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Tag: principal and superintendent perspectives

Changing To a Competency-Based Grading System: A Student View

July 24, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-07-19 at 8.59.59 AMMy New Hampshire high school made the shift to a competency-based grading and reporting system two years ago. Educators who talk to me about that experience often want to know what that change process looked like from a student’s perspective. Surprisingly, most students were comfortable with the shift provided that they believed the school and teachers were effective at explaining how their grade would be calculated. The students who seemed most reluctant to change at the beginning were the ones who were already performing at a high level in the old system. These kids knew how to play what I like to call the grading game. They didn’t always test well, but they knew they could always compensate for that by doing all their homework, raising their hand every day in class, and bringing in canned goods on Thanksgiving week for extra credit points. The problem is that these behaviors made the assumption that, if students had good study habits, then they must have learned. When we think about it this way, it seems outrageous to support a system that doesn’t directly connect to competencies – the ability of a student to apply content knowledge and skills in and/or across the content area(s).

To help educators understand what I went through when my school made this shift, consider the following set of fictitious letters between a student and I. These letters are adapted from actual scenarios that I faced in the first year of implementation.

 

September

Dear Mr. Stack,

I am writing to you to express my displeasure that our school changed its grading practices for the upcoming school year. I have always been an “A” student. I do all of my homework, I always raise my hand to participate in class, and I always turn in my assignments on time. I am not; however, a good test-taker. In the past my teachers have always known this and they have compensated by giving me extra credit opportunities, making my homework worth more points, and giving me lots of participation point opportunities.

With this new grading system, it seems all the emphasis is being placed on doing well on tests. Homework is worth practically nothing. It seems due dates don’t matter. I am very concerned that I am no longer going to be an “A” student.

Why would our school change to a system that is going to hurt kids like me? I am very discouraged.

Sincerely,

Nicole (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…)

Lens 1: Building A Great Leadership Team

June 7, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-06-04 at 3.44.50 PMAs my responsibility changed from a single classroom, to a team, to the full school, I attempted to be the expert in everything from assessment to ventilation. I assumed I was hired because I had the answers. I also felt responsible to get the work done. How could I ask others to do it if I was not willing to do it myself? The work and the stress piled up. The attempt to be the lone expert in each and every room began to deteriorate my energy, and worse, my working relationships with my colleagues.

Then I listened to Creating Magic by Lee Cockerell, the once Executive Vice President of Operations for the Walt Disney World Resort. He suggested that the higher a person goes in an organization, the less of the actual work they do. He said leaders need to empower their direct reports by giving them a voice in how the job gets done. This allows for the innovative procedures and processes to be created.

Who were my direct reports? Schools are not designed as companies with departments with various levels of management. In my school, there are 61 teachers distributed amongst three grade levels: sixth, seventh and eighth, special education, and our Exploratories, with an assistant principal and a principal. Leadership teams in many schools are often constructed because someone fits a role instead of having leadership abilities. “The third grade representative is leaving, no one is interested, so I am going to do it” is not an uncommon statement. Another is, “Can we rotate the position for the year?” Both of these lead to a lack of consistency needed to build a well functioning leadership team.

I now find the leaders, and then have them assume the role. So my conversations might sound like, “Part of your responsibilities on the leadership team is to check in with the sixth grade teachers and see how they are progressing on our goals.” This also keeps the focus on the goals and the ownership of progress on the teams. (more…)

Summertime is Writing Time

June 3, 2013 by
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Go swimming or write a post for CWorks!

It’s getting warmer, and it’s time to think about what we want to accomplish this summer.  For principals and teachers who don’t have a moment to themselves during the school year, we hope that you will put aside a little time to write a post for CompetencyWorks about what you learned about competency education this year so your colleagues can learn from your experiences.  As always, if you have examples and resources, we can put them on the wiki.

We want you to write about what is important to you. But if you need a few ideas to get you thinking, below are some of the questions for educators and principals that have been raised during the year.

Add your questions in the comments section; maybe we can find just the right person to answer them.

For educators:

  • How do you manage a personalized, proficiency-based classroom? How is it different in comparison to a traditional classroom?
  • How do you give students voice and choice?  What do you need to do to make that happen? What is a capacity matrix?
  • What do you do when a student doesn’t have the prerequisite knowledge for your class? What happens if a student just doesn’t seem to be reaching proficiency?
  • What do you do when a student isn’t keeping up with the “teacher pace”?
  • How do you determine if a student is proficient in a learning target? Isn’t there a lot of testing in competency-based education?
  • Do you have to focus on one learning target at a time? Is there enough time to do that in a class?
  • Is there anything different in how you support ELL and special education students in proficiency-based classrooms?

 

For principals:

  • How do you keep grouping from becoming tracking?
  • What type of supports do educators need to succeed in a competency-based environment?
  • I keep hearing about a “growth mindset.” How does this change the job of the principal and the operation of a school?
  • How have you changed your operations (scheduling, budgeting, metrics, etc.) to support competency-based learning?
  • Have you been seeing results? What might we expect to see in terms of student achievement and other indicators if we start using competency-based approaches?
  • What are parents’ greatest concerns and how do you respond to them?

