Coach to Personalize Student Learning

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This morning I read an article posted to the Getting Smart site entitled, Instructional Coaching for Secondary School Transformation and I’m intrigued by the idea of the use of coaches in the process of building personalized learning pathways for middle and high schools. My high school’s current problem of practice is centered around the notion of real-world and authentic learning experiences so our teacher leaders could definitely benefit from seeing the possibilities of designing personalized learning.

During a vision-setting day, the coach was able to lead discussions to determine teacher understanding of the concept of personalized learning, student need as evidenced by data and potential directions for building their instructional model of personalized learning.

“..the teachers began by identifying the differences between teaching for achievement and teaching for growth.  Through reflective conversation Lori asks probing questions to guide teachers towards a model of personalized learning to address both teaching for achievement and growth.”

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“After much discussion and brainstorming they determined as a team that students will move through tasks or learning zones based on student formative assessment data. This is the foundation for teaching both achievement and growth.”

After the initial vision setting, the teachers implemented the plan and the coach used questioning and data to support professional growth among the teachers. The coach also monitored teacher growth by outlining the currently reality for each teacher and, in an adjacent column, the next steps the teacher had committed to trying to move the plan forward.

“Early in the semester a veteran teacher was inspired–she moved desks and launched a station rotation model the next day. The teacher told Lori, ‘In one day I met one-on-one with more students than I talked to last week in my classroom.'”

That first step of changing a simple practice led to adding another simple change and another with one teacher then another then another – over time, those small steps added up to big gains in achievement and shifts in culture.

“The simple classroom innovation served as a slingshot, others saw her success and it helped propel the culture shift. “


For me, the following quote is the takeaway from this article which provides the direction and encouragement to determine the vision, start small and press forward.

“Think Big, Start Small and SCALE FAST.”

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Collaborate to Solve Problems

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Photo Credit: student in my public speaking class

What a great week! Co-teaching, co-planning, co-learning and collaborating with a great teacher and awesome group of students in Public Speaking. Below is an overview of collaborative learning, taken from CTI at Cornell University, which will help you better understand some of the key ideas and elements that our class will engage in through project-based learning this semester. This is the beginning of the semester and we are just getting started so stay tuned for more about our progress this semester.

Purpose of PBL in Public Speaking Spring 2018: To engage students in critical thinking about authentic problems and prepare them to communicate effectively about their proposed solutions to those problems.

What is collaborative learning?

Collaborative learning is based on the view that knowledge is a social construct. Collaborative activities are most often based on four principles:

  • The learner or student is the primary focus of instruction.
  • Interaction and “doing” are of primary importance
  • Working in groups is an important mode of learning.
  • Structured approaches to developing solutions to real-world problems should be incorporated into learning.

Center for Teaching Innovation, Cornell University

I love bullet number 1 – “The learner or student is the primary focus of instruction.” I spent a great deal of time yesterday researching each student’s background so I can begin to see them as individuals instead of a sea of humanity. Teacher’s cannot successfully plan for a class of students they do not know. At the secondary level where you can have upwards of 200 students, this can be a challenge. A challenge, but not impossible… We teach students, not subjects.


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In the slideshow, you can see our human graph in which kids self-rated themselves on their current speaking skills. We will measure again in the middle and the end of the semester to gauge for improvement. Using the scale of distinguished, proficient, apprentice and novice, most students rated themselves as apprentice in the area of public speaking with the next highest rating being novice.

Measuring the Impact of PBL in Public Speaking Spring 2018: We know we are having an impact when every student is engaged so that growth mindsetself-efficacy and academic outcomes improve.

What is the impact of collaborative learning or group work?

Research shows that educational experiences that are active, social, contextual, engaging, and student-owned lead to deeper learning. The benefits of collaborative learning include:

  • Development of higher-level thinking, oral communication, self-management, and leadership skills.
  • Promotion of student-faculty interaction.
  • Increase in student retention, self-esteem, and responsibility.
  • Exposure to and an increase in understanding of diverse perspectives.
  • Preparation for real life social and employment situations.

-Center for Teaching Innovation, Cornell University


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We are also using Google Classroom this semester and it’s working well so far for posting bell ringers, assignments, video of model speeches, and assessments. We are also using a Google site that I built as a hub for the project work.


I’m so excited to be a part of this class of students who are engaged in learning how to be effective and polished public speakers. Thank you to Mr. Goodlett for welcoming me into his classroom and for sharing his students with me this semester. The students, Mr. Goodlett and I are all going to learn so much and do so much to improve our community and ourselves.

