Saturday, June 23, 2012

NST12 Wrap UP

     Whenever you can attend a conference or training and feel exhausted ( not from drinking too much but ) from thinking too much then you have gotten your monies worth.  An obvious conference for me is Educon where you spend the day discussing educational topics.  The problem is that these conversations can go from 7 AM to 2 AM the next morning!

     But this time I am talking about the New Tech Network's New Schools Training (NST12 ) and its sister conference NewTech Annual Conference (NTAC12).  This past week was NST12 which is where school districts, who are about to open New Tech schools, send their teachers and administrators for training on what it means to be a New Tech school.

     I attended as a District Trainer who will be helping a school as it becomes a New Tech Network (NTN) affiliated school.  We will be converting an existing middle school (Decker Middle School) by converting the 6th grade this year and by adding additional grades in the ensuing years.  I was not able to bring the teachers or any of the district staff with me but we will be bringing them to NTAC12 next month.

     When people hear about New Tech schools they immediately think of Project Based Learning (PBL) and therefore a significant part of the week is based around PBL.  Teachers plan their first PBL project during this week and the staff (teachers included) plan their school as they experience PBL as facilitated by NTN trainers and staff.  That is one of the most powerful parts of this week.  Not only are teachers who are new to PBL learning the framework of PBL but they are living the framework of PBL.

     But NTN schools have something else besides PBL that makes them different.  The underlying (actually much more overt than that) theme was the importance of building school culture.  The culture of NTN schools is based upon Trust, Respect, and Responsibility.  These concepts, individually as well as together, must be examined, defined, and put into the mindset of everyone's daily habits.

     As we work as a staff we must trust each other to do the right thing.   We must respect each other, the school culture, and ourselves.  And, we must take on responsibilities that other teachers never have, as we flatten the leadership.   When we work with students we must trust that the majority of students are going to do the right thing.  We must respect them, the school culture (yes I said that again), and we must teach them to respect the school culture and themselves.  Finally, as we trust and respect our students we must be willing to give them additional responsibilities.  At the same time we must encourage the students to take on more responsibility for their learning.
     All of this requires individuals and school teams to do something that we often say and hear while being at a NTN school - take a leap of faith.  Some will joke that you must drink the cool-ade.  Others will say trust the process.   But what we all are referring to is the change in mindset that an educator must endure as they start on this adventure.  And change is hard and can be painful for some.  That is why the leadership trainers spent so much time examining change - the change we are going through and the change we must be willing to experience as we create a successful NTN school.

    The most remarkable thing about this training is the daily reflections of the facilitators.  Obviously they ask each of us to reflect each day on what we have learned and experienced.  But then they get together and reflect on what they have seen and heard from their students.  They, then, tweak the next day's plan based upon the needs of the students.  How often have you been to a training where the facilitators take the time to adjust their plan based upon your needs?  Never, I would venture.  And, this models what they want from us - to become reflective teachers who are not afraid to change where things are heading based upon the needs of the students.

    And so from the 1st year teacher about to teach her first class to the seasoned veteran administrator who taught for 25 years before getting into administration, everyone at this training is a rookie.  They are rookies in teaching with PBL in a school with flattened leadership and a culture of trust, respect, and responsibility.  They are experiencing change and they are being told that this change will be worth it.  Those who survive the week will be changed.

     Some will go to their school, will feel the struggles, and will ultimately choose to go back to a traditional school.  The pain of change, for them, will be too much to bear. But nearly all of those teachers who complete this week will work through the pain.  They will do this because of their NTN coach, their fellow teachers, and their internal desire to make this change for the good of their students.  Because, ultimately, meaningful change is what we need in education if we want our students to succeed and be change agents for the world around them.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Packing My Seabag

     Whenever I go to a conference or to training I like to think about what I get out of it.   Did I go and just hang out with friends and party?  Or, did I accumulate knowledge or find some tools I can use in the future?  Anything I accumulate and intend to use later is like all of the things found in a sailor's sea bag.  When you pack to go to sea, you never want to have things that add weight and are unnecessary in there.

     And so I went to my first summer training and I accumulated some things and have added them to my "sea bag."  This first training was conducted by two folks from The LearningForward Texas Institute.       The training was entitled Tips, Tools and Techniques for Staff Developers but would also benefit anyone who does public speaking or professional training.

