Friday, November 22, 2013

My 2013 EduBlog Nominees

My EduBlog Award Nominees 2013:

Best individual blog-

Best group blog-

Best ed tech / resource sharing blog-

Best administrator blog-

Most influential blog post of the year-

Best individual tweeter- @sjunkins

Best twitter hashtag- #1to1techat

Best free web tool-

Best Open PD-

Best educational use of a social network- #choosetomatter

Best mobile app- Socrative

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Latest Emotion Dealing With "Game of School"

I originally started this post back in September and put it on hold, but unfortunately I keep on being met by situations and events that keep making this all too real and frequent.

I am not sure why, but I tend to take issues involving school personally. It does not matter if it has to do directly with me or not. It does not matter what the subject matter, the grade level, or the quantity of students or staff affected.  Right or wrong, I take what goes on at school to heart. Taking this on becomes especially difficult for me when I believe there is a direct disconnect between what educators are here to help students do -learn- and what students are doing (or feel forced to do) -learn to game school.   

Maybe because of my role as principal, my perception is skewed. I am the final sign off on all requests to approve changes to student’s courses of study, so perhaps the gaming of school is not as prevalent as I believe it to be. Regardless, I am having a hard time coming to terms with:

  • Students wanting to drop classes, only because it will affect their GPA.
  • Students not signing up for classes they are otherwise intrinsically motivated to take because it does not have "honors" credit (also getting a GPA bump).
  • Students needing to drop a class they are interested in because a required class/credit has not been met.  
  • Students dropping a class, not because they are not learning or because they are not interested, but so they can "focus on my Honors/AP classes" (GPA bump)

I all too often feel obligated to sign-off on these requests because, given our current system, not signing off would adversely affect the student in the game of school. It is a game our students have been involved in for years, and the one they have learned to navigate effectively in order to get the best GPA, though not necessarily the most well rounded or most engaging and interesting education, so is changing the rules of the game fair now?

In these moments, I am faced with the reality that my actions are helping to sustain elements of a system that I so heavy rail and rally others against.  I get angry as I am forced to confront that I am acting counter to my core values about learning. I boil inside as I am forced to face the reality that I am acting as an ally to “the game of school” helping to maintain its dominance over education.  Am I actually a pawn in a system that I originally joined because I wanted to change it from the inside?

So I am angry, conflicted and left wondering :

  • By approving a drop of a course due to GPA considerations, am I adversely affecting the student's learning in both the short and long term?
  • Is it ethical to not sign off based on what I want the system to be versus what it currently is?
  • Would changing the rules of the game on students at this point in the "game" be fair?

Fortunately, I am surrounded by a great team of educators who are committed to the improvement of our students, our profession, and our school. I also feel fortunate to regularly connect with educators across the state, region, globe, and the hallway, who are actively implementing new and innovative practices that successfully refocus the system on student learning. However, with every drop/add form that I sign, I am reminded that we cannot wait any longer to address these issues, these rules, this system, this game. Because after all, learning is at stake.

Monday, November 18, 2013

What's in a Name???

Has the culture surrounding existing programs and practices skewed our view of new ideas and programs? Could a simple change in our everyday vocabulary be part of a solution? Can changing our everyday terminology help shift us away from "schooling" and towards learning? Could reframing our terms that are built on tradition re-set our existing schema and help empower individuals and groups to change what goes on within classrooms, schools and districts?

Would anything change if…

  • Educators no longer planned "lessons," but rather plan "Experiences"
    • Good morning class, for today's experience we will…

  • "Classroom" became "Learning Area," "Learning Lab," or "Experience Center"
    • Will Jane Doe please report to Learning Area #12…

  • "Faculty rooms" became "Collaboration Labs"
    • So I was eating in the downstairs Collab. Lab, I got into a great conversation with Dave and we both realized we wanted to help our students do X, so we are going to try Y next week.

  • "Advisory" or "Homeroom" became "Advocacy"
    • I don't know about subject/career/interest X, but I'd be more than happy to help you get what you need in order to learn more.

  • "Teacher" became "Learning Facilitator" and "Administrator" became "Learning Advocate"
    • As we budget for next year what resources do you and your learners need?

  • Departments” redefined their expertise, priorities, and the broad array of skills they taught by no longer summarizing with one word descriptions related solely to content?
    • Too many possibilities to mention. I believe this would help us break out of our traditional, and all too often unconnected silos opting instead to create cross-disciplinary learning opportunities

I am not naive enough to think that a simple change of verbiage can affect decades of engrained practices. However, harnessing the power of words is an underutilized tool that I believe can help educators focus on what is important -learning.

How many changes would occur if we simply put "learning" at the forefront of our vocabulary?

Even more so, what does it say about us if we don't?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Not Just for Ecology- What is Your Carrying Capacity?

Recently I have been spending quite a bit of time trying to do some long range planning. In doing so a concept that I routinely taught in my Social Studies classes came into my head; carrying capacity.  The short definition that I am aligning my thoughts to is: The maximum population of a particular organism that a given environment can support without detrimental effects. (Taken from

In terms of long range planning for a school, I obviously need to swap some terms here.  My current endeavors have me thinking of carrying capacity in terms of:

  • "what is the current carrying capacity of X" vs.
  • "what is the potential carrying capacity of X without changes to an environment" vs. 
  • "what is the potential carrying capacity of X with changes to an environment"

Below are a few of my recent pondering using a carrying capacity reframe.

  • What is the maximum number of initiatives educators can support without detrimental effects to students
  • What is the maximum number of unique Ed-tech platforms/apps/workflows students & educators can support without detrimental effects to learning
  • What is the necessary amount of artifacts/data points/tests/etc. that a student should/can produce in order to demonstrate proficiency without detrimental effects to intrinsic motivation?
Granted this has more often than not, led me to more questions than answers. Such as:

  • What are we doing that is supporting something other than learning?
  • Are we being true to our core values? 
  • Is an issue rooted in the environment? If so do we have control of that environment?
  • Do I have an accurate picture of the current conditions effecting teaching and learning?
  • What can, and should, we STOP doing?
  • If our current reality indicates that we are at carrying capacity, is that Ok?
  • Is a change/program/initiative's focus really on learning, or is it something else? 
While by no means is this an exhaustive list of questions that emerge, nor is it a be-all end-all frame to guide all planning. However, I believe that framing issues in terms of carrying capacity has helped me plan and focus on what is important, sustainable and available to support the current and future success of our school.

Give it a shot and let me know what you come up with.