Pearls need discomfort, right?

pearl-oyster
“Those that have survived such perils of the sea as typhoons, suffocating red tides, and attacks from predators are brought ashore and opened. if everything has gone well, the result is a lovely, lustrous and very valuable pearl.” Click image for source.

Yesterday after work I was typing up a commitment contract with our head teacher, Lynn, for one of our students. We had had a day. I remarked that it’s like that in Alternative – each day is ‘a day’ – and that is what makes our jobs more interesting – every day is different and exciting.

We joked about that for a while and then I said but seriously, even though they can be trying in the moment, it’s responding to the varied situations and the behaviours/needs of our kids that makes me a better teacher. It’s on the job professional development. I feel I learn so much each day about relationship, caring, learning. Lynn responded – better teacher? It makes me a better person.

Thought that pearl was worth showing in the light.

Leadership for any kind of change.

Please, Administrators of Canada (and probably the US and Australia, and South Korea, and New Zealand, and Morocco, and…), please stop jumping headfirst into change initiatives and expect your teachers to jump on with you as if they had been there from the start.

Do you know that some of the least effective PD (wish I could locate the references. I can’t so trust me on this one for now) EVER is when a small group goes out to a conference or training session and then tries to bring their learning back to their schools?

If you know this, then why is it still happening? More importantly, why is this model for PD still being offered? Especially with all of the different models that are available to us now through the technologies that are being advanced every single day?

You see, what happens is the marathon effect.

Chicago Marathon

It’s effect on organizations is described nicely here, in a passage from this document on transitions for sustainable social change:

People leading a change have usually already gone through their transitions and are ready to hit the ground running as soon as the change is announced. Others, however, are either just entering the Neutral Zone, or have not even made it through their Endings. They need time to arrive at their New Beginnings. Change leaders need to give them that time for adjustment and guide them through their transition rather than wonder why it’s taking so long.

Even worse is when this happens on a consistent basis. One year differentiated instruction, the next – learning with laptops, the next – SMART boards, the next – multiple intelligences, the next…
When this happens organizational trust is very low and you get a school of teachers who are doing their own things while the administration is cut off from what is really happening.

So. If I could whisper something in the ears of all of you who are in charge of professional development at your schools it would be…

…slow down. Honour time for transition. Find out what your teachers need and want in order to let their passion for teaching shine. Nurture it, celebrate it. By doing this you’ll create a climate of trust in your organization through which so much can be accomplished.

Remember, when you run a marathon there is only one winner. We can’t afford only one winner in education.

Leadership Day 2009, hosted at Dangerously Irrelevant

Leadership Day 2009, hosted at Dangerously Irrelevant

Challenging Conventional Wisdom, Indeed.

There is a great conversation going on over at the CASTLE book club blog (orange group) about the  teaching of facts and skills. I plan on posting this post over there but my login and password are stored on my home computer, I’m correcting procrastinating correcting English papers at work. For now, I will post it here and then cross post it there when I get home waaaaay later tonight.

We are reading Why Don’t Students Like School? by Daniel T. Willingham.

In A Challenge to Conventional Wisdom? posted by Michael Curtin, he questions Willingham’s first two chapters, one focusing on the primary need for teaching facts, and the other on the primacy of essential questions and individualization of the learning process. Michael asks,

…how does he reconcile this insistence on memorization of facts – after all, that’s what it boils down to – with his insistence that students’ curiosity is such an important part of learning.  How is a teacher to implement the suggestions from both chapters one and two: they seem contradictory to me.

The conversation that came out of this question is leading me to what, so far, is bothering me in this book. I’ve only read the first two chapters at this point and I don’t know how this will be reconciled later on, if at all.

If I agree with Willingham that “…factual knowledge makes cognitive processes work better…” (p.36) and that we need to increase our students’ background knowledge then I need to make the next step and decide what kind of background knowledge they need to work with when learning a particular concept or idea.

Art Titzel, in a comment to Michael’s post, writes,

As far as teaching new topics I believe there needs to be some pre-loading of factual information before we can expect students to critically think. This pre-loading of information should be meaningful to students and in context with the learning, not just rote memorization.

It is in choosing what information to pre-load where things get sticky. Willingham makes this statement about what facts learners need to know. It makes me cringe.

For reading, students must know whatever information writers assume they know and hence leave out. The necessary knowledge will very depending on what students read, but most observers would agree that a reasonable minimum target would be to read a daily newspaper and to read books written for the intelligent layman on serious topics such as science and politics. Using that criterion, we may still be distressed that much of what writers assume their readers know seems to be touchstones of the culture of dead white males. From the cognitive scientist’s point of view, the only choice in that case is to try to persuade writers and editors at the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and so on to assume different knowledge on the part of their readers. I don’t think anyone would claim that change would be easy to bring about. It really amounts to a change in culture. Unless and until that happens, I advocate teaching that material to our students. The simple fact is that without that knowledge, they cannot read the breadth of material that their more knowedgable schoolmates can, nor with the depth of comprehension. (p.36)

Tell me, HOW are we going to change culture if not by starting with our students?

