Category Archives: Leadership

Sometimes it’s hard to pay attention …

… and sometimes, even if you try, you can’t ignore what is right in front of you. Bowden’s poem “The Inner Net” has come across my virtual desk a few times. As he claims, “the problems of our world used to be too big and too distant to know of its widespread existence, but with the internet, our world is small… We can now get crowds around a cause.. connect ignorance to knowledge… donors to non profits… injustices to those who can stop it.”

This, coupled with Graded’s recently refined mission, represents a call to action if I’ve ever heard one. The curriculum review cycle has led to some uncomfortable conversations with colleagues. No one doubts that we have a lot of work in front of us.  As we examine how we can best serve students for actively participating as global citizens I am fascinated by the implications it has on our role as teachers, leaders and more importantly, as partners in learning.

I have fallen in love with a new Bill of Rights, The Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in a Digital Age, partly because it was signed by one of my favorite thought leaders, John Seely Brown (author of A New Culture of Learning) and partly because it says out loud what I have had trouble to articulate: “We believe that online learning represents a powerful and potentially awe-inspiring opportunity to make new forms of learning available to all students worldwide… We are aware of how much we don’t know: that we have yet to explore the full pedagogical potential of learning online, of how it can change the ways we teach, the ways we learn, and the ways we connect. And we worry that this moment is fragile…”

The principles of this Bill of Rights echoes the best of what I believe learning within a digital landscape can embody.  It can be an environment that fosters character, nurtures an autonomous learning disposition and empowers people to act. This year especially, Graded has been presented with opportunities to connect with others across the globe through the GIN conference and Innovate2013. We only need to embrace “the learner-centered dialogue around the rights, responsibilities, and possibilities for education in the globally-connected world of the present and beyond.”


Practicing What We Preach

The year’s assessment cycle is wrapping up quickly. (Dare I admit to counting the remaining 27 days of the year?) Students are hunkered over desks completing IB exams, and principals are hunkered over computers completing summative evaluations as part of Graded’s Professional Growth and Supervision Plan.

As instructional leaders our goal remains to model effective practices. I’ve been reflecting on how our school-wide work with assessment needs to have direct implication on the strategies we use to support and hold teachers accountable.  How should (does) our work look different based on what we’ve learned with our teachers and students? Using the Assessment Continuum,  I gathered a quick snapshot to share with the Leadership Team to see where our practices align and where we still need to stretch.

Engagement and Appropriate Challenge

Teacher Practice

Leader Practice

Evidence May Include

I align course learning targets with school standards. I align expectations to the Teaching and Learning Principles of the PGSP and our school-wide goal. Focus on assessment continuum in feedback
Aligned to teacher goals
Direct use of language from Teaching and Learning Principles to build shared understanding
I use previous assessment data to identify students’ needs. Assessment data may include standardized data, grades or course-specific assessments. I use previous assessment data to identify teachers’ needs. Use of team notes
Previous evaluations
I design assessments to match the targeted learning. I identify assessments to match the targeted learning. Targeted observations
Lesson plans
Student work
Rubicon Atlas
I create opportunities for student self-reflection. I create opportunities for teacher self-reflection Goal setting
Semester reflection
Final reflection as part of the written
I include students throughout the assessment process (e.g. goal setting, reflection along the way, self-assessment, etc) to engage students in continuous improvement. I include teachers throughout the assessment process (e.g. goal setting, reflection along the way, self-assessment, etc) to engage students in continuous improvement. Running record linked to principles of teaching and learning
Records of dialogue
I provide students with choice of assessment type for the same learning target (s). I provide students with choice of assessment type for the same learning target (s). Teachers set own goals based on self-assessment against school-wide goals
Teachers determine the best evidence to demonstrate their growth

Variety and Purpose

Teacher Practice

Leader Practice

Evidence May Include

I use different types of assessment. I use different types of assessment. Summative and formative feedback is informed by targeted observations, walk-through evidence, Rubicon Atlas (curriculum design), student assessments
I communicate the purpose for the assessment (diagnostic, formative, summative). I communicate the purpose for the assessment (diagnostic, formative, summative). Surveys to inform the work in advance
Explicit about summative evaluations vs formative cycles
Explicit about the role of walk-throughs vs. targeted full class observations

Authenticity and Transparency

(Definitely where we have the most room to grow as Leadership Team)

Teacher Practice

Leader Practice

Evidence May Include

I provide targeted and effective ongoing written and oral feedback on a learning target. I provide targeted and effective ongoing written and oral feedback on teacher’s goals. Running records reflect characteristics  of effective feedback that we committed to as a team:

  • easy to understand
  • explicitly tied to goals
  • includes information a user can use
  • focuses on qualities of the work or processes/strategies to do the work
I think we’ve grown as a team, but we need to continue  to let go of practices that we know ultimately do not serve adult learning well.  Concretely, what changes should teachers see as a result for integrating the same assessment practices we look for in the classroom?

