New creation: culinary, jazz-fusion luminescence in teaching – PLCs as surgical-musical-chefs

Working to understand better the functions and processes of PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) – this is a constant pursuit and area of deep investigation and learning for me. I am coming to believe, more and more, that high-functioning PLCs are like some hybrid-cross consisting of the following parts: chefs, surgical teams, and jazz musicians.

The three TED talks below are interesting and intriguing in their own, content-specific right. However, I think all three offer metaphorical meta-lessons about the nature of PLCs – teams of teachers working to learn with each other for the ultimate purpose of enhanced student learning. All three TED talks, when woven together into a common braid, speak to the power of CREATING SOMETHING NEW AS A TEAM. Great PLCs are like the innovative team of chefs at Moto – stretching concept and experimenting for fulfilling and engaging one’s appetite and taste buds (analogous to quenching the thirst for knowledge and wisdom). Great PLCs are like the collaborating surgeons who have discovered that luminescent dyes can be employed to light-up that which needs to be preserved and that which needs to be cut out (analogous to curriculum re-design and systemic formative assessment practices). Great PLCs are like the improvisational harmony of a jazz quartet that measures their successes by their level of responsiveness rather than by any sort of fixed-mindset worrying about mistakes (analogous to the thoughtful development of teamwork and use of RTI – response to intervention). Collectively, the three talks also point to the balance of art and science that seems essential to crafting the alloy which is a team of people working together to CREATE.

The Creation Project

This past semester, the English 7 team of the Junior High PLC developed a student-learning challenge about the nature of creation and creativity. This team of teachers acted in that careful blend of artists and scientists, and they utilized the professional practices of lesson study and instructional rounds to develop a common lesson and common assessment for their classes of English. Instead of simply sitting and being consumers of creation-archetype understanding, the students would become world creators themselves. [This reminds me of a recent post from Jonathan Martin: “Fab Labs and Makerbots: ‘Turning Consumers into Creators’ at our School.” Who knows…this may even partially inspire the next iteration of the world creations described below!]

Below you can find a Scribd document that provides more details about the learning challenge created by this team of teacher-learners. To me, they behaved something like that team of innovative chefs at Moto…that team of integrated-thinking surgeons pioneering the use of luminescent surgery…that team of improvisationally-responsive jazz musicians. This team of teachers is creating together in harmony – they are prototyping a product, as well as a process for using lesson study and instructional rounds to derive a better dish, a more successful surgery, a more beautiful harmony. They are innovating and creating. This stretch will provide potential for a further stretch next time. Their muscles are learning to work this way – a way that has been foreign to egg-crate culture schools for far too long.

“I’m passing along the “nuts and bolts” of our “What in the World?” Creativity Project, which is the product of our collaborative work in the 7th PLT…what a gift!”

What In the World – Creation Project (used with permission)

Peer Visit – Mackey visit from Snyder 11-16-11 (used with permission)

I am working on a blog post about this Creation Project – from the principal’s point of view. I plan to include the actual assignment document, and I am hoping to have a few more artifacts that point to ways that we (teachers, educators, etc.) can work on “teachers working in teams” and “integrated studies.” I think your peer visit serves as a superb artifact of how ideas and lessons can “seep” and “ooze” across disciplinary borders when teachers visit each other’s classrooms. [Brief backstory (from email to teacher requesting permission to use this peer visit)]

Now, we have a teacher of the subject of history interacting with a teacher of the subject of English. What interconnected learning and integrated studies might emerge from this seed? In other areas, we have World Cultures teachers teaming with Science 6 teachers to create a semester learning-challenge on global climate change in various world regions. We have PE and biology teachers crafting ideas of courses devoted to the understanding of the human body from an integrated approach through anatomy and exercise physiology.

We have distributed R&DIY “culinary, jazz-fusion luminescence” developing among our learners – teachers and students. Those are ideas worth spreading. Additionally, those teachers are inspiring me to think about the worlds that I would contribute to making. Hmmm….

Lesson Study, Observation 2.0, Algebra I, Jet Plane

Yesterday, I observed the Algebra I team deliver the lesson “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” They invited me to observe – as principal, as well as a pseudo-member of their team (pseudo only because I do not formally teach the course known as Algebra I). This team has engaged in lesson study before.

When I entered the room, I made an instantaneous decision NOT to observe in the manner I usually do. Typically, I take narrative notes, as I was taught to do in graduate school for educational leadership and supervision. In the moment, I decided to take video notes. Using my Flip camera, I recorded short, approximately-fifteen-second clips of classroom action. After I had three or four clips, I uploaded the videos to my MacBook Pro, and moved the videos into a Keynote slide deck. I titled slides based on the “learning progression” stage of the lesson. Then, I repeated this multi-step process several times. At the end of the class, the Algebra I team had a twenty-three-slide deck of video-embedded resources that they could review for their lesson study concerning “Leaning on a Jet Plane.” The deck was readily available because we share a Dropbox as a team.

Below is a PDF version of the deck – so you will not be able to view the videos. However, this Scribd doc will give you a simplified visual of what we now possess to review as a team – full of video. Now, to continue the fabulous professional practice of Lesson Study!

