School Transformation

It’s been said that the only human that likes change is a baby. Change is the hardest thing to work through even when dealing with professionals like educators. Part of it is due to the fact that our state legislature has a bad habit of changing the rules every other year. Part of it is that campuses and districts have leadership changes often and with those changes come different theories. Both of these mean that the hard work teachers put into their curriculum and classroom work is either scrapped or highly modified. Given that teachers have little time for planning as it is, that means less family time after hours while trying to prep for the school day.

Now, you want to “transform” their classroom? Really? Another change for another year or two? This is where your leadership (from the school board to superintendent to assistant principals) must have the same vision. This allows you to point out that no matter what cog of the wheel might change, the overall direction will not change anytime soon.

My good friend, and a wonderful educational mind, is Diana Laufenberg. She recently blogged about her work in transforming schools as a consultant after her classroom and leadership work at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. She keys in on four areas that she finds leaders could focus attention and make the process easier and more profitable for all involved.

  • Allow for breathing room – the people who are walking the path need support, but be careful not to micromanage. Once a plan is in place, check in on progress but leave some room for the project to breathe, get up to running speed, a watched pot never boils… evoke whatever analogy you want. This matters.
  • Play the long game – when the change process begins there is often a push to change it all right now, flip the thing over, disrupt. I would caution that to do so often alienates your core team, leaves the changes at a superficial level, and does not lay the ground work for the core changes that you want to see cement themselves into your school ecosystem. Its easy to drop new machines in a building and much more complex to bring that technology in to serve the pedagogy powerfully. Being thoughtful in scaffolding the process will set up the pathways of success for the team in ways that cannot be manufactured in any other way.
  • Pay attention to critical indicators – I often joke that if none of the students are doing the homework, it is not a problem with the students – it is a problem with the homework. Similarly, if a critical mass of the teachers in a transformation school are not on board, its time to evaluate that push back. It is important to listen to what the criticisms are and attend to the information. Ignoring it will only lead to massive staff turnover, year after year, which is a death knell to meaningful change. Change requires a school to reevaluate all its systems and structures. This is uncomfortable. Help people move through that space rather than ignore the issues.
  • Celebrate successes – Celebrate often, celebrate loudly, celebrate in the classrooms/school/community. Invite the community in, send the teachers and students out to meet with the community. It is important for the greater community to see the work of the students and start to see the transformation not just as a school initiative, but as a community effort.

Which of these do you feel you do well already as it pertains to the transformation you’d like to see on your campuses? Which of these do you think should be a priority for YOUR staff right now?

Crossposted in PLP Discussion Group.

Voice and choice has to be an option

It is probably the worst thing to ask a veteran teacher to do: let loose the reigns. Now, I didn’t say let go of the reigns. I’m just saying let loose a little. Voice and choice are so important for our kids to buy-in to what the teacher is selling. There are a number of ways to really accept this process including changing the title of teacher to lead learner.

In White Oak ISD, we entrust our PBL training to Dayna Laur. Dayna is a longtime, classroom practitioner and has an uncanny way of working key ideas into what the teacher can currently associate with. Take her connection of empowering authentic learning and worksheets:

If you haven’t already, perhaps you should take the time to watch the very powerful 2010 TedTalk by Adora Svitak. I could certainly write volumes on why the practice of worksheet education and low level Bloom’s is doing nothing but perpetuating a nation of students who are being taught not to think for themselves. However, Adora does an amazing job articulating this point through the words of a child. “What Adults Can Learn From Kids” reviews the lack of trust from which teachers operate in their classrooms. The lack of trust that causes teachers to place restrictions on their students, rather than letting them flourish. Near the end of her talk, Adora challenges teachers and adults, “not to turn kids into adults like you, but to turn kids into adults better than you.” In order to do this, we must move beyond the era of worksheets.

Worksheets are a prescribed curriculum no matter how you cut it. There’s no creativity in handing out worksheets, and there is little educational benefit. Sure, some short-term practice will occur, but that’s not our goal. Sure, worksheets are aligned with test prep, but that’s not our goal. Sure, worksheets are easy because they tear right out of the workbook the ISD pays tens of thousands of dollars for each year, but that’s not our goal.

