Monday, October 28, 2013

The Power of Choice

We are 2 weeks removed from our Edcamp style PD opportunity for 7 districts (known as Cluster A) in northwest Wisconsin.  Just under 450 people showed up ready…and mostly willing to be part of what we did that day. I say mostly only because it was a required day for staff.  Usually an Edcamp involves individuals who choose to spend a Saturday learning and growing.  Though this day was required, I think the experience was beneficial and made people think about professional development in a different way.  Here are a few things that led to the success of the day:

Planning and Preparation
We asked Superintendents from all 7 schools to choose two people to serve on the Cluster PD committee.  The only requirement, in terms of choosing people, was to ensure we brought individuals to the table who were interested in providing a new opportunity for growth.  New ideas…new format…new energy…we wanted this group to look at the importance of modeling growth and learning.  We spent our first meeting last year discussing how adults learn and what we could do to provide the opportunity for growth in the context of an already full school schedule.  The conversations were great!  Ideas were challenged, we ended in a much different place than we started, and the dialogue left us wanting more when it came to providing a better opportunity for our staff members.  The Edcamp format is organic in that the sessions are built by people who attend on that day.  We had to modify that piece a bit because we felt getting 450 people into a room who have not been to an Edcamp before could have led to only a few sessions.  So we began to ask our staff members to facilitate sessions…an open document was sent out to everyone in the 7 schools, some members of the committee connected with people in their building and encouraged them to provide a session, and we ended up with over 60 sessions for our group.  The concept of learning from colleagues was at the heart of what we were trying to do…and the number of sessions really helped with the choice for our staff.  We then created tracks so there was a variety of choice for each level (Elementary, Middle, HS) and the technology options (Moodle, Twitter, Camtasia…) were spread throughout the day.

Introduce the Day
We took a few minutes at the beginning of the day to introduce the format and the schedule.  A few minutes is the operative term…providing an hour keynote wasn’t the way we wanted to go.  We felt like that would put us back in the same format we have used in the past so a quick 15 minute introduction to the day and a few words about owning the learning were shared…then we moved on.  The morning was spent with grade levels or departments and the afternoon was dedicated to the Edcamp format.  It was really important for both facilitators and staff members to mention that the premise of the day was to meet the needs of all staff members through choice.  We asked people to vote with their feet…if a session did not meet their needs, they should go somewhere else.  If there were no sessions that met their need and they wanted to connect with a colleague in an open space…do it!  We didn’t want facilitators to feel slighted if people left their session, but also didn’t want people to sit in an offering for an hour and get nothing from the time in that space.

Provide food.  Done.

We asked all facilitators to video their session.  This was met with some resistance, but had more to do with uncertainty about running the video than actually recording the session.  Of the 60 sessions we were able to capture over 30.  This is a great start!  The opportunity to learn something new or go back and review the session you attended was important to us.

All 7 schools brought raffle prizes for staff members and we gave away some Cluster A shirts…not essential, but a cool thing to have throughout the day.

Continuing Discussion
The idea of Event PD has been around forever.  We go somewhere…get inspired…leave…and repeat the following year.  Our group wanted to continue the discussion so we have added a few things.  Email distribution lists helped our groups connect through department or grade level.  Together we are better for kids…it’s really that simple.  There are amazing things happening in this part of the state…but they are happening in pockets.  Being able to connect outside of our district is important in finding those pockets and improving all programming for students.  We are also offering mini session offerings specific to levels in November and January before we get together again in February for another Edcamp as a group.  The mini session offerings are optional and will rotate between the 7 schools in the area.  If the discussion doesn’t continue then we are just putting a fancy bow on something we have done for years and our Edcamp turns into another Event PD that doesn’t allow for growth.

Get Feedback…on the day
Surveys through email are great…but we wanted to get the immediate feedback from our staff so it was reflective of what they had just done.  We asked staff members 2 questions…what did you like and what do you need?  That’s it.

