And the Teachers Respond! (A FedEx Day Follow Up)

Square peg in a round hole with hanner

Tired of the Square Peg Problem?

Last month, I presented to teachers the idea of pursuing specific interests that would improve our school. The offer included coverage for their classes for a day (or more, if that is what it takes) to do the research and explore their ideas.

While it is my hope that teachers are still developing their ideas (and I continue to remind them of this opportunity…if even to brainstorm ideas with me in order to craft a proposal), a few teachers have already come forward with some very interesting ideas. Here is a summary of each one (so that you can see where the conversation is moving):

I. Collaborative Meeting Design

One of the projects addresses the problem of grade leave meeting inefficiency. Specifically targeting teacher collaborative meetings, the leader of this FedEx plan has researched various meeting styles to explore better ways for us to gather productively. She has come across the Collaborative Meeting Design (CMD) methodology and has learned that another school in Houston utilizes this system. She will go and shadow a few of their meetings to learn about the system and reflect on its value compared to our current meeting environment. Should she determine CMD to be the right fit, her next goal will be to develop a training tool that the rest of us can review in order to utilize the system next year.

II. Paideia Seminar

A second problem identified by a teacher is that of empowering students to lead conversations in general class discussions (that is, beyond a presentation or prepared project). One of the programs I utilized in my previous school was the Paideia Seminar. (Simply put, Paideia means “education” in English). Built on a pedagogical paradigm from Paideia.org, the Paideia Seminar is similar to the Harkness model, but centers on wondrous, disruptive thought. The Seminar isn’t a dialogue about current content; instead, it focuses on a standalone primary source, creating analytical conversation about this source, and formulating questions that align the Seminar conversation to current content in the classroom. This process is galvanized by reflective writing at the end of the conversation. It’s quite innovative (or extremely classical in nature, depending on your point of view), and very easily incorporated into a school in search of ways to improve student-led discussion.

Needless to say, I have been pushing for someone to find ways to incorporate this model into a classroom system. A teacher has stepped forward and asked for training in this model! She will work with me over the remaining school days (reading texts, studying teaching materials) and then we will think about the intentional design of Seminars throughout the coming fall.

III. Improving Our Professional Learning Committees

Once a month, our school gathers after the day is over to have small professional discussions. This past fall, our discussions have targeted the concept of assessment and how we can ask our students to demonstrate, via new and dynamic methods, their approach to mastery in the small- and large-scale units presented throughout the school year.

The problem identified in this FedEx plan is that the PLC conversation has stymied a bit and teachers are looking for ways to refresh the conversation. In this teacher’s mind, faculty members should take more ownership of the PLC discussion and be able to demonstrate results in the classroom and throughout the school program. He has offered to research and design a new “PLC Model” that will enhance the innovative thought and accountability in future school years. Though we have not met yet, I imagine this teacher to be quite creative in the retooling of the PLC program.

A whole lotta thinking going on here!

I am so proud of those teachers who are diving into the deep end with FedEx Day ideas. As these problems develop into action plans and those plans take effect, I will follow up with more documentation. Thanks for reading…should you have two cents (or 200) on one or all of these subjects, do not hesitate to comment and share so that I can pass the thoughts on to the teachers working on each plan.

It’s about making things better!

screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-10-35-53-pm

As I think back on tonight’s first session for #IMMOOC and consider the many, many salient points presented, I realize one prevalent theme: I am so thrilled to learn from the disruptive talents leading and following this course. And tonight, in that we are to utilize a writing prompt to reflect on the first lesson, I (as most who know me would expect) will choose the final prompt, which is basically a “free write.”

No one can tell me what to do.

But that is exactly what innovation is about, right? Diving off the cliff, eating the 64 oz steak to get a free meal, building a lesson involving a fulcrum and using humans for weights (an awesome request from our 5th grade science teacher last week) – these are all disruptive behaviors that most people would tell you 25,000 reasons why you shouldn’t  do them…yet you persist. You are paving the way. You are being innovative. So let’s reflect:

“I could think of things I’ve never thunk before…”

Scarecrow is looking for a brain and sings about hope that comes from gaining a tool that would elevate his ability to thrive in the world. He wouldn’t remain a “straw man” in the real world, but he would become something more. Now, the Wizard does grant our flame-sensitive friend his wish; however, I’d argue that he never needed it to be the man, er…scarecrow, he always was. For he was not simply Dorothy’s follower or lackey. The Scarecrow is an encourager, and courageous friend, and a devoted teammate to Dorothy as they make their way to the Emerald Palace. So he had an enormous value, even without his flashy new tool. One could argue that the gift of a brain only confirms what Scarecrow already knows: the smarts he wanted were there all along; he just needed the key to unlock the magic.

