Mar 282012

Being Intentional Networkers – Kira Baker-Doyle #ASCD12

What comes to mind when you hear the term “Social Network”? For most people, it is Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and dozens of other similar sites. Social Networks, however, are older than Web 2.0 and even the internet. They predate the telephone, the radio, and even the written word. As presenter Kira Baker-Doyle points out in her session, social networks are really a representation of how people interact with each other online or otherwise.

Leveraging social networks well has the potential for a strong, positive impact upon schools. Ms. Baker-Doyle shared the following roles that they play in a teacher’s practice:

  • Coping with change – Mediate understanding and use of new curriculum or pedagogical practices (Coburn, 2005)
  • Retention – Impacts teacher retention and job selection (Boyd, Lankford, Loeb, & Wycoff 2003; Thomas 2007)
  • Academic achievement – Impacts student academic outcomes (Leena & Pil 2006; Yasumoto, Uekawa & Bidwell 2010)
  • School reform – Dynamic relationship with district level school reforms (Daly et al. 2010)

Later in the presentation, we were shown case studies of Maria and Michael*. Both were individuals new to the teaching the profession. Both had their networks mapped as they applied to their new positions. The maps were tied to personal accounts of their individual experiences.

Maria had a network containing many educators and she quickly connected with a group of colleagues within the school. While she had many challenges, she felt safe in her environment because members of Maria’s network reassured her that they would not allow her to fail. (Subjects are the center point on each map)

Michael had a much different experience. He attempted to show his ability as a teacher by remaining independent, not asking for help nor accepting any offered. This led to frustration for Michael and a questioning of his career choice. About midway through his first year, he accepted a colleague as mentor. Things improved somewhat but he was still highly frustrated.

Online social networks are simply an extension of normal face-to-face human interactions. They create a broader opportunity to connect with like minded people, to find support, to test ideas. When perceived through the social network as human interaction lens, filtering and blocking no longer makes sense. It becomes hypocritical. Taken to its logical extreme, if a school is filtering these types of sites, why not control other types of interactions – talking in the hallway or faculty room, having lunch with colleagues, and meeting with students after school to provide extra help.

*The opposite of the real Eric Sheninger

Social networks already happen in schools because schools ARE social networks. The online part is simply another way of interacting, just like the conversation in the hallway, an email between colleagues, or a written letter home. Schools that mandate narrow and specific ways for human interaction also narrow their ability to bring the faculty together and form community. It is the school saying “We know what is best for you” rather than allowing individuals to meet their own needs as they see fit. Instead, by helping members of the school community develop meaningful networks, schools will empower members to solve challenges collaboratively. Fostering robust and purposeful social networks means fostering positive relationships. Relationships matter.

**Thanks David and Eric for the pics

 Posted by at 2:45 pm
Mar 262012

Professional Learning Communities are a well documented means of moving schools forward.  Ms. Easton warns us, however, that “The “learning” part of professional learning communities (PLCs) has all but faded as PLCs are required to respond to school, district, state, and federal initiatives”. This puts PLCs at risk of becoming just another initiative that will pass in time and increase cynicism within the faculty. By placing the “L”earning back into into PLC, Ms. Easton assures us that PLCs will remain relevant and vital.

The session began by conducting a KWL with the group, having everyone move and discuss what they know and would like to know about learning. She engaged the group quickly and immediately asked them to begin documenting what they were doing. Ms. Easton subtly demonstrated how PLCs work without overtly stating it. She had groups sharing what they know and asking extending questions, a skill at the heart of PLC work.

“If we don’t define learning within our PLCs first, how do we know if we are meeting our goals?”  

The session then moved to a Reader’s Theater, lasting nearly 30 minutes, modeling effective and ineffective PLC interactions with the audience critiquing each. While I understood the purpose, I feel that the method detracted from the session. It was something that could have been covered with 3 minutes worth of video, giving more opportunity for discussion and interaction. The session finished with a survey and discussion about the difference between PLCs used for learning and those simply used for implementation and the importance of embracing the former.

Ms. Easton stressed that all PLCs need to start with “Why”. Why are we meeting? Why are we here? “Why” leads to “What”. We now know why we are here and need to decide what we are going to do. The “How” takes care of itself.

In many schools, PLCs are at risk of becoming simple bureaucratic structures, especially in this era of tight budgets and reduced faculty and administration. Ms. Easton reminded us that the true intention of PLCs is to maintain the school as an organization of learning. Rather than maximize bus schedules, PLCs need to engage in action research, reflective reading, sharing, and disseminating knowledge throughout the school. When done well, the learning that PLCs engage in will be brought back to classrooms to maximize classroom practice. If the intention is to teach students how to learn, then their teachers need not be extensions of the bureaucracy, but rather effective learners themselves.

 Posted by at 11:38 am
Mar 252012

Project Based Learning, so hot right now. Online PBL? Even hotter.

Thankfully, this is not the approach taken by presenter Andrew Miller as he described how he engages students in his online PBL environment. Mr. Miller shared a number of best practices:

  • Keep projects not just relevant but, relevant right now
  • Tie projects to standards and cluster standards for richer experiences
  • Projects can evolve over time and students still learn when one flops
  • Keep projects valuable by recognizing the effect that other assessments have. Particularly, a summative assessment immediately following a project devalues that project but ongoing formative assessment is important.

Mr. Miller also shared a host of tools that he uses, from moodle, edmodo, and google apps for collaboration, to voicethread and for creation of artifacts.

