Thursday, February 26, 2015

Planning Summer Learning by District Plan

This is the time when most districts build their summer staff development catalogs. We try to have a published catalog in March so teachers can start making plans for their own professional learning while enjoying their time off in summer. 

For me, building the catalog in February has been leading the cart before the horse. My focus has been on creating the most attention-grabbing titles in order to compete against the offerings of our GT, ELL, Special Education, and Curriculum teams. I always wanted more people to come to my events than the others. So without building the actual content of the course, I would just build the attention grabbing headline and then do a write up to make it sound like the most exciting thing possible. 

It is the same way I submit a conference proposal or session. I am getting my session into a catalog where I am competing against other topics. Surely my catchy title and summary will grab more attention than simply writing the name of the piece of technology used?!?

I admit, it has been quite selfish of me to work that way. I feel now that I am more directed to apply summer staff development into a more comprehensive plan for all training than separating it out to compete with the other teams. 

We have District Improvement Plans, Campus Improvement Plans, and even Technology Plans but often these are unrelated to each other. Some districts will use them to outline a bare minimum requirement in order to complete the required task for submission. But what if they are missing out on the ability to use the planning system to build a real, strategic plan?

What if instead of these different plans, we built a District Plan? Perhaps even using a model that would be to create a District Plan first followed by each campus submitting a plan to support the District Plan? Each plan should involve data-driven decision-making processes and emphasize research-based strategies for implementation. There should be some definite immediate (next year) and long term (3+ years) areas for improvement. The resulting document would be a Program Improvement Plan. The district budget would be developed from this comprehensive plan, according to a defined process.  

An example could be:
  • Central Budget Needs: Operating Budgets (Maintenance, Transportation, Organizational Software (Student Management, Business, Transportation, Communication, Personnel, etc.), and other functions that effect the entire district or school plants. 
  • Department Needs: Curriculum, Special Education, Athletics, etc. would budget for district-wide needs as outline in the District Improvement Plan, coordinated with state-related initiatives. 
  • Campus Needs: Priorities would be set at the campus level to determine priority objectives based on the District Plan, specified campus initiatives, and teacher requests. 
In this way, everyone is following a coordinated plan that will improve communication and accountability. 

As this drills down, we look at improving professional development as part of our Program Improvement Plan. Successful companies usually invest significant amounts of money to the training and retention of personnel. Educational delivery of training must be upgraded. Technology can be coupled with new strategies of training to make these significant improvements. For example: 
  • Integrated Training: There are many aspects to integrated professional development sessions. Presenters might seek to integrate technology applications into a content training session; they might integrate special education, GT, and other areas into content sessions; they might integrate various curriculum areas into a single session. The idea is to reduce the number and types of training into more comprehensive, coordinated sessions
  • Technology-Based Training: Allow teachers to generate a Personal Professional Development Plan based on classroom observations, content needs, instructional or assessment needs. The plan would include the sites to be investigated, a written report on key lessons learned and the research behind the content, resources identified, and invitations to observe the concepts practiced in the classroom. 
  • Lesson Modeling: The number one request in data surveyed in my districts about professional development is to provide sessions where the instructional methods are modeled, not lectured about. For example, the presenter assumes the role of a teacher and the participants are the students. They are divided into groups, assigned specific tasks related to content and technology, and given time to complete the tasks. They are working in groups and the instructor is "managing" the class as research defines. At the conclusion of the session, the presenter and the teachers discuss the various content and/or technology objectives completed. "What was the rationale for the various activity definitions?", and "What were the "hidden" assessments made by the teacher?"
  • Classifications: Professional Development might be divided into "required" and "elective" sessions. All identified staff would be required to meet certain proficiencies, but could choose other courses to meet personal education goals. 
  • Integrated Sessions: Develop some activities to bring teachers, administrators, nurses, counselors, custodians, etc. together to learn appreciation for each other's responsibilities in the district. 
  • New Employees: Do not forget how many things district teachers have learned over the last few years (Student Management Systems, New Technology Resources, Student/District Data, Parent Expectations, etc). Provide an on-going annually updated new employee program that will help staff with a smooth transition. 
In other words, use the entire district resource catalog to develop meaningful professional development activities allowing for different learning styles, different interests and needs, and meeting the district/campus goals. 