CFT Director Visits Synergy 8 for Two Days

Executive Director of The Center for Teaching Bob Ryshke summarizes his two-day visit to Synergy 8.

Valuable Time – Invaluable, Shared Insights

When I first began my role as principal (this current year is my ninth year in this role), I was not systemically connected to the work and learning of the faculty in my care. Ironic maybe, but true. In the ensuing years, I have developed systemic ways to plug into the work and learning of my colleagues. The efforts have resulted in valuable time and invaluable, shared insights.

1. Weekly, I attend at least 25% (1 of 4) of each of the PLC/PLT (professional learning community/team) meetings. Over the course of a year, this provides me with at least 144 hours of time with the teacher teams who explore ways to enhance learning for students and adults alike. I am able to learn side-by-side with those purposefully and collaboratively exploring curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment.

2. I load into my reader the RSS feeds of the blogs from any Junior High faculty member who maintains a blog. What insight into the thinking, questioning, and practicing of my colleagues this provides!

3. I follow my Junior High colleagues on Twitter…if they have an account.

4. Maybe most importantly, I am given the great excuse (“professional responsibility”) to read the goals and self-assessments of the faculty. I do so to prepare for one-on-one or team conferences with each of the 80 Junior High faculty. These conferences provide opportunity for incredible dialogue about that which we are focusing on in our classrooms and learning spaces. These conversations are among my favorite of the year.

Reading goals and preparing for today’s two conferences is what inspired this quick post; reading a few faculty blogs and tweets also contributed to my compelling need to share.

From just these four, integrated, systems approaches to connecting with my faculty team, I am a part of an intricate web of deep thinking, rich inquiry, and innovative practices. I can see connections in people’s work…I can learn of what they are trying and researching to help students…I can be challenged in my own thinking and teaching practices. I can discern how they are using student/course feedback, peer visits, and administrative observations to reflect on their practice and improve their growing professionalism as educators.

‘Tis I who is blessed to be in this web of thinkers, doers, and learners.

Goal Keepers, Part 3 of 3

In this three-part set of posts about goals, I explore the general concept of goal setting and action stepping, and I drill down more specifically into my school’s new vision statement, Learning for Life, as well as my own professional goals for the year, which are a part of my school’s Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) Plan.

In May 2010, I published a post about my student/course feedback from Synergy 8. In the post, I explain that my next Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) endeavor will be to draft and share my 2011-12 Goals and Self-Assessment (G&S-A). As has become my practice, I send my current G&S-A draft to the Junior High Faculty, as well as to the Westminster administration. Because I ask the faculty to share their G&S-A with me, I want to share my G&S-A with the faculty. We are all in this together.

Typically, I share my draft G&S-A document with the faculty in the days approaching our return to school. While my document is not necessarily an exemplar, I do try to model an approach to completing the important process of reflecting and goal setting. And the sharing with each other is a critical step, in my opinion. If we don’t know of each other’s G&S-A, how can we work to make sure that our rafts are pointed in the same direction, traveling in the same river?

During the course of the year, if I am doing the work in the best way possible, I will keep my G&S-A in front of my view, and I will revisit and revise my goal as necessary. My goal is a work in progress – a dynamic path and pace setter, not a static document submitted-and-forgotten simply to complete a requirement.

So, in the below Scribd window, I am sharing my current draft of my 2011-12 Goals and Self-Assessment:

Additionally, this year I spent more time than usual reviewing my goals and feedback from every year that I have served as Junior High principal – since 2003. Consequently, I had the idea to organize many of those materials into a resource matrix with “everything” in one place. You can find this resource matrix here, if you are interested. I have some follow-up work to do to make the resource complete, but at least I have started! By organizing all of these materials in such a matrix, I think it visually demonstrates how all of the pieces are parts of one whole, integrated system. It’s all supposed to work together, as a whole.

Of course, I welcome any and all feedback on my developing Goals and Self-Assessment. If you have comments to share, I encourage you to do so. Various perspectives and viewpoints can only help me to understand my own goal better…and how my goal can work with the system of faculty goals to achieve our Learning for Life vision. All perspectives – faculty, administration, student, parent, other educators, etc. – are welcomed. Together, we can be great goal keepers.

A Postscript on Sharing Goals

According to this three-minute, Derek Sivers TED talk, “Keep your goals to yourself,” we run the risk of under-working on our goal when we share it with others and experience any satisfaction from doing so and mistakenly feeling that our goal is “done.” I disagree that we should keep our goals to ourselves, and I briefly explain above the main reasons why goal sharing is a good practice in my opinion. However, I understand Sivers’ bigger idea that the real work with our goals comes in the action steps and the dogged determination to follow through on our action steps and to achieve our goal. By sharing my goal, and by reviewing the Junior High faculty goals and “operationalizing” their connections, I hope that we will all positively hold each other accountable – for the good work of acting on the action steps and accomplishing our goals. I need your help and support, and I feel accountable to you all. So, I share my goal, and I look forward to the start-of-school conversations about our goals. Let’s get working – together. Our kids deserve our best, collaborative work! It’s about learning…for life!