Tag: professional development

What I Learned at CompetencyWorks’s National Summit: Let’s End the Tradeoff Between Accountability and Teacher Professionalism

July 11, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at New Mexico Center for School Leadership on June 30, 2017.

From June 21-June 23, I spent my time brainstorming and collaborating with some of the nation’s most innovative educators at CompetencyWorks’s National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. It was clear that to many educators, we are neglecting the importance of investing in teachers. Here’s what I learned.

Our schools are like factories and they should be more like orchestras. Orchestras have conductors that lead talented experts who make music together. Factories are command and control systems with line workers who are judged by their output and number of defects. Since before the inception of No Child Left Behind, we have increasingly neglected building the expertise of our teachers who are the musicians of our schools. They are professionals who need to be developed and need time together to rehearse so that they can make music.  Our future prosperity as a community is dependent on whether we will re-invest in their profession.

The orchestra metaphor is a difficult to realize because we’re trapped between two competing values: teacher professionalism and accountability. I’m sympathetic to the calls for evaluation systems that are reliable and valid and I’m not romantic about the past when so many students were neglected.  However, taking judgement out of teachers hands and giving it to a testing company causes more harm than good because it reinforces the way we have mechanized our schools. Our policy makers are skeptical of teachers, while other states are pushing them into the forefront of change by building their professional expertise. They are making them the key ingredient for accountability by investing in training and professional development aimed at making them the expert in evaluating student learning. We should learn from other states about how to make a system that bets on teachers as valid and reliable.

Ahead of the Curve:

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A Journey of Discovery at Broadway Elementary

March 30, 2017 by

Bingham with shared vision artifacts

This article is the fifteenth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

“When I haven’t done it myself, I call on Bil P.” That’s Scot Bingham, principal of Broadway Elementary in District 51, describing how tightly he works with the professional learning facilitator assigned to his school. Broadway Elementary is a small school with 240 students and seventeen certified staff members. The strength of this size is that decisions can be made together. The weakness is that it is very difficult to free up collaborative staff time. So Bingham seeks opportunities to support learning whenever the opportunity comes up.

As a demonstration school, Bingham and second grade teacher Shannon Morlan were part of the third wave of visitors to Lindsay Unified. (See Building Consensus for Change.) Bingham reflected on how the visit to Lindsay has influenced him, “Broadway Elementary is considered a good school, but I knew we could do better. After Lindsay, I understood how we could do it. What resonated with the teachers during the visit was that students are highly engaged in a performance-based learning school. We didn’t see students sitting in class not understanding, or bored because they already understood.” One hundred percent of the staff at Broadway agreed to go forward and become a demonstration school.

In our conversation, Bingham generously reflected on what he has been learning in this intense year of strengthening culture and climate, introducing effective practices, and beginning to build transparency. Here are a few of the highlights. (more…)

The Teacher Association Perspective on Performance-Based Learning

March 27, 2017 by

Heather O’Brien

This article is the fourteenth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

Heather O’Brien started at D51 as a student and has now entered her second year as President of Mesa Valley Education Association. She is aware of the demands of supporting MVEA in making the shift from a traditional union to professional association within a district going through a tremendous transformation. She is also humbled by these demands.

O’Brien explained that the educators at D51 value their professionalism and want to further expand upon it. “We use the language of association, not union,” she said. “We want to shift into a professional association. We don’t serve customers the same way other labor unions do. We have relationships with students and their families. Our focus and the focus of district leadership is on student success, not a bottom line of profit.” She explained that when educators think of themselves as teacher leaders, an association will provide more opportunity. She noted that the Colorado Education Association is also making this shift to a professional association.

On top of that, all 1,325 teachers in the district are beginning to learn about a new educational paradigm. “The most exciting part is that both P-BL and the changes at MVEA are about empowering teachers,” O’Brien said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for our educators.”

She herself is very enthusiastic about this shift to performance-based learning. “This is a pedagogy and a philosophy I’ve been trying to create in my own classroom for the last ten years,” she said. “Performance-based learning is right for kids and it’s right for teachers. But you can’t do it alone. You have to have the full system, the gradebooks, and a collaborative effort among teachers. P-BL is what I’ve been searching for as a teacher.” At the same time, she’s also cautious about how others are approaching the change. “I’m a phoenix. I need change. I like to go in totally new directions. But other people don’t. So I need to pay attention to how other people are experiencing the process of introducing P-BL. I need to always be open to authentic concerns.” (more…)

Training Teachers for Competency-Based Learning Classrooms

March 15, 2017 by
sajan-george

Sajan George

This post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on October 21, 2016. 

