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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Personalization--The Pinnacle
A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary. ~ Thomas Carruthers

Anyone who has been in education very long recognizes that there are always innovations and initiatives. The challenge for us as professionals is to connect innovations and initiatives to best practices we know are tried and true.
I recall learning something new when I was teaching at an elementary school in the early 2000’s; I was introduced to the language and thinking of the Workshop Model. Initially understanding workshop as a time structure, I worked to organize my personal classroom writing lessons around Mini Lessons (Crafting), Work Time (Composing) and Debrief (Reflection). Then I began to fully implement and manage all of the components of workshop, particularly utilizing conferring as a tool for formative assessment and engaging students in high levels of discourse to promote understanding. Only then did I begin to more fully understand how workshop is, as Sam Bennett shares in That Workshop Book, indeed a system of instruction, with many purposeful parts leading to increasing personalization of learning for students.
Through the years, as I implemented workshop across the disciplines, I understood the consequence of my intentional moves.  The impact I saw on student understanding was amazing, and I began to collaborate with colleagues to study further how our practice might have even deeper impact across contexts other than writing workshop.
Later, as I coached teachers in a variety of disciplines to use the system of workshop, I saw how that very purposeful system of workshop generalizes to any content and serves as an instructional delivery model that helps teachers know what is next for their students.
Now, years later, as I refocus, and see the “innovation” of personalization coming along,  I understand how personalization is the pinnacle of workshop, how student agency and ownership within the workshop can result in deeper learning through purposeful planning for understanding.  
There it is.  Best practices, tried and true. Workshop resulting in personalization for learners. Innovation?  Or simply fullest implementation of a best practice?

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A note to Shelby County educators...

I am honored to have the opportunity to spend time in classrooms across Shelby County Public Schools every week.  As many know, I am a life-long Shelby County resident.  I grew up in Waddy, attended Henry Clay Elementary, East Middle School and Shelby County High School.  Like many educators, I grew up playing school with siblings, friends and stuffed animals.  But unlike many 40-somethings, I was given the opportunity to take charge of my learning early in my school career.

If you don’t know the location of Henry Clay Elementary, take a drive down US 60 east toward the Waddy-Peytona area.  It sits up on a hill on the right.  It now serves as a home to several businesses.  For me, it will always be the place where I created my first published writing pieces, collaborated with my first co-workers and served in a school leadership position.

Miss Robinson was my 3rd and 4th grade teacher.  I had the opportunity to be in a “split 3/4” for two years.  It was during these special years that Miss Robinson discovered my love for creating play scripts.  She encouraged me to write throughout the day and allowed live performances of the plays frequently.  At recess, my friends took on the characters of Mary Ann, Mr. and Mrs. Howell, Professor, Skipper…you get the picture.  They weren’t exactly original ideas.  I borrowed the characters and setting from Gilligan’s Island, and created the problems and solutions for each play.  For the most part, the same people remained in these roles unless more inviting recess opportunities came their way.  (Whenever Mr. Sparrow was hitting “Coke balls” on the softball field, we all grabbed our ball gloves and headed that way!)  Miss Robinson made my work meaningful and authentic. She allowed me to demonstrate my learning through exhibitions and gave me feedback to help me grow in my writing, speaking and listening skills. (Did I mention that I casted myself as Ginger?) No one else was writing plays; she knew each of our academic needs and personal interests and let us build on our strengths. 

My first school leadership position occurred in 5th grade.  I know what you might be thinking…I was restroom monitor, line leader or milk person.  In my eyes, I was the principal every day from 2:30 to 3:00!  Our principal, Mr. David Sparrow, was the principal of several community schools so most afternoons, he was scheduled to be in other buildings.  Mrs. Curtsinger, the school secretary, left each day at 2:30, so someone had to take charge of the office.  The main office of Henry Clay Elementary was on the top floor at the very end of a long hallway.  Everybody in school had recess at 2:30.  My job was to monitor the phone and raise the heavy office window to yell messages out to the supervising teachers on the front bus lot when needed.  As I became more comfortable in my position, I often took on the persona of Mr. Sparrow by plopping down in the big rolling chair and putting my feet up on the desk.  The best days were when my best friends joined me and took on the roles of Miss Jeanne Robinson, Mrs. Cathy Cook and Miss Mollie Craig.  I guess you could say it was my first internship!

These personalized learning experiences, along with countless others in Shelby County Public Schools, are foundational in who I am today as a learner, leader and teacher.  My goal for our students is to provide these kinds of experiences for every student every day.  I want to help you to design opportunities for your students to show mastery of standards through authentic and meaningful projects, public exhibitions and multiple leadership opportunities.  I want to have a true impact on the future of Shelby County students so they can have an impact on the world!