Author: Matt Drewette-Card

The Importance of Modeling Student-Centered Professional Learning

August 7, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at Students at the Center on July 7, 2017.

Creating student-centered learning environments is no easy task. Teachers often do not receive enough quality professional learning to provide them with the time to design student-centered learning environments. The major difficulties are that they lack the opportunity to actively provide choice and voice in their school systems and they are put under too much pressure to meet curriculum and assessment needs based on statewide testing mandates. In short: professional learning doesn’t often “practice what it preaches.”

Case in point, not long ago I sat through a workshop on differentiation with 300 of my colleagues, while a presenter shared the same information, in the same way, with us all day about how to tailor instruction for different students’ needsProfessional learning opportunities must be intentionally designed to show instructional-strategies-in-action, allowing educators to experience what student-centered learning looks and feels like. Period. If the goal of the school and/or district is to transition to a student-centered and personalized model, where transitioning can be messy and difficult, and requires the burden of the learning to be put onto the shoulders of the learner (while the educator maintains the role of the environmental facilitator and learning certifier), then professional learning environments must mirror those same design aspects. The realization of this need brought about the recent professional learning workshop focused on student-centered learning held by the Maine School Administrative District #46 (a part of Alternative Organizational Structure #94 [MSAD#46/AOS#94]). Here’s how it was designed:

STEP 1: LISTEN TO YOUR LEARNERS

As one of the organizers of the workshop1, I did some data collection using a Professional Learning Needs Survey several weeks before the workshop. I had also been engaging in conversations and listening to teachers struggle with the many challenges they face with student engagement, students’ mental health challenges, ensuring equity for all students, progress monitoring, and more.  After listening, hearing, and attempting to understand the challenges facing our teachers daily, the Professional Learning Needs Survey encouraged our staff to rank topics (highest need, moderate need, low need, and no need) in the following areas:

  • Student-Centered Learning
  • Proficiency-Based Grading and Reporting
  • Student Engagement
  • Special Needs
  • Technology Integration
  • Teacher Evaluation

Understanding that different grade spans and grade levels have different struggles and needs,we looked at those data through multiple lenses:

  • Pre-K-4
  • 5-8
  • 9-12
  • Pre-K-8
  • 5-12
  • Pre-K-4, 9-12
  • Pre-K-12

Breaking down the data this way helped us uncover common areas of need from a district level all the way down to a grade-span level, and helped us to create environments and opportunities for our teachers to solve the problems that they face.

STEP 2: EMPOWER, EMBOLDEN, AND ENERGIZE

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The Four Biggest Challenges to Implementing Maine’s Proficiency-Based Diploma

June 28, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at EdSurge on May 30, 2017.

Maine has long been an innovator in education, stemming back to the Maine Learning Technology Initiative. Now all eyes are on our corner of the country as we transition from a traditional seat-time high school diploma to a proficiency-based diploma.

Historically, Maine has spurred national, paradigm-shifting discussions about how we “do school.” We have pushed many state districts to make significant policy changes that align with instructional and educational best practices, and have encouraged teachers, administrators, and districts to innovate educational systems design. I believe the new proficiency-based diploma requirements are yet another beacon of educational leadership and innovation, one that will alter our education system in meaningful and lasting ways.

But what exactly are these new kinds of diplomas, and just how difficult a transition do they pose to educators?

First, the basics. In 2012, Maine passed a law requiring that by 2018 all students would graduate with a proficiency-based diploma; the law then went through a major update in 2015-2016. The Maine DOE defines proficiency-based education as an academic assessment approach that requires students to demonstrate mastery of certain skills before they progress to the next lesson, get promoted to the next grade level, or receive a diploma. You can find the official definition here.

To me, proficiency-based education is about drawing lines in the sand of learning. It’s about recognizing that, if traveling to Boston, you don’t say you’re in Boston until you’re in Boston. It’s about knowing who you are, what you know, and what you can do. And, most importantly, where to go next.

There are many challenges facing districts, schools, teachers, students, and communities in this shift to a proficiency-based system of learning. Below are the four I believe loom largest: (more…)

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