Keeping a PLN (and a PLC) Civil

#INFO233 PLN Post 7

I began teaching at El Cajon Valley High School in 2007. As a relatively new teacher I was tasked with being the Professional Learning Community Team Lead for a team of English Language Development teachers. In order to prepare people in my position, all the PLC Team Leads at my school were given a copy of Revisiting Professional Learning Communities At Work.

6a00d8341c721253ef0120a5226c31970bAt that point in my career, I didn’t necessarily see myself as a leader. So, I appreciated having that book as a guide for how to develop effective PLCs. I remember slowly reading through the text throughout the year (I’m a slow reader and it’s a pretty thick book). The explanations and guides for how to run an effective PLC made a lot of sense to me. Yes, we should be learning together. Yes, we should be talking about how we instruct students and sharing our instructional experiments with each other. Yes, we should read some research together and discuss how to implement the best practices that we’re reading about. I saw all these great ideas for improving our ELD program.

Some of the improvements suggested by this text were readily adopted by my fellow PLC members, and some were opposed. I couldn’t understand the opposition at the time. I thought that if we were going to have an effective PLC and serve our students well, then we should implement as many of the ideas in this book as we could. Opposing the ideas in the book, refusing to even read about them, these behaviors seemed so anti-improvement, so anti-progress.

Believing that the ideas in the book represented improvement, I basically resorted to ideological campaigns fought in the email and PLC meeting battlefields. In my mind, I built myself up to be superior to any colleague who disagreed with the ideas I saw as so obviously beneficial. I emailed point-by-point rebuttals to their concerns. I tried using peer pressure to turn reluctant PLC members over to my “side.” I wrote off their educational experience as simply many years of doing things the wrong way.

I’ve since apologized to some of them, and I believe that the majority of the people I work with see me as someone who they appreciate working with, someone who is fair and helpful, but I am sure I permanently damaged my relationships with a few people at my school.

Teaching is such a personal thing. Educators’ beliefs about teaching are an extension of who we are as people. When the ideas about education I was attracted to came under attack, I felt attacked. So, I attacked back, not recognizing (for a long time) that I was hurting some of my colleagues. And I’ve found that when you hurt someone, they’re not too keen on trying any of your ideas. When you hurt a member of your PLN, the trust required in a learning community is damaged, and people stop learning from each other.

 

I’m not proud of how I acted during this time in my career, but I am proud that I was able to reflect on my behavior and recognize that I needed to change. I still have colleagues who have different educational philosophies than I do. I have colleagues who hold ideas that I see as detrimental to how humans learn. But I don’t feel the need to bully those colleagues into believing what I believe (as I did back when I was the PLC Team Lead). What good can come of that? None. I’ll still voice what I believe about how to improve our school. I want our school to improve, but I recognize that trusting each other enough to disagree with each other and still be productive together is one of the most powerful ways our school is going to improve.

So, keep your PLN (or PLC) civil. Learn from each other, and when you disagree, be sure to remember that it’s a conflict of ideas, not a conflict of people.

Share Your Ideas

#INFO233 PLN Post 6

Please take a couple minutes to view this video:

This video is a pep talk to all those educators out there who doubt that they have good ideas to share. Participating in a professional learning community means more than simply connecting to resources and experts, it also means contributing your own ideas. I think many teachers shy away from sharing, thinking: my ideas aren’t good enough to share (as the video illustrates).

EDpuzzle- Teacher InstructionsI experienced something similar to the situation in the video: I started using @EDPuzzle, and I really liked it. I liked it so much, that I wanted to share it with others. To do this, I made a Google Slides presentation with instructions and screenshots for how to get started with EDPuzzle. Now, EDPuzzle has their own instructional tutorials on how to get started (and their instructions are better than mine). More than that, some of the screenshots and instructions in my presentation are a little outdated. Still, I made this presentation and sent it to my colleagues to show them how to get started with this instructional tool. I was also sure to set the sharing settings so that it was public on the web, just so it would be easier for others to see.

