#mdedchat Challenge

This week we are trying something new. In preparation for next week’s chat and to promote another facet of connected educator month, we are encouraging our participants to blog. Blogging allows us to reflect, to learn from each other, and to share our own learning.

The assignment is simple: choose one of the quotes below and blog about it. If you do not have a blog this is a great chance to start one. If you have a blog this is a great chance to reflect. Next Tuesday we will discuss each of the quotes and use our blogs as resources for discussion and reflection. Happy blogging and if you need help feel free to ask.

1. “If you surround yourself with passionate educators, you become more passionate.”

2. “Isolation is now a choice educators make.”

3. “Learning is creation, not consumption. Knowledge is not something a learner absorbs, but something a learner creates.”

4. “To innovate, disrupt your routine.”

5. “Connected education is not about technology. It is about relationships and learning.”

Power of Connection

Sometimes finding a topic to write about is a difficult endeavor. I find myself asking why I feel I should reflect on something, why is it important, and would anyone find use in it. The usual strategy is waiting for inspiration to strike, shutting the door, writing and reflecting. This month that is exceptionally true. I had just completed our “Connected Educator Month” display case when it hit me: the power of connection. I was struck by how much my own connectivity has influenced not only my own personal and professional growth, but also how it has impacted our students and school. With that in mind I decided on the “Follow Friday” to focus on some of my connections and how they have impacted my professional/personal growth.

Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal)

Eric is the reason I am a connected educator. Two years ago I hated everything about social media. In my world social media was the arch-enemy of anti-bullying initiatives and the bane of my administrative existence. Then I stumbled upon a video presentation of Eric at a conference reflecting on his own journey to social media. His description of moving from fighter of to fighter for struck a chord with me; I saw a lot of my own self in his beginning experiences with connection. I jumped in following that video and have not looked back since. I know I am not alone; Eric has led many to the power of connection as an educator and has changed more professional lives than he can probably count. He is the epitome of a true leader.

Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy)

I first “met” Jimmy in #satchat and #edchatri sessions. What struck me was his overwhelming positivity and constant focus on students. I then had the pleasure of meeting Jimmy at NASSP Ignite ’13 in DC. Jimmy is the consummate professional (and possibly a world champion at arranging collaboration over food). He is always willing to put opinion aside in the name of students and is always trying to find new ways to help others connect. Thanks to Jimmy I have had the pleasure of meeting many other members of my PLN in person. His passion is undeniable and his students and community are fortunate to have him. In many ways Jimmy has served as a mentor for me over the last year and his guidance has benefitted not only myself but my students.

Daisy Dyer Duerr (@DaisyDyerDuerr)

Like Jimmy I first met Daisy in DC. Her passion for her school and her community is hard to explain, but it is sure to include the word “relationships.” That is what Daisy embodies to me. From keeping me a float mentally in San Antonio when my ID took its own trip to always finding a way to make you laugh, Daisy is a great leader and a great friend. She always knows exactly how to find the positive and lift it up.

George Couros (@gcouros) and Todd Nesloney (@techninjatodd)

I first met each of these gentlemen at ISTE in San Antonio. George is a legend in the educational Twitterverse. Not only is he a great story teller but his message of positive change is beyond inspiring. His session at ISTE had one of the strongest impacts on me as a leader, especially in grasping the importance of not losing sight of the things that matter in a world of change. I look forward to seeing George at EdScape in a few weeks and hearing his message again.

Todd - what can one say about Todd. If there ever was an educator that I would go to great lengths for my child to experience it is Todd. His passion is overwhelming and most of all it is 100% authentic. He truly loves his job and his students. I have had the fortune of bringing Todd in digitally to work with our flipped classroom teachers. While the chat was only about 20 minutes, they still talk about it and are still using the resources they gained from the conversation.

My Maryland Tweeps (Chris Wooleyhand – @principal64, Jeanne Mayo – @jpilgrimmayo, and Jenna Shaw – @teachbaltshaw)

Last but certainly not least I want to give a shout out to my Maryland tweeps. These educators constantly challenge me to continue developing and are always willing to lend a virtual ear. Our weekly Maryland EdChats (#mdedchat) are stronger because of educators like these.

 

Thank you to these educators for making me a stronger educator and professional!

I Didn’t Pick This Life

As someone with background as a music educator it is not a stretch to say that I have given the “music is an emotional experience” speech more times than I can count. The speech always centers on the power of a song, a melody, a line to strike an individual and connect with them emotionally. I share this tidbit because this is where I found myself this past week.

