Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Four ways I Increase Trust in my School

 Trust No One Arm Tattoo | by Lynn Friedman
I scoured the internet for a photo denoting trust. I found the expected images of people in suits falling backward and many versions that call to Trust No One. I know that calling to trust no one is popular, it lives up to our myth of the lone cowboy. I disagree.

I argue that schools must operate on trust. When trust is deemed broken, we get an adversarial system. Public school accessible to all cannot function without trust. Trust does not mean that no mistakes happen. It does not mean there are no legitimate concerns. Instead, it means that everyone agrees to work toward the best interest of children as the agreed upon principle. Yes, we may differ on how we think we should get there. But, once we fail to see our common goal it is almost impossible to move forward.

I see educational systems that lack this very fundamental ingredient. Teachers do not trust their students they always think that they are cheating somehow. The administration is not trusting teachers, so it creates a convoluted system of rules and regulations. We see it in technology integration. Teachers finding it hard to trust students with devices (we need a way to see what students are doing). Districts are not trusting teachers and students (you cannot have access to YouTube, teachers cannot download apps).

I can complain about the ways trust is not around me. Th truth is that I have to start with myself. Trust is hard to implement with my students and easy to demand from colleagues and supervisors. It is a function of power, I have power over my students, so it is easy to avoid trust. I have no power over colleagues and supervisors, so I ask for trust. But for trust to be real it has to go in all directions regardless of power. I see it as a process, not a destination. I have four ways I work on trust:

1. Create a community. Trust has to start with a community. When I get to know others (parents, students, colleagues), I establish the foundation for trust. It is hard for me to trust someone I do not know. It gets much easier when I know them when I know we share some goals and values. Of course, community and trust are linked in a reciprocal relationship. When a community grows so does, trust and when trust grows so does community. One way I create community in my classroom is by sharing things about myself and in turn learn about my students. I bring food when I feel we are ready for it, breaking bread does wonders to create a community, to humanize.

2. Build trust in my classroom first. I think that building community and trust must start with our immediate community- our classroom. It is the best next step because our classroom is the place we get to shape as we wish. It also is a great place to start because it is the easiest place to disregard trust. Trust is hard, and we need to challenge ourselves to trust before we ask parents, colleagues, and administrators to trust us. Creating trust in the classroom reminds me, sometimes daily, how hard it is to think positively and give the benefit of the doubt. One way I practice trust is to avoid looking through the viewership statistics my LMS collect about student behavior online. I choose to trust that my students use the materials. I know they do not all do it- but I have learned that nothing good comes from using the data for accountability. It creates a big brother community where students feel I am spying on them. I believe it would create a climate of fear and compliance. I do not mean that I am gullible and refuse to look at the facts. Instead, I find that open and honest discussion that uphold community values (e.g. learning, honesty) lead to better outcomes and to students who will strive to build their classrooms as communities of trust.

3. Foster trust. I work to prove that I can be trusted. I start with treating my students treated the way I would like to be treated. When I work with colleagues, I do my best to meet my obligations.The difficulty in enacting trust in my classroom adds to my understanding of they ways others find it hard to trust me. I know what colleagues and administrators feel like because it is the same way I feel toward my students. For me, in the university setting it rose when I was asked technical questions about the dissertation process. My response was: "we trust the committee to guide students. As a result, we do not want to create regulation and rules that replace trust".

4. Use the language of trust. I believe that we have to be explicit about it because we seem to have lost so much trust. Trust is a powerful word- in any context- use it and other words that convey your meaning. "I trust that..." I find that my students respond very positively to it, and so do my colleagues. I use is as an everyday language, not in a way that emphasizes it. Often when I emphasize it, e.g. I trust that you all did the reading today, it may have the opposite impact and be percieved as sarcasm. Talking about trust has a way to remind ourselves and others what are the costs of giving up trust.

I believe that our schools can only succeed when we trust each other: students, families, colleagues, administrators, and community members.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Reading on Devices- Three Rules

 Monday morning, I was making breakfast when my son asked: "Dad can I read?". "Sure?" I answered quizzically. "No, I mean on the iPad." Here, I have to explain that my kids are not allowed to use digital devices before school. Sarah and I learned this lesson the hard way a long time ago. I agreed that he could read on the iPad as long as he kept to the text. I continued making breakfast just looking at my boys both read on the iPad.

I turned to Oren (11) and asked, "would you rather read on the iPad or paper?"
"iPad," he said without much thought.
"It's an iPad," He said, and the inflection of his voice was implying that I of all people should get it.
"Are there other reasons?"
"Well, I can read like this." He pointed to the fact that his screen was white text on black background. "I like that the iPad remembers where I am." "I also like that I can get books immediately" He was using Overdrive to borrow from the school AND public library to read his favorite books. "I also like the way you swipe to turn pages, and that you can read in the dark." His voice indicated that this conversation was over.

I decided to explore further and turned to Itai (9) who was also reading on his iPad. "What do you like about reading on the iPad?"
"I like that I can get samples of books because they are pretty long. I also like that I do not have to go to the library every time I want a book because I am busy, and I cannot drive there myself." All true. He has been very frustrated since he reads quickly and we seldom get to the library more than once a week. Finally I asked, almost as an afterthought, "If you had the same book in paper or on the iPad, which would you choose?" "Paper," He answered just as quickly as his brother said "iPad." "Why?" "I like the feel of paper and the way the pages turn."

These responses seem to mirror what we see in the publishing and educational fields. For a while, the reigning opinion implied that the (paper) book is going to disappear. Now, we are not so sure as Amazon is opening a brick and mortar store. Kids and adults are reading in both modes. They appreciate the comfort and ease of digital but at the same time appreciate the feel of paper.

That led me to think about reading choices and the three rules for the classroom:

1. Have both modes of reading available. We are not done with school and classroom libraries. Instead, we need to make sure we have both formats available.

2. Capitalize on the strength of each mode. Digital provides access to large selections with no wait time. Paper frees us from the need to have power and wi-fi. The joy of walking through a full library or a bookstore are still worth experiencing.

3. Make sure all students are exposed to both modes of reading and discuss the advantages of each mode.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Why is Teaching New Literacies Important

The NAEP results came out this week. They did no show much improvement in closing the gaps. In fact, there is now growing public discussion about the ways high stakes assessments may be preventing us from minding the gap by focusing all of our attention on the artifacts of assessments that are increasingly drifting away from real world application.

As part of the discussion Don Leu the director of the New Literacies Research Lab reminded us that the gap is much bigger for new literacies (as measured by the ORCA). The impact of such gap- the new digital divide is the key reason to use technology and teach students to use it effectively. What Leu's research shows is that some students get a lot of support for these kinds of activities at home and some schools. At the same time, other students from lower SES and minority status are getting much less opportunity to develop skills such as searching effectively, sorting and synthesizing.

As a result, teaching students about technology and literacy in digital environments should be part of the core skills that all students learn. Technology is not just a tool to achieve learning in other domain. Instead, if we truly want a more level playing field all students must learn to use web-based tools for learning.

This is a moral imperative!