Back to School- The Idea Swirl

The back to school charge is always filled with incredible energy. It is a time of hope, and a belief that all is possible. It is in this renewal that amazing new truths about one of the most complex professions can emerge. Here are a few of the back to school ideas swirling around for me. 

1. We are led too often by inertia, momentum and tradition. It is comfortable, and humans are comfortable by default. As the world spins so quickly with change, it is hard to see how inertia, momentum, and tradition can remain. 

2. The energy and ideas of fresh eyes on an organization only lasts so long. New members of a school community have a unique opportunity to see the culture and organization with fresh eyes, and leaders need to use this resource while it lasts. It means being intentional with new staff about wanting their voice and perspective. 

3. We are better together with other schools. Cognitive redundancy is swamping school. We have to believe that others have already baked 80% of any new idea or initiative. We don't need committees and meetings to figure out the 80%. Instead spend time hyperlocalizing the last 20% so that we can recapture time for different conversations. 

4. Being outside continues to be an amazing learning vehicle. This means getting kids the air, light, and perspective that can only come from being outside. We aren't losing instructional time by supporting the human need for the peace and power that comes from the outside learning space. 

5. There are no heroes in education. There are just amazing educators that don't look to save, but to serve each day with small moments that have big purpose. This is the key to the work, being so tuned in that you can see the specific needs of each student as you orchestrate the daily learning. 

It is that time again. Back to school. 

What ISTE isn’t…

The flights are arriving, and the anticipation is building. The granddaddy of education conferences in United States, ISTE, is upon us. (I say granddaddy because of size, scope, not necessarily on impact of design.) I’m truly looking forward to it as I have for a number of years.

Every year I get to interact with some amazing people.

For me, that’s enough, but for many people, they started months ago with the negative talk about ISTE. It’s too big. It’s too corporate. It used to be so much better. It is missing X, Y, Z and more.

It is easy to pick things apart. It is easy to throw rocks. It is easy to complain. I’d encourage everyone to rise above easy and make an attempt to own the hours and days of the event to meet your needs. No one needs to be a victim of ISTE. No one needs to lose sight of what ISTE will never be.

It will never be the solution.

It will never have all of the right people.

It will never be free of sales.

It will never really be about kids first.

It will never change the minds of our state legislators.

It will never have enough minutes to have all of the conversations that we want to have.

BUT…. It will be an opportunity to interact with some amazing people, so do so, and make memories…one small moment at a time.

Let Me...

Let me surround you with learning. Not in the way that the cacophony of sound surrounds us at a concert or in the way that the humidity surrounds us in the summer heat, but in the way that a nest surrounds and protects and in the way that our covers surrounds us in the night.

Let me capture you with learning. Not in the way that a fugitive is caught by a marshal or the way that allows us to win at capture the flag, but in the way that an image captures our heart and in the way the ideas capture our minds.

Let me help you get lost in learning. Not in the way that has us take the wrong trail or in the way that poor decisions let us lose ourselves, but in the way that allows flow to seep into more of our life so that time stands still and in the way in which we embrace the uncertainty of the next step that potentially holds moments of being both lost and found.

Feeling Resiliency

I've had the pleasure of helping to facilitate a cybercamp this week. It is a free opportunity for our middle school students to think about the essence of cybersecurity and cybersafety in a fun, relaxed environment. We are hosting the event in partnership with the Midwest Cyber Center and Scott Air Force Base. 

It has been incredible to see some amazing airmen who serve our country each day sit side-by-side with silly, funny, energetic middle schoolers working and thinking together solving problems. I didn't realize how amazing that this week would be.

Beyond the learning experience, we are seeing some amazing things. We are seeing serviceman tell their stories about their role in the military. We are seeing kids grow in their resiliency as they work on hard programs on the computers. We are seeing the joy of working together. We are seeing amazing learning emerge because we created the space for it to happen. 

Amazing to see so many kids focused on cybersafety and problem solving. 

Amazing to see so many kids focused on cybersafety and problem solving. 

A great set of learners. 

A great set of learners. 

Ending Professional Development

I'm excited about an event that I'll be participating in this July with ten amazing educators from throughout the country. Just as the edcamp movement changed the way that learning happening, I think that the "Write Now" process of bringing together educator/writers to share their best ideas, concepts, and thoughts so as to release trapped wisdom about topics in the field could do the same. I can see weekend "Write Now" projects happening everywhere that innovative educators are gathering.

Our event this July is a three day retreat called Education Write Now with the goal of writing a book during our time together. In this book, we will focus on important issues facing educators right now. If all goes as planned, we will continue working on it after our retreat with a target print date of December 2017. We could not host this education forum without the support of our sponsor, Routledge who will ultimately publish the collected writings of the team in a single volume.

The idea that I'll be bringing to the table based on hundred of conversations around the country is how do we END professional development as we know it. It is a dead model, and in most cases, not something in which we can be proud. I'll also be sharing the following story about how I've worked to shift this work in the district where I serve. 

Throughout last school year, I've been working to shift thinking around professional learning. The district had built a robust learning delivery model based on face-to-face moments between the "experts" and the learners. The learners were waiting for information, ideas, and resources because it was with what they received that they would forge a new learning path for their students. 

This was a broken model both on the simple level, waiting to be taught what is essential isn't a natural human model and on a deep level, the need to redefine the concept of experts, resources, and ideas is clearly upon us. 

As a way to keep from perpetuating the traditional professional development model, we crafted a new set of learning guidelines and norms.

  • We know that being an expert on a topic is relative and passing in nature. 
  • We know that learning only when it is scheduled on the calendar isn't robust in nature.
  • We know most of the answers are already in the field in some form.
  • We know that experiencing and doing are good adult learning.
  • We know that most meetings for learning lack the nuance that we need for excellence. 
  • We know that modern learning is a dynamic, network-based activity.

These ideas led to the end of technology professional development. They led to no days being scheduled on how to use devices, tools, and resources. They led to no meetings. They also led to discomfort and some confusion which would eventually be a good thing as well.

Shifts and emotions like those described above are rarely possible when we are trying to fix a system, but all of these things are possible when we are ending the system as we know it. Old systems are difficult to massage into new results. 

Instead of the old model, we started some new things for us. (Certainly, these things are happening in other places, but we have our flavor of these concepts.)

  • Build partners with experts that already have a loads of learning content. (Atomic Learning, Bloomboard, Capella University)
  • Release trapped wisdom into the system. We encouraged additional sharing of resources and ideas in job alike groups on Google Classroom.
  • Meet when needed for as short as possible as close to the time of the idea or issue. 
  • Connect technology tools and instructional design every time.
  • Encourage teachers to visit (at least virtually) others already doing the work.
  • Flood the learning spaces with ideas, resources, and supports.

This work has broken a cycle of dependence. It allows the best information to get to the innovative moments in real time. It has created new energy for passion-based, real-time learning. 

For next year, we are exploring a model that allows any teacher to get as much professional learning as they request based on the norms above and the new model described. Professionals take advantage of learning, but they don't take advantage of a system that truly supports what they need.