Tuesday, April 12, 2016

What does the SBAC data actually tell us?

As schools in Vermont wade through the SBAC test for 11th graders...

I'm still waiting for any compelling evidence on what these tests really show. How do they inform practice in some meaningful way?

Take the test. Get the results a year later and view results that... ?

Evaluate the content of the test related to instructional goals of the school / district, perhaps, and... ?

Use the test as a baseline to... ?

My thanks again to the Vermont Secretary of Education, Rebecca Holcombe,  for clarifying Vermont's role.  My hope is that other States will be so lucky.

The SBAC test has certainly interrupted a lot of creative and innovative work. My hope is that we'll all look at the data and check it's value... and determine if the test should continue or just simply be abandoned.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Dig deeper on calls for 'grit' in education...


Grit isn't about just about 'doing more' or 'enduring' more work, more homework, more rigor, and at a faster pace...

We send messages like buckle down, work harder, faster... at the expense of higher level conversations.

Defining more clarity of purpose and exploring quality is, um, sort of left out sometimes.

Grit can be ignited best by passion and purpose.

It's important to ask...

Is 'grit' a call for some students and not others? aka is your call to 'have more grit' elitist?

Are schools just asking students to get grit so they can work harder to fit into their system? What if the system doesn't ring true?

Sometimes, yes, grit is about survival and enduring hardship. It doesn't have to be in education.

Focus on building grit as a noun (descriptor 2, in the pic above) instead of a verb (descriptor 1).

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Introducing Admins, Teachers and Students to Twitter

I jumped into the #satchat discussion this am and the question popped up again:

"How can I get new teachers and admins using Twitter?"

Here's a few tricks I've used for that group, and for students too.

It's not about 'getting them into the club' so to speak. It's about showing them value. Without showing them value it'll be another thing to do and people will lose interest. It's about community building, connections, awareness... and learning.

Start slow, create meaning, build curiosity.

Inquiry teaching, right? Create questions to get them curious about what's out there.


School / district hashtags

School hashtags are about finding another way to connect with your audience and to share great stories. Of course it can also be used for announcements... but I've found it's best when creative stories are shared. It can help combat that "wow, I had no idea that was going on' factor compartmentalized schools often face. If you don't have a school or district hashtag... create one ; ) Post tweets with your State Ed hashtag and the State tag as well to help spread the word.

Example: Announcement, link, school hashtag, State hashtag, and State Ed hashtag

Right... State Ed hashtags!
Most States now have hashtags dedicated for Ed news. In Vermont it's #vted. Moving out of facilitation mode in school administration and teaching and into storytelling, innovation sharing, and community building, both local and State is a good thing. It's a 'building a PLN' thing, an age old acronym, from a couple years back ; )

Relevant connections with 'their' peers
Share local admins on Twitter with your admins. Share innovative local teachers with teachers in the same subject in your school / district. I've found students are pretty curious what other schools are tweeting out.

Town Hashtags or Town Government
Many towns are posting events and important discussions via Twitter these days. Try to find one in your town.

Community Building
It's pretty cool how many schools have built connections with their local (and State!) community. There's great power in being informed, right? ; )

Bigger discussions on important social issues
There are incredible conversations going on via hashtags. #educolor is one of my favorites. There are many people doing great work here to build a conversation. "A movement, not a moment."

Connect them with innovators making great Ed shifts
There are a ton of folks out there who are posting inspirational material and who are making positive changes.

Find some of those innovators and seeing who they are following always helps too.

Connect them with subject learning via Search
Use Twitter to search for #hashtags in education. Here's a lengthy list of Ed hashtags from teachthought.com

Use search to find other groups discussing subjects. Take a topic in culture, news, tech, history, literature, science, math, business... and give it a try.

Admins, Teachers and Kids as Publishers
Taking the challenge to share your work, build connections, and do so within Twitter limitations is a great learning experience. Encouraging students, admins and teachers to share innovative ideas is a win!

Sounding Board
I've hear many people say that they fear publishing on Twitter. Shift them into the idea that they can ask questions too! Post a question to an Ed or subject hashtag and you'll likely get plenty of responses with great resources or opinions.

