Monday, March 29, 2010

Not just talking

As a part of the work of Collegiate Renewal, we have been working to support both Learning Leaders, Learning Coordinators and administrators in leading other teachers towards student engagement. In the last month and a half, I've had the opportunity to work with a number of groups, and I have noticed that small group conversations, chances to ask questions, and work re-focusing on the specific goal of the leadership team make a much bigger difference than big professional development sessions. Last week I participated in conversations clarifying assessment goals and re-focusing on engagement, and I have concluded that these conversations are more than just talking, they are an essential part of a distributive leadership model.

When we are hoping that teachers are reflective practitioners, we are hoping that they are life-long learners and teacher leaders. Life-long learners look at research, question what is, and vision what it might be. They lead by innovating, and that innovation is the result of observing what is happening in their classrooms and considering how to grow it. Everything we are aspiring to in Collegiate Renewal hinges on all our learners being publically engaged in their learning, and teachers are a critical part of all learners, because they need to be seen making changes that help students.

I write this blog because it is one of the ways that I engage with both ideas and other people. Sometimes I feel like I am talking to myself, but even then, I am reminded that journalling my thinking is a critical part of the reflective process. Now this is mostly whining, as I get emails virtually everyday as a result of the blog, and they continue the conversation. This weekend, Scott St. Pierre sent me a number of other blogs related to the Collegiate Renewal conversation over the weekend. Two of my particular favorites reminded me that conversation itself is a complicated process:
  • I have been discussing Sir Ken Robinson's conversations since his TED talk came out. I hooked people up to webinars, recommended seeing him live and shared his ideas through PD. However, I think it is challenging for us to really understand the implications of what he is saying in terms of how we need to change schools. I think the Innovative Educator really explains it well in the post We Have Finally Perfected Educating Students for the Past.
  • I have also been concerned about the grading conversation we are having around The 15 Fixes for Broken Grades. It gets confused with our conversation around Assessment for Learning, and we see changing grading as a substitute for changing school. The conversation we had about the problems with grading is problematic for the division and parents are concerned, but the reason we had Kohn in to speak is because the focus on grade is a problem. Joe Bower has some interesting ideas on Abolishing Grading that get closer to where we want to go in terms of focusing in feedback and growing learning.

Reading the blogs of others, like talking with small groups of school leaders, reminds me how conversation is organic. Ideas spread and grow among those who are looking to learning, and talking about them is more than one conversation. It is the extended dialogue, across times and beyond a physical location, that really creates the growth all learners need. It is this growth that is our best hope for changing schools - making the simple process of talking to others a firm step in the direction of the 21st century school. We need to remember that the process of talking to others about the changes you are making is a critical part of leading as an educator.

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