Sunday, July 21, 2013

Are You Sure that You Want to Teach?

Before you step into the classroom in the fall, please be sure that you really want to teach. I know that you need a paycheck to support your family, but we need tireless servants that are dedicated to serving all kids. I know that it is the only thing that you have even done, and you can't imagine doing anything else, but I'm not sure that is the deep passion that we need in each of our classrooms to make a difference. I know that you have got this teaching thing figured out and it is a lot easier than it was in year one, and I also know that as soon as we think that way, we aren't the best that we can be. I understand that you have already bought new bulletin board materials and supplies, but what have you done to be a true learner that is implementing next practices and making your classroom completely different for the fall. I know that everyone likes you at school, and it is your place for social acceptance, but the world of education isn't designed to make your social life better, but it is designed to weave a new social fabric for the next generation. I know that you have sacrificed better paying jobs for a quality teacher pension when you have completed your 30 years, but teaching is different, schools are different, and our kids are different. Is this what you signed up for? Are you sure that you want to teach? 

These thoughts were inspired by the infographic below that reminds us that there are many roads to teaching, but the road to excellent teaching over time is paved with some of the hardest work in the world. is a free resource for teachers and aspiring education professionals developed in partnership with the USC Rossier School of Education. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Forced Choices

How do we teach children beauty? How do we teach children to care? How do we make this a central piece of growing our democracy through the education taking place in our school? These questions present a challenge for those of us looking to peel back the role of schools to their core, their true common core. Over the last few years though, those tuned into the challenge of making education different for the next generation have been given a false choice as the Common Core State Standards have rolled into the DNA of public schools across the country. The forced choices became about what teaching in the Common Core era means and how do we teach in the Common Core era, while the essential choices are about deciding whether we have the right set of learnings for our students and asking whether the Common Core State Standards make sense for us at all or whether we should be pursuing another trajectory for all of our learners that focuses on building curiosity, empathy, and creation.

The Next Phase of Connectivity- Part Two

This post adds a bit to my previous thoughts about connectivity and the digital divide. 

A more deeply connected school is a greater place of learning for students and adults. In order to create a model district surrounding connectivity, it is essential that two elements are at the core of the connected experience. The two elements are a robust professional development structure and an infrastructure that support the courageous ideas of those in the classroom.

These two elements couple with the right devices have the greatest chance of making the disruptive changes necessary in our schools today. Disruptive innovation is necessary to move from schools that are getting better to schools that are different.

In the next wave of deeply connected schools there will be:
  • High school students with high quality creation devices that allow for robust input.
  • High school and middle school devices that allow for permeable learning spaces.
  • Middle school students that have access to explore personal learning and passion-based learning 24hr/day with their device of choice. 
  • Elementary school students that have access to multiple devices as an entry point to integrated connected learning. 
  • Middle/High School Students with access to an integrated dashboard that allows for friction to be removed from the system. 
  • Model classrooms at each grade level and subject area outfitted as innovation laboratories so as other spaces in the building can continue to grow and learn. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What Connectivity Could Mean?

The other day I had a surprise meeting about some future possibilities surrounding technology integration in our district. I scrambled home, took out a piece of paper, and started drawing. It was more of a doodle than an infographic. The outcome was some clarity for my meeting, but I realized last week that it was still on my legal pad, and it had become trapped wisdom that I should be sharing.

I talk a lot about releasing trapped wisdom into the system. Placing ideas, knowledge, and even trivia in the field sparks new connections and possibilities. We all have a responsibility to release the trapped wisdom of our learning, the learning in our classrooms, and the gems of our schools. The remainder of this post is an effort to turn my notes into something to consider.

The global learning marketplace, and the possibilities for our students that exist this space, are all about connectivity. This includes the speed of connectivity that comes from broadband access as well as the ease of connectivity that comes from devices. More private, independent, and wealthy public schools have recognized the advantages that come with connectivity, and they are sprinting forward to give their students that best opportunities that they can. Others, many others, are being left behind as the digital divide grows. Connectivity, in the way of speed and ease, may be the greatest challenge that we have in moving our schools and students in poverty to places of opportunity.

The advantage that students with connectivity have begins with the opportunity to create and connect. Watching students create video, music, and digital stories that showcase their learning is an amazing site as it maximizes engagement and drives an internal motivation in students. Once these demonstrations of learning are complete, students are connecting with learners and leaders throughout the country in an effort to find authentic audience and make a difference in their community and beyond. Students that aren't involved in demonstrating their learning in this way are sliding backwards into a place where they aren't ready for college, career, or their future communities. This lack of connectivity is an educational cliff that we are already watching kids fall off.

In addition to this crisis, we are also seeing a misplaced effort surrounding big data in our schools. So much time in PLC, team meetings, and department meetings is being spent looking at data that will never change learning. We are all talking big data, but so few of us are finding the leverage points in data that make a difference. We are caught in the spreadsheet when the answer may come from the 10,000 foot view. There is still so much work to be done to make us data informed. Recently, I have been looking at the quality data that comes from the Clarity product from Bright Bytes. Clarity allows for real data review that can help schools focus on how technology integration efforts can truly leverage change in a system. We need more of these forms of data that can make real sense of the mountains of data that are collected in schools each year. For parents, this could mean providing visually stunning data that showcases the growth and learning at a school in the form of video, audio, and infographic. It could mean real-time e-mail and communication as students mastery skills, earn badges, and move to the next level. For students, it could mean greater focus on goals that matter and a way to truly track growth over time. We have the technology to do this well, but so many places are struggling to use the data to inform, motivation and shape future learning. For teachers, data has to be exciting, engaging, and in real-time. The future of big data for schools must hold power for change and power for schools to do their work not better, but different.

