Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Culture of "DO," not "KNOW"

My most meaningful session at Educon was a discussion regarding the necessity of moving away from learning that is driven by "content coverage" and moving to learning that is driven by important process skills. David Jakes set the stage by providing us with some background on design theory. (His excellent presentation resources are available here.) Then, David set us loose to redesign selected aspects of school.

Bill Ferriter, Patrick Larkin, and Larry Fliegelman were my partners in this endeavor. (Could you ask for a better team? Seriously?) Quickly, our conversation turned to the need to focus on "doing" instead of "knowing." This idea holds enormous implications for schools. Specifically, the ways that schools use time, materials, and staff would be deeply affected. Consider the following questions that we considered in our session:

What if students could learn whenever they felt like it?

What if graduation and advancement was based on competency?

What if kids worked independently on meaningful tasks to provide evidence of learning?

While it's easy to dismiss this thinking with a series of "yea, buts," I encourage you to ask "WHAT IF" instead.

Thanks to David for the fantastic session, and thanks to Bill for cleaning up our messy diagram and sharing it out!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Building Better Learning Online

Here's a digital copy of my Encienda Educon presentation, "Building Better Learning Environments." The presentation has 20 slides with 15 seconds on each side. Enjoy!

If you cannot see the embedded video below, click here to access the presentation.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Lessons Learned from Springfield

While I am extremely excited to embark on new learning journeys, I am certainly sad to leave the teams and challenges in Springfield. Here are the top 3 things I've learned during my time in Oreland...

1. Get the right stakeholders into the conversation. If you're trying to make a decision, include everyone with a vested interest. If you don't do this, you end up spinning your wheels. More heads are better than one.

2. Schedule time to achieve what's important. In education, you will always be busy. There will always be many demands competing for your attention. You must determine your priorities and schedule them throughout the year. I learned to schedule my team meetings over a year in advance with tentative agendas, creating a clear road map to the destination.

3. Learn about people. As I've worked in this job, I've met many people. I am proud to say that I know almost everyone's name and I know quite a bit about people with whom I work closely. These connections make the organization stronger, and they foster the trust needed to embrace real change.

Springfield, I'll miss you. Thank you for a great experience, and I value what I've learned during my tenure.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Messy Desks and Messy Instruction

As I prepare to leave Springfield to tackle instructional challenges in New York City's iZone schools, I've been reflecting upon how we (as adults) make meaning. Earlier this week, I was fervently cleaning out my files and my desk.

Now, I'm not exactly a hoarder, but I DO like to keep things. A lot of things.

As I moved through each section of my office, I realized that I needed to do a few things to make things clear for my successor:

1. Get rid of anything that was outdated or not important. When learning something new, it's critical to emphasize the most vital content. Eliminating unnecessary information reduces opportunities for confusion.

2. Reorganize files so that the most important information is on top. As my successor learns the job, he won't have time to decide what is most important. I must make it easy for him by prioritizing the information.

3. Build contact webs. Since I will only have a limited amount of time to work with my successor, it is imperative that I introduce him to members of the organization that will be able to assist him in the future. (Because I'm sure I'll forget SOMETHING.)

Think about the implications this has for our students as we plan curriculum. Here are a few things we need to do for our students to help them make meaning:

1. Get rid of anything in your curriculum that's outdated or not important. Just because you've "always done it" doesn't mean it's still worth doing!

2. Ensure that students get the most important, overarching information. What does it mean to be a competent individual? Focus on the skills strategies, and content that move students towards competency.

3. Build information relationships for students instead of delivering content. Understanding that you won't be able to teach students everything they need to know, showing them instead where they can find relevant content.

An organized desk and an organized curriculum both promote learning by design.

Photo Credit

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Flipped Classroom Infographic

In the past few weeks on this blog, I've been trying to reflect upon best practice and instruction. Part of my reflections have included an investigation into the Flipped Classroom Model. See the infographic from Knewton below to learn more!

Flipped Classroom

Created by Knewton and Column Five Media

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Teaching for Transfer: Stop Helping Already

I have a startling confession to make.

I'm a teacher. And I help students too much.
You might be musing, "Well Kristen, you're a teacher so you are SUPPOSED to help students, duh!" Well, of course I should be assisting students, but I also need to ensure that I create opportunities for students to transfer their learning to novel situations without my help.

I am preparing students for a world that does not exist yet. Therefore, if students cannot independently transfer the skills and competencies that I teach them, then I haven't done my job. It doesn't matter if I'm beloved, rated as satisfactory, or eligible for a pension. I simply haven't done my job.

Practically, this means that examples on my assessments should NOT match exact examples or texts that we've covered in class. I should stop over prompting students, especially in novel situations. I should help students monitor their self awareness and their autonomy as they complete tasks by using rubrics that address these skills.

This is going to be hard, but I know it's the best way to ensure students receive a relevant education. What do you think?

