Before We Teach Students, We Must Teach Ourselves

Each day as an English Language Arts teacher, I ask my students to participate in a thinking process that aims to develop critical thinking skills. My students then participate in a multitude of activities that range from identifying specific diction that creates tone to applying seminal documents to the topics found in everyday American discussion. My students’ success in properly analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing the information that I procure for them depends heavily on how I model the process.

A common practice of professional development tends to be the introduction of information without determining first if the audience comprehends the conception being conveyed. An instructional coach that places this image of Hattie’s Effect Size within their presentation must first ask if the audience has an understanding of what effective implementation of each cause entails. That same instructional coach will also include a summary of the information regarding the how and why of Hattie’s Effect Sizes similar to the information conveyed by Chris Barlow in his post “The “Effect Size” in Educational Research: What is it & How to Use it?” found on Illuminate Education‘s blog. The problem is that the teachers’ understanding of Hattie’s Effect Size means very little if the same teachers do not have a conception of how to effectively implement the causes for each effect. The instructional coach that does not first identify if their audience has a common understanding of what effective teaching looks like gives that audience information they do not know how to use effectively, wastes their audience’s time, and contributes to a culture that overlooks the root of problems in search for a quick fix. The largest effect size on the provided list is “teacher estimates of achievement.” Does the instructional coach have the same estimates of achievement for the students as the teachers that will implement the causes to determine each effect? Do the collective teachers in the same school, building, or even hallway have the same estimates of achievement for their students? Without answering these questions, the instructional coach is providing the message of “hold your students accountable to an expectation” without displaying what that expectation should demand.

Another practice that finds itself near the top of Hattie’s Effect Size list is scaffolding. Classroom teachers around the world will agree that chunking a concept for a student allows that student more opportunity to develop a more complete comprehension of a concept or skill. Do our instructional coaches scaffold their lessons for the teachers they are instructing? Do those same instructional coaches observe the practices of the teachers they have been placed accountable for developing professionally? After the teachers have been observed, do they receive meaningful feedback from their coach? I ask these questions because as life-long learners attempting to create more life-long learners, it should be clear that we must role-model the teaching and learning process within the system of professional development. By role-modeling effective practices top to bottom teachers are going to build their skills and have confidence in transferring those skills to their students. Teachers must be introduced to examples of effective practice within their professional development. In addition to the examples of effective practice, those same teachers must display learning and effective practice in order to understand these practices for themselves and in order to impact student learning. Administrations that offer their faculty an effective professional development will benefit from better managed classrooms, a common vision of effective teaching, and a growing culture that emphasizes value on the learning process from the top to bottom.

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Reminder: Keep Writing

It’s always nice to take a break. Gather experience. Collect thoughts. Make memories. However, breaks must end and growth must be attended to. I may have earned my Master’s degree, but I stopped using the skills that I had acquired in my journey to lead in education. I will be following this update with a deeper delve into my status as an educator at the current time. For now, I would believe myself rude to not explain my leave of absence.

Since graduating I have been:

Traveling

A family vacation to Italy brought me to the most beautiful country I have yet to see in my life. We were fortunate enough to tour through Rome, Sienna, Tuscany, Florence, and Venice. Summer of 2018 ended with a trip to San Juan with the gentlemen I am lucky enough to call my friends. Traveling throughout the country and now the world has provided me with a wealth of experience and perspective. I look to continue expanding my reach in 2019 within the United States and into Mexico.

Supporting

In 2003, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and re-diagnosed in 2013. Since beating cancer for the second time, she has joined into the competitive world of Dragon Boat Racing. I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Italy to support her in a tournament of thousands of women from all over the world that have battled breast cancer. Then, in September, I was able to participate in the second annual Dragon Boat festival held at North Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The tournament was put on by my mother’s team, Hearts of Steel, that participated in the international tournament in Florence.

and Marrying

On November 11th, I married the love of my life Keri Lynn Maurer (now Bagnato). The event happened at The Kraft Azalea Gardens in Winter Park, Florida. Ours is not a whirlwind romance. Our marriage was long awaited and well earned. Keri being from Melbourne, Fl and me being from Pittsburgh, PA made our story one of commitment, trust, and dedication. Years of friendship blossomed into a beautiful relationship that was destined for forever from the day it began.

