We have been working on Strategic Partnerships for Authentic Learning for the entire school year at Schoolcraft community schools. These projects focus on 'real life' problems as provided by local businesses and non-profits as which we pair with our benchmarks and standards as students utilize their voice and choice to solve them. Please see video below for more information about the "how" and "why" of these projects!
I was cleaning up some old Gmail/Google Drive files and found this response to a student back in 2012. The student emailed me asking why they had lost credit for my class after missing "X" number of classes even though they did well in the class. I told them I'd fight for their grade and this was the end of my reply.* I wish I could have these deep conversations all the time with students!
"...my vision for school would be to go back to Plato/Socrates were I just sit up on a hill and everyone who wants to learn would come to me and we'd chat and learn and engage in bettering everyone involved (plus society if it was lucky :) ). Your voice in learning is very important including what it takes for you and your peers to be successful.
Sad thing is our culture is often lacking responsibility and instead is one of instant gratification. Most people just want to be happy now and not work to get long term happiness through consistent work or advocacy. So, what we're left with is a rigid structure of school which is there to keep everyone in line so each person hopefully gets enough to be a consistent citizen. Finding the positive motivating factor for most, that doesn't take the inflexible structure is the $1,000,000 question. I'm sitting on the hill anytime you want to learn :)
I recently ran into this student who is doing very well with their college degree and doing research for a nonprofit firm. We had a wonderful conversation about their current passions, future plans and how they appreciated those teachers who were 'different'. A quote they left me with stick with me forever,
"Students aren't dumb, we know which teachers care about us and when we do and don't learn. Those teachers who try new things that stretch us beyond what we know of ourselves are the ones we remember and appreciate. Thank you."
It amazes me how much more I have learned from my students than they have ever learned from me.
*If you wondered, we 'won' and this student earned what they proved they knew from summative assessments I had given and tracked throughout the semester in my own form of "Standards-Based Grading" at the time.
Michigan Teacher Matt McCullough
“I was a U.S. history teacher who often was hitting WWI as the calendar flipped to April. During WWI, many troops took to writing to keep grounded and to release the extreme emotions of war. After studying the era of WWI a bit I created a lesson that would both allow students to experience the moving poetry of soldiers while showing their knowledge of trench warfare and the combatants experience through their own pieces. Click here to see this lesson.
As you can see by the lesson my hope was to assess their speaking and listening skills as well as content vocabulary/knowledge. I found this assessment much more telling of their knowledge and skills than the traditional multiple-choice/essay tests I formally used for WWI.
Feel free to adapt if it fits your curriculum!”
*This is an excerpt from the blog: ICKLE ME PICKLE ME TICKLE ME TOO APRIL 12, 2018 - Educators for High Standards
As a former soccer coach with children who have begun to play, I follow multiple websites and blogs on the game. I was surprised today to see that U.S. soccer has begun a new Bio-Banding initiative in an effort to level the playing field for players who mature at different rates.
As usual my day job as Director of Innovation in Teaching and Learning kicked in and made me think, "...if this can be done for athletics, can it be done for academics?"
“Why do I have to learn this?”
“Does anyone really do this?”
“Is this for a grade?”
These are the questions teachers are asked across the state and nation on a daily basis. Schoolcraft Community Schools has begun to innovate in a variety of ways while connecting to their community in an effort to make learning authentic. As a result, these questions are no longer heard in numerous classrooms.
Schoolcraft Community Schools, as part of its Strategic Plan, adopted Essential Learner Outcomes for all students to master. These outcomes were the driving force to change the approach to teaching and in turn changing the way students are learning and assessed.
A Director of Innovation was hired during the summer of 2016 in an effort to breathe life into the new district Strategic Plan. This position supports teachers and administrators by providing professional learning and development embedded within the school day. In addition, the Director of Innovation brings new authentic learning possibilities to the district as well as networking opportunities for the staff. The fulfillment of the District Mission: “Educating and Empowering Each Eagle to be Successful in Life” is embodied in his work.
Making Learning Relevant
Community partnerships with local businesses, industry, and public works have begun to connect student learning through authentic experiences.
Being a standards-based district, teachers at each level are connecting the “Schoolcraft” Standards” to real-life problems and areas of improvement that local entities face. Students work on these problems in unison with classroom activities and present their “answers” to the members of our community. Feedback is given by these authentic audiences rounding out not only the content learning but also the Essential Learner Outcomes expected of all Schoolcraft students.
