I had this professor in college. His name was Andy Eurich and he taught business law. Funny thing is, I retained only one tidbit of the BLaw class and that was the definition of a reasonable person. Would a reasonable person...this? Could a reasonable person...that? He taught a multitude of other other topics, they just had nothing to do with business law. Reminds me of a professor that got his tenure and then got pissed off and decided to teach whatever the heck he wanted. And I am pretty sure we all loved it and also got C's because we could not pass a single test. I learned all about Reaganomics and what thoughtful citizens should do. I learned that I was NOT a unique snowflake. And I learned to create days of DiVinci. What does that mean? Well, Leonardo DiVinci was a painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. He was always discovering and looking for more and the first at a lot of things. I took that class over a decade ago, but thoughts of DiVinci ran through my head last night. It was beautiful "Day of DiVinci".
I have been looking for the next evolution to EdCamp style PD. The something out there for the growing number of us that have now been to 10+ EdCamps.
SIDEBAR - Yes, it's an addiction. Yes it's more than 10, ok, it's more like 15. But I don't even come close to touching the numbers of some of my favorite Tweeps...ehem, Toby, Tammy, Anthony, Anne.
In this search for more, the conversation really started at EdCampBA last year, Anthony Purcell (@MrP_tchr) had an idea. This thought grew over the last month or so ago and he let me in on the planning of #stillEdtalk. The idea was for a TED Talks type of evening, but with an open panel. Because the panel was open and because we have seen people railroad a conversation before, we came up with the idea of having beanbags and Nerf balls to be thrown at the speaker when the audience felt the point was made. It was a gentle suggestion to move on or get to the point. It was brilliant. The format was conversational, but each topic started with a sort of monologue before opening to the floor. It was not formal at all. For many reasons the event was kept small. To our knowledge, this hasn't really been done before, so we had no idea what to expect.
The small group showed up to Gatsby's in Stillwater OK just after 6:30 PM. The conversation included teachers, instructional technology specialists, administrators, and College of Ed instructors, i.e. Doctoral Candidates. We were from large city and rural Oklahoma. The two things we all had in common were the OklaEd hashtag on Twitter and we were educators.
The conversations were many and are retold in my own version and accounting. They Include:
1. A frustration over the need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to creating and teaching standards. Before the Common Core came around and Oklahoma kicked it to the curb, states like Texas and Massachusetts were education leaders in the country. Why does Oklahoma feel like they need to invent their own standards when these states were already doing it well, they had standards, they had testing vendors with question banks for days. New from scratch means you will have to fail a few more times before you get it right. Why do we want to keep failing our schools, our teachers, our STUDENTS? Makes this educator wonder if it really comes down to pride. Of course not, that answer is too easy. The real answer must obviously be more convoluted than that.
2. Across the state collaboration vs keeping your secrets in your room, building or district. There is a ranking system in the state and across the US which makes a competition out of things...which leads to a necessity or justification of hoarding best practices. Teachers are looking for more. When you are ranked and end up lower than you hope, wish, or think you should be it leads to a classroom or teacher self reorganization. I think this is one of the biggest reasons our state has so many EdCamps each year. Oklahoma is always on the bottom and we are looking to claw our way up from 47th. But it is not the "A" school districts that are sharing because they are caring. It is more grassroots. EdCamps are teacher driven. Teachers share a lot. We would like to see districts and the states share more best practices.
3. Real and meaningful feedback vs the Marzano have to write something in no matter if it's meaningful or helpful. One participant last night sang the praises of her previous administrator that always gave the best feedback. She looked forward to the visits/classroom evaluations from Shawn Blankenship, because she knew she was going to get constructive feedback that she could use in her classroom the very next day. The group gave a collective moan when the topic of feedback through the Marzano TLE, which comes across to teachers as lackadaisical. Administrators, if you need help with how to provide better feedback, I will not offer up Mr Blankenship's email address, but you can tweet to him. He is @Blankenship_S
4. Teachers need more and better professional development. One participant hates the idea that he has to sit through the districts PD on data tracking when he knows in his heart of hearts that he will never use it. He does want to learn X, Y, and z, so why cant he? Why can't teachers choose the PD they need in order to teacher the content or skills their students need? Another participant sat through a data training that she just knew she was going to hate, she had already sat through this particular training the year before. The point here was that this time it was engaging. It was told in a storytelling fashion that captivated her and kept her listening throughout the PD. The biggest thing I got out of this discussion was that PD can be better. The trainer of that PD committed to the lesson. She dressed in full mountain climbing gear to tell the story. She kept the energy going as she then related the story to the data translating. Administrators, for the love of Pete, try to keep this in mind if you are asking teachers to sit through another PD. If you want some more suggestions on how to spice up your PD, comment below and include your email address. I love to share.
5. This brings me to my last main idea of the night. As teachers, our field most closely relates to that of an actor. I feel I am dodging bullets here, but think about it. The lessons your students really got...the lessons with the most passion get remembered. Once as a teacher, I dressed in a full ballgown and came into the classroom as if I were walking on stage to accept my award. I gave an acceptance speech for the award in the category of Best Use of Figurative Language. The students were then placed into groups to dissect the 5 songs I had picked out, all of which included one major use of figurative language. They had to tell which type of figurative language was being used. Last they had to write and give an acceptance speech that included the figurative language. Let me tell you, the students all year long were able to point out figurative language everywhere, even when we were covering other subjects...and they were not being asked to think about figurative language. Another time, I had asked my students to learn a standard and then they were to deliver the lesson to their fellow classmates in their own style. I asked the students to become actors. They "acted" as if they were the experts on the matter and guess what. They were! I tried to have something big like this once a week for the different subjects I taught. The point here is if we commit to the role of teacher and we throw out all the stops, real learning can happen even to the least likely of students. You do not have to dress up to make the learning happen, I am just geeky like that, but for the love of Sam, put a little umph to it. If you want more ideas like this (5th and 8th grade mainly) comment below and include your email address. I love to share.
The evening was inspiring. It was the first of many more #stillEDtalk sessions to come We didn't just sit around the table and complain. Which can easily happen in small groups of educators. We offered up what we thought were some solutions. I am still a new guy to the offering up of solutions so please, if you see a flaw in my thinking here PLEASE let me know by commenting below.