Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Creating Second Order Change

Was your education good enough for you when you went through school?

To some, the answer is yes. Unfortunately, that model is not good enough for our students today. Changing the model is second-order change for most in education (and society) except for a few courageous leaders.

McREL, located in Denver Colorado, rolled out Balanced Leadership in our education agency about 5 years ago. The premise of their meta-analysis was that school leaders had 21 responsibilities that could be correlated with gains in student achievement. Furthermore, there are 6 district level responsibilities that are at the core of the superintendency. The idea of second order change comes from the premise that the magnitude of change at this level is much greater than first order change.

Are we attempting second order change in our schools? My answer would be "no". Check out the Committe of Ten and tell me how much things have changed since 1892. Looks pretty much like a current 2010 high school schedule.

According to our professor, the University of Northern Iowa is the only program preparing superintendents that is using the McREL research and Balanced Leadership responsibilities. Our challenge as new leaders is to create a "sense of urgency" in our schools. To push our profession to change.

Not just minor change, but a magnitude of change that will propel our children into a dedicated culture of 21st century learning.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

March Madness

OK, so my title is a little misleading. It's not even March and I don't find myself in a state of madness. However, I'm hoping those two key words at this time of year will drive a little more Google traffic to my blog!

1:1 Computer Initiatives

Thank you to the administrators, staff, and students in Sigourney Community School District, Sigourney, Iowa as well as the educational reps from Apple Computers for the tour of your school and the discussion of your 1:1 laptop initiative. As we toured the 7-12 facility today it was evident that engagement of student learning was a top priority.

Administrators, teachers, technology directors, curriculum directors, and students will be further developing this conversation across the state of Iowa at the 1:1 Iowa: 2010 Institute on April 7 in Des Moines. For the 30 or so districts already moving in that direction across our state, I applaud your effort. Van Meter is one of the few setting the pace in Iowa.

Most important learning from today:

1. This is not an initiative about computers. This is about changing learning.

2. The paradigm shift is from classroom to community.

3. Our students need to become autonomous learners. My definition of autonomy is the ability to allow teachers/students/administrators the discretion to choose a path that leads to a common goal.

4. Teachers' roles have changed. Students no longer need information. They can find that in .023 seconds in a Google search. Teach them how to make sense of information, synthesize, and collaborate.

5. Tools of today's workforce are
  • Digital
  • Virtual
  • Personal
  • Mobile

But, districts continue to ban these types of tools in schools.

Not our district. Today, we started moving in the right direction.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How Full is Your Glass?

I have a note on my desk that describes a "realistic optimist". The definition states that "this person has a glass half full and finds ways to add water to the glass." Unfortunately, not all of us in education have this perception. I know a lot of people with a glass that is half empty. Unfortunately, I know a select few people that have so many holes in their glass that no amount of water can fill.

So when I received this email, I couldn't help but think how this mentality could benefit education. Often, schools are compared to businesses with students being the goods we produce and student achievement driving the bottom line. When you read this, think about how full your glass is (or should be). What can we do to soar like eagles?

No one can make you serve customers well... that's because great service is a choice. Harvey Mackay tells a wonderful story about a cab driver that proved this point.

He was waiting in line for a ride at the airport. When a cab pulled up, the first thing Harvey noticed was that the taxi was polished to a bright shine. Smartly dressed in a white shirt, black tie, and freshly pressed black slacks, the cab driver jumped out and rounded the car to open the back passenger door for Harvey.

He handed my friend a laminated card and said, “I'm Wally, your driver. While I'm loading your bags in the trunk I'd like you to read my mission statement.”

Taken aback, Harvey read the card. It said, Wally's Mission Statement: To get my customers to their destination in the quickest, safest and cheapest way possible in a friendly environment... This blew Harvey away. Especially when he noticed that the inside of the cab matched the outside. Spotlessly clean!

As he slid behind the wheel, Wally said, “Would you like a cup of coffee? I have a thermos of regular and one of decaf.” My friend said jokingly, “No, I'd prefer a soft drink.” Wally smiled and said, “No problem. I have a cooler up front with regular and Diet Coke, water and orange juice.” Almost stuttering, Harvey said, “I'll take a Diet Coke.”

Handing him his drink, Wally said, “If you'd like something to read, I have The Wall Street Journal, Time, Sports Illustrated and USA Today.”

