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?