2019 will bring

My DLL Journey

The past 18 months provided excitement, inspiration, anxiety, stress, jubilation, and determination. The comic below displays my journey through each course experience in the program. The program demanded an adjustment and development of what would eventually become my innovation plan for my organization. I researched, I planned, and I developed a model. Every plan needs an outline, and every plan must have a backbone. Now that I have completed this stage in my growth as an educator, I must take what I have learned and promote it effectively throughout my organization using a new model of professional learning. My time in the Digital Learning and Leading program at Lamar University may be over as a student; however, my journey will continue with my colleagues and professors by my side. Using the COVA approach to CSLE could not have resonated more with my personal philosophy and for more information please check out my reading list. A HUGE shout out to all my peers that helped me along my journey and all my professors that facilitated my learning experience while allowing me to personalize my assignments that formed my innovation plan. Stay tuned for updates on the implementation of my innovation plan and new digital tools that can be fused into a blended learning model for your classroom.

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A Bridge between Hockey and Education

I was born into the Mario Lemieux generation of Yinzers (those that hail from Pittsburgh). When I wasn’t on the ice, I was watching his highlights and reading his biographies. The man could do no wrong. He transformed himself into the best professional hockey player in the world and was rewarded by being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma disease. Mario fought the cancer, came back to the team, and retired with the team that drafted him. Then, when the Penguins organization spiraled downward in the early 2000’s, Mario agreed to turn the millions of dollars owed to him by the Pens into the majority of shares in the company. He continues to hold the majority of the shares and has led the team to five Stanley Cup Championships as a player and owner. Craving the success that Mario had achieved for himself, I practiced those traits of dedication and loyalty. I decided that the Heritage Panthers were going to be my Pittsburgh Penguins. In my first year of teaching, I took on the freshman class sponsorship and a baseball coaching position. By the end of my second year, I was one semester into earning my master’s degree at the school my Heritage colleague recommended. Starting my fourth year at Heritage, I will be trading coaching for collaborating at the district level and looking to start the implementation of my innovation plan within the district. New anticipation comes with the new changes each year. For now, I will continue to work on changing myself first. Piloting the station rotation model in my classroom consistently will be the key to making any kind of large scale change. I will continue my transformation into the best educator I can be with the hope that my decisions lead me from a player to an owner.

 

How Learners Become Leaders

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus stated, “The only constant is change.” The evolution of the digital universe demanded that I allow change. With a release of an updated version of your device each year, new software must be learned with each update. This constant updating demands a growth mindset. Once the growth mindset takes effect, learning digital tools joins the list of never-ending things to do. As a new homeowner, I can say I never thought mowing the lawn and learning how to use my computer would fall under the same list. As an educator, the impending change due to technology finds realization in each year’s lesson plans. I observe veteran teachers roll out the same lesson plans year-after-year, and I cannot help but wonder how they are not bored to the point of insanity. My lessons, while only three years old, have taken on new characteristics and supplemental activities each year. Some of those supplemental activities will be described and linked to further on.
First, I must acknowledge where I believe I fall short within my digital learning network. I have accumulated numerous resources and uncountable texts, pictures, and videos to be used within my arsenal of educating tools. I have used formal education, social media, and the much discussed “sit and get,” as well as a myriad of other platforms, to put together the lessons I use day in and out as a high school teacher. However, I have not contributed the artifacts that I have created using all of these inspirations. With the culmination of my first graduate program in sight, I look past the stage and view myself working on insuring my work can be used by the masses that I so graciously borrowed from. The digital world provides me with unlimited opportunities to publish my material, so the responsibility falls on me to put in the ground work to accomplish my goals.
One of my major takeaways from this program is that you must model the behavior you wish to see. Whether you are teaching teachers how to effectively implement digital tools within the classroom or teaching students how to use digital tools to display their evidence of learning, those receiving instruction must view the skills being used before using those skills themselves. My weakness lies in my inexperience with a variety of digital tools. I am still learning what digital tools are out there and how to use them within instruction. I have ensured that my students are being provided the opportunity to develop digital content and practice positive digital citizenship skills by lining my curriculum with supplemental digital activities. After taking my students through a grammar lesson, they complete an assignment using NoRedInk. After copying a unit of vocabulary words, they complete a set of exercises posted on their class’ webpage. I use videos provided through my online textbook to supplement content; however, a reflection piece that can be typed or hand-written will be paired with the video to guarantee engagement. I have experimented with the The Gutenberg Project to provide my students with digital copies of text that we read inside the classroom. Most of the ways I use technology to support teaching in my classroom are channels for students to complete assignments from outside of the classroom. This safeguard method came out of my need to accommodate a number of students that miss large amounts of class time. My current experiment provides my students reading Romeo and Juliet the opportunity to create their own comic of the play using Storyboard Creator. My challenge with using all of these digital tools is keeping up with how content is created and submitted. I hope that my students view my eagerness to allow them creative freedom through digital outlets as motivation to begin developing their digital footprint.

