Friday, January 30, 2009

LC week 4

Our LC meeting this week seemed to come out of no-where. Part of the reason was that we had just returned from FETC and our F2F so it was a shock to the system to not have some time off. I spent most of my time coming home from FETC in the airport and on the plane working ahead on projects, getting caught up on my reading and trying to put things together in my head of what I need to accomplish.

Our meeting started out with us reviewing our AR projects since this is probably the first time we have had the chance in our new LCs. MR was there to encourage us along thinking about pulling in the aspects we discussed while we were meeting with her in Orlando. When I shared my progress on my AR I focused on my work with making my students more successful through the No D policy, the ability to redo assignments multiple times, and now how I am mentoring Randon and focusing not only on making my students more successful learners but my student teacher as well. By helping Randon become a more successful teacher, I will be helping myself grow and change and help my students at the same time. How? Because if I can help Randon grow, learn, and reflect while I model these same behaviors, he will do his best work teaching for our students. With this change, and focusing specifically on giving students multiple sets of feedback, I will be helping Randon grow and learn about giving feedback and at the same time, this will benefit our students because they will be receiving multiple sets of feedback on their work with 2 teachers helping them learn versus one. Also, I think what will be really interesting is to notice the change in myself from teacher to mentor. I am hoping with the mentorship classes and being Randon’s mentor, using the mentors I have around me, that all of this will work together to create a dynamic transformation in all of us.

Concerning the feedback, Randon and I are going to begin by giving feedback on my freshman’s position papers focusing on paragraph to paragraph. This weekend I will spend the time going over their intro paragraphs first modeling good feedback to our students. Then I will give the papers to Randon for him to add his feedback to as well. Then I will do the same with the 1st body paragraphs with Randon following and giving additional feedback. I think moving forward we can split the second body and then move him into the lead position on the third body and conclusion paragraphs where I am providing supportive feedback to what he has already done. Finally, I need to think about what would be the best result on the final papers. Maybe just a sampling where he and I spend detailed time looking at each others feedback discussing the papers and then reflecting on each others comments and assessments? Hmmm. I will need to talk about this with my LC. The important things to keep in mind are looking for an absence and presence of notes. Do we do things similarly or differently? What do we each bring to feedback. And for sure, making sure we reflect on what we are learning from one another . What is really going to help is that Kristin Leclaire is going to do this with him as well so I hope we really help him along in this process. Feedback is such an important aspect of teaching and something all teachers struggle with in making sure you are giving enough, that you are praising enough and challenging enough. Maybe we can use MR’s model for feedback: affirmations, mechanics, extensions, and critique. That might be the best format to use then we have consistency with the areas we are trying to comment upon. I will need to go over that with Randon and KK.
MR reminded me at the end of my session time that really what this is all about is knowledge building both for my self and Randon and even I would say for my students. Overall we all want to be successful it is about supporting one another through these changes that we will all learn and grow.

At the end of the meeting we had time to go over our schedule for the remainder of classes:
Before Feb 3 meeting: short description of AR project, AR plan revised, AR timeline- all of these posted on your website
Feb 3: review Abrash and Leah projects, review calendar of suggested due dates, look over one another’s websites
Feb 10: tutorials due, suggestions for surveying students, cycle one report structure
Feb 17: cycle one report feedback,
Feb 24: cycle one report feedback, (cycle one report due 2/28)
Mar 3: cycle two report structure
Mar 10: cycle two report structure
Mar 17: cycle two report feedback
Mar 24: cycle two report feedback
Mar 30: cycle two report due

And then we had some great time to just talk with MR. We talked about conferences, learning, and of course, she gave us some more reading to reflect on. What I love is that she continues to challenge us. She pushes us to do more and be more. More as teachers, as professionals, as examples of technology, and as people. She holds us accountable for one another and that is something that I am really going to be focusing on this semester. I am helping everyone in my cadre? I am extending myself to make sure everyone is successful and is heard. As Matt indicated and Tanner echoed, we are here to make sure all of us graduate. I am on board and I will help.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tough Times in Mentoring

Today I had an interesting experience being a mentor. I have written before that mentoring was something I thought I would like to do in the future of my professional career, but am struggling with it now. It is much more challenging to be a mentor (a good mentor) than just to give positive feedback and affirmation. This morning, after returning from Orlando, Randon and I were reviewing what had gone on while I was gone. Randon had taken over all my classes. It was great to hear that things had gone so smoothly in my classes and how successful Randon was in teaching the classes, then we started talking about English Literature, a college prep English class. After a bit of discussion, I started realizing that the class was about a week behind where it should be. Presentations that were assigned took a lot longer than they should have, and things weren’t accomplished as I had thought they should have. This was really tough hearing because in a class that is college prep, only meets three times a week, we can’t have down moment. While I was working through all the things that hadn’t been accomplished, Randon became more and more defensive even raising his voice. It was quite a shocker to both myself and my deskmates. I stopped the conversation and asked Randon not to talk to me that way. I also clarified for him why I was disappointed and how the class is expected to do more because of it being a college prep class. This is probably something I had not made clear to him (totally my fault) but I was very clear from here on out, this is something he needs to correct. He has to find a way to get this class back on track. We also talked about how this class, as well as the American Lit class he will be taking over, are different than the English Nine and Ten classes he currently teaches. I am glad I voiced my disappointment and expectations for him. I let him know that Kristin and I are going to hold him to as high of expectations as we do our students. We want him to be the best teacher possible. Randon was clearly upset by the disappointment and it made me think and reflect about how I handled the situation as well as how can I help Randon be more open towards criticism. I do not want him to be defensive but rather open to the learning moment this provided him. I talked to him about that there are two ways he can walk away from this conversation, the first being to be angry and upset, and the second being an opportunity for growth for the both of us.
I spoke with Ray Hawthorne my instructional coach about this encounter looking for some guidance and assistance of how to help Randon grow as a teacher, reflector, and mentee, and also how to help me become a better mentor. We came up with an excellent strategy of taking away the fear of failure from Randon, as well as focusing on his strengths and looking to him for his suggestions as to how I can help him be more open to suggestions for improvement.
Then after school, I used some of the strategies Ray and I spoke about in order to make a more safe environment for Randon to feel open to suggestions for improvement. He let me know what things I could do to help him be more open like walking him through the process of what he did, beginning with the things that went well and then going into the constructive feedback.
I really learned a considerable amount about mentoring today. And, I learned a lot about myself and Randon. I think we both walked away from today as not the best day, but knowing how we need to handle situations like this in the future.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Reflection on Symphony

I don’t know if the topic was ironic, (we discussed Symphony) but today it all came together for the kids in both period 2 and 5. Maura also said her kids had dynamic conversations in both sections so our school today was on a roll. I want to make sure I thank all of our visitors who took the time to come in and challenge our kids thinking pushing them in new directions. Period 2 welcomed the wonderful Bud Hunt and Kelly Dignan, and Period 5 had the terrific threesome of Lucie Stanish, Christian Long and Eric Grant. All of them have our big thanks!

