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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?

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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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.

The Multicultural School and World Events

A truly inclusive school community feels the effects of national and international events and engages them with active dialogue. In response to Ferguson, we quickly pulled together open discussion forums for students, faculty, and staff to share their thoughts and questions. A few days later, our trained student facilitators led community conversations, with all high school students required to attend. Middle school advisories broached the subject in a more introductory manner.

Our Pakistani exchange student asked for the school’s help in sharing and processing the massacre that took place at another school there. Within the hour, we adjusted our schedule and held an assembly so that she could share her thoughts. This act made it clear how even such a distant event can quite directly affect our community.

When the AirAsia flight from Surabaya to Singapore crashed, I immediately thought of one colleague, who is Indonesian and was in Surabaya just days before. While she did not know anyone on the flight, the event was still a major shock. Our school team was primed to provide support and explanation should that prove necessary.

Our school has connections to the entire world, despite our moderate size. As our cities become more multicultural, our schools become more diverse, particularly when the school takes deliberate steps toward cultural competency. Our schools move beyond just inclusivity when we treat all students and staff as full members of the community and invite them to share their full selves, even if this sometimes causes discomfort or disagreement. These three stories are from just the past month, and events like this take place many times each year.

Courageous cultural competency is now a required quality of contemporary schools, to meet the goal of educating students for an increasingly globalized world.

Book Review: Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice

inside the black boxHere is a very brief review of Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice: Change Without Reform in American Education. I so appreciate that Larry Cuban continues to publish productively on the history of education and school change. Through his blog, book forwards, and latest book, Cuban explores the most confounding quality of school reform: the more policymakers change, the more classroom practice stays the same. Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice summarizes Cuban’s past work comparing national education policy to his direct observations of classroom practice. In this way, Cuban explodes myths about the effects of federal and state education initiatives on the student experience in schools. Cuban also spends a chapter exploring parallels to the evolution of the training and evaluation of medical practice.

Central to the argument is the idea of the multi-layered curriculum. Federal education policy is interpreted by states. State education standards are interpreted by districts. District initiatives are monitored by schools. Teachers interpret the curriculum as they teach. Students interpret the curriculum that they receive. Finally, assessments reveal only a partial picture of what students have actually learned. Cuban explains that these many layers have so diluted the original intent of education policy that classroom practice has remained fairly immune to change over decades. He also points out that much national and state education policy has been alarmingly simply in its theory of school change, for example that school accountability to student test scores would necessarily cause improvement in teaching practice, or that adding thousands of computing devices would necessarily improve student learning.

Education is not just complicated, however. It is complex. Cuban explains that complex systems involve humans making varying decisions and lack central command. Interdependencies and interactions exist among many different actors, often with conflicting objectives and methods. Top-down directives and simplified change theories fail to cause actual change in complex systems. Rather, Cuban argues, education policymakers would do better to empower and support teachers as professionals, change agents, and experts. School reform must address all layers of the multi-layered curriculum in order to have any chance of causing actual change on the ground.

Ironically, Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice does not get very far into the classroom beyond confirming that it remains little affected by decades of large scale education reform. Other books and studies help complete the inquiry. For example, David Perkins and Project Zero studied classrooms in depth to determine when moments of understanding were achieved and created a model for effective classroom instruction based on that. Jack Schneider examined four changes to education practice that did in fact take root in the classroom and identified key factors in penetrating the black box of classroom practice. Together, these studies help identify key aspects of each layer that affects classroom practice and ultimately may help educators navigate the complex, shifting worlds of education policy.

Happy “New Year!”

New year’s celebrations mark the retirement of a major calendar unit, a trip around the sun, and the passage of four seasons. We reflect on the events of this past cycle and express hopes for the next one. The media reminds us of public events of the past year, and nonprofit organizations request our help to reach their fundraising goals. In January, a new calendar cycle begins. However, many educators and students feel more like they are partway through a cycle than beginning a new one.

For education, the academic year holds far more significance than the calendar year. The academic year offers substance for reflection and anticipation. Students begin the year in a new grade, division, or school, with the corresponding institutional and social expectations, as well as development milestones. Teachers note another year of service, and length of tenure carries weight in schools. Professional goals, teaching assignments, and co-curricular responsibilities also change with the academic year, as educators gain the chance to deepen their practice and assume new roles.

December is a tricky time for schools. Holidays performances coincide with culminating academic moments. Schools face a choice: finish the term in December to help students enjoy their vacations or finish in January to spread out the work and balance the semesters. It’s tough to end the calendar year while the academic year keeps moving along.

