Posted in Virtual Book Club

Review – Learning Transformed by Eric C. Sheninger and Thomas C. Murray

This review can also be found in the June 2019 issue of The Connected Educator.

No one can deny that our schools are not meeting the needs of all students, and in this fast-changing world, much of what we do is often ineffective or irrelevant. So much of how we run our schools is based on tradition and our collective memory of how we ourselves were schooled. We know we need to change, but schools are complex institutions and it’s hard to know where to begin.

classroom with desks in rows
Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

In Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today, Eric Sheninger and Thomas Murray provide a roadmap for change that’s both innovative and practical. The primary audience for this book is school leaders but, as the authors suggest, meaningful change comes from “leaders by action” rather than “leaders by title” and they can be anyone in the school community.

The authors devote a chapter to each of their eight identified keys to designing (or redesigning) schools. Each chapter breaks down the big idea (the key) into its elements and provides a research-based rationale for the advice and action steps given. Chapters end with an “Innovative Practices in Action” section where school leaders from around the country describe how they succeeded in bringing substantial change to their buildings or districts.

The chapter on leadership and culture contains many of the themes that run through any discussion of how to turn vision into action: communicating, building relationships, delegating (but not too much), modeling, reflecting, etc. We’ve heard these ideas before, but they bear repeating. Educational technology is discussed throughout the book, including a whole chapter on leveraging technology with advice for building an infrastructure and addressing some of the issues that we in Maine have struggled with since MLTI brought one-to-one computing to every middle school in the state.

The chapter titled “Designing Learner Centered Spaces” may be the most interesting and valuable in the book. Often when we think of school reform, we pay little attention to the effect the physical space can have on learning. This chapter cites research about school environments and gives practical tips for creating inviting and flexible learning spaces and avoiding what the authors call the “cemetery effect” where desks are in rows with the teacher in front. The theme of this chapter is that learning is not confined to the traditional classroom, and we can design physical and virtual spaces that provide students and teachers with variety and choice.

If you only have time for one chapter of this book, read Chapter 5, “Making Professional Learning Personal.” I have been on both the giving and receiving end of ineffective professional development practices, so this chapter resonated with me. Much of what passes for professional learning opportunities for teachers is a just a series of one-size-fits-all sessions where an expert is brought in to tell teachers how to do it better. It may or may not be relevant to an individual teacher’s practice and seldom has any lasting effect. Where teachers are given choice, their “development” is measured by the amount of time spent in coursework or in-service classes rather than by how they improve their practice. This chapter promotes a personalized plan for professional learning that allows teachers to combine a variety of learning experiences including  personal and professional networks, peer observations, coaching, Edcamps, and other formal and informal opportunities. Professional learning should be embedded in the culture of the school so it’s ongoing and expected, and its success is measured by outcomes, not hours.

The authors are experienced educators and administrators with extensive backgrounds in educational technology, and this book reflects their research and expertise, providing practical ideas for designing better schools for today and for the future. Thomas Murray will be a keynote speaker and presenter at the 2019 ACTEM Conference. Come hear him on Thursday, October 10 to learn more about how these 8 keys can help you and your school community transform learning.

 

 

Posted in Technology Integrators

Establishing Credibility and Trust

When I worked for MLTI, I often lead workshops for teachers I had never met before and might not ever see again. Sometimes teachers were attending the workshop not out of choice but because an administrator required it. I soon learned that I couldn’t just jump into the content in these sessions; I had to take the time at the beginning to establish credibility and trust. I had to convince them that I knew what I was talking about and that I would treat them with respect and not make them look foolish. I also learned that I had to do this within the first five or ten minutes or I would lose them.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t very skilled at this at first, but over time I developed some techniques that seemed to work. Usually this involved telling a quick story or asking a simple question designed to engage the group and help them feel comfortable working with me. Sometimes I resorted to admitting what I didn’t know or mistakes I’ve made in the past. Once, when I was asked to present at a conference for visual and performing arts teachers, I decided to develop something that would appeal to art teachers but also draw on my experience as a literacy teacher. The title of the session was Promoting Literacy with Cartoons, Comics, and Graphic Novels, and I’ve presented it several times in many variations since. But that first time, as I stood before an audience of art teachers and introduced myself, I realized I had to do something to convince them that I, an old middle school English teacher, might have something of value to share with them. It suddenly occurred to me that they were all artists, and I had the gall to talk tothem about a highly visual medium! I remember just blurting out, “How many of you read comics when you were a kid?” Every hand went up. I then admitted that I did notread comic books as a kid and even now, when I read comic strips in the newspapers, my eyes go right to the text. I went on to explain that although I didn’t read them, I had learned a lot about comics from my son and from research, and I was there to share what I had learned. As I looked at the faces in the room, I could see that they were with me. After that day, I used that opening question every time I did that session, and it always worked.

Two teachers talking
Every conversation matters.

