Top Five Reasons to Attend an Edcamp

Edcamp Baltimore will be held at Johns Hopkins University-Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy on Saturday, September 27th.  Edcamps are cropping up all over the United States as viable alternatives to traditional education conferences.

What is an edcamp?  While you can find many answers with a quick internet search, you have to attend one to truly understand their value.  Here are my top five reasons for attending an edcamp.  Are there any that you would add?

1.     For Educators, By Educators

Edcamps are conferences developed by educators for educators.  Have you ever attended a conference and found that the content was lacking?  Edcamps reduce the chances of that happening.  Edcamp attendees tend to have common interests around the best teaching and learning practices.  You’ll get tips that you can use immediately back at your school.

2.     Agenda Created by the Attendees

The agenda for an edcamp is created on the spot.  There are no pre-planned programs and usually no keynote speakers.  Edcamp sessions are proposed by those who attend.  You can propose a session on a topic that you would like to learn more about and see if anyone in attendance has expertise in that area.  You can also propose a session on a topic that you would like to lead.

3.     They’re Free, But You Can Buy Lunch and Cool t-shirts

Nothing beats free!  You can spend an entire day with little or no cost to your bank account.  Most edcamps offer lunch, if you need it, and who doesn’t want a cool edcamp t-shirt to show off to their colleagues!

4.     You’ll Grow Your Personal Learning Network

As strong as our colleagues may be, educators can only benefit from connecting with those outside their usual travels.  Edcamps can be springboards for professional growth.  Through social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) we can find the creative teaching ideas that flow from a highly motivated group of learners.  Many edcamp participants backchannel their learning by tweeting out ideas and resources using the edcamp’s hashtag (#edcampbmore).  If you can’t attend an edcamp, find a hashtag to follow!

5.     The Model Easily Translates to School-based PD

The edcamp model is quickly becoming a professional development alternative that can be used at the school level.  Many schools are running their own versions of edcamps to promote the value of learning from each other.  Teachers enjoy and benefit professionally when they learn from their peers.  Our schools are full of teachers who want to contribute to the success of their schools.  Edcamps give them that opportunity.

Summer Renewal

Summer offers educators the chance to, as Stephen Covey taught us, sharpen the saw.  Covey touted the need for balance in our physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual lives.  When all four dimensions are balanced, the result is personal and professional synergy.  The sum of synergistic living is always greater than its parts.  When all four dimensions are attended to, everything falls into place.

The modern educator can easily be overwhelmed by the challenges of teaching in the 21st century.  If we don’t take the time to renew ourselves on a personal and professional level, we won’t be effective in supporting the growth of our students.  The greatest gift of being an educator is that every school year starts anew.

What will you do to sharpen your saw this summer?  What books will you read for personal and professional pleasure?  I’ve included some links below to potential summer reading lists.  Here are responses to those questions from a few colleagues and PLN members:

I am planning on reading, Falling In Love With Close Reading as well as articles etc. on arts integration since we are in the exploratory stages.  I’ll be sharpening the saw at the beach as much as possible.

-Donna Usewick, @dsusewick

For recreational reading, I hope to read The English Girl by Daniel Silva and The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.  For professional reading, I plan to read Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen.  I am traveling to Ireland as soon as school is out and taking a short trip to St. Michael’s, Maryland at the end of July for some golf.  I hope to get some more golf in on the Fridays that schools are closed.  I am also attending the NAESP conference in Nashville this July.

-Theresa Zablonski, @tzablonski

I will be reading The Homework Myth by Alfie Cohn, Positive Discipline by Nelsen, as well as Sue O’Connell’s book on math practices.  This summer, I plan to reflect on the school year and think about each aspect of our school and how to make improvements.  For myself, I will spend time with my family and hit the beach!

-Cheryl Cox, @CoxCherylcox628

The Ultimate Summer Reading List for Teachers via Scholastic:

http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/ultimate-summer-reading-list-teachers

The best books about educational leadership via Amazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/Best-Books-About-Educational-Leadership/lm/R1TJOMF4RU830V

Top Ten School Leadership Books via @AngelaMaiers:

http://www.angelamaiers.com/2010/06/top-10-school-leadership-books.html

Differentiating Staff Development to Grow Teacher Leadership

This is a condensed version of an article I wrote for the spring 2014 edition of Living Education eMagazine.

The National Staff Development Council’s Standards for Staff Development provide guidance to school leaders focused on fostering high-quality professional learning communities.  Principals who are willing to utilize the standards will find that they enable them to address the varied needs of teachers, which, in turn, enhances the learning of an increasingly diverse student population.  School leaders should consider using a differentiated staff development model aligned with the pedagogical practices they expect of their teachers.

The NSDCs context, process and content standards offer a structure that promotes the development of school-based staff development programs capable of creating enduring educational change.  A brief examination of the standards provides insight into how school leaders might differentiate their school-based staff development.

