Sunday, January 24, 2010

Get into the classroom

I have a note I hung above my desk in my first year as a principal that reads - "Get into the classroom". I wrote the note while taking administrative classes at Drake University and found it when preparing to move things to CAM High School.

Something so easy to say and think becomes hard when dealing with the management side of a Principal's day. Well intended walk-through schedules get put aside as students need disciplined state reports come due and money issues need discussed.

Then getting into the classroom can take several different forms. There's the formal observations that need to be done periodically; walk through observations that take different forms; and other inventories that need data collection. Now, I'm adding something new to my list - Teaching.

This Tuesday I am going into a Physical Science classroom to deliver a technology ENHANCED lesson that will serve as a different form of review for an upcoming "test". I am still a certified science teacher who taught physical science nine years.

We're also going to contrast my lesson against my classroom teacher's traditional style as he has two sections that day and he will be teaching one, and I the next. We will video both, test both and compare results. We've analyzed the two classrooms and they are comprised of a similar cross-section of students in all areas (ability, SES, SPED, ITED scores). I may even go as far as suggesting I develop an assessment for my class and he his and have them take both.

After the science classroom I am going to look to do similar things in my other core classrooms. It will be more about infusing technology and more of a co-teaching style, but never-the-less I plan to be doing some instruction.

I have even toyed with teaching a section of a class next year so that I have practical experience to share with my staff. I feel this will boost my credibility and give me a place to try somethings I know my staff will not attempt.

Getting into the classroom - an important component of change

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Administrative Report to the Board January

I am sharing this with everyone, because there is a current of information being exchanged everyday and is grossly misunderstood. Awareness, I believe, is the first step.

Technology in Education - more questions than answers: Categorically I have a few questions and comments for the School Board this month. The questions are meant for personal analysis to contrast against my comments. I have posted this report on my blog where you can give me feedback if you'd like, or ask more questions for me to answer at the next board meeting.

Question #1: How (and where) do you get information on your profession?

Comment #1a: Basically how much time do you spend looking at the latest information on your career or your interests? Personally I used to gobble up trusted magazines from my professional organizations or elsewhere. I pride myself as to being able to decipher the "Slant" or "Bias" the publication, judging from the publisher or writer. "Tech Magazines" of course promoted the best technology, especially that of vendors who contribute ads to the publication. I would pile the magazines up and get to them on a day I had time (okay, so many were recycled before I read them). One summer, a few years ago, I cut the pile up, sorted out by article subject, and used several during PD or teacher meetings the next year. It took me a couple days of organizing and planning and I used maybe 1/16th of the articles I cut apart.

Comment #1b: For the past couple months I have waded into the world of Professional Learning Networks (PLNs). I've blogged about it before, but I have jumped waist deep into Twitter. The word "Twitter", when spoken, invokes images of star athletes making comments during games, about coaches; celebrities promoting their narcissistic activities; Politicians raising money, talking policy, ripping each other. General disgust for those who have not unlocked it's usefulness. For me Twitter is a constant stream of information and ideas from some of the brightest, most dedicated individuals in the education/administration profession. Articles, videos, transcripts, studies and anything imaginable on a variety of topics, flows across my screen all day and night at home. A day doesn't go by where 2-5 articles about something I'm directly working on pops up on my "Tweetdeck" alert. I can click on the resource (always linked to a website), minimize my browser, go back to work and digest the resource later. You see I can still pile up great resources, send the links to my teachers, link them to our PD site and use them almost instantly. Comparing it to the cut and pile method I described in Comment #1a, it take minutes compared to days. I am still piling, but I'm not going to have to recycle the articles later, and if they're really good I can "TAG" them and save for later use.

Question #2: How reliable are your sources of information and how timely?

Comment #2: Now I'm not believing, applying or deeming every article, comment or feedback I get online as Gospel. But I get a variety of opinions, viewpoints and perspectives from all over the country/world from very credible resources. I am impressed at the amount of quality articles and videos I am exposed to and it's rare that I get unreliable information. Blogs generally give opinion and like reading editorials it's more thought provoking and reflective than informative (unless it's a blog of online resources). Reliability is definitely an issue, but it is in traditional media as well. The beauty of the timeliness of internet information is that if there's something out there that's fraudulent, word gets around fast. If you need to find out how to check into a website, what people think or have found out, it's just a keyword or search away. Also, you can have any credible site or source "RSSed" to you without searching and on Twitter you can "Follow" people you know are credible. The information is current, and usually refers back to older information for background and perspective.

Question #3: How much do you use Google, know about "Open Source" applications?

Comment #3: If the district wanted, we would never have to spend another penny on most types of software including Microsoft Office. "Wait, Office is what is being used today in most businesses!" While that is a correct statement, it's mainly because it's been purchased already and we have all grown comfortable with MS Office. Google Docs, Open Office and other online programs can provide a free alternative that reportedly is very compatible when using or exchanging information with MS Office users. I personally am going to upload my documents from my hard drive to Google Docs, take a couple of their tutorials and get some practical experience as I really don't want to pay Microsoft a sizable chuck of change anymore if and when we have to upgrade or buy the newest version. Google Docs would also provide the storage as would Gmail if we were to go to using their email. I have used Open Office (an open source application) on my PC at home and have found it a good alternative, it loads a little slower but is very compatible with my Apple MS Office program. Moodle, or Curriculum Management System (CMS) is open source and didn't cost us a penny (just the server space) where alternatives cost two to 10 thousand dollars to purchase and maintain. If you can buy a program, it's features are probably available for free online. Photo editing sites are incredible. It's a discussion that needs to take place as it could be an option for cost savings in the future.