I’m in a different situation now, as a technology integrator for an elementary and a high school. Establishing credibility and trust is much more complex when teaching teachers with whom I will have an ongoing relationship, and it takes longer. In my workshops and presentations, I always tried to do it within the first few minutes, but I’ve been in my new job for a little over a month and I’m still working at it. As eager as I am to get into classrooms, to plan projects, and to team-teach, I know it will not happen immediately. Getting teachers to trust me and to feel I have something to offer will take time. Each weekend, I try to take some time to reflect on what I’ve accomplished during the week, and today I realized that every parking lot, hallway, or lunchroom conversation I had this week was important. When I exchanged stories with individuals about past teaching jobs, when I listened to their concerns about kids who were distracted by games on their iPads, even when I responded to a distress call about a jammed printer, I was building relationships.

It’s a beginning.

Image: © Andrew Greenstone. Used with permission.

Posted in Teacher Workshops

Do Teachers Really Need Software Training?

I recently attended a workshop for teachers where they learned how to flip their classrooms. I don’t like the term “flipped classroom” (a topic for a future post) but I do like the idea that teachers can create content in other media than print, and they can capture demonstrations and lectures for future reference. At the end of the workshop, one teacher said something that I’ve been pondering ever since. She said, “I won’t remember how to do this, but I’ll remember why, and when I’m ready to do it, I’ll ask for help.”

Too often we spend our precious technology professional development time walking teachers through a step-by-step tutorial for using a particular tool rather than talking about why to use it, and I’ll admit that I sometimes fall into that  trap. Software “training” (another term I dislike) is effective only when the trainees are in a position to start using that software right away and for a particular purpose. In a business, when the company switches to a new accounting program, they send everyone who has to use it to a training session. The employees then return to the office and begin using that software immediately as a major part of their work. This does not happen in education. Teachers may attend a summer workshop where they learn how to use a piece of hardware or software, but it may be weeks or months before they can use that tool to teach a particular skill or concept. And too often they learn about the software in isolation, with no discussion or thought given to how it supports their curriculum or why they need to use it at all.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t demonstrate and give teachers time to explore hardware and software tools during our PD time, but it’s foolish to think that technology integrators or professional development providers can teach teachers all the technical skills they need in this ever-changing world. Software, hardware and web tools change too frequently and there are too many of them. I think the best we can do is inspire teachers to think about their curriculum and their practice, decide which tools will work for them, and then find a way to learn on their own.

A model of the TPACK framework
The TPACK Framework (Rights free image from http://tpack.org/)

I often return to the TPCK (or TPACK) framework developed by Mishra and Koehler to explain these ideas. This framework illustrates the types of knowledge teachers need to successfully integrate technology into their practice. While teachers need Technological Knowledge (TK), it’s only at the center of the model, where all three knowledge types intersect, that effective teaching and learning take place. Rather than helping teachers gain only TK (and assuming they will find the intersections on their own), I prefer to spend as much time as possible helping them see the possibilities for those intersections.

My husband once described a software training workshop for teachers that he attended. He said that teachers sat passively, followed the steps that they were shown, and created exactly the same product as the one being demonstrated. He said he learned a few tips and tricks about the software, but left with no idea how he would use it in his music classes. He didn’t learn anything that he couldn’t have learned from the help menu or through a simple Google search.

If we don’t spend our PD time in software training, how will teachers gain the technology knowledge they need? I’ve begun encouraging teachers to take responsibility for their own training. I suggest that when they realize they don’t know how to do something, they try one of these remedies:

  • Check the help menu of the application you are using.
  • Google it.
  • Search YouTube.
  • Ask a colleague.
  • Ask a student.

Gaining Technological Knowledge (TK) is something teachers should start doing on their own, as they need it, not when a training session happens to be scheduled. This doesn’t mean I won’t continue to demonstrate tools and answer how-to questions, but I hope to base more of my work on those intersections with Pedagogical Knowledge (PK) and Content Knowledge (CK). The workshop I mentioned above had the right mix of TPACK. I hope to hear more teachers saying, “I may not remember how to do this, but I’ll remember why.”

Posted in Conferences and Institutes

Reflections on the Middle Level Education Institute

This past week I attended the Middle Level Education Institute (MLEI) at Bowdoin College.This institute has a long history as a place where Maine’s middle level educators can meet to learn from consultants and each other as they work on team and individual projects. I’ve been involved with MLEI for several years as a consultant, but I decided to attend this year as a participant. This allowed me to work on my own project (this blog) and to observe the facilitators and other participants through my professional development lens. I left with the impression that everyone felt this was a highly effective PD experience and I’ve been pondering why ever since. What did they do right?

