Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Rogue One

Like many, I was shocked today to learn of the passing of Carrie Fisher. Perhaps best known for her work in the Star Wars movies, she constructed a multifaceted strong character who happened to be female. Throughout her career, Carrie Fisher pushed boundaries, or simply ignored them.

Within educational innovation, some boundaries cannot be ignored -- we hold the sacred trust of our community to ensure the well-being of our kids, and to be exceptional stewards of public funds. 

But we can -- and should -- push our own boundaries (think comfort zone). How often do we really challenge ourselves to improve? How often do we look at the results of teaching and learning, and look at the students before us, and recognize that we need to learn to think/do/be better? How often do we go rogue, not out of anger or frustration, but out of a positive place and a strong desire to serve others?

Princess Leia was an innovator. She inspired others to join her quest because she believed in a better tomorrow. She never promised it would be easy or safe, and she led by example. She exemplified collective responsibility, even when going rogue.

Join the conversation...
What boundary will you push? How will you be an example of collective responsibility?

Monday, December 19, 2016

Turning Up The Volume On Student Voice

In an earlier blog post about our student voice project, I explained the student-generated survey that was going to be distributed to the 1,120 students at Forest Hills Northern High School. The 50 question survey was completed by 818 students -- a number fairly dispersed over the four grades.

(The day the survey was pushed out to the school, a reporter from the School News Network was visiting, and published a great story about the student voice project)

Since that time, my year 12 colleagues have been diving into the data, and fashioning some ways to use storytelling to show the results:

Today, 8 of them came to the FHN teacher school improvement team meeting and provided a mini-presentation, using their storytelling skills to get beyond the numbers. Some data from each of the four main categories (technology, scheduling, teaching & learning, and student wellbeing) were presented in a human-centered way. One example included the grouping of teachers in the room to show percentages of study time for tests and resulting scores.

Next steps include all 30 of the students spending a half-day with the 12-person teacher team to get teacher responses to the data, and build partnerships to address some of the issues that the survey data revealed. The students will lead those conversations through developed protocols and tools.

To see some of the inspiration for our work, check out this video from Mount Waverley Secondary College in Melbourne, Australia:

Join the conversation...
What stories might your students tell you?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

This One's a "10"

As we approach the end of 2016, many "top ten" lists have begun to appear. They offer the best and worst of a multitude of items, people, words, and ideas.

In fact, the number 10 itself purportedly has mystical qualities, such as symbolizing the completion of a cycle.

Rudy Mutter, the CTO at Yeti (a development and design studio in San Francisco) recently published a white paper titled The Ultimate Guide to Prototyping Success. As a design thinking learner, I downloaded and read it.

Toward the end of the paper, Mutter provides his top ten tips for successful prototyping. I thought to myself, "here we go -- another list of ten!" BUT...as I was reading through them, it struck me that they apply much more broadly than to just prototyping.

They really apply to the whole realm of education innovation. AND... if the number 10 really does symbolize the completion of a cycle, then it is the perfect number through which to look at education innovation.

Here are Mutter's prototyping tips, verbatim in title, with my own spin attached:

1. Identify your riskiest assumption.
Do you have a real problem, or do you have a really cool solution that is looking for a problem to solve? In other words, are my students actually experiencing the problem I am seeking to solve? Do they actually need this solution? Or, are my assumptions perhaps flawed?

2. Don't commit to one solution.
You do need to try solutions one at a time, but if you cannot be married to just one of them. If you are, you will look for ways to justify it. See #5.

3. Don't get lost in the details; simplicity is key.
Too complicated and you'll never make progress, or maybe even get started. You still need to be intentional and have a plan, but you also need to be action-oriented.

4. Utilize everything at your disposal.
Shortcuts are okay, unless they cheat you out of learning. The reason we want to innovate is to enhance student learning, but you have to be the original learner.

5. Be willing to throw it away.
See #2. Try it, evaluate its impact on student learning, and let it go if it doesn't work. The idea failed, not you.

6. 'Iterate' can't be reiterated enough.
We need cycles of inquiry. I repeat, we need cycles of inquiry. See #8.

