Thank You Annie Fetter: How strangers can get us started and friends can cement the change

This post was first published on August 11, 2014 for voicEd.ca

As teachers, we don’t always know our impact unless our students come back and share with us.  Similarly, as global teacher learners, we don’t always know the people that we reach and the positive impact we might have on the growth of other educators.  This year, I’d like to start by thanking Annie Fetter, someone whom I’ve never met face-to-face, for the positive impact she’s had on my growth this year, and for the rich discussions that she’s prompted me to have with educators within my PLN and with the teachers I work with back in Guelph.

This is the video that got things started for me in May of 2013.  It’s an Ignite Session from a Math conference where Annie shows how she uses a Noticing and Wondering strategy when teaching Math.  It was shared on Twitter by one of my mentors, Mary-Kay Goindi.

Mary-Kay and I spent some time talking about this video and then the ideas began to percolate as we went about our year.  As I watched it several times, I began to love the elegance of Annie’s message.  This strategy makes thinking visible, both to students and to teachers; what another learner notices can be really helpful to us as thinkers, and we don’t always ask students to articulate this internal noticing.  It’s really inclusive, in that no value judgements are made, only observations.  When teachers ask,  “What makes you say/think that?” instead of, “Why?” students are encouraged to provide evidence, rationale and further information to describe their own thinking, something so powerful as a formative tool in order to know what next steps for a learner might be.  So simple, and yet, so powerful!

At a subsequent event, the Waterloo Region Edcamp in February,  I was in a session with another one of my mentors, Peter Skillen, and as part of the discussion I was sharing one of my problems of practice, that of finding strategies that help with the synthesizing of ideas that students are gathering during the inquiry process, something that Peter and I have discussed at length as we try to share our knowledge of PBL and knowledge building, often with teachers who are new to the process.  It’s the part of the process that we often see is missing in inquiry projects today, and the part that I find most challenging.   I have my toolkit of strategies, but I wanted to learn more from this group of teachers gathered at EdCamp.  Luckily for us, a teacher from a nearby private school spoke up, (I’m sorry that I can’t remember her name) and shared that she had been using some of the Project Zero strategies for this purpose.  Excellent!  Peter and I had heard about Project Zero from Howard Gardner himself several years earlier at a conference, but I hadn’t followed up by really delving into the routines they had developed.  I’d also enjoyed reading Making Learning Whole, by David Perkins, but had not yet made the connection!

This led the 3 of us (MK, Peter and me) to spend some time sharing, digesting, and discussing the book Making Thinking Visible and trying 10999036the Thinking Routines presented therein in order to help students and teachers with rich and focused thinking in the classroom.  They fit very well with our thinking about inquiry-based approaches like Knowledge Building, and, in fact, they were not necessarily brand new to us, but provided a new lens, another look, in order to go deeper in our own professional learning.  Indeed, they include a version of Annie Fetter’s Noticing and Wondering, called ‘See Think Wonder’, although I think I’ll still stick with the simplicity of her version at certain times!  A couple of new learning experiences, supported by wonderful dialogue, led to a positive change in my practice over the course of about a year or so.

I’m about to start in a Vice-Principal role next September and in looking back at how Annie’s video led to positive change for my learning, I’m reminded that sometimes our virtual teachers plant a seed that gets slowly nourished by those colleagues we trust in our professional learning community.  This is exactly what Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall propose in their wonderful book, The Connected Educator when they suggest that the combination of Professional Learning Communities (f2f), Communities of Practice, and Personal Learning Networks lead us to powerful new kinds of 21st century professional learning.

For me, Annie planted a seed that took about a year to grow into positive change, thanks to the support of wonderful colleagues!

 

OTRK12 and Google Summit Learning

My friends Donna Fry and Mark Carbone, co-creators of the #ossemooc  have put out a call for us to share our learning during this month of April and, as always, it takes me a little while to get my posts onto the blog!  Luckily for me, I had two great experiences last week,  one at the #otrk12 conference and one at the #gafesummit in Waterloo.   Starting with Stephen Hurley’s examples of passion-based learning at OTRK12 was wonderful and I enjoyed presenting to the e-learning teachers about creating dynamic virtual discussions and seeing Jaclyn Calder’s presentation about the Grader App for D2L with awesome options for providing differentiated and timely feedback to learners.   It’s wonderful to see what an amazing teacher like Jaclyn does with technology!

