What you believe – do (through choice, delightfulness, and email signatures)

A dry erase board sits atop a cabinet in our office. I reads, “This office believes in: choices, delightfulness, and email signatures.”

It’s been up there since I and two other team members started in the office and we sat down for a few days as a whole team to discuss what and whom we wanted to be as a group.

It’s in my poor chicken scratch penmanship, but this board has had a beautiful effect on my thinking as I’ve been moving through the district and doing the work from day to day.

When you know the ideals about which you care, you tend to orient your actions toward those ideals.

Why these three?

Choice?

We don’t know the best way to do anything. We know several good ways to do most everything. More importantly, as guests in schools and classrooms around the district, we have only snapshots of the day-to-day, moment-to-moment work being done by the adults and children we serve.

So, we provide choices based on what we see and what we want to do and then present them to people with the offer of conversation to help them curate their choices toward desired ends.

Some might think of choice and imagine a tabla rasa of options, which allow teachers any myriad courses of action without consideration of official district goals and efforts.

It’s not that broad. Instead, we look at what is to be done, what we say we want to do, and the data we gather through conversations and visits. From there, we design choices that align with existing efforts while pushing thinking forward and opening up possibilities of what can be created and produced as artifacts of learning and teaching.

The choices we work to provide live in the realm of the district’s established identity. When we started building the Professional Learning Modules for our Learning Technology Plan, we made certain that each module clearly connected with RtI Tier I Interventions as well as the Colorado Teaching and Learning Cycle. With the implementation of a new state teacher evaluation system, we added language to explain how completion of modules would help teachers improve their proficiency regarding Colorado Teacher Quality Standards.

Choice with a mission.

Delightfulness?

You could just as easily call this the Mary Poppins Principle. Whatever else we do, our team asks teachers to learn new things. For many teachers, this can feel like a daunting task when taken as anotehr component of the demands on their time.

Delightfulness, and a mind toward including it in all we do means finding the spoonful of sugar and trying our hardest to make the job as close to a game as possible.

This is all based on the presupposition that people enter into education because somewhere in the acts of learning and teaching they found joy. We believe that joy should live on well past their initial entrance.

If ever you were to come to our office for a meeting, you’d find baskets of LEGOs on the conference table, multiple dry erase surfaces (boards and tables) for doodling on, light sabres, and the odd viewing of a funny youtube video. We want to experience delightfulness so we can remember why it is important to provide it to those we serve.

Email signatures?

We serve. It might look like troubleshooting. It might look like lesson planning. It might look like coaching. It might look like eternal meetings. When you get right down to it, we serve the adults and children in our care.

When people email us, then, from any of the dozens of schools in our district, it is difficult to serve effectively when we are without the most basic context of who sent the email and from where.

An email signature with a teacher’s site, subject, grade level, and any other information can help us to understand a bit about whom of the thousands of teachers we’re working with.

It’s become boilerplate language in classes and presentations. For me, it often sounds like this:

I want to help you however I can and as best as I can. So, we’re going to take 3 minutes now to open our email and make sure you are telling a clearer story of who you are when you send an email. After I leave, your job is to make sure three other people who aren’t in this room right now have email signatures.

It’s a slow battle, but it’s worth fighting. I can’t help thinking it’s also made a difference when those teachers have sent emails to people in other offices in the district. Now, perhaps they have clearer pictures of whom they’re serving.

They are three simple things. They could easily have been any three other things. Somehow though, knowing we are about choice, delightfulness, and email signatures gives the office a sense of commonality and helps me to ask if what I’m doing aligns with what we have espoused as our beliefs.

Connecting Families and Schools: A New Framework

The U.S. Department of Education, the Institute for Educational Leadership board members, and Karen Mapp of the Harvard Ed School unveiled their jointly-created “Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships,” and it’s a quick read worthy of the eyes of anyone who’s ever wondered how to get families and schools working together.

Most noteworthy is the recognition within the framework that both families and schools often require increased capacity for facilitating and maintaining such partnerships. More specifically:

If effective cradle-to-career educational partnerships between home and school are to be implemented with fidelity and sustained, engagement initiatives must include a concerted focus on developing adult capacity, whether through pre- and in-service professional development for educators; academies, workshops, seminars, and workplace trainings for families; or as an integrated part of parent-teacher partnership activities.