Our goal is long-term learning by lifelong learners. We can be as cynical as we want about it never happening because we will never have 100% of our students who want to be in a classroom. So, is that the reason we shouldn’t improve the learning process for the vast majority of our students who really would take an interest in their own learning if it actually became their own learning. Ownership. That’s something voice and choice will help gain.

Crossposted in PLP Discussion Group.

Be a Part of Our Family Experience

Hope you don’t mind if I stray from my normal topics for a post…..

As many of you know, my family is headed to China soon to adopt a little girl. My son has been capturing video at family events and baby showers to put together a montage for my wife and Alexis (our new little girl). At the last shower, he asked everyone in attendance if they would take a few seconds and record something to share with Alexis, be it well wishes, wisdom, etc.

If you’re interested in being a part of our project, I’d appreciate you recording a short video piece and sharing it with me in some fashion. More than likely, putting it in Dropbox or Google Drive and sending me a link will be the best options. Catch me on Twitter if you have any questions. If you’re one of our local friends, we can swing by with the camera and shoot the piece, too.

Christian and I both would love to have you help us out with this. We want Alexis to see all of the people who are important in our lives.

What we need is a movement!

If you’ve never taken the time to listen to Sir Ken Robinson speak on education, please do that now. While his talk is roughly 19 minutes, it goes quickly. He sprinkles in humor amongst the seriousness of the need for change in education. The evidence he points to should encourage the educated decision makers to right the ship, but it falls on deaf ears. Folks, educators can want change. Educators can study change. Educators can even implement bits of change. What they cannot do on a full scale, is wipe the slate clean and start again in the right direction. Well, they can, but they need parents to begin the movement. Until the parents (taxpayers and voters) stand in unison, we will continue to wring every ounce of love for learning right out of our children all in the name of test scores.

Listen to Sir Ken’s ideas. We can start with one paradigm shift. He repeats one that I have been sharing with the Texas Legislature since I testified before an interim committee in 2007: make the test a diagnostic tool instead of a high stakes weapon. Then, we can actually put the $100 million a year we spend with Pearson to good use. Oddly enough, the one committee member who didn’t like the idea was Pearson’s lobbyist. Not sure how him sitting on a legislative panel doesn’t qualify as a conflict of interest, but who am I to judge?


Massive #FAIL. AKA: Never give up

Photo Credit: flickr user deeplifequotes

It all seemed easy enough. Christian had spent weeks putting together a 20+ minute iMovie on his iPad using the iMovie app. Basically, it was a BUNCH of pictures we took on our 10 day father-son Montana/Canada fly fishing trip that he ordered and narrated. He was ready to upload it to YouTube for embedding on his blog. Easy enough, right? Well, not so much. What should have been a 15 minute process turned into a day of problem solving.

First of all, Christian broke rule number 1 of any media creation: he deleted his source material before he published the final draft. In his defense, he didn’t know. He wanted to see the preview in iMovie, and to see a higher quality of it, he needed to clear more space on his iPad. So he did what many would do and deleted the pictures he didn’t need. After all, he already put them in his video. Right? Not so much. For those not in the know, you are really only putting a shortcut in the software to the media. You are not putting the media in. Delete your source material, and you have a bunch of blank spots in the video.

What confused him, though, is that the iMovie app showed him a little lower quality preview with all of the pics in place. It would have confused me, too. Keep this in mind: the original files are still not there. Lesson learned on his part.

Since he was seeing it in the preview, I thought maybe it did something different than other video editing software programs and decided to just push it up to YouTube. Fail. His GAFE account limited him to 15 minute max videos. So, I used my GAFE account. It said I was limited to 15 minutes, although I knew that wasn’t true. I swapped to my GMail account. Same problem. This tells me that the iMovie app is set to think all YouTube accounts have a 15 minute max video length. That’s a horrible setting inside the iMovie app, but we have to live within it. Lesson number 2 on the day.

