Friday, November 21, 2014

Washington D.C. Visit

I had the privilege of being invited along with over a hundred superintendents nationwide to a White House sponsored event based on what they called a "Future Ready" initiative.  The President's goal is to have 99% of all school districts "Future Ready" in five years.  This is a tall undertaking, but I was emboldened not only by my colleagues who have that cutting edge mindset, but I was also sold by the President's and his staff's commitment to make this happen.

I appreciated and was encouraged by the "like-mindedness" that existed among all of us in the one-day session as we heard from the President's top advisors as well as staff members in the Department of Education.  I would have to say these people "get it."  I mean they also see the urgency that we have been discussing in our school district for the last 10 years.  That is, the opportunities that exist for our students with the proper use of technology is no longer a "get to" as much as it is a "have to."  In other words, "students are at a disadvantage" as so aptly put by Alberto M. Carvalho, Superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools in his introduction of the President.  He did an excellent job of articulating that students are at a severe disadvantage if we limit their learning to within the school hours only.  The world is changing dramatically, and kids are hurt when they do not have the tools to learn and adapt with it.

I am a firm believer the reason many of our schools have fallen behind in the use of technology is due to this lack of urgency.  After all, why go to the expense and effort "with every thing else we have to do?"  If that is the perspective, and if we see providing access to the world using technology as an "also ran," it probably will not happen.  Without vision and purpose, it will not happen.  In contrast, I was impressed on how staff members and colleagues both articulated the "why" behind the urgency.  I am reminded by leaders at the summit and colleagues that transformation to digital learning is a moral imperative.  The best tools and the best environment for learning is a non-starter, and just because we fail to see that does not make it right.  The Summit powerfully reminds us all of our vision and purpose.  

Here is a video that supports this:

I am very grateful for the heartfelt, sincere, dedicated message and direction we received that day from the administration.  The goal is a lofty one, but my colleagues and I are used to lofty goals, and I find that inspiring.  If there is one thing we can do a better job with it is to articulate the message that our kids need the best tools and the most optimum learning culture that gives them the opportunity to compete with students on an international level.

My commitment coming from this experience is to do a better job of sharing this urgency, articulating the "why" behind this move to more powerful learning using technology and compelling the vision in making it happen both in our district and with colleagues.

Each superintendent, along with 1,100 other superintendents, have signed a document called the Future Ready Pledge.  Each of us made a commitment to continue the work in our districts even at a greater level with a commitment to work with other districts to help us all get to the goals on that pledge.

See the pledge below:

Friday, October 3, 2014

Graduate Profile

I think one of the most important and timely pieces of work we are doing in our school district is creating a graduate profile.  A graduate profile is a description of the personal and academic qualities and skills that are necessary in order to receive a diploma when each and every student completes our
educational system.

We are in the beginning stages of the work, and our goal is to make sure all of us including parents and community readily understand what we expect everyone of our graduates to be able to know and do.  Yes, we currently have graduate standards tied to coursework and passing relevant exams.  

However, we are taking this process steps further by defining specific skills and qualities tied to 21st Century Learning Skills (For example, the five C's which include Citizenship, Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity) and then ensuring these skills are taught, measured and developed in every grade level.  

The main purpose for creating such a profile is to make sure students are prepared for college and career.  This is purposeful work, and our teaching, learning and testing has to be tied and aligned to 21st Century Learning readiness in post high school education and career.

In creating the graduate profile, we ask the following questions:
  1. What are the explicit qualities and skills we want every graduate to be able to have and  demonstrate?
  2. Are these qualities and skills easy to read and interpret by all of us including students, parents, employees and community?
  3. Will we be able to teach and articulate these through every grade level?
  4. Are they measurable, and will it be obvious throughout the system if students are on task?
A simple point needs to be made in noting how essential it is for our students and staff to have 21st Century learning tools available in order for all of us to pull this off!

This will be exciting work, and there will be much discussion and communication about our progress in the months to come.

