Two blogkheads are better than one.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Nature of Leadership

On a recent post to his blog, author Seth Godin shared one of his favorite excerpts from his book "Tribes".

He explains that leadership is and should be uncomfortable. Not everyone is willing to deal with the discomfort. Therefore, people willing to lead are in short supply. Scarcity makes leadership valuable. Seth goes on to state three things that really caught my attention:
  • "When you identify the discomfort, you've found the place where a leader is needed."
  • "If you're not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it's almost certain you're not reaching your potential as a leader."
  • "It is uncomfortable to stand up in front of strangers... to propose an idea that might fail... to challenge the status quo... to resist the urge to settle."
Avoiding discomfort is something that we are instinctively wired to do. Several years ago, I took my son and cousin canoeing down a river near our home. We came up on a bend in the river where the current picked up and swept us sideways into a stump sticking up in the water. My cousin and son both instinctively leaned away from the stump as we bumped into it. The current pushing us into the stump lifted that side of the canoe, and with my son and cousin leaning the other direction our canoe quickly flipped over.

Our flipping over could have been avoided if we had done what most river boaters call "going high side" or basically lean into the hazard.

As leaders we have to master our instincts and lean into the things that make us uncomfortable, or we might find ourselves just trying to keep our heads above water.

"A 'No' uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a 'Yes' merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble." - Mohandas Gandhi

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Document Your Thinking!

My Learning 1.0
Before last summer I would have said that I was an avid learner. I read many professional development books, went to many conferences, and participated in face-to-face book clubs. I would converse with others about what I was learning, but I rarely wrote anything about it (unless it was for a class/credit).

My Learning 2.0
Then, last summer I discovered blogging, wikis and even twitter. The collaborative nature of these web 2.0 tools facilitated the need to express my ideas/reflections about what I was learning in writing. I now feel like I understand what I have been learning much more deeply. I am more confident and capable of teaching the things I have learned, and feel much more committed and capable of facilitating and advocating for change in those areas.

The Difference
I have always been rather tech savvy, but for some reason the whole web 2.0 evolution caught me sleeping. The web 2.0 tools helped me to become a more active learner in two ways:

1) Writing - I knew what the research said about the benefits of nonfiction writing or “writing across the curriculum”. Now that I have experienced the benefits I understand that it is not about benefiting writing (a misconception on my part). It is about the increased understanding of the subject you are writing about. The benefit to writing is a by-product. I prefer to call “writing across the curriculum” “documented thinking across the curriculum” because of this misconception.

2) Collaboration – I could have done the writing about my learning without web 2.0 tools in a diary or something similar. However, the web 2.0 tools offer an added dimension – an audience. When I write for an audience I think more deeply about my ideas and what I have learned, and I spend time organizing that thinking so that I can articulate it in such a way that it can be understood by others. The audience itself provides additional opportunities to learn. They may agree, disagree, pose questions, or take your ideas in directions you would not have thought to take them. It is quite exhilarating to have someone from across the world comment on one of your posts or have the author of a book you are reflecting about comment on your reflection.

Typically, I advocate for the use of technology as just another tool. There are other tools that we have at our disposal that can accomplish the same thing. Sometimes technological tools can help accomplish our goals more effectively. However, in this case I cannot think of another tool that can accomplish the depth of understanding that my learning has undergone with the use of web 2.0 tools (primarily blogging). So, in the case of blogging I will advocate for it’s use as the only tool of it’s kind.

Implications for School Leaders
While there are great learning gains that can be realized by our students through the use of blogs, that is not what I am advocating for directly. I am not necessarily advocating for teachers to begin blogging as a professional learning tool either. I am advocating for school leaders to begin blogging to further their learning. I have heard people say that if we don't inspect it - we can't expect it. How can we inspect it, if we don't use it ourselves? If we are the leaders of learning organizations, then we must do everything we can to enhance our own learning and model that learning. There is no other tool better suited to that purpose than blogging.
Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means. - Albert Einstein

How Do I Get Started Blogging?
1. Start following some blogs that are of value to you. Scott McLeod has compiled a list of Great Blogs for Busy Administrators.
2. Comment on some blog posts that caused you to reflect, have questions, or think of extensions to the ideas that the author presented. Why not start today and comment on this post. If I haven't convinced you that blogging will be beneficial to your work, tell me why. What other benefits do you see or have realized through blogging?
We cannot be speakers who do not listen. But neither can we be listeners who do not speak. - Mohandas Gandhi
3. Begin your own blog to share your learning, reflections and ideas. It is much easier than you probably think. Here are some easy instructions to help get you started. The toughest part is not the technology; it is the writing and thinking (tasks as school leaders we should be more than willing to take on - learning and sharing ideas after all are the very nature of our jobs).

