Tag Archives: School Change

The (New) Evolving Face of Professional Development

We’ve been thinking a lot lately about professional development. 

We’re working on a comprehensive project to define a professional learning curriculum related to our strategic initiatives (Customized Learning, Tech for Learning, etc), build modules and professional learning playlists around those learning targets, and provide a system for certifying teachers for their accomplishments and for what they know and can do. And I have written before about how our thinking about professional development has evolved over time.

This post captures our current (Summer 2014) thinking on the topic.

Not only are we recognizing that we just don’t have enough resources and opportunities to do traditional “everyone in the same room” professional development, but we have started thinking differently about the purpose of those workshops and other whole-group PD.

Until recently, I used to think of whole-group PD as the end. Teachers attend the PD session and they would leave being proficient at the skill taught in the session, ready and able to implement it well in their classroom.

Now, I think of whole-group PD as just the beginning, an opportunity to introduce a group to a new idea and get them all “on the same page” before they begin working in their own classrooms at learning how to implement the skill well. This is especially important given that the work we’ve been doing lately around Customized Learning, including teaching with iPads, is new to teachers (they haven’t experienced this themselves as learners) and have to invent many of the pieces. 

And that idea, the idea that these new skills are complex, and need inventing and development, and later need practice, and that teachers need to be supported throughout their work to get good at them, has us thinking about workshops as just one small piece of professional development.

For us, professional development for our teachers needs to include some fluid combination of these components:

  • “Same Page” Trainings – These are introductory workshops, getting teachers on the same page about a new set of concepts, skills, or strategies they will be working to implement.
  • Lesson Invention & Tryouts – There is much to this new system that needs to be designed or invented (or at least adapted for our schools). The work teachers do to design, invent, prototype, refine, perfect, and share these systems and strategies is valuable professional learning for all of us. Embedded in this idea is the notion of continuous improvement, and the chance to try a skill in the classroom, reflect on how it went and how it could be done better, and then try it out again with the improvements (play-debrief-replay).
  • Coaching & Feedback – Keeping with the idea of continuous improvement, this includes any Technology Integrator, Instructional Coach, administrator, or peer who models lessons or strategies, co-designs or plans with the teacher, observes, and/or provides formative feedback to support the teacher’s professional growth.
  • Teacher Face-to-Face Time – Teachers need time to sit with other teachers to share experiences, ideas, and resources, as well as to ask questions and seek support. They need a chance to share things that they have tried that worked, and to seek assistance with those things they are still challenged by. And the notion of “face-to-face” can extend well beyond her school or district via the blogs and social networks the teacher builds and follows.
  • On-Demand Modules & Play Lists – Instead of having to wait for a workshop, or for the Tech Integrator or Instructional Coach to visit her classroom, these how-to articles, lessons, short courses, videos, and other digital resources are available to a teacher as she needs them.
  • Answering “But What Does It Look Like?” – Simply stated, this is models & examples: a curated collection of possible classroom visits, videos, photos, and articles, etc., to help teachers develop a sense of what an aspect of the initiative would look like in action. Teachers often have an intellectual understanding of what they are being asked to do, but not a practical understanding.  These models and examples play a critical role in helping them move to the point of being able to try this new idea in their own classroom.
 
Of course, now we have to figure out how to do all of these well…. 
  

Moving Towards Standards-Based Grading

One aspect of transitioning to Customized Learning is finding systems for tracking and monitoring student learning, as well as, ways to report learning progress, especially to parents. One piece of this is some sort of standards-based grading system.

But moving too quickly to a new system of grading (and report cards) can be problematic. For example, it takes time for parents to be ready for iconic changes like approaches to grading. They might need to see other Customized Learning changes work first (like student pacing, multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery, etc.) before they believe that a new grading system is needed. In fact, we put making structural changes to school one of the last steps of transitioning to Customized Learning.

(Note: a colleague in another district believes that moving early to a new grading system forces important community dialog about the changes toward customizing learning. I think there is much to learn about doing school change work well by following the multiple approaches and how they evolve over time. I may write about how we are approaching school change, but that doesn't mean I believe it is the only effective way to do the work.)

