As the parent of a young child, the exercise of imagining what school could be for my son and other students in the near future was exciting and empowering. I feel compelled to work towards a reality in our schools that meets some of the vision I articulate in the video below.
#IMMOOC and #InnovatorsMindset have had a major impact on my thinking in several ways. One is that I am finally convinced of the importance of blogging, even though (or perhaps especially because) I find it stressful to write for an audience. Keeping up a blog as a place to process and share your work and your thinking creates an incredible way to show your learning over time, and allows you to connect with others. Moving forward, I commit to writing on this blog, even when it is no longer an assignment for a class I’m taking. I commit to using blogs with more of my students, and I aspire to find a way to allow them to maintain their blogs over several years so that they too can have the experience of seeing their own growth and learning through reflective writing.
Another major change in my thinking that has registered as a result of this MOOC is that I now understand how Twitter can be deeply beneficial for me as a learner, and I can engage with a wider community as part of a PLN. I will be more likely to both hear about and take advantage of opportunities like this MOOC as a more connected educator. The more I speak up, the less afraid I am of being an illegitimate or uninformed voice—and community is only created when members contribute. In the future I will be a better community member as a part of the world of librarians online.
As a school librarian, I serve my students, my fellow teachers, and everyone at my school. I still feel new to working in education (four years in), and I’m constantly moving my bar for what my work should look like. In reflecting on the ways that I unleash the strengths of the people I serve, I keep coming back to a story George Couros shares in Chapter 8 of #InnovatorsMindset:
“As a beginning teacher, rather than encourage a student’s enjoyment of physical education, I would threaten to keep them out of P.E. class if they did not finish their ‘work’ in another subject area… my students often begrudgingly finished their assignments…, but the incident always diminished the relationship between the student and myself.”
Couros goes on to argue that we need to build on strengths and passions, not operate on a deficit, compliance-based model. In my first year, I made classroom management my professional goal, and focused my daily reflections for the whole year on behavior. Like Couros, I’ve learned a lot since then. Overall, my school operates on a compliance-based model at the moment, but it’s not 100%, and I do believe it will change over time.
While I’m not in a direct leadership role, I am doing my best within the model to create an environment for my students where they can pursue (or discover) their passions. One way I’m doing this is by facilitating passion projects for all 5th and 6th graders not involved in band while their homeroom teachers have a much needed middle-level meeting. Previously, this time was an open “catch-up” block, and with a little direction our students are now using the same time for: planning fundraisers for the humane society, building mountain bike trails, learning to code, creating 3D-printed skateboards, painting a series of watercolors of abstract soccer players, editing videos, and more (that’s just half of my group!). Another way is our yearly STEAM event for 5th grade—two days of hands-on, practical workshops on STEAM topics like water rockets, LEGO robotics, programming, digital animation, e-textiles, and more. I also provide safe haven for those who love to read—I make sure I know my readers, curate a collection that has an abundance of enticing materials, and provide challenges to keep them motivated by sharing their reading. At the moment, I feel I’m doing an especially good job supporting students in the upper grades and I could invest more effort in those who are younger. It is also a professional goal of mine to become a better leader of my colleagues, and #edci325 at UVM is an important step towards that goal. In the future I intend to provide regular professional development opportunities, both for technology and for passion-based reading.
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has created a set of Essential Conditions as a tool for educators and leaders to analyze the ways they and their institutions are leveraging technology in education. They provide an online tool that allows you to look closely at how, to the best of your knowledge, your institution is meeting those Essential Conditions.
The last active technology plan expired in 2015, so my survey input and analysis comes partially from what is expressed in that six year old plan and partially from my own impressions of the use and support of technology for education in my day-to-day experience. The state of Vermont has no longer has an active mandate for the creation of a technology plan, but they suggest that creation of a digital learning plan is valuable and that core elements of digital learning could find a place in the required Continuous Improvement Plan. Unfortunately, this makes it unlikely that a deep, district-wide conversation about technology in education will be prioritized unless it somehow becomes urgent. The results from my completion of the ISTE Essential Conditions survey are below:
In looking at this data, a few things jump out immediately:
- Bright spots: Access, Policies, and Funding
- Challenges: Community Engagement, Empowered Leaders, Shared Vision
It is true that access and funding are bright spots. We have a district technology department that supplies and maintains 1-1 devices for all upper grade (3-6) classrooms, and a regular replacement schedule for devices. We have robust, yet not overly restrictive policies for technology use.
I was very surprised to see that, based on my survey data, we are meeting the condition of ongoing professional learning. I think, perhaps, I was not specific to technology in my thinking when answering survey questions, as my district has excellent, supportive professional development policies. However, as a district we do not offer any ongoing professional development specific to the technologies that are provided to our teachers. To me, this is also where there is a bit of a leadership vacuum. There is no longer a district-wide technology integration committee, and there are not tech integrationists working in all school buildings. As a district staff, we aren’t talking about how we are using technology in teaching and learning. Without those conversations, it becomes challenging to engage the community and build a shared vision.
However, this challenge also represents an opportunity. If we were to integrate elements of a digital learning plan into our state-mandated Continuous Improvement Plan, we have the opportunity to begin a conversation about technology and learning among our educators. We could draft a goal that related directly to professional learning and fostering conversations among professional staff about their use of technology to support and empower our learners.
