Friday, December 30, 2011

Digigogy's Best of 2011

In the moment, I tend to think that the ideas and resources I come up with are pretty awesome.  When I reflect on them, however, there are some noticeable frontrunners, as well as some noticeable opportunities for improvement.

Over the past few years, my blogging “voice” has served me pretty well.  There have been a couple of emotional and reactive moments, but for the most part, I feel like I share stuff that matters and that people are interested in reading.

I am certainly aware of my audience.  They (YOU!) tend to shape what I write now to some degree, but I think that’s a good thing.  That awareness hones my skills within particular tasks and within particular subjects. (Insert Common Core groaner here.)

If 2011 has taught me anything, it’s taught me that being myself and being authentic is pretty cool and that even if I think that sometimes the smallest things are significant, there is always someone out there that appreciates the fact that I shared it.

And so, without further adieu...the best 11 of Digigogy in 2011:

Cheers to you and here’s to a wonderful, productive, and collaborative 2012!



Orbits of Ability

As I wrap up 2011 and look to 2012, I want to share with you a recurring theme that comes up in my work with teachers.  I call it Orbits of Ability.

Everyone is good at something. Everyone has their niche. AND, everyone has things that they may not be stellar at but still have some skill with.  When we work with others, and let those skills overlap, we increase our skill sets, increase our toolboxes, and increase our impact. We inspire growth and transformation as our orbits overlap.

When a couple of folks get together and share their toolboxes; there is much growth in that overlap zone. But when multiple people get together, transformations happen. That transformation zone is the gold zone. Those places where multiple orbits overlap is the “best for kids” zone.

I wish more folks understood that.  My resolution for 2012 is to proclaim that message. Live it. Be it. I know that those things I’ve done collaboratively this year have yielded greater results than those things I’ve done alone. I think of my friend and colleague Steven Weber, who collaborated with me on this blog post. I think of my work with Andrea Hernandez who participated in PD in PJ’s with me and Silvia Tolisano and the webinars we’ve recently done for Curriculum 21. I also think of my good friend and colleague Janet Hale, with whom I’m co-authoring a book for ASCD on this very topic.

Last year, while making the movie “Super 8,” J.J. Abrams, the director, was quoted as saying that his collaboration with Steven Spielberg, “gave him a better version of what he intended” than what he could have done alone.

I feel like that when I collaborate with others. I feel like that when my orbit of abilities overlaps with others’ orbits. When multiple people are involved, my work is transformational. It is beyond what I intended. It is more of what I wanted.

So, as 2011 transitions into 2012, that is my wish for you. I hope you come to know your own “Orbit of Ability” and hope you welcome the intersection of your orbit with others.  Good things come to those who collaborate.  And good things come to kids when the ones teaching them collaborate and intersect.

I wish you the most wonderful and collaborative 2012.  We have a lot of influence as individuals, but together we have a major force, a power, a wisdom. Together, we make the biggest difference for kids.

I look forward to a 2012 filled with magic, and learning, and the final edit of my book! ;-)  Happy New Year to you all!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Common Core for School Leaders: A Guide to Developing Systemic Curriculum Growth

Co-written by Michael Fisher and Steven Weber

Across our country, the Common Core State Standards are in varying degrees of implementation. For most, this is a “get your feet wet” year before everything must be in alignment for the following school year. Teachers are increasingly under the microscope with the implementation and many of the criticisms about it point largely to not knowing what to do next. State Department of Education officials are trying to give some direction and clarity, but it still leaves much to interpretation and action at the local level, meaning that School Leaders in individual buildings are largely responsible for how these new standards infiltrate current professional practice.

Action requires knowledge though, beyond just knowing that we are walking a new path. Because this is new territory, we must consider our path in sections and lay the foundation for a curricular journey that will take us to places we’ve never been before. We have to make some hard decisions and take on some tough conversations in order to do the work that needs to be done to create College and Career Ready Students.

We have to be prepared to specifically articulate what we are going to cut, what we are going to keep, and what we are going to create. (Jacobs, 2010)

So how can Principals support teachers in their Common Core Integration efforts?

Establish a Common Focus: College and Career Readiness
Let the document on page 7 of the Common Core State Standards be your Alignment Guide. Let this document be the umbrella under which you focus any other initiative in your schools. Ask questions of your staff that point their practice back to these capacities and make them your new mission.

Develop Collaborative Teams: (not three teachers writing the units for the entire school district) Teachers must collaborate around Curriculum Design. Any singular work done in the 21st Century is for naught. Collaboration is a primary 21st Century skill ( and if students are going to be successful in whatever career they decide to undertake, collaboration is going to be a key component. Teachers and Administrators need to be the model for this.  See Cure for the Common Core (Fisher, 2011).

Plan Your Work Time: (During the school day)
In order to develop curriculum, teachers will need time allocated for professional conversations. When it comes to curriculum development, for many school systems, "there is a gap between the compass and the clock – between what's deeply important to us and the way we spend our time" (Covey, Merrill & Merrill, 1994, p. 16). Administrators must create time for teachers to engage in purposeful work.

Collaborate Beyond the School:
Utilize technology to enhance ongoing communication and collaboration within and across schools.

Establish an Implementation Timeline: (A Common Goal)
Map your professional development (Tasks, Actions to meet those tasks, Artifacts to Create, and Evidence that you met your goal).

• Implement the Plan:
This sounds like common sense. However, many school districts spend too much time planning, only to realize that there is little time left to implement the plan.

