This book is designed to get the conversation going again by providing daily “conversation starters” for PLCs no matter the grade level, the subject area, or the type of school. Tim Holt has created a daily reflection for each day of a typical school year that challenges educators to start really thinking about teaching and learning on their campuses.
Some of the 180 Questions seem easy, some are more provocative, and some are humorous. All however, are designed to get the conversation in PLCs back to the subject of education. Each question is followed up something that allows the reader to delve more deeply into the topic, be it a web link, an essay, a video, or even a quiz.
What follows is an interview with Tim Holt about the new book. It uncovers how it got started, what to expect, and why it matters:
Q: What is “180 Questions?”
A: 180 Questions is an iBook that is designed to return the conversation in campus and district Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) back to the subject of teaching and learning. Many PLCs across the education spectrum have lost focus, I believe, on actual teaching and learning and are focused simply on analyzing data in order to get kids to pass the next standardized test. I think there’s a need to bring the conversation back and this book is an attempt to try to get teachers and administrators to refocus on teaching and learning and not just focus on tests and data and how to beat that next assessment.
Q: What inspired you to write the book?
A: I had seen PLCs around the country move away from actual discussions about teaching and learning and move more towards simply becoming data analysis sessions, something that most teachers are neither trained to do, nor wish to do. So I decided that it would be nice if the conversation about education actually took place again in PLCs. The book is sort of my own civil disobedience protest against all of the data analysis that goes on in PLCs across the country.
Q: How is the book organized?
A: There are six chapters that loosely correspond to topics that are currently of interest to me: School Climate, Education Leadership, Professional Development, Instructional Technology, Education Philosophy, and Teaching. Each chapter presents a series of questions, that I hope are used to stimulate conversation. After each question there is some kind of follow up, be it a video, a web link, an essay, or something else. The idea is that you can use the question all by itself, or you can go more in-depth if the PLC wants to. For instance, the very first question of the book is “Can students see something green when they look out of classroom windows?” At face value, that seems like a kind of silly question, a “yes or no” kind of thing. But the follow-up is written by my friend Prakash Nair, one of the world’s leading school architects. He writes about how important it is for students to see nature outside a window, and how student achievement is actually tied to that. So even the seemingly easy questions have more to them than meets the eye. I hope that people won’t dismiss things that are in the book just because it might be a QR code or something that they may not understand. One of the things that I did in this book was put in QR codes and I did that on purpose with little or no explanation of what the codes were. I did that so that people would kind of push themselves to do some self-directed professional development and find out how to use a QR code.
A: When I started writing the book I was gathering questions from lots of different places, from keynote speeches, from books I’ve read, from blog entries that interested me, and just from watching twitter feeds and my friends on Plurk. It dawned on me that it might be very helpful if the people that were posing the questions actually were answering them as well, so in many instances I’ve asked people that had inspired me, or had posed an interesting question, to actually expand upon what they said. So I had some really great people helping me out like Kevin Honeycutt, Sheryl Nussbaum Beach, Will Richardson, Prakash Nair of course and others that are members of my professional learning network. What this book is, for anyone that is on the fence on whether they should expand their professional learning network or not, is an example of how they should and how a strong PLN actually can help them. Almost every single person that I asked to help write the book said yes. I was so humbled by that, because many of these people make their living by their words, and their words have value. So for them to donate their words to my work was a very humbling experience.
Q: Why is the book 180 questions long?
A: Well, a typical school year is about 180 days in the United States. Some are longer some are shorter, but they all are right around that amount of time. So this book gives educators one question per day to play with, to think about, to use. Now most professional learning communities don’t meet every day, they meet maybe once a week or they meet twice a week or every other week, so chances are they’re not going to use every single question in the book in one school year. And that’s great ,that’s fine, there’s no problem with that because you can go back the next year and get to those questions that they may not have covered in the previous year.
Q: Why did you decide to use iBooks author, and not just make this a regular EPUB book?
A: When iBooks Author came out I was very intrigued by the possibilities of embedding so much multimedia and such a diverse amount of multimedia into a book. I really think that that type of publishing is a game changer not only in education but also just in books in general, where you can interact with the book in ways that have never been tried before. What I book’s author does is allow the common author which I consider myself to be the ability to extend themselves way beyond just the written word, even the way beyond what just an EPUB book and do. Plus, as an added bonus, it forced me to learn how to use the program, and I’m still tweaking the book so version 1.1 could be coming out here pretty soon as an upgrade to the previous version where I’m correcting some format issues and I’m correcting the spelling error here and there. It’s really neat to be able to update a book after you’ve already bought it so the people that have bought a book with the update and the get the corrected version. That’s something you cannot do with up traditional book. I know that I’ve limited myself to people that just have iPads as a target audience by using the iBook’s author program, but I think there are so many iPads out there now in education that I really am kind of jumping on that bandwagon.
Q: Some of the questions you’ve written might make people upset by really questioning where they stand in education. Was that your intent?
