Results for: RSU2

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Three Ways to Bring More Learner Voice into Learning Opportunities

March 30, 2018 by

This post originally appeared at the Learner Centered Practices Blog on March 19, 2018. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Including learner voice and choice is a central principle in learner-centered proficiency-based practices, and here in RSU2. For the most part, learners have ample opportunities for choice in our classrooms and schools. Learners are choosing seminars. Learners are choosing topics. Learners are choosing final products. Learners are choosing input resources, and even practice activities in some cases. Including learner voice, on the other hand, is more complicated and happens in an authentic way less often. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Moving to a Culture of Cooperation

October 7, 2016 by

paintThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on September 16, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

The other week I sat in on a new teacher meeting at one of the elementary schools here in RSU2. The group, which included teachers new and new-ish to teaching or the school as well as teachers further into their careers, discussed ideas from the Responsive Classroom book The First Six Weeks of School. One comment in particular stood out, and has been bouncing around in my head ever since. I’ve even mentioned it to other teachers and teams who are working through culture building.

“.. it struck me this year that even with all the work I do in my room around building culture, the students still tend to see it as an adult-pleasing thing. When I am there everything runs well, but I often get notes from subs that sound like a completely different class.”

I think this is super important for all of us to think about. How are we working to make sure the culture we are building in our classroom and teams is also part of a larger school-wide culture? I have some ideas: (more…)

Preparing for Leadership Lifts

November 14, 2016 by

airplaneThis is the seventeenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

The transition year(s) is the period of time when people use the phrases “building the ship in the water” and “constructing the plane in the air.” Educators are doing double-duty setting up the new system while also educating students within the traditional system, which makes this a time of excitement, nervousness, challenge, and frustration. Below are a few of the major activities that districts undertake during the transition year(s).

The leadership demands are high during the transition years—it is crucial that the culture of learning is reinforced, as teachers may feel that they aren’t succeeding in either the traditional system or the new one being put into place. Moreover, as teachers begin to focus more sharply on helping students learn rather than delivering a curriculum, their own gaps in skills will become evident. Leadership will find that the shared purpose and guiding principles emphasizing learning and collaboration can become a shield to minimize the disruption caused by top-down policies that emphasize evaluations of individual teachers.

Oliver Grenham and Jeni Gotto of Adams 50 in Colorado warn that districts converting to competency education need to be ready for a “bumpy journey,” as it is impossible for everything to be perfectly designed. Their advice is for educators to: (more…)

Creating the Shared Purpose

October 3, 2016 by

Core ValuesThis is the sixth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

Creating a shared purpose requires districts to develop their capacity for facilitated conversations (i.e., the ability to listen deeply to each other while driving for an agreed-upon vision, statement, or solution). Districts have used a simple set of questions that generate robust conversations. For example, Lindsay Unified School District in California invested in deep community engagement to launch their transformative process, beginning with the questions:

  • Why do we exist?
  • What are the values that will govern how we interact with each other?
  • What are the principles by which we will make decisions?
  • What is our vision for the future?
  • What is the description of our graduates?

The result is a mission of “Empowering and Motivating for Today and Tomorrow,” a set of core values and guiding principles that drive their instructional model.

In developing a shared purpose, Chugach School District had to engage communities from three different areas as well as a statewide homeschool community based all across Alaska. The resulting mission statement emphasizes student agency, mutual accountability, and cultural respect.

Bob Crumley recounts using the following process in meetings to initiate the Chugach shared purpose.

  1. Turn to a neighbor and tell each other your district’s shared purpose. Now, by a show of hands, how many were able to articulate our shared purpose? (In the beginning, there were few hands.)
  2. If, as leaders, teachers, and parents (depending on the group), we aren’t able to articulate our shared purpose, how are we going to work together to clearly articulate expectations and provide a roadmap for our students to achieve success?
  3. Ask students to think of a successful person (local, national, or international). Then begin a discussion on the following questions: What traits does that person have that helped them become successful? Which of those traits should we teach and assess to set all of our graduates up for success?
  4. Use the input to form the backbone for developing a draft shared purpose as well as informing student performance standards at a later stage.