Digital Citizenship...
I write often about how schools usually handle this 'digital citizenship' thing poorly. I still find many struggle with one and done conversations - usually over 'good passwords' and predators and then it's back to the regular 'academic' flow. Many are still stepped in reactionary policy and procedure to problems. And... social media restrictions, outright denial of service approaches, still do seem to dominate all too much in the Ed realm.

Getting kids and adults involved in the potential, power, and social activism is a higher goal.

So, Promote...

  • meaningful connections and things will take off
    • peers, community engagement, local and State
    • social activism and awareness
  • a place to publish, search for, and ask questions
  • a place to learn. Find great resources and participate in the conversation when and if you're ready

Twitter has been a great source of PD for me. It's helped me make and maintain some incredible connections locally, Nationally and Internationally... and hey, even in the same building sometimes ; )

Of course... learning to manage information flow is a good lesson we all learn on Twitter too ; )

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The spice of innovating!

It' been a busy couple months since Educon in Philly.

I've been working on:

clearing up a nasty lung infection. Not for the faint of heart! Ok, that's not really 'innovating'... but it's taken up some serious time.

working in Burlington School District in Vermont on many innovative projects

and also this...

I'm helping VITA-Learn (Vermont educator professional development) again to renovate it's conferences, social media approach, and Statewide PD initiatives. Here's the latest entry...

The Dynamic Landscapes 2016 conference in Burlington is shaping up to be one of the best VT conferences to date!

We've added a thread called Immersive Workshops this year. Small workshops are great to explore innovation and gather many ideas, but... what about the idea of working for a half day or full day on one topic... with people from other schools with similar interests? it's something we, in practice, rarely get to do. So... Immersive workshops do just that. Dive in for an extended period of time in a discussion facilitated by some heavy hitters.

We're once again doing Ed Camp sessions, have more affordable housing options, and a new social event. We keep expanding the Maker / Innovation space, advanced Maker classes to build skill... and more. We've added some group pricing as well to make it more affordable to send teams.

Of course, I'm not alone in the planning! Diana Laufenberg, Jess Wilson, Lucie deLaBruere, the VL board, Ed Barry, and Paul Irish are all all part of the organizational team.

Check out all the updates on Dynamic Landscapes 2016 and see for yourself. Every time I look at that Immersive workshop list I smile ; )

We're off and running.  Just getting started!

Hope to see you there!


Friday, January 29, 2016

Tips for attending Educon

Conference in session? At Educon, yes! Photo by Adam Provost, 2013

I'm been very lucky over the years to attend the Educon conference in Philly at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA). This, if memory serves, is my 7th... or 8th... ; )

If you're new, or even if you're a veteran to Educon, here's a few tips that might help you.

Educon Account
Create an account and toss up a profile if you're game. It'll help you connect and meet people. I'd encourage you to check out the profiles of others as well. Many contain links to their work out and about... which leads to some very inspiring stuff.

It's January Philly weather
It's January Philly weather and... Educon never struck me as a 'dress up' conference! If you're walking about Philly (which I'd recommend doing), dress for it or face the consequences of your decision ; )

Take a school tour with SLA students on Friday
Dive in and take a student led tour. Talk with students and parents from the school and visit classes. Do a lot of listening and start soaking in all the things you see.

Talk with the SLA teachers on Friday
The teachers at SLA are collaborators.  I've shared resources with these great folks over the years and have asked for many things from them. They always do their best to help. They are well versed in inquiry and project based ed, empowering student voice, and have great resources and insights.

Don't miss the Friday night panel discussion... and reception
Great speakers explore the conference theme of the year via sharing their experiences and insights. Dr Frederic Bertley from the Franklin Institute is the emcee and does a great job threading things together. The reception after mixes everyone including panel speakers together. Grab some refreshments and mix it up with attendees.

A school as an international conference site
Educon isn't a 'resort' conference. It's a gritty school building and amidst all it's imperfections you can see the reflections of the work they do there. The facility isn't holding them back. Core Value posters, grade level themes, student art curation, and creativity are all on display. SLA is a 'student space' school, a collaborative space. The classrooms and hallways are utilized toward these collaborative goals. They paint, decorate and keep the space flexible. If it's still there this year, try to get a pic of the vending machine that's been commandeered to sell student writing! I always look forward to seeing what's new.

