Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Eight Characteristics Of Effective School Leaders

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The Eight Characteristics Of Effective School Leaders - Forbes

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Connecting With Students

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Students, especially our youngest ones, enter the domain of school with open hearts (and imaginations). Too often, we meet them with fixed minds and ignore the gift of these open hearts and minds that they bring into school and into our classrooms. Ultimately, they learn that occupying the mind with things to remember is more important than either of these. Eventually they lose touch with their true nature, disconnect and fall into the 'game' of 'learning'.

If there is to be true Educational 'Reform' at all, it must begin with a paradigm shift of seismic proportions: one that reorients our compass from student's minds to their hearts-to WHO they are not what they THINK. This necessitates an internal shift within us as well. We need to open ourselves up  as well so we meet our students halfway.  Students will always remember how we made them feel, not necessarily what we made them think.

When students trust a teacher they are more apt to listen and learn from them.  Trust is not built by teaching facts.

“Relational trust is built on movements of the human heart such as empathy, commitment, compassion, patience, and the capacity to forgive.” ― Parker J. PalmerThe Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Harvard Reflections: Arts, Education and Learning

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This summer I was fortunate enough to have been selected to participate in the first ever Institute on the Arts and Passion-Driven Learning held at Harvard's Graduate School of Education in collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma and members of the Silk Road Ensemble.
photo Andrew T. Garcia

My situation was unique.  I was camping in the Adirondacks for 5 days and planned to continue the same for another 5 days after the Institute.  I emerged from the woods, attended the 2 1/2 day Institute and traveled straight back to the Adirondacks.  While in a hammock at the edge of Rollins Pond, I reflected on the experience.  The result is below. This list is in no particular order and may not even make sense to those outside the context of the experience.  However, I have attempted to expound on the list.  Feel free to contact me for any clarifications or just to connect.

This is a quote by Loris Malaguzzi that host and Harvard Graduate School of Education Lecturer Steve Seidel shared at the opening plenary session.  He also concluded the Institute with the quote.  Mr. Seidel was the best of hosts (Yo-Yo Ma referred to him as "Mr Rogers for adults"). He used humor when appropriate but also posed excellent questions to frame the Institute.  Some examples: What is the role of passion in learning? What are the possible roles for the arts? How can the arts deepen learning in other subject areas? How do the arts support students in becoming more engaged, empathetic and responsible participants in their learning?

This question was also raised by Steve Seidel.  It seems like a simple question but it is so important for all educators to spend some time thinking about it.  Given precious little time in the school day/year, what is worth knowing? And why?  Answers to those questions drive the curriculum and what gets 'learned' in schools.  If you teach something, why did you decide it was worth knowing?

As an example of what is worth knowing, the video Snakes Are Born This Way was shown. The 2nd grade class at Conservatory Lab Charter School wrote and performed this parody to share what they had learned about snakes through their learning expedition. The Conservatory Lab Charter School is unique as it "empowers a diverse range of children as scholars, artists and leaders through and El-Sistema-based orchestral education and rigorous Expeditionary Learning curriculum."  As the students tell us: "In 2nd Grade our teachers told us that we would be herpetologists".  And that began the exploration. Worth knowing?

More than once Cristina Pato (Gaita player) said this.  The important takeaway is to be genuine in teaching, performing and learning situations.  The more one is open and transparent, the better the learning for everyone involved.  

Butterfly by Aidan William Garcia, age 6
Making learning visible was a theme of one of the workshops I attended.  There are many ways to do this but so much of the time we feel (as teachers) that we lack the time to follow through on this. However, it is probably the most important part of learning in schools. It reminds me of the quote from Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park With George. The character (and once real life artist) George Seurat sings: "A vision's just a vision if it's only in your head.  If no one gets to see it, it's as good as dead".  Likewise, it easy and tempting to keep learning in the classroom only. But it should be shared.  Starting now.  

Collaboration was a big theme of the Institute since the role of the Silk Road Ensemble involves collaboration 100% of the time.  In their own performances, the musicians are always working together, sharing, experimenting and pushing themselves into new territory. When the Ensemble visits schools (as with the Silk Road Connect venture), collaboration is the name of the game.  There exists the school culture and the Ensemble (made up of members from many different cultures).  In these environments, open mindedness,  negotiation and flexibility lead to trust and true collaboration which leads to a feeling of safety and comfort for all participants.  Once this level is reached the collaborative 'dance' can yield new, spontaneous creations.  Powerful stuff.  How can we create these conditions in our classrooms and schools?

