Tuesday, February 26, 2013

processing/reflection from today's training

Today I attended a presentation by Sue Szachowicz on “Leadership Lessons Learned the Hard Way.” I was lucky enough to be invited by Mrs. Aldrich to attend, along with Mrs. Green (6th grade Math) and Mrs. Elliott (7th grade Science). I will admit that I was under the impression that the discussion would focus upon the Common Core State Standards, but it was only mentioned once. Nonetheless, the day was productive and the presentation was insightful.

Since the presentation didn’t start until 9:00, and I usually get to work by 6:30, I had a lot of time in the morning at home to be productive. So, I set up a diigo account and updated my Evernote app. I played around with the diigo account on my MacBook, and made sure it synced well with my iPad. I did the same with the Evernote app. This meant that I was very happy as I walked in to the White River Conference Center; even if I wasn’t sure about the presentation, at least the day would prove to be a good opportunity for me to test out the new/renewed technology tools from my morning.

As I said, the presentation by Mrs. Szachowicz proved to be insightful. She provided electronic downloads of her presentation slides, which I downloaded to my Evernote app. This allowed me to easily keep up with her fast pace. I also used the Evernote app to take a few notes, disorganized and jumbled as they are, I think I could piece a coherent summary together, if necessary. I used the diigo add-on within Safari to bookmark a two Amazon pages on books, and one PBS article/video on Brockton High, where Mrs. Szachowicz worked. Overall, I would say that I used my technology tools effectively and efficiently through the day.

By the afternoon the battery was running low, and so I only used the iPad when necessary. Throughout the day I was able to visit and talk with several old teaching buddies who I had not seen for some time. Overall, I feel like it was a successful day on two fronts, the second front being the encouragement I received in hearing Mrs. Szachowicz’s story and the brief discussion at my table.

What I most valued from the day was not my experiment with my new/renewed tech tools, but the clear and specific message Mrs. Szachowicz shared about her own experiences in “turning around a failing school.” Led by teachers in the building, the school implemented a literacy program with laser-like focus and monitored their progress like crazy. This story speaks of courage by teachers, trust among teachers, hard work by teachers, and wisdom by teachers. Certainly Mrs. Szachowicz tells of vivid disagreements throughout the implementation, roadblocks that came in the form of fellow faculty members, students, money for resources, and time. And still they plugged away, because they surely also held a strong belief in the work they were doing. The work paid off too. The students came to realize that the teachers were a unified front, focused on their success. And as the teachers were found successful in their efforts to work with each other to improve their own practices, the students likewise were found successful in their efforts to learn and use what the teachers were teaching.

I would love to get together with fellow teachers at Pleasant View, both middle school and elementary teachers, in order to develop a cross-categorical method for teaching students to write effective Constructed Response answers and longer informational/expository/argumentative essays. I would love to also develop a standard scoring guide used across all classrooms when scoring Constructed Response answers and those longer informational/expository/argumentative essays. I would love to also develop a standard strategy/procedure for students when they read questions: to effectively identify the task, to clarify what they need to know and do to complete the task, and to identify and leverage any expository information provided that might help them complete the task. As an English teacher, I would love to see something like this spread across the entire district.

The truth is, though, that we’re in a big, bureaucratic district. We’ve got many, many schools, with lots of different teachers and administrators who all have their own personal ideas and agendas. And we’ve got lots of really important administrative people who really make the big, hard decisions, and they have their own ideas and agendas as well. Pleasant View is little, and far away, and doesn’t have the opportunity to make these types of decisions. Brockton High, where Mrs. Szachowicz worked, was able to accomplish great and positive change because teachers were leaders in purposeful professional development that was adaptive to the desires of a site-based committee. That doesn’t happen in Springfield. Or, if it does, I have never seen it happen. Could it happen? Yeah, I do think it could. Would it be easy? Certainly not; Mrs. Szachowicz shared many-a-story about the roadblocks and obstacles. Would it be beneficial to students? I think it would.

Where I go from here, I’m not quite sure. I’m motivated to participate in something, should that indescribable opportunity arise. I’m fearful though, that it may never happen, or if it does, I won't see it in order to take full advantage. 

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