Category Archives: Learning Envrionment

“If we didn’t have the schools we have, what would we create?”

It’s an honor to serve as a theme curator this year for Connected Educator’s Month.  The following post captures the learning from week one, and was also posted on the Innovations Blog Site. Looking forward to growing my own professional learning network this month in an effort to launch new levels of collaboration.

Moving From Connection to Collaboration

It’s almost fair to say that the theme of From Connection to Collaboration serves as the throughline for Connected Educator Month. What greater outcome can come from the intentional launch of connecting educators from around the world, but to empower them to build and act on these connections? The Kick Off panel with  Tom Carroll, Kecia Ray, Connie Yowell, Marc Prensky and Yong Zhao are experienced voices in the quest for greater collaboration. They highlighted the challenge of not only building online communities but the critical importance of sustaining connections with the ultimate goal of nurturing collaboration in a way that moves the field forward. Tom Carroll presented the question all of us dream of answering when he asked, “If we did not have today’s schools, what would we create?”  And the panel was not without ideas.

Mind/Shift did a great job capturing the panelists’ perspective of  what it really means to reimagine education in the 21st century in Katrina Schwartz’s blog entitled The Key to Empowering Educator’s? True Collaboration. Match this with the “wow” moments in teaching and learning in a networked world highlighted by the Reform Symposium E-Conference, and every educator has at their fingertips inspiring ideas born from connecting and collaborating. You can find a stellar archive of the conference recordings, here.

We recognize connection takes time and want to remind you of tools that can support you in growing  your connections this month – and beyond. The Connected Educators’ page list key resources for deepening your network. And the calendar – now tipping into 500 events – is the best place to align your learning needs with experiences that can lead to great collaboration. By clicking here, we’ve filtered the calendar to match the guiding goals of the theme, From Connection to Collaboration, beginning with today’s provocative blog posting on why being a connected educator is so important for our students.

The month is proving to offer the support we all need to transition from teaching organizations to learning organizations – and reimagining education in ways that empower all of us, educators and students alike,  to become something better.

Rekindling the Commitment

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I think last year’s World Cafe reminded all of us that collaboration is hard and is often uncomfortable. A number of colleagues pointed out that Professional Learning Communities are as much about who were are as learners as it is about supporting student success. As one colleague admitted, “I’ve learned a lot about myself as a learner. Collaboration is not always easy – it takes time, energy and practice.” Another stated, “I learned collaboration is challenging, but it’s necessary to go through the process in order to create change.”  Snapshots from this Wednesday’s PLC continues to highlight the power of our cross grade level and multidisciplinary teams.  What does some of that work look like?

  • Teachers turned to one another to examine case studies focusing on effective feedback strategies
  • Teachers used a dilemma protocol to get past barriers for using digital tools to nurture metacognition in the classroom
  • Teachers shared shifts in shared language aligning to the integration of key concepts from Theories of Knowledge across the high school
  • Teachers reported out on the impact of peer observations during workshop lessons
  • Teachers highlighted projects that enable more individualized learning
  • Teachers showcased depth of student learning and reflection through revised portfolios

In short, teachers used PLCs not only as a means of accountability to “force us to keep commitments for change” but inspired colleagues to reconsider a practice, an assessment, a day’s plan for supporting students better.

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.”

It all started with my PLC…

One of the greatest parts of this position is I still get to dig into my own learning with colleagues – and a whole network of educators. Although I know my primary responsibility is to oversee the structure and support all the PLC’s at Graded, I just need to give a special shout out to my PLC on Digital Tools and Metacognition, as they have inspired some provocative steps of how I can support teachers in a blended environment. I’m focusing on three case studies across divisions to determine how digital tools support teachers’ reflection and leads to deeper practice in the classroom.

Case Study 1 : Kelli and I have been thinking about how to build a culture of thinkers in the first grade classroom. Here’s the journey so far…

  • Kelli and I started imagining what a classroom of thinkers would look like – Turning to Project Zero, we read an article about the practical application of thinking routines in the elementary classroom.
  • We used twitter to capture the most salient points of the article so we could pull a summary through coding using hashtags

Twitter Anchor

  • I went into Kelli’s room for an observation of the learning environment of a common instructional routine, the readers’ workshop. Even though she’ll be instructing toward “thinking” at different times, we’ll use this as our baseline to chart the shift of the student culture.
  • It just so happened that I checked my twitter account at the start of a #PYPchat that was sharing ideas about building a culture of thinking! (You can explore twitter chats and schedules here.) I jumped in and shared Kelli and my thinking – and the strategies in play. In exchange, other educators from around the world were sharing what they are doing in their classrooms.
  • I curated the best ideas of the chat, using our anchor tweets to align strategies and resources through Storify – the central tool that I am investigating as part of my PLC inquiry.

Storify with Kelli

 

What is emerging is a cohesive narrative that integrates research, classroom practice, Graded’s expectations for Teaching and Learning, and the voices of 30 other educators pursuing how to nurture a culture of thinking within similar environments across the globe. I’ve been reflecting a lot on how this changes my role – and the skill set I need to continue to build to best support teacher’s growth and student success.

