If you have read any of my previous posts you know I often find professional/personal development nuggets in my everyday life. The same thing happened as I was watching my nine-year-old son play in his first game of the baseball tournament Monday night. Last year, in the younger league, his team won the tourney and were also season champs for his age group. This year, he moved up to the 9-12-year-old division and the wins were not as plentiful. They actually only had one win all season. My son often had a good attitude about that, but it was a very difficult transition to go from one of the strongest teams to one of the weakest. So, Monday night his team played the #1 seed. Imagine our delight when after eighty minutes of play time (in a ninety-minute game limit) we were up 11-4! It was so fun to see these boys playing together, having confidence, and enjoying themselves like they haven’t for the whole season. Well, then the wheels fell off. I couldn’t even tell you what happened first, but our defense started making errors, boys struck out, and their confidence waned. We finished the third inning 11-10, with a minute and twenty-two seconds left before the time limit would be reached. Since there was time left, the next inning began. We didn’t score, but the home team came in, scored two runs and the game (and the season) was over.
After the game, I complimented my son at playing his hardest (which he did). He was fighting back tears, as he angrily muttered, “I’m so mad at my team.” Whoa. Enter a teachable moment. It was easy for Evan to pick out the two “most-challenged” players to blame for the loss. The reality was, however, that they had little to nothing to do with the turnaround. We had a talk then, about what it means to play on a team. Every member has a role. Every position is important to the overall organization. Teams are dynamic. Leaders move on, members come and go. Adjusting and building a new team is a major part of all organizations. When this happens, or when things aren’t going as smoothly as they should, and when changes aren’t being implemented effectively, good leaders look at the team as a whole first. What needs to happen to make the team stronger? More time together to build unity? Strategizing and visioning sessions? Taking a step back from the issue/challenge to see it more objectively? How can we get the team functioning as a whole? After those questions are answered, then the leader can look at individuals to see where strengthening needs to occur – beginning with herself.
What kind of power is in a title, and what if we redefined the role of the teacher?
I’m currently reading the book Blended by Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker. Often when I read a book for professional learning, I skip around depending on the work in which I’m currently involved. Last week, I read a phrase that resonated with me about viewing teachers more as student mentors. I immediately knew I wanted to spend more time thinking and writing about that notion.
I’ve had various mentors throughout my life, but a commonality is that they don’t tell me how to do something. They don’t just feed me information on what to do. They listen, they guide, they share their own experiences. This is vastly different from the role of a traditional teacher in a factory-model classroom. In those classrooms, the students mostly sit-and-get. While many schools are moving away from teacher-directed learning, I think most are still far from seeing their teachers as mentors for their primary roles.
Today, my family is spending the day at my father-in-law’s lake house and I brought my book along to read by the water. I decided to go back to the beginning and read from the start. Early in the book, the authors speak to why some schools are moving to a blended learning model. They say, “It can free up teachers to become learning designers, mentors, facilitators, tutors, evaluators, and counselors to reach each student in ways never before possible.” (11)
What if we dismissed our preconceived idea of what a “teacher” looks like. This is typically based on what teachers were like in our own classrooms growing up. Instead, let’s imagine what a designer looks like, what a facilitator does, how tutors work. How do mentors differ from teachers?
I’ve been known to answer the question “Why do you do what you do?” with “I believe in the power of innovative education.” Well, innovative education is student-centered, student-driven. Innovative education occurs when learning designers, mentors, facilitators, tutors, evaluators, and counselors populate classrooms. Learning is individualized. Students aren’t just moved along through a unit based on unit time. This is an enormous mind shift, giving more power to the students to drive their own learning.
All of this brings me to a bigger question: What if the students carry these titles, as well? What if we empower them to be learning designers? They can evaluate their own learning (with digital learning components they have access to real-time data), and provide peer evaluation. They can mentor younger students, or tutor those who need more time/assistance to work through a particular concept. There is power in every stage of the learning process. Let’s give students as much control over that as possible.
When I interviewed for a newly-created position as the district curriculum director, the job description was five pages long. The last item said something to the effect of, “And anything else the superintendent assigns”. Ha! Uh, sure… The only people who ever saw that description were the ones who were being interviewed, the interviewing committee, and the school board. The interesting part is, after I got the job, those responsibilities were never clearly communicated to the teachers whom I supported. I spent the next year trying to convey those. How were the teachers to know who to go to with professional development questions? Curriculum materials advice? Instructional technology needs? High ability and RtI programming? My job involved all of these aspects of school district management (and anything else the superintendent assigned).
Now I’m working as an education consultant with school districts around the world. One of the things I get to do as a consultant is work with leadership teams. This fascinates me as none are the same, as each organization, and each team has its own climate and culture. Often, similar positions have very different titles in varying districts. Chief Academic Officer, Curriculum Director, Director of Instruction…Technology Integrationists, Technology Coaches, Technology Specialists…you get the picture. I’ve worked with districts where the teachers see their Instructional Technologists as break-fix solutions to student hardware issues, when in reality, these employees are there to help teachers integrate technology into their instruction. This brings me back to the job description issue of no one really knowing whose roles include which responsibilities.
