Saturday, August 27, 2016

Collaboration Bling

Jimmy Casas is the principal of Bettendorf High School in Iowa (#bettpride), and he is a master at building school culture.  I heard him speak this summer, and he talked about "collaboration badges" at his school.  I believe teachers are stronger when they collaborate. "Iron sharpens iron," "two heads are better than one," and that sort of thing.  For you educators out there, this concept is nothing new; collaboration has actually become something of a cliche.  But in my experience, this cliche is rock solid. Collaboration is indeed, a powerful practice.  I thought about Jimmy's badges the whole way home from the conference, and determined that we must find a way to tweak that concept to work for us. So at our school this year, we are launching a competition simply called: "Collaboration Bling."  Teachers names are posted on a bulletin in our work room, and this contest will run throughout the year.  Teachers will accumulate arrow head stickers (cause we're the Thompson Warriors) and can earn them three ways: through observing a teacher, through inviting a teacher to observe him or her, or through participating in a Twitter chat.

For every five stickers, teachers earn bling ... which in our case, is a black or red carabiner with our school hashtag.  The five teachers with the most bling at the end of the year will receive a release day. Last year, all of our classroom teachers were trained to observe teachers using AdvancED's research based instrument known as eleot(TM).  This is the Effective Learning Environments Observation Tool.  When our teachers observe a colleague, there is obvious benefit from seeing another teacher in action, but because our teachers are trained to complete the eleot(TM), they are able to give meaningful and reliable feedback to their colleague.  This feedback component adds value to the experience for the teacher being observed.

Just two weeks into the school year, and we already have a lot of stickers on our board ... and I have already given out bling! (I use a Google Form and Google Sheet to document and keep up with all the collaboration.) Creating little stickers of validation for teachers and recognizing the collaboration when it happens goes a long way toward building the type of school culture that makes a difference for students.  If you want to reinforce a more collaborative culture within your faculty, give something like this a try.  And Jimmy ... thanks for being you.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

An MRI, some RTI, and an "Ethical Imperative"

My knee had been bothering me for several months, so a few weeks ago, I finally broke down and went to my orthopedist.  He ordered an x-ray ... but that didn't reveal anything.  He checked my mobility and strength in his examining room ... and that didn't reveal anything.  So he ordered an MRI. I met with him a few days later and got my results. 

That cloudy area you see in the image is an edema on my femur, (i.e. a bone bruise).  My doctor said it was comparable to a stress fracture. I have to be on a crutch for six weeks, and I can't run for three months!

As I was feeling sorry for myself, it occurred to me that my experience served as a model for education ... and perhaps a blog post could provide some redemptive value for my unfortunate predicament.

Physicians, like many professionals, are compelled to improve their practice because their livelihood depends on it.  They utilize the latest research, the latest medicine, and the latest technology.  Their practice will not survive without this commitment. Imagine a scenario where my doctor says, "Well ... the X-ray didn't reveal any breaks, so I don't know what to tell you.  I guess you should rest your knee and put some ice on it."  Or ... "I realize that some orthopedists use MRI's, but my office staff doesn't feel comfortable with that type of technology."  These scenarios are obviously absurd.  We take for granted that our doctors will be relentless in identifying our injury or illness, and will use whatever technology, medicine, or therapy, is available to "fix" us.

Educators do not really have the same built in accountability that many other professionals have.  The students will keep showing up in our classes whether we are following "best practices" or not. Students can't "shop around" for the teachers with the most research based instructional strategies.  They can't pick and choose their teachers based on which ones capitalize on the latest technology and utilize the most authentic assessments.

But every school in America has teachers who approach their profession with the same commitment that drives my orthopedist. They treat their students as individuals that have unique needs and talents. They experiment with different instructional strategies to see which ones are the most effective.  They steal ideas and activities from colleagues that will enhance their classroom. They embrace the challenge of refining their "desk-side manner" so that all of their students feel valued and respected.  They commit themselves to learning new technologies that will allow them to teach and assess students more effectively. Here's to those professional educators who do these things because they understand the ethical imperative ... the kids deserve it!