It is, in effect, a Professional Development Plan for every department to use as the draw to meet the needs of the new District Plan. And I believe that it would help curb the old method of technology management where decisions were left to technology people instead of curriculum leaders who did not embrace technology as an integral part of the curriculum and instructional process. 

This new method of building a District Plan would mean that content goals and objectives drive the use of technology and act as the integrated component in the learning process. This integration is a key job responsibility of the district curriculum leader and implies a level of proficiency with both technology and traditional curriculum responsibilities. The person responsible for curriculum and instruction in the district should ensure that any use of technology activities in the classroom support learning objectives and instructional materials (print/digital) conform to approve standards. 

Ideas? Thoughts? Feedback?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Running again

I wish I could say this post title related to exercise but it only refers to my running for TCEA TEC-SIG office again. For those who do not know, TCEA is a statewide organized membership for the Texas Computer Education Association. As an extension of TCEA, there are various special interest groups that run under the umbrella of the greater TCEA organization. These serve as the informational and advocacy arms for instructional technology leaders across the state. From 2009-2012, I served as VP/President of TEC-SIG and am now running again for office.

A few weeks ago, a former colleague and I were discussing TEC-SIG and she was considering running for office. I was encouraging her to run as I felt her background would lend a new leadership perspective not seen in the current run of instructional and technical directors. And then later in that week, I was contacted by other colleagues who asked if I would consider running again for office. I had not considered it until these fine gentlemen persistently asked if I would run. I responded that I would run if they nominated me. I guess they did as I am now on the ballot.

Today, I was shocked to see colleague Miguel Guhlin is also running for office. I consider my candidacy defeated at this point. Geez! You can read his post about running here. In his blog post, he shares valid points that I agree with in regards to extending our membership numbers; how our meetings are run; advocating statewide; and more diverse training for our wider membership base. I can honestly say these are things I believe in as well.

When I agreed to run, my summary position was "I feel we are at a point of being able to engage more in strategic conversations with TEA regarding E-Rate, reporting and sharing resources. [It seems] we are all doing the same work, isolated in our silos. It is time we all work together."

As much of a punchline that Project Share continues to be, I feel it wasn't a bad idea in concept. The idea was to have a connected space for teachers across the state to connect and share in professional learning.

I yearn for this type of resource each year when I, in my very limited knowledge of science, must create the district Blood Borne Pathogen eCourse because I'm the guy who makes digital learning possible. I am not sure how I am going to make a training on Human Trafficking that is now required by the state. It would be nice to have a statewide system providing these learning opportunities for our teachers to access.

I also know we are all creating the same PDFs and video training for our staff to use the variety of instructional materials and resources for district professional development and learning, if we are so lucky as to have time to do so. With such variety of online learning communities, I believe we should be able to develop something to provide leveled learning opportunities for all teachers to freely access.

I also feel that with the changes in the TEA Educational Technology leadership, we have a greater opportunity to reconnect and work together. In my previous term, we tried different ways to give TEA time to present in ways that were more productive for both our membership and their presenters. But like Miguel mentions, we need to look at completely diversifying how the meetings are run and maybe develop together a greater resource beyond attending a meeting.

As for membership, the purpose of the SIG is to "encourage active interest in technology on levels PreK-12 & higher ed throughout the state of Texas". I believe we need to bring in more of our higher-ed level counterparts to our conversation. Not only will this help with membership budgeting but it increases our stake as an advocacy group for statewide initiatives. It gives our group greater statewide voice. And in this age, we need a stronger voice.

I think when you read this post and Miguel's post you will see similar ideas. I won't be insulted if Miguel wins over me because of the similarity in ideas. I know for a fact that I will continue either as VP/President or not to press forward on all these points. We need to increase membership. We need to establish better connectivity to our statewide partners and leaders. We need to build new, open, and shared resources statewide. We need to offer more resources to our diverse membership. This is our time to do it.

I just won't be able to do it as fancy as Miguel in his Pink Jacket from ISTE's Making IT Happen 2009 award. :)