The Arts in Education – A Look at the Next Few Years

I am a firm believer in the core role the Arts play in developing critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation (see this report from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills organization). In light of the impending changes due to budgetary issues in New York, a new teacher appraisal process, and the national focus on the Common Core State Standards, three items stand out as a testament to the continuing need for Arts in the schools.

The first item I want to address is the coming Common Core State Standards. In a talk to a group of New York State Education Department (NYSED) stakeholders, Davide Coleman reflected on the role of the Arts:

“Rather than looking at how the Arts can serve literacy, I want to think instead about the special things that the Arts can do that literacy hasn’t been as good at today. You might say what the art teachers can teach the rest of us.”

~David Coleman, Architect of the Common Core State Standards, 28 April 2010

In Coleman’s address to NYSED, he spends a good amount of time outlining what the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) might look like. To see all of his comments related to the Arts, click here. The comments on the Arts begin at 11:00 in the video clip. Click here to see the full video (worth the 2 hours) or here for the full transcript.

Colemean attests to the central role Arts should play in school. I think this is reflected in NYSED’s timeline for implementing the CCSS. The timeline specifically addressees how the standards will be rolled out first in ELA, Math, and the Arts. Click here to see the timeline.

The second item I would like to address is the National Arts Policy Roundtable report, The Role of the Arts in Educating America for Great Leadership and Economic Strength. The group that produced the report represents a diverse international group of artists and thinkers who convene at the Sundance Institute. In the introduction to the report, the co-conveners Robert Lynch and Robert Redford state:

“The arts are not only what is needed to reform education—they can transform it.”

~Robert Lynch & Robert Redford, Co-conveners of the National Arts Policy Roundtable

The report does an excellent job of outlining Arts education forces around the world, including UNESCO. Reference is specifically made to the Seoul Agenda, which was UNESCO’s World Conference on Arts Education in 2010. The section of the report, Your Brain on the Arts, provides specific examples of research on brain development and the Arts.

The third item I would like to address is a report released recently by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools. What I like particularly about this report are the recommendations on how to further promote and integrate Arts in schools, in the face of changing policy and reduced funding. The recommendations are:

1. Build collaborations among different approaches [to Arts education].
2. Develop the field of Arts integration.
3. Expand in-school opportunities for teaching artists.
4. Utilize federal and state policies to reinforce the place of Arts in K-12 education.
5. Widen the focus of evidence gathering about Arts education.

The report goes in-depth in providing specific examples and building the case for the above action steps. I think it is a very concrete road map to focus on what is important in Arts education, and how to support and promote Arts in the schools.

Let me finish by saying that Williamsville has a long-standing tradition of supporting a wide variety of Arts programs, both in and outside the curriculum. The next few years will be challenging to the district, as it will be for all New York State schools, while we implement the Regents’ Reform Agenda and face severe budget issues. Perhaps the recommendations from the President’s Committee can help the conversations as we proceed.

One thing I can say for sure is that I am thrilled to be working in a district that has an exemplary model for Arts education, and am looking forward to working with our great staff as we continue the important work of Arts education.

New Tagline

As I mentioned in a recent post, with my new position, I have been wondering about the tagline for the blog. The tagline is what appears just under the title of the blog, which is Point A to Point B (see the top of the page). I have decided since my new role expands beyond technology tools to curriculum, I will expand the tagline as well.

The previous tagline was:
“Technology is transforming learning. All you need is an idea of where you are and where you need to go.”

The new tagline is:
“Learning is Job #1”

This tagline really reflects my personal bias – learning, in any form, is what school (and life) is about. I think this is a fitting time to once again share my favorite quote:

The best thing for being sad, replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then – to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.
~Merlin to Wart (Young Arthur) in The Once and Future King by T.H. White

I am really looking forward to how the blog grows in a new direction!

Thank You Heim Middle

As I finish up this week at Heim Middle and get ready to begin my new position at district office, I wholeheartedly say thank you to all of the great people at Heim. It is hard to believe that I have been here nine years – wow did the time fly! Part of the reason for this is my children – those of you at Heim long enough have been part of their birth and growth. It seems like just yesterday when Adam and Anna visited as infants, and later came dressed up as a lion and tiger for Halloween when they were four and three. Now they just finished second grade and kindergarten, and it just gets faster.

