Monday, November 24, 2014

Retain, Reflect, Redistribute

This post was originally published for Brilliant or Insane: Education on the Edge at this link:

The words “professional development” have grown a third head that is making it nearly impossible for people to lean into these moments with positive energy and enthusiasm. Words, when beautiful, generate mental models that propel us into action, but words surrounded in legacy baggage, thwart innovation and more. I propose that we have reached a critical moment with adult learning in schools, a moment where we must drop the words professional development and replace them with the a simple and elegant while complex and robust term, learning.

Reflection can come from having participants answer simple thinking routines like “I used to believe…now I believe,” having learners doodle, or even having them complete a blog post to solidify the thinking surrounding the ideas presented. Learning is something all educators can lean into with a fresh passion and energy. Learning is seen as an opportunity to grow. Learning is foundational to our work as educators. The joy of learning is often what has brought most educators to enjoying their daily role in the classroom. What if we were purposeful about calling planned adult time together for growth “learning” as opposed to “professional development”. Is it possible that more of us would look forward to these moments? Is it possible that the shift in language could shift the structure, focus, and format of these moments within organizations to fit best practices in learning as opposed to just fitting the mental model of today’s mostly tired, mostly painful professional development sessions.

Would parents and community members better understand our breaks in the calendar if they were called days of adult learning instead of professional development? I know that much of this is just semantics, but words matter. Words can get stale, tired, and cause institutional numbness. The second phase of shifting how we think about adult learning goes beyond just words and focuses on adult learners retaining, reflecting, and redistributing ideas, resources, and concepts that grow out of learning opportunities. We are no longer in a shortage of learning moments for professional educators. Learning is happening non-stop in both synchronous and asynchronous ways, but so much of the learning is forgotten or trapped during the process.

With a focus on helping adult learners retain and reflect on information, the best ideas can transfer from training spaces to learning spaces. In order to support this, we have to give plenty of time for intentional conversation within the learning structure that allows our adult learners space to explain to others their current understanding and assimilate it into their working schema. Too often, the best learning experiences are left in the car on the way home as opposed to celebrated and amplified the next days at school because retention wasn’t an intentional focus.

During adult learning, we need to also build in time for reflection and redistribution. Reflection can come from having participants answer simple thinking routines like “I used to believe…now I believe,” having learners doodle, or even having them complete a blog post to solidify the thinking surrounding the ideas presented. The final piece and the one that has really suffered in most adult learning spaces is the opportunity to release trapped wisdom into the system.

The best ideas, resources, and materials can’t get trapped in one classroom or one school, and it is important that during adult learning, we set aside time to share out to teachers beyond the experience using social media tools as well as other means. Learning is amplified when it scales, and redistributing ideas in an intentional way supports this scaling of learning. Every gathering of learning professionals is a gold mine of ideas that can’t remain trapped if our hope of transforming learning for all kids is to become a reality.

There is always a need to think about fine tuning our experiences surrounding learning including the words that we use to describe it and the opportunities that are created to maximize it.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Call for Support in a Most Difficult of Week

I'm deeply sad. I'm not sure that I realized how much the events of the last 100 days surrounding the Michael Brown death have impacted me. I feeling very deeply for all of the people that this case touching. The list is longer than any conceivable list that we can make. I hurt, both physically and emotionally.

This is going to be a week when the town that I love is torn apart in many ways. To know that it is coming is really hard. It is draining. I find myself growing tearful as images of potential situations flash through my head. The worst pieces of who we are are going to be highlighted all across the country. The media is here to capture their version of the story. In times like these, the loudest voices, both in protest, the media, and online, are rarely the healers. I worry that these individuals will become the voice of my city. They will create the images of Saint Louis that people will remember for a long time, and the work of so many people in community building, education, and social justice work will be marginalized in a time when their wisdom is most needed.

This is a week, more than any other week since I've ever been connected across the country with so educators and friends, that I need your help. I need this week to be one where the people in my network of support are able to remind folks that St Louis is a good place. It has good people. Please remind them that good, healthy, healing work is happening here. Help me paint a counternarrative to the one that will fill our screens. 

