Tag Archives: regional conferences

Fata ‘Magana’

(Joshua Nowicki – Photography)

NOTE: This post is a follow on of my review of Sonny Magana’s book. The previous post entitled Not So Hot for Teacher?

A Fata Morgana is a mirage that is seen in a narrow band right above the horizon. Early associations of the effect were said to resemble “fairy castles built in the air.”

A Fata Magana is a mirage suggested that by making tweaks to how they teach, teachers can disrupt all of the highly interdependent status quo fixtures of “Education” itself and double student achievement. Like the Fata Morgana, it is suggestive of fairy castles built in the air.

TLDR: Polymath believes his interpretation of Hattie’s meta study of technology’s effect size on student achievement afforded him insight into creating a framework that doubles student achievement while requiring far less teacher effort. This is purportedly achieved by combining “high probability teaching strategies” and tracking student emotions about their work solving “wicked problems” using whatever technology they deem appropriate. While there is no shortage of dramatic descriptive detail, Magana leaves out how the framework integrates within Education’s core subjects.

Magana’s Entry in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia, Education

I learned a great deal from this experiment of doing research, writing a critical review and then seeing the author speak about the work in person.

The first jolt of the process was the instant feeling of camaraderie and collegiality walking into an education conference with a hundred and fifty other people. Seeing all the smiles ostensibly all there to “educate better” it was hard to imagine being critical of anything or anyone in that initial moment. As humane and comforting as this feeling was, I noted this is also related to why it is so hard to maintain an independent voice in a school.

Sonny’s Session for Teachers

I went to Sonny’s presentation for teachers first. There were about ten of us. I was familiar with his sessions as I’d seen and read so much online already, nonetheless I was surprised just how exactly the session went like a copy of what I’d seen online. His message discipline was remarkable.

He has obviously read Dale Carnegie and made sure to have everyone introduce themselves upfront so he could immediately begin using our names. As in his writing, he comes off as a clearly intelligent practitioner, of…? His background is somewhat hard to parse; he told us he was a “researcher”, but didn’t let on that before that he spent seven and a half years in various sales roles for Promethean, a whiteboard company, and before that an unexplained three year gap on his profile, and before that a principal of a “Cyberschool”, and so on.

A “difficult” child in his own youth, he related that his career took the path it did after taking on kids who were failing in “the system” and helping them to succeed. Once you understand his “alt-school” background, it makes his approach towards traditional teachers and schools much more understandable. You can see why he formulated a framework that fit much better outside “the system,” given his previous roles had effectively allowed him free reign to design his courses and assessments as he pleased.

After hearing about his bona fides, he moved to the story of how he came to the seeds for the book. It all started when he was around a campfire in his teen years, strumming open chords on a guitar until for the very first time he heard…BLANG!!!!! Magana queues Eddie Van Halen’s song “Eruption” to play as if he did not know it would be coming on.

Magana uses Van Halen’s frenetic guitar to demonstrate his framework and how its three stages culminate in transcendant learning, as in the type exemplified by Mr. Van Halen. It was an effective demonstration of the core pillars of his framework and Magana would (effectively) come back to music concepts and clips again and again to explain and his work.

Beyond music analogies around the genesis of his thinking, Magana is less clear….How to lead the transcendent pursuit? How does each kid learn how to learn?  Can it be generalized? All great questions and where those answers fit into a school’s curricular program is a mystery that Sonny does not speak to.

Sonny’s first session activity for teachers was to set the four tables off reading a couple pages of his book summary. Fair enough, but when he asked us to not only come back with three “things that made us think Aha!” from two pages of his writing but also at least one thing we’re going to implement in our own classes, the presumptuous/pretentious request immediately made eyeballs both dart and then roll slightly between teacher attendees.

While he waited for us to read, he noodled in the background on an acoustic guitar while his favorite classic rock jam band tunes played in the background. It was a bit much given only once briefly in about 15 minutes did he walk around among the tables, but even then he did not engage. Next, when we had finished, instead of just discussing the work as a group, he had us type our work into our digital tool of choice and send it to him on email, which seemed bizarrely overcomplicated until later you realize this was to goose the next step in his book promotion/sales process.

When we pulled back together, the responses were not what he was intending. I think with so much of his work being with public schools in the US, he was not at all used to the depth and experience that Tier 1 international school teachers who self select into a technology session possess.

In other words, things got awkward.

A 10th grade social studies teacher politely but firmly told him she was already aware of the strategies he referenced and used most them at different times with her classes; there was nothing new under the sun here. Sonny quickly moved on, and the rest of the responses were tepid at best.

