Saturday, September 5, 2009

Back in the Saddle

Well my district has decided that supporting technology in the classroom is not worth the price. With the cut of CFF and no other grant funds available our CFF/math coach is now just a math coach and the Technology Integration Mentor (me) was cut. So now I am back in the classroom, and I am fine with that. I love teaching and being in the classroom, but I worry about teachers and their use of technology. Who will support them? Who will plan with them? Who will co-teach with them? Who will provide feedback as a critical friend? The answer is unfortunately no one. I feel the investment made in technology in the last 5 years will not be used to its full potential. It has caused me much angst as the year has started when I have to tell fellow teachers that I will not be able to help them this year, and when they ask who will I say "I don't know".

The other thing that has me down is my classroom. Since I have been out of the classroom for the past 3 years while the CFF project was installing Smartboards and other equipment, my room was left out. So now the guy with the most training and experience in using technology has none to use. So now the task becomes figuring out how to get the equipment and/or make the best use of the little I have. I was hoping the big lottery jackpot a few weeks ago would provide the answer, but not this time. So now I am on the lookout for ways to get my hands on what every I can.

Being back in the without a lot of technology has given me the chance to implement some other changes. Between having our reading specialist as an office-mate for the past three years, Reading Apprenticeship training and this year taking the Performance Learning System (PLS) course Reading Across the Curriculum, I have embraced literacy and reading in the content area as a major focus in my classroom. In fact I plan on teaching the PLS class this spring. So with reading everyday in the classroom and a renewed and deliberate focus on metacognition I am off and running on a new school year. Much different than any of the past 20 plus years but one I am really excited about. After all being a classroom teacher is the most important job in the world.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

6 Secrets for Change

It has been a long time since I posted here. Much of the time I can only find time to twitter about what I am doing or thinking. It's not that there are things I wish I had blogged about, like the time just before winter break when several former students stopped in for visits, including one of my favorite former students now at MIT, the Saturday technology workshop that I put together for the teachers in my district and great colleagues that were willing to come and present, or the great eye opening experience I had while presenting at the Student PSEA conference. But alas I was unable or unwilling to find the time to get the job done, shame on me. This time I put my air travel time too good use and will get this one done.
On Friday I heard
two keynote addresses, the first from
Paul Vallas , former Superintendent of Philadelphia, and Michael Fullan. I was in New Orleans, so Paul stopped by since he is the current Superintendent of the Recovery School District of New Orleans. He just gave us a brief overview of his work since Katrina. He himself said he was just a warm-up for Michael Fullan. Mr. Fullan presented his 6 secrets for change, 2-4 he called the core and 1 & 6 are the wrap-arounds. It was not the typical "keynote" but rather a mini-workshop which included many opportunities for meaningful discussion among our team.

His 6 secrets for change are:

  1. Love your employees
  2. Connect peers with purpose
  3. Capacity building prevails
  4. Learning is work
  5. Transparency rules
  6. Systems learn

Before he spoke about the secrets he presented 5 insights into change.

  1. The implementation dip is normal
  2. Behaviors change before beliefs
  3. The size and prettiness of the plan document is inversely propositional to the quality of action
  4. Shared vision and ownership is more an outcome of quality process than it is a predictor
  5. Feelings are more influential than thoughts

I had heard of the implementation dip before, but Fullan used a graphical business model (Herold & Fedor, 2008) that made made it a whole lot clearer in my mind. The basic idea is that after any change in made, it is normal that it will have a negative effect, but once the you get though the dip, the gains will realized. What Fullan presented is during the "recover phase" there will be much resistance and a push to abandon the change. To go along with that the leaders that made the change will be criticized and may even be targets of attack. This is were leaders must be strong and stay the course. The harder job is to make the slope of the graph be as steep as possible during the recovery phase. So be open with people about the implementation dip, and be prepared and willing to take the heat. If you have thoughtfully implemented change, that you know in your heart is good for students, then keep focused on the results that you want to achieve. But what is change and how do we manage it?

What do we need to change in education? Materials, behaviors and practices, and beliefs. Our district PATHS initiative requires all of these, the biggest being a shift by all people in the system to the belief that all children can graduate college ready. How do manage change? Through the use of change forces (almost like physics) which promote a bias to action in individuals. The difficulty comes in finding the change forces and making sure the bias to action is not to run the change agent out of town. In order to do this we need to manage change differently. Listen to the people who's behavior you want to change and become servants of that change. Demand and expect behaviors to change, in the hope that beliefs will follow, but it cannot be done with the accountability. In order for change to be effective a system of support and trust must be developed. Support must come in the form of administrators that are truly instructional leaders. At the district level that means putting the resources and building leaders in place and then letting them do their job and not micro-manage the process. As for building leaders ask for the resources, like coaching, time for peer visit and review, and building directed PD. As for the teachers, belief is not necessary (yet), but compliance and truly taking advantage of opportunities that are presented is an expectation. Teaching is hard work, and reform is even harder. The biggest step is to reflect on your practice and suggestions that you are given. In fact seek feedback from your peers, coaches or building administrators.

How do you manage or promote change? This is where Fullan's secrets come in. Secrets 2-5 he called the core so lets start. Secret 2: Connect peers with purpose. Change cannot be managed from the top down. While it may need to start at the top, it also has to percolate from the bottom up. This change force must be lead from the within and needs to be supported from above. Secret 3: Capacity building prevails. Change is difficult and causes fear. Fear prevents acting on knowledge. Non action makes change fail. So be non judgmental while change is occurring and help build the capacity. Giving non judgmental feedback take practice, it just not happen. Secret 4: Learning is the work. Before a new concept/change is put in place there must be a few things that are understood. It is non-negotiable and participation in not optional. It must be precise and well thought out, no random or vague ideas. It need to possess high yield strategies and strong instructional practices. But lastly it cannot kill innovation or creativity. Secret 5: Transparency rules. This is a true paradigm shift in education. No longer is it acceptable to close your door and keep your practice to yourself. This will only happen with a trusting environment. Transparency + Non judgementalism + Good help/coaching = Classroom improvement. Those are the core now the over arching. Secret 1: Love your employees. Seems so simple, but it is so easy for things we say and do to be heard or taken the wrong way. Why is this so important? If you do not feed the teachers they will eat the students. Secret 6: Systems learn. Leaders, teachers and learners leave a system, the culture stays. What is the legacy that you will leave in your classroom, school and district.

It was hard for me to sun-up two and half hours in such a short post. My advice, if you get a chance go hear Michael Fullan. I will close using what Michael asked as a rhetorical question. Where are you on the continuum of the nuances of the secrets to change?

  1. Blind love to Indifference
  2. Command & control to Fragmentation
  3. Judgemental to Liaise-fair
  4. Relentless consistency to Innovation/bad practice
  5. Aimless transparency to Privacy
  6. Dead certainty to Deer in the headlights

How do you make sure change happens for you

  • Talk to people that are smarter than you, every day
  • Make mistakes
  • Make time to reflect