Category Archives: Leadership

What Did Auburn Choose for MLTI and Why?

Auburn chose the Apple Primary Solution (iPads for students; MacBook Airs and iPad Minis for teachers) for MLTI.

Here is a two-page FAQ document we prepared for our teachers and community. Among other things, it explains our rationale for making this choice.

(Again, we aren't asking anyone to choose what we choose, but rather we're trying to share about our process and how we chose.)

 

The Phases of Implementing Customized Learning

One lesson our district has learned from working with other districts further along with implementing Customized Learning is “not all at once!” There are many components to the school reform effort, and following a certain sequence seems to lead to successful implementation more often than other processes. Although there is flexibility in how districts implement each phase, successful implementation of Customized Learning moves through these five phases:

  • Awareness Phase
  • Classroom Culture Phase
  • Instructional Design Phase
  • Instructional Implementation Phase
  • School Structures Phase

Each phase focuses on building the capacity of teachers to implement a system of Customized Learning, but by making the transition manageable by breaking it down into doable steps. Below are the posts that will help you better understand and leverage the Phases:

How the Phases Help Support Implementation and Teachers

The Phases of Implementation are actually a tool to leverage in support of teachers and the school's or district's implementation of Customized Learning. The components of Customized Learning are certainly not new to schools, but successfully implementing CL depends on raising the level of level of implementation and the consistency of implementation across the school and school year so they don't simply occur in certain classrooms or during certain units. But learning to implement all those moving parts, in a sequence that actually works, can seem daunting! The Phases take a complex initiative (Customized Learning) and break it into manageable chunks, supporting implementation (and teachers!) in several ways.

The Phases Help Leaders Articulate Where the Staff and School are in Their Implementation
The notion of phases is helpful to leadership because they can classify their educators by the phase each is in. Not only can teachers be identified as being in a specific phase, but so can teams (grade levels, interdisciplinary teams, departments, etc.), schools, and districts based on the phase of the majority of their teachers. This helps with articulating to the district, parents, and community where you are on your journey toward implementing Customized Learning, and reminds everyone that this work will not be completed over night (our district has a 5-year plan for implementation!), and helps everyone manage expectations about what should be happening in our schools at this point in the implementation.

Keep in mind that teachers within a school will be at different phases. Districts in the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning have had success with having early adopters pilot a phase ahead of the rest of the staff, and even when the majority of staff in a school are ready to move to the next phase, there will be new staff needing initial training, or staff who are progressing at a different pace than their colleagues.

The Phases Help Teachers Focus Their Professional Learning and Implementation
The phases help educators know the “curriculum” of implementing Customized Learning, where they are in the scope and sequence of that curriculum, and what goals and next steps they might need for progressing to the next level. The goal of any phase is to develop proficiency in the skills related to that phase. This will lead to a strategic progression of more and more skill at creating a personalized learning environment for students, where we expect students to have an improved sense of having their learning needs met, resulting in increased competence, engagement, and academic success.

It is always okay for teachers to dabble, try out, and explore features of a phase or two ahead of where they are, but only within the context of informal learning (“dabbling”). Educators' primary responsibility is getting good at the skills of their current phase.

“Plan, Do, Check, and Adjust” is a crucial component of implementation at each phase, insuring that reflection, continuous improvement, collaborative problem-solving, supporting colleagues, and sharing ideas are hallmarks of the teachers' work.

The Phases Help Leaders Plan for Professional Development
Leadership can more easily plan for training, support, coaching, and professional development because of the Phases : (a) leaders can articulate where their staff are in their professional learning progression; (b) the kinds of resources, training, and coaching needed differs by phase; and (c) how much of that support is needed depends on how many staff are in each phase. Similar to how students will move through the curriculum via Customized Learning, teachers demonstrate mastery of components in one phase before moving on to the next phase.

The first three phases each begin with educators participating in specific training designed to kick off that phase by orienting them to the key components and the work that awaits them (I have come to think of them as “same page” trainings since they are intended to get everyone on the same page.). Other trainings (offered as teachers need them, see below) help teaching staff become more familiar with the curriculum organization, the complex reasoning and life-long habits of mind curriculum strands, various instructional strategies, learning progress management, student motivation, etc.

