19 November 2016

A Wall to Invite Others In

If you follow my other blog, then you know that I have set a challenge this year to tell 10 new data stories in 10 months. My goal is to only use data that we don't typically share. That doesn't mean that it's private, just overlooked. All the data I'm using would be considered public, but no one requests things like Outlook calendars for meeting spaces or the number of emails sent in a day.

I've seen a lot of data walls over the years. I've heard of the spaces they occupy referred to as "war rooms." These data are, without fail, just about assessment scores. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with looking at student performance, but I often remind people in my district that children are more than the sum of their test scores.

What would happen if we built a (data) wall that invited conversation, rather than screamed at an audience?

One school in our district has decided to join me on my data story journey this year. They are sharing data about library book checkouts by grade for each with of the semester.


It's ginormous...maybe 4 x 8 feet. A lot of work has been put into getting everything labeled. The numbers at the top of each stacked bar are written on little books!


Every colour represents a grade level and every bar is a week. Fourth grade has been rockin' it this year, it appears.


There is a lot of joy this year at this school. They are so proud of their data wall (as they should be). I've heard about several teachers bringing their classes to look at it and all the good discussions that ensued. Parents are asking about and engaging with the data. These are data that generate conversation in a positive way.

Walls aren't always about who we want to keep out. Once in awhile, they're all about who we want to bring in.

17 November 2016

Dance, Star, Dance

My maternal grandmother grew up in the Missouri Ozarks. She married at 15 and had four children by the time she was 20. Her husband shot small game (squirrels, rabbits, groundhogs...) for the family to eat. There was no indoor plumbing until my mother was a junior in high school. It was a hard way to live.

As an adult...and a parent...my mother asked my grandmother how they had managed it all. Her reply was simply, "We were angry a lot of the time." Perfectly understandable. She elaborated later that it also wasn't easy to have four children under the age of five. They would work on helping one child learn to walk and then remember they hadn't helped another to sit up yet. It was a juggling act in terms of traditional milestones.

I often think of this story as a metaphor for my life, both at home and at work. There are so many things I'm supposed to stay on top of...and just when I get one area all tidied up, I realize that some other area is precariously close to being out of control. No matter how well-organized I am, there is just more and more to take on. It can feel futile, but I've started keeping a sort of log book this year. I have a little journal that I carry with me at all times. I record all the meeting notes each day, capture the steps of projects I'm working on, or even ideas from articles I read. When I look back, it's still an overwhelming amount of information, but at least I can see that it is all leading to small changes.

If I play out the metaphor of my grandmother and her family, I realize that all of her children (including my mother) graduated from high school---something neither my grandmother or her husband achieved. Out of the five children, two served in the military and four attended college all the way through earning a Masters degree. They may have had less than optimal conditions going in, but something greater emerged later.

It's kind of a Nietzche'ian end to the story: Out of chaos, comes order. Or, more poetically, You must carry a chaos inside you to give birth to a dancing star.

Just once I'd like to feel like everything is caught up and as it should be. That may never happen, but it doesn't mean I can't make something great in the process. Time to find the rhythm and dance.

10 November 2016

What next?

Like many people I know, I have felt fucking terrified since the results of Tuesday's US presidential election were revealed. And that's the nicest way I can think of to say it. I also know that I'm not alone in that feeling. From my friend who had to explain to his son that nothing will happen to his family with two dads...while all the while knowing we have a VP who thinks we can electrocute people straight. To our district ELL coordinator who spent the day reassuring students. To my bff, who is black and has seen so many tenuous steps toward equity. To a teacher who told me today that her daughter doesn't know where it will be safe to go to college given the repudiation of women the vote represents.

Two of my favourite Jennifers (Borgioli Binis and Orr) have recently posted some reflections on the aftermath of the election and moving forward. Orr, as a classroom teacher, keeps her focus exactly where you would hope it would be: supporting students. Borgioli Binis sets the stage for peer-to-peer conversations.

