Dear Linda

The art of mathDear Linda,

Fifteen years ago you let a pigtailed 2nd grader walk down the hall and take 5th grade math.

We came to you as the principal of our elementary school in Minnesota and said, “She’s ready for something more.” You smiled at us, looked at the data, and said, “We’ll find a way to make it work.” And then you and your teachers did exactly that.

It didn’t matter that she had to miss time in other subjects; she made it up. It didn’t matter that she was a tiny sprite compared to those bigger kids. All that mattered was that she adored math and could keep up. Every day when it was math time for the fifth graders, she walked down the hall and joined them. She loved it so much. She had a math-themed birthday party that year!

The next year we did the same, but with sixth grade math. And then we moved.

Our new school district in Iowa didn’t quite know what to do with her. But inspired by what you had made possible, every year – somehow – we found a way to make it work. One year in elementary school the best we could do was a self-paced, ‘teach yourself’ model with occasional check-ins with the Gifted and Talented teacher. One year in middle school she had to take a boring, non-interactive online course. In high school she sometimes had to hop on a city bus (or two) to go take math classes at the local university. But she did it. She stayed three years ahead all the way through…

Fifteen years later I am proud to say that pigtailed 2nd grader graduated this past spring with a B.S./M.S. in Civil Engineering from Case Western. She was an officer in the Women in Science and Engineering Roundtable student group. She helped the university steel bridge team go to nationals for the first time. And two months ago she entered the world of work as a happy bridge designer in New York (and, yes, we miss her tremendously).

Linda, a decade and a half ago you were willing to think outside the box. You didn’t throw up unnecessary roadblocks. You didn’t force our kid to fit the system. You just found a way to take our 2nd grader where she was and move her forward instead of letting her stagnate in some arbitrary ‘grade level.’ Collectively you and your teachers just made it work. With a smile. And it made a huge difference for her.

We need more principals like you. We need more schools like yours. We need more pathways that personalize students’ learning and empower them for future life success. Every child deserves the opportunities that our pigtailed daughter had. Thank you for leading as school administrators should, not just for our 2nd grader but for all of the other students that walked your halls as well. We will be forever grateful.

Yours truly,

SCOTT

Image credit: The art of math or the math of art, Alan Levine


Teaching and leading for higher student engagement … even during a pandemic (aka How I spent my summer)

Harnessing Technology for Deeper LearningSome schools spent the summer engaged in magical thinking that everyone would be back in person this fall, just like before the pandemic. Others paid attention to the data and rising number of coronavirus cases and used their summers more wisely to design for better remote/hybrid learning and teaching than the mostly-low-level direct instruction, digital worksheets, and paper homework packets that we saw last spring. I was fortunate to work with numerous educators this summer on how to teach and lead for higher student engagement – even during a pandemic. I thought I would describe a little of that work below…

Redesigning lessons with Virginia teachers

This summer I worked with over 150 teachers in Virginia to redesign lessons and units for deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and rich technology infusion. We used the 4 Shifts Protocol as the framing lens for our work together. We met virtually for 2 hours every day for 4 days. We used Days 1 and 2 to become familiar with the protocol by redesigning lessons that weren’t theirs (to reduce defensiveness). I modeled how to adopt an approach that focused on ideation, not judgment, and pointed out some key considerations and ‘think abouts’ for each section of the protocol. On Day 3 they brought their own lessons. I put them into virtual redesign triads. They helped each other shift their students’ learning in directions that they chose, using the skills they had gained during Days 1 and 2. Day 4 was more of an ‘office hours’ approach. Teachers popped in as desired and asked more individualized questions about their local contexts (e.g., how to handle scripted curricula, how to use the protocol as an instructional coach). Some of them brought additional lessons for us to hack at together. I did all of this twice, the first week with elementary educators and the second week with secondary teachers (so 8 days total).

Instructional leadership with Virginia administrators

I also had the wonderful opportunity this summer to work with school administrators from across Virginia. We met virtually for 90 minutes each day for a week. The setup was similar to what I just described with Virginia educators. On Monday and Tuesday, I introduced them to the 4 Shifts Protocol but we adopted more of an instructional leadership lens, not just a teaching lens. On Wednesday, we talked about some organizational strategies, leadership behaviors, and coaching techniques – again, more of an instructional leadership focus than just a pedagogical focus. On Thursday they brought lessons like the teachers did and we practiced instructional coaching with those lessons using the protocol. Friday was an ‘office hours’ approach again, and the leadership questions and ideas that they brought to those discussions were amazing. 

Innovative remote instruction with Texas administrators and building leadership teams

I worked with a school district in Texas at the beginning of the summer and was able to help kick off their annual, 2-day, in-district leadership institute. They asked me to do a short keynote highlighting some possibilities for hands-on, active student learning. I then facilitated 3 follow-up sessions over the next day and a half, working with elementary, middle, and high school administrators and their building leadership teams. I tried to connect some ideas from my keynote to the realities of pandemic-era remote instruction. I also showed and discussed multiple, concrete, age-specific examples with each group to illustrate how we can redesign instruction for higher student engagement, even during blended or online learning. All of this work was virtual.

