Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Interdisciplinary Makerspaces in Education

Is your school or collegiate makerspace 'interdisciplinary' or just another isolated class? Does it invite in community expertise and artistry? Does it host events?

Opening the doors to new ways of thinking and collaboration can reap huge rewards.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Building Personalized Learning Plans and Blended Learning Opportunties

Visual of Student Exploration Projects in One Semester.
I've been reading a lot of great Twitter chats lately about building Personalized Learning Plans and Blended Learning opportunities.

I started on those paths back in 1995 by building a Student Help Desk program at South Burlington High School and then dove in full steam as a teacher in 2005 at Burr and Burton Academy in the development of the rLab project until 2013. Students chose their own projects in the lab and it led to incredible results, growth, and challenges to traditional academic constructs. In many ways, it was ahead of its time. My explorations on the two threads continue to this day.

Here's a look under the hood of the rLab at Burr and Burton Academy where this work really took off, lists of topics students explored and more about the paths that developed.

I've learned a lot about creating and building these opportunities, the challenges they bring to traditional 'school' practice, assessment strategies therein, incredible project archiving options, promoting student voice and leadership, demonstrations of learning through meaningful portfolios, making and maintaining community and mentorship connections, and mentoring teachers in these practices. I continue to take consulting jobs on these topics (and others) to help K-12 schools and higher education institutions innovate, build systems, and train teachers in personalized learning. Let me know if I can help.

Keep moving forward... ; )

Friday, May 11, 2018

Unity VR, AR... and 'Innovation'

'Innovation' can be an overused word. How do you define 'innovation?' How does your school or business define it?

I've always promoted the development of and thrived in 'innovation labs' as places to get things started. You know, places where you try new things, new approaches, new ways to design, think and explore challenges and ideas. My house at various times is an innovation lab, and I've built a few in education. 

The trick is moving innovation out into the routine. Even if it improves practice or opportunities, sometimes it can meet resistance.

I've been experimenting with VR and AR lately... and in an exploration setting, there's a lot of great things to dive into in this field. I've chosen Unity3D on this front (free for the hobbyist, education, personal use). 

What schools and businesses have 'true' innovation labs? Are they isolated or based in rich collaborative practices?

How can VR and AR be used to reimagine... the places we live, problems we need to solve, new ways to visualize something, or how we work?

Opening new doors takes time-tested and new approaches. There are new ways to visualize things, experiment, and collaborate. How do you or your workplace dive into 'ideation?'

Build new opportunities. Keep moving forward. Keep learning. Never know what might evolve.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Rethinking Community Service Day in Schools

I've been thinking about 'community building' quite a bit lately, more so than usual.

I ran into a friend who's in her 10th year of teaching yesterday, and when I asked her how things were going, she talked about, as many k-12 educators often do... 'triage.' Events and initiatives were piled on, and budgets fell to cuts again, key support positions riffed, PD time was scarce and dominated by initiatives, and then she dove into a description of her schools recent 'community service day.'

She said that faculty was asked to plan activities in the community, kids signed up, and the entire school marched out on one day to do community service work. Projects ranged from yard work, a lot green up efforts, to scientific testing, to nature walks, and bike tours. I asked her how 'bike tours' helped build a sense of community... and she laughed. Kids, she described, often loathed the activities as busy work and 'free labor' and she was worried they lacked connection in real and meaningful ways. Then, after one day, community service was over.

What if 'building community' was a grade level theme... all year?

The concept of grade level themes was introduced to me from the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia about eight years ago. For each grade classes at SLA are driven by theme focused lenses:

9th: Identity
10th: Systems
11th: Change
12th: Creation

So, if you're a 9th grader, every class, math, science, humanities, art, etc., is exploring 'Identity' as a theme to focus academics into something meaningful to kids lives. The result, especially in a project-based and inquiry-driven school, is that the students make meaningful connections to their place in the world.

What if a school used 'building community' as a project lens to focus every academic course and outreach project together at one grade level? What if teachers got a whole year of PD time to plan? What connections would people make? What academic disciplines could work together instead of functioning in their silo? What could students gain by knowing who is working in their community, in what jobs, and more about the area history and needs?