  • Every teacher sets a goal  and tracks progress using evidence towards that goal; follow-up reflection and documentation with principal
  • Summative assessments (evaluations) do not speak to the same depth in each of the domains (instruction, assessment, learning environment and professionalism). This year, especially, more detail will focus on teacher goals and the assessment domain due to our school-wide goal, with great strengths and areas for improvement identified in the other domains if  evidence is significant on one side of the teaching and learning continuum or the other
  • In the final write up, more references to different components of your professional life/learning – Rubicon Atlas, evidence from running records reflection observations and meetings, student work or assessment tasks you may choose to share, PLC contributions
  • No surprises! You should read your final write up and notice that it balances your voice with your principal based on evidence collected over time

The Sublimity of our Ideas

 “Wherever we go, there seems to be only one business at hand–that of finding workable compromises between the sublimity of our ideas and the absurdity of the fact of us.”

from Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard

I’ve been exploring the wave of Common Core Standards, not because we are preparing to implement them at Graded School (we’ve done excellent work with our present standards adoption through the curriculum review cycle) but because it is driving a provocative national dialogue about reading, writing, math and shifts in educational practice.  Shifts in educational practice… this is what fascinates me.  Putting change theory aside, what compels a leader, a  teacher, a learner to change practice?

My last post on evidence from my walk-throughs does not reflect significant shifts in practice as a community.  It feels fair to say that we continue to get better at what we already do…  and that there are individuals that have stepped out of their comfort zone in an effort to redefine what the role of the teacher can be in the classroom. I can’t help but wonder is that enough for us to serve all kids well. And I can’t help reflect on my shifts in leadership practice.

In my role as a school designer and regional director with Expeditionary Learning, my primary goal was the replication of a project-based model that defined student success by academic achievement measures and character. This had implications on school structures, leadership practice, curriculum design and instruction. I started schools — hired leaders and teachers committed to implementing a shared vision from day one and strategically supported an implementation plan that was “field tested” in many ways.  Graded has asked me to be a different leader.

I have learned to say “I don’t know know” more often – and as a result have landed on solutions developed collaboratively with teachers and leaders that I never imagined. I have clarified a commitment to outcomes (tasks with high cognitive demand, students empowered to pursue individualized learning, strategies for authentic collaboration) instead of specific practices or structures. I have learned to navigate and leverage an online network of voices and opinions that both affirm and challenge my perceptions in an effort to deepen my practices and refine my actions. I have developed a deeper empathy for readiness for change… because it has been asked of me in ways far greater than I imagined. But there was an urgency to change – I couldn’t serve the school well if I didn’t.

As much as we have in place to act as a catalyst for change in much the same way the Common Core is predicted to shift practice, we still have to make a choice to commit to change.  As we move towards growing our 1:1 program through Grade 12, I recognize it is possible for teachers to instruct in some of the same ways.  As we move towards implementing curricular commitments born of our review process, I recognize it is possible for teachers to sequence the same material in similar learning experiences. And after two years of focusing on assessment, I recognize some of our practices remain stagnant. But, if we get to know our students well and appreciate the future that is before them, the there is an urgency to change. We cannot serve all kids well if we don’t.  It does not matter how sublime our ideas may be if we don’t take the time to re-envision the implications it has on the work that we do.

It’s never too late to reflect

Learning doesn’t happen from an experience; learning happens when one reflects on experience.

It’s been weeks since I’ve returned from ASB-Unplugged and this is really the first opportunity I’ve had to capture some reflection.  One thing I haven’t quite figured out is how to create the space for all of us at Graded to share out learning that emerges from conferences.  And as a result, I probably owe an apology to those that may have found themselves stuck with me at the lunch table my first few days back. This, however, is a feeble attempt to begin to close the abyss. I owe it to you to share what I learned.

Although I felt like I got to explore a lot, I didn’t walk away inspired to try a new digital tool,  or to significantly alter structures of professional learning, or change expectations I have (we have) for relevant, engaging learning. I didn’t come away with a deeper understanding of technology’s role in learning or how I can better serve Graded in moving beyond where we are to where we can be. I think we’re on the right track to figuring out solutions to some complex issues.  My biggest take away is linked to  the concept of benchmarking and trust. I know. Odd.