7. Give every side a voice.
Is everyone at the table? If not, invite them into the process. Is everyone at the table actively participating? if not, invite them into the conversation and the work. An echo chamber serves no one.

8. Done is better than perfect.
The iterative cycles are meant to be completed in a timely manner, so that the learning continues. See #6.

9. Go with what you know.
Don't mix apples and oranges. If you're looking to solve a problem with reading literacy, don't use this process to try out a new tech tool, unless it is crucial to the process. Stick with frameworks and processes you know, and let the innovation be the variable.

10. Feedback is king.
The feedback loop is crucial for reflective practice and learning. And the next iteration.

Join the conversation...
What do you think about those ten? What would you add? Take away?

As always, thanks for thinking with me.

P.S. If you want more fun with the number 10, read The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Ask Permission or Seek Forgiveness?

And if the answer is no, what are you waiting for? Permission?

It's an interesting paradox in education that we teachers don't like to be told what to do, until we do want to be told what to do. We often do not grab the agency that is right before us, and just start doing. There are lots of reasons for that, and none of them get us closer to where we want to be. Use an inquiry cycle and just start somewhere. 

As  Bill Murphy's Jan 2016 Inc. article on the origin of the permission/forgiveness dichotomy informs us:
So next time you're on the fence--wondering whether to take a small risk that could propel you forward in whatever endeavor you care about--just do it.
Teacher-led, job-embedded action research to improve practice for the benefit of student learning doesn't need permission. Professional learning to support that endeavor doesn't need permission. And even if they somehow did, I would much rather be in the position of seeking forgiveness for my team or school acting on what we thought was best for kids as opposed to doing nothing.

In our district this year, teacher teams are working in iterative cycles under the umbrella goal "to improve instruction every day for every student through collaborative and continuous learning for all educators." The iterative inquiry cycle guidance is:
  • teams identify essential learning standards
  • teams develop and use a formative assessment process
  • teachers utilize research and evidence-based strategies to provide high-quality instruction to meet the learning needs of their students
  • teams develop plans to support differentiated instruction
Within those pieces, there is a lot of latitude for teacher teams to grab and run with their agency. For example, my team might be curious as to how to differentiate instruction in a high school math classroom. We could seek out learning from a variety of both internal and external sources without any need to ask if that is okay. Of course, we also might need to touch base with our principal if we need either time or money to make some learning a reality, but we don't need permission to learn and try. That is just an inherent part of being a professional.

I'll leave you with one more image, inspired by a Pablo Picasso quote:

Join the conversation...
What small risk are you willing to take today to improve student learning?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Be the Change Leader Your School Needs

In 4 Things Change Leaders Do Well, Douglas Ready outlines successful transformational strategies for the corporate world. And I believe they are just as applicable to education.

1. Recognize Embedded Tensions and Paradoxes

For every push in education, there is a pull. Many of our highly effective teachers (and our parent stakeholders) are the products of a system that is rooted in the 1890s. When we talk about changing the system or that the system is "broken," we need to be mindful that it did work for many in a different time and space.

In addition, identity is often at issue. If we propose something as a "change," we may unintentionally be inferring that the "before" was bad. It may be better to look at transformation as an improvement, without any judgment on past practices. To paraphrase Maya Angelou, when we know better we do better.

2. Hold Everyone Accountable

Not only does everyone need to be engaged in the transformation, but they need to be accountable for its success, too. Great change leaders set and communicate clear expectations, and provide ample support to reach those expectations. Celebrate successes, and don't let anyone off the hook. Accepting bad behavior is the quickest way to kill an initiative.

3. Invest in New Capabilities

What new talent, processes, or systems do we need to be successful? As we hire new teachers and administrators, what qualities and skills are we looking for to take us to the next level? Do we need new processes and systems to ensure that this occurs? If so, let's get them in place. We don't need more "managers," we need authentic instructional leaders at all levels.

Once we have the right people in the right spots, are there other strategic investments we need to make vis-a-vis "hard" resources?

