Meta-reflection for Standards 6 & 7: Communication & Collaboration

The process of completing a needs assessment was extremely informative! I loved creating, administering, and analyzing my own (with my partner) survey and hearing confidential (so, more truthful) answers to tough questions. We created the survey in the end of January because we wanted to get started right away. We asked the staff to get back to us within a week and a half. We got most of the staff’s results and began our analysis of the data and completing our needs assessment. After our face-to-face meeting, Star and I received feedback and then began our Action Plan. Star and I did 100% of the project together; we completed nothing without the presence of the other. We found the data analysis not only surprising at times but also reassuring that we weren’t the only ones feeling that one particular aspect was lacking or another was already robust. This is in regards to the Nine Characteristics of High Performing Schools (which was the bases of all our questions we created for the survey). I found that completing the Action Plan was more difficult than I had thought it would be at first. It was challenging to create a SMART goal and make sure that all the steps that needed to be accomplished in order to accomplish the SMART goal were addressed.  Star and I, as indicated in the action plan, intend on bringing this product to our Building Learning Team (BLT) to see if the implementation of Critical Friends Groups (CFGs) and more effort toward increasing family involvement (specifically in conferences) could be pushed forward! The artifact below is the survey given to the staff, the needs assessment and the action plan that was developed in regards to the previous documents. These artifacts satisfy standard 6: Communication: Communicates regularly and effectively with colleagues, parents, and students through a variety of mediums. These artifacts also satisfy standard 7: Collaboration: Cooperates with other professionals to bridge gaps between schools and community and between departments/disciplines with schools.

Response Summary Survey

Needs Assessment

Action Plan

Below is a direct link to all artifacts and discussions that I feel have implications regarding communication and collaboration.

https://oswook.wordpress.com/category/standard-6-communication/

https://oswook.wordpress.com/category/standard-7-collaboration/

A Call to Action!

“If we could present an absolutely irrefutable case that the successful implementation of professional learning community concepts in your school will result in higher levels of student achievement and greater professional satisfaction for your educators, would you be willing to make substantive changes in your traditional practices to effect that successful implementation?”

-Richard DuFour, Robert Eaker, Rebecca DuFour

On Common Ground

In DuFour et al.’s book On Common Ground, in the chapter titled, Closing the Knowing-Doing Gap, the authors focus on what barriers schools come across and give suggestions on how to overcome those barriers. Reading this chapter through an educator’s lens, examining my practice, my school’s practices and the district that I teach in was at first scary, then enlightening, and finally, after days of thought, I was left with a feeling of hope–the thought that I have the power to help turn the tides. This, according to DuFour et.al., is the first step to creating a more effective school; if schools are to change, people need to be willing to change their practice. Not only do the people need to change but each cell of the organization needs to shift with an organized and intentional plan to create the system change, (DuFour, 180-181).

I found that each barrier addressed in On Common Ground, is not necessarily a barrier that can be overcome completely as there is always room for the improvement of all practice. One barrier that I find most common and most human is the barrier #5: Mindless precedent. People are quite reluctant to change and that could possibly be more so in education as we educators feel personally attached to our practice in an intense way. We have to learn that teaching to the status quo or believing that the way we do things in our classroom is the best way–the only way is not progressive thinking. We need to analyze our practice and the practice of others with the students’ best interests in mind. After all, isn’t that why we do this? As written on page 235, in On Common Ground, “The single best strategy for addressing this barrier to action is to bring the unstated assumptions that created the precedent to the surface–to challenge people to think carefully about the assumptions underlying their practice” (DuFour). Furthermore, the only way these assumptions can be presented nakedly to the staff is if shared leadership is practiced and trust is present amongst all staff. Leaders should hash out new practices with the staff in so doing creating a shared knowledge base and discuss the assumptions that brought the idea of change to the table. Allow everyone opportunities to say their peace–conducting “honest dialogue about the similarities and differences” (DuFour) between the ‘old way’ and the ‘new way’. These barriers addressed by DuFour, et. al., are not a means to an end but rather a means to continuous evaluation and evolution; with this in mind I feel that we are more willing and able to take action.

