Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Creating Innovators Discussion Chapter 1

You have probably already guessed that this is one of my favorite books knocking off my long time favorites The Fifth Discipline and Schools that Learn both by Peter Senge.
I love the quote form the director of Pella. (Indeed, for Rick Hassman, director or corporate applications at Pella, continuous improvemnt is a passion. "Where innovation comes in...is figuring out the right problem to be solved, the right question to ask, and then figuring out a better way to solve the problem. You can't just come up with a solution for today's problem. Nothing stays the same.")
I think this not only applies to how we should approach our charge as educators, but also indicates what we should be emphasizing with our students. We have to figure out the right problem to be solved. This was discussed with those teachers involved in the RTI work with Lynnae.  The questions have to are the kids performing, if not why, is it what we are asking them to do, their lack of essential skills to do it, or the (HOW) way in which we are asking them to do it? We know certain things about the students we are attempting to work with and thus can use that knowledge to tailor our attempts to engage them. They are social learners learning best through interaction with each other. Their worlds truly revolve around them. They post or tweet their every move on social media cites like their actions are of great interest to millions of people. As we discussed the Thursday or Friday we met together, these attributes can be exploited.  Most of them are not lazy, they just don't have a real interest in what we have to say. They are, however, willing to seek out answers to questions they develop or we give them. They will spend time exploring a concept, discussing a topic, and create a defense their position. However, they want to spend that time using their tools and in their digital world not the paper, pencil and PowerPoint world we are comfortable in. They have fundamental skills with technology and would much rather do things on the computer than with paper and pencil like I still use. Exploit these characteristic we know to be consistent among most of our students.
We have a number of our staff,l you all being the majority of that group, who are becoming more and more innovative and more and more comfortable working in the "digital world" they live in.
The co-teaching I have pushed for is an example of that innovative spirit. You are doing some awesome things and moving in what is being painted as the right direction. However, with any innovation, there has to be constant reflection and willingness not only do some different things but the even harder job of stop doing some of the things we are currently doing. I built and entire pole barn which I then had to take down and begin to rebuild because I made a couple of mistakes. There was a story which by the way ended up on the front page of the Freeman Journal.  If I had stopped then, we would not have gone on to build a large number of houses, two of which were over 5000 sq ft and consisting of materials amounting to over $300,000 each. That was fourteen years ago. We, Dick Kennedy and I, did this with students.  Neither of us had built a house before or even been in charge of a large edition. We took a huge risk and things did not always go well. The students in the program were not the A students attending school at that time but rather a group of young men and a couple of young ladies that most teachers thought were lazy and lacking of intelligence.
You all recognize that we can not teach the way we were taught nor focus on  preparing students for the standardized  assessments we think we are judged by. You might have noticed, they don't care about those assessments and those assessments really don't end up being a real indicator of eventual success.
Wagner outlines the seven survival skills which are actually introduced in an earlier book you are free to borrow. He then goes on to list a multitude of other skills or qualities that he argues can be taught, nurtured and mentored. How many of the qualities or skills he mentioned do we currently see in ourselves and how many are we developing in our students?  We can not take credit for what staff or students came to us with or currently have but rather seek ways to expand or increase these skills/qualities in ourselves, the rest of teh staff and our students. We all have to assume the role of learner and strive to attain the qualities of the innovator.
I particularly like the paragraph about how elementary students come in with enthusiasm, curiosity and creativity until we "teach" them that the right answer is more important than a thoughtful question or looking at things from multiple viewpoints.
We are not alone in our need for reflection and change, colleges are also now facing the need to change their practices largely due to highly successful college dropouts who went on to develop or work at companies like  Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook etc... as well as companies who would much rather have individuals with practical technical skills and problem solving ability over those who hold a diploma which signifies that they were able to consume and then regurgitate  large amounts of information which can easily be accessed by a middle school student with a smart phone.
I look forward to hearing what you took from the first chapter and any comments you have on what I have posted.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Collaboration becoming the norm at FDSH

