06 October 2013

Seven Pathways to a New Teacher Professionalism

Yes, it has been a long, long time between posts here. A new job, and the switch back from university based life to the reality of working with real schools and real children - real life, caused re-set. A reevaluation of how to use my time, and of how and perhaps why to write.
But I am back with a new mission - to begin a discussion of the known possible.  A discussion of the project we are attempting in real public schools in Virginia.  Not wealthy schools.  Not easy schools. Real schools. Complicated schools.  Schools with vast and deep challenges, as well as schools with great resources...     
                                                                           - Ira Socol  - Charlottesville, Virginia 
How do we reimagine teacher professional learning.  Let's face it, it isn't going to happen in universities and other institutions of higher education and teacher training. Those are places, even the "best" of those in the United States, of social reproduction and status preservation, not places interested in change. So it will be something which progressive schools and school systems have to do on their own - on their own, but, preferably together. 

The new kind of teaching professional we need to build is something quite different in concept from that being developed in schools of education. Those institutions develop people who deliver content and manage classrooms. We need educators who enable opportunity and create access, and that requires a different group of skillsets and a different belief system.  For the most part our teachers know this... that is, they know what they do not know. They know what they need. They told us that...

I work in the Albemarle County Public Schools in Central Virginia and we've been thinking about this a lot this year. After a 12 year process of building change we attempted another acceleration this year, another "inflection in the innovation S curve" through an internal grant program called "Design 2015."
Design 2015 asked all of our 26 schools to describe a fundamental change they wanted to make in student learning, and to describe a project which could begin to break away the barriers which stood in the way of those changes happening.
For some schools those barriers were quite literal, and we removed walls or created new doorways which opened up new opportunities.  In others lack of technologies was an issue and the solutions ranged from 1:1 laptop initiatives to "tool buckets" for classrooms filled with MacBooks and Galaxy Tabs, iPods and Cameo fabricators. In other places it was more flexible comfortable furniture, or library redesigns, or a re-envisioned cafeteria which doubles as a collaborative MakerSpace. Still others just sought extra time for teachers to plan or to spend a few summer weeks immersed in Spanish for their bilingual school.
We found ways to fund all of these in one way or another. Not because we're wealthy, but because we dug deep and reallocated to fund innovation. But before we could begin building, or buying, we needed to help teachers find ways to find paths to new ways of thinking.
We knew this because we saw the questions embedded in their grant requests. And as we, a team ranging across many levels of our small “central office” - 
let me pause here and give some credit, for because of brave leaders - those who are both risk-takers and risk-accepters - that great things are allowed to happen - Dr. Billy Haun, our Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction; Debbie Collins, our Director of Instruction; Vince Scheivert, our Chief Information Officer; Becky Fisher, @beckyfisher73 our Director of EdTech and Professional Development; Chad Ratliff; our Assistant Director of Instruction; Rosalyn Schmidt, or School Architect; and our brilliant EdTech integrators and trainers Jamie Foreman and Nita Collier; along with myself, whatever it is that I do...
 - walked our schools, we listened. We walked our schools with "Attention-Deficit Disorder Vision" - seeing and hearing, even feeling, whatever we could. Observing children, grasping, however we were able, the User Experience and comparing that to the User Experience we hope for and that our educators hope for. For it is only by beginning with thinking about the User Experience we want that we can backward map to the User Interface - the school and pedagogical design we need.