As I reflect on the opportunity it provided for staff it made me think about the importance of choice in our schools. I was incredibly proud of the group that put this together.  The discussion about what it could look like was fantastic.  The idea that we couldn’t make it work was never an option.  The day was a success because of a few things.  First and foremost, we had colleagues willing to facilitate discussions.  If we had 450 people show up with a small number of sessions to attend, the day would have been compromised.  To have 60 people step up and facilitate speaks volumes about our group.  Secondly, our PD group did an incredible job of selling the day.  This day was about our staff…and that was clear when anyone talked to our PD group…they were spectacular.  Next, the staff in all 7 schools…they did not have to buy into this day.  They did…and that is a credit to them.  Finally, the leadership in the 7 districts was willing to give up 2 days that could be spent doing things within their district.  Huge shift and the trust they showed in the process was outstanding.

The feedback from the day has been wonderful.  The adjustments people wanted had more to do with logistics (more snacks and better parking) than it did programming.  I received a number of emails praising the work the committee did in planning, but a few stood out…here are some excerpts:

  • "In my 34 years of teaching I have never walked away feeling more excited about teaching" 
  • "I enjoyed it much more than I anticipated!!" 
  • "It was the most productive inservice day I've been part of in 21 years"

People want the connection to their colleagues and need the choice to drive their learning.  We provided the opportunity and 450 people ran with it…I am so proud to be part of a group that is giving ownership of learning to staff members…growth is inevitable…and when we can give that same opportunity to  Go Crickets.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Not Just Another Day

As educators I think we all have days...maybe weeks or months where we wonder if the work we are doing has an impact on kids, families, and communities.  Sometimes we can get caught up in the routine of “doing school” and the days run together. In those times it is nice schedule something to bring the focus back together.  Sometimes it just happens...

Yesterday we had 2 events that made me walk out of the door feeling incredible about what our teachers do everyday.  Both were part of our routine, but there were pieces that made me look at things differently...and it was wonderful.  Each month we have an all school meeting...consisting of birthday announcements and a story centered around a theme for the month or some of the PBIS data we have addressed as a need.  This month our meeting fell in the same week as Homecoming (we are a K-12 building...which is awesome and the subject of a blog post in the near future) and specifically on 80s dress up day at the high school.  So...we did a quick contest with the elementary staff in which we split into two groups, I gave a song title from the 1980s and they had to tell me the artist.  All 385 students were the judges and pointed to group that got the answer correct.  It was meant to be very quick.  As I looked at the 2 groups from the back of the gym I had this overwhelming sense of pride...not because they knew the answers (even though a few were born in the 80s!) but because I saw them laughing as they went through the game...genuinely laughing...and enjoying just being together.  It was great.

The second event happened after school at our all staff meeting.  We have been talking at great length about Finding Super in kids. I asked our staff members to bring their class lists to the meeting and when they got there I gave them some time to look at each student on their roster and write down what they believed to be that child’s superpower.  As I watched them write I noticed a few things.  First and didn’t take them long to identify a superpower for each student...which made me feel great about the relationships they have formed.  One of the real stories to me was the look on their faces as they wrote.  A smile, little chuckle, nodding of the was subtle, but they were so invested in the process of identifying great things about their students...and that was very cool.  I asked them to share a few superpowers of kids with the people at their table and the conversations were awesome.  Teachers who had particular students in the past added their view, they were laughing, and I could really tell that they really knew their students.  The follow up was the kids on your list know their superpower?  Have you  told them?  At 3:00 today our kids will walk out of this building poised for a 3 day weekend...and I have no doubt that they will know their superpower on the way out of our doors.

I love our staff.  I love that they are honest, even when it it uncomfortable.  I love that they tell me to put my phone away. I love that they tell me to slow down.  I love that they are willing to have tough conversations.  I love that they take on additional tasks because they know the work needs to get done. I love that they laugh together.  I love that they are willing, absolutely and unequivocally,to do what is best for kids.