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Mark Carbone Opening the #GAFESummit in Waterloo

While I could share all the tips and tricks that I learned at #otrk12 and the #gafesummit,  I think I’d rather share a few observations that I have mulling around and arising from these 2 great learning events.

A principal from my school board approached me at the Google Summit a little distraught that she had perhaps purchased the wrong technology this year. She has provided her teachers and students with a variety of tools like  ipads, laptops, desktops and Chromebooks.  She seemed a little worried that she had made a wrong choice and should have bought more Chromebooks.  I reminded her, that regardless of how ‘feel good and for the cause of all children and teachers everywhere’ this event undoubtedly was, it was also a Google event after all,  and their mission was to make her feel as though Google products were the bomb. Obviously – they succeeded!

I assured her that an effective technology ecology in her school would also include some higher-end media creation tools like her computers and her ipads, and that she’d want to remember that the ability to do some computing with computers is also a really important skill for our students today.  I remember when Nicholas Negroponte from MIT started to predict that ubiquity would be a game changer in our adoption of technology but that rather than getting simpler, as they should over time,  there was this interesting phenomenon with computers called ‘featuritis’ whereby software developers keep the software getting more complex and complicated (bloated and expensive) rather than cheaper.  Google seems to have figured that out.  Make the browser do most of the work, and the machine could remain inexpensive,  although not as robust.   Maybe robust is not what we are looking for in education anyway.  Easy (for teachers)  seems to be the preferred approach when it comes to technology.   I’m not in complete agreement with this, but I’m learning to accept it.   It is what it is.

People often ask me if I think things are suddenly changing, and while I’m hopeful,  I’m still cautious because I’m not sure it’s the technology that has been holding us back.   We’ve been able to connect our students around the world with blogs since about 2005 and with global projects using forums and list serves since the 1980s.  How many of us jumped on board?  We’ve had extremely rich sites sharing how-to’s of authentic learning and Project Based Learning for more than two decades.   Were we on board then?  We have had Ministry Licensed products that allow multimedia creation and assistive technology for our students for another decade or so.  Were we all making use of these?  When I tell people that my students and I were blogging with other classrooms across the world almost 10 years ago now, and we did this by taking turns all throughout the day on two desktop computers,  they sometimes look at me strangely – like they couldn’t imagine doing that without the Chromebook cart rolled down to the classroom or students 1:1 on their own devices.   They complain that there isn’t enough technology, and yet their classroom computer is often sitting silently in the corner reserved for teacher email.  What’s up with that?

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Katina Papulkas’ excellent session on Google for Administrators

Despite my observations, and my confusion about slow progress in educational technology, I refuse to become cynical.  Instead, I’m telling myself that it’s the ubiquity and access that will make the difference this time around.  Now that educators can leap ahead with their own learning through connected networks, they are not bound any longer by the limits of their own school building or in-services for learning…they can connect with and  support each other and learn not only how to use these tools, but what effective use looks like.

I’m reminded that early adopters will always be willing to put in the countless hours that lead them to mastery of technology tools (and other things) if they feel that will  transform their classrooms – that hasn’t changed much since computers were first introduced into classrooms.

Now that we can share our success stories and connect more widely through social media and through networks like the #ossemooc there is no reason to ‘wait for the learning’ – we can just go out and get it!  It was exciting to see so many educators at OTRK12 and GAFE Summit finding their community and learning together!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trusting in Student Awesomeness

For quite some time now I’ve been questioning our desire to have students who are critical thinkers.  Do we really want that?

What happens when these students that we’ve empowered to have wonderfully evaluative thinking skills decide that they need to make improvements to their learning environment?  Will you stand beside them and support them?  Will you empower them to seek and facilitate change?

