Quick thoughts on vertical discussions

A school leader in one of my Facebook groups asked if anyone had a discussion guide for the next time their teachers held vertical discussions across grade levels. Here was my response:

I’ve done this with schools before. Not exactly sure what the desired outcome of your conversations is, but I’ve seen really powerful discussion arise from the simple questions of “What do you expect students to know and be able to do by the end of their school year with you?” (to the lower grade team) and “What do you expect students to know and be able to do when they enter your classroom at the beginning of the school year?” (to the higher grade team)…

Small group conversation around those two questions can easily fill most of an hour (be sure to have them take notes!). Also helpful to have some debrief time at the end where you just ask folks “What did you hear today? What does that mean for our practice? How can I be of support?

Good luck and have fun!

What do you like your educators to talk about in their vertical discussions?

ISTE Certification 02

[Sharing my ISTE Certification journey…]

ISTE logoISTE Certification has kept me busy! Despite my familiarity with all of the ISTE Standards, I have found that I am thinking much more deeply about the ISTE Standards for Educators as I go through this process with my cohort (which I appreciate)…

One of our activities asked us to reflect on the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines. Here’s some of what I wrote:

ENGAGEMENT
UDL Guideline(s): Recruiting Interest, Sustaining Effort & Persistence, Self Regulation
Tool(s): Blogging platforms such as WordPress or Squarespace

I believe in technology tools that have low floors, high ceilings, and wide walls (i.e., they are relatively easy to learn but have extraordinary, open-ended, and wide-ranging power). One such tool for me when it comes to the UDL principle of Engagement is a blog. Blogs allow learners and creators to do almost anything, particularly if they use a more powerful, self-hosted platform such as WordPress or Squarespace. The ability of blogs to host almost any kind of media that we wish (text, audio, video, images, charts, tables, diagrams, hyperlinks) in almost any configuration that we wish (see, e.g., the wide variety of blog templates) means that they are infinitely customizable. Accordingly, learners and creators can make their blog anything that they wish. This capacity taps directly into the Engagement guideline of Recruiting Interest because it ‘optimizes individual choice and autonomy.’ Similarly, the interactive nature of blogs (e.g., hyperlinks, pingbacks, comments, embedding of social media feeds, RSS subscription) highlights the Engagement guideline of Sustaining Effort and Persistence because it ‘fosters collaboration and community.’ Blogs can be deeply reflective tools that also foster visibility, sharing, contribution, and connection, which aligns directly with the Engagement guideline of Self Regulation and its emphasis on self-assessment, reflection, and motivation.

 

REPRESENTATION
UDL Guideline(s): Perception, Language & Symbols, and Comprehension
Tool(s): Presentation software such as Apple Keynote, Microsoft PowerPoint, or Google Slides

I believe in technology tools that have low floors, high ceilings, and wide walls (i.e., they are relatively easy to learn but have extraordinary, open-ended, and wide-ranging power). An underutilized tool for the UDL principle of Representation is presentation software such as Keynote, PowerPoint, or Google Slides. As I work with my graduate students – some of whom are differently abled than their educator peers – I have found that presentation software creates an open ‘green field’ of possibility. Students can use text. They can use images. They can create lines, diagrams, charts, tables, timelines, and concept maps. They can embed audio or video. They can tap into various color schemes, fonts, and transparency. They can tap into the power of layering, grouping, animations, and transitions. Together, these simple-to-learn capabilities that we often take for granted in presentation software can be used in incredibly diverse ways to represent any topic, idea, or concept that we wish with as much complexity as we wish. Recent examples of this in our own cohort include our introductions and our ISTE Standards for Educators jigsaw activity. These examples illustrate how a simple set of tools can create phenomenally-powerful and divergent opportunities to share what we know, can do, and have learned. The capabilities inherent in presentation software allow us to check off the boxes in essentially every subcategory of Representation (i.e., Perception, Language & Symbols, and Comprehension).

