Thursday, March 03, 2011

Florida Schools Need EETT!

EETT (Enhancing Education Through Technology) is a program that began under No Child Left Behind and provides grants to states directly funding educational technology.  Its funding was initially supposed to be $1 billion per year, although it has never actually been funded at more than $700 million per year. It’s been cut steadily since 2002 and has not been reauthorized for next year.  This year, its funding is down $100 million, but now even that is endangered.  EETT is axed completely under the U.S. House’s continuing resolution for the remainder of the fiscal year.  

In Florida, EETT has been used for everything from laptop programs to digital literacy and content creation initiatives (the type of thing 21st century students need more, not less, of). The funds have been disbursed to districts through a combination of entitlement grants (using the Title 1 formula) and competitive grants.

Under Governor Rick Scott’s budget, overall education cuts will be around $3.3 billion. Hardware, software, professional development-- all of these require funding which, as Florida educators, students, and parents are aware, is in increasingly short supply for school districts. EETT has been vital in funding ed tech projects in Florida, and those funds are highly unlikely to be replaced by the state if EETT goes away.  

Florida schools need to stay relevant and competitive, and we need EETT to do that. E-mail, tweet, or call your representatives and senators. (An easy way to e-mail your reps:  visit the Ed Tech Action Network's home page and type your zip code in the upper right corner. Read over and personalize the letter, add your contact information, and send.)   

Monday, February 21, 2011

Defining Curriculum

I am in my last week of the Curriculum course of my graduate certificate program at Johns Hopkins.  I have taken probably four or five college courses with "curriculum" somewhere in the title, but this course has made me look at the curriculum development process with a more holistic-- and critical-- viewpoint.  

Previously, the working definition of curriculum that I have used, at least during formal curriculum development projects, was the set of content and skills (usually a list of standards and objectives) that students should master as part of their education. When I look at many curriculum documents, that seems to be the definition of curriculum that underpins them, even if the developers never explicitly stated or even realized it.  

That list of standards/objectives, however, is only a part of curriculum. What exactly does a quality education look like?  Is our goal to prepare students for college?  To provide a steady, reliable labor source for the economy?  To ensure that our country is peopled with responsible citizens?  The answer(s) will fundamentally shape the curriculum development process.

What attitudes and characteristics do we want our students to develop?  We need to think about not just what we want our students to be able to do, but what we want them to be like as learners and members of a community. In Developing a Quality Curriculum, Glatthorn refers to this as "the organic curriculum,"  which is nurtured rather than directly taught, but which certainly requires careful consideration when planning curriculum. 

Does our curriculum demonstrate an "everything but the kitchen sink" mindset, or are depth and quality emphasized?  What are the gaps between what is written, taught, and tested-- and what do those gaps say to our students about what we really value?  For example, when teachers ignore any standard that isn't on the high stakes test, it is obvious to our students that what counts is the test score. 

If we skip the tough questions and jump straight into lists of objectives and lesson ideas, we short-change the process, and our students.   Putting in the time and effort to address them may be difficult, but doing so provides a stronger foundation upon which to build our curriculum 


Monday, February 14, 2011

LIteracy Redefined

In his essay on socio-technology trends in learning, Stephen Wilmarth describes how once upon a time, development of a symbolic alphabet moved us from “orality” to “literacy.”  Movable type and the printing press later redefined literacy.  The Internet has redefined literacy again, and in fact with the speed of new developments (Web 2.0, the cloud, mobile computing) we have very likely entered an era of constantly shifting and evolving literacy. 

Teachers and administrators   have to get past the chatter on whether this is “good” or “bad” and recognize it as reality. 

What educational themes emerge in this new reality?

1)   Students as content creators – Rather than passively consume information, students need to transform and interact with it.  (This, of course, has always been true!)
2)   Collaboration and “collective intelligence” – Students need to interact with each other and make positive contributions to each others’ learning
3)   Social media as identity creation – Trying on different personas has never been as easy as it is now.   The personas we create online help to define the relationships we have with others. Students need guidance in navigating the risks and benefits of this process.

Wilmarth concludes that education is moving “from cathedrals to bazaars.”  The longer administrators try to keep their schools ivory towers, the more irrelevant those schools will become.  Instead, we need to embrace the “messy, non-linear, highly organic process of learning—at least the kind of learning that seems to be at the core of what it takes to be a successful citizen of the 21st century.”

Wilmarth, Stephen. (2010.) Five Socio-Technology Trends that Change Everything in Teaching and Learning. In Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.  

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Back to Basics: Why are we here in the first place?

