Saturday, July 12, 2014

Overcoming boredom in education

Engagement is a hot topic in education these days.  While sometimes hard to quantify and oftentimes lacking consensus in definition, engagement is important to monitor and improve.  Today I started reading The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact by Michael Fullan and right there in the opening chapter he describes how both students and educators are bored in school.  Unfortunately, I agree with him.

The stats he offers are sad, disheartening....
"Two thirds of initially happy kindergartners become alienated from schooling by the time they reach grade 9. (Jenkins, 2013) Teacher satisfaction has declined 24 percent since 2008, when 62 percent reported feeling "very satisfied;" within five years only 38 percent were saying that (Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, 2013).  Meanwhile and not unrelated, 75 percent of principals  feel that their job has become too complex, half of all principals feel under great stress "several days a week," and the percentage who say they are satisfied with their work has dropped from 68 to 59 since 2008."

But it makes me wonder.... how do we address these, how do we change the stats for the better?

For today, I'm thinking about our students.  Personally, I've always believed that classrooms need to be active, engaging, fun places where students are anything but passive.  I love hands on projects, making students wonder, hooking them with a challenge or tapping into their interest areas.

Recently some new strategies have been on my mind that help address this too...things like The Maker Movement, Genius Hour, Project Based Learning, and Inquiry Based Learning.

What changes do you see that would help hook out students, engage them and make love coming to school to learn?  

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Defeat stops learning

For hours today, I tried.  I really, really tried.  I just don't think my brain works the way my professor wants students in our class to think.  I'm supposed to interpret and apply the organizational theory metaphor of brain to schools.  Apparently I am far too literal to make this work!  I enjoyed the articles I had to read, but I don't really get how they apply to this metaphor.  And worse than that, I've already taken a stab to two similar organizational theory metaphors and tried to apply them to schools...but I didn't do a very good job. 

In a perfect world, I'd be able to look back at the feedback I received on my previous two, similar papers and be able to create a new response that is closer to meeting my professor's expectations.  But this world is far from perfect.  And my frustration with post graduate school continues.  

I'm not sure I've ever felt so defeated in my learning career.  Now I see just how much defeat can interfere with learning.  Maybe it's beyond interfering.  I feel like I've hit a total road block with this class and this paper.  I've found so many other things to do today even though I set the time aside for this paper.  However, every time I try to write... I realize just how unsure I am about the topic, so I type and then delete sentences. 

Beyond my personal frustration, I wonder how many students in K-12 classrooms experience this type of defeat and how they cope with it?  Is this level of frustration a reason why some students detach from the learning experience, stop trying, and simply just don't care? 

Once we recognize the impact of defeat on the learning process I think it's really important to think about how we as educators can ensure that students don't experience this level of defeat and frustration.  My suggestions:
  • Teach clearly-- know the points you are making and make them explicit
  • Monitor students' understanding through the use of formative assessments, check-ins and tasks that require the student to restate/paraphrase the main ideas so misconceptions can be fixed early in the learning process
  • Understand that students learn in different ways and at different rates.  Be prepared to explain the concept in a variety of ways to meet that learner where he/she is.
  • Provide helpful, targeted, useful feedback early and consistently
  • Encourage!  Find something positive to use to motivate the learner.
I'm sure I'll get through this.  All things said and done, maybe I'll even appreciate this experience in the long run as it is making me be much more reflective about the learning process from the perspective of a learner.  I just wish someone would tell professors in secondary settings some of the lessons I'm learning. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

When being in school sucks the life out of you....

