Sunday, December 25, 2016

Risk is Worth the Reward

Bueller? Bueller? Anyone? Anyone? Professional development can be a Ben Stein experience from the famous movie, Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Although school districts don't intentionally bore their staff, it happens. As an administrative team we often reflect on our practice after a professional development opportunity occurs and often come to the conclusion that there has to be a better way. Most recently we engaged in conversation about our upcoming professional development day. It was during this conversation that we decided to embark on a new way of doing business. Enter #EdCamp!
Image borrowed from
Edcamp is an unconference format in which professional development opportunities or conversations are created during the first 20-30 minutes of the experience. Essentially the agenda is a blank slate and the participants in the process fill it to capacity with their own areas of interest and passion. Here is a picture of our completed board.

Our sessions included topics, such as, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Creative Lessons, Scratch, Google Classroom, YouTube, Workload Management, Benefits, Blogging, Retirement Planning, BreakoutEDU, and others. Our facilitators included experts in the areas, staff members and students. The student involvement was neat to see. I was very proud of their willingness to come in and facilitate sessions on Snapchat and Scratch. The inclusion of students in the process was a great decision and they will most definitely be included in future Edcamps.

A collage of photos...
When we made a decision to go the Edcamp route for professional development, we knew we were taking a risk. As the Edcamp took place, it became instantly evident that the JWP staff was appreciative of this new format. At the conclusion of the event staff members completed a survey regarding their experience. 90% of staff members either agreed or strongly agreed that the Edcamp was time well spent. 10% of staff members were neutral in regards to the same question. Overall, I would consider that a success. When asked, here is what staff members said about their experience.

"The EdCamp was relevant to what I wanted to learn!"
"I got to learn more about topics I had little knowledge of, and also got to participate in discussions and throw my own ideas out for others."
"We had choices to PD so it was meaningful and useful to me."

The goal in professional development is to improve practice. The Edcamp process allowed staff members to seek out opportunities to improve in areas of need. A traditional process would have been a one size fits all approach. As we continue to shift our educational setting to providing more personalized learning opportunities for students, we felt the administration should probably model that approach. Edcamp was a risk that paid off! Thankfully, no Ben Stein experience here...

To check out our Edcamp, click here.

Friday, December 23, 2016

FAIL isn't what you think...

Image borrowed from Gustav Gous Blog
Okay. So here it goes. Every year at the TIES Conference I leave with brilliant new ideas and a brain filled beyond capacity (albeit I leave with great food for the brain). This year's experience is no different except for the fact that I have been able to identify an epic fail in my leadership and my understanding of innovation.

I consider myself to be a pretty progressive leader that tends to look for the absolute best ways to educate students. Although this perception of myself could be entirely incorrect, I am pretty proud of my techy knowledge and application. Over the past five years, I have consistently promoted and supported JWP staff in being technologically innovative. After all, we are preparing our students for the 21st century and beyond.

Having the opportunity to listen to Eric Schneider (@Eric21cLead) and Tammi Wilkens (@tlwilktech) talk about innovation has caused my mindset to make a shift in understanding and leading innovation. Throw on top of this my completed readings of Renegade Leadership by Brad Gustafson (@GustafsonBrad) and The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros (@gcouros). To top everything off, I also had the opportunity to hear Dean Shareski (@shareski) and Carl Hooker (@mrhooker) speak.  The blending of innovation, technology, and enjoyment have created a unique recipe. Quite frankly, I believe this recipe would make the Chef Gordon Ramsey of education smile!

So my mind has been stirring quite rapidly since these thoughts have converged in my brain. What can we do differently to ignite passion and learning in our students? Essentially, what can we do as a united school district and community to make this happen? There are some guiding questions, with some tweaks from pretty amazing innovators to consider as we refine our educational opportunities here at JWP that we need to answer. However, before we do that we need to define some things.

The first thing we need to define is innovation. If I were to ask you what that is, many of you would define it as including some form of technology. Truth be told, innovation does not necessarily mean the utilization of technology. In this case, it simply means doing things differently. Can we identify the one or many different pedagogical (the method and practice of teaching) ideas that will improve learning and the process of learning for students? When you think innovation, you should not have any restraints on possibilities or ideas. Let them flow. Brainstorm. Innovate!

Secondly, let's talk technology. The elephant in the room is the extent to which technology should be used. Yes, technology is the present and future and we need students to be exposed to it but it should not be considered the end all, be all of teaching and learning. Yet, it should be considered as an important vehicle for innovation. As stated in, Building the Workforce of Tomorrow, Today, nearly 50% of all jobs today include technology skills and within the decade, they predict 77% of jobs will require technology skills ( Therefore, it is imperative that we provide students with device agnostic opportunities to learn. They need to be prepared.

Lastly, lets talk ignite, spark, joy, and passion. When given choices in life as adults on things to study, do, and engage in, we tend to gravitate toward things we enjoy. For some of you, it may be golfing and for others it might be sudokus. The bottom line...we all find joy in different adventures. We need to identify these passions and ignite learning in a variety of ways.

The above defining pieces provide us with these guiding questions:

1. Have we asked the students what they need, how they need it and when they need it? "It" being learning.
2. Have we (teachers) asked ourselves, "Would we like to be a student in our classroom today?" ~ Posed by George Couros Have we answered that honestly?
3. Question two revised a bit, "Would we (administrators and board members) want to be an employee in the system we have created?"
4. Are we allowing teachers the autonomy to make professional decisions about what is best for each individual child? Are we supporting their innovation?
5. Are we truly working with students to identify their joys in life? Are we igniting their learning and providing links to learning via their passions?
6. As a district, what can we do to enhance learning with innovation? Remember, that doesn't necessarily mean with technology.
7. What are we doing to involve all stakeholders (students, teachers, administrators, school board, parents, community, business, etc...) in innovation development?
8. Are we advocating at the state and federal level for educational reform that allows for innovation?
9. What can we do in our own school district to completely transform our system?
10. Are we ready to take risks and revise?

Now that my epic fail is out of the way, let's innovate and personalize education!