Film Festival Announcement

Film Festival Logo

As a classroom teacher, I always enjoyed creating video projects with my students.  We did audio and video podcasting and other films when they lent themselves to the curriculum.  Last year I was helping Melissa Pomerantz do a documentary film with one of her classes and in our conversations we talked about ways in which to get this film out to the world. Thus began the brainstorm for a student film festival.  I pitched it to my boss who liked the idea and then I took it before the rest of my team members hoping that they’d all be into it too. They were and thus the Parkway Digital Film Festival was born.

I am happy to announce that the film festival is coming to fruition beginning with our official announcement today as seen in the video I’ve posted below.  I’m really excited about the possibilities of this and will probably be writing a lot about it between now and April. I put the video of Susan (a colleague) together and have it hosted on Parkway Digital (our district YouTube that we built to share video).

Parkway Digital Film Festival Announcement

Lincoln On Leadership — Part 2

As I continue working through my PGP and reading Lincoln on Leadership, I continue to reflect on ways that I can use some of his techniques in my work.

Part 2 – Character

In my first post I wrote about Phillips description of Lincoln’s dealings with people. The second part of the book addresses Lincoln’s character. Since I first heard about Lincoln in elementary school his nickname, “Honest Abe”, has been one of the first things that I think about when I hear his name. This part of the book is broken up into three chapters:

  • Honesty and Integrity Are the Best Policies
  • Never Act Out of Vengeance or Spite
  • Have the Courage to Handle Unjust Criticism
  • Be a Master of Paradox

The first section, Honesty and Integrity Are the Best Policies, was an interesting and one that could be used to help students as they struggle to find themselves and determine what they actually believe. One of the principles that I continue to struggle with has to do with who you stand by and when you stand by them. According to Phillips, Lincoln believed that you should “stand with anybody who stands right. Stand with him with him while he is right and part with him when he goes wrong.” For so many of the kids that I have taught in the past, loyalty is everything. It’s not a matter of whether one’s actions are right, it’s a matter of standing up for someone rather than for a cause. Truly, I find this one to be tough. Loyalty is important, but shouldn’t what’s right still come first as we leave the realm of adolescence.

The other principle from this section that I really liked was, “When you make it to the top, turn and reach down for the person behind you.” In education the top is different for everyone, but the principle remains the same. When a “level” is reached, it’s your responsibility to help the person behind you to reach that same level. As teachers, we strive to help our students. However, could we teach this principle to our students? What if, when they reached a level, they helped those around them until everyone came up to that level? What a community you would have. My Personal Learning Network (PLN) works that way for me. When someone learns something, typically they will share their learning. If it’s something that I need or want to know or be familiar with, there has not been a single time that I’ve asked that I wasn’t pleasantly rewarded with assistance. Usually, they go above and beyond. I, in turn, try to do the same thing. If students took on this attitude, education might look completely different.

The next chapter of the book, “Never Act Out of Vengeance or Spite” is one that should really hit home with educators. I remember a day in my classroom in which there all students were taking a quiz when suddenly a fight broke out between two boys without, to my knowledge, any provocation from either one. I was shocked, amazed and in awe that this was actually happening in my room. With the help of some other students we broke up the fight (which ended up being over a girl) and I marched them down to the principal’s office. I didn’t ask what caused it. I didn’t care at that point. I was angry, disappointed and embarrassed.

How many times have I graded a paper and been tempted to grade that essay just a little bit harder based on the behavior of a student. Yes, it’s wrong. Yes, it’s vengeful. Yes, I’m a professional and am pleased to say that I worked very hard to not let those feelings affect the grades my students earned. The key here is that students are earning these grades and I have no right to impose my will on those grades based on their behaviors. Educators are human and it’s hard to leave that frustration behind, but if we don’t, there are two problems – our actions are wrong and we’re modeling behaviors the same behaviors that we’re trying to keep our student’s from displaying.

Have the Courage to Handle Unjust Criticism” is the title of chapter three. Not surprisingly, this should ring true for the entire education community. It seems that as teachers we are being criticized from nearly all sides these days. Obviously this is an extreme generalization, but we all have days that we feel that way. When Lincoln felt that he was unjustly criticized and he felt that he must respond, he would write a letter to the person or persons being critical and express his side of the story. However, rarely, if ever, were these letters sent. It was therapeutic for him. In his mind, his actions and reputation spoke for themselves and by responding to criticism that was unjust he was just perpetuating the misunderstanding. He had faith in his values and allowed them to guide his actions. Hopefully I’ll be able to remember that the next time I feel as though educators are being criticized by those who aren’t part of our world. I’m sure I’ll have that opportunity very soon.