I start by talking about my family because I consider myself incredibly fortunate, and proud, to say I am part of the Heim family. It is said often that Heim is a special place, and that is because it is. As you know, when you run into a Heim alum, they immediately start reminiscing about a memory here. A comment made many times that sticks out in my mind is when someone is asked to describe Heim in one word. Without hesitation the reply is “family.” Absolutely true. The members of the family change regularly, but like relatives, the Heim family has a special connection no matter where in the world they are.

We have made great progress in technology in the last nine years. When I first arrived, I remember that the number one task was to make sure there was an iMac (blueberry to be specific) in each classroom so teachers could do email. Jump to this year when teachers offer up a menu of technology choices for students to pick from for their projects. There are many reasons for the progress we have made, and the most significant one is the desire and willingness by the faculty to try new things and help each other out. We could never have done many of the things we did without many of you stepping up and sharing your expertise with your colleagues. Additionally, I attribute much of the progress in recent years to the district focus on incorporating technology. Major projects such as placing the projectors in every classroom could not happen without major district-wide direction.

Speaking of district-wide direction, that leads me to the topic of the new structure for the technology integrators next year. While it is true the middle schools will have less access to this resource than they have had in the past, the elementary and high schools will have more access, which is a good thing. I can tell you that the technology integrators team for next year is dynamite, and I know you will enjoy working with them when you have the opportunity. I hope that the new model of district technology integrators will lead to creating more such positions in the future.

As for me, I am thrilled to be taking on my new role as Instructional Specialist for Fine and Performing Arts, Business Education and Home and Careers (my son loves saying that). I know it is a surprise to some of you who did not know my background is music. Some people have said I am going back to my “roots.” Personally, I just think I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up. Maybe I’ll figure it out someday.

In any case, this is my way of trying to express how special a place Heim will always be to me.

Thank you Heim Middle. You have made me a better person. I am forever grateful for it.

Cogito Ergo Blog

I reflect, therefore I blog.

A tweet came through last week that caught my attention. I retweeted it, favorited it, and now have spent some time looking back, reading, reflecting, and now writing:

As is the case with social media, the path to the origin of the thinking took a bit. Shelly Terrell sent this tweet about a post by Justin Martin on the Connected Pricipals blog. Justin’s post was in response to the “ground zero” post by Ryan Bretag, “My Principal Doen’t Need to Blog.” Ryan’s original post is brilliant – he uses not too many words to propose an argument that blogging is not worth it for his principal (who is an exceptional leader). What Ryan unleashes is an awesome response across the spectrum related to administrators and the value/need/time in blogging (including my response here…)

The thought about “to blog or not to blog” hits home with any blogger since we constantly wonder, “is it worth it?” As I read through the original post, comments, and subsequent posts, here are a few things that stood out to me.

In Ryan’s argument, he makes the following comment:

In life, we make trades of our time and the question really comes down to whether blogging would be a better use of time for our principal than…

  1. Visiting classrooms
  2. Getting to know and connect with 2,100 learners
  3. Getting to know and connect with hundreds of educators

In my first administration experience as summer school assistant principal, I made a conscious effort to be out and about as much as possible. My daily social media connections definitely went down (not logging into Twitter, Skype, etc). I completely agree that the most important job of an administrator is personal connections.

One of the responses to Ryan was from Russ Goerend:

For me, blogging is where I reflect with the purpose of asking other, smarter, people to reflect with me. Reflection is the one thing I saw missing from your list of what your administrator does. Is that a possible reason that tips the scales?

Reflection is the bell-ringer for me in blogging. I think reflection in teaching practice is important. Any good teacher or administrator reflects, whether in voice (chatting with a colleague) or in public (a blog). The difference between vocal reflection and written reflection is that writing it down makes a difference. To paraphrase Peter Reynolds, writing turns ideas into action. Writing it down in public makes a bigger difference. Is written public reflection on practice for everyone? Nope. Can it make a difference in the practice of a teacher or administrator? IMHO, yup.

