Monday, December 7, 2015

Intersections and Disruptions

Every Friday he would come to his class dressed to represent a different occupation. The lesson that day was constructed and deconstructed through the lens of that occupation. For example: In what ways does a house painter use measurement? Why might a doctor need to know fractions? Why is probability important to astronauts?...Needless to say, student engagement and achievement were enhanced simultaneously. Students' attitudes changed as they now saw math as relevant to their life experiences and could appreciate firsthand and articulate "why they were learning it." [Sharratt & Harild, 2015, p. 32]
This excerpt from the book Good to Great to Innovate is one example of the concept of "intersections." If you think of each of our students on his or her own unique educational journey, intersections occur where there are connections between what we believe students need to know and be able to do and application of instruction to real life experiences:

Image result for intersection

Of course, the journey is likely not black and white nor linear, so it may end up looking more like this:

Merely dressing like a house painter to teach is not what the intersection is about. It is about the disruption of the stable patterns of "the core of educational practice." Richard Elmore (1996, p. 2) describes the core as
how teachers understand the nature of knowledge and the student's role in learning, and how these ideas about knowledge and learning are manifested in teaching and classwork. The "core" also includes structural arrangements of schools, such as the physical layout of classrooms, student grouping practices, teachers' responsibilities for groups of students, and relations among teachers in their work with students, as well as processes for assessing student learning and communicating it to students, teachers, parents, administrators, and other interested parties.
Elmore asserts that innovations in education rarely are aimed at the core, and therefore, rarely change the fundamental relationships between student, teacher, and knowledge:
[C]hanges are often not explicitly connected to fundamental changes in the way knowledge is constructed, nor to the division of responsibility between teacher and student, the way students and teachers interact with each other around knowledge, or any of a variety of other stable conditions in the core. Hence, changes in scheduling seldom translate into changes in the fundamental conditions of teaching and learning for students and teachers. Schools, then, might be "changing" all the time -- adopting this or that new structure or schedule or textbook series or tracking system -- and never change in any fundamental way what teachers and students actually do when they are together in classrooms. [Elmore, 1996, p. 3]
In other words, not all "innovative changes" are created equal.

One way in which Forest Hills is currently engaging in change to the core and constructing real-world intersections is the continued implementation of Robert Marzano's instructional framework. The design questions and elements of Domain 1 provide an infrastructure to disrupt the traditional core and provide intersections of relevance and practical application with students:

In year three of our implementation, we continue to grow our individual and collective capacities to be intentional, collaborative, and reflective.

Of course, as we start thinking differently about schools and schooling, it means we also have to rethink ourselves and our roles. Similar to a student's unique educational journey, our growth as educators is not linear; it is complex and time-consuming:
[T]eachers are more likely to learn from direct observation of practice and trial and error in their own classrooms than they are from abstract descriptions of new teaching; changing teacher practice even for committed teachers, takes a long time, and several cycles of trial and error; teachers have to feel that there is some compelling reason for them to practice differently, with the best direct evidence being that students learn better; and teachers need feedback from sources they trust about whether students are actually learning what they are taught. [Elmore, 1996, p. 24]
This emphasis on job-embedded, collaborative professional learning is also a focus for Forest Hills. It is it embodied within each school's learning communities and teams that target increasing educator effectiveness and results for all students. Each principal, in collaboration with his or her teacher-leaders, creates a comprehensive professional learning plan specific to the school's yearly improvement plan, with the ultimate goal of enhancing student learning. As a district we also implement a detailed learning plan for administrators, as well as a number of cross-school teacher teams.

However, the limited amount of government funding for professional learning continues to be challenging. We are extremely fortunate to enjoy community support through  our Forest Hills Public Schools Foundation, especially in grants from Destination: Innovation. But let's put funding aside for a moment. The bigger question is how do we cultivate more meaningful disruptions to the core that will increase the number of intersections for teachers and students to co-create teaching and learning? How do we fundamentally change what teachers and students actually do when they are together in learning environments?

Join the conversation...
How might you be rethinking schools and schooling? Yourself and your role? If you could make one fundamental change to the core, what might it be, and why?

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