Context Standards

Organizing adults into learning communities does not happen magically.  School leaders must provide the structure and time needed for teachers to collaborate with their peers.  A culture of learning needs to be built in order for teacher capacity to increase (Rutherford, 2006).  While the goals of the learning community should be aligned with district goals, they should be specific to the needs of the local school.

Teachers need time to discuss strategies for getting students to achieve, share their teaching practices, improve their techniques, and set communal student achievement goals (Sawchuk, 2007).  This requires strong leadership and the ability to obtain the required resources.  Principals can share their leadership without risking a loss of control.  In fact, by sharing leadership, they empower their teachers to become partners in the school improvement process.

Process Standards

The end result of all staff development must be improved student performance.  Teachers will support staff development efforts when they can make the connection between what they are asked to do and how it will lead to improved student performance.  Educators in the 21st century are being asked to do more with data than ever.  Formative and summative assessments can assist teachers in making informed instructional decisions.  It is the building principal’s responsibility to structure the school day so that teachers have the time and materials to disaggregate data.

Teachers play a critical role in educational reform and need opportunities to engage in high-quality professional development (Goodnough, 2005).  Data-driven decisions can be made by teachers only when they have the time and support to analyze and interpret data.  Given the time to work with data, teachers are highly capable of analyzing assessment results to identify appropriate instructional strategies.  With guidance, they will be able to modify their teaching to address the specific strengths and challenges of the individual student.

Content Standards

Staff development efforts should ensure equity, quality teaching and family involvement.  In the pursuit of educational excellence, we cannot ignore the social and emotional needs of our students and community.  We are still responsible for educating the whole-child.  The reliance on quantitative data should not preclude schools from actively collecting qualitative data to support their efforts in providing safe, orderly and supportive learning environments.

Teachers, guidance counselors, school psychologists and support staff play a vital role in establishing schools that meet the affective needs of all learners.  Their role can easily be extended to staff development directed at encouraging family involvement, equity and school safety.  Meaningful formal and informal staff development should be tailored to the specific needs of the school.  Through these opportunities, teachers become intimately and effectively involved in their communities (Gabriel, 2005).

What Does Differentiated School-based Staff Development Look Like?    

Differentiation for the adult learner parallels differentiation in the classroom.  Principals who expect their teachers to meet the needs of all learners must model effective differentiation practices.  School leaders who value the unique abilities of their teachers, and plan staff development with that in mind, send a message of empowerment to their teachers.  Differentiated staff development builds teacher leadership capacity.  It means utilizing staff members in the decision-making, planning and implementation phases of school-based staff development.  A differentiated approach operates from, and builds on, teacher strengths.  It includes, but is not limited to the use of study groups, action research, collaborative planning, vertical teaming, school developed mini-sessions, and district-wide initiatives.

Study Groups 

There are ample resources available for school leaders to use study groups as an effective differentiation tool.  The key is to include teachers in the selection of the topics and texts they will study.  In planning for a school year, administrators will need to schedule time for teachers to both read and discuss material.

Study groups should operate under short-term parameters.  Depending on the volume of material covered, study groups should last no longer than half of the school year.  Ideally, study groups that conclude by the middle of the year allow teachers to use the second half of the year to integrate what they have learned.

Action Research

School districts are collecting more data than ever and teachers should be given the opportunity to use that data at the building level.  Action research has the potential to answer questions that teachers have about their students and their school.  The most exciting aspect of action research is that it allows schools to take a focused look at their school-specific concerns.

School leaders should support the collection of anecdotal, qualitative data, which often provides insight into student performance that cannot be gleaned from quantitative data.  The introduction of SLOs (student learning objectives) has made familiarity with action research a must for all teachers.

Collaborative Planning & Vertical Teaming

School districts must support vertical teaming among elementary, middle and high schools.  While this can be complicated, it allows teachers to stay current on what skills their students need to be successful at the next level.  Principals will have to balance the individual planning needs of teachers, while also engaging them in the value-laden process of collaborative planning and vertical teaming.

School-based Mini-Sessions

Staff members often have skills or training in areas that might not fit in neatly with school-wide initiatives.  It is important to give these staff members a forum for sharing their knowledge.  Technology, classroom management, school climate, teacher morale and an array of other topics can be covered by offering mini-sessions throughout the school year.

By actively seeking out teachers and by understanding their strengths, school leaders can “recruit” more staff members into the collective intelligence of their school.  Mini-sessions can be offered before and after the school day.  As optional, or alternative staff development, they give the teachers choice in the scope and depth of their involvement.  The “edcamp” approach is another vehicle for capitalizing on the strengths of your teachers.

District-wide Initiatives

Most school leaders understand that district-wide initiatives often come with mandatory staff development for their teachers.  School leaders need to stay current on what is coming from the district level to avoid overloading the staff development plates of teachers.  That means sometimes they will have to balance the needs of their school with the needs of the district.  However, circumstances may also provide opportunities for schools to combine their staff development efforts with the district.

