Saturday, September 5, 2009

Back in the Saddle

Well my district has decided that supporting technology in the classroom is not worth the price. With the cut of CFF and no other grant funds available our CFF/math coach is now just a math coach and the Technology Integration Mentor (me) was cut. So now I am back in the classroom, and I am fine with that. I love teaching and being in the classroom, but I worry about teachers and their use of technology. Who will support them? Who will plan with them? Who will co-teach with them? Who will provide feedback as a critical friend? The answer is unfortunately no one. I feel the investment made in technology in the last 5 years will not be used to its full potential. It has caused me much angst as the year has started when I have to tell fellow teachers that I will not be able to help them this year, and when they ask who will I say "I don't know".

The other thing that has me down is my classroom. Since I have been out of the classroom for the past 3 years while the CFF project was installing Smartboards and other equipment, my room was left out. So now the guy with the most training and experience in using technology has none to use. So now the task becomes figuring out how to get the equipment and/or make the best use of the little I have. I was hoping the big lottery jackpot a few weeks ago would provide the answer, but not this time. So now I am on the lookout for ways to get my hands on what every I can.

Being back in the without a lot of technology has given me the chance to implement some other changes. Between having our reading specialist as an office-mate for the past three years, Reading Apprenticeship training and this year taking the Performance Learning System (PLS) course Reading Across the Curriculum, I have embraced literacy and reading in the content area as a major focus in my classroom. In fact I plan on teaching the PLS class this spring. So with reading everyday in the classroom and a renewed and deliberate focus on metacognition I am off and running on a new school year. Much different than any of the past 20 plus years but one I am really excited about. After all being a classroom teacher is the most important job in the world.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

6 Secrets for Change

It has been a long time since I posted here. Much of the time I can only find time to twitter about what I am doing or thinking. It's not that there are things I wish I had blogged about, like the time just before winter break when several former students stopped in for visits, including one of my favorite former students now at MIT, the Saturday technology workshop that I put together for the teachers in my district and great colleagues that were willing to come and present, or the great eye opening experience I had while presenting at the Student PSEA conference. But alas I was unable or unwilling to find the time to get the job done, shame on me. This time I put my air travel time too good use and will get this one done.

On Friday I heard
two keynote addresses, the first from
Paul Vallas , former Superintendent of Philadelphia, and Michael Fullan. I was in New Orleans, so Paul stopped by since he is the current Superintendent of the Recovery School District of New Orleans. He just gave us a brief overview of his work since Katrina. He himself said he was just a warm-up for Michael Fullan. Mr. Fullan presented his 6 secrets for change, 2-4 he called the core and 1 & 6 are the wrap-arounds. It was not the typical "keynote" but rather a mini-workshop which included many opportunities for meaningful discussion among our team.

His 6 secrets for change are:

  1. Love your employees
  2. Connect peers with purpose
  3. Capacity building prevails
  4. Learning is work
  5. Transparency rules
  6. Systems learn

Before he spoke about the secrets he presented 5 insights into change.

  1. The implementation dip is normal
  2. Behaviors change before beliefs
  3. The size and prettiness of the plan document is inversely propositional to the quality of action
  4. Shared vision and ownership is more an outcome of quality process than it is a predictor
  5. Feelings are more influential than thoughts

I had heard of the implementation dip before, but Fullan used a graphical business model (Herold & Fedor, 2008) that made made it a whole lot clearer in my mind. The basic idea is that after any change in made, it is normal that it will have a negative effect, but once the you get though the dip, the gains will realized. What Fullan presented is during the "recover phase" there will be much resistance and a push to abandon the change. To go along with that the leaders that made the change will be criticized and may even be targets of attack. This is were leaders must be strong and stay the course. The harder job is to make the slope of the graph be as steep as possible during the recovery phase. So be open with people about the implementation dip, and be prepared and willing to take the heat. If you have thoughtfully implemented change, that you know in your heart is good for students, then keep focused on the results that you want to achieve. But what is change and how do we manage it?

