Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Moonshot Thinking

In our district, we have been focused on improving math instruction and successful comprehension of Algebra content. We recognize that success in Algebra is a result not only of good instruction in the course, but excellent preparation in the grades leading up to the course. We've tried several options and formats for the course for struggling students, including a 2-year Algebra A/B course, a Power Algebra course, and a 2-period year-long course. Next year we are piloting algebra courses using the Carnegie Learning curriculum. 

What I love about our school system and school is that we first ask the question, "What's best for our students?" Then we try to find a solution. We aren't afraid to try something new or take risks, as long as what we are doing is what we think is best for students. 

Our struggling algebra students would end up in a path that typically included Algebra A & B in ninth grade, Geometry Principles in 10th grade, Algebraic Connections in 11th grade, then Algebra II non-Trig in 12th grade. These students never "catch up." The Algebraic Connections class is a class that doesn't prepare them for the ACT, and these are the students who will most likely end up in remedial math classes in college. 

This is not a problem unique to our high school, as there are students across the state and country who are struggling with math classes and are taking remedial math classes in college. Algebra I is often called the "gatekeeper" to high school graduation and success beyond high school.

In one of our recent meetings, our district's assistant superintendent of curriculum said something that I thought was inspiring, amazing, and over the top! He said, "Our goal needs to be to do away with Algebraic Connections." In other words, our students need to "catch up," and get on the grade-level path which includes Algebra II in 11th grade. 

This type of thinking is called "Moonshot Thinking."

At Google X, Astro Teller is the "Captain of Moonshots." Fast Company magazine calls Teller's moonshots "his catchall description for audacious innovations that have a slim chance of succeeding but might revolutionize the world if they do." 

While Google applies moonshots to technology, moonshot thinking can be applied to any aspect of life. According to Google, "Instead of a mere 10% gain, a moonshot aims for a 10x improvement over what currently exists."

Check out this video from Google on Moonshot Thinking:

(If your device won't display the video above, click here to play:

At the ISTE conference this week, we all got to hear Moonshot Thinking from inspiring educators like Pernille RippBob Dillon, and Rafranz Davis. Their Ignite sessions challenged us to throw out small improvements and make changes that push us to improve 10x. When we're trying to improve 10x as opposed to 10%, it challenges us to throw out what we know and look for answers in ways and places we haven't explored before. 

I appreciate the vision for math from our Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, the inspiration and challenges from Pernille, Bob, and Rafranz, and I am encouraged by the heart of the educators I connect with on Twitter who are working hard to make education and learning wonderful for students. NOW is the time for ALL of us to take action and shoot for the moon!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Commit to Lifelong Learning

The quote above was overheard at a session I attended at the ISTE Conference. I didn’t realize that it would be such a popular tweet. It’s something that others recognize or relate to far too often.

Learning is like rowing upstream: not to advance is to drop back.  
~ Chinese Proverb

Not all teachers, and certainly not all teachers in your building, are like this. There are probably ⅓ who embrace professional learning, ⅓ who are on the fence, and ⅓ who are opposed. SO what can we do as school leaders?

Focus on the ⅓ who DO want to grow professionally. Find ways for them to work with the ⅓ who are on the fence. Provide encouragement for both of these groups, as well as a lot of praise.

For the ⅓ who are opposed and negatively respond to PD opportunities, try saying this to them, “From the messages you’re sending, you’re opposed to professional development (learning anything new). Is that the case?” It may take a lengthy conversation (or several) to hear and understand the teacher’s opposition. 
  • Perhaps the teacher doesn’t find the PD relevant. 
  • Perhaps the teacher is fearful of trying something new and not being seen as an expert. 
  • Perhaps the teacher is lazy. 
  • Perhaps the teacher’s ego is in the way of him seeing that he should be in it for the kids, not himself. 
  • Perhaps the teacher feels overlooked and undervalued. 
  • Or something else.... ??
Our responsibility as school leaders is to find out.

When we started our school-wide literacy plan this past school year, I had a teacher tell me that he couldn’t learn anything new during the school year. (Yes! He actually DID!) The literacy plan required teachers to meet once per month in their PLCs to talk with each other about how they were incorporating a particular literacy strategy into their teaching. In our conversation, he told me that he needed to learn things in the summer when there was more time.

Well, this summer we are offering many PD sessions at our school (and many of them are teacher-led.) I saw this teacher at school one day and I said to him, “I heard you when you said that teachers needed to learn things in the summer. We’ve got great PD sessions lined up.” His response was this: “Well, the summer is soooo busy.” I, half-jokingly, said, “You can’t say you’re too busy during the school year then tell me you’re too busy during the summer, too!” I’ve still got my fingers crossed that he will attend the literacy day. If he doesn’t, will I talk to him about it? Certainly.

Professional development sessions must have the characteristics of adult learners in mind:
• Active engagement  
• Relevance to current challenges  
• Integration of experience  
• Learning style variation  
• Choice and self-direction 

(from Supporting and Sustaining Teachers' Professional Development: A Principal's Guide by Marilyn Tallerico)

Along with the above characteristics, there must be follow-up and/or coaching. If we “teach” something to teachers then expect them to go back and try it with a 100% success rate, we’re not being realistic. We must provide ongoing support and help teachers to feel successful and "as if their time was worth it," because their time is valuable.