The last chapter of the “Character” section is entitled “Be a Master of Paradox”. There are lessons in this chapter for the educator too but I think they are a little more cryptic. So many times I feel as though I’m walking a tightrope in which I can see the big picture in my district while at the same time I can see how that big picture gets interpreted by individuals. There’s always a little disconnect between administration and teachers, but, the biggest thing I’ve learned since I’ve been out of the classroom is that the principal is truly the educational leader in each building. They set the tone and interpret that big picture. I guess I always kind of knew that, but until I traveled between schools and saw the way different administrators ran their schools, I didn’t really understand how true that was.

Thus far, my experience with Lincoln On Leadership has been a good one. I’ve learned a little about Lincoln a little about leadership and have gotten a lot to think about.

Kindergarten screening

test takerOn Tuesday afternoon I took my kids to the Early Childhood Education Center for my district so they could have play based screening.  We’ve done this before and it’s a great way to get a snapshot of the current development of my kids.  After a short wait we (my two kids, my wife and two screeners) went into a classroom so that they could observe them playing and assess their skills.  They assessed their large and small motor skills, cognitive development and language skills. They even checked their eyesight and hearing.  I’m happy to say they “passed” with flying colors.

As we were talking after the screening, I began to think about what my children had just gone through and I asked them if they enjoyed it.  The answer from both was a resounding “YES”.  What was it that made it fun?  They were asked to do tasks to assess their abilities and through those tasks, they were assessed on their abilities.  There were no paper bubbles to fill in (granted they’re 5) and it wasn’t a “standardized test”.  They were being assessed by their abilities that could be observed by professionals.  I’ve heard about other tests that are given to 5 year olds as a part of a screening (luckily I don’t know the names of them because I’ve never had the misfortune of seeing my child struggle through one).  As I understand it, the screener will ask a student to complete a task and then, with no expression or feedback, watch as the child completes it.  Either the child does, or does not complete said task and is given a specific amount of points based on how well they do it.

This reminded me of the MAP test (Missouri’s standardized test) that I have proctored for a number of years.  As I was giving the test I was not allowed to give any feedback to my students, provide direction or really even talk to them during the test.  I never thought that this was an effective method of testing but as I watched my own kids being “assessed”, those memories really came back to me.  I guess that’s just one of the things I have to continually look forward to as a parent who is also a teacher.

What would happen if we didn’t take grades as Alfie Kohn suggests?  What would education look like if all the concepts and instruction that our kids endure was instead discovery and project based?  Would my kids be unable to live in our society if they didn’t have to take a standardized test? Would they be prepared for jobs of the future if they had great collaborative and problem solving skills, but had not been through a traditional school environment in which a teacher imparts great amounts of knowledge in their general direction.  I have faith the my kids will find success in their future endeavors.  I also have faith in the school system in our country.  I don’t have faith in standardized tests.  Finally, I don’t have faith in those who don’t understand education because their decisions are based on “when they were in school”.

NCTE Articles

Earlier this year I was contacted by an NCTE staff member asking for my help to frame a story about 21st Century Literacies for the Council Chronicle.  I gave some suggested contacts and kind of forgot about it until I was asked to be interviewed as well.  The following two articles are the result.

The “C’s of Change” – Students and Teachers Learn 21st Century Skills  by Lorna Collier

More thoughts on 21st Century Literacies

Lincoln On Leadership — Part 1: People

I recently wrote an entry regarding my Professional Growth Plan for this school year. The second book that I’m reading is entitled Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times by Donald T. Phillips. In the book, Phillips discusses and outlines the leadership techniques that Abraham Lincoln used during his presidency. As I remember back to my formal education on Lincoln, I know that he had many obstacles to overcome, must importantly, a civil war. However, I hadn’t really given much thought to how he led his cabinet and the country through those times.

Phillips breaks his book up into four basic parts (people, character, endeavor, communication) meant to showcase the different aspects of his leadership style. I plan to create a new post for each of these parts as I reflect and work through the book.

Part One – People

In this first section of the book, Phillips writes about Lincoln’s interactions with people by identifying three different themes.

  • Get Out of the Office and Circulate Among the Troops
  • Build Strong Alliances
  • Persuade Rather Than Coerce

While this book is also geared towards business, there are parallels to education. As I look at district administration I can see the importance of getting out in the schools. I’ve noticed that there is often quite a large disconnect between the reality of what happens in classrooms concerning curricular instruction and what some administrators think is happening. I think this disconnect occurs when they do not get out in school buildings and interact with teachers. Granted, I am not an administrator, nor do I have any proof that this is truly the case. However, I can imagine that, with the work load that administrators are faced with, it would be easy to get bogged down in meetings, planning and other tasks. With that being said, Lincoln found it vital to his work to spend time with those he led. Without that contact, he would be leading blindly and not creating a sense of devotion to his “followers”. In a school district, in order for teachers to feel supported, district administration must be a part of the picture, not the heard but unseen purveyor of policy.

