Friday, June 25, 2010

What are we so afraid of?

When was the last time you left your house without your cell phone? Can you remember the last time you did not access the internet in a 24 hour time frame? When was the last time you opened a book to find an answer...?

If you are anything like most Americans, I would be willing to bet you never leave your cell phone at home (at least knowingly), you access the internet several times a day, and it has been a very long time since you opened a book to find an answer. It is quite obvious that our lives and society are changing at a rapid pace, and whether we like it or not society as we know it has taken on a sink or swim mentality.

Technology is changing faster than anyone could ever imagine. It seems as soon as we buy the newest and latest gadget, a new one is being prepared to be released to replace the one just purchased. What can we, and what must we learn from these societal changes? It is my sincerest hope that we take the initiative and accept these societal changes because they are going to continue, if not increase.

School districts and schools across the country are at the forefront of making sure students are prepared to be successful in a 21st century global economy. As a result, it is imperative we start developing our curricula around a 21st century world. As it stands now, America and most school districts are still clinging to an out-dated and archaic educational system. The educational process we use in America has not changed much over the last 50 years, and it is extremely naive to think the world has not changed in last 50 years.

America is in dire need of more educational leaders who have a vision. A vision that includes technology and the ever changing world in which we live. We should be embracing technology in our classrooms, and more importantly we should be encouraging students to push the envelope in terms of ways they can utilize technology in an educational setting. Most people would agree that kids are the most technologically advanced age group. Consequently, shouldn't we be trying to use kids and their technology to see how it can improve the educational process? It is time for us to stop pretending that we are integrating technology into our curricula. Educational leaders need to promote and support educational reform that prepares our students for their future, not our past.

Monday, June 21, 2010 is time for you to step up...

Educators in America and around the world face a daunting task. Educators are asked to teach every student regardless of their ability, their desire to learn, and their family or socioeconomic situation. As I am sure you are aware, education can also be one of the most rewarding careers in the world. However, in order to be a great educator you must accept the responsibility of affecting the lives of children. Last year I read Mark Sanborn's most well known book The Fred Factor. I was immediately hooked on Mark's message about having a positive impact and influence on those around you. Most importantly, Mark also firmly believes in living your life in a manner where you should "fear nothing but to waste the present moment."

After the huge success and popularity of The Fred Factor, I searched for additional books written by Mark Sanborn. The book You Don't Need a Title to be a Leader immediately caught my interest purely because the title was very intriguing. Upon completion of the book, I began to think more about how every educator truly has the opportunity to be a leader in his/her own right. This is such a powerful idea when you wrap your mind around how many teachers we have in America and around the world. If every teacher truly and honestly believed they were a leader; can you imagine the worldwide impact we would have on our students?

Genuine leadership as an educator is imperative, and as educators it is our duty to make sure we are always...

- acting with purpose rather than getting bogged down by mindless activities
- caring about and listening to others
- looking for ways to encourage the contributions and development of others rather than focusing solely on personal achievements
- creating a legacy of accomplishment and contribution in everything we do

"Genuine leadership is not conferred by a title, or limited to the executive suite. Rather, it is shown through our everyday actions, and the way we influence the lives of those around us."

Please take time to reflect and think about how you live your life. Are you living a life that inspires and motivates others to reflect and think about their lives? In 1, 5 or 20 years will you regret the life you lived? Will you accept the challenge and responsibility of never wasting a moment (especially somebody else's moment)? Teachers, business men or women, nurses or any other profession...will you rise to the occasion and assume your new role as a leader?

-If you are looking for another book about every individual taking a leadership role please read Tribes by Seth Godin. As part of the book club I lead at my high school, I plan on half the group reading You Don't Need a Title to be a Leader, and the other half reading Tribes to compare the two books and their differences and similarities on leadership.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The unspoken hero of education...the sharing of experiences and knowledge

Last night as I was sitting in my doctoral class I was reminded why I thoroughly enjoy the cohort format of educational leadership classes. By no means am I the smartest, most intelligent or most knowledgeable person in my class. To be honest, I would say I am probably closer toward the bottom of the class in terms of my educational experiences and knowledge. As weird as it might sound, I am completely okay with being toward the bottom end of my class...

As soon as my self esteem was able to recover, I began to realize the potential upside of being one of the least experienced and knowledgeable cohort members. By sitting and listening and contributing once and a while, I have been able to gain a deeper and more sound understanding of educational theories and practices. To my advantage, I am surrounded by a very knowledgeable and experienced group of educational leaders, who whether they realize it or not, are pouring information into my brain every time they speak.

Despite being young and somewhat inexperienced, I have however realized the importance of sharing knowledge and information, especially as it pertains to improving the educational experience for every student. Teachers, administrators, central office administrators, parents, and students need to capitalize from the experiences and knowledge of others. Unfortunately as educators we have the tendency to slip into isolation and do things how we feel they should be done. At first this might seem like the best solution when working with people you do not agree with, but this solution could not be further from the best solution.

