Results for: Sanborn

Creating a Common Language of Learning: Habits of Learning

October 31, 2016 by

studyThis is the thirteenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. In this article, we continue to explore questions that districts consider when creating their instruction and assessment model.

What are the skills students need to manage their own learning, and how are they developed?

Creating empowered students isn’t about moving them through a curriculum. It requires schools to organize their learning experiences to help students build all the skills (referred to by many terms, including habits of learning) to become independent learners ready to pursue college and careers.

In order to separate out academics from behavior in the grading system that indicates how students are progressing in reaching proficiency (i.e., a progress monitoring system), competency-based districts and schools must establish a set of skills or behaviors that are important for learning or are needed for college and career readiness. For example, at the Sanborn Regional School District, teachers have learned that assessing behaviors in elementary school students is an important step in helping students make academic progress. The Responsive Classroom CARES (Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-Regulation) project focuses on developing work-study habits early on. (You can read more about this effort here.)

The most advanced competency-based districts have discovered that these skills and behaviors are in fact an essential element of creating student agency and improving academic achievement. They are beginning to think about what the habits should be developmentally and how they interact with efforts to address social-emotional learning and the school culture. (more…)

Continuous Improvement and Innovation

December 20, 2016 by

old-ladyThis is the twenty-fourth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

It is no surprise that Chugach School District received the Malcom Baldridge National Quality Award in its seventh year after creating a performance-based system. Competency education creates the conditions for continuous improvement and mutual accountability in managing school operations. When the only data is attendance and A-F grading scales, districts do not have access to data that allows them to track student progress in learning. With the rich data produced in competency education, schools can drive towards what Marzano Research refers as “high reliability” schools—schools that are able to continue to reflect upon their own performance and adjust to better meet the needs of students.

There is a tremendous shift for leaders to move from compliance to continuous improvement. Compliance has an inherent element of fulfilling specific requirements where continuous improvement reaches for the stars. Oliver Grenham explained that at Adams 50, they discovered there was no middle ground. They were “all-in or nothing” because the shift to competency education requires a totally different paradigm. He compared it to that visual game in which you can see an old woman or you can see a young woman, but you can’t see both at the same time. For district and school leaders, this means having to learn about continuous improvement management techniques early in the transition, even before the data may be fully available. There is simply no way to revert back to compliance management strategies after a second order change. The culture of learning expands to become a culture of continuous improvement with a focus on results.

Continuous improvement in this context is a formal methodology or a system to improve performance through reflecting upon data, engaging stakeholders in discussions about variation or low performance, planning for targeted improvements, and then repeating the cycle. Many districts use an easy to use process of Plan-Check- Act-Do to manage improvements. There are other techniques, as well, such as implementing quality controls or benchmarking against other organizations to seek out and adopt best practices. (more…)

Making Mid-Course Corrections and Refinements

December 12, 2016 by

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

Bob Crumley explained that in the early years of the transition at Chugach School District, he felt like he was “pulling weeds.” As the team implemented the new instructional models, they kept stumbling over practices and operational issues that were rooted in the traditional, time-based system. For example, students were learning through extra-curricular activities, but CSD wasn’t including that performance data within their system. They turned extra-curricular activities into co-curricular activities by building in processes, students, and stakeholders until they began to see that learning occurs anywhere and at any time. Expanding the walls of the classroom to include athletics, student government, field trips, the arts, and career development created opportunities for students to pursue high interest learning opportunities.

Both Brian Stack, Principal at Sanborn Regional High school, and Jonathan Vander Els, Principal at Memorial Elementary, have described having to refine their grading and scoring systems after the first year of implementation. Stack pointed out, “As a leader, what stood out for me as an example of resolute leadership was when my fellow administrators and I had the courage to recognize that a decision we made was not working, and we were able to make a change mid-year. It would have been very easy to use that mistake as an excuse to go back to our old system, but we managed to stay true to our vision for competency education and find a way to overcome the hurdles and roadblocks that were put before us.”