Period 2 had such a wonderful conversation centered around changing education to make learning more meaningful and significant for themselves. They even proposed having a fishbowl for the school board and bringing them here or going there to show them how learning can look and be different. I challenge them to do so. Why not? I hope they see that education exists for them not something that should be done to them. The power to change rests in them, not in me, not in Karl Fisch, and not even in our guests that attended today. If they have a vision and a purpose for redoing education, they need to embrace the passion and vision to make a difference. If they don’t do it, who will? If they don’t do it now, will anyone ever make the changes necessary? I wouldn’t be surprised if some AHS kids are emailing the school board and Scott Murphy to come in for a discussion.

Period 5 had a great conversation as well focusing instead of homework with their learning and finding the symphonic connections to school. They also really focused on how school could look different but no one seemed to think about how to change it or what steps are necessary to make the changes that they see need to be made. I would challenge them as well to take some action. In this class I saw the inklings of great thoughts. Kudos to Nick and Justin for making some excellent points! I am so impressed by the entire class for really seeing learning differently and how they are beginning to truly grasp that learning looks different than simply regurgitating facts. Learning is applying the information in new ways so that they understand it.

Some things for both classes to think about:
· Who is education for?
· What role do you play in changing education?
· If you know education/ school should look differently, why not do something about it?

Remember kids, there was only one thing I wanted you to do this year: Change the World. What are you waiting for?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Tutorial Reactions

The tutorials put on by OERI were quite detailed and overwhelming. I guess that is not an area I am pursuing and might be a reason, although a lame one, to not pursue my doctorate. (Having just come from a F2F with my OMET group, there are a number who are interested in pursuing their doctorate. It is not something I had totally considered until talking with them, and now after talking with them, there are inklings in my mind of doing it.)

After putting together a presentation on qualitative analysis for MR and the OMET group, I really can see now how imperative it is to divulge everything about the process you used while compiling and coding research as well as the methodology of accumulating the data. There are just so many areas where if you are not careful or truthful about the process, your data doesn’t work to prove anything. This is good to keep in mind seeing as how I need to probably go over my cycle one data again (even though I am dreading it) to enhance and better support my cycle one report. I really wish I had seen these tutorials before I had written my report. Is that payback for doing the paper early even though MR had suggested it? Hmmm… Also, there are so many different kinds of data one is able to collect and in so many different manners that once again, it all comes down to ensuring that you really well document your process.

Soon, I am going to start interviewing for my cycle two report. I am hoping to do something I learned from the OERI tutorials. The site talked about collecting a good sampling of data and how to go about this process. Well, I was just going to pick some kids who I thought would have something to say about the No D policy and multiple redos. According to the site, that doesn’t seem to be the best way to go about this process, so I thought I would now refine my thinking and complete a two step process. Step one would be to administer a survey to all the students with more closed response questions and then do a random sampling for the interviews to see if the random sampling is representative of the larger group.

Knowing what I know now about qualitative analysis and adding to that the information from the OERI tutorial, I need to move forward and put together a survey for the students. I hope to get this accomplished soon so that I can get some feedback from my LC about the questions. I am just not sure from my first semester cycle that I asked the best questions (although according to the tutorial they were good because they addressed my goal). What I am hoping is that I can take the survey results and match them to the personal interviews which will take place at the end of February to see If they correlate and if not, try to determine why. So, I definitely have some work ahead of me trying to create a survey as well as interview questions for personal interview time with my ninth graders.

Thinking ahead, I am wondering if that is something I also need to be doing with Randon especially with cycle three starting as soon as I get the go ahead from him. So much to think about….

Action Research Week 4

I met with MR today at our F2F in Orlando regarding my work on AR. We were driving with Colby, Malika’s friend Marty and myself. I already had listened to MR and Colby discuss his AR project, ironically what he and I as well as Dan talked about the night before. It was really interesting to hear him go through this thoughts, struggles, and looking at his AR in a different light. I also have to say I felt quite privileged to be part of his debriefing and learning process. Sitting with your professor, a colleague and a stranger all talk about your work, it was quite an interesting experience. I was so impressed by what Colby is confronting at his work and the changes he is trying to illicit throughout his organization. Whether MR knew it or not, having both of us there to hear one another’s AR work, was well planned. It gave me insight into my own work environment as well as thinking about the overall dynamic change each of us in this program is trying to initiate.

Up till this point, through my AR process, I have felt very lucky throughout. I have had my cycles come together well, flowing through cycle one and two building off of each other and now finding myself before I got here struggling with what cycle three is going to be about. I am not teaching that class anymore since I have my student teacher, Randon, and feeling disconnected from my students. So having the debriefing session with MR was exactly what I needed.
We talked about what my AR is all about. I told her (and I am going through all this to get these thoughts out of my head) that really my AR focuses on making my students more successful learners which in turn I hope makes them more successful life long learners and learners in all their classes. Also, another aspect of this would be allowing me to examine practices in class that I have used since I started teaching and now I have a chance to try something new. A chance to be an agent of change. That is such an empowering feeling. I spent some time going over my first two cycles which she is well aware of seeing as how I have asked for her feedback time and again on them. I really enjoy hearing her thoughts and reflections about where I am going. I think I almost have more epiphanies when I am speaking aloud to her than me just thinking on my own. I guess that is a change within myself that I am identifying myself as a learner who needs reflection and dialogue with a mentor.

