Thursday, February 26, 2015

"I Commit...": Moving From Commitment to Practice

We are just over a month away from The One Conference.
The One Conference was a day focused on professional learning,
professional connections, and commitment to using the newly
introduced tools and practices with students in our classrooms.

That's far enough away for the seeds of tools, techniques, and ideas planted at the conference to sprout into using these practices with students.

It is also far enough away to start seeing that day of professional learning and inspiration, the ideas shared, the best intended plans to become a rapidly fading memory.

Which of those two options is your story?  If you are in a leadership role, what is your building's story? What do you want that story to be?

Now is the time to take action!

What can we do?

Step 1 - Make the "I Commit..." Posters Present in Your Building

I just took a long look at one building's "I Commit..." poster today.  It was a powerful reminder of the learning that took place at The One Conference.  Seriously, if we could each commit to using just one tool/idea/technique with kids, we would make a statement to our students about what teaching and learning can look like with technology in hand!

It is not lost on me, though, that many of those posters have become not particularly attractive wall art. If we do not take a moment to re-engage with the commitments made on those posters, to encourage them to at least be attempted, we send a frightening message: We do not value the commitments we make!

Step 2 - Check In On Progress

We need a pulse check on the progress of the practices we each committed to. We need to hold each other accountable (in a positive, "you can do this" manner). This is NOT the work of building administrators alone, though.


  • Ask at your next PLC meeting -- "Hey, what is your 'I Commit...' practice? What have you done to achieve that?  Can we work together on it?"
  • Capture evidence of your "I Commit..." in practice (even if it is not an immediate success) and put that evidence some place public to encourage others!  (The caption could read, "I did it!")

Substitutes and Assistants:

  • Engage the teachers you support -- "So, what is your "I Commit..." concept in this class?  What can I do to help support that?"


  • Encourage your Vanguard Teams to engage the teachers they support and develop a plan to encourage every teacher in your building to succeed in attempting to use these tools/ideas/techniques with students.
  • Partner teachers with a similar commitment and help them find the resources and engage the people necessary to move the practice forward.
  • Find a public space to celebrate risk taking as teachers attempt to put their commitment into practice!  Bring attention to this in any way you can!  This is an enormous accomplishment!

Step 3 - Go Public! (in a thoughtful way)

Committing to a goal and making it happen is an amazing success (even if things do not go particularly well -- that's just the danger of risk-taking).  Find ways to help your staff tell their stories.  That may be to you, to each other, to the staff, or perhaps even wider.  Know the people you work with, understand their comfort zones, and find ways to CELEBRATE THEIR SUCCESS in a way that will not add anxiety!

SDW staff attending The One Conference commit to
using one new tool, practice, or technique with students
 before the 2014/15 school year ends.
It is not too soon!  

It is not too late!  

It is the perfect time to bring these practices to life in our classrooms.  

We must take the first step to make it happen!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Going Public: Yes, people are eager to read and view!

It was not long ago that the only way anybody would know about the powerful, amazing, creative work happening in our classrooms was if they would physically talk to  us.  While face-to-face connections are powerful, the ideas shared in those conversations only spread as far as the humans wish to take them.

Many of us have at least signed up for a social network like Google+ or Twitter, but are we really leveraging it to share our work, our students thinking, and our classrooms with the world?  Should we be?

A few weeks ago I spoke with a parent that was very impressed with one of the videos she found on an SDW teacher's YouTube channel.  "It is so nice to see what is happening in the classroom."  As a parent myself, it feels like the events of my children's school days are somewhat of a mystery -- 8 hours of school summed up into a ten minute conversation hardly seems to cover the scope of what they experienced throughout the day.  Parents are looking for some insight into what their children experience each day and the important work they are doing. Using these social networks and media outlets to share what is happening in our classroom is just one way we can offer parents a chance to investigate the great things that are happening instructionally.

Equally true, educators are scouring these social networks for ideas and examples of what is being done in other classrooms.  I regularly search the archives of Google+ to see how we, as educators, are "going public" with our thinking, using the tools placed in our hands, and giving our students a voice that can be shared with the world.  This was one of the great focal points of our summer institute work surrounding literacy -- giving students an authentic audience to share their thinking (making it visible).  Like it or not, we carry this responsibility.  Our students have plenty of opportunities to share "socially" with the world in informal settings online.  This is our chance to show them how to productively use these media outlets to share academically, professionally, formally, and respectfully in order to make a difference!

Finding a new, authentic audience is not as time consuming as it once was -- we no longer have to gather an audience of parents or community/business leaders in advance, or make connections with teachers from across the country weeks before the unit of study.  

These social networks are bringing an audience right to us.  The devices in our hands, available in our classrooms, are built specifically with the intent of sharing with these audiences.

The question is not about who will read our thinking or view our students' work.  

More importantly the question is:  What will you and your students share?  How will you "Go Public" with your thinking?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Key to Engagement: The Launch of a Lesson

I have led enough staff development to say this with certainty: No matter how much time I have available to teach adult learners, I can completely jeopardize the effectiveness of my entire time with them within the first few minutes of our meeting.

How?  Failure to launch (not necessarily a reference to that Matthew McConaughey movie)!

Almost every teacher I have worked with has thoughtfully engaged in the instructional planning process.  They have thoughtfully selected the lesson they deliver to students for some meaningful, often instructional purpose.  Most teachers are even excited to share those lessons with their students.  That tends to be a constant -- teachers plan and teachers believe in what they do with students.

So why does it so often happen that students (especially our older students) tend to disengage and find little relevance in these well thought out lessons so quickly and so consistently?

After watching a few classrooms this week I was reminded that it might just come down to a failure to truly launch a lesson in a meaningful, engaging, inspiring way.

What I notice about adult learners is that I have about five minutes (on a good day) to hook them on learning some new tool or embracing some new strategy.  Unfortunately, the "hook" isn't always the first thing I need to share with them -- it doesn't come first in the chronological process of learning to utilize the tool.  If I miss that window I tend to lose my least dedicated audience.  And every additional minute or two after that I can visibly see waining interest in a growing number of learners.  Sometimes I can recover and bring them back, but it often seems as if we never get that initial enthusiasm back if do not plan well and miss that initial opportunity to hook them.  And truly no marvel of technology that I can share with them is going to bring them back!

This means I have to plan a little differently. I have to think about my intro.  I need to answer questions like, "Why does this matter to my audience?" or "What is the most important or interesting element in what I'm sharing with them today?"  When I know that, I have to strategically re-think my delivery -- how do I deliver on these elements early in the lesson without completing losing my audience.  Teachers hold the ability to do exactly that -- re-structure a lesson order and then find a way to tie it all together in the end.

This week I saw some pretty interesting lessons on topics that should definitely be of interest to students!  However, in several cases an initial failure to make a compelling argument as to why the topic was worth the investment of time and energy to students, or a failure to hook students and develop an interest right from the start of the lesson, left many students visibly disengaged from the meat of a well developed lesson.

 In journalism taking the most pertinent element of the story and burying several paragraphs in is called "burying the lede."  Instead, be the salesperson you want to buy from!  Put a little showmanship into the first few minutes.  Be dramatic.  Be fun!  Oversell the product a little.  We all want to be part of something special, and the first few minutes of anything seems to be the key to making something stand out from the ordinary.  You already plan great lessons.  Now just spend a few extra minutes thinking about the sizzle that is going to draw them in and find ways to highlight that first.   Once you have them hooked, it is amazing what learners are willing to put forth.