Relationships and Data

Relationships and data are two topics that are often at the heart of conversations around successful educational reform. Can these two be separated? Can you accurately gauge success with only one of these two elements?

Several years ago I attended my first educational conference focused on leadership. The facilitator of a large group session was a well-known and respected educator whose research was data driven and focused on measuring results. As a wide-eyed young teacher I asked, in front of the entire group, Why do we need data? I know my students well, their engagement in lessons tells me how much they are getting from me on a daily basis. He looked at me with a stunned look in his eyes and responded, “we were happy when we thought the world was flat too, how did that work out?” Imagine the awkward silence that followed amidst the 200 or so educational leaders in the room.

I have learned and now speak to the importance of establishing data out of practice to help us understand what is, and what isn’t working for learning. But central to all of this, and before any data is worthwhile, I maintain that relationships are key. This is why I have shared with staff Rita Pierson’s TedTalk Every Child Needs a Champion in which she says, “kids don’t learn from people they don’t like”.

Fast-forward to this past week. While working half-way around the world in Seoul, Korea, my phone rang. When I said hello, the voice on the other end was a student I taught nearly 10 years ago. After briefly catching up, we made plans to have dinner. Catching up over Korean BBQ we shared the twists and turns our lives had taken and it was like I had seen him far more recently.

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For me, catching up with this student was great for many reasons. While I have come to appreciate the importance of data as it relates to student learning, nothing replaces time spent with students. The fact that a former student not only wanted to say hello, but spend time sharing his stories with me and listening to mine. This reinforced that relationships are the key. It is a privilidge to connect with kids everyday. Meeting this student after so many years reinforced that everyday I have the opportunity to make a difference in students’ lives and when I choose to do so, that is how I can create a life-long impact. I’m certainly not holding my breath for an excel file of data to call and invite me to dinner.

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Change Process

To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.Winston Churchill

This quote is relevant as we talk about education, schools and best practice for learning. We know that there are great things happening in our schools every day and it’s important to celebrate these successes; but it is equally important to embrace the notion that we can always make things better moving forward.

I’ve written previously about change and the inherent challenges. What’s interesting is how a completely different form of change I’m currently experiencing is so vastly different from my previous experiences and yet the process hasn’t gotten much easier – it feels the same. Perhaps what’s emerged for me then, is a better understanding of the emotional stages that change brings.

There are likely hundreds of theories on change and I certainly don’t think what I have here is anything new or earth shattering.  My editor/critic (wife) assures me of this! My observation is that there appears to be four main stages that people move through during change. These four stages seem to occur no matter how much lead-time or pre planning is put into place.

1)    The Introduction – the idea is introduced and there are two groups who emerge: early embracers, and a group in denial wanting to protect “the way we have always done it”. Sometimes in this latter category are those who verbalize support, but cling to old ideas and ways through their actions.

2)    Reality of Change – the reality of change pushes people into a state of active resistance or acceptance. In my experience those resisting are far more visible and vocal than those who are waiting out this phase of disruption. The longer in this stage the less likely it is that change will stick.

3)    Acceptance – people realize that change is happening and they begin to stop thinking of the old ways and what is lost. This could be the longest stage and may not have everyone 100% on board.

4)    Production – Once the majority of people have accepted change, we can begin to see the positive gains that were envisioned back during the introduction stage (and usually some unintended gains as well!).

The process can be rocky.  During, conversations can be difficult. My current Principal has taught me that as Administrators, if we can’t hear the word “no” then the word “yes” is meaningless. She is very wise and this is a meaningful phrase. So I’ll repeat and hope some of you pause for thought – ‘if we can’t hear the word “no”, then the word “yes” is meaningless’.

When working through conversations that begin with “No”, “I can’t” or “I won’t” and even the non-verbal cues that are telling us ‘no’, it’s important to remember that someone is working through one of the stages above and we need to work with them wherever they may be along that continuum, not necessarily where we want them to be.

To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.Winston Churchill

Creativity Experience

Vanity would have me believe that I’m a creative person who looks for creative solutions when problems or challenges arise. Recently I had an experience that challenged my thinking about this.

This past fall a reminder came to my inbox with a link to the application package for the Apple Distinguished Educator Class of 2013. Seeing the email, I recalled my excitement and interest in this program when I had first encountered it. Reading through the application I quickly completed the initial information confirming my interest in the program. Then it got tough; the most difficult piece of the application involved 4 questions:

  • How have you as an educator transformed your learning environment?
  • Illustrate how Apple technologies have helped in this transformation.
  • What successes have you seen with your learners?
  • How do you share these successes to influence the broader education community?

The requirement was to address these points in written form and then transform those answers into a 2 minute video. Now the thinking really began. Those questions felt like a job interview, and in a way they were. How would I succinctly and creatively answer these key directives? Would my work stand out from others who applied? Fortunately some close friends with experience in both the film and photography business were able to provide some excellent guidance and advice. First steps were to write a “script” and then film my scenes. First take was over 3 minutes and I discovered that I am NOT comfortable in front of the camera! 7 takes and an couple hours later, we felt like there was enough “footage” to put something together.  I’ve made a few videos, but certainly not to this level of detail and constraints that resulted in a lot of cutting and editing. Feeling like I had to make every word and idea stand out, I had to really learn how to edit and be creative with the micro details.

