Friday, October 13, 2017

Find the Good Points on the Way to Yes

As school leaders, we often have those around us approach us with requests that are difficult to meet. Many times, the first instinctive response we reach for in those difficult situations brought to us by a student, parent, or colleague is: “no.” That answer is safe, easy, and doesn’t require us to extend beyond our comfort zone. I heard once that the secret to helping others is by trying to get to “yes.” That doesn’t mean that the answer will be “yes,” but the trick is to figure out what it would take to get there and be open to walking down that path. Once you open the conversation up, you must listen carefully and find the good points. In nearly every difficult conversation, even those where you strongly disagree, there is usually some good idea. Looking for good points could get you closer to “yes.” It might not be what was asked for at the start, but working to “yes” gets you further than ending with “no.”

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Summer is the Time to Grow - By Using a Rubber Duck

Almost everyone is done for the summer, or soon will be, and I believe this is your best time to grow through reflection because you actually have some time you can dedicate to the process. I have long practiced “Currere” as a method for structured reflection on a project or a school year. Here is a quick way to break down a school year using Currere by asking four simple questions:

  1. What was my experience last year?
  2. What do I want to do next year?
  3. How am I feeling about current abilities and skills?
  4. What is my path forward to a successful year next year?
The trick to taking action on what you learn from reflection is verbalizing what you are going to do next year. Speak your plans out loud and listen to what you are saying. As told in the recent “Rationally Speaking” podcast, you don’t have to explain your plans to anyone but yourself, but you do have to say them out loud - even if you just speak to a rubber duck. You will then help yourself build a better plan. The roadmap to having a great next school year is already inside of you. Now is the time to discover the path through some structured reflection and a little rubber ducking.

Cross Posted to the Tech&Learning Newsletter

Monday, May 01, 2017

The Actual Cost of Cursive in Illinois

Last week the Illinois House passed new legislation that would mandate that cursive is taught in schools across Illinois. This comes during the same time that they cannot pass a budget, for two years running. This got me thinking of the question "at what cost does cursive come at?" So I have attempted to estimate and cost it out.

The two major variables for hard costs are materials and professional development. Handwritten cursive requires consumable workbooks. A common set of materials for teaching cursive, which typically occurs in 3rd grade, is the Zaner-Bloser Handwriting series, which comes at a cost of $11.69 per student. According to the Illinois Report Card we have averaged 152,545 third graders each year over the past five years. This gives you a cost of student materials of $1,783,246 for the first year, and for every year after that.

Many schools haven't been teaching cursive for a while, so we would have to coach up our teachers, modify daily schedules for 15 minutes of cursive per day, ensure that we have methods for assessing student progress, and ways to intervene when students don't succeed. I estimate that we will need a day for each third grade teacher to re-train on their cursive skills and build out the curriculum. Using Illinois Report Card Data again, With 152,545 third grade students, with the average class size across Illinois in elementary schools at 19.1, and the average hourly rate for teachers in Illinois at $45.19 per hour we come out with a cost of $2,887,052 to retrain our third grade teachers.

Teachers need materials too, and we will get them one set ever, just to keep costs down. So the 7987 third grade teachers across the State also get $11.69 worth of teacher materials at a total cost of $93,364.

Total cost of year one in $4,763.662, which is only %0.43 of what Illinois owes schools in back bills from this year, because they haven't paid any school funding yet and owe schools $1,106,085,191 as of today. It is also enough to fully fund many small school districts across the state for a year.

The total cost after 5 years is $11,896,648. That is more than the annual budget in my child's elementary school district and a little more than 1% of what the State currently owes schools.

When working through this exercise I am not even factoring in the cost of the time for administrators and support staff to organize all of this, order materials, inventory orders, and cut checks for these changes - we will consider that a throw in as part of doing business. We also won;t factor in what we are not doing while we are teaching and preparing for cursive. Or the tissue we will need for all of the kids that are in tears as a result of forcing them to master a skill that has gone the way of ink wells, television tube repairs, and filmstrips. Really, tears must be a thing, because there is a whole curriculum called "Handwriting Without Tears".

So before legislators start passing mandates, maybe they should pass a budget. 

Visit #PassILBudget to see the peas from educators across the State of Illinois, including more than 413 Superintendents, to get this done.

