Pittsfield Rethinks Adult Roles

March 3, 2014 by

One of the big questions that we have barely begun to tackle is how do districts have to be transformed within a personalized, competency-based environment?

Supt. John Freeman

Supt. John Freeman

In preparing to transform the Pittsfield Middle and High School to a personalized, competency-based school, Pittsfield School District established a five-part logic model that included “redefine adult roles”. (Read more about Pittsfield’s competency education infrastructure, personalized approaches, and implementation insights.)

Organizational Changes: Superintendent John Freeman explained that they needed a flatter or more distributed organizational management structure.  Even in a small district, silos existed, with the elementary schools and Pittsfield Middle and High School operating very independently. More people are reporting to him now, allowing him to ensure that the core values are at the heart of implementation decisions.

In looking at the job requirements of the principal, PSD confronted one of the issues we all know to be true – the job of principal requires an enormous set of expertise and skills.  The instructional knowledge and skills are distinctly different from those of operating a facility. So PSD has replaced the principal positions with two deans – the Dean of Instruction and the Dean of Operations.  In addition, they created the position of Director of College and Career Readiness (DCCR) to direct more attention to the preparation and transition of students for graduation. The ELO coordinator and counselors report to the DCCR

Using Data:  Data is used increasingly to help guide decisions at PSD, building upon the work of Paul Bambrick-Santoyo. Given that PowerSchool has yet to make the necessary changes for a personalized, competency-based district to monitor student progress, there is a limit on how much real-time data can be used to help PSD improve their services. PSD’s small size is an advantage, however, as teachers can identify students who are struggling or not making adequate progress and engage the students other teachers as needed.

Revisiting Job Descriptions:  With the support of William Bryan, PSD began a process of revisiting jobs.  In an inclusive process, they agreed upon the purpose of the position, success measures, critical interdependencies, contact priorities, and a position description that includes basic and advanced knowledge, skills and talents, and performance measures.  Here are some of the expectations of a PMHS teacher: (more…)

Hand in Hand: Pittsfield Integrates Personalized Learning and Competency Education

February 27, 2014 by

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 1.29.25 PMOne of my big takeaways from my visit to New Hampshire is that personalized learning and competency education go hand in hand.  When personalizing education, you can’t be sure you are helping kids reach proficiency without the competency-based infrastructure and you can’t help each and every student become proficient without personalization.

Pittsfield School District (PSD) understands this. Building upon their competency education infrastructure, they are personalizing the educational experience for students in at least these four ways:

#1 Taking Student Voice Seriously

PSD focuses on student voice as much as choice.  As described in the first post, there is a pervasive belief that engagement is core to academic success and sustainability.  Engagement starts with respecting and listening to different perspectives – so much of the engagement is directed at including student voice and investing in their leadership development.

PSD has prepared for student voice in two ways. First, structurally, they are creating formal avenues for youth participation. At the Pittsfield Middle and High School (PMHS), the majority of the School Council members are students.  PMHS also has brought in consultants to help the school support students and adults in working collaboratively on the Council. It doesn’t stop there – students have the majority on the school’s Advisory Council, Impact Team, and Justice Committee.  These all give students the voice to make changes in the school so that it develops into the school they wish it to be. (more…)

The Right Work To Do

February 25, 2014 by
the boxes-jason ellingson

Jason Ellingson

The boxes arrived last week. Those boxes stacked high, full of Iowa Assessment test booklets, answer sheets, and directions for administration. They arrived and are sitting against the far wall of my office – not physically, but philosophically in the way. In two weeks, our students will take those tests. They will spend multiple hours over a course of a week filling in bubbles to demonstrate to the federal and state governments that they have grown academically in content areas like reading, math, science, and social studies. There will be no test on grit or perseverance – except their ability to complete the test without creating a pattern on the answer sheet. There will be no test on creativity – unless they do create a pattern on the answer sheet.

All of this will happen in the midst of a year where my district has truly pushed itself to know the learner better to grow the learner better. We have pushed hard to mold ourselves into what our students need, not mold the students into what we need. We have more teachers that ever using data to revise instruction, using standards-based learning, and thinking about competency-based education. We work toward a new goal of personalized learning in our district – and it is exciting, invigorating, daunting, and … the right work.

So, those boxes sit in my office while I have the pleasure of attending a convening hosted by the Nellie Mae Foundation and KnowledgeWork on the federal accountability framework in light of competency-based education. The convening was a great two days focused on assessment, core CBE principles, the role of the federal government in education, and the unintended consequences of building a new framework that is easy to understand (and which may do more harm to CBE than the current one).

