Monday, March 28, 2011

Institutional Communication

 Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
Sometimes it is hard to get a post up.  Not because I don’t have anything to say but because I have too many things to say.  I can’t organize them in my mind. I start to think about my week and I’m just flushed with so many experiences; it is hard to make sense of the swirl.  Eventually, my thoughts clear and I am able to focus on one thing.  The problem now is that one thing could get me in trouble and it is easily hard to write about.  I want to make a point. 
I have no desire to cause a ruckus. I don’t want this to get me fired.  I don’t want this to be a bitch and moan session, I’m not holding a grudge nor am I calling anyone out.  That is not me.  I am reflective because I am not comfortable with the situation.
Obviously, I need to be careful about how far I go in talking about colleagues that I have, to at the very least, work with.  On a larger scale we have to be on the same page, work as a team and function for the betterment of the district. 
I thought my way to a brief electronic correspondence I had with a colleague a few weeks ago.  This led to another conversation, casual, with another colleague where we spoke about a number of topics.   I thought about what one puts of themselves online; even a bit beyond that, what one says electronically.  So now I am musing about electronic work communications, and not just email.  On some level we are discussing institutional communication.
The reflective conversation with myself brings me to wonder, why did I send the email?  In the content of the message I was right.  There is no argument there.  I was also brief and to the point. Succinct. Respectful.  No cursing.  I was, and rightfully so, told that I should not have used email to make that point.  I should have spoken to the person involved.  I am not going to contend that.  Unlike a lot of people across a myriad of professions, but especially in education, is the some odd core belief that “I am beyond reproach”. We are not. I accept constructive criticism, I learn from it and I move on.
So, the question is, why did I send the email?  I was busy, but if it was that big a deal, and it was, I could have found the time talk to this person.  I wasn’t too busy to specifically word the email.  So why did I do it?  Is it because I’m a d*@k?  I don’t think so but, who thinks of themselves in that way?  Well, I do know one person who relishes that role  but he/she is not involved here.  I used to work with a guy who had a theory that 85% of the people you meet are A-holes, so maybe I am.  But I digress.
The real answer is like everything in life, shades of grey.  Present words in time are filtered through the communication history (face to face, meetings, committees, emails, texts, use of facilities forms) between two, three, four etc passionate professionals and all of their agreements, questions, rebuttals, frustrations, stresses, affects, responses and more. 
Oh, yeah, my email had to do with communication or lack thereof.
Now I am going to sort of chicken out here because I am not going to into the depths of what I perceive to be the problems with communication in my institution.  I suspect that some of you out there (I say that as if people are actually reading this tripe) have similar communication breakdowns. I am going to fast forward to solutions.
What is the solution?  How do I address my thoughts on these issues?  I could be passive aggressive and rail against institutions, this institution and the system that has created this climate; I could rail against who I perceive to be the perpetuators.  And it is perception because they probably perceive things differently, and that is ok.  Or I could be positive aggressive.  I could bring up my concerns in a meeting or with individuals, engage in discussions about how we communicate. We all know which option is going to bring about positive change? 
When it gets down to it the solution lies with me.  I can only be responsible for me.  At worst I need to do a better job of communicating in a manner I would like to see become the new culture and hope it takes hold.  I am the solution.  Thanks for reading.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Twitter professional development and State Tests

Friday 3 PM 3.4.11                           Twitter and state tests
Last week I previewed this week with: Next week Twitter Professional Development.  So that is where I will start.  I spoke with our tech guy and pitched doing a staff workshop where another teacher and I teach the staff the 5 Ws and 1H of Twitter.  We would take a day and set up shop somewhere with a projector, maybe a smart board and our laptops and walk them through Twitter.  The tech guy loved the idea and was all for it.  (Between you and me he could stand to learn about Twitter a bit more, he would admit that too.)  So then I pitched the idea to my principle who could, quite frankly, also use an introduction to Twitter.  He is all for it but unfortunately he doesn’t want me to miss more classes than I have to. 
His point is well taken considering I chair a committee, sit on another one and have to norm and grade a sample HSPA for 9th and 10th graders.  This works out well though, since mine will not be the voice in the workshop a teacher’s leadership capacity will grow, she will be the one teaching the staff about Twitter.  And, truth be told, she is a better Tweeter than I am.  So, this week I worked up a brief proposal with essential questions, objectives and a procedure.  She tweaked it and now all she has to do is pick a date and location in the building.  (Sorry guys if you feel I called you out, but I have said this to both of you at some point.)  (I don’t even know if they are reading this.)
If you have any ideas about this topic please share.  Here is the proposal outline:
I.                     Essential questions: 
a.        Why Twitter?
b.       How can Twitter benefit me in the classroom?
c.        How can Twitter make me a better teacher?
d.       How can I use Twitter to help my students achieve.

II.                    Objective: Teacher students will be able to:

a.        Appreciate the educational benefits of using Twitter
b.       Navigate the Twitter environment
c.        Sign up for an account on Twitter
d.       Find people to follow on Twitter
e.       Use all of the features of Twitter, including hashtags and “@”
f.         Develop a profile that “works” for them.