Or, will you explain the rules of the ‘game’,  bogging them down with all the ‘ya but’ explanations that let them know you really weren’t serious about the development of their critical thinking skills.  Maybe you were okay with it during the the contrived classroom scenario but when it comes to something they really care about in ‘real life’ can you embrace this as part of your curriculum?

I worry that we need to get real with students and empower their dreams about taking action, while supporting them to think critically about how they might do that in order to have a real impact on their world, their future, and of course, ours as well.   I love the following video, where Scott McLeod challenges us to make the extra-curricular the curricular…to make taking action and personal passion a part of becoming a concerned citizen and a life long learner, and be more trusting of our awesome students!

Getting At Work/Life Balance

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Photo courtesy of chrisinplymouth on flickr

I remember hearing this famous story about a management professor talking about goals, vision, and the effective management of time. The professor told the story while starting to fill a jar with several large rocks, asking if it were full (to which the audience replied ‘yes’)  and then continuing to fill the jar first with pebbles, then sand, and then water.  Just as the audience thinks the jar is full each time, he continues to add more of the smaller items, letting them fall between the cracks.    What has stayed with me about this story is the idea that we must think about what represents the larger rocks in our lives and get them into the jar first…otherwise we run the risk of filling up our jars with less important albeit time consuming activities.

Easier said than done!

I’ve tried to remember this story when thinking about the balance between work and personal time.   Most of us have to make very conscious choices about maintaining a work/family/personal balance and school leadership is no exception.   There will be daily pressures to lose track of the ‘big rocks’ as other items compete for attention or time.  Taking to heart the ‘people before paper’ recommendation that we’ve heard from several authors and from some of our guests in our course, would be a way that I could set relationship building as one of my larger ‘rocks’.  Using my network of experienced vice-principals and principals will be crucial in gathering advice about setting priorities and creating structures to help with organization.  Networking and professional learning are both a balance challenge for me because I have access to a rich and generous personal learning network online as well as f2f.  This is a wonderful addition to my working and learning life, and with the opportunity to learn 24/7 in both f2f and virtual spaces,  comes the responsibility to make decisions about how much time to devote to learning and how to incorporate fitness, wellness and fun into the mix as well!  Students are also working and learning in virtual as well as f2f spaces and need some awareness of their need to make healthy and balanced choices.

I have to admit that when my sons went off to University, I may have busied myself with getting a new puppy and doing a little too much work —  it was fulfilling and valuable — and therefore a good distraction.  Other Moms or Dads probably take up a new hobby or run a marathon.  I’ve made some conscious choices in the last 6 months to be a little bit more selective in what I’m taking on this next year.  I’ve taken a break from the ECOO Board of Directors and ECOO Conference work  after six years, and I’m making time for some travel as well as getting to the gym more regularly.   It is important to encourage staff to consider their own situations and priorities and make time to talk about the challenges of family, work and personal time.

These final thoughts come to mind as important to remember as a school administrator:

  • Noticing people,  listening, and being visible can be powerful ways to get a sense of how staff are coping with the demands of the job.
  • We are all at different places in our family and personal lives.   Having young families, caring for elders,  or helping friends and/or family are big commitments that might mean contributions to the work place in varied ways at certain times.
  • Staff will be different in their need/desire to socialize and that’s perfectly okay. Providing a variety of options will encourage authentic relationships.
  • There is an ebb and flow to the busy school year that needs to be respected by administrators. Know when to add on, and when to take away.
  • Teachers are nurturers and need reminders to make sure to look after themselves too.
  • Work can be lots of fun!

Connecting with kids in new ways

I’m always looking for ways we can use technology to amplify current practices to make them more powerful or to become more innovative – to do things we couldn’t do before.   While working on a PD session for some teachers last week, I came across this video of a first year teacher who used Google Forms to connect with her students on a personal level – and from where they were most comfortable – using their digital tools.

Many people are critical of the role technology plays in keeping us disconnected from others, but this is a powerful example of how technology can support those f2f relationships.