Conclusion

The NSDC standards provide a structure that school leaders can use to meet the diverse needs of their teachers.  School-based staff development in the 21st century requires non-traditional thinking.  While this requires organization and planning, it is ultimately worthwhile, productive and empowering.  The development of a professional learning community requires meaningful interaction and engagement on the part of teachers.  Differentiating school-based staff development may serve as a catalyst toward those efforts.

References

Gabriel, J. G. (2005). How to thrive as a teacher leader. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Goodnough, K. (2005). Fostering teacher learning through collaborative inquiry. The Clearing House, 79 (2), 88-92.

Hannon, S. M. (2003). Building a better staff. School Library Journal, 49 (2), 4-5.

Morrow, L. M. (2003). Make professional development a priority. Reading Today, 21 (1), 6-7.

Rutherford, P. (2006). Leading the learning. Leadership, 36 (1), 22-26.

Sawchuk, S. (2007). Groups endorse peer driven, job embedded development. Education Daily, 40 (196), 2.

Five Steps to Expanding Your PLN on Twitter

1.      First you have to join.

Obviously, joining Twitter is the first step towards expanding your personal/professional learning network (PLN).  What’s not so obvious, however, is that “how” you start is also important.  Don’t be an egg.  Put a picture in your profile.  Avatars are fine, but educators like to see the actual person they might follow, so take a deep breath and choose a picture you like.  Tell us a little bit about yourself in your profile.  Who are you?  What are your passions?  Why are you on Twitter?  A good picture and a nice profile are enough for the average tweep (Twitter user) who’s trying to decide who to follow.

2.     Follow People

Twitter is ultimately about having conversations.  In order to have conversations, you have to follow people.  One of the slightly annoying things about signing up for Twitter is that it automatically directs you to follow people.  Bypass that part and follow people when you are ready.  Most people start out following people they know.  That’s natural because you already have a rapport and comfort level with people you know.  The value of Twitter, however, is how it can connect you to people all over the world.

A good goal for someone new to Twitter is to follow 100 people.  Follow people who follow people you respect.  It’s okay if you don’t know them.  Also, follow people back.  Your “follower” to “following” ratio should be close to 1:1.  People who only follow back a small percentage of their followers aren’t truly interested in a conversation.  There are some strange folks out there, however, so don’t feel obligated to follow back everyone.

3.     Tweet and Re-tweet

If you don’t tweet are you really on Twitter?  Sure, Twitter can be used as a one way tool to gain information, but everyone has something they can share.  If you aren’t ready to send an “original” tweet, then just retweet the stuff you like.  The more you retweet, the more likely you are to meet new people.  It’s like starting the first conversation at a cocktail party.  Once you start tweeting regularly you’ll begin to see the value of Twitter as a learning tool.

4.     Lurk in a Chat

Twitter chats are amazing opportunities to learn from your PLN.  Most folks who are new to Twitter will find chats to be a little overwhelming and fast-moving.  Start out by lurking in a chat.  Go under the hashtag (#) for any chat you’re interested in and just follow the conversation.

For a list of educational chats see this link:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AiftIdjCeWSXdDRLRzNsVktUUGJpRWJhdUlWLS1Genc#gid=0

5.     Participate in a Chat

When you’re ready, join in on a chat.  Remember to include the hashtag in your tweet, otherwise only those who follow you will be able to read it.  Twitter chats almost always lead to more followers.  They are great ways to connect with people who share similar interests.  Many chats use a Q1-A1 format.  This means the moderator numbers their questions.  When you respond, use the letter “A” and the corresponding question number.  For example:

Q1.  How has Twitter expanded your learning? #mdeschat
A1.  By connecting me with great educators all over the globe. #mdeschat

Why Twitter?

Twitter helps you find your professional voice.  By sharing your views, and listening to others, you begin to develop a coherent professional voice.  You gain confidence in yourself and refine your views.  Most of us work hard all day, but we rarely find the time to discuss our craft with others.  Educators on Twitter are very supportive of their PLN colleagues.  The greatest value of Twitter is that it broadens your professional knowledge for free!  Who wouldn’t want to have access to some of the greatest minds in their profession?  Go out and find them on Twitter.  You won’t be disappointed.

Any discussion on Twitter would be incomplete without referring to one of the greatest sources of information for educators.  Visit Cybraryman’s Twitter page for all of the information you’ll ever need:

http://www.cybraryman.com/twitter.html

Things I Forgot After 13 Years Away from the Classroom

This is a guest blog by veteran educator, Deborah Wooleyhand.

I was recently asked to cover a class at a local elementary school during state testing.  The teacher I substituted for was administering the assessment to a student with one/one accommodations.  I quickly agreed.  How hard could it be?  I was a kindergarten teacher for 18 years, so covering a class for a few hours would be no problem.

I have been out of the classroom for 13 years.  I forgot how children like to push the limit with a sub, even if you are married to the principal.  I forgot how fast a 5 year old can move, even when his shoes are untied.  I forgot how long it takes to get every shoe tied.  I forgot their shoes don’t remain tied for very long, even when you double-knot them.  I forgot that when one student wants a drink, suddenly the entire class is parched.  There is a lot I forgot while sitting behind a desk at district headquarters.

