Author: Dan Joseph

The Journey to a Personal Mastery System

May 14, 2014 by
dan joseph

Dan Joseph

Originally published in the Reinventing Schools Coalition May newsletter

It all starts with an essential question.  What do we want our students to know, do and become?  This question is to be asked and answered at all levels of the learning community. If our answers to this question do not fit the reality, then we must reflect on our systems for educating all of our children

As a leader of a school that has engaged in these deep reflective questions, I am reminded of a typical exchange I would have with visiting members from other school districts.  Over the few years, a number of schools and districts would come to visit and see our standards based educational model.  Often times I would ask a very simple question: “Why are you here and what is the outcome that you would like to have as a result of your visit?” This was a question that we asked prior to any exchange of information or classroom visits.  The most popular answer was:  “We need to produce a standards based report card.”  Aside from a state mandate, this is not a compelling and deep reason to change a system of instruction to meet the needs of all students.  There was a disconnection in these teachers’ minds relating to the identification of the right solution or even the problem.  However, by lunchtime these same teachers and leaders would realize the depth of change they were seeing.  I do believe they returned to their districts with a better sense of what the change needed to encompass.

So are you and your district on the right track?  We thought we were, until we started to look at ourselves and our system. Why were we working so hard, yet our students were not making the gains that we believed they should be making?

This statement brought to light a system that needed to be changed, not any one program or teacher, but the entire system.  You probably work in a district that was similar to ours.  We had RTI (Response To Intervention), 504, IEPs, PBIS, AIMSweb, NWEA, PLCs and UBD.  How and to what could we align these silos?

Well to start off, we needed to make the following promises for every child:

  • Understand how a student learns best and have a strong voice in their learning.
  • Have students work at their instructional level to engage and accelerate their learning.
  • Offer clarity and transparency so that students can navigate and monitor their learning.
  • Finally, build a system where students are driven by their passion and realize their potential.

Sounds great, but many times the journey away from the reality of our current situation to the vision of the promise is too difficult to even take a first step. Transformational change is difficult and deep; it requires an understanding of individuals, systems and the culture of an organization. I often reflect on Phillip Schlechty’s quote, “Structural change that is not supported by cultural change will eventually be overwhelmed by the culture, for it is in the culture that any organization finds meaning and stability.” (Schlechty, Shaking Up the Schoolhouse: How to Support and Sustain Educational Innovation (2001), p. 52) (more…)

Where is the Love? Leading transformational change, beyond information and technology

March 21, 2014 by
anthony muhammed

Anthony Muhammed

Last December I was at a conference sponsored by the Maine Principals Association and the keynote speaker was Dr. Anthony Muhammad. The topic was building and changing your school culture. As I listened to his presentation, I realized that when building leadership capacity for transformative change, two variables must be acknowledged to better identify and mobilize the ideas and people who are a part of the change process.

First, the technical changes that occur become the tools and structures for learning. Second are the “cultural” pieces, our beliefs, practices, behaviors and norms within and across the organization. Philip Schlechty offers this perspective of the interplay between structure and culture: “Structural change that is not supported by cultural change will eventually be overwhelmed by the culture, for it is in the culture that any organization finds meaning and stability.”

This is where many school officials and reformers fear to tread, but it is the place that holds the biggest keys to unlocking the potential for real change in our schools.

It reminds me of a staff meeting that I had as we began to really push ourselves and our thinking around teaching and learning. I placed a statement on the wall, “All students can meet high standards regardless of their home situation or the teacher they are assigned.” Needless to say, we had a very powerful conversation that afternoon. This is where we pushed our shared vision of all learners into a covenant of collective responsibility. We had adopted a set of values that supported professional development, a sense of responsibility for student learning, and a positive, caring atmosphere. The old model of compliance was being dismantled, as opportunities to enter the realm of collaboration, support and transparency increased. How was this different than before? We had PLCs, staff led committees, and individual goal-setting. (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…)

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…)

Engagement – Designing for Learning in a Personal Mastery System

November 18, 2013 by

This article from the Reinventing Schools Coalition 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.

Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 2.14.43 PMPhillip Schlechty has enumerated a number of beliefs about viewing the student as a customer, volunteer, and a knowledge worker. What they have to volunteer is their attention and commitment. It is this perspective that drives the concept of teaching and learning from the student-centered approach. The idea of personal mastery is to require students to lead their own mastery learning in a personalized manner. This requires clear expectations, frequent feedback, and an engaged student.

For students to see the importance of the work, they must be willing to invest in their own learning. This requires the role of the teacher, student, curriculum, and assessment to change in the following manner. The idea of design must begin with the needs of the student(customer), and result in added value to the student.

  • Value – In order for students to invest time into monitoring their own progress, there needs to be a reason involved with the assignment, as well as a connection with their interests.
  • Commitment – Students need to see the importance of the work in order to be committed to it. Getting them “into” the work creates commitment. (more…)

Leadership Capacity for Second-Order Change

November 11, 2013 by

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This article was first published in the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition October newsletter.

Dr. Robert Marzano identifies 7 out of 21 leadership responsibilities that are integral to bring about second order change in schools. They are as follows: Knowledge of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, Optimizer, Intellectual Stimulation, Change Agent, Monitoring/Evaluating, Flexibility Ideals and Beliefs.

All of these principles must be viewed in the light of an organization that is looking to innovate and transform themselves into systems that meet the needs of all children. This assumes that it is not enough to have a vision, it is necessary to move the organization through a change or innovative process. As the organization moves, it must be sustained. The traits that Marzano identifies are in constant demand of a leader’s attention. This is a very daunting task, the idea of building a school leadership plan for success is pivotal in creating the reality of your school vision. Keeping in mind the above traits… think about these five steps to build the leadership capacity within your school.

Develop a Strong School Leadership Plan. This plan must identify the key components above and their relationship to the shared vision. As the leader identifies the “what” and the “why” of their plan, they must now build the capacity to do the work. Each item must have a clear expectation, measurement and timeline. (more…)

Worlds Colliding or Aligning: Teacher Preparation During Educational Transformation

October 23, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 4.10.40 PMAre we preparing future teachers for the demands of next generation education?

According to “InTASC: Model Core Teaching Standards and Learning Progressions for Teacher 1.0,” there are 10 learning progressions that are described as “key pedagogical strategies.”  The InTASC standards have 4 broad categories: the learner and the learning, content knowledge, instructional practice, and professional responsibility.  These broad categories are familiar to all educators; however, the application of these ideas will change as our educational system is transformed and requires a new vision of teaching.

In one of my roles as a consultant for the Reinventing Schools Coalition (RISC), I am aware of these transformative ideas and practices and their impact on teacher training.  Practices that have been in place for many years are now being reviewed and evaluated.  The idea of relearning, unlearning, and reinventing your practice requires a significant investment in time, energy, and culture.  The ideas of personalized learning, unpacking standards, alternative applications of knowledge and skill, as well as building a collaborative culture, are germane to the concept of transformation within our schools. This transformation is from a factory model to a model of student learning that is personalized, with students as engaged thinkers and leaders of their own learning.  Teacher’s roles, as well as the role of the students, curriculum, and assessment are in a state of transformation.  These changes will stretch our thinking and evaluate our instructional practices based on student outcomes and data.  (more…)

Learning for All: What’s Your “Burning Platform?”

October 2, 2013 by

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

In the book Learning for All, Lawrence Lezotte offers practical ideas and actions that all schools can take to ensure learning is not optional. As leaders we must be dedicated to the idea that all students can learn and that they learn at differing rates. Unfortunately we are aware of the competing interests for our time and focus that may draw our attention from this basic and important belief. The sense of competing missions and visions are constantly challenging us to build and align systems to bring clarity to our mission and vision. Lezotte states the primary aim for our schools ought to be learning for all! Are our systems aligned and dedicated to this outcome? Our systems need to be focused to promote a pervasive sense of mission.

This idea of a burning platform is stated in a number of books on organizational theory. It has become common place in the vernacular of leadership and organizational change. It is easy to say the words, “All kids can learn…” but how do our system and culture create this outcome? This idea denotes a basic, yet foundational premise around what is important. Many times we need to understand the “why” before we discuss the “how.” The ideas of precision, strategic design, and high yield strategies are based on and aligned to an organization’s core values. These values identify the moral purpose of the organization and therefore can direct and support transformational change.

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