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Keynote Notes - Mike Schmoker

On Monday and Tuesday this week I attended the 1st Annual Western Colorado Educator's Conference with the rest of our admin team. Dr. Mike Schmoker, author of RESULTS NOW: How We Can Achieve Unprecedented Improvements in Teaching and Learning, was the headline keynote speaker. Here are my Twitter tweets to Tiffany who wanted to attend, but could not be there.

• We need to stop teaching reading in 2nd grade. We need to start anaylzing and thinking about texts instead.
• College success - 1.Draw inferences/conclusions 2.Analyze conflicting docs 3.Support arguements w/ evidence 4.Solve complex probs
• The teacher effect makes all other diffs pale in comparison.
• Every study of classroom practice reveals that most teaching is mediocre - or worse.
• You can't expect what you don't inspect.
• We must redefine what we mean by literacy instruction.
• Authentic team-based PLC's are exceedingly rare.
• Guaranteed & viable curriculum is the number 1 factor for increasing student achievement. - Marzano research
• The actions of admin including improv planning & staff dev have no impact on quality of teaching in the school.
• If you can't measure it, you can't improve it.
• All schools need a steering committee.
• PLC & staff meetings are the heart of our organization - Don't squander them.
• Underdeveloped literacy skills are the number 1 reason why students fail.
• Reading & writing vs. stuff ratio - Avg. 1:15!
• There hardly isn't a kid in America that can't learn to read in 100 days.
• We have to collect way way more reading materials for kids.
• On average kids do less reading and writing during lit block than any other thing (cutting, glueing, pasting, etc.)
• On average kids are given more coloring assignments than math and writing.
• 83% of kids favorite thing to do in class is talk... about controversial issues
• Writing is the litmus paper of thought - Ted Sizer
• We need to write more, grade less -
• We must give kids good things to read, write, talk and think about. - all grade levels
• Have kids talk in pairs before talking whole class about critical things to prime them for the bigger discussion.
• Lack of priority and clarity is what is keeping us from getting to where we need to / must go.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Ask Your Students - Why Do You Read?

I had two ah-ha moments this morning. One about teaching reading and the other about blogging.

I just spent two days watching some full day kindergarten programs. Both programs were pretty different in terms of their curricular programming and instructional delivery, but both had their kids reading at high levels. I saw a lot and took many notes. As I was rereading my notes and reflecting on what I saw, I took a break to catch up on some of the blogs that I follow. On Stephanie Sandifer's blog Change Agency, she wrote a post titled Love of Reading… and my fear…. In her post, she was actually reflecting on another blog post by Angela Maiers. In her post, Angela describes a scenario of watching her son “get through” his weekly reading assignment, after which he tells her:
“Mom, I hate reading. I did not want to tell you that, ’cause I know that it’s your job and reading is a big deal to you, but I really really hate it. I dream of the day when I will never have to do reading again. If I was on a dessert island, I would rather die of starvation, than read a book. And, if you think I am weird or something, you gotta know, all my friends feel exactly the same way.”
Stephanie reflected on this quote and wrote:

My beautiful 15 month old twins are voracious “readers” right now. They LOVE their books and will spend a great deal of time every day “reading” as many of their books as they can. Not only do they love to crawl into my lap with a book and demand that I read it to them, they also sit by themselves, flipping pages, and babbling as they stop on each page. They point to the pictures and tell me the story in their own words. Of course they aren’t reading the words on the page — but they get the concept and most importantly, they LOVE the concept of reading a book.

My biggest fear is that someday, somewhere, some teacher will destroy their love of reading by giving them “reading assignments” that make reading feel more like a chore rather than a pleasurable activity.

I have never met Stephanie or Angela. Neither of them know who I am or that I am currently trying to digest my observations of two full day kindergarten programs. Nevertheless, their reflections based on their own experiences help me to crystallize my first ah-ha on what I had experienced.

Although both programs we visited had their students reading at high levels, I am not sure that the levels of intrinsic interest to read were the same. I think if you asked the students from both classes "Why do you read?", the answers would be different. How would you want your students to respond to that question? Would you want your students to say "to discover new things" or "because Mrs. So-and-so thinks it is important". The boy in this picture is my son Evan at age 4. He already loves reading. I would be devastated if he came home and told me what Angela's boy told her.