4. Emphasize Continuous Learning

No one knows everything. I repeat: no one knows everything. And in a field as dynamic as education, even if you did, you couldn't keep up with new knowledge. Educators need to feel at ease with asking for help, and admitting when something is not known. You know, just like we tell our students ;)

Hiring top-notch instructional leaders is only the start. We must invest in the professional learning of all educators. Not the one-offs that are fun and make people feel good for a half day, but the real, deep, sustained job-embedded learning that truly challenges and changes the way educators think and act.

Join the conversation...
What do you think? Are these strategies applicable in education? How might you be the change leader your school needs?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Survey Says...

One of my favorite shows is Family Feud, with Steve Harvey as host. My son and I watch it together, and just laugh -- you know, the gut-wrenching kind of laughs? Usually, we're laughing at Steve's reactions to answers given by contestants:

I've often wondered how the show designed its surveys and implemented them. Apparently, The Wall Street Journal also had the same wondering, and published Family Feud Finds Survey Niche back in 2008. The actual size of each survey question is only 100 people, and random phone calls are made to solicit answers. That is a very small sample size, but for its purpose, the system works well.

Tomorrow, the students I work with at Forest Hills Northern High School will be pushing out their student voice survey to approximately 1,100 students. The questions were completely written by students, and beta tested by them for clarity and focus. By surveying the entire school, the students hope that the responses provide them with workable data.

As we have neared the day of the survey, we've been learning more about how to use data in storytelling. In other words, having all that data come into a Google spreadsheet is great, but what we do with it is even more important. How might we use the data to amplify student voice, and promote real student-driven change?

Chances are some of the answers will surprise us; heck, we may even have Steve's look. But just as Steve uses humor to interact with the data on Family Feud, we will need to find methods or avenues to engage with our data, and make our audience sit up and take notice.

One resource we have used to help us get ready to be data storytellers is this amazing TEDxTalk by Ben Wellington:

Wellington's ability to take what appear just to be numbers and turn them into an incredible visual story (with an impact) is inspiring. And easy to follow. 

I'll follow up in another post as to what we found in the data, and how our story is unfolding. Until then...

Join the conversation...
How do you use survey or other data to tell your story?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

When we try new things that challenge the teaching and learning status quo, we are also challenging the experiences of our students' adult family members. When it doesn't look or sound the same, it can be intimidating. 

Sometimes we hear:
"Hey, that is the way I learned, and it was good enough for me. Why mess with success?"
"I want to like it, but is this going to hurt her chance of getting into a good school?"
Many times our stakeholders are conflicted between the objective, intellectual understanding of why change is positive, and the subjective, emotional side of how the change feels. This begs the question...
While you may be loved as an innovating educator today, will that still be true tomorrow when teaching, learning, and assessment shift to a place without context?
Last evening I took part in parent/teacher conferences at Forest Hills Northern, the site of our student voice project. Earlier blog posts detail our launch of a student-led school improvement process. During the open house back in the first week of school, parents were supportive of the project, and I wondered if that would still hold true 9 weeks into the school year. After all, there are no quizzes or tests to produce points and letter grades -- it is participatory action research -- so how might we demonstrate deep levels of learning? We were delighted to see that the support was still present, especially for the real-world learning students were achieving. But, I would be less than honest if I did not mention that parents asked about letter grades and the format of a final exam/assessment.

We need to be mindful about how we gain and retain support from our stakeholders for innovative projects. So far, these guidelines have worked in our student voice work:

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate. You cannot over-communicate.
2. Be transparent about the intended student learning outcomes, and how they relate to real-world learning.
3. Communicate actual student learning outcomes. 

When we focus on the learning results of our students, and consistently communicate that message, we bring our stakeholders -- and more support -- along with us. I believe they want to support us, and they will when we interact with them as full partners.

Join the conversation...
How have you engaged stakeholders to support innovative teaching and learning projects? What guidelines might you add to the list?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Standards As The Innovation Gateway

With so much chatter and writing around innovation in education, it is sometimes seductive to see content standards as obstacles, rather than a gateway to innovation. There is no doubt that some teachers see standards as a checklist of items to complete rather than a palette of colors to paint with, and this is generally a product of the number of standards as compared to the amount of instructional minutes available. It is no wonder that content standards sometimes get a bad rap.

