Monday, November 16, 2009

Full Clinical Observation--Post Observation Conference

What strengths and/or improvement areas did you notice about the environment and tone of the post-observation?

When watching the video of my post-observation conference, I noticed immediately that the conference exhibited a collegial, conversational quality which I contribute to my choice of settings. I intuitively chose to use the work area of our media center because it is out of the way of traffic and I knew that it would be conducive to creating an uninterrupted environment. A bonus about using this space is that it contains a round table. In hindsight, I reflected that when my administrator conferences with me, her preferred choice of setting is her conference room, with a round table! I personally like this format and I think it was instinctive to use this space for this activity because of my positive experiences with this setting.

When I first viewed the video, I had the sound muted and I just cued in on the nonverbal behavior; i.e., body language, eye contact, hand gestures, etc. Because we were sitting side by side, the teacher and I were both able to view the post-conference write-up together and I was able to address the artifacts I gathered by pointing to them at the same time that the teacher was viewing the documents. I think the environment that I created enhanced the conversation, but it was also obvious that the teacher and I had built up a relationship prior to this activity. Our first contact was when I initially approached this teacher about this assignment. The second was our pre-conference meeting where I gathered information from the teacher about the class, the particular lesson that I was observing and the curricular unit that it is a part of. I also had the opportunity to work with this teacher on an unrelated project earlier in the year and have come to the conclusion that the more an administrator can observer the teacher in a variety of settings, the better the administrator can gauge the quality of the teacher's instruction.

The main artifact that I gathered from the observation is a floor plan of the computer lab and on it, I denoted which students the teacher worked with, when he worked with them and for how long. I discussed this with the teacher during our pre-conference and he was interested to see the results. Working with students in the computer is more demanding that many teachers realize and I know that it is easy to miss a lot of off-task behavior and students requiring assistance, so that is why I chose this particular form of data-gathering tool. During our post-observation, the teacher quickly noted that his approach to assist the students was chaotic and it was evident on the chart that several students were not addressed at all in the 50-minute time period. The teacher said that he was going to use the seating chart in the future and actually assign particular seats for optimal learning. This class had 7 students on IEPs and there were several instances were I noted off-task behavior. The teacher concluded that if he had a seating chart and created a check-list of expected outcomes from the class period, he could walk around the room in a systematic way, checking off completed requirements and address each student in a more orderly manner, ensuring that each student was addressed by the teacher at least once. The form is below:

Computer Lay Out for Rm 230_observation

What strengths and/or improvement areas did you notice in the conference about strategies to improve instruction?

Overall, I feel confident in this teacher's ability. While there were definite areas of concern, the teacher is willing to take suggestions and is self-reflective without being prompted. He offered to me that he already changed up his lesson for the 2nd and 3rd days because of what he experienced on the 1st day, the day I observed. This lesson was unique in that it took place in the computer lab and that setting offered a challenging set of circumstances.

In the conference, which behavior did you seem to predominantly use? Do you think this was an appropriate approach given the developmental level of the teacher? Briefly explain.

I used the approaches of listening and presenting alternatively. I noticed that I did provide a few explicit suggestions pertaining to instruction for the teacher, but I felt that they were appropriate guidance for a first-year teacher in his first semester of teaching. I will admit that a couple of times, the teacher volunteered suggestions on what to do next time before I had an opportunity to broach the particular topic and it was comforting to know that he and I were on the same page. I think it is appropriate to use direct assistance to beginning teachers and it was particulary effective since we had already built up some sort of trust between us previous to this post-observation conference. I also think that since I am technically not this teacher's administrator, he probably looks upon me as a fellow teacher, which also enhanced the reception of my post-conference feedback.