Schools can be robust community centers. It just requires thinking differently. Changing some thought paradigms about silos in education, about the school as a citadel, about one and done type activities - to check off on a list, can help connect kids, families, and communities on much deeper levels.

#vted #education #communitybuilding

Friday, March 9, 2018

Work-Life Balance: It's your ship.

I got an email from a former student asking if I had time to talk this morning. After we agreed on a time and connected, I could hear immediately they were pretty tense.
After a bit of catch up time, personal details aside, he said he'd been in a new job for five months, on salary, and has been routinely asked to work over 80 hours a week 'to get the job done.' He'd been asked to work weekends, come in for meetings as early as 5 am, and stay late at the drop of a hat, sometimes as late as 1 am. Messages came in related to work 24/7 with expectations for 'timely response.' He also said he'd been asked to travel spontaneously with overnights four times so far with less than 24 hours notice. No matter how late you stay apparently, employees are asked to be at work the next day on-time at 8 am, no matter what the circumstances. The pay, he relayed, could be considered slightly above average for their position, but by no means would it be considered extraordinary or even exceptional. He said the office has some modern trends: a ping pong table, free coffee, free sandwiches and salads on Friday's, and free 15-minute employee massages in-house once per month.
I asked how he was doing and if he loved the work. "I did," he said. "But, I'm burning out. I can't get away from it and take a break at this pace. I feel exhausted every single day. By the time I do get a few hours off, I don't feel like doing anything. I have no time to see my wife and son or friends. I haven't done anything for so long except come home, eat and sleep. Things are getting tense at home because I'm literally never there to do anything."
He said it all hit wall recently because he requested a total of four hours off last week to bring his five-year-old son to two dentist appointments and was told he had to file and take CTO (Combined Time Off) to do so. Taking this time, he explained, means less vacation, later on, something he already feels he sorely needs because of burnout.
Then he asked what advice I had for him.
I asked him if he had any mentors at work. "What?" he replied. I asked if he'd been assigned any mentors at work, someone he could talk to about challenges in this new positions, expectations, if their take on if this was normal, etc. "No,'" he responded. "Someone showed me the ropes of my job for about a week, where to find things, where files go, and training on one application we use, but nothing like you're talking about."
I reminded him that in five months of employment, he'd worked over ten months already - "you've doubled your hours per week, each week, for five months."
I shared some of my trials over the years. I wish I could say I've always managed work-life balance well in my career, but I haven't. It's a constant juggling act. I've worked myself to the point of exhaustion a few times and also crossed that threshold twice over 25 years and into health problems. I decided in a couple of those instances to 'press on' and slowly make the adjustments I needed to restore work-life balance. In a couple of others, I felt it was just necessary to move on because stress/dysfunction and 'end game' didn't make sense. In all those cases, 'real' mentorship programs were non-existent and left me thinking how valuable they could have been to change the culture.
So I gave him the following advice: "Strike up a conversation with a peer who's been there for a bit, explain your question, and ask how they address these issues. Leave the stress out of it, just stay factual. It'll help you gain some perspective. Then talk to your supervisor and explain your situation and circumstances. Ask them to clarify their stance on your question and see what they say. If the answer remains to take CTO time to bring your child to the dentist, and 'do whatever it takes to do your job,' as in 80+ hours per week, and 24/7 availability, then analyze the end game.
End-game, meaning, 'what are you getting out of this and what's the projection of how this will play out over time?' That will likely lead to three options: 1. You love the money and think it's worth it as long as you can put up with it. 2. You love the job, see this demand as temporary, and that it will or can improve. 3. Endure it for the time being and it'll give you time to start polishing your resume and move on if you don't want to live this way.
I often think of the mentorship programs I saw available to new teachers when I was in New Zealand. You taught with a mentor in year one, were mentored half-time in year two, and then in year three were turned loose. Faculty, department, and mentor meetings were part of the weekly culture no matter what year you were in and the school schedule was built to promote this level of collaboration. I interviewed more than 25 teachers, a small but effective sample group over many schools; I didn't meet a single person who didn't think this type of mentorship program was instrumental to success, teacher retention, and overall creativity. In all, they felt the program led to less burnout, better collaboration and camaraderie, and improvements in instruction and services to students. Go figure.
In a high percentage of schools and businesses I've worked with, ongoing mentorship programs, save a bit of training at the onset, didn't exist.
What if we valued mentorship programs more readily in schools and businesses? What dividends can bloom from a robust mentorship program?
Mining people's well being, their health, and destroying their family lives won't lead to more productive employees or, I'd dare say, a functional society, company or school in the long run. The perks of a ping pong table, free coffee, or 15-minute massages for employees once per month might not compensate for the dysfunction that brews at home from working two full-time jobs, the mental and physical health challenge of being on call 24/7 and disconnecting from your home life.
We all hear stories about 'the corporate life.' More, faster, and sacrificing nearly any and all personal time for 'the work you love.' It's a choice, really. That's all it is.
I know people who work two full-time jobs or close to it just to make ends meet. Some work incredible hours because it's truly, what they love to do and are able to find some balance in the immersive hours that 'floats their boat.' Some others I know commit to this schedule by choice banking on the financial rewards later on. Some others still who work part-time, cover their expenses, and explore more freedom. One thing is for certain though, the weather patterns will change. Choices of how to live, how much you spend, and what 'bs' you can and are willing to put up with are all important considerations. Your mental and emotional health are important to monitor. Burnout won't help you or anyone in your life. Regardless, it all comes down to a series of analysis, reflection, and charting a course.
The demands will keep coming. The changes will keep coming. It's up to you to decide how much rough weather your ship can take, how much sail to put up based on the wind, which direction to go, set a course, and grab the rudder.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Inventing, Reinventing, Sustainability... and Leadership

