29 March 2015

Sunday Salon: What I Read Online February 23-March 29

A month of balancing out of state travel and family life leaves me full of good online reads to share. Obviously, I won't be sharing everything here or the blog post would be way too long, but here are some of my favorites in the past month.
The hotel in Seattle where we met for our NT3 Learning Session 

New Ways of Thinking About School

I Wish Someone Had Intervened  by Heather Costaras conveys the story of a young girl whose needs are not being met in a traditional sit still school environment. Posts like these further emphasize the reason I remain in public education. We've got to make some changes for kids.

Every Child Deserves a World Class Education. Check out the #UpforSchool campaign.

In this post, an NBCT explains how she persevered through the National Board Certification Process even when it was tough.

Yet another reason to re-think our school models--Suspended Students Lose Millions of Days of Instruction While Out of School, a Washington Post article by Donna St. George.

We Should Be Teaching Our Students Like Yoda Taught Luke, a terrific article about personalized education by Vicki Phillips in Wired.

In The Power of Professional Capital by Andrew Hargreaves and Michael Fullan I learned about other countries in the world who treat their teachers like professionals who build a better nation. We can do this, America! It means we have to change our ways of thinking about teachers and teaching though.

Why I Quit Teaching by Adam Kirk Edgerton serves as an excellent reminder of why teachers should be treated like the professional adults they are.

Students at this School in NYC Get Jobs, Not Grades
. Imagine the possibilities if we would think about making this type of school more accessible to more students in America.

Teenagers need playtime too. Nothing reminds me of this more than my own sons who consistently complain about how much they have to sit still at school.

The power of we in distributed leadership models within schools. Read this article if you care about new ways of leadership in our public schools.

Women, Leadership, and Self-Improvement

Read about amazing women who have accomplished much in life and also think about why we still need more women in particular fields Women's Work: Why We Need More Women in Media by Paula Kerger.

The 7 Habits of Truly Genuine People was a good reminder to me as I think about improving myself as a person and leader.

I've been thinking lately about the important connection between leaders and readers, so I found a few articles online on the topic including this one titled Is Reading Boring?

Though I'm not hugely into fashion, the article For Michelle Obama, Clothes That Lean In caught my attention because of the focus on Mrs. Obama wearing appropriate clothes for her mission to promote girls' education worldwide, and I certainly am into that.

This App Makes Your Phone Buzz When You Approach Places Where Women Made History. Not much else to say. Love it.

For fun & because I like to travel and enjoy watching Kentucky basketball...
Though it was a close call last night when Kentucky played Notre Dame, I read this second article a week earlier--Kentucky basketball is huge around here, and the biggest story right now relates to the historic number of wins. John Clay claims Kentucky will go all the way unbeaten. Of course, it's always fun to see Kentucky reflected positively in The New York Times.

As we continue planning our family summer vacation to Colorado, this article from The New York Times caught my attention since we will be staying in Steam Boat Springs for a large portion of our trip. The restaurant sounds lovely, and I look forward to trying the delicious sounding foods mentioned.

A view of the Space Needle from my room
Seattle, Washington remains one of my favorite cities in America to visit, and fortunately, I had the luxury of working there most of last week.

My work in the past week highlighted again the importance of teacher leadership. In our third learning session of the Network to Transform Teaching (NT3), we shared ideas across states and we made specific goals around the two aims. Read more about that work here.

I appreciated the focus on improved learning experiences for students as the reason why we need teachers leading in our schools and districts.

17 March 2015

Thoughts on The Opposite of Loneliness

Browsing the newly released books in our small town local bookstore, I paused in my tracks upon seeing a book jacket portraying a young woman in a yellow pea coat smiling brightly. When I picked up The Opposite of Loneliness and read the back cover, I was instantly jarred to read renowned Yale Professor, Harold Bloom, refer to the book’s author in the past tense. “I will never cease mourning the loss of my beloved former student Marina Keegan.“

The passing of a young woman leaves me thinking about what could have been—the talent, the beauty of a writer and reader of literature. I didn’t know Marina or even of her until the release of her book, but I was drawn to this young woman’s story because it reminded me of one of my former students, Morgan, who also died instantly in a car accident a year and a half after Marina’s tragic accident.

Instead of dwelling on what could have been, I find comfort in reading the writing left behind by Marina. A lover of nonfiction myself, I quickly read her short stories, aiming to speed through the nine works of fiction so I could feast on my favorite nonfiction. But then something happened while I was reading. Marina’s stories took me to different places, both literal and figurative, and I found myself devouring her fiction with rapid intensity.

From “Winter Break” in suburban Michigan when Addie is home from college on vacation hooking up with her boyfriend and visiting her parents as their marriage declines to “Reading Aloud” where Anna, an older woman, calls on Sam, a man who is blind, to read aloud to him his mail, his textbooks, his cooking directions. Marina’s writing transports us into the lives of ordinary people carrying on with life. The vast differences in the subject matter of the nine short stories struck me because some of the stories surely required research as they were well thought out beyond Marina’s 22 years. The stories conveyed a sense of hope, a hope we find when we connect with people. A feeling, the opposite of loneliness, that Marina found at Yale.

