Wednesday, October 28, 2015

#cddolphins teacher of year speech - Laura Bossert

This Blog is from Colonial School District's Teacher of the Year, Laura Bossert. She is an incredible educator and her words have not been modified at all: This speech meant a ton as it showed me and everyone in the room what #cddolphins are all about... It was delivered about 3 weeks ago.

I am incredibly humbled to stand before you tonight, ready to represent our district as the State teacher of the year if I am chosen for that honor. I look around and see that we are just a small representation of over 700 truly wonderful, dedicated teachers who are making an impact on their students’ lives each and every day. We are all so lucky to be in a district that places so much importance on teacher excellence and ensuring that our students really are college and career ready. We are blazing the way to using technology in meaningful ways that create 21st century learners who will be able to compete on a global level. As part of my portfolio I had to create a platform that if chosen I will pursue, and I wanted to share that with you tonight.
       Like most educators, I grew up in the era of textbooks and worksheets. Technology was not readily available, and education was a one-size fits all curriculum. Teachers delivered lessons to the whole group and I can remember the distinct feeling of it’s either sink or swim. I was the type of student who could not keep their attention on the teacher and would daydream. I needed to move, to be entertained, and engaged. Rather, I felt bored and just an empty face in the crowd. Most teachers did not get to know what made me tick, what interested me, or how I learned best. Then came the tests. The test assessed what I had learned, which was often a struggle because I didn’t retain information from straight lecture style teaching. Tests were always the same format and always presented a challenge. This isn’t to say that I sank. I still got by, but rather than enjoying going into school each day, eager to learn something new, I dreaded sitting in another class bored.
       Fast forward to today and now I have started my fifth year as an educator. Each year I come with new ideas and new knowledge as how to best engage my students and deliver content that fits their learning style. I learned best by seeing and doing, but many students I encounter each year do not. That is why it is crucial I take the time to get to know their personalities so that I can help them reach their fullest potential in my classroom.

       There is a movement in education that is changing our students’ lives like never before. Teachers are starting to see the need for personalization and customization of lessons in order to keep students engaged in school. No two students learn the same, so why are we teaching a class of 25 students the exact same way? It does not work. We see a few students excel, some students pass, and many students struggle to keep up.  Through personalizing learning, we are going to make sure that our lessons fit our students, not trying to make them fit the lesson.
       We are also in an incredible era of technology. Not only is the technology becoming more readily available in schools, both through district funds and students BYOD, but what we can do with the technology is transforming the way we teach. Students can now connect with other students all over the world with the click of a mouse. Students can create, collaborate, and find thousands of ways to be innovative with what is arguably the most incredible tool education has ever seen. That’s right. Technology is a tool and only a tool. But when used correctly, this tool has the ability to change the way we educate our students.
       This personalization is very hard work. I worked closely with administrators and trainers who have a deep understanding of personalization. It took many hours to develop one single lesson. We had to create multiple pathways for students to access content that allowed for creativity, as well as customizing the activities to make sure all students are able to meet the standard. However, I will say that after many hard hours, not only did I have a better understanding of what it meant to personalize and customize learning, but I saw the most incredible outcome.
       The implementation of personalization was astounding. Time, path, pace, and place were all considered. What does this look like? Students are given options on what activities they wish to complete to practice a skill. They are given choices as to how they are going to present their new knowledge to me through a variety of tools. Students are able to work on their assignments in whichever order they desire, or as many do, multi-task their way through the assignments. They have a choice of where to sit and whom to sit with. They can sit on the floor in the dark, or in the hallway with a friend. It is all self-paced so students are in charge of keeping themselves focused and on track.
       I will be honest, without strong classroom rules and routines, this task sounds very overwhelming. However, I was amazed at the results. Student engagement and understanding was like I had never seen. Students were thirsty to continue to work and received such enjoyment out of creating products to show their knowledge in a way that best fit them. Students loved having autonomy over their education and couldn’t wait to get back to work. They were proud to show their understanding in a way that fit their personal learning style. The students conveyed that they loved that this project was all their own, they had ultimate choice in their education.

        This is what we need to keep students engaged in school and see the need for higher education. When a student sees that education is about them, they excel. When they are given choice, they choose to challenge themselves and have such intrinsic motivation that the need for extrinsic motivators and behavior management seems to diminish. It is time students know that we are here to teach them how they want and need to be taught, and that they have an incredible amount of responsibility over their own education.

Friday, October 23, 2015

What language do you speak? Instructional rounds to build common language

I read a leadership book about 10 years ago about the importance of developing a common language within your organization.  Not only to move forward, but move forward as a unit together.  I read this book, agreed, and then packed it away not thinking about it too much for the next 8 years or so.

Then I became the principal of a great school, Carrie Downie Elementary School.  I realized right away that we needed to share a vocabulary in order to effectively communicate with each other in order to really understand each other.  We were trying to change our direction and reach a focus around blended learning.  Because of this, the importance of a common language and why it is necessary was tested and proven over and over.  It was tested and practiced again this week.