And I am currently pondering the next level in the system: How do we as administrators or district leaders support discourse among staff? I do think it's good for kids to see that we can disagree on some things, but agree on others...that we can engage in healthy conversation. I also think that some of the differences in opinion in this case are so personal and fundamental, so strongly tied to one's own core values, that finding common ground might be impossible.

I had a teacher confide in me today that she felt like the election result was ripping apart her staff. She was horrified that her peers would be so open about anxious they were for the deporting to begin of immigrant families who send students to her school. The truth, of course, is that those opinions were always there working in the classroom next to hers, they just weren't openly expressed. And now she knows things about the adults in her building that she doesn't want to know...and can't set aside. She is too afraid to engage in conversation with them, even though she knows she needs to. She knows that white, protestant, women...like the ones who fill her school...didn't vote for Hillary. To make change in the future, she has to create change in thinking with them.

I wondered how many principals were seeing this in their schools...staffs divided by the results. And yes, I know that elections happen every four years and that there are always winners and losers. But something this time around feels very different. The campaigning was just so vile and ugly by the candidate who won. Were we, as leaders, prepared for the outcome (either way) and how this would affect relationships among our staff? What do we do next to ensure that friendships and collegial efforts stay strong and focused on what's best for kids? How do we help teachers who may have lost trust or respect for their peers (who may not know this) move forward with them?

This is what I'm pondering over the long weekend while I engage in some self-care and think about my own path forward. I am scared that there will not be a light to find in all of this dark.

Resources

05 November 2016

We're Gonna Need a Bigger Band-Aid

In Jaws, there comes a moment while hunting for the shark that Roy Scheider's character realizes that they're going to need a bigger boat. The problem---the great white shark---is far larger than they'd realized. In the movie, it the first time we glimpse the shark, too. The size of the (pseudo) animal makes the audience nervous, too. We realize that the captain's bravado isn't going to be enough to seal the deal...and we feel rather small in that boat on the big ocean.

The title of this post came from some words I found myself saying recently at a meeting. We have a lot of big changes ahead for our district. Plenty of construction is happening, thanks to a bond passed by the voters. Next year, sixth graders will begin attending our middle schools---meaning our elementary schools will be losing staff and reconfiguring schedules, and our middle schools will be gaining staff and have 2/3 of their student populations new to their buildings. The money from a recent technology levy has made for some wonderful additions for staff and stuff. We have new leadership, which brings its own new ideas to the mix.

All of these sea changes have been planned, of course. We've made choices---from the voters, to the school board, to the administrators, to parents. But as we steer this ship to our new beginnings, other temptations arise. As long as we're making these changes, why not make a few others we've been wanting to take on, but too afraid to initiate? Why not just "rip the band-aid off" on x while we're already doing something different with y? I realized after a bit that we are, indeed, going to need a bigger band-aid...or suffer a death by a thousand little cuts.

I've pondered change a lot over the years on Ye Olde Blog...enough posts that I even made a tag for it. I don't know that I'm any better now at understanding how to manage it vs when I started thinking about it. There have been a few points in my personal life where I discovered it was better to rip off a giant band-aid...to let everything fall apart and then pick up the pieces I wanted to keep and move on. That path was better than trying to duct tape things together and convince myself it was all right. Sometimes it isn't all right...and that's okay. But that's just me. What happens when we talk about a whole school? Is it all right to just throw in all of the changes at once and see what grows from the rubble? Do we take baby steps or do we jump in the deep end...and how do we know which of those to do in which situations?

The sea changes involving my own job are calming down, at long last. It's been a difficult few months and I've learned a lot about patience and letting go of some expectations in favour of others. I'm learning new things about resilience as it applies to my own role and how to develop it in the ones I work with. I'm hopeful that I can continue learn and advise others on finding the right-sized approach instead of always looking to the bigger one.

16 October 2016

Many Facets to the Same Jewel

Over the last several months, I've been doing a lot of reading about additional perspectives on data visualization. We are all familiar with bar and line charts...and many other types, mostly developed and promoted by white males. On one hand, it would seem that the basic versions of charts we use would be somewhat agnostic; but then, nothing ever is.