Then came stage three and this is where I really was so pleased at having all that time with Colby and MR. I expressed my challenge at now having a student teacher and am unsure of how cycle three with Randon would fit into successful learners. MR talked about how much feedback and grading have increased for me since my students now have multiple redos. I told her it was a quite a bit more and we even discussed the possibility of training the students to be better peer editors so that they could be providing that feedback to one another. I think this is a great idea and really gives them ownership over their learning as well as creating a community of learners in which to see one another grow. She had a coding system she had developed for giving feedback that I want to go over with my students and LC in order to use it when we are reacting to one another’s work:
Affirmations: praise, identifying positive attributes

Mechanical/technical corrections: make these corrections as a second set of eyes

Extensions: build on the ideas, give examples, how do I help push the learning

Redirect: critiques of the work still given in a constructive light

Training the kids on how to do each one of these will really assist me in my grading, but I still didn’t see how this fit in with cycle three or with Randon. Then I had the epiphany. Really what I am focusing on is learning and making all students more successful learners. Why isn’t Randon a learner? I started thinking about he and I as learners and how we both need each other in this mentoring relationship (That’s for you Jenith). In order for my class to be more successful learners, I need to help/ guide/ mentor Randon to be the most successful student teacher he can be. How do I do this? Modeling / mentoring and guiding. Because if I am successful, I will change as a teacher, Randon will be a stronger, better version of himself and my students will be successful learners.

I am going to talk about this with Randon, unless he reads this blog first, but what I am thinking is that for a cycle (maybe 4-6 weeks) we try peer grading together. The students will receive feedback from both Randon and I. I will still not be teaching the class, but I will still maintain that contact with their work, seeing their progress as they grow in learning, and hopefully, with double feedback, the students will become better writers, thinkers, and problem solvers because they have two rather than one. And everyone knows, two is always better than one.

If Randon goes for this, the timing couldn’t be better with their position paper AKA Change the World project. With all the writing, revising and editing that needs to take place, I am both mentoring my students to be better writers and mentoring Randon about teaching, grading, assessing and feedback.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Reflections on Story

It seems that story is always a more challenging sense to discuss with the students. I think one of the reasons is that we ask the kids to stick to Story rather than bring in the other senses and secondly, their definition of story is often limited. I really appreciate our outside guests coming into stir the pot and get the kids thinking. So a BIG thank you to Tim Stahmer, Sharon Peters, and Jim Gates.

Period 2 had a good discussion but I expected a lot more from them. This class tends to be the best at coming into the inner circle and yet so few participants actually came into the conversation. My hope is that they recognize this and remember that the focus of fishbowl is on the conversation not the blogging. The blogging is just an extension of the inner circle which can go in many ways. I don’t know if Story was just that challenging for them, but I feel like they missed out on some key aspects towards Story. On a positive note, I did hear from them that they are starting to see more story in their math and science classes whereas last year, this was a major area of discontent for the “right brainers.” I will be anxious to read their feedback about the fishbowl and areas for improvement. I also didn’t think my inner circle was as prepared as they should have been. Kids didn’t recall what they had signed up for, and what their role was to be. Maybe I need to post the list online versus just keeping it in class.

Period 5 was better in some aspects- there was more movement into the inner circle, but they still lacked the Big Picture behind Story. Also, the conversation on some aspects was inappropriate and disappointing. It became a teaching and learning moment for the student and my self. One thing it makes me think about is how far do you let things go before you step in? Do we need to revisit the purpose behind fishbowling and what are the expectations? Or do you simply remove him/her from the situation so that they understand the responsibility that is handed to them when they fishbowl? These are some things I definitely need to talk to the class about and get their feedback on. I also need to discuss the difference between being passionate about something and being over the top. Like I said before, this was a learning day for me and hopefully the students and I walked away from today with some new knowledge and some good questions to ask of one another.

I guess I have pretty high expectations for these fishbowls always hoping to walk away from the conversation with ideas I have never thought of before. I really did walk away so amazed and proud with our conversation with Daniel Pink, but I think the kids weren’t as prepared for this conversation as they could have been. The students who are leading the discussion need their questions out and ready to go as well as making sure they are quality questions. Two, students need to go between the inner and outer circle. Maybe we need to go back to blogger to make this happen. Three, I need to revisit what is appropriate on the blog. I just want to keep pushing these kids to do their best. I know they can all do more than what they did today.

Friday, January 16, 2009

I am really hoping this weekend I get some downtime to explore the tutorials so I can start developing my questions for the selected interviews at the end of the first six weeks of the second semester. I want to pull a sampling of kids that have done really well with having the No D policy, some that it helps somewhat , and others who haven’t taken advantage. I am not sure with all I have been learning about regarding qualitative analysis how I would code or decipher their responses. This is why I think I need to maybe complete two kinds of feedback surveys for this second cycle. One that is more clinical in terms of specific numbers, and would give me detailed facts about their thoughts and feelings. And another that is more objective for me to try and interpret.

I almost wish I had more physical access to MR throughout this process. It would be great to have her guidance on a daily basis, but I love the freedom that she has given me to make mistakes, to learn form them and try again all the while focusing on the process. And this is the same strategy I am trying to implement with my student teacher. Although I am here on a daily basis, watching guiding and giving feedback, I really want the classroom and the policies to be his. I want the students and Randon to have the same success with the No D policy and make up work that I did. I wonder if I need to get some more reflections from him on the policies as well as suggestions for improvement or cycles?

I feel like my project is more out of my hands and in someone else’s. It is challenging to keep it going when I am neither the one grading, nor assessing the work but instead my role has changed to helping someone else implement these projects. It is so much more challenging being a mentor than I ever thought. I am learning so much about me as well as what it would be like to be a teacher of teachers which is something I have thought of doing in the future. I am catching glimpses of myself in this light and now unsure if that is what I would like to do. I don’t know if it is more challenging because this was my classroom and my students and now it is someone else’s from day one of this semester. I do know that I need to be open and honest with my student teacher about what I am seeing and observing as well suggestions for improvement all the while trying to be an encourager, motivator, and example of his future career.

