Magazine Crush

With all that is happening in education, it is easy to get sucked into reading nothing but education related tweets, blogs, articles, books, etc.  In order to keep my thinking fresh and diversify my information sources, I believe it is important to intentionally read outside of the field on a regular basis.  One of my monthly stops, and my magazine crush over the past three years, is ‘Fast Company’.  It never fails that a new issue will arrive just at the moment where the next educational change is about to drive me over the edge.  Through the course of exploring the magazine over a weekend, I not only renew my spirit, but I come away with great ideas/lessons from the business, entertainment, and technology worlds that I can apply in my daily work in curriculum and instruction.  Most importantly, reading and exploring ideas in realms outside of education provides me with an ongoing reality check that change is afoot everywhere, and that the drive to innovate or become irrelevant is indiscriminately affecting all sectors of the economy.

The July/August 2014 issue contained a number of A-list quotes that resonated with me both personally and professionally.  Below are a few that especially stood out:

“(I) important listening is to leadership.  When you’re listening, you’re getting information.  You’re being given the gift of understanding where someone is, and leadership is about moving people from where they are to where you hope they’ll go.” – Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust – Harvard President

“Sometimes bold experiments are born of finding work-arounds to limitations.” – Richard Linklater – Director – ‘Before Midnight’

“A digital detox can be as reinvigorating as an island getaway, but routine, short tech breaks can be even more refreshing.” Baratunde Thurston – CEO – Cultivated Wit

As summer ticks by and the coming school year starts to take shape in the distance, be sure to take the time to read in an area outside of your normal walk, reflect deeply on how what you read has stretched you as a person and a learner, and discover how lessons learned from seemingly in-congruent topics can enhance your professional practice in the coming school year.

Information Symmetry

I’m currently reading To Sell Is Human by Dan Pink.  In the first section of the book he writes about the diminishment of ‘information asymmetry’ and the impact it has on the relationship between buyers and sellers. (To clarify, the relationship between a customer and a travel agent or auto salesman prior to the liberation of information by the internet are two examples of information asymmetry that Pink cites).  The move towards information symmetry in the marketplace and the associated empowerment of consumers also has impacts for those who make their livelihood in the education sector.

On page 56 Pink writes, “Today, it’s possible for a motivated secondary school student with Internet access to know more about the causes of the Peloponesian War or how to make a digital film that his teacher…Today’s educators….can no longer depend on the quasi-reverence that information asymmetry often afforded them.  When the balance tilts int he opposite direction, what they do and how they do it must change.”

For educators, the reflective question is how have you (we) adapted to this new reality?  Is the classroom still an exercise in sitting and ‘getting’ information, or are lessons crafted as experiences, with the selling of concepts and information in mind?  Are the lessons students receiving segmented and siloed, or do they reinforce the types of multi-faceted, dexterous skills that students will need for their future employment viability?  Is the classroom a place of curated experiences, where students deeply engage with text and produce generous amounts of written work in response to text, or is it a place where they only get to dabble in acquiring ‘facts’ that are unilaterally dispensed from the front of the room?

The accountability movement that found it’s start almost 30 years ago with ‘A Nation At Risk’ valued discreet knowledge and the ability of students to choose the ‘correct answer’. The tests that were developed in the name of accountability created a race to the bottom, where test prep ruled the educational landscape and classrooms became factories for producing students (products) that had an ability to correctly choose from four answer choices and also produce short bursts of writing using formulas for generating responses that would be acceptable for the human graders armed with calibrated rubrics.

The result of this form of accountability has been a rise in remediation rates for freshman entering college, the reduction in students’ ability to construct well written papers and well constructed written arguments, and the diminished capacity to engage in long form written works.  Why?  Quite simply, these types of educational experiences were not valued in the accountability system, and therefore they quickly disappeared from the classroom.  When time is a limited commodity, systems quickly adapt to utilizing time in a manner that is most efficient at protecting the bottom line.  For schools, the bottom line are assessment results and associated grades on school report cards.

For all the hand wringing and consternation that the Common Core and the associated accountability tests (from PARCC and Smarter Balance) are causing, it should be noted that they are moving education back towards educational experiences that value deep knowledge, ‘doing’ with information, and writing in response to educational experiences.  In many ways, Common Core is a reaction to the types of surface level, procedural learning that the old accountability system favored, and the damage it has done to learners over the past 20 years.

So, as accountability systems evolve, and as students will be responsible for performance assessments as well as summative assessments, it is now more critical than ever that pedagogical methods change and students have daily opportunities to ‘do’ with knowledge.  As information symmetry continues to change education through school choice and competitive pressures (i.e. market forces that have transformed education from a ‘safe’ local institution to a volatile consumable product), practitioners (teachers) must develop the habit of constantly assessing the ‘product’ they are selling.  When the kids are coming armed with just as much information as the teacher, subjecting them to 180 daily doses of ‘getting’ information is not a recipe for a sustaining professional future.