His second point, to build strong alliances, is more usable for all educators. I’ve heard time and time again that one should surround oneself with positive influences and people who will help you fulfill your goals. Luckily, I feel as though my current position allows for this type of work. Through my position I have the opportunity to interact with many types of people from all over the district and, through my personal learning network, the entire world. The scenarios in the book are much different than those that are found in education, but I think that there are lessons that still hold true. One principle that Lincoln stood by was that human action can be modified but human nature cannot. As we deal with the learners who come into our classrooms, we cannot change their human nature. While this may be true, I still have a strong belief that, as teachers, part of what our role in our student’s lives is to help shape that nature. I know it was true in my educational experience. I’m an English teacher because of my Senior English teacher and his influence. I was a coach as a direct result of my coaches. Lincoln’s strategies worked because he was dealing with adults, we are in the unique position to affect entire lives.

As I read his final point, persuade rather than coerce, I couldn’t help but think about the interactions that my department has with teachers and buildings across the district. There are many times in which I’ve gone to help a teacher who was somewhat reluctant to incorporate technology in lessons. There are many techniques that could be used in such a situation but coercion is never one of them. If I were to try to force someone to use a SmartBoard, I would not create an ally and, chances are, as soon as I left the room the SmartBoard would become a glorified, very expensive, overhead projector. Persuasion is much more effective.

Each of these techniques has merit in the world of education and I look forward to the next of Lincoln’s lessons.

NOT Embedding Objects into Google Maps

Back in September when I went to Chicago for the Google Teachers Academy I found out about a project that another Google Certified Teacher was doing entitled “Greetings From…” Postcard Geography. It’s a great project that I wanted to get involved in so I contacted a Social Studies teacher from one of my schools and asked her if there was any way we could incorporate the project into her curriculum.  She was working with a group of her students on a project that detailed the history of some of the neighborhoods in St. Louis.  Her students have created PowerPoint presentations and it was my hope to use these as a part of the project.  I spent a great deal of the day today trying to figure out a way to embed their presentations into the placemarks as a part of the Google Map.

Unfortunately, and much to my chagrin, I was not successful.  My first thought was to put the PowerPoints into Google Presentations and, hopefully, embed them.  I knew that it would be problematic because the embed code from Google Presentations uses the <iframe> tag which Google Maps doesn’t support.  So I tried services like Slideshare and Zoho which uses <object> and <div> tags.  I even went about trying to hand code it using <embed> codes.  It works in a blog and on a regular site but it didn’t work in Google Maps.  So, it looks like rather than embedding the presentations, I will be linking out to them.  It’s not my first choice, but after lots of research and lots of frustration, I think that I’m going to give up on it and focus my energies elsewhere.  So be it.  Maybe someday Google will get all of their services to talk to each other.
View Larger Map

NCTE 21st Century Literacies Framework

On February 15, 2008, the National Council of Teachers of English Executive Committee adopted document entitled NCTE Definition of 21st Century Literacies. The purpose of this document was to create a working definition that educators could use as they struggle with what it means to teach in the changing landscape of education. With so many new technologies available to students in their educational settings, altering teaching practices is an important part of helping learners find success.

On Wednesday November 19, 2008 NCTE’s Executive Committee adopted another document entitled NCTE Framework for 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment. I had the privilege to work on this document and wanted to bring it to the attention of educators. The purpose behind this framework is to expand the definition and make it a usable tool for teachers while at the same time, not introducing another set of standards or a checklist. It was designed with teachers in mind to help them think about their practice and how it relates to 21st century learning.

The document itself is organized into three basic parts: Context, Framework Elements and Implications for Assessment. In the context section, there is a brief statement about the purpose of the document itself as well as a reference to the actual definition.

As a part of the Framework Elements, each point that is part of the definition is expanded upon and explained more fully. Following the explanations are a set of questions that are designed to help teachers think about what this might look like in their classrooms. Each question is phrased as a yes/no question to help in the reflection of lesson plans and curriculum planning. While not every lesson will have all of these aspects and not all questions will be applicable, these explanations and examples are meant to help interpret and further define each point providing teachers with a better idea of activities that would engage students using inquiry-based, collaborative and ethical practices.

The final piece of the framework has to do with the changing assessments. The framework recognizes the validity of traditional assessments while also giving credence to some new assessment strategies that should be considered as practice changes.

The framework document in no way is the final authority on 21st century skills, but is meant to be a tool that can be used by teachers as they plan lessons and coordinators as they design their content’s curricula. It is not a checklist, but a guideline. Not a set of standards but a model. Finally, it is not about technology but about teaching students in the 21st century.

