Friday, December 14, 2012

Joplin Reflection Part 1

I must say that the trip to Joplin, MO was very informational and inspirational.  There was so much I wanted to learn.  I learned so much more than I expected to and had a wonderful time with the group from the NNNC.  I am very thankful to the staff, administration, and students of Joplin Public Schools for spending time with those of us from Nebraska.

A major question that I wanted answered was about the Professional Development for teachers.  I cannot tell you how my question got answered and more.  I really like the idea of their eTEC program.  This program is arranged so that teachers get 100 hours of PD over two years.  The best of all, the PD is individualized for the teacher.  Joplin’s technology training is more about the integration and pedagogy of the technology rather than how the technology works.  I also like the fact that their 21st Century Coaches and Instructional Coaches cover all subjects and aren’t just set to one content area, they work with the teaching rather than the content.  This program isn’t just for specific teachers or a few, but ALL teachers must do this.  I really think that this aspect of the program can be very beneficial to any district.

Another question or point of inquiry that I had been wondering about was the school in a mall.  I must say this was probably the most interesting part of the trip for me.  The walls didn’t go to the ceiling, there were racks along the ceiling to carry cables and held security cameras, some walls doubled as whiteboards and were able to open to the hall way, students could sit at tables with TVs and mirror their computers to it, and the “think tanks” that were in place.  I think that this “free form” type of school would be an interesting place to study and learn.  One comment that students made that has really stuck with me was: “Coming to school feels more like coming into a business setting rather than coming into school, but I miss the old building.”  They are getting so used to the technology that seniors are even looking into what colleges have in the form of technology in choosing what school they may go to.  They are also viewing this part of their learning as “the middle school of college.”  I feel that Joplin Public Schools are preparing ALL of their students for the college and beyond.  They have truly put the education of their student first.  It is the kids before anything else.

I consider myself the 21st Century Coach, to borrow the title from Joplin, of ESU7.  Even though my title with ESU7 is different, that is basically my job, helping teachers with integrating technology into their classrooms and schools.  I am there for the pedagogy of technology, sometimes the workings of the technology, but mostly how to use the technology with students in the classroom.  As I stated before, I am really impressed by the eTEC program that Joplin has for their teachers.  I may try to figure out how I can do something like this within ESU7.

Joplin Reflection Part 2

While touring the path of the tornado, you just can’t believe what destruction it caused.  Total buildings wiped out.  Some trees left standing by themselves in the middle of an empty field, twisted and gnarled.  The rebuilding is happening, but it is happening slowly.  When you pass some of the new houses, in the back yards you see the storm shelters buried in the ground.  It really makes you think how grateful you are for the things you have, and how it must have felt to lose everything and have to start from scratch.  You have to admire the strength of not only the school, but also the entire community and how they have all come together as one.

Seeing what the district has done makes you think, how would I react?  How would the districts within ESU7 react?  Do the districts of ESU7 have a basic plan of what they would do?  It doesn’t have to be a tornado that makes you in a rush to find school space for students.  It could be a fire, a collapsed roof, or something else.  Joplin had not planned for a natural disaster.  They didn’t know how much work it would take to find learning spaces for a majority of their students in just 55 days.  They did this in a community of 50,000.  What about some districts in not only ESU7 but also the state that have only 1000 people in the town?  Where will they find the space for a school if the school is completely wiped out?  What type of plan will that district have?  In a way it is time to be proactive rather than reactive.  Planning for what ifs is not just an administrator’s responsibility, but teachers, school board, community, and states.

This whole trip really made me think about what I am doing to inspire change.  It shouldn’t take a natural storm or disaster to bring change in our schools.  What kind of metaphorical “storm” can we create in our communities and state?  I know we put kids first, but how far in first do we put our kids?  Are they first by a little, or by a long way?  In Joplin, their students are first by a LONG way.  I know that what I am teaching and showing teachers in workshops can go a long way to helping kids.  However, I am also thinking about what kind of “storm” can I create to help with change at and in ESU7 and the state.

I can’t wait to hopefully have the chance to return to Joplin in about three years to see just how far they have come and their new buildings.  I am also interesting in seeing how the technology has transformed the learning of the students 4-5 years down the road.  Is there improvement in student learning?  That is the real question, and one that may take 4-5 years or more to answer.  With so much change for students, what effect does that have on student achievement?

Joplin Reflection Part 3

“What is the BOLDEST thing you have ever done?  What if you were 10% BOLDER?” Dr. Angie Besendorfer, Asst. Superintendent Joplin Public Schools.  I have asked this of several people in the last couple of days.  One of the main comments to it I have heard is, “That is a good thing to ponder.”  If it gets you thinking, that is good.  The questions should get you thinking about what and how you are teaching.  Not just teaching, but living as well.  What if you were 10% bolder in anything you have ever done?

Unfortunately for Joplin, it took a natural disaster to bring about this change and become that 10% bolder.  There were discussions that had happened about the technology, so planning had taken place.  It just took the tornado to push them over the cliff.  It moved up their process by several years.  In talking with those on the tour, what kind of, for lack of a better term, “storm” can we create in our districts, community, county, ESU, or state to make us be that 10% bolder.  I know that question from Dr. Besendorfer is going to stick with me.  I want to try and be 10% bolder, not only in my professional life, but my personal life as well.

I cannot thank Joplin Public Schools enough for their hospitality.  I learned so much from you the three days we spent together.  You will not know how much I so appreciate the experience that you afforded us.  THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!!!!!!