Saving large scale change in grading practices until late in the Customized Learning implementation process that doesn't mean in the meantime teachers shouldn't find ways to move toward standards-based grading practices. There are a couple key intermediate steps that can be pursued:

  • Trying standards-based grading-like practices within the traditional system
  • Looking for models and examples of how others are doing standards-based grading practices
  • Getting feedback from the students on how it is going (to let you know when you are on track, or what course corrections need to be made)

I recently came across Frank Noschese's blog, Action-Reaction. Clearly, he is not only working on standards-based grading in his classroom (among other things), but he is sharing what he is learning via his blog. He may not know it, but he is addressing the three intermediate steps above:

 

Deliberate Leadership for School Change: an Overview of the Lead4Change Model

Large-scale school change often involves both complex systems (lots of different people, schools, organizations, etc.), as well as, things that teachers have never experienced themselves.

That's why schools need a model of deliberate leadership for school change. One such model is Lead4Change.

Lead4Change grew from early learnings from the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) about what strategies successful schools were using, and were often missing at schools having less success. Working with a variety of schools designed to motivate students, it became clear that the lessons generalized nicely to all kinds of school change, not just 1to1 laptop and tablet initiatives.

This 16 minute video provides an overview of the model.

My school district is applying this model to our technology initiatives, MLTI & Advantage 2014, and several districts, including mine, is using it to help shape our work around Customized Learning.

 

We Had It All Backwards: The Two Types of Instruction

When I told my Curriculum Director, Shelly, about my thinking about there being two types of instruction (Instruction for Lower Level Thinking and Instruction for Higher Order Thinking), she seemed to think the idea made a lot of sense to her, especially in the context of our work around Customized Learning.

She agreed that given how curriculum is organized within Customized Learning, we couldn’t continue to emphasize lower level thinking.

And we got talking about how, since all our middle and high school students had laptops, probably the low level learning, the recall and simple application, was something that students could largely do on their own (with guidance, and coaching).

And then Shelly said, you know, we’ve had it all backwards…

She told me about when she was a high school science teacher, she did a cell unit with students. She used to spend about two weeks of direct instruction to insure that students knew all the parts of a cell. Then she would turn students loose to do an analogy project, where they would write about how a cell and it’s parts were like something else (maybe a football team, or a corporation) and its parts. Students largely worked on this project on their own.

And we reflected on the irony that we (teachers) would spend so much time on something students could probably do on their own (looking up background information). And we did so little direct teaching on something that students probably needed more modeling and assistance with, the higher order thinking.

And we reflected on how teachers should really do a unit, like the cell unit, the other way around. Turn kids loose to learn about the parts of a cell, then do a bunch of instruction and scaffolding on how to make a good analogy (or what ever kind of complex reasoning we’re asking students to apply).

Other places do it that way. Carpe Diem is a 6-12 public school in Arizona that allocates its teaching resources directed at the higher order thinking more than the lower level thinking. Students use online curriculum, supervised by educational technicians, to learn the basics within a unit. Then students spend a large block of time each day, working directly with certified teachers, doing projects and other activities that require higher order thinking (nontrivial application, complex reasoning, and creating) with the content and skills from the unit. Watch this video about Carpe Diem’s approach.

 

What impact would it have on your students, if we turned them loose to use technology to learn the basic information in a unit, and then we spent quality time with them, both instructing students in how to do complex reasoning, and in applying complex reasoning to the content?

School is Boring

School is boring.

We all know it.

Kids know it.

Parents know it, but don’t want to think about it.

We teachers know it, too, but defend it. In some small way, I think we don’t want to think that the subject(s) we love could possibly be boring! But we do go on to say things like: It’s preparation for life after school. We all have to do things in life that we don’t want to do. Or, I wish students would start taking responsibility for their own learning. Or, it is the students’ job to learn.

My problem with putting the onus on students is that we are all quick to forget that kids are not in school by choice. They are in school by law. Ironically, it is we, the educators, who are in school by choice. In fact, we are getting paid to help kids learn. In fact, we are the only ones getting paid – if learning were the children’s job, wouldn’t they get paid, too? To me this all shifts the moral responsibility.

And we are quick to forget that kids are kids. And that being a kid when you are a kid is appropriate. It is what you are supposed to be!

And we are the adults.

And we spend WAY too much time trying every possible crazy thing so solve the problem, EXCEPT trying to engage students. It’s enough to make you tired!

I think teachers defend school being boring because we fear we will be blamed.

But I don’t blame teachers.

(Well, if you lecture through an 80 minute block, perhaps you should be blamed…)

Edwards Demming, the father of Total Quality Management, says that 95% of our problems come from structures, not people. And Roger Schank actually makes the argument that it is school being boring that is to blame for kids not learning more, not teachers! In response to Tom Friedman’s blaming teachers, Schank writes:

So one more time for Tom: the problem is that school is boring and irrelevant and all the kids know it. They know they will never need algebra, or trigonometry. They know they will never need to balance chemical equations and they know they won’t need random historical myths promoted by the school system. When all this stuff was mandated in 1892 it was for a different time and a different kind of student.