 

For a digital tool to earn value and create educational impact, that digital tool must allow the user/s proper space and time to comprehend the tool, to practice using the tool, and to demonstrate the ability to synthesize understandings of the curriculum and personal connections via the tool. When users are rushed through a digital tool or are provided a digital tool with no instruction or practice, the quality of learning and the quality of the artifacts being created decreases. I am currently awaiting on approval of a mission to travel to Dominca and St. Thomas to assist in professional learning revolving around implementing iPads and interactive whiteboards within the classroom. My challenge will be to hone my skills in the use of these technologies to ensure that I am providing effective and meaningful instruction to those listening to my presentation. My plan is to take the Romeo and Juliet Unit Plan I have built to incorporate a number of digital tools and assemble it into a Blendspace Unit. I can then take those at the professional learning through the unit using an iPad and interactive whiteboard. While this may not be fully inclusive of what the capabilities of these tools can accomplish, I believe that a “stepping stones” approach must be taken when instructing and learning digital tools. Due to the vast amount of ways an iPad and interactive whiteboard can used, learners would find themselves experiencing cognitive overload by attempting to master those tools in a matter of days. As I continue to introduce myself to new tools and hone my skills within already known tools, I hope to model positive digital citizenship and to inspire those around me to develop their personal digital citizenship.

I first saw “Changing Education Paradigms” by RSA Animate in my undergraduate years, and I have shared it and viewed it more times than I can recall. This video provided me with a moment of clarity that has driven my desire to educate myself in the field of digital learning. When I combine the concepts brought to mind by Sir Kenneth Robinson and the concepts brought to mind by Steven Johnson in “Where Good Ideas Come From,” I find my inspiration that allows me to induce a state of flow when at work. Jago (2000) describes the state of flow as state of mind in which an individual loses sight of all distractions due to being entirely engaged within the current objective (p. 89). Understanding that the field of education will be transformed in such a way that the previous model will be unrecognizable to the present combined with the understanding that my personal ideas must be tended to and developed provides balance that fosters innovation and leadership. I have began my career in providing my country with a premium educational product; however, the goals I am achieving now are the beginning steps to what ideas will combine with others to assist the change in education paradigms.

References:

Jago, C. (2000). With Rigor for All. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann

The Effect of Transparency

I couldn’t find the exact quote; however, in the HBO Series The Sopranos, James (Gandolfini) as Tony Soprano passes on the advice that eventually your persona in the professional world and your persona in your personal world will become inseparable. I believe this concept holds true when addressing behavior in the digital world and behavior in the real world. Due to inexperience, humans may have the preconception that how they carry themselves online can differ than how they carry themselves in the real world. We, humans, are learning that this is not the case at all. Whether we use the digital universe for positive or negative activities, those activities are stored and tracked regardless of our desires to store or track them. This creates total transparency and those that participate in the digital universe must be aware of this transparency and adjust their behavior to ensure the proper reflection of self.