 

The framework, itself is only three pages long (plus requisite infographic), so I won’t dissect it too much here. What I will point to are the successful examples of the kinds of programs the Framework can help to create. It’s not as easy to find on page 3 of the Frequently Asked Questions, but helps point interested folks to models of what’s possible:

The idea of this framework sits well with me as an immediately actionable way of thinking about bringing community members and schools together to support students’ learning. It does the further work of honoring the households from which students arrive at schools by outlining a key outcome for school and program staff as the ability to “honor and recognize families’ funds of knowledge.”

I’ll be interested in the next few months to see how more specifics and examples of programs working through this framework come to light. For right now, this looks like a helpful tool and frame for doing some important work in our schools.

#wellrED Week 2

José, Larissa, Scott, and I got together Thursday night in an on-air google hangout to discuss Lisa Delpit’s Other People’s Children for the second week running. While the schedule said we’d be talking about “Part 1″ of the book, our conversation focused only on “The Silenced Dialogue.”

It was a thought-provoking hour of conversation that I’m still mulling over, and likely will be until next week’s conversation. You can read about the catalyst for the reading group here, and join the group here.

As for my part, I’m enjoying having a space to look forward to each week where race, ethnicity, culture, privilege, equity, power, and other critical issues that are easily overlooked in education is the set focus.

Last week, I switched from the print to Kindle version of the book. You can track highlights and comments here.

More importantly, consider joining in the reading. The book is a collection of essays, so you can easily jump in mid-book. Next week, we’ll be talking about pgs. 48-69. Join the hangout or the twitter chat. Maybe just post to the discussion board. Either way, let’s elevate the conversation and critical thinking around these important issues of practice.

The ‘Broader Canvas’ of Design

For longer than I’d like to admit, I’ve had Jack Schulze’s talk from the MIT Media Lab open in a browser tab. Today, I finally made the time to sit down and watch it. The wait was worth it.

Schulze is co-founder and principal at BERG and the 90-minute talk gives some of his thinking around where we are not and where we could be headed with the making of things.

For me, the light bulb turned on toward the end of the talk when Schulze said, “There’s something of a mythology in terms of the idea that utility is as valuable as it claims to be.”

While I’m not a designer, this certainly spoke to the tension I feel as an educator who calls for teachers to ask kids to do real, meaningful and authentic things while also insisting on the value of play for the sake of play.

In naming the mythology of utility, Schulze isn’t denying the place of utility. He’s more calling it out as not the only reason to build things, to design things and to make things. I like that. I like what it could say about authentic learning experiences existing in the same spaces as play for play’s sake. If we are going to have kids make things, perhaps they don’t need to show us their learning, but there might be a more human, more cultural reason for the making of things. Maybe the making is reason enough.

Later Schulze points out, “Culture is a broader canvas than the functional utility of delivering functions or responses to problems.” Again, this strikes the sweet spot of educational beliefs. The cycle present in many vintage educational landscapes is train for test to train for next level to train for test to train for next level to…well, you get the picture.

If educational institutions take the “broader canvas” of culture as our guides, then we need not be preparing students solely for what’s next. We can also be preparing students for the present moment and providing them with playgrounds (literal and figurative) for finding out who they want to be as they picture the cultures around them.

Schulze closes with what design and software can be, “Software and design can be there to increase the cultural value, or enjoyment, or delight, or engagement with something above and beyond, say, adding or refining functionality or improving the user experience.”

So can education.

Professional Learning for Everyone (No, Really)

Some Things

  • Our district has started moving to a 1:1 device-to-student/teacher ration in secondary schools.
  • Our elementary schools will also be getting a sizable influx of devices.
  • There are only 6 instructional technology coordinators (ITC) in the district.
  • Realizing our capacity and teachers’ and students’ needs weren’t quite aligned, we started to design a new system.

Since not long after I started at the district, this project has been my baby. A few weeks ago, it started hitting its stride.

The basic idea is to create a range of 1-2 hour online self-paced modules in our district MOODLE install where teachers, students (anyone, really) can log in and  work through their learning whenever they’d like.

Design

Each module follows a simple structure:

Overview - This offers a description of the main ideas within the module, the driving objectives, and the essential questions.

