Sunday, November 6, 2016

Relationships.. The Power Within

I’m always amazed by the wisdom and writings of my professional learning network. I can only assume that they are:
  • Better organized in their brain, and/or
  • Better writers, and/or
  • Better able to focus than I.

Or, they are that committed to the transparency of their learning to encourage and empower others...

That said, I’m back here today to practice what we’re asking of our Vanguard Fellows - to share their learning journeys with others. Sharing not only invites others to learn from you, but it also forces you to reflect... way deeper than the last few moments of the day, in the dark when you’re trying to fall asleep, or on Friday night/Saturday morning when you’re struggling to justify to yourself that you did indeed accomplish something during the week. So, here goes.

I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships lately.

A few weeks ago (October 9th) on the Channel 2 Newsmaker show on Sunday morning, Khambrel Marshall interviewed Bertie Simmons. She came out of retirement to become Furr HS principal where the campus has redefined itself into one that now hold a $10 million grant to redesign hre campus. She credits the successful turnaround on the campus to the relationships she built with the students, particularly the 12 gangs that were present when she started. Here's a related video from CBS This Morning...

Obviously she didn’t stop there. I was amazed by her strength and clearly the patience that it must have taken to develop the community of learners that is now Furr High School. Field trip! Thinking she has so much to offer to us!

Today, I read Chris Wejr’s post Find the Fireflies - Help Students to Shine on the Connected Principals blog. In it he challenges us to begin with ONE learner who needs you to take the time to to truly get to know his/her strengths so that you can provide opportunities that truly empower that learner. Take that first step rather than be overwhelmed with “Where do I start?” He shares Rachel Macy Stafford’s analogy. She encourages you to build relationships with and uncover the strengths of the "Firefly" learners, the learners that shine from within, the learners that may go unnoticed because they only shine under the right conditions. Pick the one who isn’t a "Butterfly".. Pick the ONE...I think back to Bertie and how she must have started one by one and it didn’t sound like she started with butterflies.

I spend a lot of time pondering the Vanguard Fellows, their strengths and their struggles and our need to build stronger relationships. They are on the front lines in a system that is beginning a journey down a path that is barely visible. We’re learning together how our paths may take shape and the tools that will help us get there. It is not easy work, but I have hope that together we can create an powerful practice that will help share the future of our district and encourage others. This first cohort of Vanguard Fellows are thoughtful practitioners, strong in reflective thinking yet hesitant to create artifacts of their learning. My wonder is: is it a factor of our relationships - that they aren’t strong enough for them to truly value the the time/effort we ask then to spend in creating these artifacts. I used to think it was time - just not enough - but my current wonder leads me to believe we don’t have enough of a relationship for them to trust.

There are so many ways to get to the heart of student ownership of learning - which is the promise of personalized learning. I’m going to trust the system and our Vanguard Fellows. Sharing your thinking doesn't’ come without cost. In the extremely busy world of a teacher the time to sit and reflect doesn’t come without a huge price. But, it also comes with huge gains....

Come up for some air! There's power in "we!"

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Wanted to share my Friday as the more I reflect on my learning, the more excited I get...the more appropriate the above tweet. Thanks @weissEDU!

As I’ve shared, we have been given the opportunity to work with some amazing educators through the Vanguard Fellowship. I had the great fortune to visit one our Vanguard teachers Friday morning. She had invited two of her teammates into her classroom to learn about the work she was doing to move her classroom to one that was more personalized for her learners.

We spent about 40 minutes watching her students as they engaged in workstations, workstations that may not look that different from workstations of the past. However, several involved technology that was intentionally integrated to provide data - evidence of where each student is in his learning.

The best part came when the teacher sat down with us to share her thinking about each station, her challenges she was facing and to respond to our questions. What struck me as sat there (and afterward as I reflected further on my morning) was how open she was with us. She truly saw herself as a learner and her classroom as a work in progress. She discussed how she was working to get the data to her students so they would know where they are from one piece of software that didn't share data with students, how to allow more time for reflection, how to have more accountability in stations, and how modeling for her young learners might lead to better independence in the PBL activities. There was no expert in the room - myself included - as we sat and brainstormed possible ways she might tweak each station to provide more insight into the thinking/learning of each learner. It was magical for me.

Then, she put on her coaching hat and probed her “partners in crime” asking them to reflect on their practice and to pick one piece they might like to work on. It has been a while since I have been in such a collaborative session with teachers. We had set up this morning as a way to grow her practice on her campus as part of the Raise Your Hand Texas grant work we are doing. Wondering now about trying to help create this opportunity for our Vanguard as I saw the power with intentional conversation around our work!

One outcome for me was, I wanted to focus on these two questions with teachers thinking they could drive our conversations:
  • How do you know they have learned?
  • How do they know they have learned?

Then, this morning I found George @gcouros in my inbox again with his post How Our Conversations in Education Should Begin #LeadMoment. He discusses how our conversations should start in his first episode. Here’s his thinking… (and start following him if you don't)

So, I'm reflecting again… Yes, and (Thanks, @sewilkie!) :-) Thanks to everyone who is shaping my thinking!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Out of the whirlwind and back in the saddle!

Can hardly believe that my blog has been dormant for well over a year. In fact, it is rather an embarrassment for me as I spend a great deal of my time encouraging teachers to share their learning journeys with peers as well as encourage them to get their students into a blog space where they, too, are sharing their learning journeys. I am active on Twitter, and while that serves a purpose for sharing some of the learning that has come my way, it doesn't allow you into my journey like a blog would. And, for those of you who know me know, I can be a little "all over the place" so you might have to be a mind reader to figure out what I'm focusing on.

This past year has been a whirlwind of a journey for me and the Educational Technology department in general. With our new superintendent, Dr. Muri leading our district on the journey towards creating a personalized learning landscape for #EveryChild. we were operating on two cylinders. Thank
goodness we are now a fully staffed department of 3. Innovation is happening and EdTech is supporting many initiatives.

Our department has been busy with the selection and development of Cohort One of the Vanguard Fellowship, a group of amazing PreK - 12th grade teachers who are innovators everyday in their classrooms. We are learning so much with and from them. Cohort Two is coming later this year. It is through our work with them today that brings me back here. We ask they keep a collective blog, Vanflections, where they journal and allow the world to peek into their greatest successes and challenges on their learner's journey.

Today, we're sharing some strategies with them as they dive in and create an action research project - complete with measurable outcomes (that aren't the STAAR test) so, as a system, we can learn, grow and potentially provide guidance for other teachers in their journeys. Working to bring together resources from so many amazing people I've come to know (at least virtually) and learn from has been a real challenge for me. Deciding which bits and pieces to "lite" on for an hour or so... trying to find the nugget that will resonate with them... Trying to make their journey a little easier (although I learned from Sara Wilkie a long time ago that I can't live their journeys for them).My best shot is to pick some of the nuggets that have resonated with me and hope for the best.

So as we share the idea of each of their classrooms as a space where they're prototyping everyday, I was so fired up by George Couros's post on the Connected Principal's post today! I've included a link in our work today and will be using his words to encourage our Vanguard Fellows to continue on their learners' journeys. His book The Innovator's Mindset has been an amazing read (which I have tweeted about a lot, held a summer principal's book study over, and hand out copies of often) for me. I'm out of time for today. I'll have to leave with...

"This is what I have created with what I know (and had the time to share) today..." Thank you George!