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Andy Pethan
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Moving forward, how could you lessen the "plate" of your staff and organization? What needs to stay and what needs to go?

To me, this is tricky. As a district, we have few mandates, and if anything, I think that teachers need to be more involved in an open decision making process, not less. Yet, our day feels still out of balance.

At least at the high school level, I think teachers offer students a lot of value through careful planning and tight execution rather than tons of contact time. Though it seems bad to say it, I think we should reduce student contact time so there is increase individual and collaborative planning time. I regularly take home many hours of planning beyond the contract day due to this deficiency.

I also find that I have no un-interrupted time at school. It is of course important to work with students, especially those in study skills or special ed, during their working periods, and it is also important to collaborate and connect with co-workers. However, it would help me a lot if there is was universally accepted way to designate space / time as "quiet" or "personal work" time. Otherwise, I resort to trying to hide in the building or even driving to McDonalds some prep days.

Our PLC duty of creating Essential Learner Outcomes and Scales is time consuming, but overall I think they add a lot of district value, making them not something to cut. I wish I had a better understanding of how scales could translate into direct classroom use, but that will continue to develop with time and coaching.

We may be able to use technology to continue to improve school-wide systems that are in place to support students. I spend a lot of time tracking student progress and trying to follow-up with them during the school day (lunch help, formal assignment to guided study hall, checking in with support teachers).

My grading policies also lead to an ineffective use of time (this is on me). Formative assessment is graded in class, on the spot, and offers a lot of learning value to students. In some cases students self-grade. Summative assessments have gotten shorter so less time is spent on a non-learning, only evaluative task, but I could continue to find efficiencies here.

More than anything, I find that I place a lot of work on myself due to mediocre classroom management and grading / homework. All teachers could benefit from coaching that encourages us to cut out all that is not essential / adding value to students.

How do you find the balance between mentoring and micro-managing to ensure people feel supported and comfortable taking risks?

To try something new or risky, I think that the most important thing a manager can do is be available. In the book (p126) George talks about disengagement of people with managers who ignore you / "stay out of the way" (40%), focuses on your weaknesses (ironically less -- 22%), and those who focus on your strengths (only 1%). Being available means not staying out of the way, but being around and able to help out or support reflection. In addition, it is important for leaders to give teachers room to try things that they are excited and passionate about. This generally means allowing them time to work around their strengths.

While writing this, I am on the way back from visiting my college, Olin. At Olin, students are given a ton of flexibility within and outside of the curriculum to follow their passions and build on their strengths to do amazing things. The projects I saw just hanging out in the halls amazed me and reminded me of how many opportunities I had to do the same thing. However, it was Olin that significantly opened me up to totally new opportunities and ways of thinking by observing and interacting with my peers. When you are at a place where everyone has lots of autonomy to do awesome things, the excitement of peers draws you into learning something new and trying it out. My time at Olin greatly opened me up to different fields of engineering, writing, music, unicycling, psychology, privilege, and so many other areas that I would otherwise tune out, and the big draw towards engaging in these deficit areas of mine was being around passionate peers working in their strengths. I had the same effect on others when I engaged in my strengths. If we can build an autonomy-supporting culture with the staff, I think many teachers will also be inspired to improve in deficit areas.

Chapter 7, question 1: How do you involve the greater community into creating an inspiring vision for learning in your school or organization?

This question gives me a chance to more consciously reflect on the early planning process for Grand Challenge Design. I started by writing a 3-4 page document that described the new course. From there, I emailed a few people at a time -- a school board member, robotics volunteers, other teachers, administrators, college friends, and students. Feedback came in bits at a time, and as it did, I updated the plan. Once solid enough, I submitted it as a new course proposal. It was accepted on super short notice, not because I started with a great idea, but because all of the people who had to approve it were already part of the design and feedback process at the start and had their issues and questions addressed before the final draft.