Celebrate Small Wins:
Be mindful of lofty goals. Shape the changes you wish to see into small manageable steps. A year’s worth of curriculum is not going to be aligned by next Friday. Look for the alignment of one learning experience that will be delivered in the next two months. Then complete another one, and then another one. Perhaps think about how Curriculum Development and Alignment can be rolled into a summer curriculum project. Also think about rewarding teachers for participating in this work, especially in terms of how well they are collaborating around the creation of the Common Core aligned operational curriculum.

A common complaint among teachers and administrators is a lack of time to reflect on the written, taught and received curriculum. School leaders must create a schedule which allows for continuous improvement, rather than hoping teachers will meet before and after school. The schedule that school administrators create reflects a matter of priorities and curriculum development should be a priority. In August, teachers are beginning the school year and some complain that it is too early in the year to discuss the curriculum. In March and April, teachers have spring break and other holidays which interfere with curriculum meetings. In May, teachers are amazed that another school year is coming to a close.

In order to prepare for the integration and alignment of the Common Core State Standards, educators should be asking many of the following questions:

1. What are the essential learning outcomes or enduring understandings for each course?

2. What are the key concepts and skills in each unit of study?

3. Are we attempting to teach too many concepts and skills in some units?

4. Are we teaching all key concepts and skills for mastery or should we aim for introducing
some concepts/skills and mastery of others?

5. When will we assess student understanding?

6. How will we support students when they do not learn the new standards?

7. What will we except as evidence that that the skills have been mastered?

8. In what ways does our curriculum demonstrate depth and complexity versus content coverage?

9. How does our school support collaborative curriculum conversations?

10. What is the dynamic of our school culture? How can we maintain or shift to the positive?

Curriculum leadership (Weber, 2010) involves collaboration across schools, a district vision, communication, reflection, specific learning goals and a method for measuring student understanding. School Leaders have an important role to play in supporting the implementation of the new standards, and the role of the building principal as curriculum leader means that they are an integral part of the curriculum development and alignment process. Everybody works together for the benefit of our 21st Century Children.

This post was collaboratively written by Steven Weber and Michael Fisher, both ASCD EDge members and frequent bloggers. Weber is the Director of Secondary Instruction for Orange County Schools in Hillsborough, North Carolina.  Fisher is an educational consultant and a member of the Curriculum 21 team.  Fisher resides in Buffalo, New York.  You can find Steven on ASCD Edge as well as Twitter, and his website K-12 Curriculum Development. Michael can be found on the EDge as well, along with Twitter, his blog, and his website.


Common Core State Standards (2010)

Covey, S.R., Merrill, A.R., & Merrill, R.R. (1994). First things first. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Jacobs, H.H. (2010). Curriculum 21: Essential education for a changing world. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Partnership for 21st Century Learning Skills


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mile Deep, Inch Wide

Last week in Albany, I got to hear a fantastic speaker, Andrew Chen. Mr. Chen is the President of Edutron Corporation and a former Physics Professor and Researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

During the course of his session last week, he led us through math activities that increased in rigor and complexity through known operations with numbers that everybody could do, and kicking it up ten notches by adding in more complex numbers and variables.

He was proving a point. No one who says that they are “bad at math” is really bad at math. Because this was a Common Core related PD session, I was trying in my mind to relate this back to the standards for Mathematical Practice and some of the work I’ve been doing with teachers. The actions we were going through nailed each of the standards: I was being perseverent, I was reasoning abstractly, I was modeling and being precise and looking for structure to apply to the next level of complexity. Did I mention that I’m “bad at math?”

Mr. Chen allowed for multiple versions of solutions, which we shared with each other. He allowed for time to drill into the complexity of the work. He also, with his team, circulated the room and questioned individuals about their processes, NOT the answers.  There was a lot of depth to what he did. Mile deep, inch wide.

His session gave me a lot to think about, especially in terms of sharing this with teachers. Over the weekend, there was a conversation on Twitter about being “bad at math.” The participants were being tongue-in-cheek, but the message was clearly that some were genetically predisposed to doing well in math, and others were just out of luck. No one in the course of the conversation said that they were “bad at Language Arts.” Nobody ever does. I guess it’s not as funny. Or believable? But we easily believe that we could be “bad at math.” After Mr. Chen’s session, I’m starting to believe that what I was bad at was thinking. I’m willing to think and persevere and be precise in topics I’m more comfortable with--but is that really stretching my capabilities? If I’m questioning this for myself, what might this mean in instruction of both kids and adults if I can challenge those boxes I’ve been in for years?

It reminded me of a question I’ve blogged about before, but still see when I visit classrooms. If I ask kids “What are you doing?” They can always tell me.

If I ask them, “What are you learning?” Sometimes they can tell me, but often they can’t.

During the course of Mr. Chen’s session, he mentioned that the US was one of the only countries, if not the only one, where the standards (even the new Common Core ones!) are the ceiling. Everywhere else around the world, they are the floor.

Everybody Must versus Some Might.

I’m thinking it is time to start moving beyond the arguments around new standards and start shifting the conversation to higher expectations in our practice, in our students, in everything we do as educators. It would also be awesome if we could just stop saying that we’re “bad at math” or any other topic. When we say it, kids hear it, and then we allow them the same “out.”

If you are interested in the resources shared by Mr. Chen and his colleagues, I’ve included them below:

1. National Mathematics Advisory Panel Report

2. Common Core State Standards

3. STEM Crisis in USA

4. Elementary Mathematics Education

5. Mathematical Education of Teachers

6. National and International Benchmarks

Resources shared from presentation by Andrew Chen and available on the website.

On Twitter: @fisher1000