I hope every leader has a day like yesterday.  A day where you walk into school thinking it is just another Wednesday and walk out knowing that the collective effort is making a difference in the lives of kids.  We are not perfect...but that is not the expectation.  The expectation is continued growth and working toward our vision of a “Community that works, learns, and succeeds together.”  There is no other group that I would want to take that journey with than the one that resides at 336 E. Hoover Ave in Fall Creek Wisconsin. Go Crickets. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Choose Your Own Adventure

As a kid I was not an avid reader at all.  It really came down to sports books where I was more interested in the pictures than content and the occasional Choose Your Own Adventure book which I liked because the story could change and I had the opportunity to make a decision.  Subsequently, if I didn't like the outcome, I would go back in the story and choose something different to meet my needs. I think one of the reasons I had a hard time getting started with books was the unknown.  Will it be something I like? Will it be too hard for me? The questions that I didn’t have answers to tended to drive my desire to read and that really hindered my ability to grow through text.

As I started my career in administration I think I was bringing the same concept to those around me.  People were limited in their growth because I was the only one providing the resources for them...and it tended to cause a great deal of stress from my perspective because I felt that I needed to be all things to all people.  Therefore, the leadership tended to be on a surface level and though people may have been excited to be at school and enjoyed the culture...pushing for growth as educators came in a very limited form.  I reference George Couros (@gcouros) very often and one of my favorite quotes of his is “The smartest person in the room is the room”.  I actually started using it with students when I visited classrooms last week and love the idea of growing well outside of your own perspective.  Instilling that concept with staff is a key component to educator growth.  Combine that with the EdCamp movement across the world and we are getting ready for the winds of change in Northwest WI.

EdCamp...Cluster A Style
This Friday over 500 educators will descend upon little Fall Creek, WI.  Members of 7 different school districts (known as Cluster A) are coming together to learn...from each other.  We have over 60 sessions offered as well as a chance for grade level and departments from other districts to get together in hopes of celebrating the work we all do with students and challenging each other to grow as a group.  A collection of 14 people from these districts got together for one reason...Professional Development was simply not working.  Seeing a motivational speaker was great, but the end result was a spike in excitement and then a faint recollection of the message months later.  This group wanted to provide the vehicle for continuous improvement, allow choice for our staff members, and grow as a group dedicated to changing what education could look like in our area.  We have AMAZING people doing incredible things...but the chance to connect and grow together was not happening. We broke from traditional Edcamp format in that we asked for sessions and facilitators in advance.  The biggest difference between what we are offering and what Edcamp generally provides is the motivation to go.  Attending an Edcamp is a choice so there is a great deal of internal motivation to drive the day.  Our day is we wanted people to know and understand what they were getting into before showing up on Friday morning.

Beyond the Day
With the help of our technology coordinators, special thanks to @fcsdtechguy and @jbgrangaard, we have set up an interactive Cluster A web page for our group of schools that will go well beyond reference and promote the opportunity to grow from wherever your baseline sits.  The expectation is that all sessions will be videotaped, archived, tagged, and available in the future.  Our tech guys have done a great job of setting this up so there won’t be added pressure on our presenters during sessions.  We hope the discussions that start will continue through email, twitter, blogs, and optional after school sessions.  Our job as a coordination group is to provide the opportunity and resources for our staff. 

Choice is crucial.  We often talk about providing opportunities for students to choose their learning, but if we don’t model that from an administrator perspective, we need to take a look at what we are doing.  We also hope this eliminates the… “There is nothing for me” reaction to PD we have heard in the past.  With over 60 different sessions our guess is there will be spark interest and add something to your toolbox as an educator.
So here we go.  The intent of the day is simple...fix the way we grow teachers and change the face of education.  That's it!  Clearly this won’t happen in one day...but if we give our staff the the opportunity to choose...their adventure will be much more meaningful and the impact on our kids will be tremendous.  Follow the #ClusterA hash tag this Friday...we are hoping to break Twitter.  Go Crickets.