Leading for Results, Part 2 – Stretch Goals

Leadership is hard work. Leadership is lonely work. It seems that for every success and innovation one has, there this someone who attempts to tear it down, bit by bit, eroding that feeling of success. Reflecting on Day 2 of my workshop with Dennis Sparks on the way home from from NSDC, I am realizing that true leaders must accept that it is not going to be easy, but it will be rewarding. And that the power of a support network is absolutely critical to success.

Day 2 of the workshop used the “I want” cards that we began the day before. We brainstormed a few more cards after being reminded that anything we viewed as a challenge or a problem were really thwarted intentions. For example – “The IT guy won’t unblock Blogspot so that I can blog with my students” is really:

1. I want to have my students express their thoughts and opinions, receive feedback on them and reflect on their learning using blogs.

2. I want the IT department to trust that I will monitor my students’ use of the Internet.

3. I want the IT department to work with me to discover alternatives they feel safe with in order to help me meet my objectives with my students.

We were then asked to select one “I want” card that were we to get it on Christmas morning would have a significant impact in our life. We were reminded that as human beings and particularly as educators, we operate from a point of view that when we select a goal if we don’t already have an idea of how to achieve it, then it is not a reasonable goal and therefore we won’t make much progress. We needed to brush that notion aside and remember that it is easier to achieve substantial change than to do it incremental steps. Citing Change or Die (one of my favorite books), Sparks reminded us that a larger goal requires a fundamental change in our belief system and is therefore more likely to result in change. We were going to take our “I want” statement and make a stretch goal.

We started by re-writing the card for paradise. “I want the IT department to trust that I will monitor my students’ use of the Internet” became “I want the IT department to provide me completely open access to aspects of the Internet to use with my students.” We then had to take that card and rewrite it again, only four times bigger. This was extremely difficult to do because frankly, my new statement was Nirvana!! But after thinking about it aloud with my group it became “I want the IT department to provide all teachers and student with open access to the Internet and for all teachers and students to know how to use it responsibly and effectively.” Not sure that it is Paradise times 4 but you get the picture.

The notion of stretch goals is extremely powerful and it is certainly something to think about when creating a clear vision for the future. However, I know from previous experience that goals that are set too big with no measure of how close we come to achieving it or a feeling of little success can often lead to frustration. I know that my stretch goal of looking like Beyonce by this time next year is an extremely ambitious goal. And while amusing – it does seem terribly impracticable. When it comes to health and my weight, it has always been more worthwhile to set a goal of losing X pounds or exercising for X minutes per day. And while in reality I will never resemble Sasha Fierce – it does cause me to think about what I really want as a fitness goal in reality and make that more clear.

No matter what stretch goals I set – I cannot achieve them without support.

Whether it is the IT goal or my fitness goal, I need to have others there to listen, to encourage, to take action with me. And those people will not be able to do that unless I am absolutely clear about where I want to be. It means that everyone needs to practice committed listening. Not active listening, not listening to respond, not listening to defend – just listening.

As we practiced this with others in the room, I realized that this is difficult to do and that I don’t do it often enough. Many of my conversations involve me doing more than one thing: typing an email, checking my feeds, cleaning out a drawer – just about anything than just listening. If I want people to hear me, I need to start to listen to them.

Returning to work tomorrow – I have set some goals for myself:

1. Practice committed listening with at least one other person every day.

2. Be clear about what I want – and turn those goals into stretch goals.

3. Focus on the assets, not the deficits.

4. Work with my signature strengths.

Not a timid list by any means – but it is the time of year for resolutions isn’t it?

Leading for Results - Part 1

I am at the NSDC Conference in Washington, D.C. and attended the first day of my two-day preconference with Dennis Sparks around his book Leading for Results. Imagine my surprise to walk into a national conference that had no homework in advance of the session, no LCD projector and screen in the room, and no handouts. For many people, these are the hallmarks of a "good" presentation - the notion that when you pay for things (and pay a great deal) you need to have "things" to show the value of what you learned.

Dennis quickly dispelled us of this notion. In going through how he wrote the book (now in a second edition) he talked a lot about his favorite word: perturbed. He used it a great deal and it really resonated with me as I have long been a favorite of the phrase "educational deviant." They mean the same thing : someone who is shaking up the status quo in education. Not in a bad way, not in a "dig in your heels because we are never changing this" way. Instead, in a this is not working, hasn't worked for a very long time and if we don't do something different then we are doing a huge disservice to our students way.

Throughout the course of the day - Dennis asked us to reflect on and write about a problem that if we had the solution would have a significant impact on our life. As we listened to him talk about how to lead for results, he would stop and have us reflect on how using that one tool or idea might help lead to the solution. This was pretty powerful - not just that we were able to take the time and apply it to the problem, but that we started with making an assumption that it just might be the answer.

I believe that in education we work from a deficit perspective- we find gaps in data, we focus on the students who are under-performing, we work to "fix" teachers who are getting it done, we show how we don't measure up to other countries in any number of areas. Rarely do we see a focus on the assets we have in education.

I want to start focusing on those assets. I want to be what Dennis calls a resonant leader: one who creates "virtuous spirals of emotion" in those around them. And that needs to start with me identifying and working on my "signature strengths." We did a powerful exercise do help uncover those. Dennis had us think back to the last day that we were at work. Then think back to the last hour of that day. We then listed our strengths by telling a story of that last hour. I realized that I have some strengths that I often wish were better - things that I am good at but I always look at as in need of improvement.

Finally - we ended the day by taking 100 blank index cards and writing "I want" statements. These could be wants we have in any area of our life: work, family, friends, health, spirit. We had to write as many as we could, one per card. We wrote like this for about 20 minutes and then shared with a small group - one at a time. We then wrote for 10 more minutes. Our homework: double the number of cards we had for this morning.

The point? Sometimes people are a lot more clear about what they DON'T WANT than what they WANT. As leaders, we need to be clear about what we want in order to lead well. We need to speak with the voice of intention and that voice needs to be crystal clear. Clarity is a magnet.

We'll do more with those cards tomorrow - but for now I am just trying to get clear.