Before I move on to more of my own thoughts, I want to point out one more comment that came through on this topic. It is a video post by David Truss:

I love the media response, as opposed to a typed response. His thoughtful comments, along with visual support, is awesome. Thanks, David, for providing an exemplar for media communication. I hope to move that direction in my own blogging – I think it is much richer 🙂

To bring together my own thoughts about why I blog, I took a look at the wikipedia article for blog. Under the sub-heading for types of blogs, here is the description for a personal blog:

Personal blogs
The personal blog, an ongoing diary or commentary by an individual, is the traditional, most common blog. Personal bloggers usually take pride in their blog posts, even if their blog is never read. Blogs often become more than a way to just communicate; they become a way to reflect on life, or works of art. Blogging can have a sentimental quality. Few personal blogs rise to fame and the mainstream, but some personal blogs quickly garner an extensive following. One type of personal blog, referred to as a microblog, is extremely detailed and seeks to capture a moment in time. Some sites, such as Twitter, allow bloggers to share thoughts and feelings instantaneously with friends and family, and are much faster than emailing or writing.

I bolded the part that stands out to me most – blogging become more than a way to communicate – it is a way to reflect. The comment about bloggers taking pride in their work, regardless of readership, also rings true. I have always blogged for an audience of one (me), although it is fun when people stop in to read and/or comment.

Blogging takes time. My personal goal is to try to do one post per weekend, when the idea comes to me. Note that it happens on the weekend, and that there are the time trade-offs that allow me to find those few (3-4) hours to craft my thoughts. I have found that I do enjoy the writing process. Not everyone does, and not everyone has the time to devote to blogging. Ryan’s principal doesn’t, but he is still a great leader. If his principal does try blogging (and makes the trade-offs to do so), I believe he will find it valuable. I do not believe that anyone who takes the time to do it will find it un-worthwhile.

In any case, for me, cogito ergo blog. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Farewell, Friend

This post is a tribute to a fantastic educator and colleague, Earle Holt. Earle is retiring from Heim Middle School after a 43 year career. His last day is December 23, 2010.

Earle has touched so many lives in so many ways. Most importantly, as an art teacher he has had a great impact on thousands of students who have come through our school. One hallmark of Earle’s work is the wall block, and more recently, wall tile. Every 7th grade student for the last 43 years has created a personal reflection of themselves or something important to them, and either painted it on the wall or created it on the computer and had it mounted on the wall.

If you walk through Heim Middle, in every hallway you see something like this:

Click image to enlarge

There are over 12,500 individual pieces of art, all created by students. There are many instances where parents and their children have shared the same experience creating a wall block/wall tile while they attended Heim. On any given day you might find an adult scanning the walls to find their work of art from years ago.

I first worked with Earle when I arrived at Heim to help solve a problem – no more room to paint on the walls. We came up with a plan (actually he had the plan and I just helped get the technical kinks worked out) to have students draw their design, scan it, and finish creating it using paint software. The printed design is heat laminated to tile, then mounted on the wall (closer to the ceiling, above the painted wall blocks). The transition from painted wall blocks to scanned/printed/laminated wall tile was fascinating, and a great success.

More than this particular project, though, is working with and observing Earle when he works with students. He has such a nurturing and warm style, and he truly cares about each and every one of the students. I have worked with him in his classroom regularly over the years. Recently in light of his retirement, I’ve tried to pay a few extra visits. His classroom environment is quite remarkable.

His “corner of the world” has also been known as the place to get a cup of coffee, tea, and tasty treat whenever a break is needed. You always leave his room with a smile or a laugh. His warm, welcoming style reverberates with staff and students alike.

I put together a brief slide show below as a tribute to a great person. Earle will be missed, but he deserves all the best that retirement has to offer.

Farewell, friend. The coffee is on…

Music by Kevin MacLeod
Direct link to YouTube video

One Pipe

I have been tinkering around with my Google Voice account after a colleague, @MrWarnes, showed me what he was trying with it. Then, speaking with our assistant principal, we got to talking about how tools like Google Voice and Skype are making traditional land lines obsolete. Wouldn’t it be great if everything you need for communication and productivity in school were in one place, one pipe if you will, coming through the ethernet cable?