 

Thanks to everyone who contributes a post. You are making a huge difference by sharing your knowledge.   We know transparency is one of the core values of  the competency-based approached. We need to bring more and more transparency to our learning of how to implement competency-based education as well.

 

Leadership in a Competency-Based System

May 18, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-05-18 at 1.06.32 PMAt what point did leading a school through a continuous improvement process become so confusing? In my educational leadership classes, I spent a great deal of time focusing on what leadership is and developing a philosophy that would guide me. I thought I had it all figured out. I learned the difference between first order and second order change. I was told to have a vision, communicate it regularly, and work to make it a reality. I also needed to remember that I would be leading people and not machines. They will no longer respond to top-down dictates. If you want to make lasting change to improve education, you must include people in the conversation so they can weigh-in before they buy-in. Okay. Simple. I earned an ‘A’, completed my master’s degree, and felt ready to change the world!

Then I became a building leader, and suddenly someone had put a giant slab of granite in front of me, and I could not see a path forward.  I shared my vision, but people pushed back. No matter how hard I tried to communicate, they became more confused, overwhelmed, and exhausted. Even those initially excited about the reforms became skeptical of their possibilities. I was at a loss.

I began to read more and more from leaders and business consultants on how to become a better leader. The words of Bob Sutton, Dan Heath, Lee Cockerell, and John Wooden, amongst others, allowed me to begin forming theories of how I could lead my colleagues. A big breakthrough came when my district chose to partner with the Reinventing Schools Coalition who entered with the “tools” to drive change. Now I had the why, the how, and the tools to do it. (more…)

Which Pilot Do You Want Flying Your Plane?

March 12, 2013 by

apLast week I had the opportunity to deliver the keynote to a large group of school administrators from Oregon at their 2013 State Proficiency Conference, sponsored jointly by the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators (COSA) and the Business Education Compact (BEC) in Portland. I began my talk by sharing with the group how I explained the idea of competency-based grading to a woman, Kathy, whom I shared a plane ride with on my way to Oregon. Kathy was very curious to learn more about competency-based grading. She is a mother of three and lives in the Portland area. Her oldest just graduated from high school and is now in the Air Force. She has another child in middle school and her youngest is in elementary school. As a result, she is very invested in educational reforms that promise to give her children a better future.

To help her understand the competency-based system, I asked her to hypothetically consider how the pilot school was organized that our airline pilot attended. We both agreed that in order to be able to fly our plane that day, he had to have been deemed “proficient” by his pilot school. We can only assume that his school taught him everything he needed to know about being a pilot. I offered her two hypothetical situations about the pilot school, and I asked her to then consider which school she thought was better. (more…)

Wait…Don’t…Oh, missed it.

March 8, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-03-07 at 2.33.03 PMThose who have had the experience of living or working in a large city know the rush of seeing your subway train in the station and believing you can make the dash to the door before they close. Moving and dodging past passengers, you begin to feel great. “I am going to make it,” you think. The crowd begins to cheer. You can already feel the celebration. Will you spike your briefcase or simply do a quick shuffle dance. Then out of nowhere, you smash into something. Your nose is throbbing. After a moment you realize the doors have closed. You can see the driver looking at you with a smile on her face. Not in a mocking way but in an apologetic, “Sorry, the trains must stay on schedule” way. As the passengers glance up, you can sense the sympathy in their eyes. They know that feeling of being on the outside looking in.

The same crushing defeat in our Superbowl of ordinary, time-based challenges could be said for air travel, elevators and rides at Disney World. But it should not be felt by our students in our schools.
(more…)

The Karate Studio: An Excellent Example of a Competency-Based Classroom

February 19, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-02-18 at 7.27.02 PMAt least twice a week I have the opportunity to do a formal observation of the karate instructors that help my wife Erica and my two oldest boys, Brady (7) and Cameron (5), as they work towards their black belts. There are so many parallels between how their karate classes are structured and how we as administrators would like to see our teachers structure their twenty-first century competency-based classrooms. I think we can learn a lot from the karate studio environment. Here are some tips I have gleaned from countless karate classroom observations that I have completed:

1.    Embed the School’s Core Values and Beliefs Into the Classroom
As administrators we spend a lot of time working with our schools to develop documents that identify our school’s core beliefs and values and student expectations for learning. These documents are usually printed with catchy phrases or mnemonic devices on eye-catching posters and banners to help our staff and students remember them, but how often do our teachers refer to them in their classroom? At the karate studio, each class starts with everyone (students and parents alike) standing up to face the American flag and reciting the karate school’s core values and beliefs in unison. Throughout class, the instructors regularly refer back to these values as needed during instruction. There is no question that every stakeholder at the karate studio knows exactly what the school stands for and believes in. As a school administrator I am not suggesting that we make our own students recite our school’s core values statement each day, but I do think we need to find better enduring ways to embed these values into the daily fabric of our students’ lives. (more…)

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