Category: District Exemplars

Transparency and Trust

March 14, 2017 by

Transparency1

This article is the tenth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

Opportunity to Learn

Like most districts, transparency hasn’t been a strong point at D51 in the past. Thus, with transparency being a core value of performance-based education, there are trust issues that will have to be worked through. D51 knows it is important to provide teachers with the chance to understand and learn how to use the T&L Framework and effective practices. Any tools being developed are being designed to support growth – not evaluation. Rebecca Midles, Director of Performance-Based Learning (P-BL), noted that, “We are moving step by step and need to constantly communicate about our timelines and sequencing. Understandably, educators are wondering how the performance-based system will impact them. We are trying to be very clear about whether something is going to be evaluative or not. Eventually the T&L Framework will help us create the foundation for strengthening our human resource processes. But only when we are ready and only after teachers have had the opportunity to learn.” Opportunity to learn standards: an important piece of competency-based education for students and adults.

Preparing for Angst

Bil Pfaffendorf, a professional learning facilitator, mentioned the double edges of transparency. “The sense of trust is changing in D51,” he said. “There is more dialogue, people are sharing their opinions, and they are starting to feel confident that those at the district level are listening. We are all trying to be transparent, which is difficult in the midst of so much change. Transparency is important in building trust. It can also lead to anxiety. If teachers understand the expectations but don’t have the skills yet to do it, anxiety and angst are totally understandable feelings. So we are thinking about the the social and emotional learning of our teachers as we design the labs.”

Angst and anxiety came up several times during my visit. In a discussion, one teacher emphasized, “The level of professional engagement of our teachers is very high. Some are anxious because they recognize they have a lot to learn. Some may even be in cognitive overload as they wrap their heads around what it means to personalize their classrooms. Their can-do attitude is a beacon. It’s inspirational.”

Midles explained to me later that when educators start to feel anxious, it is often for one of two reasons. First, they may feel the expectations of their job are changing or they may not have the skills to excel. Thus, the trust-building response needs to be an assurance that there will be supports provided and that adults will not be evaluated until expectations are clear and they have had an opportunity to learn. Please note, this is the same principle used for students.

Second, anxiety and angst may build up when teachers feel out of control or that new expectations of compliance and control are being layered on top of their jobs. Midles referred to the Csikszentmihalyi model of flow in thinking about the mix of challenge and ability to strengthen educators’ and students’ relationships to learning. A middle school teacher, Darren Cook, explained to me that teachers have endured at least a decade of sweeping new reforms only to be replaced by the newest sweeping reform. With the introduction of the state-teacher evaluation policies that are not rooted in the culture or strategies of the district or their schools, teachers have become even more suspicious of changes. The trust-building response here is to make sure that teachers understand that as the district creates a more intentional common Teaching and Learning Framework, teachers will actually have more autonomy and opportunity for creativity in the strategies and learning experiences they use to help students learn. The other response is to offer opportunity to learn about performance-based learning not through memo or lecture, but through engaged reflective learning as well as opportunity to participate in creating the new system. (more…)

Creating a Transparent Performance-Based System at D51

March 1, 2017 by
D51 SEL

This is what co-design looks like.

This article is the eighth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

Grand Junction feels like a rugged western city, bordered as it is by towering mesas and the Colorado River. That’s why the sculptures that spring up at almost every downtown corner let you know that something else is happening here. Creativity runs through the city just as it runs through the school district. You can see it and feel it in the tremendous process of design that is taking place as D51 as it outlines the architecture of the performance-based system.

They are also in an intensive process of aligning these elements to offer a transparent and coherent system of learning:

  • Graduate profile: Will inform graduate competencies, school design, and learning experiences.
  • Shared vision, mission, and guiding principles: Used to make decisions and allocate resources from school board to classroom.
  • Competency Framework: Graduate competencies, standards, and rubrics create transparency for what students should know and be able to do at each performance level. This serves as the structure by which teachers can calibrate proficiency and ensure alignment of instruction as assessment to levels of rigor.
  • Teaching & Learning Framework: Guides policies, professional learning, and feedback loops to teachers, and adds new capacities and functionality in the system. Defines the instructional practices needed for personalized learning in all classrooms regardless of content or grade level
  • Effective Practices: The core set of practices that enable students to take ownership and teachers to create the capacity for personalization in their classrooms.
  • Foundation of Growth Mindset, Social & Emotional Learning and Habits of Mind: Standards and continuua that are used to help students build the skills of being a lifelong learner.

