What if schools operated as if we should all be “learners”? Part 2 #IMOOC week 3

Yesterday, our school played host to a first-ever regional workshop of 4 area schools.

About 800 educators came together to spend the day in workshops, presentations, discussions, sharings, connections all in the service of the theme of the day “Connecting for Kids.”

The premise was simple–we have a lot of education talent in the Finger Lakes region. Let’s put it together, share those resources and knowledge, and our kids can benefit.

Such things do not happen easily. A coordinated effort such as this takes time, and it takes resources. Superintendents trusted that it could come together. Such is the culture of innovation.

The vibe for the day was amazing. Everyone that I spoke with felt like they were learning, and felt like the connection between other teachers and educators inspired and re-filled those March-empty teacher tanks.

Such a day makes room for people to return to something fundamental. It allows us to become learners again. We connected for kids, but we also connected for ourselves and our passions.

Continue reading “What if schools operated as if we should all be “learners”? Part 2 #IMOOC week 3″

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What if schools operated as if we should all be “learners”? #IMMOOC week 3

 

Analogy: “Career” vs. “Passion”; “Teacher” vs. “Learner”

It popped into my Twitter feed earlier today. A question that should be added to the list of questions asked when hiring new teachers: “How do you consider yourself a learner?”

A career in education is a long one. Some teachers may spend 20 years, or perhaps 30 or 35 years working in a classroom. Educators may move from a classroom setting, to some support role as  a department chair or leader, or in many cases, move into an administrative position.

If we see our roles only as a adults there to give knowledge, hold students accountable, assign points, it may come to feel pretty static.

And, when students aren’t interested in the class, they resist by not doing work, adults up the stakes with more rules, systems of accountability, and I’ve seen the burned out of imposing the role of the “teacher.”


Integration question: What are the principles of sustainability in ecology and environmental science and how can they be applied to the field of education


I don’t have your answer.

For me, it’s a drive to do new and different things in different ways in my classroom. To not rest on something that’s worked in the past. This means knowing that I have to learn about new techniques, approaches, methodologies and tools to make the new possible and successful.  

 

Change is an opportunity to do something amazing, so let’s build a new school.

For the first week of season 2 of Innovator’s Mindset, I get to pour the metaphorical Legos out onto the floor, and build a new school.

Recently, I’ve written here about some of the things I’d like to see in forward thinking classrooms (A New High School Course), about some new models for writing (Trashing the High School English Classroom) and about how I’m working with students using Twitter to build connections to ideas they’re researching (Students, the Twitter-verse and Me).

When the IMMOOC prompts came out, I felt a little stalled, and to work through the block, just made some lists of practices I was trying to embrace as an educator and my reactions to the early pages of Innovator’s Mindset. I wasn’t feeling it, so decided to spend sometime engaging in design thinking and build a new school.

I’ve heard teacher re-frame the focus of education: “I don’t teach X subject, I teach children.” It’s, of course, an important distinction to make. The learners in classrooms need to come first, and before learning things like the quadratic equation, logos-ethos-pathos, the theme of Hamlet, or the parts of a cell.

However, I wonder, if we think of schools just in terms of the children, and that children are the only clients that we serve, we maybe do a disservice to the entire community. After all, teachers are there, and some will spend thirty or more years working in a building, the same can be said of the administrators, counselors, and other members that make up the service that’s done. Schools also function, arguably, to create functioning members of the community. Doesn’t a school serve, beyond its children and faculty, the larger community?

I’ve stopped saying, “I don’t English, I teach children,” to “I’m trying to engage in a practice that honors the humanity of all of those involved.”

By trying to make things better, and to engage in design thinking, I hope to honor the humanity of my students and my self. When I read Launch, last summer, my central take away is that when we are going to create, we have to start by asking questions that force us to consider those we are trying to create for. If we’re going to build better schools–both physically and in terms of the curriculum, we have to empathize with all involved.

Here are some things that I would do in the new school:

First I’d start with some questions. Here are some questions that need to be asked?

  • What kinds of environments do people feel most productive in?
  • What does psychological research reveal about the connections physical space, productivity, and learning?
  • What kinds of spaces exist on the cutting edge in industries such as tech, medical, automotive, business? What do they look like and why?
  • How can schools provide services important to people that move beyond the academic? For example, can we put medical clinics, dentists, legal aid, fruit and vegetable markets, DMVs, county clerks offices in schools for members to have access to?
  • What are the core experiences of our humanity? Community? Language? Cooking? Collaboration? Innovation? Creativity? Making? How can schools promote such experiences?
  • How do we create a school that will still be relevant in 5, 10, 20, 100 years?

Physical:

  • A range of classroom layouts that accommodate for a range of instructional styles: direct, project-based, small-group, rotational.
  • Outside classrooms designed and constructed so that teaching and learning could happen year round. Heated spaced, covered spaces.
  • A large, open communal space designed to be welcoming for all members of the school during the day, and for all community outside of school hours.
  • A movie theater.
  • Individual office space for each teacher. Space large enough for teacher and small group of students.
  • Labs designated for use not tied to classes: maker spaces, computer, media. Spaces where members are allowed to work, play, create.

