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 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?