Which pathways do you see here? A 9th Grade English Class in the MakerSpace in
the Monticello High School Library. Maker-Infused Curriculum? Project/Problem/Passion-Based Learning? Choice and Comfort? Instructional Tolerance? How about Universal Design?
We saw that no matter what our schools were asking “for,” what they really wanted their children to do fell into one or both of two broad categories: They wanted children to use contemporary technologies to interact broadly and consistently with the world in meaningful and deep ways, or/and. they wanted children to be makers most of the day, not just consumers. But in both cases the teachers were not entirely sure of how to jettison the constraints of delivering filtered, packaged content, and replace that with a trust-based, child-centric, open approach consistent with our Life Long Learning Competencies - competencies aimed at helping children become successful adults in every phase of their lives in their times. So those categories - Interactive Technologies and Maker-Infused Curriculum - became our first two professional learning pathways.
We found much more, of course, discovering five other essential questions:
Project/Problem/Passion-Based-Learning - Our teachers know that they waste their and their students’ energy fighting for attention when projects and passions bring attention naturally, they want the skills to bring knowledge through interest.
Choice and Comfort - Our teachers want to learn how to “let go” of rules which burn student cognitive energy on things unrelated to learning, and unrelated to workplace or social success in this century.
Connectivity - Our teachers have asked to learn the tools which connect students globally, synchronously and asynchronously, to create authentic audiences, break isolation, and support complex learning opportunities from kindergarten on up.
Universal Design for Learning - Our teachers have expressed real interest in looking “beyond differentiation” and even “beyond CAST,” toward a true Universal Design, with student preference replacing diagnosis and prescription everywhere it is possible.
Instructional Tolerance - Our teachers and administrators have begun a lively conversation about moving away from traditional school and classroom management toward the concept of “Instructional Tolerance.” What happens when “teacher preference” no longer drives classroom rules and atmosphere? What must students tolerate from adults? from other students?

Armed with these questions from our teachers, these professional learning needs, these “pathways” to a new kind of professionalism - we found teacher-leaders, “pedagogical entrepreneurs” in our emerging vocabulary, who could bring their vision of these educational futures to our entire faculty cohort. Not by labelling our previous work “a failure,” but by discussing the evolving marketplaces of education, brain research, and contemporary technological affordances. 

Tying these professional learning opportunities directly to school grants supporting new learning spaces and new technologies created both urgency and immediate learner test bed, crucial project-based learner tools. Offering learning opportunities at differing times, in differing formats, face-to-face and online, short and long sessions, in rooms often with multiple screens and multiple types of devices provided real demonstrations of the kinds of work we were showing. We never offered that ed school special, the lecture on differentiation.

 Transformational Maker Summer

We created "lab schools" too. Working with Maker Education's MakerCorps Initiative, and inventing some of our own stuff spun from ideas like Mozilla's Maker Summer we transformed Summer School in many places from the old remedial nightmare into something else - a radical pathways learning experience for children and teachers. Whether it was elementary summer school at impoverished sites, middle school connected maker summer school, or a ninth grade welcome week at a high school driven by maker activities and connectivity, our teachers watched as these new professional strategies transformed the often "hardest kids" into winners and their own careers into something with new meaning. These summer schools transformed principal expectations as well, bringing new paradigms to those August staff meetings.

Our Pathways are captured throughout our professional expectations
and performance assessments

As our school system has for years, we've reimagined what professional learning looks like in many ways. Recertification credits come many ways, including documenting active participation in social media professional learning. Just two weeks ago Chad Ratliff and I led a small group of our educators on a mission to New York, where - as we are increasingly learning to do - we avoided schools and eduction conferences and watched learning unfold at museums, at the World Maker Faire, on the High Line, in Central Park, on the subway system. What does learning look like? What do learning spaces look like? What questions do humans ask in learning spaces?

We're working on it, and we're looking for anyone willing to join with us, in collaboration, in sharing resources, in sharing the spirit. Honestly, as we asked the Virginia Educational Research Association a few weeks ago, we'll take the support of any university interested in supporting our mission as well...

We ended that call to "VERA" with this:

'"Fifty-one years ago at Rice University President John F. Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win..."

'"Today we ask you to join those of us in Public Education to do the research [and teacher professional learning work] which our children need, not because it is easy, not because it is easily funded, not because there are existing textbooks and courses explaining how to do it, but because this is the hard work we must do, it is the grand challenge we are unwilling to postpone, the grand challenge we will step up to accept, and the task we will accomplish in order to build the society our children deserve."'

This the grand challenge. Teachers who understand themselves within a new professional paradigm. Teachers who see themselves as enablers of learning, as people who close the opportunity gaps, as educators who are both mentors and partners with their students on these learning journeys.

Wish us good luck, then jump in alongside us.