The nice thing is that I am not doing this alone. Randon, my student teacher, is blogging about everything he is doing so it is all very open to everyone. I love this because this is how I run my classroom. You can read his blog here . Also, my friend and colleague Kristin Leclaire is sharing Randon’s student teaching with me. What is so great is that we are all learning from one another. Randon is combining elements from both of us into one another’s classrooms. He is taking the best (at least I think it is the best) and putting them into himself and his teaching tool box. With having both Kristin and I he is exposed to a 21st century classrooms, but we wanted him to really expand his exposure to all teaching so that his toolbox is incredibly full when he has completed his student teaching. We have asked for him to go and observe a ton of teachers in all different disciplines because of this. We have math, science, history, team teachers, and even counselors. He is starting on this journey with us, and we want him to be the best. No pressure here, but we are not letting him get away with anything but his best. We do not want this to be student teaching as usual (tee-hee Karl) but to be student teaching that changes the world. No pressure Randon- we wouldn’t ask you to do it, if we didn’t think you could. Just as much as you believe in your students, we believe in you.

Daniel Pink and Design Reflection

To paraphrase Daniel Pink’s last comment to my students (because these are words I want them to remember for the rest of their lives) they did such a tremendous job today questioning and pushing back on Pink’s ideas. They asked higher caliber questions than he had been asked by reporters. He also commented that many of the reporters could learn from them. Yep, professionals could learn something from kids! Here’s a bit from his email:

“…and the questions -- were really, really good.” Wahoo!

Today, my students as well as Mrs. Moritz’s 9th grade Honors classes, video conference with Daniel Pink. Each class had one hour (actually 59 minutes and we used every minute of that) to talk with him via Skype and carry on a conversation on our class blog as well. I am so proud of my kids. I can’t say enough about how wonderful a job they did. They were prepared, challenging, questioning and responsive.

Reflecting back to a couple of days ago, I have to be honest, I wasn’t sure they were prepared. I talked to Karl about it because the kids had just started reading this book. They hadn’t even been exposed to the abundance of ideas that flow from AWNM. They had pretty good first fishbowls with intro-3 (period 2 and period 5) but hadn’t really gone “Big Picture” with the ideas. I was worried. Once again, I learned the valuable lesson to trust in the kids. They always rise to the challenge. And they did not disappoint.

Not only did our kids do a great job in the inner circle talking with Daniel Pink, but our outer circle carried on a lively discussion about ALL things. I really think they have a vision of how to change the world, and these discussions as well as our reading are helping them form some good opinions about how to get there. I definitely have some opinionated students as well. This is something we will need to debrief on regarding how you can make a point without being abrasive or confrontational. Too many people are turned away from discussions because they feel attacked. It will be a good thing to debrief about and a good learning experience.

We had one of our students who happened to be in LA today still attend and participate in the discussion even though she was on the West Coast. We had participants from Penn, a graduate school friend of mine Greg Noack, and the famous David Warlick as some of our guest bloggers. Parents watched from home and work fascinated by what they were seeing their kids do and the opportunity that was presented to them:

“I was able to sit in on the fischbowl for half an hour this morn- fun!”

“Thank you very much for letting me take part in the live blogging session today! This was a very interesting experience, and I'm going to suggest to some faculty at Penn that they consider using CoverItLive.”

“Thank you very much for extending the opportunity to hear Mr. Pink to the students, and to us parents. I was very impressed with the exchange and grateful to be able to stream the action. Thank you again for your inclusive and out -of-the-box approach to this class.”

So, Period 2 and 5, you did a fabulous job. I am so proud of you, thankful that I am your teacher and excited about what our next fishbowl holds.

Thanks as well to Maura for coming along again on this crazy train, to Ben, my student assistant extraordinaire, to Karl Fisch my world famous mentor and who makes all this possible, to Mike Porter and Dana Levesque who provided great documentation of today and support.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I know I signed up to be a mentor to my student teacher, but being a mentor is a lot harder than I thought. At first, I figured that I would let my student teacher kind of figure things out on his own. Give him some freedom to do whatever he wanted with the class. And he did really well with that. But then I started thinking about some things I needed to talk to him about: classroom management, use of the student calendar, effective use of class time, all the things that they don’t really teach you in your education classes in college. And then I realized, how was I going to bring these things up to him? I hadn’t established any sort of protocol about how to do this, and I certainly hadn’t had any training on how to best do this. So, I waited, and waited for him to bring up some frustrations he might have been feeling with teaching and the 9th grade class. Still nothing. I knew that being a teacher has those tough moments when you need to talk to parents or students about things you need them to work on, but I didn’t think too much about it with mentoring. I saw my role maybe more of an encourager rather than mentor. By that I mean I needed to just be supportive rather than pointing out things he needed to address. And then I realized I wasn’t really doing my job if I wasn’t making him the best teacher he could be. If I wasn’t making him think about some of his choices, was I really helping him or would I be hurting him in the long run?

I talked to a few friends about what I was observing and how to best approach the conversation. They really made me think about what would benefit Randon hearing in the long run. How would I like to have this conversation if it were reversed? They really listened and encouraged me to talk to Randon about it. What I am finding that is challenging is that I want Randon to do really well, and I want my students to be successful at the same time. Why can’t I have my cake and eat it too? What is challenging about being a teacher and a mentor is the balancing act. How do you let your student teacher make mistakes, learn from those mistakes and help your students along all at the same time? How do you be an effective mentor? Luckily, I am in a mentorship class with my grad school program right now and so I am learning about all of this. I am learning from each discussion with Randon, each lesson he presents, each question and conversation with my students, and with my grad school class. And I am walking away from this all thinking this is not going to be easy, this is going to be a growing experience for all involved. Randon is challenged with dealing with Kristin and I and all our quirks, advice, and expectations. He is also challenged by his students expecting him to teach them to the best of his ability and so that they can change the world. Kristin and I are challenged with making sure Randon learns, grows, and becomes the best teacher he can be while still making sure our students are doing the same. We are all going to make mistakes, but hopefully we all learn from this process.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Coach O wrote back!

I cannot begin to tell you how much it meant to receive your letter. Your letter found me on a day that I definitely needed a some positive news. I have battled some health issues over the last year. I have a very unique heart condition and had cancer surgery this fall which caused me to miss six weeks of school. As a teacher you understand the difficulties coming back from a six week absence. I felt like I had lost contact with the students. So once again your letter was so wonderful and timely. I received your letter on Monday and on Tuesday I received very good news about my cancer issues.