Please excuse my class from test prep

Dear Principal:

Please excuse my class from test prep this month. Between today and the NYS ELA Assessment in January are a two week school recess, a possible snow storm, and lots of celebrating. Rather than giving my students another practice test which is driving us all batty, We're going to go to 25 Days to Make a Difference and have a conversation about the theme of the project (Standard 4.R.2.18: Use specific evidence from stories to identify theme - a skill directly assessed every year on the Grade 4 assessment).

We may read Laura's list of suggestions and decide what makes the most sense for each of us (Standard 4.R.3.14: Analyze ideas and information on the basis of prior knowledge and personal experience) and leave comments (Standard 2-4.CPI.W.14: Develop an idea within a brief text) or perhaps join a community of students and adults dedicated to this simple yet eloquent idea.

I hope this note provides examples of some of the ways I will prepare my students to demonstrate mastery of the NYS English Language Arts Standards (as assessed by one test, given on one day) without donating our learning time to test prep. I promise that I'll spend the six days before the test teaching them the rules of the test and how to put their best foot forward. I assure you they'll get their fill of test prep but right now, at this moment, when our country and world are so ready for change, I'd rather donate our learning time to making a difference.

A 4th grade teacher

Make a Difference!

Times are tough - the economy is a bit scary and everyone just seems a bit down. I know how incredibly fortunate I am in many, many ways and so it is only right to share that good fortune.

Last night, I read about the work of two incredible bloggers and what they are doing this holiday to "pay it forward." Over at the Fischbowl, Karl Fisch talks about a great way to support Kiva, which provides loans to entrepreneurs in impoverished communities. He is making his contribution but also purchasing two gift certificates for people to contribute as well. His hope is that the people he gives it to will "pay it forward" and do the same. But more importanty, since so many people read his blog and have seen his "Shift Happens" video - he has a chance through his PLN to make a real impact here. I am joining Team Shift Happens!

Laura started her "25 Days to Make A Difference" campaign again this year and little sister Nina is joining in!! Laura and Nina aren't going to be donating money on behalf of the winner this year - instead they will be doing service work and fundraising. This is a powerful statement about our students - and one that I hope many teachers will join her in promoting. Please consider having your classrooms join her here and spread the word!!

Laura and Nina aren't going to be making monetary donations this year - but I am going to on their behalf. Around this time of the year, it takes a little bit to motivate me to exercise as much as I should so for each day between December 1 and December 25 that I exercise at least 20 minutes a day, I will put $5 in a jar. On December 25th, Laura and Nina can tell me where they want that money to go on their behalf for inspiring me. I'll keep you posted weekly on how I do!! (And I promise I won't let you down!)

So what do you say readers - ready to pay it forward?

Cross-posted on Writing Frameworks.

Notes from the Middle: Formative Assessments, ELA and SED

Spent the weekend mulling over what I learned at the Fall meeting of the NYS Middle Level Liaisons. Here are some notes and thoughts (remember - this is my interpretation of what I heard and think about what I heard!! If you were there - feel free to correct/add/disagree!)

Ira Schwartz - Coordinator, Accountability, Policy and Administration
Ira remains my favorite SED speaker by far - he is open and honest and I really believe that he is working very hard against incredible odds to make sure that all the accountability pieces that have been put upon us are interpreted in the best possible way for kids and school districts. Ira spoke to us about the Growth Model that is currently before the USDOE and what NYSED hopes will happen, as well as a "growth for all" component that is not a part of accountability measures but makes good sense. In this model - schools will be rewarded (but not penalized) for the growth that students who have already achieved proficiency may make. This is pretty powerful as many of the districts in my region that participated in the Battelle for Kids model noted that the students who made little to no growth were indeed those who had been labeled proficient. I am thinking this is a great step forward in thinking and using the data. I still don't know exactly how they are determining growth - but I will leave that to people far wiser and more astute with numbers! Ira's PowerPoint can be found here.

Howard Goldsmith (Executive Coordinator for the Office of Curriculum and Instructional Support) presented with Nancy Noonan (Assistant Superintendent, ONC BOCES) who has served on the ELA Standards Review Committee to update us on the status of the ELA Standards review. This was a pretty brilliant move on Howard's end as we were able to get the perspective of "the field" with Nancy reporting out. Basically - in terms of the schedule that was reviewed again, the ELA standards are now moving from the review to the revision stage - with a first draft of the new standards hopefully available in January for public comment. (No worries - we reminded them that January is a bit of a rough month for ELA teachers in NYS!)

Folks can read the initial report put out by the team here and the PowerPoint slides from the presentation last week are here. Some interesting tidbits:

1. "Without a doubt, NYS is behind regarding standards." Howard made this comment as he was sharing the process the committee used to review the standards and I don't think that it comes as a surprise to anyone, particularly those who have worked at any length with our ELA standards!! What is interesting is that the committee spent a great deal of time reviewing what other states have done and Nancy acknowledged that the group was pretty impressed with those of West Virginia. I have to admit that a cursory glance at them is impressive to me as well! We were also reminded that the regional forums came out with the contradictory charge of fewer Performance Indicators but more specificity. Dealing with that will be interesting! Nancy indicated that at first blush, about 50% of the current PIs will be retained.

2. Which came first - the standards or the test? Howard reminded us once again that it is the standards that drive the curriculum, not the assessments. And when teachers state that they are teaching to the test, they are doing a disservice as it is impossible for ALL standards to be represented on individual tests. No matter how many times I hear this (and this is not the first time I have heard SED representatives say this) and how many times I bring this back to the teachers - I still hear this when I am working in districts. Not sure what else to say on this topic!

3. Literacy needs to be embedded in all content areas - each teacher must be considered a teacher of literacy. I am very grateful that they didn't call them teachers of reading and writing!! I have long held the notion that each content area has it's own "literacy" - as a social studies teacher I have seen this first-hand! Yet, not all teachers see their content area in that way. I have tried for 3 years to run a content area literacy course around this idea just for social studies and I never get enough folks to come. But - with ELA being first up in the review cycle and laying the groundwork for the other content areas, I am hopeful!

4. Viewing and Representing will be included as standards - not too much specificity here but I like the notion of embracing the fact that technology is quickly changing and so the standards will be relatively vague here. Howard was asked about the 21st Century skills and told the group that SED had a contract with the group but that we would be working on integrating those skills into our standards, not necessarily becoming a 21st Century Partner state. Discussions have been held with the group about focusing on things like appropriate use of social networks, understanding audience, validity of sources, and the ethics of communication. IMHO - these sound like pretty interesting conversations at the state level and I am really hoping they translate into the new standards!

