Archive for Richard

My Professional Development This Year

Amidst planning full faculty professional development activities for this year, I have also lined up a few dates for myself. My activities this year focus on leadership, curriculum revision, and social justice in education.

School Library Journal Leadership Summit

September 26-27, Seattle

I have never been to a full-on library conference, and yet I supervise our library director. It’s time to check this out.

NWAIS Educators Conference

October 9, Seattle

I have helped organize this one. Our regional association’s annual conference will feature an outstanding lineup of national and regional speakers on topics of social and cultural diversity and social justice. I am proud of NWAIS for embracing this topic in a timely manner. It is quite likely that diversity and justice will remain at or near the tops of our schools’ agendas for years to come. Students get the day off, and our entire faculty will attend.

Northwest Conference on Teaching for Social Justice

October 17, Seattle

I am looking forward to experiencing this annual conference. A colleague brought this to my attention, and a number of our teachers plan to attend.

Independent Curriculum Group Academic Leaders Retreat

November 4-6, Abiquiu, New Mexico

Peter Gow and Jonathan Martin have organized an agenda that balances learning sessions, unconference discussions, and social time. I am looking forward to my first academic leadership conference since turning to instruction full-time. I also plan to soak in the New Mexico landscape, not having visited since 1994. U Prep became an ICG Partner this year.

NAIS Annual Conference

February 24-26, San Francisco

The single most attended annual event among independent school administrators. There is no better opportunity to reconnect with former colleagues and associates and learn the latest about their initiatives and challenges. The conference sessions themselves are a great way to understand what indy schools are focusing on. Last year, I resolved that it was not really possible to present a session, attend sessions, and recruit at the hiring fair. I resolve to do just two of these three this year.

 

What are you up to this year?

Improving Inside U Prep

One difference between being a tech director and academic dean is the much smaller amount of time that I have available for tech tasks. I don’t replace MacBook hard drives anymore, but I do still run at least one school website, Inside U Prep. This summer, I had the chance to have some fun and make a number of long-desired improvements to the website. Many of these simply bring it up to the standard I wished for when I first launched the site.

In the tradition of other internal school websites, Inside U Prep meets a couple of important school needs. Inside sites provide direct access to resources that students and faculty and staff members frequently use. While the main school website prioritizes outward-facing content, intranet websites give top billing to items of internal interest. Internal school websites are less bound by the the design constraints of a public audience, since they have less need to project specific aesthetics. Its audience comes to campus every day!

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The improvements include changes to visual appearance, user interface, and custom module functionality. Let’s get started:

Responsive theme

mobileThe prior theme (Bartik) did not change appearance on mobile devices, a liability in the current, mobile era. Fortunately, someone modified Bartik to make it responsive and then posted it as a community theme (Responsive Bartik D7).

Child theme
Short on time, I originally configured Bartik with a custom logo and manually added a couple of graphic elements. These changes were overwritten each time that I installed an update to the theme. This time, I created a child theme of Responsive Bartik. This allowed me to make the prior customizations permanent and then make precise improvements to layout and appearance. The new sans-serif look is cleaner and better spaced.

Simplify menus

The two menus now appear in one column and have moved from the primary menu and right sidebar regions of the page to the more commonly used left sidebar. Usage stats indicate that the custom modules and outward links are used more frequently than the internal resources, another reason to enhance their visibility.

Views instead of custom code

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 9.53.22 PMSince site launch, the resources content type has accepted link URLs, uploaded files, and HTML content. The home page displays whatever content has been provided, with a priority order. Previously, I coded this custom, but this time I created a view block for each cell, with the help of Views Conditional so that it would be more standard for me or someone else to modify this configuration in the future.

ITIP module

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 9.51.07 PMOne of six custom modules I have authored to provide dynamic data collection and reporting services for specific school programs. ITIP is our faculty professional development and evaluation program. The system now shows multiple years and can accept multiple submissions per item. It will soon request and share an informal project title from each faculty member and then share these to all faculty members, to promote awareness and sharing.

Course resources module

A.k.a. “textbook list.” This module collects course textbook, ebook, app, and website subscription information from teachers in the spring and shares it with families in the fall. This year, the system will show a customized course resources list for each student, instead of requiring families to wade through the complete list to identify the items to purchase for their student.

