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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Just Keep Swimming or Create Real Change?

Last night, I was participating in one of my very favorite Twitter chats: #PersonalizedPD (Tuesdays, 8pm CST). Question seven was regarding what we've done to try to bring personalized PD to our district, and this was my post:

After laying in bed and thinking about the chat, I started to get a little irritated with myself that I used #JustKeepSwimming, because to me that phrase implies that I'm fighting to stay afloat, and  just staying afloat in my job has never been one of my goals, although admittedly some days I absolutely feel like that is all I'm doing.

What I really want to do is cannonball into the water. Some teachers will think it's funny and enjoy the ruckus, while others will grimace and mumble about the splashing, but all will move forward on the waves. And when others see me cannonball, they just might get out of the water and try to cannonball themselves, and then we can all be moved from their waves as well. I don't want to float, or wade, or tread water or just keep swimming or any other type of water analogy that implies I'm not moving forward.

Part of the challenge in being an instructional coach is that we are expected to provide the professional development, but don't always have access or authority to make the changes that we want to see or we believe to be best practice. We can implement new learning and personalization into our own PD, but there are times that our PD is still managed top-down, and we have very little say in how that looks outside of our own sessions and planning. To continue to focus only on my own PD would be the equivalent of allowing myself to keep swimming, or maintaining the status quo. To create a lasting change, because I believe THAT strongly in personalized professional development, is what I really want to do.  It's either go big or go home for me, and I feel it's about time that I figure out how to encourage and create meaningful change, because while we all learn from failure, ending with failure is not an option.

Monday, March 21, 2016

How Do We Move Toward a More Personalized PD Experience?

I love my job. Seriously. One of my favorite components of being a Technology Integrator is the professional development that I am able to provide teachers to help them with technology skills, integration, and innovative thinking. When a teacher comes back to me and tells me that s/he used something I taught them with kids, it makes me all eyes-lit-up, jump-up-and-down, arms-flapping-happy. I have the ability to affect so many more students' learning by providing their teachers with what they need to enhance their already awesome skill set.

Back in December, I presented at the TIES Conference in Minnesota, which is one of my other favorite parts of being a technology integrator. I was incredibly nervous because I was presenting for the first time alone. In trying to calm myself in the moments prior to beginning, I chatted my boss, Dave Gundlach, for support. He said, "Mandy, just go up there and do what you're good at. Teach." My stomach dropped. I was about to get up and talk at people for 50 minutes. That was never something I would have done with my students when I had a classroom. Although the session went fine, I felt like it was a massive fail because I realized that even though I love presenting and providing PD, there was a seriously high probability that I stunk at it.

In a total twist of ironic fate, my session at TIES was on providing personalized, cohesive PD for teachers in technology. I went over creating an entire curriculum of Google Apps for Education including skills practice, integration techniques, discussions, and professional readings in order to increase capacity in our teachers and make them the "experts" in Google. The Track, as we call it, has some elements of personalization in the way that it has scaffolded & tiered practice sets, choices in discussion prompts and pacing options. It can also be taken completely online through our Canvas LMS, or it is the teachers' choice to come to monthly sessions where myself and Matt Callahan go through the online modules face to face. While I am proud of the Track and the opportunities it provides for teachers who might not have otherwise taken on learning about Google, the class option we provide is still a traditional sit and get, and every other professional development that I provide is that way as well. My problem is that I know it, and I don't know what to do about it.

Before I even left the conference I began to research how to make PD more personalized and have come across an entire community who believes as I do (with special thanks to Jason Bretzmann and #personalizedPD which has been an amazing resource). I want to create PD that models the type of personalization we want to see in the classroom. This has been my first challenge. After all, teachers are not students. Adult learners are not the same as child learners, although many of the same ideas for personalization apply. I wanted teachers to have voice and choice in their professional development along with additional pacing options. I strongly believe that, especially in the case of technology learning, there needs to be both skills practice AND integration techniques, along with a study of growth mindset and how it relates to innovation. In putting all of this together, PD needs to be ongoing with additional embedded support versus a one-and-done model if we truly want to make sustainable changes to teaching and learning.

So, I need some innovative thinking help. I need some strategies for creating a more personalized professional development experience while still addressing different skill levels, different integration levels, different content areas, and providing specific follow up support. I would love to try and edCamp style session one day, but the sessions I need the most help with are targeted sessions where the teachers need to come out with information on a specific idea (like GAFE, for example). Any examples of professional development that went really well or conversation on personalized PD I would welcome with open arms. I am looking for my opportunity to do something different with my PD. My goal is for teachers to leave any session I provide with energy and enthusiasm to implement what they've learned with their students. After all, it IS all about student learning, but in this case, it starts with providing the PD that will make a difference.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Kids with To-Do Lists

I was walking down the hall the other day and a couple of fifth grade boys were walking the opposite way. I did my normal, "How's it goin', boys?" and from one of them in return I received, "Mrs. Froehlich, I have so much on my plate right now. I'm just so busy." At first, it made me giggle a little to think that this fifth grade boy thought he was so busy as my scrolling list of adult to-dos was ticking through my own head, but later, in telling the story to a fellow tech integrator, we started discussing how sad it actually was that the boy felt like he was so overwhelmed with everything he had going on in school, and that's not including anything he has going on at home.

Recently, my son suffered a concussion during a basketball game. He missed two weeks of school during the worst possible time...right at the end of the trimester. After those two weeks, he was back for half days for a week. In trying to stay on top of what he would need to do, I emailed his teachers from last trimester and this one to get his list of assignments that he would need to do. Fortunately, the school district has an actual concussion protocol that they follow, so each teacher was willing to be lenient on what he finished and what he didn't. Still, each teacher gave me about four to five assignments that needed to be done. That was out of seven teachers. In three weeks, two full-time and one half time, with more than half of his work forgiven, he had a minimum of 28 assignments and tests to make up along with keeping up with his current daily work. If he did one a day, it would take him almost a month to catch up.

I don't get overwhelmed often by what I have going on, but when I do, it is a terrible feeling of helplessness. As an adult, I feel barely equipped to handle these feelings at times, let alone being a fifth grader or a freshman in high school. Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in the politics of school and the standards that we need to teach that we forget to be empathetic towards out students. We discuss the importance in teaching our students empathy for others, but forget to practice it ourselves. In an article called Busy teens lack time for fun, or even lunch Chris Churchill describes how students are working through lunch or skipping it all together in order to maintain their studies and how insane that seems. One of his recommendations for a remedy? Giving less homework. I'd vote for no homework unless it is an authentic activity with true value, but that's just me (oh wait, and a bundle of researchers, but I digress...).

We are adults with adult responsibilities for far longer than we are kids. Students shouldn't be so overwhelmed with what is going on in school where it causes stress and, Heaven forbid, a true nervous breakdown. If our teaching is causing this type of stress in our kids, it's time to reevaluate what we are doing in the classroom to cause it.