5. Assessment, assessment, assessment!! Nancy spoke about the fact that the field seemed to prefer teacher-created (versus vendor created tests) and that the committee would continue to recommend that. Howard reminded everyone that the test development process takes 3 years and that a new RFP would go out after the new standards have been approved. It was here that Nancy commented that we need to use formative assessments on a "minute by minute" basis and Howard added that formative assessment was a misnomer in that formative assessments are a process, not one assessment. I was thrilled to hear those comments from state leaders and am desperately hoping that message filters down - like yesterday!

6. Early childhood development, specificity on text strategies, developing a common terminology and conventions & grammar were all also mentioned but not in great detail. I can't wait to hear more about how these are playing out in the standards revision.

I've tried to weed out the other notes to capture just what started conversation and isn't what folks might already know. We had many other speakers and topics but still digesting those!! Any comments or questions - add them to the comments below!!

Reflections on Social Networking

I had to laugh as I was searching this blog's archives to link in a new post on Plugging In. What a difference a year makes!

LAST YEAR: "I don't have a FaceBook or MySpace account - mostly because I am old (or at least feel like it) and because I maintain several blogs. I network and connect through those."
THIS YEAR: What on earth was I thinking? I have a Facebook account now and while it is not as addictive for me as for some of my friends, it has been great fun to connect with high school and college friends as well as with my current friends. While I have recently been forced to think about the presence of my family on Facebook (Do I really need to know what my godson is doing in Arizona? Rather - do I want to?), nothing gives me more joy then throwing sheep at people! It is the casual side of my networking.

And having a blog, or two or three or eighty, doesn't mean that I am networking and connecting! The ClusterMaps on the blogs show readers and where they are located but the comments aren't always there. Blogging still feels like a one-way conversation (and fortunately, one I still enjoy having!)

LAST YEAR: "I also am concentrating on tools that I think I can help teachers translate into practice - ones that are worth their time learning. I have to confess - I just don't get the Twitter craze. Who cares what I am doing RIGHT NOW?"
After the post I just wrote on Plugged In - I am sure many of my friends (real and virtual) are laughing out loud right about now. I am a Twitter junkie and have found it to be such a valuable resource that I am blushing at my comments from last year. "Ones that are worth their time learning" - how arrogant was I? Sigh.

LAST YEAR: "But I also need to reach those who struggle with the technology and might not have the courage to stray from the traditional. To admit that we are now teaching in a very different world from that which taught us. How do I slow it down and make it more comfortable for them?"
THIS YEAR: Realizing now that teachers don't need to stray too far from the traditional to make use of the powerful tools out there. And have also realized that it isn't about the tools or slowing down (again - who do I think I am?) Instead, it is about bridging the gap between what we as teachers are good at and what many of our students are very good at - meeting them half-way if you will. And it isn't about teaching them, it is about modeling for them. I am not great at this - but I am more transparent in my learning about this.

Now that I have had a hefty helping of humble pie, I am realizing in finding and reflecting on this post how much I have grown and how much more I need to grow. I have become so comfortable with some of these tools and have integrated them into what I do, I realize that I might make some assumptions about the learners around me and their comfort level. I am very comfortable with the tools I know well but my increased networking has helped me realize how much I don't know as well as to start to ask in a very public way.

Funny - I wonder what blogging about my classroom practices (back in the day) and then finding those thoughts a year later would have done that simply reviewing my plan books didn't.

Pondering PD

This is the third draft of my ponderings on professional development and I hope that I do not sound as cranky as the original. I've decided to go with a bullet like format because I really am not trying to make a point, but to reach out to others with my wonderings and get some feedback (push back?). Bear with me!

Lots of feedback lately about how PD sessions are engaging and "lots learned" but how do we know if it really impacted classroom practice and therefore students. Finding it harder and harder to get districts to commit to long term PD with coaching in order to make that happen due to the "time" factor. What is the tipping point?

Special area teachers - encore teachers - teachers in non-core content areas (or whatever the PC term is in your district) provide feedback that they would like more PD on topics relevant to their content area. How are folks handling this one?How do those content areas "fit" into the larger district work?

Seems like districts are suffering from "initiative overload" from the teacher perspective. I am fairly certain that the administration does have a big picture in mind but it never seems to be shared with the teachers. How do we help them with that? Should we be making that clear if they are not?

Wondering if we really see ourselves as learners on professional development days? I started a recent session with teachers reflecting on their students and learning and then made the connection to their learning for the day. Many seemed surprised that would be the focus. Are we so busy with accountability and mandates that we have forgotten our true purpose?

Help me out - before I burn out!

Photo credits: All photos from Flickr (dominoes, puzzle, transparency, reflection, extinguish)

Blogging the October 2008 DATAG Meeting

I wrote about the meeting last year here.

This year's meeting has the largest attendence ever at a DATAG regular meeting. That's a whole lot of data heads in the same room. I was tweeting some of David's comments for those following back in Buffalo but it's hard to take what David Abrams says and filter it down to 140 characters. My tweets were:

*Achievement is up in English statewide, except in Grade 8.

*n from 3-8 assessments - 1,200,000 students in ny. Thought it was higher

*"dis-intuitive" new word - describing the role of new language acquisition and NYSESLAT assessment. David has hit his verbal stride.

*"we are persistent because we're New Yorkers. And we're loud."

*12 minutes ago from web what happens when you change standards and implement new exams? Bigger bump at year 2 than expected.(math)

*David just reeled off about 10 different statistics about schools in ny. Sexy.

"degenerative rhetoric" - describing mathematics as a mastery skill

*FYI - David began his presentation by saying he isn't talking to be understood, he expects some won't understand him. "Deal with it."

*NY is one of the most tightly coupled states around testing. Arizona is at the other end of that spectrum.

I think he shared something very important about Algebra but I'll have to listen to the recording to figure it out. If David were hooked up to an MRI machince while talking, I imagine it would look like fireworks at Disney World. In the space of two minutes, he gave a commentary on Pie Charts, an anecdote about students graduating early from High School and comments about the rules of large numbers. He added a quick aside about the fact that someone people wouldn't come back next year because of him and shrugged, pretty much saying "this is the system. If you want to be a part of it, learn how it works".