The graphic below provides a visual illustration of the foundation of a graduate profile:

Friday, September 19, 2014

Growing and Achieving: We're up for the Fight!

Academic growth does not come easy.  All of us do not just grow up to learn, read, write, calculate without help, direction, purposeful teaching and learning, and without an environment that nurtures all of the above.  In fact, the reality is there are parts of our culture and interests that compete with or even resist learning and growing academically.

Reading for example is a complex process that takes days, months and even years to master. The English language, by the way, is one of the most complex languages and is four to five fold more difficult to learn, to read and interpret as compared to many other languages.

Beyond the complexity of academic learning are the elements students and parents have to endure, including a pop culture that sends the message that schoolwork and learning are far from "cool."  And of course there is that ever present societal message of instant gratification and immediate success, all devoid of hard work and sacrifice.

There are several inhibitors to the work that needs to be done in and outside of classrooms and schools that could be illustrated ad nauseam, but the point is the efforts made toward academic learning is swimming upstream.

After we understand this reality and understand the challenges, we do not keep our focus on them.  Instead we are strategic in paying attention to the solutions.  We are purposeful in winning the "fight" of the battle toward all students' learning and achieving.  We are not fighting people, kids, or each other, but we are fighting pressures, and movements, and harmful thinking.  We do so by using tools and strategies that promote education, make learning fun and interesting, and exalt big thinking that creates vision for staff and students.  We create a culture that pushes out the culture that resists educating kids.

The important idea is recognizing:

#1. We are in a battle, and that is precisely the reason we use the words "relentless" and phrases like "for all to improve" in our mission statement.  See District Learning Plan:

#2.  We have a strategy, and every battle needs a plan to win.  (See Learning Plan)

What drives our passion is the fact we are in a good fight.  I do not know a better way of stating the fact that the fight is for the welfare of precious human lives.  A good fight is one we win if we are relentless and stick to our plan!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Where Does Technology Fit?

The graphic represented on this page says a great deal about who we are, what we believe, what we are doing and how we are doing it.  Notice one cannot tell we depend a great deal on technology to do what we do.  The reason is we recognize the use of technology is a means to an end and not an end in itself.

In the same light, the reason we use technology to increase student engagement and learning is due to the messages and meaning of the graphic representation of our District Foundation.  For example, a district foundational philosophy is "every student can and should learn" drives our decisions in doing everything possible to provide tools and the wherewithal for learning to occur for student.  Combine that philosophy with the message from our mission statement: "We are relentless in creating an environment for all to improve mind, character and body."

The message is to do everything possible to set everybody up for success.  Among many other important items having the tools to get the job done for staff and students is vital.  Doesn't it make sense for schools to have the same tools available for communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity that exist in the world outside of school?

We have four goals that are built on academic achievement, 21st Century learning and safety.  In order for us to achieve our goals, we have to have the best to be the best and do the best!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Beginning on Solid Ground

Over 170 CUSD staff members enjoyed two days of solid introduction, instruction and training related to the use of what are called Kagan Structures to be used in our classrooms.  Dr. Vern Minor did an excellent job of "making the case" for student engagement.

There is a very logical and concrete way of determining  the answer to one very simple question:  "Can students hide in our classrooms?"  In other words, can a student go through a class in a period, or even a school day without being called upon or without being held accountable to learn, pay attention and participate?

We determine this as we were instructed through the acronym we learned called PIES.  The presenter did an excellent job of getting this "stuck in my brain."  When I go into a classroom now I think of PIES:

1. P = are students POSITIVE and INTERDEPENDENT in their communication?
2. I = is each INDIVIDUAL student being held ACCOUNTABLE to learn?
3. E = is there EQUAL participation?

The case in point is true Cooperative Learning can and does fulfill all of these with the correct STRUCTURE.  Otherwise, as our presenter pointed out, we are just having kids do "group work."  Once again, as in all "new" ideas, there is no new principle to learn here.  It goes back to structuring our student work with the right set of parameters and expectations.  It just so happens these structures are tested and proven to work.  The success of this and any other learning management system (not to be confused with digital LMS) is in the execution of the structures.

