Archive for category at-risk

Can You Influence Change?

I joined Scott Mcleod’s Summer Book Club and we are currently reading Influencer: the Power to Change Anything.  I haven’t blogged about it yet, but some things in Chapter 6 really hit home with me so had to comment.  Scott prefaced the book club by saying, this is one of the best leadership books he has read in awhile, and its perfect for change agents (paraphrasing).  I want to be a change agent.

I’ve been trying to frame this blog all day and my original thought was to call it Being Change without Being in Charge, but that isn’t quite right. Besides, the only thought I could come up with under that title was……..

Back to the book.  Here are some important things I learned about being a leader and being able to influence change, with a little commentary.

1.  The Power of One

Remember learning about Stanley Milgram?  The social scientist who had ‘teachers’ shock ‘learners’ when they didn’t get answers right, and even though learners kept messing up, 65% of the teachers kept shocking them, to near fatal levels.  The final limit was 450 volts where most were presumed dead or passed out as a result. However, if scientists added one person to the teacher’s room that said things like “keep going, its okay” that number went up to 90% of the teachers shocking to a deadly level.  But, if that same 1 person said “I’m not going to do this anymore” then the shocker stopped shocking.  The idea is that the power of one is all it takes.  One other person can influence us to do great or horrible things.

2.  Opinion Leaders, not Innovators bring about change
Innovators are often thought of as the misfits who are disconnected from the rest of their environment.  They aren’t respected because they are on a different plane.  However, early adopters / opinion leaders are connected to and respected by their peers and others in their community.  If you want real change, you have to be (or have to find) an early adopter.  You have to be connected to your peers.  You have to be respected by them.  Then, when the innovators come in with their cool new tools, you decide whether they are worthy and promote them.

This one takes some self-evaluation.  I have one other person at my school that would be considered the innovator.  He got me excited about Web 2.0 and the possibility of engaging students on a whole new level.  He has introduced some amazing ideas to our staff.  However, most haven’t taken to changing their style of teaching to meet the demands of today’s students. He is an amazing learner.  That being said, I don’t what I AM?   I don’t think I’m an opinion leader because I’m not vocal enough about the emerging technologies that I’m using or the impact they are having on the select kids using them.  In some instances I’m helping kids get excited about school again. That is a good thing.  I need to be more vocal about it, but it’s hard, especially when you don’t respect so many people in your organization.  That has to change.

3.  Influence agents have to engage the chain of command
“Smart influencers spend a disproportionate amount of time with formal leaders to ensure that the leaders are their social influence to encourage vital behaviors.”

Basically, if you want change then align yourself with the people who can make it happen in your community.  For most of us, that is our bosses who are automatically given the title of leaders when they take the job.  For those of us that have bosses that are ineffective at bringing about change, we need to pick people in our organization that can (people who are the head of cliques), and try to show them what we are doing.  If they like our ideas then they will take it to their small groups and change will spread.

4. To become an opinon leader/ early adopter:

  • You must be knowledgable about the issue you are trying to change
  • You must be trustworthy, people have to respect your opinion
  • You must be generous with your time

This hits home really hard.  We have a knowledgable administration.  However, not all are trustworthy.  Most of our faculty does not believe our administration will handle situations appropriately.  They don’t trust them to do the right thing.  Some of our administration is very generous with their time.  Others can never be found.  Do your leaders fit these three criterion?

5.  Make the undiscussable, discussable
There has to be a public discourse over the issues that are hurting your organization the most.  The elephants in the room.

Power to change comes from the ability to force undiscussable topics into the public discourse.  Long settled beliefs are suddenly opened to question and discussed at every corner, workstation, and shop- and eventually reshaped

We can’t sit in our classrooms, complain on our PLN’s, and just talk to our spouses about what is wrong, what needs to change. We have to get our ideas moving, make them kinetic, make them a fabric of our community.

In an ideal workplace, you have an “environment where formal and informal leaders relentlessly encourage vital behaviors and skillfully confront negative behaviors.  When this happens, people make personal transformations that are hard to believe”

What are you doing to influence your environment?

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Online Learning’s Promising Practices

NACOL just released a report addressing the promising practices of online schools working with at-risk students.  Based on a study of 5 online or blended learning schools, they came up with the following key lessons demonstrated by those successful schools:

Motivating students who have failed in the traditional classroom setting is a key to success for credit recovery programs. The flexible and self-paced nature of online courses can motivate; these attributes can also remove the social stigma of credit recovery. Online courses may be more engaging to some students than traditional face-to-face classes. In addition, programs that use online courses can address mobility issues of students who move regularly from one school in the district to another.

This is the hardest part of our job.  We need to develop better methods of engaging students. Florida Virtual School states they pass 90% of their at-risk kids in credit recovery courses. Does that mean online schools should just design separate credit recovery courses in addition to mainline and advanced courses? There is no separation at our school and we pass half that amount.

Online learning is particularly well suited for students recovering credit because it allows for individualized instruction, both by the teacher and through the use of course management technology. Online curriculum must be rigorous to ensure that students are learning the material, and not simply moving through the course. Diagnostic testing that allows students to demonstrate mastery of the elements of a subject that they learned in their previous attempt to pass the course, and to move on to the parts of the course that they need to focus on, keeps students engaged.

