Tag Archives: School Change

3 Tools to Assess and Guide Your Deliberate Leadership

So, you’re working on your school’s big change. Maybe it’s getting instruction shaped up for the introduction of the Common Core. Or maybe all your students and teachers are getting laptops or tablets. Or maybe you’re making the move to customized learning, or project-based learning, or…

And if you’re reading this blog, then you’ve probably found this model for school change to use when it’s a biggie, such as when it requires a paradigm shift for educators (and perhaps the community) because it’s different than when they were a student and maybe they have never taught this way or been trained to teach this way.

And maybe, like a lot of schools, you had a good start and you paid attention to all the Key and Supporting components of the model, but as the year went on, and the initiative went on, and the day to day running of the school/district loomed big, you have begun to wonder, how do I know we’re still paying attention to all the moving parts of our initiative? How can you get a little check to make sure you’re still on track?

The three tools described below are designed to do exactly that. The three work in concert to help you or your team identify what you’re doing in the initiative, where there may be gaps in providing leadership for the initiative, and what can be done to make the initiative more complete.

This process can be done individually by an initiative leader, or with a leadership team, or with a larger group of stakeholders. I’m partial to using a team effort. Over and over and over again, I’m surprised about the things that are captured and dealt with because team members have perspectives and strengths different than my own. These were always things that would have fallen through the cracks, if it hadn’t been for the diverse perspectives of team members. When working with a group, decide if it is most appropriate to work through each component as a whole group or to divide up into smaller groups, each working on a different component.

A group can work through all three of these tools in 2-3 hours.

The Lead4Change Check-In Tool
The Lead4Change Check-In tool has one sheet for each of the 7 components of the Lead4Change Model. The intent is to reflect on what work is currently underway in each category. It’s a way to gather your list of efforts toward your initiative. The intent is to determine what is going on right now, in preparation of asking the question, are we dealing with all the parts we should be dealing with?

As each effort is listed on the form, the note taker can check which piece(s) of the Component the effort relates to. Some efforts will not only relate to more than one piece of a Component, but to more than one Component. There is no problem with listing an effort on more than one sheet. In fact, you want to make sure that all your efforts toward each Component are recorded.

I’ve done this work with a leadership team through a modified Carousel Activity. I broke the large team into smaller groups. Each small group worked on a different Component for a certain amount of time, then passed the individual Component sheet to the next group. The next group would add to the sheet, passing it to the next group when time was up. Each Component sheet would eventually visit each group. One advantage is that this kind of small group work is more likely to engage every member of the large group than when the same work is done in a “whole group” approach.

The Where Are The Holes? Tool
The Where Are The Holes? tool let’s the same group of reflective practitioners to then look back over the Check-In documents and think about each piece of each Component. They would decide if that piece is “covered” or a “hole.”

Why not skip the Check-In and jump right to here? I think that sometimes, when presented with a checklist, it is too easy just to look at an item and say “Yup! Doing that!” without really stopping to think about “how are you doing that?” Using the the Check-In tool forces you to provide the evidence of if you have covered it or not.

Is it always a problem when there is a hole? No. Large-scale school change initiatives take time and have lots of pieces to pay attention to. There are times when you will look at a hole and say something like, “It is okay that that is a hole right now, because it isn’t time yet to do that. We will be addressing that next semester/year/etc.” But finding the holes insures that any current hole is a hole on purpose, for a good reason, and not just because the team has overlooked it.

The What Could We Do? Tool
So now you know what is going on, and where you have holes and need to pay attention. Now is the time to capture some ideas of what the initiative could do, especially to fill those “overlooked” holes in implementation.

The What Could We Do? Tool helps with this. Groups fill in their ideas of what could be done, recording whose idea it was, who could be a contact person, as well as, what Component and piece it relates to. Special attention should be paid, of course, to those pieces that you identified as holes.

The ideas listed on the sheet are brief and sometimes the sheet sits for a while before the leadership team gets back to it. Capturing whose idea it was allows the leadership team to go back later and find out more about the idea if they have clarifying questions.

Listing a contact person allows the group to get in touch either with who would be responsible for getting the suggested idea going, or with an outside contact person who has implemented similar work.


Having your leadership team work through these three tools, could be a useful approach to revisiting the Lead4Change Model as a piece of your continuous improvement plan.

