Yesterday, Bud pointed to the work of Karl Fisch in Centennial, Co, and although I had seen Karl’s name popping up in various spots and I think even linked to him on a couple of occasions, Bud urged me to “Pay attention” to Karl’s work. So, this morning, I did some digging around “The Fischbowl.”

The latest post on Karl’s blog is a really interesting explanation of a staff development program with real vision, and how blogs have become pretty central to the way he and his teachers reflect on their practice and create community around common goals which were to “improve teacher and student use of technology, to achieve curricular goals, to help transform our school to a more student-centered,constructivist approach, and to prepare our students to succeed in the21st century.” The program has been funded by a couple of grants, so the teachers who are involved have been given some time to meet and think and focus on those goals. And if you read some of the end of the year entries in the individual teacher blogs along with Karl’s summation, it seems to have been a very successful undertaking. I was especially struck by this description:

What we are asking our teachers to do is to examine all of those assumptions they have made about education, instruction, and their classes and really think about what they feel is important and what the best ways are to achieve their goals. For many teachers, they really haven’t thought about a lot of these issues since their methods classes in college. Once they were actually in the classroom, it was survival mode at first and they naturally did many of the same things their more veteran colleagues were doing. After a while the focus was often just doing those things better when what was needed – sometimes – was to question whether those were the right things to be doing in the first place. While I as the “leader” of the staff development certainly have strong opinions, we’ve all agreed that we will continue to be individual teachers with differing opinions, styles and ideas about what is “right”. My role is to get them to think about their instruction, to “push” their thinking and make sure they are not only doing the best job they can, but that what they are doing truly aligns with their beliefs. In the end we will hopefully do a better job of working together to achieve our common goals for students. And we will discuss freely and openly the issues facing our students in a time of rapid change.

How cool is that? Now I know that in most schools, there is little time for discussions of this type, for real reflection on practice. But when you look at some of the work and the writing that these teachers are doing on their own personal and class blogs (see the links in the right hand column) it pretty easy to be amazed at the results. I’ll just to point to one interesting post from early in the school year titled “Will Blogs Take Over the World” by one teacher who writes

…twice already members of the outside world have commented on our class blogs (though one was actually helpful), and some of my students have used the blog to passive aggressively attack each other. I’ve addressed these situations, and I think use of the blog will continue to improve, but I think that so many students are accustomed to blog sites like “MySpace” that the line between the personal and the academic blogs can be fuzzy, especially in a course like English. But for the most part, I am blown away both by my students’ perceptive comments and by their honesty. I feel a little closer to them now, and I look forward treading their entries.

You can follow the rest of her journey as she blogs about her year. And make sure to read the comments to this post from last month where she writes:

This year my students have seemed more like actual humans to me…in past years certain students might as well have been 2-dimensional cutouts because the only things I knew about them was how often they turned in their homework and how proficient they were in reading handwriting. When I look at them this year, however, I can see little pieces of the adults they’re becoming. And I’m excited for their futures, even if I no longer play a part.

It’s good, and, I think, powerful stuff. Blogs and blogging can have amazing effects on so many levels…we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. But with efforts like those Karl and his teachers are putting in, I’m still really excited to see what will happen as more and more teachers start to bring this tool into their practice.

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