Tag: principal and superintendent perspectives

Hiring for Cultural Responsiveness – A Necessary Consideration

April 11, 2018 by

It is April. This month brings with it various seasons for various people. For some, April brings the start of Spring. For others, it brings tax season. For sports enthusiasts, it brings the prospect of another baseball season. But for principals like me, it brings hiring seasoning. This is the time of year where we make decisions about continuing current staff contracts, are informed about retirements and resignations, and begin to hire staff for the next school year. Hiring season brings with it the complex dance of screening applications, interviewing, hiring, and determining how to best support these new hires. For principals, hiring season should also bring a time on introspection centered on cultural responsiveness – before the aforementioned process begins. Researchers (Johnson, 2006; Terrell & Lindsey, 2009) have shown that principals must clearly understand their own assumptions, beliefs, and values about people and cultures different from themselves in order to lead effectively in settings with diverse student populations. If a school principal serves a diverse student population, he/she must know what he/she believes about culture and race BEFORE engaging in the hiring process. (more…)

Three Take-Aways

April 6, 2018 by

The MC community is always digging in to rubrics! Here, teachers take advantage of a bulletin board at KAPPA International to see rubric criteria.

This post and all images originally appeared at Mastery Collaborative on February 27, 2018.

Recently Meredith Matson, Assistant Principal/Mastery rockstar, facilitated a professional development about enriching rubric criteria for the staff at MC Active Member School Urban Assembly School of Design and Construction. Below, three take-aways from Meredith’s session.

1. Rubrics too often contain “laundry-lists.”

Learning tasks should push students to higher-order thinking. Because rubrics guide these tasks, the criteria for mastery should reflect the deep thinking students need to engage in.

Non-example: Cite at least three sources.

Example: Provide sufficient evidence and reasoning to support your claim. (more…)

Highlighting Deeper Learning Competencies in New Hampshire

March 12, 2018 by

It is hard to argue the importance that being a strong collaborator, an articulate communicator, a self-directed learner, and a creative problem solver has on a person’s success in today’s world. In fact, a recent analysis by Valerie Strauss from the Washington Post on an article written by Cathy Davidson highlighting how Google culled data to determine the most important qualities of its top employees and found that the top seven were non-academic cognitive competencies, or success skills. Coaching, communicating and listening, empathy, critical thinking, problem solving, and making connections across complex ideas all came out on top.

In a competency-based system, we must hold both academic competencies AND these deeper learning competencies, or success skills, as integral in preparing our graduates to be successful in work, college, and life. (more…)

Cultural Responsiveness Starts in the Principal’s Office

January 31, 2018 by

“Everything rises and falls on leadership.” – John Maxwell

Dr. Joseph Ellison

Personalized instruction has become an increasing focus of educational conversation over the last few years. However, the conversation often fails to touch on what it means to personalize instruction in light of the great diversity found in schools across our country. Can personalized instruction be effective without some degree of cultural competence?

Educators cannot truly personalize instruction without carefully considering the “whole child” – meaning current skill level, previous instruction, socioeconomic status, and race. Yes… race! Some argue that race has no place in the conversation around personalization. I disagree. Race is a necessary component of personalization because “teachers [who] ignore the racial component of students’ identity are in effect treating their students as incomplete beings, and student performance can suffer as a result” (Milner, 2010, p. 16). I hasten to emphasize that race is NOT everything when it comes to cultural responsiveness. Effective and accurate cultural responsiveness must respond to all of the inputs in students’ lives; it must take into account the “whole child.” And, cultural responsiveness is not an “add-on” or just another classroom thing. Cultural responsiveness is part of an ever-evolving orientation and pedagogy… and a necessary component of personalized learning. (more…)

What if We Started Looking at STEM-Education Differently?

October 10, 2017 by

STEM is all the rage these days, and with an ever-growing gap in filling jobs that are tied to science, technology, engineering, and math, employers are at a loss with finding well-rounded, educated, and professional employees to hire. What if STEM-Education began to be viewed as more than just science, technology, engineering, and math, though? What if the STEM programs which are slowly emerging in schools across our country started working with our youth at a young age and became something greater, something that helped develop successful, collaborative, creative, and innovative thinkers who could actually apply their knowledge? What could this possibly look like, and what might the benefits be for our workforce and, more importantly, our future?

