Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bob, the Three-Legged Goat Gets a New Leg

Today in Speech class the students were practicing their stories for storytelling at the elementary school. Since we finished so early in the period, the students asked me to tell a story. Even though I didn't have a story prepared, I agreed to tell a story about a character who has gone through many evolutions as it has journeys have been told throughout the years to my daughters as a bedtime story. It was funny to see the cell phones pop out to record me in storytelling mode, and since I had just recorded them telling stories, it was only fair. It was fun to relax for a bit and share a story about a character created for my daughters. I don't know what it is about the Three-Legged Goat, but he sure is popular with little kids at bedtime!


Monday, September 5, 2011

Reflections on Teacher Leadership and Creating a 21st Century Team


Photo By @boetterJacob B√łtter
Reflection on Becoming a Teacher Leader
            Learning about various leadership models and frameworks has been an advantage when deciding how to create and organize people to work together for a cause. In forming the framework for the 21st Century Skills Team to integrate both technology and 21st Century Skills (http://www.p21.org) into classrooms in order to improve student learning and understanding, to differentiate instruction, and to better prepare students for college and career readiness, I have been able to review leadership models and ascertain that the appropriate leadership model for that project is a Personal Learning Community (PLC). As Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich (2010, p. 266) and Hord (2009, p. 42) advise, regular meetings are crucial to the success of the Team. Because the Team will also be planning ongoing Professional Development (PD), Hord’s (2009, p. 42-43) conditions for success, especially the support and participation of the principal, are necessary components. Having an explicit purpose for the Team allows for the focus of the PLC on both student learning and teacher learning. Time and a place for regular meetings will give the Team the opportunity for members to discuss research, technology tools, and instructional strategies. It will also give the Team members the opportunity to learn and use the technology tools and instructional strategies so they can model them to the rest of the educational system.
            Hord (2009) identifies six research-based aspects of PLCs which include a shared mission, a distributive leadership, support with resources as well as time and place, an atmosphere of mutual respect among members of the PLC, a focus on educator learning that addresses student needs and increases the effectiveness of the educators, and peer sharing for improvement (p. 41-42). Setting up norms and protocols to ensure that collaborative meetings run smoothly is imperative. Continuing efforts I started last spring in promoting Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) with the teaching staff must continue in order to allow for both collaboration of ideas and strategies within the Pleasant Plains High School (PPHS) educational system and collaboration of ideas and strategies with a global network of teachers through various tools such as Twitter, Google+, The Educator PLN, and Classroom 2.0.
            The progress of the team can be monitored by giving surveys, interviewing teachers and students, observing classrooms, and reviewing artifacts. Free survey tools and protocols can be used from State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), which are made available on their website (http://www.setda.org/web/guest/PETItools). SETDA’s tools are designed to evaluate educational technology effectiveness. A survey can be given prior to PD for integration of both 21st Century Skills and technology tools. The data from the initial survey can be compared to later surveys, interviews, artifacts, etc to determine the progress and effectiveness of integration.
            Some barriers and obstacles that might make it difficult for me to involve myself in teacher initiatives are my schedule, teacher self-efficacy, and my responsibility to my family. Because administrators and leaders tend to overuse the teacher-leaders who are the most successful, I am often volunteered for several committees. In addition to time consuming teaching responsibilities such as yearbook advisor and web advisor, I usually end up a member of several school improvement committees simultaneously, such as the RtI Committee, the Bargaining Team, the Technology Committee, the Teacher Evaluation Committee, and the Freshman Orientation Committee. I have been asked to be on other committees, but have had to decline because of my current commitments. Teacher self-efficacy in technology is a continuous obstacle to overcome. Low self-efficacy slows the process of down since ongoing PD is needed to teach technology integration strategies and to allow teachers time to develop those strategies. Finally, my family responsibility, which I sometimes neglect for my profession, may become an obstacle. I struggle to develop a “family first” mentality, but often compromise too many times. I need to be sure to build my professional time around my family time as much as possible.

Reflection on Communication and Collaboration
            Encouraging and supporting teacher-leadership at PPHS has been a steady process. Administrators and teachers at PPHS have been holding PD on new pedagogies as well as on differentiated instruction. This practice has born impromptu Critical Friends groups throughout the last couple of years. Some teachers participate in Communities of Practice (COP) and have PLNs through Twitter, Google+, the Educators PLN, Classroom 2.0, and more. These efforts are being modeled for the rest of the educational system and are gaining popularity. This practice has also promoted the forward thinking of administrators and teacher-leaders that PD needs to be more individualized. The question currently centers on how to personalize the PD since that culture, with the exception of a couple of CFGs and individual teacher-leaders, does not and has not existed at PPHS.
            The creation of a PD Team is a possible solution that will not only build consensus, but will also develop a collaborative approach to PD. Lee (2010) states that it is necessary to establish a shared vision with all stakeholders involved in the creating the PD and working toward that shared vision (p. 29), which is what a PD team could do. Lee (2010) further states that “PD should incorporate opportunities for small groups of teachers to learn collaboratively” (p. 29). A culture that accepts the use of mentors based on skill needs rather than based on years of service is also required. In mentoring teachers, supportive communication must be used. Crippen (2005) states that “educators are great communicators and must be good listeners, to themselves (through their inner voice), as well as to others” (p. 6). Therefore, listening becomes one of the most important communication skills that teachers can use to enhance relationships. Listening to objections can lead to the “real” reasons involved and make solutions easier to discover. Listening to small successes without criticism, but in asking more in depth questions regarding the parts that the teacher is most excited about can lead to self-reflection on the part of the teacher. Follow up questions can be asked about what the teacher would recommend changing if another teacher would like to use the same strategy.
            Continuing to promote CFGs, PLCs, and COPs at PPHS will bring teachers out of isolation and will lead to the accomplishment of the goals of teacher self-leadership and life-long learning. Providing teachers with a safe, supportive environment (Curtis, Humbarger, & Mann, 2011, p. 51) to share their ideas and student work will build a culture of trust that enables objective peer observations where true self-reflection can be an outcome.