I’ve long been a proponent of diagnostic testing but none of our courses currently offer this.  The rigor of a course has to be enforced by the administration.  Individualizing instruction (and assessments) is the role of the instructor but if your school employs instructors who are trying to teach traditionally online than this won’t happen at your school.

The self-paced aspect of online courses is particularly valuable to at-risk students, who may associate education with difficulties and stress, compounded by learning deadlines imposed  by arbitrary calendars or school hours.

This is also one of the most difficult aspects.  Often these students do not have basic organizational skills or the ability to evaluate course responsibilities and schedule accordingly.

Providing credit for work or community service allows students to be engaged in a valuable activity outside of school and to have this experience count towards graduation. It also
motivates students to complete the program.

Most online programs serving credit recovery and at-risk students—but not all—have a
significant face-to-face component. The blended approach is important because it provides
expanded student support and face-to-face contact. The online component—whether fully
online or blended—provides 21st century skills to a group of students who often have less
than average exposure to computers and technology.

We have kids come in once a week for four hours of face-to-face contact.  Should we increase this to make it “significant?”

Programs that keep students from dropping out or attract students back into the school
system may pay for themselves—or at least defray costs—by capturing the state public
education dollars tied to those students. Online programs are particularly scalable and able
to expand more easily than programs based entirely on brick-and-mortar classrooms.

Success stories and anecdotes regarding the benefits and value of online learning for both
at-risk students and the schools serving them abound. The need exists for federal funding of
quantitative research in this area.

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Online Learning On My Mind

I teach online so its always on my mind, but things have been happening recently which led me to want to start writing about online teaching and learning.  Normally I write pretty vague blogs that can apply to both traditional and distance and hybrid schools but want to focus on my specific model for a little while.  Bare with me. Things that have me thinking, in no particular order:

1.  I was asked to present at Virtual Schools Symposium about Shared Leadership in a discussion called “How to Start an Online School” then shared leadership seemed to stop at my school when summer began.  Feeling a little torn about making that presentation now.

2.  I just went through an online training program for Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium, CT’s new state online school.  I was able to look inside some of the responsibilities their teachers have for developing curriculum (almost none) compared to our teacher’s responsibilities for developing curriculum (100 %).  My hypothesis is that teachers who use pre-packaged software solutions can focus more on supplementing instruction, personalizing assessments, and communicating with students than those that have to spend a lot of time building online content.  More hypothesizing to come.

3.  I was just at NECC2008 and there were almost no relevant sessions about online learning.  I attended one and it was terrible, antiquated, inapplicable to my situation or any online teacher’s situation who has taught for more than 5 days.  There was nothing in any of the dozen or so E-learning sessions that I thought could benefit a hybrid high school teacher.  I think I found a topic to propose to NECC for next year.

4.  Clayton Christensen predicts half of all high school students will take online courses ten years from now.  If that comes true, my career experience is going to be very relevant to the future of education.

5.  A trusted colleague in my PLN asked me to talk to her principal about the challenges of online learning for credit recovery.  Her school is thinking about offering online classes next year.  Even though the challenges are so vast and so many, I still believe in online learning. That said, everyday I question the potential of online learning as a valuable option for at-risk kids.  I’m spending my life trying to figure out a way to teach at-risk kids online, but am losing so far.

UPDATE:  NACOL just released a paper on the role of online schools for at-risk students, stating

As online learning moves past the early adopter phase, the growth
of online programs focused on at-risk students or credit recovery has redefined how educational technology can be used to address the needs of all students, from advanced students in search of Advanced Placement or dual-credit courses, to at-risk students trying to find the right instructional mix to fit their learning styles.

The last half of that last sentence is especially relevant to our learning model.  We need to find the right mix to meet these kids learning styles because we are failing nearly 50% of our students right now with another 20% dropping out.  Anyone have any ideas for the right mix?

Those 5 things really have me thinking about online learning and interested in seeing where it goes in the near future.  I also look forward to tackling these things in future writings, which I haven’t really done in a year of blogging.  Wonder why not?

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In Their Words Video

I created this video from over 2 hours of student interviews and dozens of still images.

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How Does it Feel to be the Worst?

According to Education Week’s study of P-16 Council effectiveness called Diplomas Count 2008, Nevada has the worst graduation rate in the country. In 2005, only 45% of students graduated, that was 25% below the national average. In the four years prior, Nevada had actually decreased its grad rate by over 9% while the national average saw an increase of nearly 3%.

Diplomas Count 2008 State Chart

My first thought after reading this was, does knowing this change anything about how I approach teaching these kids?

I work at an online charter school which attracts a wide variety of students, many though, and possibly the top tier of kids who choose to attend our school, have failed out of their zoned school and are hanging on by a thread. These are at-risk kids in the purest form, they are almost ready to quit the system and have found us as a last alternative. I knew that already, but what I didn’t know before this report was that we had one of the worst districts in the country so our students have been failed by the system at the highest levels.

So, does it change how I approach teaching these kids?

This report confirms that our school does not have it easy. It validates some of the reasons our staff has quit on these kids. It proves that our task of educating is as difficult as any in the country. What it doesn’t do though, is change how I teach these kids. I’m not bowing out of this fight now that I found out its even harder than I imagined.

I’m not trying to come off as some sort of higher-than-thou evangelist, I hope it doesn’t sound that way. It’s just that so many of the people I work with quit. So many of them have lost faith in these kids, and it’s a lot easier to do that than to fight for them.

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