Investigation - Here is a curated pathway for learning about your module’s topics complete with explanations, links and ideas for learning.

Application & Discussions - In this section, you’ll complete a specific activity related to the module topic that asks you to put your learning into action, and a link to posting and sharing your learning for deeper discussion.

Further Investigation - If the initial Investigation was dipping your toe in the learning, this section gives you a chance to dive in, explore things more deeply, and provide yourself with an archive of resources for shifting your practice.

Wherever possible, the application gives participants a choice of tasks that both speak to the learning of the module and remain open enough to fit participants’ needs.

Realizing that 1-2 hours only scratches the surface on many topics, the Further Investigation section holds all the resources we identified as valuable, but not necessary. The hope is that participants will follow their curiosity.

Implementation

Anyone can look through a module. There’s no need to complete the application if you drop in and find what you were looking for, we’re happy you stopped by.

If you’re looking for something more, we’ve built that too. The fine folks in Professional Development have included module completion in the PD Course Listings. Participants can sign up to complete 4 modules (including application and discussion) for .5 hours of course/salary credit.

What’s more, any face-to-face course we teach has an accompanying, abbreviated module. This way, a teacher completing a course can answer a principal’s request for sharing what was learned in a faculty meeting can reply, “Sure, I’ll walk them through the module.”

Finally, modules de-centralize the knowledge. Whereas there might have been one of us in the office who was equipped to lead a training on classroom workflow or any other topic, modules mean we can all own the landscape of any course. It’s not a script, it’s a container, a bag of tricks.

Alignment

When we started planning, we didn’t want these modules to be “another thing” for teachers. This made it important to align each module with other district instructional initiatives. Each connects with Tier 1 instructional practices, the teaching and learning cycle, and the newly-adopted Colorado Teacher Quality Standards.

Building

Everyone is building these modules. It’s part of the beauty of starting from a basic structure. ITCs, curriculum coordinators, teacher librarians, classroom teachers, and contracted instructional designers have helped us bring 17 modules to life with the goal of having around 50 completed by the end of the school year.

Monitoring

When a module has been created by someone in the school district, that person remains the teacher within the course. They are notified when assignments and forum posts have been submitted, and jump in for conversation and comments.

When a contracted instructional designer has built the module, I fill the role of teacher.

Participants completing 4 modules for credit complete this form when they’ve finished their work, I confirm completion, and sign off on the work for OPD.

Discussion

One piece that’s different for our MOODLE courses is the location of the discussions. While each module includes a discussion portion, those discussions all live in a single course here. This allows all curious folks interested in discussing a topic to find the forums in one place. It meant an interesting course architecture dilemma, but we’ve got it working.

Open to All

Perhaps a unique aspect of our MOODLE install is that anyone anywhere around the world with an Internet connection can sign up for a user account. Thus, anyone with an account, no matter their district affiliation can work through a module.

We also started the project with an eye on openness and sharing. Each module has been Creative Commons licensed for attribution, non-commercial sharing and uploaded to moodle.net, the hub for sharing MOODLE courses. If you’ve got MOODLE, you can install these modules and tweak them to your edu-landscape.

In Defense of the Digital Footprint

Image from acruas via flickrAt least once a day, I hear it maligned – the digital footprint. I’m not sure when, but at some point in the not-so-distant past the digital footprint became a cultural boogeyman.

Hiding under the bed of every child’s future is a digital footprint ready to reveal the darkest mistakes and actions of their past to any future employer, partner, loan officer, or in-law who knows how to google.

It may sound like hyperbole, but listen the next time anyone warns children or warns teachers to warn children of their digital footprints and the tracks they can leave. From folks who love kids and see only the best versions of who they are becoming you will hear language that makes it sound like any kid with an Internet connection is immediately drawn to deviance, felonious acts, and sins of untold peril.

Instead, let’s flip the script of how we talk about students’ (and adults’) digital footprints. Let’s remind people that they have an opportunity to leave tracks online that speak to the kind, creative, intelligent, wise, and collaborative people they are in the physical world.

Instead, let’s not frame their actions in what we would hope them not to do but in the opportunities of what they can do and the imprint they can leave on online spaces.

Instead, let’s ask them to think of the Internet of the place and ask what community service they can perform.