We did instructional rounds with all of our homeroom teachers, eighteen teachers in all.  These were short rounds (45 min) where we spent (10-15) minutes observing a fellow Carrie Downie teacher. There were 6 different groups in all, taking all day.  After the observation the rest of the time was spent identifying tasks, both from the student and teacher perspective.  These ranged from questions asked, to those written, to student collaborative conversations, to so many other things that were seen and heard.

The problem of practice was Increase the cognitive lifting of students and tasks from teachers.  That basically means, figure out how to take lessons from being solidly in a retrieval/comprehension state to analysis/reasoning/metacognition/creating/etc.  We had tools (flip chart), had conducted a short training exercise, and had up to 12 eyes all focused on one goal.  By doing this we were developing a common language. We went for it.

I believe you learn best by doing, and this was definitely doing.  We scripted everything we saw in teams of 5-6 and returned to debrief.  The level of conversation and debate with each grade level was professional, without making inferences, and based on similar context.  It was also clear right away that we were developing a common language together.  Words were being used that needed explanation, but after discussion, and short reflections, we began to see things similarly.  We have more work to do, but this was the first step.  This did not mean that we always agreed, which is great! The debate pushed the thinking and being challenged by my staff, and challenging them, ranks up there as one of the most rewarding parts of my job!
Bottom line is that teachers do not generally open up their classrooms to peers to allow them to script out what they see.  On top of that, they usually don't meet afterwards with their supervisor to debrief on what they saw.  It was practice in identifying tasks and applying cognitive growth targets to those tasks that were observed.  All of this was done to exercise their own muscle to improve their own practice.  I found it incredible!   

This was an exercise in reflection which helped build a common language.  This was a huge risk, needing trust, and certainly would not have been attempted had I thought that my staff could not handle this activity.  I am proud to say that I not only think they handled it, but based on feedback from a survey, they felt like they needed a little more time to reflect and debrief.  This I will have to figure out for the next round.  And I will need to figure out how to get our related arts teachers involved. 

We pushed our common language.  We pushed each other with words and thoughts.  We pushed each other to be better.  The power of common language is alive again in me, 10 years later.  We don't have to always agree, but we do have to be speaking the same language.  If not, we can't move forward and improve.  It is so important.  I am glad that I realize this again.      

Sunday, October 18, 2015

"WE" Did this...

I have read a lot of reflections about conferences in the past.  I have enjoyed them all as it helps the attendee solidify or make more concrete their learning.  I am going to switch this from an I to a "WE". Our district has been talking about the power of "WE" for some time.

Saturday was all about "WE".  We that planned the conference 100% asynchronously, with no face to face meetings over a year long process.  We, that signed up to attend on a Saturday to learn.  We that presented and waited nervously as we had to walk out to a song we selected and address a crowd of 250+ people.  We, that took pictures of presenters and each other to celebrate the learning.  We that spoke at lunch and clapped as others won raffles.  We, had fun learning, we had choice in learning, we came, not because we had too, but because we wanted too.  We wanted to be there.  We want to do better, we want to reach our students in multiple ways.  Let's not forget that we are more powerful when we continue to push each other, learn together, are provided choice, and have fun.  Remember that when you are planning and facilitating your classroom.  We, will be watching and wanting to know how it is going.  We, are there for each other.  We, want to help and support you.  Just reach out to us and together we will make a difference for "our kids".

Monday, October 5, 2015

Part 3 of Shaking a Feeling...

Today was the day I visited Young correctional institution and one of my favorite students.  I had been his assistant principal and grew very close to him as I described in two previous blog posts.  The first one was all over the place and filled with anger Link Here.  The second was a call to action as I feel as if we all need to do more.  Link Here.

So there we were +Holly Sage and I going to Young correctional at 2:30 pm this afternoon.  As we waited to go in, I realized I was not able to carry my wallet in.  So I quickly ran back to the car and dropped it off.  On the return trip I heard "Mr. Timm" being yelled out from the prison windows on the second floor on 3 separate occasions.  I later realized this was "my kid" that I was going to visit, but at first it shook me a bit as to think that I probably did know more than one person in this facility.

We entered with approximately 15 other visitors for other inmates, and went through security, up to the second floor and into a medium sized room with partitions, plexi-glass windows, metal stools, and phones to communicate with the other side.  At first "our kid" was not there, we had to wait and wonder what was going on.  We had a feeling that he was embarrassed.  We got this based on a conversation Holly had with his mother earlier in the day.  My feelings about his possible embarrassment and humiliation made me feel good!  I was glad that he may be embarrassed and humiliated about his situation.  I selfishly want him to hurt a bit.  I did and do not want him to easily forget how his actions have affected so many people that care about him.

After a good few minutes, he entered and immediately I saw that smile, that demeanor that reminded me of myself.  For a second I lost my anger and saw that kid that came to my office all the time for making a sarcastic comment or a misplaced joke at the wrong time.  Both things that always reminded me of myself and got me in trouble at his age.

