Friday, February 22, 2013

The "Awesomest Day"

Yesterday, our district took a big risk in providing an EdCamp style professional development opportunity for all of our staff.  Our district has a Primary School with about 450 students in grades 4K-3 and an Intermediate School with about 500 students in grades 4-8.  It was a regular school day, but the afternoon was an unannounced surprise for the students.  The Primary School followed this schedule with a couple of speakers and Jump Rope for Heart with the principal and parent volunteers helping out with the students.  The Intermediate School had a DJ, Wii games, board games, or silent reading time with the superintendent, myself, and teaching assistants helping out with the students.  As the principal of the Intermediate School, I can say that the options for the afternoon were enjoyed by nearly every student.  I got a chance to dance with the students from time to time so I was able to join in on the fun.  During and after, the students asked me questions like, "How long have you been planning this?", "Can we do this every year?", "Can we do this again this year?", and my favorite, "What are the teachers doing?"  I answered this by saying, "The teachers are learning while we are having fun!"  The students thought that was awesome.
The teacher learning was what the day was really about.  We have a team in our district called TILT (Teachers Integrating Learning Today) that planned the afternoon for the teachers.  They divided the staff into four groups that moved to different rooms every 25 minutes.  Each room had a different theme that was based upon the four C's (Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, and Critical Thinking).  Here is a copy of each of the google presentations that were created during the afternoon.
Critical Thinking
Because I wasn't a part of the teacher learning for the afternoon, I asked some of the teachers what they thought of the day.  The majority of the teachers thought that it was a great afternoon.  The only comment I heard to the contrary about the afternoon was that they didn't have enough time in each session.  Isn't that a great problem to have to solve?  The teachers were able to learn from one another and as we say in Merton, "We are our best resource".
All in all, the day was the "Awesomest Day" for students and staff alike.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

And the excitement builds...

This morning, our TILT (Teachers Integrating Learning Today) team met with the entire staff of our district to preview the great learning experiences they will be involved in tomorrow afternoon.  Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Communication are the four main themes of the afternoon.  The staff buzz around the Intermediate School is evident and bubbly.  They have been reminded not to spoil the surprise we have in plan for the students in the afternoon.  We are having a DJ for the students for two and a half hours while the staff is learning and sharing with each other.  As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, we are taking a risk with this new format of learning for our staff.  I wish that I could learn with them but someone needs to be with the students!  I will, however, get to walk around the building tomorrow afternoon for the last half an hour when the staff will be sharing what they have learned with the students.  I can't wait to be able to share the success of our day!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Anticipating a risk

On Thursday of this week, the staff in the Merton Community School District will be having its own "EdCamp style" of professional development at little cost to the district.  The staff will have two and a half hours to learn from one another while the students are having fun in supervised activities (structured for our Primary School 4K-3rd graders with speakers, Jump Rope for Heart, and other activities and a little less structured with a DJ we hired for our Intermediate School 4th-8th graders).  The principal of the Primary School will have a number of volunteers available to help supervise the activities at the Primary School while the superintendent and I will supervise at the Intermediate School.  The cool thing is that we are not even telling our kids what will happen on Thursday.  The TILT (Teachers Integrating Learning Today) team has organized the day for our teachers and they are excited.  It's amazing what a group of teacher leaders can do when given the opportunity to think like there is no box.
We know the kids will have a great time.  We know the staff will have a great time, too.  But this leads to the title of my blog- anticipating a risk.  I am anticipating a great learning experience for the staff based upon the great teachers we have and the variety of topics they will be discussing but it is also a risk that is fully supported by the administration.  Shouldn't we allow and support all teachers taking a risk in their classrooms?  Shouldn't these risks lead to greater learning opportunities for our students?  Like most school districts, we struggle with providing time for teachers during the school day to collaborate with one another.  I'll follow up with a reflection of the day this Friday.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Create and not regurgitate

While participating in the AWSA Middle and High School Principal's conference this week, I noticed a dichotomy between the message of our keynote speaker, Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal), and the message sent by the DPI regarding education.  Here is what I see as the dichotomy.
Eric spoke about student choice, staff choice, collaboration, opportunity, engagement and creativity.
With no disrespect intended, the DPI message was about teacher accountability, test results, funding and school report cards.
Given a choice, I would prefer to create and not regurgitate.
Given a choice, I believe students would prefer to create and not regurgitate.
Let the students create!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Community Technology Night 2013

As with all new ventures, I was a both excited and concerned about our Community Technology Night.  I was excited because of the great information I knew would be presented but I was also concerned about the number of attendees we would have.  One never knows how many people will attend and we were more than a bit surprised at the attendance.  We had a handful of parents, our superintendent, and our school board president.
We could have considered this a failure, but it was far from a failure.  The evening began with some technology trouble shooting to make sure that everything was functional.  Lots of questions were asked, lots of suggestions were given, and a great deal of learning took place.  When our attendees left they said two things-

  1. I sure learned a lot tonight and I'm glad I was here.
  2. I wish more people had attended because this was very well done.

Two of our 8th graders, Evan and Dylan, did the majority of the work on this with the focus of sharing the great things we do at Merton Intermediate School.  We had both staff and student presenters and adjusted from the planned three sessions of 25-minutes to our attendees going from one classroom to the next.  The six sessions were 21st Century learning, Web 2.0 tools, Google, Communication, internet security, and Twitter.

Throughout the night I spoke with Evan, Dylan, and the staff presenters about the evening.  They were disappointed in the turnout but I came up with an idea of how we could share this information at another time.  In early March we have our next session of student/parent/teacher conferences.  The students have agreed to present again at this time.  Maybe the more captive audience will provide the student presenters with another opportunity to share their creative talents and the great things we are doing in Merton.

As the saying goes, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again.  I'll let you know how our second attempt turns out.