I am so happy for you. It sounds like you are very happy in Colorado. I would love to meet your daughter some day. Enjoy every minute with her. She will grow up so fast you will absolutely wonder where the time went. Getting married again, wonderful!

Let me tell you what I have been doing. Carol and I moved to Detroit Lakes six years ago. We built a house on a lot Carol had inherited on Little Detroit Lake. We decided to do that after our daughter graduated from high school. I have served Fargo Schools as the History Specialist over the last four years. FPS receive a Teaching American History Grant four years ago ($1,000,000) and I was asked to administer the grant. I taught three classes during the day then I did grant work. The grant has run out of money so this year I am back in the classroom full time. I have been teaching the AP History courses for the last 10 years. We have a very large number of students that take AP European and U.S. History. Though I still enjoy teaching I am planning on retiring this June. I plan to work somewhere but not at North next year. It is a time in my life I need some change and a little less responsibility. I will always have fond memories of the teams and players from North. I have volunteered my time with the Detroit Lakes H.S. volleyball team since we moved to DL. I have enjoyed those kids. Kids are kids wherever you go.

Carol, my wife still teaches elementary physical education in Fargo and will continue to do so for a few more years. Nicholas, our son, just graduated from college in December. He was not prepared for college the first time around but we are very proud of him for going back to school and finishing a degree. Nick also was married last August and lives in West Fargo. Erin, our daughter has been married for three years and lives in Woodbury, MN. She has been teaching in Apple Valley for four years. She also coaches volleyball and their team was second in the state of Minnesota this year.

Anne, I was able to stay in teaching for 35 years because of young people like yourself. You always possessed so much desire to use your talents. You always demonstrated great empathy for teammates and others involved in the program. I am sincerely humbled by your words of kindness. I know after 14 years of teaching you understand how much a teacher benefits from the students and players they work with. I benefited from being associated with you and your teammates. All of you kept me young and determined to do by best. The wonderful benefits of working with young people are the rewards a teacher/coach receives when they receive a letter from a past student/player. I never doubted you would be successful with whatever you chose to do. I sincerely hope we have an opportunity to see each other again. Thank you for writing.
Mr. O

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Reflecting about AR- week 2

This past week I reflected earlier on what it is like having a student teacher and having him collaborate with me on my AR project. He had no knowledge that when he agreed to student teach at Arapahoe that he would be undertaking such a large task besides his student teaching. He has been handling it with all the passion he puts into his teaching. At first I wasn’t sure what Randon was going to think about the No D policy. He seemed to really struggle with the responsibility of assignments being completed on time versus the learning being the focus of the assignments. This is something I still struggle with and have struggled with for 11 years so I couldn’t imagine him to react in any other way. I wonder though if there is any dialogue in his education classes about zero policies versus accepting late work. Could this be a really interesting area that education classes should be focusing upon? I should hook Randon up with Tony Winger from Heritage for a conversation that keeps replaying in my head every time I give a zero for a grade.

Randon has been blogging for his student teaching and I happened to read a great reflection from him about grading; he said, “Grading is something that I enjoy, not for the fact of putting grades into the computer or even assessing student work, but because I get to give feed back to students and help them to get better. Plus the whole no D policy makes everything a little better. When I really give students a bad grade I know that they can make anything up if they want to, it's just that I truly hope that they do.”

I feel like he is getting the idea behind it, maybe even my vision of what I am hoping it will become for these students, but my worry more lies on the kids and what they have been accomplishing lately. I feel like they have been slacking to put it in their language. There really aren’t as focused as they have previously been nor have they been completing work that they are capable of. I am not quite sure if they are just testing the grounds with Randon seeing what they can get away with or if the “Project: Change the World” has been that overwhelming for them. Randon and I had a great talk after school on Friday and I think that we are going to spend some time reviewing what we were doing and almost go back to square. In order for them to really do well on this big project, we need to concentrate on making sure they are understanding each and every step of the writing process. If they do not, or are not putting forth their full effort, then we need to spend some time going back as many times as necessary in order to really make an impact. If we want to change the world, we have to get the kids understanding the fundamentals of writing first.

Another aspect I am thinking about with my AR project is how to assess my second cycle. I was really hoping to do personal interviews with the project selecting out students who have been impacted more by the No D and ability to redo policies. I am not sure of how to go about this, what questions to ask, what is appropriate for a cycle report interview, etc… I know MR has supplied us with a few great tutorials that will hopefully guide me in the direction necessary to do a good job on this report .

I have also spent some time reading on of our AR books Doing Your Research Project. I can see why MR likes this book for its practicality and clear layout of all the steps necessary to create a coherent AR project and report. A few of the things seem so outdated though. The sections I have been reading as of late speak of using note cards, yes, note cards to conduct your research and to keep your points in order. While reading this, I was taken back to high school and how we wrote our senior research paper. I would think there would be a more updated version of the research process for Action Research work than this book. I have my hope set that the end of this book will be more impacting than what I have read so far. MR hasn’t steered us wrong yet.
Going forward for this week, I am planning on spending some time looking at the tutorials, developing questions for the second cycle interview, and reading, reading, reading. Maybe Randon’s mentoring will fit in there somewhere too!

Friday, January 09, 2009

AWNM intro-3 fishbowl

Yesterday was our first big plunge into discussion Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind. Although we didn’t invite any outside guests to blog with our students, it still was a good discussion. The kids really had some interesting things to say in both classes.

Participating in this first fishbowl gives our kids a chance to see the technology that will be used as well as try out their thoughts and questions discussing a non-fiction text. When we were first setting up the fishbowl, I talked with them about how important these fishbowls are with inviting in guests, the level of comprehension that this text requires and the huge opportunity for growth that this opportunity will allow. Basically, this will be like nothing they have ever done before and I want to make sure they understand that. No pressure- but I want to see them shine here.

Period 2 started with some great questions but really seemed to focus on the surface of the issue Pink is discussing regarding outsourcing left brain jobs. Finally my student assistant Ben jumped into the conversation (thanks Ben) to push their thinking. He asked them about outsourcing right brain jobs and couldn’t that be done as well. This really made the conversation move along. I try to stay out of the conversation for the most part but jumped in a couple of times to get them to personally relate to the text and ideas. What does outsourcing have to do with you? This class did a tremendous job of bringing in a lot of kids from the outer circle to help drive the conversation. Over 1/3 of the outer circle kids came into the inner circle conversation. And the discussion I saw taking place on the outer circle’s Cover It Live was fast paced and in depth. There was great push back and engagement. I was pleased to see how the came through on this first fishbowl.