 

ACTION & EXPRESSION
Guideline(s): Executive Functions
Tool(s): Google Sheets

I believe in technology tools that have low floors, high ceilings, and wide walls (i.e., they are relatively easy to learn but have extraordinary, open-ended, and wide-ranging power). For the UDL Principle of Action & Expression, I chose to focus on one particular guideline, Executive Functions. For the past few years, I have been making my own interactive templates in Google Sheets. My students – or workshop participants – can go directly to a template that I have made and interact in a variety of ways with content, questions, or each other. I like that Google Sheets creates a different URL for each tab, and I can configure and merge the rows, columns, cell entries, formulae, auto-calculations, and conditional formatting into almost any format I wish. My principal licensure students and I use them routinely to work on thorny leadership problems of practice and systemic school and district redesign concerns. I also like that with a quick mouse click students can see each others’ responses as well if they are on a different tab rather than a shared one. I can even hide sections of the template and reveal them later for additional consideration. The possibilities are nearly endless for individual or small group, collaborative work, and the shared, online nature of the tool allows for easy access and easy archiving of our thinking work together. All of this connects directly to the Executive Functions checkpoints related to goal-setting, planning, strategy development, managing information and resources, and monitoring progress.

Nothing earth-shattering here, but I enjoyed the opportunity to think a little more about this!

Books I read in January 2022

Escape PodBooks I finished reading (or rereading) in January 2022…

Hope you’re reading something fun too!

Podcast with Catlin Tucker

2022catlintuckerpodcastWhen the always-marvelous Catlin Tucker invited me to be a guest on her podcast, The Balance, I accepted immediately. I think the world of Catlin’s work.

My episode was released a few days ago. Catlin and I talked about my new book (Leadership for Deeper Learning), leadership during the pandemic, how school administrators could (and shouldn’t) support educators’ self-care, and much more. The folks at StudySync did a nice job of summarizing some of what we discussed. Hope you enjoy our conversation

Happy listening! 

Slide – Organize around the opportunity to contribute

2021 Difference Making 01 REVISED

“It’s ironic that a shift away from a focus on preparation (take Algebra 1 because you need it for Algebra 2, which you might need to go to college which you might need to get a job) to a focus on difference making is the best possible form of preparation for the innovation economy. A portfolio of work that demonstrates expanding contribution to causes that matter — to a young person and their community — is far more valuable to most colleges and employers than a list of courses passed.

What if, instead of a list of required courses, high school was organized around the opportunity to contribute?”

Vander Ark & Liebtag, Difference Making at the Heart of Learning, 2021 (p. 80)

 

Download this file. See also my other slides.

3 big questions to ask after a visit from an outside helper

Outside Consultant 03I’ve been blogging about bringing in outside helpers…

Here are three big questions to ask AFTER a visit from an outside helper:

  1. Are we tangibly better as a result of their visit? [or did we just waste everyone’s time?]
  2. Can we actually do something differently as a result of their visit? [or did they just take the money and run?]
  3. How do we know? [what evidence do we have?]

Great times to ask these questions include about a week after the visit (when the gloss has worn off) and also about 3 to 6 months after the visit (when the work should be well underway)…

How much of your work with outside helpers has resulted in tangible, concrete, actionable, beneficial changes in your school(s)? If not much, why is that?

ISTE Certification 01

[I decided to make some new investments in my own learning this semester. One of the ways that I’m doing that is to try and become ISTE-certified. I’ve had a longtime relationship with ISTE. When we created the nation’s first graduate program designed to prepare a technology-savvy school administrator at the University of Minnesota (way back in 2003!), ISTE was one of our most important partners in that work. I served on the initial advisory board for ISTE’s Standards for Education Leaders (back then, they were the NETS-A) and in 2016 I received ISTE’s global Award for Outstanding Leadership. I have worked with ISTE in a number of other service and professional learning roles and currently am serving as one of ISTE’s Community Leaders. All that said, I never have worked toward ISTE certification until now. I’ll be sharing my thoughts and experiences as I go through the certification program this year…]

ISTE logoI’m part of an awesome cohort. We represent a variety of job roles and responsibilities across multiple states and several countries, including both P-12 and postsecondary. I already can tell that I’m going to learn a lot from the other members of my cohort. We meet face-to-face every few weeks and also engage together in a number of asynchronous learning activities. So far we’ve met once and have been assigned to some small groups.

Our early work has been focused on grounding ourselves in course expectations, assignments and deadlines, and introducing ourselves to each other and the ISTE Standards for Educators. ISTE also has invited us to reflect on what it means to be part of an online professional learning network.

