Tuesday, January 19, 2010

21st Century Teaching Skills and Teacher Interviews

I was in my first #edchat using twitter today (what a great group by the way - thanks for making me feel welcome) and partway through our large group discussion I was struck with (what may be) a crazy thought about interviewing teachers.  I've sat on the administration side of the table for a great many interviews over the last 12 years, and I reflect often on making our hiring practices more effective.  Before I get to the crazy thought...a little background.

I've attended workshops on how to develop and ask questions designed to identify behaviors. Myself and my colleagues have put a lot of work into hiring the right teacher for the right job, and I think we have gotten pretty good at it, judging by the excellent people we have had join our team.  Assuming we agree there is a need for change in overall instructional practices (which I think we do, based on our common calls for learner-centered instruction this morning), things are going to change in the hiring game. Based on that assumption, and the fact that technology integration will only continue to gain in importance, I think we are going to need to change what we are looking for in a 21st Century teacher.

I thought I would share my thought from today here and I hope you might consider leaving your  thoughts in the comments section so we can have a little discussion about teacher interview practices and preparing our schools for the future.  Heck, even if you disagree that we need to seek a different skillset than in years past, let me know that too, please!

During the discussion this morning I began to think of turning the interview into a more practical demonstration of teacher skills. Years ago my mentor had prospective teachers teach a practice lesson in addition to the spoken interview.  It worked wonderfully, but unfortunately we don't often have a timeline conducive to arranging for test instruction.  I'm a little sad to say that I've never used that technique since, because I love that idea.  Surely there are other practical techniques out there.  Perhaps we should be looking for an electronic portfolio?

Back to the crazy thought at hand though!  Regarding 21st Century Skills, my thought today was that if we value a teacher's ability to learn and creatively solve problems (so they can teach those skills to our students), why wouldn't we ask the teacher to prove it?  What if we gave the prospective teacher 5 minutes, a telephone, and internet access to summarize a difficult concept they are not familiar with?  Would that give us a realistic view of their tech proficiency as well as their ability to grasp and synthesize new concepts?

After I raised that idea, one of the other participants in the #edchat discussion suggested giving the teacher an exemplary model of a traditional lesson plan and asking them to critique it and/or address how they would change it.  The intent of that activity would be to see if they would suggest changes to make the lesson differentiated or more learner-centered.  I think that is a very innovative idea too!

Now, what do you think?  Are those crazy ideas?  What other interview techniques/practices might we employ in order to assess teacher proficiency in the skills we know they need for the 21st century?  Have any of you participated in authentic or non-traditional interviews?  Did they work?  Did you like them?

If you have the time, I'd love to read your thoughts in the comments section…


Friday, January 15, 2010

Testing Youblisher

I recently learned about an innovative and interesting way to publish and share .pdf files online. Rather than posting a file and expecting people to download it to read it, I am trying out a website called YOUBLISHER.

Youblisher turns your .pdf document into an online magazine. You can then embed that magazine in your blog, website, etc.  I've chosen to use my resume as a sample, and it follows.  Perhaps someone from an island paradise is looking for an energetic, enthusiastic Web2.0 educator and will stumble upon this blog, find my resume, and whisk me off to the islands.

More likely though, my wife, kids, and mom will look at it an be amazed....by the technology...not the resume...Isn't this a neat way to publish .pdfs though? I'm going to use this in school to publish newsletters, I think...

Big thanks to @jenclevette for giving me the idea to wordle my resume, it makes a great cover page!

Sample Publication


More From Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson's TED Talk "Do Schools Kill Creativity" is one of my all time favorite resources that supports my belief our educational system is in need of change.

If you've ever worked with a capable student who struggled with succeeding in school, you know that there are a lot of factors influencing students' dispositions toward school. I believe if we help shape our system to better meet the needs of our students we will be doing what we can about the factors in our control!

To that end, I was thrilled to find the following video on the Educator's PLN ning site tonight. If you liked his talk on TED, you will find this JUST as appealing. He covers essentially the same content, but goes into more depth and takes a broader view of the need for creativity. The overall result is, as usual, brilliant!  It is 65 minutes long, and I hope you enjoy it:

Sir Ken Robinson from NYSCATE on Vimeo.


