Category: Reflection

#iNACOL16 Day Two Learnings on the Run

October 27, 2016 by

Well, I think it is safe to say the highlight of the Day Two was Virgel Hammond’s (KnowledgeWorks) keynote dedicated to helping all of us reduce our cool factor. His point is that for all of us to learn, we need to be vulnerable. We all need to be willing to take risks and get out of our comfort zones. He demonstrated this point by having Susan Patrick (iNACOL), Bill Zima (RSU2), Nick Namba (Lindsay), Dave Roberts (Fraser), and Steve Schultz (District 51) and yours truly dance our hearts out to silly songs such as The Twist, Greased Lightening, Thriller, Mr. Roboto, and Shout!

Lesson Learned: I’m too old (or perhaps I should admit just plain out of shape) to dance to Shout! anymore…instead of just twisting down to the floor, I found it more comfortable to just fall on my belly.

On a much more serious note, Todd Rose, author of The Myth of Averages, kicked off day two at #iNACOL16. If you haven’t heard him, it’s worth listening to one of his TED talks. His message is powerful – when you design for the average, we meet the needs of none. He draws on research and science to explain why we must root the design of the education system in the individual. We must figure out how to have more personalized systems of education. (more…)

A Better Way Forward for Competency-Based Learning

October 26, 2016 by

pencilsThis post originally appeared at New Profit on September 29, 2016. 

Over two decades ago, I served as an educational advocate for the State of Rhode Island. It was my charge to act as the parent for a caseload of about 80 youth who were wards of the State that either identified or were suspected of having special educational needs. My caseload was very diverse. Students had serious learning disabilities and/or behavioral issues. As wards of the State most were living in poverty and the majority came from what are often called minority groups. Despite the wide array of challenges, I ensured that the adolescents in my caseload all earned, and were granted, their high school diploma. This, despite the fact that these students often had not learned the things our society expects of a high school graduate. How was this possible?

The reliance on seat time for awarding course credit allows for any student who passes a class that meets for the required 120 hours of instruction to earn credit toward graduation. The 120-hour requirement was established by the Carnegie Foundation for Teaching over a century ago and still governs what a high school diploma entails in nearly every state in the union. Typically, students are required to pass 20-28 courses in order to earn their high school diploma. As an advocate for youth in State care, I made sure that schools were paying attention to each student’s transcript and awarding him/her the credits earned through sitting in class.

Did I do these students more harm than good? Over the past 20 years, I have pondered that question often. I was complicit in sending adolescents out into society with a diploma that didn’t necessarily reflect whether they had mastered the requisite education to become functioning adults in a democratic society. Despite my well-meaning advocacy, was I setting them up for failure? (more…)

#iNACOL16 Day One Learnings on the Run

October 25, 2016 by
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Renee Hill

As you wander the huge halls of the San Antonio Convention Center, you can’t help but bump into old friends, people you wanted to meet, or people you didn’t even realize you need to meet. And each conversation has at least one “AH-HA” that moves understanding forward, deeper, or into altogether new directions.

How Districts Can Use Competency-Based Education Infrastructure Enables More Autonomy and Creativity in School Design: I was thrilled to bump into Renee Hill, Assistant Superintendent at Riverside Public Schools in California. They’ve been moving toward personalization with the assumption that schools need autonomy and room for creativity (as compared to a district model that is implemented in all schools). They are now putting into place the infrastructure of a shared vision of a portrait of a graduate from Riverside and beginning to build the set of competencies/standards that will be shared graduation expectations. Eventually, they will have an infrastructure that will enable school autonomy balanced with a system of accountability to ensure students are making progress and reaching proficiency.

andrea-mulkey

Andrea Mulkey

Moving from Negotiated Alignment to Systemic Alignment: I also had the opportunity to meet Andrea Mulkey, National Director of Early College at KnowledgeWorks. We had an interesting conversation about how early college programs have always had to figure out how to align secondary and post-secondary expectations. However, instead of a defined set of competencies and standards, they’ve done it through well-developed relationships and negotiations.