DREAM BIG, and be 10% BOLDER!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Joplin Trip: Day 3

For our last bit of our trip in Joplin we had the opportunity for a question and answer session with some more Joplin Administrators.  One of the major points that we discussed was Standards Based Grading.  They have piloted this program at two elementary schools over the past two years.  This year they added East Middle School.  They are fine-tuning the system before they roll it out district wide.  One of the best things that they have done with the system is have parent meetings.  In these meetings they have gone over the system with the parents.  At these meetings have been parents of students that have come from other districts that had standards based grading and helped explain why they liked it over the traditional grading system.  They said this has helped with the transition.

To finish out our trip, we as an NNNC group came up with some interesting ideas or points from our trip.  What questions did we still have? And, how do we move forward?  There was good discussion in the room and we have continued those discussions on the bus.  We have a place to start, but getting there is going to be the key.

Later this week I will post my reflection of the trip.  I want to get my initial thoughts down and then process those thoughts into a good blog post for all to read.  I want to thank those that have followed the blog and Twitter on this journey.  I know it has been very informative for me and I hope that I have shared that with those of you who were not able to join us on this trip.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Joplin Trip: Day 2

Let me start off this post by giving my sincerest thanks to the staff and students of Joplin Public Schools.  Thanks for letting 28 strangers from Northeast Nebraska come to you district and learn from amazing administrators, teacher, and students.  There is no way that we can repay you for your graciousness in being our hosts.

I must now say that this was an amazing day.  We started out at the Administration building with some background on the transformation to a 1:1 school and to go textbook-less in the high school.  The thing that is really interesting was that they had been planning on going 1:1 for three years, the storm just pushed up the plan.  The plan to go textbook-less just came about with the storm.  Teachers, some of them, went kicking and screaming into the project.  There were instructional coaches, both for the technology and for curriculum, which were hired to help with the transition.  The coaches are also used for ongoing support and even help with teaching lessons for the students.  This all couldn’t have been done without help from the United Arab Emirates.  There was a big contribution made by the UAE to help with the funding, as well as some matching funds.

We also learned about the professional development process that ALL teachers have gone through at Joplin Public Schools.  Instructional Technology Educating Kids, iTEK, is the program that they used for all teachers.  At the end of the program, each teacher got a laptop and a SmartBoard.  The program consisted of summer work.  Each teacher received 30 to 50 hours of PD work depending on the subjects and classes they taught.  Math teachers needed more PD than PE teachers.  Who has seen a PE teacher using a SmartBoard in the gym?  I sure haven’t.  The PD was customized to fit the teacher’s needs.  They did this training in three waves of about 100 teachers a year.  They are still providing training to the new teachers in the district, but it isn’t as much of the introduction of the technology, but more of how to integrate the technology into the classroom.

They also have a program called Eagles Thinking, Educating, and Communicating, eTEC.  This is a Joplin Public Schools PD program.  It is designed around the P21 Framework, ISTE’s NETS, and the Common Core Standards.  All teachers go through this program as well.  It is a continual PD program.  This is a two-year, 100-hour program that is designed to help teachers integrate technology into the classroom.  It is designed to fit the teacher’s needs at the current time.  Trainings with 21st century coaches happen every month and are scheduled with the trainers and the teachers. 

Once we were done at the administration building we traveled to East Middle School.  This is one of the several temporary sites in the district.  This one just happens to be in an industrial park in a converted warehouse.  I must say, what they have done to turn this building into an area to teach students is remarkable.  We talked with administrators and watched how a couple of classes were using iPads in their classrooms with students.  The engagement of the students in those classes was wonderful.  Every student was actively engaged with what was going on.  There were really wanting to learn.

We then traveled to the temporary JHS 11/12 building at the mall.  What is most amazing about this place, besides what they did with a big box store space, was that they did it in 55 days.  The do have some modular buildings in the parking lot, not out of need for space, but because the mall owner wouldn’t let them cook or burn materials on their property.  So the science classrooms and labs, and the kitchen are in modular.  We were given a tour by some students that are part of a mentoring program for the freshmen and sophomores at the other campus, and are part of being tour guides for those that are want to see what the district is doing.  The schools walls do not go all the way to the ceiling.  It is an adjustment because you hear what is going on in the rooms right next to you.  The “free form” of the school is quite amazing. (I will post some photos later of the entire tour as well) 

After lunch we had an opportunity to talk to some of the students, juniors and seniors.  It is amazing to see how mature they are.  It wasn’t like talking to high school kids; it was like talking to college students.  They made some comments that were really interesting.  First, the school feels more like a business setting rather than a school.  You can see that in the way that some of the walls, that double as white boards, are able to rotate out into the hall way.  Secondly, one made the comment that 6th-8th grades, middle school, prepare you for high school.  The campus on the mall is like the middle school for college.  Finally, a senior made a comment about how he and some of his classmates, while looking at colleges, look at what technology those schools have.  Their building now is much more advanced that some colleges.

We also got to see the path and damage of the storm.  It is amazing what destruction the storm caused.  It is amazing how much was totally destroyed.  Entire neighborhoods take out.  Trees mangled, torn out of the ground, and even some that are still standing with the bark completely stripped.  The rebuilding is taking place, slowly, but it is taking place.  We traveled past the sight of the new Joplin High School, there is only dirt work taking place so far, but I am sure it will be a wonderful new building.  I would be interested in coming back down in two to three years to see how far they have come from today.

We then had the opportunity to ask some questions of several administrators of the district about anything and everything.  That was quite informative.

Our final activity of the day was participating in an eTEC training on the Flipped Classroom.  This just showed us how the program works and the way that technology is being modeled in the district.

Hopefully you have been following the tweet that have been sent out by several people on this trip to #nnncjoplin.  I know for myself personally it has been a very informative and inspirational trip.

I will leave you with one last part of our day that has really stuck with me. Dr. Angie Besendorfer asked us a very good question, “What is the boldest thing you have ever done?  Now, what if you were 10% bolder?”