Ed. Reform

Bringing More Google to Schools

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I believe in “Google” schools. I want more schools to be “Google” schools.  When I think of a “Google” school, I am thinking beyond the world of Apps for Education.  Rather, I want my school and the schools of my children, to be filled with educators who would be equally at home working at Google.

It is no surprise that Google often ranks at the top of innovative companies in the world. It also frequently tops the list of companies that most college graduates want to work for.  Yes, the compensation that these top companies offer is undoubtedly attractive. In this respect, the world of education can’t and shouldn’t try to compete.  But there are some things that Google considers when hiring that we in education should try to emulate.

The first is “smarts”.  Being smart is important at Google just like it is in education and many other professions. But at Google, being smart is not enough.  Intellectual curiosity is considered even more important and is something they look for when hiring.  Think about it in the context of education.  The phrase “Life long learners” commonly appears in the Mission and Vision Statements of schools around the world. Yet how often is the idea of intellectual curiosity factored into hiring?

Quite naturally, Google wants every person they hire to be good at what they do –  be it coding, networking, marketing, or finance.  Schools are no different.  Kindergarten teachers need to be as good at what they do as a Middle School drama, or an IB Calculus teacher.  But a clear difference lies in the fact that Google expects everyone to be a leader.  They actively seek out people who will take control of a situation instead of waiting to be lead.  According to Tony Wagner, Google has a bias towards action.  They want their employees to always be asking the important question, “How can I make things better?”  In other words, If you see something is broken … fix it!

I like the Google mindset because it is what I think we need more of in schools. You can never have too many people working together to make the world a better place.  I think at its core, schools need to be incubators of intellectual curiosity, places where everyone is teaching and everyone is learning.  Schools benefit by being populated by professionals who lead without necessarily having the positional power. I guess that is why I am fascinated by the work of Dana Watt’s and her research into “Disruptive Leadership in the International Schools”.

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Change. Just Because …

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The dust has settled on the start of a new school year in Saudi Arabia.  And, so far, I am pleased by the wonderful beginning that we’ve had.  A new school year brought about a great deal of “change” for our community.  We opened a new building to welcome more members into the fold.  Our leadership profile changed, as two new principals joined our team.  My teaching team expanded from six to nine, as we welcomed four new colleagues into our group and many more throughout the school. We have a wonderful new learning coach, an additional counsellor, and are in our first year of implementing a newly adopted Social Studies curriculum.

There has been a lot of change, and for that I am thankful.  Not because what previously existed was broken, dysfunctional, or lacking.  As a matter of fact, I am thankful for quite the opposite of reasons.  I am proud to work at my school and know that my children are receiving a top notch education.  However, I believe that change, simply for the sake of change, is a GOOD thing.  I know that the most successful schools need to change things up in order to be at their best.

But why fix what isn’t broken? Well, even the most high performing, healthy schools, can be vulnerable to a buildup of professional cholesterol.  Overtime, personal dynamics begin to take over, and informal networks start to take on a formal structure. Practices become entrenched, territories emerge and people become protective of their sphere of influence.  Unfortunately, these “islands” or “silos” limit collaboration, communication, creativity, and efficiency. Simply, they hinder rather than help learning.  Rather than wait for a professional heart attack, learning leaders can begin to manage change while things are still at their best and avoid the need for a complete overhaul.

Here are some questions that you might ask yourself, your colleagues, your leadership team, or your faculty, in helping you monitor your own professional health or the health of your school.   A colleague I met this summer at the University of Bath shared some research around change from Harvard that I found fascinating and I thought I would share some key ideas.  Try answering YES or NO to the following statements.

Communication & Collaboration

    • Do teachers interact only with teachers from their own grade level, team, subject area or group?
    • Do strong subcultures and norms exist between grade levels, teams, subject areas or groups?
    • Do “silos” or “islands” interfere with communication or efficiency?
    • Has collaboration between grade levels, teams, subject areas or groups decreased over the past few years?

Influence & Power

    • Do influential teams, groups, or individuals have access to disproportionate time/resources?
    • Do influential teams, groups, or individuals interfere with how decisions are made?
    • Have teams, groups, or individuals extended their influence over the past few years?

Adaptability

    • Are people uncomfortable with change, both big and small?
    • Has it been a long time since individuals or teaching teams have had significant change — i.e. influx of new colleagues, change of grade levels, adopting new professional practices, etc.?
    • Have the levels of student learning and/or performance decreased over the past few years?

If you answered YES to 0-2 of these statements, things are looking good.  There is no need to change.  If you answered YES to  3-7 of these statements, it is a great time to consider change!  Finally, if you answered YES to 8-10 of these statements, you may be behind the curve, and facing a need for significant change.

As someone who started running a few years ago, I know the importance of changing my workouts so that they do not become routine.  I know that once they do, they hinder my growth as a runner.  Change for the sake of change, is essential to success.

Although a new school year has just started, for many of my international school friends and colleagues, it also happens to be the time of year for some professional reflection. At this time of year, I always find myself thinking of  The Clash, and the question of should I stay or should I go?  Is it time for a change?  Am I suffering from a build up of professional cholesterol?  I know, that is certainly not what I want, and I do know that I want to manage change on my own terms.

List Building

Originally Posted October 2011

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Since I last wrote, and now that school is back into full swing, I have continued to think about how checklists can help improve student learning and my professional practice.  I have started to realize how many checklists I already use on a regular basis in support of learning.

As a literacy teacher who follows a workshop model based on Lucy Caulkins and the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University, a form of checklist guides the multiple conferences that I have daily with my students.  They follow a common format, a type of checklist, to an effective conference.

  • Research : Spend a few minutes with each student to determine individual needs.
  • Complement : Begin by identifying a particular strength or improvement in the learner.
  • Teach : A quick little targeted mini-lesson to help individual growth.
  • Link : Link the mini-lesson to past and future ideas.

For years, I have used a hodgepodge amalgamation of binders, notebooks, clipboards, papers, and sticky notes to help track learning, performance, anecdotal notes, and learning targets.  Some of my colleagues are experimenting with the Confer App for iPad and iPhone.  It is formatted to follow the conferences structure and serves as checklist to remind teachers of the key components of a reading / writing conference.  I’ve chosen to experiment with Evernote, creating a similar conference checklist that I can use with multiple devices and keep everything stored in the cloud.  So far I’m quite pleased.  I especially like how I can embedded recorded conversations and digital exemplars of student work in my notes for each learner.  With conferences next week, I expect my notes to be more insightful and useful than ever.

In thinking about a back to school checklist, I’ve started to revise and add to my tried and true checklist.   I have started breaking  it into manageable pieces following the guidelines on making an effective checklist.  I have started to break things into the common components of Communication /  Collaboration / Organization / Resources / Culture.  I’ve made it available at SCRIBD.  Give it a go.  Let me know what you think.  I’d love to continue to revise and improve the checklist and hope that you find it helpful.