Thursday, January 28, 2016

Paradigm Shift - What Problems Do You Want To Solve?

It happened again -- that confluence of events that make you sit up and take notice of a common theme.

Tuesday morning, the Forest Hills Public Schools Foundation held its first annual Business Breakfast with about 55-60 members of our community. Batting clean-up after keynoter Kevin Stotts, President of Talent 2025, I spoke for a few minutes on innovation efforts here in FHPS, including our continued learning in the realm of the T-Profile:

It struck a chord with many in the audience, and we had some great informal discussions afterward before all rushing off in separate directions for the remainder of the day.

Tuesday evening, I was reading an ASCD guide (Buckner & Boyd's STEM Leadership, 2015) and came across "10 Key Questions to Assess Your Learners' 21st Century Literacy," with learners being defined as both staff and students:
Creativity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurial Skills
1. Do my learners demonstrate intellectual curiosity?
2. Do my learners act on creative and new ideas to make a tangible and useful contribution to self or culture?
Critical Thinking, Systems Thinking, and Problem-Solving Skills
3. Are my learners able to make complex choices and decisions?
4. Are my learners able to frame, analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information to solve problems and answer questions?
Interpersonal, Collaboration, and Communication Skills
5. When given the opportunity, do my learners articulate their thoughts and ideas clearly and effectively through speaking and writing?
Information and Media Literacy
6. Are my learners able to analyze, access, manage, integrate, evaluate, and create information in a variety of forms and media?
Self-Directional Skills
7. Are my learners able to monitor their own understanding and learning needs to accomplish goals that have been set?
Life Skills
8. Are my learners able to adapt to varied roles and responsibilities while bridging cultural differences and using differing perspectives to increase innovation and the quality of work?
9. Are my learners able to set and meet high standards and goals for delivering quality work on time?
10. Are my learners able to leverage the strengths of others to accomplish a common goal?
Hmmm, I thought. This sounds a lot like those broad competencies we would want for every learner, not just those in STEM courses or programs. It also sounds a lot like our instructional framework. Maybe I should think on this some more. And then I promptly fell asleep.

Finally, on Wednesday morning, I came across this image in my Facebook feed, and reposted it:

One last momentary glimpse inside my cobwebbed mind: "DUH - YOU'RE THINKING ABOUT A PARADIGM SHIFT!"

One thing we know -- paradigm shifts are hard work. They tackle the essence of how we see ourselves and the world. In the immortal words of Carolyn McKanders, it means "we're going to mess with your identity." And this paradigm shift messes with the identity of all education stakeholders: students, families, teachers, administrators, school board members, community members, taxpayers, policymakers, and government officials, just to name a few.

Let's look at a historical paradigm shift in science as an example. Our friend Copernicus introduces a new theory in the sixteenth century that the earth revolves around the sun. It flies in the face of more than a thousand years of accepted fact and common sense, and, it seeks to replace a theory that still works. As outlined in a Forbes article:
Copernicus's heliocentric model did no better predicting celestial events than the Ptolemaic system. All the Copernicus model could offer was the nebulous promise of better, simpler, solutions to other problems that might be developed at some point in the future....Copernicus's theory was a better theory, but the social and political cost of accepting it was horrendous: it risked undermining the entire religious basis of medieval society, along with the authority of the Pope.
Yes, paradigm shift is hard work. One of the twentieth century's leading researchers on paradigms and theories was Thomas Kuhn, who identified five characteristics to compare when contemplating a shift from one paradigm to another: accuracy; internal consistency, and external consistency with other accepted theories; scope, in that consequences should extend beyond the data it is required to explain; simplicity in organizing phenomena; and fruitfulness for further research (Kuhn, 1977). This likely explains why the Copernicus model ultimately prevailed -- it has a broader scope and is more fruitful.

What happens when we compare the 120+ year old model of teacher- and content-centric education with a new learning- and learner-centric model? Are we ready to engage in the comparison of paradigms? And if we find that the latter paradigm is more promising for our learners, how do we make the shift?

Join the conversation...
What might be the "costs" of accepting a new education paradigm? What existing people, systems, structures, and institutions will (be)(feel) challenged? What problems do you want to solve?

P.S. If you're in the Grand Rapids area on February 17, feel free to join us for a community viewing of the film Most Likely To Succeed at the Forest Hills Fine Arts Center. Screening time is 6:30pm and admission is free.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Who Tells Your Story?

