The 30th Friday: Showcasing Student Learning

“I think that's the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.”

Elon Musk

As you may know, Elon Musk is the CEO and Chief Product Architect of Tesla Motors. I included a quote from him mostly because I like the quote and it is relevant to my topic this week, but also with the remote hope that he sends me a free Tesla once he sees he finally made his way into my blog! From what I know of his work, he definitely seems to be one who has taken the advice he references to heart and put it into action as a business innovator. As I mentioned in an earlier postI think that intentionally reflecting and questioning on how we could be doing better is also good advice for educational innovators.

In our school district, we have a district-wide Curriculum Council which meets quarterly to coordinate and communicate Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment, and Professional Learning efforts. At our recent Curriculum Council meeting, I asked team members to brainstorm a list of “beautiful questions”relating to five Teaching and Learning areas:

  1. Curriculum
  2. Instruction
  3. Assessment
  4. Professional Learning
  5. The Role of the Curriculum Council

The team came up with an outstanding list of questions, some of which were of a more “nuts and bolts” variety (“When will we revise our curriculum maps?”) and some of which were a bit more extensive in scope. Here are a few such items posed that caused me to question and reflect:

  • How should instruction look different in a 1:1 environment?
  • How can we get kids to run to school with enthusiasm?
  • How would we teach students if there was no curriculum?
  • Are we maximizing our instructional time, or is it being clouded by too many other variables?

These were serious questions worthy of pondering and possibly acting upon over time. A final question was raised which is related to many of the others:

  • What should be the future direction of Student Showcase Night?

In our school district we schedule a spring “Student Showcase/Portfolio Night” for each of our four elementary campuses. This year's version occurred just last week; as a result, it was on the minds of many. These annual events are scheduled in the evening and are a very special event for each child to “showcase” the work in which they have been engaged for their parents.  

We have hosted Student Showcase evenings for almost a decade now. I am told that years ago, the authentic flow of daily teaching and learning practices would come to a bit of a standstill as students and teachers spent the days and even weeks prior to the actual event preparing scads of paper portfolios of student work to share with our parents for a two-hour, once-a-year event. Our new Director for Innovative Learning, Marcie Faust, has also been contemplating this question in terms of how it is related to the first bullet point question: do our Student Showcase evenings change due to our 1:1 learning environment? Prior to serving in her current role, Marcie experienced Portfolio Night as a teacher in our district and before the advent of our 1:1 initiative. Many grade level teams across the district have already been considering the question about our move to 1:1, its potential impact on Student Showcase, and making changes in how they have their students present their learning to their parents. 

If, in today’s schools, parents can already access at any given time all digital work their children have produced in school (a good thing, in my opinion), how can we make "Student Showcase" nights more meaningful to our kids and their parents? One way some teachers have shifted their approach is by focusing on student learning, not student work. It is a subtle, yet significant shift in which they want parents to ask of their kids: “What can you do?” as opposed to “What did you do?”

During our own Student Showcases last Thursday evening, Marcie attended Kipling Elementary School's version to observe the 5th grade team and their new approach to this important night. Take a few minutes and watch how the 5th grade students took the lead in sharing their knowledge and abilities with their parents that night:

Obviously, many other districts, schools, and individual teachers are designing many similarly innovative approaches to showcasing student learning; please feel free to share with us what is working for you: does your school or district hold similar evening events to showcase student learning? If so, how are your approaches to such events changing in a digital environment? Thanks for sharing any ideas you might have!

I certainly have no easy answers to this question (or any of the others), but I do consider the question worth pondering. Thinking about how we can do things even better and posing questions designed to reflect on that thinking may not result in a free Tesla...but it is another way we Teach with Passion in our schools!

