Thursday, March 8, 2012
KySTE Conference, Day Two--Renewed Urgency
The reason: I didn't get to nearly as many sessions today. I spent a great deal of time today behind the counter at the ISTE "bookstore" in the 2nd floor lobby of the Galt House. And in all of that time, most of what I learned can be broken down into three basic ideas: 1) If you put yourself in the middle of a lobby at a conference and sit behind a table and look official, lots of people will come up to you and ask you questions. Mostly about the locations of specific meeting rooms. 2) KySTE needs a point of service solution so that we can accept credit cards more easily. 3) The next year that I volunteer to work the KySTE Conference (and that won't be next year--I fully intend to take a year completely away from KySTE and get recharged before coming back for probably one more run through before retirement) I'm going to ask to do something other than the bookstore, because that's not my thing.
But I'm not here to talk about the bookstore. I want to talk, actually turn around in my own head for my own benefit, what I DID get out of the conference today. I attended two sessions, one on the uses of Microsoft OneNote, and another by KySTE 2012 Keynote speaker Scott McLeod about being an effective technology leader. From the OneNote session, I debated with the speaker about which is the better choice for Kentucky schools--OneNote or Evernote. We didn't really decide. On one hand, most teachers already have OneNote installed on their computers and don't even know it, and many student computers have it as well (In my district, virtually ALL PC's in the district have it installed). This would make a district wide implementation fairly easy to achieve. On the other hand, Evernote is free (OneNote is a pricey purchase, especially for the home) and it syncs across all devices more seamlessly than OneNote does. It's something I'll have to decide about, and to be honest, I've got time because I'm not planning to push this out to everyone in my district unless a need arises.
That's about all I got out of that session.
The other session, though, that was a different story. Dr. McLeod presented a number of interesting ideas for 10 ways to improve your technology leadership. He made a number of statements that I found really intriguing. So many, in fact, that I sometimes found myself hearing a great, thought provoking idea and thinking, "I need to write that down," and before I could he or his colleague said something ELSE intriguing and I started thinking about that and soon lost all memory of what it was he had said before (In fact, at one point I seriously considered raising my hand and asking him if he could repeat word for word everything he'd said over the last six minutes so that I could remember what that one really inspiring phrase was, but he seemed on a roll and I decided to let it go). But one thing stood out for me.
I don't remember exactly what the wording was, but as Dr. McLeod was talking about PD he said--simply as an aside--that we gave PD to teachers in the same way that we tried to teach students, with the one size fits all philosophy. And that really got me thinking. In my school district we have the same standard, four professional development days that everyone else in the state has, but we also have our students attend school longer than 6 hours a day in order to get the required 1,062 hours of instruction in 170 days rather than 175, and we use those additional five days also for professional development. That's nine full days of professional development, 54 hours. And what do we do with it? In all schools in the district, for the most part, you'll walk into the school building on PD days and the teachers are sitting in the library, all getting the same information drilled into them, as if every teacher in that building all had exactly the same professional need at exactly the same moment.
And more than ludicrous, it's hypocritical. Because we tell our teachers all the time that they should be differentiating instruction, but here before those teachers' eyes are their leaders and they aren't differentiating ANYTHING.
I swear I was listening to the second half of Dr. McLeod's presentation. At least with half of my brain. But the other half of my brain was on a mission: This has to change, that half of my brain was saying to me. It doesn't matter how, but I have to go back to my district and somehow convince the other school and district administrators that this has to stop. We have to find a way to not only meet the students where they are with their learning (practically a mantra in my district), but to also meet the teachers where THEY are. And that means acknowledging first and foremost that they're not all in the same place.
Larger conferences like this KySTE conference are a great model for one kind of way that we can do that. The first time that I ever went to this conference, back when I was a teacher instead of a CIO and it was called the Kentucky Teaching and Learning Conference, I was blown away by the fact that there were so many possible sessions that I could go to, and that I had all of the freedom to go to the things that interested me and that I NEEDED. This was the kind of professional development I wanted and needed. I came back to my district thinking, THIS is what we need to be doing for PD in the district, and a couple of years later, when I was CIO, I convinced the district leadership to give it a try. The Erlanger-Elsmere Teaching and Learning Conference is what I called it (Okay, so maybe coming up with titles for stuff isn't my specialty--look at the title of this blog, for Pete's sake!), and we had the thing for three out of four years. You can see a website for the last version of it by clicking this link. Of all of the PD's we've ever had in the district, it was BY FAR the most enthusiastically received. As in 94% of all of the staff members ranked it as either very beneficial for their job or somewhat beneficial to their job. And 97% of the staff members in that final year wanted to see the EETLC continue from year to year.
So what happened? Senate Bill 1 / Unbridled Learning happened. Building principals pushed back against the conference--they said they couldn't "waste" an entire PD day letting teachers do whatever they wanted when there was all this work that had to be done for Unbridled Learning and the Common Core Standards and End of Course Assessment and everything else that occurred. So now teachers are sitting in the library learning about CIITS and common assessments and curriculum alignment. Because it's important that all of this stuff gets covered.
And I'm not knocking the principals. All of this stuff really is important.
But darn it, this has to change. It has to. We're never going to get effective PD assuming these teachers all need all of this. And I'm not sure what to do (though I have a few ideas I'm going to bat around with the central office administrators next week), but I have to do something.
Wow, having written all of this, I have to say, maybe I got more out of today than I thought I did. Maybe I got a renewed sense of urgency.
That's not a bad takeaway...