Five years ago we cut the extra “pipes” into our house. We canceled our land line and switched to a VOIP phone service. All of our communication has been going through our cable modem. Some of our friends still find it “shocking” that although we have internet access through the cable TV provider, we don’t subscribe to cable TV. This is only due to the sticker shock of paying for so many channels that we never watch. Additionally, with the onslaught of Internet video services (Hulu, etc.), I believe the days of over-priced, over-stuffed channel services are numbered. In the last couple of months, fiber-optic service has been introduced in our area. We have signed up to convert to the higher quality dedicated pipe.

Of course it is possible to have one pipe for all communications, and there are many companies that are capitalizing on making the computer the single point of communication. How might this look in a school setting for a teacher, an administrator, or better yet, a student?

What would a main office look like if a principal (and his/her secretary) could manage all incoming and outgoing communication through the computer? What if a parent were able to go to the school website and click on a link to automatically call the school? What if the principal had an alert set up for any time the school hashtag was mentioned in Twitter, and could quickly respond if necessary?

What would a teacher’s classroom look like if all of their communication could be handled through the computer? No more leaving the desk or classroom to make a call, and then having to wait to get back to the computer to find necessary information. Voice calling access for teachers on their computer would be a huge benefit.

What would a student’s learning world look like if they had some form, any form, of technology at their disposal in the classroom? The technology divide for learning between adults and students is growing so large it is scary. We have arrived at a point where as adults and professionals, we could not last a day without the technology that we need. What sort of disservice are we doing by not providing our students with the same opportunity?

Mobile phones, and smart phones specifically, are the alternate form of the one pipe scenario. Just as the data machine is adopting voice on the computer, the voice machine is adopting data on the mobile phone. Adults are more used to the computer version of one pipe, while kids are more used to the mobile version. The type of pipe does not matter – what matters is having access to the pipe for learning.

Each of us needs only one pipe to be connected to the world. Each of us needs a pipe. All day, every day.

Thoughts or comments most welcome here, through Google Voice, or through Skype:

Skype Me™!

Talk to you on the pipe!

Superman is Already Here

Before you read this post, please take a moment to go on a field trip to do the following:

Walk to the nearest mirror you can find, look at yourself in the eyes for about 30 seconds, then come back.

Image licensed from iStockphoto.com

Hello Superman, it’s nice to meet you. Please understand that I use Superman in the general sense, whether you are a man or a woman. Yes, you are Superman.

I am offering this post to contribute to blogger Tom Whitby’s call for education reform ideas (he calls it REBELS – Reforms from Educational Bloggers Links of Educational Suggestions). In the past few weeks, there has been much discussion in the national spotlight about what we need to “fix” education. There was the special on MSNBC, Education Nation; the film Waiting for Superman; Oprah Winfrey’s show with David Guggenheim, Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee; and a FutureofEducation.com/Edutopia panel discussion in Elluminate that have contributed to the dialog.

I listened to the FutureofEducation.com/Edutopia panel discussion and attended the Buffalo premiere of Waiting for Superman (which included a panel discussion with local educational leaders/politicians), and have been trying to keep up with the various posts and tweets flying around related to the issue.

I will share some of my reactions to the Buffalo premiere of Waiting for Superman and the panel discussion, as it was a good opportunity to localize the national discussion.

  • The event was organized by BuffaloRefomEd, a fledgling group looking to improve the education system. Since they were able to bring together the Superintendent of the Buffalo schools, the president of the Buffalo Teachers union, the New York State assemblyman for Buffalo, among others, BuffaloReformEd appears to have its act together.
  • The audience was probably heavy on the charter school supportive side, not surprisingly as the tone of the movie is pro-charter schools.
  • Personally, I think the angle of the movie, with its fire-the-teachers, get-rid-of-tenure, unions-are-bad tone spent more time on attractive easy solutions that really are not solutions. No one wants bad teachers – but in the big picture, I think the amount of “bad” teachers is a minuscule amount, and they don’t make it in the long run. Are there problems in the system with some teachers? Sure, but that is true of any employer/employee organization.
  • Charter schools are a great choice. Are all charter schools great? No. Are some out-performing the public schools? You bet. One of the main points in the movie is that some charter schools are finally making a difference in performance scores for students on standardized tests. The real problem here is that the charter schools are measuring themselves on the very standardized tests that are the greater issue in education. I do not know if charter schools, who pride themselves on being different, should celebrate with the same measures that public schools use in order to prove their value.
  • In the panel discussion, the head of a local charter school made the statement (I’m paraphrasing):  The purpose of K-12 education is to prepare students for post-secondary education. Yikes – I’m not sure that is the purpose of K-12 schools. What happened to preparing students to become productive, contributing members of society? Not every path leads to post-secondary education.
  • At the end of the discussion (all too brief at only 30-40 minutes), the superintendent of Buffalo and the local assemblyman pledged to reconvene a panel for a longer discussion at a later time. Dialogue is always good, but…

