Chapter 12 Question 3 Which elements of the "8 Things to Look for in Today's Classroom" do you already see in your professional learning opportunities? What elements are lacking?

Better late than never!

After reviewing the graphic and the question, I will break this down into two parts. The first part is what of the 8 aspects that I am providing or not, and the second part will be what I feel is offered for the Byron school district.

In my teaching, I certainly do some things well. I am also lacking in others however. I certainly give students choice. I have been a believe of strength based learning (although maybe just not by the name) since I started my student teaching. I pride myself on giving choices for students and letting them decide their direction of learning. I also foster critical thinking. The subjects I teach are very subjective to opinion and circumstance, so I often give them conflicting subjects or ideals to let them make inferences for themselves. For example, when I teach nutrition, I ask them more questions than I give information. I often ask them to find the answers to mine and their own questions. I also cover some uncomfortable topics, and allow students the chance to think about topics deeply. As of last year, I have also started having students self assess themselves, much like we do in our cohort. I really like to incorporate self assessment first, prior to giving a grade out of the blue. Lastly, I feel that I have start transitioning to connected learning. I have had good experiences with allowing students to connect with the world around them to complete projects and use real sources.

I certainly need to improve on giving time for reflection. My personality naturally falls into the classroom, and more often than not I am rushed to complete everything on time. I know this is a hindrance for students, and I need to allow students to reflect. Does the cohort have any suggestions? I also need to improve on giving students voice. I have started improving this, and it isn't for lack of trying. I just feel that because of the environment, students do not share with the class enough.

I think the Byron ISD does 2 of the 8 extraordinarily. Byron really gives students respect and does not lower expectations. I think this makes it possible for them to allow students to become critical thinkers and solve problems. By the time I interact with the seniors, most of them are high achievers. I almost think this is disproportionate to other schools. The students are highly motivated, and strive for high grades and learning. The one aspect that I think we could improve on is the opportunities for innovation. We seem to keep tradition sacred, and I feel that we are slow to innovate in areas other than classroom models and technology. We have those down. What we don't have down yet is the problem solving aspects of the community. (Not the classroom- again we have that). I think there are two main areas that need innovation and for students to raise their voice over. For one, Byron does not recycle. We are horrible at it. Every other school I have been to views it as common sense and takes responsibility for it. We do not. I have handed out countless comments to students and staff about this. The other area is the lack of clubs. There is no GSA, HOSA, or student interest clubs. National Honor Society, Student Council, and FFA are very common, but we need more clubs like the Art Team. These allow students to really advocate for their interests and I feel like the staff is very un-innovative to support such activities. I hope that myself and the district can move forward towards being more proficient in all 8 areas!

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.

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.

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Couros discusses in Chapter 9 that we must be sure that the design of technology is conducive to learning, first and foremost.

I'm reminded of a wonderful book I am currently reading...

The Design of Everyday Things
-Donald A Norman.

A worthwhile read that will make you never look at a refrigerator or a phone the same way again!

Chapter 8 Question 3 - How do you find the balance between "mentoring" and "micro-managing" to ensure people feel supported and comfortable taking risks?

As I continue to progress in my leadership classes, one concept is clearly confirmed. All staff and students have gifts. It is our job to discover what those gifts are and bring it out into the world.

You can guess that I would fall clearly along the lines of a "macro" leader vs a "micro" leaders. It is simple. Someone is hired for a reason (often over others). They are the best and most trusted candidate for the position. If this is true, than as leaders we need to let go and allow that person to due their job and live out their passion for education. The book mentions Kelly Wilkins as a leader. "We find the best people and fit the jobs to them."

This can be challenging because as a leader that relies on trust, sometimes you have to let go. This means allowing colleagues to fall and then pick themselves up again (often with support).

Leadership is support and empowerment. That means you cannot micro-manage. While you may get a sense of relief in the short-term, you are disabling another's ability to innovative. Couros discusses the idea that results are not created by titles, but by people. Leaders must trust in the people they support, often without condition. This is the way to create an innovative and prosperous community.