Motion Leadership and Facilitating Instructional Change

I had the good fortune of attending a one-day working session in Edmonton with Michael Fullan, sponsored by The College of Alberta School Superintendents (CASS), earlier this week.  Fullan is working with a cohort of Alberta school districts invovled in a CASS-sponsored Leadership Capacity Building Project titled Moving and Improving.

This was the second time I've been able to attend a working session with Fullan, and the day did not disappoint. His focus was on using the strategies found in his new book, Motion Leadership, to help districts build their instructional and leadership capacities. Myself, and I believe the others I was with, found the day useful and affirming that a lot of what we are working on in our district is on the right path!

If you have read many of Michael Fullan's books, you may have noticed his fondness for lists.  In honor of that, I thought I would share my take-aways from the day in the same fashion:
  • Clarity of purpose is developed through action. Clarity develops while you act.
  • It is specific leadership behavior that causes positive movement.
  • If you want to get somewhere you have to have a clear, shared vision of what you want to achieve.
  • Make your focus student learning. Be specific to the instruction.
  • Do a small number of things VERY well, instead of a large number of things pretty well.
In his book, Fullan shares 9 components of change, that are part of a READY - FIRE - AIM approach. He believes you should get started first, then adjust your plans and develop your supports once you know what you are doing.  From those components of change, I took away:
  • We must have a bias for action.
  • Relationships are the foundation upon which all lasting change occurs.
  • We must expect the implementation dip, where we fall back before improving, but must PERSIST (a focus throughout the day) and fight through it.
  • We will learn about implementation DURING implementation.
  • Communication is essential, but, communication without implementation doesn't mean much. It is almost wasted effort.
One goal for the weekend is to read the book and compare my takeways from the brief session with the content in order to develop a deeper understanding of the concept he was sharing. I'll be back with updates, if needed.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

This Is Something That I Have to See to Believe

The concept is brilliant, and if it works as well as described below, this new cell phone/electronics charger will be in my pocket the day after it is released!

Obviously, I never thought when I was a child that we would have the powerful electronics devices common today. Taking that notion even further, I believe, the idea that there is a device that can harvest the power found in the AIR borders on incomprehensible to me. Really? They can do that? Amazing. I'll be watching to see if this makes it to market.

And then I will buy one!

That's if it works, of course. I've seen lots of amazing ideas run out of steam on the way to the finish line. I've may even have some of my own crazy schemes, errr, ideas, not make it to reality. Or I may not have.

But still....

What do you think? Are we mere steps away from batteries that never need recharging?


Monday, January 11, 2010

Olivia is the Class V.I.P. - January 13, 2010

Our little girl is her class V.I.P. in grade 2 this week. Today we had to write her a letter and send it in to the class, and I believe the teacher reads it out in class. Of course, we couldn't resist doing a little bit more....she really does deserve it!

Here is Alex, Olivia's big brother, reading the letter my wife and I wrote and sent in with Olivia. Thanks very much to Olivia's teacher, Ms. Kraig, who played Alex's video for the class.

Just as we are lucky to have her with us, Olivia is lucky to have an awesome big brother like Alex!

The pizza lunch was awesome this week too. Thanks very much Ms. Kraig for making the kids in your class feel so special!


Friday, January 8, 2010

Different Ways to SHOW What You KNOW

Sorry to interrupt your regularly scheduled Friday afternoon programming, but I came across this today and thought it might be of interest to some of you...
If you are looking to come up with alternative ways to get the kids to show what they know, perhaps this periodic table of visual representation might be useful? 
I could see this being given to kids too, to choose their own way of presenting information instead of writing the book report or completing a paragraph.  There are some higher level thinking skills needed for some of the causal comparative techniques on the page...
Thanks to Ian Jukes for posting this on his Committed Sardines blog. Thanks to the good people at visual-literacy.org for putting it together. It's AWESOME.  I learned some new things today.
AND...looking at this reminded me of the diagram to help people choose what kind of chart to make to show relationships between numbers.  If your kids make charts, take a look at this link.  Thanks to EXTREME PRESENTATION.COM  for putting this one online!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Do You Work in a Professional Learning Community?