I also forgot that:

  • Children like routines and any disruption to their schedule matters.  The reality is no matter how detailed the lesson plan is, it cannot possibly capture all the important facts about each student in the class and it can’t explain how each routine is carried out. So when the schedule changes to accommodate testing and staff members are pulled to assist with testing, it matters.
  • Children have challenging behaviors, but they don’t mean to be challenging.  The schedule is different and they are trying to cope. 
  • Children love and are protective of their teachers.  They are happy to have a sub as long as they know their real teacher is okay and most importantly, coming back.

As you can see, there is a lot I forgot during my 13 year absence from the classroom.  Mostly, I forgot about the impact of decisions made in an office far from any school on the children in that school.  Decisions are made about testing, curriculum, and instructional methods, but we need to be mindful of how those decisions impact the daily operation of the school and ultimately the classroom.  We need to be reminded about the challenges teachers face on a daily basis as they juggle the demands of the curriculum with the needs of students and concerns of parents.

If, like me, you have been away from the classroom for a while, I encourage you to re-connect with the schools in your district.  Find a way to spend some meaningful time working with children in a classroom.  No matter what your current role is, the experience will remind you of why you do what you do.  I am sure that when you go to work the next day, you will have a renewed sense of purpose because you will have been reminded of how your position impacts the lives of children.  That is something none of us should forget.

Debbie Wooleyhand is an experienced pupil personnel worker for a large Maryland school district.  She can be followed on Twitter @ppw78.

School-based Edcamps- Redefining Professional Development

In November, I blogged about the great experience I had at EdCampBmore at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland:

http://christopherwooleyhand.edublogs.org/2013/11/10/extending-the-edcamp-philosophy-to-school-based-pd/

I ended my post with this statement:

“The edcamp approach to professional development could be a great way to inject excitement back into the profession. How much stronger could our schools become if the teachers in the building were given the chance to share their knowledge with their peers in deep and meaningful ways? I don’t know the exact answer, but I plan to find out. Don’t tell my teachers, but we’re about to plan our first school-based edcamp. Now I’ll never get to sleep!”

Well, I did tell my teachers and last week we held our first ever school-based edcamp, EdCampRHLee!  It was a very successful event (see the teacher comments below) and it’s the kind of PD that all schools should consider trying.  Here are some tips that may help you plan your own school-based edcamp:

Sow Seeds

The idea of an edcamp can be hard to explain to others, so start talking about it well in advance of the day.  If you can attend an edcamp before you host your own, do it.  It’s not essential, but it will help you share a clear message.  In the weeks leading up to your edcamp, touch base with staff members and encourage them to share what they are working on or passionate about.

Build Momentum

Once the idea has been shared, you need to keep it out there.  I posted signs everywhere a staff member might travel (even in the restroom stalls).  The signs simply said, “#EdCampRHLee is coming! Professional Development Redefined, What will you share?”  This created interest and reminded the staff that edcamps are inclusive, anyone can share or present.

The Twitter Connection

This tip is not a must do, but it is a critical part of most edcamps.  In the past year, we have been encouraging teachers to sign up for Twitter as a PLN tool.  By the time we held our edcamp, over 90% percent of our teachers had joined.  Regional edcamps use Twitter as a promotional tool and for backchanneling the event.  Backchanneling gives others a chance to follow your conference in real-time.  It is a great way to share links and resources with others.  If you search for #EdCampRHLee on Twitter you will get an idea of what this looks like.

The Schedule

Creating the edcamp schedule is exciting and scary.  Until it starts to come together, you have no idea what will happen.  Our edcamp was held on an early dismissal day and was three hours long.  When staff members proposed sessions, they used post-it notes with the title of their session, their name, and the room they would use.  As the proposal ideas came in, it was helpful to have one person looking for duplication (similar sessions could be combined into one timeslot).

Our schedule looked like this:

1:30   Schedule creation, brainstorming, discussion, proposals
2:00 iPad for beginners Conferring   with writers Morning   Meeting Teach Like a Pirate Multi-cult Music
2:35 Yoga for teachers SLO writing Math Sign Language Mentor Text Websites
3:10 Math   Rotation/NumTalk New ideas for using novels Common   Core/ DiscoveryEd Social   Thinking Haiku Deck
3:45 iPad advanced Math Work Stations KidBlog Twitter for beginners STEM Night ideas
4:15   Resources Smackdown

 

Once we got underway, I traveled to every session and tweeted out pics of our staff members in action.  I also used the PA system to keep everyone on schedule.  The day ended with a resources smackdown.  The smackdown is an opportunity for staff members to share ideas that may have not fit into the schedule for a whole session.  Our teachers shared popular apps, websites, and resources.

What did the teachers think?

