Saturday, October 03, 2009

A PLN School



Now that I'm back in the classroom, I'm seeing how much has not really changed. The good news is that 10 year olds are still 10 year olds. Pokemon and YuGiYo is now whatever (haven't figured out yet what is the latest fad). My students are bright and happy, though a bit stressed (typical for Gifted).

Unfortunately, what also has not changed is that each day is rush-rush and now, more than ever, there is less time to build in the creative lessons that take more time than traditional "I Do-We Do-You Do-Done" lessons that can be done, from start to finish, in 40 minutes. Every day I pass the same teachers making oodles of copies of worksheets at the copiers. (They haven't even planned their lessons yet, but they've got tons of pages copied from their resource books.) Lunch is 30 minutes long and most of the talk is regarding the recent controversy in our district. I've yet to learn about my co-teachers' families or what they do for fun. They certainly know nothing about me, nor have any expressed much interest.

Additionally, I can probably count on one hand the number of teachers in my school who use their projectors, a digital or video camera, Interwrite tablets, document cameras, or can name even 5 of the online instructional resources that our district provides for teacher use. My best guess on why is that they are overwhelmed with too many resources being thrown at them and not enough training and time.

This year, our district is providing "suggested" scripted lesson plans for teachers to follow. Most teachers are using these out of concern that if they don't, they will not be preparing their students properly for state testing (at least this is what we've been told so many times we're all starting to believe it). Previously outstanding and award-winning teachers are now doubting their skills and abilities to adequately help their students learn; not to mention their fear of the scheduled teams of district-level administrators that walk through classrooms unannounced to be sure we are teaching the same benchmarks as everyone else in the district at the same time and have the same word-walls up and all the other mandated strategies in place. It's all quite distracting.

I'm feeling very discouraged with not only what I can NOT accomplish with my own students but also because I'm not seeing much potential for a PLN in my school building. I've often thought about how great it would be if my online PLN created it's own district and/or school.

A SCHOOL FULL OF PEOPLE WHO "GET IT."

It would not have to be geographically centralized, since it could possibly be all online. Personally, I like the idea of both. That would certainly allow more of my PLN to join in. My thoughts immediately drew a picture of what the classrooms would look like. I envisioned a teaching hospital where the operating rooms have observation areas (do they really? or was that only on Seinfeld?). There would be a constant flow of visitors; pre-service teachers, teachers from other schools, parents, tutors, etc. Students would be used to that and there would even be a group of students that facilitates these visits.

As a matter of fact, students would be involved in every part of the running the school; from making budget decisions, hiring teachers, to serving the lunches. Students would even be involved with reviewing (overall) test scores and making choices on how the school improvement plans should be written.

Additionally, there would be days built into the calendar where our school would be closed. On these days, every person on staff would be required to go off campus and train others. The dates would coincide with conferences, but attending conferences would not be a requirement. Staff members could meet up with a group of teachers from a nearby school and do some hands-on staff development or provide an online workshop. (There would be laptop mini labs for traveling workshops, of course.) Students would be expected to participate in some of these trainings and staff members would be encouraged to get parents involved as well.

And we will train each other. There will be time built in for our own PLN to nurture itself.

I figured that since I'm now creating new jobs for my PLN, I should probably ask them what they'd like to do. The responses I got were very interesting. First, let me say that I got A LOT of responses which makes me think that I'm not the only one who would jump on this if it could actually happen. The names you see below are from Twitter.

One thing became immediately apparent. As @chrischampion pointed out, there would be no need for technology integration specialists because "we would all be "technology integrators" - teachers, principals, aides, janitors..."

@stevebarkley said, "in my school design there'd be no jobs. Just staff constantly using skills and interests to respond to learner needs and interest" (Note: I could be wrong, but I think he meant instead of "jobs" there would be no specific roles. I can't imagine anyone, even us, working completely for free. Either way, I think that is an interesting concept. Would that be a Jack of All Trades type of situation though?)

Most of the responses were from people who wanted to keep doing what they were currently doing with or without some modifications. They just wanted to be in the presence of great teachers. I tend to agree. I don't think I would care what my role was, as long as I could be there and participate.