If you work in a PLC, perhaps you should review the 8 Laws Of Human Nature In A Professional Learning Community

I read these, posted on another blog I frequent Education Innovation.  The objective of a team working together may be pure, the actions of the individuals honorable, but still the work they try to do to help students learn can turn out incomplete or otherwise as they did not intend.

Rob Jacobs, author of the Education Innovation blog explains how PLC teams can veer off course in 8 easy to understand ways. If I were king for a day, I might make this required reading for all of our schools PLC teams at the end of this year AND at the start of next year. There may be some good reflection on team functions taking place as a result...

Wisdom like this, quoted from Jacob's post (HERE) is golden:

"Have you ever considered that the first person in a PLC to share an idea, their knowledge, their opinion, or give input to their Professional Learning Community may create a sequence of events that prevent the PLC from making the strongest most informed decisions possible?


"Teachers are often reluctant to share their ideas about effective instructional practices to meet the varying needs of students. Often they are afraid that they will be "wrong." Talking about page numbers and dates carries less risk. "

The PLC teams in our district are doing very well, but I sometimes wonder if enough time is spent developing the proper relationships in order to function effectively as a team. I know as a principal, I never had enough time to work with all of the teams, and other potential mentors were equally as busy.  Reflecting on these rules, and reviewing the vision for the teams, may be a very useful exercise!

As I always like to say, you do not have to be sick to get better!!!  (edit: Darn, I wish I could give credit to where I heard/read that phrase. If you have a source for who said it, let me know. I think it was W.E. Deming in a video I watched a long time ago, but I'm not sure...)


More on Disruptive Innovation

Thanks very much to Scott McLeod, author of the Dangerously Irrelevant blog, for sharing the text and audio of his recent presentation to the NEA. Thanks very much to one of Scott's readers (Art Wolinsky) for synchronizing the two and making them available for everyone to enjoy.  You can find the individual components HERE and the combined version HERE.  If you have any interest in the topic of disruptive innovation or educational change, I recommend you take 20 minutes and watch/listen to this presentation.

Bob Dyan said the times, they are a changing.  Scott McLeod's presentation will give you a great overview of the theory that explains why.  I'm not a betting man (mostly because I'm on PIL and not as flush as normal), but if I were I might be tempted to bet the 2019 target promoted by Christensen may be reached a bit earlier than that!

The book Disrupting Class, by Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn, makes a great deal of sense to me. The idea of disruptive innovation driving successful organizations from the marketplace makes sense as a potential influence on the structure of education when explained in the book. I believe another book I read a while ago, A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink, helps to further explain the conditions that exist in society to support the upcoming disruption of our systems.

McLeod's presentation will be most helpful to me when trying to explain the changes that will take place during this next decade. When talking to people about the change I believe is coming, they frequently struggle to comprehend the breadth of the dramatic change that is coming. Old perspectives say there is no way kids can learn online in large numbers.  The problem with that belief though is we are not using old perspectives. Our students are creating new perspectives every day.

By focusing on what education is going to look like (i.e. an almost 50-50 blend of online and traditional classes at the HS level by 2019), I think I have been contributing to people's inability to understand the innovation that is happening as we speak.  I shouldn't focus on the end. It is too dramatic a jump. Rather, to help people understand the influence online learning is going to have, I should be focusing on the conditions being created that will foster kids learning online. I should explain more about how kids are starting to demonstrate their learning.  McLeod's presentation did a much better job of helping his audience (and us on the web watching it) build our understanding of what is happening.

The slides showing the exponential curve, especially, will help me to help others understand this concept the next time we are having a discussion about it.  Great presentation Scott!  Thanks for sharing it!


I Think This is Incredible

I came across this offer this morning:

Explore 120 years of amazing discoveries, fascinating maps, and the world's best photography with The Complete National Geographic. This definitive collection of every issue of National Geographic magazine, digitally reproduced in stunning high resolution, brings you the world and all that is in it. Use the advanced interface to explore a topic, search for photographs, browse the globe, or wander on your own expedition.

Can you imagine having EVERY issue of the National Geographic Magazine available digitally? If you move, they weigh nothing to take with you.  Can you imagine how many hours you'd spend poring over the maps, pictures, and articles?