A concept that has resonated with me for years has been one of students wanting to advance through “curriculum” as quickly as possible. Mastery never seemed to be the goal for these students and sometimes parents, but really, how fast the student could advance through a program, or ace a test… just to show that they knew how to solve the problems and get some high school credits. The issue, however, was when you asked them what the answers actually meant… as in, “What are you actually telling me?” Blank stares and a response of, “Well, the answer is 22.5432432….” were quite often the conversations hastily exchanged across the table. Were we really helping our students grow as learners and, more importantly, as college and career citizens who were ready to be sprung out into our ever-changing world? It was at this point that the shift from masters of content began to transition into helping to foster experts in context.

What if we flipped the script and started to look at STEM differently? What if instead of simply thinking that students needed to master concepts, they became experts in context in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math, and actually began to embrace STEM as “Strategies That Engage Minds” or even better yet “Solving Today’s Everyday Mysteries.” Students were now becoming real-life, rational problem-solvers instead of solving a problem solely to show the answer. When asked how something worked or why it didn’t work, a student could now articulate the Why, instead of just defend the What.   (more…)

Congratulations Are in Order

September 27, 2017 by

Brian Stack and James Murray

Congratulations to James Murray, Waukesha STEM Academy (WI), and Brian Stack, Sanborn Regional High School (NH)! They have each been recognized as State Principal of the Year, and they are both leaders in advancing competency-based education. In previous years, other leaders in competency-based education, including Derek Pierce of Casco Bay High School and Alan Tenreiro of Cumberland High School, have received similar recognition.

I imagine that over time, we will see more and more of leaders in competency-based education gain recognition.

Why?

First, competency-based education, when well designed, should be creating the culture and processes that support continuous improvement. This means that their schools should always be reflecting on how they can do better using the available data and by generating data through dialogue and surveys to enhance understanding. Who benefits? The result is that more students should be making progress, and teachers should feel valued for their input and be part of a team that has a shared understanding that they are going to make decisions based on what’s best for students.

Second, leaders in competency-based education will need to develop leadership and management strategies that engage educators and other stakeholders. The top-down bureaucratic culture that emphasizes compliance just isn’t going to work. This means that competency-based educators are going to need to develop leadership strategies that engage and empower others (these go by different names, including adaptive leadership or distributed leadership). Essentially, leaders manage the processes that bring together diverse perspectives to find solutions. (District 51 has gone the farthest I know of in trying to institutionalize these practices through holacracy.)

There are two resources available if you want to start thinking about these types of leadership/management strategies:

Maybe Brian and James will write reflections on learning to become a leader in a competency-based environment for us?

The How to Your Why

September 11, 2017 by

So much has been said about the importance of an organization having a purpose for the work they do. Schools have crafted purpose statements often containing phrases like “life-long learners,” “productive citizens,” and “successful members of society.” This is best done following a series of meetings with all stakeholders to capture their thoughts on what the experience of school should be for the community. At RSU 2, our purpose statement is “Cultivating Hope in All Learners.” We wanted a lofty commitment that falls just short of saying, “We want to make the world a better place.” All decisions we make, from allocating our resources to scheduling our learners, must be done in a way that shows we support our purpose.

But how do we know we are supporting the purpose? That question has been on my mind lately, causing me to ponder the middle ring in Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, the “How”: how we do the things we do in support of our why. If your actions do not reflect your why, you should either change your actions or change your why. Left as is, people will begin to see hypocrisy in your organization. And once they believe you are not being true to the work, they will find evidence to support their doubt, even if it is falsely interpreted. Leaders will find themselves in a constant mode of management.

What I have come to notice is to get at the “how we will work together to meet our purpose” requires agreement on common language and common approaches. The stakeholders responsible for the implementation of the plan must spend time to truly understand it so the purpose can be realized. These understandings must include agreed upon definitions and tenets.

