Archive for category charter schools

Your Vision of a Gradebook

no gradebooksIf you didn’t have to put A’s and F’s into your gradebook on a regular basis, what would you put in there instead?

Considering that I am pretty active in a Personal Learning Network that is based in Twitter and prides itself on education reform ideals, that my primary job is in a charter school which many associate with reform, and I work in a variety of online programs across the country which is a major face in the changing landscape of education, I often hear people talk about throwing out the gradebook…….but I haven’t really heard too many people talk about what would replace it.

One possibility I can imagine is a school with smaller class sizes where students are graded subjectively on projects or authentic assessment followed up with one-on-one discussions that would help the teacher assess learning as a way of getting rid of letter grades. However, what would we turn into the state or district auditors? Would I just not put in weekly grades and then add in a letter grade at the end of the quarter or semester to give to the powers that be? There are definitely ways around it but in every program I’ve ever worked in, we have to provide a grade based on the same exact A-F scale.

So, if we didn’t have to do that, what would your gradebook look like?

Can you imagine any foreseeable future where we don’t have letter grades that go to our departments, districts, or states?

Lets hear your vision of a gradebook.

Crossposted at TeacherStream, an online learning blog.

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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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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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Schizophrenic Professional Presence Online

masks.jpg

I really wanted to get on here and just rant about something I saw at work a little while ago that was the ultimate insight to a problem we have had all year, but decided that there are a couple risks in doing so.  First off, you probably don’t want to hear me complain.  Secondly, I probably don’t want my work to hear me complain.  So I’ve been sitting at my computer with my blog open, and just thinking a little more in depth about why I didn’t want to write out exactly what has been bothering me about teaching at an online school.  I began having a debate. The debate consisted of three things:

  1. Do I go into detail about a common problem at our online school, and possibly address a bigger problem in education?
  2. If I do go into it, will anyone care since it’s a personal grumble?
  3. If someone does care, will that someone be from my own school who happens to read this?

Lets clear one thing up, only a couple teachers from my school read this blog, probably any blogs for that matter, so the risk of them reading about a complaint that may alienate me from my peers is only a risk if they catch onto this down the road and go back through the archives.  But there is always that what if?

That led me to the realization that I have to pretend a little on this blog.  I have to wear a couple masks.  I have to oblige the persona that is more conducive to appeasing a broader readership.  The idea of keeping a professional presence separate from your personal presence online is something I dealt with and adapted to a couple years ago. However, I’m just now thinking about having to have multiple professional personalities if I want to be honest about the problems at my online school, which just might happen to be problems that other online schools, and other more traditional schools might also be having.

I’m sure many writers have had to worry about alienating themselves or coworkers in their blogs, and many have probably gone the easy route and just chosen not to say anything at all.  But I’m wondering if there is another way to handle this where you can still get your message out, still share your ideas, still be controversial, but not go down a path you wish you could take back later.

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