Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Without The Why We Just Comply



Back in 2014, under an instructional coaching blog, I wrote about the importance of understanding the Why behind any program or initiative we are engaged in. A lot of it was based on Simon Sinek's TEDTalk. if you haven't seen it, or watched it lately, click the link.

As much as I believe we need the "why" to innovate, I still see a lot in education that is about compliance. Sometimes that comes from government entities when we fill out reports, and sometimes that comes from within, in the form of "please just tell me what to do."

This is why (pun intended) I was hesitant in the last post to talk about checklists. Compliance and innovation are antithetical. Here is my wondering: does a tendency toward compliance arise because we as leaders fall short on building a consensus around the "why"? It reminds me of the stereotypical answer of a parent to the child's question of "why" -- "because I said so." I'll admit that as an exhausted parent, I dreamed of compliance! But our teachers  deserve so much more from us. They are intelligent adults who have the capacity to not only understand the why, but to embrace it, make it their own, and enrich student learning from it. After all, we all went into education because we are passionate about kids learning.

In terms of students, they also deserve a "why" to avoid compliance (memorizing for the sake of test regurgitation only). I've seen teachers do it masterfully in the unpacking of a well-crafted learning target, or using students' passions to drive teaching and learning around the standards.

But with compliance having such a long life in education, and the traditional roles of principal, teacher, and student being so deeply embedded, it is really hard for many to move beyond compliance. That is why the "why" is so desperately important.

If I could only pick one "why" around education innovation, it would probably be that we need to prepare and empower our kids to be change agents in multiple fields (see earlier post on the T Profile). The "what" and "how" must also be generated, but this is my "why" because the world is not organized into neat categories.  

Join the conversation...
What is your "why"?










Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Most Innovative Schools - A Checklist?

A few days ago, I came across an article entitled Wild and Thoughtful Innovation. Intrigued, I tore through it, and then immediately shared it with our superintendent and assistant superintendent for instruction. Why? First of all, it fully supports our ongoing work around implementation of an instructional framework with fidelity, and second, it fully supports the iterative inquiry cycle we are engaged in with essential learning standards.

The authors researched and visited more than 100 "innovative" schools across the globe, and while differences abounded, there were emergent themes that arose from all of them. While I am hesitant in describing them as a checklist for innovation as it may infer compliance, what we can learn from those emergent themes outweighs the risk. 

First, the visits identified these common themes for both innovation and learning excellence in terms of teacher moves:
• took collective responsibility for learning;
• actively collaborated;
• used laser-like learning targets;
• established common expectations for learning;
• provided timely feedback;
• acted on the information from formative assessments to differentiate learning through intervention and acceleration strategies; and
• used varied instructional strategies to meet the needs of all students.
As I look down that list, it is the exact intentional work we are engaged with as administrators and teachers in our district. We may not be there yet, but it is the vision we are working toward. 

Second, anyone who had read this blog in the past or had discussions with me knows of my advocacy for student voice. The visits in the article identified student voice as a common theme for innovation and excellence in the 100+ school visits:
[T]eachers developed partnerships with students in the learning process. Students had a voice in what they learned and could produce an expected plan for their learning that included how they would demonstrate their proficiency. Teachers honored their students’ unique attributes, developed positive relationships focused on each child’s strengths and passions, and provided personalized learning structures.
Student voice lives within our instructional framework, the state school improvement framework, and our inquiry cycle.

Now I'm wondering how the schools and teachers in our district would view themselves if we used the bullet points and statements from the articles as a formative assessment on our journey to become more innovative and excellent. Any takers?

I've only scratched the surface here with what's in the article. I encourage you to read it in its entirety, especially if you're interested in how the concept of disruptive innovation meshes with continuous school improvement. I'll leave you with one teaser from the article: "We decided to throw off some shackles. Wisely, we also chose to keep some core tenets that serve the present and the future. This includes professional learning communities as our foundational collaborative structure and an institutional commitment: a way to keep us honest about student learning and educator growth."

Join the conversation...
Whether you're in our district or not, does this resonate? What measures would you recommend to know if your classroom, school, or district is on the right track to achieve its goals?

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Cooper's Treasure



No, not the show on the Discovery Channel. I'm talking about the recent treasure I discovered sorting through stacks of articles and notes from my dissertation. 

About two years ago, I took a class with Dr. Kristy Cooper, titled "Organizing for Learning." Each week, steeped in the learning sciences, she would have us partake in meta-cognitive reflection, using these four questions:
  1. What have you learned this week?
  2. How have you learned this week?
  3. What is your current state of knowledge on this week's concepts?
  4. How does your learning this week apply to your current and future work?
Not only are these great questions as we support both student and adult learners in more structured settings, I'm also considering how they might help me in my own growth. What if I took time at the end of each week to answer those questions?

Trying it out for last week, I reflected as follows:

  1. Much of it was focused around personalized learning and competency-based education. What if we graduated to a system where students were learning and accelerating based on mastery, not seat time? What conditions would need to be in place for success? Where are we in our own unique journey vis-a-vis culture, transparency, and vision? We would really need to think differently, as it is a huge paradigm shift and pushes on both educator and student identities. It's not a "program," it's a second order change.
  2. Attending conference work sessions with leaders from Kenowa Hills and Virgel Hammonds, taking handwritten notes, and then having time to dialogue with learning partners about the ideas.
  3. I still have a lot to learn, and I need to seek out additional sources. Perhaps a visit to Kenowa Hills might help. I do feel like I have a good starting base of knowledge.
  4. As we look for ways to re-imagine the secondary experience, this idea has potential. It would have to be a multi-year inquiry process to assess all stakeholder group perceptions and readiness, engage in learning, and develop an implementation plan. My one burning question right now is: what do students think about it, especially if post-secondary institutions are not yet on board?
I allotted myself 15 minutes to reflect, and that seemed like enough. I went back afterward and inserted the hyperlinks. 

More importantly, it has deepened my own thinking around the concepts. Without it, I might have just put my notes into a file folder and called it good. Now, I am more invested in discovering additional "treasure" around competency-based education.

Reflection is key to learning. If I were back in a classroom, I would use these four questions to help deepen my learners' knowledge about themselves as learners and around concepts. That would be an innovative move on my part. As for now, I am committing to doing it for myself each week.

Monday, May 1, 2017

#StudentVoice in History - Birmingham, Alabama

As much as I am a proponent of student voice, I do worry that it is seen as a fad, or the next "new thing" in education. Frankly, student voice has been rooted in education and our country for more than fifty years.

In 1963, in Birmingham, Alabama, student voice was in the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement, specifically through what is now known as the Children's Crusade or March, during the first week of May. Thousands of students walked out of their schools and prepared to march through downtown Birmingham:



Of course, what happened to them during the march is seared into our collective conscience:








The willingness of those students to use their voices, suffer brutality at the hands of the police and fire departments, and go to jail, was a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement.

When we talk about student voice today, it is usually not in these same sort of circumstances. But, we do discuss it within the same theme: democracy.

The bravery of these students in 1963 changed our country, for the better. Our students today want to use their voices as change agents, too. How will we respond, both in our schools and in our society?

Join the conversation...
How do students use their voice in school and society today? What are your experiences?