If We Only Post The Pretty

On average, I walk through the halls of five schools a week. Whether supporting an administration team working on their school improvement plan, or helping a teacher orchestrate first-time bloggers in her English 9 class; as soon as I walk through the doors I intentionally pause and notice my surroundings. Greetings by students and adults, displays on the wall, color choices in the rooms, cleanliness in the commons area, and a plethora of other sensory signals unknowingly flood my subconscious creating a snapshot of the climate, culture, and values shared by the adults and students in the building.

Trophies and State Championship Banners adorning the entrance communicate pride in athletics, tradition, achievement. Inspirational quotes, Character Counts Posters, and a birthday calendar promote community and relationships. While many schools have a combination of values on display, the one thing I almost never see is student thinking, or more specifically, the process.

End products commonly adorn the walls of the classroom and the halls of the building. Typically, uniformed in size and color. Poems transferred to white paper, typed in black ink and hanging from the ceiling by equal length fishing line. Unique art work mounted to black paper and systematically lined up on the tack strip with 1 inch between each. As educators, we know displaying student work is important, but as humans, we also want it to look good. What we fail to think about is the signals it sends to our students = work must be pretty to earn a spot on the wall. I, too, am guilty of this. I remember having my student tutor rewrite Shakespeare Quotes that students loved on tan paper so that they would look better, all having the same handwriting and on the same paper. What I didn’t consider was the message that it sent to the students the next day when they walked into class and saw “their” quote replaced by a “prettier” one.

Learning is messy, and as I reflect back, I realize I missed the point of the whole assignment. It is not about the acrostic poem lined in green paper and displayed uniformly across the wall that was cause for celebration; it was the process! Gathering ideas and images, organizing thoughts, painstakingly editing and revising both alone and with a partner to choose that perfect word. The counting of syllables on fingers, referencing rhyming dictionaries and each other for rhythmic purposes. The final poem was not the goal; instead, learning to think and write like a poet was; but nowhere in the classroom did you see those lessons learned and mastered.

Displaying student work is important, but highlighting student thinking is even more so. Include the thinking involved to produce the end product. Show the mistakes, the collaborating, the celebrating, and the creating! Let students witness the value you place in their process, not the student with the best handwriting or most glitter. Show all who enter the doors of your school, whether physically or virtually, that we celebrate learning!

Advice That Hurts…

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As I prepare to begin my second year as a consultant for a state organization, a conversation I had with an administrator many months ago weighs heavily on my mind. Actually, one sentence he stated specifically.

“If you want to make any sort of impact on education you need to get back into a building, not work as a consultant.”

Upon the completion of my graduate degree, I knew I wanted to pursue a different type of leadership role within the education field. I debated, and am still debating, if being a principal or superintendent is the right calling for me, but I knew it was time for me to take a new career path. As luck would have it, a position opened up that provided opportunity to blend my passions of literacy and technology while assisting districts with school improvement initiatives. As I explained to my son one day, my new role would allow me to have an impact on the education of many students across the state. I was proud of this opportunity.

That is, until I realized that some view my job as detached and uninspiring.

The one sentence mumbled in the middle of a conversation is something I think about weekly. And although I do not have a clear opinion yet, I reflect upon it often.

 

to be continued….

Patrick Larkin: Iowa 1:1 Leadership Day

Last Saturday I had the pleasure to attend #EdCampIowa in Cedar Falls. The day was filled with thought-provoking conversations with passionate educators connecting and collaborating for the betterment of student learning. A common theme appearing in multiple sessions spanning from Special Education and Inclusion to the final session Matt Townsley and I facilitated Rocks and Stinks was Professional Development! During an extended conversation over lunch, Townsley shared a term known as “Apprenticeship of Observation” coined by Dan Lortie. In essence, teachers teach as they were taught, their beliefs formed early in their educational careers when they themselves were students. And even though many have had opportunities to explore new research, attend professional development, and view model teaching; most educators revert back to their beliefs, which at times, they know are not best for student learning.

Besides opportunity to reflect upon these ingrained beliefs, evaluating their usefulness and letting go of the ones that deter student learning and engagement; administrators also need to model best practice during staff meetings and professional development, avoiding their own beliefs that may contradict what they expect to see in their teachers’ classrooms.

This modeling of expectations made me connect immediately to the April Leadership Day at the Iowa 1:1 Conference. Below is an interview I had with Patrick Larkin about the day. Larkin plans to facilitate a day with school leaders that promotes engagement and social learning so that the experience provides a frame of reference for administrators as they plan professional development in their own digitally-rich schools.

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“I am coming to learn, facilitate learning, and provide a social learning experience to school leaders.” -Patrick Larkin, highlighting his agenda for the Iowa 1:1 Conference Leadership Day.

Three years ago, Patrick Larkin, Assistant Superintendent from Burlington Public School in Massachusetts, made the long trip to attend the 2nd Annual Iowa 1:1 Conference. His objective was to meet, face to face, the Iowa connections he had made online and to deepen his knowledge of 1:1 learning within an educational environment. This year, Larkin returns to Iowa to facilitate a Leadership Day prior to the April 10th conference.

Speaking to Larkin, it is clear that student learning is at the forefront of all decisions he makes. In fact, part of the reason his district chose ipads for implementation was to allow students to customize their device. Now, in year three, Larkin has approached  his leadership team with the idea of  leaving device selection up to each individual student. The school would provide choice, allowing the learner to select the device that best meets their needs.

Although Larkin was personally educated in a traditional environment, as a leader in a 1:1 school district he recognizes three advantages students in technology-rich districts have:

1.  Access. Students are able to connect with learners and experts anytime, anywhere.

2. Organization. “The dog ate my homework,” is no longer an excuse. With a personal device, students are able to organize and access their material with ease.

3. Digital Footprint. Students are able to build something positive online. Their contributions becoming their digital footprint, consistently updating their “brand” which Patrick denotes as today’s resume.

Similar to student advantage #1, Larkin’s goal is to provide a social learning experience for leaders attending the pre-conference day on April 9th. High levels of engagement is common in classroom that promote collective learning opportunities. Larkin feels that educational leaders need to experience this social learning and echo it within the Professional Development they design for staff. His challenge for the day is for,“educational leaders need to come prepared to share, struggle, and think!”

When:  April 9, 2014 from 1pm – 4pm
Where Iowa Events Center
Cost:  $50 per participant (This fee is in addition to the regular conference fee)
Who:  School leaders – Principals, teachers in leadership positions, technology staff members, superintendents, or anyone in a leadership position