The Elusive ‘Open Culture’:#IMMOOC Week 4

I am doing my best to take part in #IMMOOC Season 2 : a world-wide digital book study based on The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. It is week 4.

You can’t build an effective wall if your first foundational layer is weak or non-existent; every time you try to add another layer it will collapse within relatively short order.  I love that George has illustrated “Foundations for Innovation” with this wall image. 

The high school that I work at is wonderful in so many ways. We have ‘built’ many great programs and traditions in our short 20 year history.  But one wall that never gets very tall is the innovation piece.  When I consider this image, it all becomes clear: innovation doesn’t flourish in our school because we can’t seem to “Embrace an open culture” – the very base or foundation of the wall in the image.

Most change that we experience is calculated and strategically implemented in response to directives from the province or the school division, but change of the transformative, “this-looks-different”, out-side of the box type doesn’t happen. Of course, like in any school, there have been pockets of innovation. Often times, those innovative ideas have been relatively short bursts of success that haven’t lead to long term change or impact.  The wall image would indicate that without an open, collaborative culture, this is to be expected.

Unfortunately, it feels like we are stuck. Some colleagues fall back on the “high schools are just less open, collaborative places” mentality. On the other hand, I work with several collaborative, open, sharing colleagues and some of them do amazing things for and with their students. Yet, because of our lack of open culture, other teachers in the school aren’t even aware of these amazing things. We celebrate sports victories, musical achievements, and art contest successes, but, we don’t have a vehicle for celebrating the cool things that teachers are learning and trying with their students inside the walls of the every-day classroom. At best we might have a spoken staff-meeting moment of some of the things that are happening, but we don’t make or take opportunities to go watch and experience what is happening beyond the doors that line our hallways.

Some of us have been chipping away at creating a more open culture for a few years, but success has been limited. We tried a “pineapple chart” approach a few years ago before there was such thing as a pineapple chart. It was exciting for a few teachers, but fizzled out because the buy-in pool was so limited, despite efforts to grow it.

During #IMMOOC Season 2, I’m enjoying the opportunity to read about what innovation and cultures of sharing look like across the continent.  As a non-administrator, I’ll keep encouraging different ways of trying to get a wedge into our not-so-open culture. I know there is no magic bullet, but one day maybe we’ll find some bricks that help to build that “open culture” foundation.

I would love to hear how your high schools work on that open culture piece!

Trying Something New: a “Blind” Kahoot

Today I got to try two new things in class that I’ve been waiting to give a whirl for a long time: Google Classroom and a “Blind” Kahoot.

I’ve been using Kahoots from getkahoot.com for 2 or 3 years now to reinforce and review concepts that my classes have covered.  Now there aren’t many things that make high school students audibly cheer, but this actually happens – out loud!- when I ask them to pull out or pick up a device and load kahoot.it. kahoot

About a year ago, Kahoot introduced a new idea called a “blind” Kahoot, where you essentially build the LEARNING into the Kahoot. Students go in “blind”, not knowing anything about the topic, and by the end, have mastered a new concept.  Check out this video description.

So for the past year I’ve been scratching at ideas for building a blind kahoot for one of my classes.  Building regular kahoots is super simple, but a blind kahoot takes a plan and creativity and conceptualization.  This semester, as I am re-imagining a grade 10 Social Studies course for at-risk learners, I finally found a place to try my hand at my first blind kahoot.  The objective at the end was to have students be able to differentiate between the following social studies basic concepts: economic, political, environmental, and social. Click here to check out my first blind kahoot.

So today we actually played the game.  My initial plan was to have students summarize their learning in their interactive notebooks after the Kahoot, but about 3 questions in, I realized that a blind kahoot would easily let us fill in this summary idea chart about each term during the game!  Even the most reluctant note takers quickly filled out their charts so that they would be ready to go before I launched the next question!  By the end of the activity the class had a decent understanding of some new terms, key words and examples for each term, and had had fun playing a “game”.  This type of activity and engagement is super important for these at risk learners, many who claim to “hate Social Studies”.

Blind kahooting….tough creation process for a teacher’s brain, but worth it in the learning dividends for students!  Have YOU tried Kahoot? Blind kahoot?

 

High School Literacy – Lightbulb?

Our school division, PRSD 8, has adopted a real focus on promoting and improving literacy since the beginning of this current school year. I’ve ended up, perhaps by default, as the Literacy Council rep for our high school.

From the very first meeting that I attended, I realized that having literacy as a FOCUS at the high school level would be somewhat of a challenge. So much of the discussion, the existing vocabulary, the current literacy focus was centered around younger learners. The division mandate however was increased literacy focus from K-12. Most high school teachers will agree that literacy is important, but will also state that they don’t have time to teach anything related to literacy in their core classes with jam-packed curricula. So as a high school teacher representative for the Literacy Council, this mandate feels like such an uphill climb.

Fortunately, I recently had a moment that could be a light bulb connection. At Teacher’s Convention, I attended some sessions with George Couros, an innovative Alberta educator who I’ve followed on Twitter for several years. In one session, George showed us Edublog as a student blog platform where students had multiple years of their work showcased – school work across all subject areas, not just the typical “writing” subjects.  Showcased work could include traditional written pieces but also photos and videos demonstrating their learning through out high school.