I went to the phone first to talk and immediately asked him how he was and then realized that was not where my emotions were going to take me.  I wanted to make statements, I wanted him to hear me, I am sorry, but I did not care how he was...  I wanted him to know how much it hurt me that he was there, call it selfish, but that is where I went for a few moments.  

I did not sit down right away, I stayed standing, but bent over as the phone cord was not that long and leaned into the glass.  I started to make statements like, "you can't look me in the eye can you..." and asked things like, "what were you thinking?"  I did not yell as it was a pretty quiet room and I had read the visitors room rules earlier and realized yelling and profanity would not be tolerated.  I did not come here to get myself kicked out right away.

The tone of the conversation quickly became more calm as Holly and I went back and forth sharing observations, talking to him about his brothers, and telling him how important he was.  For me it was necessary to grasp on to something that would promise me that this would never happen again.  Towards the end of the hour long conversation I did not feel as if I had that satisfaction.  I asked Holly to talk a final time.

He needed a passion, he needed new friends, he needed to focus, and many other things that I just threw out.  I was getting angry again as I saw a member of my school community locked up.  I wanted him again to know that his actions so deeply affected people (me and others) some of us that had not spoken to him in nearly 5 years.  I never got what I needed, but I went there for him, to show him we cared, no matter what, we would be supportive.  I think we more than accomplished that.  I left with a good feeling, that he knows we are out there ready to help, his extended community.  

There is a silver lining too, as it appears that he is going to get probation and be out very soon if not tomorrow.  He has promised to visit us and I can't wait to give him a hug and talk to him not from a place of anger, but a place of hope and belief.  I promised him today that we are here for him, we have resources, and can help.  He stated that he "was in the wrong place at the wrong time."  He needed to know that we forgive and want to help.  I wanted him to know that his community extends beyond his family and friends.  His community is everyone that has come in contact with him.

His horrible story of the last few weeks affected me in ways that I never would have imagined.  Maybe because it was just such a surprise.  Maybe because I so see myself in him and was remined today why.

I want all "my current and former kids" to know that we are willing and able to help.  We are here for them, we do this for them, that is the only reason.  To make sure they are successful, whatever that might mean to them.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Lesson plans or Learning ecosystems?

My fifth grade teachers are going through teaching ecosystems to their students. What does this have to do with lesson plans?  You spend a lot of time setting them up, planting seeds, and getting materials together. Then all you do is observe, water, and do some routine maintenance.

Lesson plans should be like ecosystems.  You should plant seeds in dirt and wait for it to grow.  Others should water the plant, pull weeds, and observe.  This should be shared with all around and dead plants and animals removed.

18 minute video on Reading Unit:

It is that simple, lesson platforms, not lesson plans, should follow this same trajectory.  This is a short post, but if you think of units and lessons as ecosystem vs. a product, you will know that they need to be continuously monitored, pulled, re-planted, watered, and set up in the light for others to see.

4 minute video on Math challenge problem:

Friday, October 2, 2015

What really matters... Stop saying "All about the students" and live it!

Sometimes I walk into a room and teachers perk up!  I have had bells hit me in the head to tell the teacher I entered the room!  I find that funny, why not.... Why wouldn't teachers or anybody be nervous when a supervisor with the power of an evaluation be a little nervous.  I hold the power of their observations and to some extent their livelihood.  But relax, sometimes, I am not there for teachers.  I am there for them, the students.  I want to know what they are doing...

Well that is a lie, I am there to make sure they are learning, which is driven by the teacher.  Checks/balances and continuous improvement within an expectation of risk taking, problem solving, and progressive struggle is what I strive for.  With that being said, we also need to meet them at their level through differentiation, which can be achieve through digital means if done properly.  See my blog on digital platform creation.  If you want more info find me on twitter @dougtimm34 or voxer doug_timm.

I understand the stressor requirements like bullying training, student benchmark assessments, RTI groupings starting, daily emails, trainings, observation/feedback, me in your class recording stuff without your permission, and everything else being totally overwhelming

I get it, and understand, but we have to have a sense of urgency.  When we started the year we had 1170 hours with kids.  We have already used up so many of them.  Every minute is important and after a few hard weeks where we are all tired, I am ready to try and get some energy from the best source we have "our kids!"  They don't know our struggle.  They expect us at the door every morning ready to go and being positive.  In our profession, our "feelings" don't matter, I am sorry, we are there for a much bigger cause.

Just remember that I want to know what they are completing and how they are solving problems (Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies, etc.)  I have seen so many great things this year so far from every class.  Strive to make every day your best.  

When I do my walkabouts and not confined to my office with behavior issues, I only pay attention to what they are doing (students) because that is all that matters.  What teachers "do" is not important if it does not equal student learning and growth.  This may be against what some teachers want to hear.  They may want it to be all about what they are doing.  I really don't care about what you do if it does not equal "our kids learning." 

I have seen so many great things and have been able to give so much great feedback.  Thank you #cddolphins for making many aspects of my job easy.  We are a team and I appreciate learning from you and "our kids" more than anything else.