III.                  Procedure: The “teacher” will show the “students” the procedure via the projector then the “students” will practice and the “teacher” will go about and provide assistance.

a.        Go to
b.       Sign up
                                                                                       i.      Create a profile
c.        Find people to follow
d.       Post a Tweet
e.       Follow a link
f.         ReTweet something
g.        Mention someone
h.       Post a blog or article you read
i.         How to use hashtags and what they mean.
                                                                                       i.      Follow trends.
j.         Create lists.
k.        Q & A

Moving on to the craziness of the week here in New Jersey:  HSPA WEEK!!!!!!!!  It makes a week feel like a month for a test that measures 1980s skills in the 21st century.  I graduated high school in New Jersey in 1991 and it is basically the same test.  All they did was swap an expository essay for a picture prompt.  HSPAs disrupt classes, they alter the educational flow and they create confusion and wear out the kids so they cannot focus for the rest of the day. I’m not making an indictment on the kids here; I couldn’t focus after I took the HSPAs when I was in high school.  I continue to question the educational validity of standardized tests, especially at this time of the year.
That said, we do something pretty interesting here.  We give a sample HSPA to all of our 9th and 10th graders to get a sense of where they are as far as having the skills necessary to pass the HSPA by their junior year.  The problem is that now we have to grade them.  That falls mostly on my English and the Special Education departments.  In one week from Monday we will norm the rubrics and then a few days later we will grade the tests.  We then take the data and distribute it to the teachers so they can address their concerns with the individual students.  We also put selected students, based on the lowest scores, into a BSI class which is focused on the skills needed to be successful to pass the HSPA.  This is our third year doing this and while it is tough for us to grade and record all of that data it does seem to help the teachers in the classroom.
Well that is enough rambling for this week.  Off to the supermarket. As always thanks for read, please feel free to comment, good or bad, offer suggestions on any of the topics in here as well as what I could do to write a better blog.  Enjoy your weekend. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

How I am Using Social Media in my Classroom

First a little history: Two years ago through the I “met” two English teachers, one from outside Philly and the other from southern California.  We started talking and decided to try using a ning to help our students discuss issues in The Great Gatsby.  For my class, I made it voluntary since it was my first attempt at such an assessments, I was new to the ECning and just learning about social networking and as a district we were in the infancy of our current technology plan.  Also, a number of parents were not comfortable with their children participating in this type of activity.  Some of the kids had Facebook pages but even they were leery of putting themselves out there.
Fast forward two years:  Last year I did not have Sophomores nor did I get the opportunity to explore this activity with a different work.  Plus, we were (and still are as it is a living experience) working on our technology plan and AUP. 
Currently I am reading The Great Gatsby with my two level one sophomore classes. Luckily for me I have small classes. I reached out to Ms. L Park at Episcopal HS outside of Philly and asked if she was interested in doing the same thing.  Fortunately she was about ready to start Gatsby and jumped at the opportunity.  She still had the ning set up from two years ago, she was still using it with her students.  (I am not going to give out the URL because in the permission slips I stated how controlled the environment is and that no one participating would be able to join.)
Even though we are not at the exact same place in the book we are able to engage in discussions about the many topics (themes, characters, symbols, style, etc) in the book.  For me one of the best outcomes has been the quality of the posts from my students.  I have students who struggle with writing and who, by their own admission, are not the most motivated. 
There is a section on the ning where students post a little biography about themselves.  I have learned so much about my quietest students that I am able to reach them in new ways.  It is truly amazing!  Additionally, the quality of their writing is better in their posts than what they usually turn it.  They care more because I’m not the only one reading what they write.  We spent some time and used class resources (The Little Brown Handbook) to talk about the “rules” for posting to online resources.  I told them that their grade would be based on the number and quality of their posts.
Aside from the writing quality that has impressed me and is important there is also a great cognitive value to what my students are doing.  My students are gaining an understanding of the novel that is greater than I alone can provide them because they are reading posts from other students and gaining a perspective that I am not “telling” them or forcing them to see.  While this is all anecdotal evidence I see student growth/progress in my classes and that is a good thing.

Next week, Twitter for Professional development

Friday, February 18, 2011

3 PM Friday 2.18.11

Friday 3 PM 2.18.11
So I have taken the next step in my social media experience and added blogger to my blogging.  I will post on the and  I am also on twitter @mikeBrawer.  I am new at this and interested in improving my abilities to write.  Hopefully this week is better than last and next week will be better still.  My goal is to do one a week.
I am trying to get some feedback from the twitter-verse regarding research done in a district.  The history is, as most histories are, a bit complex, so I will just say that we are working on aligning all of the research done in the 7-12 district.
 My committee, I call it the research initiative, had a great session yesterday and I am curious about what other districts do with regards to research.  Yesterday, like I said was very productive.  We finished our discussion of what we think a senior needs to be able to do by the time they graduate in terms of finding reliable sources, documenting sources, extracting and documenting information from those sources, organizing that information and producing a product.  Our ultimate determination is that by the time a child is a senior in HS they should be comfortable using digital and “analogue” methods for all of these procedures and they should be able to develop a system that works best for them.  It is our job as a district staring in 7th grade to cultivate their abilities to use a wide range of possibilities for them to practice with and perfect.
My next step is to thoroughly go over the notes from the last three meetings where this question was discussed and create a document that outlines our outcomes. 
Our last thoughts was that our students should be creating a digital portfolio at every level and when they are done they will have an trove of artifacts that they can look to and see their growth and accomplishments from 7th grade to 12th.  The initiative started talking about the digital footprint and that led to a discussion about twitter and a few of the ning teacher resources out there.  There was some real excitement and a few of them signed up.  If we have certain expectations of our students we need to be able to be real leaders for the teachers in our district.

I have to say I think this is better than last week’s blog.  Thanks for reading I value your feedback.  Look for #RsrchInit (The Research initiative) on twitter.