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Results for: distributed leadership

In Real Life: Designing Outcomes Aimed for Equity

January 28, 2019 by

Cynthia Green, Executive Director of Secondary Programs and Pathways, Madison Metropolitan School District; and Karyn Stocks Glover, Principal, Capital High

This article is the third in a nine-part “In Real Life” series on the complex, fundamental questions that practitioners in competency-based systems grapple with “in real life.” Links to the other posts can be found at the end of this article.

Because competency-based education (CBE) systems expect all students to reach mastery on all competencies, how those competencies are defined (and who gets to define them) becomes critical. For district and school leaders aiming to promote equity in their systems, this question is only heightened. How inclusive and representative are vision-setting and decision-making processes? How can leaders garner support from various stakeholders and help reconcile differing perspectives on what equity means or how to achieve it?

To better understand how competency-based school systems reckon with these fundamental questions, I sat down with Cynthia Green, Executive Director of Secondary Programs and Pathways for Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), and Karyn Stocks Glover, Principal of Capital High in MMSD.

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Red Bank Elementary School: Teaching Students, Not Standards

February 3, 2016 by

This post is part of the series Competency Education Takes Root in South Carolina. This is the second in the series on Red Bank Elementary in Lexington School District. Begin with the first on five big takeaways and follow along with: #2 teaching students instead of standards, #3 teacher perspectives, #4 student perspectives, and #5 parent perspectives.

Red Bank Elementary offers a great example of how districts can take a big step toward high quality competency education by allowing schools to move ahead when ready. It’s also an example that schools can go far down the path when districts don’t hold them back from innovating.

It says a lot about the leadership at Lexington School District that they have been supportive of Principal Marie Watson and the team at Red Bank as they took the enormous step five years ago to work with the Reinventing Schools Coalition to transform their school into a personalized, competency-based school. Susan Patrick and I had just completed the scan of competency education five years ago and hadn’t even started imagining CompetencyWorks at that time. It’s this kind of district leadership, to support innovation wherever it develops, that is needed to transform medium and large districts.

Red Bank Elementary is in the Lexington, South Carolina district a bit outside of Columbia. The school serves a socioeconomic mix of 580 students with about 56 percent FRL. The school has a bilingual Spanish Immersion program serving 30 percent of the students. Many of the families were hard hit by the flooding in the fall of 2015. Another thing you should know – South Carolina has its own set of standards, called the College and Career Ready standards, that have been described to me by one educator in my travels in the state as a “tweaked version of the Common Core.”

What’s Happening in Red Bank Classrooms

Red Bank is entirely organized around learning and leadership (leadership is a district initiative). It starts before you even walk in the door of the school with a sign for students coming in late: “Parents please check in at the office, learning has begun.”

The dominant feeling is of a quiet joy mixed with a good dose of respect, hope, and aspirations. There are lots of hugs, constant reminders of the qualities of leadership that everyone is aspiring to, and clear, clear, clear focus on learning. Staff are unified by a commitment to do better for kids and to intentionally improve their school based on a clear set of values and understanding of learning and teaching. After spending a few hours at Red Bank, I just wanted to do my personal best (it may have been the sign that says Everything you need is already inside you that gave me that lift).

Red Bank has taken many of the rituals of personalized learning that I’ve seen in other schools, mixed it with the The Leader in Me program, and then lifted it up into almost every aspect of the school. For example, two students, Hunter and Reilly, gave me a tour of the school, guiding me through hallways named Kindness Avenue, Creativity Lane, Perseverance Path, and Compassionate Way. Hunter and Reilly talked to me about what they like to study, when they like to do their work on a computer and when they like to work in a group, and how they get to make things, “really make things, like windmills” in STEM class. (more…)

Competency-Based Education Quality Principle #15: Develop Processes for Ongoing Continuous Improvement and Organizational Learning

December 27, 2018 by

This is the sixteenth article in a series based on the book Quality Principles for Competency-Based Education. You can find the section on Principle #15 Develop Processes for Ongoing Continuous Improvement and Organizational Learning on page 96. The links to the other articles can be found at the bottom of this page and will be updated as they are posted.

I think that one can argue that every school, whether it is a traditional school or a personalized, competency-based one, should have processes for continuous improvement in place. It only makes sense that any organization should be in the process of improving. However, traditional schools and school systems are highly bureaucratic in nature. The emphasis is much more on compliance than it is on an organizational drive toward excellence.