In education, because of the length of time it takes to achieve our final product (13 years) and student motivation being an integral part of achieving a quality result, the processes we employ to achieve each step along the way are critical to achieving our long term goals. I wrote a post titled Long Road Trips & Education: An Analogy on my other blog "blogkhead" back in August where I take this issue into more depth.

The other ah-ha about blogging... I'll leave for you to "infer" from what I've already written.

..Cross posted at kinderblogn.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Leadership vs. Coercion and Bribery

"… you cannot lead strangers, you can only coerce or bribe them."

Karl Fisch posted a blog entry on this pondersome quote. I spent a great deal of my weekend thinking about this quote. After some research, I discovered that it was one of my favorite authors who penned it – Orson Scott Card in Ender in Exile.

In eleven words, its sums up everything that is wrong in education, from the methods that we take to motivate of our students to the methods politicians take to motivate us to reform. I believe Card’s point is not to encourage coercion or bribery. The quote implies that coercion and bribery are not leadership. The intent is to focus us on being more familiar with those we are trying to lead.

We do not have to have a personal relationship in order for us not to be considered strangers. To be effective as a leader we must demonstrate that we are familiar with the conditions that those we lead face, and we must make our thoughts and ideas familiar to those we lead. It is not people or their personal relationships that lead revolutions, it is their ideas that do.

Another quote comes to mind. “The pen is mightier than the sword.” The intrinsic value of an idea is mightier than the extrinsic value of reward or punishment. I have come to believe that coercion and bribery, which are the true nature of external accountability measures, cannot and will not lead to lasting change for this reason.

If the pen is mightier than the sword, then what is the communication technology that we possess today (blogs, wikis, etc.) mightier than?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Proficiency Based Grading - Less Punishing (and less rewarding?)

In The Learning Leader, Douglas Reeves talks about the statistical unfairness of zeros and averaging in regards to letter grades. In addition, my kindergarten background compels me to agree with him on keeping assessments of behavior separate from assessments of academic skills.

At the elementary level in our school district we have done away with letter grades in favor of proficiency based report cards. In doing so I believe we have been able to avoid much of the negative consequences associated with unfair assessment in the letter grade system. On the other hand, I wonder if we have at the same time made it less rewarding and less challenging.

Grades of "Advanced" and "Excellent" are far less given than grades of "A" and "B" were under the letter grade system. With most of our students receiving the equivalent of a "C" and not having much hope of receiving an "Excellent" or "Advanced" what do they have to work for? In my eyes a grade of "Proficient" should be equivalent to a "C" in a our essential learnings (minimum proficiency) based checklists and report card. "Excellent" though sounds like it should only be awarded to "A" students and "Advanced" should only be awarded to students that are working at such a high level that they are working on stuff that is at least a full year ahead of what is minimally expected of them now ("A+" stuff). What about our "B" students? How do we recognize their effort in being more than minimally proficient? We have PP1 (just beginning), PP2 (working on it), & PP3 (almost there) to recognize the small differences of our "D" and "F" students. Maybe we ought to recognize the differences in "B" and "C" work. Maybe a Pro1, Pro2 and Pro3 - think that might confuse parents?

I really liked one of the alternative assessment systems that Reeves proposed. It linked the letter grade system to a proficiency based rubric where students were given say 6 assessments during the trimester. Each assessment is grade on a proficiency based rubric like the following:

4 = Exemplary
3 = Proficient
2 = Progressing
1 = Not Meeting Standards

The trimester letter grades would be given based on the following:

A = Four assessments scored "exemplary" and two scored at least "proficient"
B = Four assessments scored "proficient" and two score at least "progressing"
C = Three assessments scored at least "proficient"
* Any performance lower than a C is scored as "IP" or "In Progress" a grade that becomes an F within two weeks after each grading period unless the student submitted work that was sufficient for a C grade.