We must remember that intelligence is not enough.  Intelligence plus character -- that is the goal of true education.  The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. -- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The author Daniel Pink tells a story about a woman who told John F. Kennedy, “A great man is a sentence.”  Pink asks readers to consider this idea:  “What’s your sentence?” What is it that you want people to remember about you?  When creating my sentence, I considered the above statements by Dr. King about the two-fold nature of a complete education.  My sentence is:  “She guided students toward making their way in the world, and toward making it a better place.”

The first part of my sentence concerns knowledge that makes life possible.  Our students need to know how to communicate with one another.  They need to know about reading, writing, mathematics, science, along with the body of knowledge belonging to the careers they pursue.  They must be familiar with the backgrounds of their culture and of other cultures.  They need to understand how to effectively participate in civic life.  More than this, they must be skilled at the science of thought: how to learn, unlearn, and relearn long after their formal schooling ends.

The second part of my sentence leads me to ask, “Are my students willing and able to change the world for the better?”  This question connects to knowledge that makes life worth living.  Art, music, and appreciation of nature are examples, along with the principles of how to value differences in other people and how to make the best of each situation.  Students need to be encouraged to find their passions, develop their strengths, and share their gifts with the world.  They need to learn to see through the eyes of others and to have the courage to act when change is needed.  This is the type of knowledge that runs deep, that forms the foundation of who a person is.  It is often ignored or overlooked, because it is not easy to measure or to express with a few statistics.  However, a society neglects this type of education at its own peril, as we have seen over and over when intelligent, educated people have ruined the lives of many through unethical actions. 

Are students prepared to make their way in the world?  Are they willing and able to make it a better place by their presence in it?  These are the larger questions that define our responsibility as educators, and they are the questions I return to when making choices about curriculum, methods, and everyday interactions with my students. 

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

"Post-Post-Observation" Analysis

Recently I completed a full clinical cycle with a colleague of mine, Mrs. K.  I recorded our post-observation conference so that I could analyze it later. Frustratingly, my video cut out without my realizing it, and I lost 15 minutes of the 20 minute postconference.  For that reason, I am relying on notes and memory more than I would have liked. 

Mrs. K and I sat together at a round table in her classroom.  We picked that location so that she would be more in her comfort zone.  I “talk with my hands” and I noticed when watching the video that I did a lot of gesturing and leaning forward.  Mrs. K was smiling and cheerful but more contained and quiet, reflecting her nervousness at being observed even unofficially.  During the conference, I quickly felt that I was “taking over” although I was just reviewing the observation notes at first.   I should have given her more time to talk about her thoughts regarding the lesson before jumping into my notes.  I corrected this during the rest of the conference (the part that did not tape).  Regarding my delivery, I think that I came across as very positive, but also uncertain and too “buddy-buddy” on occasion—reflecting my own nervousness!

We both had copies of the preconference information.  When previously working with Mrs. K, I had thought her to be a “Caring” communication style—primarily concerned with harmony and giving support.  I gave her the inventory from Honoring Diverse Teaching Styles by Edward Pajak, and was surprised when her result was “Knowing,” which is a style more concerned with efficiency, standards and procedures, and getting results.   This helped me to understand that someone can be very nurturing and warm, as Mrs. K is, but as a teacher seeking to improve her craft, she might operate in a very different communication mode.  Suggestions for a Knowing style teacher were to highlight the presence or absence of desired behaviors, be friendly but clear and direct, focus on the observable and functional, and think through new ideas together, all of which I incorporated in the post-observation conference. 

I provided Mrs. K with a copy of my notes from the observation, and we discussed each section.  I made sure to emphasize the positive first.  Her instruction was structured clearly around a gradual release of responsibility model, and her management was excellent.  The two major areas of concern were ensuring that Mrs. K knew that every student had achieved the learning objective, and making sure that all students participated during small group activities.  I gave Mrs. K a few ideas regarding cooperative learning structures that  I have found helpful, and suggested that she attend an upcoming Kagan Cooperative Learning workshop that could help her with both areas of concern. 

I realize that I started the conference in a very directive mode, since I was telling Mrs. K things that I thought were positive about the lesson.  I took that approach because of the suggestions about communicating with a Knowing style teacher, but still felt that it was too “reinforcing,” implying “This is what I, the evaluator, am telling you that you did right.”  However, we quickly progressed to more of a problem-solving discussion.  While Mrs. K is a new teacher, she has extensive substitute teaching experience, including long-term substitute teaching, and was already aware of the areas of concern I noticed—she just needed to think it through and get some ideas on how to approach the problems.   A less directive approach is the appropriate one to take with her overall.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Rows? Pairs? Clusters? Horseshoes?