Now off to plan for next week! More co-teaching, co-planning, co-learning and collaborating. 🙂

 

Slow Down

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Are traditional school schedules and teacher classrooms too rushed and hurried to foster creativity and innovative thinking? Is the pressure to perform in a standards-based culture too high to promote deep and reflective thought? Do factory-model schools cultivate trust and relationships that drive honest feedback, teamwork and the co-creation of solutions?

And the implication is that the real or perceived societal pressure we feel to get more and more things done, and process more and more information, can be an enemy to real love and true learning.” – Four Reasons to Slow Down by Jon Bloom

Learning takes time and patience and this conflicts with how our society and our public education system often operate.

“In an ideal world, the school day would reflect kids’ changing needs and rhythms. There would be time for free play; school would start later to allow time for students’ much-needed rest; the transition time between classes would be longer, allowing time for kids to walk down the hall and say hi to their friends and plan their next moves; kids would have the opportunity to step away from school “work” in order to regroup and process what they’ve absorbed. “The actual encoding of information doesn’t take place when you’re hunched over a desk,” she said.” – Why Kids Need Schools to Change by Tina Barseghian

Deep and thoughtful learning that generates creative and innovative ideas and solutions requires the time and patience to:

  • think
  • reflect
  • dream
  • hope
  • discuss ideas
  • ask questions
  • seek answers
  • encourage others
  • build relationships
  • generate new ideas
  • test theories
  • create solutions

“The necessity of human ingenuity is undisputed. A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 ‘leadership competency’ of the future.” – The Creativity Crisis by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman


This leaves me wondering about the learning and creativity within my school…

    • Do students know how to be creative? Can creativity be taught?

Creativity can be taught,” says James C. Kaufman, professor at California State University, San Bernardino.” – The Creativity Crisis

  • Are teachers designing learning experiences that promote deep learning and creative output?

“What’s common about successful programs is they alternate maximum divergent thinking with bouts of intense convergent thinking, through several stages. Real improvement doesn’t happen in a weekend workshop. But when applied to the everyday process of work or school, brain function improves.” – The Creativity Crisis

“When students display creativity and innovation in PBL, they are able to generate and refine solutions to complex problems or tasks.” – How Can We Teach and Assess Creativity and Innovation in PBL? by John Larmer

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Encourage Reflection & Action


As the instructional coach, I wonder what I can do to support deeper thinking and creativity within every classroom and online learning environment in my school. Maybe I should procrastinate and be unhurried! 🙂

“We’re always asked to be faster and more precise. But what can we learn from slowing down — even procrastinating? This hour, TED speakers explore why taking it slow is crucial…for all of us.” – Slowing Down from the TED Radio Hour

This radio program and Grant’s article, Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate, illuminate the idea of slowing down in order to come up with creative and innovative ideas. By slowing down and taking time to reflect on a problem, we give ourselves time to come up with different solutions. Sometimes, our initial solution or answer is not as good as those ideas we come up with after taking in and wrestling with and testing lots of ideas.

“But while procrastination is a vice for productivity, I’ve learned — against my natural inclinations — that it’s a virtue for creativity.” –  Grant

“It was only when they first learned about the task and then put it off that they considered more novel ideas. It turned out that procrastination encouraged divergent thinking.” – Grant

““You call it procrastination, I call it thinking.” – Aaron Sorkin

I had never heard of the Unhurried movement until I started researching for this blog post, but the principles definitely align to being patient and engaging in discussions in which you truly listen (skills which I’m practicing). I love the philosophy of this approach which challenges us to relax and focus on listening instead of talking in a frenetic volley that is laden with interruptions.

The Unhurried Approach “applies to any process that requires the participation of human beings. We use Unhurried as a guiding principle in our work with people.”

I hope to apply the principles for being unhurried at work and plan some opportunities for Unhurried Conversations for teachers and students. In order to support deeper thinking and creativity within every classroom and online learning environment in my school, I will…

Photo Credit: flickr

Cultivate Creativity

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Some condemn schools for killing creativity. But, this week our high school celebrated creativity through a Holiday Café in which students and staff alike stayed after school to share their writing; one student even sang for us. Two of our English teachers hosted the event in which students were encouraged to perform poetry and stories they’d written this semester.