It seems like so many of the incredible ideas in connectivity are sitting there waiting for the courage of the masses to implement them. Think about how incredible schools and learning could be if we created MOOCs for high schools in regions and states. This would allow students to take rigorous courses that were based on their passion. What if each school that wanted to participate for free had to offer three classes, think of all of the learning opportunities that would exist for a huge number of students. The idea of unleashing cross school learning in a deep and meaningful way has tremendous potential. Every example of this that we see has students gaining so much insight, developing empathy, and desiring to learning in this way again and again. The K-12 system is always looking for ways to bring real-life meaningful connection to the classroom, but so many places aren't involved with the citizen science projects that are available everywhere. Crowdsource our data collection, build new scientists, and solve big problems by allowing our students a chance to be citizen scientists. Technology integration in classrooms is great, but let's move technology in the field, and build permeable schools where kids are learning outside, outside in the community, and outside of the community.

Connecting kids through the 24-hour access through speed (broadband) and ease (devices) allows for students to tap into incredible banks of knowledge. No matter if kids are connecting through tablets, laptops or phones, their connectivity will not only prepare them for college and career, but it will foster a fresh sense of play, wonder, curiosity, creativity, and empathy. Implementing this vision is a duty that we all should have moving into a new year. The duty includes looking for ways to unleash this power of connectivity for all students in all spaces because if the harsh realities of the achievement gap seemed intolerable, the realities of the digital divide will be even worse for social fabric of our country.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Lessons from the Hammock

I'm awful at taking time off. I go on vacation to catch up on my reader (FYI... it is now The Old Reader with a feed into gReader for Android on my phone). I go on vacation to read two or three education books. I go on vacation, and I struggle to leave the office at home. I'm in Michigan this week thinking about hundreds of things that I want to do, experience, and accomplish next year. All of them based on making school and learning different instead of better.

I'm doing all of this from a hammock. I'm working hard to work, think, and read from an awesome hammock overlooking Paw Paw Lake in Michigan. I've learned a few things in my first few days in the hammock. The hammock is really comfortable, and I could remain comfortable there for a long time. I wonder how many times in the sake of comfort, I've remained in my educational hammock.

The hammock supports me in every way. My legs, arms, and body are wrapped in the comfort of the hammock. I notice every string that holds me in place. I imagine that our kids feel that way also. They know every adult in the building that holds and supports them.

The hammock has a broken rope. It happened while I was lying in it. I was upset that I broke the hammock, but the other strings supported me, and I continued to rest. Life gets in the way of all of our days at work. If we have a great team, we can support each other when things aren't at their optimum.

The hammock allows me a great few of the lake. It allows me to see my kids swimming, boats rolling by, and the storm on the horizon. Looking through the strings of the hammock blurs my view of reality, and though I like the view, it isn't the truth. Are we creating blindspots in our school as we find our hammocks?

The hammock is hard to get out of. I always feel silly rolling out of the hammock. It is low to the ground, unstable, and awkward to get my footing. How many students will walk in your doors and feel in the same way in the first few weeks? How can we change that?

The hammock is designed to rest. It is a space for silence, reflection, and rejuvenation. Do we provide enough of these space for our kids? Are there "hammocks" in your room that allow for moments of quiet for our students that are bombarded in sound, images, and screen time.

It is raining now. I guess more wisdom from the hammock will have to wait. Until then, love will win....

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Sampling of Life

On Thursday, I made an express trip to Kansas City to eat BBQ for dinner. It was a three hour drive to with a three hour dinner, followed by a three hour drive home. It was one of those things that connected educators do. It was an opportunity to meet some of my professional learning network face-to-face, connect in a new way, and build a common experience. It was one of those things that seemed like the right thing to do even though nothing about it made sense. I'm so glad that my wife finally gets the ecosystem of connected learning. She gets things like ISTE, the Bammys, and random trips across the state for dinner and discussion. It was a tremendous evening, and it left me fired up about the next chance that I get to do it again.

During dinner, a silly thing happened. The waitress was describing the menu, and she talked about the soup of the day. It was a chicken gumbo. It sounded lovely, so out of my mouth flies, "Can I try a sample of that?" Next thing that you know it was the joke of the table with all ten guys asking about getting a sample of something. It led to a lot of laughs throughout the evening, and even today, I'm smiling about my sample of soup.

Sampling things is the truth about my life in so many ways. I've been sampling things for a long time. Over the holidays, I always sample all of the desserts, and I've sampled a ton of different music over time. I look for those samples in the grocery store, and I am partial to the sampler platter on the appetizer menu. In addition, I can't tell you the number of times that I've been to a craft beer location and had the sampler.

I've always called myself an experience person, longing for experiences in life to bolster my happiness, wisdom, and more. This way of life sits in contrast to those that use stuff to bring that same happiness and wisdom. For me, sampling is a way of life. It is a way to try new things, experience a twist to normal, and break the inertia and momentum of daily life. Are you a sampler? What new aspects of life are you trying? What in your life would be just a little bit better with a sample?

Thanks to all ten of my mates at the #tasteofkc #edcampbbq event. It was a great evening that I hope that we can replicate again soon. I'll bring the sampler.