It also begs a response to the question, “So what?” What impact will this work have on the success of Kelli’s first graders’ as thinkers? I know from the initial stages, we were able to build a much richer toolbox of strategies than Kelli and I would have been able to accomplish as partners. I hope by organizing our thinking and linking it to the goals we set from the beginning, we’ll be able to determine importance among the chatter of ideas and see deeper transfer to the classroom. The power, however, resides in Kelli’s commitment to creating the best environment for students. In a mere two weeks, Kelli’s claim, “they’re just not thinkers” has changed to “my kids are geniuses”.  I look forward to sharing reflection as the story unfolds – and appreciate the tools that support holding the story, creating an opportunity for our learning to be in service to Graded’s classroom and beyond.  I’m deeply grateful to colleagues like Kelli that inspire and energize me.

A Snapshot of Practice

Below is a quick summary of walk-through observations for Semester I, 2012. The elements I tracked align to Graded’s Principles of Teaching and Learning as well as our Continuum of Assessment Practices. They are the same elements I use every semester so we can identify areas of growth. (Head to “What I can do in three minutes” for another data set and additional background.) The goal of the data is to trigger reflection and to determine if we have met the expectations for teaching in the Graded community.

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The invariable chill…

When I was a kid, my brothers and I used to play this weird game on each other’s backs. For some reason, we found it absolutely hysterical. One would stand behind the other and synchronize a story with hand motions. “X marks the spot with a dash and a dot…” it would begin as we marked each other’s back.  “In goes the fork…” we would say as we pretended to stab, “out comes the blood” we would follow with fingers drooling down. “In goes the knife… out comes the blood.” On it would go, ending with spiders and cool winds blowing – and something made up –  then the invariable chill that always followed.  I bored easily from the predicted rhyme, but loved when they made something up to add to the story.

The plot of Graded’s Professional Learning Communities reminds me of this game. We’ve taken a structure used by schools all over the world  and collaboratively we’ve made something up that adds to the story of learning for educators.  The last round of reflections from this semester not only serves as a celebration of how far we’ve come, but the data maps clear next steps for us to tackle in order to ensure this structure serves teachers, and ultimately students, in powerful ways. (If you click on the charts, they will open a bit bigger).

       

Observation 1:  Although designed to support the core work of Graded’s school improvement goals, PLC’s are falling short  in terms of supporting all teachers in meeting expectations. 36%  of teachers did not choose into a PLC that aligned with the expectations for unit refinement. Where does the time and support come from to support the 41 teachers who do not use this structure for that purpose?

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Observation 2:  We’re making progress in two key, significant areas. 34% of teachers embrace one of the primary reasons our PLCs are designed specifically to cross divisions and find the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues from other divisions the most powerful aspect of this semester’s PLC work. This represents an increase of 10% from last year’s data. Additionally, PLC work is  applicable to classrooms in various ways. The greatest percentage, 22%, believe that their instruction has been impacted as a result of the work with colleagues. The next greatest category, 20%, explicitly aligns to our school-wide goals.

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Observation 3:  Graded School reflects a community of voracious learners, yet we still struggle with taking that learning to a classroom level in a way that impacts student success. 56% believes that their work with PLCs will impact student success within the next semester.  This data point, along with the feedback that teachers provided last year, serves as a clear rationale for year-long PLC groups.

Observation 4: Graded School reflects a community of voracious learners who know how to advocate for their needs.  The greatest need for support falls into three key categories: additional research, models and structures to track impact.  How can leaders best provide these resources so they are valuable, timely and are easily transferable to the craft in your classrooms?

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Observation 5: This last piece of data is a text analysis that identifies the 28 most important words that emerged in your responses focused on highlights. You can judge where its importance resides based on the size of the word. Assessment, Colleagues, Discussion, Sharing, Learning. Students/Teachers, and Tools are all elements of success for this semester.  The good news is that all of these concepts related directly to our school-wide goals on nurturing the conditions for collaboration, assessment and the integration of technology.

It takes time for a structure to grow deep roots in an organization. A mere eighteen months later, Graded’s multi-divisional and multi-discipline PLC structure is beginning to take shape. I never said it was going to be easy, only that it would be worth it. It is with deep gratitude that I read and reflected on the semester’s learning. I look forward to the next round with the same anticipation of predicting how my brother may change the story. Such thoughtful work will forever give me chills.

Are you talking back?

I’ve been working on my workshop for Learning Forward’s Summer Conference in a couple of weeks. I think the best part of putting together a workshop is the deep reflection that it triggers about my work and my learning.  As I gather resources, I keep finding that each piece is connected to another story of learning. An example of this is the growing use of TodaysMeet in my work and the support I provide teachers in the classroom. Introduced to the tool by Blair’s bold move with the high school (see his reflection here) I’ve used this backchannel in a number of ways. I don’t have time to highlight the role  backchannel can play in learning during the workshop beyond how we will be using it, so wanted to capture a few ideas to pass on to participants if they choose to dig a bit more deeply.