Taking a walk through my school, you can get a pretty good idea about the methods of individual teachers by looking at their classroom arrangements.

My school is 2nd-12th grade, but I focused on middle and high school classrooms during a recent walkthough.  The most common arrangement is traditional single rows, other than for science labs.  A few classrooms have clusters or pairs of students, and I saw two that had double horseshoe arrangements.  All of our classrooms have interactive whiteboards, so that tends to define the focus of the room.  I use cooperative learning extensively, so my class has tables—the only non-science room I have seen with that arrangement. 

Teachers with rows seemed to use lecture as the primary instructional strategy, although in one class, students were working on laptops.  Both of the horseshoe classes were high school classes engaged in discussions in which students spoke to one another as well as to the teacher.  With both rows and the horseshoe arrangement, the teachers were stationary and were sitting or standing next to the interactive whiteboard. 

In the rooms with clusters, some teachers were stationary, but others were circulating throughout the room.  Some involved mostly direct instruction, but others used partner work or cooperative learning.  Again, the whiteboard tended to be the focal point of teacher activity.

The interactive whiteboard can be a great tool, but at our school it has “glued” teachers to the front of the room much more often. We are both encouraged to use the boards extensively and to circulate extensively—without a slate, this is very difficult! 

A few teachers have gotten together enough donations to buy wireless slates that they can use to interact with the board while moving around the room.  I have one, and it has freed me up to circulate much more during direct instruction segments of my classes.  Since our district is committed to continuing installing the interactive whiteboards in every classroom, adding in a slate for each teacher would be a good idea. 

Our teachers share laptop carts between 2 or 3 teachers.  The carts are big and bulky, difficult to move, and the teachers often struggle to find a place to put them that is both easy to access from both sides and does not block traffic.  Another issue with the laptops is that when students are using them and they run out of power, there are too few outlets around the rooms and none set into the floors.  This results in some odd student arrangements as they sit anywhere they can to connect to an outlet. 

In the next few weeks, I will be spending time on extended observations in several classrooms.  Understanding the physical limitations of the room and different styles of room arrangements will help me to pay attention to how those limitations/arrangements affect instruction, and how the teacher moves (or does not move) in the classroom space. 

I will be offering several staff development sessions in cooperative learning this year, and I need to keep in mind that teachers who are comfortable with rows are not likely to rearrange their rooms to try out a structure.  There are structures that can be done with students in rows, or with students standing up, that I can focus on.  Although my first instinct is to say that group arrangements are THE way to go, I have got to be careful not to project my style onto other teachers.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

School Leadership and "Second-Order" Change

In my last post, I considered school culture and how it provides a basis for the success of reform efforts.  When that positive culture has been established, what else does a school leader need to consider when implementing reform?

Marzano defines two types of change:  first order (incremental, everyday) change and second order (deep, sweeping) change.  In a factor analysis of multiple studies, the following responsibilities were determined to be key to second order change:

1) Knowledge of curriculum, instruction, and assessment -- understanding what the new practices are, how they are supposed to work, the research supporting them, and how they should affect student achievement
2) Optimizer – providing a positive vision for what change could look like
3) Intellectual stimulation – fostering discussion on theory and practice among teachers
4) Change agent – encouraging teachers to challenge themselves and move beyond their comfort level
5) Monitoring/evaluating – establishing an effective feedback system
6) Flexibility – inviting multiple opinions and adapting leadership when necessary
7) Ideas/beliefs – maintaining integrity  by behaving consistently with stated values and philosophy

A leader who is implementing second order reform is going to look very different from a leader who is working on incremental change.  Second order change can be scary and uncomfortable.  The school leader has to maintain integrity of vision and help staff push past their previous limits.  At the same time, the leader has to be acutely aware of the needs of individual teachers as they progress through the change process. 

In a discussion of the Concerns-Based Adoption model, Susan Loucks-Horsley explains that professional developers “have to be facilitators, assessors, resource brokers, mediators of learning, designers, and coaches, in addition to being trainers when appropriate” (1996).  This description also applies to school leaders, who must evaluate the constantly shifting implementation process and respond thoughtfully but decisively.  The difficulty of maintaining this type of balance for the time period it takes to bring about deep change—several years—may be a factor in the failure of so many reform attempts.


Loucks-Horsley, S. (1996). The Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM): A Model for Change in Individuals. Retrieved August 22, 2010, from
Marzano, R. J., McNulty, B. A.,  Waters, T. (2005). School leadership that works: from research to results. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.