Friday, September 25, 2015

Space...The Final Frontier?

I've been giving a lot of thought over the last six months or so around how we create, make, repurpose, reimagine, and generally use space in our schools in to enhance student learning. At the beginning of my thinking, I sought out books to read, and one of the first I came across was make space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration: 

As soon as I read an excerpt online from David Kelley's introduction ("Regardless of whether it's a classroom or the offices of a billion-dollar company, space is something to think of as instrument for innovation and collaboration"), I knew I had to order it.

Once the book arrived and I began to dive into it, I realized it had potential beyond giving me some start-up ideas. While it is full of relatively inexpensive hacks for furniture, tools, walls, and overall design, it led me to think about how we might be able to enlist and engage our kids in crafting some of the ideas in the book. Over the summer, I began a conversation with one of our high school teachers around integrating some of the desk and table designs into his Bench Woods class, in order to create "collaborative furniture" for our own use. We are continuing those conversations in anticipation of the second semester start of the class, and I am thrilled at what our students may decide to produce.

Of course, on the other end of the spectrum, a lot of collaborative furniture and space design is commercially available. For example, we have a brand new Active Learning Center at Northern High School, made possible through a grant from Steelcase:

Designated for primary use by our district-wide STEM Academy, during non-STEM time the space is open to other staff and students as a collaborative learning space.

Somewhere in the middle between making your own space from the ground up and receiving a grant, many of our principals and teachers are bringing their imaginations together to create space with the desired effect of enhancing student learning. For example, Eastern High School is repurposing a classroom as its Innovation Room. Orchard View Elementary is doing the same and enlisting students to co-create a Learning Studio at the end of the 6th grade hallway. In Central Middle School, a portion of a conference room in the vicinity of the front office has been outfitted as a filming "booth" area for teachers to record themselves as they talk about their love for a recently-read book, which is then available for later viewing:

Directions for the talk as well as camera use are posted so that teachers are able to be self-sufficient.

These are just a few of what I am sure are many innovative uses of space in our district.

My current energy is directed at repurposing a classroom at Collins Elementary as our Center for Innovators Design Thinking Studio. I saw the space this week for the first time:

While we need to clear it out before we can see its full raw potential, I am thrilled on so many levels: How might we engage the Collins community of learners with design thinking? How might we use the space to bring in high school students and ask them to explore new possibilities in the secondary experience? How might we invite in our Destination: Innovation grant recipients to leverage their learning?

Finally, I am also mindful of Dr. Marzano's considerations within Design Question 6 of creating physical conditions that facilitate and support effective teaching and learning. What will be the primary patterns of movement? What do you want learners to see when they enter and leave the room? How much empty space needs to be set aside for later use? How will you organize storage and access to materials? What seating arrangements best encourage discussion and productive interaction? Can eye contact be made with each learner? All of these important questions and more will shape the learning environment in our Design Thinking Studio.

Join the conversation...
How are you intentionally using space to enhance student learning? What might be some ideas you have to create collaborative learning environments? Why is this an important topic for us to dialogue around?

As always, thanks for reading, thinking, and conversing.

(P.S. For those of you are sorely disappointed that this post is not about Star Trek, click here for a short treat.)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

FHPS Center for Innovators

Have you ever had the experience of looking for one thing, and stumbling upon a gem of another? I was thumbing through my Becoming a Learning System book for the first time in quite a while looking for a definition, and realized that the entire last chapter of the book is entitled “Innovations in Adult Learning.” I’ve been reading and re-reading it ever since.

Each chapter of the book ends with a set of reflective questions. At the end of chapter 24, these were included:
  • In what ways can we, as members of a leadership team, inspire innovation and creativity in our district and school community?
  • Where are pockets of innovation in our district and school communities? In what ways are we nurturing creative approaches?

I’m going to try to tackle that first bullet in this post, and invite you to join the conversation specifically around the second bullet at the end.

One of my goals as a leader is to be a good steward of people and ideas, to positively impact student learning. In order to achieve that goal, not only do I have to inspire innovation and creativity, but I have to nurture and incubate it as well. One of the ways in which that will be accomplished is through our new Center for Innovators.

First, the choice of the word “innovators” rather than “innovation” was quite purposeful; we want to be about people, not things. Second, while the Center will have an actual physical location in Collins Elementary this year, the use of the word “center” is also a metaphor for a point of focus on adult learning and professional growth.

More about the inner workings of the Center is found below; the most immediate need or demand of teachers is “how do I get help with my idea?”  Great question! We’ve tried to make it as easy as possible. Through the use of a short Google form or an email to me that just:
  1. names the teacher or team with the idea;
  2. briefly describes the idea;
  3. links the idea to a goal or problem of practice in your school improvement plan;
  4. gives a general indication of your current thinking around how the idea will deepen teacher learning to result in deeper student learning; and
  5. your current thought as to how your hypothesis might be best evaluated or monitored for impact during implementation,

you will have a thinking partner and nurturer to help the idea take form. Think of this initial contact as a rough outline that might precede the first draft of an essay. It’s just a way to get your current thinking down on paper so we can move forward.