Recently, I watched a five minute New York Times Magazine interview with comedian Jerry Seinfeld in which he described his process for writing a joke. When you listen, his rules of thumb of joke creating and telling come out loud and clear. They are:

  1. Write about nothing
  2. Think of something you think is funny
  3. Be funny right away
  4. Write on yellow pads with a Bic pen
  5. Look for connective tissue to link the story
  6. Biggest joke at the end
  7. The wronger something feels the righter it is

While some of these might be typical for all comedians, some may be true for Seinfeld alone.

The same can be said for how a school realizes being a personalized, competency-based system of education. Our rules of thumb, lets call them tenets, the principle or belief held as true by the members of a group, will be both similar and special to the district who defines them. Said in another way, what are those things that we agree need to happen to reach our vision? No system is exactly like another. Whether it is demographics, geography, or traditions and superstitions (like writing every episode of Seinfeld with a yellow pad and a Bic pen), schools have personalities. That is what we mean when we talk about school culture.  That is why every school and system needs to invest the time and energy, in productive struggle, to build understanding of how they will put the learners and their learning at the center of everything they do. (more…)

Getting to Know Students’ Business: A Conversation at Lincoln-West’s Schools of Global Studies and Science & Health

July 10, 2017 by

This is the third of a five-part series on competency-based schools in Cleveland Metropolitan Schools.

Lincoln-West is a large comprehensive school being redesigned into two smaller schools: the School of Global Studies and the School of Science & Health. These two schools are being designed as mastery-based schools. Both schools had only six months under their belt when we visited. They have used the same design principles and design process but have created cultures, learning experiences, and established community partnerships that reflect their themes. For example, students at Science & Health spend time learning in a hospital, and Global Studies offers an array of service learning opportunities. Below are conversations with principals and teachers at the two schools.

A Conversation with Principals

Christopher Thompson, principal at the School of Science & Health, said, “We’ve learned that it is important to be very intentional about onboarding veteran teachers. They’ve learned and worked in traditional schools all their lives. Resetting their orientation and mindset takes time.” Irene Javier, principal at the School of Global Studies, emphasized that the growth mindset is important for students and teachers. “We took advantage of the design process for all of us to reset our mindsets,” she said. “We used the process almost like a meditation so that each person was able to see their new roles and how they could contribute. It’s important to celebrate how much is being accomplished in such a short period of time.”

The process of hiring came up several times. The principals emphasized that attitude is equally important to skills. It’s important to make sure that teachers understand what they are signing up for. Thompson noted, “We found that we needed to look for a specific set of qualities. Teachers need to have a growth mindset for themselves, expertise in differentiation, a positive attitude toward learning and building relationships with students, and strong knowledge of instruction and assessment. Oh, and they need to know the standards.”

Javier expanded, “This looks daunting at first, until teachers understand that there are lots of supports to this structured way of teaching and learning. Essentially we are staging the learning curve. We are intentional about what we want students to learn with clear plans balanced with flexibility because students shape the learning process as well. What’s most important is to always celebrate what teachers bring to the learning process and their accomplishments in expanding their skills.”

Darcel Williams, Program Manager for New School Model, explained, “Principals play a critical role in instruction at any school. However, at a brand new school it is particularly important for principals to be engaged with teachers.” Javier continued, “We have 75 percent brand new teachers and 25 percent veterans. They have different issues. The older teachers struggle because they feel less confident than they have in the traditional system. But they are already saying that the change has been worth it to see students so engaged.” The district has also been helping with building the educator capacity by offering professional learning before the opening of the new schools, much of it introducing and role modeling the new practices.

One week of professional learning was offered in May for the staff of the new schools. During that time they worked together to create curricular maps with their peers. For example, a team might include one ELA teacher, two interventionists, and two bilingual paraprofessionals so that important strategies for serving students with disabilities and those learning English are embedded into the curriculum. Javier smiled in recalling this process, “Teachers can conquer the world when they collaborate.” The curricular maps went through two to three reviews to improve the quality, make connections with the themes of the schools (service learning for Global Studies and hospital internships at Science & Health), and ensure they were organized for students with different sets of skills to be able to make progress. Advisory also created its own ten-week map, including introducing students to learning within a competency-based structure. (more…)

Amidst Opioid Addiction, Plummeting Morale, One Elementary School Reinvents Itself

July 6, 2017 by

This post and all photos originally appeared at EdSurge on June 19, 2017.