(title: A Call to Action is the title for section 5 of DuFour et. al.’s book On Common Ground)

Breathing Space

What makes a fire burn

is a space between the logs,

a breathing space…

-Judy Brown

In Teaching with fire: Poetry that sustains the courage to teach

(2003)

A safe environment is necessary where teachers (not only students) feel that they can take risks and breathe while doing so. From what I know about human nature is that we like boundaries; children and adults alike. As adults we often assume that we can carry focused, productive, professional conversations; however, I’m sure all of us can think of at least one person who cannot (perhaps that person is us and we aren’t aware.) Protocols can provide boundaries where risks in providing ideas, sharing thoughts, and discussing teaching methods and student work can occur without feeling like you’re under water.

“If time is going to be spent on reflection, teachers need to be taught to structure their meetings” (Dearman and ALber). The use of protocols, not only in staff or district meetings, but in book studies and grade level teams can create an environment that flourishes, adapts, and builds off of each others’ strengths. Protocols ensure that everyone is heard and time is used efficiently and effectively – focused on student work and improving teaching practices. As one of my colleagues said, “When people break away from the norms of the protocol, the focus and the purpose of the discussion begin to fade away.” All too often I have participated in protocol-ran conversations and the group slowly decides to slip away from the protocol and it only starts bantering and chatting about what a student did at lunch or something funny that happened in class. This type of conversation is essential in building friendships but not for improving teaching practice and student performance.

What is our purpose (our shared purpose) in this meeting… “The purpose…is to learn more about the student and in focusing on the student to learn about one’s own teaching” (http://www.lasw.org/vp.html). If this quote must become a mantra or a huge poster in the front of each meeting place, so be it!

Distributed and Shared Leadership

Everyone learns. Everyone leads. Everyone contributes.

I can’t remember who wrote this statement or when I read it. Once I read it; however,  it has been the banner on my work computer and on my cell phone!  I also believe this statement to sum up the main ideas of this week. Distributed and shared leadership. “Distributed leadership is characterized as a form of collective leadership in which teachers develop expertise by working together” (2004).

Coaching of many types were addressed in this week’s reading. The gradual release of responsibility was mentioned in regards to coaching, which matches perfectly with the statement above. Everyone is learning when both the coach and the teacher get the opportunity to observe each other; leading and contributing through planning lessons,  teaching and reflecting upon decisions and student learning outcomes. The knowledge that comes from these coaching cycles can then be brought to a larger group such as professional development studio work to further contribute to the teaching practice.

I would like to continue my reflection by switching gears, just a bit, and move toward a focus on district coaching as there was an intriguing discussion about whether district coaches are meant to advance system goals or individuals’ goals.

I believe that coaching is distributing leadership simply by empowering the teacher by aiding in filling the gap between theory and practice. Both coaches and classroom teachers have the ‘big picture’ district goals that they must adhere to, and for good reason, as many intelligent people are behind those system goals. So, the answer is to whether the coaches are meant to advance system goals or individuals’ goals? My answer is, “Yes!” Coaches have a big job. They, like gen. ed. teachers (all educators) have the responsibility to keep those system goals  on a pedestal while the coach coaches the classroom teacher in achieving his/her individual goals (that is, at the same time, making sure that the individual’s goals match the system’s goals.)

Harris, Alma. (2004). Distributed leadership and school improvement: Leading or misleading? Educational Management Administration Leadership, 32 (11).

A Clear and Shared Focus

Tom wrote in the discussion during this model, “When I look over the characteristics, I just can’t see any of them really taking hold until the staff comes together and buys into the work that needs to be done.” I agree. The other eight characteristics of high-performing schools could be put into place but would not be effective unless everyone was on board. Teachers can be fragile when the winds of education blow in a different direction and they may feel as though they must defend themselves and their current practices; quite understandably so. However, we do need to buck up and realize that researchers and other educators are always going to be learning new and perhaps better ways to educate our youth and we must be willing to bend and try new things. Having everyone willing to bend and sway is hard enough but a staff must also have continuity and trust in order for vulnerability to become the absolute best times to learn from one another. This trust begins and ends with strong leadership. The person at the helm must ignite a desire to learn in students and educators and gain respect and confidence with the entire staff so people are more willing and able to make themselves vulnerable.