Overall Impressions

I really enjoyed this assignment. This was the first time I was responsible for a full-clinical observation and it was satisfying to see the complete cycle; pre-observation conference, observation and post-observation conference. The teacher was receptive to my feedback which informs me that my technique was not off-putting. I plan on working with this teacher on another assignment in the Media Center this semester and we will discuss how the modifications that he made impacted the student learning. This particular observation also gives me much to consider as a future administrator because I found myself questioning the rationale that is used so frequently with new teachers in education. This teacher is part-time, only teaching three periods a day. During those three periods, he has 25 students on IEPs and each class has a special education co-teacher; a different co-teacher for each class! I found myself more upset about the situation than the teacher, because as a new teacher, he doesn't know how it could be better! The special education department in my school is frustrated with the lack of planning classroom teachers do with the co-teachers, but if classroom teachers must plan with a different co-teacher for each period and also have a high quantity of IEPs to plan for, then I don't see how there is enough time in the day for a teacher to do it all! I know the situation could be better because there are some teachers who exclusively teach AP courses and Honors courses and then there are other teachers who only have the assisted classes. Why not share the load? So the results of this observation not only had me reflect on the assignment to observe teachers, but the bigger questions of how teachers are assigned classes, and why are new teachers are given the more difficult classes and experienced teachers given the smoother running classes?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Conference Reflections

AASL 2009 conference has just passed and it is now time to put my thoughts on paper so that I can articulate them more clearly to my colleagues when they ask, "Well, how was it this year?"

The conference in Charlotte, NC was my 4th one, after Indianapolis (2001), Pittsburgh(2005), and Reno(2007). Somehow, I missed Kansas City in 2003!

According to an ALA news release, "A record breaking 3,950 school librarians, educators, exhibitors and guests attended the American Association of School Librarians’ (AASL) 14th National Conference in Charlotte Nov. 5 – 8, to discuss key issues that impact our nation’s school libraries. Dedicated solely to the needs of school library media specialists, the AASL National Conference is the largest gathering of school librarians in the nation."

If I had to rank my impressions of the conference "big ideas", this is how they would look:
  1. Back-channel--According to Wikipedia (hey-for social media-this encyclopedia is pretty good!), back-channeling is the practice of electronically passing notes among some or all of the audience/students during the lecture. When sanctioned, this practice is particularly useful for speakers who are attempting to dynamically modify their presentations based on immediate feedback from the audience. Twitter was prevalent at this conference and it was so much fun to meet people that I "follow" and now can put a face to their profile. Most of the speakers uploaded their slides to SlideShare or other similar Web 2.0 tools, used Wikis to gather audience feedback and encourage the dialogue to stretch beyond the allotted time frame of the 1 hour and 15 minutes allotted for concurrent sessions by commenting to the wikis after returning home. Throughout the conference, participants were encouraged to upload their photos to Flickr and take everything with AASL2009. How exciting to be able to view the collective photo album that grew as the conference progressed.

    Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

    The conference was made richer by the fact that so many of us were able to connect virtually to compare notes, share big ideas and communicate with others not able to be present face-to-face at the actual conference. Dave Loertscher, Buffy Hamilton, Gwyneth Jones, Buffy Hamilton are just a few of the speakers who relied heavily on audience participation and collaboration and the conference learning/participation was so much deeper because of this!

  2. Learning Commons--What does it mean to be a librarian in the 21st century, how do we best serve our students and what does our space look like? Dave Loertscher was at his best once again, guiding us with vision and probing questions. His quest to reinvent school libraries and computer labs is infectious and his idea of collaborative knowledge building is viral. His wiki, is a great place to begin exploring his revolutionary concepts on media specialists becoming information coaches and library media centers becoming a completely flexible learning space where neither computers nor books get in the way. Getting Dave to autograph my newly purchased, The New Learning Commons: Where Learners Win! was a bonus of this conference!

