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Monday, July 2, 2012

You Want Me To Do What? Creating School Culture.


http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelkeen/

     Last week I sat down and took a serious look at what I need to do between now and the first day of school and I had to pause and shake my head (while saying "holy crap!")  It was one of those days.

     So, this transition thing - how hard can it be?  To answer that I took a look at an 8 day training plan I am putting together for the 6th grade teachers as they change from being regular classroom teachers to PBL teachers in our New Tech school.

     I decided that they needed to find out what it means to wear the label of New Tech (NT).  Anyone can become a teacher using PBL in their classroom.  There are 100's (1000's ?) of teachers in the United States who are trying out PBL or have been using PBL, successfully, in their classrooms for years.

      But what does the PBL look like in those classrooms?  How strong are the inquiry and the questioning?  How open-ended are the products being created?  And what is the school culture like for the school within which these classrooms reside?  In my opinion, it is this culture piece that is the biggest difference in schools with the NT label.

     If you are to be a NT school you must be willing to create a culture of Trust, Respect, and Responsibility.   And, you can't just give those three words lip service.  A bunch of posters in the hallways or the classrooms with what those three words mean doesn't mean they actually reside within your school culture.

     We will start building this culture with our teachers in Grand Rapids, MI as they attend the New Tech All schools Conference (NTAC12) during the week before we officially start the 8 day training.  The teachers will have assigned breakout sessions to attend and then share at the end of the day.  During the end-of-day get together we will be discussing and creating our meeting norms.  And, we will be establishing our School-wide Learning Outcomes (SWLO's).

     These teachers will never have used learning outcomes to grade student work.   When schools attend the New Schools Training with NT they spend hours upon hours establishing their learning outcomes complete with written definitions and rubrics of how they will be assessed.  Our teachers will not have had that benefit and so I will have to facilitate this conversation.

      To make life easier for them I intend to put the learning outcomes used by our district, in its Strategic Plan, on the table as a starting point.  They are: Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, Digital Citizenship, and Work Ethic.  Our teachers will have at least a cursory vision of what each of these look like and this will be easier for them as they make these outcomes our own learning outcomes.

     At the end of our discussion each night it will be time to bond.  Too often we forget to take the time to get to know each other.  Gone are the days where teachers lived in their little classroom never to mingle with the other teachers.  And so, for us, that may mean sitting together for dinner, it may be having a drink together, it may be doing some of the fun night-time rituals NT schools do in Grand Rapids like the Piano Bar Sing-a-long.  The most important thing is creating memories, outside of work, that will stay with us as we tackle the more difficult issues during the following weeks and months.

     Then, with this week of getting to know each other behind us, we will really be able to tackle culture during our 8 days of training.  Here is a brainstorming list of what I will have for them to work on:

          a. Specific ideas for Culture –  (Something every day)
  1.  Use a PBL approach to this with an Entry Event and agenda within ECHO  (a Moodle-like platform used by the NT schools) so they are seeing how to use a project briefcase.
  2.  We will use team building activities each morning and after lunch each day.
  3.  We need to set the Norms and the decision making process.
  4.  We need to discuss the Learning Outcomes, define them, and create a rubric for each.  We will use the 5 mentioned in the district strategic plan:  Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, Digital Citizenship, and Work Ethic for our first year.
  5.  We need to weight the Learning Outcomes – Content 40 – 60% with the others adding up to 100%.
  6.  We need to discuss a 6th Grade Orientation.  Do we want to use MNTHS (Manor New Tech High School) students who graduated from our middle school?
  7.  We need to discuss how we will conduct Classroom Observations and what we will do during late start Mondays (our district has late start Mondays for PD).
  8. Have a "Day of Celebration" when we get to the end of the first 9-weeks (or other significant date).

          b. Specific ideas for PBL – (2nd week only?)
    1. Teachers will plan their first project.
    2. Teachers will plan a 2-week culture project (for the whole school to create the culture).
    3. We need to have a literacy component to the project briefcase.
    4. Have a critical friends day, in the middle of the second week of training, to see what they have planned for their first project. 
          c. Specific ideas for ECHO – (Something every day)
  1. Who will be the ECHO liaison? 
  2.  We will create a standard project briefcase that every teacher will use for the first two 9-weeks grading period (minimum)
  3.  We need to create a School Resource Library in ECHO
  4.  We need to have a Low Tech version of the Project Briefcase.  This could be a “White Binder” for each student with pre-set tabs where each of the sections will be electronically. 
  5.  We need to show them what is available in the NTN Resource Library also in ECHO.

     The culture we create will need to be refined and worked on throughout the school year and beyond.  Culture is not something you create and then "it's done!"   This up-front time without distractions will pay dividends as we move through the school year.  Wish us luck.