Collaboration, Professional Development

Finally back!

There have been 23 nights in October. I have spent 13 of them somewhere besides Columbia, SC. It feels good to be back and I’m ready to stay put for a little while!

About a month ago one of my administrators approached me and asked if I wanted to go to a Working on the Work Conference (WoW) in Columbus, GA put on by the Schlechty Center. I’m a young, enthusiastic teacher with no children…how could I say no? The conference started on Sunday and went until Wednesday. It was a 6 hour drive but another teacher drove with me and it was a great to get to know her!

My district has a new superintendent (in her 2nd year) whose ideas and spending have created some controversy in the community. WoW and the idea of changing the work students do in order to engage them and cause true learning is one of her major priorities. Our district has been sending teachers, administrators and staff members to training since she started. We have also hosted a fair amount of training for our staff. After hearing about the training I can’t say I had a super positive outlook on the conference. However, I reminded myself that you get out of it what you put it. I opted to attend the Design 3 session – Teacher as Guide to Instruction. This session drew me in because of the promise of the use of technology.

We got to hear from Phil Schlechty himself about engagement and standards. I was able to identify with the different levels of engagement – engagement, strategic compliance, ritual compliance, retreatism and rebellion. I also found his distinction between performance standards (what students are able to do) and curriculum standards (what students should know) to be very helpful. He believes that government should give curriculum standards, but that performance standards should be determined by the teachers. I agree that the idea of standards is essential, but we (as a nation) have taken it to the extreme and instituted mass amounts of standardized testing. When I moved to South Carolina I was astonished at the number of tests high school students must take (per the State Department of Education). Are multiple choice tests a true reflection of student learning? Phil Schlechty (and most people I follow on twitter) would tell you absolutely not.

The main take-aways from the conference were:
1) Teachers must get to know their students (their WHO). This is the first and most important thing all teachers should do.
2) Based on their WHO, teachers should create work that allows student choice, reflects their interests and shows that they have truly learned and understood the concepts.

This is usually more project and problem solving based. Students are actually learning to think, not just focus on useless facts. This is not really new (most good teachers already believe this), but it was nice to be around like-minded educators who are ready to do something more than just complain. I also liked being given the verbage and the tools to start designing work for my students as opposed to ‘planning’ lessons. In my specific session we focused on being a guide to instruction, not the sole content expert in the classroom. Collaborating with other experts and creating experiences for students is key.

I know all this training costs money and takes teachers out of the classroom, however if my district & superintendent believe in teaching students how to think and want to reform education, I can get on board. Even if I got nothing else from the 4 days (which I did!), I had the opportunity to experiment with Prezi for the first time! I loved it and I’m excited to play with it more. I Our assignment was to create a stand-alone tutorial for other educators teaching them about and demonstrating one of the design qualities. Enjoy my final product!