Learn More about Projects4ME and Auburn’s iPad Program

The other night, I had the pleasure of joining Cheryl Oaks, Alice Barr, and Bob Sprankle on their Seedlings podcast.

We had a chance to talk about Auburn’s literacy and math initiative at includes 1to1 iPads in kindergarten and Projects4ME, Maine’s statewide virtual project-based program for at-risk youth.

Check out the links and podcast here.

Getting a School Back on Track

A friend from out of state recently wrote me asking for some suggestions for helping a school she’s involved with.

She wrote (edited to add some anonymity):

I have been appointed recently to serve on a Commission for a high school that was reconfigured and provided with $54 million for building and equipment in 2000.  It was the investment child of a foundation with matching funds from several local corporate donors for the intention and purpose of establishing a state-of-the art trade and tech school. It has a 99-year intergovernmental agreement among the local university, tech college, and school district that allows the school to be directed by a Commission.  The IGA allows more flexibility and autonomy than I have seen in most charter contracts.

Unfortunately, the Commission has not really held anyone accountable, and never implemented the very cool (albeit unrealistic) curriculum and programs.  Twelve years later, the school is a pack of trouble.  Donors are squealing about wasted investments, and the neighborhood (Latino) kids won’t go to the school since it is now mostly African American.

She wanted suggestions on model programs they could look at (and I suggested one), but mostly she wanted some ideas on how to get the school back on track.

I’m wondering if there aren’t other schools and districts out there that also feel like they have gotten off track and are wondering what to do next.  So I’ll share here a version of my respone to my friend.

I think the answer is working on your school’s “Burning Platform” and on your Shared Vision.

In school change circles, the Burning Platform is that big reason you have that screams “WE NEED TO CHANGE OUR SCHOOLS!” to all the stake holders.  For us (Auburn School Departement), it’s that 70% of our kids are doing well – which really means that our schools don’t work for 30% of our kids.

So, the first step is to work with your leadership team to involve stakeholders in identifying the Burning Platform.  But the Burning Platform can’t be something like “we got away from our plan” (teachers & students are just as likely to say, “so what!” to this as anything).  It’s got to be that one big reason that will pull everyone together to say, “Let’s do it!”

Then you need a shared vision.  There are lots of approaches to creating a shared vision (I promise to blog about a visioning process I like very much in the near future). But which ever way you do it, make sure you are involving TONS of stakeholders – students, teachers, admin, parents, community members, local employers, school committee/commission folk, donors/investors…  Literally having hundreds of people involved with creating your shared vision is not a bad thing.  The more the merrier – but much more importantly, the harder it will be for anyone to criticize your vision after it is created.  But you need a good facilitator and a good process, especially if you are going to involve lots of diverse stakeholders. 

I guess the other piece is leadership.  I suggested to my firend that either their Commission needed to lead hard or they needed to hire a good principal for the school (or both).  Maine’s major lesson from MLTI (our statewide learning with laptop initiative): Leadership is everything. (Judy Enright, another friend who works with schools on large scale change, likes our Lead4Change model to help insure that school change leaders are being systematic and paying attention to all the moving parts.)

Anyway, it seems to me that the only way you start getting back on track is to first bring everyone together – through the Burning Platform and the Shared Vision.

It’s Your Turn:

What are your suggestions for getting a school back on track?

What I Wish The Union Had Said

Maine has had two sets of educational announcements in the last month.  One was for the Commisisoner’s plan, focused on customized learning and a performance-based diploma.  The more recent came jointly from the Governor and the Commisioner, and focused on four proposed pieces of legislation: allowing public funding be used toward (certified) private religious schools, school choice, teacher evaluation and accountability, and greater focus on career and technical education.

Chris Galgay (president), and Rob Walker (executive director) from the Maine Education Association were at both announcements.  News stories focused, not just on the announcements, but on how the teacher union was critical of the announcements.

Nationally, teacher unions have developed quite the reputation of blocking any kind of educational advancement and have become the villain in tales of attempts to improve education for all students.

I have mixed feelings about teacher unions.  I think unions should be the defenders of the profession, negotiating contracts favorable to their membership, insuring good working conditions, monitoring evaluation procedures so they are fair and reasonable.

But the reputation teacher unions have is not for defending the profession, but for defending the least professional teachers, protecting mediocre performance, and preserving the right of teachers to do as they wish, not that that is needed to be done.