Typically, I love being in school.  I love learning, I love reading and I love thinking about things from a new perspective.  But today I'm not feeling it.  I'm sad to admit that my doctoral program has sucked the life out of me over this winter break.  The shame of it is that I'm not even officially in class yet.  The even bigger shame of it is that these two classes are the reason why I selected this degree and they are very interesting to me.  I should LOVE being in these classes.  My 'spring' classes start on Friday.  But, just to be prepared for our first class we had to:
  • Read 3 books as well as (large) parts of other books
  • Read lots of articles
  • Write three papers (2 have to be precisely 6 pages and written to the exact specifications inside the professors head that aren't clear on paper but she's given us three pages of 'suggestions to 'help' us understand what she wants; and one that is a 5 page summary)
  • Watch a 2 hour movie, plus a clip of another movie.
We received all of this information maybe the week before Christmas.  Then we started the mad dash of ordering books and planning how to accomplish all of this while also trying to enjoy the holiday and do other household projects.  Enter the HUGE calendar and an awesome friend to support me through this.  I've been plugging away at it, but I don't feel like I've made a tremendously amount of progress.  The big set back was the revision to the paper description that came AFTER I'd written my first draft of the paper.  :-(    So last night as I was reading and reading and reading, I must admit, I started to get really bitter about all this and found myself feeling like this just isn't worth it.  And then I realized that this is a very sad statement about education.  It's not alright for being in school to suck the life out of any student.

I believe strongly that every student, no matter the age -- prek-doctoral studies-- deserves:
  • A relationship with their teacher/ least the person knows their name and shows that they care about your learning
  • A reasonable work load
  • Meaningful tasks that are engaging, memorable and assist in learning important concepts
  • Meaningful feedback to confirm and expand learning
By providing these things, not only are students more excited about learning they actually learn more.  At this point, I'm reading to complete the to-do list, but I don't have the luxury of really thinking about the material. 

I will keep plugging through and I'm sure I'll get it all done by Friday.  I hope that my impression of the professor and the course changes upon officially beginning the class because I really want to learn this content and enjoy it. 

Either way, I think it's important for all teachers to consider these notions on behalf of all students.  Let's resolve to do everything possible to keep learning as a meaningful, enjoyable process!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Reflecting and planning/dreaming

With one day left in 2013, I am finding myself deep in thought both reflecting on the past year and thinking about how to make the new year even better.  I'm not a fan of New Years Resolutions, but I do value reflection, planning and dreaming.

So, 2013 flew by but was amazing.  My school year in numbers:
    4th year as Principal at SSES
    Member of 1 new district level committee (social media)
    4 amazing teachers hired to join our team at school
    Attended 4 professional conferences (responsive classroom, ASCD x 2, NAESP)
    Accumulated over 1400 tweets on school account
    1 school blog started with many entries (
    6 doctoral classes, 18 credits accomplished (1year down!)
    4 entries posted to my personal blog (
    Co-launched 1 new twitter chat (#mdeschat, Thursdays at 9pm)
    Read too many professional books to count (a few favorites: The Smartest Kids in the World, Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind, Professional Conversations, David and Goliath- ok, just started but 1/2 way done)
I'm sure there's a lot more details and successes from the year to include.... and i will as i continue to reflect on the year, but for now this is a start.

One of the most impactful for me has been starting the doctoral program at with an emphasis on educational leadership and policy.  6 classes and 18 credits later... I'm definitely surviving (I think).  Being a student is making me think about education with a fresh perspective.  It makes me grumpy at times because it reminds me that we are doing education all wrong!  My goal is to channel that grumpiness into positive change as we move into the new year (especially with regard to how we think about assessment, inquiry, student ownership of learning, and mastery).

So, as I think about what I was to accomplish in 2014 professionally, educationally and with regards to school.... Here are my early ideas:

 -Spend as much time as possible with students, get into classrooms and be better connected to learning.
- Continue expanding our embrace of innovation by joining global projects, inspiring kids to dream big by tackling real world problems, and encouraging risk-taking by colleagues
- Challenge status que and 'the way we've always done things in education,' both at my school and at a bigger level.
-Embracing blogging as a professional tool to allow me to think through my ideas a more and to elicit conversation from colleagues near and far. (ie more than 4 posts next year!).

I'd love your advice and input about how to make these things happen consistently in 2014.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Democracy and Truth

This will be a short entry.  I am wrestling with big topics, topics that don't have easy answers. Somehow I suspect that this torment is the desired result of my professors and others I've been conversing with about these topics.

The topics I'm wresting with are Democracy and Truth.  Both arose from my doctoral class this weekend.  It was the first week of my two new classes, Comparative Group Analysis (Stats 2) and Issues in Education.  As with most math classes, no controversy in the stats class....but the Issues class got me thinking.  Our theme for this weekend was Democracy in Schools.  Originally, I was good with it and came up with several applications that model democracy for students at my school allowing them to truly experience democracy and learn at a you age about the benefits of being an involved citizen...but them it got deeper and less 'easy' to process and resolve.

