Sometimes you just have to try it!

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I am probably dating myself with this image, but I think Mikey can teach us a lesson…Sometimes you just have to try it! When considering the Week 4 blog challenge, the graphic “5 Ways to Lay the Foundation for Innovation” by George Couros resonates with me in my role as a technology integration specialist. Attachment-1

I should mention that I am not a huge fan of that title because it seems to work against the first point in the graphic-Powerful learning first, technology second. I really see my role as more of an instructional coach, but I digress…point number four is my focus! The quest for educators who are in my position, no matter the title, is to get teachers to just try things. They may or may not like them, but they have to give new ideas and methods a try or they will never know. Sort of like trying brussel sprouts for the first time! With this in mind, I try to create learning situations where educators really have no choice but to try these new ideas. A couple of recent examples in my district come to mind.

The district administration team in my district was willing to let me run with an Edcamp style inservice in March. There were no administrators who were completely against the idea (at least I don’t think so), but there were some who were hesitant about trying this new idea. You can imagine the concerns:

  • What if there are no experts in the room?
  • What if  we don’t have enough ideas?
  • How do we ensure that everyone is where they are supposed to be?
  • Vote with your feet…ummm…what if teachers just leave?

I wish there were only four concerns, but the point…they said let’s do it, we did, and people liked it!  There was nervousness from teachers on the day of the event, but generally the above concerns did not come to fruition. We had more than enough ideas to fill forty-five session slots and administrators just trusted that teachers would be where they were supposed to be! Surveying the participants after the event allowed them to share the good and bad of the event, but what we found overall is that people liked the format. The response to the very last question (graphic below) almost brought a tear to my eye! The survey “required” some type of response on the positives and negatives, but in the end, teachers would do it again! I cannot tell you the number of teachers who have emailed and stopped me in the hallways to say that they were pleasantly surprised because they were not looking forward to it, but in the end enjoyed it. More specifically, a P.E. teacher stopped me and said that normal inservice topics don’t seem to apply to them, but the Edcamp style was different. Screen Shot 2017-03-25 at 11.00.36 AM

Another example of creating meaningful learning experiences involves conducting a Mystery Hangout for an elementary building in my district. The building principal (@kate_wyman ) asked me to conduct one with her staff. This principal is very open to new, innovative ideas and she wanted her staff to experience it. After finding a willing and experienced Mystery Hangout school (thanks to@MindySouthin Farmington, Missouri, we conducted one at the March faculty meeting. The teachers seemed to enjoy it at the time, but the best part was the video message I received the next day from a 6th grade teacher (@theresescifres ) and class who had just set one up. That teacher went to school, put out a call on the Google+ Community (Connected Classroom Workshop) that I had suggested, and set one up the day after that faculty meeting! The principal also sent me an email saying that one other teacher had scheduled one, and two other teachers were interested. Again, that almost brings a tear to my eye.

Specifically, these two experiences make me see the power of creating meaningful experiences rather than just telling teachers about them. I can honestly say that too often time constraints have caused me to rely on just telling teachers about the innovative “stuff” that they can be doing rather than actually creating those opportunities that allow them to experience the possibilities. My next goal is to create an experience that proves the power of connecting on social media. If I can get teachers and administrators to experience the benefits of Twitter or Voxer (my new favorite…look me up @dsturm823), I think they will find that they do like it and that those experiences can lead to richer classroom experiences for their students or staff.

Don Sturm

Lessons from a motorcyclist!

 

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Tail of the Dragon- Tennessee/North Carolina
When given the option of going from Point A to Point B, a true motorcycle enthusiast will always pick the route that has the curviest roads. We might be able to get to Point B faster by taking the straight road (sometimes we ride 200 miles to go 60), but it isn’t as exciting and memorable as those roads that are scenic and challenging. You gain a greater skill set and appreciation for life when you take these curvy roads!

