“Matrix Rebranded”

First, if you’ve been here before, you’ll notice that the blog has changed name and design.  It probably won’t be the last time.  Blog206 was my erstwhile class blog that never really went anywhere anyway, so I doubt the half dozen students that took advantage of it will miss it.

The new name comes from a seminar that Rob Evans gave at our school my first year at Westminster.  I stuck that term in my hat, and pretty much went back to teaching in my good, old comfortable style, with little variation for eight years or so.  Last year, I started getting the itch to take more chances, frustrated that while the kids continue to learn Spanish at a decently high level of proficiency, it’s mostly due to their raw intelligence and motivation.  I wasn’t offering much in the way of compelling salesmanship or relevance.

Last year’s participation in the PLP was a big first step in changing the way I do things, and on the whole, I probably deserve a B- for my attempt.  Most of my growth pertained to my job as language lab director.  I was a proficient developer of other peoples’ tech-based activities.  My own teaching remained largely a kill-and-drill enterprise.

So, the Golden Plunger comes out.  The Golden Plunger refers to that grand idea that falls on its face.  My goal is to posit a number of creative and collaborative approaches to my teaching.  I’m ok with failing, as long as I get it right a couple of times.

…on blogging

I’ve really enjoyed being exposed to expert voices in our readings and in what little blog surfing I’ve done in the last month.  However, although I did a lot of reading during this past month, I didn’t take time to reflect on it here, hence my two brief posts.  On a number of occasions I’ve felt the urge to blog, but immediately looked at my watch, and feeling crunched for time because of an upcoming class, sports practice, or family outing, I decided I didn’t want to just “knock something out”–I wanted to sit down and really dig into my reflection.  As a result, I wrote very little.

So here’s what I’ve decided.  In order to get my fingers traveling, I’m going to blog when I get the notion (don’t expect Wallace Stegner-like prose); however, in order to respect my reader (in the case of this month, Matthew), I will try to be as relevant as possible.  So, I won’t give you Wallace Stegner, but I promise not to give you James Joyce, either.

DuFour & DuFour on PLCs

At the beginning of the year, a colleague handed me an article from the National Forum of Educational Administration & Supervision titled “The Power of Professional Learning Communities.”  I assumed that this was a redux of the DuFour article that we’re reading for this week, so I put off reading it.  However, I suggest that any of us look into this article.  Essentially, it’s the DuFour’s thesis in brief.  And it points out one point that had escaped me in my reading of the assigned DuFour article.

A professional learning community is a group of educators committed to working collaboratively in ongoing processes of collective inquiry and action research in order to achieve better results for the students they serve.

The collective inquiry bit I already caught on to.  However, that some form of action research was necessary, while perhaps self-evident to some, had not occurred to me.  What type of action research should I be involved in then?  Faculty attitudes toward technology?  The ways in which technology is used in class and in the lab?  Outcomes of such technology use? I assume that the answers are “sure, sure, and sure.”

In receiving feedback on my learning contract, a colleague noted that the “evidence of outcomes” regarding my own teaching will be “what are the students learning?”  What, then, is the evidence regarding information gained from teacher use of technology?  What “outcome” can I look for to determine that my practices as “technology standard bearer for the FL department” are effective?

There are a number of excellent points made by the DuFour’s in this article.  I hope to post it to the wiki tomorrow and comment on them there.

One Step at a Time

I suppose it would be an appropriate intro tag for my first blog post, but in this case it’s the title of an article that the Dobbs cohort is reading that deals with the steps that are taken in introducing PLCs into a faculty body (“One Step at a Time,” Graham and Ferriter, 2008).  As language lab director at my school, I often work with teachers to develop technology-based instruction for use in the lab, as well as other venues on campus.  But the reality is that I usually only meet with three or four teachers.  These teachers are usually the ones openly discussing ideas and welcoming the ideas of others.

There are many others that are more hesitant to share ideas or let other teachers into their cloistered classroom protocol.  These teachers usually ask my advice on how to use the lab, but rarely do the ask me how to use the lab.  They consider the lab a glorified tape recorder and have not yet grasped the possibilities for this very powerful tool–to say nothing of utilization of 2.0 tools.

The most effective way to address these “hold-outs” might be a PLC.  And the article “One Step at a Time” spells out in step-by-step fashion how to go about easing these teachers into a collaborative atmosphere.  I suspect that if I initiated this on my own, I would presume that since we’re all capable adults, that conversation would generate itself with few prompts.  Or on the other hand, it’s better to cram lots of “conversation building” activities.  Either way, Graham and Ferriter head me off at the pass

As teachers initially explore collaboration, meetings can swing from one extreme to the other: either struggling to fill time or tackling too many tasks in hour-long meetings.  Frustration is inevitable…

If I were to take our first two PLC meetings as an example, I think that Bob, Laura and Brandi did a wonderful job defining expectations.  My previous experience in a PLC left me twisting in the wind, waiting for guidance.  I hope that we continue with the same “open-ended but regimented” mode.

Graham and Ferriter eventually arrive at the point where a PLC engages in assessment and data analysis.  The term “data analysis” sends chills down my spine since, while I have a tendency for self-reflection, I can’t say that analysis is my forte.  That said, if reading, interpreting, and making conclusions and taking action based on student evaluations is considered analysis, then I’m fine.  But if we’re talking about crunching numbers, someone please pass the oxygen.


Graham and Ferriter also talk about the importance of creating “safe environments in which teachers can discuss common assessments and to model nonjudgmental approaches to data.  If I can offer up this tidbit, the Junior High in which I teach has done a fantastic job creating a self-assessment regimen that elicits self-reflection in a non-threatening way.  The process encourages reflection on the teacher as a learner, a teacher, and a member of the community.  Then, after reviewing the spring student evaluations, the teacher establishes strengths, weaknesses, reflects on last year’s goal (I gave myself a C- on my goal last year, and feel comfortable saying so), and finally prompts the teacher to set a goal for this year that is informed by all the foundational work aforementioned.

It’s absurd that teachers don’t reflect on their teaching practice more than they already do.  Personally, I have only started to truly do so in the last two years.  Previously my evals focused more on my contributions to the school, and not on my growth as a teacher.  I suspect we all don’t dive into self-reflection because we all take this job very seriously, and to acknowledge defeat is to be defeated.  When in fact, to acknowledge defeat equips you with a will to improve, and just might illuminate the road to get you there.