I spent the first part of the week engaged in the most reflective process I have ever experienced as an administrator. Completed packets were due for the Maryland APoY Award and I had spent the better part of a week and a half planning and crafting my 6-page essay response the packet requires. It was a truly reflective experience. It is not often that we take the time to stop, look back on initiatives we have collaborated on and led, and consider the impact on our students, school, and community. Saying that fitting my verbosity into 6 pages was difficult would be an understatement, but that is because I found the experience motivational. School is in week 3, the discipline referrals start coming in, grades are due in a week, and the mundane reality of management has reared itself. Reflecting on those initiatives NOT related to simple management allowed me to see beyond the paperwork and into the reason I love my job: I get to help students and staff become better and they in return help me do the same.

In order to set the tone for my essay response I recalled an experience several years ago with a Senior leader of my debate program. They questioned why I wanted to leave the classroom and become an administrator. I remember thinking about that question then, and now looking back I can see it with a clearer view. There were people who looked at me years ago and said “you won’t be here long…you’re an administrator waiting to happen.” There were those who said “you are trying too hard to make a difference.” There were those who said “not every student can achieve so stop beating yourself up when they don’t.”

Then this week there was the song. A country song about how a singer didn’t pick the life he lived, it was just who he was. The line that hangs with me the most is “I didn’t pick this life, it picked me.” This was my emoto-musical moment. I didn’t wake up years ago and say “I want to be an administrator.” I didn’t “luck” into a job because it was there. In fact, I would argue that being an administrator isn’t a job, it is a life. I live for the moments of growth. I live for the moments of trying too hard. I live for the moments of seeing those students others said were a lost cause find the ability to succeed.

I don’t know where the rest of my career journey will take me. Lots of people have offered suggestions as if there is an odds board in Vegas they are playing, but no one truly knows. The only thing I know is that to be an educator is a special career. Wherever the career path takes me I will continue to support students and staff to grow, look for ways to grow community, and never forget the power of relationships. In the end I hope those who look back can say without reservation “He didn’t pick this life, it picked him.”

The Core of Common Core is That It is Common

It is time that we start being honest with ourselves: Common Core State Standards are not something new. There have been many critiques of Common Core; most focus on the loss of creativity, the streamlining (i.e. elimination) of popular content, and the massive amount of material that must be covered. What seldom comes up from educators is that we have created a broad base for educators across the United States to discuss education with a common foundation built upon standards. In other words, we made education a “common” round for professional discussion and growth.

Let’s look at each of the major critiques individually:

Loss of Creativity

I will admit, I have only been in education for a decade, but I can truly say that that the past two years I have seen a renewed, if not previously unseen, conversation and push for creativity in education. Some would argue that because “CCSS killed creativity” we are responding by forcing the issue. I would counter that this is not the case. Instead, the personification of the standards movement precipitated by CCSS has led us to find ways to promote creative thinking and activity. We are promoting a generation with a common foundation upon which creative thought can grow.

Streamlining

Yes. CCSS has streamlined our standards, but it has not killed content. There were pieces of content that have survived because we valued them, bot because they were necessary. As a fan of some members of the literary canon, I get it; I would love to pass my love for Faulkner, Shakespeare, and Twain onto my students. However, we must also expose them to literary elements that are realistic to being successful in the world.

Amount of Content

True, the CCSS is an an expansive document. There are lots of standards and indicators. However, they are nothing new. Who would argue that we have not had a desire to produce literate (mathematically and linguistically), purposeful, college and career ready students prior to the CCSS? Not many because it is simply untrue. A majority of the content in CCSS simply spells out the soft and hard skills that we desire our student’s to have to be successful in the world. The content that supports this is flexible, so if it gets out of hand it is on the curriculum writer or educator who built the tower upon the foundation to explain the breadth of content.

In the end we need to be honest with our students, our parents, our communities, and each other. CCSS is redefining how we view and discuss our basis for educating our students. If we realize this is not new, it is simply a different viewpoint, we will be stronger going forward and can utilize our collective strengths to enhance our educational system and ourselves.

Relationships Matter…Even at an EdTech Conference

I had planned to write a blog about my time at ISTE13 when I arrived in San Antonio. The way I imagined it was that it would focus on the role of technology in education and where we go from here. I am surprised that that is not where my inspiration lies as I sit in the airport ready to fly back to Maryland. Instead I am drawn by the power of relationships that I have taken away from San Antonio.

First, a small backstory. On the day I arrived one of the first things that happened was my phone going off with messages asking where I was. Aside from the obvious messages from my wife checking on me, most of the messages were from people I had met in person only briefly before or that I had only interacted with online through my PLN. At the time this wasn’t a huge moment for me, but in context it was a precursor to my takeaway learning from ISTE13.

On Monday I had the pleasure of sitting through a session presented by George Couros (@gcouros). For those who aren’t aware George is a rockstar in the online educational community. It would have been the safe route for George to talk about technology in education; after all, that is the fundamental similarity of the individuals at this conference. Instead, George spoke about relationships. He talked about the relationships within his community, the relationships within his school, and most importantly (and impactfully) the relationships within his family. This is where my learning truly began. In a room full of technocrats George managed to own the room by illustrating the power of personal connection in education.