Yo-Yo Ma described an exercise he uses to spark creativity and new thinking. In a conversation with Steve Seidel, he said he uses something he has dubbed "Disciplined Imagination", the crux of which is to take something known and transpose this to a new setting in your mind.  He used the example of knowing Steve and his thoughts, mannerisms, interests, passions in the context of Harvard and then imagining Steve in other settings and how he might engage, communicate and participate in those other settings.

Small and large group conversations in several workshops led to the understanding that, as arts educators and educators in general we are really involved with 'culture building'.  Culture building is laying the foundation of how individuals would act, speak, respond and participate in the classrooms/school setting where collaborative (trust-based) learning would take place.  We spoke of the difficulty of some students bringing jaded and negative attitudes into the classroom impeding trust and true expression, sharing and learning.

photo Andrew T. Garcia
Related to Culture Building is building a 'Culture of Listening' in our learning spaces. Since listening and considering the thoughts, ideas, music, etc.. of others leads to true growth and learning and opens the mind.  A powerful definition for teachers in this context would be "The most experienced learner in the room."

In a conversation on the final day of the Institute, Mike Block of the Silk Road Ensemble said learning happens and transcends the local environment when one knows deeply and shares generously. Amen.

And there you have it.  Some nuggets I took away from the 1st Harvard Institute on the Arts and Passion Driven Learning.  I have shared generously and hope that these personal recollections are of some use to others.  I will forever be working on the 'knowing deeply' part.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Be Not Afraid of the Hyperlink

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(original photo by Michael Nagle, Getty Images) 
We can't and shouldn't expect all educators to spontaneously understand emerging technologies, social networking and the rich proliferation of tools and apps available for learning these days.

One thing stands out right away, however, as I lead workshops on the read/write web and social networking for educators: teachers who have the most immediate success adopting and applying web-based technology to their situation are those that are not afraid to click hyerlinks.

As a member of my school district's technology committee, I am in the process of identifying what teacher's technology proficiencies should be. Questions being considered are: What tech skills are indispensible going forward? Is it OK that teachers are at varying levels with regard to technology use? What do we do about this fact? What separates those that 'know and can do' and those that do not (or won't)?

With regard to the last question, I think it really comes down to basic curiosity which is the precursor to learning anything. Curiosity + critical thinking (knowing what resources have value) + risk taking= learning and transformation. The risk taking in question with regard to web-based technology use is the aforementioned click factor. Either one clicks a link (and risks) finding a shoddy site or a gold mine of information and/or connections to others that can feed an entire teaching unit or full curriculum, or one sits and stares at one site (and gains and learns very little).

Based on these observations, I believe what we really need to be building into professional development these days is the 'capacity to click' in our teachers. Clearly, it is necessary to teach specific tech-based skill sets (uploading, downloading, sharing, bookmarking, subscribing, etc...) but if teachers would use crictical thinking to do targeted searches and then not be afraid to click with abandon, they will be able to learn much on their own.

It is how I learned. But I was unafraid to click (to find out). I was interested to 'know' about things. This drive to learn is alive in me every day. I know I am not alone. Every single person I am connected to in my personal learning networks shares this trait with me. Why are we like this? Was it learned? What life experiences differentiate clickers from non-clickers? And how do we build that capacity (curiosity) in others?

Be not afraid of the hyperlink.  You just might learn something.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Finding Real Reasons to Embrace Technology in Schools

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"Knowing how to make use of online tools without being overloaded with too much information is, like it or not, an essential ingredient to personal success in the twenty-first century." -Howard Rheingold (in Net Smart)
"I would challenge each of you to truly analyze how you are using the technologies that you are using." -Nick Sauers 
Nick Sauers has an interesting post citing the results of an Educational Researcher article that analyzed how wikis are being used in schools.  He is essentially asking us to reflect on why we are using the technologies we are using.  While it is OK to use tech tools for efficiency purposes or for the "fun factor", we need to ask more and more whether the technologies we are adopting have value in terms of student learning.  That should always be the bottom line.

The Digital Native argument is getting tired. If you haven't heard, the digital native argument goes something like this:  Kids are immersed in technology. Kids seem to intuitively understand how computers and mobile devices work without having to read a manual. They "communicate" and "collaborate" with each other with these technologies despite us (teachers).  Let me be as clear in this as I can be: It is not a strong enough argument. Anymore.

