Tuesday, September 30, 2014

We Had an EdCamp! And it was AWESOME!

Last spring, I began reading about this growing trend of professional development called the EdCamp. Educators created what they wanted to learn on the spot and shared amazing insights, tips, tricks, and ideas in a fabulous, collaborative environment.

So, this summer, I had to try it out. I attended the Google EdCamp held at Wayne Township in Indianapolis, and I walked away pumped up and full of ideas. It was fun to learn from others, share stories, and jump up and share some of my ideas too! I met new people and learned some very cool tips!

And so, I wanted to bring this idea to my school and my district. This past Friday, we gave it a whirl. With my staff’s trust (and another school in our district joined us for the day), we embarked upon a new framework for professional development. Within our district, we were very lucky to have a full professional development day and each building built their own professional development plan. The first part of our day was designed for developing a writing unit with the help of our district literacy coach. It was a fabulous morning of collaboration.

After lunch, it was EdCamp time!

Prior to Friday, I sent out a Google Form asking about technology topics and interest. I was able to build a basic structure for our session board. Along with that, I knew this was the first most of my staff, and some had never heard of an EdCamp before. I decided to put together a few slides to briefly describe what an EdCamp was, how it worked, the “rules of engagement”, and how to build a session board.

Once I shared how the afternoon would work, we built our session board. Teachers grabbed little tags and they tagged which sessions they would like to attend. It was so awesome to see! Teachers were excited, anticipating what was to come, and the session board started taking shape.

After the tags were up and everyone shared their interests, TOGETHER, we moved sessions around, added and changed sessions, and made sure the rooms fit. I gave them a few more tidbits, shared the backchannel and how it worked through Today’s Meet, and we were off!

Sessions were conversations, asking questions. Teachers moved when they needed to, helped each other, and shared great tips and tricks! I walked between sessions, shared some ideas and tricks I have learned, and watched the fabulous discussions taking place all around the school.

After all was said and done, we shared a “smackdown” of cool tips and tricks from the afternoon, and teachers shared their thoughts of the day through their exit ticket (old school note card style!).

In reflection, EdCamp was a blast! I am so happy I took the leap and led my staff into the EdCamp, learning from each other. I am so PROUD of my staff for giving it a try, trusting me on this adventure, inspiring me to learn with them! 

One aspect I feel was missing happened to be too few facilitators for sessions, and so many teachers weren’t able to answer some of their questions or left sessions because no one was there to help propel the discussion. Despite this, it is something I want to do again in our district, on a larger scale, with more leaders/facilitators to lead the charge. My staff gave fabulous feedback, felt the experience was positive, and short of too few facilitators, learned quite a bit with the TIME to share.

Not everything goes perfectly the first time you give it a try, but it is worth it. For me, EdCamping our professional development was worth the risk and was an incredibly positive experience for my staff. Way to go!!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Be Brave for Our Learners

I am the proud mother of 3 growing boys. Everyone asks, “So, are you going to try for that girl?” My answer is always, “No. I’m done.” I guess I won’t take the risk of having yet another boy to fight, wrestle, and destroy, and then again, I don’t think I could have a girl - I simply wouldn’t know what to do with a girl, and she would have to be pretty tough with these boys of mine. Nevertheless, my boys inspire me. I wouldn’t have it any other way.  

What I find most intriguing about my boys is that they are all so different. I have one who wouldn’t touch finger paints and another who smothers himself in it. I have a picky eater, and one who just won’t stop eating! I have a planner, a go-with-the-flow kind of guy, and I also have a plotter. I have a musician and artist, and then I have a brute who will take anyone down, even though he is a mere 30 pounds. They question, create, battle, wrestle, and sometimes say the funniest things. Each one excels in different areas and in different skills. They are my boys, each one different than the other, but best friends.

From the same parents, and yet so different. And different is GOOD!

We need to remember all kids are different, learn differently, act differently, even when they are from the same family. Instruction designed for “one size fits all” doesn’t fit kids. It is not responsive to the needs and personalities of kids. While we want all our students to learn particular skills, our instruction should be different in helping each child attain those skills. We know children will be ready to attain and learn skills at different times and at different paces.

Needless to say, I often am frustrated by our current educational system. We expect every child to be at the same level, move through the “grade levels” at the same pace, and each child should show “mastery” of “grade-level” standards on standardized tests. Our system tells us daily that all students should be at the same level at the same time, while we know this is not true, not what research says, and not what best practices tell us. When we give kids the same worksheet, we know this isn’t best practice, but we still do it anyway because our system pushes us to conformity instead of celebrating and fostering individuality.

Our greatest challenge is finding the balance between the standardization of the educational system and fostering the individuality and creativity we know our students should develop in order to be successful adults. How do we design an environment that fosters this individual development, while not being stricken by the system of uniformity?

