Saturday, March 24, 2012

ASCD part two: "Super"intendent

I spent my lunch time speaking with ASCD Young Educatorof the Year Matt McClure, a Superintendent from Cross Country Schools in Arkansas. He is clearly a passionate educator who loves what he is doing and without a doubt has his head in the right place in terms of what is best for kids. Through the conversation with McClure, I jotted several thinking points that created some questions in my mind. Some of these things were direct/indirect quotes or ideas that McClure shared with me.

“It is not about technology, it is about how you use technology.”
Lots of people are jumping on the technology bandwagon without any real plan of how it is helping learning. How do we ensure technology is being used to improve student learning and not just being used for the sake of use?

“Superintendents (or principals) come in and get things going well...as soon as they leave it falls apart.”
Leadership void is a real issue that many schools and districts face. An administrator comes into a situation and changes the environment and culture to be positive and forward moving. Then they leave and everything falls apart. As McClure said, he wants to build capacity so that things work when he leaves. If you are a district level administrator, will the good work you have done continue when you leave?

“Finding information is no longer important, what we do with it is.”
This one kind of speaks for itself…we need to make sure we are teaching kids and teachers to use information rather than just find it. Questions that can be answered on Google should not be the only ones we ask.

“Intense PD for teachers is needed for changing pedagogy.”
Changing pedagogy as something that needs to be addressed certainly hit home with me as I see a huge deficit in this area in our schools. Much of what we know about teaching and learning is changing, but our schools and instructional methods are not. This is largely due to poor modeling and not enough professional development in changing teaching pedagogy. How many PD days are structured around the “sage on the stage” mentality that every teacher knows is worthless? Why are we going outside and paying large sums of money to bring in “professionals” rather than develop and utilize the experts among our own ranks? Our PD should model what teaching pedagogy we believe in.

“I've got to be in classrooms.”
For me, this was my favorite thing he said. He explained that he, as superintendent, needed to be in the classrooms in order to adequately support needs of students and staff. Furthermore, he explained that school leaders need to be in classrooms regularly if they hope to have a finger on the pulse of their schools. Regardless of what level of administrator you are, you need to be in classrooms. I often think about this as I reflect on the number of times I have seen administrators at building and district level step into classrooms in my school. Are building level administrators the only ones sitting in classrooms? Are they only coming in on the 2-4 scheduled observations required as part of evaluation?

I truly enjoyed my time talking with Mark and plan on sharing many of his ideas back within my own school district. How do you see these ideas playing out in your schools? How can we get these ideas to be the “norm” in our schools and districts? We need more people like Mark running our schools and more people like Mark sharing their stories with others. 

ASCD part one: Global Competency

I am attending my first ASCD Conference this weekend as part of the "Press Corps". As a result, I will be doing my best to keep up with blogging and tweeting from the sessions I attend as well as the numerous conversations that will inevitably take place.

The first session I attended was one guided toward developing 21st Century Curriculum. There was a heavy emphasis on preparing our students for living in the 21st century but also on creating globally aware and competent students.

Much of the early part of the session was referencing the work of Tony Wagner and Heidi Jacobs. Both Jacobs and Wagner write and speak a great deal about creating globally competent students. Wagner even outlines the Seven Survival Skills that schools should be teaching. They are:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
    • Are we as educators asking the right questions, or are we just concerned with the right answer?
  • Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence
    • Are we providing opportunities for students to create and interact across various networks and groups of people?
  • Agility and Adaptability
    • When we strive to force kids to find the right answers are we stunting their ability to be adaptive and agile? Student naturally have these skills but lose them in the haze of bubble sheets and testing for the "right" answer.
  • Initiative and Entrepreneuralism
    • Do we allow students to drive their own learning and be innovative and creative? 
  • Effective Oral and Written Communication
    • When students write are we focusing on communication or the "rules" of writing? 
  • Accessing and Analyzing Information
    • Can our student gather information and make meaning of it? As the very definition of information changes are schools keeping up and preparing students adequately? 
  • Curiosity and Imagination
    • Will students be allowed to be curious and use their imagination in our schools? Many argue that schools aim to kill or crush these two valuable life skills. 
Some additional resources include:
My takeaways from this session:

The biggest takeaway I have is in reference to Wagner's Seven Survival Skills. I think there is a great deal of merit in the basic ideas within them as well as the potential hazards of not adhering to them. If we want to prepare better citizens and not just better test takers, we need to address many things. One of those things is the idea of global perspective and competency. Our students can not afford to be taught and live in a "bubble" with out an idea of global awareness.