Sonny then went in to describe the stages and reached the final goal of the T3 Framework, Social Entrepreneurship.

Sonny holds “Social entrepreneurship” as some kind of deep, universal human desire that all students will want to participate in at every opportunity if we would only just let them. Sonny’s framework also assumes that changing the world and making money doing it is viable in 6-8 different classes each day. Even if this was the only worthy goal for students (and it is not) I would argue there are not as many kids with the kind of endless creativity and drive Magana assumes. Not every student is Elon Musk, nor should they feel they need to be.

Magana came up to me during a break after the first session for teachers ended and asked about me. I was the most engaged in his sessions in some ways. I said I was a former teacher, involved in digital integration most recently who would really like to see a framework like his work, but that I was concerned that it had a lot of earth to move in terms of the status quo. Sonny interpreted that to mean I was talking about teachers and he did what I was wondering if he would do– he gently threw teachers as a whole under the bus.

Sonny said “You know, so many teachers, like we had today, say that they are doing the things in the framework, but they are not.” He then indicated he had to go, and later in the day he sent me an email with a copy of his Oxford Research paper as a gift to share with my colleagues. Not really a good look at a teaching conference. I felt relief that my initial judgements had born out.

Sonny’s Session for Administrators

I attended Magana’s session intended for Administrators on the final day of the conference. I was not surprised that his presentation to teachers and admin was nearly identical, but what was different was telling. Instead of Van Halen, he used the Beatles and US President Kennedy’s “Moonshot” speech along with a stirring video montage to relate his framework as Education’s “moonshot”.

Again, as in the first, he glazed over the details on the studies; let’s just all assume Hattie’s massive meta-study is a stone tablet from on high. The rest of the presentation steps were generally the same, only without any reading activity and collection of emails for his marketing machine. It was less on explaining the framework and more on selling the whole package…the association with Hattie, the book, the classroom walkthrough Google form tool, the T3 Leadership Academy. Interestingly, none of the non-theoretical practical tools were beyond early iterative stages of a basic Google sheet and form.

I asked what he felt the top three or four things administrators would need to do to implement or encourage the implementation of the T3 framework. Here’s what he said:

  1. Belief in collective efficacy.
  2. Have to talk about it. You need a common language for transcendent learning
  3. Common set of strategies to establish examples
  4. Need to evaluate it

I thanked Sonny when it was over. I then took a seat, went into the initial blog post/book review, added a question mark in the title and let the rest stand.

Tough (but necessary) Stuff

The thought of packing and leaving for a regional conference is always a bit daunting for me. It is time taken away from my daily J-O-B duties. It is time on a plane, traveling a considerable distance and dealing with the jet lag that comes with it. It is time away from my family and important life-events like Halloween. I always end up having a moment when I think- Can’t I just get this from the internet in the comfort of my house? However, as has been proven again and again, no, I really can’t get the same learning or have the same experience.

So, on my return home from the EARCOS Leadership Conference in Kota Kinabalu Malaysia this weekend, I would like to share a snapshot of my learning.

Jennifer Abrams- Having Hard Conversations

I attended the following sessions with Jennifer: Having Hard Conversations, Aspiring Leaders, and Being Generationally Savvy. All were eye-opening and applicable.

First of all, Jennifer’s stories about hard conversations, and the right and wrong way to handle them was especially relevant because Jennifer was a teacher, just like me. She brought that teacher-thing to her talk. She reminded me of my best education friends- funny, accurate, ready to call it as she sees it. In short, I followed her from session to session because she made me believe I could learn to do a better job. Her message, though challenging (hard conversations are hard!) is attainable for me as a learner.

Her make-and-take workshop gift? A framework to work through, which can help keep the hard conversation focused. The framework provides a path for pre-thinking and planning before diving in and having the conversation. Not only does that focus improve your ability to be clear, it also helps with sorting out the emotions that always follow these kinds of events.

Hard conversations are always hard. Jennifer can’t show us how to make that go away. However, she challenged us to have them because they are professionally necessary and simply the right thing to do. (And in education sometimes- we don’t-because it doesn’t fit in with the nurturing, hand-holding, everyone-deserves-a-chance belief we have about learning.) With Jennifer’s words ringing in my ears “you aren’t less nice just because you ask someone to do their job” I find I’m ready to become better at something so very difficult. So, I’ve bought her book and plan to sign up for her Ecourse. From there, I aim to practice. That’s the final thing I learned, this is a skill you build up, over time, and get better at.