Keeping the community engaged throughout implementation is critical. As Pittsfield School District began implementation, they alerted their Community Advisory Council (now called the Good to Great Team) as they hit implementation issues to engage them in problem solving around mid-course corrections. Rick Schreiber of the Reinventing Schools Coalition cautions, “Often a district will establish a strong shared vision but fails to implement regular communication with stakeholders to seek out further input. In the beginning, stakeholders are building trust, and there is excitement about the upcoming changes. The second and third years are critical for leaders to continue the shared vision process to address the social, emotional, and logistical issues that arise from second order change.” (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…)

Rollout Strategies

November 15, 2016 by

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

To date, there is no magic formula for how to roll out the conversion to competency education. Districts consider where leadership and enthusiasm is in place, where faculty is ready for the change, and where the most urgent need is based on academic scores. Adams 50 started with elementary schools, Lindsay Unified started with the high school and has now rolled all the way back to elementary school, and Pittsfield School District started with their Middle High School. At Sanborn Regional School District, significant elements of the effort began at the elementary and middle school levels and eventually progressed to the high school level. RSU2 asked faculty to vote whether they wanted to go forward before moving toward the transition after a year of inquiry and research. They then developed a rollout strategy to implement their learner-centered instructional strategies throughout the entire K-12 system.

In Chugach School District, district leadership clearly and publicly announced the direction, then each school developed their individual timeline. Some schools jumped in headfirst, while others phased in the new system over time, content area by content area. Along the way, each school shared successes and challenges, learning from each other, and eventually all realized they successfully achieved the same transition.

Medium and large districts have to think about scaling strategies upfront. Lake County began with eight launch schools that implemented at an accelerate rate with the help of a personalized learning facilitator. Charleston County School District started with three high schools and their feeder schools to serve as the early adopters of the personalized learning framework. Each school created demo classrooms that had full implementation with all other teachers taking advantage of personalized, competency-based professional development to build new practices and strengthen instruction/assessment. Henry County has organized its transition plan around cohorts of schools and a strategy to “pay it forward” so that educators have opportunity to share their learning with each other. (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…)

Creating a Common Language of Learning: Rubrics and Calibration

October 25, 2016 by

booksThis is the twelfth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. In this article, we continue to explore questions that districts consider when creating their instruction and assessment model.

How will you know students are learning and what they need to reach proficiency?

As districts are designing the structure of learning, they are also thinking about assessment. Doug Penn, district principal at Chugach School District, points out, “We need to always know the purpose of assessment. It is to help students and the teacher understand what students know and what they don’t know, and to provide insights into the steps that are needed to learn it. Too often, assessment is used as a hammer and a gateway. For us, we see it as a process of helping students get from don’t know to knowing.”

Thus, as teachers develop the learning objectives, they also consider how they will structure rubrics to provide meaningful feedback as well as determine that students have met appropriate levels of knowledge. The process of creating norms about what proficiency means at each unit of learning and determining when students should advance to the next academic level depends on four things: clear criteria or rubrics, calibration, assessment literacy, and quality control mechanisms. In the initial years, the primary focus tends to be on rubrics and calibration. Districts and schools invest in strengthening assessment literacy, specifically building capacity for formative and performance-based assessment, and design quality control mechanisms at a later date.

Rubrics

In the early days of the transition to competency-based education, many schools continue to rely on students taking tests and getting a number of the answers right. Over time, however, they increasingly turn to rubrics that provide more in-depth insight into how students are advancing toward proficiency. There are many ways these are structured—some indicate progress (emerging, proficient, beyond proficiency), while others are highly aligned with the knowledge taxonomy (recall, comprehension, analysis, knowledge utilization). Teachers may also take the language and create their own variations with student-friendly language or engage their students in creatively naming the levels of the rubric. (more…)

Constructing a Common Language of Learning

October 18, 2016 by

Art SuppliesThis is the tenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. In this article, we continue to explore questions that districts consider when creating their instruction and assessment model.

What are the explicit and measureable learning objectives to describe what students need to learn on their way toward meeting the graduation goals?

Districts and schools start with a different mixture of concepts and create a variety of structures to define the learning continuum. It is important to take your overall pedagogical approach into consideration when shaping the overarching competencies. As Kim Carter, founder of Making Connections Charter School, explains, “Designing competency frameworks is a creative process. We gather together the tools we will need the same way a painter might choose brushes and paints.” For ELA and mathematics, most turn to the well-developed Common Core continuum of learning or their state standards. Others will start or embed the essentials of a discipline, asking, “What does it mean to be a mathematician, a historian, a writer, a scientist?” Still others may be designed around themes or career pathways that rely on a structure that starts with the needs of industry. In some cases, states may have even already set a broad framework within which districts and schools can further structure their learning.