In the classroom I attempt to maintain the same mentality of leadership as stated about. This means that I need to empower my students to take risks and go after the unattainable. Only them will they understand the mentality of "whatever it takes." The question then isn't if, but how.

I am open to ideas in my classroom and suggestions. This is a trust between teacher and student that requires a strong foundation of a positive rapport and respect.

It is always my dream (and I have created it in certain environments) that I enter the classroom and class has started without me. The students are taking initiative and risk in order to achieve their goals. They are finding new and better ways to go about it. Now they have become leaders!!

Folks reading this...

Think of a great leader and pick out one attribute about that leader that you could implement into your world (and your classroom). What is it? Let me know.

Thank you!!

Chp 10 Q3: Moving forward, how could you lessen the “plate” of your staff and organization? What needs to stay and what needs to go?

This chapter I felt was very powerful. The elephant in the room within education is certainly that it can be overbearing and convoluted for both the students and the staff. We are always hearing about more implementations and types of PD, and new learning methods. All the while we feel uncertain about what to use and what not to. This results with confusion and misdirection. I have heard about the scores of teachers leaving the profession, and the endless debates and politics. I empathize with this as I often feel overwhelmed in this profession. I can also completely understand how students could feel similar as well.
This chapter discussed this issues, and also how to lessen them and make our jobs less encompassing, and more enjoyable. A good indicator of this is on page 154. It states "the less is more rule is a good one for leaders to follow. If we aren't intentional we may promote confusion and burnout, instead of inspiring innovation and deep learning. Before you add a new initiative, ask yourself: Is this adding or subtracting to the already full plates of the educators (or students I serve?"

It gives the following tips to follow the less is more rule.
1) Limit choices. This seems paradoxical, but in actuality choices can override or thinking process. Creativity isn't necessarily limited when choices are. Keep things simple and reliable by setting some caps and options when providing structure.
2) Focus on creativity. By limiting choices and spending more time on something strength based, or learning something new in depth, students are more likely to be successful.
3) Select only a few tools. There is no reason to have a class using 10 learning tools in a 45 day quarter unless they are extremely easy to use, and have purpose. Keep the class structure simplistic and do not let educational tools dilute education.
4) Simplify. No explanation needed.

To answer the original question, I think we can and should lessen the plate of our staff and organization. (Note- I am not bashing Byron ISD nor making claim about problems) I feel that we do not always embrace the less is more rule. I think we need to eliminate some of the long staff work days and replace them with staff bonding. I think this would increase communication and identity. I also would like to make PLC work bi-weekly to allow for more time to work on our extra curricular like coaching prep and club work. I do believe Byron ISD does a good job of stating and recognizing how much work its educators do, and is cognoscente of the amount of initiatives we are involved with.

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Chapter 9 Question 1 - How do you model and explore new opportunities for learning in your own practice?

Many of the ideas and concepts in this book have been on my mind in recent years as middle schools and high schools continue to implement digital technology into their districts. In Byron we are fortunate to have a passionate group of tech folks that look at the big picture of tech integration and how learning is influenced by technology. I don't think that is always the case.

Technology needs to continue to be presented as a learning opportunity. Students need to understand this. Digital devices are not just entertainment devices, but opportunities to better understand themselves and the world around them. Tech is a way to embrace a model of 21st Century learning.

The chapter does an excellent job explaining how teachers and students need to take control of their learning. The digital device does not do this for us. The technology present in learning is only as valuable as the learner using it.

In the 21st Century we need to have the expectation that learning is personalized. Technology is a way to go about doing this. Page 42 discusses the idea that "technology should personalize, not standardize." #InnovatorsMindset. It is a huge benefit to learners that their "text book" can allow a progressive curriculum that can tailor to specific needs and learning styles.

One model that I often use in my class is to work backwards from what we are attempting to accomplish. This allows students to find their own path to the destination. Students struggle with different challenges in instrumental music. Working backwards allows them to focus on what they personalize need to focus on, and not in areas where they have achieved success.

