My journey to the dark side?

Earlier in the month, I applied to the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) and the Leadership program for an administrative certificate. It’s my intention to leave classroom instruction and seek a leadership position. On Monday, I got my acceptance letter. In a move to share this decision with friends and colleagues, I posted a picture to of this letter to my Facebook and Twitter. The response from my community was really positive, and the acknowledgement received helped me to feel better about this line of decision making.

And, I’ve also taken the jab: “Traitor,” “Turncoat.”

I’ve never seen any teacher’s move to administration as turn toward the dark side, as it’s often referred to in a wink-wink, nudge-nudge kind of way. These remarks from teachers have always bothered me. They suggest that teachers hold some form of moral superiority, and continue to exacerbate the us-versus them mentality and binary thinking that is, arguably, at the root of many problems in the field of education. No one holds any kind of moral superiority in the field of education.

So, not only is this post a sharing of my decision to pursue administration and school leadership, but it’s also a chance to share why I’m taking this path. Below is the personal statement submitted to MCLA. While it was written with the program admissions panel in my mind as an audience, I think it captures my thinking at this moment in time.

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

Leadership Academy

Statement of Goals

Submitted by Keith J. Pedzich

The choice to obtain an administrative certification has not been a straight line, an easy path or in a timeline that falls within the neatly demarcated lines of a calendar. Instead it has been something that has developed over time. What I hope to do within this personal statement is weave together important highlights from my career as an educator with an explanation of what brings me to administration, the Leadership Academy, and what I hope to achieve.

In my role as classroom teacher, I have wanted to create students who were auto-didactic and who leave my classroom a little wiser about the world. When I started as a classroom teacher twenty years ago, I asked questions like “How do I make a dynamic learning environment for my students?” or “How do I create experiences that will bring literature to life?” and “How do I motivate resistant students?” These questions were about how to do this within an individual classroom setting. Both as a new teacher, and as I gained experience, the way that I thought about interactions were only within my classroom community.

I have been fortunate to answer the above questions in approaches such as inquiry-based instruction and the adoption and maintenance of an International Baccalaureate Diploma Program in two different schools. Over the past three years, I have worked to harness the power of blended learning through technology use. Through committees I am a part of, we adopted a district-wide Learning Management System, planned a K-12 roll-out of 1:1 devices, and wrote training curriculum. These efforts kept my practice fresh and helped me to find ways of engaging students that allowed me to facilitate instruction while simultaneously making students in control of their learning. These experiences in coordinating instructional practice began my interest in administrative work.

Goal 1: As an administrator, I hope to continue to answer questions and be a part of conversations to answer questions to drive change

 

For all the power and influence I may have as a classroom teacher and in working on committees, my reach and influence only go so far. The question I ask, frequently, is how can I take my knowledge of instruction, and leverage it for change at an organizational level. My inquiry has shifted from looking within the classroom for ways to improve student learning and achievement to looking at how to accomplish this at an organizational level.

Now the questions I ask look like this:

How do we prepare teachers to ready students for the dynamic changes they will find in the 21st century job market?

How do we get teachers to reconsider their role in the classroom when most of human knowledge can be accessed on devices someone can keep in the pocket of his or her jeans?

How do we best prepare our teachers for a shifting role in a technology-driven classroom?

How, in an age of diminishing time resources, do we maximize efficiency in our professional development program?

While I do not have all the answers to such questions, in my shift to administration I would like to engage with organizations to answer these questions.

What appeals to me about the MCLA Leadership program is the ability to have conversations in two existing worlds: With those involved in the Leadership Academy, and in my home district and school. The range of these conversations between these two worlds, I am guessing, is purposefully designed. It will allow us to learn from others in the program and within the cultures we are already a part of.

 

Goal 2: Through this program, I want to make a shift from the practice of teaching to the practice of leadership and organizational thinking

 

Attending the Leadership Academy and working through an internship next year, I might expect that I will learn things such as creating master schedules, observing teachers, and  running New York State Regents exam sessions. These are important items in which to become literate. They form the bread-and-butter of a building administrator’s tasks. In small part, I think I have begun to make the shift I describe in the goal above.

