Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Information Overload

Last summer, I read this post by Bob Dillon (not him) about how educators can avoid information overload in professional learning. I saved the link as a draft post to remind me to respond it at a later time. Now that it's August again, I've opened it at least a half-dozen times without writing anything. I was thinking this morning about all the learning I've done this summer, and how I really needed to get some blog posts going to help me process it all before school starts and reflection opportunities become a lot harder to find. When I opened my blog, I remembered and reread Dr. Dillon's post. He has some great tips for managing the potentially overwhelming volume of content available. He suggests that by shifting how we retain, reflect upon, and redistribute information, educators can move beyond comfort zones and implement "fresh practices."
One strategy I've used to help me retain information is is tweeting content I find meaningful from professional learning. Dillon talks about "taking the right notes" as a strategy to support retention of new information. I've found that trying craft important ideas into fewer than 140 characters really helps me understand it a little more deeply.  I use this strategy during face-to-face sessions, as well as within book chats and twitter chats. Using Twitter as a format for professional reflection makes me more likely to focus on the most important or most easily implemented ideas, rather than feeling I need to attempt to master something massive or unrealistic.
Dillon offers three actions for reflecting upon information, including "have a quality space for synthesizing ideas." I am woefully inadequate in this area, as I've probably stopped and started this blog post 20 time. I have quality space, but often fail to carve out quality time. As I mentioned here, I'm better with structure for reflection, so I tend synthesize ideas in my quality space once I have an externally accountable structure.
That accountability for reflection for me is most often spurred on by my efforts to redistribute information. I love chatting in person or online about new learning. Dillon's suggestions for this element of 21st-Century professional development all speak to being intentional about sharing. When I focus on systematically sharing new learning with peers, I consistently end up with even more content and questions.
Stay tuned to see if I apply Dillon's strategies to my summer learning from Project Zero, this book, this book, and the leadership conference in my district, as well as the course I just began.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Student and Teacher Engagement

This has a been a big week of learning for me! Last night, I finished my five-week Twitter book chat on Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind: Practical Strategies for Raising Achievement by Eric Jensen, and the day before, I completed a day-long study on Fostering Teacher Engagement through the BB&T Leadership Institute. (If you want to check out the conversation on the book, search #CCLRPLN on Twitter.)
Research indicates that increased student engagement correlates to increased student achievement.  (If you want to read it for yourself, see Jensen's reference list.)  There has also been a positive correlation established between teacher engagement and student engagement. Teacher engagement also supports teacher attendance, which supports student achievement.
One resource I'm still digesting from the teacher engagement study is a detailed set of survey data regarding engagement drivers.  Prior to my session, the 35 professional members of my staff were invited to complete a survey about my work and interaction with them. Despite the request coming during the very busy time of the last three weeks of school, 24 people completed it, which is wonderful. (Thanks, Team Poe!)  During the Institute, I had the opportunity to reflect on the feedback from my faculty, and to begin to plan how I might use it, but I'm not finished.
I'm excited to move forward in my own professional learning to sustain and cultivate the higher-than-average level (per the data) of teacher engagement. By making my efforts at growth transparent, I hope to be an encouragement to teachers who seek to increase engagement for their students.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Reality Check

 A few months ago, I shared my thoughts on Drive, a book I read as part of my participation in a Leadership Roundtable provided by CCRESA, a professional organization that provides a variety of supports and resources to school districts in my region. Since then I have participated in another session, this time on The Tipping Point, but that post probably will not appear until this summer. (When the number of days in the school year gets to single digits, time for blogging is even harder to find.)
My experience with The Tipping Point clarified something I've known, but to which I had not responded strategically, which is that despite being an avid and extremely fast reader, I'm much more likely to read professional books if I have an external structure for reflection. During our discussion of that book, my colleagues and I suggested many resources to each other, including a book I received in August, and have had in my car for at least two months. For some reason, I was struck during that conversation by the number of other books I've read since receiving Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind: Practical Strategies for Raising Achievement last summer, even though I have been very interested in the subject matter.
Now that I have come to terms with my need for structure to support my professional reading, I gave myself the intervention I needed, which was to organize a Twitter chat for the book I need to read. This week, I will be trying my hand at moderating a fast-paced conversation about the first couple of chapters. I'm excited to finally be reading this terrific book, and I'm looking forward to using this format in the future to keep me focused on other professional reading.  If you're interested in hearing more about the  Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind, join us for the next five weeks!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Thinking About Math

