The 3 Essential Functions of Your Syllabus, Part 2

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Nice post on how to get students to take your syllabus seriously. First: write better syllabi. That was Part 1 of this series (linked on page). Then, find ways of making the syllabus an integral part of the learning in the course (the key purpose shift). I especially love this idea:

One of the major differences that separates expert learners (faculty) from novice learners (students) is the ability to see the frameworks in addition to the individual pieces. The frameworks seem obvious and natural to you; they do not appear so to your students.

Thus Lang suggests that the syllabus be more of an annotated guide to the course instead of simply a list of assignments. A great idea, if there were (1) enough time to write that much more so early in the year and (2) greater predictability about the schedule (at the secondary level, the schedule is often more malleable than at the college level).

Lang includes several other excellent ideas about how to use the syllabus as part of the teaching materials in the course. Worth the quick read.

Spend the 19 minutes it takes to watch this whole talk. Robinson has a typically British sense of humor, and his talk is at times quite funny. But his points are incisive and accurate. He's talking about the kinds of things my teaching mentors and I have been propounding for many years: that instead of academic leadership that advocates command-and-control styles, leaders should see themselves in charge of climate control (or in Peg Syverson's language, that schools are ecosystems that require care and tending at all levels). That instead of seeking conformity in our students, we should encourage and cultivate productive difference as a means of learning. That being engaged in a task is not the same as fulfilling its goals. That teachers are the lifeblood of schools, and that spending money on professional development is not a cost but an investment that pays back immeasurably.

I'm working with a school-wide committee right now to propose a revision to our faculty evaluation process, and these ideas are very much in my mind these days as we work to develop something that will tend more toward Robinson's ideas of professional growth and development instead of what so many institutions favor, the command-and-control-driven checklist that enforces compliance rather than creativity - a distinction also treated in Robinson's talk. (We are looking at the moment at Folio Collaborative as a mechanism for our new system, about which I'll write at another time.)

The Art of Moving On | Daniel Goleman

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Daniel Goleman is an influential thinker in leadership studies, and his work is of particular relevance in independent schools, where interpersonal relationships and mission-driven enterprises (as opposed to profit-driven ones) are the norm. His recent book-length work deals with emotional intelligence, so this short piece fits well with that pattern. Key quotes:

The secret of high performance leadership is to get over something quickly, and help others get over something quickly to build a high bonding and cohesive state. To reach that desired state again, it's very critical to understand grief. Leaders do not pay enough attention to grief. Organizations deny the massive amount of disappointment, frustrations and jealousies.

And in a moment reminiscent of Catch-22 when Yossarian tells Clevinger that Scheisskopf will never forgive him if Clevinger tells Scheisskopf the truth about what the men really think of his leadership:

Forgiveness is something we don't talk about very often as part of good leadership, but it's another way to get over something. Quite often, a leader says, "Tell me what you think." You say what you think, and he never forgives you. He'll hold it against you. Or you make a mistake and he can't get over something to be able to come back to the job.

Come to think of it, it would be interesting to see Catch-22 as an extended meditation on the grief process and the process of moving on. That's what Snowden's story and Yossarian's trauma story are all about, really. I think academic leaders could do worse than to study Heller in light of how to provide real emotional support in their organizations.

Where is This Blog Going?

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Just a quick thought about my upkeep of my digital presence: I follow and even post to a number of social media venues (Facebook, Twitter, even Google+ and LinkedIn a little), and I bookmark interesting sites and links to my account so I'll have them for later. My reading lists go to Shelfari (which I keep linked to this blog) and GoodReads; truth be told, I'd use GoodReads exclusively if I could sync it with this site. So I am doing a number of things that I set up this blog to do (several years ago) in other forums that are more suitable for the purpose. At present, I don't have a great deal of time to write legitimate blog entries, what with the near-constant grading and teaching going on. So I find I'm not posting here that often these days. As I face a number of serious career decisions in the upcoming months, I may find better use for this space. For the moment, though, it will probably remain fairly dormant. As I get a chance to get my brain around how I want to reshape my digital identity, the blog may find a prominent place in it. I think it's useful to have a place to write longer entries such as this rambling one and not worry about clogging up other folks' newsfeeds unless they specifically want to follow such posts. 