Educators everywhere must be courageous to step outside their comfort zone and try something new, taking a risk to push students thinking and build creativity everyday. Textbooks do not drive what we do; kids do. Be responsive to the needs of the students, meet them where they are, and push them from that point forward. Be brave to construct a different learning environment for kids to explore, research, read, write, problem-solve, and think.

We are not teaching ourselves in the environment we grew up in. We are teaching this generation’s children, a plethora of differing learners, being asked to do more and know more than ever before. Our current system will not be enough for them. We must work together, be brave together, to step outside this current system and try something new.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Learning for ALL!

Today, I walked into a classroom to find 23 students busy at work. I walked around, and each student cheerfully said hello and proudly showed off their work. I stopped at one table, and the little girl and little boy were just sitting. I asked if they were finished, and both said no and looked very sad. I asked them where their paper was, and they both said they didn’t get one. I told the boy and girl to go ask for one, and sometimes this happens, but they need to ask the teacher for a paper. They did, the teacher happily got them a piece of paper, and both got to work, smiles on their faces. Crisis resolved.

This instance got me thinking, as many events during the day tend to do. As educators, we are often so busy or not sure where to turn, so we never ask or step outside our comfort zone to try something new, taking a risk. Our professional growth is stale because our school day is so fast-paced, by the time we need to ask, the rest of the world has moved on, leaving us stuck with a comfortable teaching technique or same procedure. That little boy and girl were not sure what to do, despite knowing they could simply ask the question in order to get that piece of paper. But they both felt the time to ask had passed, and they weren’t sure what to do.

We cannot allow the opportunities for our professional growth slip by.

Professional learning is a passion of mine. There are multiple topics I enjoy reading and learning about, such as technology, literacy, leadership, and motivation. I often ask myself, “What do you want to focus on, learn more about?” And over the past few months, I am drawn to the development of collaborative communities within a school and throughout the wider educational community.

Think about this: A college student studies education, observing classrooms, and eventually completes a 12-week student teaching experience. That student then becomes a teacher, hired to guide a group of students through skills and content. Once hired, that new teacher works tirelessly on lesson plans, grading, and classroom management tasks. He/She will talk with other teachers during lunch, before or after school, might get ideas or share ideas with others during those times. He/She will likely search for lesson activities on the Internet.  He/She may even attend a workshop or two during the school year, learning about a particular teaching technique.

The above description, at least in my experience, is fairly common among teachers and even principals. Throw in a few college courses or even a masters degree, and this describes most teachers. Nothing wrong with this, as there is opportunity for collaboration and growth, but in today’s educational arena, this is no longer sufficient for true growth. We expect our children’s education to be a continuum in skills development, and yet our own professional learning is choppy and scattered at best.

So, what is the answer?

I wish I had the answer, and I have read about many schools trying different approaches, such as the 80/20 approach, giving teachers time back during the day for their own professional growth. I am trying some different approaches, and so far, I feel we are moving in the right direction.  As a principal, I feel it is my job not only to ensure students are learning, but also our teachers should be growing. How can I better support their development?

Over the past year, I have set to demonstrate my passion for professional learning. I facilitated two book studies, modeled and taught lessons in the classrooms, and held PD Roundtables - short bursts of information led by teachers on various topics before or after school. Our leadership team has led the discussion of what is needed in the school in order to grow. Our community of learners is now expanding beyond students, and now is taking shape with the staff.

And so, with a common vision and action plan at our school, we are pushing each other in our professional growth. A new approach I’m trying this year is a “lunch n’ learn”. Lunch time is a wonderful opportunity to learn in a more relaxed atmosphere. So, I recently hosted a “lunch n’ learn” in our staff lounge, leaving it completely open to questions about Google. There were only a few questions about Google, but I still feel it was successful in opening the door to asking questions and seeking answers. I hope to have more lunch n’ learns, opening the doors to questions and collaboratively seeking answers.

I want to take this even further now. I want to reimagine the staff lounge and resource room. How can these two spaces be more conducive to asking questions and seeking answers? How can these two spaces become more collaborative, supporting professional growth and learning?

Again, I don’t have the answers, and really, the answer shouldn’t lie just in me - it needs to come from my staff. How can we use what we have to grow and learn together, supporting one another when time is precious and there is little extra to give? We need to be able to take risks in teaching, so that our students continue to learn and grow like never before. Without professional growth and support, risks will never be taken.

Professional growth needs to be a priority to everyone. We not only model the amazing opportunity lifelong learning provides, but we grow so that we can reach our children more effectively than before. I love it when the sky’s the limit!

photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/2908834853/">woodleywonderworks</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/">cc</a>