What a relief. I’m ready to do the heavy lifting.

Jane and Jim Hulbert: Crisis 101: You Have a Crisis Are You Prepared?

Other sessions I attended from The Jane Group include: “Is That Thing On?” “What Keeps You Up at Night?” “The Role of the Board in a Crisis.”

Sitting in my second of these sessions, a Director from a school leaned over to me and said, “If you are here is it because you are interested in being a school director?” “No. No.” I said. I’m interested in being prepared and not being the reason my school’s message gets messed up. I’m here because I’m interested in not making a bad situation worse. Can you imagine being that person? Well, I can.

Originally I hadn’t planned to attend Jane’s workshops. However, as happens at these things, I was in the lobby, waiting for another colleague when I sat next to Jane and started chit chatting. Next thing you know, we are an hour into conversations about our lives, our kids, and our jobs. When Jane’s husband and co-presenter Jim joined us, I knew I needed to follow them around over the weekend too.

Key takeaways? First of all, if ever approached by the media, I have rights. While it isn’t that I didn’t think I did, I had never fully thought through how I would handle being approached. Jane had us practice being in a media ambush. She taught us how to politely navigate the question bombs. How to tell the truth without saying anything potentially damaging, and offered some questions we can ask back to actually find out more about what is going on given the chance we are blindsided and don’t have a clue. While I learned a lot, I know I’m still far from being comfortable with being chased to my car and peppered with questions I don’t know how to answer.

From there, Jane and Jim talked at length about how our schools can plan for and deal with a crisis like the recent international school sexual abuse scandals. To me, the most interesting thing about those sessions was how the climate in the room changed, and my colleagues and I became increasingly uncomfortable with the whole conversation. Knowing that is the reaction, it is even more important to me as a leader and as a member of any school community to make sure we have clear guidelines for protecting our community. These must include hiring and vetting policies and procedures and staff education around how to spot issues of abuse.

The idea I will end on (because it is the most powerful and simple shift they recommended) is to ask this question when interviewing all potential candidates: Have you ever been accused by a school or an individual of inappropriately touching a child? This question lets everyone know we are on the lookout for possible predators. It might just give enough notice to someone hoping to hide in our schools- that we don’t offer that option.

Hopes and Dreams- with Legs!

“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” – Alan Lakein

This weekend was a busy one. I was invited to attend our regional organization’s professional planning annual session. The goal was to plan for next year’s (and beyond) professional development at NESA conferences- topics and speakers.

Sounds pretty cut and dry doesn’t it? And it would be too, except I was meeting with an exceptional group of people, working for an exceptional organization, trying to ensure exceptional offerings were in place for the teachers and schools out there depending on them. No small feat.

Previously a literacy coach, now as an administrator, before as a teacher and often as a parent, I am faced with the need to plan for action and outcomes. Like me, I’m sure many of you plan on a daily basis, for a variety of reasons. However, what I learned most over this weekend was the necessity of having a planning process that gives all of your hopes and dreams (which the best plans are reaching for) the “legs” to actually walk the path toward completion.

The more moving parts, or the bigger the plan or the goal, the more necessary it is to have a process in place which ensures things are covered, thought through, and allows for you to evaluate both the plan and the actual event you’ve planned for. In fact, without the plan and then the evaluation, there is really no way to know if plan was successful.

With the help of Joellen Killion from Learning Forward, (Professional Learning Organization) I learned, right alongside the planners at NESA, how to create and evaluate a plan for professional learning.  The evaluative piece is new for me. What I like about it, is that it allows a school or organization to learn from the work at the level of the idea and process, and not just from the product generated.

As I reflect on my learning at NESA this weekend, I’ve been thinking about how we often hear about the pendulum swinging back and forth in education. I’m beginning to wonder how much of that is due to a lack of precision in our planning, and/or the fact that we often do not return to the plan to evaluate if it worked. Add to that the fact that so many of us start plans and projects at one school and then move to another. What happens to that work when you leave? Might it be continued if there was a better plan and/or a way to evaluate that plan- left for the person filling your shoes?

We have so much to do, so many hopes and dreams for our learners, our schools, and ourselves. There are days when it is overwhelming and seems as if we are never going to get there. Putting your time and energy into the planning process is one way to ensure the end result you desire becomes a reality.

Here’s to better plans, which lead to intended outcomes. In other words, here’s to taking your hopes and dreams and giving them the legs they need to take off.

(Crossposted on www.literacybytes.com)