I suspect that this reputation is somewhat undeserved, but I also know I have experienced myself actions that reinforce this reputation.  At a special purpose, project-based learning school I was part of creating, several teachers in the union told us they wouldn’t implement the educational program because the union told them they didn’t have to. When we had a workshop day, had bought all the teachers lunch (which we did as a nice gesture), and told them what time lunch would be served, several teachers came to us and told us that we couldn’t require them to come to lunch because it violated union rules (who had required anyone to do anything?  We had just done something nice…)

And I worry that dour expressions of the MEA leadership and the news reports of their critical and negative message are reinforcing that image, as well.  And yet, my wife is involved in some very progressive projects of the MEA that demonstrate a very different kind of defending and preserving the profession…

Here is what I wish I had heard from the union:

The MEA and our membership are working hard to insure that every zip code has a great school, so families indeed choose their local school. – I heard the union say they didn’t like school choice because it would take resources away from local schools.  A long time ago, in the early 90’s when charter schools were first proposed in Maine, a teacher told me he was against charters because the public schools would just be left with the least desirable students.  Yet, these issues would only come to fruition if the local schools were schools people wouldn’t choose.  Is the MEA defending undesirable teaching, educational programs, and schools rather than promoting their own vision for creating “Great Public Schools for Every Maine Student“?

The MEA and our membership are working to propose a teacher accountability and evaluation system that is fair to teachers, uses multiple measures, and is based on best practice. – In the past, I have heard the union say that they are against teachers being evaluated based on the performance of their students. This sounds too much to me that the union doesn’t believe that workers (including professionals) should be expected to be effective in their jobs.  I fail to see how this helps defend and protect the profession. This also seems rather counter to their own efforts.  The Instruction and Professional Development Committee has been working for a while on adapting an evaluation system based on the MTA Teacher Evaluation program, endorsed by Charlotte Danielson and Linda Darling Hamond, and connected to the inTASC Model Core Teaching Standards. The MEA’s own position statement on teacher evaluation reads, “MEA wants a meaningful, high quality evaluation process that is based upon sound pedagogical criteria and multiple evaluation tools. It is in the best interests of students, programs, and career educators.”

Teachers ought to be given the training, support, and resources needed in order to do the job they are being asked to do. – With these new announcements, I heard Chris Galgay say that the MEA is against ineffective teachers being placed back on probation. Again, is the union really claiming that if you aren’t good at your job there should be no consequences? How does this give the message that teachers are professionals? On the other hand, it is a travesty when a teacher who needs help to get good or better at their job is not offered that assistance.  Every teachers deserves professional development, coaching, and support, especially is this day of educational change.  And it is right and proper for the MEA to be the organization that champions this on behalf of teachers.

In all fairness, I’m responding to what was reported on the news.  MEA leadership might have said these exact things and the reporters chose not to include them in their reports.

But I still believe that an organization would earn more power and cred by taking on the issues of the day and being the ones proposing quality solutions, rather that appearing to defend the least common denominator and waiting around for others to propose solutions and publicly denounce them. The MEA is doing some very progressive work, insuring that teaching be a quality profession contributing to the changing educational landscape.  But at the same time, they are getting the most press for when they simply criticize other’s work to improve education.

Or is perhaps the MEA simply caught between the days of the old unions that defended their workers no matter what, and the new unions that are trying to create a quality profession…

Apple’s “Textbooks” Potential: Curriculum Creation for Customized Learning

Apple’s announcement about selling interactive textbooks, iBooks Author for creating interactive textbooks, the iTunes U app for iPad, and opening iTunes U to K-12 prompted me to blog about my reaction to textbooks in general, how Apple’s tools might be useful for students to create products in PBL, and how the tools might be used as a platform for on-demand PD for teachers.

I think there is at least one other area of potential for Apple’s new tools: as a curriculum creation tool for educators working in customized learning environments.

In Maine, there are currently 12 districts who are members of the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning (MCCL), and other districts and teacher preparation institutions are chomping at the bit to join.  MCCL has it’s roots in six districts that dove deeply into the work of the Reinventing Schools Coallition (RISC), and in the numerous districts who have read Bea McGarvey’s and Chuck Schwan’s book Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning.  These districts are working to start implementing some hybrid of ideas around preformance-based, standards-based, student-centered approaches which we in Maine have come to think of as “customized learning.”  In fact, Commissioner Stephen Bowen had all departments heads in Maine’s Dept. of Education read the book, and his new strategic plan focuses heavily on reinventing our schools to provide customized learning and having students work toward a standards-based diploma, not one based on seat time and credits earned.

