Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Flipped PD Model via Twitter

Social Networking, via the Twitter medium, offers an option for professional development which supports the flipped classroom approach, in that online collegial discussions, research, surveys, and an enriched professional learning approach can be done outside of the traditional faculty meeting time and then the learning that takes place through Twitter can be implemented during the “faculty meeting time.” While some faculties of educators in many schools today operate in the old way of scheduling after-school meetings and gatherings in the library to comply with mandated professional development, other schools and teachers are incorporating the flipped approach by maximizing the capabilities of Twitter and allowing teachers to be entrusted as true professionals to conduct their learning outside of the traditional faculty meeting time and to replace that time with the implementation of the learning. 

            Professional development via twitter and Professional Learning Networks (PLN’s), unlike traditional forms of faculty meeting based or site-based professional development, have resources growing at exponential rates that are available to Twitter users which allows the user to be independent and in control of his or her own professional learning outside of mandatory times and places in which many teachers are used to spending their “professional development”.  For example, with Twitter, one has the ability to follow authors, mentors, researchers, educators, colleagues, etc. based on their own desires, interests, and musings and then be able to grow at their own rates rather than at a set time and place with the “whole faculty.” Other options for faculties using twitter include online discussions using hashtags, such as #edtech, #formativeassessment, #socialstudies, #edudream, #edchat, #satchat and many more, where teachers simply post their own thoughts, questions, and/or links that relate to the topic in the hashtag. Twitter, like online textbooks, allows teachers to investigate relevant and current topics in order to expand their learning in a subject, similar to the way students use their online textbook features.

            In lieu of spending hours on end searching for topics, learning opportunities, and relevant educational trends, Twitter allows users to follow other Twitter users in order to have desired information to be tweeted straight to the follower which saves time and energy.
            Peter Dewitt, praises professional development through Twitter by opining:

“Conversations with peers, whether they are in our building standing next to us, or a password away on the social network, help us make sure we are on the right track. By going to a social network like Twitter we are surrounded by people who are experts in the area of (our interests) and they are a helpful resource as we negotiate our way through this process.”

In addition, college professor, Steve Wheeler, details the importance of creating a professional learning network through the use of a metaphorical graph below. You will see Twitter is in the first quadrant:

“It is worth noting that only the first quadrant of this PLN model is actually performed synchronously, that is, in real time. That may give some a clue as to the latent potential of tools such as Twitter to connect people powerfully and instantly across the globe and to give all of us access to a worldwide network of experts and enthusiasts in any subject for which we have an interest. Everyone should have a PLN, because in today's connected world, without it you are not fully equipped as a professional.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Next Greatest Generation

This week's guest blog is from Dr. Ryan Longnecker, a Metro-Nashville Public School Dean of Students at an urban middle school. His musings here are a charge for us all to reflect upon the current state of public education and see where it is we (each and every one of us) can contribute.

Tom Brokaw originally coined the term "The Greatest Generation" to describe the generation "who grew up in the United States during the deprivation of the Great Depression, and then went on to fight in World War II, as well as those whose productivity within the war's home front made a decisive material contribution to the war effort." This great group of people, who despite their desperate beginnings, came together as a nation to defeat great evils and desperate odds. This is one of the main reasons our country can enjoy the freedoms and successes that it does today.

Now our country faces another great evil and desperate odds....but on a completely different front, and instead of struggling against outside forces that would threaten the freedoms of our nation, we now fight an internal war that is slowly chipping away at the very foundations that make our people and land great.

The current state of education has become a battleground as teachers, students, parents, governments, LEA's, and private businesses all maintain that they know what is best for learning and blame the other parties for the lack of achievement in our schools. Every day brings a new wave of methods, technologies, and learning methods that are promised to raise achievement, growth, and the success of students. And yet, the solution does not lie in trinkets and methods, it sits on our kitchen tables.

To "fix" our education system and put it back on the path towards success will take the efforts of the NEXT "Greatest Generation." It will take an entire generation letting go of the current mindset of "what can I get for myself" and "what can I do to enjoy myself tonight" and getting back to a sense of sacrifice for the greater good. It will take turning off the TV and getting back to the kitchen table. Putting down the iPad and teaching your child how to multiply fractions. Take a moment and read and ask yourself if YOU are making the sacrifices you need to make so that your children will be successful.

