protocols

Put Down Your Old Tools & Pick Up New Ones

Spring time.  It is such a great time of the year.  It’s a time for tulips, pussy willows, and getting the garden ready for summer.   Excitement abounds as plans to end the school year are set and summer vacations are scheduled.  What I like most is that a feeling of rebirth, reinvention, and re-invigoration are in the air.  At home and work, it is time to do a thorough spring cleaning.  Around now, most of my favourite magazines inevitably find their way to friends, the faculty room for some gentle re-use, or my blue box for the requisite recycling.  But I also find time to enjoy parts of them one last time before sending them off to a new home.

In DWELL, I recently re-read an interesting article about William McDonough‘s work as an architect, designer, sustainability guru, and founder of Cradle to Cradle design.  Reflecting on his work, McDonough spoke of an important lesson that he learned from one of his mentors, Walker Evans.  Evans was a noted large format photographer, who at seventy, took to using a simple Polaroid camera for much of his work.  Why did he do this?  Simply, he recognized that …

“…you need to learn that every ten years, you put down your tools and pick up new ones; otherwise, you only have one life.”

CC Photo Credit

So, I have found myself thinking about Walker Evans’ words of wisdom and William McDonough’s example.  I have always enjoyed and valued the change that teaching internationally has afforded me.  Over the years, I have gained valuable experiences in a diverse range of international schools in Europe, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East.  I have worked as an elementary classroom and middle school subject area teacher. I am certainly richer for the experiences that the constant change has provided.

Maybe it is because it is spring.  Maybe it is because I am approaching the end of my eighteenth year as an educator.  Or maybe it is because I feel the need to make room for something new by getting rid of the old; but I keep asking myself …

What can I do to live more than one life?

What tools will I put down next year?

What new ones will I pick up?

As a life long learner, I need to practice what I am not good at.  What do I need to practice?

As I confirm my summer plans, I am also considering what old tools will I put down and what new ones will I pick up?  What disruptive technology can I adopt next year to help me live more than one life?  I have started my list and am excited by the possibilities.  I do believe that some of the characteristics of great educators is that they continuously reflect on their work.  They seek to stretch themselves, and are comfortable being out of their element.

But I also find myself considering how can I encourage my colleagues to live more than one life?  As a learning leader, principal, or headmaster, what are you doing to help your colleagues put down their old tools and pick up some new ones?  Are you embarking on a 1:1 iPad pilot program?  Implementing a new standardized assessment like the ISA?  Beginning to explore different forms of running records? Reconsidering the idea of literacy in today’s ever changing world?  Offering alternative sources of professional development like a COETAIL course, instructional coaches, or the use of agendas and protocols to enhance collaboration?  What part does identifying disruptive technologies play in your end of year reviews or goals meetings?

What are the old tools that you might put down?  What new ones might you pick up?

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“Is that clear Mr. Bender?”

Originally Posted February 2011

CC Photo Credit

Earlier today, I participated in one of our weekly PG&D (Professional Growth & Development) afternoons at Saudi Armaco Schools.  It was a productive time spent collaboratively building understanding of the Words Their Way program.  Time, planning, and effort had obviously been well spent by Jen, our literacy coach, to set the stage for a productive meeting. Tables of treats were organized to help boost our groups energy at the end of a work day and near the end of the work week in Saudi Arabia.  A protocol was selected to help facilitate collaboration and focus our dialogue.  I liked this.  I’m a big fan of protocols!!  Group members were assigned different roles within the process and everyone was expected to, and did, contribute.  After working through the protocol with my team, the reporters from each grade level team (k-5) shared out their findings.

Our collaborative time was well spent as we worked to better understand the Words Their Way program.   A great many ideas and themes emerged that will be helpful in moving forward.  So did a number of “big picture” questions …

Why are we implementing this program?
What do we hope to accomplish?
How will this benefit our learners?

I love these types of questions for a number of reasons, but mainly because they demonstrate that my colleagues care about students and student learning. These questions could easily be interpreted as resistance to change, colleagues reluctant to try something new or move in a different direction.  However, from a leadership prospective, I like the questions because they provide me with additional insight into next steps.

At the moment, I am in the middle of reading Switch, Chip & Dan Heath’s book about change.  One point that they highlight is that what is perceived as resistance is often a result of a lack of clarity.  People need crystal clear directions.  Think about it.  A doctor can’t just say to a patient that they need to loose weight, and expect success.  So doctor’s clearly layout the need for change with metrics and outline a plan for success … changes to diet, lifestyle, and specific goals with repeated check-ups to monitor progress.

So when asking teachers to adopt a new program or undergo a change of any sort, think about clarity, especially when faced with resistance.  A friend Dana also reminded me this week to take a moment to check your Vision?  Has the rationale for any change been clearly identified and communicated?  How has clarity been achieved around the intended goal and the benefits to student learning?  Is there anything else that can be done to add clarity? Maybe there’s something we can learn from Principal Richard Vernon, in the  The Breakfast Club.