I haven't posting recently, but I've been thinking about plenty. One topic is the development of number concepts. Principals are provided an abundance of professional reading material, and one of my recent acquisitions was How Children Learn Number Concepts: A Guide to the Critical Learning Phases by Kathy Richardson. If you're not familiar with her, she's the reigning queen of math instruction.
This book is a sourcebook for elementary educators (and perhaps really motivated lay people) to use to recognize and respond to the math understandings children demonstrate.  Richardson describes in detail what we might see a child doing and what it tells us about what that child understands about numbers at that phase.  I began reading the book thinking I would learn lots of helpful tips to support teachers in math instruction, but it is really designed for teachers to experience directly. Richardson is so detailed in her approach to the phases that I would expect teachers to have it in hand when analyzing student data or even assessing students. Unless you're Kathy Richardson, it would not be reasonable to expect to remember each aspect of every phase. I could see a teacher noticing a pattern in a student's performance on a math task, needing support to identify how to help the child next, and turning to this book to gain a clearer understanding of what that child's work indicates about his or her understanding at that time.
If you read this book and have other ideas for the best ways to use it, let me know!

Friday, January 8, 2016


Raise your hand if you have used or seen any of the following in school: sticker chart, prize box, honor roll, attendance award, awards ceremony, grades, extra computer time, extra recess, lunch with a preferred adult, or popcorn/ice cream/pizza party. I'm sure you've interacted with a few, if not all, of these common school elements. If asked to explain why any of them are in place, you probably wouldn't get past the first couple of sentences without mentioning "motivation."
Today, I participated in a wonderful book study provided by CCRESA, a professional organization that provides a variety of supports and resources to school districts in my region. In preparation for our time together, we read the book Drive by Daniel Pink. (Do we still underline book titles on the Internet? Maybe I'm showing my age.)  This book describes and analyzes research around motivation, summarizing the three elements of it: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  You may view a 10-minute animation here if you want to gain some familiarity with Pink's premise without reading the whole book.
While I was not familiar with some of the specific examples and research referenced in the book, the concepts presented made tremendous sense to me and challenged me to think critically about the strategies we use to try to cultivate student motivation. We all experience rewards, incentives, prohibitions, and punishments in many areas of our lives, but even a brief moment of reflection will allow us to call to mind multiple instances in which we made decisions or behaved in ways that would not be predicted by the external reinforcements in place.
One way this plays out in my life is in the area of running. I started running consistently just over four years ago because I had a goal to run a half-marathon. After I achieved that goal, I felt accomplished and wanted to continue running, which I hadn't anticipated. Since then, I've set and achieved a variety of running goals, including running a marathon, and completing a 200-mile endurance relay on a team of twelve. Occasionally, friends ask me why I invest so much time, money, and effort into this hobby. Within the framework put forward by Pink, I would say I am absolutely motivated by mastery. I haven't "mastered" running by being anything close to fast, but I have achieved the various goals I've set, and now have a new one - to run 1000 miles this year. For me, mastering each of my goals keeps me motivated, and no one has to offer me money or threaten me or mark on my sticker chart to get me to do it.  In contrast, there are other activities friends and family have invested themselves in mastering that don't interest me. (I won't name them, so as not to alienate anyone by not sharing their passion.)
Turning back to the schoolhouse, if we consider these research-based elements of motivation, we have some hard questions to ask ourselves about how we can create environments and content that give students a feeling of autonomy, a desire for mastery, and sense of purpose.  Most public schools have state and local standards and requirements that would make it impossible to give students complete freedom to decide how they use their time like they do at this school, but we all have spaces of control and autonomy in which we could be as intentional as possible about designing instruction that provides some possibility of addressing the identified human needs that create motivation.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Working (or not) Memory