We had a great turnout – a room full of students sharing a part of themselves through a piece of their own writing over hot cocoa and coffee. So many talented kids at WCHS! I’m happy to say I also mustered up the courage to share a poem I wrote earlier this year. Putting your art out there for the world to see or hear takes a lot of courage so I applaud these kids for being brave and stepping out to share their writing.

“We are educating people out of their creative capacities.” – Sir Ken Robinson

“Our task is to educate their whole being…” – Sir Ken Robinson

Now, I’m left wondering how we might continue using creativity to improve teaching and learning at our school. How can we cultivate creativity across classrooms? How can we teach in ways that inspire students to be creative and innovative instead of passive and disengaged?

Innovate or Replicate?

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Innovation: Something new and uniquely useful – Asymco  1) the introduction of something new 2) a new idea, method, or device : novelty – Merriam-Webster

Transform: to change in composition or structure; to change the outward form or appearance of; to change in character or condition : convert – Merriam-Webster

If you hear anything positive about public school systems these days, it probably includes the term “innovation” or a derivative thereof – districts of innovation, innovation labs, innovative schools, innovative practices, etc.  Are innovative practices best practice? Once a practice has been deemed innovative, how long should that practice be identified as innovative?

After reading Kristin Anthony and Tim Klapdor’s posts this morning, I wonder if it’s innovation that’s taking place or is it replication of the innovative acts of others. Does it matter? If kids are making the necessary gains, do we care whether or not it’s innovation or replication?

Real innovation requires change… That’s where the complexity lies – it’s not about coming up with something new, it’s about convincing people to change. To let go of traditions and to trade in status, comfort and power from the old model to embrace something new and different. It’s for this reason that true innovation is exceedingly rare. – Tim Klaptor

Klapdor proposes that innovation requires change therefore time and retrospection is necessary to determine whether or not an act was innovative. In other words, you can’t just say you’re going to innovate; that determination is made later when the results are evident.

Innovations are therefore the most demanding works because they require all the conditions in the hierarchy. Innovations implicitly require defensibility through a unique “operating model”. Put another way, they remain unique because few others can copy them. – Horace Dediu

If uniqueness, change and reflection are necessary components of innovation, is your district or school actually innovating practices and transforming the system? Can novel, inventive or creative actions within a traditional education model lead to deeper learning?

If you read Dediu’s post and some of the accompanying comments (so many I couldn’t read them all!), you’ll see that several folks disagree with his take on innovation. Whether you agree or not, perhaps the focus should be on answering questions like these.

  • Why does innovation matter in public schools?
  • How will defining innovation lead to better school systems?
  • What steps can schools take to design actions that have the potential to be innovative – new, unique and a way to sustain necessary change?
  • How can we keep the focus on creating intentional, well-designed learning experiences instead of feeding a societal desire for something NEW?

What do these ideas on innovation mean for P-12 educators? I was almost convinced that this discussion/debate was not relevant until I read Dr. Max McKeown’s post on innovation and determined that some key elements he mentions will support guidance on this subject.

Based on my knowledge and experience as an educator coupled with the information outlined in this post, I believe the following might be useful during planning and implementation phases. Of course, I haven’t created a comprehensive guide to planning for innovation by any stretch of the imagination here, but this process might help start (or continue) a conversation and dialogue with your colleagues about innovation and system transformation.

  1. Define Innovation: What is innovation in P-12 education?
  2. Establish Need: Why do we need to innovate?
  3. Create a Vision: How will we innovate?
  4. Choose an Innovative Focus: Which area(s) do we need to focus on based on the evaluation of our need?
    • Process Innovation – new ways of doing something in the areas of instructional practices, professional learning, etc.
    • Organizational Innovation – new ways of people working together in the areas of teacher and leader collaboration within and across districts, professional development, etc.
  5. Measure Progress: How effective is the innovation?
  6. Adjust: When will we make adjustments and changes if we see that our actions aren’t producing the results we anticipated at the rate we need?
  7. Iterate: How often will we measure progress and make adjustments throughout the school year? How often will we cycle back to step 1?

After examining these ideas for some time today, I believe that the semantics of the term “innovation” matters little to the work of systems change for P-12 public schools. It doesn’t matter whether or not your school’s innovation efforts are categorically innovative as long as academic outcomes are improving at the right pace and kids are happy, socially successful and safe. Whether your efforts are innovative, inventive, creative or merely novel doesn’t really matter as much as designing a system that engages your kids in a meaningful, productive, thought-provoking and empathy-centered curriculum.