Revisiting a Philosophy of Education

Do you wonder how your philosophy of education might change over the years?  Symbol_of_Faculty_of_Philosophy_SPbGUIs this something you think about much?  I hadn’t thought about it for a long while until recently in my Principal’s Qualification Course-Part 1

Here is my most recent go at it!   I stand on the shoulders of giants like John Dewey, Seymour Papert, Jean Piaget, Deborah Meier, Linda Darling-Hammond and Andy Hargreaves who continue to influence my thinking about schools and school leadership.

Public education holds a special place in a democratic society because it is defined by a moral purpose to educate all learners.   This suggests an extension to teachers, parents, the local community, and, in this 21st century, quite possibly to the global community.   As I begin to view the important job of nurturing a school through the lens of the school administrator, my scope widens; there are many stakeholders to think about.   Fundamentally, my beliefs remain the same: the purpose of school is to create a moral, democratic citizenry that thinks well, and that school leaders, along with society, play a huge part in shaping this shared future that we have with our children.  I believe that by cultivating and nurturing habits of mind that foster good thinking and inclusive learning environments, and by developing relationships, people and programs, school administrators can make a huge contribution to the growth of a community.

What makes an effective school?

I believe that all children can learn, given the right conditions, and that we must focus on the whole child.   A school administrator will often be the advocate for a child or a parent who might not be able to advocate for themselves.   A principal may be the one to ask the difficult questions about whether a student’s social, emotional and/or academic needs are being met in the classroom, and, if not, work together with school staff to make sure that improvements are made.   I recall Superintendent Persaud’s mention of the basic concerns “Are they safe, are they happy, are they learning?”  Social, emotional and intellectual aspects of children are a focus in an effective school and the school administrator must be willing to be accountable for guiding the direction of the school and leading the instructional program.

I believe that learning is a life-long pursuit and requires active, not passive participation.  We learn by observing others, and by trying things out for ourselves. While curriculum and content are important, knowing how to ask good questions, examine evidence, think critically, make reasoned judgments, and be responsible for one’s actions are important results of learning how to think well, whether it be in the pursuit of the arts, science, literature or craftsmanship.  To be observant, to be curious, to be respectful of evidence, to communicate clearly, and to understand how others feel, are all habits of mind that will benefit a whole community and can change how we might define being an ‘educated’ person.  Everyone in the school building should be modeling a ‘growth mindset’ for lifelong learning.

I believe that students and teachers learn best in an environment of mutual respect, safety and trust.    A principal needs to carefully cultivate relationships and encourage the community partnerships that will sustain excellent programs and effective academic results in the school.    Learning in teams is important to both teachers and students, and therefore an administrator should be confident to set goals, facilitate learning and provide time for personal and group reflection that will build collective knowledge of best practices.    Learning needs to be celebrated and shared both within the school and beyond.

Finally, I believe that the kind of school culture we desire for our students is the kind of learning culture that we need to live for ourselves.    Modeling our willingness to co-learn, to compromise, to uphold high standards for ourselves and for others, will be the best lessons taught and learned.    School administrators need to care enough to have both the wonderful celebrations of success and the powerful conversations about school improvement in order to keep schools growing to serve the needs of our children, parents, and global community.

Student Voice and Student Agency

I’m always looking for project topics that I can bring into schools that I work with in my role as a technology coach.  I recently came across this little project in Larry Ferlazzo’s blog that, while simple, has deeper elements that I love: student voice, inclusive schools, working from student strength and passion, as well as the added bonus of using technology to enrich the message.

The idea originates from author Daniel Pink and his book Drive where he suggests that students are motivated by a sense of purpose and want to contribute to bigger issues, and that connections within the community can help students understand their value, further motivating a learning stance and the idea of taking purposeful action to make the world a better place.

Here is a description of Dan Pink describing the idea:

Here is a video that outlines the “One Sentence Project” which could be used with students:

Here is an example of how one teacher used this in the classroom:

How could you see using this project in your context?  With students? With teachers/school leaders?

What other ideas do you have that focus on student voice and student passion?   I’d be very grateful for some examples and ideas from our community here that could push my thinking about this.