Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Pulse of a Learning Culture

What makes a great and successful learning culture?  If you were to ask the majority of stakeholders, they would typically say that a school or district that has high levels of achievement in the form of standardized test scores represents success.  Many parents will choose to move to an area and raise their kids there for this reason alone.  All one has to do is look at all the hoopla surrounding national and state rankings to see that this indeed is the case.  Parents and community members observe these scores as they have the power to positively or negatively impact real estate values.  No matter where your school or district lands in these rankings, there are always disgruntled people, unless you are number one.

Achievement is often viewed as the single most important outcome of a thriving learning culture that is preparing students for the demands of their next stage in life, whether it is grade level promotion or moving onward to college or a career.  However, those of us who work in education know that this is the furthest thing from the truth.  The playing field is not equal in many parts of the world.  Privilege is bestowed upon many by the zip code they live in or whether or not a privately funded education can be afforded.  Thus, in many cases achievement is directly tied to income. Even so, it can still be debated whether this equates to a thriving and prosperous learning culture. 


Image credit: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/10-reasons-why-learning-culture-crucial-your-jonathan-wood/

It doesn’t matter how successful the adults think a learning culture is. Quite frankly, it’s not about us.  Educators don’t work for administrators, central office, superintendents, heads of school, boards of education, or parents.  We work for kids!  Thus, the best way to get an accurate pulse of a particular learning culture is to engage students as to what they think about the educational experience they receive in school and then see how this compares with traditional metrics such as achievement and other forms of data.  I am not saying achievement doesn’t matter.  What I am saying is that the experiences that shape our learners and help them discover their true potential matter more.  Some of the best learning that any of us ever experienced wasn’t given a mark, score, or grade.  It was our ability to work through cognitive struggle, construct new knowledge, and authentically apply what we learned creatively that helped us develop a genuine appreciation for learning.

The bottom line is we need to cultivate competent learners in the digital age while putting them in a position to see the value of their education.  Engaging the number one stakeholder group – our students – in critical conversations about the education they are receiving provides us with an accurate pulse of a learning culture.  Just because a student achieves doesn’t automatically infer that he or she appreciates or values the educational experience or will be able to use what has been learned authentically.  With all this being said three guiding questions can be asked of students to determine where your learning culture is:

  • Why are you learning what you are learning?
  • How will you use what you are learning?
  • What is missing from your learning experience?

It is vital to continually put a critical lens to our work and look beyond what the majority of stakeholders see as the leading indicator for district or school success.  Powerful qualities such as leadership, empathy, integrity, resilience, humility, creativity, and persistence can’t be measured per se, but are so crucial to future success.  A thriving learning culture blends these elements to not only support the achievement of all learners but also to prepare them for their future.  

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Clean Slate

All kids have greatness hidden inside them. It is the job of an educator to help them find and unleash it. To make this goal a reality, we must change our thinking and believe in our abilities to improve learning for all kids.  It’s interesting that many of us are ready to embrace and celebrate the ideas of others openly, but we don’t necessarily believe in the ones that we either think of or develop on our own.  The best ideas in education come from practitioners in the trenches. It is these people after all who implement innovative practices and ultimately find success.  The challenge though is to begin believing in what you have to offer and not worry about what others think. 


Image credit: michaelwoodfitness.com

This is where mindset comes into play. The hallmarks of a growth mindset include embracing challenges, persisting in the face of setbacks, seeing the effort as a path to mastery, learning from criticism, and finding lessons and inspiration in the success of others.  A mindset shift is the first step, but then we have to act. Change begins with all of us.  We must change ourselves first before we can expect others to follow suit.  

Recently I have been refining my latest keynote presentation on cultivating a transformational mindset amongst both learners and educators.  The six essential elements that comprise this mindset shift include competency-based, entrepreneurial, maker, empathetic, efficacy, and storyteller. Preparing students for the new world of work require us all to embrace a bold new vision and strategy for transforming learning today.  This might seem scary to some. Others might find it daunting or even unachievable considering the obstacles that lie ahead. It is natural to feel this way, but in the end, we have to think about the needs of those we serve – our students.

