Thursday, January 21, 2016

PBL, High Tech High and Learning Commons

Right before Spring Break of last year, I was grateful to be part of a team of 6 teachers who visited High Tech High in San Diego. My principal, Cale Birk, travelled with us to continue the exploration we began back in the spring of 2014. The question being considered was whether Project Based Learning could help us as we lead students towards developing the attributes of a Sa-Hali Secondary Grad: Creativity, Collaboration and Resilience. After experiencing High Tech High, the simple answer to that question was YES!

Now, some 6+ months later, much of that work is being reconsidered, re-evaluated and reworked. The trip to San Diego stirred up animosities on staff and created an active "resistance" to the ideas of PBL, and the on-going work to build learning activities that would lead to "CCR." While the baby isn't being thrown out with the bathwater, the bathwater is being drained a bit and new warm water put in to clear out some of the dirt. With a new administrator, there is a sense that we need to make these ideas truly our own, instead of being heavily pushed forward with someone else's vision firmly in place. We have stopped our PLC collaborations because there is a serious divide on how effectively that time was being used. We finally discussed CCR at our last staff meeting and all initiatives generated in the last two years have been quietly implemented in some classes and ignored in many others. When we discussed it at the staff meeting, the resentment and frustration in the room was loudly voiced by small group, while many in the room were quiet. There is still a long way to go in creating a commonly held vision.

How this impacts the library/learning commons, though, is fairly positive.  With a new administrator comes a new sense that the building is overdue for physical plant renewal. The space will finally be receiving the updating that has been 7 years overdue. Also in the near future is a revamping of curricula, so discussions around resourcing and the future of the materials organized and collated by the library must happen at a staff wide level. I look forward to these discussions, as I've already started finding resources that will help teachers/students make learning active and integrated with the real world. Presentations of learning are happening regularly in the library/learning commons space - a very exciting use of this space. We've had several secondary/elementary partnership projects happening in our space. Also coming soon are meetings with the feeder elementary schools as we co-plan innovation projects and work on professional development.

Will we look like HTH - no, but our space will reflect our community and students as they learn deeply and share their projects. Ultimately, that's what the trip was able to inspire - a vision of how to make learning come alive in community.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Reflection, imitation and experience

Now that I'm settled into the routine of the school year, it's time to look back at the last two years. I'm back full time in the library at my school after two years of being a District Coordinator for a particularly unpopular online course required for graduation. The school district reconfigured Distributed Learning and my position was rolled into a different position for which I was not considered. I understand why and while I was disappointed by it, life rolls on and I was returning to a position I truly enjoy!

The two years were very challenging and I've been happy to let go of the mess that continues to exist and will likely continue until the course is erased as a graduation requirement, likely at the end of this school year or the next. It's very satisfying to redirect colleagues to others by saying it isn't my responsibility anymore. It's also lovely to simply be honest and say what the problems are without having to worry about being PC.

I loved the opportunities to work around the district in various buildings and see what works in various schools. The feel of each building is unique and reminds me that my own school's culture is not the "be all, end all." There are many wonderful teacher and administrators working to help students and there are some amazing students finding great solutions to the problems they are encountering. I learned a lot about strategies to listen to angry people without taking the anger personally. I learned to breathe through emotions and listen carefully. This was important for me.

The damage done in the last two years to my confidence, however, has been harder to live with and heal. Even knowing the behaviour patterns of a particular leader and having that leader claim that lessons had been learned about the implications of those patterns, I fell into my own personal trap. I believed that I could protect myself from those patterns and even more arrogantly that I wouldn't mirror the worst of that behaviour. I acted badly with the colleague who supports me most closely, in a vain attempt to promote myself and believed that acting on the "every person for him/herself" thoughts encouraged by this school leader would get me further ahead. Ahead of what, I'm not certain now.

I do know that at the end of the two year period, I am happy to step back and leave pursuit of school administration work to people who seem to be ok with the dichotomy of school politics: business model vs social service.

It's great to be back to promoting literacy, digital citizenship, social justice and just interacting with students and being myself.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Bringing Big Ideas North

Big Ideas Fest 2014

Getting onto the plane to head to San Francisco to attend Big Ideas Fest in Half Moon Bay was something I had anticipated for three years. I happened across a mention of this conference via Twitter a few years back.  The images, tweets, website and speaker list made my heart race.  I'm a big picture thinker, so to encounter a conference where social justice, education, technology and the arts merge to address problems facing education made my brain explode. I knew absolutely, that I would find (to quote Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables) "kindred spirits." I immediately tried to figure out how to attend the following year.