Remind them that this is a complex situation, and that there are no simple answers. Remind them that the layers of the mess are dense, thick, and many. Remind them that there are no good jokes or light moments to be made about Michael Brown's death or the struggles in so many urban areas and beyond on the issues of race and poverty.

There are so many good things that are beginning to sprout that can allow Saint Louis to heal and provide a way forward for other communities as well. None of these will be highlighted this week, but please remind everyone that they exist and hope with me that they will prevail.

I need all of you to care about kids deeply this week, and know that people just like you are caring for kids back here in St Louis. Your caring for kids this week will help Saint Louis to heal. It is how you can help. There's plenty of blame to go around.

There are plenty of mistakes that have been made, and there will be plenty more this week. Knowing that there will be more mistakes this week is hard to accept, but we are an imperfect people in an imperfect community.

Please remember that there are good, decent, hard working folks throughout Saint Louis leaning into this messy situation. It will look at times this week that we aren't any closer to a solution or solutions than we were fifty years ago, but this isn't the case. There are coalitions of incredible people, quietly pushing back against repeating the mistakes of the past. Parents are teaching their children differently. Schools are shaping the learning experience differently. Communities are listening differently.

Each of you has a voice. Please support me. Please support us. Please know that supporting Saint Louis will support your community and its healing as well. Let our voices support those without voice. Let our voices support those doing their job the right way. Let our voices support the children of Saint Louis that need more care now than ever.

Choosing Hope and A Way Forward

Last April, I had an incredible opportunity to explore some what if… questions around the way that kids learn and grow. It was a process that allowed me to truly stretch my thinking around what is possible for kids. Since then, I have been carrying around a drawing that synthesized my thinking. I haven’t been able to figure out whether to throw it away, revise and extend it, or share it in draft form. In essence, it is a mess. The kind of mess that comes from my mind as I dream and hope. It is the kind of mess that gets me excited and depressed at the same time.

Here are some of the current highlights of this visual dreaming. We need beautiful places for kids to learn. I was standing waiting for my daughter to finish Girl Scouts last night, and I was noticing how beautiful her school is. I noticed an attention to detail, big windows, and welcoming lighting and colors. There are so many meager school facilities, and this fact is a hurdle to learning that many schools never clear. Our next generation of schools must have walls that inspire, showcase a dedication to the principals of sustainability, and think deeply about items like lighting and acoustics. All kids deserve the soul filling experience of their learning space being their Third Teacher.

Next, leadership is the same, and leadership is dramatically different. Leaders today must be effective curators of information. They must look to amplify their best people and leverage their partners and potential partners so that kids are surrounded with opportunities and experiences. Leaders must listen deeply. At no other time has the noise of life been so loud and this requires all leaders to listen deeply, single out the best stuff, and be open to listening to a variety of ideas and opinions across the spectrum. Leaders need a network to support them in their lonely work, and the same network to provide a transfusion of ideas when the supply is low. My favorite current leaders focus on being cross pollinators and saying “YES and” to the energy of the organization.

 Finally, as I think about the student that I hope sprout from the learning places that we sow, I hope that our each learners have the ability to see. This ability to see into the future just far enough that they can smile, have hope, and long for the journey toward the next day and next week. There are too many part of life that draw the shades of pessimism over our eyes, but learning and school should be a huge beam of sunshine that propels us forward. We need people with a deep optimism surrounding our kids with incredible projects of purpose that will allow them launch in the hope light of life with a bit of attitude that says we can solve anything together.

How can we pursue these things together? What can we change tomorrow to begin these shifts? Why aren't more of us pushing for more conversations about the importance of these things?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Having Parental Privilege

Recently I noticed how much parental privilege that I experience at my daughters' schools. I'm able to go into every parent teacher conference knowing that it will be a happy, caring twenty minutes where the teachers will say wonderful things about my daughter. I enjoy being in classrooms, and I don't have any bad memories about school that haunt me. I have an open line of communication with the teachers, and they enjoy talking education with me. I show an empathy for their work, and they respond with compliments about my parenting. I know how to call my daughters in sick without being questioned, and I understand the rhythm of a school day. It is easy to forget that this privilege exists, and it is even easier to forgot how many families never get even a taste of this privilege. How can we remind ourselves that we have a responsibility to build the capacity of all of our parents, so the school and home can truly wrap around our students.

