Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Don't Let Data Drive

During the past few days working on student progress reports, I have been looking at a quarter's worth student data. At times, I've muttered that dirty four letter word that often defines success or failure and plays an important role in "driving instruction."

I have a reputation as a data hater. Not true. I love data. My Excel spreadsheets are coveted. I collect all kinds of data from student conferences, exit tickets, group project reflections, blog posts and, yes, even standardized assessments. I admit that I don't care for how student data is used. Too often it is used to narrowly define students, reward those who are proficient in the game of school, and strip choice from those who don't measure up.

I don't use data to drive instruction.

Letting data drive seems irresponsible. Kind of like letting your teenage daughter steer with her knee while typing in an address on her iPhone while changing the radio station. Trust me, I have a teenage daughter learning to drive, changing the radio station is a challenge.

Data alone can't predict every possible outcome or obstacle. Truth is data can be unreliable and is only as good as the method of collection. Too much data can be a distraction.

I prefer to let data inform instruction as I've written about in an earlier post.

When data informs instruction it works more like a GPS navigation system. You enter the address having a general idea where you want to go, and let the data offer suggestions on how to get there. You're still free to change course, stop, or choose a whole new route. The final decision on your route is based on what you discover along the way. The GPS informs and advises, but it doesn't actually drive the car.

Recalculating . . .

Data is great, but I don't want it behind the wheel. That's my job.

Friday, January 3, 2014

A "little blogging love"

or how blogging builds a PLN

It's all Will Richardson's fault.

Prior to the start of the 2012 school year, I had the privilege to hear him speak to faculty in my district who had been granted 1:1 technology for his or her classroom. By the time he finished speaking about student-centered learning, connecting as an educator, the fallacy of standardizing curriculum to improve student achievement, and why school as we know it is unsustainable, I opened a twitter account. And in doing so, opened a connection to some of the most dedicated, intelligent, professional and passionate people I've (n)ever meet.

Connecting was a big deal for me. Over the years, I've come to value my privacy. I prefer to fly under the radar. Twitter changed all that. I began to connect with other like-minded educators, and began building a PLN. One of the first was @JoyKirr. So when Joy said she wrote about me, I'll admit to some mixed feelings. Why would she write about me? What did I do? Did she comment on one of my Genius Hour musings? Although we have never met (and may never meet), I consider Joy not only a valuable resource, mentor, and adviser, but also a friend. To say I found her tweet intriguing would be an understatement, and I began to read her blog post immediately.

As is our family tradition, we were watching A Christmas Story on Christmas Eve; I was also checking my twitter feed before heading to church.  Now, I don't know if it was divine intervention, karma, coincidence, or just dumb luck, but I read Joy's tweet that recognized my blog as one deserving "a little blogging love" at the exact moment Darren McGavin read the telegram informing him that he had won a "major award." I immediately knew how he felt. Thanks Joy. 

But like most major awards, it came with a few strings attached. I had some tasks to complete. Specifically:

  • Acknowledge the nominating blogger. (check, thanks again, Joy)
  • Share 11 random facts about myself
  • Answer 11 questions from the nominating blogger
  • List 11 bloggers that deserve some blogging love
  • Post 11 questions for the bloggers I nominate
So here goes.

eleven random facts - in no particular order

  • Teaching is not my first career, after failing in two previous careers and approaching mid-life, I volunteered in my son's 1st grade classroom. The rest, as they say, is history.
  • I wanted to be an architect when I was growing up. I still love architecture and haven't completely let go of this dream.
  • I swam from Alcatraz Island to Aquatic Park in San Francisco.
  • I have been married to the same wonderful, supportive woman for 28 years.
  • I competed in triathlons when they were sponsored by beer companies.
  • I am an elder in my church after returning to organized religion after a long hiatus. It took a kindred spirit preacher to get me back. 
  • I suffer from TIADD - Twitter Induced Attention Deficit Disorder. (Or is that procrastination?)
  • I was the editorial page editor of my college newspaper. One of my editorials inspired a protest lead by one of my history professors. Awkward.
  • I am working on a master's degree in education technology and leadership. I now have a whole new respect for on-line programs.
  • I have ridden RAGBRAI (the Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) 10 times. Iowa is my home state and I love returning to my roots one week each July.
  • I lived in San Francisco and Marin County for 19 years before moving to beautiful Northwest Arkansas 6 years ago. But don't hold that against me. 

