Sunday, January 23, 2011

Change isn't Easy

Two steps forward and then it isn't really two steps back, it is more like we never moved. Earlier I said I was really excited because we were looking at new models for intervention, inspired by School of One (individualized instruction catering to different learners), The Hole in the Wall Project (peer led learning using technology). Well, it looks like our intervention will be using worksheets that are basically test prep.

We had also decided that community building among the staff was a priority but now it seems it isn't, (I really think it should be) because we are doing 6 hours of SIDAE training instead that will be led by someone from the district. Hopefully it will be interactive. It could build community if it includes role playing... We'll see.

We had also decided that whole staff would read the same book on having a productive work place, where people get along and then that didn't happen either. We are no longer reading a book together. Our last meeting was a disaster. At the rate we are going, we will need a professional mediator. We are a small school, we need to find a way to agree and move forward. We are supposed to help students learn to listen and respond to each other. How can we teach what we can't practice?

Unless we have the community building part down I don't see how we can move forward to really be a school that lives up to its vision of a collaborative teaching model that is interdisciplinary, project based, and student centered.

Making Schools Safe

Two days after my last blog, about addressing bullying, there were two shootings within a couple of miles of my middle school. One student had a gun in his backpack and it went off and shot a boy through the neck, that same bullet hit a girl in the temple. I think that yesterday she opened her eyes for the first time. In addition, one of my students died of meningitis. Her funeral was last Sunday. Everyone is sad and everyone is concerned.

Some teachers were concerned about parent reaction to the fact that we now have a Gay Straight Alliance chapter at our school but I'm not. Some students are gay, some students are accused of being gay, students are harassed. This group of students, gay and straight, are willing to step up and take a stand against bullying and intolerance and I hope the school will do everything to support them. We can hold discussions with parents and hear their concerns but the GSA will remain at our school.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Having an Impact

At the conference, one of the questions was how do we help teachers have a greater impact on students. The three areas we looked at were building community, having a more student centered curriculum that includes technology, and imagining a different, and more flexible, learning environment.

When we speak of community, we turn to issues of trust and safety. There aren't a lot of mental health resources available in our society and sometimes issues seem way bigger than our ability as individuals to deal with them but you have to start somewhere. Bullying is a real problem. It is serious and awful and if I described recent incidents, you would think I was exaggerating. Every now and then something is on the news and we are all horrified but it isn't happening now and then, it's happening all the time.

My advisory class discussed bullying and they decided to form a group at our school "We are All Against Bullying". The students want to create a website with interviews, information, and surveys. They want to start a campaign. They are really into the idea of the raising money but they don't know what they need the money for. It makes me laugh but it gets to the heart of the matter in education: the students want to do things; they want to create (even if it just a cake).

After the meeting, a couple of students came to speak to me. They said they weren't comfortable bringing it up but could we create a Gay Straight Alliance at the school and have that be part of our anti-bullying efforts. They said there are a lot of gay students at the school but they don't feel safe.

The next advisory period I asked if students wanted to specifically link issues surrounding sexual orientation to bullying. The first response was that we don't have any gay students at the school but someone said maybe that wasn't the issue because a lot of students accused of being gay weren't. The question was asked if you had a friend who told you they were gay would you still be their friend. Everyone said they would but some people didn't look too sure. It was a great discussion. Someone brought up the Gay Straight Alliance and they all agreed it would be powerful if we publicly stated we were not in favor of using gay slurs and were not homophobic. I think they might be a little nervous but everyone agreed to be part of this group. My advisory has 21 students.

Afterward I was in the hallway and told a teacher who is the webmaster that I needed a page on the school website for our Gay Straight Alliance. She was with some visitors. The visitor overheard and came to see me later, it turns out that they are members of the Gay Straight Alliance from the nearby high school. They want to come and talk to my advisory next Tuesday. A community can start to build very quickly it seems.

I registered our school with the national group of the Gay Straight Alliance. I ordered material about bullying.

While I was on the site I also ordered material about the holocaust from I think we will broaden our outlook and include some history. It looks like we will get buses to visit a new holocaust museum in Los Angeles for all the 8th graders. We have other resources in Los Angeles and community members willing to help so we should be able link our efforts to stop bullying in our schools to civil rights. I can't believe this all came together in two days (and it seems a great way to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.)

During the next meeting of our teachers, I'll present these developments. Hopefully everyone will be interested.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Implementing Big Ideas

I am going back to school tomorrow after the winter break and it looks like ideas inspired by the conference will be implemented. We had an Instructional Committee meeting over the break. 5 teachers and the principal attended. All teachers were invited and we get paid but I guess it was difficult to come in during the break. One of the teachers said afterward that she thought it was amazing that teachers (with the principal) were actually developing our professional development together.

One thing that stayed with me from the conference was when Alesha Daughtry said that sometimes people don't know they can just discuss issues and change direction. Sometimes teachers just expect to hear "no" or not to be heard at all so they just vent to each other instead of trying to institute change or to come to some kind of compromise.

We went over what we thought were the three big areas for PD to always revolve around and these were: building community among the teachers and staff, helping all students succeed, developing curriculum specific to our school's vision. "Helping all students succeed" sounds like the task of any school but we need to look specifically at the students in our school who are not successful and maybe haven't been for many years. Our students go into large urban high schools with probably some of the highest rates of drop out in the country.

So we discussed new models for remediation, using technology, some ideas from Hole in the Wall were discussed (groups of four using an ipad), using ideas from School of One
(individualized remediation that used different modalities).

We are going to have a tech advisor from the district come in and do a workshop with all the teachers on using iPADS. We are using a model for the workshops that are project based and have very little lecture. Not everyone is comfortable with this but it is supposed to be at the core of our school endeavor (collaborative, project based instruction that offers and opportunity to both learn and show understanding using different modalities) so we need to do it anyway.

We divided our professional development into sections:

1 - all reading the same book together ( a book about effective workplaces and how to talk to each other) and we will set aside some PD every week to discuss the book.

2. Learning new technology together (in groups of 4) with some activity (we thought we would combine VoiceThread with the bookclub for the first tech pd).

3. Returning always to our school's vision and linking this to ways to help all students achieve success (we haven't yet developed this plan - this will be a work in progress but included interdisciplinary projects).

I'm uploading some of the picture I took during the conference that were topic the labs worked on because I think they are relevant to our professional development.