The part that I appreciated most about Mr. Miller’s talk, however, was the emphasis upon relationships. He explained that PBL works because it helps foster positive human relationships through collaboration. School is no longer done to students but with them. He did stress that while there is choice and great opportunity to build upon assets, he, as teacher, still plays a major role in guiding that choice and ensuring that standards are met. I also appreciated his acknowledgement that PBL is not a silver bullet. Just like with everything else, these methods work sometimes, but not always. Project based learning is just part of the teachers tool kit, a big part, but still just a part.

Thank you, Mr. Miller for reaffirming that we need a wide range of skills, to be smart about our tools, and, above all else, that relationships matter.

 Posted by at 9:59 am
Mar 252012

I had a brief but interesting conversation with a gentleman name Mike from New Mexico at the TweetUp last night. (Sorry, Mike, I missed your last name) He is a school turnaround specialist and related a story about attendance. One of the schools with which he is working in a rough neighborhood in Boston was suffering from an attendance problem, nearly 30% absent on a given day. The problem sprang from the fact that students living within 2 miles of the school were not given trans passes. “Sorry, kid. School Policy.” While 2 miles may not seem like much, students and parents alike were concerned about safety. Two miles through a rough neighborhood can feel like an eternity. After much cajoling, Mike managed to get the trans passes for students within the 2 mile mark and attendance shot up to 92% on average. By moving the district from ideology to pragmatism on this one issue, Mike managed to remedy the attendance problem and most likely a host of ancillary problems caused by chronic absence. I wonder what else could be solved with a simple change of perspective.

 Posted by at 6:34 am
Mar 252012

“Moving from Research to Practice to Close the Achievement Gap” by Drs. Boykin and Noguera

The opening session that I attended was like being shot out of a cannon. Dr. Boykin framed the session around the idea that “school improvement often rests upon good intentions rather than evidence.” An information dense session flowed from there. Dr. Noguera went on to describe why the achievement gap persists: expectations – pre-NCLB we never expected all children to achieve, beliefs – a persistent belief that intelligence is innate rather than a thing to be cultivated, and a lack of skills and strategies to change expectations and beliefs. The system is self propagating and focused in the wrong way. Change the focus and the system can work to improve schools.

“ We disproportionately punish the students with the greatest needs, mostly because we do not meet their needs through exclusion” – Dr. Noguera

Dr. Noguera related stories about children who had disciplinary issues due to problems at home. What did the schools do? Suspend them and send them back in to fire. Children who struggle academically are later classified and sequestered in special education programs where they fall further behind. In his observations, many of the students suffered from ABT (Ain’t Been Taught), not real handicaps. English language learners are often perceived as deficient intellectually rather than simply dealing with the language barrier. Instead, schools should be building the capacity of these students to learn. They should be discipling in ways to teach students to do the right thing regardless of whether adults are present rather than simply removing them from the learning environment.

He referred to these issues as the normalization of failure. A school is suffering from this if:

  • The faculty is accustomed to the predictability of outcomes for different groups of students
  • The school points fingers at students, teachers, community for student failure
  • Believe that culture and biology dictate intelligence rather than opportunity and resources
  • No Sense of Urgency

This normalization of failure leads to a progression of disenfranchisement. It begins in the lower grades with task disengagement, progresses to subject disengagement (I’m not good at math), then school disengagement. Ultimately, the progression ends with structural disenfranchisement where the individual is no longer capable of working within the structure of society as a whole. It is the school to prison pipeline.

To overcome these, schools need to focus on peer support for educators and results oriented practices for students rather than compliance and punitive measures. Positive interactions and relationships are lacking for these students, referred to in the presentation as transactional solutions. Transactional solutions focus on the following three areas:

  • Self-efficacy – The confidence to do a task or participate in an activity
  • Self-regulation – The ability to plan, monitor, and self-assess
  • Belief Change – a shift from the belief that intelligence is innate and fixed to the belief that intelligence is incremental and malleable.

Drs. Boykin and Noguera explained that the three points above are best addressed through a constructivist learning environment that focuses on assets (what a student brings to the table and building from there) rather than a didactic approach focused on deficit reduction. Many failing schools are getting this wrong however. In a study by Deborah Stipek in 2004, the strongest predictor of whether a school engages in didactic methods over constructivist is the percentage of African American students present. These students are being given the opposite of what they need and failing because of it.

“There is a disconnect between academic achievement and child development” – Dr. Boykin

Dr. Noguera went on to discuss the paradigm shift that needs to happen in order for our schools to become places where children thrive. The old paradigm sees intelligence as innate, schools as places to sort and measure children, moves resources to the highest performing students, and uses discipline to weed out bad students. The new paradigm sees intelligence as tied to opportunity and resources, schools as places to draw out and cultivate talent, allocates resources equitably, and uses discipline to correct undesirable behavior. To get to this new paradigm, the conditions must be correct, including:

  • Diagnostic assessment
  • Early intervention
  • Quality control of resources (human, structural, strategic)
  • On-site and ongoing professional development
  • Supportive relationships between students and faculty
  • A faculty culture of sharing
  • An attitude of it’s “cool to be be smart”
  • Shared leadership
  • Partnerships with parents and community

The session was one of the most thought provoking I have ever attended and an indictment of the system as whole. They presenters held us all responsible but also gave us the direction in which we need to move. I will be chewing on this for months.