What do we need to change in education? Materials, behaviors and practices, and beliefs. Our district PATHS initiative requires all of these, the biggest being a shift by all people in the system to the belief that all children can graduate college ready. How do manage change? Through the use of change forces (almost like physics) which promote a bias to action in individuals. The difficulty comes in finding the change forces and making sure the bias to action is not to run the change agent out of town. In order to do this we need to manage change differently. Listen to the people who's behavior you want to change and become servants of that change. Demand and expect behaviors to change, in the hope that beliefs will follow, but it cannot be done with the accountability. In order for change to be effective a system of support and trust must be developed. Support must come in the form of administrators that are truly instructional leaders. At the district level that means putting the resources and building leaders in place and then letting them do their job and not micro-manage the process. As for building leaders ask for the resources, like coaching, time for peer visit and review, and building directed PD. As for the teachers, belief is not necessary (yet), but compliance and truly taking advantage of opportunities that are presented is an expectation. Teaching is hard work, and reform is even harder. The biggest step is to reflect on your practice and suggestions that you are given. In fact seek feedback from your peers, coaches or building administrators.

How do you manage or promote change? This is where Fullan's secrets come in. Secrets 2-5 he called the core so lets start. Secret 2: Connect peers with purpose. Change cannot be managed from the top down. While it may need to start at the top, it also has to percolate from the bottom up. This change force must be lead from the within and needs to be supported from above. Secret 3: Capacity building prevails. Change is difficult and causes fear. Fear prevents acting on knowledge. Non action makes change fail. So be non judgmental while change is occurring and help build the capacity. Giving non judgmental feedback take practice, it just not happen. Secret 4: Learning is the work. Before a new concept/change is put in place there must be a few things that are understood. It is non-negotiable and participation in not optional. It must be precise and well thought out, no random or vague ideas. It need to possess high yield strategies and strong instructional practices. But lastly it cannot kill innovation or creativity. Secret 5: Transparency rules. This is a true paradigm shift in education. No longer is it acceptable to close your door and keep your practice to yourself. This will only happen with a trusting environment. Transparency + Non judgementalism + Good help/coaching = Classroom improvement. Those are the core now the over arching. Secret 1: Love your employees. Seems so simple, but it is so easy for things we say and do to be heard or taken the wrong way. Why is this so important? If you do not feed the teachers they will eat the students. Secret 6: Systems learn. Leaders, teachers and learners leave a system, the culture stays. What is the legacy that you will leave in your classroom, school and district.

It was hard for me to sun-up two and half hours in such a short post. My advice, if you get a chance go hear Michael Fullan. I will close using what Michael asked as a rhetorical question. Where are you on the continuum of the nuances of the secrets to change?

  1. Blind love to Indifference
  2. Command & control to Fragmentation
  3. Judgemental to Liaise-fair
  4. Relentless consistency to Innovation/bad practice
  5. Aimless transparency to Privacy
  6. Dead certainty to Deer in the headlights

How do you make sure change happens for you

  • Take to people that are smarter than you, every day
  • Make mistakes
  • Make time to reflect

Monday, October 27, 2008

ESP of the Year

Well so much for keeping up with post, or even getting caught up from the summer. I started this almost a month ago and am now just getting to finish it. At the NEA-RA each year we get to meet and hear from the teacher and educational support professional of the year. These educators are always inspiring, dedicated and well deserving of the honor, and this year was no exception. This year's ESP of the year was Laura Vernon and at the close of her speech she read a poem that she wrote, it says it all.

When did we become the enemy?

The target of scorn
The Hero unborn
The reason they fall
The brunt of it all

When did we become the enemy?

The purpose for unkind
The hidden victim of No Child left behind
Said to be a monument, but with no solution
Even called terrorist, deserving execution

When did we become the enemy?

Labeled failure, not in the running
High expectations without the funding
Training, experience, education specified
But to them, not highly qualified

When did we become the enemy?

Hard work, unappreciated labor
Their answer to funding, Tabor?
Taxes rising, money depleture
Easy blame, why not the teacher

When did we become the enemy?

Teacher Cadillac Insurance, be the foe
We are not the reason for the Health Care woe
Cut backs, eliminations, Education pollution
Their remedy, 65% solution
Created reasons they exercise
To justify, to privatize

When did we become the enemy?

So cooks, janitors, secretaries, security
They're not important, a liability
Bus drivers, paras, they've cut the cost
They are always first to be layed off

When did we become the enemy?

Have they dismissed the history of this nation
Education is rooted in it's very foundation
Have they not noticed that we with pleasure
Nurture and mold our future's treasure
Have they forgotten, because of our dedication
They received an education

When did we become the enemy?