Curricular:

  • A strong, developed, transparent, and rigorous system of assessment for all students. Assessments are generated or negotiated between teachers, students, parents, community members (hospital, business leaders, for example), allow for multiple approaches to complete, and involve all stakeholders in the evaluation of the assessments.
  • Emphasis on project-based learning, inquiry, research, interdisciplinary study.
  • Expectation that administrators work in classes; expectation that teachers perform administrative tasks.

What would I leave behind?

  • Assumption.
  • “This is how we’ve always done it.”
  • Budgetary restriction.
  • Peddling to the mediocre, average, and fearful.

I would love to hear about what your schools have done to be different and any questions you’d add to my list. I’m sure that I’ll be revising this blog. As soon as I post, I know that I’ll have something new to add to one of the lists above.

Now, off to read some great blogs and be inspired.

 

 

 

Building Innovative Schools

For innovation to exist, according to George Courous, the development has to be new and better.  The innovator’s mindset is that we can develop the thinking that creates new and better ideas.  

Since watching the IMMOOC Week Two podcast, I’ve been thinking about the importance of defining what “better” means. In my class, I would feel like I was being innovative if I could increase the number of students engaging in the items from the list below.

One of the things that I wanted was for “better” to be measurable. Here are some aspects that I would like to be able to document, measure and then start to work towards:

  • The amount of time students spend on task.
  • The number of students asking questions as well as changing the the kinds of questions they ask.
  • More students creating texts based more on their choice.
  • More students creating multimodal texts based on their choice.
  • More students moving into greater depth of knowledge experiences.

Last week, I suggested that we can’t innovate if we are measuring with rubrics; however, it’s important to also know if what we’re doing is actually working. In essence, it’s developing some data to observe.  

However, there’s some other aspects to what I’d like to see as “better,” but I don’t think that we can find a way to measure it. For example, if I was working on the above, I’d like to see the students feeling happier and more excited. And, I’d also like to see that the students can transfer more. If they could take the skills and developing intelligence and apply it in other contexts.

Review of the Questions and Embodying the Mindset

It seemed to me in the reading of this chapter, that the questions place teachers directly into having an innovative mindset because we have to be empathetic and reflective to find answers. Moreover, for us to really answer these questions we have to step outside of ourselves as teachers, and critically look at what we’re doing, and be ready to change.

Mainly, those questions ask us question our practice through the eyes of those we teach.

One of my favorite questions, however, comes from the end of Chapter 2 and is in the questions for discussion: If you were to start a school from scratch, what would it look like?

Over the past ten days, I’ve thought about this. Our schools aren’t really laid out for innovation. In my school, most of the hallways are an off-white, industrial color that make everything look the same (it’s actually changing as we have students who are painting murals on the walls). Our classrooms have an industrial feel. Rows of desks and chairs. A teacher’s desk, more often than not located somewhere front-and-center. The floors are pretty much the same color as the walls and are a hard linoleum. There’s obligatory Smartboard and projector. These layouts invite a teacher-centric, delivery, knowledge transfer model approach to lessons. Even when the teacher breaks the row and builds a circle of desks, the teacher is still very much at the center. I’m guessing that most classrooms around in the country, in public schools, look like this.

In our department, with the knowledge that Chromebooks are coming to be part of a 1-to-1 program, we’ve started to talk about removing the furniture and getting new stuff–modular seating, cafe tables and chairs, places to work individually. We’re going to try to create some classrooms that allow for collaboration, comfortable work spaces, small-group meetings. Many of us with a new classroom set up and full-time access to technology hope to create classes that invite learning models that have students creating their own knowledge, making decisions about how to display their learning, and working with others to do so.

However, as I write this, I’m looking back to my copy of the Innovator’s Mindset, and see that question, “Would I want to be a student in my own classroom?” And, I’m realizing that we’ve forgotten to bring in any students to the discussion to get their perspective and ideas. How would I build a school from scratch, well, I have a lot of ideas, but they’re mine.

What if the question we asked was, “If students were going to build a school from scratch, both its physical structure and curricular requirements, what would it look like?” What would kids want in a school? What could we build that would make them want to come?

Furthermore, if I were to construct the curriculum of an innovative school, I would want students to be at the center of the planning. I would like them to think about what the school day would look like, what the content of courses would be, what the outcomes of the school would be, who the teachers were and how they would teach.

One way that we can be innovative in our teaching is to let students make decisions influence the direction of our schools and classrooms.

On Joining the #IMMOOC

A scene from Friday morning:

file_000-6

We were all riding a little high at the end of a hot first week of school. Kids were glad to be back. My plans were rolling out pretty smoothly: I had gotten two classes started on creating blogs, one class had started on a gamified, self-paced learning module.