Our schools operate in an environment with layers and layers of policy, regulation, and reporting. These layers and layers of governance often create cultures of fear and mistrust. Thus, creating a strong continuous improvement and organizational learning culture, structure, and processes requires leadership. It may be the personal leadership of a teacher who uses formative assessment data to improve his own skills in learning how to help students develop the metacognitive and emotional skills to self-regulate their thinking and behavior. It may be the departmental leader who looks deeply at the data to identify that there are gaps in the domain-specific instructional approaches of teachers. Or it may be the organizational leadership of the principal or the superintendent who takes the courageous stance that they are going to do what’s best for students and manage the compliance requirements as needed.

The point is: In a bureaucratic world, truly engaging in organizational learning and continuous improvement can’t be separated from leadership. (more…)

Henry County Schools: Scaling Strategies for Mid-Size Districts

February 24, 2016 by
HCS3_scaling

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This post is part of a the series on Henry County, Georgia. This is the third of five posts. Read them all the way through: Post #1: Four Big TakeawaysPost #2: Ensuring Success for Each StudentPost #3: Scaling Strategies for Mid-Size DistrictsPost #4: What All of This Means for SchoolsPost #5: Impact Academy.

Henry County provides important insights into how larger districts can organize strategies to transform their schools with a more “personalized” approach and how they can avoid the unintended consequences that result from mandates. Their scaling strategy is definitely one to consider and adapt to work for your district.

Overarching Strategy of Change

The challenge before HCS was to get every school to make the transition to personalized learning, knowing that schools were going to have different entry points and that they couldn’t provide support to all the schools all at the same time. Aaryn Schmuhl, Assistant Superintendent for Learning and Leadership, explained, “We looked at several different school models, and each one is different. It quickly became clear to us that we can’t tell people how to do it. We want to support education entrepreneurs who can create a personalized learning school using their vision and strengths.”

The strategy that was developed “starts with the willing, draws on a small group of consultants, and creates an inclusive process where everyone makes the transition.” Historically, schools in Henry County have had a high level of school autonomy. Thus, it was important to keep as much as possible “loose” for the schools. The decision was to keep school redesign and the tools schools use “loose,” while the learner profile platform and competency-based learning infrastructure remained “tight.” It was important in terms of equity that the assessments built around the competencies and performance indicators be consistent across the district. They set the expectation that all schools would start the transition within the next three years and that each could develop a model using the five tenets of personalized learning in a way that worked for them and their students. Karen Perry, Special Projects Coordinator for HCS, emphasized this with, “We wanted to give schools the choice of when they go, but the 2020 vision for the district is that all fifty schools will be engaged in the work of personalized learning, whether that is in the application, planning, or implementation stage.” (more…)

Lens 2: Action Planning

July 10, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 9.34.37 AMIn earlier posts, I attempted to describe an overall framework of leadership I believe is needed if the work of converting to a student-centered, proficiency-based system of learning is to be successful. I base my thinking on my own experiences and the tales of leaders gone before in both education and business. The framework is built around four lenses through which leaders’ practices must pass. When the lenses are aligned and what we do passes through, our work is focused on our vision. The four lenses of leadership are building a leadership team (discussed in an earlier blog post), action planning, meeting facilitation, and culture. This post looks to further describe the lens of action planning.

A well-built leadership team must identify and share what they will do. What actions will be taken to help our organization in the process of continuous improvement. In Good Strategy, Bad Strategy, Richard Rumelt states that actions are what give strategies traction. Without well defined action steps, you have wheel spinning.

In years past, my school’s leadership team met prior to the opening of school and set goals around how we taught, assessed, and supported our learners. The vision was of a school that asked the teacher to differentiate more and more while the system continued moving students in age-like cohorts whether or not they were ready for the next year’s curriculum. Once we realized this was not improving learning for all students, we created a vision of a school that included the statement, “Students working their way through a well defined continuum of learning using their passions to create a path and choose how they will demonstrate their understanding of the learning.” Borrowing a term from Switch by Dan and Chip Heath, this new vision became our “postcard destination.” Now we needed to identify and script the critical moves to make it a reality. (more…)

If I Were a Funder…Yubby Dibby Dibby Dibby Dibby Dibby Dibby Dum

May 14, 2015 by
Tevye

Zero Mostel as Fiddler on the Roof’s Tevye, Wikipedia Commons

Everyone has ideas from time to time of what would be valuable to accelerate or improve the quality of implementation of competency-based education. But only a few folks are in a position to make the decisions about what efforts get funded. So the rest of us throw our arms around a bit like Tevye bemoaning what is really need in the field.