What do you think that might be worth?  My first thought was that it would come at a premium.  As it turns out, the regular price (on the Geographic website, here) is only $69.95, but it is currently on sale for $59.95!!  I think that is an incredible deal.  For those seeking a higher level of personalization, you can get them preloaded on a 160 GB hard drive, with your name laser-etched into the shell, for $199.95.


I want....and I know a couple people for whom this would be an amazing gift, too. 


This could be a great resource for schools to look at too...and as the size of hard drives increases and prices drop, can you imagine sending your child to school every day with information like this, plus a collection of other resources readily available, at their fingertips?  The possibilities are impressive!



Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Power of Students Tracking Their Own Progress

I recently read an interesting article by Robert Marzano in the December edition of Educational Leadership (http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/dec09/vol67/num04/When_Students_Track_Their_Progress.aspx) about the influence on student learning when kids are tracking/charting their own performance over time on in-class assessments.
One of the things that Marzano mentions is that for it to be truly effective, the assessments need to measure the students' performance on the same learning objective over time.  If one assessment measured performance on reducing fractions to lowest terms, for example, and the next assessment measured performance on converting decimals to percents, those are not linearly comparable.  Many other practical suggestions resulting from his research are shared as well.
As an old math teacher, I can think of many ways to make use of this in math, but my thinking immediately took me in the direction of language arts.  Reading comprehension and/or performance on different domains that make up writing skills are one area where I think it is a natural fit to involve students in tracking their own progress as Marzano recommends.  Most of our schools have standardized reading and writing assessments that are given to students, measuring a specific set of skills, that may be perfect for this sort of use. It may even be possible to track progess over time and give students a long-term sense of their growth over time.
Plus, as an old math teacher, it would give kids more opportunities to make charts, read charts, etc. outside of my classes....
I'm think the kind of feedback students get after taking standardized assessments is inconsistent. It depends on the teacher, the time available, etc., but it is important to get them the feedback. My children will come home and tell me when they have written one of the schools standardized tests, but when I ask them how they did or what they learned from their writing, they mention that sometimes they get a copy back with feedback and sometimes they don't.  Please know I am not criticizing teachers at all, but trying to illustrate the importance of raising the meaning of the assessment for the students as well as the teachers. Great learning occurs for the teachers in analyzing assessment results, but by engaging students in the sort of activity Marzano describes it may help create deeper learning for students as well.
Just a thought.  I hope you get a chance to take a look at Marzano's research and share any comments you may have!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Twittering and Tweeting...What is it All About?

I never gave much thought to using Twitter, as the notion of following someone's (anyones?) every move held zero appeal to me.  I stand corrected.
I still have zero interest in knowing where people eat lunch. I am now, however, committed to using the Twitter service as a tool for collecting new ideas and items of interest to me.
Initially I signed up just to take a look at the service when I purchased my new HTC phone with a Twitter application built in to the Android operating system.  I quickly found several people who's opinions I respect and/or who's writing I find interesting with Twitter accounts.
I enjoy the opinions and links shared by writers such as Harry McCracken, David Pogue and Thomas Friedman. I have also signed up to follow our provincial Minister of Education Dave Hancock, several local educators, and respected bloggers/authors such as Dan Pink, Karl Fisch and Ray Schroeder.  Being on the receiving end of their thoughts in short, 140-character or less bursts is a great way to stimulate my thinking during a busy day and to help focus my reflection on topics we discuss. The value to me is similar to planning meetings at work where we are brainstorming different topics, except these mini brainstorms for me now occur throughout the day.
So, on the relative value of Twitter, I have a new position. I think this is a pretty valuable service and I'm going to be searching for ways to continue to increase the value of it. Twitter as a micro-blog may even render this forum obsolete one day, although I think I'll always need a spot to express more evolved thoughts. A 140 character limit is tough for a talker like me to meet! 
A couple of teacher friends are even trying to use Twitter with their classes as ways to use student cell phones to help keep kids on track with their homework and other course happenings. I am excited to see if that takes off!
If you like, you can find me on twitter using. I am @acmcdonaldgp (http://twitter.com/acmcdonaldgp)

Monday, January 4, 2010

If We Don't Motivate and Inspire Ourselves, Who Will? (aka What is MY Sentence?)