As described in the article on D51’s Implementation Strategies, the district is using a simultaneous roll out of strands of work, thus requiring them to intentionally loop back for further aligning before they complete this phase of work.

Much of their work is similar to the efforts that have been described in articles about Henry County, Lake County, Charleston, and the report Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. However, the features of D51’s transformational process (a culture rooted in a growth mindset; a shared vision; transparency and alignment; data-driven processes; personalized learning; and collective ownership) are shaping the processes and emphases in ways that give them depth. Their Teaching & Learning (T&L) Framework stands out as an important step that I haven’t seen before in other districts. (more…)

Supporting Teachers at D51: A Conversation with the Professional Learning Facilitators

February 23, 2017 by

#7 supporting teachersThis article is the seventh in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

Leigh Grasso, Director of Academic Achievement & Growth at D51, emphasizes, “We are shifting from a focus on professional development to professional learning.” And there are a lot of people focusing on helping the adults in the system learn. In the district decision-making/communication structure, there is the Learning System Support Team (LSST) that includes Content Facilitators (CFs). There is also the team of Professional Learning Facilitators (PLFs) who are organizing Design Labs for teachers.

I had the opportunity to speak with some of the PLFs, Amy Shephard-Fowler, Heather Flick, and Bil Pfaffendorf. As part of the Learning System Support Team, they are charged with creating and managing the overall the overall design for the structure of professional learning opportunities such as design hubs but work collaboratively with other LSST members, teachers, and administration in the design of the content to support the implementation of the performance-based system.

Background

As explained to me, D51 didn’t have a lot of systematic professional development in previous years. Four days a year were dedicated to event professional development with little choice available to teachers. In 2009 -2010, D51 completed the Comprehensive Appraisal for District Improvement (CADI) process and, in so doing, the emphasis on pedagogy went to an extreme emphasis on regimented delivery of curriculum and direct instruction. This left some teachers feeling like they had little autonomy and as if they had limited flexibility to meet the needs of their students. Flick explained, “We have the perfect storm to bring performance-based learning to the Grand Valley. They are ready for a system that is focused on our students.”

Feedback: The Key to Continuous Improvement for Designing Professional Learning

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Laying the Foundation with Culture and Climate

February 21, 2017 by

This article is the sixth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

Steve Schultz and Rebecca Midles from Getting Smart

The first of District 51’s five phases of implementation is Laying the Foundation. The foundation they are speaking of is the culture and climate in which personalized, performance-based learning can take root. They describe this as “a culture where each student has ownership of his/her academic, social and emotional learning resulting in readiness for success in life.” This description helps you understand their vision for a personalized, performance-based system – the policies, procedures, school design, schedules, learning experiences, supports, and instructional cycle – that is going to help students build the skills they need to become lifelong learners.

D51 has focused most of their attention on creating a robust, empowered culture of learning with the growth mindset, social and emotional learning, and Habits of Mind at its very core. It’s important to remember that the features of their system and their process are also shaping the creation of the culture and climate. (See The Vision of Performance-Based Education at D51.)

There are three things that stood out for me about their efforts that are different than I’ve seen in other districts:

  • Integration of the sixteen Habits of Mind into a Social & Emotional Learning Framework that is organized into developmental bands that will stretch from K-12.
  • Focus on growth mindset that emphasizes helping students learn how to be aware of self-talk and how to create productive self-talk.
  • Growth mindset is also influencing the efforts of designing the elements of the performance-based learning system and personalized support for teachers.

A Culture Rooted in the Growth Mindset

D51 talks about the growth mindset constantly – in professional learning sessions with teachers just becoming familiar with performance-based learning, in meetings with principals to build a culture of reflection as they stretch themselves to strengthen their understanding of their tasks as leaders, and in presentations in the community. It starts at the top – superintendent Steve Schultz models the growth mindset through reflecting on his own learning and a constant fail forward orientation.