This got me thinking – we need to get to the point where districts aren’t creating graduation expectations in isolation but actually developing them with colleges. This is going to be one of the key pieces of system-building. With our strong commitment to local control, I’ve been worried that variability in district graduation expectations will continue to be a problem. But it’s not a problem if we set the expectation that institutions of higher education have to sign off on how districts define what it means to be college ready. Think about it – colleges are going to want to set the same set of expectations across multiple districts. (more…)

The Hidden Goal that XQ Winners Share: Relationships

October 5, 2016 by
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Graphic from original post

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on September 28, 2016.

This month, U.S. high schools got a healthy dose of innovation investment—the XQ Super School project announced 10 winners, each of which will receive $10 million to support their efforts to reinvent high school. Although the winners are pursuing a pretty dazzling array of approaches, all 10 are exploring ways to personalize high school in an effort to crack open the monolithic model of cohort and age-based instruction that undergirds traditional school.

But across their diverse models, there’s another common, if not subtler, effort afoot: to invest in students’ relationships and networks. As Eric Tucker, head of the winning Brooklyn Lab, said, “What we’re committed to doing is making sure that the school is the connector.” And as a school leader at another winner, Washington Leadership Academy (WLA), noted, relationships rank among the school’s top four values: “Building strong relationships between, staff, students, families, and our local and global community is core to our work at WLA.”

There’s a powerful message underlying this commitment: If high schools are going to step up to the 21st century and level the playing field of opportunity, then they can’t focus on students’ human capital alone; they have to invest in students’ social capital as well. Human capital refers to what people can do—their skills and dispositions—that they can, in turn, convert into labor market returns down the line. Social capital, on the other hand, refers to the reservoir of relationships that people can bank on for supports or opportunities. Social capital is not singular in its benefits. As MIT Professor and Ford Foundation Vice President Xavier de Souza Briggs aptly put it, “Individuals of all backgrounds need a two-sided treasure chest of social capital: access to social support that helps us cope with life’s stresses and challenges (‘get by’) and access to social leverage, the key to mobility or ‘getting ahead.’” In other words, people—especially young people—need relationships that provide critical care, supports and encouragement. They also need relationships that can connect them to new opportunities—like jobs, ideas and learning experiences—that are otherwise beyond their reach. (more…)

Why Aren’t We Talking about Culturally Responsive Education in Next Gen Learning?

September 13, 2016 by

StudyingThis post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on August 4, 2016.

Those of us in the next gen learning space are ignoring a great opportunity. Something that could propel next gen learning to be the force we say we want it to be: one that fundamentally changes the life trajectories of the students we serve.

Culturally Responsive Education

I’ve been thinking a lot about equity in relation to next gen learning lately. I’m asking tough questions of myself, questioning assumptions in our work instead of letting them go unstudied, thinking about ‘user-centered design’ in a whole new light, and sitting with new information as I try to process and understand it.

The news of recent weeks has been heartbreaking. From the highly publicized police shooting deaths of unarmed Black men, to the shooting spree and deaths of police officers, to the White backlash against Black Lives Matter and, in the education reform world, backlash against empowering people of color to address systemic racism in education, the crack in race relations in this country is opening wider and exposing the problems I knew existed but swept under the rug and out of my consciousness.

My response to this heartbreak: lift up the rug, expose the crack, raise my consciousness, and work to understand what it is underserved students really need. (And, by the way, understand what it is advantaged students need. I wonder if educational equity wouldn’t be better served if higher-income White education reformers—and by that I mean, me—focused more attention on serving advantaged students through social justice education and helping them develop the skills of an ally.)

And then I stumbled upon this:

If students survive their educations, they potentially become widgets—unimaginative, obedient, conforming replicas of each other. Students who do not survive their widget-making education risk higher levels of lifetime poverty and incarceration, as well as poorer physical and mental health outcomes than students exposed to more student-centered educational interventions. —Diversity Challenge 2016: Race, Culture, and Educating Our Youths – Developing Whole People Not Widgets.

This! Yes! This is why the current system isn’t good enough. And this is why I am so passionate about next gen learning. I believe it can and will help us move away from the ‘lose-lose’ proposition of a factory model, widget-producing school system. It can help us move toward schools that honor students’ individuality and self-authorship by providing meaningful learning experiences that lead to richer, deeper, broader outcomes than proficiency on a test. (What’s the opposite of a widget? A work of art? Or, maybe we need to drop the metaphors and simply say that a student is an individual whose humanity and dignity is celebrated.)