Thinking of the example above and looking at the image pasted at the top of this post, perhaps you see where I’m going with this idea. There are devices and tools that already exist in our every day repertoire. Our learning spaces are chalk full of things that are waiting for a reboot. “We don’t integrate pencils” refers to the idea that pencils don’t need a special program or system to be innovative; it’s our own creative thinking that makes the pencil the most powerful tool it can be. The image shows a stack of pencils being used in a very unique way. Quite frankly, I don’t know what they are being used for in the image. But I’m intrigued, and it makes me realize that teachers and students may have bold new designs for the objects that already exist in their learning spaces. It’s up to you and me to give them the keys that unlock the magic. They will trail and fail; failure is the first step on the way to success. So it isn’t tool-centric, but mind-centric thinking that builds innovation.

Older Could Be (but maybe isn’t really) Better

John Spencer (spencerideas.org) takes some time during the course this evening to talk about the reason behind some schools reintroducing traditional methods, such as cursive writing, into the curriculum. He asks a very good question: what is the reason for going back or hold onto this methodology? If an old-school tool is coming back to the limelight, or a traditional method is holding strong in a classroom, then before we think to ourselves, “oh, that teacher or student just isn’t being innovative,” we need to make sure we understand fully the reason behind the decision to use it. Let me be clear: I’m not saying cursive is necessary…but it may be for that teacher.

Every classroom must find a way to innovate and empower students. George Couros said it very clearly: what is innovative in one learning space may be totally unnecessary in another! First, we have to try new things (thanks, AJ Juliani). Next, we have to analyze and reflect on the value or success of the new endeavor. Perhaps there is a tool that would enhance an idea…but never let the magpie conspiracy (think: nests of flashy new things) guide your innovation.

I’m loving this conversation…it’s so real in a time of “the next best thing.” Thanks to all participating.

Innovation Day, Inbound!

Eyes Front

Tomorrow my school will have an inservice day for all the faculty and staff. I am super excited to see the possibilities unfold as we begin to look forward towards 2017-2018. In the administrative world, the master calendar for next year is all but solidified in concrete, and the various open spaces in our faculty teams have been identified. Solutions begin to appear daily, and the image of the coming school year is more than a mirage off in the distance. At the same time, however, the leadership team has been evaluating our various philosophies regarding the way we do business and targeting those pieces that need retooling. From schedules to the names of courses, everything gets a first look so that we can be sure that we are doing things with the learner in mind.

You can probably tell that this time of year is my favorite, as opportunity meets action. While we have no need to reinvent the wheel, it is my job to talk to faculty and leadership with the purpose of brainstorming ways to ensure that this wheel is screwed on tightly and well greased.

But for some, particularly students (insert “7th graders” here), this time of year can seem to drag on until Spring Break. People often find the phrase “more of the same” repugnant; I believe that there is always an opportunity to rebuild or redesign a program to make it better for our students and the learning in the classroom. So, in an effort to jazz things up a bit, I am instituting my first FedEx/Innovation Day program for the faculty.

Creative Juices Oozing

I learned about the FedEx day model a few years ago, but it just resurfaced as a logical thought this past month as I read through this Connected Principals blogpost by Chris Wejr. I was pleasantly surprised to find it; the timing could not be more ideal! For those of you new to the idea, a FedEx day allows an individual to pursue an innovative thought without the impediment of the regular grind getting in the way. In other words, someone covers your job while you pursue an idea that would benefit both you and your place of work. The goal of a FedEx day serves one’s heart and (in this case) one’s school as a teacher innovator creates an action plan that would bring a new idea to life. This isn’t a replacement program that simply changes the way we do our current curriculum; FedEx day is a game-changing, disruptive thought that could make us greater as an institution while demonstrating teacher mastery. I have already challenged teachers to start thinking about how they could utilize a FedEx day in a previous division meeting. It is my hope that tomorrow serves as the beginning of a time when our great minds can walk through open doors.

This isn’t a replacement program that simply changes the way we do our current curriculum; FedEx day is a game-changing, disruptive thought that could make us greater as an institution and that demonstrates teacher mastery.