Instructional leadership with Massachusetts administrators

I had an incredible experience with a school district in Massachusetts this summer. We spent a total of 3 weeks together, all virtual. During the first week all of the administrators in the district read Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning and engaged in a virtual book study. I dropped in each day to interact in their Canvas course shell and answer questions. During the second week we alternated between synchronous and asynchronous learning together. For instance, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of that week, we met together virtually in Zoom for a couple of hours of very robust conversation each day. I also created over a dozen mini-modules full of resources that they could explore in between each live meetup. The school leaders had lots of choice (because I’m trying to model, right?) and could investigate anything in the mini-modules that interested them. Some of the topics that they dove into were:

  • Workforce preparation and job automation
  • Skills development and college/career readiness
  • Educator staffing and the future of the teacher workforce
  • The integration of robots into day-to-day life
  • New literacies, including digital storytelling, AR/VR, and student multimedia / transmedia production
  • Instructional redesign for deeper learning, including additional leadership and coaching scenarios
  • Inquiry-based, project-based, and other high engagement learning strategies
  • The research behind deeper learning/teaching strategies and student achievement
  • Innovative scheduling
  • High-engagement remote learning
  • PBL during remote learning
  • Equity considerations during a pandemic

We also had a concurrent online discussion space in Canvas where they could share their reactions, concerns, and ideas for their local schools from the mini-modules. Those conversations were very active and impressive. 

All of that work continued into the third week, and the district also folded in some assistant principals, instructional coaches, media specialists, and other building-level teacher leaders. They are working to create a critical mass of people who might be ready to begin transforming day-to-day instruction. This was an incredibly unique 3-week experience for me. I was able to pilot and try a number of new virtual professional learning modalities with this district and had some absolutely phenomenal discussions with them. I get to work with them a little more this fall and absolutely can’t wait.

Book club with Solution Tree

Finally, Julie Graber and I conducted a 4-week book study around Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning for Solution Tree, our publisher. We met once a week for 4 weeks for 45 minutes a session. Although those were sparsely attended, all of the recordings are available on the Solution Tree website. Julie and I had some good discussions with our participants and were able to explain some of our thinking and approaches when we are engaged in instructional coaching.

Conclusion

In addition to all of the above, I also created my new self-paced 4 Shifts Video Series; had some good conversations with educators in Denver, Luxembourg, and Switzerland; continued my Coronavirus Chronicles interviews; recorded some additional episodes over at Silver Lining for Learning; and participated in a few podcasts! It was a busy but fun summer, and I really enjoyed working virtually with educators all across the planet on higher-engagement learning, teaching, and leadership.

As always, let me know how I can be of support to you and your community!


Reflecting on my work: Google Scholar v. Google Analytics

Just leaving these two tables here as I reflect on the impact of my work and where I choose to put it. The scale isn’t even close. And this doesn’t even factor in interactivity… (e.g., my 80 blog posts that have received at least 30 comments, including one that has received 618!)

Over 4.4 million page views and counting!

2020 09 07 Google Scholar

2020 09 07 Google Analytics


Books I read in August 2020

Kiln People, by David BrinBooks I finished reading (or rereading) in August 2020…

Hope you’re reading something fun too!


EcoMOD: Computational modeling and virtual worlds for 3rd grade ecosystems science

Chris Dede, esteemed faculty member at Harvard University and one of my co-hosts at Silver Lining for Learning, has a project that is a finalist for a STEM DIVE award. Check out the video below. Chris and his colleagues have created a very cool immersive virtual science environment, called EcoMOD: Computational modeling and virtual worlds for 3rd grade ecosystems science.

Please ‘like’ the video on YouTube and give EcoMOD a ‘vote’ during the People’s Choice Round!


Dear school leaders and policymakers: It didn’t have to be this way

Covid map 2020-08-05Dear school leaders and policymakers, 

It didn’t have to be this way.

You had all summer to watch the rising number of coronavirus cases all across the country.

You had all summer to educate yourself about the science.

You had all summer to read credible news sources and see the viral outbreaks that occurred everywhere that people gathered without appropriate protections.

You had all summer to encourage people to do the things necessary to slow down the viral spread (hint: it wasn’t going to restaurants and bars).

You had all summer to invest in the safety precautions necessary for schools to be safe (ventilation systems, personal protective equipment, rules and policies, etc.).

You had all summer to recognize that reopening schools this fall was magical thinking and instead invest heavily in your educators’ ability to do high-quality, high-engagement remote learning (unlike last spring).

You had all summer to help your community close family equity gaps regarding computing devices and Internet access.

You had all summer to fortify yourselves for the brave political conversations and gather allies.

You had all summer to engage in realistic messaging to your community.

You had all summer to be the leader that you were appointed / elected to be.

Now you’re asking your community and citizens for “grace during this difficult time.” Are you surprised that many folks aren’t willing to give it?

It’s never too late to lead. Are you finally going to do so?

 

P.S. If you did most or all of these things, THANK YOU.