We don’t have time to talk about what needs to be done. Superman is here – it’s you, it’s me, and it’s every person who has direct influence on helping kids succeed. It is the parent, the neighbor, the teacher, the mailman, the uncle, the teacher, the principal, the union leader, the grocery clerk, etc. I know, this sounds a lot like the “it takes a community to raise a child” shtick, but it’s true.

Every one of the students portrayed in the movie has a Superman. It is the parent/guardian, who all said they would do anything in the world to help their child. It does not matter what school they get in – those kids have a superman looking out for them.

Charter schools have by their nature lots of Supermen. Those who choose to create their own system, their own school, take on a huge challenge. By their nature, those in charter schools are demonstrating superman qualities.

Public schools are full of Supermen. Every single day, they take on the daily challenges of meeting the needs of the students in their class. The challenges are very different depending on where you live. I live and teach in an affluent suburban district. We have many challenges every day with every one of our students. The daily challenges we face are vastly different from the challenges faced by those in the urban schools. Still, every day we go in to do what we can for every single one of those we work with.

We can have all the panel discussions we want. We can make all the movies we want. We can get the best thinkers and politicians in the world together to talk for hours, days, weeks or months. It won’t matter – that’s just talk.

What will matter is the work you do with whatever kids you have a direct connection with. It might be your own kids, it might be the kids you teach, the kids you administer, or the kids on the block. What matters more is you may have to reach out and help kids you see who have a need, but no one to help them. You may have to intervene when kids you work with do not get what they need. Education reform is you, doing whatever you can, whenever you can, no matter what.

No more time to read now, Superman, you have work to do. Important work.

I Do Not Want Free Web Tools

Might this post title have your attention? It has mine too, as I consider and struggle with how to manage both my, my family’s, and my school’s web presence. Don’t get me wrong – I’m an educator and I love free as much as the next person. But it comes back to the old saying:

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Personally, I’ve used tons of free services for web mail, web pages, etc. I’m currently using Posterous for my family news blog, as it is super simple to post updates, and there is good privacy protection in place.

Professionally, we are about to launch GoogleDocs for our district. Every single user will have access to the Google cloud for documents.

What I (and many others) struggle with is what happens if the provider decides to change something, or gets bought out? What happens to the data in the service? A recent change in Ning’s pricing scheme brought this to the forefront for a lot of people in the educational community. Those who flocked to the service (which is excellent) were shocked that suddenly they had to pay for the same service.

When it comes to school- or district-wide systems, we have to be very careful about our expectations for free services. While we are about to roll out GoogleDocs, we have to consider the implications if Google decides to do something in the future to change the service, and the impact it may have on our users.

I’m much more comfortable with a pay service. Paying for a service directly, as was done pre-web, creates a relationship where you have a vested interest in the service provider to support your endeavors. This does not mean that I’m happy to shell out tons of money at every turn. It does mean that I am willing to pay a fair price for a good and reliable service. This applies to my personal web ventures as well. I pay for the web hosting for this blog so I know that I have service and support behind the site to make sure it is running. The content is in my own space (yes, still on a server farm somewhere, but my space).

I do not want free web tools. Well, maybe that statement is too strong. I am still going to use many of them and advocate for many of them. But I am going to think very carefully about what is out there on the free sites and consider the implications if the service disappears suddenly one day.

