Thursday, 14 April 2011

Field day

Today was a day of learning that had nothing to do with classrooms, books, or even laptops. Today's learning was about giving back to a community who continually supports education. It was about watching educators see a need, rally to the occasion, and create a plan to make a difference. It was about being motivated by a heart-felt speech of appreciation from someone who had lost everything. It was about coming together with another school district to achieve a common goal. It was about working side by side friends and putting aside differences for at least one day. It was about feeling the physical pain of manual labor and also the emotional pain for the families who had lost so much. It was about being reminded how quickly life can change. It was about watching some kids in their natural environment lead the way, while others who were out of their environment rolled up their sleeves and got a little dirty. Ultimately, it was about seeing the tears in the eyes of some area farmers. Although we only made a small dent in Mother Nature's devastation, it felt good to be "educated" in the fields even if it was for just one day.

Friday, 11 March 2011

San Francisco

This past weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the National Association of Secondary Principals Conference in San Francisco, CA. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the West Coast, I was most moved by the opportunity to meet principals from all across the country. I spent time talking with principals from New Jersey, Michigan, Alabama, Texas, California, South Dakota, and even Canada. It was energizing discussing programming, and class offerings, curriculum and instruction, schedules, and professional development with these administrators. Although educators are in the “people business”, it can also be a very isolating profession. This time away gave me a chance to take all those balls I juggle on a daily basis, pull them out of the air, and look at them a little closer. I would like to share just some of the quotes, statements, and tidbits of information that I took away from the conference that really challenged my thinking.

*32 states currently have virtual schools.
*8 states have online learning initiatives.
*2 states require online courses for graduation (Alabama and Michigan).
*“Our goal should be to close the gap between what we know we should be doing and what we are doing.” Tim Westerberg
*“If you want different results, do things differently.” Spence Rogers
*Changing our grading system is not an incremental change, but a fundamental shift.
*What does a B- mean to you? to a parent? to a student?
*Homework has be assessed - it can’t just be a completion number otherwise the student never receives any feedback on his/her learning.
*How can compliance and behavior be a part of a grade that is supposed to reflect learning?
*“In many classes there are grades based on work habits such as doing work on time and complying with teacher requests as opposed to verifying that learning did take place for a specific target.” Excerpts from Grades Don’t Matter
*Our current grading system allows teachers to be able to speak to student completion rates instead of student mastery. Tony Donen
*Learning is developmental and will grow with time and repeated opportunities. New evidence of learning should replace old evidence of learning. Billie Donegan
*Zeroes should never be used in averaging on a 100 point scale (poor practice and poor math). Billie Donegan
*Information in grading reports should be organized by evidence of performance standards and learning goals, rather than by assessment methods (quizzes, tests, homework etc.) Billie Donegan
*“We are faced with the irony that a policy that may be grounded in the belief of holding students accountable, actually allows students to escape accountability for learning.” Billie Donegan
*“The most real and most lasting learning comes not in doing, but in re-doing!”
*“There is little or no evidence that repeated failure makes people more responsible (or motivated).” Billie Donegan
*The threat of a low grade is much more likely to motivate high achieving students (often for the wrong reasons) than low achieving students. Billie Donegan
*“I am overwhelmed, but not challenged.” quote from an AP student
*“Knowing nothing is very different from doing nothing.”
*“Don’t show me what students are doing - show me what students are learning.”
*“If we believe all children can learn, we must also believe that all educators can learn too.”

This conference was definitely a learning experience for me! As you can see, I attended several sessions on grading practices. After our district spent an afternoon of professional development with Matt Townsley, Director of Instruction in Solon, IA, I know this is an area we need to focus on in the near future.

By the end of the conference, I felt invigorated, but I also felt a little overwhelmed. I know we still have a lot of work to do, but I am also confident that our teachers are dedicated and committed to providing the highest quality of education for our students. I am lucky to be a part of a district that supports the professional development of its people, and although I enjoyed the Frisco Bay, I am very glad to be back home at Newell-Fonda.