I’m not denying that it’s hard, or that teachers get frustrated when we are trying what we think we can and not getting any further than we do. Why wouldn’t we feel like we were treading water as fast as we can?! And maybe that even makes it (a little) understandable when we blame kids for not learning.

But, the the solution to ALL this is teachers doing more to engage students.

Not be because it is our fault.

Because it is what we have control over.

And if we want teachers to engage students, then we sure better support the heck out of teachers!

And even though its true, we can’t simply say to teachers, you just have to focus on these five things: inviting schools, higher order thinking, learning by doing, real world connections, and student voice and choice.

We need to get teachers training. And into classrooms with teachers who do a good job engaging students. And we all better remove the barriers that are keeping us from creating the conditions that students find engaging (even if it means changing our curriculum, or how we schedule students, or how we group and regroup students, or how we connect with the community and the potential classrooms outside the building).

And the good news is that when kids aren’t bored, they don’t only learn more (making teachers/us look good), they behave better (making teachers/us happier!).

We need to get beyond the (irrelevant) question of who is to blame, or the (senseless) debate of whether we should or not, and just do it! Just work to engage students!

Engaging students is a win-win! It’s good for kids and it’s good for teachers. Just do it!

 

How will you help make school less boring?

 

Positive Pressure & Support Part 2: Supervision

So, you’re waist deep in your school’s initiative. Maybe it’s improving learning by taking advantage of 1to1 tablets or laptops, or through Mass Customized Learning, or with a focus on student motivation and engagement.

And you are providing teachers with training and resources. And you are working to leverage Positive Pressure and Support to drive your initiative to a high level of implementation. You’ve taken the first step and set expectations with your staff. In general, your staff are working to put those into action.

And you’re ready to move your implementation to the next level. It’s time to focus on supervision.

Most educators really do work hard at trying to do a good job in all aspects, not just for the initiative, and that means that they are busy and have lots of (sometimes contradictory) priorities they are trying to address. Knowing what school leaders are keeping an eye on can help focus their efforts. Frankly, even the best teachers are more likely to address priorities that they know are being supervised. An expectation that is simply stated is not as likely to be implemented as one that is both stated and monitored. Think of the old assessment adage, “What gets measured gets done.”

Several strategies help leaders supervise for the implementation of their initiative.

Supervise: Check With Teachers
Periodically checking in with teachers can go a long way toward increasing implementation. Check their lesson plans. Are they clearly planning to use desired strategies as often as you’d like? You don’t necessarily have to have everyone turn in their plans weekly. Random spot checks can be powerful and not a time-sink for you. You can always increase the frequency of checks with teachers who need a little extra encouragement.

Alternately, give teachers a weekly survey. In Advantage 2014, our iPads in kindergarten initiative, we used a Google form to survey the teachers each week. They simply had to select drop down choices for each item, such as how many times this week did you use iPads in literacy centers? Or how often this week did you use iPads for individual student interventions? These survey questions came directly from our expectations for the program. We also included “what have been your successes?” and “what have been your challenges?” as open response questions in the survey. This has been an added bonus, because it provides invaluable information on when a teacher might be a resource to others and where teachers need additional (and timely!) support.

Supervise: Talk About Implementation at Staff Meetings
Take a little time at every staff meeting (or grade level meeting, or department meeting, etc.) to talk about the initiative. I like to make sure there is time for teachers to share what specific things they have done and what has gone well or what has been challenging. Sometimes I’ll use information I’ve gotten from the surveys to either offer a tip that might be a quick fix to a challenge, or to ask a teacher who has had a success to take 5-10 minutes to describe what they did, or to model a lesson.

It doesn’t hurt to review the specific expectations and even have a conversation about any of them that teachers want to talk about. Of course, people are people, so such open conversations about expectations, expectations that some might be struggling with, takes good facilitation skills (e.g. have you collaboratively set norms with your staff for discussions in staff meetings?).

(Note: if you want to be a leader for school change, one of the biggest favors you can do for yourself is to learn effective strategies for facilitating difficult conversations. No one really enjoys conflict or when emotions are running high, but, in the end, your colleagues will appreciate you’re working to deal with those situations is a respectful, safe way, rather than avoid them and brush them under the rug – or worse! Deal with them ineffectively to increase conflict and make emotions higher…)

It is clear that taking the time to talk about their strategies for implementing the initiative (and meeting expectations) will reinforce the expectations. And this strategy will tell the staff that this is important and we want to keep moving toward our vision.