That’s all for now – I have to go Tweet this post check my Gmail account…

Image licensed from iStockphoto.com

A Clear and Easy Web Presence

Image licensed from iStockphoto.com

We are very used to interacting with many businesses through their website. When you call a company on the phone, you often hear, “Please visit our website…” Airlines even offer incentives if you book flights online instead of through a real person on the phone. For example, check out JetBlue’s Contact Us page and how they encourage web contact (and charge $15 more if you book by phone).

This move to the web assumes that the website is clear and easy to use. In many cases they are (kudos to JetBlue as I typically find their site easy) but not always. How many times have you been at a site and completely frustrated that you could not find what you needed?

Think about your school website now. Put yourself in the shoes of a parent or community member with little knowledge of the school, but need to find something out. How is your website set up to help them get what they need? Now think about an elementary or middle school age student. How is your website set up to help him or her get the information they need for class?

In our district, we have two distinct sites for access to information: a public website, viewable by anyone, and a private webstie, or intranet, viewable only by those with authorized access (staff, students, and registered parents/guardians). The public website contains all the information typically found on a school website, such as news, school information, and district information. The intranet focuses on information related to students – schedules, grades, class notes, etc.

What tends to happen with this type of setup is that schools post information in one or both places for parents and students. Confusion can arise if one looks on one site for the information, when it is on the other. Within the intranet, there are multiple ways to provide links. Add to this some new tools on the scene, such as wiki pages, other teacher class pages, and suddenly there is a glut of ways to communicate.

Don’t get me wrong – this is not a bad problem – it’s just that as web presence increases, we have to think about the effect on the other side. How easy is it for our users to know what is going on and find the information they need from our website(s)?

With regards to the web presence for Heim’s computer technology this year, I am going to focus it on one link from the intranet (WITS). Previously, I have been growing a few different ideas, including this blog, a wiki site, and a WITS page. This one link will provide a window to the multitude of computer tools available to students and staff. As WITS grows, it is important to keep it simple. It is also time to sort through the links available in WITS – over time the list grows and inevitably contains broken or old links.

Web tools are awesome. We live, breathe, and eat the Internet every day. We just have to be sure that our web presence remains clear and easy to use in the process.

Struggling with Chaos

My friend Steve O’Connor, whom I met by chance when we were presenting in the same room at NYSCATE a few years back, just tweeted about a poster titled, “The Internet Will Not Be Another TV”. Here is the poster:

Internet NO será otra TV by Miguel Brieva

There are many things I like about the poster. It is an argument for Net Neutrality in the EU, and can apply anywhere in the world. What struck me most about it, however, is how the same concept can be applied to the current state of education.

If the top circle is restated as, “The School that Education Establishment Wants,” the picture is a perfect example of how school is today. Separate compartments, all designed to keep students focused on goals designed by those in charge.

If the bottom circle is restated as, “The School that Learners Want,” a much more authentic style of learning is depicted. Inquiry is led by the student (regardless of age), and the Internet is in fact a key tool that supports the inquiry.

Where does the question about struggling with chaos come in? Simple – when inquiry is driven by the learner, the environment is messy. That is the way it should be, but managing learning like this in an educational  system that is so structured is difficult to do. It’s the age-old conversation on how schools can best support learning.

The main example I’ve been struggling with for the past few months is the use of personal mobile devices in the classroom. I’m all for it, but I also know that managing such an environment is tricky. Its one thing when a group of adults “back channels” at an ed tech conference, where by nature everyone in the room wants to be there and shares the same passion. I’m not so sure how well back channeling would be in a Geometry review class where all the learners struggle with the most basic concepts, and don’t want to be there in the first place.

For me the personal mobile device is indispensable. A smart phone, tablet, and laptop completes the suite of tools that I use constantly to learn, be productive, be reflective, and be creative. And I’m from a generation that grew up where the latest technology was the Apple II that you could program in BASIC. Today’s elementary school students expect (I mean this in a good way) that they can access anyone and any information from their device. How can we not take advantage of this?

The time is coming where the personal mobile device will be in the classroom. It’s necessary. It’s inevitable. I’m struggling with chaos…

Image credit:
Internet NO será otra TV by Miguel Brieva