At Saturday School this morning I had a number of students there working on a paper for their Humanities class. I had the opportunity to talk to several as well as one of their teachers. When I say one of their teachers I mean one of the two teachers that student has during the same period. That's right two teachers in the same classroom. Big deal you say, co-teaching with a special education teacher is not that uncommon. However, the co-teaching is not between a regular education and special education but rather a social studies teacher and an English teacher. Humanities is not a class in English or Social Studies departments but something else. I know that this is not new either, but the way in which this collaboration is catching on and spreading throughout the building is exciting. We also now have an American Studies course being piloted this year. That classroom also has two teachers in it everyday. How can we afford that?  Well we simply removed a wall and collapsed two classrooms into one. The numbers are somewhat of an issue so we are looking to lower the class size for next year. The initial integrating of subjects was thrust upon some of our teachers, but the rest have requested that we apply this concept to their classes as well. Our vocational staff eat lunch together everyday and with my just planting a little seed, have become collaborative in a number of projects. The art teachers also have their lunch at the same time and now students after seeing these partnerships put in place are taking it upon themselves to integrate subjects on their own. In fact we just had a student who had made a metal sculpture using the art teacher and the welding teacher as guides. She did this as an independent study course spending time in each classroom during that period. One of her peices won an award at the state Skills USA competition this past Friday. One of our Family Consumer Science classes cooperated with an Industrial Technology class to remodel a house one of the local banks had repossessed. Collaboration continues with Habitat for Humanity, the City of Fort Dodge and our school district in the construction of several houses this upcoming year. We have our Business and Marketing Department working with the Art department and our Family Consumer Science department to start a school store for next year. The teachers are being driven by their own personal desire to make a difference and be innovators.

Collaboration and integration of curricular areas is not the only collaboration we have happening in our building. Our staff, 70% of them, are engaged in the Authentic Intellectual Work model of peer review. They get together twice a week using rubrics to score their tasks, assessments, student work and instruction and then engage in conversations critiquing and suggesting improvements for each other. Tony Wagner talks about the problem of isolation in education and particularly in high schools. This professional development model has broken down many of those barriers and allowed us to revolutionize ourselves into a much more collaborative environment. The 30% that are not involved in AIW are working in their own PLC centered around topics they feel will aid them in meeting their goals contained in their Individual Professional Development Plans.  One group is using several books/resources written by Randy Sprick.  Another is looking at some other of Randy Sprick's published resources. Another group is centering their conversations around revolutionizing our Physical Education offerings. They too have sought out partners from our community to assist them in the actual instruction of our students. Our students are benefiting from the expertise of numerous individuals and organizations i.e. the local park and recreation department, our county conservation office, local fitness instructors and members of our local archery club. With the momentum we have right now and the support we have from our community we are providing some outstanding educational opportunities for our students. Our teachers have accepted a role of learning experience facilitators. Now I am not saying that they have all fully embraced this role or even that those experiencing success in this role have abandoned the traditional "Sage on the Stage" role completely. I can tell you that this is becoming more and more prominent in our classrooms and due to this paradigm shift our classrooms have now extended beyond the walls of our school.
I can't tell you how awed I was when I stopped to look and see what was happening in our building and how often it is happening. We have had very poor attendance at our parent teacher conferences and an idea came to me that we need to have students show case and actually explain what great things are happening in our school. I wanted to insure an audience so I also invited all of the service organizations we cooperate with in meeting the needs of our students in for an appreciation dinner at which we could introduce ourselves and outline the services each of their organizations provide. When they arrived, I had them walk through the area the students had set up their "booths". I could not believe how well each of groups that showed up explained  what they have been doing, how it benefits them and how appreciative they are to have these opportunities which they know don't exist at other schools. I didn't give our teachers much notice or we would have had even more students involved in the showcase. It was also amazing to see how collaborative the students have been in their work within their courses.
When I arrived here four years ago I emphasized my belief that learning is a social process and our staff have showed me how right I was in my beliefs. We have come a long way in breaking down the isolationism in our school for teachers and students. I can't wait to see what our school will look like two years from now, which is only half the amount of time it took to get to this point.  AIW, PLCs, cross curricular partnerships and true integration of content areas have all contributed to creating a much more collaborative culture.