- Ira Socol


Pam said...

Thanks for capturing our work so perfectly and the challenges we face. The best experience to support new educators to learn how to face the challenges of public educators today is to spend time - a lot more time- teaching side by side with master teachers with deep expertise and wisdom but who have sustained growth mindsets across careers. I am convinced one of the failures of the system today can be directly traced to the lack of a medical school "teaching faculty" approach in schools of education. The purpose of medical schools isn't to do teaching and learning research in isolation of the profession itself but to be integral to the process. I'd like to see transformation of education school faculty into teaching faculty. Imagine that.

Chris Lawrence said...

AWSM stuff Ira! As always willing to see how I/we can be of help. Would love to see your teachers publish and remix their lessons using our Thimble templates https://mozteach.makes.org/thimble/make-your-own-teaching-kit

Devon Loffreto said...

Great post. Great questions. As a professional "maker" making developmental play product for kids 0-6 for the past 10+ years, and now as an "Entrepreneurial Ed-Tech" innovator deploying maker spaces for education and various instructional approaches in NY and Virginia (www.noizivy.org + www.kidoyo.com/about + www.fredxcoders.com + www.coderdojolongisland.org, www.minecraftdojo.org), I wonder constantly about our approaches and their trajectories for success. Without intending disrespect, while I am dedicated to making an educational impact in the lives of kids, starting with my own, I would never consider becoming a "professional teacher". As a student today, the most limiting factor for success could be walking into a school with walls. For the first time in history, real alternatives exist, and are abundantly valuable. I put effort into changing how schools function, and giving teachers access to professional development because "skill segregation" is real and growing, and it will destroy our Society if we do not address it quickly.

In the market it is becoming a maxim... if the service is "FREE"... you are the product. In the maker community the maxim is... "if you can't open it, you don't own it". Apply those to public education. We have an employment system directing its objectives at employment outcomes... and much ed-tech investment is being made into consumer devices like iPads. What result is being pursued? There is a big difference between a real maker and an educator... it starts with methods. Failure is a part of the successful process, and while leading educators can adopt the philosophy, can they practice what they preach?

As a Society... technology, data, and participation require a new context that must be present in our schools, or change will not amount to much. The Internet has fundamentally changed the formula of freedom itself. Charlottesville is the perfect place to make this visible to the world. We can not be a nation founded by the principles of personal sovereignty, and be a nation of Government-issued identities functioning as employees... and expect our young people to interact with technology and what is possible in a win-win-win format.

Like we recently saw in California... $30 million in iPads that we think can not get hacked on by students is administrative ineptitude. Like we see in our Federal Government, administrative ineptitude is running rampant. The "Maker Movement" stands for some simple principles... but above all it stands for taking back the power and control of participation in the value creation process of Society as Individuals.

It is a difficult message for the educational community to confront... but integrity demands it.

Confronting it means understanding that our Kindergarten students neext a new context of participation that starts at Registration. They are not owned identities of an administrative system, they are self-possessed creators of opportunity itself privately owned as assets by families. What they make is theirs... and this data model must exist for true educational collaboration to exist... because those walls holding educators captive and providing W2/W4 context for their participation are eroding... and that is a goal of a growing population.

Structure yields results... collaboration is only possible in the absence of protected territory. Educators must confront that Individually and administratively.

Unknown said...

Hello Ira,
My name is Jennifer Hamrick and I am a student at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, AL. I am currently taking a class (EDM310) with a professor who accepted your challenge a long time ago. This particular class is all about the new ways to use technology in the classroom and project-based learning. Not just project-based learning in the classroom, but that is exactly what our class is. In this class, we don't receive textbooks and lectures and we don't take weekly tests to see if we remember anything said. We are given topics, ideas or questions and must complete our projects and post them to our personal blogs. By taking this class and being challenged with thinking outside of the box, I am becoming a teacher that you are asking for. I am hoping that when I do graduate, more schools in my area have taken the initiative to redesign their schools like you have. I enjoyed reading about your Design 2015 journey and look forward to following the progress your district makes.

Jennifer Hamrick