Bonus New Year’s Resolutions (or, I didn’t want to blog about it separately, so it’s a footnote here)

1. Read two op-ed pieces weekly from opposing viewpoints.  A downside to not getting the newspaper means that I am responsible for curating my own information.  I have read several interesting articles (none of which I can cite at the moment) that have cautioned against the insular thinking that can occur when we create our own electronic realities.  When I only go to websites I like, follow people on twitter who have my same interests, and only read news stories from sources that resonate with me, I run the risk of having a limited world view and perspective.  To me, there is intellectual and professional strength in seeking out divergent opinions and discerning where others you many not necessarily agree with can be right.  It is hard to do this if I live in my own curated bubble all the time.  Hence, the resolution to actively seek and read the opinions of those outside of my normal walk.

2. Read six books this year, three of which will be fiction.  I read all the time, every day, in order to stay relevant in my professional life.  The problem is that it is mostly short form (blogs, news articles, research reports, information digests, etc.)  There is so much to read that I have found long form (i.e. books, extended articles) gets squeezed out by the excuse of not having time.  The reality is that there is time, if I apportion my days differently.  The six books is actually not the issue, it is the three fiction that will be the problem.  The fact is I’m a junkie for good non-fiction books, especially the history and business varieties.  Similar to resolution number one, in order to fight ‘insular creep’ I need to continue to challenge myself to branch out….which means I need a dash of fiction in my diet.

3. Use my phone less during the day.  We all know that multi-tasking effectively is a myth (well, we should know).  Responding to every beep eats up precious productivity time at work.  Letting email (or twitter) drive my actions whenever my cell phone goes off is a recipe for frustration, because instead of feeling empowered by the information, I end up feeling like I never get anything done.  So, instead of the ‘Chinese water torture’ information drip, I’m resolving to A) Not take my phone into meetings this year B) Leave my phone in my desk (on silent) while in the office (take away the temptation to fiddle) and C) allocate blocks of time for email and social media (thereby moving it from a distractor towards another productivity block during the day).

Here’s to a productive and meaningful 2014!

Surviving The Change

The underlying narrative for educational professionals in my district, around the state, and I’m sure the nation is how overwhelming all of the change in education feels.

As the person in my District responsible for implementing the change, I find myself often feeling like I am pushing the stone of change up the hill.  A standard line in my stump speech is that the professional development activities the district is implementing are designed to equip teachers to survive the change and end up in a better place when (OTES begins, the Common Core arrives, the PARCC assessments begin, the new report card comes, etc.).

While the professional development I work on is necessary, good, and designed to be helpful, I still can’t escape the feeling that teachers feel like it is one more thing (in a long line of things) that is being ‘done’ to them.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there is absolutely no way that districts can provide enough professional development to effectively prepare teachers for the shifts in mindset and professional practice that must occur in order to be successful in 2014-2015 and beyond.  The teachers that will not only survive but also thrive are those who take ownership for their own professional learning.

To that end, a project on my part is to re-design professional development in my District and create individualized learner pathways, tied to Mozilla’s Open Badge Initiative @openbadges  While I would like to have this done yesterday, the reality is that it’s going to take a ton of preparation, research, development time, and a change in the mindset for how professional development occurs in my district.  In order to truly be effective, professional development must meet teachers at the intersection of readiness/capacity to learn and willingness.  Personalized learning pathways that account for where individual teachers are as learners, as well as give credit for knowledge they have already acquired, will not only be more meaningful, but will also reinforce the types of learning experiences we want our teachers to create for students.

In the interim, while this idea builds itself out, I am making a full court press to get teachers to create Personal Learning Networks and to get engaged with Twitter.  These two actions are guaranteed to help teachers take control and ownership of their own professional growth and learning.

To get to where they need to go, there is no other way.

For example, today every teacher in my District worked through an SLO approval calibration activity.  While I think it was worthwhile, it was still a whole group sit and get activity that only furthered their understanding of the whole process incrementally.  Worst of all, it once again reinforced the notion of the District as the sole provider of professional development experiences.

It could be so much better……if only all teachers would own the fact that they have to invest, outside of contracted professional development time, in the learning that will help them survive the change.

This change in mindset is empowering, if teachers will only take the leap of faith to make personal professional development a DAILY PRIORITY.

There is just too much to learn about using data, personalizing instruction, close reading, common core implementation, CCR standards for remediation free learning, changing assessments, educational technology……..

Those that survive will be those that become professional learners….ones who don’t wait for districts to provide PD, or wait for the summer to read a professional development article/book, or put off PD activities until just before a license renewal is due.

Those that survive will be relentless in their pursuit of understanding the changes, and will continue to read up on the very latest in all of the areas that are shifting simultaneously.

Those that survive will act in spite of, will always look at the glass as half full, and will continue to have faith in the goodness of what educators do on a daily basis, despite the narrative of failure that many want to tell about our schools.

Those that survive will own the data on their kids, and will double down on practices that are designed to promote growth for all students.  (@ChristinaHank, who’s blog was part of the inspiration for this post, wrote an excellent blog on this point:

Those that survive will refuse to act like victims, and they will shun those who do.

Never in the history of this planet have there been more tools at educators disposal that allow for meaningful, impactful change for student growth and development.

Making the choice to embrace these tools, to collaborate widely, to share and share alike…these are choices that will equip educators to survive the change.

Will you survive?