As they were pulling away, Wally handed my friend another laminated card: These are the stations I get and the music they play, if you'd like to listen to the radio.

And, as if that weren't enough, Wally told Harvey that he had the air conditioning on and asked if the temperature was comfortable for him. Then he advised Harvey of the best route to his destination for that time of day. He also let him know that he'd be happy to chat and tell him about some of the sights or, if Harvey preferred, to leave him with his own thoughts.

“Tell me, Wally,” my amazed friend asked the driver, “Have you always served customers like this?”

Wally smiled into the rear view mirror. “No, not always… In fact, it's only been in the last two years. My first five years of driving, I spent most of my time complaining like all the rest of the cabbies do. Then I heard the personal growth guru, Wayne Dyer, on the radio one day. He had just written a book called, You'll See It When You Believe It. Dyer said that if you get up in the morning expecting to have a bad day, you'll rarely disappoint yourself. He also said to stop complaining and differentiate yourself from your competition.
Don't be a duck. Be an eagle. Ducks quack and complain. Eagles soar above the crowd.

“That hit me right between the eyes,” said Wally. “Dyer was really talking about me. I was always quacking and complaining, so I decided to change my attitude and become an eagle. I looked around at the other cabs and their drivers. The cabs were dirty, the drivers were unfriendly, and the customers were unhappy. So, I decided to make some changes. I put in a few at a time. When my customers responded well, I did more.”

“I take it that has paid off for you?” Harvey asked.

“It sure has,” Wally replied. “My first year as an eagle, I doubled my income from the previous year. This year I'll probably quadruple it. You were lucky to get me today. I don't sit at cabstands anymore. My customers call me for appointments on my cell phone or leave a message on my answering machine. If I can't pick them up myself, I get a reliable cabbie friend to do it, and I take a piece of the action.”

Wally was phenomenal. He was running a limo service out of a Yellow Cab. I've probably told that story to more than fifty cab drivers over the years, and only two took the idea and ran with it. Whenever I go to their cities, I give them a call. The rest of the drivers quacked like ducks and told me all the reasons they couldn't do any of what I was suggesting.

Wally, the Cab Driver, made a different choice. He decided to stop quacking like ducks and start soaring like eagles.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Can we redo the "Race to the Top" Draft?

The Federal Department of Education has released a little information about the Race to the Top Judges. For you sports fans, I'm sure Mel Kiper Jr. would have a field day trying to analyze this! I say we throw the names back in a hat and draft the players again.

The Race to the Top Program is the Obama administration's solution for overhauling the education system. While their purpose is to "ensure maximum integrity and transparency" in education across the country, I can't grasp how protecting the names of the judges is being transparent. Clear as mud? Check out these stats

  • 15 are former principals, 30 are former K-12 teachers

  • 4 are attorneys

  • 35 have doctoral degrees

  • 12 have served on state or local boards of education

  • 15 are former state or district superintendents

  • 25 are from the Northeast, 13 from the West, 13 from the South, and seven from the Midwest

  • 32 are women, and 26 are men
As my friend Linda Hahner pointed out on Twitter, there are no current teachers listed in the group. Linda also points to the fact that we don't know anything about the diversity of the group. While I agree that true reform can only take place when school leaders can make local decisions, I am troubled by the fact that no current teachers are included in the list.

Finally, for those of us in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio and Wisconsin, see you in the next round of applications because the Midwest doesn't have a chance.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Will Email Become the Next "Snail Mail"?

Being relatively new to Twitter and the blog community, I found it hard to believe that I would ever use these tools. However, a friend of mine, Deron Durflinger, helped me see how valuable using these tools can be in the education field. Because of my new obsession with these great resources, I started to wonder if email would become the new "snail mail"???

I used to rely on my inbox to give me the most updated stories and news that I needed. Then I would wast time by hunting around the web at the end of the day going from page to page to check all of my favorite news outlets. Now, with Twitter, I can receive instant updates and follow people throughout the greater education community. I can hear issues and opinions from varying educators in the field by subscribing to their blogs. Furthermore, Google Reader gives me the information at such a blazing rate that some days it is hard to keep up!

So, just like I have done with stamps, I say "goodbye" to my inbox. I won't miss your slow updates, the number of meaningless messages, or the fact that you just can't give me the information my job and life require.

Here is a great resource for educators getting started with Twitter.

