Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Rolling out the Blueprint for Iowa

Jason Glass, State Director of Education in Iowa, did not disappoint in creating "One Unshakable Vision - World-class Schools for Iowa" released yesterday, Oct. 3rd 2011. The much-anticipated document, outlined in a concise 16 page PDF file, is destined to face scrutiny and debate from all sides. At least I HOPE we can debate, discuss, contemplate and rebut the ideas presented.

Education is a big political issue, and if you are into the politics and the strategies of today, you know they are divisive and becoming more polarizing. Sound bites and advertisements are now black and white, either you're for us or against us. So when you push things to be black and white and eliminate the gray, there is no room for discussion or thought.

The blueprint will be categorized and characterized by the majority of Iowans without even reading or considering what is on it's pages. Newspaper headlines are reading "Branstad Education plan could be costly, some warn." - Omaha World-Herald. The article talks on the surface about how many teachers they would have to hire to provide time for Mentor and Master Teachers that will work with the rest of the staff. They quote one administrator as saying they'll have to add 10 staff.

Freeing up time for teachers to collaborate and work with other teachers will necessitate additional personal. But it's not as simple as taking all those quarters and halves and adding them together to make up their time. (Mentor teachers will spend 25% of their time and Master 50%) But we want to equate it in simple terms, we want to dismiss or accept without much thought.

In terms of adding staff I was able to look at our staff of 20 teachers and discovered I could get by with adding one full time teacher in English to accomplish the blueprint's goals. That's not considering we were contemplating adding a 1/2 time English teacher next year.

I challenge all Iowans to resist the temptation to put things in simple, politically charged, packets and sound bites but to instead work through to a solution. Whether in the end it's 90% of what's in the blueprint or 10%, let's find answers and not sound bites. Let's talk to each other, not at each other or down to each other. Arguing is good if you have a viable alternative or direction to fight for, not an interest-pushed agenda.

I would suggest having county-wide implementation teams of Superintendents, Principals, Board Members and Legislators working on feasibility, not in terms of is it possible? But more like MAKE it possible. Maybe even reach out to nearby districts to share resources in and out of the county.

My fear is that we never get the chance to work on this at the building level. There are "town-hall" meetings scheduled, which were held last spring and did a lot to craft the blueprint. I believe we're past that format and need to move to groups that directly are affected by the legislation to demonstrate what could work and find alternatives to what needs re-worked.

I challenge everyone to read, think and above all act. Whether it's attending a meeting, writing a legislator, working in your building to see what could work and taking the ideas and applying them in ways you can right now.

In that way the spirit of the document could gain traction even before hitting the state house floor.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Courageous Leadership

"Courageous Leadership" was the theme to this year's School Administrators of Iowa (SAI) conference held August 3 & 4. The thoughts swirling in my head on the ride home Thursday had me scrap two days of writing about teaching digital natives how to navigate their own continent. It is clear the theme, also echoed at the Iowa Education Summit just over a week ago, is exactly the call to arms EVERY administrator and educator in this state needs to heed.

Dr. Jason Glass, the Director of the Iowa Department of Education (IDE), stated two things we all could agree on - We could do a better job of educating our students; and we wanted to have the best possible educational system (one that ranks ahead of other states and countries). His third point of agreement was we needed to develop better assessments to measure our educational success. Talk about courageous leadership especially saying that after Governor Terry Branstad had just referenced low-order tests that countries in the world have been out performing us on over the past years.

We have to take the lead in agreeing on Dr. Glass's first two points and formulating everything we do RIGHT NOW with them in mind. Then we address the third as we have to find, work, scratch, claw, beg, borrow and steal (well, maybe not steal) the resources, time and energy to develop those assessments. Assessments that don't exist, nor are being developed. We have to act now, and not send trainers to be trained, forming committees or visiting schools. We need to make "Type II" errors that could result it a messy result, but one that is made due to action, not inaction.

September the IDE will be releasing a list of priorities that will most certainly push districts to lead courageously in finding ways to accomplish these priorities. It will take both working with the IDE and constructively questioning ourselves and not become defensive, only seeing the hot-button broad categorizations (like 'merit pay') and comprehend exactly what is being asked of us. Dr. Glass admitted the the IDE has been an impediment to real change and has been working to get out of school's way, constructive self-reflection.

We will also have to push back where push back is due. My courageous act will be stop short of cooperating if funding trends continue the way they have the last few years. Don't give me an example of a state that is doing things a particular way (Massachusetts) and not address the issue that their funding level per student is significantly higher than Iowa's.

