Schedule a conversation – Eric Isselhardt


A Banner Week



When I was little, I heard a grownup describe his past week to someone as a ‘banner week.’  I had no idea what that meant, but envisioned a bunch of banners and flags hanging outside his house, merrily blowing in the breeze.  This has been a banner week for NNSTOY and if I had a bunch of flagpoles, I’d hang out banners to celebrate.

At the top of this document, you see our new logo!!!  The Communications Committee has approved the logo and we have received seven variations of it from David Taylor Design.  We are covered for everything from our full name spelled out to just graphic, to the whole nine yards.  In addition, with I spent an hour on the phone yesterday with the designers at DTD working on our Web site’s homepage!

In addition, appended to the email that you pulled this down from, is our first newsletter using our new format.  I would truly appreciate your feedback on everything from appearance to content.  The newsletter will be available on our Web site and will be one means of our sharing information within and beyond our community.

The folks at Pearson are in the process of uploading Curtis Chandler’s wonderful blog on the importance of gaming in education their Web sites, both internal and externally-facing.  Every two weeks, we will supply them with another STOY blog; if you are interested in supplying blogs for this purpose, please let me know.  These will also appear on our Web site, once launched.

The American Institutes for Research (AIR) was awarded the contract to run the Federal Center for Great Teachers and Leaders; NNSTOY is a small partner in this work.  More to come on this shortly.

And finally, but most importantly, this past week saw the eighth National Teacher Forum at ETS, co-sponsored by ETS and CCSSO.  For those of you who have not attended one, we call these the Next Steps:  Where Do I Grow From Here conferences.  They were started by Jon Quam and myself in 2005 and are an opportunity for STOYs ending their Year of Recognition to process what they’ve learned over the past year and to plan for their Years of Service.

The STOY Class of 2012 is an amazing group of educators.  Their knowledge, energy, and passion for teaching and learning is inspiring.  I know that they are going to move forward and do great things.  They were joined by five excellent teachers, five NTOYs from previous years, who guided them in unpacking their experiences over the past year and planning for the future.  It was an uplifting experience and I was honored to be part of it, even though I have left ETS.

NNSTOY also joined with Pearson in the first of a series of school visits as part of the digital teaching and learning research project.  I had the privilege of spending a full day at Clintondale High School in Clinton Township, MI, interviewing administrators and teachers and observing more than ten classes, all using flipped teaching strategies.

This is a high-needs school, with about 80% free and reduced lunch students, an antiquated technology infrastructure, in danger of being taken over by the state two years ago.  They also have a dynamic and determined leader, who basically refused to allow this to happen.  He challenged his faculty to try flipped teaching, with eighty percent of each class period devoted to student-based instruction and learning and only twenty percent to teacher-delivered instruction.  The results are gratifying to say the least.  Test scores are up significantly, the faculty is reenergized, students are excited about learning, and the school is a vibrant and exciting place to learn.

In the classes that I observed, students were actively engaged in critical and creative thinking processes, were directing their own learning, assisting others, working collaboratively, and having conversations that I would normally have thought of taking place in college classrooms.  The extent of collaborative learning was incredible – in no class were students sitting passively in rows accepting instruction from a teacher – and I heard conversations about everything from determining gross national product, to why bread grows mold.

In interviewing the teachers, I learned that initially they were skeptical, some even refusing to engage, but once they saw the results that colleagues were achieving, were willing to try this and now truly appreciate this method of teaching.  They are collaborating more as faculty, learning and growing together; they are a closer unit and share in solving issues around learning and resources.  This was a wonderful place to be as an educator.

I also, this week, attended other classrooms, as a parent.  U of Penn had its annual Law School Parents’ Day, and my husband and I attended all of Jessica’s classes with her for a day.  We experienced Contracts, Civil Justice, and Torts.  The professors at Penn use the Socratic method of teaching with students responsible for intensive preparation for every class.

The Dean of Students at UP Law is a dynamic leader who is deeply involved with his students.  Each class has no more than 200 students and he knows each of them.  Jessica, as some of you know, has a long history of health issues, including Crohn’s disease; he has personally met with Jessica, both before school started and after, and tailored her course load to the demands of her illness.  In his presentation, he had two faculty members, each of whom has taken on a specific piece of the work of running a Law school, co-present.  It was clear that he viewed the Law school as a community.

While the teaching was also inspiring, I was struck by some real differences between the two schools that I visited.  At UP Law, there is NO technology allowed for students in classes; no laptops, tablets, iphones, etc.  Everything is done on paper, with students feverishly writing in notebooks and carting around physical books, each of which must weight ten pounds or more.  I know that UP advocates for technology as the MBA program there provides students with an iPad loaded with all of their textbooks electronically, so I am assuming that this is only done at Penn Law and because it mirrors the real work environment.  However, it was a stark contrast to Clintondale, where every student used some form of technology.

While the Socratic method is certainly effective, I also was struck by the lack of student collaboration in class (there is a great deal of collaboration outside of class).  For example, instead of the Civil Justice professor presenting five case studies and questioning various students about them, wouldn’t it have been as effective to have students work in small groups, each with one case study, then sharing out the results? This is rhetorical question; I’m sure there is a reason why things are done as is, it was just such a contrast.

Jessica is getting a thorough and rich education; it is just interesting that these students, who grew up with technology, now have to fit into a world without it.  They are doing so and learning, which is what matters, but it is curious.

These are two very different styles of teaching and learning, and both work, each in its own setting.  And in each, there is a dynamic and involved leader who trusts his faculty to implement learning and involves them in decision-making.  In both places, I was struck by the power of leadership.   Each leader knew his faculty and his students.  Each was a visible and viable part of the learning community.  And each knew that he couldn’t do the job alone, and has instituted forms of distributed leadership and makes use of teacher leaders.

I’d like to think that this is the new normal, but realize that we still have a long way to go before this kind of structure is in place in every school.

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