As International Baccalaureate Diploma Program Coordinator, I spend time working with administrators and teachers on issues related to implementation of this program. Working with the building principal, we have had to make decisions around course offerings, promotion and teacher workload. For me, one of the interesting things is observing the principal thinking through these decisions not only in light of what would be good for the IB program, but also how these decisions are tied to other programs and resources within our school. The complexities of the contemporary U.S. high school are many, and developing a literacy around this is intriguing and necessary. My hope is that over the year and a half in this program, I begin to develop a sense of how to prioritize the decisions leaders face.

Another experience that has brought me to consider this more deeply has been my involvement with our district’s move to a digital conversation and 1:1 devices. In a committee, we developed mission and vision statements. I have spent time on the road looking at other school 1:1 programs. We presented to faculty. We went through an evaluation and adoption of district wide use of an LMS. We retooled our professional development plan to prepare teachers to deliver this technology initiative in their classes. I worked with a team to develop training curriculum and schedule of professional development opportunities. I had to look beyond my own interest in equipping my students with devices and think about the entire K-12 population.  We have worked to do something pretty innovative–establishing a 1:1 technology program through listening to all stakeholder voices. Still, we got push back and we have those who resist and continue to use traditional methods. As a classroom teacher, I might have been able to simply turn my back on these technology resisters, close the door of my classroom and simply continue on with my passions for using technology to develop 21st-century skills in my students. However, in my role as a technology integrator, I have to consider how we bring people along in our digital conversion, and how we make sure everyone knows how to use the tools we have been given, so we can measure change. Our efforts at change and innovation need to be grounded in what we know to be true about good education–building relationships, listening and empathy, and working from what our people know. I learned that change in schools can be slow to come by.   

In going into the Leadership Academy, I am adopting a “I don’t know what I don’t know” approach. I have put aside preconceived notions about what I think administrators do, so that I might look at this work and to gain from the experience. The Leadership Academy clearly provides the opportunity through sustained mentorship and self-study.

 

Goal 3: As an administrator, work to become a more powerful and effective innovation change agent, who can balance the checkboxes of public education with the need to find new solutions to problems.

 

For the last three years, I have been thinking more deeply about schools from people such as Ira Shor, George Couros, Will Richardson, and Grant Lichtman.  These thinkers challenge traditional notions of education and are arguing for new and different approaches to creating schools. I am also interested in those thinkers who are outside of education to gain additional perspective, including Sheryl Sandberg, Adam Grant, and Sven Birkerts.

The future’s best leaders will be remixers and repurposers. We will need to look for the lessons and learnings of different industries–automotive, technological, agricultural–and how we might adopt them to make our educational organizations better at serving our communities.  

Perhaps the most decisive experience in the decision to enter administration came late in the last school year when I was the point-person for developing an end of the year professional development session for the entire faculty. While I had done this for smaller, shorter faculty meetings, I challenged myself to create a professional development experience reflecting the innovation I read about in Couros’ work paired with the choice and independence that is advocated for by Richardson. Working in a team, we developed a unique experience. In my high school, we had never done professional development at the end of the year. My work here was a culmination and synthesis of a year’s worth of work from learning about technology integration and training, to making it valuable to adults. The program was largely a success. It was here that I realized I could design experiences that combined solid learning tasks with innovative, technology-driven approaches that teachers could learn from.

My passion is learning and helping teachers get better at what they do. However, like what I did in the professional development I described above, I am motivated to find ways to blend the traditional with the innovative to meet goals. It is at the Leadership Academy that I hope to continue to develop these interests and avenues.

 

Goal 4: Grow as a professional through non-traditional certification program

 

From all of this, why the Leadership Academy at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts? I am seeking something non-traditional. While I am deeply committed to learning and intellectual advancement, I hope to seek a balance between “classroom space” in on-line environments with practical advice, guidance, and instruction from those working in my school. The administrators in my district have a wealth of knowledge from which I hope to learn from next year.