Alas, it was not to be. Financing a trip to San Francisco to attend a conference that happened during the work week meant finding money to fly, get accommodations, pay the conference fee and cover my substitute teacher costs. It wasn't until this year that I discovered the possibility of a bursary and then I knew I could make this conference happen for me.  I would have to tweet and write about my experiences and reflections, but as I tend to be a writer anyway, this wasn't a real hardship! In  fact, spreading the word about this conference and its unique method of getting a wide variety of people to collaborate in problem-solving is rather like being asked to proselytize. I'm happy to spread the good news!

Big Ideas Fest is a conference founded by Lisa Petrides of ISKME, to break down the silos between various levels of education and to foster collaboration and design thinking in solving the problems facing education today. With a solid grounding in Improv thinking, IDEO-founded design process and social justice, participants from the world of business to Kindergarten teachers to University professors to technology gurus hunker down in small groups to shed usual modes of problem solving to "move to provocation" and think beyond. I knew I'd be inspired by the "rapid-fire" speakers who each have 15 minutes to present their stories of real world solutions. Surprisingly, I hadn't looked at the pictures of the conference site until about a month before departure. When I saw pictures of the Ritz Carlton and Half Moon Bay, I knew I was heading to a transformational event.

Enlightenment seemed to be my key word upon my arrival. My flight got in during the Sunday afternoon, so I missed the first keynote speaker and the opportunity to create a luminary with the Artist in Residence. I did, however, arrive just in time for dinner.  The food was truly artistic in presentation and unbelievably delicious, but that was topped by the fun and stimulating conversations with educators from K-University, architects, and tech business owners. For a table of 10, we spanned the globe in home locations and ranged from teen to senior citizens. After a delectable creme brule, I headed off to my first workshop and then headed off to my home away from home to check out the fabulous bag o' swag from registration.

The next three days were a bit of a blur:  good food, amazing speakers, the hard/fun work of loosening up our reserves and imagination via Improv activities, thinking, talking and creating.  Highlights for me included:

  •  making a new friend from Washington, DC at breakfast on Monday morning, then walking on the beach, 
  • feeling excited to use improv strategies
  • create a luminary, 
  • chatting around the fire pits with educators from around the US
  • finding kindred spirits from Guam!
  • having my question chosen for Action Collab work on Tuesday
  • connecting with a Collab group colleague who will continue to work with me (making BIF local connect between British Columbia and North Carolina)
The question that continues to plague me a little though, is how I'm going to use all of the great things I experienced and learned to truly make education better in my part of the world or in other parts of the world. I've started by trying to bring the Action Collab process into my building for my staff's on-going work in professional development. I am looking forward to presenting a workshop on the Action Collab process at my district's Professional Development Day in February.  The experiences were so rich and densely packed with strategies that I know I need to repeat it to revisit and deepen my understanding. Perhaps I could come back as a Collab leader, so I'll be investigating opportunities to get training in leading Action Collabs. 
I'll also be looking into Canadian OER (Open Education Resources) to make educators more aware of these resources. As a teacher-librarian, this type of resource truly appeals to me for both its generosity of sharing and its potential to use technology for a high purpose with no or low cost. On returning from BIF, I discovered the following OER resources that are Canadian hosted:

And of course, the BIF promoted OER Commons:

There is a lot to do, and so right now, my focus will be on finishing my writing, organizing the workshop and beginning the next phase of redesigning the library commons at my school - encouraging everyone to have some input!

Big Ideas Fest - I'll be back!!

Monday, November 17, 2014

New Paths

Robert Frost's famous poem, The Road Not Taken, has been on my mind a lot lately. I love road pictures. They lead me to imagine destinations and possible futures. This has been a lovely source of daydreaming, but lately, I've been working towards making dreams real. I want to make some significant changes in my life. I want the chance to make a difference and to create and lead in ways I don't get to do now. I am writing more and have a personal project on the go. At this point, my focus is simply on getting something written. Where it will take me is something I don't want to try and imagine right now.
I'm also watching a colleague whom I respect a great deal do what he has spoken about often. He's walking away from teaching for a while to examine his life and his options. We have often discussed our frustrations with the public education system and our cynicism has increased over the years, even when it appears we could be on the cusp of some significant changes.  Will the changes benefit children and youth? Hard to say. In many ways, I'd like to join him in his exploration of what lies beyond this career path I've been on for so many years. The path I've been on is definitely not the "road less travelled." It's a well worn path. That's part of what is frustrating me. I'm seeing patterns repeated and know where they'll likely lead, but the young who have not been on the path as long, see it as new ground. There are so many snake oil salesfolk on this path, too. Everyone has a cure for what's ailing the system. I guess part of the journey is sour grapes, too. I've done the things I've seen be successful for others and yet what keeps coming clear on this path is that those who have powerful friends on the journey get ahead faster or just travel more comfortably. Because of that, I want some control. I have very little in my current role. I'd like to explore my creativity more. I'd like to have the opportunity to lead. I'd like to see where the other path will take me and who I'll meet on the journey.