Well we're not taking this lying down
In fact, we as educators are going to turn this around
And whoever they are had better take note
The greatest power we have is the right to vote

Now just watch our educators organize
Because despite what they might think, we are highly qualified
An enemy maybe in their eyes
But a change is coming in their lives and when history is made, and education once again becomes this country's necessary feature, they had better think twice before attacking our students, retired, Higher Ed, ESP and the teacher.

Do not forget to vote, and when you pull the lever think about the candidate, local, state or national, that is a friend of education, because if we do not help ourselves politically who will?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Opening Day

Well last Thursday we had new student orientation and several hundred 9th graders showed up for their first day of high school. There was the usual stuff; finding homerooms, getting lockers, touring the building, and running though a mini-schedule. All of this was preceded by an assembly where the main speaker was the principal. This was the fourth time I have heard him give this opening and each year there is something new or I hear it in just a slightly different way. So what was new for this year? A rhetorical question "Why are you here" it is for one of three reasons (natural I boiled 20 minutes down to 3 lines):
  1. Someone made you come today.
  2. You have the goal to graduate high school.
  3. You want to prepare yourself for your future.
Obviously choice three is the one that we hope all students make, and I am sure that most of them do. So the real challenge is how to change the number 1s and 2s into number 3s? When I come up with the plan that works then I can really retire, so until then I will just have to keep on trying to make a difference where ever I can. After all that is what teaching is all about. My principal has ended every 9th grade opening with the same three keys to success. His claim, do these three thing and you will be successful in preparing yourself for your future.
  1. Show up and be on time every day, all 720 of them.
  2. Treat everyone you meet, teachers, staff and fellow students, the way you would like to be treated.
  3. You have to do your work, the only one on in the list that is actually difficult.
Well there you have it the simple way to help your students have a great year. I also just got a chance to watch the key note of Dalton Sherman at convocation of the Dallas Independent School District, if you have not seen it yet watch it. I have lots of great ideas for this year and I still need to get some post written from this summer, so my goal is to keep up with posts this year.

Monday, July 7, 2008

One for Us

I spent the last few days of June at the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in San Antonio TX. After that conference I traveled to Washington DC to attend the National Education Association Representative Assemble (NEA-RA). The NEA-RA is the largest democratically run meeting in the world with over 9,000 delegates debating, discussing and voting on the direction of the organization. The NEA represents 3.2 million teachers in all 50 states. It truly is democracy in action and I have a story to prove it.

At the RA any member can submit a New Business Item (NBI) that they would like to see the NEA take action on. One such item was proposed by a woman from New Jersey. NBI 67 "That NEA recommends the banning of all student personal electronic devices, especially cellphones, from the classroom". Well I immediately went into tech defender mode. I went a spoke to the woman to see if I could offer a friendly amendment to her NBI, that would remove the word banning. Her response was that they were already going to modify it to except education or medical uses (that would be just about everything in my view). Seeing she was not going to budge, I went to my delegation from PA and asked them to support my amending the motion to read "That NEA recommends the teaching of appropriate use of all student personal electronic devices, especially cellphones". The PA delegation agreed to let me try to amend the motion and speak on their behalf.

The time came for NBI 67 to be discussed and voted on. The maker of the motion asked to modify the motion to add the part about educational and medical, and then got a chance to give her rational. There were a few questions ask, but then came my turn. The Chair, President Reg Weaver said "Microphone 15 Lee Speers seeking to amend, mike 15". A spotlight comes on the red light on podium 15 turns on and there is my face on 4 big screens, and several smaller ones, in front of almost 10,000 people. "Yes President Weaver I would like to amend NBI 67 with the language I submitted." President Weaver asked for my amendment to be placed on the screen. For the first time the delegates at the NEA-RA see the proposal, the room grows eerily quiet and then a slight murmur. The leadership from all of the state delegations starts talking to see if they will recommend supporting the change. President Weaver asked the maker if she would accept the modification (I know what her answer is). After she says no, it is now my opportunity to speak to my amendment. Here is the text of my remarks:
Before traveling to DC I was in San Antonio TX attending the National Educational Computing Conference NECC with 20,000 other committed educators that use technology. While at NECC I attended many professional development session all using technology and many using cell phones.