Another way in which you might access support is through application for and receipt of a Destination: Innovation grant.  All grant recipients automatically receive support to measure the impact of grant dollars on the change in teacher practice and the resulting impact on student learning.

We want the Center for Innovators to be a hub – that focal point – for teachers and other stakeholders to engage in learning as they re-imagine how best to deliver education to all students. Leaders will work to cultivate and coordinate curriculum, communication, spaces, processes, tools, and systems, so that teachers and other stakeholders may create and cultivate learning experiences and environments that engage, motivate, and prepare all students for life, meaningful work, and civic responsibility.

Two of those systems are already in place. First, we will be intentional in our use of the Standards for Professional Learning to make sure we are engaging in professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students. Second, we will continue our integration of the Instructional Framework, and support teachers as they explore both the art and science of teaching.

We also have a plan to cultivate and coordinate curriculum, spaces, processes, and tools. As teams work to investigate educational challenges and opportunities, the Center will employ the methodology of design thinking when appropriate to promote the intentional design and development of learning experiences (curriculum), learning environments (spaces), and school programs and practices (processes and tools) that support school improvement goals and desired changes in teacher practice to deepen student learning.

The last piece, communication, will be an ongoing endeavor. In a district our size, it is doubtful that we can ever over-communicate. But, we need your help, and here is where the other bulleted inquiry comes into play.

Join the conversation…
Either by posting a comment below or sending me an email, please share with us where those pockets of innovation are located in our district. We know of many, but are confident that we don’t know of them all. Share the story of your team as innovators, or of a teaching team in your school. Or if you are a parent reading this, tell us the story of that teacher and that engaging lesson your learner can’t stop talking about. 

As Becoming a Learning System states, “creativity, flexibility, innovation, respect, and resilience can open doors for educators to a different, more democratic way of engaging students and inspiring them to learn” (Hirsch, Psencik & Brown, p. 220, 2014). Let us know how we might support that for all educators in our district.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Let's Be Independent...Together!

[The backstory: Hermey is an elf, and elves are supposed to make toys, period. Hermey tries to fit in, but he really wants to be a dentist. Feeling no support from his fellow elves to pursue his dream, Hermey strikes out on his own. Similarly, Rudolph, a red-nosed reindeer, desperately wants to fit in with his peers, but is mocked because his nose lights up. Feeling no love from his fellow reindeer, Rudolph strikes out on his own. The two self-proclaimed misfits meet in the forest, exchange some quick pleasantries, and then Hermey asks Rudolph, "what do you say we be independent, together?" Forging a working partnership that ultimately includes a prospector and an abominable snowman, together Hermey and Rudolph face down tough obstacles on a journey of collaboration, personal growth, and community learning.]

While my synopsis of the 1964 TV classic "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is tongue-in-cheek, it serves as a reminder to me of what can happen when people (or elves) want to break out of a routine or mold they feel constrained by, or when others approach a job with a new look or feel that may cause an initial reaction of fear in others. Sometimes tradition and existing structures, while well-meaning and productive, do not support change. But it also serves to remind me that no one really wants to go it alone; we want and need collaborative partners. We only go alone as a last resort.

Questions I am constantly posing to myself (and all of the other reindeer) include how might the traditional notion of how a teacher teaches, or how a student learns, constrain us? And how might the current structure of school and what it is supposed to "look like" prevent us from thinking differently? Moreover, how do we react when someone pitches a new idea that challenges what we know and are comfortable with? Do we shy away and leave them alone, or do we embrace the opportunity to collaborate and learn with them?

In the classic story, the community figured out that not only could it support Hermey's desire to become a dentist and still meets its goal of building toys, but it was rather efficient to have a dentist on hand. Similarly, Rudolph's red nose was a talent the community realized could be leveraged to help the team complete its mission in delivering those toys on schedule. Hermey and Rudolph were no longer viewed as misfits, and no longer had to be "independent, together." I submit that Hermey and Rudolph were innovators ahead of their time.

Join the conversation...
Everyone has the individual potential to be an innovator. What desires and talents lie within our teachers that need to be supported, so that they may in turn fulfill that part of our district mission to provide kids with learning opportunities "to acquire the knowledge, skills, and experiences necessary to build meaningful and productive lives"? Another framing of that question might be how do we engage through our District Professional Learning Goal to break down barriers and "use a cycle of collaborative intentional planning and reflection to increase our instructional expertise and deepen student learning"? Regardless of how you frame the inquiry, what are your thoughts?