Monica (Lewinsky) was, as she described it, “ground-zero” for this type of transparency. Before the digital age, even when scandal broke, the scandal could be localized and those involved could usually find a way to “escape” or “start-over” somewhere new. The advent of digital media ushered in a new era lacking the privacy to engage in activity “behind-closed-doors.” There are two major points to consider when developing a stance on whether this loss of privacy will benefit or harm society. On one side of the coin, we want to maintain our privacy from an overzealous government that can manipulate practice of law to entrap and prosecute citizens that would normally move through life as positive citizens. For example, an adult educator may use social media to post pictures of a family beach vacation on their private account. The school district said educator works for may find their way to these pictures and deem them unacceptable, because they would not be appropriate if students were to view them. The educator has not broken any laws nor has done anything inappropriate but may face consequences due to posts in the digital world. On the other side of the coin, we can use total transparency to adjust human culture in a way that people no longer participate in activities they know will be seen by society as negative. Will people refrain from questionable activity in the digital and real realms of their world to avoid scrutiny? Could this lead to a more harmonious and free society? At what point do we separate professional life from personal life? Has the advent of the digital world erased that line between the professional life and personal life? What about those that use digital tools under an anonymous username?

If I had unlimited resources, I would eliminate the availability of using an anonymous username in the digital world. I would create a system that would link all digital activity of a user to one username that could be tracked to identify any illegal activity. This would assist in identifying, educating, and curbing cyberbullying on top of promoting kind, acceptable digital citizenship. Shane Koyczan wrote and performed one of the most moving poems I have had the pleasure of watching. His display of the effects of bullying demonstrate the importance of educating our youth on the importance of empathy. Lack of empathy will always be the driving motivation behind any type of bullying; however, it is not impossible to educate citizens of all ages on the effects of their actions. This education paired with introducing coping skills and empowerment skills has a better chance of helping our youth develop into positive, life-long learning, citizens. Our students must understand that digital activity cannot be hidden. They must also understand that their digital activity will be a direct reflection on their persona in the real world. Once these two ideas take hold, our students will adjust their online practices to ensure they are viewed as positive digital citizens.

References:

Lewinsky, M. (2015, March). The Price of Shame. TED. Retrieved

from http://www.youtube.com/

Gandolfini, J. (n.d.). The Sopranos. HBO Broadcasting.

The Struggle of Innovation is Real

There are many reasons that a great idea can fail. A budding entrepreneur develops his or her pitch knowing the presentation will lead to the ultimate success or failure of the innovation being sold. Because even if the innovation has the ability to transcend standards set by previous sustaining innovations, if the users cannot comprehend the ability, then the innovation will not take hold and fail. My challenge to develop an innovation that would create positive impact within my organization allowed me the opportunity to electrify the current evolution of my school’s culture. This opportunity has not been squandered, although it has taken a number of detours. I found that when I unveiled my innovation plan without the proper amount of evidence and structure, I unintentionally set my project back months and possibly years. By displaying an incomplete plan without first developing evidence of success on my own, I alienated teachers that were not familiar with blended learning and I disappointed teachers that were familiar with blended learning. This negative reaction to my innovation plan does not hurt the integrity of the plan, but it does hurt the plan’s ability to succeed within my organization. A successful ICT project owes its entire life to the entity that takes the project on as its own. My ICT plan to bring the station rotation model of blended learning into my organization depends solely on my ability to motivate a vast majority of my peers to implement the model within their classrooms in an attempt to create one cohesive culture aiming at providing students an education for the 21st century.

Originally, the vision of implementing the station rotation model centered around using ICT to promote student growth. In an area that is populated primarily by youth that will need to live autonomously before they leave their teenage years, my school focuses on providing students opportunities to demonstrate skills necessary for such a lifestyle. The students at my school will be able to use ICT through the use of the station rotation model to promote ownership of education and ultimately, ownership of life. The realization of opportunity to use ICT to assist my students in their growth as positive citizens became the catalyst to develop my plan to use the station rotation model of blended learning.

The preemptive strike I took to share my innovation plan cost me credibility and time. My twenty-six-year-old ego knew that I had found the key to success for our school. I was fresh into my graduate program, and I was immersing myself in research that struck every nerve on its way to the heart of why I became a teacher. I read the material, identified the problems that I wanted to solve, determined possible routes to success, and envisioned a map of actions that would bring my organization to succeed in creating a strong, positive school culture that prepared our youth for life in the 21st century. What I didn’t do was pilot the station rotation model within my classroom to demonstrate why and how the model succeeds. I brought an idea to my peers that had little to no background knowledge of the subject and expected them to climb on board blindly. Had I taken the time to run a pilot of the model within my classroom, I would have discovered my entire plan’s timeline needed a serious revising.