Currently, Chugach School District operates according to the following shared purpose: (more…)

Investing in Shared Leadership

September 20, 2016 by

LeaderThis is the third article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

The shift to competency-based education requires a personal commitment from superintendents and principals to develop collaborative leadership and management styles. Changing personal leadership styles means these professionals must undertake extensive study, solicit feedback for reflecting on their leadership, engage in dialogue with peers and colleagues, and even seek out coaching. Each leader will have a different journey toward developing leadership/management strategies that are effective in creating and sustaining empowering, learning organizations. In the following discussion, three aspects of leadership are discussed: the call for a distributed leadership style, the role of a culture of learning, and empowering others.

Distributing Leadership

Superintendents and principals agree that top-down management doesn’t work well in competency-based environments—or, for that matter, in any large district reform. The traditional education system operates on a set of rules for the delivery of education services that has tried to standardize the inputs so all students have the same exposure to the curriculum. In top-down systems, higher levels of governance set the conditions for each lower level, leaving schools and teachers with little autonomy or opportunity to inform decision-making at higher levels. Traditional leadership styles are often characterized by people turning to the managers above them to resolve issues or set the direction. Changes are often communicated through memo, where dialogue is limited, if not nonexistent.

The problems with this kind of compliance-oriented leadership style are three-fold. First, top-down approaches undermine any efforts to create an empowered staff who will take responsibility for ensuring students are learning. Top-down decision-making essentially undermines accountability. Second, when employees look to the next level up to answer questions and resolve issues, it undermines the culture of learning and is a lost opportunity for building problem-solving capacity within the organization. Third, no superintendent or principal can have all the knowledge or answers about how to best respond to students or address organizational issues. During periods of dramatic change, this becomes a risk, as the superintendent or principal is unlikely to be able to understand all the ramifications of every change. It requires collaborative, iterative processes to create the new operational policies and procedures needed to support a personalized, competency-based environment. Fueling a competency-based system requires the engagement and ownership of students, educators, and community members alike—an idea that will be explored in depth as the series progresses. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Going Back to the Targets

April 22, 2016 by

TargetThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on March 28, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

One of the first things people share with me since coming to RSU2 in September is a frustration with learning targets. This is something I hear in every school, in every grade level, and in every content area. It isn’t that people don’t understand the point of them, quite the contrary. It is that people understand the point of them so well that they now see the need to improve them. Here are the most common points I hear:

  1. The progressions of targets don’t always make sense.
  2. The target itself is really hard to understand.
  3. Foundational pieces are missing.
  4. There is a lack of consistency around how the target is interpreted.
  5. It isn’t always clear how to “exceed” on a target.

Most of the Measurement Topics and Targets we are using were drafted and adopted about six years ago when the district first switched to a proficiency-based system. It was a classic Voltaire moment, not letting “the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Or, if you prefer sports, a Nike “Just Do it” moment.

Now, six years and a whole lot of growth later, we are realizing just how “not perfect” those Measurement Topics and Targets are. In order to make them what we want them to be, we have to take a step back in our understanding of Targets and Measurement Topics. And it is extremely important that we do. Learning Targets and Measurement Topics make personalized learning possible.

Here in RSU 2, we use the following definitions and explanations: (more…)

Three Ways Districts Stumble in Implementation

December 19, 2016 by

growthThis is the twenty-third article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

How are you preparing for the implementation dip?

There is likely to be an implementation dip during transition years. After the initial work is done, confusion tends to rise and achievement scores may go down. The question is, how fast can districts get beyond the dip and embrace the new practices?

Pittsfield invested heavily in preparation and engaging the community, and then implemented the redesign in one year. It was a challenging year of “ripping off the Band-Aid.” But when they came back in September of the next school year, they were all going in the same direction and were ready to begin refining and enhancing their student-centered approach. Building in a late start Wednesday for teachers to meet made the implementation year manageable.

Chugach solidified the school board and district leadership commitment to a long-term strategy and created an intentional communication strategy that reinforced the idea that the system transformation will take several years. They also used data to intensify the sense of urgency by reminding people of the poor results in the traditional system as well as celebrating small steps of progress. Most importantly, they kept their community engaged so members could continue to deepen their understanding and celebrate alongside the students who were beginning to thrive and enjoy coming to school.

