Monday, July 16, 2012

Design and Story

A few years back the good people at The Boomerang Project recommended "A Whole New Mind" by Daniel Pink.  If you click on that link you'll see a brief description stating that the book "...reveals the six essential aptitudes on which professional success and personal fulfillment now depend..."  According to Pink two of those aptitudes are design and story.  I enjoyed the book and have found it quite useful.

This past February my wife and I decided that it was time for me to start applying for a full-time administrative position.  In 6+ years at a traditional high school as a Math Teacher I had gained valuable experience with things like serving on the staff leadership team, serving on WASC visiting teams, coaching, etc.  During the last 2 years I was the Lead Teacher at a small charter school and it was during this time that I gained invaluable administrative experience working on school discipline, coordinating the administration of standardized exams, developing curriculum, leading professional development, etc.  However, as "Lead Teacher" I wasn't officially an administrator, so I knew that when applying I'd be viewed as not having enough experience.  I had to do something that would separate me from the pack.

I put design and story together and somehow came up with the idea of creating a video.  I contacted former students, parents of current students, friends and associates, former/current colleagues and former supervisors and humbly asked them to make a short video of themselves completing the following statement: Alex would make a(n) __________ school leader because __________.  The videos were incredible!  I put them together in iMovie and came up with a 4-minute compilation that told a story about who I am as an educational leader.  I uploaded the video and in each application and cover letter included a link.

The video certainly opened a lot of doors for me.  One deputy superintendent remarked that he had never seen anything like it before and asked me if he could use it in a Masters class he teaches.  I do believe that it played a significant role in me landing my current position.  I've never thought of myself as much of a right-brainer but I guess an old dog can learn a few new tricks.

(I'm a little hesitant to include a link to the video because while it was a purposeful and effective way of marketing myself for a job it feels a bit pretentious to just put it out there.  But, if it can help others market themselves and learn something then I think it's worth it.  Click here.)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Learning by Doing

Learning by Doing is, according to the subtitle, A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work.  It is also what my daughters do every day.  Ellie is 2.  Lucy is 9 months.

Ten minutes ago we were getting them ready for bed and Lucy was playing in her room.  She's pulling herself up to a standing position now.  Seeing her do this makes me incredibly proud, especially considering the lengths I went to for her to accomplish this task.  First I spent no small amount of time meticulously planning a lesson that I would eventually present to her.  TSWBAT stand.  In doing so I created a learning objective that would be visible at all times during the lesson.  I backwards mapped: Lucy standing would be the performance task she'd demonstrate.  I considered and included her prior knowledge while planning the lesson.  Once Lucy was quietly seated at her desk (on time, before the bell rang, with all necessary materials) we jumped into the anticipatory set.  The lecture began, during which I periodically checked for understanding.  Individual practice ensued, followed by constructive feedback, and of course some formative assessment.

Ridiculous, huh?  Two years and nine months ago we started trying for children.  Here we are now, two beautiful and wonderful daughters later, and to be honest I think we're doing great.  We've talked to people, read some books here and there, but mostly we are Learning by Doing.  Just like Ellie and Lucy do nearly every moment of every day.

What would our schools look like if we "did" History, Math, English, the Arts, the Sciences, Foreign Languages, Wood Shop and Auto Shop?  We begin our lives Learning by Doing and for an unfortunate, inordinate amount of time we stop doing and are taught.  Once that is over we get back to doing and find ourselves more interested, more intrigued, better educated.  Can we possibly make those schooling years more productive?  More fun?

The Damian Paradox

My (career) life is pretty much dedicated to education.  I love it.  Love reading about it, thinking about it, talking about it, debating about it.  My hope is that when my time comes to retire that I'll look back and feel satisfied with the contributions I made towards education, the positive effect I had on lives (students and colleagues), and the small but significant change I impacted upon the system.  But that may not happen because of The Damian Paradox.

Damian is one of my best buddies.  I've known him since sixth grade, when he moved to our neighborhood.  Damian is by all measures, and this is genuinely unbiased, successful.  He has spent the past ten or so years in the life insurance industry and while I don't know the specifics of the amount of money he has made I do know that he spends a great deal of his time at the golf course.  But of course money isn't what defines successful.  Damian is active in politics and once said to me that he would love to spend his time backing a candidate that he truly believes in.  He is knowledgeable on MANY subjects and would be comfortable at a table with economists, politicians, educators, lawyers, businessmen, and many others.  Every time we talk he's telling me about a new book he's read, and the books are rarely fiction.  He's athletic, curious, inquisitive, intelligent, and reflective.  He's also not a high school or college graduate.

As I mentioned we met in sixth grade but it wasn't until tenth grade that I knew he was smarter than me.  Our World History teacher was having a finals cram session and a bunch of us were packed into a classroom one day after school.  99% of us were furiously scribbling notes as the teacher was reviewing what would be on the test.  The 1% was Damian.  He was sitting in the back row, slouched in his desk with no pen or paper, answering every question and recalling every pertinent fact.

Damian played two seasons of football at a local junior college and transferred to a small 4-year college to finish off his career.  In a weird twist of events I ended up playing the last season of my college football career with him at his school.  We were roommates during that season and to say that he skipped class a lot is like saying LeBron James is somewhat athletic.  One day he showed up in the dining commons with a backpack on...I just started laughing.  The backpack was empty.  He said that he was wearing it because he wanted to be like the other students.  He finished his time at the school without graduating.

Yet since "finishing" college he has coached college football, passed his Series 7 exam (licensing him to buy and sell securities), gotten married, purchased a fabulous home, joined a prestigious country club, traveled the world, earned an incredible living, and is one of the best examples I've seen of a "lifelong learner."  He's also got great perspective.  Upon seeing Damian in a top-of-the-line Mercedes one of our friends (who is in the Navy) commented, "Someone is doing well."  Damian's reply, "Yeah, but I don't have lifetime health benefits."

Once again, by all measures Damian is doing well.  VERY well.  But school, as typically defined, did not do this for him.  He didn't graduate high school or college.  His G.P.A. in both was subpar.  So why and how is he so successful?  And is he truly a paradox or could we all achieve what we've achieved without fulfilling the requirements to graduate high school and/or college?  And if we could, what does that say for my dedication to education?