At the end of the hit musical Hamilton, the ensemble sings a moving ballad entitled Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story. Spoiler alert: Alexander Hamilton dies. But I digress. The song details how Eliza Hamilton, now a widow, spends the next 50 years trying to tell her husband's story.

As an educator, who tells your story? 

Data (in any form -- numbers, maps, student voice, etc.) may tell part of the story, but data doesn't tell us what to do. We use data to help make decisions. When we make a decision or take action (innovative or otherwise), we are really only faced with two questions:
1. Does this align with our vision, mission, and guiding principles?
2. Is this solving an actual problem or filling a real need of our students?
If we can't answer "yes" to both, we should not be doing it. Did you notice what we don't ask? We don't ask for any guarantee of success, because it doesn't exist.

We can never guarantee success of any decision. When we tell our innovation story, it begins with the student problem we are trying to solve or the student need we are trying to fill. It is initially identified using data -- we don't want a solution that is in search of a problem. We chart a course to fill that need that also aligns with our vision, mission, and guiding principles. Maybe it's a new scientific inquiry process that intentionally brings student struggle into the mix, or moving to student math conversations to build the ability to reason inductively from data or explain flaws in arguments, or start using workshop at the secondary level to differentiate, or form a cross-disciplinary team for S.T.E.A.M. to bring real world problem-solving into the classroom. Creativity abounds among educators -- the trick is using evidence to help identify what students truly need and focusing our creativity right there.

Once we know what our students need and draft an action research plan to get there, we determine what professional learning teachers need in order to implement the plan. [In case this sounds a lot like the school improvement cycle to you, it is] We plan out a timeline for implementation, and how we will monitor for desired effect. Then...we do it, with regular teacher conversations to check in and amend the plan as needed.

It's not easy, but it is the right work. Thinking back to Hamilton, Madison, Washington, and Jefferson, establishing our country wasn't easy, but it was the right work. There was no guarantee of success, and we have continued to tweak our plan over the last 240 years.

Who tells your innovation story? You do. What story will you tell?

Join the conversation...
What's your story? Will you share it?

Friday, January 15, 2016

Innovation at the Core

Today we are bombarded with messages in a variety of formats about what is "wrong" with our schools and perhaps just as many that promise to deliver a myriad of innovative changes that will solve those problems. Perhaps I'm just not enough of a big thinker, but it seems to me that the K.I.S.S. method (keep it simple, stupid) is good advice. I am also wary of a solution that is looking for a problem to solve.

Richard Elmore, one of my educational leadership heroes, reminds us that no matter what the bells and whistles look and sound like, we have to stay focused on the “the core of educational practice.” By this he means how teachers understand the nature of knowledge and the student’s role in learning, and how those ideas about knowledge and learning play out in teaching and student work. It can also include the structures we have in place in schools, such as the physical learning environment, student grouping practices, and collective responsibility, as well as processes we have in place for assessing student learning and communicating it to students and other stakeholders. 

In our work, it is important to remember this from Elmore: 
Much of what passes for “change” in U.S. schooling is not really about changing the core, as defined above. Innovations often embody vague intentions of changing the core through modifications that are weakly related, or not related at all, to the core. U.S. secondary schools, for example, are constantly changing the way they arrange the schedule that students are expected to follow — lengthening or shortening class periods, distributing content in different ways across periods and days, increasing and decreasing class size for certain periods of the day, etc. These changes are often justified as a way to provide space in the day for teachers to do a kind of teaching they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do, or to develop a different kind of relationship with students around knowledge.
However, the changes 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. 
 So, how do we fundamentally change the conditions of teaching and learning? How do we make meaningful change to the core that will be beneficial for our kids?

This challenge is an adaptive one, which means we are addressing it while we are in the process of working on it. One step our district has taken already is in the adoption of an instructional framework based upon The Art and Science of Teaching: A Comprehensive Framework for Effective Instruction (Marzano, 2007). At the core of the instructional framework is one simple premise: truly effective learning requires that educators examine every component of the teaching process with equal resolve. 

Another step our district has taken is to take the state-mandated evaluation system and transform it into an opportunity to support the critical adult learning and growth that adaptive challenges require. As Eleanor Drago-Severson writes:
We know that a direct link exists between supporting adult learning and enhanced student achievement (DuFour, 2007; Guskey, 1999; Wagner, 2007), and opportunities for improved student learning depend on principal leadership and the quality of teaching (Firestone & Riehl, 2005; Levin, 2006; Marzano, Waters, & McNulty, 2005). 
This school year, our principals have moved into less formal, more frequent observations in classrooms that include focused coaching sessions with teachers around the instructional framework and teachers' individual professional growth plans. The process is still a work-in-progress, but that is the nature of adaptive work.