I mentioned in this post that I was immersing myself in many learning opportunities at once. While it sounded like fun at the time, working and reading multiple books and taking a course and going out of the country briefly and doing my other activities was not a recipe for 100% success in all areas. The piece that fell by the wayside (in addition to consistently blogging) was the one with the most flexible schedule - my participation in a MOOC-Ed. Now that I've finished my three books and book clubs, I'm attempting to catch up on my work in my Learning Differences course before it closes in mid-December, which also happens to be around the time I begin my next professional development opportunity.
The component I'm currently studying is about working memory, defined in this document as "the ability we have to hold in mind and mentally manipulate information over short periods of
time." Each section of the course includes lots of resources on a topic, so I have viewed many videos and read many posts to get a sense of different theorists' and educators' perspectives on the role of working memory in learning and education. This journal suggests that poor performance in school may be more a function of limited working memory than low intelligence.  This blog post attributes much of the complexity of reading to the memory demands of the process.
One element of this course component was a working memory test. I did not perform well on the test, even though I have not noticed problems with holding information in my head long enough to use it. The task of the assessment was to recall five random word after responding to a series of questions, some of which required mental math calculations. For me, working memory requires a context. If the information connects with a schema I already have in place, or I have a task to complete with the information, it feels easy to hold it in my head. If I have to remember for the sake of remembering without a purpose, that feels a lot tougher.  The test was a reminder to me that having a greater awareness of working memory does not mean that I will automatically be able to help every struggling learner by applying a strategy.
I've enjoyed scouring the working memory resources, and I'm looking forward to sharing them with colleagues as we work to collaboratively problem-solve for individual students.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

My Current Course of Study

I've been doing quite a bit of professional learning lately, but haven't taken time to pull my reflections together in a blog post.  Over the last few weeks, I've read books, participated in book clubs (online and face-to-face), and started a MOOC-Ed.  I'll use this post to give you a snapshot of each effort, so you may check them out for yourself, and if life allows, I'll circle back around to share more thoughts on them in future posts.

Lost at School
I'm reading this book with several colleagues and discussing it in a weekly group at school. I referenced the author, Dr. Ross Greene, in this post over the summer, and was delighted when one of our coaches suggested reading it. We've definitely had to grapple with keeping the response to behavior challenges focused on problem solving, rather than consequences. Spoiler alert: Consequences don't work.

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work
This book was offered to me through a professional organization in my state.  I read the book on my own, and attended a one-day "Leadership Roundtable" to reflect on it with other principals. The Heath brothers use lots of easy-to-understand anecdotes to expose the biases and flawed thinking that undermines effective decision-making.  I've already been able to apply some of the principles of their WRAP model to some of my recent decisions, and it has heightened my awareness of pitfalls to avoid.

Pure Genius
I participated in my first Twitter book study with the Plano ISD Book Club. I loved it!  Don Wettrick's book is a great resource for anyone seeking to incorporate genius hour into a classroom or school. The Twitter chat is a great format for keeping a busy person on track with reading and reflecting on a text. The accountability of the group kept me reading, and condensing my thoughts into 140 characters really helped me focus my ideas and responses.  The conversation between colleagues was rich, and and added bonus was that Don participated.

Learning Differences MOOC-Ed
When I attended EdCamp QC, a colleague referenced this course as very helpful to her in strategizing to meet the needs of students who struggled with behavior or academics.  Since I wasn't quite busy enough running a school and reading the books above, I signed up. This is third week, and I'm still completing the work from the second week, but I have already encountered some valuable resources I intend to share with teachers, like this video.

What do you think I should study next?