Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Why Systems Thinking Matters?

For the last three days, I have spent time learning about Systems Thinking in the Classroom. It was great to be a school leader in a room of teachers from second grade to tenth grade, just learning, not leading or directing traffic. The training was built upon the work of many people including the work of Peter Senge made popular through the book the Fifth Discipline.

Systems Thinking training looks at a number of areas, the first being the habits of a systems thinker. These thirteen habits really tapped into the ideas of critical thinking, deep learning, and bringing a larger perspective to the daily learning of students. Some of the habits of the systems thinker include: observes how elements within systems change over time, generating patterns and trends, changes perspectives to increase understanding, and considers both short and long-term consequences of actions. Taking these ideas to my staff as essential areas of growth for our kids seems like an appropriate first step for bringing this training to life for my staff.

The training also examined a number of structures that promote individuals being able to bring sense to complex situations, and in a world of global interconnectedness, it is so important that work in systems in an essential part of our students' lives. We talked about looking at Behavior Over Time Graphs which examine patterns and behavior, and we examined the Ladder of Inference that allows us to see that our beliefs and perceptions impact our action.

We spent time looking at the Iceberg Model, which allows us to use events, structures, and behaviors to dig deeply into the mental models that we hold. Another essential structure was the Causal Loop Diagram which provided a way of looking at reinforcing and balancing loops. Ultimately, these loops were broadened to look at the archetypes that emerge from these loop patterns. It was definitely a new lens to view so much through.

A couple of other structures that we examined were Stock Flow Diagrams and Connection Circles, both ways for kids to tell the narrative of science and social studies. We also looked at a number of ways to use the structures to examine literature in a rational way. It is good to step away to grow, and I'm ready to have some fruitful conversations with my teachers about using these items in their classrooms, but it will take some time for me to lead using these structures. I think that I will find myself reflecting using these tools, but to use these structures as a way to grow the capacity of my staff may take a bit longer.

It would be great to connect with some school leaders using these structures in their daily leadership efforts.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Technology Literacy Isn't Optional

Nothing like a good infographic on a beautiful breezy day. Hope everyone storing energy for another great week.

Created by Knewton and Column Five Media

Friday, August 19, 2011

Five for Friday is Back

I hope everyone has launched into a great school year. The MRHMS staff is doing incredible stuff around teaching expectations and preparing students for extensive use of cooperative learning through the year. Enjoy the links.

Don't forget that you can make each of your kids matter...

If you are looking for team or class ideas that extend off of our two-hour movie project, here is one that students could do in the neighborhood or over the course of the a semester.

Looking for ways to have an easy student response clickers needed. Try this.

The annual PDK survey about schools is out. They do a great job looking at schools from a variety of angle, good make for a great conversation starter for students too.

Nick Sauers does a great job with his blog on 1:1 schools. This post contains some ideas for teaching students a variety of ways for their voice to be heard in the classroom and beyond.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Instructional Coach

To start this school year, we have moved to a new model for our teams. We are now wrapping the resources of six teachers around our teams of 80 kids. This includes the four core content teachers, a special educator, and an instructional coach. I'm excited about the flexibility and nimble nature of our new construct. Here is a sample of the increase in idea and innovation flow that seems to already be stemming from this shift. Here is a recent e-mail from my instructional coach to the team.

This is the easiest access to resources from multiple federal agencies. Unlike the actual federal department sites, this one is arranged by subject area and topic making search features much easier. Take a look at the animated science demonstrations. I didn't dig in here long enough to be sure they are your GLE topics, but it looks promising.

Thinkfinity: This is a collection of interactive demonstrations for students. You can search by content area and level. I left up the link to National Geographic's Living Landscapes lesson as it might complement your geography unit and give students tools they can use if they want to investigate further. The Read, Write, Think Section of this website has powerful interactive tools for teaching reading and writing skills.[]=Interactive&chkGrade[]=grades%3A6|grades%3A7|grades%3A8&chkSubject[]=Social+Studies

Thinkquest is a project based learning competition where students design educational websites. From the link below, you can view winning projects or get info on the competition. As we discuss authentic work and project based learning, I'm hopeful that the projects represented on this site will get us thinking.

This is a site from the national institute of health. There is lots to link to our sustainability efforts. Of note are the computer based interactive resources for students as well as the career finder tool that allows students to match their interests to careers in science.
This math forum site has lots of free resources including online math puzzles and problem of the week. Students can ask "Dr. Math" their math questions. I thought this might serve as an outside expert as kids think about authentic work.

Here are free sheet music sites, for historical connections. The final site has multimedia resources to explore musical genre.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Leadership Day- The New Map

Leaders must stop leading their fellow educators into the woods without the new map. The new map avoids the pitfall of the forest, the downed trees, the sink holes, and the swarm of bees. The new map also gives us a new path to success that isn't always the most effective or most efficient, but it is the path that is centered, student centered. The new map isn't just a revision of the old map. It is a brand new way of looking at things.

The new map has features on it that no map has ever had. The new map is education with the technology of the future fused to the core. The new map allows schools to rewrite the definition of success. The new map has answers to the questions that have plagued us for ages.

Does anyone want the new map? It is THE way forward. Can you truly LEAD without it?

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Principal as a “Compassionate Agitator”

This is my latest guest post. Nate Lischwe is passionate about urban education and educational reform. After serving as a math teacher for six years, he is working full-time as a student in educational leadership. Nate is completing internship hours at Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School. Please be a part of his mentoring by commenting below.

The K-12 education landscape is currently undergoing rapid change throughout the United States. Change as we see it today has taken many forms, and the urgency of the situation in our education system is increased by the fact that American schoolchildren’s academic underperformance as compared to students in many other nations. With this context in mind, the challenge for today’s school leader is to effect systemic change (being an agitator) while also valuing stakeholders who are working in the system (being compassionate). While I am only starting to explore the education landscape through the
lens of a possible future school leader, my teaching experience has given me insight into this issue.

As a 2005 Teach For America – St. Louis corps member, I am well-acquainted with educational change. Teach For America continues to grow as it works toward its mission of eliminating the achievement gap, but the organization also draws some criticism. I came face to face with many of these criticisms early in my experience as a high school math teacher. Did I have what it takes to successfully teach my students after not studying secondary education as an undergraduate? Did I truly care about the school and the students, or was I going to leave the system as quickly as I could and just use the experience as a resume builder? These questions were legitimate, but I provided answers to these questions over the next six years, by teaching, learning, collaborating, coaching, tutoring, serving, laughing/crying with students, and doing seemingly everything in between. I won the respect of colleagues by simply putting in a hard, honest day’s work and by caring for the students, day in and day out. In addition, my students answered the call by working diligently and consistently posting high academic achievement.

What lessons does my experience hold for school leaders about being a compassionate agitator? First, we must set high expectations for ourselves and for our colleagues, and we must set an example by working honestly and purposefully to achieve those expectations. Second, we must show that we respect and care for our colleagues by trusting them and collaborating with them in achieving goals, not just in their classrooms,but in the school and in the larger context in which the school exists. If we as leaders set the example by practicing these two ideas, we can build a system in which educators join together and successfully effect the change that we all desire: increased academic achievement by our nation’s students.