The discussion on accountability traveled far and wide. Some of the main points and questions raised included:

  1. We do not want to see competency education mandated from the federal government. We want to have federal accountability policy be structured to enable competency education and its core principles. (more…)

Learner Goal Setting and Monitoring: The science of “leading their learning”

February 24, 2014 by

This article was originally published in the Reinventing Schools Coalition January newsletter.

LearnerGoal1 Research shows that engagement in learning motivates and deepens understanding. To help students begin to “own their learning,” they will require clarity, feedback, and an association with the targeted content or skill. As effective teachers and leaders, we begin the learning process with students by ensuring clarity as to what they need to know (informational domain) and be able to do (mental and psychomotor procedures).

Using the “new taxonomy” helps make meaning of this, as it looks at how the information is being used or processed by the learner. The taxonomy is broken down into six levels (diagram at left). The lower four levels of mental processing are cognitive levels. Each refers to how the information is being used or how learning might be demonstrated with deepening understanding or rigor. Using the taxonomy clarifies what a learner needs to do with the information to succeed at the next levels.

Clarification of learning outcomes, by itself, does not guarantee student success. Combining the taxonomic roadmap with specific formative feedback and providing the information in a context that each student can connect with leads toward personal mastery of that learning. In other words, we want students to not only process information cognitively, but also metacognitively, which then influences self-esteem (refer to top two levels of diagram). (more…)

Redesign at Pittsfield School District

February 21, 2014 by

Screen Shot 2014-02-21 at 7.26.32 AMIt was a delight to visit Pittsfield School District (PSD) to learn about the redesign of the district starting with the Pittsfield Middle High School. It’s a comprehensive design:  Keep “students at the center” using personalized learning strategies that build upon a competency-based infrastructure to ensure students master twenty-first century skills and demonstrate academic content and skills. It’s a mouthful for sure – and this district is doing it.

Tobi Chassie and Susan Bradley, Co-Project Managers of the Systems Change Initiative shared their impressive results.  The percent of students being accepted to college has jumped from 20% to 80%. Chassie explained, “There is a palpable difference among faculty and the community in enthusiasm and hope. And their expectations for the kids have increased.” Bradley emphasized, “A lot of the difference is in student voice – they just had to let it out. They just needed a system and process that allowed them to express their voice. Their voice has motivated the teachers.”

How It Started: The redesign started after faculty and staff agreed that the status quo wasn’t acceptable and committed to do better for their kids. The district had been forced to reduce staff due to the economic downturn and dropping enrollment due to redistricting.  Pittsfield Middle High School (PMHS)was a SIG school and the community saw it as a problem. They also agreed that incremental cuts or reducing programs wasn’t an option. The school board wanted a coherent system of education.

Starting in 2008 with a community-wide dialogue, a shared vision was created for a student-centered redesign based on five principles:

  1. Learning is personalized
  2. Teaching is focused on coaching and facilitating
  3. Learning reaches beyond the school walls
  4. Progress is measured by mastery, not by age or the number of classroom hours, and
  5. Time is a flexible resource

Note that the competency-based elements are captured in “measured by mastery” and “time is a flexible resource.”  The others focus on personalization, valuing learning wherever it takes place, and the changing roles of educators.

Their Community Engagement Strategy: PSD doesn’t do “buy in” or input when they discuss community engagement. PSD’s active community demanded that it be an authentic partner, not passive observers satisfied with updates.  In order to ensure the community is a partner in considering and shaping new ideas all along the way, PSD has created formal structures.  (more…)

Five Big Take-aways on Implementation from New Hampshire

February 19, 2014 by
Chris Sturgis

Chris Sturgis

I just got back from amazing travels to five districts/charter schools in New Hampshire – Making Community Connections Charter School, Pittsfield School District, Rochester School District, Sanborn Regional School District, and Virtual Learning Academy Charter School. Truly it was a delight to see what it looks like as an entire state moves down the path to transformation. To all the New Hampshire educators and leaders — thank you for your courage, creativity and persevering leadership! Here are my five big take-aways with more detailed posts to follow:

 1.Personalization Required

I don’t think competency education works well without personalization. They go hand in hand. Personalization requires an infrastructure that enables us to understand how students are progressing and to keep a keen eye on equity. Competency education requires us to personalize education to make sure students are getting the help they need when they need it. (more…)

The Perfect Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Honors in Our Competency-Based System

February 18, 2014 by

 

The Need For Change: Brian’s Uh-huh! Momenthonors

I was watching a cooking competition on the Food Network the other day. The contestants were asked to create the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich for a panel of judges to sample. The judges then assessed the sandwiches on a variety of characteristics including overall taste, texture, presentation, and what they called a “wow factor” that included the use of unique ingredients.