Yes, there are issues of safety. Yes, people make mistakes online. Wouldn’t it be better, though, if an individual’s mistakes were awash in accompanying links to the myriad examples of how they’ve leveraged their connection to the world to do something good?

Talk to students about digital footprints, yes. Just make sure you’re reminding them those footprints can lead to more than depravity.

I’m not the Tech Guy

(There’s little to nothing you could trust me to do with what is pictured above.)

Let me explain.

Back in August, I started working for my district in a job with the official title “Instructional Technology Coordinator.”

If you look at each of those words independently or together, you’ll note that they can mean all sorts of nothing and even a few somethings if you squint.

What it means in practice is that I enter a school, a meeting, an email thread and I am “the tech guy.”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being the tech guy. I know and work with many of them, and the things they do astound me on a regular basis. This is, perhaps, the biggest reason I should not be considered the tech guy. When I see actual tech guys at work, I am astounded. This isn’t the kind of thing you’d hope for from a peer, “Wow, you’re doing our job? That’s astounding.”

The trouble is, I know how to do some things with computers. Nothing very interesting. I cannot make a prezi. I cannot code outside of some basic HTML. I cannot do many of the things I’m asked to do upon entering a school.

This starts to wear on a person – really gnaws at the self confidence. I walk in to a situation with a picture in my head about what it is I do, and you ask me to fix your projector. Sure, I’ll play around with the buttons until something changes. And, then, if nothing changes, I’ll show you how to fill out a work order. A tech guy this does not make me.

I’m a teacher.

A few weeks ago, I was working with the faculty of one of our elementary schools. I was helping them to think about how they could have students create and thing using the camera on the iPads they’d be getting in their classrooms. At some point, it was revealed that I am referred to in this particular school as “the bow tie guy.”

This, I am fine with. I wear a bow tie daily. It is a distinguishing characteristic for someone who is still new to the district, and I’m happy to have something that helps folks remember who I am. “Please, please, plesae,” I begged, “call me the tech guy.”

I don’t want to be the tech guy because I am a teacher. I happen, also, to be a teacher who knows how to use more than the average amount of technology in the connecting with, challenging and forging of relationships with students. Still, I’m a teacher.

Call me that.

When I send out an email letting your building know I’m going to be around in the library for a few hours, know that I mean to help you think about whatever technology is available to you and how you can leverage it to move closer to the learning of the day. I’m a wiz at lesson plans, I can craft a unit like nobody’s business, and there are few things I love more than helping folks reflect about their learning in real ways.

This is because I am a teacher. I am a teacher who uses technology.

I make this distinction for one other reason. It is that I am not so separate as “instructional technology coordinator” implies. The more jargon that makes up my title, the less it sounds like I know what I’m doing inside a classroom. More destructively, that jargon implies that a classroom teacher cannot unlock and possess the hidden secrets of technology.

That’s pretty much the antithesis of my job and why I applied for it. If anything, my goal is to remove whatever mental block keeps a teacher for fiddling around with a program she’s trying to use in her class without fear that she’ll break something.

Too often, those blocks lead to sending an email or giving up when a few minutes on a search engine or tinkering just a bit more would have revealed the answer. “Instructional technology coordinator,” sounds like someone who can fix a problem, whereas “teacher” sadly has come to mean exactly the opposite where technology is concerned.

So, I’m changing my email signature and introducing myself differently from here on in. I’m a Teacher Technologist the next time someone asks. And, if I’m feeling a little impish, I might introduce myself as a Teacher Futurist. It’s a little step, but I think it is important, and it will help remind me of who I want to be in my work.

It’s about time to show we’re #wellrED

#wellrED logoEarly February, I announced that Jose Vilson and I were starting a book group through GoodReads for folks whose lives are entangled with education. We saw a general lack of conversation around the tough issues we face in districts, schools, and classrooms, and thought maybe there was something we could do about that.

A little over a month later, and we’ve got about 50 members of the #wellrED group, and are about to start our conversations around Lisa Delpit’s Other People’s Children. Just looking at the group members, I know this is going to include some great dialogue. Folks from all over the US have signed on to think deeply and listen to understand other people’s thoughts around the book.

You should too.

Pick up a copy of Children today. You’ve got plenty of time to read the introduction and forward by the time we post this week’s questions Wednesday. Then, join us Thursday from 7:30-8:30 EST for an on-air Google hangout discussion of what we’ve read and/or join us for a twitter chat at the same time with the hashtag #wellrED.