Once upon a time, I really was a funder focusing my energies on understanding trends and emerging issues, thinking as strategically as I could about what was going to be needed two to five years ahead and working to organize the funding with my colleagues. (When I’m not working on competency education, I still consult to foundations.) I’m occasionally asked by the CompetencyWorks funders to put on my “funder hat” and make suggestions for what would help the field of competency-based education, and I thought others might be interested in this topic.

This isn’t a full-fledged strategy based on a robust analytical process—just my best thinking to date. My high level analysis is that in general, CE is making steady advancements in K12 without any major conflict or issues arising. However, there are several areas of vulnerability that need to be addressed, including underdeveloped communication/messages; lack of evaluation, results, and an understanding of quality implementation; and challenges in transforming larger districts.

In considering opportunities and challenges, I used three different lenses:

1) What is needed to accelerate the expansion of competency education?

2) What type of infrastructure (policies and organizations) is needed to support it?

3) What is the capacity needed in the field that is in position to support the change process?

After you take a look at the ideas below, please share your thoughts on where you think the biggest challenges are facing us and what type of initiative would help us to overcome them. (more…)

Lessons from a Vanguard: A Look at Metz Elementary

September 18, 2017 by

This post is part of an ongoing series on Colorado schools. Read about D51 for more insights. 

Westminster Public Schools is accustomed to being in the spotlight. In 2008, Westminster became one of the first public school districts in the nation to adopt a competency-based model. In 2000, Colorado was one of the first states to adopt a school report card system. Based primarily upon standardized test results, the new law also put into place mandatory state interventions for schools and districts with persistent low performance. As the district website recounts, “after years of declining scores on the Colorado Student Achievement Program, commonly known as CSAP, the Board of Education decided the academic success of its students was too important to address through small curriculum shifts or a subtle tweaking of its programming. Instead, the district needed to radically change the way it educated students.”[1] Already looking for a more effective way to serve the districts’ rapidly changing student needs, district leadership made a bold move. Rather than pursue “drill and kill” strategies designed to quickly boost test scores, the district chose instead to implement a competency-based education model with the intention of honoring students and supporting deeper learning. This was a bold move and reflects an ethos about students and educators that continues to this day.

Metz Elementary was the first school to pilot Westminster’s new performance based system. Beginning in 2009, the school abandoned its traditional system of age-based learning to focus instead on what they wanted for students – deeper learning and performance. The school serves approximately 340 students in grades K-5, most of who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Borrowing from Chugach School District in Alaska and other schools across the country that had made the move to a performance-based system, Westminster Public Schools introduced a personalized learning approach that was all its own.

Claudette Trujillo, the principal at Metz, grew up in Westminster. After a few years teaching in a neighboring district, Ms. Trujillo ultimately returned to Westminster, where she has served in multiple roles at multiple schools. When she arrived at Metz in 2013, the school had returned to a traditional structure. Despite the district’s continued commitment to competency-based learning, a series of circumstances resulted in a lack of consistent implementation at Metz. Changes in leadership and staff have resulted in teachers relying on what they knew best, more traditional models of teaching and learning.

Principal Claudette Trujillo

Four years later, Ms. Trujillo has solidly re-established competency-based learning at the school. Teachers and students alike are invested in the structure and the enthusiasm is palpable throughout the school. Ms. Logsdon, a Level 4/5 teacher, describes it this way. “[Adopting competency-based learning is] absolutely the right thing for kids and it is absolutely the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.” When asked what lessons she has learned in the process, she offers the following reflection, “leadership for competency-based systems has to be there, and [leadership] has to believe in it.”

Today, thanks to the leadership and dedicated teachers and students at Metz Elementary, the school has implemented a dynamic system that is very much home-grown. The district’s brochure How Personalized Learning Works outlines the key components of the system at work in Metz Elementary. Core elements of the district’s approach include:

  • Clear learning targets that determine each student’s performance level in each subject
  • Ongoing assessments that inform student pathways and provide opportunities to demonstrate proficiency
  • Promotion to the next performance level as soon as a student demonstrates they are ready
  • Transparent reporting systems that allow parents, students and educators to log on any time and see where a student is and what’s next

(more…)

Teachers: The Engine of Change

February 22, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2012-11-21 at 9.22.12 AMI remember the first time I heard a principal explain, “We try to run our school through dialogue not memo. I work hard to make sure that very few things are communicated through memo.” Trained by the Industrial Areas Foundation in relational organizing, this principal was describing what it takes to operate within a distributed leadership model. I keep thinking about this as competency education expands because I’m not convinced we can make the transition to competency-based instruction by memo. The thing that keeps me up in the middle of the night is seeing competency education corrupted by a compliance-oriented, fixed mindset.

