Tag: principal and superintendent perspectives

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…)

Developing Self-Directed Learners

December 22, 2016 by

gsmart3This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on December 6, 2016.

“I haven’t met many self-directed teenagers,” said a frustrated high school teacher during a recent presentation.

As we contemplate the vast problem of teenage disengagement and the apparent low level of self-direction, we have to ask, “Is it our kids or our schools?”

We’ve seen enough high engagement schools where most teens were self-directed to suggest that it may be the design of American secondary schools that’s the problem—not the kids.

For a century, the primary design meme of American schools has been compliant consumption. Students read, practice and regurgitate in small chunks in siloed classes in regimented environments. Low levels of self-direction shouldn’t be surprising—it is inherent in the traditional secondary school design.

High engagement schools start from a different conception—knowledge co-creation and active production. They design a very different learner experience and support it with a student-centered culture and opportunities to improve self-regulation, initiative and persistence—all key to self-directed learning.

Why Does Self-Direction Matter?

Growth of the freelance- and gig-economy makes self-direction an imperative, but it’s also increasingly important inside organizations. David Rattray of the LA Chamber said, “Employees need to change their disposition toward employers away from work for someone else to an attitude of working for myself—agency, self-discipline, initiative and risk-taking are all important on the job.” (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency-Based Education?

December 1, 2016 by

What's NewNews

States

Practitioner Perspectives

Agency

  • Fletcher Elementary School students are hiring staff for next fall, including job searches, reviewing applications, writing questions and conducting interviews—as a means to promote student leadership, agency and engagement.
  • Winooski School District shared a video highlighting their story of how personalized learning opened opportunities and prepared students for college and career.

Community Engagement

  • Colorado’s District 51 is engaging their community and setting a new vision for K-12 education by asking, “What skills do we want our graduates to have?”
  • The Vermont Department of Education has made stakeholder engagement part of their continuous improvement project as they transition to ESSA.
  • This article is an example of how one might work through the many concepts undergirding the shift to personalized learning—by questioning a broader way of defining student success and proficiency-based learning. How might you respond to someone who raises these questions in your community?

(more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

October 20, 2016 by

What's NewVirgel Hammonds of KnowledgeWorks explains the difference between traditional and competency education. You can watch the video to learn more.

News

  • Clark County School District in Las Vegas will open the nation’s first Marzano Academy, adopting strategies from Dr. Robert Marzano (co-founder of Colorado-based Marzano Research).
  • Lindsay Unified Public Schools, a rural, public school in California’s Central Valley, is hoping to share its competency-based approach and change management practices.

State Updates

  • The U.S. Education Department approved the extension of New Hampshire’s competency-based assessment pilot.
  • The Maine Cohort for Customized Learning and Thomas College’s Center for Innovation in Education held a one-day summit to provide teachers with a statewide opportunity to share and collaborate, problem solve and create new action steps to address the largest implementation issues.
  • Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states have a historic opportunity to redesign systems of assessments and rethink accountability to support personalized learning. This article explores how Virginia is moving toward next generation accountability and and performance assessments.
  • Illinois is developing a new state plan under ESSA, the new federal K-12 education law.
  • Westminster Public Schools in Colorado began implementing competency education in 2009. This article explores how competency education is at odds with Colorado’s statewide accountability system.

School Updates

  • Deer-Isle Stonington Elementary School is adopting a proficiency-based grading system, which the high school is already working with (read more about Deer-Isle Stonington’s High School here).
  • In this article, Michael Horn explores the inputs and outcomes in credit recovery at LA Unified.
  • America Heritage (Idaho Falls) is embracing mastery-based education as one of 20 statewide “incubators” or pilots aimed at providing mastery-based education to students in 2016-17.
  • California’s Del Lago Academy created a competency-based approach which allows students to collect badges to prove their skills to colleges and employers, reinforcing the pipeline to college and career.
  • Superintendent of RSU5 in Maine, Dr. Becky Foley, explains the shift toward student-centered learning in their district as they continue to implement competency education from PreK-12. 

(more…)

Separating the Facts from the Myths in the Competency-Based High School Transcript

September 12, 2016 by

Sample Report CardDistricts are creating a variety of grading practices and transcripts that are being described as standards-based and competency-based grading practices. Some are hybrids retaining elements of traditional grading. Many convert to traditional points in order to produce a GPA and rank students. Most importantly, some districts attempt to create new grading practices without putting adequate supports and policies to personalize education into place. At CompetencyWorks, when we think about grading, we think about the question, “How will you ensure that students are progressing?” Grading is one of the practices that is needed, in addition to many others. (See Progress and Proficiency: Redesigning Grading for Competency Education.) Increasingly, colleges and universities are supporting proficiency-based transcripts. (See information on the Collegiate Endorsement of Proficiency-Based Transcripts.) In the following article, Brian Stack, principal at Sanborn Regional High School, addresses misconceptions based on their experience with redesigning grading. 

– Chris Sturgis

After many years of experience as a high school principal in a competency-based high school, it is the transcript that generates the highest degree of inquiry from outsiders seeking to understand our system, and for good reason. In both traditional and competency-based models, the high school transcript represents a student’s ultimate cumulative record of learning, a record that must be communicated in a clear and concise manner to both admissions officers at post-secondary institutions as well as potential employers. Over the years I have encountered several misconceptions and myths about what a transcript for a competency-based program should look like. It’s time to dispel these myths and set the record straight.

Myth: Reporting measures such as grade point average (GPA) and class rank cannot be computed in a competency-based school.

False! These two measures can be included on a competency-based transcript. There is often a fear from outsiders and newcomers that because most competency-based schools report assignment grades using a four or five point letter rubric scale, there isn’t an opportunity to compute a GPA. This is simply not true. In my school, a student can only earn one of five letter grades on individual assignments based on their performance level as indicated on a rubric, but in the background, those letters correlate to the numerical values of 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4. As the student completes multiple assignments, we are able to compute an overall course grade and thus a GPA that is a numerical value between 0 and 4. From the GPA, it is then easy to compute a class rank statistic. This, however, leads to another popular myth.

(more…)

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