I've helped a lot of schools and districts explore this question:

"What's not working?"

...and then:

"Why isn't it working?"

When things get busy though, it's easy to ignore those simple questions and go into triage mode for long periods of time.

Identify the most pressing, recurring problems the organization has by talking with people. I find that strong themes always emerge from those conversations.

Take that data and map it out.

Take the top item and then explore the root cause of that problem.

The root cause.

Then dive into fixing it. Set things in motion. One. Problem. At. A. Time.

It's amazing how quickly a pile of problems can disappear, how much morale can improve, and how it can open the doors to new growth.

That's how you grow. That's how you gain momentum and inspire collaboration. That's how you build trust. That's how you inspire a 'keep moving forward' mindset and avoid stagnation. That's how you open the doors to innovation.

Then repeat that process as you keep growing. Don't grow stagnant in current routine or knowledge. As innovation changes things, process and operations must be reviewed again and again.

If schools continue to grow... so must the mechanisms and roles within them. Constantly.

Leaders need support to do this work. Without that support... ills will linger. Morale will drop. Support systems will get stressed. Core values and mission will drift, and innovation... will become just 'another thing to do' and so much potential will be lost.

#vted #education #business #growth

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Charlie Wilson

I'm so sad to learn that my friend and colleague at VITA-Learn, Charlie Wilson, passed away yesterday.

Over the last 25 years, I've admired Charlie's tireless advocacy for students, innovation, and creativity in schools.

Charlie's been a mentor to countless people in Vermont education over many decades. All Charlie's work was threaded with genuine compassion.

I found myself laughing, just once today, as I remembered...

Charlie joked with me a few years ago that not hiring me back in 1993 for a Network Administrator position at Shelburne Community School was one of the worst mistakes he ever made in education. I told him "if that's the worst mistake you ever made, you've done really well over the years." I'll never forget how he laughed that day, and how fun it was to listen to the stories that followed about his paths in education, the triumphs, the trials, and the ideas he was still hoping to work on.

I had another great conversation with Charlie this past November at VT Fest. As usual, he was full of ideas and bouncing new ones about what we could do to expand learning opportunities for kids.

Rest in peace, Charlie. Thanks for all your work here, kindness, friendship, and innovative spirit.

We're going to miss you here.