His PowerPoint is below. I'll figure out a wy to post the audio later.


I think that the title of this post sums up how everyone is feeling lately. Educators are wondering what "school" will look like in the future and everyone is wondering what our finances/lifestyles/government is going to look like tomorrow. It is a crazy and amazing time to be alive.

I miss my social studies class with everything that is going on in the world right now. The teachable moments, the opportunities to push student thinking and the possibilities are endless right now. I keep trying to pump up the teachers around me to discuss these things in class, but at times it seems like we try to insulate our kids while they are in school.

I've also been in faculty rooms lately where I have heard teachers say they aren't intending to vote - that their vote doesn't matter - that everyone knows how the election is going to turn out anyway. (Do we? I mean really - have people not learned anything from the past?)

I'm not trying to espouse any political viewpoint here - just encourage everyone to be active citizens this November. And this video just summed it all up for me...pass it along to five friends!

How the hell do you get people to dance?

Constant readers of this blog (both of you!) will recall that Jenn shared the "Where the Hell is Matt?" video with us in June and it is something that sort of set the theme of the summer for me. It really captured the idea that our world is indeed flat, but even more importantly, we can find joy in the smallest of things.

In my feeds today, I ran across the video below where Matt explains how we got people to dance with him using a presentation method called "Ignite": a five minute presentation using 20 slides, each slide advanced automatically every 15 seconds.

There is a lot that I love about the presentation. First, the style which calls into play some real creativity and use of time (21st century skills if I ever heard them!) Second, it was done at a conference called Gnomedex which sound a little like a techie TED conference. And thirdly, the technology and resources that Matt used to make those incredible videos.

Watching Matt in all of the videos, including this one, makes me smile. Of course, Jenn and I convinced some folks to dance with us this summer as well but in a much more low tech and local way. We'll never share that video outside our community but it makes me smile just as much as Matt. How can you get people to dance with you?

New Beginnings - Part 2

OK - so maybe, just maybe you will find a picture of me under the definition of gullible in the dictionary. But I really did want to believe that the student featured in the last post was genuine - that he created and delivered the speech because he believed. Turns out - he didn't.

But in reading that post and the comments that followed I started to think about what really hit me about that clip. Sure, that kid was a powerful speaker. And yes - it was a great way to start a new school year. But more than that - the message was that we should believe in our students and in each other. Does it really matter that someone else wrote that speech? Does it really matter that he practiced since June to deliver it?

He believed he could do it - he wins contests in public speaking. Somewhere along the way - lots of people did believe in him.

So - if you ignore the nay-sayers out there and the people who say it was a sad display of marketing and get down to the core of the message for educators: Do YOU believe?

Do you walk into your classroom each morning believing in the potential of the students who are sitting there? ALL of them?

Do you believe in your colleagues and their ability to reach and teach - not just their students but each other? ALL of them?

Do you believe in your administration - from principal to superintendent - and their ability to lead your building, your district? ALL of them?

And most importantly- do you believe in yourself? Believe that you make a difference? That what you do matters each and every since day? ALL of them?

And if you don't - why is that? Why aren't you doing something to restore that faith in yourself, your students, your profession? Teaching can be absolutely exhausting. And it can be the most rewarding thing that a person does. I believe in you - why don't you?

New Beginnings

Driving to work this morning and forgetting about the extra 10 minutes that school buses can add to my commute - I passed the many students waiting outside for the bus. Some in new clothes, most with an incredible air of despondency (for the end of summer) and anticipation (for a new school year) and all preparing for a new beginning.

Depending upon where you work - the first day of school for students can have a very different feel from the first day of school for the teachers and staff. The students some how add an extra level of excitement and anticipation for the school year - it somehow isn't real until they arrive. Each year for me was a time to set new goals for myself and my work, to make it that much better for this group of students than it was in previous years. It was about building relationships with my colleagues and trying new things to engage and inspire our students.

Now that I work with teachers more than students - it still has the same feel for me. I can support and encourage their work and be much more objective about the impact they have on their students than they are. Teachers can and do change the world.

This year is an especially difficult year for a district in which I am honored to work two days per week as curriculum coordinator. We lost a student yesterday - an incoming freshman - in a tragic ATV accident. To begin the school year in such a way is difficult. But the teachers and staff and community have pulled together to help students (and each other) through this difficult time. Neighboring districts have also reached out a hand to lend support and a shoulder to lean on. They are not immune to loss - one district ended their school year the same way that we are beginning.

In times of loss, we often wish that we could have one more moment to say a final "I love you" or "I am sorry" or "You mean the world to me." We don't get those moments back but can learn instead to make sure that we say them to others on a regular basis. As schools in our region come to session this week and we all have new beginnings - I think this student from Dallas has said it to those that matter to him. Will you say it to those that matter to you?

Cross posted on Writing Frameworks.

If not now, when?

A conversation from a recent professional learning session with teachers, where I was able to learn alongside them (rather than in front of them):

Presenter: What are some of the challenges educators will be faced with in the coming years?

Administrator: I am worried about the fact that with all of the things that kids are able to do outside of school, the only place they are bored is inside of school.

Presenter: Well, Goodlad has said "School is a place where kids go to watch adults work!"

Teacher: And how did they get that way? We trained them that way!

Our two days together started with that dialogue and came full circle today, after investigating learning styles and strategies and hidden academic literacy, when a teacher asked: "Since we have trained them so well to be passive, how do we help teachers persist when our students don't want to think in our classrooms, they want to be told?"

My summer has been full of investigating and researching what people are calling "21st Century Skills." What are they? What do they look like? Are we teaching them? How do we teach them?

My team of staff developers will be joining the team of our neighboring BOCES to explore the various definitions people have created for these skills and try to create a common meaning to use in our region and then begin to model and integrate into our learning. I am excited by this and the possibilities for collaboration and quality work that it can produce. But I am also tempered a bit by reality.

I don't believe that 21st century skills are all about technology. But I do believe that technology is a means to developing 21st century skills and schools. However, I fear that by the time education catches up, it will be the 22nd century and we have absolutely no idea what that will look like! (That may be a bit of an exaggeration on my part but I think it emphasizes my recent frustrations nicely!)