Building the Culture and Climate to Support Growth Mindset

D51 has identified five strategies to help people, both students and adults alike, to learn to have a growth mindset. Posters are found all over the district highlighting the five steps: Brain, Mindsets, Self-Talk, Feedback, Goal. I’ve expanded on the third strategy, productive self-talk, as it is the first time I’ve heard a district focus this specifically on it. Click here for the Growth Mindset Learning Continuum.

Growth Mindset

1.Teach About the Brain: Students need to learn about the brain and how it works. Two important points that directly relate to the growth mindset: 1) their intelligence is not fixed and it can change, and 2) their intelligence can get stronger or weaker depending on effort that actually rewires the brain. I heard a facilitator in a professional development session call out with what sounded like true joy, “LET’S REWIRE!” (more…)

Growing into the Framework: D51’s Implementation Strategy

February 15, 2017 by

This article is the fifth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

Growing into the Framework

Superintendent Steve Schultz doesn’t ask “How are we going to implement?” Instead he thinks, “We have forty-four schools. How are they each going to grow into the framework?” The job of the district is to help learn, grow, and co-create with schools the new performance-based system (P-BL). The answer is through a more personalized approach that lets schools and educators start where they are in their current learning and move forward from there.

Five Phases of Implementation

Everything is in motion at District 51, and everyone is moving forward with the understanding that the different pieces will eventually need to be aligned. Thus, everything is draft and everything stays open until related work is done. Paul Jebe, Director of Educator Effectiveness, likened it to the whirling tea cups at Disneyland, bringing back that experience of loving every spin while simultaneously praying that it might be over soon.

Still in their first year of implementation, D51 has intensive activity in three of their five phases of work underway – so don’t make the mistake of thinking phase suggests sequence. There is a cohort of seven demonstration schools that are hungry to put the entire model into place as soon as it is ready. (When they sign up to be a demonstration school they are committing to demonstrating to others what performance-based learning looks like – it’s important to understand that they are not pilots.) The trick is that given the simultaneous development of many of the pieces, the demonstration schools might find themselves operating in the third phase even if they are missing some pieces from phases one or two. In a few more years, there will be efforts underway, schools and educators in all five phases as they continue to design, refine, skill-build, and engage.

D51 1

Remember, D51 describes the journey to transformation described in the previous article separately from the implementation strategy. Both are important – the journey captures the new conditions (strong learning culture, shared vision, collective ownership, personalized, transparency, and data-driven) that will shape the system (i.e., the paradigm shift), and the phases are how the work is being organized. Below is a quick scan of the phases and the different sets of work underway. (more…)

Holacracy: Organizing for Change at D51

February 8, 2017 by

Holacracy1This article is the fourth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

Posted inside the conference space where many of the district-level meetings and gatherings of principals are held is a Managing Complex Change chart that describes the conditions for successful implementation. It identifies five elements to think about (vision, skills, incentives, resources, action plan) with five likely issues that might develop if any are not well-managed (confusion, anxiety, resistance, frustration, and false starts). Although the chart is very simple, it does provide language and concepts to jump start conversations to identify indicators that something isn’t working well. For example, in one meeting, I heard someone say, “I don’t want to false start them by putting them in a meeting that is too deep in the weeds,” to refer to not having a formal plan to introduce new ideas. In many meetings, attention was given to possible anxiety and angst if teachers don’t have the chance to access supports based on where they are in their own learning.

But how do you make sure that vision + skills + incentives + resources + action plan are all in place and all aligned to bring change? D51 knows, as pretty much any district leadership involved in the conversion to competency education knows, that top-down hierarchical structures aren’t helpful. They force decisions to the top when what we want is to create empowering, flexible organizational structures.

So what’s a district to do? D51 is testing out if holacracy will do the trick. (more…)

The Vision of Performance-Based Education at D51

February 6, 2017 by

This article is the third in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

Starting with the Four Questions

Guiding QuestionsIt’s feels a bit like a riddle. You see the four Guiding Questions in different places throughout Colorado’s District 51. Everyone knows the district isn’t anywhere close to being able to ensure that students can answer all four questions, but they remind you that this is what they are striving for. This technique sparks reflection and opens up minds to P-BL and the ultimate goal of personalized learning.