With that one paragraph, Willingham is supporting:

I think he is also suggesting that the majority of writers write from this perspective.

He prefaces the paragraph by saying this has nothing to do with value judgments or politics, but merely with what is cognitively best for students. I think I need this explained to me again so I can understand how that is so. Is he really claiming that cognitive science is not influenced by culture?

What do you think about this?

Professional Development Meme 2009

I’ve been tagged by Greg Cruey, who came across this at Clif’s Notes recently.

Directions

Summer can be a great time for professional development. It is an opportunity to learn more about a topic, read a particular work or the works of a particular author, beef up an existing unit of instruction, advance one’s technical skills, work on that advanced degree or certification, pick up a new hobby, and finish many of the other items on our ever-growing To Do Lists. Let’s make Summer 2009 a time when we actually get to accomplish a few of those things and enjoy the thrill of marking them off our lists.

The Rules

NOTE: You do NOT have to wait to be tagged to participate in this meme.

* Pick 1-3 professional development goals and commit to achieving them this summer.
* For the purposes of this activity the end of summer will be Labor Day (09/07/09).
* Post the above directions along with your 1-3 goals on your blog.
* Title your post Professional Development Meme 2009 and link back/trackback to http://clifmims.com/blog/archives/2447.
* Use the following tag/ keyword/ category on your post: pdmeme09.
* Tag 5-8 others to participate in the meme.
* Achieve your goals and “develop professionally.”
* Commit to sharing your results on your blog during early or mid-September.


My Goals

Ethics and Religous Culture,  Current World Events,  the new History program,  and Visual Arts

My Tags

David Fordee

Jose Vilson

Siobhan Curious

Elona Hartjes

Micheal Doyle

Collaboration for student success: teachers and para-educators working together

**Kartoo Visual search for paraeducators**
(type paraeducator in the search field, click on the mindmap key)

The idea of extra help in the classroom is becoming more and more a reality for many classroom teachers. As we move away from stand alone resource room models towards inclusion for students with needs there is a recognition that para-educators play a crucial role in improving student achievement and success in the classroom (NEA).

Though I believe we are moving further away from the traditionally accepted role of the classroom teacher as the ‘sage on the stage’ in his or her classroom, we are far from able to say that the role is historical fact. It still exists in many classrooms. And even when it doesn’t, it can be very intimidating for a teacher to have someone come into their classroom. It is hard to share a classroom with another educator.

Last year I worked with a group of educators – teachers, teaching assistants (para-educators), and administrators – from different schools in Montreal in professional development sessions under the heading, Collaboration for Student Success/Travaillons Ensemble pour un Meilleur Rendement Scolaire. Here are some of the ideas we generated as we explored how to guarantee successful teacher/paraeducator collaboration.

We looked at Context.


The context led us to develop an Essential Question

How can I, the teacher, make an effective intervention in the lives of the students in my classrooms with the tools I have (and by the way, just what are those tools?)

This question led us to develop some Common Definitions. Most importantly, for this discussion, we spoke of the tools that were available to us and we decided that the most important were people: our colleagues and consultants. We also searched for a common definition of collaboration and we decided that in order to effectively collaborate we had to have a shared vision for the classroom. We had to begin to pay attention to the same things in our classroom in order to be able to learn from the phenomena in our classrooms and to be able to plan accordingly.

The first Plan of Action that arose from these definitions naturally formed itself around how to establish a shared vision amongst the classroom teaching team (the main players being the class teacher and the para-educator(s)).

We decided that it could only grow from conversation.

We also came up with essential conversations around Expectations.

Teachers are ultimately responsible for curriculum, evaluation, and reporting. The para-educator facilitates the delivery and activities around this.

Conversations at the beginning of a teacher/para-educator relationship could be facilitated by asking questions such as:


Teachers also noted that it was important for them to know how their para-educator worked best, what his or her strengths were, so they could plan accordingly.

Our favourite resource to facilitate teacher and para-educator collaboration is available through ASCD and is called:

A Teacher’s Guide to Working with Paraeducators and Other Classroom Aides
By Jill Morgan and Betty Y. Ashbakar (ASCD, 2001)

There are some really clear and spot-on question sheets that teachers and para-educators can use to clarify their relationship in terms of the roles and responsibilities of both educators. I will go so far as to say it is essential reading for teacher/paraeducator collaboration.

Basically this is what we decided was key – it is essential for teachers and para-educators to have a clear and common vision of what each of their roles and responsibilities are towards the classroom and the students in it. The only way this can happen is by talking about it.

Some other resources:

Getting Educated: Paraeducators

Project Para: Pareducator Self-Study Program

Special Connections: An Introduction to Working Effectively with Paraeducators

Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future

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