On top of introducing my plan too soon, I introduced an unattainable goal to an apathetic audience. My inexperience as teacher comes through loud and clear with this mistake. My audience remained unconsidered until after the introduction of the plan. I assumed that ideas provided were judged on their merit and those with the highest merit would take hold. This assumption proves false due to the human nature to fear the unknown. The teachers that had limited knowledge of blended learning were suddenly being posed to implement concepts and pedagogy that they had neither researched properly nor planned and practiced. Of course they shirked at the idea of being asked to make immediate changes to their practices. I needed to provide opportunities for effective professional learning to take place.

My accidental discovery of the deep need for effective professional learning in my organization forced me to reevaluate the steps of my plan and the timespan allotted to each step. There were new steps that had to be taken. My colleagues displayed interest in the plan through questions and criticisms. I had the door cracked open. I took this opportunity to insert a professional learning option into the timeslot open due to our organization’s early-release Wednesday schedule. Teachers may use the time between 2:15 and 3:30 to collaborate with peers, attend professional learning breakout sessions, or take dents out of the daily workload of a classroom teacher. Beginning in the fall semester of the 2017-2018 school year, I hope to be instructing teachers on a variety of blended models of learning and observing those teachers implement the learned strategies within their classrooms. This optional professional learning will eventually be proposed to hold the primary focus of mandatory professional learning within the organization. With my teachers gaining new perspective and practice on blended learning, my innovation plan to implement the station rotation model of blended learning will push open the cracked door and proudly walk into the center of the room.

My rush to change has left me with hungry with an overflowing plate. Promoting and producing my optional professional development will serve as the first few bites of my meal, but I will need to consistently and urgently refill my spoon to clear my plate. Effective professional learning demands an on-going process that is reinforced through deliberate and extensive practice. It is possible that my professional learning plan may not become the focal point of my organization’s professional learning plan for multiple years. Until then, my cliental will be composed of teachers that volunteer to engage in my weekly professional learning and offer their classroom to be observed. These early adopters have the ability to help promote my professional learning and innovation plan, but until the early majority buys in, my innovation plan will have to wait. My responsibility to pilot the station rotation model within my own classroom weighs heavy on my shoulders. Teachers want to see success before attempting to adopt new strategies. My pilot will serve as that success and as personal practice needed to effectively coach my peers.

A Push for Student Growth creates Urgency for Change

The first step in creating change is identifying and outlining the purpose of your change. You must develop a “why,” a “how,” and a “what.” The order that these three stipulations are prioritized can make or break an innovation plan. The most effective plans for change begin with the “why” statement. Members of an organization are more likely to assist in your plan if they believe and support your “why” statement. Therefore, discover why you are attempting to create change and then move to the how and what.

Why = We believe that digital tools and cooperative learning provide an essential element to the learning experience of each student in our school.

How = The educators at our school use 21st century methodology and pedagogy to ensure the students receive the proper tools and opportunities to succeed in their communities after graduating.

What = Our students receive instruction on how to use the tools at their disposal to work through their assignments within the school and the issues that encompass their community.

These three statements come together to clearly describe the school’s mindset for developing positive, progressive citizens. However, these statements cannot be upheld without changes to the school. This creates an urgency to acquire the necessary digital tools for a 21st century classroom, instructional coaches that guide teachers on how to properly use new tools and techniques, and administration that holds each member of the school accountable to the standards set. Each statement is aimed at the hearts of all members of the organization. The statements, together, imply that the school culture is centered around student growth, and, that, is something that reaches every educators heart and personal “why.” Whether  the goal is for test scores to be higher, for the graduation rate to be higher, or the number of graduates attending higher education to be higher, student achievement and growth is at the core of the mission.

The scope of Integrated Course Design combined with the Nitty Gritty of UbD

Both the Integrated Course Design and the Understanding by Design model use a backwards design that starts by identifying the end result and working back through the materials and activities used to achieve the end result. Each model provides the opportunity for educators to identify where they desire their students to be at the conclusion of a course/unit and a framework for how that conclusion will be reached. Like anything in life, it becomes clear through the use of these models, efficiency is accomplished by knowing where you want to end up before you start walking.