In fact, from the Classroom Culture phase on, we do not automatically provide teachers the “next” trainings and professional development until they have demostrated some proficiency with the skills, tools, and concepts of the phase they are currenty in. They must get good at the current phase before moving on.

The Phases Help Leaders Focus Positive Pressure and Support
Level of implementation matters, and leaders increase level of implementation through Positive Pressure and Support. Positive Pressure and Support has three pieces: Expectations, Supervision, and Support. We have just discussed support, but the Phases help focus Positive Pressure and Support, as well, by making clear the expectations (getting good a skills in the phase you're teachers are in), and by clarifying what to look for in classrooms when supervising and supporting (those same skills of the current phase).

Even if the Phases help provide clarity, leaders still need training and support themselves so they know the phases and what each phase's skills look like. For example, are teachers in the Classroom Culture Phase actually working within their phase toward getting feedback from students, or are they jumping ahead? Have teachers simply posted some of the tools (such as a Parking Lot) or are they actually providing students with opportunities and guidance on providing feedback using a Parking Lot. Is the absence of a Parking Lot a sign that a teacher isn't focused on Student Voice and Choice, or is the teacher simply using other strategies?

 

This approach to scaling the reform is successful specifically because, at any given moment, the work is personalized to the immediate needs of the teacher, team, school, or district. Team level, school level, district level, and consortium level. Shared leadership teams (a) determine where their educators and communities are in the process of implementing customized learning (using the phases as a guide), (b) design individualized implementation plans and interventions for their group, and (c) provide positive pressure and support for moving to the next level.

 

Form Follows Function: The Phases Inform Structural Change

One of the big mistakes schools and districts new to Customized Learning make too often is to make structural changes to things like grading, grade levels, courses, and student grouping too early in the change process.

I think this happens for a couple reasons.

One may be that much of the work in the early phases is to address a shared vision and burning platform, to examine our beliefs about learning, to explore what Customized Learning looks like in action, to build the right kind of culture in your classroom, and to make the curriculum more transparent and navigable for students and teachers. This is heady work that often doesn’t seem like action. Changing grading or the schedule is tangible and is action.

Another reason I think it happens is that it doesn’t take long doing even the early stages of this work to realize that how we currently grade, and schedule, and group students, and organize curriculum into courses probably will need to be changed to do Customized Learning well.

There is a major problem with these reasons (even if it is perfectly understandable why educators would feel them): change those structures to what?

It is understandable to want more tangible action. And it is obvious quickly that the structures will need to change. But until a critical mass of the staff have built a classroom culture of voice and choice, made the curriculum transparent and navigable, and have developed some proficiency at a balanced instructional model that provides for both learning higher-order thinking and lower-level thinking, it will not be clear what kind of grading will work for you, or scheduling, or organizing “courses” or “seminars,” etc.

Then there are the political or strategic issues around the public being ready for those kinds of changes (heaven forbid school look different than when they were students!). Making structural changes too soon has led to public backlash (this, for example). When the school is further along with implementation, and there have been strong efforts to build understanding and support among parents, the public understands why those changes are being made and sees a need for them.

Recently, I discussed the phases of implementation. You might have noticed how each of the early phases said “In the Current System.” This is a reminder that those big structural changes come later. The phases should follow the Biology principal of “form follows function.” The initial phases are implemented within the current school system, but the changes in curriculum organization, classroom culture, and instruction inform us about how school structures (student grouping, grades, courses, schedules, etc.) need to change. Even early implementation makes clear the inadequacy of the current approach of these components for Customized Learning, leading to educators often wanting to jump to making these structural changed early in the process.

But, in truth, we don’t know what to change them to until we’ve had a chance to get good at the components of earlier phases in the process.

They are important changes. And they will come. But wait until the right time.

Overview of The Phases of Implementing Customized Learning

Implementing Customized Learning can certainly seem like a daunting task! I have written previously about the need to find a way to think of approaching implementation in a manageable way.