Teachers working on the marshmallow challenge
Participants work together on a marshmallow challenge. Photo by Nancy Doda.
  1. They took the time to build a learning community. So often, I feel pressured when I’m leading a workshop to jump right into the content and I never really get to know the people in the room. Even when I worked with a cohort at another 3-day institute, I didn’t take the time to do this well and I regret it. The four facilitators did this intentionally, starting well before the institute began. They created a wiki and asked each participant to create a personal page, so I felt I knew something about everyone before I even met them. During the institute there were opportunities for whole group discussion as well as partner and table talk, and there were activities that caused us to regroup often and talk with other people. There was a back channel for comments and questions that we were prompted to use for specific purposes but that was also available throughout the three days for sharing. We ate lunch together every day which led to informal discussions.  I think the size of the group (around 35 or so) made this community building easier, but I believe it’s possible with larger groups too.
  2. They modeled good practice. Chris Toy introduced his Mr. T model that’s an acronym for model, reflect, and transfer and throughout the three days that’s exactly what happened. The facilitators did not simply describe their practice, they modeled it. When Mark Springer and Nancy Doda introduced  how students can have a voice in curriculum decisions, they let us experience it as we negotiated our curriculum for the institute. Jill Spencer didn’t merely describe active strategies for engaging students but modeled them too.
  3. They provided ample opportunities for reflection. Throughout the three days we were introduced to a variety of tools and strategies for reflection and the facilitators built many reflection pauses into the schedule. Again, this was part of Chris’ Mr. T model and I appreciated the time to think about what I had just experience and to ask myself, “What does this mean for my practice?”

Perhaps the most significant outcome of this institute for me, as a professional development provider, was a reminder of the power of team teaching. Some of the most satisfying experiences I have had as a teacher of teachers have been when I worked with a partner or a team of facilitators. There’s something about teaching collaboratively with people who trust each other and share a passion for their content. Everyone in the room senses that trust and passion and wants to be a part of it. That’s how I felt at this year’s MLEI.

Posted in Introduction

How I Got Into This

I’ll admit it – I’m a baby boomer. I’ve been in education for a long time and I’m nearing the end of my teaching career. I’m a member of the generation of teachers who are assumed to be resistant to using technology and fearful of changing their practice this late in the game. So how did I get where I am today? How did I learn all this technology stuff well enough to teach other teachers about it?

I’ll also admit that, until recently, I never took any technology classes. I finally decided to get a degree in Technology in Education just to prove that I know what I know.  I have a secret and here it is: I learned more from my classmates in my formal university classes than from the instructors or the completion of required course work.

When I began teaching there were no computers in classrooms, no photocopiers in the teachers’ room, no VCRs anywhere. We had a spirit duplicator and wrote our originals on ditto masters that were awkward and difficult to edit and produced those purple-on-white worksheets with the distinctive odor. I was never very good with machines and I usually tried to get someone else to make my copies for me. In the mid ’80s a few personal computers were creeping into schools, but I was happy to get the school secretary’s cast-off typewriter for my classroom. I first touched a computer in 1988 when I was given an Apple IIe and kids taught me how to use it.

Since then I’ve taught with computers in GT and 8th grade ELA classes, worked with computers in an elementary school library, managed computer labs in a junior high school, and become a technology integrator for a middle school and eventually for the whole state – all of that with no formal training. I learned it all by reading, watching, listening, trying, failing, and asking. I bought and read books and manuals, searched the internet for answers to my questions, and kept certain tech-savvy friends on speed dial.

Teacher and 1:1 computing class
Another cartoon from my extremely talented son. I have often felt this way when teaching with technology.

I didn’t know it then, but I was forming what now has a trendy buzzword to name it. I was creating a PLN- a personal (or professional, if you prefer) learning network. While in the beginning my PLN consisted mostly of print resources and my rolodex, over the years, as I’ve become more connected through the internet, I’ve expanded my network to include experts from all over the world. If I have a question now, I’m likely to ask  my colleagues here in Maine, but I’m also likely to Google it, search Delicious, post it in a forum, tweet it, and post it on Facebook.

Without this extended network, I could not possibly learn what I need to learn in this rapidly changing world. While workshops and training sessions can make me aware of possibilities and get me started with new technologies, to stay current and relevant, I rely on my PLN. And although my retirement may be only a few years away, I don’t think I’ll stop learning any time soon.

I’m often asked about my credentials and my technical training and when I admit I’m just an old teacher, people inevitably ask, “How do you learn all this stuff?”

The only answer I can come up with is, “I just ask.”

Posted in Introduction

Moving On to New Adventures

This is a time of transition for me…

For the past nine years I’ve been an integration mentor for the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI). I traveled across the state meeting with middle school and high school teachers and leading workshops for them. I also created resources and provided some online learning opportunities to help teachers refine their practice using technology to meet the ever changing needs of their students.

blogging cartoon
My son drew this cartoon when he was in high school. He’s not a fan of blogging.

In those nine years I learned a great deal about leadership, facilitation, communication, collaboration, workshop design, resource creation, and all other aspects of professional development. In short, I learned how to teach teachers. I use the word “teach” in its broadest sense because I believe teaching goes far beyond mere instruction. I could use words like “coach” or “facilitate” because that is often what I do, but I also model, assess, advise, commiserate, build relationships and, yes, sometimes I instruct.

While I draw on all my teaching experience when I’m working with them, I’ve come to realize that there’s a different dynamic to teaching teachers. It’s not exactly like teaching young children or adolescents and it’s different from traditional adult education. When I’m working with teachers, they are my students, but they are still my peers.

I recently left my position with MLTI but I will continue to provide some professional development in my new job as a K-12 technology integrator. I’ve started this blog as a place for me to reflect on my work, to ponder new ideas, and occasionally to suggest tools and resources for teachers. I hope you will join the conversation and share your thoughts and ideas with me and my readers.