Our lucky southern hemisphere colleagues get to combine the two. For them, December brings summer vacation, and January the start of a new school year. South of the equator, people neatly celebrate the ends and beginnings of school years in parallel with community celebrations of the calendar years. They mark the new academic year with four simple digits, while we awkwardly slide across an hyphen: “2014-2015.” Reflections and goal setting neatly align.

Which has more meaning to you, the academic year or calendar year? Answer this quick poll and feel free to elaborate in a comment below.

Which means more to you?

  • Academic year (100%, 1 Votes)
  • Calendar year (0%, 0 Votes)
  • They have equal meaning to me. (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 1

Loading ... Loading ...

Whether your days are currently long or short, hot or cold, I wish you a happy and prosperous new year.

 

Book Review and Further Thoughts: From the Ivory Tower To the Schoolhouse

schoolhouse2How much does educational research affect teacher practice? Not much, according to Jack Schneider, Holy Cross assistant professor and author of the new book From the Ivory Tower To the Schoolhouse: How Scholarship Becomes Common Knowledge in Education. Schneider, an educational historian who earned his Ph.D. at Stanford, picks up the torch carried by Larry Cuban and David Tyack for years. As institutions, schools are extremely resistant to change, and reliable pathways for translating research conclusions into practice are largely absent. So, when education practice does change as a result of education research, the reasons are worth close examination!

In the book, Schneider describes a model for the transmission of research-based ideas into practice, based on his study of four innovations that made the leap: Bloom’s taxonomy, Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences, the project method, and direct instruction. Schneider is clear to explain that these four ideas represent the exception, not the norm. Also, the components of Schneider’s model for success hardly comprise a recipe. They are necessary, but not always sufficient, qualities for successful adoption. As Schneider expresses, luck plays a role.

Schneider’s conditions for successful transmission include: the perceived significance of the idea to educators; philosophical compatibility of the idea with current philosophy; occupational realism—the compatibility of the idea with practical constraints of teaching; and transportability, whether the idea can be simply explained and passed on. The four case studies share these qualities. Additionally, Schneider cleverly analyzes four other, research-based ideas that failed to gain adoption but bear striking similarities to the four that did. This provides strong support for the idea that the four identified characteristics are necessary conditions for adoption.Note that the scholarly merit of the idea does not make the list of success factors! With a positive reaction from educators, and a little luck, some research-based ideas tend to find adoption.

While a wonderful historical analysis, the book does not purport to predict the success of current educational innovations or provide a playbook for the design of future innovations. At the same time, I cannot help but wonder how the model applies to other, common educational practices, particularly those that we emphasize at U Prep. How does Schneider’s model apply to formative assessment, for example? Do we find such educational practices attractive because they meet Schneider’s criteria for successful transmission from research to practice?

Formative Assessment

We define formative assessment as actionable feedback on student work that does not count for a student’s term grade. Graded or ungraded, it provides students with insight into their mastery of the content, as well as a sense of direction for what to study more (or better) before the summative assessment. Not counting formative assessment in the term grade allows students to focus on the process of learning and deemphasizes the idea that students have fixed ability.

Perceived significance: Moderate. Teachers I have met almost universally agree that providing feedback on student work is one of their core responsibilities. However, teachers often balk at the idea that grades for ongoing work would not count in a student’s term grade.

Philosophical compatibility: The core idea of formative assessment is relatively compatible with common teacher opinions about student work. It’s hard to argue against feedback, and it makes sense that a student’s first assessment should provide signposts for subsequent work instead of affecting their term grade, which should reflect mastery achieved.

Occupational realism: The simple version of formative assessment is highly compatible with existing teacher practice. Just don’t count the first assessment of a body of knowledge or set of skills, then count the second or subsequent ones. The fuller concept, however, requires more significant change. The ideas that formative assessment should be specific and actionable represent a more significant departure from traditional teacher practice.

Transportability: The basic concept of formative assessment can be easily distilled to a few simple ideas and shared with teachers. Departures from the strategy are easy to spot in syllabi and examples of assessed student work. Authors and organizations have created a substantial body of conceptual and practical guides to formative assessments for the consumption of educators.

It might provide insight to apply this model to other educational practices, such as differentiated instruction, 1:1 student device programs, and individual teacher improvement. While these four criteria do not reflect any law of nature, they provide a helpful dose of realism when leading school change, underscoring the strong effects of professional culture.

Recent articles by Jack Schneider

‘If only American teachers were smarter…’ Washington Post

Closing the gap … between the university and schoolhouse Phi Delta Kappan

The Role of Data in School Decision-Making

Analyzing student and faculty data has added a critical new dimension to discussions of specific dynamics in our school. Teacher observations, administrator experience, and student anecdotes are all essential for the continual improvement of our school program. In addition, the trends, correlations, and distributions within our data have made our decision-making conversations more specific and helped resolve conflicts among competing, anecdotal points of view.

