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.

 

Inform CA!

Introduction

It’s been a busy couple of weeks in English 103. Kids have been making Google Sites to inform on issues, creating ads to bring traffic to those sites, and building surveys to collect information from peers on those issues. Yesterday, the project went live and public. Ads were posted in our school’s central atrium, for ease of access for the eighty-plus students in this class, and at the same time, opened these sites and surveys to the entire faculty and student body.


My motivation for this project

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Details About the Process

At the start, we told students that they had to create a web-site to inform peers about an important problem within the issues they were researching, that they would have to make an ad, and develop a survey to collect opinions of the peers on these issues. I’ve found in this project, those first days are the challenge as there are a lot of pieces for students to digest.

To keep things organized, all of the content and resource material are housed in Schoology. While we put these materials in as a series of steps, students jumped around between tasks and steps as they needed to. Little direction instruction was given. Instead, students watch videos, completed readings, and as teacher, I walked around to provide assistance and answer questions. If you look below, you’ll see the layout.

informca schoology

This project was done by students over the course of 2 weeks. We originally aimed for a week and a half, but students needed time.

Outcome

Below are some pictures of ads that students created.

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Reflections and Future

 

George Couros at Marcus Whitman

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of listening to George Couros’ keynote address at this year’s Connecting for Kids conference held at Marcus Whitman. I’ve been a fan for several years, and it felt like I was checking-off an item from my educator bucket-list.

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Couros’ talk came at a great time. The mid-March doldrums are in full swing, and his words inspired me out of the blahs and reminded me to get to work.

Below are my notes coming out of his talk:

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What ‘Zombifies’ You?

This blog was inspired by Matt Miller’s (@mattmiller) #Ditchsummit first session. In this session, Miller explores with Holly Clark (@HollyClarkEdu) the foundations of pedagogy and technology infusion in the classroom.

Clark, co-author with Tanya Avrith (@TanyaAvrith) of The Google Infused Classroom, is another powerful advocate for student voice, student choice to drive technology use. In the summit, Clark says we should ask kids what ‘zombifies’ them. By this, I take her to mean, that in seeking student input for her classroom, she seeks to know what turns kids off, what makes them feel bored, and what disconnects them from feeling a sense of learning.

Certainly, the posing of this question, even the framing of the question around the popular undead cultural icon would appeal to kids immediately.

Still, I think we should ask this question of ourselves as teachers. What is it in our classrooms that makes us feel like zombies?

And, let’s make sure that we have a clear understand of the zombie–what is it make us feel lifeless, thoughtless creatures.

I’m not talking about what enrages us like Hulk, “You won’t like me when I’m angry,” or like Frankenstein’s monster, swinging our arms at the villager’s pitchforks and torches. What are the triggers in our schools and in our classroom that make us mindless. When I worked in day-treatment, students spitting at teachers used to really be a trigger to anger.

For me, zombies are lifeless and mindless. They don’t really make choices. They are just driven by their lust for brains and blood. Likewise, in instruction, we are often driven thoughtlessly by tradition, law, perceived expectation, and ego, to name a few.

My list is also driven by my own actions and decisions. It’s not about what I see students doing in class. For example, it bothers me when students don’t follow directions, or who don’t do their work. It makes me angry, but I’m not mindless in these situations. These are students who need help and perhaps creative assistance on my part to offer an influence to change.

Here are my own personal triggers for sucking the life out of me and that make me a zombie:

  1. Doing things as I’ve always done them.
  2. Test-driven instruction, curriculum planning, and schools.
  3. Controls and restrictions in classrooms and by classroom teachers that continue to perpetuate systems of social inequality of class, race, sex, geography. Today, I’m considering how the following do this:
    1. Restrictive rules around technology
    2. Failure to use technology
    3. Providing only teacher accepted resources, sources, while denying the use of student selected materials.
  4. Having “discussions” in which I (assume I) know the conclusion the students will reach.
  5. Any kind of grading that results in a number being given.
  6. Projects with a single outcome.
  7. Annual presentations in faculty meetings.
  8. Reminder or refresher or update presentations in faculty meetings. Really, any kind of presentation that is disguised as something that could have been read as a handout or memo.
  9. Wordsmith and line editing as a committee.
  10.  Food-driven reward systems as motivations or as a behavior management systems with groups. It’s fine when training dogs and getting packs of animals to cooperate, but I like to think that I work with and for human beings.
  11. Proctoring.

Looking back up at these, I can see the negative vibe in them, and I certainly could revise and re-frame this list as the “practices I would like to embrace. But, it is a recognition of the stuff that turns me into a zombie–resulting in stress, anxiety, and stewing, brooding existential miffery.

It’s a great list for me of the stuff I need to avoid and steer away from. As an instructional leader, technology integrator, and self-proclaimed technology integration coach, it’s the list of stuff that I want to keep away from in my practice.

There are, of course, necessary evils in our schools and classrooms for which we must don the yellow Hazmat suits as the zombie-hordes creep across school fields and play grounds. I’m not going to be able to escape Regents exam grading; I’ve got two proctoring assignments in January so that some teachers can get valuable, formative feedback. But, I can force questions of the people I work with about the rules they establish, or to question existing practices. I can encourage my principal and work with him to create faculty meetings based on choice, and that provide opportunities for unheard teachers to have voice. I can give those who want to present their knowledge and passions to faculty opportunities that don’t involve the PowerPoint circle of the Inferno. I can look really hard at my own practice and demand that I’m better at what I do. And, I can model the kind of instruction that I want to be part of. And, if I do, then I might keep those brain sucking hungers at bay.

I encourage you. Make your own “Top 10 List of Zombie Practices.” Please share with me.

Writer’s note: For some reason, I had to resist putting everything into semi-ironic, air-quotes as I was writing. 

Combining Launch Cycle with the Writing Process

The writing process has always been one of the core elements of my classroom instruction. Whether teaching Regents-level classes or International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement or other college-level courses, using the ideas of Peter Elbow, Lucy Calkins and the writers the the Bard Institute of Writing and Thinking.

In the past year I’ve read A.J. Juliani’s Launch and Empower. Both books have pushed me to consider the connections between the design-thinking cycle and the writing process.

Both have much in common. They each begin in generating ideas, then developing drafts or prototypes, and moving through revision, before ultimately sharing that work with the public.

As contemporary composition research suggests that we should spend more time with students working with real-world audiences, the design thinking process puts an important focus into its process. It asks us to consider what problems we’ll attempt to solve, who we’re solving them for, and how what is being created will address the needs of that group. It’s for this reason that looking at ways we can bring this into the writing process can ultimately benefit students.

Every year, I start my English 101 class with an introductory lesson on the Writing Process. This lesson will get some tweaks by incorporating design-thinking vocabulary that my students and I will use throughout the year.

Below is my preliminary thinking about where the two processes overlap and what writing activities might be part of each part of these processes.