Who's Coming
Check out the Who's Coming Page on the conf website and see who's attending. Those folks who inspire you on Twitter and in and blogs just might be at Educon. Introduce yourself, you know, in person! Find people, shake their hand and let them know how valuable their work is to you.

Check the Meetups Page on the main conf site
You never know what meetups might be inspiring. Give it a look as the conf goes on too. People get inspired and add things as the event unfolds.

Get ready... #Educon is a social media hurricane
The #educon hashtag usually rockets up the charts in the Twittersphere to become one of the most popular in the world over the duration of the conference.

During the panel discussion on Friday and throughout both conference days you'll see people crushing inspiration and insights into Twitter. My advice is to dive in and participate. #educon one of the best social media backchannel discussions in education going. The resources people post throughout the conference and afterward via reflective posts will provide you with ton of great material.

Take the opportunity via the #educon hashtag to follow new people on Twitter... and then try to meet them in person. #educon has expanded my PLN more than I could have hoped for over the years.

Take some time to like and share other people's posts that resonate with you. It all helps the conversations grow.

Core Values and Grade level Themes. It's all on the wall at SLA. Picture from the Educon Flickr collaboration

Get to know the school systems at SLA
SLA has a hybrid block schedule, their advisory program rocks, they live by core values and grade level themes, and they dedicate time to meaningful PD time for teachers via 1/2 day combined with student Capstone projects. Other schools would do well to learn how much positive motion that short list can bring to education. Dig deep and learn what the elegance of simplicity and the hard work behind it are accomplishing.

Students and adults in the school are truly empowered. There are endless examples of this in their system. 

A bit more about advisory...
If you have a chance, dive deeper into how SLA handles advisory. It's really, no joke, the core of the school. Chris Lehmann says often, "we teach students, not subjects."

Not Your Typical Sit and Git Conference (link to 2013 Edutopia Article on Educon)
Each session at Educon holds true to it's stated mission on the home page... Educon is about conversations.  Expect presenters to facilitate a conversations rather than 'present.' It's powerful beyond measure because it builds your thinking in many directions and you build off collective knowledge. The conference is built on everything the school does itself day to day via inquiry and project based education.

Look over the Conversations before hand and map out some ideas of what you want to attend. Likely you'll have a difficult time picking what you want to attend... and that's actually a great problem to have!

Don't be afraid to move around if something isn't resonating with you... or you want to take in two sessions of interest.

Educon has always been a place to unpack ideas on equality, white privilege and social justice. We need to explore these issues openly, frequently, and with kids. Each year the discussions grow and build on these fronts at the conference and I'd encourage you to dive in. I gain each year from people leading these conversations at Educon and it helps me in immeasurable ways. A few names to watch for: @RusulAlrubail, @TheJLV@mdawriter@xianb8. I'm very grateful for their work and resolve to bring this discussion forward. Check out their work and start reading in the #educolor movement. A movement, not a moment.

The #educon hashtag goes on, and on, and...
For weeks after Educon people will be tossing up reflective posts online. It's a great chance to learn more about what's going on in other schools, finding people with like interests and recharging your batteries further. tThis conference will help you find strategies to make meaningful shifts in a small and large scale personally or systemically. Plus... it's a great way to get insight into sessions you didn't attend!

Explore some Philly while you're here
Cheesesteaks, the Liberty Bell, Congress Hall, and Reading Terminal Market (just to name a few) are all at your fingertips. Like any large city, there's some incredible food here, art, and museums. Use the Yelp app, check websites for 'things to do in Philadelphia,' and do have a chat with the students who are in the EduConcierge role at the school... they've never steered me wrong.

I'd encourage you to jot down your reflections from the conf on a blog during or after it's done and share it with others who follow online and / or attended. Start writing again if you haven't. It'll help you unpack and grow.

So there it is, a few quick tips.

As usual, I can't wait see some new and familiar faces and get inspired. I come to Educon to recharge my batteries. Hasn't failed me yet.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The 'Checklist' syndrome in schools

'Walk to Freedom, Detroit Michigan. Image courtesy of Flickr Commons.