As Dr. Douglas Reeves pointed out, we (public education) are a revenue source for the State of Iowa, not an expenditure. Every student we graduate adds revenue to the state and those who drop out cost 2.1 billion for EACH class (per year). Thankfully CAM High School rarely has a drop out, but we can work harder to prepare our students for the high paying job demand that exists in our state, and not lower expectations. It takes courageous leadership from the parents and faculty to set high expectations and then work hard to help students achieve and meet those expectations.

Changing how we teach in the classroom, and utilizing the technology to bring higher order activities in an engaging format, is the direction any instructional initiative needs to be moving towards. The Iowa Core five characteristics of effective instruction should be a springboard for all schools should use to measure their classroom practices. They WILL be a primary discussion point this year at CAM High School, and not just one of those things that will go away as soon as "Implementation" of the core moves forward.

Matt Carver, the SAI Legal Analyst put the call out to all administrators to keep their legislators informed about the programs that are vital to schools. Recent cuts to the Area Education Agencies (AEA) and the administrator mentor program illustrate how the desire to trim budgets often cut vital programs that are just a few drops in the bucket in state spending. For the second straight year millions cut from AEAs mean their services, that are very vital to all schools to meet state mandates, are reduced and students are the ones that suffer. Mentoring is a universally agreed best practice model to improving administrative effectiveness (something the Governor said is a must that we have better Principals in schools), yet it's funding was cut and sent like trimmings to the state house scrap floor. Oh, and it's still a mandate that we take the time to participate in the program AND we will continue it as we know it's value. It's time as courageous leaders to stand up and to counter the venomous and ill-informed political viewpoints held by to many of our elected officials.

We need to stand up and fight for students by championing innovation, higher order instructional practices, fair and meaningful assessments, and most importantly each other. If we do that, then we will see achievement levels rise, and not because of any piece of legislative action or political rhetoric.

It will happen through the courageous leadership of our educators.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Which way? Reflections on #i11i and choosing a path to follow

The 2nd annual Iowa 1to1 Institute was held last Wednesday, and while those of us who roam the world of twitter know it by it's "hashtag" #i11i we are the minority of who understand this concept. I challenge that we are the minority in education who share the true passion and true belief that we can change education by fearlessly choosing a path to venture forward upon.

It's not that the vast majority of educators are void of passion, or passionless. They are searching, questioning, doubting or taking baby steps forward. They want answers and promises, guarantees and a safety net. They want a formula, concrete reason or a flow chart to show the path to educational prosperity for their students and to show their patrons.

Guess what? Those things do not exist, not at this time and not in this disruptive place. So at #illi many educators went from session to session with the look of bewilderment, the look of astonishment from the enormity of trying to organize all of this vast ocean of possibilities. They are looking for a clear path, but what they encountered was a sign post much like the one located in the middle of the compound on TVs hit series M*A*S*H.

Erase the cities on each board and replace them with things such as 24/7 access, Collaboration, Skype, Digital Footprint, Google, Interest driven Learning, PLNs, eCurriculum, Twitter, MOODLE, Web2.0, iPads, APS, mobile device tools and on and on.

It is easy to become stuck, staring at the signs wondering which path to take. I've seen this in the eyes of my Web2.0 students, when given the freedom to take any path, they often choose taking no path at all. I've seen it in the eyes of my staff as I've proclaimed, "Try anything! Be bold! Don't be afraid to fail!" Too, too often they're left standing in disbelief at the options presented before them, the enormity of the possibilities. The opposite occurs as the freedom can have a paralyzing effect. We are safe where we are standing.

My students sat on a panel representing a class of seniors that have had computers since they were sophomores. (Video) (PanelHighlights) In preparation we talked about our audience - my estimates put the new, first year or considering 1 to 1 at 60-70%. Conversations and observations about #i11i tell me I vastly underestimated that figure and it was more like 80-90%. Coming to #i11i is safe, it's getting information, reporting back, gathering data. They are paralyzed studying the options, trying to chart the guaranteed path.

CAM High School is lucky that we have chosen paths, are traveling on some and tried others. Administrators and teachers from districts still riding the fence, still searching for the exact, right path have an edge to their comments. A frustration stemming from a gut feeling they're missing out, the train has pulled out of the station without them and they're watching it fade into the distance.