As I was traveling down another rabbit hole, I ran across an article by Sherry Turkle and Seymour Papert: Epistemological Pluralism and the Revaluation of the Concrete. It is not an article about data viz, but it does explore ideas related to "accepting the validity of multiple ways of knowing and thinking." The focus of the article is STEM, and in particular, the difficulty with recruiting and retaining women. They seek to "address sources of exclusion determined not by rules that keep women out, but by ways of thinking that make them reluctant to join in." The article was written in 1992, so some of the references feel dated, but the concept that there should be a variety of valid pathways to the same endpoint is timeless.

I couldn't help wondering about connections with education. We are primarily a profession of women (about 76%), and yet only about half of all principals and just 15% of superintendents are female. Turkle and Papert write that "Women are too often faced with the not necessarily conscious choice of putting themselves at odds either with the cultural meanings of being a scientist or with the cultural constructions of being a woman." I would guess that you could replace scientist in the previous sentence with principal, superintendent, or even leader and have a partial explanation about why there are so few of us at the organizational helm. Or perhaps administration lacks appeal because of how many women view the world as "a web of interconnections among people" vs. a "hierarchy of autonomous positions."

Further than that, I've been thinking about the implications for how we offer professional learning opportunities. I was talking with a male colleague recently about a project he's been working on to use video and remote coaching in the classroom. When he wound down, I asked him if he'd noticed that all of the names he'd mentioned...all of the teachers involved...were male. He had, but his reflection on that was focused on recruiting women. I suggested that maybe they wanted a different opportunity to engage. There's more than one way to engage in reflective practice, after all. In another conversation last week, I listened as a teacher passionately described several pieces of information from her various heroes of grading. All men. Don't know if she noticed that, but I sure did.

All this has started me wondering about PLCs, conferences, edcamps, instructional coaching, workshops, and other opportunities we provide for professional learning. Do we ever apply a lens which causes us to look at how practitioners view things---including societal messaging---vs. the goals we have in the name of "support"?

As I mentioned earlier, the article that prompted this thinking was written in 1992. It focuses on gender. There is no mention of the rich backgrounds and intersectionality that all teachers bring to the classroom...their ethnicity or race, gender identity, sexual orientation, and more. And that absence points to the lack of a full range of conversation about what our system of education looks like from something other than a white male message. We continue to make efforts around social justice conversations in our classrooms. How do we reframe the entire context of school to include the different viewpoints of those who work in it?

I'll continue to keep an eye out for that, as I read through various articles on Feminist Data Visualization, alternate histories of data viz, and other aspects of the digital humanities. What have you seen in your travels through the web?

Update
Interesting article in today's Guardian asks Why aren't we designing cities that work for women---not just men?

And, via Jennifer Borgioli Binis, here's a podcast (Episode #48) on the intersection of women, education, and leadership.

08 September 2016

When School Shootings Hit Home

In the states, we are a bit inured to school shootings. Yes, they're horrifying every time...but there are so many and they won't stop. To protect your sense of self, you must think of them as things that don't happen to you.

But this time, it happened to me. At least from a distance.

I haven't lived in Alpine for 25 years, but I return every year to visit friends and family. And in the high school I attended...just outside of the band hall where I practiced for four years...in the restroom I used every day...a fourteen-year old girl shot another one, and then turned the gun on herself. We do not yet know why, and even if we ever find out, I'm not sure it will ever make sense.


This pin hangs on my bulletin board at work. I've had it since high school and it is one of my secret smiles in my office---something that I know the origin of but doesn't make sense to anyone else.

I also have this picture...the only photograph I have hanging up at work or at home...on my board.


This is Juan and me. And while most people keep photographs of their family or major events, I keep Juan in front to remember the joy of graduation and why I work in education. I want every student to feel like Juan on the day he graduated from Alpine High School.