What if this was the philosophy that dominated the field of education? Many teachers feel that the best way to get information across to students is the linear model…the straight road. The kids will still learn this way, but it isn’t as exciting as learning the random and non-linear way. Learning in this way can be challenging and messy, but what you learn sticks with you longer. The curvy road way of learning is just a more exciting and eye-opening experience. Honestly, I think it is higher quality of learning.

We deserve to give kids the most exciting and memorable education that we can..let’s start taking the curvy roads and not the straight ones!

 

Ever get stuck on an escalator?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA If you have never seen this video, it is worth watching!

Do you know any educators who are stuck on their own escalator? Are you stuck? While this image and video might make us laugh, there are those in education (and to be fair every profession) who are literally stuck in what they do. They are the ones who wait for someone else to set an agenda and make forward progress. They wait for “official” PD opportunities, avoid social media, etc. The sad part is that this has an impact on kids!

How do we help people who are stuck? How do we get them to take ownership for their own learning and not wait for someone to train them on a new teaching strategy? We could throw up our hands and say that there will always be educators like this, but what about those students in the classroom? Don’t all students deserve a rich classroom experience?

Schools can start by creating a culture where self motivated PD is not only encouraged but expected! The big question…What is the best way to foster this culture? I would love your thoughts!

Don Sturm

The kids just trust us!

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This view over the weekend from the driver’s seat of a small white bus (the kids call it the white rhino) while taking my scholastic bowl team to a competition caused me to have a deep thought. The kids just trust us! As I looked in the mirror, every kid was asleep on that REALLY  long ride. This may not sound like a huge surprise, but it got me thinking that they trusted me enough to not give a thought to me driving them. They have never questioned my ability to drive it or my safety record. I thought really hard about this to the point that I was more aware than normal. I looked a little more closely when I had to cross traffic or go through a busy intersection. Teachers and administrators should not take this trust for granted. Plain and simple, we have to keep in mind that students trust us to do what is right!

It is all about taking risks!

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The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.

Mark Zuckerberg

I think we hear the mantra “take risks” all the time in the field of education, but the nature of our schools makes it difficult to go too far out on a limb. Personally, I think this is one of the issues holding schools back from getting better! There are always those who are working against teachers and educators taking risks because it will upset the way that things have always been done.

Having this risk taking characteristic is something that I have prided myself on from the time I started my teaching career in 1991. Obviously, the degree of risk taking varies from year to year, but I have always held the belief that you have to step out of your comfort zone to truly grow. Moving from the classroom to technology integration specialist has given me the opportunity to encourage others to take risks. So much of my current position involves getting educators to try new ways of doing things, which instantly takes them out out of their comfort zone. It takes a nuanced approach on my end because not all teachers and administrators are as comfortable as I am with taking risks. My style is to try to get teachers to think about what they want from their students in the classroom, which many times involves expecting students to step out of their comfort zone. If they expect this from students they should be more open to risk taking in their classroom/school. My philosophy is that no one should expect something of another person that they would not expect of themselves.

The fear and trepidation that comes from risk taking is what makes it such a valuable experience. If the risk results in a successful outcome, the confidence gained from that experience is invaluable! Conversely, if the risk doesn’t turn out successful, that experience also provides a teachable moment. We have to start looking at risk taking as a win-win situation. Risk requires a growth mindset toward the idea of failure. Failure should be a learning experience, not an excuse to quit innovating. If we expect our students to be resilient and learn from failure, we have to be prepared to do the same thing!

Don Sturm

 

The process is important!

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Imagine…students working diligently on a project. They are interacting with each other. Their interest levels are peaked. They are seeking out new information. The teacher is happy, the students are happy, everything is right with the world. Then…the final product is turned in…and it is not very good. What happened? What grade do you as a teacher give to the finished product? You have a rubric that you live and die by, you really have no choice but to give a low grade. The final grade is not what the students expected.

As a former high school history teacher, I can speak first hand about how easy it is to forget the importance of the process of learning. High school teachers especially seem to focus more on the final product than the steps that students followed to produce that product. I am not sure if it is the content heavy nature of high school or the idea that students at this level are ready to be set out into the dog-eat-dog world, but there is a huge focus on final products. Educators, no matter the grade level, need to be sure to place an emphasis on the process rather than the final product.