A: Nothing in the book is designed to be mean-spirited or anything like that. What I tried to do with these questions is to make people really think about their teaching practices. What’s the purpose of education? Why are we here? These are questions that people don’t ask themselves. Teachers are great at asking questions to students but they’re not so great at asking questions to themselves, and there really not used to being asked about themselves in a professional setting. So what this book does is if it’s used correctly, it forces people to really think about where they are in teaching and learning and I think nothing bad comes from that. If you really are thinking about teaching and learning, if you’re really thinking about your profession, if you’re really thinking about where you want to go as a education professional then you need to be asking yourselves hard questions because we’re in this profession at a time of great change, of great upheaval, and if we as a group don’t understand where were going and we as a group can ask hard questions or answer hard questions than other forces and other people and other organizations will come in and answer these questions for us. And that’s something we don’t want to do is a profession.
Q: What was the hardest part about writing the book?
A: Surprisingly enough it was not the actual writing of the book, and it wasn’t even learning how to make the booking iBooks Author. The hardest part was actually finishing the book. I remember putting up on my PLN that it’s easy to start a book but it’s hard to finish a book. I started this book about a year and a half ago and it was easy to come up with the questions to weed out the questions but it was much more difficult to go back through the book and find resources that I felt matched the questions. What I hope happens with this book is that people will take what I put in it and expand upon it. The book hopefully will become kind of an organic thing in the discussions with their professional learning communities.
Q: Well let’s talk about that a second: What do you hope happens when people read your book in the their PLCs?
A: What I hope happens is that people will start having real conversations about real issues. Some of the questions might be things that they’ve never ever thought about before. For instance one of the questions in the book is “Could you sit in a student desk for a whole class and be comfortable?” That’s just such a simple question because we walk by those desks all day long every day of the school year and we just assume that kids are comfortable in them when in reality they may be very uncomfortable. We get mad at kids for fidgeting and moving around in an standing up in class at inappropriate times but it might just be because they’re sitting in hard plastic or hardwood chairs that are uncomfortable. And if they’re not comfortable how do we expect them to learn? So what I hope happens is that PLCs will take these 180 questions and if they are a real good functioning PLC they’ll start making up their own questions, start coming up with their own thoughts, start finding their own resources, and they’ll start digging in deeply on their own. That would make me just so happy to hear that a PLC took my book and ran with it.
A: Every author wants to be successful. What does success mean to Tim Holt?
Q: For this book, which is the first book I’ve ever written, I certainly don’t expect it to be any kind of bestseller. The writing that I’ve done up until this point has been on my blog, and I certainly have never charged for my writing before. So I don’t know what success is. If I sell 100 copies or if I sell 1000 copies I don’t know exactly what my measurement of success would be for this book. I think that I would be happy if I just heard that somewhere somebody is using it ,some PLC is using it somewhere to stimulate their conversations and to stimulate discussion as a group.
Q: Can the book be used in other ways besides just as a group discussion starter?
A: Oh absolutely. I was just talking the other day with a group of teachers, and I was sort of talking about my book a little bit, and one of them said wouldn’t it be great if instead of using them in a PLC you just put daily reflection up on a board and let the conversation go in the Teachers Lounge? And I thought that was a great way to think about using this book. And it would be a great way to stimulate conversation in a place where often the conversation isn’t about education. Another way that the book could be used would be as a way to stimulate the writing neurons of someone that might have writer’s block. Maybe a blogger could grab one of these questions, they could go to the associated link or QR code or discussion or video, and they could blog about it. Or they could answer the question themselves in their blog. So for all you bloggers out there here’s a book that’s got 180 possible topics for you to write about. And of course the book doesn’t have to be used in group discussion. If you just take the “We” and change it to “I,” you all of a sudden make the book more personal can be used as a personal reflection instead of a PLC reflection. And maybe that would be the absolute best use of it where individual educators look at it and use it to do their own introspection. Another way could be used is for administrators to use the questions as conversation starters for staff meetings. Have the question up on the board while everybody’s coming in, have them discuss it… There’s lots of ways to use book, and I probably have only thought of a few of them.
Q: I’ve noticed in a lot of your interviews on your blog site that at the end of an interview you last someone okay who’s listening? So I’ll leave this conversation with that question to you: who’s listening?
A: I hope that the people that are listening are people that need to get the conversation going again at their campus or in their district. I have this gut feeling that there’s a lot of people out there that would love to have real professional conversations on their campus about education but they can’t for whatever reason be it there stuck in PLCs that are just data analysis groups, or they don’t know what to say, or they don’t know what to ask. I think there’s a lot of administrators out there that would love to have conversation starters that are contrived, that aren’t silly. This book provides that for them .
Q: Thank you for talking with us today
A: You’re very welcome thank you for having me.
Tim Holt is the author of “180 questions: Daily Reflections for Educators and their Professional Learning Communities.” Available now on the iTunes bookstore. He is also a blogger and you can see his blog at http://holtthink.tumblr.com .. His day job is the Director of Instructional Technology for the El Paso Independent School District in El Paso Texas.