My district superintendent ha created an initiative to become “Future Ready” as defined by the Department of Education and Alliance for Excellent Education. I will share some of my thinking here as I participate in the self evaluation process.
(Views expressed here are not necessarily those of my district)
Here are two of the indicators that stand out for me:
Strategies for Building College and Career Readiness: If a student gets a high score on a standardized test, such as the PARCC test, or the SAT or ACT Test, do you consider them to be College & Career Ready? In some informal research I’ve done, it seems to me that test scores are not a good indicator of future success. One of the things that bothers me, in the state of Colorado, is that test scores are accepted, under the new Graduation Guidelines, as an indicator of “College and Career Readiness.” I am hopeful, as our leadership committee addresses this misalignment, that we can do better in defining what College and Career Readiness looks like for our learners.
One of the activities I like to do with groups – parents, teachers, administrators, and students – is to have them think about the most powerful learning experiences they’ve ever had. Common elements of these learning experiences, that are revealed every time, involve learning that requires them to think critically, be creative, collaborate, problem solve, and has meaning or purpose, to the point that they were highly motivated and engaged in the task, and remember what they learned years later – still applying and transferring that learning as they seek to gain better and deeper understanding. I believe that we need to dramatically increase the opportunities for our learners to engage in this kind of learning. Then, we can truly know that they are college and career ready.
Research-based Practices for the Use of Technology in Learning: The reality is that there is still very little research that can isolate technology as the “thing” that brings success in learning. Rather, it is a tool used by creative teachers who design learning with the end in mind, and in ways that motivate and inspire kids.
I’ve explored many of the ideas set forth by the International Center for Leadership in Education. I love the Rigor & Relevance Framework, and we use that frequently to help teachers design learning that is meaningful, relevant and engaging. Another idea from this group that stands out for me and makes me pause about this portion of Gear 1 in the Future Ready Framework is their work around the concept of “Next Practices,” especially as we seek to move towards transformational learning. Not just “thinking outside the box” but “building a new box.” Technology tools come and go – often before any robust research can be conducted showing true value. It is a fast moving target. We shouldn’t be hung up on a particular tool, especially when we are gearing up for personalized learning. Let the students – who own their learning – select the best tool for the task. Teachers can learn to design learning that gives these kinds of opportunities. No longer do we have to “teach to the middle.” We can use technology to go beyond differentiation to personalize not just final project, but the time, place, path and pace of learning.
Good news! ISTE has included curating in their new standards! After 4 years of researching (curating!) this topic, I have a real appreciation for the importance of this skill and the depth of learning and connections that can be made through curating. Additionally, multiple other skills are practiced in the process of curating.
At Colorado ASCD’s ESSA Symposium for Superintendents and district leaders, one particular remark by Dr. Ken Haptonstall, the Superintendent for Garfield School District has stayed with me as I ponder the role of “teacher leader” in a school or district. He said that 70% of his high school teachers have their administrator license, but none of them has any interest in being a principal. At the same event, district leaders were speaking with great concern about the teacher turnover rate. I started wondering: What if we created a program that extended the current Colorado induction program, to provide an ongoing peer coaching program, that could also provided a career ladder for those teachers who want to learn and grow, have an opportunity to advance, but don’t want to leave the classroom? Could developing this address these two needs at once?