Our district is living into an innovative approach...a collaborative focus on essential learning standards:

Just putting the goal and targets into a nice graphic doesn't get the work done. What happens "behind" the graphic is crucial: a plan jointly developed and implemented by principals and teacher leaders that includes professional learning, protocols, time, and other support for the work products to come to life. What we don't do is just as important: we do not eliminate standards; rather, we use protocols to agree on what standards are essential, and we teach those to a mastery level of learning. This process recognizes that not all content standards require the same level of emphasis. That in and of itself is an innovative approach in education.

The innovation around standards happens in other ways, too. It moves teachers out of isolated pockets and into collaborative teams. In the last blog post, we explored the direct relationship between high levels of collaboration and high levels of creativity and innovation.

The standards-based focus also removes any trace of the "educational lottery" concept to ensure high levels of learning for all students:
[T]he fact is, all teachers spend more time on some standards than others. Therefore, the key issue is whether to leave the decision of how much instructional time and focus should be given to particular standards up to individual teachers, or to engage collaborative teams to clarify and add meaning to each standard and allocate the appropriate amount of time to reasonably teach each standard. Which is more effective? The answer is clear -- the collaborative work of teacher teams. Otherwise, student outcomes depend solely on the teacher to whom students are assigned.    
                        -- Mattos, DuFour, Dufour, Eaker & Many (2016), p. 77
The focus on every student, every day is critical, and it is what moves us from being good or great educators to innovators. Through the individual talents we each bring to the creative team, and the learning we engage in together as educators, we build our capacity to create learning environments that deeply engage all students. We choose to cast aside the notion of teacher-innovators as isolationists, because it perpetuates inequity for students.

Finally, this approach allows for student learning to become personalized or passion-based, through differentiated instruction. Teaching and learning can no longer be one-size-fits-all. As our students demonstrate mastery in essential learning standards through evidence of student learning (through a process we have collaboratively developed and agreed upon), we can guide them higher. Similarly, we will work together to develop new ways of instruction for students who have not yet learned at a mastery level.

Innovation is not easy, and sometimes it feels clunky or slow. And we keep going, because we know that our collaborative and continuous professional learning around essential learning standards is focused on improving instruction every day for every student. That is work worth doing, and doing well.

Join the conversation...

How might your teacher teams be utilizing the essential learning standards process or another process to increase student learning?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Innovation Through Norms of Collaboration

How we work together in education innovation projects is often the key to sustainability. You can assemble a team of your top innovators, but if the team is not collaborative, chances are slim for long-term success.

In our district, many teams use Thinking Collaborative's Seven Norms of Collaboration:

Here's a link to a podcast from Deliberate Creative that details how those seven norms of collaboration boost innovation and creativity. The short story is that highly collaborative groups tend to be highly creative.

Other teams develop their own norms using a protocol. Regardless of how or where norms come from, the crucial step is implementation with fidelity.

The conventional thinking (from people like Bob Garmston and Rick DuFour) is that for the first six months, norms of collaboration should be reviewed at the beginning and end of each session. In addition, they should be critiqued at least twice a year for effectiveness.

In our student voice project at Forest Hills Northern High School, the team of innovators used a protocol to developed norms of collaboration during the first week of school. 

Just today, they spent about 30 minutes critiquing their use of the norms and making suggestions for improvement.

In smaller teams, they synthesized what was going well and where improvements might be made, and the result will be a revised set of collaborative norms moving forward.

[If you're interested in previous posts on the student voice project, check out Back to the FutureAre We On The Same Page?, and Scaling Up Innovations]

In taking time to "check the collaboration oil" this morning, our innovative work moving forward is certain to benefit.

Collaborative innovation, especially in education, is not always fast, but it is vital to results that last.

Join the conversation...
What norms of collaboration do you find helpful for your team's long-term success? What is your experience with collaborative norms boosting innovation and creativity?

