Modeling Tech Use for Teachers

work-1001043_1920

I’m working on developing a system through which our staff can get the professional development they need at the time that they need it.  Until then, they have to put up with me coming into staff meetings and team meetings to provide some PD.

But sometimes I can’t physically be at those meetings, either due to me being out at a conference trying to keep current or, as recently happened, due to family emergencies cropping up.  Sometimes those meetings get moved or cancelled, but if I can swing it, I try to use technology to still allow professional learning to happen.

For example, at our junior high we are looking at differently literacy strategies to help students make meaning of whatever they read (or view, in the case of videos).  The topic for last month was concept mapping, a strategy of which I am particularly fond because of its meaning- and connection-making goodness.  But I knew I wouldn’t be able to physically attend the staff meeting at which I was to present this strategy.  So what did I do instead?  Write up some background knowledge and some small activities in a Google Doc and share it out via our junior high Google Classroom group for staff to complete during their team planning time:

I think modeling technology use in this way is an important thing for administrators to do, and I say “do” for a reason – it’s something that’s always acknowledged that admins should do, but it’s not something everyone always makes time to do.  And I understand why – it involves a shift in how you go about your daily business, and it takes time and conscious effort to do that. And, that time and effort isn’t always something that’s at the front of your mind when you’re dealing with the everyday craziness of administrative life.

But modeling technology in this way for teachers gives them a visual and a process for how they can use technology with their own students, which, in the long run, is worth the time and effort.

No such thing as dysfunctional organizations

I’ve been reading The Practice of Adaptive Leadership lately, and it’s full of useful nuggets that have been helpful in understanding the dynamics of my still newish-to-me district. Jeff Lawrence is quoted in the book under the section, “The Illusion of the Broken System:”

dysfunctional

 

This statement really made me ask some questions of myself:

  1. What are the actual results we are currently getting?
  2. Are they in line with our purpose as a school, which is to educate children in such a way as to prepare them for the world into which they will graduate?
  3. Do the results we are currently getting benefit students or are the majority of those results benefitting adults only?

It also made me stop looking for dysfunction and start looking for what outcomes we’re really valuing and rewarding…a better direction to lead change, I think.

Owning vs. Renting Understanding

When instruction is designed around students rather than teachers, students are the ones doing the learning.  And when students are doing learning, checking their understanding, making mistakes, fixing broken knowledge using tools and strategies, and monitoring how well they’re learning is going, we hand the power to own learning back to students.

If we don’t have students practice the actual process of learning, then we’re teaching them to rent, not own understanding.

They need to be owners, not short-term renters.

owning-learning-not-renting

 

Want teachers to take risks? Take them too.

We are in our first year of a long-term plan regarding teaching and learning.  This year involves a lot of professional development given by me at all four of our district buildings (one each of a K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12), with the idea to get the pump primed for teachers to gradually take over in three years after the main seeds are planted.

One of the seeds that is a focus for this year is the seed of differentiation.  I know that some people don’t think it works, but if you’re looking at it from a student proficiency standpoint, it does work.  How do I know?  Because I saw it work in my classroom (in other words, I have practice-based evidence rather than evidence-based practice research).

In order to help differentiation take root with all of the other professional development watering going on, I am modeling differentiated practices.  Which is why for our last Institute Day teachers at all buildings worked on the choice board below:

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-3-35-49-pm

The left column consists of choices from the curriculum realm, the middle column are all choices that generally involve assessment, and the far right column all relate to instruction in some way.  Every team had to choose one option from each column so they were hitting some part of the curriculum, assessment, and instruction cycle, and then upload any documentation to their building’s Google Classroom group.  From the feedback I’ve received so far, teachers liked having choices, and liked having the freedom to choose whatever units/learning targets/assessments they found most useful.

One piece of feedback, however, was the most powerful for me: “It’s nice to see you modeling what you’ve been telling us to do.”

And that’s exactly why I did it.  You can’t just tell people to take the risk of differentiating in their classrooms without taking the risk yourself.  I feel that if I’m going to ask teachers to take risks, I need to be willing to take the same risks with them.

If we’re not willing to model for and take risks with teachers, then how do we expect anyone-teachers or administrators-to ever get better?

Of course, that’s assuming getting better is the goal.

For improvement, more practice-based evidence.

I know I promised everyone Part 3 of my Deconstructing the NGSS series regarding creating assessments (which is coming soon, I promise), but I was perusing my feed reader this morning and I came across a post by Larry Ferlazzo that contained a quote that really hits home with me, and I couldn’t help blogging about it.   This quote came from an article by Anthony Byrk titled Accelerating How We Learn to Improve where he coins the phrase “practice-based evidence:”

The choice of words practice-based evidence is deliberate. We aim to signal a key difference in the relationship between inquiry and improvement as compared to that typically assumed in the more commonly used expression evidence-based practice. Implicit in the latter is that evidence of efficacy exists somewhere outside of local practice and practitioners should simply implement these evidence-based practices. Improvement research, in contrast, is an ongoing, local learning activity.”

This quote conjured up a few questions in my mind after reading it:

  • How many schools and districts have been held back from real improvement simply because they won’t deviate from what’s sold to them as research/evidence-based (often coming to schools in the form of slick pre-packaged kits of materials from publishing companies that are touted to help all students achieve but are aimed so squarely at the middle that they actually help relatively few students)?
  • How many teachers have been held back from helping their students improve because they have been told to implement a research-based curriculum/intervention/strategy that isn’t targeted to their students’ learning needs at the exclusion of other less-researched strategies or curricula?
  • Why do we discourage rather than encourage teachers to gather practice-based evidence, thereby stunting their growth as learners in their own right?
  • How does this encourage schools and district to be the blueprint, not the copy? (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.) Or, does it just encourage educators to work hard in the wrong direction with the wrong tools, with little to no improvement in their practice or student learning?

 

Real improvement comes from within.  We need to encourage teachers to seek out practice-based evidence in their own classrooms in order to help students, improve their practice, and pass on that learning to others around them.  Our students can’t wait for an outside entity to deem something “classroom worthy.”