In reviewing the work of other schools and organizations further along in the process of implementing Customized Learning than we are, there are lessons for school leaders about effective and less effective approaches to implementation. By looking at the contrasts between the implementation efforts of an initiative that works and those that do not, educators can learn something about what the successful schools have done and what the less successful schools might not have done.

One of the major lessons for leaders has been “not all at once!”

There are many components to the school reform effort, and following a certain sequence seems to lead to successful implementation more often than other processes. Although there is flexibility in how districts implement each phase, successful implementation of Customized Learning moves through these five phases:

  • Awareness Phase
  • Classroom Culture Phase
  • Instructional Design Phase
  • Instructional Implementation Phase
  • School Structures Phase

Each phase focuses on building the capacity of teachers to implement a system of Customized Learning, but by making the transition manageable by breaking it down into doable steps. Below is an overview (the “deliverables,” if you will) for each phase:

Awareness Phase (In the Current System)

  • Overall Goals for this Phase: Examine our collective beliefs about learning and school; Start to build a mental picture of Customized Learning
  • Own the Learning Training (Customized Learning Awareness)
  • Shared Vision, Burning Platform, Beliefs of Learning Documents Established
  • Able to Articulate Beliefs of Learning, Vision, Mission
  • Explore How Beliefs Match Practice
  • Familiarity with Curriculum Organization
  • Start to Make Learning Transparent to Students
  • Able to Articulate Basic Information about Customized Learning and a Student Centered Environment

 

Classroom Culture Phase (In the Current System)

  • Overall Goals for this Phase: More consistently create a learner-centered classroom culture, including procedural efficiencies; Make the curriculum more transparent and navigable to students
  • Classroom Design & Delivery Training
  • Create a Learner Centered Culture that Honors Student Voice and Choice
  • Create Procedural Efficiency in a Learner Centered Classroom (e.g. Rules, Student Input, Standard Operating Procedures)
  • Tracks Student Progress on Specific Learning Goals/Targets vs Activities/Assignments
  • Learning is Transparent so Students Can Navigate Their Own Learning (e.g. Student Goal Setting, Use of Curriculum Organization)
  • Initial Use of Mission, Vision, etc., as Decision-Making Screen
  • Recognize It Is Not About the Tools, But Rather About How the Tools Are Used (Parking Lot, SOPs, PDCAs, Code of Cooperation, Affinity Charts, etc.)

 

Instructional Design Phase (In the Current System)

  • Overall Goal for this Phase: Designing lessons and units for Customized Learning that reflect instruction for both lower-level and higher-level thinking
  • Instructional Design & Delivery Training
  • Balanced Instructional Model
  • Unpacking Learning Targets with Students
  • Instruction Organized Around Measurement Topics (Curriculum Model)
  • Student Self Pacing & Acceleration
  • Instruction for Lower Taxonomy Levels (e.g. identifies online resources for Level 2 Goals)
  • Instruction for Upper Taxonomy Levels (e.g. Seminars, Projects, etc.)
  • Consistent Use of Mission, Vision, etc., as Decision-Making Screen
  • Separates Academic Feedback from Non-Academic Feedback

 

Instructional Implementation Phase (In an Evolving System)

  • Overall Goal for this Phase: Become skilled at consistently implementing the practices (motivation, interventions, grading and assessment, etc.) to carry out the lessons and units.
  • Has and Uses an Explicit Model/Language of Instruction (e.g. The Art & Science of Teaching)
  • Uses a System of Recording and Reporting Student Progress
  • Use of Individualized Learning Plans
  • Applies Assessment for Learning (Formative Feedback)
  • Uses Formative Approach to Calculate Progress and Rubrics, Instead of Points and Percentages
  • Applies Effective Practices in Student Motivation & Engagement
  • Demonstrating Proficiency on Learning Targets Through Different Approaches (Multiple Pathways)

 

Structure Phase (The New System)

  • Overall Goal for this Phase: Design and implement the schools systems and structures to support pedagogical practices developed and implemented over the previous phases.
  • Grading and Reporting System
  • “Rank & Advancement” (Grade Levels)
  • Scheduling Students
  • Grouping and Regrouping of Students
  • Course Organization (Seminars, “Merit Badges,” etc.)
  • Understands and Embraces Invention Reasoning

 

We are quick to point out that staff are alway free to “dabble” a phase or two ahead of where they are now. In fact, their explorations often help us figure out how to better implement the coming phases. Using the term “dabble” also helps make clear that, although their explorations are welcome, their task is to get good at the deliverables for the phase they are currently in.