 In the essay with the same title as the book, The Opposite of Loneliness, optimism abounds. "We're so young. We're so young. We're twenty-two years old. We have so much time." Marina's last essay, written for the Yale Daily News upon her graduation went viral. Indeed, Professor Bloom's assessment of her talent reminds us of the "extraordinary promise that departed with her."

07 March 2015

My Journey into a Career in Education

I didn't set out to be a teacher.

As a high school junior, new to yet another school (my tenth in 13 years), a high school counselor told me I would never make it to college. Maybe he said this because my parents did not graduate from college. Maybe he said this because my family worked hard but received assistance. Maybe it was because I had moved so many times and barely had the right credits to graduate in a new state. Most likely he said this because I took the most basic courses, not college preparatory courses. 

Determined, driven, and intent on being the first college graduate in our family, I set out for college and majored in political science/international relations because of a long time interest in worldwide Human Rights. I didn't stay at the first college I attended. No. I continued the familiar pattern of moving. It was only when I finally landed at Piedmont that I began to settle and make peace with my former transient life style. At Piedmont I selected psychology as my major with hopes of working with disadvantaged youth. During an internship where I taught relationship courses at a learning center for teens, I discovered my true interest in not just working with teens but in teaching. After graduation, I got married and began a two year Masters program which also led to a Georgia teaching certificate.

Foxfire & Rabun County High School, Rabun County, GA.
My experiences in the classroom began during my year-long internship at the rural Rabun County High School in Tiger, Georgia. Two full semesters of teaching and observations under Foxfire facilitator, Angela Cheek, provided me a solid foundation for establishing my own classroom in 1998.  If you don’t know much about the Foxfire approach to teaching and learning, you should check it out. The heart of Foxfire’s success is student choice.  The approach to teaching and learning is experiential based and student-centered. 

Following my student teaching experience in Georgia and the completion of my Master’s degree, my husband and I moved to Sylva, North Carolina so he could work on a Master’s degree. I certainly was not prepared for the shift to a small community of public schools interested only in hiring local folks. I spent that first semester in the fall of 1998 teaching English and science at a small private school and teaching adjunct English courses at a local community college.

Cherokee Indian Reservation, Cherokee, NC.
An outsider like me was welcome though at Cherokee High School on the Indian Reservation of the Eastern Band of Cherokee. When they offered me a position teaching high school English in January of 1999 I jumped at the chance and launched head first into an amazing experience for my first five years of teaching. Grounded in the idea that students should have choice in learning, I ran my classroom as a facilitator of learning and became a master at differentiation. 99% of my students were Cherokee, and they all had different learning needs. Again, I equate any success experienced at Cherokee to student choice in learning. They appreciated it, and I fine-tuned how to provide student choice and meet the state required objectives and curriculum through Project-Based Learning experiences.

The highlight of our project-based learning experiences together was no doubt the Renaissance Festival the students selected to create as a way to learn the required British literature curriculum.  Student centered and community involved, we even had the Asheville television station run a segment on our event as part of their Never Stop Learning series in October of 2002. Leaving Cherokee after five years of teaching was tough for me because I felt successful as a teacher and had even earned an award for 2002-2003 Cherokee High School Teacher of the Year.

Fayette County Public Schools,   Lexington, KY.
Alas, we had to move again because it was time for my husband to pursue a PhD at the University of Kentucky. So, two weeks after giving birth to my second child, we moved to Kentucky where I obtained a teaching position at the county’s most inner city school. 

This brought new challenges in part because I thought I had figured out how to teach and was comfortable in the profession. Maybe a shake up was exactly what I needed to become an even stronger teacher. In Lexington, the school where I taught had a very diverse student population. The experience of dealing with diversity brought new challenges and caused me to question what I thought I knew about being a teacher. But I was determined to meet my students' needs. New state. New school. New colleagues. New parents. New community. New students. New standards which were skill based. New content area, too, because in addition to teaching English, I taught arts and humanities. It was at this new school when I decided to pursue National Board certification. Earning my NBCT status was a highlight in my career because the process brought professional learning. Analyzing student work, writing and reflecting on my teaching practices, and producing evidence of my practice and my students' work were fantastic ways to help me improve as a teacher which ultimately led to me being recognized in the district teacher spotlight segment in 2008-2009.

The NBCT process also taught me more about being a leader because it required me to show evidence of how I was a teacher leader, not something I had given much thought previously. When you take the time to think intentionally about what you are doing, it improves your outcome. The year after earning NBCT status, I became department chair for our 13 member English department of young teachers. My leadership experience and demonstration of effective teaching were important and relevant factors for my position, which still required me to teach a full 6 courses. I taught everything from arts and humanities to AP Language, AP Literature to elective courses such as Shakespeare and Women's Studies to general 10th grade English. There was no release time for building capacity of other teachers. We really caught our groove though and created a cross disciplinary literacy team and started on a literacy plan based on meeting the needs of students in our school. Two years after achieving NBCT status, I decided I needed a change of pace.  Leaving the classroom was not an easy decision as you might have noticed if you've been following my blog. If you haven't been following, you can read more about that decision here, here, and here