As I sat in the Symposium, I tweeted my thoughts on this, and received this reply from Lisa Bejarano:
— Lisa Bejarano (@lisabej_manitou) April 7, 2016
I do think National Board Certification is a fantastic program, however, I see its focus as being on what happens inside of the classroom. The program I envision would be to build teacher-leaders who have additional skill sets that can serve in a leadership role outside of the classroom. What I envision is either a graduate level degree or certification program offered through our state universities that would help develop good classroom teachers into teacher-leaders. The types of coursework might include:
- Cognitive coaching
- Designing professional learning for adults
- State education law
- Privacy law
- Project based Learning
- Personalized Learning
- Technology workflow
- Interpersonal communication
- Digital literacy
- Time management
- Brain-based learning
- Understanding by Design
Teachers who receive this certification could become key voices in district and school development. Here are ideas for these important roles they could assume:
- Mentoring teachers
- Peer Coaching
- Standards alignment work
- Creators of backwards-designed project based learning and units of inquiry
- Writer of common assessments
- Professional learning provider
- Curator of learning materials (digital and print) aligned to standards
- Advisor to school board
- Career Advancement for those who don’t want to be a principal: Promotion – pay scale –higher than teacher +MA – perhaps equivalent to a Dean or Assistant Principal
- Recognition –with all stakeholder groups
- Voice –in state, district and school decision-making
- Paid release time to peer-mentor & coach teachers, design learning and assessments, and curate resources
What are your thoughts? Teachers, would you be interested in a career ladder that allowed you to earn more pay yet remain in the classroom? Administrators, can you see a benefit to having teacher-leaders in your school who can be peer mentors and provide support to teachers who are struggling to transform and build future-ready classrooms?
Planning learning with the end in mind is a time-consuming task, but the results are definitely worth it. As a teacher, you have a clear idea of what learners need to understand and be able to do, based on the standards, and hopefully, how those ideas, concepts, and skills apply to the real world so that students are motivated, engaged, and an authentic performance assessment can be planned.
If the learners are able to transfer their knowledge and skills to a new situation to solve a problem or create something new, the teacher can know beyond the shadow of a doubt that the learners truly understand, and will be able to recall that learning and apply it whenever needed. To me, this is innovative, transformational learning – whether technology is used or not. Quite possibly, an authentic task will require the use of technology – as these are real-world tools. But it is not the focal point of the learning.
Recently, I had the opportunity to observe a group of 6th grade science learners engaged in this kind of transformative learning and performance task. The teacher, Laura Murray, had created a unit using Intel Education Transformation Model – a backwards design process. According to the Colorado Science Standards, students need to be able to understand that objects, processes and events are systems that consist of interacting parts, objects and events can be viewed at various scales, and that change follows patterns that can be directional, predictive, and/or cyclic. Students are to learn about the constructive and destructive earth processes.
Laura’s backwards plan was able to address these understandings and big ideas, and culminated in a performance based assessment where students had the opportunity to apply their understanding in a unique way. Students assumed the role of museum curator –in the far away future. They were able to choose –500,000 or 1,000,000 years in the future! Their task: Create a museum display depicting what the landscape of our area of Colorado might look like in that amount of time.
Prior to this culminating event, the students spent a good deal of time studying geologic periods. You can imagine, to the typical 6th grader, this can seem very abstract – perhaps even a bit dull. But it really came alive for these learners when Laura introduced them to an online resource provided by the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. They featured a special exhibition on Ancient Denvers: The Denver Basin Project. And –the task that they were given within the role of museum curator was exciting, creative, and engaging. Students had a connection because it was about their own landscape that they were challenged to make a prediction. The students worked in teams to research the exhibits the museum currently offered, read the descriptions, and then used their knowledge and understanding to predict their future landscape. This is a 1:1 iPad school, so they used the iPads to research, draw the landscapes for the exhibit, and write up the description for the museum placard.
The day I visited, the students were working specifically on their understanding of scale. Students were using rolls of cash register tape to physically see and understand the time distance between the geologic periods. They used a scale of 1 millimeter = 10,000 years and had to mark them all out on the tape. One of the things I loved about this as that Laura chose the best tool for the task at hand. Trying to create these models of scale using the iPad might have resulted in students not being able to see the physical distance from one mark to the next, and reduced understanding as a result.
What’s next? Seeking authentic feedback from real museum curators at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Providing authentic feedback is the finishing embellishment on a unit that provided these 6th grade learners with a transformational learning experience that they may carry with them for a lifetime.