Where do I hope to land? When I look at the through-line of my career, the thread that ties it together is learning and instruction.  Whether it is my work as an IB Coordinator, my role as a Technology Integrator, my courses in blogging and new-media writing, or my presentations on personalized learning or process writing or writing to learn strategies, my interests have been in how we create classrooms that engage students in critical thinking. As someone who has valued learning throughout my career, my move to administration is not a turning away from classrooms or teaching. It is a move to assist and lead in a new way. While I remain open to exploration, positions as the Director of Professional Development or Director of Instruction are immediately on my radar.

As I alluded to in the above discussion, I am excited by the structure of the Leadership Academy. Coming from Rochester, New York, there are several, good administrative programs in the area, but I am not looking for a traditional classroom approach. It is during my time in this program that I hope to work to meet the above goals and answer the questions about which I am so passionate.

 

So, You’ve Been Asked to Write a 4,000 Word Research Paper: Where to Begin

As an IB Coordinator and long-time IB kool aid drinker, the Extended Essay (EE) poses an important, appropriate and formidable challenge for Diploma students. The EE is supposed to be the central experience of this program. In my mind, it’s meant to encapsulate everything about the IB experience: Inquiry-based teaching and learning, source-based writing, in-depth study, time management, collaboration with others and reflection. It’s an experience that all students should have a brush with, not just DP students.

This year, not only am I an IB Coordinator, but I’m also the parent of a rising year-one diploma student. Last night, as my family was sitting down for a dinner of enchiladas, rice and beans, and a salad, my daughter brought up the first hurdle in taking on the Extended Essay: “I’m not really sure how to get started.”

The first step in the EE process is settling on a subject area and broad topic that can start to narrow the sources to be consumed. For example, the IB EE website lists some examples of broad topics for Literature:

  • Marriage in the novels of Charlotte Bronte 
  • Comedy in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream and Twelfth Night
  • Autobiographical details in the novels of Cesar Aira.
  • A comparison of the main characters in Huckleberry Finn and Candide.

These are by no means final topics, but for me as a coordinator, they are a starting point that allow a student to create a preliminary bibliography and begin the process of research (and by this I mean reading). By June, I’d like my students to have settled into a specific topic. For example (and again from the IB EE website): 

  • The portrayal of marriages as imperfect in Sarah Water’s Fingersmith and The Little Child.
  • The use of the Clown archetype in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream and Twelfth Night
  • Satirical techniques and travel in Huckleberry Finn and Candide. 

In response, I thought I would share somethings that I would do if I had to write a 4,000 word research essay. Don’t see the list below as steps in a process. You could do them in any order!

  1. Start by thinking about subjects at school that I’m passionate about and that I might be thinking about studying in college. Then, I would go to the Extended Essay site and read the “Subject-specific guidance” and particularly “Choice of Topic” sections. These will give examples of the kinds of topics that are appropriate.
  2. Make an appointment to see AP and IB teachers of subjects you are passionate about. Talk to them about potential EE topics. Don’t know who in the building might know about something you are interested in researching, see your IB Coordinator or Librarian.
  3. Brainstorm lists of ideas your interested in. Use these as jumping off points to further reading and exploration.
  4. Surf Twitter, find blogs, podcasts and content aggregators who post interesting material and content. Read this stuff and add to your brainstorming.
  5. Read the Sunday New York Times. All of it. Take topics and stories from the issue that are intriguing to you, add them to your brainstorming.
  6. What are your hobbies? How might what you do outside of class lead to topics and research? I’ve seen great essays come out of a love of Ultimate Frisbee, or Violin playing, or War Movies, or Harry Potter.
  7. Talk to family. Have mom or dad or aunt or uncle help you brainstorm about your passions and interests. Talk to them about how their experiences with research and their passions. Maybe this will spark topics.
  8. Go to a museum or historical society. In our area, the George Eastman house, Strong Museum of Play, Art Gallery, Women’s Rights Hall of Fame could all lead to you thinking about interesting ideas.
  9. My English students write “Passion Blogs.” If you write in any way about stuff that interests you, go back and look at other writing and add to your brainstorming, Not only should you add it to your brainstorming, you should “content spin it” or “topic spin it.” What does that mean? Look at my example below.

Recently, I had a student write a mock “How-to” blog post on surviving a zombie apocalypse. To content spin it, with an aim of developing topics, I take the central topic and consider how different IB subject areas or disciplines would explore that topic.