Friday, September 30, 2016

Democracy, By Design

Today, a very interesting exhibit opens at the Smithsonian's Cooper Hewitt Design Museum in Manhattan. By the People: Designing a Better America features "hacks" by average people who are working to solve a problem or challenge in their own communities. As the linked New York Times article shows, the focus is on a "bubble up" approach.

The democratic concept of "by the people" is familiar most notably from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, although versions of its use circulated well before 1863. Certainly, our founders created the representative democracy we live in so that people can exercise their will directly or through elected officials.

How might concepts of democracy impact educational innovation? How do we design innovations that promote equal and just opportunities for all? 

Certainly, all of our states have some form of education clause in their constitutions that mention the right to a free and public education; many differ in further explanations or details. In addition to rights allotted in state constitutions, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution also may provide some educational rights to students.

There has also been a lot of litigation brought by students and families who do not believe that the delivered public education was at the level required by law. The most famous of these cases is Brown v. Board of Education, which challenged racial discrimination. Sadly, while racial discrimination remains an issue in education, many subsequent lawsuits have been brought based on inequities around funding, transportation, resources, facilities, teacher proficiency, and other areas.

Those factors and others need to be considered as we design innovations in education. For starters, we need to ask ourselves some basic questions:

  • are we including student voice in the design?
  • do all students have equal access to this new learning opportunity, and if not, why not?
  • what supports do we need to develop for students who may struggle in this innovative model?
  • how will we measure effectiveness of the innovation as it relates to student learning?
Democracy is often messy, hard, and takes time. Couple this with trying to make improvements in education, and you may feel like the task is impossible. But it is through the collective action of the people that productive change takes hold and thrives. We have a profound opportunity to model democratic principles through our work, and we need to be cognizant of it.

Join the conversation...
What are some additional democratic factors or considerations we need to consider as we design educational innovations? 

If you're interested, Cooper Hewitt has an Educator Resource Center for teachers interested in incorporating design in their classrooms. The site includes lesson plans aligned to national standards for all grade levels and helps teachers of all subjects learn ways to promote innovation, critical thinking, visual literacy, and problem-solving across the curriculum.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Scaling Up Innovations

"Rather than start from the premise that the core goal of scaling up is expanding the use of an educational innovation, we consider that the core goal of scaling up, despite the name, is improving education through continuous progress toward a performance goal over time, using a working innovation to accomplish it."
This different take on "scaling up" is the work of Nora H. Sabelli and Christopher J. Harris in chapter 2 of the book Scaling Educational Innovations.

It makes me think about two different ideas. First, in our student voice project at Forest Hills Northern High School, we are attempting to improve education through the authentic inclusion of student voice. This is innovative work at least within the confines of the school improvement process in Michigan, and likely joins just a few similar projects across the U.S. as a whole. I like the idea of scaling up as continual improvement and progress, and frankly, it helps take immediate pressure off, as my brain is frequently going toward "how might we expand this project" before we've barely begun.

Second, it also makes me think of an idea offered during a recent reflective coaching conversation. As I was discussing how I was collecting a pile of my daily learning targets and agendas on big sticky chart paper so that we could reflect as a class on our progress, my coach wondered out loud about the value for students in making an actual visual scaffold toward the learning goal. Today, I decided to give it a try:

As you can see, I'm still searching for the right amount of wall space to make it happen. Nonetheless, bringing a visual into the room, and being totally transparent with students about our learning around an innovative project may be the educational innovation in itself.

It also has caused me to reflect on my learning targets and goal. I know I need to get better, and I believe I can get better. I can "scale up."

Join the conversation...
With this different definition of "scaling up" educational innovation, how might you be thinking differently? Are you scaling up and didn't know it?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Are We On The Same Page?

This happened to me today. If you've read previous blog posts, you know we are working on an innovative student voice project at Forest Hills Northern High School around school improvement. In what I thought was a clear question on readiness for next steps, I managed to thoroughly muddy for the water for a few minutes. I only knew it was muddy because our students felt comfortable enough to seek clarity. If they had not, they likely would have complied with my request as best as possible, and I would have assumed, at least for a period of time, that we were all on the same page. 