Being connected gives us a chance to create the type of professional learning we’ve been looking for. Hopefully, this discussion is something you’ve been hoping for.

If you have any questions about any of the above information, leave a comment below, and I’ll be happy to help you get connected.

Cursive II: A New Hope?

Image via DragonLord878 on Flickr

I’ve been taking notes in my iPad quite a bit lately. It’s the one device that always seems to make it into my bag. Sometimes, I’m typing – but not always.

I’m a doodler from way back, and my notes tend to be all over a page when I use a pad of paper or a physical notebook. I’ve got boxes and arrows and squiggles. If you want an idea of how my brain organizes information, look at my notepad.

Typing notes doesn’t do that for me. It requires lines and linear thinking that just don’t mesh with how my brain wants to organize ideas on a page. That’s not how I hear them and it’s not how I catalog them in my thinking.

So, I’ve been writing. If you’ve ever tried to write on a tablet with your finger, you know that’s an easy way to start hating using a tablet. Unless you’ve razor-sharp, pointy fingers like Gollum, hand writing on a tablet isn’t at all like your, well, handwriting.

Instead of embracing the frustration, I’ve worked my way through a series of styli for tablets and settled on the JotPro. Instead if the foam or rubber tip of other choices in the market, the JotPro uses a tiny plastic disk attached via a ball bearing to help you make your marks. It is the closest I’ve come to something like a pen on the tablet and I like it.

Except.

It makes a sound. I’m a printer by practice, largely owing to my second-class left-handed status. I was the only one in my class with this particular affliction in second grade when we were learning cursive, so I got about a fifth of hue he instruction and it was backwards.

So, I print.

When using a plastic plate on a glass screen, though, this can mean I make some noise. Printing, for me, with the JotPro sounds like I’ve brought some tinkering elf from Santa’s workshop to the meeting, and he’s building a tiny house. It’s a distraction.

About two weeks ago, I switched from printing. I reluctantly started writing in script. It meant the stylus glided across the screen with only intermittent taps. The elf was sent packing. I’ve not regularly used cursive since…I can’t actually remember.

Now, I’m using it whenever I take notes. Slowly, I’m remembering how to connect all the letters. I still pause longer than I’d like when remembering how, exactly, to form the capital “G,” but I’m on my way.

Lately, in many of the conversations I’ve had in our schools around the district’s plans to put iPads in the hands almost every student, there has been much gnashing of teeth about the future of handwriting and cursive instruction. Those lamenting the possible death of cursive speak of it as though it is a piece of our humanity and not a tool developed for a purpose long forgotten.

I haven’t cared. If the goal is communication, I don’t much care the tool so long as messages are effectively sent and received.

These last two weeks have me thinking a little differently. Perhaps cursive has a place in the modern world. Perhaps it is the tool these new tools were accidentally built for (accidentally).

Cursive isn’t inherent to our becoming whatever the better versions of ourselves might be. It’s possible, however, that cursive might find a renewed purpose in helping us interact with the things we make and the capturing of the ideas that surround us.

The Book Group We’ve Been Waiting For

#wellrED logo

You and anyone you care to invite are invited to join the new book group on GoodReads – #wellrED.

Jose Vilson and I have started the group, and our first book study will start March 19 when we dive into Lisa Delpit’s inaugural work Other People’s Children. The book is scheduled to last 5 weeks, with a second book starting not long after that.

I anticipate online discussion forums, hangouts, and twitter chats will be on the schedule as we move forward.

More than all that, though, is my excitement over the conversations we’ll be having. For me, it’s been a jarring experience heading to Colorado after being on the East Coast for 5 years. Here, there is little-to-no practical conversation about race, class, privilege, and all of the other difficult conversations that should come up when we consider what it means for people of all backgrounds to come together for a joint educational enterprise.

I’ll let Jose explain his hopes for the group, and I’d like to think this is a continuation of his EduCon conversation with Audrey Watters – “The Privileged Voices in Education.”

I don’t expect the conversations to be easy. I expect some folks will be uncomfortable. That’s how growth and change usually work. I also expect that it’s an important conversation we’re not having enough of in our schools, in our district’s, and in our country.

Join us.