Bringing the Ideas Together

Bringing the Ideas Together

After returning from a conference, it is really easy to slip back into management routine. There are calls to return, fire drills to facilitate, and a hundred little things to check on, but I am trying to really keep up the pressure on myself to make meaning of my three days of learning in Phoenix. If I had to shelf all of my learning, I would start in the section on instructional leadership. I really try to avoid all of the tangental sessions, and really dig into finding ways that I can support my teaching staff.

Over the past few years as fMRI technology has emerged as a source of information for educators, I have delayed my growth in the area of brain research. I'm not sure why I have resisted in this area, but I feel like this is an area of potential growth of me especially in the area of practical applications in the classroom. Rick Smith's session led me to a list of things that should be considered if a classroom is applying best practices in brain-based learning. They included: pacing, metaccognition, energy, music, movement, lighting, procedures, guessing, relevance, usual times, and laughter. There is a depth to each of these topics, but there is incredible value for teachers to find a way to maximize the quality use of each of these in their classroom. It is always great to see Rick Smith use many of these as he presents. Some of the best suggestion that he provided including taking a break at least every 12 minutes for students to internalize their learning from the last chunk of time. This could include summarizing the learning, placing a title on that section of learning, or naming the highlights of the learning. This can be done through sharing with partners, drawing , writing about it, sharing it with the teacher or even silently. He also suggest the strategies of compare this chunk of learning to something in the student's locker, bedroom or in their neighborhood. This higher level thinking seems to cement learning. He also points to the highly effective strategies of translating the previous learning for someone younger than the student. I was also encouraged to hear him say that teachers should try to make some of these changes with their favorite class first as they may have a little more energy to give in these classes to try someone new. The changes would ultimate be a time savings once fully integrated.

Having been a fan of the Art and Science of Teaching by Robert Marzano for some time, it was good for me to hear him present his material visually during his keynote on Sunday. He reminded me to go back to the ten questions that teachers should be asking as they build instruction, and I need to push myself to view these questions through UbD lens. He also spoke about how many top educational research have found consensus on a variety of things. They may use different jargon, but the best parts of educational instruction have emerged, and we should be focused on institutionalizing them. He also spoke about the importance of feedback and building a system of supervision that allows for multiple streams of information going to teachers. I appreciated his reinforcement on the use of instructional rounds as a method of learning and thinking together as a community. I have been involved with learning walks for some time now, but instructional rounds brings a new sense of structure and purpose to looking at the things that we deem important. Principals are contributing to cultural neglect when they tell folks "good job" or "well done" as real feedback both positive and that of a more critical slant have to be a part of "what we do here." An appendage to this feedback cycle was the monologue that Jerry Valentine provided on the Instructional Practices Inventory. This process helps school develop a process for having conversation on data on student engagement. There is a real sense that if we measure it matter, and if we have meaningful conversation about what we measure, then it matters even more. I hope to use this work on measuring engagement while expanding it to measure things like quality technology integration, learning taking place through reading and writing across the curriculum, and use of the best practices associated with cooperative learning.

When I think of myself as a change agent for education, I tend to believe that I am fairly progressive in my thinking. This includes my thinking on grading, use of technology in the classroom, and using student's passions to drive product differentiation, but spending time with Spence Rogers made me feel conservative and in the center of the box. Spence Rogers and the people at Peak Learning Systems have grabbed a hold of a number of a number of teachers in very tough environments and turned them into superstars. The idea is to focus on learning and understanding and delay judgment through grading and traditional feedback for as long as possible. They also propose a number of strategies to maximize engagement and provide a safe environment for learning and risk taking.

Some of the specifics include the concept of deflected questions. He proposes asking students, "How do you think the rest of the class would answer this questions?", or "What should I tell my next hour about this topic?" He pressed teachers to think about this question. "If you were teaching your students as though they were your own children, how different would your lessons be?" Much of his thinking came from the idea of mastery learning. He pressed teachers not to take work until it met the standard, to call a timeout on a test if students don't get something to reteach on the spot (football analogy). One specific was a resource binder where students could walk across the room to look at information that they had stored away for the test. They could then return to the test to continue their thinking. This would move more tests away from recall and into place where kids having access to knowledge didn't matter as they still needed to use the knowledge to apply and create.

He continued by talking about the term testing and how it led to judgment when real-life testing is about getting feedback to make change, test the oil, test the soup, and test drive a car. None of these are about assignment letter grades. Schools should delay judgment as long as possible to maximize motivation. He also offered the idea that for those students that don't do practice at home very well that the teacher should get them his or her completed copy of the homework to take home so that maybe they can just copy what is on the page. This seemed like a good starting point for the most reluctant learner.

The final two ideas that he brought to the table were about response journals. He proposed that the big questions for each class should be responded to in writing by every students in the class, even if this means doing a gallery walk for some to gather additional ideas. He said that it worth having each student do this writing as it breeds learning. Finally, he talked about the research on concept learning, and how it takes 28 mentions of a topic over 3 weeks for a true depth of understanding to occur. He suggests teachers present multiple concepts over a longer period to cement the learning. Without this type of method, he suggests that previous background knowledge will dictate success, and the results could have been predicted at the pretest. This depth should allow for the elimination of review days and easy (level 2) questions on tests.

The final learning took place from the melding of two session. One was on effective professional development and other on integrating ethics into the purpose of the school. I have spent the better part of a year trying to decide what questions to ask during my first staff meeting in the fall. I have gathered good ideas and inspiration material to share, but I continue to come back to the question, "What is our purpose?" This simple question is one of complexity it seems as common mission and focus often times sits in the outer two rings of the target and not in the bullseye. Certainly being on target is better than missing wide left, but the pinpoint focus is essential for excellent. This was the context of my thinking during these two sessions. The first was from the group Institute for Global Ethics. They talked about how to infuse ethical literacy into the classroom. Much of this is certainly done in my current and new building through the PBIS process, but this conversation pushed me to find ways to push ethics into context. Not unlike teaching reading and writing in the content area, I believe that we should be pushing for ways to bring ethics into our lessons and conversations as often as possible. Doing so would help us to meet one of our primary roles which is building active, engaged, and proficient citizens.

The second session was about building a layered, meaningful and focused professional development progam. I have also been spending time thinking about this effort at my new school, and I continue to feel confident and overwhelmed by the thought of pulling this off. What I gleaned from the session was that focus was essential. Finding three things to be great at is so much better than being good at ten things. There is also an element of finding time for teachers to explore their own passions. The 20% time continues to resonant strong in my core. Finally, the idea of staff members taking control of their own growth through a professional learning network seems essential in this environment. The focused resources available to meet the individual needs of our staff are available and ready on the web. It is essential that we get people plugged into this network. I am hoping that everyone can find and name ten new people outside the walls of the district that influence their work. Doing something in this realm would provide a multiplying effect for our overall staff development.

Did anyone actually make it to the end of this post? No more books for blog posts. I promise...for now.