In reality, the design of an action plan may require more FedEx time; that need has to present itself in the plan at the end of the day, and then the driver of the FedEx program can determine if more time away from the norm is warranted. But the initial day is one of creative flow. Here is the program model as I presented it to the middle school faculty:

  1. Take the afternoon of our inservice day, from 1:30 until going home, to think and design a plan to have some FedEx time.
  2. Create this action plan (there isn’t a specific design to this plan, but it’s sort of like a field trip form that we use…purpose, logistics, who is involved, goal, etc.)
  3. Send me the plan so that we can sit down and discuss how I can help bring an idea into light.
  4. Once ratified, the FedEx Day proposal will have these features at a teacher’s disposal:
    • Use a workday (without spending a personal day) to begin working on this plan.
    • Employ the MS Leadership team to act as teachers in the classroom for the day (so we will need lesson plans, unless it’s a day given to us in order to bring in something unique).
    • Request funding (as needed) to help bring this day into development. While funding is severely limited, it is never a bad idea to ask for help!

In thinking of the way I envision this program to go, I have done some brainstorming of various ideas:

  • Building a research project for your students that has them explore new and exciting learning strategies.
  • Searching for a MOOC or some sort of professional development program to complete and share with the faculty.
  • Exploring a new digital tool to introduce to students and teach faculty.
  • Creating a photograph collage or artwork to share with the school and the students (think faculty gallery).

I’m sure this list could grow as I sit here and do some thinking. I really hope that the various members of our great faculty sink their collective teeth into the FedEx idea. My personal goal with this program remains in the effort to make this school the very best place to work. In giving teachers a voice and opportunity to express their ideas, I hope that I’m on the right track.

#InnovatorsMindset

I am beginning to read The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity by George Couros. It’s been on my reading list for some time; however, Couros has begun a second round of his MOOC which uses this book as the text, so the incentive to join in the conversation has met a point of opportunity.

After working through the introduction and the first chapter, I’m hooked. Couros introduces the idea of innovation in education as what we should be doing in order to break free from the traditional, factory-based learning models and pursue learning as a genuine skill to hone and cultivate as a pedagogical priority, a change of direction I fully embrace. Yesterday’s model of educating a child is antiquated; yet, we as an industry seem lost in the cycle that this model precipitates. Couros presents a new track for us to consider with precision and a sense of urgency. Granted, it’s not breaking any barriers or introducing a silver bullet; he is writing about what many (myself included) have been thinking for some time. The linear-based curriculum model needs a refresh, and innovation must remain the core of this change.

Couros describes innovation as “a way of thinking that creates something new and better” (note that I’m reading this book via Kindle, so I don’t have page numbers to cite). He dives into the definition further by referencing the words of Katie Martin from the University of San Diego Mobile Technology Learning Center. Martin states that educators don’t necessarily need to be transformational (as this is not making “new and better”); however, a classroom leader should always seek ways to provide the optimal learning experience for his or her students. In today’s classroom, that usually means employing a new technology or digital application. However, he does not mean to replace a current system with a high-tech option as a solution. As the SAMR Model suggests, Couros is decidedly advocating for disruption in the way we do things in the classroom so that students can learn better.

I greatly appreciate the angle that Couros takes from the very beginning of his introduction. In order to foster innovation in our students, we must first learn to be innovative classroom leaders. As an administrator, I must make time for the teachers who work in my division to grow as educators. It just so happens that I have introduced the “FedEx Day” concept to the middle school teachers this past week. In essence, I want them to pursue something innovative that will make them a better teacher (see a film, start a course, visit a school, etc.). I will teach their class while they are away researching their idea. Upon returning to school, my hope is that they have found something of the disruptive ilk. I want them to bring new and exciting into the classroom. As Couros states, if a student leaves a course without further questions or curiosity about the topic he or she experienced, then the teacher has not done adequate work throughout the school year. Asking tough questions about “how we do business” is the first step:

  • What is a student more likely to need: knowledge on how to write an essay or a blog post? (This one is from the book.)
  • What is more relevant: naming all the parts of a machine or knowing how to take it apart and put it back together?
  • What is more pressing: knowing the difference between Impressionism and Cubism, or being able to speak eloquently and in detail about a piece of art and its impact?
  • What provides the most long-term value: comparing and contrasting two historic battles in history, or presenting ideas on what war teaches us about intention versus perception as as it relates in a student’s everyday decisions?

I don’t have all of the answers. In fact some of the questions written above flirt with a “need part A to do part B” design, though I would consider them mutually exclusive and therefore separate tracks of teaching. As I reflect and gather information from the MOOC and the text, I like where this conversation is going and where I hope it will teach me to lead my division.