In interviews, district and school leadership have shared the ways they learned from their mistakes when they stumbled or the ways their neighboring districts have encountered troubles. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Accountable Talk

January 13, 2017 by

classroomThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on December 15, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

I cannot think of a subject area, or class, in schools today in which we are not working with learners on articulating thinking. We regularly ask learners of all ages to put forth an idea then explain their reasoning in support of that idea. In English Language Arts we might ask readers to say what kind of person they think a character is, and use evidence from the book to explain why they think that. In Science classes we ask learners to form a hypothesis then use observations and data to prove their hypothesis correct or incorrect. In Social Studies we might ask learners to argue why a particular historical figure was a strong leader. In art and music classes we ask artists and performers to critique works and performances, using observations and knowledge of technique to support their judgments. I’m sure you’ve thought of an example from other contents in which learners are expected to share, or exchange, ideas and why they hold those ideas. This is very important work, and sometimes difficult work.

An education trend well worth embracing is accountable talk. Accountable talk is the process of learners sharing their thinking with others, and engaging in thoughtful discussion with others about those ideas. When learners work through an accountable talk experience, they go beyond simply sharing ideas and thinking. They discuss similarities and differences in their ideas and reasoning with the the ideas and reasoning of others, and work towards clarifying any confusion or misunderstandings between group members. Not only does engaging in this work deepen understanding, it builds a foundation for respectful and civil discourse, an essential lifelong skill we surely want our future learners to be well versed in.

Each part of accountable talk can be challenging, especially for learners not used to practicing this kind of conversation. When first starting with accountable talk it is best to give learners some scaffolding. There are two important scaffolds to begin with: modeling and talk prompts. Modeling gives them a concrete example of what the accountable talk process looks and sounds like. Talk prompts give them a concrete way to start. Below are some examples of talk prompts for different ages and contexts. Think about the learners you work with, and which ones will work best for them. Remember scaffolding is meant to be temporary. Once learners are successful, begin to remove the scaffolds. (more…)

Preparing Teachers for Personalized Classrooms

December 5, 2016 by

classroomThis is the nineteenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

One of the necessary steps to ensure a district is creating a student-centered culture rather than one solely driven by standards is to prepare teachers for managing personalized classrooms. Pittsfield School District provided professional coaching courses for all their teachers. Don Siviski, former Superintendent of RSU2, describes eliminating all travel and non-related professional development in order to stop doing what wasn’t working and marshalling all resources to supporting teachers to prepare for the transition to proficiency-based learning. Maine districts, in partnership with the Reinventing Schools Coalition, offered training on classroom design to help teachers look at their own beliefs about learning, examine tenets of personalizing learning, build student agency by creating classroom codes of collaboration, introduce new operating procedures, enhance formative assessment, develop and take advantage of transparency of learning targets, and plan for a competency-based instructional model that emphasizes higher order skills.

Teachers can begin to use a variety of ways to manage their personalized classroom, including creating a shared purpose with their students, standard operating procedures that emphasize how students can get help (re-read the directions, ask a peer, then ask the teacher), visuals with the standards to indicate how students are progressing, posters that emphasize a culture of learning and the idea that mistakes are simply part of that process, examples of student work that are considered proficient, parking lots, and planning tools to guide students in thinking through what they will need to be successful. (more…)

Crucial Mindsets

November 17, 2016 by

love-of-learningIn order to transition to an effective learner-centered proficiency-based community, we have to make some important shifts in our stances as educators. Sometimes these shifts are subtle and nuanced. Other times they are clear and straightforward. Focus on and change in instructional practices will only take a learning community so far if the underlying philosophical stances do not change.

Before we go any further in exploring some of the crucial mind shifts, take a moment to check in on your own stances using the following survey. Take your time with it, and be completely honest. This survey is completely anonymous and for reflection purposes only. Emails and names are not being collected. You will be able to see a breakdown of how people responded.

Personalized Learning Check In

Now that you have checked in, honestly, with your educational stances, let’s talk about where we really need to be operating from in order to truly have a learner-centered proficiency-based learning community. (more…)

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