While competency-based learning is not new to the education industry, there are still challenges in implementation. The biggest impediment to launching such a model is not the technology, content, or standards mapping—it is in how we train our teachers. To effectively deliver competency-based learning strategies in our schools, we also need a strategy on how to best teach the teachers those particular strategies.

At Matchbook Learning, a national non-profit charter management operator, we have continually revised and refined our professional development training for teachers at three levels: the charter schools we operate in Newark and Detroit, the schools we’ve partnered with, and the schools we will be indirectly partnering with through “Spark,” our virtual competency-based learning platform. In our explorations, we have learned that training teachers on competency-based models requires three design principles:

1.  Design for Form (Not Just Function)

The form training takes is as important as its function. When teachers receive this training, it should be experienced in a competency-based manner. From the outset, this requires identifying the core competencies for every core position in your organization (i.e. teachers, deans, principals, operations, etc.).

We have identified seven macro competencies or domains that every person in our organization should master, modeled after the national criteria used by organizations across the country in search of world-class distinction. Whether you use Baldridge or some other industry analog, competency development must be mapped against pathways with multiple entry and exit points. If you are explaining your training in whole group seminars or singular pathways, you are NOT delivering the training in a competency-based way.  Competency-based training must happen in both form and function. The medium is the message.

For our work, we anchor the start of our journey in the seven core criteria of the Baldrige excellence process below:

NGLC1

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Transparency and Trust

March 14, 2017 by

Transparency1

This article is the tenth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

Opportunity to Learn

Like most districts, transparency hasn’t been a strong point at D51 in the past. Thus, with transparency being a core value of performance-based education, there are trust issues that will have to be worked through. D51 knows it is important to provide teachers with the chance to understand and learn how to use the T&L Framework and effective practices. Any tools being developed are being designed to support growth – not evaluation. Rebecca Midles, Director of Performance-Based Learning (P-BL), noted that, “We are moving step by step and need to constantly communicate about our timelines and sequencing. Understandably, educators are wondering how the performance-based system will impact them. We are trying to be very clear about whether something is going to be evaluative or not. Eventually the T&L Framework will help us create the foundation for strengthening our human resource processes. But only when we are ready and only after teachers have had the opportunity to learn.” Opportunity to learn standards: an important piece of competency-based education for students and adults.

Preparing for Angst

Bil Pfaffendorf, a professional learning facilitator, mentioned the double edges of transparency. “The sense of trust is changing in D51,” he said. “There is more dialogue, people are sharing their opinions, and they are starting to feel confident that those at the district level are listening. We are all trying to be transparent, which is difficult in the midst of so much change. Transparency is important in building trust. It can also lead to anxiety. If teachers understand the expectations but don’t have the skills yet to do it, anxiety and angst are totally understandable feelings. So we are thinking about the the social and emotional learning of our teachers as we design the labs.”

Angst and anxiety came up several times during my visit. In a discussion, one teacher emphasized, “The level of professional engagement of our teachers is very high. Some are anxious because they recognize they have a lot to learn. Some may even be in cognitive overload as they wrap their heads around what it means to personalize their classrooms. Their can-do attitude is a beacon. It’s inspirational.”

Midles explained to me later that when educators start to feel anxious, it is often for one of two reasons. First, they may feel the expectations of their job are changing or they may not have the skills to excel. Thus, the trust-building response needs to be an assurance that there will be supports provided and that adults will not be evaluated until expectations are clear and they have had an opportunity to learn. Please note, this is the same principle used for students.

Second, anxiety and angst may build up when teachers feel out of control or that new expectations of compliance and control are being layered on top of their jobs. Midles referred to the Csikszentmihalyi model of flow in thinking about the mix of challenge and ability to strengthen educators’ and students’ relationships to learning. A middle school teacher, Darren Cook, explained to me that teachers have endured at least a decade of sweeping new reforms only to be replaced by the newest sweeping reform. With the introduction of the state-teacher evaluation policies that are not rooted in the culture or strategies of the district or their schools, teachers have become even more suspicious of changes. The trust-building response here is to make sure that teachers understand that as the district creates a more intentional common Teaching and Learning Framework, teachers will actually have more autonomy and opportunity for creativity in the strategies and learning experiences they use to help students learn. The other response is to offer opportunity to learn about performance-based learning not through memo or lecture, but through engaged reflective learning as well as opportunity to participate in creating the new system. (more…)