Teachers are getting trained.  Cohort members are collaborating on converting the Common Core and Maine Learning Results into “measurement topics.” Schools are working on fostering a classroom climate of student voice and choice. And educators are exploring the kinds of instruction and school structures that can make this happen.

I also recently wrote about how we might consider structuring the curriculum as a series of shorter seminars, instead of semester-long and year-long courses.

What if MCCL had its own iTunes U account, where they posted videos of their best instructors (or their instructors’ best lessons). And what if teachers in Cohort districts created their own texts for seminars and these were shared across the Cohort (many hands make quick work). What if seminars could be set up as “course” in the iTunes U app, linking various videos, assignments, teacher-generated interactive texts, and other resources.

Focused collaboration with tools such as these could be a powerful way for teachers doing the grass roots work of customized leaning to restructure their curriculum.

It’s Your Turn:

How else could these tools (or others!) be leveraged to help organize curriculum for customized learning?

Myths About The Way We Do Schooling Now

Creating educational programs and systems that work for all kids has been my work for a long time. I have grown to understand that asking educators to change how they work produces a range of very human responses:

  • Let’s go!
  • Sounds good, but how?
  • Yes, but what about this?
  • NFW!

Of course, the challenge comes from the “Yes But’s” and the “NFW’s” (“No Bleeping Way!” – yes, this is widely accepted technical jargon…). They often raise the same objections, but with different objectives. The Yes Buts honestly want to know about the objection. If you satisfactorily address their concern, they will often say, “Oh. Ok,” and work with you. With the NFWs, if you address their concern, they will respond, “Well, maybe. but what about this?” and throw up another objection. The Yes Buts’ objective is to get their concerns addressed. The NFWs’ objective is not to do anything they don’t want to. (So don’t waste a lot of time and energy on the NFWs, except perhaps to have them reflect if they are in the right career or not…)

Either way, leadership is still responsible for addressing concerns and objections raised. Remember, sometimes folks have thought of something we haven’t, or remind us that we haven’t clearly articulated some aspect of what were doing. Responding to concerns is an incredibly helpful school change tool.

Change is hard, and today, often involves learning how to teach and organize school in ways we have never experienced ourselves. The current, Industrial Age approach to schooling is a strongly reinforced paradigm. So it is no surprise that even bright, caring, skilled teaches believe myths about the current approach to schooling.

What follows are some of the things that teachers have said to me that I believe to be myths, and my response to those statements.

Since some of our students go on to the military, we need to teach them to be compliant – This one often comes up when I’m doing a workshop on motivating underachievers. A wonderful young lady and teacher, who I consider one of my daughters, is a veteran.  She served in the Army before going to college and getting her teaching degree. Our experience with the military was that they have an amazing, well designed educational system.  It all starts with Boot Camp, which does a surprisingly good job of teaching how to follow orders and take direction (even for those quite reluctant to learn the lesson).  I’m not sure th military needs our help teaching compliance.  In fact, I believe they would be much happier if we were simply better at engaging learners in general, teaching them basic skills, lots of content knowledge, and how to think and communicate.  Besides, people are better at taking direction when they are working on things that they are interested in, believe in, feel like they are contributing to, good at, and have had some choice in doing, not when those with authority are bossy…

Our schools are working just fine – Part of me understands that it looks like we are doing a good job and that schools are working when teachers look at some of the amazing successes of our easy to teach kids, or the auditorium filled with graduates each June. But I am acutely aware that whether we look at graduation rates, test scores, or the comments from employers, there are WAY too many students for whom we are not successful.  It’s not 30%, you say! It’s only 20% (or 15% or 5%)… We could debate the numbers, but how ever you slice it, that’s way too many. (And again, I don’t believe it’s the teachers, but rather that we’re trying to meet Information Age goals with Industrial Age structures.)