My next task is to get this information in the hands of our students and learners.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What is a great teacher?

My last post on mediocre teaching created a lot of "buzz" in my elementary building. I'm not talking about the kind of buzz from too much coffee before an 8:00 am staff meeting, but rather the kind of buzz that energizes people into thinking about their practices in the classroom.

One teacher asked me if average teachers (I prefer mediocre) think they are good in the classroom. I quickly answered "yes" deciding that most teachers who think they are good instructors have obviously lost the ability to reflect on their practice. Instead, I asked the teacher this question, "Do our great teachers know they are great?"

Think about it. I have seen some excellent teachers in the classroom that leave the building each day asking themselves what they could have done better. Great teachers put in long hours each week, feel frustration when a lesson is not perfect, are dedicated to the profession, and constantly look for ways to improve. A great teacher has the innate ability to ensure that every child learns regardless of the child's circumstances or abilities.

We, as educational leaders, need to tell our great teachers everyday that they are the best person in that classroom!

The following excerpt comes from the 6 + 1 Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide (Grades 3 and up) by Ruth Culham. I think this best captures the qualities of a great teacher.

A Good Teacher
(Written by an 8th grader)

To be a good teacher, one needs to love kids, love education, be caring, dedicated, cheerful, etc. Yeah, we've all heard it before. We've been writing this essay since 2nd grade. It's what we're expected to tell you in our big, colorful words for our big, colorful grade. Sure, I agree, it does take all all of that, but maybe it takes a wee bit more, hmm?

Maybe a good teacher need passion. Not necessarily for teaching, but for life. Perhaps they need to be rebellious and independent, as opposed to standard issue Model A.

I think a good teacher should teach what's in their hearts. They should be outrageous and have fun with their subjects. They should be there to give advice, but they should not force it upon those who don't want it.

A good teacher should understand that being free spirited doesn't mean you're stupid and that being shy doesn't' mean you have no opinions. I think a good teacher could let loose and be causal. Let us have our freedoms without losing control.

They must realize that I am not 4, nor am I 40. A good teacher should never fear a new idea. They shouldn't be afraid to make mistakes. They should respect me and my privacy, understanding that this will bring respect to them.

A good teacher must realize that we are individuals. They should involves us in discussions and teach us about reality and things that are relevant to us. They should understand that we don't need to be sheltered as much anymore. Now we need to be taught.

A good teacher listens.

A good teacher learns.

If you leave the school building each day thinking to yourself, "What could I have done better today?" Take a moment to pat yourself on the back. You are a great teacher.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mediocrity in teaching

I start my first blogging "experience" with a topic that has bothered me ever since I started my educational career. What do we do with mediocre teachers?

For starters, and several have written on the topic, it has to begin with a better teacher preparation program. We need to find a way for pre-service teachers to be in front of a real-world class the minute they enter an educational program. Too often, a student-teaching experience is the first chance a person has to actual practice their pedagogy. The pre-service program must then assess the person early and if they have not shown the ability to effectively teach, then they are removed from the educational program. Would you want legal representation from someone who only had a few "field experience" hours in the courtroom? We don't want teachers like that in our schools.

But addressing mediocrity with teachers that are already on staff can be a challenge. One thing districts try to do is catch up those teachers that are behind. In a discussion with a teacher today, he commented on how frustrating it is to sit in professional development meeting and work with colleagues that show little or no motivation to learn or "get better". If teachers notice that about other teachers, how do you think the students feel?

So what do most districts do? They create staff development programs that address a broad range of learners and focus on the majority needs of staff. Isn't that what we're telling our teachers NOT to do in regards to instructing their students?

Instead, I propose we begin to look at professional development in a different way.

1. Get staff connected with the world of educators and allow them to use time to read professional articles, blogs, and collaborate with other teachers (This means that teachers could collaborate with teachers in other states or countries).

2. Use teachers and administrators to collaboratively plan professional development opportunities.

3. Quit the "one-for-all" approach to staff development and differentiate professional development opportunities based on the needs of the each educator (or group of educators such as special education or 4th grade teachers).

4. Connect evaluation systems with evidence of teachers' professional development: projects, implementation of new strategies, student learning.

The next step is then evaluating systems that break the traditional mold. But that's a whole other topic!

Tell me what your ideas are regarding innovative ways to fight mediocrity.