But it is also a supervisory move. Who is sharing and who isn’t? What does what each teacher shares tell you about how they are doing with the initiative? Are they just “yes ma’am”-ing you, or are they really trying strategies (even if they aren’t being entirely successful yet)? Do their comments show depth (like they’re really trying and thinking about what they are trying), or are comments kind of superficial (like they want you to think they are trying)?

Supervise: Conduct Walk Throughs
“Walk throughs” can mean different things to different people, or in different contexts. Here, I mean frequent, brief classroom visits. It is helpful to use some short of checklist or form to collect a little data on observable instructional characteristics connected to your initiative and to your explicit expectations. So, in the context of Positive Pressure and Support, walk throughs are when you quietly drop into the room, watch, make a few marks on a form, smile at the teacher, and leave.

And I especially do not mean the classroom observations that are used for evaluation. Walk throughs work best when they are used as formative assessment (information to guide and inform your efforts to increase the level of implementation), rather than as evaluative data. Teachers will behave differently when they believe they are being evaluated, not simply observed or supported. The best walk through data (data that will help you increase the level of implementation of your initiative) comes when teachers feel safe when being observed.

In fact, if you are the one doing teacher appraisals and evaluations, you may not be the right person to do the walk throughs. If you are going to do these walk throughs, you may have to do some groundwork with your staff to help them understand the difference between this data and appraisal data, and reassure staff that this data will be used to help the school get better at the initiative, not for their evaluations. (Of course, it goes without saying that the quickest way to undermine your own initiative is to violate staff trust by using this walk through data for evaluations.)

Alternately, having teachers do walk throughs on each other can be a powerful strategy that produces added benefits. You can free staff to take a period every couple of weeks to do drop-in walk throughs of their peers. Not only do teachers often feel safer being observed by their peers, but teachers are often isolated from each other, and seeing other teachers teach can give the visiting teacher ideas for their own practice.

Observations forms should match your initiative’s goals and your expectatons. A quick google search will help you find samples, or you can create your own. For Advantage 2014, we created this walk through form for principals, connected directly to our expectations. When working with schools on using Meaningful Engaged Learning, I have used this walk through form that looks for low-impact and high-impact motivators. There is a wonderful online walk through service called iWalkThrough. It allows you to use a laptop, tablet, or smart phone to record your observable data using one of their pre-established observation forms.

Supervise: Talk About Walk Through and Level of Implementation Data
Clearly there is little “positive pressure” unless you use the data you have collected. How do you leverage that data, if you aren’t going to use it for evaluation? How can it be used to increase the level of implementation?

Start with tabulating data so that you can get a quick picture of where the staff is as a whole. One advantage of iWalkThrough is that it automatically does this for you (in fact, because everyone using iWalkThrough is using the same observation forms, you can even see how your school is doing against the agregate performance of all iWalkThrough users). Sharing this data at a staff meeting gives you the opportunity to have the staff comment on the school’s progress (including praise, and recognizing effort and progress), and even brainstorm how they might move to the next level. This is especially helpful as data is collected over time and the school can track its progress month to month, or term to term.

Tools like iWalkThrough will even allow you to use the data in interesting ways. In one staff meeting at a school I was working with, we called up the data and created a graph mapping “level of student engagement” onto “level of Blooms.” Wasn’t that telling! You can do similar kinds of investigations if you put your own data into a spreadsheet, but that’s a little more involved.

Tabulating individual teacher data will let you know where each staff member is, and provides the opportunity to have conversations with each teacher about their own progress and about setting individual goals (but I don’t recommend this unless you have been using the school data alone for a while and are starting to see progress). Having teachers examine their own level of implementation against the school’s agregate data can be a reality check. Sometimes, teachers who are struggling think everyone else is, too, and they believe they are doing just fine. But seeing that the school as a whole is ahead of them can lead them to ask what others are doing that they are not (if they feel safe and supported). Conversely, teachers who are way ahead of the school as a whole can shift from being frustrated that others aren’t further, to thinking about how they might support their colleagues.

 

Supervising is where you create the “positive pressure” to move your initiative to a higher level of implementation. Supervising helps provide your staff the feedback and evidence they need to continue to move toward the school’s vision. But keep in mind that it is “positive” pressure you’re looking for. Negative pressure is likely to take you in the other direction, toward a lower level of implementaiton. You need the pressure to help drive your initiative, but you need to be mindful of whether you are creating positive or negative pressure.

Other than the strategies described here, how else might you create positive pressure?