These combined experiences have shown me how many school systems have no written protocol for processes and procedures. Sometimes I get to sit with leadership teams to discuss this very issue. One company I work with calls these meetings “Discovery Sessions.” We typically talk for around three hours, me asking a lot of questions to discover processes that are in place, but not written down anywhere. It’s fairly typical in these meetings to find several people/departments needlessly doing the same work. The reason for this is that there is no clear record of organizational procedures and protocols. After these meetings, I get to take that information, link it to previous background knowledge I had regarding the district, and author a document for them. Job positions, responsibilities, and how they all relate are included in one succinct location. This can take on different looks. Sometimes it’s more of a handbook on asset management. Other times, it’s an implementation plan when a district moves to a 1:1 digital environment. The purpose is the same, but each protocol system is developed based on the organizational needs. Having clear processes in place makes the organization, overall, run more smoothly.
Getting the right people in a circle together is the key component to organizational management. Sometimes nothing is discovered until all of these people are having face-to-face collaboration. Reflective practice, good questions, and a knowledgeable facilitator help keep these discussions on track and moving in the direction of strengthening the organization through clear protocols and procedures. This process may not sound like the most fun task, but it definitely ranks up there as one of the most important for effective change and sustainable success. Who should be sitting around your table?
I’m a passionate person, in general. I use the word “love” a lot (read a post about that here). I fully enjoy good movies, books, wine, and chocolate (the list could go on and on, but you would get bored). Ten years ago, however, if you would have told me that I’d be super passionate about education today, I may not have believed you. I was definitely supposed to be a teacher. I loved my students and was excited to teach new lessons, try new projects, and learn new ways of teaching. But somewhere along the way, my fire started to die out. Teaching became more routine. More of a job. I became less patient with my students, and more exhausted when I got home each evening. I knew something needed to change. About five and a half years ago, I had the opportunity to apply for a position as our district’s curriculum director. To be honest, I wasn’t completely sure I wanted the job. It sounded like something I would enjoy and would be good at, but I was hesitant to leave the classroom. Wouldn’t I miss the kids? So, my husband and I discussed it and pretty much said, “If I’m supposed to have that position then I will get it.” And I did. Here’s the amazing part…my passion for education was completely reignited. I was enthusiastic to go to work each day again. I was forging a new chapter in my life, and a new position for the district. It was challenging and exciting and I loved it. I was working with teachers, and administrators, and constantly learning new things. It was a fantastic fit for me. It turns out that I missed the students I had already taught, not the new ones that I never got the chance to know. So leaving the classroom wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be. Plus, since I stayed in the district, I still had the chance to see former students from time to time.
Fast forward a few years and in the summer of 2015, I had another new exciting career opportunity. I was given the chance to be a full-time consultant. Leading professional development, guiding and encouraging professional learning were my favorite parts of being a curriculum director and now I get to do it for my job! Can you believe it? And that passion, whose flames were being fanned as a curriculum director, just had lighter fluid sprayed on them as an educational consultant. I cannot imagine myself in any other realm but education. I fully believe in the power of innovative teaching and learning, and making our current education systems even better. I am beyond blessed to be a part of that work on a daily basis. Which brings me to ask, What’s your passion and are you living it? Please share. I love hearing (and learning from) other people’s stories. Let’s connect.
Integration, implementation, initiative…infusion.
I’ve worked with many school districts who were moving to a 1:1 environment. Most of the time, they call it a technology integration- something teachers weave into their existing practice. Sometimes they call it an implementation- seen by teachers as one more thing to do. And sometimes it’s described more as an initiative- often seen by teachers as being done to them. Recently, however, a colleague (@tborash) and I had the opportunity to work with a school system who is calling it a technology infusion, and that description resonated with me.
Have you ever had fruit-infused water? Maybe it’s something simple like squeezing a lemon slice into a glass of water. Maybe it’s a bit more sophisticated- with multiple fruits, cucumber, and mint sprigs. The effect is the same. The flavor is infused into the water. Even if you remove the fruit, the flavor remains. There is no separating the water from the flavor at that point.
I think that illustration is what makes me like the term technology infusion so much. The students will all receive their own laptops. Teachers will receive training on teaching in a digital environment. They will all see how technology and curriculum are married. They aren’t separate parts of learning anymore. Digital instruction isn’t one more thing, but something that is infused within quality teaching. Infusing technology into instruction should change the instruction itself. Teaching and learning should move to be student-centered and student-driven. With means for engaging lessons, regular formative assessment, and real-time feedback, learning becomes blended and personalized for the student. You could remove the technology (but why would you want to?!) but the flavor would remain.
What’s also interesting to me is that the concept of infusion could be used in so many different contexts. Talking with one colleague, I referenced that the district was engaging in a Model Classroom approach to job-embedded professional learning and that they had wanted to change the name to Infusion Labs instead of Model Classrooms.
The colleague asked, “You dropped the technology- what are they infusing?”
My answer? “Anything they want!”
PBL, student-centered practice, Design Thinking- there are so many ways to think about the concept of infusion. The idea is the same – high-quality, student-driven learning.
Drop whatever you want into the environment, and let it soak up the liquid. Let it replace the displaced water with flavor. Let it permeate the system. Infuse.
My friend and colleague, Tony Borash collaborated on this post with me. Please check out his great work at http://tborash.wordpress.com. He’s also putting together a piece on how we process writing ideas together.