I have worked the past three years on trying to exercise the right side of my brain, to read business literature on what matters for employers and learning how technology can make more work better, faster, more transparent, and more collaborative. Along the way - I have asked others to dip their toes in that same pool. I am not sure that a critical mass has done so and I am not sure how to reach that critical mass.

I am not a well-known edublogger like Will or Sheryl or Gary or any of the many others I follow on Twitter and my RSS feeds. But I have tried to make a small difference in my corner of the world (I can say corner now that the world is flat - right?) And the number one reason that I hear from very busy teachers for not using new technologies to enhance the work of their classrooms and engage their students is time.

I don't have time to learn the tools.
I don't have time in my curriculum to teach that way.
I don't have time to teach kids to think, I have a test to prepare for.

I am growing weary of time as an excuse. And I, too, am growing weary of the digital native/digital immigrant excuse. When I think about the very pointed questions and conversations we have had over the past two days, I think about about our students.

If they are not worthy of finding some time, who is?

If not now, when?

My Great Escape

Now that I have finally stopped physically traveling and instead spend my evenings in Bejing - I have found some time to play with new technology tools and upgrade some others!! It leaves me constantly in awe of what is available out there to help us collaborate and connect, yet it also makes my work more efficient.

Some recent faves (please be sure to add your own!):

1. The upgrade to delicious!! Careful readers will notice right off the bat that all of the periods have disappeared from the name!! This makes it a bit easier to access but does take all the fun out of it!! And that is the only downside that I can see. I haven't finished exploring all that it can do differently - but I love having an "inbox" for the things that people tag for me right on my screen. I'll post more if I discover anything earth-shattering but in the meantime, you can read what Will Richardson thinks. Oh! And don't forget to join my network and tag something for me (tgray)!!

2. Also enjoying the Beta version of Bloglines that is available - much cleaner way to view my feeds and I can put my favorites on the opening page. Looks a bit more like Google Reader which I like a lot - but don't use much because it is still blocked at work. Certainly worth looking into!!

3. I blame Jenn 100% for my latest addiction - Facebook!! Catching up with old friends, connecting with new ones, creating a flair board like I had in college, throwing sheep - I am having a blast!!

I have more - but I don't want to InfoWhelm as Ian Jukes would say. So - what is your latest technology escape?

Which are you?

Before I start posting about my week at Communities for Learning, I want to recap some of the powerful learning that happened for me last week at High School's New Face. This conference is an amazing joint effort between our regional BOCES and a great chance to work and learn alongside our districts. The line-up this year was amazing and all the sessions, key notes and panel presentations seemed to really fit and build upon one another. I have to say that for me, the conference hit it's highest note with the speech by NYS Teacher Richard Ognibene from Fairport, NY.

Richard spoke powerfully about his students and his profession and laid out three challenges for educators:
1. We must create family in our schools.
2. We must use assessment wisely (and humanely!)
3. We must promote the teaching profession.

These three really hit home for me as they are the very things that I wrestle with in my position leading professional learning opportunities and some of the very things that I am wrestling with at Communities for Learning.

Creating family - or community - in schools is an important piece if we are to engage our students. Doesn't everyone do more for someone they like and respect? When was it we stopped trying to create and instill a sense of respect between students and teachers? Community for me goes even beyond this - it is a sense that one will work towards bettering the community and the place in which it resides. As Ken Kay and Tony Wagner both touched on at the conference, we do need to teach our students 21st century skills in order to ensure that they can compete globally - but also so that they can leave our globe a better place than it is now. We must help them create their legacy.

Unfortunately, many will blame the mandates of NCLB for the reasons why we cannot or do not create this community. "We must teach to the test" is a line I hear over and over and over again. Readers of my blogs know that I personally subscribe to what I call the Diffendoofer Philosophy and that we must teach our students to learn - that will help take care of the test. Richard spoke wonderfully about the humane use of assessments, not just summative tests and rightly said that the more complex the content or topic, the more we must use formative assessments to determine whether our students are grasping it. Are we creating a generation of good test takers or a generation of thinkers? Are we practicing 21st Century skills ourselves as teachers if the only problem-solving and higher order thinking we do is complain that we can't teach the way we used to because of tests?

I have long been puzzled by the fact that so few in our society view teaching as a profession - including those who are within the profession. Sure - I have run up against the cranky teacher who as 2 years left and wants to dig their heels in and not try something different. But I have also witnessed amazing growth in teachers as they learn something new and become re-engaged in their own learning. How do we create situations for that to happen, not in isolation but in community? How do we show students that we so love our content and our profession that they want to be just like us and become teachers too?

I found this quote while catching up on my feeds today (thank you Passionately Curious!):

"All mankind is divided into three groups: those that are immovable, those that are movable and those that move.” — Benjamin Franklin

I might not know the answers to all the questions that I posed above but I absolutely know which group I want to be in!

NYC Rigor Institute

I've had the pleasure this week of working with an incredible group of New York City educators around academic rigor. I'm going to hijack Grand Rounds for a bit to use it as venue to share our handouts and links to different files.

If you participated in the LCI Institute, please click here to take the evaluation survey

My turn

I ddin't like my first one but when I hit random. . . this came up. I like the simplicity of it. Plus it demonstrates my clear love of all things Excel.
As an added bonus, check out the video below. About a minute into it, I actually found myself tearing up. The tears fell when he and the women in India appeared. Raw happiness does that to me, I guess!

Tag - You are IT!

I have been thinking a great deal about technology lately - more specifically about the role that technology does/should play in education. I was asked recently how I would assess the effectiveness of technology in raising student achievement and was uncharacteristically stumped for a bit. I am not sure that we can attribute increases in student achievement to the use of technology alone because there are so many other things that might happen at the same time as the technology use: a change in teacher pedagogy, increased student voice and choice, increased collaboration, increased motivation (teacher and student) - I could go on and on.

I have been thinking about the increase in my own technology literacy over the past few years. I recently unearthed the typewriter I used in college (yes - a typewriter!). What was super duper cool about this typewriter was that it stored almost a paragraph's worth of work before I hit a key and it typed it out onto the paper. The beauty of this gadget was that I didn't have to fight with the crazy eraser tape when I made mistakes or wanted to edit. What a change from the way that I do business now!!