For some context, I encourage you to watch this short, yet powerful video.  It is all about the decisions and changes we don’t make that after time passes we come to regret.  If we shift our initial approach to a challenge or impending decision through a different process, we can overcome the potential roadblock that our mind manifests. A transformational mindset focuses on the “what ifs” as opposed to the “yeah buts” and shuts the door on potential regrets.



Changing outcomes begins with changing your mindset. Every day is a clean slate. Do the things you will regret not doing.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Measuring Impact with the Digital Practice Assessment (DPA)

Note: This post is directly related to my work at the International Center for Leadership in Education

Efficacy has been on my mind a great deal as of late, and as a result, it has been reflected in my writing.  When I think back to the successful digital transformation and implementation of innovative practices at my former school when I was a principal the key driver for us was the ability to show, not just talk about, evidence of improvement.  By combining both quantitative and qualitative measures, we were able to articulate the why, how, and what, as well as the detailed process that went into each respective change effort.  The “secret sauce” in all of this was the strategic use of digital tools to proactively share the details of our efforts and resulting impact.  


Image credit: http://www.assafh.org/

During my tenure as a principal, I was always in search of tools and processes to help measure the impact of the changes we were implementing.  Unfortunately, nothing existed.  As I work with schools and districts on a weekly basis, I am often asked how they can determine the impact and effectiveness of the many innovative initiatives they have in place. Practices such as BYOD, 1:1, blended learning, personalized learning, classroom and school redesign, branding, makerspaces, professional learning, etc.  This need served as a call to action of sorts and catalyzed my current work.  As Senior Fellow with the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE), I have worked with a fantastic team to develop services and tools to help districts, schools, and organizations across the world transform teaching, learning, and leadership.  One of these tools is the Digital Practice Assessment (DPA). 

The DPA creates the context for our work with leaders and teachers, providing authentic baseline data to support personalized professional learning. It begins by examining the strategies in place at each school or district that support student learning with technology in the areas of rigor, relevance, relationships, engagement, and overall culture. The process then moves to understanding the current leadership practices in place to successfully implement technology and innovative practices, aligned to the 7 Pillars of Digital Leadership & Learning (Student Learning, Learning Spaces & Environment, Professional Growth, Communication, Public Relations, Branding, and Opportunity). 


Through this proven model, our consultants can help schools and districts identify opportunities to begin their transformation or take their digital and innovation goals to the next level, leveraging the knowledge, experience, and practice of ICLE’s thought leadership. The DPA process consists of a combination of a self-reflection questionnaire rubric, on-site observations, and online inventories comprised of data and evidence collection. We then leverage evidence-based rubrics to observe leadership and instructional practices while collecting artifacts to provide evidence of effective digital learning and innovative professional practice. Once collected and analyzed, a detailed summary report outlining areas of success, focus opportunities, and recommended next steps will guide the professional learning partnership with ICLE, supporting the development of a strategic professional learning and implementation plan. 

Below is a summary of the DPA process:

Step 1: The Pillars of Digital Leadership Questionnaire is completed by the district or school. This 18 question rubric asks school leaders to reflect on their perceptions for where their school falls on a continuum from not yet started to well developed. During this reflective process, it is expected that school leadership teams collect and document aligned evidence for each item.  This information is completed and archived in the Professional Learning Portal (PLP), a free digital platform developed by ICLE to support schools in data collection,  reflection and goal setting, to grow and improve. The baseline evidence shared is in the context of digital leadership and learning (including examples of data, lesson plans, unit plans, student work, PLC minutes, rigorous digital performance tasks, walk-through forms, assessments, sample observations/evaluations, portfolios, PD plans, social media accounts, pictures, videos, press releases, media coverage, partnerships, etc). 

Step 2: On-site observations and interviews are conducted by consultants to validate perceptions and evidence collected for the seven Pillars of Digital Leadership Questionnaire, as well as targeted classroom observations of student learning, aligned to rigor, relevance and engagement. Additional data is collected and archived in the PLP during classroom observations. The idea is to engage school leaders in dialogue about their culture, student learning and digital integration, no matter where they are with their digital transformation. 