I kept reading: (more…)

Recommended Action: Replicate NESSC’s Collegiate Endorsement in Other States

September 8, 2016 by

CollegeWe are in the midst of our annual reflection on the field of competency education – What is changing? What is working? What are the big issues that are emerging? In what is the field getting stronger or not?

Our field, that set of organizations and people that support or influence states, districts, schools, and educators in advancing competency education, continues to get stronger. There are more organizations every year that are doing work in the arena of competency education, although sometimes clumsily (I just read a short piece by McKinsey on personalization that seemed to confuse competency-based with online learning). We definitely want more organizations, especially organizations working within states and regions, to be joining the party.

However there are three downsides we need to watch out for:

#1 Limited Understanding: Organizations that haven’t taken the time to really understand competency education and offer a contorted or shallow view. (We love it when organizations bring new insights and depth and push our thinking on competency education.) To avoid this, we have to stretch ourselves to lend a helping hand to those organizations early on.

#2 Competition for Funding: It’s bound to happen when there are a lot of organizations working in the same field. So it’s very important that we address #1 i so that funders don’t invest in organizations that might lead us astray or cause unnecessary turmoil or confusion in the field. In addition, we need to make sure we are using funding as effectively as possible to clear the way for educators and tackle the big issues.

#3 Looking for a Way to Contribute: New organizations build capacity and then need something to do to make a contribution. No one organization can do everything, and we need to work together to make sure that we are tackling as many of the important things as we can. This requires some level of coordination and speaking with other organizations when creating a new project or initiative.

This brings me to my recommendation for a very important initiative that no one is doing right now, as far as I know. We really, really, really need state and regional organizations to replicate what the New England Secondary School Consortium has done in engaging institutions of higher education in making the proficiency pledge: 67 colleges and universities endorsed proficiency-based learning and pledged not to disadvantage students who went to proficiency-based high schools. They have cleared away a perceived obstacle: the possibility that students in proficiency-based schools might be less competitive in some way in the college admissions process. (This handout is a pdf file that explains the Collegiate Endorsement initiative.)

NESSC did this by convening representatives of higher education to talk about a proficiency-based transcript and diploma and then asking them to make a public pledge (below). They then had each of the college’s endorsements linked to their website for any school counselor to use when talking with students and parents. Brilliant! (more…)

Making Room for Hardship in Positive Youth Development

August 31, 2016 by

ExclamationI had the chance to re-read the design principles from Carnegie Corporation’s Opportunity by Design and its partner Springpoint Schools the other day. And once again I find myself a bit in awe of the depth of the principles and the implications for how we think about what secondary schools might look like. The first principle is integrates positive youth development to optimize student engagement & effort. We don’t talk about positive youth development much in education – instead we talk about engagement, motivation, and effort. ObD describes this principle as:

  • Caring, consistent student-adult relationships that communicate high expectations for student learning and behavior
  • Clear expectations for student competencies and standards of performance
  • Opportunities for students to contribute to the school environment and have a voice in decisions
  • Encouragement of student responsibility for meeting learning and personal goals
  • Openness to and encouragement of family participation Integration of community participation, assets, and culture

It all sounds great, doesn’t it? But something was gnawing at me as I thought about positive youth development. And then I realized what it was – sometimes discussions about positive youth development are just too positive.

By being so positive, they don’t create the room to talk about the real-life day-to-day hardships, challenges, trauma, and tragedies that shape the lives and development of adolescents. As Christina Rodriguez notes in Responding to the Student’s Dream: Lessons Learned from Positive Youth Developers in New Mexico, “A lot of our schools don’t seem to recognize the variety of students and what students need. There’s not a one-size-fits-all option.” The lives of our students vary – some may face discrimination because of the color of their skin, their accent, or a disability. Some may experience violence or abuse in their homes or in their neighborhoods. Many will hold fear close to their heart as they listen to parents worry about where the next meal with come from, how to pay for school supplies, or where they might find housing next month. (more…)

Speak Like You Are Right; Listen Like You Are Wrong

August 30, 2016 by

TeamRecently, I found myself stumbling out of a hotel and into a parking lot. My eyes were glassy and my gait was erratic. No, I had not been drinking. Instead, my lack of clarity was caused by something far worse; a parade of lawyers. I had just finished the end-of-year rally with the school lawyers. The way it works, we hear from fifteen lawyers, each given ten minutes, to share everything we need to know about changes in State or Federal laws. This was not drinking from a fire hose. This was drinking from the discharge viaduct of the Hoover Dam! From rental contracts, to special education, to collective bargaining, and everything in between. It was all laid out for us.