Community service module

This module makes the submission of community service hours completely electronic. The prior version was pretty bare bones, just performing the basic functions of storing student hours, sending mail messages to supervisors for verification, and producing a dashboard and reports of student progress toward the service requirement. New features include: better structured data entry and storage, normalized organizations table to reduce duplication, faster approval interface for the service coordinator, and dashboard access for advisors. With this done, we will be able to share back to students the 300+ service organizations that they have entered into this database in the past two years. Time permitting, I am very excited to try Addressfield Autocomplete, which may be able to perform a live Google Maps lookup of organization address information. This would be both really slick as well as more convenient and accurate for the service coordinator. Again, the Drupal community has been actively improving the sophistication and usability of contributed modules while I have been gone!

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 9.54.15 PMTwitter feeds

Live feeds from three school Twitter accounts of interest to internal audiences.

Finally configured pathauto

Human-friendly URLs.

Maxlength module

Maxlength limits user input into textarea fields, previously a weakness of this site. Users would enter unexpectedly long content into certain fields (usually adding explanations), and database insert statements would break.

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 9.55.19 PMDate picker module

Drupal finally created an easy way to attach popup calendar selectors to date fields. We use date selectors all the time, for example to record student community service. Date picker

I look forward to seeing how these improvements play this year and so appreciate having a few days this summer to make a brief return to my web development days.

Splendors of the Pacific Northwest

This July, our family continued to explore the beauty and majesty of the Pacific Northwest. Our travels included Vancouver Island, the San Juans, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and central Oregon. There is so much variety and life to experience that school programs can’t help but connect with them. In additional to the experiential outdoor programs that are a regular sight in our schools and youth organizations, other curricular-tie ins include resource management, Native American history, ecological diversity, multiculturalism, and more. This is an amazing part of the country in which to attend or work in a school. Here are a few shots from our recent summer travels.

Marking Imported School Calendar Dates as “Free”

For many school administrators, the start of August means that it’s time to prepare for the new school year in earnest. One practical, though vexing annual task is to reconcile one’s personal and school calendars for the year. I like my personal calendar to include the school’s key dates, so that I don’t accidentally schedule meetings opposite key school events. However, our school uses Microsoft Outlook, which is notoriously challenged at reconciling multiple calendars in a useful way. If you use Google Calendar or Apple’s Calendar app, you may be able to just subscribe to your school’s calendar events.

Imported calendar files typically show all events as “busy,” making it difficult for others to accurately see when I am free for meetings. For example, if I import “blue day” into my calendar to note the school schedule, I shouldn’t look booked all day! With a small technical change, I can import all school events into my calendar as “free” and then mark the ones I want as busy.

1. Download your school’s calendar to an ICS file. In the example below, I changed “webcal://” to “http://” in order to download the content in a file.

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2. Open the ICS file in your favorite text editor.

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3. Insert “TRANSP:TRANSPARENT” into all VEVENT entries. To do this, I replaced all occurrences of “END:VEVENT” with “TRANSP:TRANSPARENT” + new line + “END:VEVENT.”

TRANSP:TRANSPARENT
END:VEVENT

 

4. Check time zone compatibility. For example, my calendar file used “TZID=America/Los_Angeles,” but Outlook only recognizes “Pacific Time (U.S. & Canada).”

5. Test import: make a copy of the ICS file, delete everything after the first week of calendar appointments, and then import the test ICS file into your calendar application. Check for errors and make additional adjustments to the full ICS file as needed.

6. Import the full ICS file into your calendar application, inspect the results, and mark selected items as “busy.” I used Outlook for Windows to conduct the import.

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Maru-a-Pula Scholars in the U.S.

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Edward “Ned” Hall founded the American Friends of Maru-a-Pula in 1974, just two years after Maru-a-Pula itself opened its doors in Gaborone, Botswana. In the 40 years since, AFMAP has helped Maru-a-Pula develop into one of the best secondary schools in southern Africa. The school’s role in the region has also changed beyond its original purpose of racial justice to now include top academic performance and education for social responsibility. In recent years, MAP has extended the gift of world-class education to dozens of orphan scholars who lost their parents.

Since 1981, AFMAP has quietly played another key role in the lives of Maru-a-Pula students. A recent article from Taft Bulletin tells the story of the MAP Scholar program. Since 1981, deserving MAP IGCSE graduates have been selected to spend a senior year in top U.S. independent schools. On average, seven MAP students become U.S. scholars each year. While these schools have underwritten tuition and boarding fees, AFMAP has provided these students with a familiar face and, when needed, a helping hand.

MAP Scholars have startled and impressed their U.S. hosts with their academic preparation, leadership skills, humility, and sense of social purpose. Our students have not only completed the rigorous programs of top U.S. independent schools but have also become leaders and proceeded to top colleges and graduate programs at institutions such as Harvard, Williams, MIT, and Stanford. A number of MAP Scholars previously received Orphans and Vulnerable Children scholarships at MAP. The outstanding support of AFMAP donors has changed these deserving students’ lives.