That brings me to a powerful point in this process.  At the conclusion of the training, we were shown a short video clip of one of the founders of Kagan Structures.  With the beginning of the school year and with the new implementation of these structures in our classrooms, his words ring loud and clear.  He emphasized to all of us to be sure to take the time and patience and perseverance to focus our work on a solid foundation of setting up students in groups and teaching one or two procedures (structures).

This message is indelible in noting how important it is to create a foundation for our students to know exactly what they are supposed to do and when based on our cues and procedures.  The point is to be excellent, thorough and flawless in just one or two of these.  Anything short of making sure our students have these structures "down" will end up signaling frustration and a judgment that "the structures don't work after all."  The key is in consistency and fidelity to the structure.

It goes back to the principle of being average at many strategies vs. being a "world beater" at a few.  I have no doubt our student engagement for more and more of our kids will provide the frequency and quality of learning opportunities we have been yearning.  Oh by the way, it just so happens when kids are engaged, our work is much easier and more fulfilling!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Does the Use of Technology in School Match Your Vision of Student Learning?

Many of us see technology as important because a variety of uses are so integral to our daily lives. We often ask the question, "where would I be without a cell phone today."  Or for those of us older folks, we remind ourselves about the inefficiencies of the typewriter, and we take for granted the instantaneous communication of an email or text message.  Even many of us who use social media understand how we have relied upon and have even been "spoiled" by the daily new information and the privilege of participating in a much different form of conversation.  This includes the unprecedented opportunities for "brave" expressions previously unavailable save for the fact we sit behind an emotionless and neutral monitor.  That is the world we live in, and our students live in a much more intensely dependent technology environment (for good or for bad).  However, does that mean they have to use these tools at school just because they are used to that world?

The use of technology at school is not justified simply because they use technology the majority of their time outside of school.  This is true even though students tend to "power down" when they come to a school without the technology communication culture they are used to.  Technology use at school is only useful if it is used to add to student learning, and we are not going to know that unless we understand how students learn.

For example, we know seeing or hearing something new for the first time does not sink in to our long term memory, and we certainly do not gain mastery learning with at the introductory or surface level.  Student access to information on a continuing basis assists students in pulling in relevant information continually, and that access to information 24/7 can accelerate students' opportunity and ability to move that information into the "back part" of their brain.  We know it may take several times to practice a particular math problem before they "get it."  We understand access to an immediate definition of an unfamiliar vocabulary word provides more and more opportunities for exposure to those terms.  The use of an iPad or laptop (right click or press and the definition pops up) provides those remarkable encounters with instantaneous and relevant information and it can start to "stick in their" head over time if they do enough reading, writing, practice, etc.

We know repetition and practice are critical to mastery learning, and the use of their own device to increase the number and quality of those repetitions can be advantageous in their learning.  I mention "quality" in repetitions because there are opportunities for students to receive constant feedback on their practice and learning unlike anything we have seen in previous skill based practices.  This goes from feedback for success in solving math simple to complex problems  to reading aloud and receiving feedback on fluency, annunciation and comprehension to writing with the potential to increase skills with growth potential never before witnessed in former generations.

This match of learning to technology is important with the caveat the planning and the implementation of the lessons that fit the learning desired is hard work.  It is based on understanding where we want students to go in their learning, and the use of the technology has to be purposeful to meet that desired learning.  (It is opposite of adapting the learning to the technology.)  This takes focused and passionate teachers who have the determination and skill set to make it happen.  Even though technology does make our lives easier, there is no free lunch!  Kudos to the many teachers in our district who make this happen day in and day out.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Why Students Don't Like School

Our leadership team has been studying the comments from a book Why Don't Students Like School:  
A Cognitive Scientist Answers the Questions About How the Mind Works and What it Means for the Classroom by Daniel T. Willingham.