Instead, based on their feedback, I realized I had been utterly confusing, and we were not even in the same book. What was clear in my head was not clear to anyone else but me. Together, we created a readiness question that everyone was able to understand and answer. Then, productivity soared:

Our ability to co-create an understanding was vital. But this got me to thinking...how often in our creative and innovative efforts do we miscommunicate or under communicate? And how often does it lead to confusion, resistance, and perhaps even the death of a great idea?

I needed to check for understanding. I could have easily done it by asking someone to paraphrase my question. If that person's paraphrase did not jive with my statement, I would have had instant feedback. If it did jive with mine, anyone else in the room who thought differently would have had instant feedback. Same book, same page. Lesson learned.

When we are working with innovative projects, it is really important to make sure that our collaborators or audience share a common understanding with us. Not only does that breed clarity, but is also enables the group to move forward and be even more creative. The time we spend on the front end to ensure clarity is repaid in multiples on the back end with the ideas, products, and structures the group is able to generate.

Join the conversation...
How do you ensure clarity around innovation processes or projects?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Back to the Future

Today, I re-entered classroom teaching on a small scale. I think this movie still might be how I appeared to the 29 students in second hour at Forest Hills Northern High School! I felt awkward, excited, nervous, and full of ideas. There was also a metaphorical significance -- I began my teaching career at FHN 13 years ago, and today felt like going back home to support our future.

We are launching a student voice initiative around school improvement, using the C3 Framework and standards. Students will:

  • develop questions about FHN and secondary education, and plan inquiries;
  • apply democratic principles to participation and deliberation;
  • gather and evaluate evidence; and
  • communicate conclusions and take informed action.
There is no real way to predict ultimate outcomes, because students will be making choices all along the way. My role is to support, coach, mentor, and guide. Much like Doc Brown, I may set some wheels in motion, but the future will be shaped by those who have the most at stake -- our students. For more on the "why," check out this 9:26 TEDxPlano talk by Catherine Zhang.

One of the pieces we collaborated on this morning involved this continuum from student voice work done by Eric Toshalis and Michael Nakkula:

As we went around the room meeting each other, I asked students to share where they thought we currently are on this continuum. Twelve chose Consultation, thirteen chose Participation, one chose the middle ground between those two, and three chose ActivismWe'll re-visit it from time to time, and it will be interesting to see if students shift their thinking left or right.

For now, I'm working on tomorrow's learning target. Even though I re-wrote today's multiple times, I still was not happy with it when I walked in and shared it. Tomorrow we will be working on co-creating norms of collaboration within our learning community, with the initial question of "do we need rules?" One thing I know for sure -- I need to go hunt down a thinking partner before I leave today.

Join the conversation...
Where do you think your school or district might be on the student voice continuum? No matter where you are, is there a compelling reason to move? What might that be?

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Pure Imagination

With the passing of Gene Wilder, I am again reminded of the genius of the scene in Willy Wonka where he sings "Pure Imagination":

Look at the faces on those kids! I've read that the director did not let anyone see the set until it was time to film, so that the looks of amazement and wonder would be as genuine as possible. Are these not the looks we desire from our students as we open up the world of learning and imagination in our schools?

Now take a look at some of the lyrics:
We'll begin, with a spin, traveling in the world of my creation. What we'll see will defy explanation.
If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it. Anything you want to, do it. Wanna change the world? There's nothing to it.
There is no life I know, to compare with pure imagination. Living there you'll be free, if you truly wish to be. 
 A perfect model of the gradual release of responsibility, allowing students choice and voice as they explore the compelling questions they have, and work on the problems they want to solve.

What might happen if we all became Willy Wonka for a day or more, and let our kids explore their imaginations? Certainly, some may fall into a chocolate river, or go down the bad egg chute, but those are the lessons of learning and growing. In fact, as Willy Wonka tells Charlie toward the end of the movie: "My dear boy, I promise you they'll be quite all right."