  • During a workshop of 143 teachers during the opening days of school, I had a backchannel room set up for six roving administrators to capture the questions and insights of the small group dialogue.  This not only gave everyone in the workshop access to other group’s thinking, but it provided a script for me to reflect on what we were thinking as a staff. I was able to pull out key themes that emerged and use it as a formative assessment tool to determine next steps to move us forward.
  • In the 7th grade science classroom, we built out a room for students to use while watching and critiquing each others’  public service announcements that they created as part of a unit of study on climate change.  Using a rubric that students had built out,  they captured evidence while they watched the video, providing a deeper reflection and more explicit feedback. They were also able to ask the presenters questions while they were assessing and play off of each other’s questions while giving feedback. Aaron, the teacher, then used the script to analyze quality feedback, highlighting examples of quality feedback real time with students so they had the opportunity to deepen their observations right away.
  • In the IB Language and Literature class (grade 12), we built out a room for students that were leading a Socratic Seminar. The room took on multiple dimensions. The goal of the room was originally for the student leaders to capture the questions and comments of the seminar for a number of students that would be missing class due to travel. However, it shifted to the leaders using the room to support each other in facilitating the workshop. Sandy, the teacher, was also in the room, coaching students’ in real time. Admittedly, this was the most fascinating use of  backchannel. It provide a visual lens into students decision making in ways I’ve never been able to access. Students wrote comments such as, “they seem to be stalling out on this question, let’s build on Tess’s comment and introduce a new question.”

Although just a brief snapshot of the role backchannel can play, I continue to see more and more potential with this tool. Its power lies not only in providing the teacher (or workshop leader) access to participants’ thinking so they can adjust instruction immediately, it deepens participation and connects thinking in unique ways.

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
Self-assessment
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

Thanks for not taking me out of class…

The chatter of flipped classrooms continues to infiltrate blogs, twitter feeds and mainstream media. Thought leaders continue to weigh in on the pros and cons of a model that was already in play when I was working on a business minor at Indiana University.  I skipped attending the lectures, which I could catch on a university television station, and instead spent time attending small discussion groups to work through case studies and make sense of the concepts delivered in 45 minute lectures. It really didn’t feel so revolutionary at the time.

I’ve been tracking a few Graded teachers as they explore this same possibility with their students this year. I applaud teachers’ efforts to examine how they can move from the front of the room and instead use class time to engage students in making meaning together.  Thoughtful work is happening.

In an effort to support teachers in working through this model — as well as alleviating some of the tensions of leaving class to be of service to Graded’s organizational learning – I “flipped” our last PLAC (Professional Learning Advisory Council) meeting to get a deeper sense of the nuances of the learning environment that results from flipping the classroom.

I spent a lot of time thinking through how to best instruct colleagues in engaging in the independent task before we would meet. This was not just a video to watch, but an examination of a professional learning plan that will define our work in 2012-2013. I provided both written steps and a screencast that walked them through the steps, as well as a screencast that presented the plan, much like I would have done if we were together.

Colleagues had a week to do the work,  tracking their thinking and questions as part of the google site that held the plan for linking our learning.  I would jump in to comment on their ideas and answer questions that may hold up their progress, fostering a bit more dialogue than just a simple check in. Before our meeting, I had evidence that every member of the team had read and reflected on the presentation.

When we met face to face, I provided time to anchor in the presentation, taking time to read comments and questions that emerged before our meeting… then we jumped in to the work. And admittedly, I was dazzled by the level of critique in such a short time. Using wallwisher to capture their comments, so they could see each other’s thinking and skip repeating ideas and I could organize trends of comments to respond to as part of my reflection, I was armed with critical feedback to inform revising in less than an hour of meeting time.  

The debrief with colleagues highlights why this is a model to continue to explore:

  • It was a positive experience; we had the chance to learn at our pace at home
  • Appreciated the comments that were there as models – I knew what it should look like to participate
  • If you are confused, what do you do?
  • What is the trade-off to investing time in advance? Loved that our face to face meeting was shorter as a result
  • We didn’t just read and watch the presentation, we started the process in advance – we didn’t need to repeat the comments; moved on to deeper thinker
  • I was committed to the group – the comments drove that commitment
  • I think the quieter members found it powerful to take the time in preparing; different mode of communication with writing first
  • Having the time to process was important – there was a lot here that I just needed time to think about
  • Valuable to have both — wouldn’t want to have just this model
  • We knew the protocol; we were part of a community already and felt linked because of the thinking we have done together this year
  • This format should have a distinct purpose – it’s not for everything and I wouldn’t want to do it all the time
  • Thanks for not taking me out of class…

My goal remains to model learning that can link directly back to the classroom. There are many things I would refine when using this model again, and recognize that it was the strength of the culture of this learning community that led to this round’s success. Some good questions continue to percolate as part of reversed instruction – especially in terms of when does it best meet the needs of learners.

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.