A few current technology specialists seemed relieved that they might be able to focus on other things, finally. Then there were those who came up with their own job titles (at least I think they made them up). Some seem humorous, but if you think about them, you can see where each suggested role would have a place in our PLN school.

  • Social Media and Communications Director (@iteachag)
  • Innovation Integration Designer (@raventech)
  • Facilitator of Applied Math Mathematics(@scottelias)
  • Cultivator of Curiousity (@Librarybeth)
  • Instigator of Inquiry (@turrean)
  • Music Technology Integrationist (@cwebbtech)
  • 3D Virtual Immersive Learning space facilitator (@tjmeister)
  • Facilitator of Outdoor Learning, Marine Biology Department (@stardiverr)
  • Early Adolescent Learning Experience Coordinator (@twilliamson15)
  • Social Convener (@shareski)
  • Cook (@ljohnpederson)
  • Manager of the "idea shop" where students build and create the answers to the problems posed in the curriculum (@tyyost)
So dream with me here. What role would you play and how would this school look?


By the way, only one person offered to be our superintendent (@canyonsdave). Since Dave is currently filling that role where he lives and he obviously has lots of experience, Dave is hired and can start the ball rolling. Thanks, Dave. My resume is in your InBox.

20 comments:

loonyhiker said...

I want to be part of your school! I could be an Environmental Excitement Educator and could take kids hiking and learning to love the many things about nature and the outdoors!

BDilling said...

I agree...I would join this school as well. I would choose to be one of the many teachers being able to impact the lives of the children by actually using the many innovative tools that are there. Currently I only get to talk about those tools and then hear my teachers ask me "when can I use them." As I too constantly see teachers running off copies from their textbook resource books or having students fill in that workbook page because others in their team are completing them. There has to be a change and I'm afraid it isn't the teachers that need changing. They are very excited to use the tools that we are offering and yet they don't or they can't.

Tim said...

Lee, thank you for a very creative, and timely, post. I, too, struggle because creating a PLN at my school does not (or cannot) happen. For many, technology integration is limited to showing a PowerPoint filled with text on a projector with a bulb so dim all the lights in the classroom have to be turned off in order to see through squinted eyes. Now we are getting interactive white boards all across our county. Teachers will get 1/2 to 1 day of training and be expected to be experts. We also have many new software and online additions to our teaching arsenal with little or no training offered. I would gladly teach at your school. I think I could bring something to the table by helping teachers use various assessment techniques to see the effectiveness of their teaching and teaching methods. I am a data geek, and I love to use data to look at the "big picture" in order to tweak what is working and eliminate what isn't. Where do I send my resume?

Lee Kolbert said...

@loonyhiker
Kids don't spend enough time outdoors for sure. That would be such a great role. Do you teach science? Thanks for commenting!

@BDilling
It's nice that you are hearing teachers ask when they can use them. I think the teachers here (not just in my school but in my district) are so stressed they don't even want to use them. They don't want to learn even one more thing; partly because of what's happening now in the news here but partly (mostly, I think) because they don't see the relevancy to their roles in students' lives. Thanks!

@Tim
Sounds like you have good grasp of using data without overkill? That's been a huge problem here. We spend many hours every month aggregating data from multiple different tests we are required to give the students. None of these tests mind you, are for grades. Maybe I'm not getting it, but it's not helpful to me as a teacher. Thanks for your comments!

Lee Ann Spillane: said...

I've often dreamed of having a school with my PLNs intertwined (literacy & technology). Nancie Atwell did it, why couldn't we?
Imagine having all the time we needed? Imagine keeping one group of students, but sending others on to another task, teacher or investigation? What could that look like? What if kids got to learn and investigate something until their curiosity waned? Imagine even being curious in school?!

The high school where I currently work is the most collaborative I've experienced. Many in the English department plan lessons together, teach them and debrief. We share tools, technology and books. We steep ourselves in conversation and we socialize too. Yet, we're only a small group in a large department and bigger school--the ripples of change are slow to spread especially in the climate of scripted performance you describe.