I love the discussion around student learning because the key areas of emphasis about learning we find in this book have challenged our assumptions.

Assumption #1:  Critical thinking is a set of procedures that can be practiced and perfected while divorced from background knowledge.

The reality is students need background knowledge in order to take the facts and knowledge they learn to a deeper level.  We still need facts in processing the deeper thinking.  In fact, studies have shown students with greater background knowledge on a subject will outperform better readers with less background knowledge!

Assumption #2:  Trying to make the material relevant to students' interests is a key to their learning.

This turns out to be not true.  This in of itself does not work.  What does work is making meaning of the lesson, content and material.  Interest of itself does not lead to learning.  What seems to work best is getting students to think more about the question (active learning) instead of giving them the answer.  Learning is affected by many factors, but the one factor that trumps the rest is students remember what they think about.  Creating powerful lessons and opportunities for students to think about the meaning is the key.  The meaning may or may not be relevant to their own interests.  Getting them to think about the meaning is more important.

Assumption #3:  It is always smart to tell a child he/she is smart.

The opposite is true.  It is never smart to tell a child he/she is smart.  Why?  It is because academic work and achievement is more about effort than innate intelligence.  If a child believes he is smart, what does he think when he does not do well?  Since it is innate intelligence, there is not much he can do to improve.  Children do differ in intelligence, but intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work.  The effect of environment on intelligence is significant.  The point is for all students and teachers is every student can achieve and improve.  There are no limits on student learning since it is not fixed by our intelligence.

Assumption #4:  Matching the preferred modality of a student gives that student an edge in learning.

This is found also to be not true.  Studies have not confirmed this to be true.  The reality is students have much more in common in their learning than differences.  The recommendation is to teach to a variety of modalities, but it is not necessarily a benefit of students to teach to just one modality perceived to be their "strongest."

So What?
These are the four highlighted assumptions of a few more that stand out in the book.  What are the implications for teaching and learning? With the new common core and the challenge to take students to deeper and more meaningful thought, we have to make even more efforts to ensure all students have the background knowledge (includes facts, memorization and automaticity in reading and math).  We do not abandon teaching and learning that produces rote learning and memorization.  This also emphasizes the idea of employing effective practice and repetition.

The other implication is for us to prepare lessons that are meaningful with the right types of questioning and challenging exercises that involve kids in their thinking.

And lastly, an important shift in our thinking and actions has to be for every student and teacher to know learning and achieving academically is much more about our effort than our intelligence.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Does the Way We Teach Match the Way We Believe How Students Learn?

We often talk about backward mapping and creating pacing calendars, (we are getting rid of that term because it implies we have to "cover" the material and we end up leaving students behind at the mercy of the "pacing calendar).  We build our lesson units often with the end in mind first.  The key question is, "Do we think about how students learn before we think about how we teach?"

A key consultant for our district, Karen Ward from the Anytime Anywhere Learning Foundation, mentioned to me the need to teach teachers how students learn.  How does she know that?  The reason is based on her simple observations of what most of us do in our classrooms, and what most of us do in our staff development.
Karen Ward

If you look in most classrooms today (anywhere), we would assume students learn best by sitting, listening, and once in a while repeating or answering questions uniquely to those few students who have been conditioned to this type of teaching and learning.

However, when you ask most of us the question, "How do students learn best?", we get totally different answers!  The disconnect is because we have not taken the time in our professional study and we seldom value that reflection that empowers teachers and school leaders.  Our foundation as professional learners is to have a solid working knowledge and appreciation for how our kids learn.  And, just as important is understanding how our kids learn today in a digital world.   Ian Jukes in his article on Understanding Digital Children (Dukes, Isaj, 2006) explains how students just a generation ago were "screenagers."  Our current generation of students have gone beyond the screen and media addiction to the reliance and even dependency on interactivity.  In other words, they are used to "doing" and being involved in their learning and communication, and they are used to receiving instant and continuos feedback.  How does that match our schooling?