Life isn’t about “redo’s” – This one is just blatantly false.  Any teacher new to the profession knows you can redo the Praxis test until you pass it. If things in your life don’t work out the way you want the first time, you can go back and try again. Redo’s aren’t without consequences and always take work, but they are available. (And my wife hates it when I joke, “I’ve been married way too many times to not think life is all about do overs!” – my “current” wife, that is!). 😉

What about our Ivy League students? – I have seen no innovative approach that works for reluctant learners that has not also worked for our best and brightest.  Some honors students get upset because they have been good at the game of school and now the game is changing (but once they get beyond that, they do every bit as well as they did before).  Some (misguided) parents have been upset because other students can now succeed, not just their children. I know that Maine’s Commissioner of Education contacted more than a 100 colleges (including Ivy League colleges) to see if they would accept a standards based diploma, and all but one not only said yes, but that they were already accepting international students with standards-based diplomas.  Massabesic High School has had its first student in two decades accepted into Harvard, BECAUSE of this Maine district’s focus on teaching differently. (And REALLY! What percentage of our kids go on to the best colleges?  Are we really not going to get better at meeting the needs of our students for such a small fraction of our population?)

Let’s be thoughtful about how we respond to concerns raised.  Whether they are legitimate concerns or not, most come from the right place.  But let’s also make sure that concerns raised pass scrutiny and the “straight face” test.

It’s Your Turn:

What educational myths do you experience?

Cross Industry Borrowing, Scouting, and Organizing the Curriculum

Yesterday, I wrote about how Cross Industry Borrowing might help us think about how we should organize the curriculum for Customized Learning. When I think about one group that does an exceptional job organizing curriculum and operating from values similar to those for Customized Learning, it is Scouting. Where Customized Learning recognizes that people learn in different ways and in different timeframes (within a culture of voice and choice), Boy Scouts recognizes that scouts need choice and voice, ever Increasing responsibility, learn by doing, and learning at their own pace.

So, let’s explore how the Boy Scouts organize their “curriculum” to see what those of us working to implement Customized Learning might be able to borrow.

Merit Badges are certifications for small chucks of knowledge and skills. The requirement booklets and checklists for each badge clearly delineate what a Scout needs to know and be able to do, while providing some choice know they master it. Each Merit Badge has one or more Councilors who oversee the scouts’ work on the badge, but will also lead seminars for groups of scouts working on the badge. Seminars are offered as often as there are scouts actively working on that badge.

Merit Badges, however, are only half the Scouting curriculum. Scouts also have clearly defined advancement paths through various rank. Each rank outlines a combination of specific tasks and Merit Badges the candidate must earn. Some Merit Badges are required for a specific rank, some are “either/or,” some are choice, and some are required for Eagle Scout, but the Scout chooses a certain number to tackle for each rank prior to Eagle. Each level of rank also requires serving in certain positions of responsibility. Each scout earns Merit Badges and rank at their own pace, but all the supports are offered, either in an ongoing way or at specific intervals designed to facilitate scouts moving at a “normal” pace.

I think Scouting might tell us something about how we might organize curriculum into “courses” for performance-based learning, as well as about “grade levels.”

A high school I worked with in Philadelphia would award credit in tenths of a credit. Each year long course was divided into ten one-month units. Although a new unit was started every month, students could keep working on each unit until they had showed mastery. Each unit they completed earned them that tenth of a credit. And if they failed some of the units, they only had to make up those units, not the entire course.

This example makes me think that the “Merit Badge-like” organization of courses could work for schools. What if, instead of instead of having year-long and semester-long courses, those same courses were broken down into 4 or 5 or 10 smaller courses – for now, let’s call them seminars. Prerequisites could preserve scope and sequence where necessary, but we may find that there is much more flexibility in seminar sequencing than we think.

Also, rather than automatically scheduling all 5 or 10 seminars in a row, since we are recording and monitoring progress, we could simply offer a seminar when a group of students needed it. Our progess monitoring software should assist us with that scheduling. Depending on need, we might offer the same seminar over and over (or have several sections with different teachers) to serve a large group of students who need it. If students don’t need a seminar, perhaps it isn’t offered for some time.

Since curriculum is organized in smaller units, we should gain a great deal of agility with the curriculum. Most students would get exactly what they needed right when they needed it. A student who didn’t successfully master a seminar could either repeat just that one seminar (not a whole year-long course!) or take a different seminar that helps meet those requirements differently. A student who completed the seminar quickly wouldn’t have long to wait for the next one, making independent work in between seminars more palatable. The smaller unit of organization may also mean that teachers could create specialty, elective seminars, or different teachers might create different seminars with different pedagogical approaches to the same learning targets, allowing students even greater flexibility in the pathways they take to graduation.

