Friday, March 27, 2009

Thoughts on how we choose to act

We’ve been given this one short life, a precious life, to use as we see fit. We learn, grow, work, love, make a life. Why, then, do we so often choose to use this one precious life to use our mouths and our time being cruel, mean or indifferent to others? Why do we not try to be the best we can be, make the most of our opportunities, explore our part of the world and invest ourselves in others?

What would happen if we chose to throw out sunshine instead of chilling sleet?
If we chose kindness over cruelty?
If we chose discovery, exploration and wonder over boredom and wasted opportunities?
If we chose true, honest and giving friendship over surface acquaintances?
If we err on the side of grace instead of justice?

What would each one of us be like?
What would this classroom look like?
How would our school change?
How would the world be different?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Out on a limb

Teachers teach students, that's our job. We think about how we teach, reflect on our teaching afterwards, try different approaches and techniques, reflect and evaluate again. We learn as we are doing all this.

What happens when teachers are the learners? I sometimes feel out on a limb as a learner. Tethered by a sometimes-thick, sometimes thin rope to the tree of understanding. Sometimes I'm content with my learning, but more often I'm either exhausted and a bit confused or exhilarated. I don't seem to occupy middle ground often. So, as I swing on my tether, I prefer the exhilarated side. . . but think the confused side leads to understanding. Maybe I need to embrace and trust the whole process as learning. Maybe being so very tired will fly away.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Education is learning new definitions

Who sits in the leadership seat?

I typically thought of leadership as a person or group of people who are in charge of organizations, events, etc. I am learning that leadership can and should be a group event - the space between the people and the action. Leadership is rich, has more than one definition and can exist in the relationship of the group. Group leadership is not dependent on a charismatic leader and can be longer lasting. As I learn more and reflect on leadership, I realize my definition of leadership is changing.

I also realize that education is a whole process of learning new definitions and how they work in real life. When I enter new life situations, I learn new definitions of terms like resilience, thinking for myself, what my faith means to me and how it works in my life, parenting, preparedness, organization, teaching, learning, classroom management, school culture, curriculum, education, leadership.

I wonder what new definitions I'll learn next.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Who is the leader?

I'm studying to be a teacher leader. I'm uncomfortable with the notion that, as a leader, I am "more" or "better" or have more knowledge than others. Lieberman and Miller (2004) write about leadership being a culture instead of a person. I love this idea. Leadership is a collection of activities promoting positive change, collegiality, collaboration, support and encouragement in which a fluid group of people participate. This idea seems so supportive and freeing - everything doesn't rest on one person's shoulders, group members share responsibility for the leadership culture. I want to embrace this, yet I wonder if it is feasible in my school situation and what conditions need to be in place to better the chance for success. Any ideas?

Lieberman, A. & Miller, L. (2004). Teacher Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Leadership in Curriculum Course Reflection

I feel I hold onto my new knowledge and hopefuly understandings by a tenuous thread. It doesn't yet feel comfortable. I have too much fear of doing it wrong. One essential question I learned in my voice lessons is that the best singers get out of their own way. They learn correct technique - breathing, support, etc, and then trust the technique and sing. I hope I can transfer that to teaching: prepare as best I can with my new knowledge and understanding, which is based on my previous knowledge, and teach. Another voice lesson understanding: if you make a mistake, make it big. At least you'll know you made a mistake so you can fix it.

Understanding by design, the focus of this course, involves thinking about curriculum and lessons with the end result in mind. Assessments, which are traditionally planned after the lesson material is planned, are to be thought of in the beginning stages of curriculum/unit/lesson planning. Everything flows out of the big idea - or essential question, which is not necessarily content-specific. The UbD design forces the designer to think through the curriculum/unit/lesson from many angles and have coherence within the plan. UbD seems to be more efficient for unit and curriculum design. It is a bit tedious for daily lesson plans. I believe that once I get proficient at UbD, I will be able to design really effective units and create abbreviated daily lesson plans.