Elmore argues that without meaningful change to the core, innovation in schools will never get to scale, and I tend to agree with him.  Join the conversation...what do you think?

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Cultural Intelligence (CQ)

Most educators are familiar with the Four Cs, explained here by the National Education Association:
America’s system of education was built for an economy and a society that no longer exists. In the manufacturing and agrarian economies that existed 50 years ago, it was enough to master the “Three Rs” (reading, writing, and arithmetic). In the modern “flat world,” the “Three Rs” simply aren’t enough. If today’s students want to compete in this global society, however, they must also be proficient communicators, creators, critical thinkers, and collaborators (the “Four Cs”). Students need to master additional subject areas, including foreign languages, the arts, geography, science, and social studies. Educators must complement all of those subjects with the “Four Cs” to prepare young people for citizenship and the global workforce.
As we ponder the skills and knowledge our students need to lead meaningful lives in a global society, I offer the concept of cultural intelligence -- CQ -- as a lens through which to look at our preparation of students. CQ is "an individual's capacity to function effectively in situations characterized by cultural diversity" (Rockstuhl et al, 2011, p. 827). Optimally, high CQ means a person will:
  • be consciously aware of differences before and during interactions, and question their own assumptions;
  • be knowledgeable of norms and practices in different cultures through education and experiences;
  • be intrinsically motivated to learn about different cultures and have confidence in his or her ability to be interculturally effective; and
  • be flexible and adapt to use appropriate words and actions when interacting with people from other cultures
(Rockstuhl et al., 2011). Before turning to how might we build or cultivate CQ, I'm guessing that some of you may be asking, "what on earth does it have to do with innovation????"

CQ implicates the concept of diversity. The world beyond the borders of Forest Hills looks different; a comparison between the self-identification of our students and national figures reveals the following:

FHPS  2014-15 (MI School Data Report)
UNITED STATES 2014 (U.S. Census Bureau)
American Indian or Alaskan Native
African American
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
Two or more races

Globally, other countries do not categorize or collect race and ethnicity data in the same way we do, but global population information published by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2004 shows this profile:


According to Forbes, Inc.:
Diversity is a key driver of innovation and is a critical component of being successful on a global scale.  Senior executives are recognizing that a diverse set of experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds is crucial to innovation and the development of new ideas. When asked about the relationship between diversity and innovation, a majority of respondents agreed that diversity is crucial to encouraging different perspectives and ideas that foster innovation.
So we know the what and why of CQ and its connection to innovation, but how might we seek to increase our students' CQ?

First, by ensuring that behavior is in alignment with our core values and beliefs:

Each of us individually, and our organization as a whole, must continually self-assess and realign or recalibrate as needed.

Second, with a strong, common foundation, we can upshift our climate and our teaching and learning. This does not mean that great things are not already happening -- they are! But to become truly exceptional, as students, as staff, as an organization, and as innovators, grounded in diversity and equity, this lens asks us to focus on a transformational upshift. As we continue to lead from where we are, we will embrace our collective responsibility for the climate in our schools and in our district. As we continue to integrate the Instructional Framework and grow professionally, we will work to transform pedagogy and curriculum. We look to affirm and understand multiple identities and perspectives.

This is the opposite of being color-blind or neutral to any other categorization. We decide to consciously focus on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and sexual identity so that we can recognize any broad or systemic disparities in our policies or practices and bring them into alignment with all of our guiding principles (Milner, 2012). In addition, we can continue to cultivate a supportive culture with:

  • flexible school norms and values that allow students to express themselves in the manner of their choosing and still be recognized as academically successful;
  • an inclusive school community that helps students and staff feel welcomed and supported;
  • teachers and school leaders who initiate conversations about race and racism, religious freedom, sexual identity, and gender issues in an appropriate and safe way, and take proactive measures to address incidents when they occur; and
  • teachers and other staff committed to all students by encouraging and supporting them on an individual level
(Venzant Chambers & Hudgins, 2014). Again, this is not a judgment on past or present efforts, but just a different lens.

I have no idea if CQ will ever take hold in K-12 education as it has in the post-secondary world and the workplace. I merely offer it as an alternative way to consider our innovation efforts.

Join the conversation...
How might the concept of CQ resonate with you?