These questions go to the heart of what it means to have a transparent system that engages, motivates, and enables students to build lifelong learning skills. Yet, they start with the important question, Do our students feel valued, safe and supported? If that isn’t in place, students won’t take risks, they won’t ask for the help they need, and they won’t strive to do reach their personal best every day.

The Values Leading to the Vision

Transformation MapD51 thinks about their efforts toward building a personalized, performance-based system as a transformational journey – transformational in that it is being grounded in a set of very different values, understanding of learning, and capacity than the traditional education system. (If you are new to competency education and need more information on this topic, see What is Competency Education?) Let’s call these the features of the system they are building.They are also the features of the process by which the district is going to transform their system. In other words, D51 is walking the talk.

These features of the system and the process include a culture rooted in a growth mindset; a shared vision; transparency and alignment; data driven processes; personalized learning, and collective ownership. As you read this series about D51’s journey to date, consider how each of these features may be shaping their strategies and driving their decisions.

Observation and Insight: I came to believe during my site visit that safety, trust, and respect are also a feature of D51’s work and the design of the system. It comes up in conversations along the way, but in general I think it is an operating value (although not one that is explicit as the features listed here). Given that many districts have to overcome years and years of mistrust, specifically rooted in the institutional patterns that have resulted in much lower quality of education in communities of color, I recommend that safety, trust, and respect be considered as explicit features that drive design and implementation.

What Does it Mean to Be Performance-Based?

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Building Consensus for Change at D51

February 2, 2017 by
d51 school board for post about building consensus for change

D51 School Board

This article, the second in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series, is about how the district has built the consensus for change and is engaging their community. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

One of the more challenging processes for medium to larger districts (as compared to the small ones that have led the way to competency-based education) is engaging the broader community in building the consensus for change. In general, when it comes to shifting course or introducing new reforms in larger districts, buy-in tends to be the most common strategy used; there is a single or big meeting with community members, presentation of the new idea, opportunity to react – and then it moves quickly into implementation. Engagement means that there are continued opportunities for community members to shape the “what” of competency education and that there are ongoing structures and processes for two-way dialogue. D51’s Superintendent Steve Schultz explains, “We want to move from a ‘decide and defend’ mentality to one in which we gather information to inform a decision before it is made.”

Below are highlights (and we know there is much more to the story than recounted here) of how D51 is building consensus and shaping community engagement.

A Bit of Background

Schultz had been guiding D51 toward personalization since 2006, when the school established three diploma pathways (normal, distinction, and individualized) with the district expanding the number of options and instructional pathways (IB, concurrent enrollment, STEM, Key Performance Program to demonstrate learning through capstones and presentations, and four alternative education programs). The emphasis was on helping students excel just as much as it was on increasing pathways for students who were having problems earning credits, were confronted with challenging life experiences, or had left school for a period of time to complete their diploma.

In 2013, when Schultz began to engage his team in learning about competency education, the communities within the Grand Valley were still challenged by the Great Recession. A region shaped by the boom and bust cycles of the oil industry, Grand Junction and the surrounding towns were having difficulty climbing out of the bust. Vast ideological differences had led to relationships becoming increasingly strained between the teachers’ association, administration, and the school board. Schultz remembers, “It became clear to us that we needed to focus on building relationships and finding common ground in order to move the district forward.”

Then two things happened. (more…)

Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51

January 26, 2017 by

national monumentThis is the first in a series on District 51’s transition to competency education. D51 uses the language of performance-based learning and uses PBL as an acronym. However, knowing that our readers are likely to read that as project-based learning, we are using P-BL to indicate performance-based learning.

D51, tucked away on the Western Slope in Colorado, is fashioning a new implementation roll-out strategy for performance-based learning. I spent a week in the fall visiting District 51 with school visits, meetings, interviews, and in-depth conversations with district leaders. The insights are plentiful but it should be understood that they were collected in the midst of the change process. Thus, there is less discussion in this series about the structure of their performance-based system and much more about the conditions that are needed to support it.

