Sunday, August 26, 2018

Lifelong Learner Part Two

I'll admit that this isn't going to be the second part of this series on Life Long Learners that I had in mind originally but it does mean I get to delay that inspiration until I get around to part three. That's the fun part about writing a blog like this; I can go in whatever direction my inspiration takes me when it takes me.

I spend a lot of time reflecting because I find it extremely curious how some of the mundane coincidences in life can add up to significant revelations which is where I find my muse this weekend.

 My series of mundane coincidences begin with the abrupt retirement of my colleague at work. He and I started in the training department on the same day three years ago. He was a 28 year veteran with Brandeis Machinery who was a top field technician when health concerns forced him to slow down. I was a 12 year veteran in the heavy equipment industry with experience as a technician, service manager, and safety director. We had a clean slate to work with to develop a training program for senior and apprentice technicians and while I could go on about the the high level of training we committed to and worked towards I'll just say that we created something unique in the world of equipment distributor training.

When he left, I found myself scrambling to cover his schedule of classes as well as my own. That isn't really a problem other than it makes for some hectic weeks at work when I'm teaching a different class each week instead of focusing on my apprentice classes every other week and it leaves precious little time for planning. It also leaves precious little time for other things.

Over the course of 2017/18 school year I took 20 vacation days from work for school visits, board member professional development, and other board service related events. Since the 2018/19 year started, I've only taken one for opening day and given that we still haven't hires my colleague's replacement I probably won't get another vacation day until after Thanksgiving and therefore not enough days in schools and classrooms.

A second set of coincidences lined up when I wrote a blog piece last month on our Governor's visit to Shelbyville and Zachary Ramsey, English Teacher at the Shelby County ATC happened to read it. After reading my piece, he invited me to com into his classroom and speak to his students for a day on the importance of writing in a technical career. Of course I'm all in....who could pass up a day in the classroom talking about something I'm passionate about and cover on almost a daily basis with my own students. As he and I were discussing the details of my visit he was telling me about a project in which he was "letting the students learn".

Seems simple and straightforward enough right? Isn't that what they should be doing anyway? Well if you haven't followed along with my blogs, I've relayed the ways in which Shelby County is pursuing a student centered path in which focus in on the knower and not what is known. This leads to new approaches to project based learning, personalized learning, and student led learning that are different from anything most of my generation experienced in school. I've managed to borrow a lot of great ideas from what I've seen in classrooms in SCPS and apply these ideas in my classroom but one of the things about continuous improvement is that we have to be willing to continually adjust our methods as new information comes along.

Along comes the final coincidence. In my class last week, The Study of Failure Investigation, I found myself flying through the material by the end of the day Tuesday. After two days of lecture covering what has to be covered in the way of concepts and terminology I found that very few were asking questions and I had little indication that anyone was absorbing much. Driving home Tuesday night, Mr. Ramsey's words hit me; "letting students learn". I was inspired by one of those significant revelations.


Wednesday morning before class started I hastily created an exercise that would take elements of their previous class and apply them to the failure investigation module we were now studying. They would conduct a component disassembly and failure investigation of the component and then format it into an acceptable service report complete with notated photographic documentation. Once the exercise began, my students were engaged and motivated.

For a day and a half, they worked tirelessly while I offered help with revisions and reviewing concepts and process on a one on one basis where I could check for and see evidence of understanding as well as provide individual support. At the end of the exercise we were back on schedule and the product that they produced was phenomenal....beyond my wildest dreams. After class wrapped up on Friday I was showing their projects to our corporate service manager and he was floored. He even said "We have 20 year technicians who can't produce work like this.".

Now, obviously I'll spend a little time reviewing with my students when they come back in September to see what they've retained but I was astounded by the effectiveness of this exercise.

Let's take a moment and tie this back to the title of this series, Life Long Learner, shall we? A tremendous amount of professional development in SCPS will be teacher led this year. Subject matter experts trying to help others in these concepts and strategies. Obviously what they will be learning will be much more in depth than the small pieces I've been able to take away from observation and reading on the subject I've done. I've never needed convincing on the virtue of continuous improvement and what we can learn from others in our own field but Imagine what these professionals can take away from one another. Imagine what phrase or tweak might click with another teacher that makes it back into practice in their classroom and benefits a student.

To the naysayers of project based learning I would say that my experience has been that while it takes more planning, once it begins the guidance is nearly effortless. The hard part is letting go of the lecture, letting go of being in control. Once I let go of the lecture and multiple choice quiz that checks for memorization I was able to have one on one interactions that were focused on those who needed it and targeted instruction. I also had a piece of evidence from their work that I could evaluate for understanding on several standards or objectives I had for this class. I was able to focus on the knower and through their work, they could prove what was known.

Now I'm a complete amateur....don't get me wrong. Our teachers have more training, pedigree, certifications, and experience than I'll ever have. I'm not trying to say that what I've experienced should be taken to heart by those who have lived their lives in the world of education. But what I am suggesting is that parents or community members who aren't sold on the idea of the new methods being carried out in the classroom, I can absolutely say that they have merit and that professional development is an absolute necessity if we have any hope for the best methods seeing the light of day.

My goal is still to attend more teacher professional development and see what they see and to relay what I see to you. Unless something happens that inspires me as a lifelong learner first, then my exposure to professional development will be the subject of part three.

Will


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