This was a great opportunity to connect colleagues with a shared interest.  As students like to choose what they are doing in the Daily 5, we also like to choose our professional development.  I came away impressed at the talent and knowledge of our community of learners.  Thanks for providing this awesome opportunity.”
Linda, kindergarten teacher

I was skeptical at first, but really enjoyed the whole afternoon.  I enjoyed both teaching and being an active participant.  The staff came up with a wide selection of topics.  Edcamp provided variety.  In some of the sessions, we could be “taught” something WE wanted to know about.  Other sessions really allowed us to dialogue on something we were interested in.  It wasn’t just a “turn and talk” time, but was really a chance to actually TALK with peers to get their feedback and ideas.”
Brenda, special education teacher

EdCampRHLee was a great opportunity to meet with our peers to share information.  Knowing the presenters made it a lot easier to ask questions.”
Kerri, fourth grade teacher

I really appreciated having a choice in what I learned today at #EdCampRHLee. It was also impressive to see the knowledge our staff has about so many diverse topics.”
Lindsey, second grade teacher

At first, I was very skeptical about today’s professional development.  I loved the idea of edcamps in theory. What is there not to love with all of the choices, opportunities to learn from peers, and short, flexible mini sessions?  However, with it being new to so many of us, I thought that the sessions would be very simplistic.  I was pleasantly surprised with how much information I was able to gather from my colleagues.  I have always been impressed with their wealth of knowledge, but I assumed that our first attempt would present our staff with a huge learning curve.  I was amazed with the high level of engagement, support, and choice when participating in my first edcamp experience.”
Michael, fifth grade teacher

I loved having the freedom to move around to things I was most interested in. I loved being able to “move on” if it didn’t hold my interest and find something that did. I thought it was great that we had such diverse topics, including yoga. I learned so much about Social Thinking just listening to everyone. It was great being able to discuss as opposed to just being “talked to.”  I liked sharing our book study informally as well.”
Lisa, kindergarten teacher

Edcamp is a great way to differentiate staff development and collaborate with other staff based on individual teacher needs and interests.  I enjoyed sharing ideas and learning from other teachers that I may not normally have the opportunity or time to chat with.  Little planning was needed ahead of time and I received ideas I can use immediately in my classroom.”
Julie, third grade teacher

Final Thoughts

Edcamps should be a natural extension of the professional development that schools offer.  Teachers need to connect with their colleagues.  With the pace of change in education, our teachers have been taking on more and more.  The concept of collective intelligence should not be ignored by school leaders.

School-based edcamps celebrate the knowledge of teachers.  When we tap into the creativity of our teachers, we open up avenues for student learning.  If our schools are to be successful, we must include teachers in decisions related to their professional development.  Edcamps are a great way to start in that direction.  Give it a try, there is much to gain!

A Primary Years Programme Primer

The Primary Years Programme will be featured on #mdeschat Thursday, February 6th at 9 p.m. EST.  I sat down with three PYP school leaders to discuss the benefits of using International Baccalaureate strategies at the elementary level.  Their strong knowledge of PYP pedagogy should be helpful to all schools that are seeking to meet the needs of today’s learners.

Jason “Jay” Graham is a PYP Online Lead Facilitator, a PYP Workshop Leader, and a grade one teacher at Badung International School on the island of Java in Indonesia.  Rachel Amstutz is principal of South Shore Elementary in Crownsville, Maryland.  Walter Reap is principal of Germantown Elementary in Annapolis, Maryland.

1.  When and how did your school become a Primary Years Programme school?

Jay:  Bandung International School in Indonesia became a PYP in 2007. We went through a pre-authorization phase before I was at the school.  The process is outlined here:  http://ibo.org/become/authorization/ 

Rachel:  In December 2010, I was invited to attend a PYP training to investigate the program as a possibility for our district.  I attended and LOVED the philosophy.  I lobbied for months afterward for my school to be considered for PYP implementation.  I also began the long process of introducing PYP to my staff and parent community to build buy-in.  Since my school did not feed directly into a MYP school, we could not be identified in the first round of schools.  However, we were selected for candidacy in the 2nd year and have been on our journey to authorization since then.

Walter:  We were officially authorized as a PYP school this year (2013-2014).  This was a three year process that included creating synergy and getting stakeholder buy-in.  I would say this continues even now, but began seven years ago.

2.  Can you share how the Primary Years Programme addresses the “whole” child?

Jay:  The Learner Profile which is at the heart of all 3 programmes (PYP, MYP and IB/DP) is paramount here. Check this document 

Rachel:  PYP encourages educators to be cognizant of the whole child at all times—in planning, in teaching, and in assessing.   The Learner Profile reminds us to develop students who are well-rounded, caring, thoughtful, and capable of exploring topics from multiple perspectives.  More than most other initiatives, PYP keeps the development of the whole child at its forefront and trains educators to be mindful of the social, emotional, spiritual and cogitative experience the child has in learning.

Walter:  I believe the whole child is addressed through the programme of inquiry which looks to address intellectual, social, and emotional learning as well as personal skills.  This is done by placing the learner in the center of the learning and building the learning experience (taught curriculum) around the learner.  Students look to demonstrate learning both in and outside of school.  Action is therefore the goal of the IB learner.