Join the conversation...
How might you be opening up space for pure imagination in this new school year?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Strength of My Ignorance

As I re-read The Dawn of System Leadership (published last year in the Stanford Social Innovation Review), I am reflecting on the impacts genuine system leaders might have on organizations regardless of personality or style. Specifically, I am zeroed in on this sentence:
Indeed, one of their greatest contributions can come from the strength of their ignorance, which gives them permission to ask obvious questions and to embody an openness and commitment to their own ongoing learning and growth that eventually infuse larger change efforts.
This intrigues me, because I'm not sure I ever viewed ignorance as a strength in quite this way. Don't get me wrong -- I am confident there are a lot of things I am ignorant about! It's just that I have not always been willing to show it in some settings.

Now I am thinking differently. If we are open and committed to our learning and growth, without regard to how we might be judged for asking what others deem as "obvious questions," how might it fuel and propel larger change efforts? Certainly, we tell our students that there are no "stupid" questions, because we want to promote their learning and growth. So why would we have a different standard for ourselves?

With this "learning by doing" approach, I believe we can create a culture that frees others to do the same. Indeed, as the Stanford article suggests, "situations previously suffering from polarization and inertia become more open, and what were previously seen as intractable problems become perceived as opportunities for innovation." Recognizing the strength of our ignorance allows us to become active change agents.

Join the conversation...
How might you be a change agent by activating the strength of your ignorance?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Are We Just Working On The Margins?

"We know from personal experience that when students feel their time spent in school is productive and that they can make real, visible changes within their schools, they put more effort into their learning. But this isn’t just supposition; If you ask any student when they felt most interested in their school, we bet we can predict their response. It’s when they were involved, as a partner, in both the design and implementation of lessons that appealed to real world problems....
Adults wring their hands, wondering how they can improve education in America. Well, we have the answer: an engaged and confident student body is the key to any broader school improvement effort. Without that buy-in, adults will always be working on the margins of the school culture."
Andrew Brennen (Andrew is the National Field Director of Student Voice, a non-profit group for students (and run by students) to integrate their voices into the global education conversation.)

Is he right? Are we just working on the margins of improvement and innovation because we are not authentically partnering with our students? 

I worry about this, especially since my school visits in Australia. It has caused me to re-think the student voice work we are embarking on in our district this fall. Initially, I wanted to have students act as researchers within a school setting to work with volunteer teachers on reflective practice. No more, unless that's where their interest lies. It's not about me.

Students have to be in charge of this work, and empowered to make decisions and take action. To that end, I promise to get out of the way, and to work to get other adults out of the way.

We have some initial ideas for their consideration, but then, it is up to them. Our proposal for "buckets" of school improvement research to conduct will fall into four general categories: 1) teaching and learning; 2) student wellbeing; 3) technology; and 4) physical structures & logistics of the school. If their desire to research an area falls outside one of these buckets, we'll create a new one. We will support them by providing learning and resources as needed, and authentically being partners on a level playing field. I personally cannot wait for them to teach me.

Stay tuned.

Join the conversation...
How else might we authentically partner with students for school improvement?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Dispatch From Down Under -- "Let's give it a red hot go"

That line was uttered to me today by principal Charles Branciforte during my visit to Keilor Views Primary School. It sums up his team's willingness to try out new educational ideas in small teacher groups via a research-based inquiry cycle. Many times the ideas work, and 6 to 12 months later, they are scaled up to eventually encompass the entire school if applicable. Sometimes, the ideas do not produce the desired impact on student learning, and are shelved. But it is that spirit and passion to change practice for the best interests of students that drives this innovative school.

The school utilizes the Visible Learning work of Professor John Hattie in all classrooms; indeed, Keilor is featured as a case study in Visible Learning into Action:International Case Studies of Impact.Teachers are committed to its implementation because they have seen the results. How do they know? Because Assistant Principal Rita Szrenko supports teachers in mining their data through a regular formative assessment process that includes regular conferring with students about their learning and student goal-setting.

Instructional coaches also support individual teachers to confirm the reliability of the data.

I accompanied Charles and Rita on one of their typical learning walks through the school.From classroom to classroom, the ages of students varied, but the non-negotiables did not: clear learning targets, success criteria, and at least 1,000 books available in each room:

By the way, that learning target and success criteria were in a classroom of 4-5 year olds.