There are five components that guide this work:

  1. Knowledge Taxonomy
  2. Structure and Characteristics
  3. Developing the Continuum of Learning
  4. Rubrics and Calibration
  5. Habits of Learning

(more…)

Engaging the Community

September 27, 2016 by

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

Why Engage the Community?

District leaders offer many reasons for engaging the community early on in the process of converting to competency education.

  • Nurturing Consensus and Leadership: Communities need to be given time to understand the new structure and why it is important. The greater the number of people in the community who are knowledgeable about the process, the more they can help others to understand.
  • Contributing Valuable Perspectives: Members of the community will bring ideas to the table that educators might not necessarily include. They will bring their values and perspectives to create a richer conversation.
  • Re-Aligning Roles: Engaging community members will shake up the bureaucratic dynamics that have come to shape how educators often interact with families and community members.
  • Re-Building Respect and Trust: Community engagement can help to overcome mistrust and build the mutual respect that is needed to create a culture of learning. In most districts, there are segments of the community that have either had bad experiences in school or have historically been underserved and disrespected by school systems. Districts must create a space for people to talk about what they want for their children, have honest conversations about the current academic achievement levels and graduation rates, and share their fears.
  • Sustaining Change: Community engagement is an essential ingredient for staying the course when unanticipated consequences of implementation arise and when district leadership changes.
  • Unlearning Old Routines and Practices: Districts and schools will receive feedback on what has not been working in their previous community engagement strategies and can begin to co-design new strategies with the community.

There is an additional reason that community engagement is needed in the process of converting to competency education: to build respectful relationships with students. In order to foster strong relationships, school personnel need to have a sense of the culture and experiences that shape their students’ lives. In competency education, valuing the insight and perspectives of the community has to come first. In fact, the most successful district conversions to date begin the process with strong community involvement. (more…)

Staying the Course

January 18, 2017 by

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

Many districts are converting to competency education in states that have not yet begun to take the steps toward creating the vision and policies to support competency education. Even in states that have embraced competency education, leaders may need to respond to policies that have not yet been re-aligned. Thus, leaders must learn to stay true to their vision and purpose in navigating state policy. They may turn mandates into opportunities or actively work in partnership to co-create the new policy infrastructure. Essentially, they operate beyond the boundaries of the policies so that decision-making continues to be student-centered.

One of the leadership functions needed to stay the course is being able to turn top-down compliance requirements into opportunities to reinforce the empowered culture of learning and improvement. Superintendent of Chugach School District Bob Crumley talks about how he manages mandates by stating, “I’ve learned to see mandates from the state as opportunities. We will meet the letter of the law, but we aren’t going to let the tail wag the dog. For example, we have a state mandate about including state assessment scores in teacher evaluations. We have a great teacher evaluation tool developed by teachers and our administrative team. I’m not going to make any changes to the evaluation tool that causes a loss of ownership. Instead, I’m going to tell our teachers that there are state requirements we need to meet, and we’ll take this opportunity to see if we can improve the evaluation tool to help us get better at serving our kids. If we said that we were doing it only because the state required us to, it would send the wrong message to teachers and students. We look to see the value and opportunities that develop when outside forces require us to change and adapt. Continuous improvement is a core value and process at Chugach School District.”

States and districts are also finding ways to work together to advance competency education. For example, four districts in New Hampshire are partnering with the Department of Education to pilot the development of local performance-based assessments that will eventually lead to a state-wide system. These assessments, known as Performance Assessment for Competency Education or PACE, are designed to provide richer feedback to teachers and students in a much more timely fashion than state assessment systems.

Sanborn principal Brian Stack advises school and district leaders that, “Making the transition from traditional to competency-based grading is messy. No matter how much you plan for it, administrators and teachers will feel a sense of building the plane while flying it in those first few years of implementation. Stay the course in the face of adversity. Stay true to yourself and to the model. Trust that your teachers will stand with you, and together you will face the challenges that will lie ahead and find a way to work through them as a school community. Your patience and persistence will be rewarded.”

Bottom line, leaders will need to turn to shared leadership strategies to empower educators and engage the community through the ups and downs of the change process, even though there will be pressure to become the sole decision-maker. (more…)

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