3.  What is the role of formative and summative assessment in a PYP school? 

Jay:  In general formative is ongoing; summative is the ‘final’ showing of understanding.  Each unit in Primary Years Programme (there are 6) has a summative assessment.  I think the role of each is to gauge understanding throughout and then gauge understanding at the end.

Rachel:  Assessment, both formative and summative, is clearly outlined in a PYP school.  It may not look any different than any other school, but the school must develop an assessment policy to tell how assessments are used in the school.  This document is a comprehensive explanation of all types of assessments, the frequency at which assessments are administered, etc.    Therefore in my school formative and summative assessments are used constantly to assess students’ learning.

Walter:  Formative assessment shows the progression of the learner through the unit planners.  These assessments monitor student progress of the teaching and learning.  Summative assessments provide opportunities for the learners to demonstrate their learning through the lens of one of the seven themes around the five essential elements.

 4.  Can you explain how the Primary Years Programme distinguishes between the written and taught curriculum?

Jay:  Well I can point you to here if you haven’t seen it already. But the basic difference to me is the written is concerned about WHAT we want to learn and the TAUGHT is more about HOW we will learn the written.

Rachel:  Certainly not any better than the IB can!

Written: http://www.ibo.org/pyp/written/index.cfm

Focusing on what students will learn and the 6 transdisciplinary themes, skills, etc….

Taught: http://www.ibo.org/pyp/taught/index.cfm

The written curriculum in action, focusing on HOW students best learn.

Walter:  The written curriculum is the district-designed and planned curriculum including the scope and sequence of the documents developed by the content coordinators.  In our building, teachers have flexibility when using the district’s curricular documents to develop the programme of inquiry.

5.  How is your school addressing the transdisciplinary themes that are central to the Primary Years Programme?

Jay:  In my opinion, not well. I wrote about how the homeroom teacher (me), music, Indonesian and Art teacher made explicit connections to the key concepts and central idea in this unit here.  It is challenging  though  and it comes down to directed collaborative planning. We do have stand- alone planners for math etc. when needed.

Rachel:  Our program of inquiry has been developed to ensure that a child who advances from K-5 at my school will experience all elements of the 6 transdisciplinary units.  We’ve organized our program of inquiry to ensure that at each grade level the way in which they address the transdisciplinary themes is distinct from the way in which other grades address each theme.  See our POI here:

http://www.aacps.org/applications/billboardmanager/southses/upload/SSES%20PoI%2013-14.pdf

This document includes each theme’s central idea, lines of inquiry, and key concepts.

Walter:  We are using resource monies from Title One to provide additional planning days with substitute coverage to write and reflect on unit planners.  This means that teachers have a built in day each month to come together as a grade level team and look at how students are progressing through the unit planners.  As grade level teams are becoming more knowledgeable about the students in their classroom and how to structure/align learning, the planners are more cohesive as well as are a better fit for learning.

6.  What has been the biggest plus of being a PYP school?

Jay:  Inquiry based learning, freedom to learn, differentiation is promoted, non-standards based (no tests). I love how kids have freedom to learn, explore.

Rachel:  The biggest advantage in being a PYP school is that the process has made (is making) my staff and me much more aware of our instructional decisions and more intentional about what we do.  The process makes you really think through why you do what you do, what’s best for children, how to make learning meaningful enough to encourage students to take action, and it makes you ensure that students think about the world, the global community and their responsibility for it.  Also, instructionally, PYP encompasses everything we know to be the best practices for promoting effective learning.

Walter:  This programme has changed the culture of our entire school community.  Nine years ago managing behaviors was the biggest challenge as a high poverty school.  Our enrollment continues to be increasingly diverse, but there are more families who traditionally were sending their children to private schools who are now sending their children to their neighborhood school.  The building culture is changing to one of learning and we have been able to align the use of Title One funds to promote a spirit of collaboration.

Thanks so much to Jay, Rachel, and Walter for sharing their passion and knowledge of the Primary Years Programme!  We can all benefit from applying those good PYP strategies in our schools.

You can find Jason “Jay” Graham on Skype at jason.graham84, on Twitter @jasongraham99 and on his blog http://thelearningjourney.org/

Rachel can be followed on Twitter @rachelamstutz and on her blog at:  http://excursionsineducation.blogspot.com/

Walter can be followed on Twitter @WalterReap

Meet Peter DeWitt, Ed.D.

Author, speaker, and school leader, Peter DeWitt (@PeterMDeWitt) will guest host #mdeschat on January 9th at 9:00 p.m.  Peter is a NY principal currently on sabbatical.  He is a great resource for educators who are seeking to understand many of the national issues currently affecting schools.  I sat down with Dr. DeWitt for a Q&A to find out more about him and his professional pursuits.

You are currently on sabbatical.  What are you doing with all that “free” time?

Not sure I would call it free time! Seriously, I’m working on a variety of projects. First and foremost I’m a Visible Learning trainer for John Hattie. I will be working with schools around North America on his approach to learning, which I will get into a little more in the next question.