What are your thoughts? What did you think about the statistics in the article? Are we living in desperate times? Could this next generation be the NEXT Greatest Generation?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Urban Magic and the Wild Wild West

This week's "Drinkwine at School" blog is a guest post shared by Dr. Ryan Jackson, the Dean of Students at Metro-Nashville Public School's Maplewood High School. Dr. Jackson's passion for serving at-risk students is infectious and his views need to be shared. There is no doubt you will enjoy this post! Feel free to reach out to him with any questions you may have. You also need to follow him and his school on twitter to keep abreast with all of the amazing work going on.
Working as an educator can be a tough yet highly rewarding profession. Working as an urban educator, however, can be a seemingly impossible yet life-changing experience.

To add a bit of clarity, let’s define “urban education” as teaching and learning in an impoverished area, where the local economy barely sustains its citizens let alone supports the public schools charged with preparing students for success after high school. Honestly, I almost hate to call it “urban” because although the school where I work serves students living in the inner city, we at times mirror challenges and barriers faced by our rural brethren. (The issue is really poverty and the lasting effects and severe stressors that come with it.) However, for the sake of semantics and the adage mentioned in the title of this blog, we’ll stick with “urban education.”

For ethos purposes it’s worth noting I work and have worked in urban education for the past six years.  More specifically, I work and have worked at a school that is only five years removed from a near mandatory state-takeover. (A takeover that would have been realized if not for the stopgap efforts of a legendary administrator cajoled out of retirement.) Now, I’ve heard countless professionals refer to working a year in urban education to that of working two years anywhere else, thus spurring the burnout rate and keeping urban schools in a perpetual state of teacher-turnover. Needless to say, though, my only experience with teaching is through the lens of poverty, social stigma, and the harsh realities that come with both.

This purpose has become my niche, my specialty. And I value it greatly.

My journey through urban education has been filled with countless peaks and valleys, and more acutely, daily ebbs and flows. However, the last two years have been somewhat of a metanoia for me. I have actively watched, supported and participated in a complete overhaul of the school I serve, from the proverbial top-to-bottom. New leadership meant a new vision; a new vision correlates to change; change promotes hard conversations; and hard conversations, historically, have been something we have avoided.

This particular blog entry isn’t designed to inform the reader of the specifics surrounding my school’s turnaround, but it’s worth noting that Jensen’s assertion, in his book, Teaching with Poverty in Mind, that principals have the greatest impact on student learning in urban schools is – if my school serves as a microcosm – surgeon-like accurate.

Let me simply say, the school I serve is doing better. Much better.  Are we where we need to be, no. Are we satisfied with our efforts, therefore resting on our laurels, of course not? But, we are making progress. I don’t just mean value-added bright spots, either. No, this school is making genuine, hard fought, no-holds-barred progress.  In fact, it’s the school’s progress, or more like the effort that’s supplying this continuous improvement movement, which forced me to write this timely blog.

What’s happening here isn’t magic. It’s certainly not urban magic, whatever that means. No, sir, what’s happening at the school I serve is far removed from any spell, mysticism, hocus-pocus - pick your Harry Potter reference - you get the picture. Frankly, there is nothing-supernatural going on.  Quite the contrary, this school’s turnaround is a direct result of strong leadership, shared vision, moral purpose, and sweat equity. As if all of these attributes weren’t enough, I must still repeat the fact that there is no “magic” happening at this school and to say so, to even imply it, is not only insulting to the students, faculty, staff, and stakeholders who call this school home, but it also undermines the value of goal setting, collaboration, and perseverance.

You can’t change the culture of an organization with magic, and I’m convinced that no matter how many times you scream “Ta-Dah!” the hard conversations will not get any easier. Yet, that’s what we’re doing: changing an entire school cluster’s mindset so that it believes in itself while striving for something better. There’s nothing magic about it, just facts and professionalism.