Laura has been teaching middle schoolers for 13 years at Academy District 20’s Challenger Middle School in Colorado Springs. She has taught Science and Social Studies in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. She has earned Outdoor Recreation, Business, and Curriculum and Instruction degrees from Colorado State University and University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. In her spare time, Laura coaches Forensics, is a NJHS sponsor, and serves on many school and district committees. Laura also volunteers with theater programs at Challenger and Pine Creek High School.
The labels that we use matter. At FETC, I was reminded of this when a group of us were treated to a backstage tour of the Polynesian Resort and dinner at the Kona Café. We were escorted around by a “cast member” who made the experience so entertaining and informative. Her commitment to the role she plays is evident. Disney parks are known as magical places – but there are some specific practices put in place to help produce some of the magic that customers experience. One of these practices is the use of the label “cast member.” Think of all that this label implies. A member of the cast, in the traditional sense performs in a show. They create an illusion of another time and place to help transform the experience for those they encounter. This all lends itself to the magic behind the “Magic Kingdom” while communicating some pretty unique expectations to those that serve in the role of cast member, whether they are custodians, servers, or executives.
What does all of this have to do with innovations in education? A label we commonly use to refer to our main customer is “student.” Recently, I conducted a book study for a group of forward-thinking educators of Make Learning Personal: The What, Who, WOW, Where and Why by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey. One idea that resonated with our teachers was a simple shift in language: calling students learners rather than students. This came originally from CAST in the UDL Guidelines 2.0. The thinking behind this is that learning happens everywhere, all of the time. The shift in label from student to learner helps convey this. If we were to list out characteristics of learners and students how would they differ? Below are some of my thoughts. What would you add or change?
And then, in following the #Educon tweets this weekend, this tweet came across my stream:
Calling students “scholars” does not fix the school-to-prison pipeline. You have to treat students as scholars #educon
— Jessica Raleigh (@TyrnaD) January 30, 2016
This totally reinforces my thinking that our behaviors need to change -simply changing the label is not enough. By changing the label we use for those in our charge, we can begin to see them differently. The relationship changes, which will help them begin the shift from student to learner.
I continue to work towards connecting the dots between the deep inquiry process that student curation brings, and making learning personal for each student.
Recently, Barbara Bray & Kathleen McClaskey, authors of Make Learning Personal and the most knowledgeable people I know on the topic of personalized learning published a brilliant infographic, illustrated by the amazing Sylvia Duckworth, on “The Continuum of Choice.”
This reminded me immediately of another graphic that depicts the evolution of inquiry – moving control of the learning –or inquiry –from the teacher, to the student, created by Robert Bonnstetter. In an earlier blog post, I speculated that the column furthest to the right demonstrates student curation. I started wondering, where does student choice fall in this process?I created the chart below to show my thinking on the connections and alignment between Inquiry, Choice, Curation & Relevance:
While student curation is an important part of transferring ownership of learning to the student, and allows for them to think deeply and make connections as learners, I can see by looking at the “Continuum of Student Choice” that curation is not the final step. We need to provide time and support for our learners to take the next step, and apply the learning and understandings they have reached through the process of curating to solving real world problems, or to create something new.
Because, it’s about the transfer. If we want students to have enduring understanding, and be able to use their learning in practical ways, to solve real world, messy, unstructured problems. We need to provide the opportunity for them to practice this kind of learning transfer in a safe and supported environment.
I serve on our district’s Graduation Guidelines Committee, and recently we were asked to ponder the four questions below as we work on a plan to address new Graduation Guidelines for the state of Colorado. (The views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of my district)
We are the custodians of our students’ future. We will assure that students have the needed knowledge and skills for an uncertain future. We are trusted with ensuring that our students know how to learn, have the skills to do so, and we (as a collective group of stakeholders – teachers, parents, administrators, students, higher ed reps, and business reps) understand that the best preparation for an uncertain future emphasizes the learning skills through a different kind of school experience than we have been accustomed to.