Secondly, I’m co-authoring a book with Sean Slade, the Director of the Whole Child Initiative (ASCD). He and I are writing a book for ASCD that focuses on school climate. Sean and I are both on the National School Climate Council (I’m the co-chair) which is the steering committee for the National School Climate Center.

In addition, I am writing a book for Corwin Press on flipped leadership which is something I did a great deal of as a school principal, and I’m working as an independent consultant working with schools on flipped leadership, school climate and teacher evaluation.

I’m very fortunate because, although they are all great projects, it was a hard decision because I love my school community. I work with great teachers, kids and parents. I’m thankful my school district offered me the leave of absence.

One of your current interests is “visible learning.”  How do you define visible learning?

Visible Learning comes from Professor John Hattie. Hattie is a Professor of Education and the Director of Research at the University of Melbourne. He did the largest meta-analysis in education which involved over ¼ billion students.

Although it’s a huge amount of research, I would quickly define Visible Learning as the teacher and student working together on a combined goal that they both can see at all times. Three questions to ask, whether you are the teacher or the student are:

  • Where am I going?
  • How am I going?
  • Where am I going to next?

What have you learned from writing your Finding Common Ground blog for Education Week?

This is such a great question because I feel that we should always learn something as we go through the writing process. Writing for Education Week has really changed my life. I’ve gotten the chance to get to know the people that I have long admired like Michael Fullan, Todd Whitaker, Diane Ravitch and Carol Ann Tomlinson. I have also had the opportunity to connect with educators around the world which has been a great experience.

Over all, as I write I am usually questioning something. I may not be questioning another person’s ideas as much as I’m questioning my own long held beliefs. Education is really complicated and it’s often the adults involved who complicate everything. Everyone has strong ideas on what they believe works.

One of the areas that I’m passionate about is making sure every student has a place at the table when it comes to decision-making. I did my doctoral work on how well school leaders safeguard LGBT students, which became my first book for Corwin Press called Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students. I found that in too many schools we have marginalized populations that are not treated very well and that needs to change. I believe writing Finding Common Ground has helped me find my own voice so that I can speak for students and teachers who don’t have the power to speak for themselves.

New York is ahead of many states in implementing and assessing the Common Core.  What lessons can you share with the states that are a few steps behind?

The New York State Education Department, under the leadership of Regent’s Chair Merryl Tisch and Commissioner John King, has done a deplorable rollout of the Common Core to the point that parents want to see the Common Core go away. Before schools were ever provided with the proper resources King and Tisch made sure the 3rd – 8th grade high stakes assessments were tied to the Core, which were ultimately tied to teacher and administrator evaluation.

What’s worse is that the state assessments only provide schools with a number of 1,2,3 or 4 which is based on a cut point. They do not provide an item-analysis of where students did well and where they faltered.

All of this came when they were rolling out the Common Core and now school leaders are scrambling to try to differentiate between the Core and high stakes testing. There is absolutely no trust between the public school system and the state education department which is really sad because it wasn’t always that way.

I think if I could offer any advice to states is that they should see what NY did and do the opposite. I typically try to find common ground but I can’t where this situation is concerned.

How do you balance your personal life with your professional commitments?

Not very well! It’s always been one of my biggest issues. I get so passionate about education that it is hard to turn it off. I love learning and thrive on the connections that I have made with people in my life as a school leader, workshop facilitator or speaker, and through my connections I’ve made on Twitter.

When I was young, my grandparents had all passed away by the time I was 7, my dad passed when I was 11 and I was retained in fourth grade. I struggled academically throughout my school career, was a sub-sophomore because I lacked the credits to be a full-fledged sophomore and graduated fourth from last in my graduating class. I dropped out of two community colleges and was working at a liquor store. Fortunately, I was a long distance runner and I went to a community college for my last attempt, because that school had a X-country team. My coach encouraged me (forced…) to go to the Learning Assistance Center. That semester my grades went from a 1.7 to a 3.86 and they never went down again.

Something clicked with me, due to the family, friends and teachers around me, and I became successful in the very thing I failed at so many years ago. It’s hard to turn that off when you know there are many kids in that same position.

Can you give us 5 “must follow” people on Twitter?

Uh oh…the pressure is on! Only five??? This is not an easy question because there are so many great educators out there worth following. Besides two powerhouses, I’m going to have to go to a few of my New York friends for this one.

Todd Whitaker – Everyone knows Todd but he wrote the single best book I ever read as a leader. That book is What Great Principals Do Differently and it’s a must read for any school leader. Besides that he is an outstanding speaker and has some of the best one-liners I’ve ever heard.

Eric Sheninger – Eric is doing tremendous things when it comes to connected leadership. I’m in the middle of reviewing his new book for Corwin and it is going to be a huge success.