Today we are debriefing on their take aways from yesterday’s discussion. Some of the things I think they did really well were referencing one another’s comments by name. I do not know what it is, but using someone’s name in your response shows the camaraderie and acknowledges another’s intriguing thoughts. I really am a big fan! Also, they seem to be really pushing one another about left and right brain thinking as well as Pink’s ideas regarding outsourcing. I love a good discussion. Another positive take away from yesterday was watching them use the computers to have instantaneous access to information. At one point a student was interested in brain surgery and what happens when you removed half of your brain; seeing as how none of us were brain surgeons, she could use the tool of technology to aid us all in our understandings. My student assistant Katie was looking over their blog today and truly amazed at the conversation these kids were having. She was quite impressed. I was too! (but I know they can do more).

Some of the things I want them to work on improving are of course pushing the discussion in all areas. I don’t want them to see the book as gospel but more as a place to start thinking differently wherever that might lead them. Also, I want as all English teachers would, for them to spend some time proofreading their response before they post it online. I want to see them listening to one another answering all the questions that are asked whether those come from the inner or outer circles. Finally, I want when they are quoting things to actually use the page numbers to help us all follow along. Seems trivial but I like to mark these quotes of interest in my own book.

The kid’s reactions to the conversations are recorded under the blog posting for the CoverItLive post. We are using CIL for the live blogging but still embedding it into a blog post so the conversation can be continued afterwards.

In Period 5 the discussion really focused on outsourcing as well as the future job market. It was an interesting discussion but I somehow expected more from them than what they did. I think as I said before it is always challenging to discuss non-fiction. This is one thing I noticed last year in our first few fishbowls. However, the outer circle’s discussion was very interesting. Some of the kids really have some amazing questions about our economy and how Pink’s philosophies fit into our troubled times. I am anxious to see where they go with this. Additionally, I am always impressed that when I think I need to jump into the conversation to make a point or steer it in a different direction that the kids end up doing that for me. Another fun point was doing the polls in the class with CoverItLive. This I think is one of the kids favorite features and I even had one student ask for a particular poll. We will have to figure out a system of how to do this so it is more student directed. (I am not trying to steal your job away from you Karl).

Some points that we need to work on are making sure that we are using the text, keep coming back to the text and citing page numbers of our references for others to follow along. One thing that concerns me in with this class is that I have a number of quiet kids who are fantastic bloggers but I need them to speak up and step up into the inner circle conversation- So many seem reluctant to jump in. I think they are enjoying the conversation online and would rather be there than the face to face conversation. We will have to discuss this in class today.

I am wondering going forward how next week with Daniel Pink will go. Will the students rise to the challenge? Will they do as well as the kids from last year? Should I invite their parents in for future fishbowls? Would I get any parents that would participate? So many thoughts, but I am glad we are on this journey again.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Thanking a Mentor

In one of my new Masters classes, we were asked to write to a mentor that we have never thanked. I have so many people in my life that I should do this for (Dad, Mom, Grandma, Karl) but I chose a very special coach who really helped me realize how good I could be at something if I set my mind to it. So here's to you Coach O:

Coach O,

It has been a long time since I have seen you or spoken with you. It has probably been close to 14 years or so. I live in Littleton, CO now and am a Language Arts teacher. I have been teaching for 11 years if you can believe it. I coached volleyball for my first five years of teaching, and loved every minute of it except for one year I coached two teams for only one paycheck. Not the smartest decision, but I did it for the love of the game. I still play volleyball on an all women’s team as well as a coed team with my fiancĂ©e Jeff. I was married before and have a wonderful daughter Emma from that relationship, and am now getting remarried.

You are probably wondering why I am writing to you and what prompted this letter from someone in your past. I am currently in grad school at Pepperdine and we are exploring the idea of mentors. Our professor asked us to write to a mentor of ours thanking him/her for all he/she has done. I immediately thought of you and Mrs. Tidd. I can’t tell you how much nor thank you for all you did for me as an athlete, a student, and as a person.

I vividly remember sitting down at the end of my junior year having spent a lot of time that season only playing in the back row. I knew I was a good defensive player and you acknowledged that. You told me that that was to be my role the next year- primarily a defensive player without much action in the front row. I accepted what you said but knew I could do more because of your belief in me. I spent so much time that summer before my senior year working on my hitting and when I returned and showed you what I had learned and accomplished, you rewarded me with a starting position as well as being a major player on the team.

You never let me down Coach O. I recall times of feeling like I couldn’t do right out on the court but you would just push me more and more to be better. During my senior year, we played all 5 games in each of our matches and I recall that one time I kept missing the outside hitters cross court shot. You didn’t pull me out but simply told me, “Anne, you know where you are supposed to be.” I didn’t miss that hit again. You listened to my frustrations about playing, you took an active interest in helping me pursue my goals of playing in college, and never let me back down from a challenge. Because of you, I was able to be All North Dakota and All Conference. These were accolades I never dreamed of until you believed in me.

Your influence didn’t end with volleyball. Being your student left an impact as well. You made me think about history differently and made it apply to my own life. You didn’t let your athletes slide by in class, but instead held us to a higher standard. Being your volleyball student, you helped us understand and study the game. We weren’t just volleyball players, but thinkers out on the court dissecting all the possibilities and breaking down the structure so that we would be successful. You are the one who inspired me to coach myself and to understand the great responsibility that comes with being a coach and a teacher. You really started me on the path of reexamining my plays, thinking about my attitude on the court , and being an example for younger players to look up to.

Also, I appreciated what a good father you were to your own children. Bringing your daughter to practice let us see what a tremendous dad you are. You cared enough about us to share your family with us. You gave of yourself each day and provided so many of us young women with a chance to make ourselves the best. As a Christian, it was so impressive and meaningful to see you at church.

I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor in my life Coach O. Here is a standing O for you from me. Thanks so much for the caring, concern , drive, listening, and example you have set for me. You set the standard high for all my other coaches and teachers to follow as well as for me to uphold.