Check my math here

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Getting Students Connected to the Internet at Home to Close the Homework Gap and Digital Divide

The recent SchoolCIO Summit in Baltimore focused on closing the digital divide across the United States. SchoolCIO Summit attendees, comprised of K-12 edtech leaders, came from different backgrounds ranging from large urban school districts like Baltimore, to small rural ones like Neosho, Missouri, and everything in-between. Attendees identified the toughest digital equity challenge to be Internet access. Many attendees equated the Internet with water or power--a utility that is necessary in today's modern world. There are government agencies, communities, and businesses partnering to close this gap, such as the nonprofit EveryoneOn, whose Chief Programs Officer, Veronica Creech, led a panel discussion on the topic at the summit. The "One Million Project" (#1MillionProject) sponsored by Sprint seeks to close one-fifth of the five million unconnected families through WiFi hotspots. Comcast’s Internet Essentials, which works in partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s ConnectHome initiative, has connected more than 600,000 low-income families through its $9.95/month offer to low-income homes. Through programs like these, closing this divide is now an attainable goal.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

What You Do is Amazing

One of the challenges in working in education is the ease in which the public can attack schools. I believe that there are several societal changes that have led to the rise of teacher and school bashing:

1. The death of the local free press: It used to be easy to get a reporter and photographer to show up at school to see the awesome things going on. Now a lone reporter, who is spread too thin, tends to only show up when things go wrong. It is the bad news that gets Web visits.

2. Bad news has more places to travel fast: Social media promotes the travel of bad news--especially when it can be delivered in a punchy headline, picture, or video.

3. Schools are just buildings from the outside: The public drives by and sees our buildings but can't easily see what is going on inside of them.

Without evidence that school is different, the public is left to believe that school is a place that is worse than before and headed in the wrong direction. We need to change this perception. What educators don't readily recognize is that the public standard for "good schools" is simply being better than when the community member was in school--5, 15, of 50 years ago. We aren't just better than 5 years ago--we are absolutely amazing in comparison to 5 years ago! The activities teachers do on a daily basis are mind-blowing to the public--once they see them. We need to start sharing the awesomeness of our schools everyday. We need to create a massive outpouring of evidence that what we do is special, important, and good for kids--while burying the negative voices out there. This starts with parents. Send them pictures and videos of their children doing school. Give them a glimpse into the amazing new world of education. Work with your administration to appropriately share this information on the Web and through social media. The press isn't interested in telling the real story of what we do in schools. This isn't bragging, this is about sharing what we really do each day, and allowing the public to see more than just a building when they see our schools.

Cross-Post from the Technology & Learning Newsletter

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Balanced Intentions

The calendar has now flipped to August and teachers are getting ready to return to school. As I reflect back on my early teaching career, I remember spending many hours planning amazing lessons, but not as much time thinking about the people I would meet. As I became a more veteran teacher, I realized that the time at the start of the school year was better spent getting to know my students and investing in building relationships. This school year, I challenge all of us to intentionally focus time on the learner. Push off some of the early time dedicated for content to connect with students. Research tells us that you will make that time back in effectiveness with the relationships you build. This strategy holds true for administrators as well, as the relationships we build at the start of the year will offer us insights into the student experience as the year progresses. Once the school year gets started, all educators should consider following the example of Karen Ritter, assistant principal at East Leyden High School, who followed a student through his day to see school from a student's perspective. My grandfather was famous for saying, "we show people what we value by where we spend our time." I think we can all demonstrate our values by spending more intentional time this year with students on our way to improving learning.

Cross Posted from Technology and Learning E-News

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Start Getting Ready for Next Year with #GoOpen

We are finally reaching a point in schools where the divides between students, devices, and connectivity are closing. One of the last divides to close is easy access to instructional resources as many schools still use outdated, static, and heavy textbooks. With the onset of easy-to-use tools like Google Classroom for distribution of content, teachers need to be on the lookout for easily distributable open resources. Summer is the ideal time to start pulling some of this material together. Phil Lacey has pulled together acatalog of many online repositories where teachers can get started. One of my favorites is CK12 which is now easy to share with students using Google Classroom (here are instructions). For schools looking to move in this direction check out the #GoOpen resources provided by the U.S. Department of Education. Here, John King explains: "Openly licensed educational resources can increase equity by providing all students, regardless of zip code, access to high-quality learning materials that have the most up-to-date and relevant content." As educators, our job is to remove barriers and #GoOpen is working to break down one of the most ingrained curricular divides in schools.

Cross Posted from Tech&Learning eNews