Further, instead of being 4th graders or 8th graders or Juniors or Seniors, based on your age or how long you’ve been in school, we could establish rank (perhaps even call those rank what we currently call the various grades), but clearly articulate what is required to achieve such rank. And Scouting models for us that those requirements do not have to be a rigid, specific set of subjects or courses. It could be a combination of specific tasks, required seminars, and choice seminars.

For example, perhaps there is a list of 12 specific seminars that are required for the rank Freshman. So the requirements to graduate from 7th Grader to 8th Grader may include that the student has completed 8 of the 12 Freshman seminars, the Digital Citizenship Seminar, the Adolescent Health Seminar, 4 other seminars of their choice, completed their first research project, and participated in 100 hours of community service.

Perhaps some of Auburn’s educators should make a close study of the structure and organization of Scouting Merit Badges and rank advancement in preparation for thinking about how we want to structure the Curriclum for customized learning.

It’s Your Turn:

What are your thoughts on how to make the curriculum more flexible for customized, performance-based learning?

Customized Learning, Curriculum, & Cross Industry Borrowing

Since Customized Learning starts with the premise that how we design our educational systems needs to reflect the facts that people learn in different ways and in different timeframes, educators often get frustrated quickly with trying to figure out what they are going to do with 25 students each learning different things at different times, or what they will do with that student that finishes their course in March…

Some of that angst comes from folks, new to performance-based learning models, misunderstanding how most schools implement those models (totally understandable, since most teachers have never experienced performance-based learning themselves). But I think the challenge comes primarily by trying to fit Information Age teaching and learning into Industrial Age structures, like putting a square peg In a round hole. (For schools doing this work, I don’t think we can remind them often enough that Deming, the man who invented Total Quality Management, says that 95% of our challenges come not from people, but from our structures.)

The square peg is instruction that recognizes which measurement topic a student needs today, giving them instruction, coaching, and support while they master it, using assessment to provide feedback, until the measurement topic is mastered.  The round hole is learning organized into semester- and year-long courses where everyone is doing the same thing at the same time, assessments simply tell teachers who knows the material and who doesn’t, but the course moves on to the next topic, whether everyone is ready or not.

Bea McGarvey points out that when teachers ask “Well, then, how should we structure our schools?” she responds, “Yes, how should we?” and reminds us all that creating the schools we need today will require educators to develop strong problem-solving and invention thinking.

But she and her co-author, Chuck Schwahn, also point out in their book Inevitable, that we do not need to invent from scratch.  In fact, in most industries, they participate in something called “Cross Industry Borrowing,” (see Chapter 2 of Inevitable) where they see how other industries solve similar problems and then adapt those solutions to their own situation. For example, what would it mean to education if every day we could tell how many students where on benchmark with a math concept, just as Walmart knows at 5pm how many pair of sneakers have been sold that day.  Or if students received recommendations for how they might enjoy learning the next measurement topic, just like Amazon.com suggests other books you might like.

So when educators start looking at the structures they might employ for organizing the curriculum for customized learning, where might they look, if they don’t want to start from scratch?  For me, the question gets reframed as “who has structures in place for certifying learning?” 

Bea is quick to point out, for example, that if you want to become a CPA, you can retake the test as many times as you need to, and you only need to retake the portions you did not pass (teachers newer to the profession know the same is true of the Praxis tests).

Modern manufacturing and assembly plants have new employees master individual skills before progressing on to the new skill, and aren’t certified in the position until they master all the skills for that position.

They U.S. military has a performance based educational system. Ironically, I think most people equate military training with boot camp and it’s focus on taking direction. But once through boot camp, most advanced training is a well organized combination of skill development, and cognitive training. There is great transparency.  Manuals are available for almost any desired advancement or certification, and service men and women can find out exactly what they need to know and be able to do in order to achieve their goal.

But for me, as I think about how the curriculum might be organized for customized leaning, the model I keep coming back to is the Boy Scouts. 

Tomorrow, I will look more closely at this model and what it might mean for schools looking to organize curriculum for customized learning.

It’s Your Turn:

Where do you see ideas from other “industries” for implementing customized learning?