State Department of Education In the winter of 2009, I accepted a position as literacy consultant at our state's education agency. Three months into this new position, a key piece of legislation (commonly known as Senate Bill 1) was passed into law. This sent our entire state into an era of new reform. I went to this position very naive about politics in education. I paid close attention and spent time learning, reading, researching, and listening.  Needless to say, it was a very interesting experience

It's About Kids Support Services (District Office). After weeks of soul searching and even conversations about returning to the classroom full time, I accepted a position in late August 2012 in my home district in Lexington, Kentucky. Returning to Fayette County Public Schools was a rewarding learning experience. I served as Secondary English Language Arts Specialist for the district and spent my time working with teachers. I visited classrooms, facilitated professional development sessions, provided Literacy Design Collaborative Training to English, Social Studies, and Science teachers in collaboration with teachers in those disciplines, planned for Response to Intervention work in the district, planned for literacy teams and writing program reviews, started a new blog, and contributed to the district Innovation Team. 

A Nonprofit Organization.  In the spring of 2013 I was recruited for a new position with a brand new organization designed to promote change and innovation in Kentucky's schools.  After more soul searching and a realization that I should walk the talk about taking leaps, I accepted a position leading an initiative for a curriculum project and research study with schools in Kentucky and Colorado collaborating to create units of study to meet the needs of their students and the demands of the Common Core State Standards.  Because we are a brand new organization with only a few employees, I also contribute the blog and initially helped run some of the social media accounts.  (I love this!)  I remain steadfastly committed to raising the voice of teachers and students in public education in my new position.  We need changes in our system, and my new position is offering me additional opportunities to promote changes and to encourage teachers along the way.

NOTE: This post used to appear on my About page, but when I decided to update that page today, I wanted to preserve my longer bio, so I updated this a bit and added information about my decision to get into education in the first place.

~~~Please tell me about your journey in the comments area below~~~

06 March 2015

Dreaming of a Teacher Powered School

Back in 1999 a year after I started teaching in Western North Carolina, I began dreaming of teaching in a school with distributed leadership, a school where all stakeholders have a voice. You see, my father-in-law, a fifth grade teacher in Georgia at the time, and I spent time talking about how we could better meet the needs of our students if only we would be allowed to do so--if only we were permitted to allow students choice in how the school operated. Back then I didn't know Teacher Powered schools could be a real thing. Young and enthusiastic, I placed my focus on learning all I could about being an effective teacher, an effective facilitator of learning. All the while, the running of the school continued to pull at me.

Snowy View from Capital Plaza Tower Frankfort, KY

Flash forward ten years to January 2009 when I began working at the state department of education. One wintry and snowy morning from the KDE Capital Plaza Tower in Frankfort, Kentucky, I called my former professor, Hilton Smith, to tell him I had left the classroom. I was taking a break from teaching with hopes that I could learn more about how education policy happens, how decisions that impact students and teachers are made. Hilton was the one who taught me about student choice in learning and about creating more authentic learning experiences like he and his colleagues used with the Foxfire approach. Not sure what he would think of me working for a government agency, I asked for advice, and he provided it. "Pay attention to how decisions are made at the state level. Pay attention to how policies are made--really made--behind the scenes, not the posturing that we all see in the public arena. Pay attention and learn because what you learn will benefit you when you leave."

The following December, Hilton sent me a letter (a real snail mail letter, not an email) about The Forum for Education and Democracy and the Coalition of Essential Schools (we had read Ted Sizer's work in grad school). In the evenings, I spent time researching and learning more about the founders and leaders recognized by these organizations.  Hilton Smith, Theodore Sizer, Dennis Littky, Elliot Washor, George Wood, Debra Meier, Linda Darling-Hammond, etc.

About this same time, teacher-led schools in Minnesota and Colorado opened, so I followed the happenings from afar with secret dreams of helping open a school like this in Kentucky. Released in 2012, the book Trusting Teachers With School Success: What Happens When Teachers Call the Shots by Kim Ferris-Berg and Edward Dirkswager provided an analysis of numerous schools around the country operating with some type of teacher autonomy.  My evening research kept me motivated and moving, eager to learn more about the type of school we might be able to open in Kentucky--one focused on providing students choices in their learning.

Ultimately, this is why I'm interested in teacher powered schools. I'm interested in schools where not just teachers have a voice but students also have a voice in their learning. I used to believe the only way to make an impact or be involved required me to teach again. As I reflected in a recent blog post, I no longer believe teaching is the only way I can make an impact. Raising the voice of teachers and students matters and so does thinking differently about how schools operate. It will take people thinking and behaving differently to make these changes. Now I have the great fortune of working for an organization focused on recruiting, coordinating and supporting expertise to inspire and scale innovation and excellence in Kentucky's public schools.

Fortunately, education leaders in Kentucky have also begun investigating alternative school models such as the Big Picture Learning Schools I explored all those years ago when I was working for KDE. Additionally, teachers in Kentucky have begun investigating distributed leadership models and Teacher Powered Schools.

I'm ready. I've been ready. Students deserve it. Let's do it!