How Schools Improve

March 2, 2017 by

ImproveOne of the concerns I have about how competency education is developing is that I don’t hear many districts or schools talk about continuous improvement that is based on looking at processes, data, and unpacking with the five Ys. (Our low income students aren’t progressing as much as upper income students — Why? They are missing pre-requisite skills? Why? They were passed on from eighth grade without them? Why? The middle school principals don’t have enough control over their budgets to create adequate summer programming? Why? The district has a policy that they manage summer school? So if we allow schools to organize or coordinate among themselves to determine the amount and type of summer school programming, more students will have all their foundational skills by the time we get to high school!  — nothing is ever this simple of course, but you get the drift.) It may be that there is something about education and the learning process that may make some aspects of schools hard to break into processes, but I’m not sure we have tried enough to know that. I’m sharing this piece by Getting Smart’s Tom Vander Ark (February 9, 2017) to open this conversation. If you do use some type of school improvement process to fine tune your competency-based district or school, we’d like to hear about it.

Frustrated by the lack of widely used improvement frameworks in schools, a colleague emailed some questions. Following is a quick attempt to outline approaches to improvement and innovation.

I see teachers sitting around the table with reports and then deciding to do a program or do more PD. How can we develop a more formal improvement framework that would drive effectiveness and efficiency?

There are five important steps to developing or adapting an improvement framework.

1. Prioritize outcomes. Hold community conversations about what graduates should know and be able to do–like those in El PasoHouston, and Marion, Ohio. An updated graduate profile can help create role and goal clarity by identifying priority student learning outcomes and ways of measuring (or estimating) those outcomes.

2. Do the research. Create a shared vision of what good practice looks. Unless you’re inventing a new set of practices, that picture should be research-based. BrightBytes is a decision support tool used by almost 1500 districts that allows teams to compare their outcomes with research recommendations.

3. Build a learning model. A common approach to supporting powerful learner experiences may include shared

  • Content, tasks and assessments (i.e., curriculum);
  • Teacher practices (e.g., Teach Like a Champ);
  • Values and behavioral norms;
  • Guidance and youth and family support services; and
  • Structures, schedules and staffing strategies that support learning.

Voluntary and managed school networks (and districts that act like networks) are disciplined about defining and supporting a learning model including some or all of these factors.

Some districts and networks go a step further and identify core processes and support systems for each (listen to an interview with Colorado’s District 51).

4. Identify metrics and source the data. In the 90s, best practice was a war room of handwritten data that allowed teachers and leaders to visually spot problems. By 2000, Excel spreadsheets were common. Data shops like Schoolzilla, spun out from Aspire Public Schools in 2013, help organize district data. Unfortunately, it’s still challenging to combine all the data schools are receiving.

5. Adopt a shared improvement framework. “School leaders need to focus their attention on creating the conditions where teachers have the resources, courage and support to experiment with improving their practice, and then the space to share what they are learning with other educators,” said Justin Reich, executive director of the MIT Teaching Systems Lab.

An improvement framework identifies core processes (e.g., reading instruction), shared practices (e.g., guided reading), quality metrics (e.g., observations, running record), improvement tools, and review cycles.

The improvement framework for the New Tech Network (below) incorporates shared values, process tools and common structures. (more…)

Creating a Transparent Performance-Based System at D51

March 1, 2017 by
D51 SEL

This is what co-design looks like.

This article is the eighth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

Grand Junction feels like a rugged western city, bordered as it is by towering mesas and the Colorado River. That’s why the sculptures that spring up at almost every downtown corner let you know that something else is happening here. Creativity runs through the city just as it runs through the school district. You can see it and feel it in the tremendous process of design that is taking place as D51 as it outlines the architecture of the performance-based system.

They are also in an intensive process of aligning these elements to offer a transparent and coherent system of learning:

  • Graduate profile: Will inform graduate competencies, school design, and learning experiences.
  • Shared vision, mission, and guiding principles: Used to make decisions and allocate resources from school board to classroom.
  • Competency Framework: Graduate competencies, standards, and rubrics create transparency for what students should know and be able to do at each performance level. This serves as the structure by which teachers can calibrate proficiency and ensure alignment of instruction as assessment to levels of rigor.
  • Teaching & Learning Framework: Guides policies, professional learning, and feedback loops to teachers, and adds new capacities and functionality in the system. Defines the instructional practices needed for personalized learning in all classrooms regardless of content or grade level
  • Effective Practices: The core set of practices that enable students to take ownership and teachers to create the capacity for personalization in their classrooms.
  • Foundation of Growth Mindset, Social & Emotional Learning and Habits of Mind: Standards and continuua that are used to help students build the skills of being a lifelong learner.

As described in the article on D51’s Implementation Strategies, the district is using a simultaneous roll out of strands of work, thus requiring them to intentionally loop back for further aligning before they complete this phase of work.