It is surreal to read articles about this shooting, because so many of the people quoted throughout the coverage are people I know, in spite of all the time and distance. Ah yes, the guy I made out with (on a dare) while I was dating his roommate. And the county official was someone who asked most of my friends to "take your pants off" when he took them out. The principal lived three doors down from me when she was in school. I remember being in girl scouts with her, swapping stories with her step-sister, and how several of my friends chased after her step-brother. (Don't get me started on the time in fifth grade where he tried to convince our art teacher that he was making an elephant out of clay and not a penis.) There were 59 people in my graduating class. We knew each other well...maybe too well...along with those who graduated just before and after us. We are of an age now where we have civic responsibilities and are stewards for the next generation. History and secrets run deep, but all we have right now is each other. The names I read and the faces I see are not abstract contexts. They are connections that span from my childhood to the present, and will no doubt be part of my future.

I suspect that most of the public sees pictures of the school or town without context. The most oft-shared pic I've seen in the last 24 hours---with students crossing the street from the school to a church---shows the view toward my best friend's house. My mother lives two houses from the elementary school, with its well-armed guards.  I have walked in and around all of the buildings referenced, laughed and shared with others, and now I grieve. I am not there in body, but part of me is so deeply rooted there in spirit that I feel crushed physically whenever I have seen a picture or reference today. I can't imagine what it must feel like to be there in person.

There is sure to be anger in time. Anger over a lack of gun control that provides a 14-year old with access to a handgun. Anger over the waste of life. Anger over the distrust and disillusionment sowed in a community that needs interdependence for success. For now, I am just sad and hurt and wishing there was something I could do to ease the burden. I am grateful for my friends, who have called or reached out. I need them to tell me it will be all right, even if that's a lie.

Even if it's true, it feels cliche to ask you to hug your loved ones a little tighter tonight. Instead, educators, I ask you to connect with your students a little more closely tomorrow. Remind them that you care about them as people, that they have value, and that you will help them. It hurts to realize that the next news cycle will move on to the next shooting, well before any healing from this event has happened. Do what you can to ensure that your school is not the next one that is hit too close to home.

03 July 2016

Make or Break Time

I have reached the end of Year Two in my still-new-but-no-longer-shiny district job. This spring was a killer, as at one point, I was attempting not only my own job, but covering for two other people. One of those jobs remained open for three months, so I have done little else this spring other than something work-related.

As I prepared for a week off on Friday, it was incredibly difficult to not bring home work. There were several times during the day where I had to stop myself from making a list or moving some files to a thumb drive. I kept reminding myself that the work would still be there when I got back. And after three months of putting my personal life on hold, it's okay to take a whole week just for me. Maybe I can remember what I like to do and be.

There is never a year in education where things are the same as the previous one. There are always staff changes, new kids, curriculum, or responsibilities. And the coming year will be no different for me. I have supported the district CTE program over the last two years, but no more. I love the intent of CTE--there are great pathways, passionate teachers, and amazing students. From a district-level role, however, it is nothing but tedious meetings and paperwork. The largest waste of time is trying to deal with the state-level program officers, who seem to love to play all sorts of games. When I think about never having to deal with those people again, it feels like an enormous weight is lifted. I realize that is a very sad comment on what should be a very exciting opportunity for our kids.

So, I will "just" focus on data and assessment this year. Here is one look at why the change in job assignment is needed:

Visit the state assessment site for an explanation of the alphabet soup represented above.



Over the last 20 years, state assessment has changed a lot. During the 2015 - 16 school year represented above, the upper timeline is for general education students...and the bottom one for special education students. Other than the last four days of school, there was not a single day this year that didn't include at least one assessment window. This does not mean that there are children sitting down with bubble sheets every day or that every child takes every assessment. That isn't the case at all. But purely from a district responsibility perspective, there is a lot to track. Oh, and none of the district assessments (DIBELS, CogAT...) are represented on this timeline. Not to mention all the data generated here, plus other data tasks related to programs. I won't be bored.

I suppose that makes it all the more important to just be me this week. Frankly, it's been so long since I had that opportunity that I have forgotten who I am if I am not working. If nothing else, I can take some deep breaths before submerging into another year.

How are you spending your summer holiday?