Just as we can learn from sharing experiences and knowledge, we can also learn from listening to others, especially the others with whom we do not agree. Based off of several different pieces of knowledge and experiences we are better able to assimilate our very own beliefs toward education. Whether it is through group collaboration or Professional Learning Communities, it is essential that we learn from each other and avoid the all too common practice of isolationism.

In my opinion we must not take for granted the very people with whom we work and with whom we learn. The future of education requires that we learn from each other and that we communicate in an effective and efficient manner. Anthony Robbins stated so eloquently, "The way we communicate with others and ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives." If I could but change one word the new quote would be, "The way we communicate with others and ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our education." Please share experiences, knowledge, stories, goals, theories, beliefs, and any other piece of information that could lead to the growth of young educators, as well as the betterment of our educational system.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The utilization of classroom assessments...

A year and a half ago I started my Doctoral Degree in Educational Leadership. As a teacher, this program has been influential in helping to shape my philosophy of education. In particular, I have really begun to analyze and critique the assessment policy I use in the classroom.

Last school year I was part of a committee that was reading and evaluating the ideas presented in Rick Stiggins' Assessment for Learning model of assessment. In addition to my doctoral studies, this committee has played an important role in leading me to re-evaluate my assessment practices. Rick Stiggins' theory ultimately leads educational curriculum and instruction in the direction of Standards Based Grading, which places more of an emphasis on meeting standards, and what students "must know and be able to do." Stiggins' Assessment for Learning identifies 5 main principles that must happen in order for this theory to be successful. They are:

1. The provision of effective feedback to students.
2. The active involvement of students in their own learning.
3. Adjusting teaching to take account of the results of assessment.
4. Recognition of the profound influence assessment has on the motivation and self esteem of pupils, both of which are critical influences on learning.
5. The need for students to be able to assess themselves and understand how to improve.

As part of my growth and development as a teacher and as an instructional leader, I have questioned how accurate my assessments have been. The more I think about my assessments, the more I realize that my assessments were and are not doing their intended purpose. I am a firm believer in using assessment as a teaching tool and resource, not just as a grade or piece of paper that a student discards 5 minutes later. As such, it is my goal to revamp my assessment tools to follow Stiggins' model to make sure I am using assessment as more than just a grade, but rather a resource. I want my students to become independent learners who can utilize assessments to evaluate where they are, and to improve upon their mastery of the content.

Part of my goal last year on the Assessment for Learning committee was to help teachers who were not a part of the committee understand the importance of accurate and effective assessments. As with anything new, there were several teachers who were not buying into the Assessment for Learning model. As instructional leaders, it is our job to make sure we are always thinking about ways to improve the educational model for our students. As the world changes and the needs of our students change, it is imperative that we are flexible and able to adapt to ensure that we are providing our students the best educational experience possible.

A chance to grow...

Last year I approached my building principal about starting a book club. The main goal of the book club was to help teachers grow both personally and professionally. To my astonishment, not only was my building principal supportive of my idea, he also provided the book club with the financial backing to purchase almost one thousand dollars worth of books.

As I am sure everyone is aware, many Americans and businesses are currently facing financial hardships. Unfortunately, this also includes the school districts in our local communities. To my delight, I received a phone call from my building principal last week to talk about if I had any ideas for new books to read for this year's book club. When asked if there would be professional development funding available for books this year, my building principal responded with a confident "yes." In fact, he was hoping I had some ideas about books we could read so we could get the books ordered before the school year started. This immediately got me thinking about ways to improve upon last year's book club, as well as different types of books that would keep teachers informed about new theories and practices that would ultimately help to make our classroom instruction more effective.

Last year's book club books included: The Fred Factor by Mark Sanborn, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, Winning with People by John Maxwell, How Full is your Bucket? by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton, and What Great Teachers do Differently by Todd Whitaker.

I have already begun thinking about next school year's books and so far here is my list: Drive by Daniel Pink, Tribes by Seth Godin, The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon, You don’t Need a Title to be a Leader by Mark Sanborn, and possibly (because I am still reading) Brain Rules by John Medina. I have a few other books in mind which I still need to read, but I would ultimately like to add at least one additional book to next year's list.

After reading these two lists people might say what do some of these books have to do with education? I have been asked this question several times, and my response always centers around what do we expect of teachers, and what do teachers need to know in order to be effective in the classroom? Yes, without doubt some of these books are tailored for the business world and people in leadership positions, but wouldn't we say every single teacher spends every single day in the classroom in a leadership position? Wouldn't we say there are some very real similarities to the business world and the world of education? Granted, there are of course some very big differences, but don't we all have basically the same goal of producing a product that is able to function and meet the demands of our society? Of course I do not agree with referring to students as "products," but in order for educators to be able to do their jobs efficiently and effectively, they need to be well-versed in more than just their content area.

It is my hope that through this book club teachers can grow and develop their own set of skills to provide students the educational foundation from which America has for so long prospered. America's youth deserves a new and improved educational system that embraces change in the pursuit of creating a flexible and visionary workforce prepared to address the needs of a 21st century global economy. In order for this to happen, America needs a flexible and visionary group of teachers to help lead our students toward a future only they can write.