Tag: leadership

Phase In or Overnight Your Implementation?

October 20, 2015 by

Guinea Pig Reading a BookWhen implementing a Proficiency Based Learning system, many schools need to choose between a “phased in” approach or an “overnight” approach. Typically, a phased in approach identifies a specific group of students for which change happens over a prolonged period of time. Conversely, an overnight approach involves developing a program from philosophy through logistics (such as scheduling, assessments, reporting, transcripts, etc.) and making the transition for an entire school or district to happen at the same time.

Having experienced both, I offer a discussion of unintended consequences to one of these choices. In one school, implementation was scheduled for a freshman class with a four-year phase in process through which the entire school would transition to a new system. In another, a decision was made to transition an entire school together at one time, given the thinking that ultimately “we’re going that way” anyway, why not do it together approach.

We’re the Guinea Pigs

Stakeholders may or may not embrace a change to a proficiency-based system. When deciding to implement this change, a single group of students (in this case, a freshman class) and their families experience the change over a period of multiple years. While it is a fact of life that schools are “building the plane while flying it,” it has a dramatic effect upon the “guinea pig” class. Not having answers is natural when transitioning to a whole new philosophy and approach to educating our youth. It is natural not to anticipate some of the issues that arise within transition; however, the guinea pig class certainly had their fill of “I don’t know” responses from teachers and administrators. (more…)

Revisiting Threads of Implementation

August 3, 2015 by

MaineDOEI had the chance to re-read Threads of Implementation: A Thematic Review of Six Case Studies of Maine School Districts Implementing Proficiency-Based/Learner-Centered Systems, a summary of the six case studies prepared by the Maine Department of Education. It is such a helpful overview of the early work in Maine that I’ve decided to reprint it here. It’s also an example of one of the new functions for state education agencies – sharing tools, documenting processes, and helping districts to learn from each other.

Beginning in February 2012, the Maine Department of Education through its Center for Best Practice (Center) began publishing a series of in-depth case studies of school districts who were implementing proficiency-based/learner-centered systems. These districts were in very different stages of their implementation journeys. For example, the member districts of the Western Maine Education Collaborative (WMEC) were just beginning implementation while Poland Regional High School (of RSU 16) had been completely proficiency-based since it opened in 1999. Though each of the districts featured in the Center over the last two years took decidedly different paths on their way to change, there were common themes that emerged throughout the case studies. Their experiences serve as lessons for other Maine districts just beginning this transition in preparation for all schools in the state issuing diplomas starting in 2018 to students based on demonstrated proficiency.

Vision and Framework (more…)

Advice for School Principals on Implementing Competency Education

March 4, 2015 by
Brian Stack

Brian Stack

This past week, I had the pleasure of spending some time with school principals from Henry County, Georgia in an effort to help them get ready to start their own competency education and personalized learning journey. Henry County has committed to a redesign structure framed around five personalized learning tenets: Learner Profiles, Competency Based Learning, Project Based Learning, 21st Century Skills, and Technology Enabled Learning. Work is now underway in their schools to move their plan into action from just a few cohort schools to all of the schools in their county. As a high school principal from New Hampshire who underwent a similar school redesign just five years ago, I came to Georgia to offer these great principals some words of “wisdom” from a practical sense, using my own redesign journey as a guide. The experience for me personally was an opportunity to reflect back on what I have had to do as a school principal to help support this massive change process in our school community. The focus of this article is to share some of that advice for other principals who are likely to start this kind of work in the coming months or years.

To frame my advice, I will use the work of Kotter (1996) on leading change in an organization. Although Kotter’s work was written originally for the business world, it can easily be transferred to education. It is a perfect guide for principals who are leading a transition to competency education in their school. To illustrate his research in a practical manner, Kotter (2005) later wrote a fable about a colony of penguins living on an iceberg off the coast of Antarctica who discover that their iceberg is going to melt over the coming season and they need to convince the colony that they need to relocate and change how they live. Five years ago our school district used this fable to help our administrators, myself included, understand their role in the redesign and change process. The fable follows Kotter’s multi step process for successful change and will frame my advice for principals.

1) Set the stage by creating a sense of urgency and pulling together a guiding team. (more…)

Six Trends at Lindsay Unified School District

March 2, 2015 by
Tom Rooney

Tom Rooney

This is the first post in a series on Lindsay Unified School District. Read the second, third, fourth, and fifth posts here. 