Photo Credit:

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Using Data to Break the Comfort Zone

Although I'm not a big "new year resolution" person, I always try to run and train more in January, February, and March to prepare for the Broad Street Run 10 Miler. However, I usually end up running the race at the same pace every year because it's COMFORTABLE. This year, I started tracking my heart rate and mileage on Run Keeper. Every day I look at a little graph that shows me how hard I worked and where my performance ranks relative to my overall goal. In essence, I'm using data to break out of my comfort zone.

I think many people (myself included) settle into comfortable routines despite best intentions. This can easily happen in the classroom. And while the "data-driven instruction" is touted in most schools across the country, we often don't integrate meaningful data into our everyday instructional routines to help us meet our goals.

I think it's important to start small and track progress closely. Just as I aim to increase my mileage by 1 mile each week, aim to increase your students' achievement (using whatever measure may be appropriate) by 1 increment each week.

Here's an example. Let's say that your goal is to increase your students' reading fluency. Each week, when you meet with students in their differentiated guided reading groups, you give them an opportunity to measure and track their reading fluency. The students set a goal to increase their fluency by 2 words per minute each week (this rate is based off of RtI research). After a month, you notice that some students are not getting any better. Well, what should you do? The same thing you've always done? NO. Perhaps you need to scrap some of the activities that you use (you know... that giant paper mache project that you do EVERY year...) and provide students with more time to practice via a Reader's Theatre activity.

I know. It's hard to change the classroom activities that make you comfortable. But changing in response to data will get you results. Our kids deserve results. Responsive instruction is in your control and within your reach. This month, break your comfort zone.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Authentic Problem Solving

Earlier this week, my ceiling had a suspicious leak. Since my ceiling is sectioned with large wooden beams, the problem could cause some costly damage. When I discovered the problem, the first thing I did was open up my laptop.


Yes, my laptop. I did not call up a plumber or a roofer. I called up You Tube on my laptop. After some serious searching, I was able to determine that the leak was actually caused by lint build up in my dryer vent. In about an hour, I had fixed the problem, stopped the leak, and improved the performance of my dryer. (Full disclosure: My husband helped. A lot.)

Now, I never took a "linty dryer" course. I know virtually nothing about fixing household problems or maintaining appliances. However, I do know how to access crowd-sourced knowledge efficiently. As I celebrated my victory against my leaky ceiling, I pondered the implications of this experience for education.

When it comes to today's students, it is highly unlikely that we will be able to provide them with the exact content they will need as they move throughout the stages of their lives. However, we WILL be able to provide them with effective research skills that can be utilized in almost any location. We should be focusing on providing our students with opportunities to solve challenging problems in a variety of curricular areas.

It's also important to note that I employed a lot of background knowledge about condensation, gravity, and heat convection to solve my problem. Some basic content and background knowledge are necessary for effective reading, understanding, and searching. We should continue to provide our students with opportunities to master this content as a "starting off" point for many other, more diverse learning opportunities.

What do you think?

Photo Credit: Lumax Art

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Instructional Coaching as a Verb

In the latest edition of Educational Leadership, the magazine seeks to find creative solutions to the funding problems that we are facing in schools today. One article about instructional coaching held particular significance to me. It explored the disappearance of instructional coaches in response to program cuts, and it also discussed how to move forward when coaches are absent.

Specifically, the article proposed a paradigm shift. Instead of defining the word "coach" as a noun, define it as a verb. You do not need a specific person to have an environment that supports job embedded professional development. Instead, consider all the ways that many members of your staff can "coach" each other while still being effective classroom teachers.

Some ways to turn coaching into a verb this year or next year:
  • Have teachers observe each other and provide structured feedback.
  • Ask teachers to contribute to a professional development blog. Feature new writers and ideas each week so no single person is overburdened.
  • Run an edcamp or other "unconference" style form of learning session at your school so everyone can share their expertise

While I firmly believe that instructional coaches are an effective, authentic vehicle for providing "just in time" learning to teachers, their absence certainly does not prohibit a school from moving forward.

Photo Credit

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Setting the Tone

Over the winter break, I had the good fortune of traveling to Flagstaff, Arizona to visit my in-laws. In an effort to pinch a few pennies, my husband and I flew on Christmas day. If you've ever traveled on Christmas day, you know that the airports are crowded with families and small children and Santa hats. In short, it can be a pretty crazy day to travel with a lot of delays.

As we boarded our plane, we were greeted by one of the most entertaining, polite, friendly flight attendants that I have ever encountered. Her safety review was closer to stand up comedy, she sang holiday carols, and she pointed out scenic views throughout the trip. Although the flight was filled with crying babies and innumerable carry-on bags, it was a pretty enjoyable experience. Travelers actually clapped for the flight attendant at the end of the flight. (To the applause she offered a sharp-witted reply: "Thank you for your applause. I prefer cash.")

This experience made me consider not only my role as an instructional leader but also my role as a teacher. For some of our students and colleagues, arriving at school each day can be akin to boarding a six hour flight laden with discomfort. Our attitude can certainly make a difference in their day and their learning. Greeting others with a smile, a helping hand, or a trite joke can completely change the mood in the room.

As we move into the new year, consider the incredible power you hold as an educator and instructional leader. Each day, you have the ability to make someone's life better. So, smile more. Joke more. Enjoy more.


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