The good news for those still waiting is the technology is evolving and changing. There will be new starting points, new paths, new ways to make new paths. Paths are being wore down, being traveled by more and more educators as they support systemic change or have found a way to capture the best of new technology. Concepts such as Personal Learning Networks (PLNs); eCurriculum through a free, state-wide repository; Connecting classrooms and authentic project based curriculum are some of the emerging paths district's like ours are exploring.

More good news is that there is a growing group of passionate educators that are a click, email or phone call away. All eager to share, collaborate, create or advise on which path to start down.

Whether traveling a long ways towards "Boston" or a short trip to "Seoul" it's important educators use their passion as fuel to move from the #i11i signpost and continue on their journey of educational transformation.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

New thought on Math - TED

My thoughts on Math by someone who knows more about the topic.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Listen to Iowa's educators

CAM High School has a hard working staff of professionals teaching a fantastic student body and I am proud to be their Principal. It’s not uncommon for the climate in education to take a negative turn, but the ripples of negativism that are spreading across the nation from Wisconsin is, in one word - disgusting.

Before listening to the talking heads, to Bill Gates, to the U.S. Department of Education head himself, Arne Duncan. Listen to the educators of Iowa who have stepped into classrooms. They are the ones who have worked with struggling students and are working hard to change education in Iowa. Listen to the people in the profession before you turn to the media and the politician.

Listen to the words of Iowa’s educators and administrators as collected by Jason Glass, the Iowa Department of Education head appointed by Governor Terry Branstad. Go to New Director Offers Roadmap. He had a tremendous outpouring of responses to three questions he asked in his blog - “What should we keep doing? What should we start doing? What should we stop doing?” Simple, reasonable and collected from those who will take their own time to answer, not positioned on a political stage.

The problem in education is should not be put on the shoulders of teachers financially or philosophically. There are many states that have budget gaps to fill due to the recession and other factors. It would be nice to have an honest, open, all-inclusive discussion on the causes and the solutions. Cutting down a profession that works harder, under higher expectations, than any other profession.

It is a rare and wonderful day when you find a “natural” teacher, someone who commands the classroom, relates to the students, can deal with parents, and juggles a social life (or plain just doesn’t have one). The rest of our staff we must develop and assist in their journey. These are not jobs where they clock in, sit at a desk and collect a salary. They have prom committees, concession duties, meetings, student-assistance meetings, school board appearances, conferences and the like. All while trying to raise a family, coach little league, serve on church boards and live a spotless lifestyle.

We are fortunate to have developed many tools and have made innovative steps in improving education. We have a very well received and developed evaluation system that allows us to work with new and career teachers to improve. It’s allows for collaborative and constructive talk around instruction. The Iowa Core is moving us towards a system where instruction in the focus of professional development, and peers hold peers accountable. Technology allows us to even the playing field, help those who need help and accelerate those who are able.

I’d like to tell the Governor, or anyone interested in stopping the progress of the Iowa Core, to tune in Sunday night at 7 p.m. on Twitter for the Iowa Core chat. We break down the outcomes and how they are being implemented in each of our districts. We talk about the training and guidance we get from the meetings they are about to cut out of the budget. Join us because the discussion will not stop even if we shift to something new.

There are thousands of hardworking educators in the state of Iowa and I challenge any profession to match our work ethic, integrity and determination. The teachers in our district and state are owed gratitude and respect. Not cheap shots and cost cutting measures.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Amazing Days tweeting around the world

I have encouraged our staff to address the revolutions happening in the Middle East right now. I remember the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, Libya's role and their dictator Moamma Kadafi's maniacal face on the TV. Now his country is gripped in a civil war, right on the heals of the fall of Egypt's dictator and several other uprisings in the Arab world. Twitter played a big role in Egypt to the point that the government shut the Internet down for a spell, but in the end all was restored and their leader stepped down.

Last year Iran was able to stop an uprising by holding firm and making small concessions, but Twitter and the Internet fueled days of revolutionary behavior that nearly led the American adversary into civil war. Twitter reported and helped tell the story of the protests on the streets that ended up in some violence.

It is unfortunate that many of us here in the United States hold certain stereotypes and biases to the people of the Arab world, when the truth is they are like any of us. They want freedoms, they are intelligent and they are now using the means available to organize and fight back against their oppressors.

It is also unfortunate that we are insulated by the media to the sound bites, and quick reports that usually end with "And today on Wall Street, investors were nervous with rising oil prices and stocks fell."

If television brought the weekly highlights of war to the living room of America during the Vietnam War, the allows you access to a play by play. You can be a participant in the discussion, the debate, the dialog. Active rather than passive interaction is your option.

Amazing times being shaped by a Global community.