 

Driving Your Initiative: Positive Pressure & Support (Part 1: Expectations)

So you’re working on your school initiative, and you really believe in it, and you really want it to make a difference.

And you are trying to pay attention to leadership for school change, and have certainly provided training to your staff and have made resources available.

Unfortunately, simply participating in training and having the resources available does not mean that students will do better or that your initiative will have it’s desired impact. The degree to which teachers implement your initiative and related strategies matters. Level of implementation matters.

So, how do you get your level of implemention up?

Providing Positive Pressure and Support is how school leaders affect the level of implementation. Positive Pressure and Support is made up of three easy pieces:

  • Expect
  • Supervise
  • Support

This is the first in a series of three posts on Positive Pressure and Support, each on one of the three pieces, and this first focusing on setting expectations.

Expect – Start Simple
When MLTI, the country’s first statewide learning with laptop initiative, first got started in 2001, there were still an awful lot of teachers who had not used technology much themselves, let alone used it in the classroom with students. The goal, of course, was to impact learning, but more than a few teachers were a little intimidated by either having to teach differently (especially with a device they weren’t that familiar with), or by having every middle schooler sitting in front of them having a laptop (that the student was probably a lot more comfortable with it than they were!).

But we started seeing good progress in schools where the principal made a simple expectation: Do one unit, between now and Christmas, that involves students using the laptops.

That seemed to take the pressure off of teachers who may have assumed that since laptops were everywhere, they needed to be used all the time. In fact, many of those teachers then did their single unit (perhaps to get it out of the way) and discovered that it wasn’t so bad and started using the laptops pretty regularly.

But without the expectation, reluctant teachers may have continued to put off using all the technology in their classrooms.

Similarly, setting initial expectations for Meaningful Engaged Learning can be as simple as letting teachers know you expect to see greater implementation of the Focus Five strategies. Setting expectations for an iPad initiative can be as simple as letting staff know you’d like to see the iPads used in centers. Expectations for getting started in another initiative might be the following: participate in the offered training; increase the use of higher order thinking strategies in daily lessons and activities; do at least one engaging task with students each week; and do one project in a unit in one class before the end of the next grading period.

But setting expectations (even starting with simple ones) can help overcome the (often understandable) inertia that some teachers may feel at the start of a new initiative.

Expect – Participate Yourself
Another way to set expectations is to participate yourself. Busy leaders sometimes find it hard to take the time to attend trainings. But doing so sends the vital message that you value the training and think it’s important. Participating in the training also means that you know what you can expect your staff to be able to do in their classrooms and can better supervise and support the implementation of those strategies.

I once worked with a school where the principal would announce the professional development then leave. We had a hard time getting staff to an adequate level of implementation, I’m sure in no small part because many staff felt that if the initiative wasn’t important enough for the prinicpal’s time, why should it be important enough for theirs…

Meaningful Engaged Learning goal setting form

Expect – Have Teachers Set Goals
Teachers seem to do better with expectations when they have a voice in setting them. One way to do that is to have teachers set goals. When I have worked with schools using Meaningful Engaged Learning as their School Improvement Program, I have had teachers think about the five components of Meaningful Engaged Learning, and asked them to rate themselves on where they think they are in implementing each component (I have used this form).

I then ask them to think about where they would like to be on implementing each component at the end of some timeframe (the end of the semester, for example). When that time frame is up, we can reflect again on what progress has been made.

This approach sets the expectation that we will get better at each component, while both validating that the teacher may already be good at some of those components (is already meeting that expectation), and giving the teacher a voice in deciding how much energy to put into each component, and which they will focus on the most.

iPad expectations

Expect – Collaboratively Set Expectations
Another way to give teachers voice is to collaborate with them on setting those expectations. That’s what we did in Auburn, as we started Advantage 2014, our math and literacy initiative that includes iPads in Kindergarten. We simply had a conversation. What should our expectations be? In what kinds of activities should we expect to see the iPads used? How often?

The consensus that grew from those discussions became our expectations for the program. This included general guidelines, like apps should correlate to our curriculum, and that iPads are part of of balanced educational program that includes traditional approaches, and included minimum expectations for use, such as using iPads daily in literacy stations, or using iPads for interventions with students.

When collaboratively planning expectations related to implementing new initiatives and strategies, it should be a goal to set specific expectations on those strategies:

  • How many?
  • How often?
  • By when?
  • By whom?

 

These four strategies for setting expecations should help you get started with Positive Pressure and Support. How will you set expectations with your staff? What will those expectations focus on?