I was in my classroom at the beginning of the day, greeting kids as they filed in, and I pulled out my phone, dropped it into my selfie-stick, and started snapping some picks of my class. That’s when I heard the kids:

“Is that a selfie-stick?”

“Does he have a self-stick?”

“Is he periscoping?” I was.

The students were flabbergasted that I would do such a thing. That I would take pictures of our community. That I would have a selfie-stick. That I would use technology to share the vibrant spirit of the first week.

And, while I was just trying to have some fun and to capture a little of the good feeling of the first week at Canandaigua Academy, and perhaps be slightly innovative, now that I think about it, I wonder. Should any of those thing be so shocking to students that they’d see them as novel?

Anyways, the bell rang, and we got busy with the classroom business.

Then, I got a retweet. Dave Burgess and George Couros were putting together a MOOC on Couros’ The Innovator’s Mindset. A book that inspired me this summer and fueled much of the philosophies I’m working to advance my practice. I read it as I was thinking about writing an end of the first week of school blog post, and something to dovetail with my last post: Innovation for Innovation’s Sake.

I’m excited to join the #IMMOOC. I’m hoping it will build my PLN, continue to develop my ideas around innovation, keep me honest about innovating and making and blogging as we move through the next couple of months. What a gift at the end of the first week of school.

Innovation for Innovation’s Sake

It was a great summer for writing, blogging, remaking course materials, getting ready to adopt new paradigms. I felt like I couldn’t fully let go of summer without acknowledging that, and trying to put a cap on it with a final blog post. I felt like maybe I needed to put down some goals, but then, I’m realizing that I really hate sharing goals publically. More on this below.

I left the school year, like many teachers, ready for a break. But there was something more to it than that. I had been feeling a bored, unchallenged, and not really sure what I wanted to do professionally. I’m sitting on the doorstep of twenty years of teaching, and I was asking myself questions like, What should I do for the second half of my career? Is it time to go back to school? Time to consider pursuing administrative certification? Do I need to go teach Middle School for a while? What am I really doing here? How can I keep going, perhaps for 10 or 15 more years?

And, I asked many of these questions with a great deal of trepidation. I was asking what I needed to change about myself. Change, evolution and personal growth all get good lip service particularly in the educational world. People say, What are your goals this year? How are you going to grow? Yet, we don’t have any systems in place to really enact this. I imagine that like myself, many of you keep files of old lessons, unit plans, binders of course materials. Many teachers started their years by opening files to access that first unit of the school year. Deep inside, there’s that caution: Why change what isn’t broken? Why change for the sake of change? Or, if you’re going to change something you better have a good reason!

Some of these fears, questions and doubts were reflected in Starr Sackstein’s blog for Education Weekly, “Twitter Chats Can Build Collaboration for Systemic Change.” In her blog, she draws on results of mid-career educators and their fears and doubts about their career. Please go read it here.

There are even more deeply embedded aspects of our culture and institutions that prevent change. Last week during a curriculum writing session, I suggested several ideas about changing the school day, teacher assignments, and compensation of teacher time. At each one, I heard, “The union won’t like that.”

So, inside, while I wanted to find a new direction, I was fearing change.

Even as I asked myself these questions, I still felt like I had a lot I wanted to accomplish. I knew there was more I could do for others and for myself as a person.

Still, all of this was a bit vague and shadowy. So, I was having a Dante, beginning of the Divine Comedy kind of moments.

One of the things I spent time watching this summer on Netflix (next to Stranger Things) was the second season of their show Chef’s Table, and the new iteration of the show, which focuses on France. The most powerful episode for me comes in episode 1 of season 2, focusing on Grant Achatz. In this episode, Achatz describes his need for creativity as an important part of his work, and especially for sustaining himself over the years. He’s continually reinventing recipes, his restaurant, his food, and his delivery. It’s through these changes that he finds energy and passion for his work. This theme of change and creativity is very much present in the French Chef’s Table. Go watch!

Watching this show set a path for my summer. Listening to these chefs spoke directly to me. Their thinking about their craft echoed my own. I heard my own needs to create, to innovate, to be original. When they spoke about changing, I heard a permission to do away with the old and change, not simply for the sake of change, but to change because for many people, creative, inventive revolution is necessary to feel inspired and to keep moving.

These two vocations have much in common. I can see this across so much of my practice. When I have three sections of a class and have to teach the third section the same lesson that I’ve already taught two times, I would always change it. I couldn’t do it the same way. My files, both paper and electronic, are cluttered with variations of lessons from year to year, or add-ons to units where I had a new and different idea (see my post on blowing up my IB class). Without realizing it, I’ve been reinventing and creating throughout my career, but perhaps not always cognizant of why.

Much of my summer since that late June watching of that episode of Chef’s Table has been focused on creating for myself and getting ready to help my students create in the coming months. Helping students to do this isn’t so much a goal as I new way I hope to move through the classroom spaces I want to make.

Let’s have the best year of innovation ever!