We have recently had success analyzing student and faculty data to better understand specific dynamics in our school. Many of these analyses become more clear through data visualization. Key questions include:

How often do we grant students’ top course requests?

Will our course offerings continue to accommodate a growing student body?

Are the foundational skills of our students changing over time?

Do standardized test scores predict academic performance?

What elective courses should we offer next year?

Do electronic textbooks save families money?

Our analyses of standardized test scores were the most rigorous. We created longitudinal charts of score means and medians, examined subscore trends as well, and calculated correlations among different scores. To confirm validity, three different groups performed the tests: myself, our statistics students, and a psychometrician from ERB. The fascinating, consistent result? The gut feelings of our community members have consistently had some truth to them, but anecdotal opinion has a tendency to exaggerate and oversimplify. Our data studies have both validated and identified the limits of anecdotal opinion. They have clarified the multiple facets of issues that people have reduced to simple statements.

Here are some examples of our data visualizations. Most are created in Excel using countif() and sumif() functions and chart tools. I apologize for obscuring much of the content for the sake of privacy. Instead of publishing it all publicly, I am presenting the full studies to the appropriate constituencies in our school community.

35 years of standardized test and GPA means

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Students’ initial thoughts about new elective courses

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Correlations among different standardized tests and GPA

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Longitudinal subscore analysis

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Print vs. Electronic Textbooks: Total Cost per Student

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Elective section enrollments

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Stanford+Connects Seattle

IMG_2572I relived a little piece of the Stanford experience and met interesting people at the Stanford+Connects event this past Saturday at the Washington Convention Center. These alumni events travel the country, featuring talks by the university’s president, several distinguished professors, and two students. I don’t ever make it to reunion events, and while I attend similarly timely and stimulating University of Washington or independent school talks from time to time, I don’t ever attend my college reunion events. I also got to learn about topics that I typically only read about or listen to through TED talks and NPR pieces. Some highlights for me: President Hennessy spoke to the many building and program development projects at Stanford, a number of which have emerged from the a recent comprehensive study of the undergraduate program. Among these: ten new joint majors that combine computer science with subjects in the humanities.

The five mini-lectures were most welcome, because of course I wanted to hear all of the speakers. These included two students: Westin Gaylord on a project that he and his friends started to write creatively every day, and Derek Ouyang on an energy neutral, pre-fab house core design competition for which he led a team. Three professors also presented mini lectures, Carla Shatz on restarting synapse generation in old age, S.V. Mahadevan on bringing emergency medicine to developing nations, and Robert Sutton on improving organizations by eliminating the bad. Dan Klein (with a nod to Patricia Ryan Madson) added an improv demonstration and three activities that got us out of our seats and meeting neighbors!

With a nod to our grad school memories, my wife and I attended David Kennedy’s historical review of water management in the U.S. west. Many alums fondly remembered Kennedy’s lectures, though this was my first! Kennedy shared a wealth of historical facts that laid the groundwork for contemporary federal water management practices, including many challenges. Did you know that the federal government owns fully 45% of the last west of the 100th meridian? This is in contrast to the east, in which the federal government sold nearly all of its holdings in the past. He painted a rather bleak picture for the future of the combined effects of rising global temperature, drought, and consumption increases.

Margot Gerritsen presented a detailed view into “unconventional” oil and gas, including tar sands and fracking. Her perspective, backed up with copious data, is that unconventional energy has already arrived, and we would be best served minimizing its negative effects than trying to “prevent” it from “emerging.” Gerritsen also demystified newspaper headlines, looking at the data to suggest that injection of chemicals into deposits during fracking is unlikely to contaminate groundwater, but water injection is in fact responsible for up to magnitude five earthquakes!

With a rare opportunity to learn outside of my field, I did not attend the one education session. However, I did take a moment to skim a paper by Candace Thille, who presented a session on big data and transformations in education. Thille is an expert on MOOCs and co-founded the Open Learning Initiative (OLI), first at Carnegie Mellon and now at Stanford. She echoes the distinction that others have noted between the original cMOOCs that adopt a connectivist pedagogy and the newer xMOOCs (Coursera, EdX) that have fueled popular interest. Thille then makes a further distinction between xMOOCs that simply put the university lecture hall experience online and those that make student data analytics available to instructors to further instruction.

Many thanks to the Stanford Alumni Association and Stanford Club of Washington for arranging a day of fun, learning, and contemporary topics.