While that might be a giant leap for mankind - I have made even greater leaps just this past year. Previously a person who could not wrap their head around Twitter - I am now "twitterpated" and get very frustrated at some glitches that have been happening lately. I also start to think that something is wrong when I don't hear what Angela is doing around the house, how the Yankees are doing from Brian or how boot camp was for Jenn. I get updates on my phone and via the web just to stay in touch using 140 words or less.

I think that speaks to the power of my personal learning networks - whether Twitter or Ning or del.icio.us or (gasp!) in person - I learn better with others. Is it the technology that has increased my learning this past year or is it the network that happened as a result of the technology?

I am not sure that I have an answer - but through my network I learned about a very cool technology tool that allows me to reflect on what I have been interested in learning and reading by creating an image that reflects my del.icio.us tags:

Here is the challenge - using Wordle (or any other tool) how you would capture what you have been learning over the past year? Tag - you are it!


I don't think I realized how connected I am to being connected until I received the image above on my computer. "What was I doing?" you ask?

Catching up on my RSS feeds with Bloglines, Twitter, updating my GoodReads account, posting a new Writing Frameworks post, email, Skyping Jenn and waiting for the cube to stop spinning in the DataWarehouse where I am pulling ELA data that I cannot share.

Except for Skype and e-mail I was in the penalty box for 12 very long minutes!! How was I supposed to get any work done? After laughing and being taunted by Jenn sending me sites to read and getting really frustrated when I couldn't Google an answer, I started to open up Word in order to write this blog post. My mind was pretty quiet - for the first minute. And I swear I could hear the crickets chirping in the school.Then I started to get antsy. Very, very antsy.

Is this a problem or have I just grown used to a different way of working?

Passing the Word (Deadline Noon May 5)

I've discussed my discomfort for some of the things that have from ASCD before, but discussion isn't action. A superintendent is working diligently to help ASCD think differently. To that end, he is looking for volunteers to sign up on his wiki (huh - just went back to the site to get the link and someone wrote over top of mine). His goal was 50 - the next target is 100!

Playing with Pictures

It is raining and I am resting up for the Elvis Costello/Police concert tonight so I decided to finally download my camera and play with the photos. Hours later - I have not only ordered some really cool Mother's Day presents, but I messed around with Picasa and ScrapBlogs some more.

Picasa is a Google Application (all you need is a Google account and it is free) that allows you to not only store your photos but add some interesting features. One that I just love is being able to turn your traditional color photos into sepia. I ended up falling in love with this one of my second grade niece - so much so that I ordered copies for the whole family!!

Feeling suddenly artistic - I decided to create a Scrapblog of our recent trip to Aruba. The end result is here:

I thought I would share how easy this was to do because I could think of a million applications for education:
1. Scrapblogs of field trips or other school events
2. Individualized pictures for the end of the year as gifts
3. Photo editing that can go into blogs, newsletter, school calendars, websites
4. Powerpoint presentations for end of year parties

Any others?

NYS ELA Standards Forum

On April 18, an e-mail went out across New York State announcing the beginning of a conversation about the New York State English Language Arts Standards. I had the same conversation a few times when discussing plans to attend the meeting.

"It's about writing new standards." One person would say.
"New standards? They just re-wrote the standards in 2005!" Always said with a slight hint of disbelief.
"These are the NEW, new standards." Emphasis on the first new.
"Oh for crying out loud" or some such variation.

Although it feels like NYS just released new standards in 2005, what I think I heard come out of the meeting is the documents released in 2005 were a restructuring or repackaging to bring them into closer alignment with the yearly state assessments. Previous standards were clustered by grade level and not grade specific.

So what is about to begin is a rebirth of the standards. I'm sure there are lots of analogies to follow there but I'm going to leave it alone. The first meeting was held here in Buffalo and was well attended. Afterwards, I talked to two people from charter schools who weren't sure if they were allowed to attend. Hopefully, future meetings will have a full representation from as many constituents as possible.

Theresa and I decided to Twitter the meetings. Not with any particular communication goal in mind but just to see if the tool could be used in that way. I was luckier than Theresa as my phone has a full keyboard and web access, making it easier to quickly enter text. The highlight of the Twitter experience was when Theresa began to get all of my Tweets at once - in the wrong order. The Tweets are below and though I think the tool may not work as a note-taking measure, it did cause me to think differently about what I wanted to remember and document. You can see below what I considered "Tweet-worthy".

A few general observations/questions about the new standards process:
1. Where are the students? There was lots of mutual admiration about including as many educators as possible, but not one mention of the group that will actually be (in theory) benefiting from the new standards.

2. The view of technology is an interesting one. Several times it was mentioned that it has to be integrated and included. It would seem to suggest that it's an add-on, rather than a way of doing what needs to be done. Theresa articulates the role of Web 2.0 better than I can. (Sorry, Theresa, I couldn't find the link to your wiki!)

3. If they aren't released with logical, key word linked codes, I am going to throw a temper tantrum of epic porportion.

DataDiva: @ nys regents ela forum in buffalo with theresa, angela, and many others!
DataDiva: Phil Rumore the president of the Buffalo teachers union just arrived. Good to see a union presence!
DataDiva: opening remarks by Don Ogilvie
DataDiva: intent of forum: articulate understandings of the standards
DataDiva: Chancellor Bennett making intros
DataDiva: nys goal is all kids on grade reading by Grade 2
DataDiva: proposal to board by july 1
DataDiva: regents saul cohen (sp?) is coordinating the redesign. Will be transparent, will have a space for comments on website
DataDiva: call to field for help from classroom teachers
DataDiva: principles - 1. Include 3 levles of standards (stdent, teacher, system)
DataDiva: 2. develop a single set for each content areas
DataDiva: 3. Infuse literacy throughout all content
TheresaGray: NYS ELA standards review- "techology must be integrated in all content areas"
DataDiva: 4. Infuse cultural competences
DataDiva: 5. Develop measurable standards.
DataDiva: 6. Review prek-12 standards for seamless curriculum
DataDiva: 7. Integrate technology
DataDiva: website: www.emsc.nysed.gov/cis
DataDiva: Questions. 1. How is the content and substance of the current standards?
DataDiva: 2. How is the organization and format of the current standards?
DataDiva: 3. Are the current standards measurable?
DataDiva: ? From phil r. Regarding % of teachers on committee
DataDiva: a: mostly teachers on writing committee
DataDiva: limited to sharing one bold bright idea
DataDiva: Breaking into small groups
DataDiva: Lots of debate about what teachers need to use the standards the word "suckable" is being used
DataDiva: We identified the need for vertical connections. End of grade 3 should match beginning of grade 4.
DataDiva: tables sharing out - mirrors what our table said
DataDiva: lots of big picture ideas.... need for common training, conversations
DataDiva: here's a nitty gritty idea - if the grade 12 standards reference "main idea" - code that (ie) 12.2.1. p-11 standards that reference main id should also have the code X.2.1
TheresaGray: Interesting how often a discussion of standards moves to testing and often inaccurately
DataDiva: applause for a teacher who said the data from ny state should come faster so teachers can use them *sigh/facepalm*
DataDiva: the train has officially left the tracks!
DataDiva: "WNY is the most important place to start" you know it!
TheresaGray: Great point about need to include GED students in the standards