I swapped to my Vimeo account. Another fail. It said I had a 500MB max upload size on my account. That might be true. I don’t know. I don’t use it that much. But, I do have a PRO Vimeo account we use to post higher end, longer videos. It is unlimited, so I figured I could push the video to that, download it to my MacBook, push it to my YouTube account, and then embed it in his blog. (Keep in mind, it would not let me go straight to YouTube.) Failure. Again. It said I had the same limit as my regular account. Lesson number 3 on the day: the iMovie app sees all Vimeo accounts as limited. Another weakness of the iMovie app.

My last option (or so I thought) was to just move the iMovie file to iTunes and open it in iMovie on my Air and push it out from there. Easy enough. Wrong. Lesson number 4 on the day is a loop back to Lesson number one: don’t delete the media before you publish. All I got in iMovie on my Air was a lot of black and no pics. The narration was still stellar, but that was no consolation to him. I did learn how to do this process for the first time as I had never tried it before, so that might be a win.

At this point, I went to lunch. I took him and my wife to Pizza Hut to try to get a mental break. After what amounted to two large pizzas worth of slices from the buffet, we were ready to get back to the problem at hand. On the way back to the office, he and I were running through what worked and what didn’t. He mentioned that he still didn’t get why he could watch the preview on the iPad in iMovie app and see everything there even though he deleted the media. It was something I still cannot explain to him. But, this conversation led me to think of a solution. Hence, Lesson 5 on the day.

I got to thinking. If Christian could see his preview full screen, then why not stream it to my Air via Reflector app and do the screen recording option in Reflector? It would kick it out in an MOV file (or similar) that I could put in iMovie and edit if needed. At this point, I was thinking it might work and I would just have to add the narration track to it somehow. After 22 minutes and 7 seconds, Christian and I learned Lesson number 5 on the day: Reflector did an excellent job on a long video.

When we watched the video being played back after the lengthy rendering (about 45 minutes), we got the added bonus of Lesson number 6 on the day: the audio came through like a champ. Reflector pulls in the audio built into whatever is streaming. It does not record conversation around the devices, but it does record what audio comes from the iPad. Thank you, Lord.

From that point, we just pushed the file to my YouTube account and embedded it in his blog. He’s happy. Mom’s happy. I’m ecstatic. It was the best possible outcome to what could have been a horrid lesson to him about video editing. It’s a lot of work to create a good piece of media, and it’s heartbreaking to not have it work out and have to redo it. That’s not high on a 12 year old’s list of things to do. In the end, the good Lord was smiling on us and we are now published. I’d embed it here, but he needs to see people actually do read his blog. Jump over there and take a look when you get a chance. 20 minutes is long, but it’s nowhere near as long as our day was trying to get it to this final stage.

As Audri says, “If you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

iHeart Devices Presentation Resources

iHeartDevicesAs promised, here are the resources I promised during my session Thursday. I hope they help guide you through the process of utilizing your iOS devices as part of the storytelling process. Publish your work. Publish the kids’ work. Everyone can use a global audience to provide feedback and encouragement.

Using your iPad to shoot video & upload to YouTube plus QR Code

How-To: Upload your video from the iPad to YouTube & embed it in your blog

Movie Trailers on the iPad – Jim Gates

Filming with mobile devices – Royan Lee

45 Interesting ways to use your pocket camera in the classroom

Engaging Learners through Digital Storytelling: 40+ Resources & Tips

iPad Publishing in the Digital Era


iMovie for iPad – Storyboard help sheets for trailers

Digital Storytelling with the iPad


Creating Book Trailers with iMovie and iPads

Create an Online Radio Show with Spreaker DJ for iPad

Search Creative Commons Licensed works

Videos used in the presentation (not in above links):

Case File 13: Zombie Kid – thecdfloyd

Call Me Maybe Josh Davis – Samantha Reid

Melted crayon art – ChloeM

Three Beats for Beatbox Flute Movement I by Greg Pattillo – jeeminiii

The Shining (happy version) – Rob Miller