Success! (indeed)

The principals, department heads, registrars, and other such luminaries met this past week and solidified the scheduling matrices for the Junior High.  After five months, countless meetings, and several compromises, it’s on the books and official.  Sometime this spring or summer I will hand over the keys to the Language Lab, return to the classroom as a full-time teacher, and I will co-facilitate a PLT for teachers of Spanish in the Junior High.

I’m sad to leave a position that I’ve held for seven years.  When I came in to the lab, our (a colleague and i took over the lab from the previous director, hence “our”) main responsibility was training.  The digital language learning environment was foreign to all and frightening to most.  We spent much of our time cooking up instructional “how-to’s” on everything from basic lab functions to advanced operations, converting audio files to mp3, burning files to CD, creating clip-art, you name it.

As years went by, the language lab became less foreign, even to the newly arriving faculty members.  Given the increasing autonomy of the average user, we spent less time training and more time developing projects and activities using language learning technology.  We also somehow became ad hoc A/V coordinators, warehousing mp3 players, DV and digital cameras, digital voice recorders, and laptop computers.  Teachers often checked out these items for use with their class or in their abroad travel, and brought back the product to us to create an artifact of the classroom or abroad experience.  PowerPoint was considered the domain of intermediate techie while video editing was the zenith of tech savvy.  Although I was not as heavily involved in the front-loading of these activities, I was needed as a knowledge source in the post-production of these materials.

Gradually, as cameras and portable devices became ubiquitous, the need for these items diminished. And my role as back-door peddler of electronics eroded.  Just about this time came Web 2.0.  The term was around for a year or two before I paid any attention to it.  The first time I saw a class experiment with blogging I was somewhat unimpressed.  It turns out, as I now understand, the technology was new, but the methodology (print it out and hand it in) was the same old-same old.  As so often happens, technology changes much more quickly than our approach to it.  So, after another year or so, I started seeing the collaboration take form.  Students engaged in more peer review.  Teachers allowed students to create the lesson, and in some cases assess it (with a guiding hand).  And as of two years ago or so, a new application emerged every few weeks.  Sometimes I would find them on my own or in collaboration with a colleague from this network or that.  But just as often, a teacher at my school would come across something and ask me if I ever heard of…

This represents my most recent, and as it turns out most fulfilling permutation of my job as Lab Director.  I became the department’s Research and Development bloodhound.  I goofed around with some of the most inane and some of the most powerful tools around.  From this period of experimentation I found Voicethread, the wiki, and Jing/Screencast.  Rather than teach teachers how to teach with a piece of software that resides in our lab, I learned how to learn new tools and explore innovative uses for tools.  I would spend hours getting battered and bloodied in an online app so that a teacher could hop on, get started, and skip all the experimentation and frustration.

The only thing I’d do differently is I would have worked harder to incorporate this spirit of experimentation in my own classes.  Just this year, through things I’ve learned from my Dobbs Cohorts am I beginning a regimen of systematic failure and adjustment.  And it’s been my best teaching year in a long time.

Over this period of seven year the computer hasn’t changed much (other than how big and how fast they are), but the ways in which we use it has changed drastically.  Which, in essence, is why the PLC model has become such a necessity.  The role of Lab Director has evolved from “all-knowing teacher” to “electronics dealer,” to “R & D guy.”  My job became less teaching and more about learning and modeling.  And isn’t that what we’ve been discussing all this time?  Isn’t that what a PLC is all about?  (Actually, no, it’s about much more.  But the notion of a “team of learners” versus “group of teachers” is a foundational distinction.)

So, I’m off to my next assignment.  One about which I am very excited.  And as my job in the lab seemed to shift every two years or so, I imagine that my thinking will be challenged and my “job” as facilitator will change as quickly as the weeks pass.  I’m ignoring the temptation to get nervous about faciliating a PLT.  This summer I’m taking the two CFT Summer Institute workshops on PLC facilitation, so I hope that those two workshops, plus my involvement as participant in this PLC will help to shape my vision for the JHSPLT.

In other words, I’m sure the Golden Plunger will get a good workout next year.

Success! (maybe)

Just last week I recounted my anxiety at awaiting the answer from the Business Office about new hiring.  Things looked rather bleak on that end, so I began the week preparing myself to be told that the PLC would not be feasible this year.  Returning 7th and 8th grade course registration is now complete and we’re about finished with 6th grade and new 7th and 8th grade registration.  After a preliminary headcount, it appears that there is ample leg room to start a PL-something.  I’ll explain, but first, the lingo:

The PLC has undergone dozens of common permutations as schools around the country take a stab at collaborative culture.  DuFour and Eaker have a somewhat rigid definition of the characteristics of a PLC, but just who the participants are is never addressed.  The assumption, therefore, is that any collection of contributors constitutes a PLC.  My school, in an effort to scaffold degrees of collaboration, prefers to address the who as well as the what.  So, in brief, here is what my school has cooked up for definitions regarding professional learning structures (ooh, I just made up a new phrase):

PLC – A professional learning community consists of groups of educators from varying departments, divisions, or grade level teams.

PLT – A professional learning team consists of educators from a single department, division, or grade level.  When different PLT’s work together, it would then be considered a PLC.

After careful noodling, it looks 90% possible that the Junior High will be able to implement a Junior High Spanish PLT consisting of JH Spanish teachers, with me and Kristen (French teacher and one of the best people I know) facilitating.  As a result, I will step down from the Lab Director role and assume a full course load (with the course transition for the PLT).  This being my 7th year in that role, it’s a good time for me to move on to something new.

So, the work continues with reading, planning, and learning.  Let’s hope this thing really comes together.