Why We Need To Change Our Schools – Bea McGarvey

I don’t know about you, but on the one hand I see our schools working and on the other I don’t.  

I see a ton of kids who show up every day, do their work, get good grades, graduate, go on to college.  But I also see the kids who show up half the time, do little work, might graduate (but barely) or just choose to drop out. Anyone who knows my work knows that I’m trying to create educational programs that work for this second group of kids.  But it’s also no wonder that so many folks look at the first group and decide that schools are working and wonder why the second group can’t “get it together”…

So the question seems to be are schools working or not?

I know Auburn (and other districts) have decided that our schools aren’t working.  Where others see our schools working for 70% of the kids, we see our schools not working for 30%. We want our schools to work for all our children (or at least a whole heck of a lot more than they are now).

We’re looking for help from several areas, including: customized learning and Maine’s new Cohort for Customized Learning, Reinventing Schools Coalition training, and ideas from a variety of books, including Inevitable.

On Monday, January 23rd, Inevitable‘s co-author, Bea McGarvey spend the day in Auburn.  It was our workshop day, and she conducted two workshops with our teachers: the morning with the middle and high school staffs, and the afternoon with the elementary school staffs.  That evening she also led a community event focused on why we need to change our schools (you can watch a streaming video of the evening event – sorry, requires Flash).

One of the big aha’s for me was finally having a clear understanding of why things both seem to work and not work…

Bea shared that throughout her work with schools on how to change, she would have some teachers come up and ask, why do we need to fix schools if they seem to be working?

After really chewing over the question, Bea finally seemed to know the reason: schools aren’t broken.  They work great.  They do very well at what they were designed for.  The problem is that that goal has chanced.

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.  (Bea says about this change of goals and the mismatch between the system and the goal: you can be cranky about this, but if this makes you really cranky, then you just have to leave education and do something else.)

This mismatch between our goal and our system made me think about how different the strategies are for each.  No wonder we’re “insane” – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results…

But I think even once we understand the need to change our schools, it makes us educators crazy in another way. 

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…

And why wouldn’t this scare teachers whitless?

But being difficult isn’t a reason not to do the right thing.

And this is why Bea McGarvey says teachers need to get good at problem solving thinking and invention thinking. And it’s why “PD for Paradigm Shift” is one of the components of the Lead4Change model.  Teachers deserve to be supported, trained, and involved in the problem solving and invention needed to help our schools get good at our new goal.

It’s Your Turn:

How are you and your school working to develop the talent of all students?

One Auburn Student & Maine’s New Education Strategic Plan

Commissioner Steve Bowen Announces his strategic Plan

Big news in Maine on January 17th was the Commissioner of Education’s announcement of his new strategic plan.  The plan promise’s to put “learners first” and promote customized, standards-based learning. Access the plan here.

In Auburn, we’re excited about the plan, because it promises support to the kinds of initiatives we (and other Maine Cohort for Customized Learning member districts) are involved in. We recognize that students learn in different ways and in different time frames, and are working hard to create systems that honor these two principles: our long history with MLTI; Advantage 2014, our primary grades literacy and math initiative that includes 1to1 iPads in kindergarten; Expeditionary Learning and projects at the middle grades; and multiple pathways and customized learning at the high school.  Auburn is also a funding partner of Projects4ME, Maine’s virtual project-based program for at-risk and drop-out youth.

Gareth Robinson

But Auburn is also excited about the plan because we were invited to participate in the roll out.  Commissioner Stephen Bowen invited 5 students to speak at the announcement.  Each was asked to talk about how the innovative work at their schools was helping them learn and succeed.  We brought Gareth Robinson, an Auburn Middle School 8th grader, who spoke about the role technology has played in his learning. Gareth has used technology for learning going back to elementary school, both at school and personally for hobbies, like playing guitar. Among other things, he related how, for a recent social studies project, he and his group used iMovie to make a newscast of the battle of Bunker Hill. 

You can read Gareth’s comments and watch a video of his talk here.  Or watch this WCSH Channel 6 news coverage of the Commissioner’s strategic plan, featuring Gareth. Scroll to the bottom of this page to find links to the talks of each of the 5 students who presented, or go here for photos from the event.

It’s Your Turn:

What does the Commissioner’s strategic plan mean to you, your school, or your district?