Last week in UVM’s #EDCI325, we made an artifact to articulate our vision for school in the future—the school that our children or grandchildren would attend (my artifact is the video below, still a draft, without a clear conclusion). I feel really invested in reimagining education right now, both professional and personally, as my son is a year and a half old and I already get negative feedback about how physical he can be at daycare.
The vision that I created is my WHAT IFs for education, deeply informed by my reading of #InnovatorsMindset.
- What if our schools not only acknowledged but engaged with the natural world? If learning cycled with the seasons? If we spent learning time outside every day, observing and interacting with our world?
- What if learning was experiential and authentic? If it was designed to equip students with practical, transferable skills that are necessary in all work? What if what students learn was guided by their passions? What if anyone who was part of a school was expected to be constantly learning and growing? As George Couros wrote:
We all need to develop the skills and mindsets that will help us thrive, not only in the classroom but also in our lives beyond the school walls.
- What if students moved at their own pace, and there was never the constant undercurrent of “but there’s not enough time!”? Could we create a system where everyone gets what they need when they need it? Where students are empowered and have the skillset to articulate their needs? Where they have the time to reflect on what they have learned?
In this vision, how does the teacher’s role change? What would a classroom look like? What do we need to do to get from here to there? Couros has some sage advice:
To move forward in education—to create a vision for education that then comes to life—we must take more than a top-down or bottom-up approach; we will need all hands on deck.
In Chapter 2 of The Innovator’s Mindset, Couros poses the following “Critical Questions for Educators:”
- Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?
- What is best for this student?
- What is this student’s passion?
- What are some ways we can create a true learning community?
- How did this work for our students?
This set of questions is powerful, and it is important that not only teachers, but all people who are responsible for making decisions about how our educational system operates, ask themselves these questions in the course of their thinking.
Too often we have no reason to look at our work from the eyes of a student. I was particularly struck by the anecdote Couros shares in Chapter 5 on a veteran teacher’s experience shadowing students for a full day (full blog post here). What if every person who makes decisions about education—not just teachers, but administrators, school board members, legislators—was required to experience school TODAY through the eyes of a student? My husband Marty recently served a brief term on our new unified school board, responsible for governing a union of schools serving about 1500 students in rural Vermont. The school board visited each school in the district over the course of the year, but the visits took place at night, when the schools were just buildings, not the vibrant learning communities that exist during the school day. The educational experience of most people serving on the school board is even more distant than those working in schools—many of Marty’s colleagues knew the schools as parents, but were not intimately familiar with the day to day life of the school. Yet these people are responsible for making major decisions about school budgets and programs, trying to do more with less. Marty was deeply impressed by the potential impact of shadowing students for the school board when I recounted Couros’s anecdote to him.
Teachers have day-to-day power over students’ experiences in their classrooms. School board members have large-scale power over student experience—they determine what our schools will look like in broad strokes. As innovators, we need to advocate for both micro (teacher) and macro (school board/policy maker) level innovation. Couros’s questions, and the idea of shadowing students, are powerful tools in helping conceptualize innovations at both levels—and potentially more powerful for those with less direct experience in our schools. However, perhaps we need a slightly modified set of questions for the macro level… I propose:
- Would I want to be a learner in this school?
- What is best for learning?
- How can we build a system to build passion in our students?
- What are some ways we can create a true learning community?
- How did this work for our students?
- How can we make this system simpler, and better?
What do you think about innovation at the macro level? Do we as educators have a place in directing the thinking of our school boards and legislators? How can we best advocate for student learning?
A reading for EDCI 325: Leadership and Technology at UVM blew my mind this week. We were talking about vision, and what and how we articulate as our vision for our schools and for education more broadly. Vision is, at its heart, the purpose of education—the future we are working towards. We try to keep that vision up to date and vital, just this month my district released their new Vision and Mission statements:
VISION: The Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union empowers all students with the knowledge, skills and attributes needed to be successful and contributing members of a global society through the development of character, competence, creativity and community.
The vision of most school districts, including the one I work for, is all about the students. How we will prepare our students for the future, who we will help our students become, that they will be empowered, competent, creative, community-minded, etc. This focus on our students has always seemed to me to be right and correct. We are teachers because we are there to help our students.
But then I read this passage by Peter Senge, and I was so, so deeply struck by the truth it represents:
a learning school is not so much a distinct and discrete place (for it may not stay in one building or facility) as a living system for learning—one dedicated to the idea that all those involved with it, individually and together, will be continually enhancing and expanding their awareness and capabilities
A school is not just a place for students to learn how to function in the world (and some may argue that that is not their function at all at the moment)! It is a place where EVERYONE involved should be continually growing and evolving, and helping the community grow and evolve. What a radical idea, that is so absent from most visions of what “ideal” education looks like.
This echoes for me what George Couros said at the very end of this week’s YouTube Live session for #IMMOOC (which is all I caught because I read somewhere that they started at 9pm EST… alas). When talking about what we can do to start innovating tomorrow, Couros said that, “the first thing you do is what you’re doing right now.” That is, investing our time and energy in reflecting and educating ourselves. Growing our thinking as teachers and as leaders before we try to break the mold of education that we ourselves were grown in.
So that’s my first step. Stepping outside my comfort zone, staying up too late writing blog posts that draw connections between all the things I’ve been reading lately, sharing my thoughts and my writing publicly. Because if I’m not willing to take risks, to learn and to grow as an educator, who am I to be guiding my students on their learning journeys?