Furthermore, I would be remiss if I didn’t speak to the media’s role in perpetuating a stigma that has left an entire school cluster leveled. Instead of detailing the injustice here, I’m opting to simply showcase that this school has taken the fight to cyberspace’s version of the wild west: Twitter. No longer will we sit back and hope that the media picks-up positive news pieces about our school’s continued success or that our re-branding efforts are enough to catch the eye of a sympathetic editor-in-chief or program director. Instead, once again, we have opted not to wait for magic to happen. We merely empowered ourselves using a platform that serves as the world’s largest jumbotron. Or, as Jay-Z so succinctly put it when thumbing his nose at the archaic Billboard paradigm: #newrules

Now every tweet serves as a mini-commercial, supporting, documenting, and redefining our continuous improvement movement. It’s not magic; we work really hard at it. Follow us @maplewoodMNPS. We’ll show you what we mean.

I’m Dr. Ryan B. Jackson and these thoughts & opinions are my own. Oh, yeah, follow me, too: @ryanbjackson1

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Importance of "Team Learning"

There may not be one facet of organizations more important than team learning. Specifically, team learning plays a massive role in the field of education. All educational organizations must pay close attention to the team learning trend if the organization wants to be relevant in today’s 21st century. In fact, the idea of team learning has a direct correlation to learning. If the goal of our educational organizations is to cultivate environments of learning, where learning not only exists; but it exists in its most authentic and efficient forms, than we must not turn a blind eye to learning that can occur in teams. In addition, “when teams are truly learning…, the individual members are growing more rapidly than could have occurred otherwise” (Senge, 9).
When would team learning be the most appropriate? This question is asked often by educators everywhere. “A team-based work structure makes sense when no one person can accomplish the task and information, distinctive knowledge or expertise, and effort need to be coordinated” (Bell & Kozlowski, 2008). The need to have teams is prevalent in today’s world of work. If educators are charged to prepare students for the workplace, then integrating team learning into the educational organization should not just be a starting point, but instead a way of life. As Bell and Kozlowski suggest, teams are needed when no one person can juggle the needs of a job or organization. Classrooms must mirror those jobs and needs.
All levels of education have the capability to implement team learning. Students starting in pre-k can be placed into learning environments in which team learning is honored. Students in the middle grades and in high school have been observed thriving in team learning environments. This trend in educational organizations does not only pertain to secondary schools. In fact, post-secondary organizations have experienced that “small group learning is considered a best practice in undergraduate education” (Angelo & Cross, 1993). Specifically, teachers in all of these levels of education, use this style of instruction for a simple and “must-have” skill for any educator: classroom management. “Probably the most widely used comprehensive group-based classroom management approach is team learning” (Michaelsen, 1992).
The benefits of team learning are not limited to assisting teachers with classroom management. However, if educators needed to be swayed and persuaded to adopt, implement, and sustain classroom cultures which hold team learning in high esteem, then perhaps they also should pay attention to researchers who suggest that “teaching with Team Learning is simply more fun” (Michaelsen, 1992). If the idea of fun does not do the trick, then perhaps the idea of the urgent need to find a solution to the crisis that today’s educational organizations have found themselves in will sway educators that the trend to adopt team learning is an idea that must be taken seriously. In order to further this point that today’s educational organizations must implement team learning, a Boston University professor of business, details the chasm between what our workplaces need and the sad state of what our schools are producing:

“Educational systems, as opposed to work organizations, traditionally reward individual performance by grading students on products—exams, papers, projects—that they generate by themselves, and reward faculty for courses taught solo and for the well-known "single-authored publications in refereed journals." Especially from the students' perspective, collaboration is frequently a form of cheating; in organizations, however, most people cannot perform their tasks without collaborating with others—designing products together, preparing joint reports, developing marketing, and trouble-shooting strategies together.

Collaboration skills are also deemphasized by faculty members who might otherwise wish to teach them but do not feel equipped to do so. These educators lack the mechanisms to enable group members to reflect on their work together. Such mechanisms comprise a core component of team learning, defined by three components: using student groups in the classroom to produce information, ideas, and products; having group members reflect on their work together, give and receive feedback about performance processes and collaboration skills; and evaluating group members' skills of collaboration, that is, their effectiveness as group members in addition to the quality of their end products.”
Given the immense amount of work dedicated to the endorsement of team learning as well as the sense of belonging serving as a basic human need, why do you think we do not see more of it in our schools today?