Can we go back to a letter based grading system at the elementary level that links to our proficiency based assessment system in this manner? Is there state or federal legislation that would prevent this (that made us move to a proficiency based reporting system in the first place)? Would our teachers fall back into bad letter grade assessment habits (using zeros and averages and mixing behavior and academics)? I think parents and students would find our assessment system less of a mystery and students would have more than just "Proficient" to work for if this were our approach. Just a thought.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Game of School

One of the blogs I read - - has been posting quotes from a book called The Game of School by Robert Fried. They are very thought provoking. Here are the ones he has posted so far:
There is quite likely no substitute for the experience of feeling empowered . . . if we hope for children to pursue learning enthusiastically within the structure of a classroom or a school. Learning and power are inextricably linked.
We have opted not to create schools as places where children’s curiosity, sensory awareness, power, and communication can flourish, but rather to erect temples of knowledge where we sit them down, tell them a lot of stuff we think is important, try to control their restless curiosity, and test them to see how well they’ve listened to us.
The place we call school or college, which should be our society’s most vital promoter of learning, too often instead creates the field on which we learn to play a game that demoralizes us even when we are winners (and can permanently scar us when we lose). In the daily course of attending school, as they do what their teachers ask and strive to earn good grades, our children unknowingly substitute lesser goals for an invaluable goal they were born with: the pursuit of learning for its own sake.
There is a simple test we can perform to find out whether or not our children are truly learning. We can ask them, not the usual question, “How was school today, Honey?” or “What did she teach you in your math class?” but rather, “Did you learn anything in school today that you really want to know more about?” If the answer is … usually no, you have cause for worry - even if your child brings home a good report card.
Far too much of the time our children spend in school is wasted ... Most of what they experience during school hours passes over them like the shadow of a cloud, or through them like an undigested seed. They may be present in the classroom, but they are not really there. Their pencils may be chugging away on the worksheets or the writing prompts or math problems laid out for them, but their intelligence is running on two cylinders at best. They pay some attention to what their teacher happens to be telling them, but their imagination has moved elsewhere... And, worst of all, by the time our kids have reached fourth or fifth grade, they think what they are experiencing in school is normal.
Amid all the accounts … of kids complaining to each other about how bored they are with many of their classes, why do we accept this so passively, without arguing for the right to be learning something of value.
Part of me says this is too harsh - that the author is not taking into account the myriad of difficulties we face. On the other hand, he points some things out from the view of the child - whose learning needs should be met regardless of our difficulties. It has got me thinking. I think I will pick up a copy.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

In The Learning Leader: How to Focus School Improvement for Better Results, Douglas Reeves sites studies that show that many current school improvement practices miss the mark. He goes on to show through studies that rigid adherence to school improvement plans may actually serve as an obstacle to improved student achievement. He calls this rigid adherence "the religion of documentarianism". He mentions that "ugly" improvement plans are often more effective than "pretty" ones.

I believe that the religion of "documentarianism" is rooted in external accountability. When we do our SIPs to satisfy the requirements of an external entity (make them pretty), those goals are almost guaranteed to be ineffective. I ran across the following quote from Dr. Richard Elmore of Harvard this summer:
"[I]nternal accountability precedes external accountability. That is, school personnel must share a coherent, explicit set of norms and expectations about what a good school looks like before they can use signals from the outside to improve student learning. Giving test results to an incoherent, atomized, badly run school doesn’t automatically make it a better school. The ability of a school to make improvements has to do with the beliefs, norms, expectations, and practices that people in the organization share, not with the kind of information they receive about their performance. Low-performing schools aren’t coherent enough to respond to external demands for accountability."
Because of this quote, I went about creating our school goals in a different way this year. Rather than starting with test data in hand - looking for deficiencies. I started with our shared beliefs, mission and vision. According to Jim Collins in Good to Great, our reason for existence, core values and BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) should be aligned with each other and with the actions we take. This was far more difficult than writing the goals that I had written for the past 3 years (which were pretty but ineffective) - we had to come to a shared understanding of what our core beliefs are, do some visioning and revise our mission first. But, that was just the beginning of the increased difficulty that I encountered.

Next, knowing that our core beliefs, vision and mission were focused on dispositions as well as skills (life long learners, whole child, etc.) I struggled with figuring out how to balance the focus of our goal. In addition, I struggled with fitting my focus for our goals into the SMART format (a prettiness measure if you ask me). Specifically, I struggled with the measurability aspect of it.
"Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts" - Albert Einstein.
How do you measure dispositions? I decided to go with pre and post surveys. We are not really that happy with this form of measurement, but don't really know how else to make it measurable. I made our goals pretty for the requirements of an external source, but to us they have become ugly.
Good Lord Boyet, my beauty, though but mean,
Needs not the painted flourish of your praise:
Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye,
Not utter'd by base sale of chapmen's tongues.
- Shakespeare - Love's Labours Lost, 1588