Tuesday, May 2, 2017

An end to grad school

After two years, it is hard to believe that my graduate program is coming to an end.  At this time in 2015, I had no intention of taking additional grad school courses anytime in the next decade.  Jen pitched her new program as a small cohort that would explore digital instruction, reflection, connection to other educators, student passions, teacher passions, design, and teacher leadership.  Given the people involved and the district's offer to cover the costs for participants, I didn't dare miss out.

Looking back, we got what we were promised.  The five courses were each intense and pushed me to be better at a lot of things that I considered myself above average with.  The final course, which focused on leadership and design, introduced fewer new ideas and instead tied things together.

I found the single most impactful element of the course to be our study on influence.  We read the book Influencer, a book with a great framework that focuses on vital behaviors and crucial moments.  It also identified six sources of motivation to encourage change.  I had read the book before, but the more structured study led me to understand it much better.  Additionally, we demonstrated our understanding of influence and the diffusion of innovation with a simulation.  This website puts you in the role of a staff member who is attempting to spread a new teaching method across the staff.  I love simulations, but this one was very well done and felt accurate to the research.  I believe that more specific and applied influence strategies will be the most powerful skill I can take away from this course.

We further explored leadership in the course in a few ways.  The book "The Truth About Leadership" went through 10 concepts that proved true over a number of years.  I reflected on many of these in a number of blog posts.  This process forced me to dig deeper into my practice, realize how I already was improving, and look at all the space ahead of me to continue getting better.

The course also looked at innovation via design thinking.  Innovation is change, an important attribute for both formal and informal leaders.  Design Thinking is a specific process that starts and ends with end users.  It allows leaders to learn about their customers and provides a framework to help designers maximize design iterations.  Our final cohort activity and project used design thinking to learn about and design alternatives to professional development.

The program as a whole did a great job of taking my strengths and pushing them further.  Jen's use of reflection and self-driven project work allowed all of us to move beyond the basics and find the appropriate level of challenge.

It was also helpful to look back on my goals from two years ago.  I believe that they are still relevant, a positive thing that shows focus over an extended time.  My first goal was to improve traditional math instruction.  I don't think I am anywhere near where I want to be, but two years of teaching an intervention Algebra course has underscored the importance of relevant curriculum and multiple pathways that each demonstrate content mastery.  This course also led to more outreach to the MTBoS community (an open blog and Twitter-based group of math teachers) where I find great resources and amazing people to help me think through ideas.

My second goal: Improve non-traditional STEM experiences in Byron.  This took form as Grand Challenge Design, my year-long class focused on major world challenges and the internet of things (IoT) technologies.  This course wasn't even an idea when the program started.  Now, it has gone through many iterations with my first group of students.  There were many successes and twice as many failures.  With the help of my students, I am learning the technology, understanding what students care about, and figuring out how I can inspire students to do awesome things.  I explored grading and assessment, use of time, teams and individual work, and many other areas.  Everything about this course was highly influenced by the Innovative Instructional Leadership graduate work.  Beyond GCD, this goal also looked at robotics at all levels in Byron.  I helped to grant-fund and kickstart the FLL Jr. and FTC programs so that students of every age in Byron could engage in the fantastic FIRST robotics programs.  I also continue to actively volunteer with our FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) high school team.

My third goal was to become an effective leader in an innovative environment.  This is harder to measure.  My role as a teacher in GCD and mentor in robotics both involve significant leadership in a rapidly changing environment, and in both roles, I continue to improve.  I also received a full week in Spring 2016 to expand my skills as a teacher and school leader by observing teachers in some of the most innovative schools across Southern California.  I visited High Tech High, Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy, and a number of amazing schools in the Bay area, posting summaries and reflections to my blog.  I learned so much during that short trip, and I continue to come to new insights from those observations.  I plan to continue to look outward and learn through observation of others around me.  I don't think I want to go into administration, but I do want to be in a role where I have significant responsibility and can lead peers while remaining in the classroom.

Looking forward, I am excited for what comes next.  The program ends, but I will continue to try new things, reflect, and connect with peers to accelerate my learning.