Monday, September 27, 2010

Making pizza and thinking of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia PLP cohort

Yeast, sugar, water and some flour---

Pizza dough in the making---

Adding some sugar and warm water to the yeast---

Hmm, a bit of interaction as they get to know each other—

Then stirring in flour and kneading—

Observing the relationships the ingredients are forming---

The dough with continued kneading (I’m not one of those pound-get-rid-of-the-frustrations kneaders but more a gentle but firm pushing one) becoming elastic, malleable, and open—

With a timer set for the rising, I’m thinking and anticipating---

In one sense, my anticipation is focused on great pizza dough and the subsequent eating of homemade pizza. Yet on the other, my thinking and anticipation are on the upcoming PLP kickoff for Archdiocese of Philadelphia cohort for which I have the privilege and honor of joining as community leader.

Last year as I joined a new cohort I wrote:

Anxious yet eager--

Apprehensive yet confident—

Never really knowing the ending, yet perceiving an exciting journey--

Always upbeat and hopeful—

From kindergarten through 35 years in education, more than 55 years (oh my goodness), always the delight and thrill of a new beginning—the first day of school!

And still, those same feelings -- and an additional sense of urgency-- to get to the work that I passionately believe can result in a more accomplished global practice, a practice that seizes the potential of collective action to make this world a better place. --Beginnings

Those same feelings are accompanied by thoughts a bit deeper this year. As the pizza dough rises, I’m wondering if there isn’t an analogy here; if the ingredients for the dough aren’t like the cohort members which when the opportunity to interact with one another, begin to develop deep and meaningful relationships with one another, to grow and stretch. And with thoughtful and careful nudging and encouragement, they may begin to collectively become open to new ideas; they may work together to grow such a community that by its very nature embraces the strength found in flexibility and the potential that arises from kneading together ideas for new possibilities.

This batch of dough – exceptional. And I’m going beyond hope to work to assure that the relationships formed in this upcoming community are as extraordinary, as deep, as meaningful, and as fulfilling. For it will be with those relationships that, together, we will learn, and connect and collaborate and eventually take collective action to improve instruction for our students. And with that, may the extraordinary become an ordinary occurrence.

Archdiocese of Philadelphia PLP cohort-- are you ready -- to mix together, to grow and stretch and develop those extraordinary relationships? And can we have pizza too?

Photo Credit

Adopting new mindsets--

Talk of war and victims--
References to being saved by Katrina--
Blame, fault, dysfunction--
Deep, and dark postings all around--
In discussions around educating our children--

So much energy expended--
So much frustration and anger expelled--

In my humble opinion, there is something very wrong with this picture. A bit of a slow thinker, I'm mulling over and questioning hard do I raise my voice with encouragement to move forward from a different perspective when a Tweet from Chris Lehmann last night aligned with much of what I'd been thinking:

Yes, the words humility and listen totally resonate with me and both of those have been pretty much missing entirely in recent weeks. Chris expanded on that in a later blog post from which I'm quoting. He eloquently voiced what he hoped he'd hear in the conversations.
"We are thrilled that the nation is focusing on education. We welcome so many leaders from such a wide array of professions are now making education a focus. We look forward to working with anyone who is willing to come to the conversation with humility and a willingness to listen, question and change. The task in front of us is so hard, and we understand that teachers and schools must change with the changing times. All that we ask is that you understand that school reform is not something you do to students and teachers and parents, it is something to undertake with students and teachers and parents. That is how we will build the schools we need." -- Chris Lehmann
As we strive to build the schools we need for our children, what if each of us humbly brought our stories of the best that we've observed thus far in learning and teaching. And what if after we listened to those provocative stories of learning at its best, we collectively built a vision of the future. What if from these stories we generate
"new ideas, images, theories and models that liberate our collective aspirations, alter the social construction of reality and, in the process, make available decisions and actions that weren’t available or didn’t occur to us before". --Gervasebushe
Naive on my part-- maybe-- But truly believing that together, if we adopt a new mindset, we can collectively create a design that enables possibilities we have not yet imagined. Just think-- twitter streams, blog posts, news media reports and symposiums--all that energy generating possibilities. Possibilities that can fuel the difficult and hard work to follow.

Monday, September 20, 2010

My letter--

Today, on the Answer Sheet at the Washington Post, Anthony Cody was a guest blogger. As he makes his compelling case for teachers to raise their voices, he referenced and linked to letters written by members of Teachers Letters to Obama that call for change in current educational policy trends. Mine is there, one of many; I'm pasting the letter here also. As the conversations and the rhetoric gears up, remember our children.

Dear Mr. President, Secretary Duncan and members of Congress,

As a National Board certified teacher, a former classroom teacher of over 35 years, and a current teacher leader in a number of online communities of practice, I strongly encourage you to seriously consider an alternative direction as you address the issue of improving teacher practice to support student learning. The current trend of using test scores to evaluate teacher practice and improve instruction, in my opinion, is divisive, counterproductive, competitive and unsubstantiated by research.

There are many and varied studies indicating that teachers --who collaborate around their practice, who share a deep commitment to understanding learning and improving practice in communities, who develop collegial relationships and dispositions, who engage in difficult and meaningful conversations around learning, who take risks in implementing new strategies to improve learning, who continuously reflect on those changes and as a community develop a sense of collective efficacy-- will develop a knowledge of practice that leads to systemic change and better learning for all students.

In Finland, for example, teachers are provided weekly time to collaborate around questions of learning, they collaboratively develop curriculum from a lean set of national standards that meets the needs of their students. They work collectively to improve teaching practice and the country has seen positive systemic changes in instruction and learning for students.

I have had the privilege to participate as a leader and co learner in a number of online communities of practice and witness firsthand the power of teacher collaboration in improving learning. I urge you to open conversations with teachers and researchers around this topic and to support and implement policies for teacher collaboration that can lead to transformation in instruction and greater learning for all students.

For our children,
Lani Ritter Hall

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Learning across times zones

Four educators--

Two half a world away--

Across so many time zones that in our eastern time evening meetings, our Australian friends referred to the morning meetings as yesterday

On Skype and signed into an online community of practice--

Seeking a common understanding of aspects of knowledge construction in an online community to reach an inter rater reliability co efficient appropriate to proceed with a content analysis of more than 1000 responses--

This opportunity to learn from and with Sheryl, Sofia and Richard was pretty incredible and energizing -- filled with laughter --with deep meaningful conversations –with difficult decisions as we analyzed responses--

The knowledge construction functions we used in the content analysis were adapted from

Gunawardena, C. N., Lowe, C. A., & Anderson, T. (1997). Analysis of a global online debate and the development of an interaction analysis model for examining social construction of knowledge in computer conferencing. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 17(4), 395-429.

The original framework included sharing and comparing information, discovery and exploration of dissonance, negotiation of meaning, testing and modification of proposed synthesis and applications of newly constructed meaning.

Now that I’ve completed coding the sample I was assigned, I’ve begun to think on how valuable this experience is to my work as community leader for Powerful Learning Practice. My sense is that I may be more mindful of the types of responses in the communities in which I am learning and working; and given that mindfulness, may be able to draw on what I’ve learned about facilitation, particularly from MOOM, in helping folks dig deeper. Working with the framework on knowledge construction clarified for me, in a way that I’m not currently able to articulate (is that an oxymoron), a path to becoming better at learning and leading. I need to continue to think on this, as I know that my ability to intelligibly share with others will mean I’m far clearer in my thinking too.

Thanks to Sheryl, Sofia, and Richard for the opportunity to learn and grow--

Photo credit