When I look at my Understanding by Design project, I see coherence, sense making and flow throughout the plan. Our museum table top exhibit opened my eyes to a major "big idea" in fashion design: pieces and the whole. I think focusing on this essential question in daily lessons will greatly improve student understanding and ability to "do" fashion design. The class is only a semester long - I have to maximize learning and new skills in a short time. UbD will help me evaluate what I do in the course. Is the planned activity relevant to the big idea? Can I rearrange things to accomodate my teacher mission statement, so I am actually doing what I say I'm doing? Can I explain/state things in a different way to make the "a-ha" moment happen sooner?

When I compare my Understanding by Design project with my teacher mission statement, I see a disturbing inconsistency. One of my goals as a teacher is to encourage students to practice democracy. While I give some choices for students in my lessons, I need to work on incuding democracy in the classroom. I love Wiggins and McTighe's (2005) idea of soliciting weekly or frequent student feedback. This will help me understand my students better and include their ideas and views more solidly in the classroom experience. Adding this student feedback activity will help students learn the democratic process as well as assist in constructing knowledge and creating community. Except for the democracy point just mentioned, I believe my UbD project and my teacher mission statement are in agreement. I create community in the classroom by having students collaborate, present to each other, listen to each other and critique each other. Respect for others is not written into the lesson plans but is a strong presence in the classroom. Students have opportunities to transfer knowledge and create understanding throught the class activities. Activities and learnings are chunked into skill sets or ideas so students can build their skill level and knowledge of how it all fits together. Students sometimes work by themselves and often work with others to discover ideas and create knowledge. Students learn from each other through collaboration, presentations and class discussions. They are given ample opportunities to practice their learning and skills through practical exercises and assessments. Students receive feedback from peers and the teacher and have regular opportunities to reflect on their learning.

This class has been intense. It's difficult to know what I will retain, but I am thankful for the opportunity to learn UbD from a knowledgeable professor and endlessly inspiring peers.

Wiggins, G. & McTigue, J. (2005). Understanding by design, expanded 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Knowing and Understanding

We are approaching the final day of our summer courses! As I swim through the glee, a few thoughts surface. Backwards design differentiates between knowing and understanding. Knowing, the facts and knowledge of something, is separate from understanding, which is where transfer occurs. As a teacher, I strive for students to know and understand the content or concept. You really cannot have understanding without knowledge. You cannot make connections and transfer to new situations if you don't have the basic knowledge. The knowing, the facts, can be taught in a constructive manner, but is often (and successfully) taught traditionally. There is room for different learning theories in the same classroom depending on the desired end result. If I keep the difference between knowing and understanding clear in my mind, I am more apt to clearly teach knowledge and provide real-life opportunities for students to transfer their knowledge into understandings and connections.

So, will all this new knowledge and (hopefully) understandings that I've acquired over this (very long) summer session bear lovely fruit in my teaching and learning? Oh, please, let it be a resounding and enthusiastic yes.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Grand opening for our table top exhibits

Our table top display

The museum table top exhibit yesterday was, beyond compare, my best experience in graduate school so far. I think I needed to struggle through the other classes to have this class mean as much as it did. All my previous learning seemed to converge and come together in this class. Even though I got very little sleep on Wednesday night, I was not anxious and stressed. I was busy thinking of how I was going to put things together or sewing, sewing, sewing. I was creatively, completely, happily submerged in the experience. Having objects I created next to museum objects was thrilling. For me, the exhibit was an embodied experience with art.

I have never before experienced the level of collaboration achieved on this project. Our small exhibit group collaborated. Fellow classmates collaborated. Our museum liaison collaborated with abandon. Our professor models collaboration. The director of the lending collection collaborated. Interns and museum staff collaborated. I think we defined ideal collaboration during this process.

Our exhibit's concept, "Pieces and the Whole" can be used throughout the year in all the classes I teach. I believe I am beginning to understand how to write an essential question. Could it be that for me, these confusing pieces are starting to come together to make the whole?

Cross-stitch stars will be made into Christmas ornaments. Design is from an old Norwegian pattern.