As the conference grew on I managed to lose my license somewhere on the streets of San Antonio, have the United States Postal Service temporarily lose my duplicate ID, and spend the final day of the conference in a hotel room under the weather. Odd transition from the previous paragraph, but this is where I came to realize what I was learning on this trip. George sent me a message to see if I had found my stuff yet. Thanks to Jason Markey (@jmarkeyap) I found a place to watch the Blackhawks win the Cup with a LARGE group from Chicago. Stacy Hawthorne (@medinatech) managed to keep me laughing through it all by messaging me about my woes. Three fabulous ladies from Arkansas, Daisy, Audra, and Sabra (@daisydyerduerr @audrakimball @sabrapro) not only kept my spirits up but volunteered to bring medicine and soup to my room the day of their own presentation. What these people didn’t realize was that their connections to me were keeping my sanity at a time when I was close to losing it. I spent much of the trip trying to make sure I could get home (you don’t realize how stressful that is until you are 2,000 miles away from home without a verifiable identity). They kept me going and made what could have been a disastrous trip one of my best yet.

The final piece that drove it home was sitting a room yesterday reading USA Today’s HS All-American Team for Baseball. Four of the ten players were asked who their favorite teacher was; none of them answered the “why” with because they were easy, they used tech, or they were just cool. All four referred to moments where those teachers were there for them. Relationships…they are everywhere and they are powerful.

If there is one thing I take away from this conference it is that many referred to it as the “best ISTE yet.” This being my first ISTE conference I am not able to make that determination. For me, it was the best because it didn’t focus on gadgets, games, and gimmicks. From the keynote by Steve Johnson on the power of networks to the informal conversations throughout the conference, it was all about relationships. My hope is that this is the element that travels with 14,000 attendees as they go back to their schools.

Why I Love My Job

Since I first started as an administrator I have had people telling me “I don’t know why you would want this job.” In all honesty, I didn’t really notice the comments that much until about two weeks ago. They seemed to get louder and more frequent. The tone took on a “better you than me” mentality. The statements were thrown out in response to difficulty, but manageable difficulty. In my eyes I had not noticed the drone, but these started to build upon each other as I found myself constantly telling each person “I love my job.”

I hope they didn’t sense sarcasm or wit in my response. It is the honest truth. I wake up each morning feeling blessed to do the job I do. Here’s why:

I get to see students at their worst and see them triumph to their best

One of my favorite moments is making positive phone calls to parents. When you greet someone with “…this is Mr. Wastler, the Assistant Principal calling…” they do not expect the next words to be positive. This is what I love! The positive energy you can feel transmit through the phone as you share the triumph of a student. Sure, in my job you deal with discipline, but the goal is to correct a behavior, and there is no greater joy than seeing a student achieve that outcome.

I get to help people develop and grow

I don’t have an office, I have a room with a chair for when I need to sit and retie my shoe. I say that because I love getting out and watching professionals do what they do best. The conversations I get to have with caring, dedicated educators inspire me to get better, and hopefully inspire them to do the same. In my position I get to tap into resources and professional learning opportunities to help teachers enhance their craft so that they can better serve their students.

My job changes me and my perspective

In an insular world it would be easy to step back and hold my values and views inside. My job doesn’t allow me to do that. The moments of my day, interacting, learning, sharing, all serve to change my perspective on the world. I have never been homeless, lost a parent, felt deeply alone, or cast aside. Through my job I have experienced pieces of these moments and they have changed who I am and what I stand for. Change is good, but good is also a powerful agent for change.

Concluding thoughts…

I love what I do! I get to greet, meet, grow, develop, share, connect, learn, empower, engage, motivate, inspire, and brighten. I get to work with dedicated professionals and tomorrow’s leaders. I get to go to work everyday not knowing what the day will bring and return home knowing I am better for it. I get to share the great things students and staff do with the world and watch them shine in the light. Most of all, I get to become a better person.

I struggle to understand why some feel my job is a burden; in my eyes it is a blessing. I love my job and nothing is going to change that.

EdCampMetroDC: Re-Envisioning Professional Development

Here are the resources from the session I facilitated at EdCampMetroDC. If you have any questions please let me know. You can find me on Twitter at @jcwastler.

Re-envisioning Professional Development (PDF of the Keynote Slides)

Scoop.it Page for the Session 

My Twitter Primer

FedEx Day Page

FedEx Day Resources

The Ten-Minute Inservice by Todd Whitaker and Annette Breaux

TellaGami App (Cartoon Yourself and Record Your Voice)

 

Twitter For Teachers

This is the primer I created for newbies to Twitter. Feel free to share and use.