 

Image credit: Covid ActNow


Welcome back for the 2020 school year! [a letter from your local superintendent and school board]

Dear students, educators, and families,

Welcome back for the 2020 school year! We are incredibly delighted to have our children and educators back in school again, particularly after such a challenging spring and summer. We couldn’t be more excited to see your kids’ smiling faces back in our classrooms!

As you know, some things will be different this fall. We wanted to share a few things for us all to think about over the next few months…

First, some of our children and families probably will become very ill. The coronavirus can reside in young children at high rates and may even spread more efficiently than across adults. Recent news stories about outbreaks at summer camps in Georgia, Texas, Wisconsin, and Missouri show us that children are not immune from the virus. Asymptomatic children not only may infect other students, they also may go home and spread it further to the possibly-vulnerable adults around them. A school in Indiana reopened and had to immediately send students home again after a student tested positive on the very first day. Hawaii is seeing a surge in the number of infected children. And so on across the country… Thank you for being willing to send your children to school despite these risks. We are so appreciative!

Second, some of our educators probably will become very ill too. Dozens of principals in the Bay Area had to quarantine after an in-person planning meeting over the summer. Hundreds of teachers in Gwinnett County, Georgia already have tested positive for the coronavirus after just a few days of returning to school for pre-planning. Symptoms can be mild but often are quite horrific (and could mean weeks on a ventilator). Even if victims recover, effects of the virus can linger for months on end. Medical experts are in agreement that neither students nor educators should come back to school unless community transmission rates have dropped substantially. That drop has not occurred in our community. Indeed, coronavirus cases in our community are higher than in the spring and have doubled across the nation. However, our President, U.S. Secretary of Education, and Governor have reminded us that you need to get back to work so we are grateful for the bravery of our teachers and support staff. Please give them a big thank you the next time you see them!

Third, some of our infected kids and teachers probably are going to die. Children are dying from the virus, and of course adults are dying too. Death rates increase as people get older. About 1 in 4 of our teachers is at risk of serious illness or death if they are infected, due to either their age or pre-existing health conditions. Contact tracing is taking 7 to 10 days in many areas, which also means that identifying and tracking down who is infected and who isn’t may take us a while. Please be patient with us, particularly since we haven’t decided what our decision triggers are for keeping our schools open or closed. And, just in case, please also start preparing your children now to say goodbye to some of their classmates and teachers this year. Our amazing school counselors are available to you and we encourage everyone to practice appropriate social distancing measures at funerals and memorial services in our community. Safety first!

Fourth, due to anticipated teacher resignations, retirements, illnesses, and deaths which will cause a number of instructor vacancies, we are experiencing a substitute teacher shortage. If any of you are interested in being a sub, we would love to have you sign up. We always welcome parents in our schools and classrooms!

Fifth, per your request, we are providing remote learning options for some of you that will be taught by local teachers. However, we simply do not have enough student seats or teaching spots to accommodate everyone. We know that many parents are worried about student ‘learning loss’ after this spring, so we are pleased to announce that we have purchased self-paced online courses from several major corporations for those of you keeping your children at home. Your children can move along at their own pace and will have a few opportunities to interact with an instructor from somewhere else in the country. It’s a win all around!

Sixth, assuming that we can get enough personal protective equipment (PPE), school may look a lot like this:

Thank you for helping us with these new restrictions and guidelines. We are doing everything that we can to keep your children safe!

Finally, for those of you who are considering participating in a ‘pandemic pod’ with other families or sending your students to the private school down the road, please don’t. We need everyone’s support (and money) for the public schools during this challenging time.

Thank you for all that you do to support our local schools and the success of your children. Looking forward to seeing you at Back-To-School Night in a few weeks!

Yours truly,

Your Local Superintendent and School Board


“Just following orders” isn’t good leadership

Just following orders

 

Every leadership program discusses “What hill are you willing to die on? What decisions are worth losing your job for?”

We haven’t done the necessary work to contain the coronavirus. Other areas that have opened too early have seen large waves of new cases. And we now have growing evidence that young children are powerful virus spreaders.

What could possibly be a bigger hill than keeping your children, families, educators, and community safe during a deadly global pandemic? What hill would you possibly pick instead?

“Just following orders” isn’t good leadership.


Books I read in July 2020

Equity Visits bookBooks I finished reading (or rereading) in July 2020…

Hope you’re reading something fun too!


Coronavirus Chronicles 043 – Bunche Middle School

I am talking with schools to see how they’re responding in the wake of this global pandemic. I invite you to join me for the Coronavirus Chronicles, a series of check-ins with educators all over.

Episode 043 is below. Thank you, Jose Gonzalez and Darleen Perez, for sharing how Bunche Middle School in Compton, California is adapting to our new challenges and opportunities. It was SO MUCH FUN hearing about your remote learning project with your students!

See the complete list of episodes, which also are available as a podcast channel on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. If you and your school(s) would like to be featured in the Coronavirus Chronicles series, please get in touch. 

Other conversation series that may be of interest are below. Check them out!

Conversation series with educators during the pandemic