Step 3: The data and evidence are tightly aligned to ICLE’s research-based rubrics to provide a detailed view of where a district or school is with their digital transformation.The data and artifacts are analyzed, leading to a summary report that details the current state of practice at each school or in the district. 

Step 4: The DPA report is shared and discussed with the school leadership team. In partnership with ICLE, observations about the evidence collected are shared and discussed. During the strategic planning process, discussions focus on areas of strength and improvements to develop a tailored and personalized implementation plan.

Step 5: On-going professional learning is implemented and progress monitoring through the online Pillars of Digital Leadership Questionnaire is documented to determine the efficacy of the digital transformation.

The DPA process has been created to support districts and schools looking for ways to measure and articulate the impact of technology and innovation on practice.  While data is valuable, it moves beyond this as the only metric for success by actually taking a lens to an array of strategies and practices that combine to create a thriving learning culture.  

The DPA doesn’t just look at technology and innovation. It also provides insight on all elements of school culture and student learning.  In addition to being informed by a broad body of research and driven by evidence, the DPA process is also aligned to the following:


We don’t know where we are and how effective change is until steps are taken to look critically at practice. We hope that through the DPA process we can help you develop, refine, measure, and then share amazing examples that illustrate how efficacy has been attained.  

If you are looking for a method of determining where you are and where you want your district or school to be in the digital age, please contact Matt Thouin at ICLE (MThouin@leadered.com).  He can arrange for an interactive and detailed look at the DPA rubrics and process as well as the PLP platform from the convenience of your home or office.  We look forward to supporting you on your journey toward systemwide digital transformation. If you have any questions for me, please leave them in the comments below.

Copyright © by International Center for Leadership in Education, a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Efficacy in Digital Learning

As a principal, the buck stopped with me.  I was reminded of this by numerous superintendents during my tenure as a school leader.  However, when we began moving forward with our digital transformation one particular superintendent asked me point blank what evidence I had that actually supported our claims that new equated to better. This not only stopped me in my tracks, but that moment in time provided the grounding that my school and I really needed.  For change to really be embraced by all stakeholders it is critical that we just don’t tell and claim that improvement is occurring, but that we also show. 

Accountability matters and is a reality in our work.  We are accountable first and foremost to our learners. As a supporter of the purposeful use of technology and innovative practices, I had to illustrate how effective these strategies were at improving learning.  Statements and claims didn’t cut it and this was more than fair.  It was at this time where the term efficacy kept finding its way into the conversation and my head. In the real world of education efficacy matters and it is important that this is part of the larger conversation when it comes to digital. It is a word that, in my opinion, has to be a part of our daily vocabulary and practice. Simply put, efficacy is the degree to which desired outcomes and goals are achieved. Applying this concept to digital learning can go a long way to solidifying the use of technology as an established practice, not just a frill or add-on.

The journey to efficacy begins and ends with the intended goal in mind and a strong pedagogical foundation.  Adding technology or new ideas without this in place will more than likely not result in achieving efficacy.  The Rigor Relevance Framework provides schools and educators with a checks and balance system by providing a common language for all, creating a culture around a common vision, and establishing a critical lens through which to examine curriculum, instruction, and assessment. It represents a means to support innovative learning and digital practice as detailed in the description of Quad D learning:
Students have the competence to think in complex ways and to apply their knowledge and skills they have acquired. Even when confronted with perplexing unknowns, students are able to use extensive knowledge and skill to create solutions and take action that further develops their skills and knowledge.
Aligning digital to Quad D not only makes sense but also melds with a great deal of the conversation in digital and non-digital spaces as to why and how learning should change.  A framework like this emphasizes the importance of a strong pedagogical foundation while helping to move practice from isolated pockets of excellence to systemic elements that are scaled throughout the learning culture.  It also provides the means to evaluate and reflect in order to improve. 