This introduction to how students learn best describes it well:

Students learn best when learning is active: When they are mentally 
involved, when they engage in hands-on activities, when they are 
involved in a process of inquiry, discovery, investigation, and 
interpretation. Thus, learning is enhanced when students repeat the 
information in their own words or when they give examples or make 
use of the information. *

As we learn and appreciate more and more how students learn, we will gain a better methodology in how we plan and execute our lessons.  The goal?  Get kids involved in their learning and create an environment of active learners.  With this in mind, what better way to achieve that goal than taking advantage of the technology available in a one-to-one environment?  The ease of execution and the possibilities are endless.  We can create the type of professional development that promotes our understanding of student learning, and with that create a professional learning environment that continually supports teachers in addressing how technology can easily and powerfully meet student learning needs in unlimited ways!

jukes, I. (2006). Understanding digital children. In The Info Savvy Group.

*Active Learning:, Columbia University Graduate School of Arts & Sciences Teaching Center

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Juan Enriquez: Futurist

The following is a summary of what I took away from futurist and best selling author Juan Enriquez.  Mr. Enriquez recently spoke at the ACSA Superintendent's Symposium in Monterey.

The message for educators is to realize the new changes in industry, and what drives the economic engines today require a different sort of worker.

Network Environment
The new changes are now driven by knowledge and require a new type of employee where there is a necessity to train people to solve problems in contrast to the type of worker who fits into an assembly line.  There is striking and seldom shared awareness the amount of all knowledge since human history will double the next five years!

This provides an opportunity for kids today like there has never been.  The point for educators is how we prepare them has to change.  The type of environment they will need to fit into is not a corporate environment but a network environment.

The diagram may represent a student network.  The question is, would you rather be person "B" or "A"?  It would be good to be "A" if you are a newspaper editor.  However, it would be good to be "B" if there was a flue epidemic

All human society is organized this way, and most innovations come from the  perimeter of the network; not inside.

The key question is how do you get these people in the perimeter involved?  The thought change is from a network mentality vs the current hierarchy system that worked during a different time period. 

The responsibility for the educator is to train people for innovation and change.  This includes understanding what roles people play in a network environment.
We train kids to be prepared in a network environment with the awareness 5% of the people in an organization are connected to 21%.

The onset and rapid growth of 3 D printing provides an example of needing students who are creative.  Creative kids need to be part of the organizational network.  Baxter the industrial robot ( is an example of where production can return to the US, but we need the type of student who can operate these types of mechanisms and who are educated accordingly vs the old paradigm of uneducated people who worked on an assembly line.

A young entrepreneur invented and created a prototype of a flying car.  Formerly in the old paradigm, the manufacturing of such cars would have required a 100,000 person company.  Today, due to knowing and leveraging the power of today's networks which included outsourcing with the appropriate connections, the car was built by a 20 person company.

Kids need to learn to learn in a network and how to use these networks!

Computer code has driven our current industry, and the amount of information and communication and knowledge we can derive and use should change the way we teach.  Based on the growth in this area, we can now bring the world's largest library into the classroom.  Question: "Might students and teachers need a different skill set?"  We find today some people are literate and illiterate in global language.

Today we are moving from the digital code (1,0) to the life code (DNA: ACTG).  We can program life code since now we read life as four letters, (DNA has four codes: ACTG) and we can now program life code!  We have 3.2 billion codes in each of our cells, and if we change one letter in the code, we can make a dramatic change to the organism.  There is an entire code for a life form in each one of its cells.

Juan Enriquez makes the prediction this new work with the life code is going to make the industrial revolution look small.  For example, there are farms with cloned and genomic edited animals that produce chemicals in milk that cure cancer.  This replaced a whole factory.