My NY Colleagues:

Tony Sinanis – https://twitter.com/TonySinanis

Vicki Day – https://twitter.com/VictoriaL_Day

Lisa Meade – https://twitter.com/LisaMeade23

Thanks, Peter!  We appreciate your support of #mdeschat and the example you set for school leaders across the country.  To learn more about Peter DeWitt, visit his webpage:

http://www.petermdewitt.com/

P.E.R.F.E.C.T.I.O.N. in Teaching

Is perfection your goal as an educator?  Most of us strive to be the best we can be.  It is hard to truly reach perfection, but it is certainly an admirable goal.  Whether you consider yourself a great teacher or not, you may recognize these characteristics associated with educational “perfection.”

Professional
Great teachers view their work from a professional paradigm.  They consider their role the highest calling.  They are constantly seeking to grow in their pedagogical knowledge.

Excited
Have you ever met a great teacher who was not effusive about teaching?  They bring their students to life because they want nothing more than to share the joy of learning.  You’ll know you’ve met this teacher when you leave their classroom feeling more energized than when you entered.

Reflective
Teaching without reflection is like eating without tasting.  You get the calories, but none of the joy.  Reflective teachers never say, “That was a great lesson!”  They immediately know that even the best lesson needs tweaking.  More importantly, they know that students are a variable in every lesson and how they respond is more important than the content covered.

Flexible
Teachers who are flexible are never thrown off their “game” by the unsettled nature of education.  Flexible teachers allow for teachable moments and going off script.  Students need flexible teachers because they provide stability.

Educated
Great teachers take responsibility for their education.  They seek advanced degrees, attend conferences, and read everything they can get their hands on.  They stay ahead of the rapid changes occurring in their profession.  They are never caught off guard by the educational pendulum.

Creative
Teaching requires creativity today more than ever.  Great teachers are either highly creative or they know how to “borrow” ideas.  They use their resources and colleagues to create engaging lessons.  Creative teachers consistently ask themselves how to make their teaching fun!

Technologically Savvy
The use of technology in teaching has become an assumption.  Administrators who observe teachers expect to see technology used to support instruction.  Teachers who use technology effectively use the SAMR model when planning lessons.

Innovative
The best teachers are the most innovative.  Innovative teachers are better able to reach all of their learners.  When an innovative teacher hits a roadblock she immediately goes into problem solving mode.

Oppositional
Yes, great teachers are also oppositional.  They are confident enough to question their own teaching as well as the beliefs of others, including their supervisors.  They place student learning first.  This makes them comfortable when questioning the “why” behind what they are asked to do.  They are not “Debbie Downers,” but they are unafraid when the needs of their students are at stake.

Networked
Great teachers are networked within and outside of their classroom walls.  They form PLCs with the teachers in their buildings and PLNs with those around the world.  The best teachers are incredibly humble and recognize how much they can learn from their colleagues.

The “perfection” described above is achievable by any teacher who wants to be great at what they do.  The pursuit of lifelong learning is really perfection itself.  Standing still is never tenable.  By seeking perfection you are always moving forward.  It is that pursuit that makes teaching a profession and and a wonderful journey.

The Death and Life of Creativity in the Classroom

(The title of this post was inspired by Diane Ravitch’s book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System)

Creativity in education is dying a slow and painful death.  From the signing of NCLB, to the carrot and stick approach of Race to the Top, there are numerous reasons for the grave state of creativity and innovation in American schools.  Our education system is far too politicized.  Who is to blame for the homogenization of the American school system?  The hard answer is that we are all to blame.

Railing against the system is a futile pursuit for those who work closest with children.  It is a poor use of our time and energy.  If teachers and parents are waiting for the federal and state government to get education right, they will be waiting a long time.  Few state and federal initiatives have ever led to significant gains in student achievement.  While the Civil Rights Act of 1972, the ESEA of 1975, Title IX, and the Bilingual Education Act improved educational access for under-represented groups, they did not lead to significant increases in academic achievement.

The current drama regarding the Common Core is a colossal waste of time for those on both sides of the argument.  Standards are a starting point for teaching.  They provide direction and structure, but they are not the bar.  When teachers focus solely on the standards, they leave something very important out of the equation, the students.  This is where creativity is lost.  Teachers must have the freedom to teach based on the needs of the students in front of them, not on a preconceived notion of where students should be.

So, what’s the solution for bringing creativity and innovation back to the classroom?  The solution is as simple as it is complex.  Let our teachers teach.  Train them, support them, pay them well, and let them do their job.  The federal and state government needs to step back and out of a profession they are mostly untrained for.

What would happen if all states were funded fairly using an accepted formula that is not tied to incentives and compliance?  What would happen if states and local education agencies had the discretion to use funds as they see fit?  Teacher creativity and innovation would likely explode and rigor in the classroom could truly be raised.

An educational revolution is unnecessary.  Schools need not rebel against the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.  In fact, their response should be just the opposite.  Teachers and principals should become experts on the new standards.  Schools should embrace the standards with a critical eye and make adjustments based on their knowledge of good instruction.

With a strong knowledge of the standards, schools can approach instruction through multi-disciplinary, cross-curricular means.  Creativity and innovation can be returned to the classroom by teachers who are able to provide meaningful learning that is connected to real-life applications.  The possibilities are endless when teachers are set free to use their knowledge and experience.