  3. Vendor Feedback--This was very prevalent this year. Companies are seeking out those of us who directly work with students to inform their businesses on how to best serve their stakeholders. We were wined, dined and pampered so that they could get us to carve out a precious time slot of our schedule at the conference. It is obvious in this economic downturn, that companies are vying for a piece of our budgets and are actively engaged in the business of providing the stakeholders with products that work for our students' learning. They did a fabulous job, questioning, probing and soliciting valuable feedback concerning their interfaces, search engines, marketing and promotion, and content of their many subscription databases and print material. Their widgets, customer support, marketing materials and updated content was demonstrated at each event. Hungry for stakeholder feedback, we were guided in a lively discussions at breakfast, lunch or dinner by a variety of vendors and it was impressive to be able to contribute to the modification or creation of products that can directly benefit the students in our schools. The exhibit hall was packed with aisles of vendors waiting to network with media specialists as they showcased their top products and demonstrated new features and products.

  4. Nings--an online platform for people to create their own social networks--this concept is starting to make more sense with this conference. I joined my first Ning at NECC 2009 with the ISTE Ning or the Media Specialist group withing that Ning. Since then, I joined Joyce Valenza's Teacher Librarian Ning and many of the contacts I am meeting, I recognize from facebook, twitter and other social networking sites.

  5. Green Conference--Yes, this conference was greener than most (but not totally!). Check here for handouts, and the b-There- Your Virtual Track Pass site has more information.

  6. Blogs--I have made a public GoogleDocs with a list of the blog posts that I could find. Feel free to add to or edit the form and please share!

  7. Personal Learning Network--Probably the biggest change in myself that I contribute directly to attending conferences is my willingness to share in my personal learning community (PLN); virtually, through a variety of social networking sites. I remember the excitement that I felt when my first tweet was retweeted by someone who was not my personal friend! That was a hallmark moment! The higher the quality of information I contribute to my PLN, the more I get out of it from my network. I contribute this phenomenon to the face-to-face conferences that nurture these relationships (although I admit, I may never meet all of my PLN!). I also put myself myself out there on blogs, facebook and nings as my network becomes intertwined like a net. I am constantly amazed each day with the quantity of new ideas and information that I learn every day via this ever-growing professional network of colleagues. This year I got to meet with Lisa Perez, Gwyneth Jones, David Loertscher, Doug Johnson, Buffy Hamilton and it was like meeting rock stars! So much fun! It makes it easier to cultivate relationships with that little bit of face-to-face.

Here are some of the mcps folks after the closing keynote as we cheer on Sara Kelley Johns for ALA President!

Joyce Valenza and Buffy Hamilton have challenged the participants of AASL 2009 to provide honest and constructive reflection on Charlotte Re-examined. Here are my thoughts on what could be at the next AASL in Minneapolis in 2011.
  • Wireless Access--Need I say more? Fortunately, I was able to connect to the Internet most of the time I needed it. Unfortunately, wireless was spotty throughout the convention center and it was far from speedy...someday when conference planners tell convention planners to be prepared for a technology heavy conference with many people connecting to the Internet, we will be taken seriously! Additionally, many presenters were forced to present from PowerPoint slides as opposed to live from the web due to this situation.
  • Electrical Outlets--This goes hand in hand with the previous comment. Along with Internet connectivity is the need to occasionally plug-in to charge-up! Unlike NECC, this convention center did not supply multiple outlets throughout the room and frequently, participants were jockeying for the perimeter of the room so that they could plug in to the wall outlets.
  • Room Configuration--I found the rooms that provided the most conducive layout for collaboration were those with the round tables or those with the long rectangular tables. I was able to focus on the speaker and those around me when I was able to comfortably situate my laptop on a table instead of my lap. This was especially important for those concurrent sessions where the audience interacted with the speakers via Wiki, Twitter or some other Web 2.0 tool.
  • Longer Smackdown Time--This fun, interactive, lively session was booked as a 1 hour 15 minute concurrent session. I could easily envision this session as a 1/2 day pre-conference and it would definitely benefit from the longer time as the audience could have more opportunities with which to interact with the presenters. If you have never been to one of Joyce Valenza's smackdowns, then you're missing a session loaded with good stuff and lots of energy. Montgomery County Maryland's own star, Brenda Anderson, collaborated with national colleagues to share digital storytelling strategies . We are so proud of her!