Here is a phases chart you can share with your staff.

 

Are We Ready to Trust Teachers with School Change?

It won't surprise any of you that once you really start digging into how to systemically implement Customized Learning, it doesn't take long to figure out that you need shared leadership, and that teachers need to be an active part of that shared leadership.

In Auburn, we're even working with teachers and the Association to see how we might re-envision the contract, so that it is both fair and flexible. Fair to teachers in terms of working conditions, compensation, training and support, and benefits. But flexible enough to the the new system to allow us to redefine professional development (and adjusting teacher roles), grouping (and regrouping) students, “courses” and other ways to organize “delivery” or “coverage” of the curriculum. (We've reached some interesting philosophical agreements about what a “from scratch” contract might look like, but, to help everyone bridge between that vision and what we have now, we'll probably focus on simply tweaking sections of the existing contract this round.)

But one of the issues that has come up several times, is an expanded role for teachers as decision makers: in allocating resources and creating budgets; in supervising and evaluating teachers, and working with those who need extra support; etc.

It's an interesting question. School leaders are asking teachers to trust them to change schools to a system that we may philosophically believe will be better for more students (including, perhaps some innovative, but unprecedented, changes to their contract!). But are school leaders ready to trust teachers to help design and lead that work, to help us all successfully implement customized learning?

Recently, I came across Trusting Teachers with School Success, a book that looks at 11 schools that have done exactly that, and relates their successes and challenges. You can learn more at their website: www.trustingteachers.org.

 

Social Media for School Leaders

I just returned from the national middle school conference (AMLE12) in Portland, OR.

While there, I attended a wonderful session on Social Media for School Leaders by Howard Johnston and Ron Williamson. Their presentation showed a wonderful balance of the realities of today's viral communication and the school context.

The presentation addressed the role of social media in five areas:

  1. Social Media and Schools
  2. School Safety and Crisis Management
  3. Communication
  4. Productivity
  5. Professional Growth

What they made clear is how important a tool social media is to schools and school leaders, and the enormous opportunity lost when schools shun social media. They raised the following questions suggesting why school leaders might want to pay attention to the potential of social media:

  • Do you communicate with students, families and staff?
  • Do you monitor community views about your school?
  • Do your kids use social media?
  • Do you need to stay on top of cutting-edge educational topics?
  • Do you need to promote good news about your school in the community?

And they recommended a 5-step plan (in part, based on findings from the Pew Internet and American Life Project) related to social media and school safety:

  1. Learn about social media and how it works
  2. Recognize that most teens use it responsibly
  3. Don’t attempt to ban it
  4. Help students, families and staff know about how to manage social media
  5. Focus on responsible student use

Johnston and Williamson provided a great list of resources available to school leaders:

 

It’s Not About Blaming Teachers, It’s About Locus of Control

I keep writing about, and presenting about, how teachers need to teach differently… Pretty soon you'll start thinking that I'm blaming teachers for the challenges in our schools…

Most of what I write about in this blog is educational change, usually focused on instruction and/or technology integration (which, of course, is just a subset of “instruction”). But when you talk a lot about changing expectations for teaching and learning, and how teachers teach, and paradigms, and getting them to focus on the right thing instead of the wrong thing, and supervising for those changes, it's easy to start to think that I believe that teachers are the reason that schools aren't changing or that more students aren't learning.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

First off, I write about the changes that need to happen and how to help teachers make those changes because they are things that most teachers have not experienced before themselves.