One of our first activities asked us to reflect on some of our understandings, strengths, and challenges related to the ISTE Standards for Educators. Here’s some of what I wrote:

I orient toward design thinking so am probably most confident with Standards 5a, 5b, 5c, and 6c because they emphasize the (re)design process. I spend a lot of time redesigning lessons and units with P-12 teachers, instructional coaches, and principals. I also have done a great deal of program design work at the university level, including recently redesigning our principal licensure program at CU Denver. I’m also confident in Standards 2a and 2b because I’m a school leadership professor who works with school leaders all around the world on designing and implementing new visions for learning and implementation structures for deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and rich technology infusion. As a university faculty member who tries hard to integrate technology into my teaching, I think I’m doing a decent job with Standards 6a, 6c, and 7a. My students tell me that they appreciate my efforts in this area. Finally, I’m a strong user of social media tools and online platforms and have a large global professional learning network (so Standard 1b!).

As a university school leadership professor, I don’t deal too much with data, data privacy, copyright, coding, computational thinking, and other more IT-oriented and/or media literacy concerns. Accordingly, Standards 3c, 3d, and 6b aren’t really in my day-to-day domain. Standard 7c is hard for me simply because I have seen technology systems used too often to reinforce low-level factual recall, procedural regurgitation, and assessment and I am adamantly opposed to those traditional practices dominating the deeper learning practices that we should be implementing instead.

I’ve been using ed tech since the mid-1990s. I’ve seen a number of learning and productivity technologies come and go, so I think I’m a pretty savvy consumer of new tools and their affordances (or their lack thereof) and the mindsets that underlie them. I’m familiar with and am a regular user of a larger number of digital tools, including some old standbys like RSS and blogs that I think still have value in today’s social media-oriented world. I’m an unafraid and unapologetic learner and am looking forward to living in community with – and being stretched by – the other folks in this certification cohort.

My primary implementation struggle is time. As a research university faculty member who also happens to care deeply about my teaching, those often conflict with each other in regard to institutional expectations and reward systems. Now that I’ve been promoted to Full Professor, I’m hoping that I can spend more time on what I want, not what the university wants!

I’m looking forward to my continued learning and growth in this certification process as I work to strengthen my understandings of learning technologies and meaningful classroom integration. I’m also interested in the logistics of how ISTE structures and facilitates this course and am hoping to pick up some good tips for my own blended instruction. 

More reflections from me in the weeks and months to come!

Some good questions to ask before hiring an outside helper

Monkey puppetSchool resources are always limited, whether they be time, money, attention, energy, or personnel. Before you hire an outside helper for your school(s), here are some questions you might ask…

  • Are we bringing in this person to actually help us do something?
    • Or do we just want to dabble and/or pretend that we care about the topic? 
    • Or are we just doing it because others are / it’s a hot topic right now?
  • How does this work fit in with our other current initiatives?
    • How will we help our employees, students, and families understand the connections with our other work?
    • How much of a priority is this work compared to our other initiatives?
  • What will we do beforehand to optimize our employees’ chances of being successful with this?
  • What’s our follow-up plan afterward?
    • What additional support structures, leadership behaviors, professional learning, expectations, timelines, deadlines, financial and time resources, personnel, monitoring mechanisms, etc. will be put into place to support this work?
    • Will this work be supported at the very highest levels of the school organization? How?
    • Are these new supports adequate for the work to be successful?
  • Do we have a fighting chance to actually do this right now?
    • Or are we just fooling ourselves?
    • Do we have both the will and capacity to actually make this happen?
    • What are we currently doing that conflicts with or will obstruct our success with this new work?
  • What concerns will our employees, students, and families raise about this work?
    • What is our plan for addressing those?

Some questions to ask the outside helper (before you hire them) include…

  • Can you actually help us do something? (i.e., can you help us with the WHAT and the HOW, not just the WHY?)
    • Or are you just going to tell us we should do something and then leave?
  • What should we do beforehand to optimize our employees’ chances of being successful with this?
  • How much time do we need with you to get started successfully on this?
    • What will that work look like (and why)?
  • How much time do we need after you work with us to get started successfully on this?
    • What does that work look like (and why)?
  • What barriers, challenges, and other concerns should we expect as we head into this work?
    • How can you help us with those?
  • What kinds of follow-up resources and supports can you provide us?
    • What do those look like (and why)?

These are just a few to get started… What else would you add here?