Friday, May 3, 2013

My Capstone Project for my Masters in Education Technology

I'll admit to being both vain and proud! I realized after I looked at my Weebly site statistics, then Google searched for my ePortfolio, it wasn't a simple find. I hope this will make it easier.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Secret Books & Public Spaces

Have you ever read a book you didn't want anyone to know about?
Flickr image CC 2013
It was racy or forbidden and you didn't want your parents to know or your friends to know? Perhaps it was to answer a question that you desperately needed answered or to find your identity in fiction or reality - to know you weren't alone? If you've been a teenager, you've probaby answered yes to that question. And for all that the internet makes finding information easier and more private than ever before, sometimes, you need a book to answer questions in greater detail than you are finding in your searches. Perhaps you've read an article by an author who promotes her/his more extensive writing. Either way - books still need to be on shelves in libraries to help readers find the answers to their personal journeys. That's why getting rid of all books in a school library can be a huge mistake. This is particularly poignant for teens who are struggling with deeply personal issues of gender identity or self-harm or family problems. While reaching out to find others who struggle with the same thing on the internet can be useful, some teens aren't quite ready for that outreach.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A rose by any other name....

Today, a teacher-librarian colleague from another district shared a recent blog column by Joyce Valenza (my idol) entitled "Do I really have to leave the library to do the work of a school librarian?" Even though I had course work for my Masters degree I needed to attend to, I made the time to read the article. You see, I transferred from a Teacher Librarianship program into a Masters in Education Technology program. I have been a huge advocate for the thoughtful use of technology in school for learning and teaching. I believe my role, as a teacher librarian, should include expertise in technology for educational purposes. I definitely don't believe that my role as a librarian is obsolete, though.
   Just before Christmas, students at my school completed the Tell Them From Me survey, a survey of student perception of academic achievement, social engagement and responsibility. Under the open-ended question asking what would make our school better, I was pleasantly surprised to see the response "have more books in the library" not once or twice, but several times. The students at my school are relatively well-off in a socio-economic measurement, so to have requests for books surprises me. I'm often told that our students will buy their own books rather than wait for us to get new titles on the shelves. Yet, for the first time in a few years, I'm seeing a rise in circulation statistics in fiction. Non-fiction - that's a different matter, but a topic for a different blog post. Students are reading and want paper books, audio books and digital books. They want to read! My reader advisory work is paying off!
   That's not my only role, though. I am the technology trouble-shooter for staff and students. I am a co-planner and finder of resources for staff who will allow me to assist them. I would love to do more of that work, but it is difficult to convince my colleagues that I am a resource for them. The silo mentality looms large in my building. I am a curator of resources, digital and physical. I am a demonstrator of new teaching strategies which incorporate technology. I could, if asked, demonstrate how I evaluate which technologies are best suited to certain learning environments and pursuits as I plan lessons and units. I manage the limited budget for resources as capably as I am able and advocate for more resources and apply for grants when I can. I am a professional development leader, a website builder and designer, a course designer and am working hard to develop a culture of professional learning and collaboration, as well as a culture of formative assessment and inquiry. All of these are what I consider to be part of my job as a teacher librarian.
    Despite this, there are administrators who do not see the value of the title or the role. Is it because they have never had the experience of working with strong, capable, positive teacher librarians? Is it because they see technology as a way to make a personal mark in their own career paths and will shape programs to differentiate themselves from other administrators? I don't know.
   I know that I am proud to be a teacher librarian who is a strong advocate for thoughtful education reform and use of technologies in support of sound teaching and learning strategies. Ultimately, it is people who make learning and teaching happen. Eighty years of research has demonstrated that media and technology make no significant difference in learning. Achievement and student success are the result of asset building, good mental and physical health, socio-economics and people who actively care about and interact with young people to build them up by challenging them and supporting them. School libraries can be at the heart of a school community if given the opportunity and the resources (people and artifacts) to help students and staff. I hope I get to continue in that role as a teacher librarian, but I'll do that no matter what my title is! Shakespeare (as always) got it right.