When you enter Parker-Varney Elementary School, you are immediately struck by the relaxed atmosphere. Make your way to the office to check in, and you’ll see students walking by and waving, moving in and out of community spaces with confidence and ease. There’ll be a buzz of excitement in the air, the mark of students highly engaged and doing work that is important and relevant to their lives.

It wasn’t always this way. Four years ago, in 2013, Parker-Varney was listed as a “School in Need of Improvement.” The school had seen five principals in six years and achievement scores, morale and attendance were sinking. Local families were struggling economically, with 72 percent of students qualifying for Free and Reduced Lunch, and across the district, we were battling an opioid crisis (a problem that continues today, with six parental overdoses at Parker-Varney this year alone).

Rather than crumble, however, we chose to embrace change and focus on what mattered most: whole child development. We honored student needs with multi-age classrooms and competency-based projects. As principal, I encouraged the staff to take risks and to rekindle their passion for teaching and learning. Teachers identified problems of practice and prototyped solutions, and focused on what could be done rather than what couldn’t.

At Parker-Varney, we have a saying: “Learning can be messy, and we must work through the mess.” Today, although the walls of the building are the same, the “spirit” and sense of collaboration have transformed.

Here are a few key ingredients to our success. (more…)

Connecting the Dots: Aligning Efforts to Support Teachers and Students in New Hampshire

May 8, 2017 by

Making the shift to a competency-based and personalized model of education is a process that can be daunting to educators, especially those who work in a very traditional system. Last July I made the move from being the principal of a nationally recognized Professional Learning Community at Work school and competency-based learning environment to the executive director of the New Hampshire Learning Initiative, a non-profit dedicated to seeding and supporting innovative efforts in New Hampshire schools. I had been fortunate to be engaged in a number of the innovative efforts in New Hampshire while I was a principal, and I understood all too well that many educators did not see how the work that we were doing was connected. Anytime a school or district’s next steps are seen as “another initiative” the work is doomed to fail. I set out to connect the dots for as many as I could in my new role.

New Hampshire is quite well-known for an innovative assessment effort called PACE, but it is truly the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the greater ecosystem of personalized learning in New Hampshire. The Performance Assessment of Competency Education (PACE) is the only assessment and accountability waiver approved by the U.S. Department of Education. The results from PACE continue to surprise national experts in assessment, but not the educators directly involved. The results, when compared with SBAC, demonstrate high levels of inter-rater reliability, as well as growth for students in various cohorts, suggesting that opportunities for deeper learning are having a positive impact regardless of where a student is on his/her learning progression. This has been due to a number of factors, but what it comes down to is this: Our teachers, when provided the opportunity to learn deeply, reflect, and collaborate, really know their stuff, and when students are truly given the opportunity for deeper learning, they rise to that level of rigor.

But there was, and is, a piece of our balanced system of assessments that we continue to work on developing. The integration of skills and dispositions into curriculum, instruction, and assessment is an integral component of a competency-based system. There is a growing body of research supporting the absolute necessity of these non-curricular cognitive competencies to success in careers. Employers are identifying these skills as the ones critical to success in the workplace. In New Hampshire, these skills and dispositions are referred to as Work Study Practices (WSP). Our teachers, starting in the PACE schools, took on this challenge over the past two years, and the learning has been monumental. Through the facilitated and guided practice through modules created by 2Revolutions and support through MyWays tools, New Hampshire educators have the opportunity to delve into their own learning, then develop and implement tools and resources within their own classroom environments to integrate these all-important competencies into learning opportunities for students. Teachers from across the State of New Hampshire are then brought together for a facilitated opportunity to share their learning and resources with each other. The number of teachers involved in this effort has doubled over the past two years as educators recognize the importance of these competencies to preparing our students to be successful in today’s world. (more…)

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