Tag: teachers and teaching

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

August 22, 2017 by

What's new! star graphicThis VUE article, written by Scott F. Marion, Jonathan Vander Els, and Paul Leather, looks at how New Hampshire’s new performance assessment system focuses on reciprocal accountability and shared leadership among teachers and leaders at the school, district and state levels.

Grading and Transcripts

  • This article poses the question, what if your high school transcript didn’t include grades?
  • School District 51 is phasing out valedictorian and salutatorian recognitions for high school graduates, starting with this year’s ninth-grade students. The students who graduate in 2021 will receive recognitions similar to the Latin honor system used in colleges and universities — cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude. School districts across the country are considering the change or have already gotten rid of valedictorian and salutatorian recognitions to focus less on grading and more on broader definitions of student success.

A Spotlight on Pittsfield Middle High School

Updates in New England

News

  • 100+ educators and administrators from 25 schools participated in Thomas College’s conference to innovate for the future of Maine’s education—an example of higher education responding to the changing needs of the K-12 system.
  • According to The Heartland Institute in Illinois, competency-based education is gaining ground nationwide.
  • Districts are recognizing the importance of teachers having time to learn, plan and collaborate.
  • This article shares promising findings from the recent RAND report analyzing Next Generation Learning Challenges schools’ implementation of next gen learning models.

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Supporting Educators as Ambassadors for Mastery-Based Learning

August 17, 2017 by

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Forward School District, Pittsburgh, PA

Teachers tell us ‘we know so much more about supporting students, it would feel like malpractice to go back to how we used to teach,’ and parents will tell you the same thing: ‘we never want our students to go back to the other way, because this way leads to independence and real learning.’”

These words from Ellen Hume-Howard, former curriculum director for Sanborn Regional School District (NH), paint a picture of a school community in which parents and teachers speak a common language and pursue common goals for student learning. However, as Ellen is quick to add, this partnership is the result of years of effort. Educators and parents came to value innovations like mastery-based learning because they took the time to forge relationships, build trust, and co-create new definitions of student success.

Ellen is one of many educators in the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) community who has experience in communicating with stakeholders about mastery-based learning. We spoke to three school leaders and the authors behind Communications Planning for Innovation in Education to learn about their communications strategies and particularly the role of teachers in this work. They tell us that communicating effectively about innovations, and especially the “why” behind them, is essential. Classroom educators are the most visible—and powerful—ambassadors for next gen learning models to the broader school community.

To explore the key role teachers play as communicators, we tapped into the knowledge and experience of NGLC school leaders and other innovators to help us answer these questions:

  • Why are classroom educators so important to the work of communicating about innovative teaching and learning?
  • What kinds of support should schools provide to educators to do it well?

Classroom Educators Tell the Story of “Why?”

With another school year about to begin, educators are working full tilt to get ready. Principals are preparing professional learning activities and reviewing student data, while teachers are counting supplies, planning lessons, and setting up their classrooms. The “back to school” season is a tradition, a familiar part of the rhythm of teaching and learning familiar to parents from when they were in school.

However, the more schools engage with mastery-based learning and other student-centered, personalized innovations, the less learning looks like it did when parents were students. In place of rows of students at desks, we see groups collaborating around a table on a student-designed project. Instead of “all eyes on the teacher” as the sole repository of knowledge, we see learners setting goals and making choices as they navigate personalized pathways. Traditional letter grades give way to mastery-based measures, like the competency badges used in Elizabeth Forward School District (PA) or Sanborn schools’ “running report card.” Even time-honored concepts like “grade level” become less distinct.

Like other innovative schools, CICS West Belden has committed to a personalized learning model with new goals for student learning. “Those days are long gone when just doing the work put in front of you was enough, either in school or as an adult,” Colleen explains. “Now it’s about helping students know who they are. Once a child can articulate what kind of a learner they are, what makes them curious, there’s such a different investment in learning. Kids take the wheel.” (more…)

The Importance of Modeling Student-Centered Professional Learning

August 7, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at Students at the Center on July 7, 2017.

Creating student-centered learning environments is no easy task. Teachers often do not receive enough quality professional learning to provide them with the time to design student-centered learning environments. The major difficulties are that they lack the opportunity to actively provide choice and voice in their school systems and they are put under too much pressure to meet curriculum and assessment needs based on statewide testing mandates. In short: professional learning doesn’t often “practice what it preaches.”

