“This just doesn’t feel right! I miss the kids. I miss the teachers. I miss visiting classrooms, shaking hands with students as they enter the building, laughing with teachers at lunch duty!”
This, or some version of this, is what I’m hearing from the principals I work with.
Most school leaders hate to be out of their schools. Whether it’s being called away to a district meeting or staying home sick (a rare occurrence), most principals will do anything to avoid being out of the building.
So, sitting at home–or behind your desks in empty schools–is no doubt a jarring experience.
Yet all over the country, principals like my friend Anne in Maine tell me the current crisis has raised their game.
In conversations with school leaders over the phone, Zoom, and Twitter, leaders have shared the ways they are making connections, supporting learning, and–perhaps most importantly–demonstrating their own vulnerability.
A1: Search #StayConnectedCPS and see photos of our amazing and innovative students and staff taking on our Chesapeake 5Cs Virtual Challenge last week. Lifelong learners in action! #valinchat pic.twitter.com/7SbNLU9K2n
— Alaina Trott (@AlainaTrott) April 2, 2020
— Shameka N. Gerald (@Shameka_Gerald) April 2, 2020
A2: My kids + I are challenging ourselves to try/learn something unrelated to SOLs each week. I challenged myself to learn how to watercolor + I am finding it's very calming! Making sure to carve out "me" time, being outside, and virtually connecting with friends! #VaLinChat https://t.co/3jmJiJGCZw
— Megan Howland (@meganahowland) April 2, 2020
Thanks to all who are leading…and sharing! To share more examples or get some coaching support, you can contact me here.
I recently visited a school district that had recently implemented blended learning. Specifically, teachers were using the station rotation model of blended learning. It was a clear and welcome departure from the teacher at front, student in rows model that had been an instructional staple.
As the superintendent welcomed us, he said, that blended learning allows us to assess and intervene in real time, which he considered key to personalization.
Hmmm. I’m not so sure.
Let me be clear, I’m a big fan of using technology to personalize learning. I applaud and push all schools—K-12—to get to a 1:1 learning environment so that all students can easily and quickly use technology for a variety of things.
And, I think that the station-rotation model of instruction represents a huge and welcome instructional shift. Done well, it allows for rich collaborative time with peers, independent time to work and struggle productively, and time in small groups with a teacher who is using all forms of data to hone in on individual students’ learning.
But that doesn’t mean it’s personalized.
If learning is to be personalized, we adults must clearly articulate what mastery looks like in a given course. We must have determined power standards, unpacked those standards and created proficiency scales so that we, students and parents have clear indicators of what it takes to get to mastery.
Even our youngest students can and should understand what is expected of them, what they will be learning and what it will look like for them when they’ve “got it”.
Courses of study and units within them must be tied to Essential Questions. Those EQs put the learning into a larger context and transferability. Additionally, connections can and should be made to real-world applications. We adults must also understand that the goal is deeper learning.
Ownership, voice and choice. Station-rotation can be heavily teacher-directed. No doubt, students are often more on-task in small groups than in the traditional teacher at the front model, but they still may not get to those higher levels of engagement in which they direct the learning. Providing more opportunities for students to direct their learning and to truly engage with the learning, via long-term projects, for example would allow student to truly personalize.
Blended learning is a must for us in 21st century classrooms. Teachers can use a number of resources and platforms to allow students to dig deeper into content and skills, to take real-time assessments and get directed feedback, and to collaborate with peers in and out of the classroom using online tools. It’s a necessary first step to deep, joyful and personalized learning.
But it’s not the end.Read More
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of listening and learning as four teams of teachers, including one from my own charter network, shared their stories of collaborative design thinking at the Business Innovation Factory. This “storytelling” event was the culmination of a six week project called TD4ED, in which teachers were given the space and time to consider a problem of practice and design their own solution.
While the four teams’ projects differed, a common thread appeared. Each team had clearly been energized by the autonomy given them and came out of the experience not only with a sense of empowerment and enthusiasm, but also with a tangible product to improve their schools.
Their enthusiasm was catching; I can honestly say that I teared up more than once, overwhelmed by this reminder of the collective power of teachers. But I was also left wondering whether I was doing enough in my role as a district leader to create the necessary space for such sparks to catch fire. After all, when I explored the concept of “change-mindedness” many years ago for my dissertation, I found partnership with colleagues as a key factor in contributing to that mindset. And the empowerment of teachers as a key lever for change guided my work in building professional learning communities when I worked as a consultant.
Yet, I know that I did not empower this team as much as this experience did. I wonder, have my core values changed? Or is there simply an incompatibility between the structure of school and the nature of innovation? What can we collectively do to give teachers the space, time and freedom to not only solve the problems in front of them but also to devise solutions before they even arise and to allow for the free-flow of ideas as Steven Johnson artfully discusses in his phenomenal book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation?
In describing the impact his team’s work can have on his school, one teacher used the term “evolutionize.” Indeed, thinking differently about teachers’ work and supporting their sense of purpose, power and partnership can both revolutionize and evolutionize both the profession and the field.Read More