So you understand why I was fascinated by the section on leadership in Making Mastery Work: A Close-Up View of Competency Education. I’ve read it a couple of times and it certainly resonates with what I’ve seen in my site visits around the country.

Hear how Grey-New Gloucester school district are engaging educators on the February 28th webinar.

The authors highlight the dynamics in which “Teacher leadership provided considerable momentum in the institutionalization of competency education practices.” (Interestingly in Section Five they highlight the leadership role of students as well.) The tuning process at Vergennes High School in Vermont in which teachers work together to clarify the benchmarks and what proficiency looks like is described in the report: (more…)

On Scaling Competency Education: Equity, Quality, and Sustainability

February 1, 2017 by

This is the tenth post in the series Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England.

The early lesson from New England is that the scaling strategies for competency-based education require a combination of schools and districts that have the courageous leadership to convert to competency education and state leadership willing to commit to goal-oriented policies supported by long-term capacity-building strategies. Again, over time and as more states move forward, we are likely to learn about where there might be additional issues that need to be addressed. In particular, districts and states need to consider equity, quality, and sustainability.

Equity

amy-allen-quoteEven though equity resides at the very heart of competency-based education, it still requires an unrelenting commitment to challenge institutional patterns, individual bias that creates lower expectations, and strong management practices that can lead to much greater responsiveness. The focus on equity should be found in the accountability designs within school, district, and state systems and processes as well as the schoolwide instructional philosophies and strategies.

Although states are trying to increase responsiveness through embedding expectations that schools and educators respond to student needs, conversations with educators across New England suggest that courageous leadership is still needed. Under the pressure of the end-of-year accountability exams, too many schools and educators, even in the most developed competency-based districts, are still providing grade-level curriculum to students even if they have already learned the content or are lacking the prerequisite skills. In addition to leadership, we will need to engage a broad range of expertise, both practitioner and leadership, to identify the best ways to help students fill skill gaps without falling back into the trap of tracking.

Quality

The field is currently challenged by not having enough research and evaluation on the quality indicators for competency-based districts and schools to determine the elements that will lead to a high-quality model or effective implementation. This task is further complicated by what might be called waves of innovation that take place once districts become competency-based: As educators and schools become more intentional about what they want students to know and be able to do, there are efforts to build assessment literacy; build the capacity for performance assessments to support the development of higher order skills; develop stronger instructional strategies based on learning progressions; introduce practices that support student agency, voice, and choice; integrate more personalized learning practices; and introduce digital tools and online learning. Thus, schools and districts are taking different paths with different sequencing as they build the full range of capacities needed to operate a high-quality competency-based system. (more…)

Education Leadership: Getting Students to Mastery

December 2, 2013 by

ASCD’s Education Leadership’s new issue Getting Students to Mastery includes articles by Grant Wiggins, Kathleen Cushman, Thomas Gus114021key and Eric Anderman. Topics include what does mastery mean, what is good enough,  how to use technology to support mastery, and instructional practices.

The essays are useful ways to generate conversation and find out how states, districts and schools are managing them. For example, in his essay “How Good Is Good Enough?” Wiggins raises an important point, advising educators to keep the big picture in mind rather than falling prey to guiding students through a linear sequence of tiny bite-sized standards:

Perhaps as a result of the lack of an overall vision for what constitutes mastery, education has a long-standing practice of turning worthy learning goals into lists of bits. One might even say that this practice is the original sin in curriculum design: Take a complex whole, divide it into small pieces, string those together in a rigid sequence of instruction and testing, and call completion of this sequence “mastery.” Although well-intentioned, this practice leads to needlessly fractured, boring, and ultimately in effective learning that never prepares students to be fluent and skilled in authentic work.

New Hampshire guards against this with its College and Career Readiness Competencies setting about a dozen large competencies for English Language Arts and another for mathematics to help teachers stay focused on that big picture of what we want kids to be able to know and do. In Maine, they are developing the capacity to assess the statewide “guiding principles”. Both states know that performance tasks and assessments are needed to make sure that we are keeping our eye on the big picture of what we expect for our kids.

The articles are all useful for thinking about classroom practice. However, remember when you are reading the articles that competency education is a whole-school practice, not something that teachers can implement on their own. We’ve learned from that experience, recognizing the importance of school-wide grading policies to enable standards-based grading (as compared to standards-referenced where students are passed on with Cs and Ds), schoolwide support systems (rather than acting as if teachers can possibly meet the needs of every student in their classroom alone) , and creating opportunities for students to advance or go deeper as they reach mastery (rather than thinking about the limits of learning within the classroom).

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