Much of their work is similar to the efforts that have been described in articles about Henry County, Lake County, Charleston, and the report Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. However, the features of D51’s transformational process (a culture rooted in a growth mindset; a shared vision; transparency and alignment; data-driven processes; personalized learning; and collective ownership) are shaping the processes and emphases in ways that give them depth. Their Teaching & Learning (T&L) Framework stands out as an important step that I haven’t seen before in other districts. (more…)

Supporting Teachers at D51: A Conversation with the Professional Learning Facilitators

February 23, 2017 by

#7 supporting teachersThis article is the seventh in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

Leigh Grasso, Director of Academic Achievement & Growth at D51, emphasizes, “We are shifting from a focus on professional development to professional learning.” And there are a lot of people focusing on helping the adults in the system learn. In the district decision-making/communication structure, there is the Learning System Support Team (LSST) that includes Content Facilitators (CFs). There is also the team of Professional Learning Facilitators (PLFs) who are organizing Design Labs for teachers.

I had the opportunity to speak with some of the PLFs, Amy Shephard-Fowler, Heather Flick, and Bil Pfaffendorf. As part of the Learning System Support Team, they are charged with creating and managing the overall the overall design for the structure of professional learning opportunities such as design hubs but work collaboratively with other LSST members, teachers, and administration in the design of the content to support the implementation of the performance-based system.

Background

As explained to me, D51 didn’t have a lot of systematic professional development in previous years. Four days a year were dedicated to event professional development with little choice available to teachers. In 2009 -2010, D51 completed the Comprehensive Appraisal for District Improvement (CADI) process and, in so doing, the emphasis on pedagogy went to an extreme emphasis on regimented delivery of curriculum and direct instruction. This left some teachers feeling like they had little autonomy and as if they had limited flexibility to meet the needs of their students. Flick explained, “We have the perfect storm to bring performance-based learning to the Grand Valley. They are ready for a system that is focused on our students.”

Feedback: The Key to Continuous Improvement for Designing Professional Learning

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Moving from Islands of Innovation to a District of Distinction in Personalized Learning (Part Two)

November 30, 2016 by

carverThis is the second post in a two-part series from Eastern Carver County Schools. Read the first here.

Simplifying and expanding
The strategic planning process from 2012 to 2014 laid the foundation for the development in 2015 of Eastern Carver County’s five-point personalized learning star. This addressed the uncertainty and variability we experienced in the earlier planning process. The visual aid tied together all of the pieces of work. The star includes key questions for school teams to answer.

  • Purposeful Learning: How do learners find relevancy and make connections between themselves and their learning?
  • Engagement with Learning Tools: How do learners purposefully select tools to support their learning?
  • Collaborative Environment: How do learners leverage their environment to maximize their learning?
  • Learner Voice and Choice: How do learners design and take ownership of their learning?
  • Purposeful Instruction, Assessment and Feedback: How do learners leverage relevant learning targets and authentic learning opportunities that meet their needs? How do learners use evidence and feedback to further their learning?

The district developed a website, wearepersonalizedlearning.org to provide resources and support to teachers, parents, and the community.

Using these five points, questions were posed to building level administrators at a monthly district leadership meeting. It was the last question — how do learners leverage relevant learning targets and authentic learning opportunities that meet their needs? — that was the most tantalizing and seemed to be the lever that propelled buildings toward full-scale implementation of personalized learning. The change in culture encourage educators to think differently about our work motivated many buildings to deepen their engagement in this work. Buildings sought out their pioneers and met this innovation mindset challenge by asking these same questions of staff. In one building, staff collaborated to integrate curriculum and standards around learning themes and tie their curriculum to these themes. Language around content changed to language around learning. By linking the learning together, teachers became facilitators of learning rather than teachers of content. Classrooms and hallways were transformed to create learning spaces with specific purposes and learners were consulted on what environment they needed for different learning opportunities. Bell schedules were tossed out in favor of student-driven schedules based on their needs. Teacher desks were moved to storage so classrooms could be transformed into learning environments each with unique purposes to support student learning. Time became more flexible with opportunities for learners to flex their time where they need for their learning. Teachers embraced informal learning time for student support and conferencing. Every nook and cranny in buildings became prime learning real estate. Is a student done with her learning in math, great! Now, flex out to open space to collaborate with other learners on science, or flex into a lesson with your world language teacher for more guidance. In one high school, teachers needing to be absent could opt out of a substitute teacher and use that time for tutoring, independent learning or group work. Bottom line: do what you need to do for your learning. (more…)

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