I believe that the rules for education have changed. The world of work has changed and we now need every child to learn in school what we used to only need the college prep kids to learn (well, actually what has changed is that we now need every kid to be college prep!). Second, new tools (laptops, tablets, cell phones, iPods, information access, personal broadcasting, the read/write web, multimedia, etc.) have changed how kids work, necessitating changing how schools have students learn (or risk becoming irrelevant to students).

As I described when Bea McGarvey came to Auburn, she points out that schools still do industrial age education, when we need an educational system for the information age:

During the industrial age, schools’ goal was to sort out talent and make the rest compliant. We got really good at that. But for this economy, the goal needs to be to develop talent in every child. That’s why we’re so frustrated: we’re trying to meet one goal with a tool that was designed for another…

It doesn’t matter how much we agree with the burning platform that our schools need to work for all our children, or how well we understand that the root problem is how our goals have changed and it isn’t “the teachers’ fault” (Bea says, according to Deming: 95% of the problems are not with the people; they are with the structure), the fact is, at some point teachers understand that they are good at a system designed for an old goal, and that they might not know how to do the system for the new goal…

So teachers are now working in an environment they didn't really experience as students themselves, and probably weren't trained for professionally. Even if teachers need to be the ones making most of the changes, the reason is that the rules have changed, not because they weren't doing a good job.

But even more importantly, we focus on teachers making the changes because teachers are the ones who can solve our challenges. They have the power, the locus of control. When we look at all the factors that impact our students being successful, the one we (schools, educators) have the most control over is teacher practice: what happens in the classroom.

And if teachers have to make changes for a new environment they haven't experienced or been trained for, and if they are the ones who have the power to make the changes, then we have to be very, very clear that we don't blame teachers. Nothing could be more inappropriate, nor unproductive for achieving our new goals.

Instead, what we need to do is support the heck out of teachers.

We need to provide teachers support to a level like we never have before. Side by side with an expectation to teach in ways so all students can learn a high status curriculum, and that makes use of the modern tools for intellectual work, we have to be making a promise to support teachers in this work, making clear we believe in our teachers, and that we know that they can do this hard work. We have to provide training, resources, and time. We have to let teachers try, and allow them to make mistakes, and also to get better – and hold them harmless in this important work. That includes sticking up for them and their efforts, even when (maybe especially when!) it doesn't go well the first time.

If we don't, we guarantee failure: for our schools, for our teachers, and for our students.

 

MLTI: How Will a Multi-state RFP Help Us?

Maine is nearly ready to enter a new contract cycle for the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, and is currently working to craft a new request for proposals from vendors.

The DOE is considering exercising an organizational agreement that would allow other states to buy-in to the terms of our contract.

I recently shared my concerns about this possibility with both Commissioner Bowen and state Tech Director Jeff Mao, and asked them to please consider NOT framing the new MLTI RFP as a multi-state buy-in.

It is generous that the tech director is thinking about how he might help other states by using a provision that would allow other states to essentially access the same agreement that we reach with the successful vendor.

But I’m afraid I don’t see how such an arrangement will benefit us (Maine) and, in fact, I’m worried that it will hurt us. I have worked in both the public sector and the private sector, and although I can see why other states might like the option, I can’t imagine that vendors would.

If part of the motivation is to get a better price by suggesting they’d sell more units (and I admittedly don’t know the reasons the DOE is considering including the option allowing other states to sign on), then I worry that the reasoning is false. I would think that a vendor is more likely to give a better price to a single, well-designed, targeted initiative that had a good chance to showcase their solution.

Also, if our RFP is based on the kinds of changes in learning we’d like to promote (as I advocated in my previous post), it would generate the kinds of proposals that might include very specific software solutions and professional development, as well as hardware and network solutions. These would all be based on Maine’s context, our schools, our learning. How do other states benefit from that? Maybe I could see that if MLTI were simply a tech buy, but we’re not. We’re a learning initiative.

I worry, too, that this arrangement would needlessly make things difficult for a vendor. I would imagine that, even if there is a provision in an agreement between states allowing other states to buy in given our terms, that the vendor would have to still negotiate separate contracts with each state. I don’t think that there is a way for a different state to buy on our terms without having a separate contract with the vendor. And I worry that that which makes things unnecessarily difficulty for a vendor only hurts Maine and the possibilities of our getting a proposal that would include an attractive solution that meets our needs.