Like any meaningful improvement, the success of Keilor students did not happen overnight. Indeed, it has taken commitment to a multiple year journey and an unending drive to continually improve. Along the way, some staff have opted out and either retired or moved to other schools. Charles and Rita have set very high expectations for teachers, and in turn, for students. Rita has been instrumental in supporting teacher teams in their collaborative planning of lessons, in a template that reminded me of our district's consensus mapping. Charles has been incredibly creative in finding funds to support teacher learning and collaborative time. Both are committed to creating a professional culture and atmosphere in which great teaching and learning occurs.

It's always a joy to enter a classroom of kids engaged in learning. What I saw today blew me away. Kids will rise or fall to meet expectations, and in this school, kids are soaring! And not just some kids, but all kids.

As I close this out, I need to thank not only Charles and Rita for their time, but the staff of Corwin Australia, especially Bishri Basheer and Brad Rosairo, for making this visit possible.

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How might we leverage this learning?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Dispatch from Down Under - Students Leading the Way

In the midst of a two-week trip to Melbourne, I had the great fortune to visit two state schools, both Years 9-12. My first visit was to Mt. Waverley Secondary College, a large co-ed school in a middle class suburb. The following day, I spent time at Mac.Robertson Girls' High School, somewhat smaller, and just a short tram ride from the Central Business District. Unlike Mt. Waverley, Mac.Rob is a magnet school with an application process. 

I went to the schools through the generous invitation of Roger Holdsworth, a man of many talents and an educator who truly believes in the democratic agency of all students.I met Roger online in a group dedicated to student voice while researching my dissertation. Sight unseen, he set up the school visits and made the rounds with me. My conversations with him were thought-provoking and have helped me grow my thinking.

Both of the schools I visited participate with the Victorian Student Representative Council -- "VicSRC" -- a state-funded body representing students. Through support from that agency, both schools engage in their own versions of Teach the Teacher, where students lead professional learning for educators in an atmosphere of open, honest, and nonjudgmental communication. I had the privilege to meet with students from both schools who are working with teachers to improve the learning in their schools.

Like many in education, the students are anxious for change. They recognize that their time at the school is limited, and they desire systems for sustainable change. They recognize the external and internal pressures on teachers stemming from economics and accountability, and they are willing to work shoulder-to-shoulder with them to make positive change.They recognize that not every educator is welcoming student voice with open ears, and they continue to believe in what they are doing. They recognize that in some ways their input is still at the tokenism level, and they persist in advocating for equality.

At Mt. Waverley, the Teach the Teacher program is currently centered around a shared belief among teachers and students that strong relationships are important to creating a healthy learning environment.Students led learning for staff and students around the perception data gathered in the school and worked together to draft a survey for teachers to use to gain feedback from students in individual classrooms.The teachers used the feedback to improve relationships, and thereby improve learning. To read more in-depth on this project, click here and forward to page 8. Another project the students are interested in is re-purposing the first 15-20 minutes of school so that teachers and students become more of a community of learners.

At Mac.Rob, the students and staff are engaged in a four-year strategic plan that includes their version of Teach the Teacher, known as Creating Conversations. Students take part in four different areas of the school: curriculum, building and logistics, e-learning, and wellbeing. On the day I was there, the students were holding an open forum on the Year 10 English curriculum, which had been reconfigured within the last few years. The students are seeking to understand the impact the curriculum change has had on students as they move up into Years 11 and 12, and on the teachers who are implementing the new curriculum. Like many schools in the U.S., the Mac.Rob students sometimes have a day off while their teachers engage in professional learning. The students also have an interest in measuring the impact that professional learning has on classroom learning.

What might we achieve in our schools if we not only engage student voice, but welcome students as leaders of learning? We talk to students all the time; what might happen if we talk with them? More importantly, what is possible if we listen as well? Why not learn from those most impacted by policies and decisions? Why not let them lead the way?

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What might this look like in your school? What would it take for students to lead the learning?