My PLN school would read, read, read and then write, write, write and create, publish and share. We would have dialogues and web meet-ups with students and teachers in other countries. We would be able to pick up the virtual skype phone and connect to an author or an expert or even a knowing voice states or a country away to help us solve problems or find answers to issues we investigated together. That is just a glimpse of my PLN dream school.

DebH2U said...

I'm (@DebH2U) so there with you! Having the kids involved in all aspects of the school...bringing them into the community...sharing globally...teaching inquiry-based units...and what a great group to work with!

Barbara said...

I would love to be a student in this school. Please let me know when the first day of school is. I will be there with my pencils sharpened and ready to learn and share with others.

Diane E. Main, GCT NorCal 2006 said...

I didn't make the list, but with the ubiquitousness of technology and gadgets these days, I'd like to be the indoor/outdoor technology instructor. How to use the tools you've got, where ever you go.

Claire Jones said...

Can I be a drama and design technology themed teacher entitled... technological dramatist?

I would love to teach there by the way- I can take a primary focus if that helps? :P

Lee Kolbert said...

@LeeAnn
Thanks for posting your own blogpost. It's interesting for me to read people's blogs when they've been inspired by another's.

@debh2u
I do think that's one thing that's been left out of the equation so far. Bringing the students in; maybe not so much as decision makers (in every situation) but certainly to learn from the authentic happenings in the school's system and to take ownership.

@diane
Don't feel bad about not "making the list." I only mentioned a few. I can assure you that there would be a place for you at School PLN!

@claire
Thank goodness for the arts! How wonderful to integrate technology with theater. You've got a niche there.

Thanks for commenting!

TSmith said...

Lee- couldn't agree more. Add me to the faculty please - Monster Central Project Manager - The mania to conform to meet impossible testing goals is distorting students and teachers. Instead of being real teachers with real personalities and skills to share with kids, the powers that be would rather see us teachers doing the same thing at the same time and all agreeing on exactly what should be taught, and "closing the achievement gap" or some other politically driven slogan. OH - to Loony hiker - we're going hiking next Tuesday - science and math in the woods! www.smithclass.org

Terry

bethstill said...

Lee,
I have thought (dreamed) of what it would be like to work in a school that was staffed by the people in my PLN. I could only imagine what a school could do with an entire staff that "gets it." As I read through your post I began to realize you and I are thinking on the same lines. A PLN school would definitely serve as a model and the teachers as trainers to others around the country.

This would be a great topic to explore further at Edubloggercon 2010 in Denver.

bethstill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KiwiLog said...

Hi! We loved your post over at KiwiLog and decided to feature it as part of our weekly mom blog round-up. Thanks!

Christopher Johnston said...

Your blog inspired me to start my own education focused blog. Your post puts into words an idea I have been turning over in my mind for the past several weeks. I want to actually create a school like this. I'm not quite sure how or where I start but I think that I will certainly be calling on you for advice.

Lynne Herr said...

@lherr

Lee: I would like to take on the job of "life quality" instructor at the school to address at least two areas that I think schools woefully neglect: financial literacy (how to choose a job that matches your values and skills, how to stay out of debt, how to plan for buying a house, saving for college and retirement, inventing, etc.) and healthy living (fitness, nutrition, relationships, cooking, and balancing work, family, social and volunteer obligations).

While some aspects of these topics are covered in schools, rarely are they part of the "college track" course of study, and I think both areas would improve our society as well as individual lives.

Thanks for the good work you do.

Lee Kolbert said...

@Tsmith
You're hired! Anyone who can take the bite out of the insanity is in!

@Beth
It would be a fun discussion to have.

@KiwiLog
Thanks for highlighting my blog. That was very kind.

@Lynne
You are so right. I could use a "life quality" coach right about now. :)

Thanks for visiting my blog.

kcreagh said...

I'd like to apply for the "Inspiration Coach" position. My classroom is designed around the Inspired Classroom model, where students work in small cooperative groups throughout the day on a shared computer. Different technology applications and programs are integrated in every lesson and activity. Other teachers from the "traditional approach" camp have been watching my students and have begun to ask for my help to become "inspired".

Lee Kolbert said...

@kcreagh
I'd love to be in your class. I can understand why the other teachers want to learn from you.
:)

Kids Music said...

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