Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Do you have a SKUNK in your PLC? You should.

Over the last ten years, I am not sure if there has been a more well-intended, but poorly implemented educational practice than Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).  PLCs are wonderful and they are not unique to education.  Collaboration, team building, debate, and discussion are all part of healthy parts of any successful organizations. They provide a platform for innovation and continuous improvement.  Entire industries have been built on the simple concept of putting a group of well meaning adults in a room and expecting them to somehow collectively improve not only their individual performance but those of the entire group.  

So what is the problem?  One of the biggest mistakes we make is isolating ourselves from people who disagree with us. We often don’t invite the “skunk” into the room.  Too many times, especially in education we are too cordial.  We view “debate and discussion” and an argument or even worse personal disrespect. Without healthy debate, however, your PLC will never be as effective as it could be. When discussing ideas, innovation, or even student work if there is not a “skunk” in the group that will be the voice of dissent or at the very least offer a different perspective your PLC will never move past compliance level.

Next time you are working with a team or group look around and listen.  Is there a person on the team willing to stick their neck out and challenge the status quo? Excitement and learning occur when we decide to create the future we need, not simply defend what we already have.  Unless your team is willing to stay ahead of the curve, you will fall behind.  Allow the skunk in the room….they are not always right, but they are not always wrong either.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

How I realized Twitter could be Authentic Learning...

Each week, teachers in my school district, Northwest ISD, gather together via Twitter to share and learn together about a variety of topics.  #NISDCHAT is held every Sunday evening (8:30) with teacher(s) volunteers to facilitate the discussion.  About a year ago, I decided to read along to see what it was all about.  I now know this practice is called "lurking", but back then I just wanted to see what all the chatter was about and if it was really "authentic" learning.  What I found was more than I could have imagined....a small, but dedicated group of educators taking time to discuss and share about what mattered most to them in education.  It was enlightening read about their daily struggles and wonderful celebrations. In time, I have seen this group and others in our District (Don't miss #NISDNOV8 on Tuesdays) grow and become even more diverse as the discussions broadened to all sorts of educational issues.  I mean, where else do you find primary grade teachers sharing with high school teachers about the best ways to give feedback to students?

This past week, the #NISDCHAT's topic asked teachers from around the District to post pictures of "authentic" learning. What a learning experience it was!!! Teachers from kindergarten through 12th grade shared their beliefs about what authentic learning means to them and their students with real examples. It was powerful professional development!

In this blog (my first), I hope to continue exploring what it means to give our students authentic learning experiences. The better we can define what that means, the more likely we are to provide them for our students. Can they apply their learning? Does it carry over to other disciplines?

Please share your viewpoints and ideas.  What do you consider authentic learning?