If your district is thinking seriously about converting to competency education, you should definitely bring a team to visit to Lindsay Unified School District. When I was last there, they had forty-plus educators from two districts in California, seven from Colorado, and one from Florida. You can register here for a site visit. (For funders out there – it’s worth considering figuring out how to do a virtual tour, as more people want to visit than Lindsay can accommodate and it’s expensive for districts to send a team. Just think how we could also reduce our carbon footprint if videos were available.)

One of the highlights of the visit was Superintendent Tom Rooney’s opening talk. I’ve known Tom for several years but have never heard him as sharp, urgent, and impassioned. After watching the video Transformational Learning (available in Spanish, as well), Rooney talked about graduation day as a great day for students. “This is a great day for educators, as well. We are saying to the world, ‘We’ve had them for twelve or thirteen years and we’re sending them out into society. They are our product, our contribution to society.’” He then continued, “The reality for many of our graduates is that they soon find out they didn’t get what they needed. Some of the kids fall into deep despair when they realize they have been betrayed. They were told that they are ready, but they’re not.”

Rooney then told a story that occurred when Virgel Hammonds was a new principal at Lindsay Unified High School (Hammonds is now the superintendent at RSU2 in Maine). It was late spring and Hammonds was just getting settled into his office, when in walked a father and his son who had graduated the week before. The father took a newspaper off the desk and gave it to his son, asking him to read it. After a few minutes of silence, the young man looked up with his tears in his eyes. “Dad, you know I don’t know how to read.”

Betrayal indeed. This is a betrayal that occurs all across our country. (more…)

Navigators of Learning

January 8, 2015 by

CompassImprovement comes from knowing where you are going, where you are starting, and the strategic steps to get you there. This is true whether you are retooling a business or choosing towels for a newly redecorated bathroom. When my district began to move to a learner-centered, proficiency-based educational system, we met with the community of parents, learners, educators, and business leaders to set the vision for the school. We now use this vision to create the action plans we will follow to get us to the vision.

But when working with students, we stray from this plan. Teachers’ goals are simple: improve students in their thinking and skills. The execution is the tough part. Giving students a letter grade is not a strategy for improvement. It is as helpful as a coach telling a team they lost without reflecting on why the loss occurred. Athletes know the goal of the game is to win, and reminding them of this is not a strategy.

Tony Dungy, the former head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Indianapolis Colts (as described in Henry Cloud’s book Boundaries for Leaders), knew that if he was going to win the Super Bowl, he would need to not just measure how many wins or losses the team had. Instead he would need to measure penalty yards and turnovers. He then gave the athletes strategies on how to improve those areas. If they executed the strategies, he theorized they would win. He was right. Teachers need to do the same. We cannot simply give students a final grade when they are not even sure what strategies they can use to improve – or worse, aren’t even clear on what they are trying to improve. A well-crafted progression of competencies can give the teacher and the student the guidebook needed to create successful strategies for continuous improvement. (more…)

ReInventing Schools at the District Level

November 10, 2014 by
Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 9.00.58 AM

Bill Zima

In 2012, Maine established policy for schools to award proficiency-based diplomas starting in 2018. As the years passed, it became clear that some districts, including mine, needed more time to get all the pieces in place. In April of 2014, The Maine Department of Education agreed to allow extensions for districts as long as they met specific criteria demonstrating the district was moving forward. There were six options ranging from no extension to taking a full three years.

My district chose option five, which required us to partner with a coach to help with the transition to a learner-centered, proficiency-based system. We decided to partner with the ReInventing Schools Coalition. This decision was made based on their affiliation with Marzano Research Labs and their proven record of supporting schools through the transition. Also, the middle school, of which I am the principal, already had a working relationship with them. We have found them to be tireless in their commitment to support us through the process of meeting our vision.

With our limited funds, the decision was made to begin the district work with leadership teams from each of the schools in the district. The groups met for a single day over the summer to talk about the ReInventing Schools framework. While it was nice to only spend a single day on this topic, I would not recommend it as the norm for the introduction. Since the ReInventing Schools Coalition is well-known in Maine, having worked with many school districts in the past six years, their framework is familiar to many educators. Add to this the catalyst of the proficiency-based diploma law, and it gave our coach the ability to move quickly, leaving only a few of the school leaders needing support in the days that followed. (more…)

What is the Story that You Will Tell of Your Journey?