When I started the more detailed planning this spring, I visited or had lunch with a half-dozen different people who could help direct and support my planning. I shared the core of the vision and then left them open to share their stories, ideas, and questions. This process has helped me develop the class and expand the vision for the course beyond a one-year experience for only students in Byron. It has also helped me find many people who agreed to mentor a team, come it to provide technical support and advice during classes, and participate in class events and expositions.

Getting back to the question, George says that "The people who help set the vision and mission are the most likely to embrace it." By opening up much of the design of my new course to so many people in the Byron, Rochester, and global community, I magically have a huge base of support for OUR course. I still have a huge role in shaping the direction and daily details of the course, but by not planning alone, I won't be executing alone either. I plan to continue reaching out to more and more people during the school year to support student teams and bring in expertise that I do not have.

If I can figure out how to translate this process from an open-ended elective course into the planning for required math classes, I think we can develop some incredible experiences for all students. I'm a long way from that vision and hope that Jen Green and others can help me in that journey.

Chapter 6, Question 1: How do we create learning opportunities and experiences for students and staff that focus on empowerment, as opposed to engagement?

Starting with my best stab at a definition, engagement is taking in new information and experiences in a way that entertains or helps you more directly feel connected to the content. It is often fun and connects with multiple senses, but is directed by a teacher. I think empowerment is when students are leading the learning process and taking action with purpose. In the example George shares from his health class, he put the learning targets in student-friendly language, divided them up, and put students in charge of bringing the learning to life. Though he didn't talk about it, I am sure this process involved a lot of small group discussions (with him) clarifying why these topics were important so students could buy-in and create meaningful learning experiences for peers.

Many times, I think educators jump to the "let students teach" solution as the way to empower. I did it with my game design class, structuring a few projects and rubrics at the start, pointing students to YouTube, and getting out of the way. In the end, I think many students did feel empowered, and in that sense it isn't a bad place to start. The tension comes from the painful time inefficiency of student-directed skill-building compared to traditional instruction directed by an expert teacher. Speaking from personal experience, an interested learner acquires new skills much faster with a structured lesson than bouncing around for online resources. And yet, as a high school math teacher coming from a subject known for nothing but skill-focused, teacher-directed lessons, I also know that student buy-in is hard to come by and that even the best lesson doesn't make sense when all of a student's energy is focused on not learning it.

My goal for the upcoming school year is to focus on empowerment of purpose very early in the course so that I can also offer students the time efficiency of a well designed skill-building lesson. In my Grand Challenge Design class, I will work hard and fast to sell the mission of "understanding the world's most important grand challenges so we can build appropriate solutions with new technologies". If students truly believe in this and its implications, they will be happy to sit through hours of video lessons on web server design that I create for them, as it will save time in the implementation of their real goal: designing an innovative solution to an interesting global problem of their choosing. In my Algebra course, the focus will be on changing the student's identities from people who fail math classes to people who curiously explore and extend patterns. From there, I want to find ways for students to start asking questions and wondering things about their world. I think if students are empowered to use math for its intended purpose, it will be much easier for me to layer in notation, multiple representations, and vocabulary. I don't know how this will happen yet, but reading the chapter and reflecting on what I am doing in my elective class is helping me think through more possibilities for a required math course.

Chapter 3, Question 2: How might you create an environment that fosters risk taking?

To foster risk taking, I think you need to start by building a culture focused on individual growth more than shared targets: "Effective leadership in educaiton is not about moving everyone from one standardized point to the next but moving individuals from their point 'A' to their point 'B' " (Couros, page 47).

From there, you need to empathize with your students and change your assessment systems to help them feel safe in the innovation process. If grades are tied to final outcomes, students who buy into grades will take the best path they know (the safest path) to that outcome. Risk taking is not only discouraged, but it has a high penalty if it goes wrong. However, successful innovation brings no meaningful upside like it would in a wildly successful startup company. Instead, some of the assessment needs to focus on the process used so students can be confident that engaging in risk taking is in fact the only way to achieve the desired grade. You can still assess content outcomes with a flexible interview or reflective writing assignment scored against a content rubric that enables high scores for students whose project failed but learned the key content in the process.