Thanks so much,
Anne Smith
(formerly Anne Johnson class of ’92)

ED 665: Understanding by Design 1-2

I have been a big fan of UbD for a couple of years. After we started our incredible staff development work a couple of years ago, a friend and colleague of Karl Fisch’s, Chris Lehman, suggested the book since his school, The Science Leadership Academy, uses it extensively. I picked it up and read it right away buying the workbook as well. Soon, I found out that a colleague of mine, Lauren Gaffney, used it in her graduate studies at Trinity University as well. We have talked about UbD a lot with our cooperative planning on English Literature and 9th grade units. She has actually showed me more applications of it seeing as how the first time I read it, it was challenging to make it work in my mind.

There are a few areas I want to concentrate on regarding UbD. First of all, I see real value in doing things differently. I think as a teacher it is so easy to do things the same way things have always been done whether they have been successful or not. UbD forces you to reexamine everything you have always done. I wonder at times if I will ever get to a point that I do not do this. Change is challenging and inspiring all at the same time. It is challenging because you do not know if what you are changing will be successful or not. And do schools really support you do something different especially if it takes a while to get to a place where it does make a difference? Change is also a challenge because when you have previously been successful for so many years, why do you need to do things differently? Change is inspiring because when you do see the impact of the change work in ways that were never imaginable before and truly transform kids’ lives as well as your own, then why wouldn’t you change? To continually change is hard work.

At AHS, we are going through the second year of PLC’s defining essential learnings that will hopefully someday lead us to sharing best practices. I am still awaiting this light at the end of the tunnel. But I see real connection between our PLC work and the value in UbD. We need as a school to really examine what we value, what we want kids to learn and focus on those essentials. I am not sure if I agree so much on the common assessment piece of the UbD puzzle, but I see it as a need to measure understanding for all kids. How else are we going to know if all kids are learning since they have a multitude of teachers all teaching in a variety of ways? If someone is getting kids to understand the material on a deeper more engaging level, I want to know what they did to get there.

The other aspect of the UbD book that I have some issues with is the rubric. Now, I am a fan of giving kids the “head’s up” of what they are going to be assessed on, but after reading some Alfie Kohn and thinking about what I see from my kids when I do give them a really detailed rubric, is that they only complete what the rubric tells them to do. I can see rubrics adapting to my problem if they could be viewed as more of a jumping off point for some kids, but not the end all be all I think they tend to become.

I loved the second chapter of the book that really examines the difference between knowledge and understanding. A few years ago, I was asked to be part of a grading pilot program examining doing grading differently and if we were really using grades to show learning and understanding or were they mere measures of being a good kid. Ever since Tony Winger’s insight into this subject, this has been an area I have focused a lot of thinking about. I really have tried to instill in my own students the difference between knowledge and understanding. In fact, right now my students are reading Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind and we discussed today about in the conceptual age if thinking is different and facts are available to all, what is school going to be like? Is school going to remain the same as a regurgitation platform of facts? Or instead, will school finally change and adapt to meet the needs of an ever connected student body? Because if facts and knowledge are available to all, we need to rethink how we do school. We need to reexamine everything we are doing and maybe that all start from doing things backwards- beginning with the end in mind.

If I could just keep my mouth shut...

I just need to keep my mouth shut.

These wonderful words of advice were spoken to me yesterday (and spoken with love) after I screwed up. Yes, I made a mistake and am not perfect (that is for you Gary!). Yesterday, I couldn’t help myself and stole the thunder from my student teacher.

I have to say sitting back each day in class and trying not to talk has been a challenge. I am not sure there is any class I could have given up and not had this dilemma, but I feel like I have been pretty good until my passion took the best of me.

Randon and I decided to overhaul the 9th grade position paper (a traditional paper where students take a position on an issue that they care about, find research to back it up, and then compose a 5 paragraph masterful piece of freshman writing). This year, we decided instead to build upon my first semester focus of “Change the World” with a position paper that has an action plan- Project Change the World. We don’t want this paper to just be turned into the teacher, but a paper for the world with the students actually DOING SOMETHING.

Students have spent the last few days of the second semester talking about changing the world, brainstorming ideas of topics they are passionate about, and now working towards narrowing down their list. So, Randon was setting up the paper, and students started asking me questions. Before I knew it, I want on a rant ( a passionate one at that) about how this paper is different, how these students in this class have an incredible opportunity ahead of them, how they have the power to change the world through this assignment because this was not going to be like ANYTHING they have ever done. This assignment is meaningful, personal, and relevant. This is a chance to make a difference. (And the students all applauded)

And before I knew it, I stole Randon’s thunder.

I felt so bad. What kind of mentor am I that takes over? Why did I do this? How am I going to make it up to Randon? How am I going to handle myself going forward? Should I start leaving the room? Should I bring the duct tape?

I guess it was a great learning moment for both myself and Randon. I learned that I need to keep my mouth shut. I am glad to learn it now, but wish it wouldn’t have happened. I am also learning that it is really hard to turn my kids over to someone else. Watching Randon’s amazing talent as a teacher has been so fun and really makes me miss being in front of my kids. He is such a natural. The creativity that flows from him and being able to collaborate on all the ideas has been inspiring. This is what I remember loving about my first few years teaching.

Sitting here and reflecting, I think I need a shift in perspective (that shift is for you Karl). I need to see that there is a new challenge and opportunity in front of me that instead of teaching my kids, I am teaching a new teacher. I am helping to shape his future in education. If I want my kids to change the world, I need to help Randon see how he can change the world. And he is well on his way there, as long as I can keep my mouth shut.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

AR Work over Break

So I received the go ahead to cross post my grad school reflections on my personal blog, here is the first one:

Beginning this semester, I will have a student teacher for the first time ever! I wrote previously about my feelings behind having a student teacher so I am not going to go back over all of that today. Instead I want to write about how all my work over the Christmas break, taking a class about mentoring, and Randon’s student teaching are all coming together.

Over the break, I finally decided to give up on my struggle of learning DreamWeaver. It hasn’t been fun nor interesting and instead was turning into a dreaded nightmare. I know there are those out there that will say it is a shame that I am not learning website creation or programming, but I think my resources will be better devoted to really thinking about learning, working hard to be the best mentor to Randon and my students, and not driving my family nuts.