Highlights of D51’s Conversion to Performance-Based Learning

There is so much to be learned from the educators at D51. They are all at that stage of expert-novice – they can tell you about what they are learning, as it hasn’t become fully embedded as routine thinking or practices yet, and they can tell you about their areas of inquiry because they are becoming clear about what they don’t know…yet. Harvesting their bountiful insights was a delight. You can get a taste for their commitment and creativity by listening to Getting Smart’s interview with Superintendent Steve Shultz and Rebecca Midles, Director of Performance-Based Learning. Below are just a few of the highlights from this series:

  • D51’s story of deciding to move to P-BL and building the consensus for change is a fascinating one, as it emphasizes the critical role of school boards and how individual leaders can help move a district forward by engaging in dialogue and joint site visits.
  • D51’s roll-out strategies offer a new way of thinking about implementation. We have documented the implementation strategies used by many of the early innovators in Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders and strategies used by larger school districts such as Henry County, Lake County, and Charleston that have created scaling strategies. However, the early innovators were all very small and their approaches limited for medium-sized districts. And the larger school districts we have highlighted have often had funding through federal or large foundations to support their efforts. D51, with few additional funds, has developed a simultaneous and iterative approach based on carefully managing strands of work, including engaging the community in shaping a shared vision and graduate profile; designing a teaching and learning framework that defines the performance-based learning system; providing intensive capacity building for the first wave of demonstration schools; and re-designing professional development to support any teacher wanting to build their professional skills. They talk about phases of implementation but it doesn’t mean everyone will be in the same phase at the same time.

(more…)

Moving from Islands of Innovation to a District of Distinction in Personalized Learning (Part Two)

November 30, 2016 by

carverThis is the second post in a two-part series from Eastern Carver County Schools. Read the first here.

Simplifying and expanding
The strategic planning process from 2012 to 2014 laid the foundation for the development in 2015 of Eastern Carver County’s five-point personalized learning star. This addressed the uncertainty and variability we experienced in the earlier planning process. The visual aid tied together all of the pieces of work. The star includes key questions for school teams to answer.

  • Purposeful Learning: How do learners find relevancy and make connections between themselves and their learning?
  • Engagement with Learning Tools: How do learners purposefully select tools to support their learning?
  • Collaborative Environment: How do learners leverage their environment to maximize their learning?
  • Learner Voice and Choice: How do learners design and take ownership of their learning?
  • Purposeful Instruction, Assessment and Feedback: How do learners leverage relevant learning targets and authentic learning opportunities that meet their needs? How do learners use evidence and feedback to further their learning?

The district developed a website, wearepersonalizedlearning.org to provide resources and support to teachers, parents, and the community.

Using these five points, questions were posed to building level administrators at a monthly district leadership meeting. It was the last question — how do learners leverage relevant learning targets and authentic learning opportunities that meet their needs? — that was the most tantalizing and seemed to be the lever that propelled buildings toward full-scale implementation of personalized learning. The change in culture encourage educators to think differently about our work motivated many buildings to deepen their engagement in this work. Buildings sought out their pioneers and met this innovation mindset challenge by asking these same questions of staff. In one building, staff collaborated to integrate curriculum and standards around learning themes and tie their curriculum to these themes. Language around content changed to language around learning. By linking the learning together, teachers became facilitators of learning rather than teachers of content. Classrooms and hallways were transformed to create learning spaces with specific purposes and learners were consulted on what environment they needed for different learning opportunities. Bell schedules were tossed out in favor of student-driven schedules based on their needs. Teacher desks were moved to storage so classrooms could be transformed into learning environments each with unique purposes to support student learning. Time became more flexible with opportunities for learners to flex their time where they need for their learning. Teachers embraced informal learning time for student support and conferencing. Every nook and cranny in buildings became prime learning real estate. Is a student done with her learning in math, great! Now, flex out to open space to collaborate with other learners on science, or flex into a lesson with your world language teacher for more guidance. In one high school, teachers needing to be absent could opt out of a substitute teacher and use that time for tutoring, independent learning or group work. Bottom line: do what you need to do for your learning. (more…)

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