113/365 I’m Starting a new Adventure

Bud Hunt just got another reason to show up at work in the morning. Starting this fall, I’ll be joining Bud and the rest of the team in the St. Vrain Valley School District as a District Technology Coordinator. It’s a position that will allow me to call on my experiences as a classroom teacher, training in the policy sector, and the work I’ve ┬ádone with school districts and teachers around teaching and learning.

I am excited for it, and excited to be back in public schools again. Certainly a departure from heading a classroom as a teacher, this is still much closer than my last two years of graduate study.

Speaking of those, what’s to become of my doctoral program?

As of right now, it is on hold. I’m availing myself of the option of taking a year away from the program to decide if I want to continue in whatever capacity. I think I know my answer now, but I want distance and perspective so that I might be more certain.

I’m stepping away from the program because I want to be more useful. While I realize some graduate studies are inherently practical and relevant in their implications, I’ve not felt that this year after nearly a decade of knowing it in the classroom each day.

I’m also not certain I’m to be an academic. After hearing my thinking on the subject a few months ago, Sam Chaltain┬ásaid, “So, it sounds like you’re more activist than academic.” That felt right.

It’s not that I don’t think of myself as intellectual or drawn to intellectualism, it’s that I see the world of the Academy and can’t see myself in it.

This year, I have seen myself and taken great joy in supervising student teachers. Nine people allowed me to do what I could to help them improve their practice and prepare to take their own classrooms following student teaching this year. Because of some small part of what I did, they will be teachers and their students might have a better experience.

While there are exceptions, by and large, the path to a Ph.D. does not lead to experiences like this.

I’ve more reasons for the move, and I suspect they’ll find their way into my writing in the coming weeks. For now, suffice it to say that I am thrilled to be working with what is truly a top-notch team in St. Vrain. to move a step closer to teachers and students, and to have the chance to improve education in a way that will both respect my experiences and challenge me to grow.

Learning Grounds Ep. 15: Darren Hudgins and Bud Hunt Talk Learning Design Challenges

In this episode of Zac talks with Darren Hudgins and Bud Hunt about design challenges for learning with a focus on teacher development. The guys also talk risk aversion in education and where it might start.


51/365 What if We Can’t Play?

I had the great opportunity to work with Bud Hunt Wednesday and co-lead a summit workshop at NCCE on hacking the curriculum for the Common Core. A room of 50 educators who work as teachers, IT coordinators, district personnel, librarians and everything in between filled the room.

Bud being who he is and me being who I am, we designed the day around exploration moving toward participants identifying how they could leverage the Common Core to evolve teaching and learning in their sites by hacking the curriculum in the afternoon.

The conversations were rich and the room was full of good will moving into the afternoon.

When we got to the hacking portion, though, it was surprising the number of people who continued conversing about things rather than building something to take back and move their respective conversations.

It wasn’t everyone by any means, and I certainly do not begrudge anyone a rich conversation about practice. What it got me wondering, though, was how much we’ve conditioned teachers away from play and the idea of creation.

The day to that point had been resource-rich and open to many conversations about the problems and goals folks were carrying with them through their workdays.

When the scheduled time to address those problems to, “build the thing you’ve been wanting to build but haven’t had the time,” came, not nearly as many as I would have expected chose to do so.

I don’t know the answers to why, but I do have some ideas and some questions:

  • Did they choose not to because we have built a system where creativity and the building of useful things is seen as devoid of value?
  • Were they restricted by the space (a convention center conference room)? And, if so, what can such a feeling in a room that bears striking resemblance to many school classrooms tell us about what we are doing to students’ own feelings about making?
  • Am I reading the experience completely wrong? Were the conversations in place of making more valuable or necessary before these folks could make their way to creating? If so, what does that tell us about classroom experiences?
  • What could we have done, if anything, to structure the day so that people felt internally compelled to make when given the time and space?

It was a successful day, and I’m happy with the results. People had useful conversation and feedback has been positive. These are the conference equivalent of the questions I’d ask myself after a lesson in my class, no matter how successful I thought it had gone. They are the the weight of feeling like I must always ask, “Why did what happened happen, and how could I have made it better for those who entrusted me with their time?”

I’m thankful to Bud for asking me along today, and I’m thankful to everyone who committed to the experience as worthwhile to improving teaching and learning in their spaces. I’m excited to improve upon it next time.

You can find the wiki for our summit here and the blog posts that came out of folks’ time for writing here.

23/365 Diffusing the Diffusion of Responsibility

I sent an email last week. In one of our classrooms, the one in which most of my classes are held, there was a table with two wobbly legs. It was annoying.

It had been so annoying last semester, in fact, that the table had been pushed to the side of the room so as not to be accidentally used. Nevermind that this also meant removing two possible seats from the classroom, the legs were wobbly, and that was annoying.

Table = Banished.

I talked about the table in my email.

I also talked about an electrical outlet. Given the age of the building, it’s not surprising that there aren’t but two outlets in the room. One is at the front of the room, one is at the back. The former outlet doesn’t work. It hasn’t since I’ve been on campus, and I’d venture to guess it’s been out of commission for quite a while before that. The thing is, we, of the laptop and tablet era, need that outlet.

So, I wrote an email to Sara, the woman in charge of managing the facilities of the School of Education, letting her know about the table and the outlet. For the outlet, I said I couldn’t fix it, but that I’d come grab a socket wrench and fix the table if she had one.

A few days later, I got an email from Sara thanking me for the email, and confirming that letting her know was the right thing to do. Sara is on it.

What’s gotten me thinking in the intervening days is the fact that hundreds of people have likely noted both of those problems in the time since they first arrived on the scene. For the table, it meant pushing it aside, giving up classroom space, and making seating tighter. For the outlet, it meant not having the power needed.

They were simple problems with a clear means of fixing them, and no one had sent the email. They had done what I’d done for over a semester – lived with the problem. When either would come up in conversation, I’d also take a few moments to admire the problem.

It turns out, according to Bud (and wikipedia), there’s a name for this, “Diffusion of Responsibility.” Our inaction is contagious. We could all see the problems in front of us. In some cases, we literally had to adjust course to avoid them. Still, we’d done nothing about them.

The principle came up today when a professor used an example of a student who scores lower than his classmates on a reading examine. It’s likely this kid wasn’t failing for the first time on the test. He’d probably been practicing not knowing how to read for a good long time before picking up his #2 pencil.

What the professor pointed out, and what I’d rather not admit to being likely true, was the fact that the student’s teacher could probably have predicted his score sans test. The teacher, my professor suggested, had likely recognized the problem of our sample student not knowing how to read, but had most likely moved along throughout the school year because he didn’t know how to fix the problem. Lacking the necessary solution, he’d let the problem stand.

In the moment today, I wanted to disagree with the professor, to accuse him of making sweeping generalizations about teachers and argue that it was incredibly likely that every teacher had done all that was in their power to help our hypothetical student.

Then, I remembered we were sitting in a room with a broken table and defunct outlet that we’d noticed while ignoring for more than a semester, and I kept my mouth such.

Learning Grounds Ep. 007: In which Bud Hunt and Zac talk maker spaces, community, and grilled cheese

In this episode, Zac sits down with Bud Hunt for our first-ever pubcast, and the two discuss the need for maker spaces, teacher agency, and the building of the two.