Friday, July 30, 2010

More Than Just a Spark

August is rapidly approaching, which means more of our thoughts turn to the upcoming school year. For me, that means lots of staff development planning. In a three-week period I will lead a Digital Storytelling workshop, a Blackboard seminar, a new-teacher training day, and a “Technology for PLC’s" session.
I do have one more workshop that has been occupying a great deal of my time and efforts. In three weeks I will be leading a District-Wide Administrator’s Academy on the topic of Web 2.0 Tools for Educational Leadership. The audience will be all District and Building-level administrators, department chairs, and lead teachers.


Needless to say, I am thrilled with this opportunity, yet I also know the importance of this day. I must admit, that I did not want the focus to be on “tools” but at the same time, many administrators “don’t know what they don’t know,” so an “awareness” might be a good starting point for all of us. Like your district, we have a wide variety of “tech” abilities, and the last thing I want to do is leave some of those folks in the dust…especially considering the influence they have.

In developing the plan for the day, I have come up with a dozen ideas for creating powerful staff development sessions. Here they are:

Build on prior knowledge: Develop a system that allows participants to share and discuss what they already know prior to the first session. In the spring, I set up discussion groups who followed a handful of blogs of innovative educators, and had them comment on what they read. I must admit, priming the pump took a while; I discovered that several of the people had never read blogs and were apprehensive about putting their comments “out there.” In the last two weeks, with the encouragement of others, the discussion boards have really been picking up steam, and will give us lots to discuss next month.

Know your audience: In my case, I will be working with all of the district leaders. Since the focus is on modeling best practices, many of more examples need to be “administrative” rather than “classroom.” Also, since participants have such a wide range of abilities and prior use, I need to rely on the “power users” to help the novices to create a “differentiated” learning environment.

Start with home-grown best practices: Like all districts, we too have pockets of some great innovative teaching and leading going on “right here in River City.” What better way to model this innovation than to showcase our own innovative leaders. Two byproducts result. First, it draws attention to those who are doing great things, and second, it adds credence to what we are trying to accomplish, and anticipates the skeptics who think we can’t do it here.

Walk the walk…Go paperless: One of the criticisms I hear about using any sort of content management system is that “kids don’t use it.” The answer is twofold. First, design lessons that are more inquiry driven and less “drill and kill.” The purpose of Moodle or Ning is not just to have a place to put worksheets. Inquiry-driven experiences better lend themselves to a paperless environment. Second, make sure the ONLY place to get information is in the content management system…in other words, don’t give a paper option. Keeping this in mind, your staff development sessions should be paperless as well. NO HANDOUTS. Hopefully, you’ll avoid the situation I had. I was running a session entitled “The Paperless Classroom” and had a teacher ask me for the handout for the session. Seriously.

Root it in sound pedagogy: Make sure the delivery of the staff development session reflects the pedagogy and vision of your district. Our District requires all teachers to be trained in Cooperative Learning (Johnsons and Kagan), Assessment Literacy (Stiggins), and CRISS Strategies. Needless to say our workshop will infuse Positive Interdependence, Formative Assessment, and require the use of several graphic organizers during instruction.

Empathize: Many educators have been doing great work for many years, and may question “why change now?” In some respects, they may have many strong arguments. Also, there will be feelings of uncertainty, which leads to fear and rejection of new ideas. Rule of thumb: NEVER start with technology. Instead, begin with a product, or a skill, and work backwards to show how it can be done. A traditional teacher may use lit circles. Show a product of students creating a set of “Cliff Notes” for that book collaboratively. THEN introduce the concept of a wiki. Understand that those people have a great deal to offer, and using that expertise to bridge the gap can go a long way.

Embrace the “leaders”: By “Leaders,” I don’t mean formal leaders. In every educational culture there are those whom others follow. They may be the more vocal or most experienced members of a faculty. If you can showcase work by those people, you are well on your way to create a tipping pint for the whole faculty. Here’s an idea: if you have teachers who are embracing your ideas and also happen to be active in union leadership, definitely showcase their work.

Talk less: As an Instructional Tech Coordinator, the whole school knows where I’m coming from before I speak. Sure, I will introduce ideas, but the more I have others present work, and the more I get them to discuss, question, and practice ideas, the more successful the day will be. I am invited to present at department meetings during the year to demonstrate tools and ideas. . I have learned that the most successful meetings occur when all I do is introduce other department members and let them demonstrate. My role is then to answer questions.

Inspire, don’t preach: We have all seen many videos that focus on how education has to change. However, the in-your-face, we’re-hurting-kids videos seem to do more harm than good. Instead focus on positive approaches that make people what to change. Will Richardson started with this great video a kid created, and his sole purpose was to solicit help on how to build a fire with a bow drill. Another one shows how a guy dancing on his own illustrates how a movement attracts followers. Both are non threatening to the viewer and inspire instead of wave a finger.

Make ‘em laugh: We all learn better when we’re happy, right? When my group is learning how to podcast, my intention is to give them lines from movies, and allow them to do a dramatic reading to share with others. Let’s face it, for the workshop, the content isn’t the issue, it’s learning how to use the tool. Right now I’m thinking lines from Animal House, Airplane, Caddy Shack, Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, and Dirty Harry… Am I showing my age?

Build in follow up: Yes, in my opinion, the last is the most important. We have all endured the “one and done” method of staff development. And we all know how meaningless it becomes. My District is making a commitment to transform our students’ education. I couldn’t be happier. We have already built in time during department meetings, institute days, and planning time to further explore thes ideas that will be introduced. Ongoing, formal and informal transformation is vital.

I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to these opportunities. But one of the first things I learned in my new position is that I can’t do it alone. I can ignite, answer questions, and bring people together. With the help of those people we can continue the exciting journey of doing what’s best for our kids.

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