Question #4: Have you seen, or used a "Kindle", and/or something similar? (A Kindle is an electronic book reader that Amazon sells publications at 1/3rd the cost of the book version).

Comment #4: We have a student at school who swears by hers and is bringing it in for me to see. This electronic device is book sized and has a "page" background, so it's easier on the eyes to read. I have read some free Google books on my Ipod Touch, which also has a Kindle "Ap" (Which I haven't used yet). The touch is much smaller and doesn't have the screen size for a lot words, but does display them large enough to read. I have read a lot of websites on my laptop and now on the Ipod and it is a totally different situation from reading a book. I still pick up a book and read and I still buy books to read. But that's me, that's someone who graduated in the 80s. We're looking to purchase a Kindle or two for the library and possibly the SPED department (ideas not action at this point). Bottom line is we need student feedback on all devices as we move forward with technology in education.

Observation: Yes, there are many, many questions without answers but that's mainly because so many more people (thousands apon millions) asking them. And there are people who can, almost immediately, answer them credibly. If not an answer, a comment to spur your thinking further.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A first step to changing education - "Share"

Deron Durflinger, Principal at the progressive minded Van Meter Community School District, went out on a limb with - "Pay Teachers $100,000 or More." I commented that he has moved to the end point, a goal, a vision and that is great. But we need to focus on the now. He's a forest guy, I'm a tree guy.

The tree I'm staring at has the word - "Share" engraved into it's bark.

He suggests a system where all students have access to the best teacher through blended classrooms where teachers have 50, 100, 150 or more students and get paid $1,000 per student. A discussion naturally ensued and Deron admitted he has more answers than what he could reveal in Pay Teachers $1,000 or more. The post was could have been five times as long based on his answers to the 8 and counting comments that given.

I would like to suggest we look at every opportunity to "Share". Share teachers; Share ideas with each other; Share ideas with the building; Share ideas with the community; and Share the Vision the 21st Century Skills portion of the Iowa Core Curriculum provides for us.

Share Teachers: Traditionally this means sharing with districts close, where the teacher leaves the building and travels to another. While this can still be done, we need to move to sharing via the internet and/or ICN. The use of Course Management Systems (CMS), like Moodle and or simply a Wiki, website or Google docs (for delivering basic instruction) would allow the teacher to be based anywhere and travel to any school involved - even if it were to be a ways away. All the students could be connected and the teacher could schedule reasonable school visits.

Share Ideas: I have a river of ideas and inspiration passing by my desktop every day through "Tweet Deck" and "Twitter". This is great and has changed my professional life for the better forever. However, I still feel we're operating as individual districts with a common interest, not a cohesive group that has both a vision and a working relationship towards that vision. Our one-to-one districts sat down once in Iowa, we need to sit down at least once a month. Maybe that's happening with other districts and they feel that's good for now. What can we do by next year?

Share ideas in the building: Don't operate alone and share your ideas with your leadership team and teachers. Provide ongoing professional development, including special meetings, virtual training and daily reminders. Get teachers to set up their own PLNs, including teachers in the building and out. Show them yours and show them how. Work to strengthen those who get it right away and target those who are close as you can devote time to them.

Share what you're doing with the community: Have a constant stream of information through your website, newspaper, blog and twitter to what you're doing. Give them the whys and be sure your staff and district are all on the same page. Educate.

Share the 21st Century Skills: Read them over again. It's a pass from the DE to do the very things we're tweeting about every night. When a parent questions, point to the skills; when a teacher questions, point to the skills; when a board member questions, point to the skills. "How can we post that video on Youtube," a parent asked me. My answer, "How can we not?" A simple review of the DE documentation shows that peer review and that kind of exposure is vital.

I think we have the opportunity to move forward yet this year, but time will quickly disappear if we don't start on the specifics.

Let's Share!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

2010 Challenge - accomplish a goal a day

Today's new technologies require a shorter attention span when it comes to goals. With traditional goal setting we tend to aim for a distant target, one we can...ummm...put off and do at the last minute close to the deadline.

A blogger in my Professional Learning Network (PLN) has challenged us to accomplish 30 goals in 30 days.

"What?!" you may say. "That's ridiculous."

Actually it's something I've been thinking about recently, the quick pace that learning in a PLN occurs is so radically different from anything I've every experienced. It requires releasing the notion of set plans, 3-5 year goal setting. Things change so fast...seemingly day by day, hour by hour and in some cases it seems minute-to-minute.

It's because someone can quickly send you a link that can challenge and/or change your thinking on a specific topic.

30 goals in 30 days. I bet I'll be blogging about it soon.

Link -