During the third week of Connected Educator Month, we noticed a real focus on tension between what we aspire to with these terms “collaboration” and “capacity building” and what they look like in reality when applied in the classroom. It was interesting to note that while all the learning took place online, a great deal of the discussion surrounded the importance of face-to-face interactions in achieving change at any scale.
“Good Morning. It’s Good to See You.”
Years ago I was involved in a project where a new principal was trying to turn around her “failing school.” Test scores were abysmal, staff morale was in the toilet, and parental involvement was nil. Faced with such a set of circumstances, there were lots of different approaches we could have taken. But the first thing we did was make sure every student was greeted coming in the door every single day.
According to Dr. Joseph Murphy, that approach follows what we know about what works in school change: “All grade schools rest on two feet. One is hard work, challenging students, etc. This is the variable we are hearing the most about, that of ‘academic press.’ The other that is just as critical is the school’s community or culture.”
Much of what one reads in this ASCD piece called “Getting the Word Out, Part I: How School Leaders Can Address Equity and Engagement” by Peter Dewitt supports this notion that community building, listening, really seeing the people who make up a school is foundational to building the capacity to make a change. Here are some of the things he suggests school leaders must do to make that happen:
Get out of their offices.
Have authentic conversations in which leaders do more listening than speaking.
Encourage student voice: “All students have something to teach us. Kids are not the problem, but they’re the solution.”—Russ Quaglia
Engage with parents by making their presence known at the beginning and end of the school day, creating a school newsletter, and engaging in aspects of “flipped communication.”
Flip faculty meetings—rather than disseminate information as lecture, pick real topics affecting the school and ask teachers to come prepared with resources for discussion, thereby encouraging authentic and productive discussion.
If we don’t pay attention to the fundamental conditions necessary for literacy learning to occur, we’re not likely to see much literacy improvement happen.
Special thanks to NCTE member Heatherlyn Schoeppich for collecting the ideas above. Heather is helping to curate information for Connected Educator Month and our Collaboration and Capacity Building Theme.
Where’s the “We” in Assessment?
We live in an era in which whole schools receive grades based on how well their students perform on tests. And we expect whole systems to work to fix the academic failures these tests illuminate. But a couple of discussions NCTE facilitated in recent days illuminate the fact that we may not even be assessing what matters most.
In this webinar a group of NCTE educators discusses student work from this year’s National Day on Writing and what questions it raises about assessment. The big one: How are we assessing communities to determine how well they’re fostering the conditions necessary for literacy learning to occur?
In this online discussion with designers of the new AP Exam for Computer Science, readers were very interested in the fact that the exam requires students to do a collaborative project, but very concerned that assessing students on the outcomes of a project where peers might take over couldn’t possibly be fair.
gmitchell writes: “I wonder whether collaboration could be assessed here as a skill in and of itself—are you a good collaborator, meaning someone who is able to both contribute ideas/work, accept the ideas/work of others, and negotiate a fair decision when you disagree?”
The commentators responded that this is precisely what they try to assess in that portion of the exam, but it’s hard to do objectively. Hard, but still worth trying.
Imagine what might happen if we started engaging the communities that surround schools in the discussions about how we assess literacy learning. Imagine how we would teach an AP course if we were evaluating growth in students’ ability to work together in addition to their content knowledge?
Is a Connected Educator the Same as a Teacher Who Is Connected?
Plug a cord into a wall. Turn on the wi-fi on your phone. Open an app. Watch a webinar. Snap two devices together. Are you connected? To what?
Throughout October NCTE members have helped us to navigate through hundreds of online professional learning opportunities, many that we’ve hosted, as part of Connected Educator Month. On the whole we hear that online learning of this sort is incredibly helpful—opening doors to possibilities never imagined.
Check out this partial list of resources Marisa Crabtree pulled from a session called FUNdamentals of Learning 2014
The session she attended was full of resources and discussion of how online tools have changed collaboration in the classroom, but it left her wondering something we’re all beginning to ponder as educators: “Are some of these simply fancy time sucks or really useful collaboration tools?”
After attending an international Twitter chat about being a connected educator, Michael Rifenburg also wondered about the relationship between digital learning and solid teaching.
“What I keep coming back to when reading these tweets and looking at Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano’s slideshow is what connected means to Tolisano, her audience, and even to the whole concept of Connected Educators Month. I actually feel the definition Tolisano was forwarding was a bit too narrow. When she said ‘connected’ she meant ‘digitally connected.’
But I don’t think our students need a digitally connected teacher. What our students need is a teacher connected to the current (global/local) conversations animating the discipline. If this connection happens digitally—great! If this connection happens with the teacher attending conferences, reading the pertinent journals, and keeping up with important developments in the field without ever getting onto Twitter or a similar digital platform—that is great, too.”
Special thanks to NCTE members Marisa Crabtree and Michael Rifenburg for collecting the ideas above for Connected Educator Month and our Collaboration and Capacity Building Theme.