The 29th Friday: Teachers as Influencers

“Most people think of leadership as a position and therefore do not see themselves as leaders.”
Stephen Covey

Earlier this week, I was listening to a group of educators discuss something via one of the Voxer groups I belong to (if you do not have the Voxer app on your phone, I highly encourage it, both for personal use as well as potential professional use. See this helpful resource via @joe_mazza if interested in learning more). During the conversation, a first year teacher who I respect a great deal said something along the following lines when soliciting advice on her career path in education moving forward: “I love teaching but wonder if the higher up you go, the more influence you can have.” My first thought was that teaching is about as high up as one can go in terms of noble work. Moreover, I am confident I had much more direct influence where it matters most--in the lives of students--during my 18 years in the classroom than my past 13 as an administrator. Still, I completely understood what she was getting at: most of us who move from the classroom into administration do so in the hopes we can make an even greater difference in the lives of others through our work. Yet the more I contemplated this, the more I realized that today's teachers have the opportunity to yield more influence than ever before--not just with their kids, but with each other, with parents, with administrators, and with policy makers. I started thinking about some of the educators in my PLN who influence me significantly and realized that many who have influenced me most are classroom teachers.

In a post written last summer, I shared my belief that by definition, a teacher is a leader. This has never been more true in our profession than it is today. I could list scores of teachers who not only influence me on a daily basis, but also influence many other educators around the globe with the good work they are doing. Although they remain in the classroom, they do not limit their influence solely to the students they teach nor do they limit their work to the teaching they lead in their classrooms. They blog, write books, speak at events around the world, Tweet, and participate in webinars, podcasts, and GHOs. Let me share the names of five teachers from my PLN who have influenced me in any number of areas and helped me become a better educator:

  1. Jenna Shaw (@Teachbaltshaw). Jenna is a middle school language arts teacher in Baltimore. Jenna has influenced me in the areas of GAFE, 1:1 learning environments, and social emotional learning to name a few.
  2. Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp). Pernille is a 7th grade teacher in Oregon, WI. Pernille has influenced me significantly in the area of reading, blogging, and “managing” student behavior.
  3. Erin Klein (@KleinErin). Erin is a 2nd Grade teacher in Michigan. Erin has influenced me in the areas of 21st century classroom learning environments, the maker movement, and tips for integrating technology into teaching.
  4. Paul Solarz (@PaulSolarz). Paul is a 5th Grade teacher in Arlington Heights, IL. Paul has influenced me in the areas of student-centered classrooms, genius hour, mystery Skype, and becoming a better writer to name but a few.
  5. Josh Stumpenhorst (@stumpteacher). Josh is a 6th Grade LA and Social Studies teacher in Naperville, IL. Josh has influenced me in many areas--most importantly in getting me connected to others via Twitter when I first embarked on that journey a few years ago.
If you are not following these amazing teachers/leaders on Twitter and through their blogs/books, I highly recommend doing so. These are five of my educational heroes, five people who know way more than any administrator on many, many topics, five people who are making a huge difference with kids in their own classrooms on a daily basis, five people who have revolutionized the way we teach and learn in our classrooms, five people who love their content, but love their students even more, five people who still--in addition to all the outside work they have done and recognition they have earned--spend the majority of their professional lives where it makes the biggest difference: in classrooms, teaching kids.

As additional evidence that teachers serve as our most influential educators, we have had a number of requests this year from educators in other districts hoping to observe our own teachers in action. To name just a few recent examples, we have had requests to observe our K-5 Spanish teachers, our 6-8 science teachers, our flipped math classrooms, our K-2 iPad classrooms, and our STEM Lab teachers! Not surprisingly, thus far no one has contacted us asking if they could spend the day observing me, or our outstanding superintendent, or our amazing human resources leader, or even our incredible CFO. These visitors know what we all know: Our classrooms are where we--not just our students--learn the most, and it is these places, and these people, they ask to come visit.

The world of education is changing rapidly in so many ways, some for the better and some not, perhaps. One change that is definitely an example of the former is the shift that has occurred allowing our true experts on teaching and learning--teachers themselves--to play the leading role in influencing the future of instruction in our country. To the many teachers who embrace this opportunity to extend their influence beyond the four walls of their classrooms, I salute you. Thank you for influencing not only your students, but also your fellow educators by sharing what you do and what you know; doing so is another way we Teach with Passion!

