Monday, October 12, 2015

Still Learning after 40+ Years as an Educator

Last week was our Fall Break. One year ago, I was traveling with other educators on an Education Institute of Hawaii visit to learn from other school districts about principal empowerment. This year, I was able to attend a Digital Leadership Academy with Eric Sheninger and a Visible Learning Institute with John Hattie during our Fall Break. I enjoyed these learning opportunities and would like to share my reflections.

Digital Leadership Academy
This was not the first time I attended sessions with Eric. He is someone I met virtually through his blog and we continue to keep in touch after his initial visit to Hawaii last summer. Eric is passionate about sharing his journey as a digital leader. He was able to transform New Milford High School into an exciting place where students are engaged in their learning. Technology is widely used as a tool for learning, communicating, creating, and sharing. I enjoy Eric's sessions; he is always learning and his enthusiasm is infectious.

At the beginning of the session, Eric asked the participants what were challenges to digital learning implementation at their school. We got the usual responses - time, lack of devices, lack of training, etc. Several participants also mentioned that there was no buy-in from other teachers or the principal. I don't want to place blame on anyone because I believe that all teachers and all principals want to do the best they can for their students, and digital learning may not be their priority when there are so many other mandates or expectations.

Transforming into a digital leader has not been easy for me, but I am fortunate in having teachers who have pushed me out of my comfort zone. I decided early on that I would not be a barrier for our teachers and students, and I am delighted whenever I observe how they are using technology to explore, discover, create, and share. Eric's Digital Leadership Academy validated the great things going on at our school, and I believe our teachers should feel proud of how they and their students are using technology to give students voice and choice to engage them in their own learning.

Hawaii Visible Learning Institute
I have been waiting for an opportunity to attend a Visible Learning Institute. I have heard and read so much about VL, and I was very interested in learning more about what positively impacts student achievement. My biggest takeaways - teachers and students need to know the learning intentions and success criteria. Results of studies indicate that this had the greatest positive effect on student achievement. The latest research resulted in a new number one: teacher efficacy and collaboration to create a culture where colleagues help each other to improve their practices where student learning is the focal point of discussions. I am appreciative of this opportunity to attend this institute, and I plan to do more personalized professional learning on this topic.

Putting It Together
For the past few days, I have been reflecting on these two learning opportunities I had during the Fall Break.

I am quite certain that every principal realizes the importance of technology for their students, but not all have gotten past the "Substitution" phase. We need to provide learning opportunities for principals to learn together because trying to do it alone is a challenge for most of us. When principals see the possibilities, they are more likely to encourage their teachers to learn together, too.  We also need to give up control when appropriate and let our students become the teachers. Oftentimes, they pick up new programs or apps so quickly, and they end up teaching their classmates. Last year, a second grade teacher had her students create public service announcements using PowToon. The teacher said her kids figured it out themselves just by exploring, and they taught her! (See one of the videos on Water Waste here.)  Much as I would like all principals to be excited about teaching and learning via technology, I realize that each one of them has priorities for their school, and technology may not be #1 for them. This doesn't mean I won't keep sharing with them, and maybe one day, they will make it a priority.

As we begin the second quarter of SY 2015-2016, I intend to share some of the results of the Visible Learning studies and to have discussions with our teachers about why we need to make learning visible and explicit for students. That has been a challenge for our teachers and students because I don't think I clearly communicated why this is important; I didn't make learning visible for the teachers because I didn't have a clear understanding of what was required until now.

Teachers at our school already meet in Data Teams and review student work and student data with an Instructional Coach. They also meet regularly to revise their grade level project-based learning units and are encouraging students to ask questions to extend their learning. We discuss ways to embed technology in these units, and we are focusing on creating a writing continuum for our school so students can self-assess where they are and what they need to do to get to the next level. But do ALL teachers believe that they CAN make a positive difference for ALL of their students? Frankly, I don't know, but this is something we can and will work on as a school.

I appreciate the opportunities I had this past Fall Break and look forward to continuing to learn more and build the capacity of our teachers so they can continue to make a positive impact on student achievement.

+Eric Sheninger

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