The difference I see in the Understanding by Design model and Dan Pink’s Integrated Course Design lies in the purpose of the model. Dan Pink’s model provides a larger scope that can be used to design an entire course. On the other hand, the Understanding by Design model provides a template that can be used to map out the details of one unit within the course. Instead of treating these two models as separate entities to choose from when designing, why not use both in an effort to provide students and parents the clearest outline for what will be accomplished within the school year. By using the Integrated Course Design model, teachers can introduce students to the “big picture” or BHAG that will be achieved throughout the entire year. Students are then guided through various units that are developed through the use of UbD. If done correctly, students will move through significant learning environments that are brought about through the necessity of nitty gritty detail in the UbD model. If the units are designed within the overlying goals of the Integrated Course Design, students will then connect daily and weekly achievements to their long term goals brought about through the larger scope of Integrated Course Design. The goal of using both models together is to demonstrate to students that short and long term goals must be set in an effort to progress through life. Students will build meaningful connections between tedious and detailed daily assignments and how those assignments come together to create comprehension of larger issues and concepts.

Go Big and Take it Home

Most people have probably heard the cliché, “Go big or go home.” I would like to put a new spin on this audacious exclamation of courageous intentions. The idea of “Go big or go home” carries a connotation that society will separate itself into those who can and those who can’t, and furthermore, those who can’t provide no worth to those who can. Instead of separating ourselves, why not make a plan to include each effort to create a society that works for each member? So when you develop your course make sure you encourage your students to, “Go big and take it home.”

“Going big” might best be understood as setting a goal that might be achievable through the use of dedication and grit. If the standard is to be met, the learner must visualize the finished product, evaluate all possible approaches, determine a game-plan, and lastly, place the plan into motion.  This can be best demonstrated through the use of Understanding by Design. The most essential part of the design lies in the visualization of the finished product. My BHAG for my 9th grade English 1 course follows as, “Learners  will use digital tools to assess a problem in their community, develop a solution to that problem, and communicate that solution throughout their network.” The final item in the previous list portrays how learners will “take it home.” Significant learning occurs only if students see correlation between what is being presented to them and their preconceived notions of the world. According to How People Learn, “Students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the world works. If their initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to grasp new concepts and information presented in the classroom, or they may learn them for purposes of a test but revert to their preconceptions outside the classroom”(Bransford, 1999). My students must push themselves outside their comfort zones to learn how new digital tools operate and use those tools combined with their honed thinkings skills to solve problems within their life.

Learners enter my classroom prepared to be forced to into reading and writing activities that they view as having zero correlation to problems in their life. They assume that grammar will be drilled and vocabulary will be memorized. A passing “C” becomes the apple of my students’ eye as they coast through a school day attempting to do as little as possible. After experiencing a station rotation model of blended learning used to ensure each student the resources and opportunities to hone their higher order thinking skills, learners will leave my classroom prepared to analyze multiple sources when making a decision that directly effects them and the community around them. The students preconception of being lectured at for 30 minutes and the completion of a worksheet and multiple choice test as “class” will evolve to understand the “class” as a collaborative power that uses peers and experts to facilitate their personal education.

The achievement of my BHAG will depend on proactive planning that includes the six major facets of significant learning: foundational knowledge, application goals, integration goals, human dimension goals, caring goals, and “learning-how-to-learn” goals. Learners in my classroom will engage in activities that introduce them to both non-fiction and fictional texts that develop common themes throughout the year. They will analyze those texts with the help of small groups through critical and creative thinking based tasks. Using a blog, meaningful connections will be drawn between the texts and personal lives of the learners. New interests and prioritized values will take the form of various projects aimed at combining analysis of multiple texts to solve problems, and ultimately, the learners will develop a deeper understanding of how they can use digital tools to continue their learning for life.

For a more organized view of the breakdown of my learning goals, learning activities, and assessment activities view my 3 Column Table.

Resources

Bransford, J. D., & Donovan, S. M., & Pellegrino, J. W. (1999). How People Learn.
          Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/catalog/9457.html