Case in point, not long ago I sat through a workshop on differentiation with 300 of my colleagues, while a presenter shared the same information, in the same way, with us all day about how to tailor instruction for different students’ needsProfessional learning opportunities must be intentionally designed to show instructional-strategies-in-action, allowing educators to experience what student-centered learning looks and feels like. Period. If the goal of the school and/or district is to transition to a student-centered and personalized model, where transitioning can be messy and difficult, and requires the burden of the learning to be put onto the shoulders of the learner (while the educator maintains the role of the environmental facilitator and learning certifier), then professional learning environments must mirror those same design aspects. The realization of this need brought about the recent professional learning workshop focused on student-centered learning held by the Maine School Administrative District #46 (a part of Alternative Organizational Structure #94 [MSAD#46/AOS#94]). Here’s how it was designed:

STEP 1: LISTEN TO YOUR LEARNERS

As one of the organizers of the workshop1, I did some data collection using a Professional Learning Needs Survey several weeks before the workshop. I had also been engaging in conversations and listening to teachers struggle with the many challenges they face with student engagement, students’ mental health challenges, ensuring equity for all students, progress monitoring, and more.  After listening, hearing, and attempting to understand the challenges facing our teachers daily, the Professional Learning Needs Survey encouraged our staff to rank topics (highest need, moderate need, low need, and no need) in the following areas:

  • Student-Centered Learning
  • Proficiency-Based Grading and Reporting
  • Student Engagement
  • Special Needs
  • Technology Integration
  • Teacher Evaluation

Understanding that different grade spans and grade levels have different struggles and needs,we looked at those data through multiple lenses:

  • Pre-K-4
  • 5-8
  • 9-12
  • Pre-K-8
  • 5-12
  • Pre-K-4, 9-12
  • Pre-K-12

Breaking down the data this way helped us uncover common areas of need from a district level all the way down to a grade-span level, and helped us to create environments and opportunities for our teachers to solve the problems that they face.

STEP 2: EMPOWER, EMBOLDEN, AND ENERGIZE

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Equity for ELs: Learning English in a Competency-Based System

August 2, 2017 by

Laureen Avery

Across the country, educators and policymakers are coming to the same conclusion: the structure of the traditional system is a barrier. The premise of competency education is that the traditional education structure, which is designed to sort students, can be replaced with one that is designed for every student to succeed. When we design for ensuring mastery, we have to build around equity and draw upon the research that informs us about how students learn best.

Chris Sturgis, 2017. In Pursuit of Equality: A Framework for Equity Strategies in Competency- Based Education.

Public education (and public educators) has made a promise that every student will have the opportunity to learn and develop the skills and competencies needed for success beyond high school. It is clear that traditional, established structures have broken this promise for many students, and it is imperative that the developing models of education address these past inequities as core elements in their fundamental structures and design.

English learners (ELs) are one of the groups that fared poorly under the traditional models. Next generation education models (personalized learning, blended learning, competency-based education, and others) are slowly developing an understanding of how to translate beliefs and values into actual practices that transform the core experience of education for English learners. Creating new models that work for English learners must move beyond the need for cultural awareness and into a deep knowledge of how to nurture proficiency in academic language.

iNACOL recently published the results of a broad-based information collection activity in “Next Generation Learning Models For English Language Learners” (Natalie Truong, June 2017). One of the promising practices highlighted was the use of language progressions to support students in a personalized, competency-based system. (more…)

Creating a School Culture Where Students and Teachers Both Flourish (Part 2 of 3)

July 19, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at Students at the Center Hub on June 20, 2017. It is the second of a three-part series. Read part one here.

ENCOURAGE AND PRACTICE BEING HUMAN WITH ALL OF YOUR STAFF

Simple, right? Maybe not at first, but we’re all human, in this work for a reason, and it’s worth examining our hearts and minds at the beginning of each day to make sure our students’ interests, equity, and a healthy community are our priorities.

To accomplish this, I offer the following prescriptions:

  • Be humble, acknowledge when you make a mistake, publicly reflect, and practice conflict resolution: colleague to colleague, adult to student, student to student.
  • Be empathetic. Take the time to learn more about your staff, what motivates and energizes them. Don’t make assumptions. Try to learn what might be behind a student or staff’s behavior or inconsistent performance. In most cases, they are struggling with bigger issues outside of the workplace.
  • Create structured time and flexible protocols that foster collaboration, communication, and accountability. Encourage staff to share best practices and new ideas. Create unstructured time for them to take care of their professional responsibilities.
  • Create a culture that celebrates diversity, student success, staff accomplishments, and birthdays. Encourage whole-school field trips where students and staff are put together on teams and can engage with one another in playful ways.
  • As leaders—and staff—listen more, talk less.

In my next post, I’ll describe the very first step toward attaining these goals:
hiring the right people.

See also:

About the Author

Alison Hramiec Alison Hramiec has spent the last 15 years re-defining what school looks like for Boston’s most at risk high school population. Her tenure at Boston Day and Evening Academy began in 2004 as one of the founding science teachers for the Day program. In 2008 after completing her principal training and being mentored by the BDEA leadership team she was hired as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction. Through her leadership, she has helped bring clarity to the school’s competency-based program methodology, helping it become known nationwide. Alison is the lead designer of BDEA’s summer institute, REAL (Responsive Education Alternative Lab), which provides educators from around the country the tools to transform student learning to ‘student-centered’ learning. As of July 1st 2015, she is BDEA’s new Head of School.