answers to Joy's questions

  • Happiest days of my life
    • the day my son was born
    • the day I delivered my daughter in the hospital
    • the day my wife was found after disappearing for 2 days
  • Latest classroom success - This actually occurred in a colleague's classroom. I taught a project-based math lesson to a class that had been labeled as "unteachable, disruptive and difficult" for all the usual reasons. During the project, they were 100% engaged, behaved (mostly), and collaborative. Like Ghandi said, "be the change you wish to see in the world." 
  • What have you NOT blogged about, yet thought about, and whyI am currently serving on my dream committee. My district is exploring converting one of our elementary schools into a K-8 STEAM charter. I have been preaching student-centered, project-based, tech-infused elementary education to any administrator who wouldn't turn and walk away for 3 years. I'm so excited about this project. Rarely does an opportunity like this come along.
  • Who has influenced you most at your school - Wendy Sooter. She teaches next door to me and is extremely gifted, organized and creative. She is one of those fearless, innovative teachers who make you better.
  • If you had to choose one song to listen to in the car - C2C's Happy
  • What is your favorite holiday? Why - I don't particularly care for holidays. I've always felt inadequate on those that require a gift, and they're all too commercialized. The message is lost. It's sad.
  • Favorite quote - "I never teach my pupils, I only provide conditions in which they can learn." Albert Einstein
  • What are you excited about - The STEAM Charter School Conversion. This could be a chance to truly remake education on a student-driven model. I dream of a school where everyday is Genius Hour. This could be that school.
  • Plans after retirement - Fish. Ride bike. Fish. Read. Fish. Fish. Write my memoir - "Swimming Upstream in a River of Estrogen: My Life as a Male Elementary School Teacher." Fish.
  • What should I be doing instead of reading Joy's blog post - Fortunately, nothing. She was kind enough to post it on Christmas Eve.

list of bloggers - in no particular order

True confessions time. I don't consistently read as many blogs as I would like. And, honestly, I wonder when some of the bloggers I follow sleep! I do try to read almost everything written by the bloggers below. 

Andrea Stringer - Her honesty and positive perspective is truly motivational
Justin Stortz - This incredibly passionate, thoughtful, courageous, and humorous writer speaks to me personally on a number of levels. He'll make you cry - he does me.
Tamara Dollar - Just plain witty. And her thoughts on literacy are spot on.
Oliver Schinkten - "The offensive lineman of innovation" His in-your-face, no-holds-barred passion for student-driven learning is inspiring.  
AJ Juliani - Clever, creative and one of the best curators on the web
Seth Godin - Clear, concise, and poignant strategies for life, I try to have breakfast with Seth each day (virtually). 
John Robinson - My admin zen master, required reading for anyone considering becoming an administrator. 
Pernille Ripp - Absolutely honest and thought-provoking, she keeps it real.
Paul Solarz - Gifted mentor to any who read his blog, he freely shares his best practices with the world. 
Vicki Davis - It's all about what's best for students. Period. 
Dr. Justin Tarte - Perspective is everything. He'll help you keep yours.

questions for the bloggers

  • What educational theorist would you like to see debate Arne Duncan?
  • What 3 celebrities would you like to have dinner with? Why?
  • If you won the lottery, what would you do?
  • What will the title of your memoirs be?
  • If you weren't an educator, what would you be?
  • If you could change one thing in the world, what would you change?
  • Who would you most like to interview?
  • Who inspires you? Why?
  • What is your superpower?
  • Is there anything that you could not live without?
  • If you could go back in time and stop one thing from occurring, what would that be?

final thoughts

So I blame Will Richardson. And Joy Kirr. And John Spencer. And Daisy Marino. And Mark White. And Angela Maiers. And countless others who have influenced my thinking, inspired me to take on challenges, and initiated conversations that helped me to grow as an educator. I want you to know that you matter and are appreciated.

I haven't been blogging for long. I've always had opinions and actually like to write. I never thought what I had to say mattered that much. But now I understand that it's not what you write, but the process of writing that's important, even if only a few people read the words. Sometimes the most valuable connection is the one you make with your own thoughts. Thanks again, Joy, for the opportunity to connect.