Where must we go?
I believe we must re-evaluate the way we teach, or more importantly, the way students learn, and see where we can make changes to assure students are getting the 21st century and workforce readiness skills that they need. Lecture and textbook-based learning do not help students develop these skills. The norm should be students are learning content along the way to solving complex, real-world problems. Students should be the architects of their own learning. There must be support/scaffolding in place for students who will struggle – but we need to increase voice & choice so we can transfer ownership of learning to the student. Teachers need professional training to learn how to design this kind of learning. And technology must be ubiquitously available for all of our students’ learning. Consider – what percentage of time do you think our students will use paper and pencil in their future work? And what percentage of time do they currently use it? If the answer to the second question is larger than the first, then we must do something to balance this. We can impact how they learn – but the future is already rolling out and this is something we have no control over.
What can we allow?
I think we need to allow whatever it takes – but we need to have parent & community support and their understanding of WHY there is a need to change the way we teach and the way students learn. Higher Ed must also be prepared to make some changes as we and other districts are finding a way to move toward a new model of learning.
What do we hope to allow?
I hope we can allow students to have voice & choice in their learning and how they earn a diploma. I hope we can allow students to continuously practice 21st century/workforce readiness skills in pursuit of showing competency in the academic standards, but student paths can all be personalized. Students should be the architects of their learning, because if they are, they will be able to see a real connection between the learning pathways they choose and their higher education and career paths.
At the Innovative Education in Colorado (#InnEdCo15) conference, our Leadership preconference featured George Couros, who shared his thinking on transforming classrooms via Sylvia Duckworth’s great infographic. (8 Things to Look for In Today’s Classroom) This got me thinking: What if we applied these 8 things to professional learning and practice for teachers and administrators? As I continued thinking about these 8 things, I began to think of these as not just rights, but also responsibilities if we are ever going to achieve innovation in education and fundamentally transform learning to become relevant for each learner. What would you add to the list?
Teachers and administrators should learn from others and share their learning! Find your voice, get connected via Twitter, present at conferences, in staff meetings, and at parent meetings. Share the exciting learning that is occurring in your school or classroom.
Strength-based learning: Give educators a choice! We understand that technology is opening a pathway to be able to personalize learning for each student. Why not use the same tools and strategies to make professional learning personal for every educator? Offer a blend of online and face-to-face learning. Give educators choice by letting them set personal learning goals and develop a pathway to get there. Provide coaching, support and resources to help them along the way.
Everyone can benefit from writing and reflecting on what is being learned. Combine this with “Voice” – and you will make the case to start a blog to share your reflective practice with the world! Model reflection for your students. Be a co-learner.
Administrators: teachers need opportunities for innovation in a safe environment. I’ve made this case on my blog a few times…teacher creativity leads to student creativity. Teachers: Design matters. Be innovative in creating learning experiences for your students that offer them the opportunity to think deeper, create and make connections in pursuit of answers and solutions to real world problems. This doesn’t happen in the factory model of education. Don’t just think outside the box – build a new box!
Teachers and administrators should ask questions and challenge what they see. Don’t just do things in education because that’s the way it’s always been done. Times have changed! Challenge the status-quo and seek out opportunities to collaborate and problem solve for each student in your charge.
Teachers and administrators face tough challenges. Merriam-Webster defines innovation as a new idea, device, or method. Find innovative solutions. Embrace the cycle of problem solving where you try, fail, and try again. Model this for your students.
Self-assessment is formative assessment. It’s part of reflective practice. And, it’s important that teachers and administrators do this. Portfolios can help. And model. And give you voice. And help you connect and grow.
Being a connected educator will make you a better educator. If we hope to be able to help our students safely and effectively navigate social media and the hyper-connected online world, we need to understand it as a participant –and a learner– ourselves. If we hope to keep up with the rapidly growing set of technology tools and strategies for learning, then Twitter is the place to be.