My Thoughts
Could this be part of the next economic boom, and are our students prepared to adapt to it?  The answer is we cannot afford to wait, and there are skill sets such as the four C's where can build those skills where students can adapt to a changing and fast paced information based world.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Getting to Back to Why

I had the distinct pleasure of listening to entrepreneur Flip Flippen speak to approximately 500 California State Superintendents regarding the "why" we do what we do.  He is the founder of the Flippen Group and has been an advisor and consultant for Fortune 500 companies as well as professional athletes and professional athletic teams.  His experience and successes are built around helping people break through their limitations.

The question he asked is: "Why do we do what we do?  He asserted, "If you can't answer that, people will not follow you!"  He challenged us that we should have an immediate and passionate filled answer to that question.

People follow people who know why they do things and people want to know who you are based on your why.

He mentioned that we are being "prostituted" in education to be like the corporate world, but we are different because of our "why."

He said there are three questions to ask ourselves:

First question: What is your why?  

Our why is personal.  It is about what we believe deeply about kids and about our relationships with people.  Some say, "I don't want to get personal."  But why would I want to follow you if it is not personal?

If you're  in education it better be personal!  His experience in visiting organizations and schools especially is that in 30 seconds after arriving on that location, you can know the culture.  Much of it has to do with how people treat each other "personally."

What's your why, are you on fire about it, and if you're not, you're burned out!

Second question: Who's your who?

Who wrote on you?  Flip shared how his second grade teacher held him back in first grade.  What impacted him was the way she communicated why he was being held back.  She stated first graders needed help, and he would be the one to help them.  Little did she know that defined his life as someone who is dedicated to helping others!

He ended up never forgetting this teacher for her kindness, and faith in him.  He asked the rhetorical question, "Do you think I loved her?"

He spoke of the teachers that made such an impact on him: "Their history became my future."  

These influences and principles led him to create an organization that sponsors teen leadership classes that have shown success in schools throughout the nation.  The program is about helping teachers capture kids' hearts.  "If you capture kids hearts you have their minds" 

He helps organizations and school see people belong before they believe.  Our students want to belong to our school community, and we need to leverage that.

Third question: Whose who are you?

Are you writing a story on the lives of people you influence?  Do teachers and colleagues want to work where you work?   Do people around you have a fire and passion you have nurtured?  Do kids want to be at your schools and in your classrooms everyday?  Is our fire lighting other fires?

I think these are three questions I must ask myself everyday, and my challenge to all of us is to be somebody's who based on our why because of our who!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Take the Technology to its Limits to Take Students Beyond Theirs

I finally took the opportunity to watch the movie Jobs, and it was fascinating to review highlights of the mogul's history and key events.  What made it interesting was the fact that I followed much of that history and could identify with the idea of using a personal computer to enhance our daily work.  In my case, I was (and still am) looking for ways I could leverage technology to improve my teaching and student learning.

What struck me and stayed with me most in the movie was Steve Job's unique ability to see the uses of technology beyond the conventional wisdom of many of those around him.  Words like "possibilities," "no limits," "beyond," and "dream" seemed to stick in my mind after watching the biography.  What Steve Jobs seemed to be able to share with like-minded colleagues and staff was a vision of what could be possible in using what he called a "mental bicycle."  He was able to translate what could be?  I had heard he would look at the countenance and look into the eyes of prospective employees after he showed them a prototype, and that would message him on whether or not he would hire that person.
I could not help but draw parallels to what we do with technology in education.  I ask the question, what does an educational leader or teacher think when they see an iPad or a laptop?  What do they think when they know their students have a technology device they can use 24/7?  Is their reaction, "Oh, that's nice, kids can be more organized," or do they question, "What are these for?" or "What are they supposed to do with these?"  Or, do they begin to see the possibilities, the potential, the new skills, the new opportunities, the new learning, and the new thinking and doing?
Once again, we come to the understanding that without possibility thinking, without innovation and without the foresight and vision to use technology to create powerful learning experiences for students, technology is limited and can be wasted.  The technology tool has its power in people who see and believe the tech tool possibilities to help students overcome their own limitations!