A couple quick facts about cell phone use. There are currently 3.3 billion active cell phones world wide, that is one cell phone for every 2 people on the planet. There are currently 30 plus countries in the world that have 100% saturation (one cell phone for every man, woman and child), the US is not one of them. Presently in the US 16% of all households have only cell phone service and that number is growing rapidly. In the US there are more active cell phones than home computers. What does all this mean, there is no way to enforce a cell phone ban. So what is the alternative?

Do and will students use cell phones improperly? Sure they do, but they use computers, pens, pencils and even crayons improperly too, and do we ban them? No instead we do what good educators do when students misbehave. We teach them how to use the equipment properly. We need to do the same thing with technology, not, run from it, fear it or ban it, but help our students understand it and use it properly.
The International Society for Technology in Education ISTE has developed National Education Technology Standards NETS. These standards have not only been developed for students, but also teachers, administrators and technology leaders. All of these standards address good digital citizenship when using technology. And who better to teach students these standards than US, the members of the NEA? Please do not stick you head in the sand and support this amendment to NBI 67.

Much to my surprise and relief twice during my remarks I was interrupted by applause and again at the end got a nice round of congratulations from the delegates. The signals from state leadership began popping up throughout the room, most show a positive recommendation. Then came the vote, my amendment had passed and was now the main motion! Several people were called on to speak that were originally opposed to the NBI, but commented that with the amendment they were now in support of it. There was another amendment to the item, basically making more wordy, but in the end NBI 67 passed and the NEA was not recommending banning any technology from the classroom. So now the 3.2 million members of the NEA are not for banning technology in the classroom. Use that fact with your stubborn tech director next time. Who knows, maybe next year there will be an NBI about the use of web 2.0 applications.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

NECC 2008 First Day Recap

Well not really day one, but the first day I went to any sessions. After an uneventful trip to San Antonio (except for the shuttle ride to the hotel) just settled down and got some dinner. Today the fun began. I started off at the Constructivist Celebration @ NECC. Gary Stager got the day started off with a philosophy talk about using technology. He shares many of the same views I do about not using technology for the sake of using it, but rather to help students construct new knowledge by using technology. Here my three favorite quick quotes from Gary.
  1. A good prompt is worth 1,000 words. With a good prompt the students should be motivated to produce a high quality product. There does not have to be a lot of instruction "words" to limit the students creative juices used in producing their product.
  2. Monumental vs. Substantial. Assignment for students should not be monumental. Although students can make any task monumental by procrastinating. Assignment should instead be substantial and meaningful. Easier said than done, but if the task is substantial the product will be vastly better and in fact easier and more rewarding to grade. Timed saved, so put the time in before or after, your choice, make the one that is better for the student. This was also referred to as Craft or Crap.
  3. The last is a quick idea for a project, take and run. Give two groups of students the same video clips. say from a presidential candidate. Have on group produce a pro candidate add and the other a negative candidate add. Kids will real learning about propaganda and persuasion, oh and they just happen to use technology to due it.
Next stop was the PA NECC meeting. Thanks to Jim Gates, Kristin Hokanson and Kurt Paccio for putting together a great presentation about getting the most out of NECC. Check out the PANECC2008 wiki and the slides from the presentation. Be sure to join the NECC ning, a great way to more out of NECC. Finally the keynote by James Surowiecki with his perspective and book The Wisdom of Crowds (I used the Wikipedia link). Well apart from saying that Wikipedia is a great source (I agree, but many geeks do not) Jim also mentioned Flickr, and Google as good examples of the wisdom of the crowd. Not all crowds are "wise", in fact there are three conditions that must be met to make a group truly wise. 1. Aggregate the groups judgment. 2. Cognitive diversity. 3. Independence not imitation.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The next step in the Movement

I found this on the ASCD blog

Students in S. Bronx Refuse to Take Test

Almost all of the eighth-graders at South Bronx's Intermediate School 318 chose to hand in blank exams at the end of a three-hour social studies practice test. Refusing to take the test, even a practice test, may mean dismissal for the student's teacher, whom some authorities blame for inciting the boycott, though the students claim otherwise.

Writer and former teacher Dan Brown says the reason we haven't seen more protests like this one is be cause "students have been intellectually and spiritually bludgeoned into submission."

Do you think this sort of civil disobedience is effective? Are kids better served to take the test or walk out in protest?

This is the next step in the movement. See my post from April 25. Steve Dembo took my original post a little farther and even wrote some words. Check his post out here. I am for students organizing themselves and taking a stand on an issue that directly effects them and their right to a quality education. Way to go guys!