Don’t get me wrong, at some point the final product needs to count for something. The key for those involved in educating kids is to find a balance of process and product. My biggest issue is that many teachers (myself included) give many one and done type of assignments. Students work for a set amount of time (days to weeks), turn in it in, and wait for a grade. The grade is given and the something new is assigned. The problem…many times the new project involves new skills that haven’t been honed through previous work. This process is repeated over and over throughout a semester or school year.

Wouldn’t it be better to incorporate a set of skills/standards that students would work to master throughout the course or year? In theory, every assignment or long term project would incorporate these skills/standards. This would allow students to use what they learn from each project to hone these skills over a longer period of time. Projects turned in at the end of the course or year would presumably be better than those turned in during the beginning of the year. This is true growth!

Probably one of the biggest hurdles to this type of thinking is the nature of grades in our education system. The belief that everything that students complete has to be graded and then recorded is pervasive in our society. Parents have to have something to see in the gradebook…don’t they?? This expectation is then carried over to assignments. If students complete and turn in an assignment, it is easy for a teacher to just look at that final piece of work and, in turn, the learning process is almost completely discounted. And…if the work is all done at home, there is really no effective way to assess the learning process. Thus, the push by some educators to do away with homework. While I am not suggesting that there is no place for homework, I do think that this makes a final grade almost always reliant on the final product and not the process.

How to implement this is the million dollar question! One thought gaining traction is to use more of a standards based grading system. This type of grading system allows students to work on standards that will be mastered over time. In this type of classroom, students are always assessed based upon their best work. I am currently working with a high school ELA teacher on this type of grading system. It is worth noting that this is being done within a traditional grading system, but grades do not appear until midterm and final report cards. This is what George Couros might describe as innovating within the box. As students work to meet standards, their best attempt is recorded. This is direct attempt to balance process and final product. Final products are always being assessed, but there is a focus on continual growth. The focus is on process.

The challenge for teachers is to at least be aware that the learning process is important. This awareness will hopefully lead to some discussions about how to assess the process and not just the product. It is also important to stress this idea to all involved in the education process: students, parents, administrators, and school board members. When showcasing work…focus on the process that was followed and the learning that resulted. Don’t always feel like you have to showcase the final video or presentation to others. In fact, don’t lead with the finished product, lead with process!

Don Sturm

Don’t be a Goob!

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What’s a goob? We all probably know at least one! You might even have another name for them. They are the negative ones who can and do ruin the possibility of something good just by their comments and reactions. They are the elephant in the room. If you aren’t a goob, you might get trapped in their web of negativity. You start to become goob like! If you are a goob, please stop because you are ruining it for others. Hmmm…the more I think about it, there probably aren’t many goobs reading this blog post 🙂

I write this post with the thought that we can’t just ignore this elephant in the room. Change is needed in schools and we can’t afford to let a small group (hopefully) of people distract us from sharing and implementing these necessary improvements. Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not talking about the teachers or administrators who have legitimate disagreements with specific improvements. We need a variety of research based opinions on our quest for a better education system! Goobs are those who will fight anything that is different just simply because…not because of any research.

It is uncomfortable to face the goob and, as a result, many times we just simply try to ignore them. I want to suggest a different approach. Why not talk about the goob, not as an individual, but as a group? What if we acknowledge the elephant in the room? The best outcome would see the goob change and be an open and a willing participant in the improvement process.  The worst case scenario would be that they do not change their minds and start to grumble to themselves, but at least they won’t poison the proverbial watering hole! What if school districts used a hashtag like #dontbeagoob as a way of putting them on notice that we won’t allow the goobs to bring others down? Planning a different kind of professional development activity? Use this new hashtag along with the “legitimate” ones to silence the goobs. Would this acknowledgment of the elephant in the room help to change the culture of a school? I don’t know, but I am willing to try it and see what happens.

Don Sturm