“You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.”
-Galeleo Galelei

At the end of the school year, I want every teacher to be able to answer this question, “What one new thing did you learn and get good at that made you a better teacher at the end of the school year than at the beginning?”

Thursday, June 25, 2015

How to Organize Summer PD Sessions in a Free App

Educators don't stop learning or thinking about school just because it's summer. In fact, summer is a great time to grow professionally because of the fewer number of distractions and the constant feeling of needing to get something done for class.

Imagine yourself by the pool, and you pull out your smartphone and open an app to see what professional learning opportunities are upcoming at your school. You can also register for the sessions or listen to a podcast while enjoying your personal time during the summer.

This summer, I created an app for our teachers so that they could do just that! (I made the poster above using Canva, one of my new favorite digital tools.)

I used Yapp to create it, and it couldn't be easier. Here's what the app looks like when teachers download it:

(The actual link is on the poster for our teachers; 
I just didn't want to make it public on the blog.)

This is the first screen once the app opens. 

On this screen, teachers can touch the arrow that points to the right of each session, and they can read a short description as well as find out the teacher that is leading the session.

On the next screen, I included a link to the Google Form where the teachers can register for the PD sessions. (Note: Clicking the link will take you out of the app.)

The next screen is fun because participants can take pictures and upload them into the app for others to see. 

When teachers touch "More" at the bottom of the window, this is what they see. 

Where it reads "Message Board," everyone can type messages for others to see in a news feed. While I was out of town at a conference, I shared a picture from Bill Daggett's presentation about instructional rounds, which were an Innovative Best Practice. 

We have the Alabama Teacher of the Year, Jennifer Brown, coming to lead a PD session for our teachers on the instructional rounds program she leads at her school, so I thought it would be a great thing to share the above slide onto the Message Board.

Below the message board, you can see that I have uploaded 3 podcasts so far. I got the podcasts from the Educators Radio Channel on the Bam! Radio Network. Teachers can touch the arrow on the right of each podcast to read a description and click a link to take them to the podcast.   

Cool, huh?!!

How did we decide on the sessions we would offer? 

This summer, our school has three areas of focus for our professional learning (see above.) Before the school year was over, I sent a needs survey to the staff and asked them for their input. Most of our sessions are teacher-led, and the feedback so far has been wonderful. 

If you are interested in doing this in your school or district and need help, feel free to contact me.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What Does Embracing Failure Look Like?

The F word is popular in education these days.

Quips like, "You must fail before you succeed" or "Don't be afraid to try and fail" can be heard in messages from educators across the country.

As a former athlete and coach, I totally get it. One of the life lessons that athletes learn is to work through failure. They learn that failure is a part of the process if they are trying to be successful. In professional baseball, athletes who are the best in the sport, fail at hitting more than they are successful. Good batting averages are less than .500, meaning that hitters "fail" more than they succeed.

For athletes, failure is not one event. It's a series of moments that occur as part of the process. Practices where the pitcher can't hit her spots, shooting practice where the free throws won't go in, or workouts where the timed run is slower, not better. There are many, many opportunities to learn from mistakes (a.k.a. failure) through athletics.

As a school leader dealing with discipline, I've had parents in my office with students who've made a poor choice at school. It's a moment of failure for the student. It's a safe environment where the student is surrounded by people who care about him. But sometimes, I have parents who beg me not to assign a consequence to the student. They say things like, "This is just not like him" or "He's never made a mistake like this." In these times, I question how much failure the student has experienced in his life. Failure should not define our future, and a misstep by a 14- or 15-year old student is okay. Consequences are part of the learning process. Because when the day is over, we can't bring it back or make a change to what occurred. What we CAN do is learn from the day, make different choices, and do better the next day.

But what about students who aren't involved in athletics, band, or other programs and activities where they learn that failure is part of the process? What if they've never experienced failure? What happens when they make the first misstep? Is it possible to model that for them?

I think a place to start is to share the video below with all students. Follow up with a conversation about failure and also about perseverance, because we don't want students to embrace failure without learning from it and moving forward. 

After you watch the video below, let me know in the comments what your conversation starters would be with your students. 

If the video won't play on your device, click the link below:

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Compelled Bloggers: One Year Later

It was the summer of 2014, and my oldest daughter had just finished her junior year of high school. Because she has a dream of playing basketball in college, she was competing on a summer AAU basketball team. We were just starting a 10-day trip to travel to Kentucky and Tennessee for two tournaments and clinic, and the same week an idea about a blogging group that had been brewing in my head started to come to fruition. 

I remember sitting at the hotel desk in Kentucky, talking with Craig Vroom on the phone and sharing ideas about the Compelled Bloggers Community.  

Fast forward to a year later.

We have been so blessed to have 30+ bloggers on this journey with us. We have shared stories of triumphs, sorrows, losses, and joys. We’ve blogged about families, kids, PD, leadership, technology, fears, education, and more. We don’t judge or compare... we celebrate, we inspire, we share, we learn. 

I personally feel so fortunate to learn from the incredible members of the community and to be a part of this experience with them. 

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
-Margaret Mead