English:  The presentation of the zombie in post-millennium YA literature.

History: The history of zombies in American culture.

Sciences: Necrotizing Bacteria.

Film: The presentation of the zombie in film.

World Studies: Beliefs about zombies in religion and the treatment of the AIDS virus in Africa and the Caribbean.

My last thought is schedule some time over Christmas break to meet with your IB Coordinator for coffee or a burger and have a chat about the EE. Get his or her perspective on this project and talk about your ideas.  

Learning from Learning: Documentation and Blogging

It sounded like a good idea at the time: The Documentation Project.

The end of August was rolling around and I was starting to think about the school year. What were my goals? What key pieces of instruction did I want to take on? What were going to be important milestones and projects?

In thinking about these questions, Angela Stockman (@AngelaStockman) posted in the Building Better Writers group on Facebook. She was offering a year-long session in documentation of learning, creating, a private group called “The Documentation Project.”

Currents were converging.

The offer of documenting learning would keep me honest about a goal, and perhaps help me to both step up my instruction and really learn from it.

At the end of August, all this sounded like a good idea. Last week, in the middle of a 20-point To-Do list, not so much. Additionally, Angela was pushing us along, asking What we were going to document and how we were going to do. Again, not so much.

However, last week and over the weekend, some stuff kinda gel-d for me. This blog is what I came up with.


I’ve decided to document the learning about writing that goes on in my IB English 11 class. We spent the first 4 days of class creating student run Edublogs, and populating them with several different kinds of posts and pages. Students will blog once a week, writing about either personal interests, mentor-text reading, or in further their thinking about current texts under discussion.

One of the questions that I’m asking about blogs is do blogs and blog writing create better writers.

I see the learning and documentation coming from weekly reflection on what I’m seeing in their blogs, and the lessons that I plan coming from this cycle or process.

For example, in the first round of blogging, I asked students to comment on each other’s blogs. Here, students are in groups of four, commenting on blogs in these groups to keep it manageable.

After the first round of blogs and comments were submitted, I asked students to reflect on what we’ve done so far. Flipgrid was an easy tool for collecting this feedback. The primary feedback I got was that commenting on other student work was the most difficult part of the process.

When I teach giving feedback–whatever kind of feedback that might be–I use the Stanford Design school technique of “I Like, I Wish, I Wonder.” This gives students a way of looking at student work and moving feedback from something personal to something constructive, and that is both positive and critical simultaneously.

Certainly, commenting on the work of others is a challenging task. No one would disagree. It requires us to carefully consider, to understand intention, to think about the effects of writing on our own experience as the consumer of a piece. Then, to articulate those noticings into writing.

Today, we’re going to look at some mentor texts by looking at public comments to the New York Times blogroll to see what we might learn about the moves we need to make as participants in a conversation.

I use that phrase, “participants in a conversation,” intentionally. From looking at blogs and my students reflection on them, my purposes behind blogging with them are clarified. Better writing means, for me, increased engagement in a conversation. I want them to participate with each other in a conversation of ideas and thinking.

Teaching commenting and giving feedback is one way to do this.

The other aspect that’s come clearer for me this weekend, was that blogging, for all its coolness, offers a challenge to today’s high school writer (and perhaps today’s high school English teacher): There is no right way to do it. In a Regents-exam driven classroom, where the answer for how to write the essay is clear and easy to teach, the blog form does not lend itself to “This is how you do it.”

Instead, the blog post is, perhaps, the most complex of rhetorical situations students might have to respond to. Worthy territory for writers, indeed.

Viewing Courses in Schoology

Welcome back!

As a tech integrator, my work during the first week of school fell into two categories. The first was helping last year’s Schoology converts to load courses and materials into their new live courses. And, the second category was helping teachers who are starting to convert materials.

Clearly, everyone’s realizing that Schoology is here to stay at CA and that it’s a powerful tool for managing courses.

As teachers become more comfortable with this tool, they inevitably start looking for greater customization.

My tech tip this week helped to show some features–both old and new–in Schoology that would help with how their Schoology home-pages look.