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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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…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

June 2, 2017 by

What's new! star graphicSchool Designs

Grade Levels

  • New Hampshire is moving beyond grade levels and graded assessments through a new program called NG2 (no grades, no grades), with seven participating elementary schools.
  • Incoming freshmen at Windsor Locks (CT) will be the first class to graduate under a proficiency-based approach, which forgoes letter grades and asks students to demonstrate mastery of skills.

High School Transcripts

News

Updates in New Hampshire

  • A researcher found that students in PACE districts outperformed their peers in non-participating districts across the board, starting in the second year of the program’s implementation. But the her most notable finding? Special education students in PACE districts did basically as well as students who weren’t on special education plans.
  • Tom Raffio, former State Board of Education chairman, reflects on important changes in New Hampshire’s education system over the last ten years.
  • New Hampshire’s Parker-Varney school released an excellent case study, Putting Kids at the Center: Building Parker-Varney’s Future of Learning, which shares their vision and journey toward competency education.

(more…)

Getting Closer to the Future of Teacher Learning

May 31, 2017 by

This post and all graphics originally appeared at 2Revolutions on May 12, 2017.

As I discussed in my earlier piece on the future of teacher learning, there is the need to transform what and how teachers learn in school districts, charter management organizations (CMOs), and state systems. While I’m confident from our experiences at 2Rev that there are no cookbook recipes to doing this — since every context, community, and culture is unique and the needs of the adult learners are vast and varied — I’m also confident that people need support to help them move in the right direction. In this post, I share some strategies and tools that have helped us move teacher learning with our partners.

#1 – Design Principles for Adult Learning

Our design principles that we use to drive our adult learning experiences at 2Rev.

Over the past several years, our team has been refining our approach to designing personalized, job-embedded, learner-driven learning experiences that support and coach educators as they transition to future-oriented learning models. Much of our work with adults stems from our growing understanding of andragogy and deeply held beliefs in the importance of mindset as a gateway to transformed learning — why should we ask professional educators to spend time doing something that feels irrelevant to their craft, tangential, and/or is just plain boring or uninspiring?

With that in mind, we created a set of design principles as guideposts for how we think about and plan for adult learning experiences. These principles (right) guide us and serve as a screen for creating an optimal learning experience.

Can you create your own design principles for adult learning? How do these principles align to the principles you consider necessary for high-quality student learning to occur? (more…)

The Future of Teacher Learning

May 26, 2017 by

This post first appeared at 2Revolutions on May 2, 2017.

“We should seek to be fellow students with the pupil, and should learn of, as well as with him, if we would be most helpful to him.”

– Henry David Thoreau

In all of our engagement at 2Rev, we work to create authentic, personalized learning experiences for educators that model the approach we seek for kids. This photo is from a recent design kick-off with the Bush Foundation in Minnesota. Read more about that work here. (From the 2Rev website.)

How do you learn? It’s a simple question…and yet, you have to think about it. Turn it over in your mind. It’s something I think about a lot. Rather than Calculus, or Shakespeare, or the effects of the American Civil War, consider cooking, or skiing, or teaching your five-year old daughter to ride a bike. How did you learn to do or teach those things? Did you watch others? Talk to an expert? Watch online videos incessantly or read articles and books? Did you listen to a lecture, or two or three? Try and try again? A combination of all or none? How you did it speaks to some important components of the learning process: motivation, learning style, and assessment, to understand how you know you’ve reached mastery of that stage of learning.

In schools and districts around the country, far too often we talk around rather than about this issue of how we, as humans, learn. It is amazing to me, the chasm between this question, which feels central to everything, and how we teach. This is the learning profession, right? The science and psychology of cognition can do a great deal to inform how we teach.

Over the past few years within our practice, how teachers learn has become a much more central focus in how we work. At 2Rev, our focus is building the knowledge and skills of educators – teachers and leaders – to transform student learning. In order to get there, though, our work passes squarely through their willingness and readiness as learners. I’d go even further to say that it is these dispositions of willingness and readiness to learn that drive how we approach creating the learning experience — grounding the work in what is relevant to them in their practice and meeting them where they are from a knowledge and skills perspective. We work hard to create a process of learning that models the destination; whether the focus is personalized, competency-based, or deeper learning. For example, if the content is performance assessments, educators should understand the concept and how to develop, score, and calibrate; but they should also have the experience of completing complex performance tasks as part of their learning experience. Mental models shift when we experience the content as part of the process.

As Ron Ritchhart, a researcher at Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero says, “For classrooms to be cultures of thinking for students, schools must be cultures of thinking for teachers.” In order for educators to embody and facilitate new learning experiences, they must experience those for themselves and buy into their effectiveness and power. In Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, authors Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel do a thorough walkthrough of the empirical research on how people learn, throwing many assumptions and ideas you hear passed around like folklore out the window. One quote that rang particularly true for us as we think about the experiences educators need to create and what they need to know to be able to do it. The authors write, mastery requires “both the possession of ready knowledge and the conceptual understanding of how to use it,” so how do we rethink teacher training to help them with both? (more…)

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