I think we commonly  enter a learning community with a lens of comparing to see where we stand in relation to what others are doing.  For those that know me, by nature I’m a bit of a case builder. I land on an idea and filter information to support my conclusions. I’m really trying to grow beyond this instinct.  The first few hours of the conference, I found myself thinking… “well, we do that… many of our classrooms look like that… we have that in place…”  After a session with Scott McLeod (click here to see our workshop resources) I began to grapple with a whole new idea. In an almost passing remark, he noted the importance of benchmarking not to organizations that match or extend our reach to excellence, but to benchmark to the organization we WANT to be – and that may mean not having another, specific program to benchmark against or measurement tools to evaluate what is valuable to our school at the ready. This may mean we need to benchmark to an ideal.   This is a much more ambiguous, daunting task than, for example,  identifying other international programs that are doing a “good job” and delivering graduates to the doors of ivy leagues.

Beginning in mere days, we will begin our accreditation process by first examining our mission and projecting a direction for our school.  We will use the outcome  to evaluate where we stand and build steps to become the school we want and can be. Admittedly, I’m curious to see where we land as a community. How aligned are we presently to a shared vision of schooling? Can we embrace a future we cannot define? Will we honestly question our assumptions and collectively commit to building a program that serves children well?

In my 20 months at Graded School, I continue to be surprised by the work. New questions continuously emerge and my learning curve remains steep (just the way I like it).  I trust that if we engage in the process with integrity, we’ll land on the benchmarks that will help define Graded in the future.

Lifting the Lid on Graded’s PLCs


I spent a good chunk of this morning planning a workshop I’ll be facilitating at ASB-Unplugged. Entitled Re-imaging PD… Again?, the workshop has acted as a catalyst for reflection on the success and challenges of our PLCs at Graded. In a brief 18 months, our structure has grown from a fairly traditional implementation that is organized by subject area and grade level teams touted by the DuFour’s to one that is designed to accelerate a shift in our collaborative culture — to break down silos of practice to honor the expertise that exists across our campus and to honor the learning needs of teachers (McLaughlin and Talbert, 2006).


Graded’s PLC Survey – January 2012


Graded’s PLC Survey – January 2012

The part of our PLC’s that I haven’t been completely transparent about is the design and integration of digital tools. As educators, we are being asked to re-imagine schooling that is a far cry from our own learning history that often emphasized rote memorization, compartmentalized knowledge, and surface understanding of content. Our PLC structure is based on an assumption that for teachers to actively engage students in new technologies, they must have the opportunity to engage in ongoing professional development that mirrors such experiences. Before we can teach, I deeply believe we need to don the student hat first. In an analysis of your PLC pages and a review of presentation videos I discovered a rich array of tools that teachers chose to serve their learning needs first. Not only do they reflect a clear purpose, but they have the potential to impact  our learning culture  in ways that deepen our collaborative practices.

Hats off (student OR teacher) to Graded faculty.  I hope to continue to build a structure that serves the learning needs (student OR teacher) of Graded well.

Round and round… and round

Graded’s Curriculum Cycle  has defined most of the last week and good, albeit messy, work is happening. We’re smack dab in the hardest part of the work for “Year 1” subjects, de/re -fining department missions.  We’re not starting from scratch (which helps) but conversation at this stage is essential for colleagues to muck about in what can be — what should be — the expectations we have for student success. A commitment to a mission can have significant implications for our work. I’m ready to roll up my sleeves.

As I think through supporting this work, I’m sensitive to the fact that Graded, as most international schools, remains vulnerable to change. In the first stages of work, many commented on a concern of “not wanting to recreate the wheel,” or wanting to “get it done right the first time.”  The nature of the cycle is intended to combat both – to build on what is in place and honor that improvement never ends. As thinking rises to the top, I’ve been grappling with how to embed the good ideas that are born in D-28 and E-12 into our current and continuing practices – and I think the second semester will be especially relevant in answering this question. Benchmarks aligned with grading practices, cornerstone assessments, clear and user-friendly communication tools, structures that carve out time to change our planning habits, orientation of new teachers and support for present teacher leaders in leading this work remain as tasks on my to-do list. (I’ve already started to rethink what my work looks like with principals in second semester).  Already I see pieces that were started last year failing to take deep root (insert 6-12 thoughtful, strategic sequence of experimental design, a conventions scope and sequence for grades 5-8, essential learning outcomes for English/Language Arts here) and one can easily see how easy it is to invest and then revert back to “business as usual.”  Sustaining change is the REAL hard work.

As I continue this work (work that has been at the center of my career for at least the last 10 years) I love the fact that we are still in dialogue with the likes of Herbert Spencer and John Dewey, and Paulo Friere.  I applaud the hard work of asking, What is a Graded diploma worth?, and will continue to problem solve how to ensure the work we are doing today, will impact the learning of Graded tomorrow.