Do we begin to lose our creative side as we age? Or is it that daily tasks, routines, and habits bury our creativity to some extent, making us feel rusty when we need to really challenge ourselves here?  This project had no limits or specifications other than a 2 minute time limit and the broad challenge of making my written story “come to life”. By far the most challenging aspect of this project that stood out to me was the creative component. My initial instinct was to summarize some of my work. But after doing that, I realized that it wasn’t enough to really stand out in a forum that I feel quite passionately about; the advancement of education through technology. At first I had a lot of ideas that I needed to synthesize. Then the difficulty was narrowing in on a way to succinctly bring these ideas forward. As I worked through the process I realized that even though I like to believe that I am creative, that when pushed to do so I am somewhat out of my comfort zone. That maybe I’m not a “creative” person after all.

I’m very pleased with the final version of my submission. I think particularly so because this was by far one of the more challenging projects I’ve tackled for sometime.This experience challenged me to push ahead and try to get across some of the thoughts that I get when I second guess myself and don’t follow through with ideas that others might view as “outside the box”.

The Final version can be seen here:

A few weeks ago I received an email welcoming me to the Apple Distinguished Educator Class of 2013. I am humbled to be included in a group of innovative and diverse Educators and I am definitely looking forward to the connections and collaboration of this year’s institute. I have no doubt that I’ll be surrounded by innovative thinking and leadership. And although I had doubted my own creativity in the midst of this project, I’m feeling pretty pumped about using this skill with who I feel is one of the more creative companies on the planet today. Now that’s a reward for working through a challenge!

 

Defining Instructional Leadership

I have been thinking about the term Instructional Leadership a lot lately.  Specifically, I am interested in ways in which Principals and Vice-Principals can actively engage in this type of leadership at a scale that influences the entire school. Recently, I viewed a conversation on Twitter that has prompted me to reflect on this more deeply (just another reason I have a PLN and value it so much!).

HTTP://WWW.STJOHNS.EDU/ACADEMICS/GRADUATE/EDUCATION/PROGRAMS/INSTRUCTIONAL

This conversation highlighted one way in which Administrators could display Instructional Leadership. The examples revolved around Principals and VP’s guest teaching and also teaching enrolling blocks of classes regularly. I don’t argue that this is definitely one way in which we can work to provide Instructional Leadership. What I question is whether this practice would allow us to influence instructional growth throughout the entire school?

Please do not mistake this as me no longer wanting to go into classes. I value every opportunity I have to join classes and observe many of the fantastic things that are happening every day.  As we look for new and better ways to optimize learning within our buildings, I believe we also need to explore new and innovative ways to lead instruction beyond joining a “traditional” class structure.

I do not have an enrolling class, yet I teach everyday.  Whether I am collaborating with a teacher or supporting a student, I am guiding a learner forward from a place in their personal growth. Nor am I  suggesting that there is one specific solution as to how we provide Instructional Leadership on a scale that will impact an entire building, but I do believe we need to explore new and different ways to this end.

As I am still exploring this, I ask you: How do you define Instructional Leadership?

A Stereo Story: For the Love of Learning

As schools return to session this fall I have noticed a renewed interest in what learning “looks like”.  With this in mind, it seems fitting that I sit down to write this story the evening before I go back to work.  Indulge me as I explain how I spent the weekend trying to install a stereo in my vehicle and I have found myself reflecting about this experience.

Yesterday was a beautiful Saturday.  I have had a stereo and cd changer from a previous vehicle that I have been meaning to install for a couple of years but simply never made the time.  With little else planned I figured I could enjoy the sun and install the stereo myself.

from pyoorkate: http://bit.ly/o1llgq

There are two pieces of knowledge that this experience has reinforced for me.  The first, is just how easily one can access so much information on the internet.  After a few variations of my Google search I had all the instructions I needed to remove the existing stereo and install the new one.  Finding these instructions so easily has reminded me about the need for us as educators to ask the right questions.  Much has been said about questioning in our classrooms and it reminds me of something I have heard more than once: if our students can answer our questions using Google, then maybe we need to rethink our questions.

I have to admit, that the process wasn’t quite as easy as reading the instructions and simply taking action.  I have only a small amount of experience working on cars and as a result I probably could have prepared myself with all that I needed before starting to work.  As the process evolved I found myself getting stumped, needing a specific tool or piece that would help with the next step.  As a result of these needs there was more than one trip to different stores to retrieve the required materials.

As I drove the first time I was proud of myself for the progress I had made and felt that the purchase was a small price to pay for the feeling of satisfaction I would get a completing my task.  The second trip, I was asking myself if I should just book an appointment to have someone install this for me.  I talked myself out of that, determined to finish what I had started.  While driving out for the third time, I became convicted to complete this job because I had learned so much as a result of running into problems, trying to solve them, then moving on to the next step and repeating the routine.

The thrill of learning something new, as I was experiencing it, despite the set-backs along the way, kept pushing me to get this installation finished.  I worked until it was dark, ensuring that all the wiring was correct, I didn’t want to stop but was forced to without the light.  First thing in the morning I had done all I could do and yet I couldn’t get any sound.  Finally, I had to get some installation advice from an expert. What I learned was that somewhere along the way, the amplifier had blown and the stereo would never work.

When I returned home I went back to work to re-install the original stereo.  This process was much quicker than the previous day and although I was disappointed about the stereo not working, I felt strangely proud at how adept I had become at working with the car electronics and components.

This brings me to the second thing that this experience has reminded me of…the process of learning is so much fun.  Even though I did not get the final outcome I originally set out to achieve, I felt that I had learned so much that I enjoyed the entire experience.  When I heard the sound coming out of the speakers I had a strange sense of accomplishment.

I opened this post thinking about the question of what learning “looks like” and I hope that my Stereo Story gives you a glimpse of what it can look like.  As schools return to session, let’s look at beyond the end result of a finite answer and provide opportunities for students to have experiences that give them a love of the process.