In development: a discussion of how I am reshaping my digital workflow, or (rather) how I am using digital technology to help manage my overall workflow better. I've been playing a with a number of tools in this regard, and when I acquire some new school-provided hardware in the form of an iPad, I may have more new tools to discuss.

A Replacement for Salinger for Today's Teens

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The junior-year instructors in my department recently jettisoned The Catcher in the Rye as one of the required summer readings (and good riddance, although this last time I read it, I didn't hate it as much as I used to). So this piece, forwarded by a colleague, is a nice list of potential replacements for that antiestablishmentarian niche that Catcher used to fill. I love that the David Mitchell selection Black Swan Green heads the list. I need to put it on my to-read list along with Cloud Atlas and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. 

A Vote Against the Flipped Classroom?

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Shelley Wright, a science and English teacher in Saskatchewan, writes that she was once a believer in the dream of the flipped classroom and now has moved away from it with no plans to return. She reasons that it is more important to get students to own their own learning, however that happens.

I was curious that after I read her piece, I assumed that she simply taught science, since all her examples are drawn from that discipline. It surprised me to see that she taught English as well, since most English teachers are totally unaware of the "flipped classroom" phenomenon - for good reason. English classes have been "flipped" for a long time. We ask students to prepare outside of class by reading - an activity that is best completed individually - and then we use class time for collaborative activities of various kinds. The surprise to me was that Wright didn't already realize that what makes English classes work is not the type of homework assigned but the thoughtful use of the class meeting time.

There's much more to say about flipping instruction, including a look at the quality of the resources students should study outside of class (be they video lectures or textbooks) and the usefulness of the communal activities. The main thing, as I see it, is that teachers are responsible for fostering an environment for students in which they can learn most effectively. Whether that is a "flipped" classroom or not is a matter of professional judgment; there doesn't seem to anything inherently wrong with it. Wright is correct to point out the deeper goal for any decision about pedagogy, and to keep it firmly in mind.

Discovering Zen To Done (ZTD)

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I jumped to this article from a Chronicle of Higher Education piece about how to defer tasks effectively in the Getting Things Done (GTD) framework. I have been trying to implement GTD thinking in my task management, having read David Allen's book some years ago while I was still working in higher-ed administration. I use Things on my laptop and on my mobile device (nice cloud syncing in the latest version!), so my tools are designed for use with this way of thinking.

One of the commenters on the deferring article mentioned ZTD as his go-to system now, so I had a quick look. It does seem to retain most of the central organizational thinking with a bit more practical advice on how to implement the "focus" element of GTD that can be difficult to remember to include. So much of what I do with Things, for instance, has to do with the capture, categorizing, and scheduling end of the tasks ("if not now, when? and can I determine a 'when' when I don't know when I can do it?") that keeping the big picture in mind (even with the Project focus) is tricky. (And don't get me started on the "Someday" basket . . .)

The Zen To Done modifications seem pretty useful. I think I'll put "reading more about ZTD" into Things, so I can figure out how and when I will get around to implementing them effectively...  Now, onward to reaching the Zero Inbox state of bliss.

Stellar senior teams | Inside Higher Ed

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Although the piece purports to be about university administration, it holds true for most organizations, although perhaps more for schools than other kinds. It lays out clear descriptors for the kinds of communicative behaviors that effective teams engage in to get their work done: the 65/35 rule (spend only 65% of your time on doing the tasks; spend the rest on the process of how you do your tasks), prohibiting triangulation (i.e., when one person complains to another person about a third person, instead of going directly to the person with whom the issue exists), giving short , direct feedback to organizers, and so forth. Useful insights worth striving for.

60 Educational Apps in 60 Minutes

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Anticipating the day when my school provides iPads for all its employees . . . a Prezi of a number of apps useful for educators.

Ray Salazar at The White Rhino gives a nice introduction to why teaching the five-paragraph essay undermines the rhetorical principles it is intended to help teach to beginning writers. I have long thought that there seems to be no reason we can't just teach the rhetoric to young writers: the traditional five-paragraph structure becomes for too many writers the formula for the essay instead of one instantiation of a more general pattern of argumentation.