So, in my abandonment of Dreamweaver, I took up Google Sites. How can we not love everything about Google. I put together my entire Google Site: which I am pretty proud of as well as worked on pulling together my students’ reflection about our AR project for the first cycle one report. I also submitted my paper to the GSEP writing lab in order to get some professional feedback on APA style and my writing. Being an English teacher, this is a really interesting adventure of putting myself in my students’ position. This nervous anticipation of appraisal of my written work and my thinking is what they must feel. More and more I see the importance of my continuation of learning.

Throughout this Masters’ program, I am forced to be in the seat my students face everyday. What a unique perspective and insight as well as appreciation for what they are going through. Instead of this Masters’ program being like all of my friends’ programs where they have walked away feeling like all they received is a pay increase, instead I feel like such a LEARNER! What a powerful feeling that is.

Also, it was great to get such positive feedback from Margaret about the work I am doing. It is so important that I model this with my own students knowing what it does for me. I think this really ties into the feedback I am seeing from them in my cycle one report. The students really value being in control of their own education and learning. They value multiple opportunities to learn and by being able to redo assignments over and over again, they can show their true understanding and learning.

But now this is my challenge of going forth. How will they respond with a new teacher taking this idea over? How do I inspire Randon to continue this philosophy and find the value in it? Already after his first assignment, only 10 kids completed the work. Randon wondered about the late work policy and what should he do about so many kids not completing the work. I talked with him about the No D policy and ability to redo work over and over again until they truly show their learning and understanding. He wondered how does this teach them responsibility. This is where I struggle with the No D policy as well. Where do they learn responsibility? Will life always allow them to redo work? What about deadlines? What about being held accountable?

And here is where it all ties into my reading on being a mentor. For one of my new classes, we are focusing on mentorship in different relationships as well as finding a mentor (I think I already have one in Karl Fisch). I already read one of the assigned texts called Tao Mentoring and now I am reading Power Mentoring. What I am really enjoying about this book as well as Tao are the connections between my AR and Randon being a student teacher in my classroom. How will I mentor him or put him in connection with other people who will help him along this journey? Who are the people in my life that are my mentors and are guiding me along my learning path? Does this book fit more along the lines a business model? Can these mentoring ideas be applied to education?

I say YES to all of these. Yes I have mentors( Karl, Mike, Dan, Scott, Ron, Gary, Margaret) and I feel very fortunate to be surrounded in education, through my connections with Karl, to a number of influential and encouraging mentors who are not afraid to push back on me. I really see this with Mike Porter at our district offices. Through all his encouragement, he also reminds me of what things to keep in mind and areas to shift my thinking. I too hope to do this with Randon. I do not want to be his problem solver or solution maker, but get him to think.

I think this is one of the most effective things a mentor can do is just to get you to think about everything you are doing and figure out if these are the right things to be doing all along. And mentoring to me seems like such a two way street. You are getting out of mentoring what you put into the relationship. There needs to be that basis of trust, honesty, respect and then so much can grow from there. I hope that the next 12 weeks with Randon will be a learning and growing process. I hope I am able to give him what he needs from me as a mentor, that this relationship will grow to truly create change with my AR project, and that ultimately, my students, Randon, and I become better individuals and educators as a result. Also, my process of mentoring as well as being mentored by those wonderfully intelligent gifted people around me can grow so that I can see where I need to go in education. All of this thinking can only benefit the kids and that is what it is all about anyway.

Mr. Ruggles' First Day

Yesterday began an adventure I was never quite sure I wanted to undertake…having a student teacher. I am not sure what my trepidations were or still are, but there is something about letting someone else into your classroom and take over your kids that leaves me with some fear and nervous excitement. On one hand, these are your kids, the student teacher will see all the mistakes you make, and he/she might even judge you- you are totally exposed to all his past learning from college- you might not do things like you are supposed to be doing them! On the other hand, there is a responsibility with teaching that is unannounced that teachers can help create other teachers through their example and this is one way of giving back to the profession. It is almost of a professional responsibility to continue the legacy of teaching by helping others enter the profession whether these be students or teachers. And, I have always opened my classroom to others, why would this be different now?

Last year, Kristin Leclaire and I were asked if we would like a student teacher and that this particular candidate wanted to come to AHS to teach. He actually picked out the school and rallied hard for being able to teach here (he especially wanted to be at a school with Karl Fisch- who wouldn’t?). So, how could we say “NO.” Then, as fate would have it, Kristin and I were presenting at NCTE with Karl, and Randon Ruggles, student teacher extraordinaire, informed us that he would be attending as well. Well, needless to say, Kristin and I were so glad to have met him early on before his teaching began, had him over for New Year’s Eve so he could get to know us, and now are watching him come into his own with teaching. Randon even posted an initial blog post to the classes he is taking over in order to get to know the students (period 4 and period 6).

Yesterday as I was watching him deliver his first lesson, it brought me back to many of the reasons why I love teaching: the enthusiasm, engagement of the kids, watching kids discuss and learn, and push themselves with creative assignments. Randon, or should I say Mr. Ruggles, did an exemplary job on his first outing. He created a fabulous lesson with the kids being investigators of objects that answered questions they had previously asked of Randon on the blog. The objects in each bag that was given to a group had a common theme. The group had to investigate the objects, and figure out what they had to do with Randon. The students were immediately engaged by the activity as well as the initial video he showed about himself. What a great way to bridge the gap between being a student teacher and becoming their teacher. He also connected the investigation piece to their initial look into writing the position paper. They are investigators using facts to support an answer to a position they want to prove.
Watching him was like watching someone who truly was made to be a teacher. Instead of teaching being a job, his passion and enthusiasm for learning were infectious and became what the class was really about: learning. I am so glad I am starting this journey with Mr. Ruggles and Kristin. What a blessing for the new year. I really hope moving forward I can be the mentor Randon needs me to be and this experience of being here at AHS will be all he can imagine.
As a side note, the class he took over yesterday was so cute. A group of boys arrived early to class and immediately wanted to know where Mr. Ruggles was. I told them that he was coming and they had to be patient. When he arrived, the created an assembly line of high fives for his entrance into the classroom. What a great welcome on a first day!