Some of the questions running through my head are:
       - When history writes our story, who gets to be remembered as 'right'?
       - If everyone interprets the world through their own experience, traditions, beliefs, etc can one 'true' version of history ever be documented?
       - How can one know they are being told the truth about events, history, etc...?
       - Is our democracy truly representing all?
       - Is democracy open to all citizens in our country?
       - How do/can schools prepare children to inherent and better our country, society, and world?

These are HUGE issues in our country and in our world.  But they are not easy and they may not have answers.  At this point, I'm settling with the resolution that there's benefit in at least wrestling with the issues.  Avoiding them would be the true harm.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Why educators need to be students too

Being in a doctoral program is teaching me so much.  But it's not just the content of the classes that I'm learning. I'm propelled into deep reflection about teaching and learning during each class weekend.  After this weekend's marathon session of classes, I am reminded that it is vastly important for teachers to be students themselves frequently.  I need to make a strong distinction here: I am not advocating that educators be life long learners (although I do believe that this is also an essential requirement for educators); rather, educators need to be enrolled in someone else's class as a student and be in the role of the learner frequently during their career. Here's why:

As a professional educator also engaged in the role of a student, you:

* Develop empathy for your students -- you remember what it's like to learn something brand new, what it's like to feel clueless, you do everything you can to try to sit and listen with perfect behavior for 7 hours straight, remember what teamwork/collaboration feels like, recall how much you strive for a great grade but often times feel like its out of your reach (yes, tough day in my stats class!!)

* Insight deep reflection on practice --  is a traditional grading system fair, is it good enough to cover the content or do students need to learn it, how do visuals/technology/collaboration enhance learning, how do formative assessments inform instruction, how do you measure learning, what makes content memorable and meaningful

* Remain current, fresh and alive in your practice by 1) seeing the strategies another teacher employs, 2) feeling the impact of those strategies as a student and 3) importantly, taking the time to reflect on both to adjust and improve your practices

Specifically, as a student again since January, there have been several huge areas that have become of major interest to me because of my experience as a learner.  They are:
* the need for physical movement
* the importance of collaboration
* the difference that true feedback makes on understanding, learning and development
* the value of formative assessment and student input/feedback regarding instruction
* assessment and grading practices and policies (including the supreme benefit of re-do policies)

With these thoughts, and more importantly, experiences fresh on my mind, I plan to actively advocate for what's best and what's right for students with regard to these topics when we return to school in the fall.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Brain fog resulting from working in silos

It's not often that I have an experience that reminds me distinctly of high school, but around midnight tonight I did.  Throughout the day today I did several things all related to my growth as a professional and as a learner, including:

  • Worked on a paper for my educational planning class
  • Completed a module for an online class about the CCSS Math standards
  • Read two chapters in Essential Questions by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe
  • Investigated the NBCT renewal process and started planning my journey
  • Read and tried to comprehend chapter 7 of my stats class 
As I was finishing the chapter in stats and muddling through the practice problems, I realized that 1) it was beyond my brain's optimal work time and 2) all of the concepts and thoughts were swirling randomly in a fog of unrelated learning.  In that moment, I remembered high school...working on Algebra 2 problems followed immediately by some AP European history mixed with a little chemistry and lets not forget a novel study of the Grapes of Wrath.  No connections or relationships, just a series of tasks that had to be done before school the next day.

Unlike yesterday, where I blogged about experiences coming together, today there is no overlap. No commonality, and no break through of thought.  And, no application or way for me to use all this new knowledge.  Learning skills in isolation doesn't work too well for me. And, it certainly doesn't work very well for our students.  But yet, it is still common place in schools from elementary school to doctoral programs. 

Education reform can't come quick enough for me!  I dream of the day where content is truly embedded in real-world, inquiry based problems and experiences, where content is carefully and meaningfully selected and organized to maximize the understanding and depth of learning for students.  

Unfortunately, my world will continue to remain in these silos for the next year. Perhaps my task needs to be to find the common, intersecting points between each of these long-lasting expenses I've gotten myself into.  One thing is for sure: a lot of reflection on the learning process awaits me.