Blog Archives

What I can do in three minutes…

I’ve finally wrapped up a few bigger tasks in the last few weeks (except for that whole Innovate 2013 conference planning, support for the HS 1:1 roll out,  and putting together an accreditation plan) so I’ve been able to make it to classrooms more often. This isn’t about evaluating your work, it’s about evaluating mine. We’re devoting more time to professional learning structures and they are only as successful as the impact that they have on student learning. 

You’ve set goals with your administrators that serve to anchor their observations so I’m using a short, informal structure of a three-minute walk-though  focusing only on the learning environment as it aligns to our Professional Growth and Supervision Plan principles. I’m also tracking the integrity of our documentation of the student learning in Rubicon Atlas.

In three minutes, I’m building a school-wide body of evidence based on the following questions implicit in our teacher evaluation rubric:

  • Do students know what they will (should) learn from engaging in the task?
    • Why I look for this? How can we empower kids to advocate for their learning if they don’t know the opportunities or the criteria for success?
  • Is there accountability to high expectations of  behavior and engagement in learning?
    • Why I look for this? The one doing the talking, the writing, the modeling, the problem-solving, the lab (etc) is the one doing the learning.  How can kids construct meaning unless they dig into the work and grapple with ideas?
  • What is the level of cognitive demand?
    • Why I look for this? How are we treating kids as thinkers? Are they engaging in tasks that require critical thought and “higher levels” of Bloom’s taxonomy or do we expect only lower order thinking skills, such as simply collecting or recalling information?
  • Is what is happening in the classroom aligned to what we say is happening in the classroom?
    • Why I look for this? Can we track the story of a cohort’s learning? Without the story, we cannot access where (and why)  there are strengths and challenges with understanding, determine where to replicate or replace, and hold ourselves and students accountable so we can continue to build a cohesive learning experience.
How do I use this data? Data never provides an answer. Its strength resides in our ability  to ask better questions. I think this can inform our work in many ways. First and foremost, it helps me target who needs support and it supports principals in deepening dialogue with all teachers in their division. Most importantly, I hope it pushes our reflection as a community. For example, how do we support kids in building skills of collaboration when our most prevalent classroom configuration is whole class instruction?  How do we celebrate the strides we’ve made in documenting the learning we put before students?
I recognize three minutes may not capture the power that happens within a block of  learning. This is about patterns and follow-up.  This is about how I can serve Graded better. 

A two-week snapshot of 22 classrooms

(Click on graphs for a larger version)

Level of Cognitive Demand

Alignment to Rubicon Atlas

Classroom configuration

Evidence of clear learning targets


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.

Will standards get ‘er done?

… standards, by themselves, do not improve education. Standards can do a great deal: they can set clear goals for learning for students and teachers, and establish guidelines for instruction and performance.

But to have an effect on the day-to-day interaction between students and teachers, and thus improve learning,  you have to implement the standards. That will require changes in curricula and assessments to align with the standards, professional development to ensure that teachers know what they are expected to teach, and ultimately, changes in teacher education so that all teachers have the capability to teach all students to the standards. The standards are only the first step on the road to higher levels of learning…

From: Five Myths About the Common Core State Standards

Robert Rothman

What kind of conversations do we want to be having?

We have recently committed to join a partnership of schools that lead  “Laptop Institutes.”  In collaboration with ASB, The Lausanne Laptop Institute and The American School of the Hague,  Graded School will serve to offer learning opportunities in South America, fostering thoughtful practice of technology in schools.  Yesterday was the first planning meeting to compile a to-do list before handing over the tasks to the committed group of faculty that will make it happen.

Lots of pieces fell into place quickly – recommendation of dates, key events, suggestions for speakers, and structure of the conference all seemed to rise to the top gracefully… until we got to theme and name.  Admittedly, this dialogue around theme brought me face to face with the challenge I see with implementing a 1:1 program. I think we’ve all heard that “it’s not about the technology” enough times to mutter it in our sleep (or at least I’ve been told that I’m muttering it in my sleep).  But so much of the international dialogue remains rooted in technology and digital tools.  I miss talking about quality work  not quality tools,  exploring  “Good Work”, and nurturing character, not just digital citizenship.

The good news is I don’t believe these conversations are mutually exclusive — and the really good news is that even though the conference will be a pile of work, it gives us the opportunity to control the conversation at our school, and potentially in the region.  To talk as much about the power of reflection and inquiry in a classroom, with or without the digital tools to support it… to speak to the art of living skillfully and thinking with precision… of intellectual endurance. This is our opportunity to craft a learning experience that fosters the conversations we want to be having. Can’t wait to hear what you have to say.

Conference Dates: January 19-21 2013

“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?

Finding the core in planning

I was lucky today – I got to do some of my favorite thinking with a colleague. C- and I met to work on refining a unit. We started by quickly ticking the AERO the standards, identifying the benchmarks, and then describing the final assessment. To wrap up this stage, we popped back up to the beginning to make sure both aligned. At first glance, this probably isn’t very compelling work, and most might even suggest there is a tedium to it, but I love the grace of alignment. I love that there is deep integrity between what we say kids should know and be able to do, and what C- was going to hold them accountable to in the final assessment – and in her instruction.

… and this is where it gets good. As I prompted C- to talk through instruction, to name the sequence, to consider the resources, there were many  thoughtful pauses. We wrestled with a lot of ideas, trying to stay on the simple side of things, until this short unit unveiled 5 core learning goals anchored in rigorous content. Two of these five goals specifically referenced character – perseverance and respect. As easily as it was to consider formative assessment for science content, we were able to name routines of reflection and collaborative critique that would enable students to identify their progress.

Sometimes it feels as though it is easy to fall back on the conversation that asks us to identify strategies for effectively using Rubicon or to defend the importance of teaching 21st century skills. This planning reminded me of something deeper – As my friend (and former teaching colleague used to say) we are “raising humans.”