I received an 'advisory curriculum' once when I was a teacher.  "There are a lot of important issues to cover and advisory is the best place to do it" I was told.

Advisory at that time, so you know, was 20 minutes twice a week. Most agreed the time slot was ineffective but over multiple years the time was never adjusted rather reengineered over and over again.

I started flipping through the binder.

There was a calendar of 'suggestions.' One immediately stood out.

The Friday before the Martin Luther King Jr holiday I was asked to "play the famous I Have a Dream speech from Martin Luther King, Jr. in your advisory." Summarizing, it said 'We'd like to have a campus wide discussion on MLK .'

Functionally, with students coming into the room and preparing to leave Advisory was more like 15 minutes you actually had 'with' students. King's full speech is longer than 15 minutes. So... choose what to cover. Ok.

I kept looking though the binder. After the 'MLK Jr advisory' another unrelated topic was on the agenda. And another the next time. And another... and so on.

So... play the video clip or close to it and off you go. The 'discussion' part was left out.

I got to thinking of that 'advisory checklist' again when I read a great article called 'Teaching MLKs life --- The Man, Not the Myth' from Melinda D. Anderson aka @mdawriter.

MLK's life, mentors, work, goals, influence... is far more than just his 'I Have a Dream' speech. It's more than an item to check of a list' or to 'cover' and then get back to the curriculum.

I chose a different route for my advisory. I didn't play the video. Bandwidth was crushed in the school anyway because asking every teacher to stream a YouTube clip at the same time...

I asked the students in my advisory that day if they'd ever read King's full speech. Most hadn't so I encouraged them to do so some time in the near future. We spoke about 'advisory curriculum' briefly and the danger of discussing issues superficially. We started a conversation that day about social justice, white privilege and media coverage on these topics and discussed them on and off for the rest of the year... at the expense of nearly all the other subjects on the checklist.

I'll confess, most of the advisory time I spent getting to know students, finding out what was going on in their lives, helping them find connections in school and the community, and helping them learn to advocate for themselves and interests.

Of course... I was hesitant to jot this down and share. My citing MLK this time of year isn't just for effect or to forward my own agenda, as Jose Vilson eloquently points out.

I guess I'm just discouraged... because I still see so many one and done, curriculum coverage checklists in education.

King's work was far greater than one speech. His message was far more than something to check off a list in a one and done conversation.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The ill planned consequences of Act 46 in Vermont

Ask anyone in Vermont public schools and they'll give you an earful about Act 46 legislation currently brewing in Vermont.

The essence of the Act 46 plan makes sense: Merge small school districts into larger ones. There are a lot of benefits to that as spending in Vermont education continues to rise while enrollment declines. Merging some management costs and oversight has benefits.

But there's a troubling / devastating thread to Act 46 as well.

There are financial cap spending limits within Act 46 that are proving more than challenging aka crushing. With rising healthcare costs and obligations to pay salary increases contractually, Act 46 spending caps are wreaking havoc on school budgets, kids opportunities and those who support student learning. Especially for schools with renovation plans, where enrollment is actually increasing, or with very diverse populations that require large ELL programs. 

Many districts are trying to be as thoughtful as they can. Some  will succeed on some levels. But... I'm listening to schools throughout Vermont who are cutting to their contractual obligations and seniority. Valuable support programs for kids and families and creative programs are being cut. Many are preparing to RIF some excellent new teachers. Many places are casting aside plans they've made to upgrade and renovate learning spaces.

The legislation was well intended... but not well thought out.

There was some hope that Act 46 may be modified in time for schools to avoid dramatic cuts... but now it appears no changes will be made to Act 46 prior to school budgets being submitted. 

“Too often we look for rapid short-term solutions without realizing all the consequences, and I believe that’s what the spending caps turned out to be,” said Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden.

We can do better.

More people can be involved in planning more thoughtfully. These decisions can be made with school leaders rather than at them.

Decisions like this can be in line with school budget and planning cycles instead of making them reactive. They can be planned into contract negotiations.

Public education remains one of our most valuable resources.

We just have to remind legislators not to make these decisions in vacuums.