Twitter for Teachers

Is Grading Making the Grade?

This week I have been involved in a number of great discussions focused on grading. From conversations with faculty to online chats such as the great #SBGChat (Standards Based Grading) hosted by @drjolly and @thomascmurray, the week has been full of insightful discussions on the true purpose and practice of grading. With this in mind, I have been pondering the following question: What is the true purpose of grading?

To start, let’s look at the standard answer for grading. For years, grades have been a standard mark of achievement. Students wait anxiously to see their grades, parents wait anxiously to see if they are up to par, and teachers work anxiously to get them right. We reward the “best” student in a graduating class not based on community service, commitment to the school, or character. Rather, it comes down to GPA. This cultural incarnation is nothing new; in fact, it is so engrained that it is a cultural moor that is almost impossible to overcome. Notice the “almost” in that last statement.

If this week has taught me one thing it is that it is time for change; not change for change sake, but a cultural change in the process and understanding of grading. At the NASSP Conference in Washington, DC several weeks ago I had the pleasure of hearing Rick Wormeli (@rickwormeli) speak on grading ethics (the presentation can be found here). During his presentation he stated that “grades are not compensation, they are communication. They are an accurate report of where the student is at this point on the calendar.” Unfortunately this is not the current state of grading, but we are heading that direction.

So what does this mean for my original question? The conversations this week I have taken part in and witnessed demonstrate that we are progressing towards a solid understanding in the educational community that grades are better seen as symptoms rather than a diagnosis. Effective grading requires us to view failure as the first step in the learning process, not a death sentence. Educators should be encouraged to take risks and if they do, failure will occur periodically. The same is true for students. The emerging job market requires students to be resilient when they fail; they must learn from the failure and continue to grow and develop. If we fail to collaborate on grading, working together to determine what we accept as evidence of mastery and proficiency than all we are doing is giving a letter-value to the learning process (the winner take all approach).

I am encouraged by this week. Change is never easy but when people see the benefits and are able to put the true purpose of education and learning at the forefront along with the student, we can make remarkable things happen.

FedEx Day: Putting Autonomy Back in Professional Learning

Several months ago I was involved in an online conversation on professional development. One of the individuals in the chat remarked that if we want to change professional development, we should change the name to professional learning. The more I contemplate this idea the more I tend to agree; but, I want to take it a step further. Professional development doesn’t just need a name change…it needs a structural change. For too long we have sat in session after session without any real learning taking place. A model of effective professional development can be found by looking at the NASSP Ignite ’13 Conference, where professionals guided, facilitated, and practiced as professional learners. At a school level, I felt it was imperative that a change needed to take place. With that in mind we introduced our first FedEx Day, modeled after the work of Daniel Pink in Drive.

Staff members were asked ahead of time to read a one-page synopsis on Pink’s work (primarily autonomy, mastery, and purpose) and to view the RSA Animate video summarizing Drive. They were encouraged to pre-plan cooperative groups and projects and I maintained a list through the opening session of the day. On the actual day staff arrived to a 10 minute kickoff celebration and organizational meeting prior to a 2 hour work session in teams. At the end of the day the staff returned for a 45 minute sharing session where teams introduced their projects and plans going forward.

So what was the outcome?

LHSFedEx Day Recap Video

Staff members collaborated on numerous projects. Projects included:

  • Creating a Structured Learning Room for Special Education
  • Collaboration between English and Biology Teachers on Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
  • Integrating Fine Arts into the General Education Curriculum
  • Vertical Teaming Chemistry I through Advanced Placement Chemistry
  • Designing PARCC-Style Formative Assessments for Mathematics
  • Pedagogical Methods for Teaching Multi-Level Language Classes
  • Infographics for the Classroom and Assessment
  • Integrating Agriscience Education
  • Developing a Study Skills Program
  • Maintaining and Expanding the Advanced Placement Program
  • Developing a Lesson on Digital Law

Staff feedback was largely positive. 94% agreed that the time made them a better educator. 92% believed that it was meaningful professional development. 99% asked that we create additional opportunities such as this in our professional learning plan. In all it was an incredibly positive day, and by far, our most successful staff feedback we have seen in my two years in this position.

My Own Reflection

In the end, this day was my FedEx Day project. I am relieved that it went well, but I am ecstatic at the outcomes and collaborative moments. Five days later the conversations are still going. People have stopped by to discuss what they would like to do next. The day has not only produced collaboration, it has enhanced the culture of professional learning. It is a credit to the staff that it went so well and that it continues to do so. I look forward to fulfilling the numerous requests to do a full-day version in the Fall. As for my own learning, I have come away assured that what works in the classroom works with adults: give them the tools and they will use them to solve the problems that most affect them. In this case, a little autonomy and a willingness to take a risk has paid enormous rewards.