It should not surprise you that many MAP Scholars have dedicated their lives to helping others. They have become experts in global health, medicine, finance, and East Asian studies. Four serve on the AFMAP board, including president and secretary. In my time, I have been privileged to know MAP scholars Neo, Portia, Thomas, Ernest, Urban, Lollise, MK, Kush, Mmaserame, Tumisang, and others.

I had the incredibly good luck to start my teaching career at Taft in 1991, in the company of former Maru-a-Pula teachers Emily and Gordon Jones and MAP Scholars Tebogo Phiri, Thomas Lukoma, and Urban Dabutha. I then traveled to Botswana and joined the Maru-a-Pula staff for two years. MAP has remained a vital part of my life and career to this day.

 

Teachers Deserve Good Pedagogy, Too

Also published at Leadership + Design

Let’s play a word association game. When I say a term, note the next thought that comes to your mind. Ready? “PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT!” What first comes to your mind? Conference? Meeting? Ugh? If we understand how students learn best, then we should also practice good pedagogy when leading professional development programs.

Teachers more fully engage in learning activities that address authentic aspects of practice. What issues most commonly challenge teachers: motivating all students to learn; teaching for understanding, not just knowledge; supporting diverse groups of learners? Effective professional development activities express a clear learning goal and apply theory toward specific outcomes. For example, one might reserve half the day for teachers to explore applications, redesign instructional units, and share their products.

Effective teachers combine a variety of techniques to design learning environments and develop student understanding.
Teachers approach topics from different perspectives, promote active engagement with ideas and evidence, and make student thinking visible. In order to actually adopt a new technique proposed during professional development, teachers need to know how that idea might complement the other tools in their toolkit. Teachers are unlikely to integrate widely divergent strategies into their current practice.

Research suggests that observation and feedback have the greatest potential to improve teacher practice. So, why then are conferences and faculty meetings the most common forms of professional development? Make class observations integral to your school’s professional development program. It’s best if peer teachers conduct the observations, and such activities are not connected to teacher evaluation. Teachers can also video a class and study the recording with colleagues.

As with students, teachers learn best when they study collaboratively. Working in groups, teachers share ideas and build perspective together. In a gallery walk, lead teachers exhibit innovative practices and answer questions. In a faculty “unmeeting”, teachers generate topics and facilitate discussions. Professional learning communities, teacher cohorts, and critical friend groups maintain such collaborative relationships over time. Teacher leadership distributes the responsibility for professional growth to all members of the faculty. Consortia and networks extend these connections to other institutions.

Why not put students at the center of professional development activities? Invite a panel of students to describe their learning to your faculty. Have each teacher shadow a student for a day. When you observe classes, document what the students are doing, not just the teacher. Ask teachers to contact recent alumni and ask them whether they found themselves well prepared for the next step.

NAIS has recognized University Prep’s Individualized Teacher Improvement Program for innovation and excellence.

Designing the Culturally Aware Device Program

Here are the slides for the session that Dan Hudkins and I are presenting today at 11:30 in room 203.

NAIS Culturally Aware Device Program slides (PDF)cover slide

Students Know How To Reduce Distractions

Facilitating student discussion is a complex talk. Pose engaging questions, keep the conversation momentum going, stay on topic, and encourage quieter voices to participate. Could two Upper School boys guide their peers through 45 minutes of discussion about electronic devices and distractions? Yes, they did! Our guides, “Mr. H.” and “Mr. G.,” did such a great job that I simply relaxed and enjoyed the conversation.

The group of 14 students generated a long list of techniques for minimizing distractions, as high quality a set of suggestions as any I have seen experts write.

  • Only check Twitter on your phone, not your computer.
  • Use a timer to work for specific chunks of time.
  • Set your phone to Do Not Disturb when you work.
  • Install the Self Control or Concentrate app to block access to social sites.
  • Charge your phone in another room.
  • Have a parent keep your phone.
  • Learn which music helps you concentrate and which distracts.
  • Don’t start a Netflix episode on a break.
  • Use distraction-free (full screen) mode when writing or reading.

The students went far beyond strategies. They explored the paradoxes and tradeoffs that they experience. Stay up late to get more done one night, and you are less productive the next day. Sports force you to be more organized but can also make you tired. School firewalls may keep social sites away but do not teach you self control. Homework can actually be more active than class time.