The 28th Friday: Celebrating the Little Things

“A Birthday is just another day where you go to work and people give you love.”
Abhishek Bachchan

My birthday was this week. Honestly, I am not much of a birthday guy. I typically never share this news with anyone because for the past thirty versions or so I simply pay them no attention. My philosophy on birthdays (beyond a certain age) aligns with that of one of my colleagues, Dale Fisher, who when wished “Happy Birthday” typically responds with: “What did I accomplish? I lived another year? Big deal.” I tend to agree that the single day in the year is not much of a big deal at all; instead, it is the other 364 days leading up to it--when looked at collectively--that can actually amount to a pretty big deal when one realizes all that is accomplished in that time span. John Wooden, perhaps the greatest basketball coach ever, was fond of saying that little things make big things happen. In a way, "little" days make "big" ones happen, too.

I was reminded of my thoughts on this topic in our school districtthis week because we had a somewhat analogous event. It was a "big" event, actually: the governor of our state visited one of our schools! This is really a neat thing and one small indication of the outstanding things that are happening across our entire district. Having said that, I actually have mixed feelings because it struck me that we were celebrating a “birthday-like” event when each and every day amazing things are happening in all classrooms--amazing things that are honestly even more important than a visit by our governor.

So when we convened our district's Curriculum Council (made up of teachers, coaches, and administrators from across the district) later in the week, I asked council members as they entered (without telling them why I was asking) to quickly list something good that happened in their classroom or school this week. I received about twenty answers which were all inspiring. In the interest of brevity, I am sharing just six herein:

  • We are promoting an app called 'Lensoo' which is an interactive whiteboard. Students are using the Nexus Tablets to solve problems and explain their thinking, create presentations, etc. Our students are engaged, our teachers can listen to what the students have to say to locate sound logic or errors in thinking, and we are moving outside of the Chromebooks, which are limiting when it comes to creating.
  • I was introducing the iPad app, Inspiration to a 4th grade class, and we ran into a glitch that I couldn't solve. One of our special needs students figured out the problem, and was able to lead the whole class in the steps to fix the glitch. It just so happened he was also being observed for his classroom behavior. He was so proud of himself and he became our class "expert.”
  • Night ZooKeeper. This is a website that encourages writing for students. During the month of March, there was an international competition for students that wrote the most words! Two second grade classrooms were in the Top 40 internationally. Not only have they become better writers, they WANT to write on this website whenever they can!
  • I love how using our Chromebooks is as second-nature as using a pencil, paper, and books! When students were starting a partnered biography on an inventor, the kids were able to use our shared document, copy part of it to their own document, and share it with their partners and me. It only took about two seconds with minimal instruction! They have come SO far!!! It's really cool how it's just part of what we do!
  • Our music students performed this week! 8th grade music theatre scenes with singing, choreography, acting, stage blocking. 7th grade performances with written scores of completely original student-created music. 6th grade arrangements of pop, folk, or cultural tunes, with instruments, choreography, and background presentations. EVERYone participates, creates, works together, and performs for their classmates, and EVERYone articulates their learning via online personal reflection.
And, last, but not least:
  • 6th grade kids were hugging each other as they returned back from Spring Break!  
I sincerely appreciated and enjoyed the visit from our Governor this week. It was truly an important event for our school community. In addition to the governor, we had a host of other community leaders stop by to observe this wonderful event. Yet, the events listed above, which also occurred this week, are even more important to me--and to our kids.

Birthdays--and “Birthday-like” events are fun and worth recognizing. Yet, the daily joys that occur during the other 179 days of teaching and learning in are every bit--if not more--impressive and worthy of recognition. Maybe our community leaders should visit our schools on these "little" days, too!

Celebrating every day and every learning event is important for our students...and doing so is another way we Teach with Passion!

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