Rigor Relevance Framework

Once an overall vision for digital learning is firmly in place you can begin to work on the structures and supports to ensure success.  This brings me back to efficacy.  The why is great, but the how and what have to be fleshed out.  Determining whether technology or innovative practices, in general, are effective matters.  Below I will highlight 5 key areas (essential questions, research, practicality, evidence/accountability, reflection)  that can put your classroom, school, district, or organization on a path to digital efficacy. 

Essential Questions

Questions provide context for where we want to go, how we’ll get there, and whether or not success is achieved.  Having more questions than answers is a natural part of the initial change process. Over time, however, concrete answers can illustrate that efficacy in digital learning has been achieved in some form or another.  Consider how you might respond to the questions below:

  • What evidence do we have to demonstrate the impact of technology on school culture?
  • How are we making learning relevant for our students?
  • How do we implement and support rigorous and relevant learning tasks that help students become Future Ready?
  • What is required to create spaces that model real-world environments and learning opportunities? 
  • What observable evidence can be used to measure the effect technology is having on student learning and achievement?
  • How can targeted feedback be provided to our teachers and students, so that technology can enhance learning?

Research

Research is prevalent in education for a reason.  It provides us all with a baseline as to what has been found to really work when it comes to student learning.  Now, there is good research and bad.  I get that. It is up to us as educators to sift through and then align the best and most practical studies out there to support the need to transform learning in the digital age. We can look to the past in order to inform current practice.  For example, so many of us are proponents of student ownership, project-based, and collaborative learning. Not only does digital support and enhance all of these, but research from Dewey, Vygotsky, Piaget, Papert, Bloom, and many others provide validation.  See the image below. For more on authorship learning click HERE.




One of the main reasons Tom Murray and I wrote Learning Transformed was to provide a sound research base that supports digital learning and the embracement of innovative practices.  The research of Linda Darling Hammond found that technology can have the most impact on our at-risk learners when it is used to support interactive learning, explore and create rather than to “drill and kill”, and constitutes the right blend of teachers and technology. This is just one of over 100 studies we highlight. Then there is the comprehensive analysis by John Hattie on effect size – a listing of the most effective instructional strategies that improve student learning outcomes all of which can be applied to digital learning. If efficacy is the goal, embracing a scholarly mindset to inform and influence our work, not drive it, is critical.

Practicality

All of what we do should align to the demands, and at times constraints, of the job.  This includes preparing students for success on standardized tests. If it’s not practical, the drive to implement new ideas and practices wanes or never materializes.  The creation of rigorous digital performance tasks that are aligned to standards and the scope and sequence found in the curriculum is just good practice. All good performance tasks include some form of assessment, either formative or summative, that provides the learner and educator with valuable information on standard and outcome attainment.  Again, this is just part of the job. 

The Rigor Relevance Framework assists in creating performance tasks that engage learners in critical thinking and problem solving while applying what they have learned in meaningful ways.  There is also natural alignment to incorporating student agency. This is exactly what so many of us are championing.  My colleague and good friend, Weston Kieschnick, has created a template that combines research and the practical aspect of performance task creation to assist you in creating your own.   Check it out HERE. You can use the template and go through the process of developing a rigorous digital performance task or just use it to inform as you design your own. 

Evidence and Accountability

As many of you know I do not shy away from openly discussing how important this area is. Just go back to my opening paragraph in this post for a refresher. Evidence and accountability are a part of every profession and quite frankly we need more of both in education to not only show efficacy in our work but to also scale needed change. Not everything has to or can be, measured. However, focusing on a Return on Instruction allows everyone to incorporate multiple measures, both qualitative and quantitative, to determine if improvement is in fact occurring. 

Reflection

When it is all said and done the most important thing we can all do is constantly reflect on our practice.  In terms of efficacy in digital learning consider these reflective questions from your particular lens:

  • Did my students learn? 
  • How do I know if my students learned? 
  • How do others know if my students learned? 
  • What can be done to improve? 
  • What point of view have I not considered?

Amazing things are happening in education, whether it be through digital learning or the implementation of innovative ideas.  We must always push ourselves to be better and strive for continuous improvement. The more we all push each other on the topic of efficacy, our collective goals we have for education, learning, and leadership can be achieved.