Friday, November 21, 2014

What Are Dos and Don'ts of a Successful One-to-One Computing Program?

The urgency to implement 1:1 programs in schools has reached a fever pitch. Schools are putting more and more devices in the hands of students for the purpose of leveraging the potential of a technology rich environment. All of these programs are well intentioned, some of them are well planned and organized, and the best are effective in bringing greater engagement to learning and empowering students to grow in deeper ways.

As these implementations take place, many schools are avoiding the same mistakes as those that have blazed the trail, while others have struggled to avoid the pitfalls of implementing a 1:1 program. At the top of the list of these pitfalls are not having the necessary infrastructure to allow for success and poorly executed professional development to support the teachers, support staff, and students as the learning environment evolves through the addition of devices.

Exceptional education, and exceptional 1:1 opportunities for kids are only possible with a well organized program, dedicated leadership, and an attention to the details that help to maximize successes during the initial launch of the program, but digging deeper, we find the true special sauce for excellent 1:1 programming. It lies outside of the actual program; instead, it is found in the culture of the learning organization that is built before, during, and after the 1:1 program is conceived, developed, and implemented. There are three key components.

The first is building a culture of YES. So much energy is sucked out of education by colleagues, leaders, and shadow rules and procedures that prevent new ideas and fresh ways of doing things from being brought to the table for cultivation. This culture of NO happens when a leader is presented with a new idea, and the response is something similar to “let me check with my boss to see if it is OK” or giving the innovator a pile of bureaucracy to complete before moving forward with the idea. In other moments, it is a subtle non-verbal that shows little support for the idea through a lack of listening or failing to give credit where credit is due as new ideas emerge. The culture of YES provides energy, support, and an intensity around removing the barriers to success.

The second is acting swiftly to remove the low hanging fruit that is clogging the system. At the beginning of many 1:1 programs, there are legacy issues surrounding the systems that inhibit technology integration from reaching its potential. Sometimes this is old hardware or leftover work orders. In other scenarios, it is old computers and printers that need repair or wiring that remains a mess. No matter what the issue, before starting a fresh initiative around technology integration, it is essential to build good will and trust through visually removing old issues. This can’t just be handling things from an office or items that can’t be seen as good will and momentum is built through those actions that can be seen and that impact the daily user experience. The future of the next project lies on the back of the last project, and this is the low hanging fruit that builds a culture of excitement surrounding an excellent program.

The third is having a responsive culture to the real needs of end user. Deep empathy as part of a technology department is a rarity, but with a culture of service, technology professionals judge their success only the basis of the success of the teachers and students. In order to make this mindset a reality, technology support personnel must put themselves in the shoes of others and begin to think about how to support as though they were the user of the new tools. Having technology that works is no longer an acceptable threshold because technology integration is only successful when users understand the potential and begin to use technology as a tool for engaging, empowering, and energizing their classrooms. When it comes to finding the right way to nudge a 1:1 program forward insist that a culture of service lies at the foundation of the work.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Right Cause, Wrong Symbol

This is the short version of something that I'm not ready to totally articulate, but I feel a need to begin the process of processing a group of feeling and emotions that have swelled lately. Message, image, and branding matter deeply for a cause. A cause can quickly plateau without the right shape to the cause. This can come from complexity of message or a message that can't be absorbed emotionally by individuals beyond the core of the movement. This can come from the images that surround the cause. Are they images that spark feelings of support or confusion? Are they images that elicit a desire to be vocal with support or only provide tepid support if any at all? I support the causes in which I believe. I support causes that make it hard for people to believe in me. I support causes that have bad messages, images, and branding, but it is a lot harder to support a messy cause, a cause that matters, but a cause that I can see the mistakes from which it will never recover. Rosa Parks is an image that remains in all of us, but would it have been the same for two seventeen year olds. The picture of children being attacked by a water cannon spurred action and disgust, but would it have been the same with grown men in this picture. Disruption will happen, and people and stuff will be damaged, but does this movement have the right stuff to make a difference, to make the changes that our society needs, to lift our conversations and bring solutions. Things are going to get messy, and all of this is messy. I want to have the right symbols for the right cause, but for now, I've left with the wrong symbols for the right cause. I'm leaning in, but it isn't easy.