Principal Eric Sheninger's post, "Education Should Reflect Real Life" is short and to the point.  As always he makes good points, such as:

"Many of us firmly believe in the potential that technology has to transform the teaching and learning cultures in schools.  Whether it is used to enhance lessons, assess learning, engage students, or unleash creativity, technology has a defined role in variety of school functions."

He then shares a video by Power on Texas which ends well but made me cringe at first because, once again, the digital native paradigm is raised.  Ultimately in the video, teachers are interviewed and they cite real evidence that students have become more engaged in their learning and test scores have risen as a result of the technologies that have been adopted in the classroom.

This is where we should focus now:  finding real, evidence-based reasons to adopt technology in schools.  We need to reflect on our goals and employ technology use as a tool for increased student engagement and learning. Thankfully, evidence is being gathered and shared.  It is up to us to mine through the available (digital) information and collect the data to support the use of technology as a tool that improves student learning-and to continue to do Action Research studies on our own uses of technology with students.

Data doesn't lie.  And 'digital native' is just a term. Some (economically privileged) students have and employ technology to their educational benefit but many need to be shown smart ways to learn in digital realms without being overloaded with too much information. We then to need to assess their use and determine if the technology was truly helpful to learn pre-existing curricular learning objectives. My bet is that the technology is helpful when used mindfully but we shouldn't justify our future technology purposes just because students text each other. A lot.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Dear Post-Conference Self

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Dear Post-Conference-Self:

A few days (weeks, months) ago, you were at the (Massachusetts Music Educator's Professional Development) Conference.  You were energized, psyched, stoked, jacked!  You came in contact with inspirational people, ideas, students and programs which you thought at the time you would like to emulate in some way.  You were full of hope and renewed vigor and a revived sense of purpose.

In his talk, Dr. Gordon reminded you of the deep, enduring value of music to humans.  He also reminded you that if you want music to endure in schools, that is critically important to teach well.  Mr. Butera cautioned that you should be proactive in your support for music in schools.  He reminded you that, unfortunately, not everyone who runs schools has music education as a priority.  

The many sessions you attended provided concrete examples of HOW to teach well.  You took notes and you jotted down sites that could serve as resources for you.  You planted the seeds of change and transformation in the sessions.  You vowed in those moments- in those sessions- that you would teach different next week.  You vowed to review all this stuff when you got home.  You dared yourself to 'be the change you want to see in the world.' 

You did.  So where are the notes?  Do yourself a favor, post-conference self.  Find yourself alone with those notes and reflect on those little, silent promises you made to yourself.  Make a simple list of 5 things you will follow up on and implement them.  You can do it.  You can.  Because you are worth it and because your students deserve this empowered, transformed you.  And so does the profession.  Do it for Music if nothing else.  

And next year?  Lead a session on your Newfound Skills.



Monday, October 24, 2011

Teachers: Do You Tweet? (You Should)

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“You don't know what you don’t know.”

There are two ways to grapple with the truth of the above quote

  1. Embrace this fact. And: Get curious about what it is you don’t know (that could potentially and immeasurably improve your knowledge base, skills, instruction).
  2. Be an Ostrich: Stick you head in the sand and pretend that there’s nothing more to learn.

Twitter, for many teachers, represents a vast landscape of knowledge that they have yet to tap into. On a certain level, that makes sense. Twitter seems, on the surface, to be a shallow stream of self-centered ‘reports’ about what’s going in in one’s life. And, yeah, it could be this. But, for the majority of teachers who have twitter accounts and use it daily, it is far from this.

Twitter for teachers who have gotten curious is now (as some have called it) a ‘professional development superhighway’. And it is. The learning potential is literally endless. The collective knowledge represented there is awesome in scope. The isolation so often cited as a problem in Education vanishes when there is sudden and immediate access to other teachers grappling with the same problems and questions you are.

Stop worrying how to use Twitter and other “Tech tools”. Just make an account and Get Curious.

Check out Twitter4Teachers and Tweepml to find teachers to follow. Lurk for awhile and see how these teachers use Twitter. Click out to their blogs. Subscribe to their blog feeds. Eventually, join in on some #edchats.

Get to know what you don't know. Get curious and don't turn back. Create a Twitter account today.