The course I am currently enrolled in as part of my journey towards an Ed.D. is on the topic of learning theories/adult learning/lifelong learning. As part of our class discussions last week, we were talking about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and what we can do to foster it in ourselves, our students, and our peers in our roles as educational leaders.

Early last year I read that had been on my list for some time, called A Whole New Mind, and I felt it crystalized many of the thoughts I have been having about changes that we are witnessing in society. It also addressed and supported my belief that our education system needs to be more personal for our students (and ourselves), and gave me great optimism about the future that my children are going to be living in as adults!  The book's author, Daniel Pink, connected his thoughts to my world, and I'm fortunate that I now have another chance to reflect on what he has to say.

Yesterday, I happened across a video Daniel Pink has posted on Vimeo, which is also related to a presentation I saw him give on TED a while back and to his new book. Motivation is the topic, and Pink's video from Vimeo, titled Two Questions That Can Change Your Life, are expertly addressed in a very entertaining way.

If you have ever spent time working in junior high school, then you have had many talks with students trying to find a way to motivate and inspire them to (force themselves to) learn what is going on in class.  I think the two questions Pink offers might help guide discussions on this topic in the future...

The Two Questions video is short, and embedded below. I dare you to watch it without thinking passionately about the future, or wondering how it might apply to someone you know, or even yourself!  While this sort of internal motivator may not appeal to everyone, it might be exactly what some people are looking for to give them a sense of focus that may have been missing before. When life gets busy, our priorities sometimes get shuffled to the side while we deal with other, ultimately less important, distractions. Fun as they may be!  Asking ourselves these two questions might be exactly what is needed to get back on track.

Inspiration aside, the second question is extremely practical too! Too many people set goals, ("I want to ...") and do not give thought to measuring their progress towards those goals. Giving thought to assessing your progress makes it far more likely that significant progress will occur!

Now, after watching that short video for inspiration, I have embedded Daniel Pink's talk from TED (July 2009) below too.  It is approximately 18 minutes long and my money says you will find this one very interesting too.  Watch it, and then do what I do. I'm going to buy the new book Drive!


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Restructuring Education - Starting With Teacher Training

In an earlier post I was wondering what kinds of changes to teacher training programs might be appropriate given what we now know about how kids learn, about what works with professional learning communities, etc.  Today, I found one University's answer to that question.

The University of Michigan has dramatically changed their teacher education program. As the head of the program, Dean Deborah Ball says, "Image (sp) the difference between learning about child development, which is unquestionably helpful, and learning how to have a sensible interaction with a child, which permits you to know exactly what's going wrong right now with that child's reading, or why is this error occurring over and over again in math. That's actually being able to do something with that knowledge..."

That is a powerful statement, that addresses the difference between teaching theory and making learning relevant. Just as we know that is what our students need, that is what these student-teachers get in their training. I'm excited and impressed by what I've read about the philosophy of this program...I hope it is a success and that the relevant, structured experiences provided these teachers-in-training become common place. 

The student teaching experience in Alberta, where teachers have to complete a minimum of 13 weeks (depending on their university) of student teaching is excellent, however I would love to see more focused and specific training in some skills. One of the professors in the U Mich program describes the 'rounds' student teachers go on (similar to medical rounds) as being a way to learn those specific skills - working with small groups is the example used in the article - in a hands-on way as opposed to talking about it in class. I love that idea!

What can we in the schools do to help the training programs? It seems like we might need to step up a bit and offer more of the wisdome accumulated through our teaching experiences to the classroom portion of teacher training programs.  I say, sign us up!

You can read the article I am referring to, on the US National Public Radio (NPR) webpage, HERE

An earlier post addressing the importance of changing teacher training in Michigan, also from NPR, is located HERE.  I'll offer a caution with this one however, as this article talks about alternative certification as a way of bringing in passionate new teachers to the system. I'm not too keen on that idea, as I think passion is one thing but knowing how to respond to a wide range of student needs is a completely different thing entirely.  I think the master teachers we need with our students need both, not just passion!