I had six (scheduled) meetings today…

It has become a little bit of a running joke at the Broderick house of how many meetings I attend… and, well, I’m getting a little sensitive about it.  Teachers have meetings all day long – and you call them classes. Your meetings foster a journey of learning, of a cohesive and consistent dialogue – and so do mine… and I decided this morning when reviewing my calendar that if they don’t, then I’m walking out.  I didn’t walk out of one. I won’t bore you with each and every one, but a sample includes…

  • 8 am: Team planning with M- and K-.  ENERGIZING.  Clearly, the agenda was an ambitious goal – as I couldn’t imagine how one could get through updating Rubicon (3 cheers!) and identifying the core learning for the upcoming units. We started big – really big – asking, “what do we want kids to walk out the door knowing and doing…”  and then we whipped out those Essential Maps in Language Arts and Social Studies (happily stored on “The Hub”) and began to assign and align to units. This is where I had to exit to the next meeting, leaving them to 3 more hours of work!  I know how difficult it is to find this sacred time for sustained planning that gives the space to move from big picture, to the details of the day, and back again. BUT I IMPLORE YOU to advocate for this time and I’m happy to serve the process.
  • 9 am: LLT (Learning Leadership Team) I’m not going to lie, I was walking the fence on this one for about the first 20 minutes. Was I really going to walk out? Then we settled in… and communication was a key theme. We investigated the statistics of the Gazette readership. Dauntingly pitiful. I celebrate this moment for many reasons. One, the greater role data is beginning to serve in our school to drive good questions. Two, deep reflection about what we communicate, when we communicate, and how we communicate at Graded — which certainly gave rise to reflection about my own communication patterns. Three, the power of group thinking to solve a complicated issue – we really are smarter together.

11 am… 1:00 pm… 2:30…

  • 3:15: Individual teacher meeting contemplating leaving Graded. Sigh. This is a stressful time of year for many as the deadline for the “intent to return” draws near. I have been plagued with a poor ability to make decisions (insert Prufrock’s “analysis paralysis” here) for most of my life and recognize the quandry of many. Graded (and Brazil) is a powerful place. I don’t know how to advise someone of when it is time to move on… I appreciate the opportunity to reflect, to dream, to consider powerful paths that have the potential to feed us personally and professionally – and I am always a willing listener.  As this teacher concluded, I’m not looking for a new job, I’m building a career. I recognize and appreciate hard decisions, and respect where you land.

I include these as part of a survey of today’s meetings because they share a theme and do give rise to my own (and hopefully other’s) journey of learning.  All of them included deep collaboration – whether in planning, problem-solving or processing, and I HOPE all of them contributed to a layer of the ongoing dialogue of the organization, from the classroom to the school to the individual…

Bad acronym, good work

Bad acronym, good work

Taking action planning to the teachers – Professional Learning Advisory Council (PLAC) tackles supporting learning needs aligned to core initiatives at Graded. MAP, Backwards Design, Rubicon Atlas and Integrating Technology begin to get a plan for more consistent clarity.

“What did you want to see happen when…”

I used to laugh at sentence stems. I thought they were contrived and superficial, but I’ve discovered it is quite the opposite. Like a good protocol (yes, I really love protocols) they change the frame of thinking. They help build a different habit of discourse, and I find that I can weave them into dialogue fairly gracefully. This prompt that serves as the title is from a collection of prompts I’ve gathered over time for probing teachers’ thinking about instruction – about helping them visualize what they expect from students based on an instructional move.

I use this prompt to backwards plan meeting outcomes as well… and today, LLT (Learning Leadership Team) was the meeting. For the first time in awhile we had the opportunity to stop and reflect on our efforts in supporting teachers, specifically through observations and feedback. We had the opportunity to stop and reflect on the quality of our feedback and the value it serves in a teacher’s practice.  I was humbled.

When I presented research-based criteria of quality, I wanted to see leaders use this as a tool to self-assess and plan for refinement BUT I saw them identify areas where their feedback was not strong and reach out to their colleagues for critique and ideas… I saw them identify their greatest challenges and seek advice from another perspective… I saw them eager to learn, to serve and to lead well…

The prompt certainly served to set the stage, but I recognize the culture of our meetings empowers a sense of vulnerability that really does allow us to enter as learners.  I can’t help but take this question to the classroom level… how does your classroom culture empower a sense of vulnerability and reflection?  Need a prompt?

Once upon a time…

… there was a thinker.  A messy thinker that flitted about Great Thoughts and landed on seemingly significant, but difficult questions. In her quest to make sense of her story, she landed here. A processing platform to name the noticings, to label the details that lend to crafting a cohesive plot.

As the Director of Teaching and Learning at The American School of Sao Paulo, my days are littered with plots, with characters, with conflicts and resolutions. This is the story of us trying to figure it out mid-plot — to determine importance and ask good questions.  We are a lucky community of learners at Graded, a respectful group of learners, but not always graceful. At the center is the best of intentions.