I thought nothing of this presentation for a long time, and then out of the blue I got emails from teachers out of my district–out of my state! They were asking for permission to use this presentation to help their own colleagues get started with EDPuzzle. Of course, I told them to go for it–make a copy and modify it for their needs. I even changed the title slide to include a link that makes a copy of the presentation (see above).

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I’ll admit, I felt proud that a presentation I made was being looked at (sought out) by educators I didn’t even know. It told me that the idea I had (to share this cool instructional tool and make it as easy as possible for others to get started with it) was valuable to others. It told me that my idea helped others.

But the part of this experience I really appreciates goes back to the idea in the video at the top of this post: This wasn’t some spectacular insight. This wasn’t an epiphany that would reshape the pedagogical world. This was just a “how to” presentation for getting started with a useful edtech tool. Still, by sharing I was able to contribute to more educators and more students than if I had decided to keep my ideas to myself.

I hope the non-sharers out there have a change of heart. It would be great to see more educators contributing their ideas so we can all better serve our students.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men…

#INFO233 PLN Post 5

I have been a big believer in the power of digital portfolios for years. When I became the teacher librarian at El Cajon Valley High School (@ECVHS), I knew I wanted to advocate that we try to go more school wide with digital portfolios. I blogged a little to share the educational value of having students build digital portfolios to demonstrate understanding.

 

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click to view the “classic” Google Sites Digital Portfolio Template

I was so pumped to hit the ground running with digital portfolios, that I spent some time to put together an easy-to-copy digital portfolio template for students at my school. It was going to be so simple: students would visit the URL, hit “Use Template” and then they would have their very own skeleton of a digital portfolio to build up with evidence of learning over the years. Teachers would be able to get started with digital portfolios without really having to understand all the intricacies of how Google Sites worked. And let’s face it, “classic” Google Sites was pretty clunky. It was hard to use. But once you spent some time learning how to get it to do what you wanted it to do… it was still clunky, but in a way that Google Sites users understood. Plus, it had the advantage of integrating pretty well with the other Google Tools we were already using: Docs, Slides, Drawing, and more. So, I built the template and waited for the fall of 2016 to come so that I could help lead this digital portfolio experiment.

 

And then, after years of having few, if any, updates to Google Sites, Google announced the “new” Google Sites. Luckily, our Director of Instructional Technology, Dan McDowell (@danmcdowell), requested and received access for our district pretty early on. Now, because this happened over the summer, I was pretty sure I would be able to simply build up another template based on my earlier template. But I ran into two (I thought) significant hurdles:

  • the new Google Sites doesn’t offer blogging pages (yet)
  • the new Goolge Sites doesn’t allow sites to be published as templates (yet)

I see blogging as very valuable for educators wanting to take a risk on digital portfolios. And clicking a button in order to make a skeleton of a website is so easy. I was worried that students and teachers would see digital portfolios as less valuable and more difficult with the new Google Sites (and yes, we would be sticking with Google Sites because of how well it integrates with our other Google Tools). I emailed a few people and talked to Reuben Hoffman (@reubenhoffman), one of our district’s Digital Learning Coaches, about my worries. Everyone’s advice made sense: new Google Sites is the way to go because:

  1. it would get better over time,
  2. it is very easy to use (much easier than “classic” Google Sites),
  3. “classic” Google Sites may stop being supported after one year,
  4. we don’t want to have our students invest intellectually in a dying web tool, and
  5. our staff members are still excited about digital portfolios.

I stopped worrying about the problems now associated with the original plan and started getting excited again about going more school wide with digital portfolios.

 

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click to view the “new” Google Sites Student Sample/Guide

I used a lot of the content from my old template in order to create a “sample” in the new Google Sites. Students will be able to use this sample as a guide for developing their own websites. The original plan has changed; there is more uncertainty when it comes to how digital portfolios will play out at ECVHS–neither of those are bad things! I’m looking forward to seeing what opportunities this uncertain path forward will present.