November 7, 2014 by

Business man showing superhero suit“Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound……”

….Superman? No, not really. Looking back over the past several years in competency education, perhaps SuperPioneer is a more apt superhero symbol. In the early days of competency education, the road ahead of us was somewhat unchartered, with unknown hazards and delays along the way. The early pioneers were a bit lonely without the familiar guideposts and waypoints that normally give direction. GPS? No such thing. But one thing could be counted on—with each rising of the sun, we were that much closer to journey’s end.

What is the story that you will tell of your journey down the road to competency education? What legacy will you leave to those who follow in your district after you step off the path? These may seem like silly questions, but I do believe they are important ones. You see, we are at a unique time in the history of education. In leaving behind what some people are already calling the “dark era in education,” we find ourselves at that fork in the road where we can either forge new experiences unleashed from the past, or we can choose the path that guarantees the journey ahead will repeat the last hundred miles. (more…)

When Teachers Can Implement At Their Own Pace

October 15, 2014 by

bull dog for van meterI recently had the opportunity to visit Van Meter School in Van Meter, Iowa with Sandra Dop, Consultant for 21st Century Skills at the Iowa Department of Education and facilitator of the Iowa Competency-based Education (CBE) Collaborative. Two faculty members accompanied us from Drake University’s School of Education, Dr. Randy Peters and Dr. Laura Kieran. They are members of the CBE Collaborative, bringing vision, curiosity and dedication to scoping out the future of competency education in Iowa.

Van Meter Community School District is a small district located 15 miles outside of Des Moines. It has one school building comprising K-12. Total attendance is 677 students, of whom 158 chose to open enroll into the district (students in Iowa can enroll in another district of their choice). The Mission of Van Meter Community School District is “to personalize learning for each student’s success, today and tomorrow.”

Van Meter is transitioning to full-school competency education, but has been doing standards-based grading school-wide in K-12 for three years. Elementary Principal and Director of Teaching and Learning Jen Sigrist explained the evolution: “We had a few teachers trying it before (five and six years ago), which led to each secondary teacher trying it for at least one class four years ago. After that, we made the move district wide. The last team to come on board was 5th grade mostly because they were not included in the secondary conversations and were preparing kids for the secondary by giving traditional letter grades in the past. They were happy to jump on board with the entire district three years ago.” (more…)

Virgel Hammonds’ Six Insights into Leadership

October 8, 2014 by

virgelThis is the second in a two part series on RSU2 in Maine. The first post is A Quick Update from RSU2 Maine

We all know that the magic ingredient to successfully bringing about any systemic reform is leadership. We know it, we talk about it, but what exact leadership style and strategies are needed?

I’ve listened to superintendents, district teams, principals, and teacher-leaders talk about the importance of leadership in converting schools to competency education. There seems to be something special about the type of leadership that is needed, but I hadn’t been able to put my finger on it until I spoke with Virgel Hammonds, superintendent of RSU2 in Maine.

Hammonds issued a caveat at the beginning of our conversation on leadership, reminding me that he considered himself a new superintendent and that he was still figuring out the role. He then laid out six insights about what is required of district leadership in proficiency-based systems that struck me as coming from the voice of experience.

1. No One Has All the Answers

Hammonds described the trap that captures educators as they ascend the career ladder. As authority increases, education leaders are positioned as the ones who have the answer. The trap is that having the final say can easily come to mean “the one who has the right answer.” Leaders can start to feel that they have to have the right answer, or worse, that they in fact do have the answer.

Hammonds explained that leaders have to move away from this thinking, “As districts and schools convert to proficiency-based learning, they are knocking down load-bearing walls. It’s impossible to have all the answers because any organizational change often has multiple consequences.” He said learning to be a superintendent in a proficiency-based district meant he had to let go of the pride of having all the answers. “No one person is going to do this all by themselves or be able to figure it all out entirely by themselves. Instead, we have to ask ourselves, ‘How can we take a position of trust and respect that can harness the collective intelligence needed to bring about transformative change?’”

2.  Make Decisions Around the Best Interest of Students

Hammonds said that he is often asked about the Lindsay story (he was a high school principal in that California district) or the RSU2 story, as if there is a step-by-step process that other districts can follow. “It’s not about one method. Every district and school has its own history and culture. They need to be able to tap into the assets of their communities and schools to develop the vision, guiding principles, and process that is right for them.” (more…)

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