As I drove home, finally regaining my breath, I began to ponder how I, as a single individual, finishing my first year as superintendent, can get this done. Even with more years of experience, it seems daunting. How can I monitor all the things I need to monitor while also helping to lead the district to a learner-centered, proficiency-based system? I needed to buy land for a new school. I needed to sell the budget so it would pass referendum. I needed to hire new principals who could lead and also manage our schools as we continue to improve. I needed to… My heart rate increased again and my breath became shallow. Where was my brown paper bag? (more…)

Engaging Others: A Short Reflection on Leadership

August 5, 2016 by

ConversationI’ve been thinking about leadership a lot recently. Just about every technical assistant provider and intermediary I speak with refers to two challenges they face working with districts: lack of capacity and lack of leadership. The former is a phrase so general it lacks meaning except to reinforce the existence for the TA provider. We know that implementing competency education puts everyone outside their comfort zone to some degree. We know that everyone is climbing steep learning trajectories to build out the skills to better meet student needs. The phrase lack of capacity echoes a fixed mindset – as if people do not have the capacity to learn rather than a need to build specific knowledge or skills.

The latter issue is problematic as well. First, it is difficult to separate a leader from leadership skills. Obviously positional roles such as school board, superintendent, and principal means that there are leaders in districts in schools. So this must be referring to leadership skills. Second, it is not clear if it is inadequate leadership skills or the wrong type of skills.

  • Managing Personalized, Student-Centered Organizations: We know that district and school leaders need to tap into both leadership (motivate, inspire, and nurture culture) and management (plan, coordinate, monitor, and develop employees) skills, sometimes using both at the same time. It is very difficult to manage something if it is totally new to you, which is the case when we are in the midst of the conversion process. So this might be referring to leaders who are learning and need to become more adept to be able to manage new technologies, new systems, and new metrics. In addition, if we want schools to be more responsive to student needs, leaders will need to learn how to manage an agile organization – an entirely different approach from managing a bureaucratic one.
  • Paradigm Shifters: We believe that in order to fully and effectively implement competency education, the community, students, educators, and staff need to become comfortable with a new set of values and assumptions, including growth mindset, strategies to develop intrinsic motivation, cultural responsiveness, and empowering students (student agency). Neither a memo nor a speech will help people jump from one paradigm to another. There needs to be dialogue, experiences, and reflections as they understand the implications of the previous values and seek understanding of the new ones. Thus, leadership draws on facilitative approaches that can create experiences for others and nudge people toward new values, navigate the blindspots, move past discomfort and fear, and nurture leadership in others so that they might take active role in helping colleagues and the community embrace the new values.
  • Leadership that Engages Others: Perhaps the concern of lack of leadership means that leaders are using traditional leadership approaches when what they need is a different approach. It is going to be nearly impossible to introduce and guide the conversion to personalized, competency-based education using the traditional, hierarchical leadership styles based on the deployment of positional power over those lower down in the organization. In talking to leaders in competency-based schools, the concept of shared leadership is often raised. Leadership strategies that create shared leadership, including distributive, adaptive, and transformational leadership. These strategies depend on engaging others in solving problems. They are also very aligned with the values and assumptions that form the foundation of competency education. Thus, a very cohesive organization can be formed. Engaging others can also include engaging the community in on-going inquiry and dialogue. Continuous improvement means learning never ends.

(more…)

Organizational Position Matters

August 1, 2016 by

DeskIs competency-based education just for high schools or is it what you want for your entire K-12 system?

States and districts need to think about this question early on – what is the end goal? It is easy for state policymakers and districts to interpret that the policy for proficiency-based diplomas only applies to high schools. New Hampshire’s first step was to change time-based credits in secondary schools to competency-based followed by regulatory changes for the entire education system, from kindergarten through graduation.

Districts might respond by placing the leadership for the conversion to competency-based education with someone overseeing high schools, such as an office of post-secondary readiness. If states have the leadership placed in a department that oversees high schools, it sends a clear message that it competency education is a high school reform.

The problem with doing this is two-fold: (more…)

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