Did the students solve the problem of distraction from devices? Not at all! While they know the strategies, they acknowledge that they do not always use them. Self-discipline is complex. It is uncomfortable to work for hours at night, tough to resist social interactions. This suggests a new focus for education around devices and distractions. Learning strategies is just the first step. Setting meaningful goals, building self discipline, and practicing mindfulness are equally, if not more important.

Of Mice, Men, and Instagram

Originally published on edSocialMedia

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How can middle school students begin to recognize complexity and empathize with characters in literature? In a conventional approach, a teacher might pose thought-provoking questions to students and draw their attention to key passages in the story. However, this approach does not guide all students to deepen their understanding of the characters. Young adolescents are often still developing empathy during the middle school years, but the ability to appreciate the thoughts and feelings of a character is essential to understanding literature.

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University Prep English teacher Carl Faucher uses social media to help students think about the characters in Of Mice and Men. To begin, students select one character to follow through the book and then create a new account in that character’s name on their preferred social media platform. As students read the book, they pay special attention to the character’s thoughts and inner dialogue. Students then write one post online for each chapter of the book.

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Students choose a variety of platforms: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. They tend to like the familiar format and enthusiastically go about their work. Some post the minimum number required, whereas others write far more. Instagram users in particular find an opportunity to communicate visually, either by selecting stills from the movie version to accompany each thought or selecting more abstract, evocative imagery. Some choose to make the assignment social, following their classmates and liking or commenting on their posts.

 

Faucher asks students to avoid summarizing the text but rather write what the characters were actually thinking at different points in the book. Those who adopt the persona of the character show the most evidence of learning. Faucher notes, “students developed empathy for the character better than if they had answered conventional questions about the text. They got through the black and white of good and bad and explored complexities of the characters and their relationships.”

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Conventional reading questions are grounded in the language of the discipline — academic discourse. Students better learn to think analytically and identify literary conventions such as themes and foreshadowing if they are provided with accessible steps to build upon. The social media introduction allows students to apply an established strength, “to speak the language that they are speaking outside of school.” Having gained some understanding, students are better able to build up to the more complex assignments later in the unit: a mock trial in which George is taken to court, and an expository essay that focuses on character analysis.

 

“With the advent of social media, our paths of communication are changing the ways we speak, communicate, and express ourselves.” While some may bemoan the decline of long form writing, Faucher takes advantage of the popular microblogging medium to help students achieve the learning goals of seventh grade English.

Teacher Leadership

By reputation, teaching offers few advancement opportunities. Schools don’t normally have many management positions, and only a few teachers transform into school administrators. At University Prep, however, we believe in the value of broadly distributing teacher leadership, both to enhance the educational experience and provide avenues for professional growth. We provide many opportunities for teachers to assume leadership roles.

Department heads are the school’s instructional leaders. They supervise and mentor teachers, collaborate in hiring and staffing processes, and develop the instructional culture of the school. Department heads receive a reduced course load and a stipend to support their work.

Class deans oversee student progress and needs within each grade level. They collaborate with the Student Services Team to identify and support students with socio-emotional or academic needs. Class deans receive a reduced course load to support their work.

Ad-hoc committees explore emergent school issues and recommend next steps. Recent ad-hoc committees have studied teacher feedback, extra help, mindfulness, narrative reports, computer science, and laptop programs. Teachers often initiate and lead ad-hoc committees.

Strategic planning includes teachers in board-led committee work on the long-term future of the school, particularly the direction of the educational program.

Curriculum proposals are initiated by teachers and then discussed in departments before moving to administrative bodies for approval.

School programs such as outdoor trips, Global Link, community service, ski bus, and middle school assemblies and socials depend on teacher leadership and participation. Some teachers receive a reduced course load in order to lead these programs.

Student clubs each have a faculty advisor. The advisor experience is very rich in the more active clubs such as National Honor Society, Students of Service, Mock Trial, Debate Club, Science Olympiad, and Multicultural Student Alliance.

Change of Pace Days depart from the regular class schedule to focus on contemporary issues such as social justice and community service. Teachers propose topics, facilitate workshops, and tap their professional networks to enrich the student experience.

Conferences: Teachers share their work at national and regional conferences, including the NAIS Annual Conference, People of Color Conference, NWAIS Educators Conference, National Arts Education Association national conference, Washington State Council for Social Studies annual conference. Teachers are well-supported to attend conferences and visit schools, expanding their exposure to new ideas and developing their professional networks.

Accreditation teams: We support teachers in serving on NWAIS accreditation visiting teams, an incredibly rich experience for understanding school program design and our peer northwest schools.

Career advancement: A number of our department heads who assume significant leadership responsibilities subsequently take jobs in school administration, both at University Prep and elsewhere.