And my biggest fear, is that if a multi-state buy-in option is awkward and difficult for vendors, then vendors who could offer us the most attractive solutions will simply choose not to submit a proposal. Frankly, I worry that quality potential applicants will choose not to submit a proposal.

And worse. We can’t even ask our best partner in MLTI what they think. I would imagine that Apple would feel, now that the DOE is working to shape the RFP, that they couldn’t talk to the state about any topic that might even be perceived as related to the RFP. I would imagine that any vendor would think that that was too close to conflict of interest, or even illegal. So a partner that has been very helpful in the past and always quick to collaborate with us on all our challenges is likely to now be a mute partner.

So, if you are also worried about the unintended consequences of including a multi-state buy-in option in the new MLTI RFP, please contact the Commissioner of Education (624-6620; commish.doe@maine.gov) and state Tech Director (624-6634; jeff.mao@maine.gov) to encourage them to frame the RFP around Mane’s needs.

MLTI: What Change in Learning Would You Like to See?

I think one of things that MLTI, the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, did well, right out of the gate, was to say it isn't a “tech buy,” but rather a learning initiative. I think this one point is a major reason why the first (and still only) statewide learning with laptop initiative did so well and is more than a decade old. Even the first RFP to prospective vendors focused on what we wanted to do with the technology, rather than tech specs.

And the focus on learning was especially evident in our professional development.

Our PD focused on project-based learning, and the writing process, and mathematical problem solving, etc. We focused on how to teach with technology, not so much on how to use it. And when we did focus on how to use it, it was in the context of how to teach with that tool. We didn't do workshops on how to use a spreadsheet; we did workshops on how to analyze data and the participants left also knowing how to do spreadsheets.

But I've grown concerned that MLTI may be moving away from that focus on learning. To listen to conversations about the initiative, they seem to focus much more on the “stuff” (comparing devices, network and filtering solutions, and discussing software fixes and specifications…) than on teaching and learning. I am not saying that I've heard that from Jeff Mao, Maine's Tech Director, or the DOE, as much from out in the general public. But even so, it has me worried a little…

I think one of the tricks of keeping a mature initiative going is to reflect on what made it great in the first place, and make sure that we keep those pieces fresh, even if they may have gotten a little stale and need refreshing. That's not to say that the MLTI team isn't doing their job. Every initiative needs freshening up when things have been routine for a while!

Right now, the MLTI contract is getting ready to run out and the Department of Education is working to craft a new RFP. What better (and perhaps more appropriate!) time to freshen up an initiative than when designing that initiative's RFP.

So I recently had conversations with both Commissioner of Education Bowen and Jeff Mao, asking them to please consider framing the new MLTI RFP around the change in learning they would like to see in our classrooms. This post reflects some of what I shared with them, first in my phone conversations, and then in a follow up email.

So, I'm hoping that MLTI is still committed to being a “learning initiative” and not a “tech buy.” And if it is, I'm hoping that the RFP can be crafted in such a way that this is evident.

And if so, then what is the change in learning that the Commissioner and the MLTI team are hoping will come about by leveraging the technology? Is it Customized Learning? What would Education Evolving, Maine's new education strategic plan, look like in action and how could technology help bring about? Is it the practices highlighted in the DOE's new Center for Best Practices? What are we hoping students would be doing each day, both on and off their devices, that we would recognize is a change in learning?

Or as I say in presentations, if we're just going to use technology to do what we're already doing, why put the money into technology?

I'm hoping that the Commisioner and the MLTI team will consider framing the RFP in such a way as to make obvious that we are looking for a change in learning, and allow the responding vendors to propose the technical solutions that they think can help get us there.

So, if you think that MLTI should be more than a tech buy, please contact the Commissioner of Education (624-6620; commish.doe@maine.gov) and state Tech Director (624-6634; jeff.mao@maine.gov) to encourage them to frame the RFP around desired changes in learning.