Diamond Quality Leadership

Every year in many school districts around the country teachers are asked to create a goals for themselves. They vary in titles, sequence, and scope but when all is said and done, goals are made for the upcoming year. In my district, these are called Professional Growth Plans or PGP (we love our acronyms). Last year I chose to look at mentoring and try to expand my ability to help teachers and their ability to use technology. I did my PGP and as the year passed I thought about it, but to be honest, it was kind of lost on me. Basically, life got in the way and pushed my little plan to the back burner. I completed it and learned a lot about mentoring, but it wasn’t part of my regular thought process. My focus became working with teachers and students… you know… my job.

This year, I’m making a more concerted effort to think about my chosen topic and try to put it into practice. I know it’s early in the year, but if I continue to remind myself about the purpose of creating a plan and the benefit that both my teachers (and in turn their students) and I can get from it, I have found many opportunities to use what I’ve learned.

I have chosen to look at leadership skills and strategies this year as my PGP. My plan is to share my thoughts and readings here as I reflect on this personal professional development. My first step in this process is the reading of the book Diamond Quality Leadership by Mark Hinderliter. Mark is a consultant from St. Louis and is known by an administrator in my district so brining this book into my PGP seemed to be a natural fit.

Diamond Quality Leadership, like many leadership books, is organized with an initial story outlining and illustrating the leadership concepts and skills that the character “learns” through the course of the book. At the end of the book the author discusses the implications and theoretical context presented through the story. In my limited experience with these kinds of books, this seems to be a fairly common approach. The story is fictional, but brings the concepts up in a fairly transparent way.

In the Diamond Leadership Model, Hinderliter outlines six different points:

· Create clarity

· Build trust

· Work with passion

· Serve others

· Fully engage people

· Act with courage

Each point can be expanded upon and they all have a place in both leadership and education. Many of the aspects of the book were not really new to me, but it has reminded me of some of these techniques.

There are many lessons that can be taken away from this book. Hinderliter’s discussion of his fourth point, “serve others” struck me because it changes the focus from the “leader” to the “follower”. Leaders are those who insist on giving those who follow them the responsibility and support to (in this case) do their jobs. I couldn’t help but put this into the perspective of the classroom. In today’s classrooms, teachers must hand the learning over to their students. We are there to support our students and give them what they need to be successful. In doing this, we must trust them to take responsibility of their own education. Rather than being the purveyors of knowledge and holding the responsibility for “educating” our students, we must guide and coach them in their endeavors. This means that we must relinquish some of our control and let them explore and work through posing problems and solutions for each other. I think that too often we want our students to “serve” us by completing assignments that we give them, write papers on topics that we determine and assess grades from our perspective. By making a conscious effort to “serve” our students and giving them responsibility for their own learning, we are not only educating our students but modeling leadership skills that will serve them in the future.

The second point that Hinderliter brings up in his book is one that I’ve been thinking about for a number of years. I haven’t acted upon it yet, but the more I come across the concept on the web or in books, the more I think that it’s a good idea. In the book, the main character asks 4 of his professional friends to meet once a month to discuss various aspects of their careers and personal lives. The idea is to bounce ideas off each other and spend some time helping each other. To do this, there must be a great deal of trust between members of the group as well as a strong desire to help each other. They meet for 1 hour in an informal setting and simply talk. If there are specific topics that a member would like to discuss, an email is sent out in advance so that all members have time to reflect and are prepared to help. I have thought of bringing this idea to some of my friends but I have yet to do so. I do have a network which I trust and will talk to, but the idea of getting together in a planned way and with an implicit reason intrigues me. I haven’t decided if this is something I want to pursue, but the more I read about it, the more I think it’s a good idea. In the world of IM and video, the geographical limitations of this are less important. However, I think this is one activity that I’d like to do face to face.

While there are many points from Diamond Quality Leadership that are valid for education and the classroom, these are the two that stick out for me. I write this as a reflection but also to help me think about and remained focused on my plan. Now to determine what action to take.

Changes a comin’

I’ve spent the last five days at the NCTE Annual Convention and have been running around like a crazy person the entire time. Every time I go to this conference I am always inspired to do some writing. However, one thing that this trip has encouraged me to do is think about my online presence. I have a blog, a website, and am part of a great many communities from Twitter, to DEN, to GCT, to the others that I’ve lost track of over the years. I need/want to organize the way I use these networks and communities so that they are more efficient and useful to me.

I’ve been thinking about this for awhile and am interested in figuring out for myself if I want to separate my professional website from my blog or if I should just use them interchangeably. At this point I don’t have a good answer for this but I am thinking about it to try to develop a plan for my work. So, if you notice some changes to the site (like the fact that I’m actually blogging) don’t be surprised. I’m going to use this space as a thinking area as I work this out. Bear with me…