Side Note: As I integrated technology into my own learning, it was a challenge for me to use the tech to it's fullest potential. I would use the devices in similar ways I used traditional learning materials. Instead of writing on a notepad, I would write on my iPad. Instead of recording a rehearsal into my tape player, I would record it on my mobile phone. While doing this allowed me easy access to my materials, I was only at the tip of the iceberg.

I continue to discover limitless ways to use networking and collaboration to achieve learning and instruction beyond anything I thought possible. We must remember to use technology with innovation. Only then are our possibilities endless.

Check out the attached article written by a principal about 21st Century learning and a new approach towards teaching and learning.


Chapter 8 Q3: mentoring vs micro-managing
I think this is a key question as the HS site team thinks about how to begin implementing changes from our FIRST conference experience. We don't want to "mandate" a change because we have no authority to do that and nothing kills a great idea like being forced on someone. Reflecting on grading practice and reporting are going to be very emotional topics and making sure that everyone is supported and comfortable taking a risk to make such a significant change has to be part of our implementation discussion.
I think one step is to be sure everyone's voice is heard. I think people need to be able express their concerns and fears, and even negativity. This is a basic element of persuasion-leadership has to acknowledge where people are at before they begin to move them in a new direction. However, then the time comes for action because we can't get stuck or held up because of resistance.
The next step is that teacher leaders then have to lead by example. This is where the mentoring-managing line is. If I am advocating for others to try what I am already doing, I have a stronger voice than just telling them to do something without actually walking the walk.
Creating that culture of mentoring each other is a key element of being able to tranform your school. If we can't learn from each other (and feel safe doing so), we can't move our building forward.

Chapter 12 Question 3: Which elements of the "8 Things to Look for in Today's Classroom" do you already see in your professional learning learning opportunities? What elements are lacking? Of the 8 elements, I see reflection as being my strongest point. It seems I am constantly reflecting on all my lessons, both coming up and past lessons. I not only do that professionally but personally too. I think that is what helps to make those "lifes lessons" more concrete. Couros tells us "that reflection is ppwerful in both learning and professional growth "(p. 188). I don't have a specific process for this. Rather, my reflection is in my thoughts. Oh sure, I may at times write down some notes of things I have reflected on and ideas I have come up with in my reflection to improve a lesson or self improvement.

Although I feel I am good at giving my students choices, I need to work on giving them an opportunity to have their voices heard. I cannot assume because they are younger students that they don't have their own thoughts or ideas that they wish to express. Everyone has a voice and I have to get better at allowing my students voices to be heard. Sometimes they may come up with a thought or idea that may or may not work but I need to try their ideas so they know they have been heard. An idea may fail but that is part of the learning process. I also have to not be so picky in allowing them to try things when we do a lesson as a group. What they are doing does not have to be perfect (ex. poor handwriting because of their age, or spelling errors.) By allowing them to do what they want and not being so nit picky I am allowing them to express themselves, show who they are and allowing their work to be authentic.

Chapter 8 Question 1 What are the current strengths of your organization and how do you continue to move them forward?

Being new to this district, and having taught in quite a few districts I can say very confidently that I have found Byron to have many strengths as a school district. While reading the book I found it very easy to say, "we are already doing this," or "I've seen examples of this in our building."

One of the things I think Byron does very well is making plans for the long term. On page 124 George talks about "whack-a-mole," focusing on only one problem at a time, just waiting for issues to arise. Thankfully, I have not seen this at Byron. What I have seen are well-thought out plans for many of the issues, and addressing these issues for more than just tomorrow. I think one of the first things I saw when hired at Byron was a plan that had steps laid out for something like the next 5-8 years. For me this is so important in a school district-we can't just be putting band-aid on top of band-aid.

I think a good way for me to make sure that Byron continues to move in this positive direction is by letting those in leadership positions know how much I appreciate that kind of forward thinking I see. I have tried to let my principals know how much I appreciate it, I could do a better job of letting our superintendent and school board know this as well. I would have to think that the more our leaders can hear what their teachers value and appreciate the more they will try to continue in that direction.
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