Saturday, October 3, 2015

Tim O'Leary's Opening Volley

My name is Tim O'Leary, and I'm in my 15th year of teaching at Middlebury Union High School (VT). I graduated from the Middlebury Bread Loaf School of English in 2007 and fatefully reconnected with the program by way of helping to found the current Vermont Bread Loaf Teachers' Network. I am the Lead Instructor for this year's "What's the Story? The Vermont Young People Social Action Team" course and indebted to all the wonderful adults and young people who are at the very center of our work together. It's all about collaboration.

The kickoff has felt really wonderful. No hangovers here. I like the movement we seem to have of finding our way together, even with all the moving and evolving pieces. A couple weeks out from the kickoff, I resolved around the importance to find ways for every contributing adult to have a specific responsibility, big or small, to build ownership and to help keep my sanity. Last year, I remember showing up in total-bystander-audience-mode for our kickoff day. I was trying to prevent others from falling into this trance. I wanted to utilize some members' strengths and build capacities with others. Asking Emily Rinkema to take the KUD/Learning Scales and run with them after her, Bill Rich, and I batted them around a bit, was important and allowed her to exercise her expertise in this field, which will be invaluable to us during the rest of our year and beyond. Additionally, I wanted Bob Uhl and Colleen Kiley to take larger roles, inline with the generous VT-BLTN fellowship covering their education this past summer and to also encourage them to potentially take Lead Instructor roles in the coming year.

The I-Search Blog and the web of 21 students and 29 readers (50 people) I was able to scaffold together has provided the tight feedback loops we desired and has to be one of the best parts of the kickoff among the work I imagined and organized. After the first round of blog posts. 20 of 21 students responded on-time and 26 of 29 readers responded on-time. No one had ever participated in something like this, and the follow through was amazing. It says something about how much value and belief people have put into the project and this I-Serach Blog. Now that writers and readers have interacted in one cycle with the blog, I only expect that our timeliness increases and moves to and hits 100% on-time in the coming weeks.

The synergy of the blog writers and readers is a big AH-HA for me. I loved the I-Search paper idea from last year, but I wanted students to have feedback along the way and a "real-time" audience that helped them evolve their thinking. On a secondary level, but not insignificant, this symbiosis also energizes a network of supporting adults actively engaged with our students, which is invaluable for our own public relations as we build support and understanding for what we are doing and what might come in the future.

The second most important take-away for me is coming to terms with just how wide-spread and wide-ranging the "professional development" has been for our involved adults. From figuring out how to respond to blogs, to how to upload photo files to a Google Drive folder, to how to manipulate Canvas learning platform, to how to teach about Blogger, to understand the pedagogy behind KUDs and Learning Scales and its connection to student-centered learning... there are adults learning, using, and explaining capacities to one another in ways that are impressive.

My "I-wonder" statement is about organization and momentum into the future. What does it look like when we get 21 orbits of student ideas crash into each other and come out with 5 or 6 group projects? This, I predict, will be the messiest work of the year. But, I believe it's a necessary part as we pry students toward one another to work collaboratively, something that is not happening now. Questions swimming around in no particular order: What contitutes change? How do we measure that? How do we build and target audiences for the collaborative student work? How do we keep every student in a group productive and engaged? I have some inclinations, and we'll work to answer these together...

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