I forget to mention in the video that a great strategy for customization comes in changing the course profile picture. Schoology is offering us a greater range of choice, but I like finding something custom to my class that gives us our own brand identity.

 

Kingdom Come: A Short Pilgrimage to Kingdom Trails

On the first full day of my recent mountain biking trip to Kingdom Trails, in East Burke, Vermont, I was taking a moment to rest on Darling Hill Road, a main thoroughfare to the trail network, when a truck came along lazily, pulled up along side me. Inside was a grizzled sheep dog and his equally grizzled person with a dirty Budweiser trucker, holding down a mop of brown hair.

From inside the cab of the truck, the driver croaked something at me both inaudible and indecipherable.

“Excuse me?” I said.

“Want some marijuana?” and with that he extended his arm and at the end of it was a small glass pipe.

“No. No, thanks,” I said.

“Your loss.” And, with that, the truck pulled away.

Quintessential Vermont. A place of stark contrasts in it’s people, landscapes and possibilities.


Kingdom Trails & East Burke, Vermont

Every summer, we pack our daughter off to camp in mid-August. As soon as she’s gone, I’m freed from summer Dad-duties. I pack my car, and take off on my own adventure. Some summers it’s the Whites or the Adirondacks or the Gunks. But, as a new mountain bike rider, I wanted to go explore a place that I’d been reading a lot about.

Kingdom Trails is a network of 80 miles of mountain bike trails in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Located in East Burke, about 7 hours from Rochester, New York (my home base), Kingdom offers a playground for all sorts of riders.

I’m fairly new to mountain biking, and I’m a very conservative rider. I’m not into bombing down hills or shredding technical trails. What I’m looking for is a chance to be on my bike, outside, and to be able to experience a lot of nature in a day.

Kingdom accommodates. I’ve rode there about four days, covered much of the green and blue trails without repeating anything. But, for those looking for more challenge, there’s plenty of black trails for steep downhills or technical riding. I saw plenty of riders, like myself, rocking their dad bods. I saw groups of families with dads on full-suspension rigs with their kids on Walmart Huffies. I saw retiree couples getting rides in.  All are welcome.

East Burke also provides an excellent hub for travelers. I stay in a lean-to in the Burke Mountain campground, which was perfect for my budget and plans, as well as providing a central place for riding from. The first day, I drove down to the main parking lot in town (a 2 mile trip), but the second day I rode directly onto the trails from the campground. The campground is on a mountain directly above a ski resort. So, if you are looking for upgraded accommodations, this might be the place for you.

The campground the the resort are owned by the same people, so campers have access to the pool and hot tub at the resort, as well as the pub, which offered great food, and more importantly, a dozen taps of excellent Vermont craft beer.

In town, there are rentals, hostels, motels. And, for a small town, there’s several gastro-pubs, ice cream shops, and delis. Everything is very low-key and friendly. It’s a great mountain town.

In town a popular spot is the Tiki Bar, great for post-ride beverages. Atop Darling Hill, I found a bike shop-Espresso Bar-Beer Garden. To dip into my cliche bucket–a little heaven on Earth. Talk about contrasts–one minute you can be riding in what feels like the back country, but a few minutes later you can be indulging in the finer points of civilization: an espresso, or a cold double IPA, or a plate of house made sausages over piles of mashed potatoes. Or all perhaps all three.


The Riding

Pretty much anyone going to Kingdom is going to find themselves stopping in the Trail Network Office, where you buy a $15 pass to ride for the day and get a trail map. My first time, I told the person I was a first-timer and that I was fairly new to mountain biking. I got suggestions for a 20 mile ride on manageable trails, and with that, I felt pretty oriented to the area.

Some of my favorite rides from this trip took me to what felt like remote places. While I had to take the steep River Walk, a black-square route to get down to River Run, it was worth the risk. River Run is several miles of either old logging-road or groomed single track. There are several places to access the adjacent stream.

I started the blog post talking about the contrasts that seem everywhere for me in a place like Kingdom and in particular the riding here. Sometimes in open fields and others through tight forests. Sometimes down steady declines and others off the bike pushing up big slopes.

For me, the seven hour trip from home is too far for a weekend, so I’ll have to content myself with planning a trip back to Kingdom and East Burke next summer.