Fish is Fish

As a social studies teacher, I can trace my love of history back to two things: my grandfather and his amazing stories of the history of our family and my sophomore high school teacher who taught history as a series of stories versus a series of lectures punctuated with answering questions at the end of the chapter. After several detours, when I finally entered teaching I vowed to instill that love of history into my students loudly proclaiming "This is not your father's social studies class."

I am not sure that I was entirely successful with all students but what I was trying to instill in my students was that history is not about memorization but about reasoned thinking using what it is that we know and the assumptions that we make. I wanted my students to think like historians - not just regurgitate things back to me. And my hope was that they would carry these skills over into life - where it was so much more important to understand things than worry about a grade.

Years later, as I lament about how I could have been a much better teacher if I only knew then what I know now, I have been reading and thinking about adaptive expertise. This podcast will help to explain the notion (and the title of this post) a bit better.

Some important thoughts from the podcast:
1. Students are not blank slates - new understandings are constructed on a foundation of existing understandings and experiences. We use what we have already learned to shape new understandings - sometimes correctly and sometimes incorrectly.

2. Learning with understanding is critical!! It can guide our actions and requires a deep foundation of factual knowledge.

3. Students must become meta-cognitive - that is, we must teach them to monitor and take control of their own learning.

If we want our students to develop adaptive expertise in order to meet the as-yet-unknown demands of the future they will graduate into, won't we have to change the delivery methods of our classrooms? I am not just talking about integrating technology (although that is something I feel strongly about) but about reframing how we teach. Consider this example (complete source found here):

The topic for science class is the human body, in particular veins and arteries. Which class would you rather be in:
a) Stand and Deliver, Mnemonics, Recall
b) Challenge question : How do we design an artificial artery? (understanding/context)

Of course the answer appears obvious - but how many of us actually learned in that type of environment? How many of us can honestly say we teach on a regular basis in that type of environment?

If our students need to develop adaptive expertise - what about us? What about the teachers? How can we develop the adaptive expertise of teachers?

Think Pink!

I recently finished reading Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future. The premise is relatively simple: the "left brain" jobs that people aspired to in the past (lawyer, accountant, software engineer) will fall by the wayside as a new kind of mind (the right brain thinkers) will emerge as a force for the future. The good news is - teachers are considered right brainers!!

More than laying out a different type of plan for future, the book actually contains a very nice "portfolio" piece after each of the six essential R-Directed aptitudes. This book had a high Post-It note quotient, which makes it a really good read. But as I began to digest some of what I was reading, I realized that writers are really right-brained as well and if we develop some of these six aptitudes, well - writers will rule the future!!

Design: Described as a whole minded aptitude, the focus is on an combination of utility and significance. Granted, most elements of design have to do with the aesthetic and the visual. Being useful without words. But with writing, it also has to do with how the work is presented. What type face is used. Cursive or print. The break of lines in a poem. There can be design in writing, to enhance writing, thereby increasing the significance of the words.

Story: This one is obvious - I thought. But what really struck home is the following passage; "When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact." What more powerful reason to create rather than cut-and-paste?

Symphony: The ability to put together all the pieces - to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields - to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair. Metaphors are a piece of symphony, as is every great novel that kept you reading because of the unexpected.

Empathy: The ability to imagine yourself in someone else's shoes and to intuit what that person is feeling. Good writers are able to capture that in their writing - great writers help others to feel it tool.

Play: There is great research in this section about the power of joy and laughter and play. The connection to writing for me was that writing has not become something of joy and laughter and play. It has become something that we make kids "do." Think of how many times a student has been punished by having to write something multiple times (including test corrections.) How can we add more play into writing?

Meaning: According to Pink, it is the search for meaning that drives us all. What better way to do that than thru writing? I think about all the problems I have solved by getting them out on paper, how journaling has helped me to think through what I am feeling, how creating a story has helped me to see the path that I must take. This is the power of writing.

My apologies to Mr. Pink if this is not how he intended his book to be used but I have not been able to stop thinking about the connections to writing and what we can do to inspire and grow these six aptitudes in our students through writing. Any thoughts??

Cross-posted on Writing Frameworks.

Reading Online

Seems that I am being challenged on many fronts around my thinking about technology tools lately. And I don't mean challenged in any sort of a bad way - but rather, a way that makes me think a great deal about why I have personally embraced these tools and the value that I see in them for our students.

Let me preface this post by saying that I am in no way an authority on the use of these tools. For the past year and a half, I have dabbled with them in the course of my own work, integrating them into what I do and attempting to model them for teachers. There are tools I use on a regular basis (wikis, blogs, Google Groups and Reader, del.icio.us), tools I need to learn more about (Google Earth, podcasting, NING) and tools I just don't get (Twitter!!) That being said - I am game to try just about anything thrown my way that I think could have an application to my practice.

Why should someone use these tools when there is so much other work to do? What makes reading blogs compelling when faced with hundreds of emails every day? I am not sure I have the answers that will fit all the challenges here. But what I do know is that I no longer receive the local newspaper at home because I have created my own version of a newspaper online. Through my RSS aggregator (I use Bloglines) - I subscribe to the blogs and news venues that I want to read. I read ones that I have an affinity for, as well as ones that challenge my thinking. I get to pick and choose what comes in my "paper" - I can't do that in the hard copy version. And the best part is that using del.icio.us and the new found tools of Google Reader, I can tag them for future use or share them with my friends and colleagues. Remember those news clippings that hung out on refrigerators? Now they are all stored in my computer and they won't get yellow!

