Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Welcome to the Library: Talking is Allowed

A few months ago, I ran into an old friend.  We started visiting and she asked me, “So what grade are you teaching these days?”  I told her I had moved out of the classroom and was now a school library media specialist.  She snorted loudly, and laughed, “You? A librarian?  You’re joking! What grade are you really teaching?”  

If you closed your eyes and visualized a librarian, you’d probably conjure up an image of an older, grey-haired lady in a bun.  She’d probably be shushing you with a very stern look on her face.  You might describe her as quiet, introverted, and passive.  However, not a single one of our fabulous BPS librarians fits this description.  

3208832266_8a94023465_o.jpgIn this Google world, we are often accused of not being valuable.  Information is easily accessible from the palm of your hand; who needs a librarian?  Times have changed, but so has the role of the library media specialist.  Students need us now, more than ever. With a never-ending sea of information, students need help navigating formats, evaluating content and sources, and creating original material.  Students have access to the information, but need help using the information to develop critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication skills.
Librarians are juggling information and media in all forms from books to websites, experts to gaming.  We are experts in digital resources, ebooks, and databases.  We also are versed in digital creation tools and love to explore gaming, video creation, presentation tools, blogging, and other technology rich projects.  

Top 5 Librarian Myths -- Debunked!

Myth 1:  Librarians organize materials and work behind a desk most of the day.
Truth: Librarians are teachers first!  Our job is to interact with students and staff.

Myth 2:  Librarians are all about books.
Truth: Librarians are more than just keepers of books.  We help with technology projects, set up virtual field trips, find appropriate online resources, provide staff development, and much, much more!

Myth 3:  Librarians prefer to be in the library at all times and feel uncomfortable in other settings.
Truth:  Librarians desperately want to be included in your classroom.  Please, invite us in! Keep us posted on your projects and involve us!

Myth 4:  The librarian expects a quiet working space.
Truth:  We like a busy library!  Productive noise and collaboration does not bother us at all!

Myth 5:  Librarians are generally old school, and don’t keep up with the times.
Truth:  Librarians are leaders in education!   With access to resources, direct contact with  students, and willingness to learn and provide trainings to staff, some of the most radical changes in education across the country are coming from the library.

In closing, I’d like to share Urban Dictionary’s definition of a librarian.  The next time you see your school’s library media specialist, beware of the “unfathomable power.”  

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Points are Pretend...

... or ... How I Discovered the Usefulness of Proficiency Scales

I’ll just come right out and say it.  Points are pretend.

I had this realization about five semesters ago.  Like most epiphanies, it dawned on me suddenly, but in hindsight it seems glaringly obvious. To be completely truthful, I have to thank my students for being willing to talk with me honestly and frankly about what it meant to them to receive a “grade.”

O.K. wait, back up a little bit.  If I’m really going to be honest, it started out of frustration.  Frustration that conversations with my students about their progress in my classes was centered almost exclusively around how many “points” they felt they deserved, and rarely, if ever, around the material (i.e. standards) that I was attempting to help them learn.
“Mr. Phillips, can I ask you a question about yesterday’s assignment?” a student would ask me after class.  My hopes would raise and my inner teacher would start to get excited.  This is the kind of stuff we live for. Here comes a teachable moment!
“Um, yeah, well I was just wondering how come you took off those two points.”
AAAAARGH!  Seriously?!  How about, “I don’t really understand the concept of a floor plan,” or “What do I need to do better on my video if I’d like a higher grade?”  Heck, I would have settled for anything remotely connected to the subject matter of the assignment.  O.K. Phillips, be calm - just a student doing his best to figure out what he’s supposed to learn.
“Which points?”  I would inevitably ask.
“I don’t know.  I just need two points to keep my B.”
“Well,” I reply as calmly as I can, “why don’t you get your assignment, and let’s look at what you could do better?”
“I’m not really sure where it is, but what can I do for extra credit?”
AAAAAARGH!  Seriously?!  

I may be exaggerating a bit (but not much).  Why were all of my conversations with students about points, and not about the material that I was trying to help them learn?  I couldn’t take it any more.  “Points are pretend,” I would tell my students.  “We just use them as a measuring tool to help us keep track of what we’re learning.”  
We limped along like this for quite some time until one of them finally said to me, “Mr. Phillips, it seems to me that points are a good system for keeping track of how much we do, but not really how well we do it.  I mean, why would we use a quantitative measuring system when we want to measure something qualitatively?” (Insert sound of screeching record here.)

That single piece of student feedback delivered offhandedly during some individual work time on a random school day, had more impact on me changing my grading philosophy than any professional development session, or any book on standards-based education that I’ve read since.

The next semester, I asked my students how they would like to be graded and recorded the following web chat (with myself):

It took me another two semesters of trial-and-error before someone showed me what we are now calling a “proficiency scale.”  At that point, for me, it was an easy sell.  

“Mr. Phillips, can I ask you a question about yesterday’s assignment?”
“Shoot.” (here we go...)
“Well, I don’t think you’re right.  You gave me a two on the proficiency scale, but I feel like the dimensions on my floor plan were clear and easy to understand...”

Now that’s a conversation I would love to have…

Got a conversation you would love to have?  Has student feedback ever shaped your practice? Please feel free to comment below.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Ingredients for Inspired Productivity

Image result for focused
So hey, I’ve been meaning to ask,
“How productive are you and your team?”  

Say What?

There is no doubt staff and teams are meeting, discussing and working to solve problems.  I am not asking because I think we should work harder, I am asking so that we can think together about how we can be more collaborative, creative, and focused in our work. 

This year you will hear more about the Success Skills 4 Staff (this is a small set being used by district leaders to reflect on their team functioning).  These types of skills have been part of report after report on the functioning skills that make people successful.  So, while obviously you need to know the critical content of your job, you won’t be shocked to learn that your content knowledge doesn’t go far without competencies in listening, initiative, flexibility, reasoning, idea generation, and self-regulation.  While some of the success skills have endured over time the tools and strategies for excelling might be what has changed most.  Technology tools, particularly collaborative tools that allow for synchronous and asynchronous idea generation, feedback, and revisions, are offering paths for higher levels of contribution and productivity.

We are fortunate in our district to have access to a variety of technology tools for professional productivity.  Teams I am on use wikis within Moodle for highly searchable agenda and notes.  We use Google Docs, Spreadsheets, and Presentations almost exclusively to brainstorm, create, provide feedback, refine, and publish. Getting all team members in and contributing to the thinking and product from the beginning often results and a solid draft in one meeting - how awesome is that!  From a professional use aspect the Google “more” options also include concept mapping tools and a great collaborative Gantt chart application for project management.  Finally, a tool we should all explore is the Skype Meeting option in Outlook. What a great option for multi-building meetings to save driving/productivity time.

Want to chat about technology tools for increasing personal and team productivity?  

Join us with your ideas at the September 8th Twitter Tuesday.  Tweet with us from 8:30-9:00.

Questions we will explore include:  
  • What is one of the most inspiringly productive teams you have been on?  
  • What work habits make a team highly productive and invigorating?
  • What technology tools do you use to keep track of and insure completion of your tasks?
  • What technology tools do the teams you are part of use to generate ideas?  
  • What technology tools do the teams you are part of use to co-create products?  
  • What technology tools do the teams you are part of use to communicate?