, and learning, especially at the leadership level. Hmmmm, I thought, even though the article is about big corporations, that resonates with education...

In a nutshell, the article argues for a transformational shift, from targeting change and development at an individual level to making the organization itself the primary target for change and development (followed by individual training):

If the system does not change, it will not support and sustain individual behavior change -- indeed, it will set people up to fail.
Why is it difficult for organizations to make systemic changes? The authors of the article suggest six barriers: 1) unclear direction; 2) low commitment by upper level people to the change; 3) lack of honest conversation about problems in the organization; 4) uncoordinated organizational design; 5) inadequate time and attention paid by leaders to people issues; and 6) the fear lower-level people have about telling those above them of an obstacle.

As we in education leadership encourage teachers to change and innovate for the benefit of students, I think we have to be mindful about the importance of organizational change as well. In other words, is our organizational design set up to support change, or, are we setting people up to fail? Should we be looking at our organization first, before we begin encouraging (or in some instances, even expecting) change in others?

There is a myriad of moving pieces in any school or district. The locomotion of just one has unpredictable, nonlinear impacts on others. In order to make smart choices about change, the advice of the authors of the HBR article, adapted by me for education, may prove useful. They suggest that the following questions first be answered by those at the top, and then in each major unit. For us, that would be district-level, and then school-level:

  • Is the leadership team unified around a clear purpose, one that aligns with their mission, vision, and guiding principles?
  • Has the team collected uncensored and raw feedback about barriers to effectiveness, including leader behavior?
  • Has the team redesigned its organization, systems, and practices to address the problems revealed by that diagnosis?
  • Is the team offering consulting and coaching in the form of job-embedded learning so that people can practice the new practices required of them?
  • Does professional learning properly support the change agenda, and will each school's leadership team and culture provide fertile ground for it?
The authors argue that a "no" to any one of these questions should compel an organization to look at the context and strategies for its change.

Until we change at an organizational level, are we really ready for change?

Join the conversation...
For those of you in education, what "change" has stuck, and why? Or, why do you think some great initiative failed, despite its value and worth?

For those of you in other professions, what has been your experience with change?