This competition really got me thinking. Brady and Cameron, my 8- and 6-year-old sons, and I make grilled cheese sandwiches all the time. Through trial and error, we have learned what works and what doesn’t. Some of our discoveries have included what kinds of cheeses melt best, how much butter to use to get a crispy crust, what kinds of breads produce the best flavors, and how hot to make our pan to get the right sandwich. We’ve made plenty of mediocre sandwiches along the way – overcooked or undercooked, not enough cheese, not enough butter, soggy, or just too dry. Still, even the mediocre sandwiches satisfied our hunger at that moment. (more…)

Voices from the Field: Owning the LEARNING!

February 17, 2014 by
Heather Bross

Heather Bross

This article was originally published in the Reinventing Schools Coalition January newsletter. The RISC newsletter is designed to give you practices and opportunities to move students from compliance into engagement, an essential element for building a personal mastery system.

As with each New Year, new hope for success and happiness formulates in all of us. Which makes this an ideal time to begin goal setting and the practice of self-monitoring with students.

As a coach and an avid Detroit Lions fan, I had many mixed feelings over the weekend. My beloved Detroit Lions were out of the playoffs, so my family watched as the Packers lost to a team led by someone who, I must admit, struck a chord deep in my educator heart. You may have already heard the tale of 49er’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s letter to himself at age 9 predicting that he would someday play pro football. Funny thing, he was very detailed in writing that he would play for either the 49er’s or the Pack-ers…. The irony of that brings a smile to any sports fan’s face.

In the letter, Colin prophesizes the future: “I’m 5 ft. 2 inches 91 pounds. Good athlete. I think in 7 years I will be between 6 ft — to 6 ft 4 inches 140 pounds. I hope I go to a good college in football Then go to the pros and play on the niners or the packers even if they aren’t good in seven years. My friend are Jason, Kyler, Leo, Spencer, Mark and Jacob.

Sincerely, Colin (more…)

Five Quick Thoughts About Accountability

February 13, 2014 by

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 2.23.47 PMThere is a flurry of conversations about federal accountability policy and assessment going on around the country. You may have heard about it described as accountability 3.0. I had the opportunity to participate in one of the conversations last week and just finished listening to the conversation led by Maria Worthen, iNACOL and Lillian Pace, KnowledgeWorks held today based on their report  A K-12 Federal Policy Framework for Competency Education: Building Capacity for Systems Change. And I’m feeling inspired to jot down a couple of my thoughts:

1. Federal policy must NOT mandate competency education.  We want it to enable competency education and eliminate any elements that inhibit it.  Federal policy can even catalyze it.  But at this point in time, federal policy should not expect everyone to do it. There are several reasons for this. First, any top down, bureaucratic approaches are just inconsistent with the student-centered, do what it takes, spirit of continuous improvement that is essential to personalized, competency-based schools. Second, we don’t have enough research and evaluation to tell us about quality implementation or what we need to ensure that special populations and struggling students benefit.  We just aren’t ready yet.

2. Assessment comes before accountability.  It’s almost impossible to untangle accountability from assessment in today’s policy context.  That’s because the accountability system has required states to have a specific type of assessment system.  This is a huge problem because assessment should be focused on helping students to learn.  Instead we see it as part of the accountability system. I know this is too simple… and all the accountability and assessment experts out there might dismiss this. But I just don’t think we can go where we want to go if we start with the requirements of today’s accountability system driving learning. So I think we need to define what is really important for systems of assessments and then draw from that what might be valuable for any type of accountability system.  Let’s keep our priorities straight by focusing on assessment and accountability not accountability and assessment. (more…)

New Year’s Resolution: Student Directed Individualized Learning for All

February 12, 2014 by

This article was originally published in the Reinventing Schools Coalition January newsletter. The RISC newsletter is designed to give you practices and opportunities to move students from compliance into engagement, an essential element for building a personal mastery system.

New Year'sAs stated in the book Delivering on the Promise, “a RISC system is where students themselves are encouraged, taught, and empowered to be accountable for their learning. This is not a back-and-white, step-by step, to-do list through which students become leaders of the learning process overnight. It is an evolutionary process in which students move from being dependent to independent learners…. Once students own the system and they understand the direction they are headed in their education, they become advocates who begin to insist that teachers help them accomplish their goals.”

This type of change requires a shift in the roles of the teacher and the learner. Teachers and students will unpack the standard, determine the rigor of the learning (cognitive and content knowledge), and build a transparent learning progression with clear and timely feedback. The student, when given an unpacked standard and learning progression, will be required not just to understand their own capacity, but to make decisions about the ways in which they will learn and prove mastery. When setting goals and direction, students become engaged leaders of their own learning.

Goal setting and monitoring are essential components of learning. “On average, the practice of having students track their own progress was associated with a 32 percentile gain in their achievement” (Marzano, 2009). (more…)

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