     The presenters utilized their own materials but also leaned heavily on How to Make Presentations That Teach and Transform by Robert J. Garmston and Bruce M. Wellman.    This is a short book but is packed with good advice.

     As a person who gets pretty darn nervous in public speaking situations I especially enjoyed the chapter on dealing with nerves in this book.  A review of that chapter will be good prior to presenting at any conferences in the future.

     I also picked up a bunch of ice breakers, ideas for setting up expectations, and ways to have groups be more comfortable with me and my topic.  The best part of the 3 days of training was having the presenters purposefully manipulate us and then spend time explaining what we had just experienced and why they had done what they had done.

     I would highly recommend this training.  We actually completed both Level 1 and Level 2.  Level 1 is normally two days and the level 2 training is normally done 6 months to a year later.  Several in the room had been to Level 1 before and our superintendent decided that we would combine them and complete the entire training in 3 days.

Friday, June 1, 2012

How Do You Create a School (Part 2 of 2)


   (Part 2 of 2)
    As I said in the first part,  what we want the new school to be doesn't exist and the teachers, administrators, and I have the chance to mold the school in whatever fashion we desire.  And, I am a teacher who has been trained by the New Tech Network (NTN) to use project based learning (PBL).  This is the ultimate PBL assignment.  I was given the entry event when I went to the job interview.  I know that a thriving middle school where teachers are using PBL as the means to teach their content is my final product.  It's time to create my Knows and Need to Knows.

{Clarification:  There have been some questions such as "Are you building a whole new school?"  This school is, currently, a traditional middle school (6 - 8) with about 750 enrollment.  Starting with the incoming 6th grade we will be building a school that uses PBL to teach the curriculum and we will be affiliated with NTN.)

Now for the NEED TO KNOWS:

  • New Tech Schools use a "School Success Rubric" (SSR) that is established at the beginning of the school year, revisited (usually) mid-year, and then revisited again at the end of the year.   What will we model our SSR on?
  • What strengths/weaknesses will there be in my teachers who have eagerly accepted this change?
  • What do the curricula for the four core areas look like and how might we start thinking about projects centered around key concepts?
  • When do we finalize the Master Schedule and how is that going to affect my teachers' planning?
  • What will PD look like this year?  Will our teachers attend different training than the rest of the middle school teachers in the district?
  • What technologies (2 or 3) do we want to incorporate in our classrooms to enhance the PBL experience and when do we fit in training on these?
  • How can we get the teachers to become active users of twitter and, in particular, #PBLCHAT ?
  • What are key times this summer that we need to meet as a team?  And, how receptive will our teachers be to coming in during their summer break?
  • How should I create a "Year at a Glance," (YAG) for PBL implementation and training.
  • What are the 1st year goals for the teachers? For the students?  For me?
  • Is a Problem Based approach (PrBL) better for 6th graders (rather than a full blown PBL)?
  • How many of the incoming students will have had a PBL experience in 5th grade? (one of our feeder schools has been very successful with PBL at 4th and 5th grade)
  • What are the current academic concerns from the Superintendent?  The Principal? And, what are the concerns with bringing on PBL?
  • What Learning Outcomes will be used at our school?  Will we just adopt the district ones for now and use the district definitions as our guide for creating ours?
  • Will we use Group Contracts or is 6th grade too early for a group contract?  What are elementary/middle schools using for contracts?
  • Are there any Elective Teachers who are ready to take the plunge with the 7th graders next year?  If so we can start including them in discussions.
  • When do we start recruiting/training the 7th grade core teachers?
    The Need To Know list I have written is only some of the many questions looming in the back of my head.  As with any project I will revisit this list often and eliminate any that become known.  Then I will shift them to my Knows list.  Some of these I may not know until we already have students in the classroom.  But, by reviewing and reflecting I am actually firming up my foundation of knowledge about what it takes to create a school like we are about to create.

    This Summer I will be have "Scaffolding "sessions to increase my knowledge.  After each one I will be writing a post about what things I can take with me to eliminate any of the Need to Knows.  These scaffolding sessions may actually add more Need to Knows - and that's OK.  As with our students, there are times when the teacher holds a Workshop (what we call these in the NTN)  and the students realize that there are concepts that they don't know or foundations they have that are weak and need reinforcement.

    Let the Workshops begin.....