Friday, January 27, 2012

MNPS Principals' Retreat Virtual School Sharing

We had an experience yesterday that I want to share here, and I hope that if there are any who were present in the audience who might have taken pictures or who have thoughts they would like to share will do just that--share them.

Our school district, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, like I'm sure is the practice in many others, holds an annual Principals' Retreat to reset focus for those school leaders who are dispersed across the geographical district. It's one of the very few times these folks are all in one room. In our district, which serves nearly 80,000 students preK-12 and a growing population of adult learners, that means that around 140 school Principals meet to network, learn, and share.

This year the Retreat is held over three days, including Saturday I might add, at the Martin Professional Development Center, where my "small but powerful" team spent its first year implementing an on-the-fly Virtual Learning Program whose highlight was the graduation of seven seniors at the end of May 2010. I remember being up on that graduation stage as our little cadre of graduates was introduced by Middle College High School Principal Rod Manuel, and looking out into dead center of the audience of parents, grandparents, and family assembled as Mr. Manuel stated that he was "elated to host this innovative program in his school, where seven seniors who are graduating with a high school diploma today completed all of their schoolwork completely online" to see one small, thin, grandmother with tightly pursed lips slowly and solemnly shaking her head side to side in a gesture of firm disapproval. I'll never forget that moment.

That was when I became convinced that it would be an absolutely essential part of my work to help "sell" K12 online learning to the world. If people do not see how it really works, how much good it does for how many students, presently and in the future; if people do not understand not only how many ways the burgeoning educational practices of online learning challenge the way "we've always done it," and should; if people don't understand how this new way of facilitating learning is both rigorous and in many ways more, not less, subject to accountability for students, teachers, and administrators; we who understand those things will not have done our job.

In our little closing 30 minutes of the first day of the retreat, we shared and shared effectively. Here's my Facebook status post from 30 minutes after the event, when I opened my laptop on my family room table:
Just did 5 minutes to close a great share in front of 140 Principals, and our share included a Director of High Schools, two of our Adjunct Teachers (one present and one via Skype), two students (one present and one via Google Chat Video), and moi, the "student support guy." I'm beaming, and so proud of our "small but powerful team" as I put it. MNPS Virtual School Metro Nashville Public Schools

Tiona Horton demonstrates Discussion Based Assessment
 Much thanks to Dr. Michelle Wilcox, the Executive Director of High Schools who oversees our high school and its growth and who designed the presentation, to my colleague and "Coordinator/Interim Principal" Barbra Thoeming, who was an audience member at this "show" but who drives the school bus for us all (that's a virtual but very real school bus, ya'll), Dr. Kecia Ray for putting together this "small but powerful" team in the first place, Adjunct Teachers Fiona Horton and Alton Knight for their brilliant and lucid   demonstrations of how this all works, student Carrie Daniel for her onsite explanation of why online learning worked for her and helped allow her "time to work and help support her family of seven" and student Maggie Alexander for her amazing Google Chat performance simulating a Discussion Based Assessment gone awry (Maggie, you really helped Ms. Horton demonstrate how online teachers can clearly see if a student is not doing the work they claim to be doing--the DBA). Thanks also to Kelly Brown, our amazing School Counselor, Michael Terry, our erstwhile an creative Registrar/SupportPerson/DataMan, and to Sherry Hill, our amazing Senior Secretary. I will close this shameless Oscar-esque display of gratitude by thanking the parents and teachers and students who are taking these unprecedented baby steps with us, steps which I predict will take us to the firm establishment of this very new way of teaching and learning within an immense system (the MNPS School District) which, as I said at closing, "was not designed to host it." Wait, I should also include the people at the top, who are our trusting but vigilant enablers: Jay Steele, MNPS Associate Superintendent, and Dr. Jesse Register, Superintendent of Metro Nashville Public Schools. Principals, I thanked you in person yesterday.

In the spirit of "selling the concept," please enjoy this 90 second video of student responses about...

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