A piece of continuity that I see lacking from many schools (also mentioned in the discussion, I believe from Heather) is the divide that seems to occur. The divide may occur in many places but in my experience it splits (in elementary schools) between primary and intermediate grades. I have seen this divide begin to converge through my school’s development of School Improvement Plan (SIP) teams. The SIP is comprised of at least two representatives from both primary and intermediate levels as well as a district coach (if available as there is not a coach for science or cultural competency).This has brought not only the school closer but individual teachers closer as well. The most important aspect, I feel, is the learning that occurs when we all begin talking about the curriculum. I learn so much when I hear about how a concept is taught from a Kindergarten teacher then hear about that same concept from a third and a fifth grade teacher’s point of view. To see how the curriculum builds upon each grade and discuss this with my colleagues is so beneficial to my teaching, the students’ learning, and the school as a whole. To achieve the desired ‘clear and shared focus’ the SIP teams will certainly aid in that development.

Using Buzzword

Here is my 5 minute technology tip on how to use the word processing tool Buzzword. This is an easy to use program that allows for the development of documents collaboratively! This is so much easier than trying to develop documents school wide than emailing Word documents back and forth! Check it out!

Here is the link to my screencast tutorial on Buzzword (using Jing):

Buzzword Screencast

My outline of the technology tip is attached below in a Word document.

Buzzword Outline

The Wiki Way of Learning

As much of what I am learning throughout the Curriculum and Instruction Program is centered around the educational theory of constructivism-I appreciate the ‘wiki way of learning’. That is, the communal construction of knowledge.  Humans are innately social beings so we, as educators, must nurture that characteristic and shy away from a more competitive model.

I also clung to the idea that there cannot be a construction of knowledge that aids in understanding and mental growth if individualism is not nourished. For instance, as stated on page 138 of this article, “Collectively, teachers and students benefit from a shared collaborative document that could not have been built without unique contributions from different authors,” and continues by stating that, “…it is a mode of thinking and acting that requires individuality in order to be a collective experience” (2009).

Going forward with the ‘wiki way of learning’, and not having many resources in my classroom to work with currently, I am going to attempt this collaborative knowledge idea on bulletin boards. This will be a place where new learnings, elaborations, thoughts, feelings, and questions can be posted, in linguistic or nonlinguistic representations, surrounding a particular idea or concept that is aligned with the current unit of study. I would contribute to the collaboration as well to monitor understanding and clarify as needed. This will also be used as a formative assessment tool that will continuously provide information about students’ growth of knowledge.

Also, each Friday or so, the class and I could have a group discussion surrounding the ideas and thoughts posted on the bulletin boards and come up with a group generated summary that would be pasted on the classroom blog or website. This way, “…knowledge is formed by the individual as a process rather than a product that is presented by them. Being a process, knowledge is always ‘in formation’ rather than ‘already formed’ (2009).

Ruth, A., Houghton, L. (2009). The wiki way of learning. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 25(2). 135-152.

Maximizing Motivation

Motivation is the key to effectively educating children. There are three main aspects to maximizing a child’s motivation to read: choice, collaboration, and competence (Gaskins, 1998). “One reason that motivation and engagement may influence the development of reading comprehension is that motivated students usually want to understand text content fully and therefore, process information deeply” (Guthrie, et. al., 2004). Read more in the following document: Maximizing Motivation

A Partnership for Success

A partnership between communities, homes, and schools is vital to the success of all children. A partnership implies that all parties involved have equal responsibility to foster literary development in all aspects of a child’s life. A common vision targeted at high expectations is necessary for student achievement.  A Partnership for Success