Reflection on Leadership for Student Learning
            Determining how leadership affects student learning first requires defining instructional leadership.
According to Brewer, the instructional leader is defined as follows:
One that requires focusing on instruction; building a community of learners; sharing decision making; sustaining the basics; leveraging time; supporting ongoing professional development for all staff members; redirecting resources to support a multifaceted school plan; and creating a climate of integrity, inquiry, and continuous improvement. (as cited in Doyle and Rice, 2002, p. 49)
Brewer’s definition of an instructional leader identifies components that implicitly focus on improving student learning. Because the Illinois Common Core Standards emphasize both 21st Century Skills and the integration of technology into the classroom to improve student understanding and achievement, the creation of both the 21st Century Skills Team and a PD Team at PPHS will directly benefit student learning. In general, teacher leadership strategies are perfect models for the skills of collaboration, cooperative learning, communication, and research-driven solutions that academic standards require of students.
            The 21st Century Team that will be created this school year at Pleasant Plains High School will follow the PLC model and will utilize Hord’s (2009) conditions for success, which include principal support, a distributed leadership, time made available for educator learning, and data use support (p. 42-43). State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) tools (http://www.setda.org/web/guest/PETItools) to survey and measure the integration of 21st Century Skills and technology tools into classrooms will not only be a great resource for the 21st Century Skills Team, but will be a great asset for any team of the district. Creating a PLC that is successful in integrating 21st Century Skills and in integrating technology into the classroom will increase student achievement as the structure of the PLC promotes a focused outcome and reflective discussions on the progress of the work. The SETDA tools will enable the team to monitor student learning and identify what is working and what needs modified to increase achievement.
            In creating a collective purpose and vision for PPHS, creating a PD team who would provide a structure for individualized PD would be appropriate. The PD team would find out what each department PD needs are, then offer 3-4 (initially) PD choices that are “hands-on” each PD day in order to create the habit of teachers taking charge of their own PD. The ultimate goal would be to create a culture where ongoing PD is individually pursued by each teacher. If teachers are motivated to continually learn new pedagogies and tools to improve student learning, then that collective purpose and vision will be solidified as teachers share those strategies and tools with their colleagues.
            In allowing teachers input into their PD and in demonstrating that 21st Century Skills and technology integration are part of state learning standards, teachers will be motivated to integrate these into their lessons. PD that is meaningful and specific to teacher needs is half of the requirement for motivation. The other half is allocating ongoing learning time for the teachers to practice strategies and share ideas/strategies with their peers. Seeing and sharing successes and providing a system for supportive feedback to improve strategies will also increase the motivation of teachers to integrate these strategies into their own classrooms. Buy in for any effort is based on models of success. As more models of classroom success are produced, the teachers who are hesitant to move forward will be motivated to buy into the efforts. Data/artifacts from improved student learning and evidence from SETDA surveys will be used to demonstrate the effect on the initiatives and to inform modifications needed to the initiatives.


References
Crippen, C. (2005). The Democratic School: First to Serve, Then to Lead. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, 131, 1-17. doi:EJ846732
Curtis, R., Humbarger, J., & Mann, T. (2011). Ten Tips for Coaching Adults: An Emotionally Healthy Approach. YC Young Children, 66(1), 50-54. Retrieved from ProQuest Education Journals. doi:2387291781
Doyle, M. & Rice, D. (2002). A Model for Instructional Leadership. Principal Leadership, 3(3), 49-52. Retrieved from ProQuest Education Journals. doi:236822521
Ertmer, P., & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. (2010). Teacher Technology Change: How Knowledge, Confidence, Beliefs, and Culture Intersect. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 42(3), 255-284. Retrieved from ProQuest Education Journals. doi:2212521271
Hord, S. (2009). Professional Learning Communities. Journal of Staff Development, 30(1), 40-43, 78. Retrieved from ProQuest Education Journals. doi:1611220721
Lee, M. (2010). 7 Principles of Highly Collaborative PD. Science and Children, 47(9), 28-31. Retrieved from ProQuest Education Journals. doi: 2067104121