Getting beyond the basics of safety and grades, I think that a motivating context or challenge area makes innovative thinking "worth" the cognetive energy that is needed. Why risk a new idea when the issue being explored isn't worth your extra time? However, if students are as passionate about a challenge as their teacher is about their learning, repeatedly trying new approaches until something works will be time well spent.

Chapter 2, Question 4: How do we take what we currently have, to create a better education system for our entire community?

On page 34, Couros quotes Thomas Friedman saying "The world only cares about -- and pays off on -- what you can do with what you know (and doesn't care how you learned it)." If applied skill is what matters most, then I think the most powerful shift we could make is to turn classrooms into problem solving teams. Imagine if the first day of class presented you not with a syllabus of content and skills to learn, but with problems to be addressed by the class. From there, the teacher may offer relevant skills and lenses for better understanding and taking on the problems, but would otherwise try to take as little time as possible from students who are actively addressing important issues.

Once students become well practiced in this approach to thinking and working, they could be given lots of flexibility and control over the learning process. Leading up to that time, teachers would need to model problem solving and create a structure to help students get started. One framework I used in an extra curricular activity in school (that I still use today on my own) is the Future Problem Solving Program International (FPSPI)'s 6-step process. Teams start by reading a one-page futuristic scenario, use divergent thinking to identify 16 potential challenges based on the scenario in different categories (such as business, environment, technology, recreation, psychological health...), and then use convergent thinking to write one underlying problem about the scenario. From there, the process repeats with novel solutions: the team write 16 solutions to the team's underlying problem in different categories, writes 5 criteria that are used to judge the solutions, scores the solutions in a grid, and then further develops the details of the winning solution. With time and practice, teachers can help students move beyond this kind of structure to practice with very open-ended future scenes (videos, novels, real places and people in the community), use a wide variety of idea-generation methods, explore more compound systems solutions, communicate the best solution with public technolgies, and iterate on the entire process in cycles to find more important problems and create better solutions over time.

The exciting part about something like this is that we wouldn't have to completely throw school as we know it overboard. Core disciplines like mathematics offer the tools needed for visualizing and comprehending known information, modeling patterns, and making reasonable predictions under given assumptions. The mindshift required for teachers is moving away from a desire to increase unit 3 proficiencies and towards increasing the students' proficiency using mathematical modeling to solve problems. Even if I built the best unit ever on functions, students would still not care about them. Trust me, I've tried throughout all of statistics. However, when you give them a problem worth solving, they suddenly become sponges for anything that helps them solve the problem, even if the lesson is mediocre, and a good lesson can inspire lots of creative solutions and things you didn't expect. From there, we can "embrace the idea that everyone in the classroom is a teacher and a learner" (Couros, page 40).

The other part that continues to resemble traditional classrooms is the need for structure, at least early on in the process. Students cannot be handed a hard problem and given no framework. The FPSPI model is incredibly structured, yet it allows for incredibly creative solutions (I competed with a team for 6 years using only that structure and stayed highly engaged and creative). As teachers, we teach both the working process in class and interject new ways of thinking through our discipinary training. For example, when trying to identify problems within a modern civil rights issue and develop solutions, it will also be beneficial to explore the past, read literature, analyze statistics, discuss the effects of technologies and systems over time, and many of the things we already do now. The difference is that they become much more relevant in context of taking action. In many ways, this is the point of Project Based Learning (PBL), but I would say it is a problem-focused subset that pushes students to not just answer questions, but actually solve problems.

Hey class -- I'm Andy, a math teacher (and now engineering design teacher as well) at Byron High School. My strongest characteristic is that I have always been a creator. I was building things before I could talk, went to engineering school because I wanted to build things, and I spent most of my first five years of teaching focused on curriculum and experience design. After observing and discussing problems, then imagining what could be possible, I become obsessed with the power we have as humans to create something out of nothing. A lot of my self-directed work in this course will focus on a new class I am designing for the fall so I can build up my own tech skills and be ready to guide my students in problem solving and creation.

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