 

QTEL Summer Institute

#INFO233 PLN Post 4

The week of July 18th I was able to go to The Quality Teaching for English Learners Summer Institute in San Francisco with a team of educators from my school. I was connected to this professional development opportunity through Brent Enerva (@mrenerva). Brent was drawn to this institute as a science teacher working on effectively implementing Next Generation Science Standards with a high English learning population. However, he initially thought that the cost would be prohibitive (flight, hotel, registration would add up to about $4,000). Still, he asked our school site council, and not only was he approved, it was suggested that he bring a team of educators. To make a long story short, with the support of our school site council and our principal (@KimPattersonECV), Brent brought a team of five to this valuable (and expensive) learning opportunity.

20160719_151959One lesson from this experience is that it never hurts to ask when you see a valuable PD experience come along. I am very glad that I got to participate in the QTEL Summer Institute. I spent about 6 hours a day learning in my sessions, and then I spent time in the afternoons exploring San Francisco with colleagues while processing what we were learning.

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The institute was held in the Golden Gate Club in the Presidio. I was able to hear from icons of English learner instruction such as Aida Walqui and Kenji Hakuta. Our session leader gave us instruction on QTEL’s 3 moments approach to designing lessons for English learners: Preparing the learner, Interacting with the text, and Extending student learning. As a Trainer of Trainers in SDAIE, I was familiar with these concepts, but participating in an immersive training like this Summer Institute helped me internalize how keeping QTEL’s 3 moments in mind will ensure effective implementation of ELD standards. I look forward to bringing what I learned to future meetings and trainings with staff members this school year.


Take Aways

The most significant connections I made during this training were:

1. If learning, especially language learning, is social, then we should facilitate the kinds of interactions among students that promote language exchange.

2. ZPD! Is it bad that after 10 years of being an educator that I’m still growing in my understanding of Vygotsky’s concept? Before, I thought of ZPD as a magical realm in a student’s ability where he/she could still access a slightly more difficult task, like a step on a staircase that’s not too easy and not too hard to take. Now I understand ZPD, I believe, more accurately. The Zone of Proximal Development is the space in which all learning occurs. It is the zone in which a learner has ventured out of what is known and taken a risk to build new knowledge. This knowledge building path is something that, in order to be authentic and substantive learning, the learner must take on his/her own. This is why it is soooo much more meaningful to have learners “discover” concepts rather than simply having the teacher tell him/her the concept. In order for the learning to “stick,” the learner has to be the one to build the learning in his/her own mind (through things like quality interactions with peers within learning activities). It’s the teacher’s job to notice when and how a student is venturing into the ZPD and supporting that journey as needed through instructional scaffolds.

20160719_2027273. Instructional scaffolds! How appropriate that right across the street from my hotel, there were scaffolds set up! I had to snap a picture. Just as with ZPD, I feel like my understanding of what scaffolds are have changed due to this training. Before, I thought that instructional scaffolds were those meticulously pre-planned supports that I, as an educator, would put into place as part of a lesson in order to help students reach a high level of understanding. Now I understand instructional scaffolds to be:

  • temporary (I already knew that)
  • given to students as needed (I kind of knew that, but now I understand why)
  • based on the risks students make venturing into the ZPD (wow!)

That last point is what felt new to me. So, in order for any real learning to occur, a student must venture into the ZPD, take a risk, to build new knowledge. That step, that risk taking, must be based on something the student wants to do/learn. If the thing the student wants to do/learn is too difficult, that’s when the teacher adds scaffolds. With my misunderstanding of scaffolds, I was creating scaffolds for a path of learning that I predetermined students would take. That’s not how people learn. Instead, I should be providing scaffolds to help students with a learning path that they want to take. Put it this way: if a worker needs to get work done on a 4th story window of an east-facing wall, I shouldn’t be constructing scaffolds to a window on the 6th story of a south-facing wall. The worker doesn’t want to get there, so the scaffold is useless. I can hear the opposition to this idea: “But I want my student to learn X, not Y!” I get it! But if we don’t get our students to want to learn X, no scaffolds in the world are going to cause them to truly learn it. And until we figure out ways to get students to want to learn X, why not experiment a little and learn some Y?