How do you have time to "read" them all? Reading is changing with online tools - no one does "deep" reading anymore.
Honestly - I don't read all my feeds completely. I scan to see what grabs my attention or what will fit into my current work. If it gives me pause - I open up the article and read it deeply, sometimes annotating it with Diigo for future use. If I might use it again - I tag it and add to del.icio.us or send it along to a friend. Has it changed how I read? Maybe - but I still read the hard copy versions that pile up on my nightstand and Borders will not be de-activating my card for inactivity any time soon. But I am willing to bet that I read more than I ever have in the past. Maybe not as deeply - but certainly an expanded amount.

So help me out: Why do you read or not read? What compels you to check your RSS feed? Why should someone use these tools?

The loss of a great voice in education

Richard Wilson Strong, an extraordinary educator, thinker and writer, died January 27, 2008, after a valiant battle with cancer.

Richard Strong was born in NYC on February 26, 1946. He was the co-founder of Silver, Strong and Associates and a member of the Communities for Learning Advisory Council. He was a consummate learner, a selfless listener, and a provocative presenter who deeply touched the lives of thousands of teachers who crossed his path.

He is survived by his wife Sheila and his sons Tom and Danny, by his sisters Alice and Margy, and by his family in heart Ron, Roberta, Jessica, and Giselle.

He will be sorely missed by the Fellows and staff from Communities for Learning and by the educational community at large.

Memorial and contribution information can be found at http://www.richardstrong.legacy.com. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to St. Vincent's Catholic Medical Center Foundation, 130 West 12th Street, MP6, New York, NY 10011.

The Week before ELA Testing 2008

Happy New Year! While Theresa spent quality time with the family and working with Google Docs, I did nothing. Yup. Over the holidays, I've probably spent less than 5 hours at my computer (scandalous, I know!) and even then it was a cursory glance at e-mail or adding music to my MP3 player. I took this neat thing called a vacation and actually did what one does on vacation - nothing. I worked out, hung out with my husband, did some cooking (gasp), saw good movies, and read. I always thoughts "recharging your batteries" was a cliche, but it's one I completely understand right now.

So back to it. Just in time for the latest round of ELA testing. It took me about five hours to get through my RSS feed today - lots of interesting and good stuff going on in the world. Adventures of Data Girl has a nice take on the week before testing. A few of the blogs I follow start each week by previewing upcoming entries. So, here at Grand Rounds, I'd like to propose that this month of months we talk about what's happening the week before, next week what we see during testing, and the following week, the immediate consequences, if any. I'll keep my eye on the media and see if there are any articles or press coverage about the assessments themselves. Let's hope there are no stories about scoring SNAFUs or cheating.

In the meantime, if you're feeling the pressure and looking to set your and/or your students' minds at ease, I"d like to recommend two books. I've loved Testing Miss Malarky since I first read it. The book has several possible implications - test cramming leads to high scores, test cramming isn't that important in the grand scheme - but is a worthy read. I personally love the student who is given fish and the explanation that fish is "brain food". His response? "I thought food went to my stomach."

Theresa gave me a copy of Horray for Diffendoorfer Day and it's a must read for anyone struggling to find what is important amidst all the testing noise. The book was written after Dr. Seuss passed away using notes provided by his secretary. The story itself is wonderfully pragmatic, classic Seuss (Miss Bonkers advises her students: Don't fret! You're learned the things you need to pass that test and many more - I'm certain you'll succeed. . . we've taught you how to think.")

Do you know of any good testing reality check books? Any recommendations for the week before the tests?

Giddy for Google Docs

I have been using Google Docs for a bit now and am pretty hooked. My team at work uses it to craft our meeting agenda and take notes (which we then transfer over to our Google Groups site), I use it to track student grades with my fellow instructor for the graduate course we teach, and I have shared several documents with folks to get feedback. It's not "new" for me anymore.

So imagine how I had to suppress my grin yesterday while at a planning meeting for our district CDEP team and one of the administrators mentioned that two members "found" Google Docs and wondered if we might be able to use them for the completion of the plan!!

Within half an hour - we all met so that I could give a crash course on actually using it and develop a plan to get everyone registered and set for our meeting next week. We had a minor set-back when our IT guy wanted to just go out and register everyone himself and I pushed back. I was honest in telling them that my secret hope was that if the teachers registered themselves they would learn more (teach a man to fish......)but most importantly - they would know how to teach their students to register when they wanted to use it in their classroom.

Apparently - I lept a little too far forward in time for that particular moment. But I am convinced that once the teachers see the power of the tool with our committee, they will find applications to their own classroom. So much so that I've decided to stop playing chicken and integrate it into the writing work I will do with the teachers later in the month.

Breathes some new life into my planning!! And a good lesson for me - the Web 2.0 world doesn't need to be a mystical place. We just need to enter it slowly...

Two for Tuesday: January 1, 2008

Happy 2008!!!

I have high expectations for the upcoming year - despite the loss of my beloved Sabres during a very cool and exciting outdoor game!! I am not much for resolutions - I break them too quickly - so you won't see a post full of promises that I know will be broken. Instead - I thought I would take a look back at our past year of blogging and share two of my favorite posts from the year.

First, A Pig Don't Get Fatter the More You Weigh It. This post by Jenn on an assessment book that she read is pretty much what we had hoped this blog would be about: sharing resources, open and honest dialogue (honestly, I giggle everytime I read this post because I can hear Jenn talking!) and provoking comments about education. Sadly - it also reflects the reality of our blog - the lack of comments that engage conversation. Sigh! Read it anyway!!

The second is a post that I did on the use of technology in education. It is something that I have been struggling with in my practice and trying to have become reality. But, like the title of the post I think that fear is still one of the greatest organizational roadblocks we have to really being able to use technology in a meaningful way.

Looking back - this post has been a great sounding board about the work we do and the passion we have for education (if you doubt me, read this post by Jenn!) I feel like we are still developing this blog and developing as bloggers. We have created the kinds of conversations that we hoped for - yet!! Yet - when it is all said and done, I'm hoping that we will be able to quote Lindy Ruff from today's game:

"We had to battle through some elements, but I think that was all part of the program."