This digital portfolio could travel with them beyond high school as their own learning library. Currently, every grade 11 student at our school completes a portfolio in a 3-ring binder as part of their CALM (Career And Life Management) class.  This is a 1-credit project that has been occurring for at least 15 years at our school. While most students complete it and get the project credit, it is not an engaging literacy activity. In fact, other than a high school souvenir, most students rarely use it as a “portfolio” that anyone sees.  Changing this to a digital portfolio could make this a valuable real-world document. (Watch this video as George Couros explains how he uses a blog platform as both a personal learning tool and a career showcase tool).

What if we used this digital platform as the springboard for literacy -which includes digital literacy – in the challenging environment of an increased focus on high school literacy. Each of our grade 10 students takes a mandatory Information Processing course where they could be introduced to the blogging platform and become familiar with the operational side.  Each student spends 40 minutes a school day in TAG (Teacher Advisory Group) where they would have time to update, edit and curate their blog space. Various teachers who already use blogging in class could continue to have students blog, but in what is now a multi-use space.  Click here for a rough idea of the concept.

Check out this sample student portfolio/blog space via George Couros and Parkland School Division.

Visiting the Classroom of a Colleague: A worthwhile endeavor

A school goal for the staff at EBHS this year has been to spend time in the classrooms of our fellow teachers, somewhat in a “classroom walk through” type idea. The research-supported theory behind this goal is that we will become better teachers as we learn from each other, whether that be learning a new method, a review idea, a technology tip or how to interact with a student that we’ve had a hard time getting through to.

Some staff have taken advantage of this opportunity and have indeed learned lots from their colleagues. Unfortunately, I’ve been frustrated by the overall lack of desire of teachers in our school to participate in this opportunity. Sometimes I’ve been close to thinking that the goal was misguided or too ambitious for high school teachers who are used to just doing what they do.

Fortunately however, as I listened to colleagues in my Master’s class discuss their supervisory platforms there was a common theme: teachers sharing in each others’ classrooms was part of almost everyone’s ideal school operation and supervision vision.

So obviously, our school goal of teachers visiting each others classrooms is one that is still worthwhile pursuing.

My classmates’ commonalities of vision are all consistent with features of our own school goal – which my classmates have confirmed are worthwhile. Here are some of the elements that we believe will lead to an environment of teachers as learners:

  1. Open door policy. It’s much easier to slip into someone’s class for a few minutes as you are walking by if the door is open.
  2. Collaboration should be normal. It should be routine to walk into anyone’s classroom and have fun and collaborate.
  3. Teachers shouldn’t wonder or ask, why is this person in my room?  Checking out what students are doing in other courses should be a natural part of a school’s professional climate.  It is important to see a student who struggles in your subject area excel somewhere else.

My Masters classmates have described being in someone else’s classroom as their greatest learning opportunities, as their greatest PD. My own experience confirms this. Now if only…

High School Educators: Ego vs Open Culture?

As George Couros writes in his blog series on “Leading Innovative Change”,  a growing, improving school needs to ’embrace an open culture’.  He writes:

 Organizations, as a whole, should model what they expect from students on a micro level; that they are willing to learn and grow.

At our high school, one of our school goals has been to learn and grow by visiting the classrooms of our colleagues. This goal is a ‘left over’ from our AISI project; a goal that we felt was too significant to abandon. The concept is simple in theory: encourage teachers to spend some time in the classrooms of their colleagues–10 minutes, 30 minutes, a full class period.  The underlying principle is that we all have much to learn from each other, even if we don’t teach similar subject areas: maybe a classroom management technique, a review procedure, a technology tip, or a way of interacting with a challenging student.  Nevertheless, in a high school environment, this is a very radical idea for many!

Why do high school teachers have such a hard time 'opening the door'?

Why do high school teachers have such a hard time ‘opening the door’?

Simple in theory. Just before the Christmas break, our staff completed a short survey to help leaders determine our progress in learning and growing from each other.  Teachers who had made even short visits to the classrooms of their colleagues overwhelmingly responded that it was time well spent–that they came away with a new perspective at the very least.  Unfortunately, even though the school year is almost half over, more than a third of our teachers had not yet responded to our school initiative of visiting a colleague’s classroom.  Some responded that they had intended to, but just hadn’t found the time; a few however, felt that it would be a waste of time… that there was nothing to learn as no one else taught exactly what they did.

So, the million dollar question: how do we continue to create and foster a culture where learning from others is seen as both valuable and important?  How do we model this culture of learning from others for our students?

George Courous continues in his blog: ” If your practices are amazing, sharing them with other educators gives them the opportunity to help more kids. If practices are weak, it often brings in new ideas to help your kids.  There is no loss in this situation for students, yet ego sometimes (often) gets in the way.”

Helping students learn, and of course increasing the ever elusive student ‘engagement’, are at the heart of our school goal.  I hardly read a research paper or a book on leadership that does not cite learning from and with each other as essential to school growth.  As such, I’m continually reassured that our modest plan of having colleagues visit the spaces of their peers is an important and worthwhile goal in fostering an open, learning culture.

When asked about creating synergistic positive energy in a school, Michael Fullan suggests that negative or punitive pressure is not the answer, but that:

 “no pressure seems problematic as well given the existential power of inertia.”  http://www.michaelfullan.ca/media/13514675730.pdf

So our question for the new year….How do we encourage the resistors, whether they be resisting intentionally or not, to join in a culture of learning from one another?