Friday, February 27, 2015

A Framework for Meaningful Professional Learning

I am always looking to improve our professional learning processes for teachers.  I believe we have made immense progress under our recent changes to our professional learning.  Learning Forward continues to produce great work on this topic.  I have been reading Designing Schools for Meaningful Professional Learning by Janice Bradley. Bradley recommends that we transform traditional sit-and-git professional development into job embedded professional learning. Bradley discusses what she calls the Five Part Plan (FPP) for meaningful professional learning.  

The FPP timeline includes two learning cycles which are found in the image below. Bradley suggests that each cycle consists of three parts; 60 minutes to plan, 60 minutes to teach, and 60 minutes to assess and reflect on the learning.  

The above image helps provide a timeline in regards to the FFP summary found below.  

Part 1: Reaching Consensus

What five things should be in every classroom every day?

This is a whole staff brainstorm session and would occur prior to the school year.  The staff would identify the five things that should occur in classrooms everyday.  Once identified, the teachers would research, plan, teach, and reflect during two of the learning cycles found in the image above.  

We would need to question how the five things align to our teacher evaluation plan. It makes sense to incorporate our evaluation processes into our professional learning.   

Part 2: Selecting the Learning Design

How do teachers learn to do those five things effectively?

Bradley provides nine learning design choices for teachers during their professional learning time. I would recommend that PLCs decide which learning design they will focus on during each of the two learning cycles.

  1. Collaborative Planning, Teaching, and Assessing
  2. Peer Teaching
  3. Vertical Team Study
  4. Intentional Practicing with Student Response
  5. Using Technology - Linked-in Lessons
  6. Studying Video and Application 
  7. Lesson Design 
  8. Shared Learning with Teachers, Principals, and Coaches 
  9. Creative and Innovative Teaching 
In my opinion there are too many choices and might overwhelm teachers.  We should reduce the number and focus on the most effective learning designs.  

Part 3: Implementing the Learning Design Cycle 

What is a Learning Design Cycle, and how is it implemented?

For example, a PLC could choose a learning design like studying video and application. They might study exit tickets as a formative assessment strategy.  They could visit the Teaching Channel and find several videos to study and implement.  

Part 4: Sharing Professional Knowledge with Whole School Staff

What is a knowledge showcase?

A knowledge showcase is a way to celebrate the learning acquired throughout the year.  We are planning on taking pictures, videos and narratives from all PLCs and sharing our work at our April 22nd early release day.  The knowledge showcase is a great way to share our learning and it also instills accountability in the process. 

Part 5: Creating a Professional Knowledge Base 

How does a school archive learning so it is not lost?

Bradley recommends finding a way to house all of the learning that occurs within the two learning cycles.  Teachers may see something at the Knowledge Showcase and want to learn about it next year. A digital library would be a great way to keep the learning available for reference.


The FPP is a nice model - it establishes an innovative structure for teachers and it is job embedded.  Time is a factor however - districts must be willing to give up time that has historically been used for sit-and-git professional development.  The FPP allows choice for teachers when selecting their professional learning. 

If you are unsatisfied with your district's professional development I would recommend the FPP as a framework to consider.  There is some solid stuff here, but it may be beneficial to pick and choose parts of the FPP.  

How are you providing more meaningful professional learning? 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Crazy Common Core Math

If you do a search on Google for "Crazy Common Core Math" you will see this image and others like it.  I have seen this image circulating among stakeholders in our district.  All of the publicity regarding the Common Core Standards has certainly elevated the concerns of many.  We need to understand that the Common Core is not a curriculum, it is a set of standards.  It does not dictate how we teach, it only provides a set of standards that teachers work to meet at each grade level.  

Our work as a district has focused on unpacking the standards into student friendly terms or what we call "I can statements."  We have targeted the following areas as part of our implementation of the Common Core: 
  • Formative Assessment - using formative data to inform our future instruction and guide early interventions.
  • Establishing a scope and sequence for when "I can statements" are covered and assessed.
  • Developing common lessons when appropriate.
  • Implementing standards based learning processes.
  • Vertical alignment - communicating with upper grade levels and developing a curriculum that flows from one grade to the next. 
I will say that we do not teach subtraction and addition this way at Rugby Public Schools. The method above is a way that some mathematicians use to help students gain a better sense of how numbers work.  It is no different than when my wife was in school and there was a focus on touch math (which I struggle to understand and it makes perfect sense to her).  I will say it again the Common Core does not dictate our teaching methods.  It only sets a standard and our teachers are free to teach how they see fit.  

I encourage you to reach out to your teachers and administrators at your local school if you have any questions or concerns regarding the Common Core.  

Katie Couric does a nice job in this clip explaining the Common Core

Links to our student friendly "I can statements" based on the Common Core. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Response to: Why do we seem to focus on kids that come from environments of which our school will never be able to impact?

"If there is anything we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could be better changed in ourselves." - Carl Jung
I had a conversation with a stakeholder recently and it caused me to reflect on what we are doing as a district.  The question centered around whether schools can actually reach all kids. The questions was, "Mike, why do we seem to focus on kids that come from environments of which our school will never be able to impact?" My response was, I wouldn't be in this profession if I didn't truly believe that school can overcome a child's home environment.  It is complex and doing what we have always done will not reach all kids. What works for one kid will not work for another.  I went on to explain that we will not be able to reach all kids under a traditional system. This allowed me to explain our initiatives and why we have greatly altered our own school structures to make it possible to reach all kids.  Of course changing the structure doesn't automatically change the culture, culture is an area of focus as well.   

I've discussed John Hattie's research in the past and it clearly shows that schools can overcome the environment if they focus on the right things.  I provided a list of the "right things" below and where they rank in comparison to the impacts of a negative home environment.  

Rank - Influence - Scale Score (Hattie, 2009, p. 299)

#3 - Formative Assessments - .90 on the scale 
#7 - Comprehensive Interventions - .77
#8 - Teacher Clarity - . 75
#10 - Feedback - .73
#11 - Teacher to Student Relationships - .72
#31 - Home Environment - .57
#32 - Socioeconomic Status - .57
#38 - Pre-Term Birth Weight - .54
#51 - Student Motivation - .48
#88 - Homework - .29

In my heart of hearts I believe that we can overcome the environment of which our toughest kids come from, but it won't be easy.  It involves rethinking many of the things that are deeply rooted in the institution that we call school.  We will continue to rethink and adjust our structures and develop a culture of learning for all.