Partnerships begin with a phone call and a visit including this one-page introduction to how the business/partner can become involved.
During the summer of 2017 Schoolcraft curriculum leadership took a visit to Walther Farms headquarters and asked big questions like:
- What problems do you deal with here on a daily basis?
- What is a task upcoming you’d like to streamline?
- Where do you need innovations to improve production/workflow?
- What qualities do you need in future talent?
A website, including a “hook” video, was created and Walther Farms shared some basic data and maps to enhance the curriculum already in place to teach these varieties of standards. Students then utilized their own voices and choices to create artifacts and experiments to solve the problem presented.
The culmination activity for this project was having the elementary students present their findings for the entire East Coast Walther Farms leadership team at their conference. Walther Farms management has committed to utilizing the students’ findings for their upcoming plantings and will give students an update once the project has completed.
“From our vantage point, Authentic Partnerships are a win-win,” Schoolcraft Elementary Principal Matt Webster said about the most recent Walther Farms project. “It is helpful for me, as the building leader, to learn what our community and business leaders want, and what they are looking for from our graduates someday. We also benefit greatly from the authentic problems to solve as they are highly engaging.”
Why is this effective?
It is imperative to bring relevance to students’ learning. The authentic audience of “real life” businesses helps with student motivation and cultivates local business connections.
The takeaways from enacting these types of projects have been:
- Students are now ready for jobs of the future.
- Students present to a real-life person who values their work.
- Students can see application of their learning, not just an antiquated retention of knowledge format.
- Students see how they can benefit their community through their learning.
- Students can have their eyes opened to career possibilities they may not otherwise be exposed to.
- Students are excited to share community connections with their family, enhancing an entire network of work/learning lives.
- Students create a rubric for what and how they should display their learning, allowing for choice and voice.
What are Students Saying?
“I love being able to manage my time, with my choice of what way I’m studying,” Sophomore Donnie Cochrane said when asked about his experience with these innovative projects. “I feel like I’m helping others by the way I’m learning with these types of projects.”
“I’m going to be famous, this is so much fun,” said one kindergarten student when asked about their latest authentic project. “I love that my thinking is going to be in a store right down the street!”
1. Teachers are busy – so keep things in bite-sized amounts;
2. Allow teachers to access help on their own schedule as much as possible; and
3. It’s important to model what I hope they are doing in class.
There are a few things I keep in mind to ensure I honor these basic principles, which not surprisingly, are three of the components that ESSA requires of “high-quality professional learning” :
1. Classroom Focused: Resources and learning should be focused on what teachers need for their individual classrooms and what is realistic for them to implement. I curate the most relevant content and resources to allow for easier incorporation in the daily classroom.
2. Job Embedded: Professional learning should be done on teachers’ time, integrated into their regular schedule, not additional work after the school day ends.
3. Sustained: Learning should allow time for practice and reflection, which is modeled after effective teaching practices.
Classroom Focused Professional Learning
I love teaching and learning and am an avid reader of Ed Blogs, Twitter, Facebook Groups, G+ groups, Flipboard, and traditional books/articles. I curate the best and most relevant pieces I read weekly in “Convocation of Learning” (built with Smore.com), which I email to my colleagues on Mondays allowing teachers to read it at their leisure when they have time during the week. All resources are brief and collected in one digest which allows teachers to check back when they have the time or when something presents itself as a need later.
In addition, I always remind teachers that utilizing this newsletter can not only help amplify and enhance the good teaching they already are doing, but also can be documented as professional learning needed for their evaluation! I originally started this newsletter to reduce the “HEY LOOK WHAT I FOUND” emails I was sending out daily to teachers. While teachers appreciated my sharing of resources, these emails were getting lost in their inbox deluge. To echo the sentiments of Teach Plus teacher Candace Hines, teachers really are “just looking for more opportunities to learn more.” By providing teachers with regular bite sized pieces of information on resources and strategies, it keeps them constantly learning and accessing the most relevant topics for their classroom.
Job-Embedded Professional Learning
Teachers are busy. Yet, they crave professional learning. Youcanbook.me is a website which allows users to create a booking calendar connected to your personal calendar. Early in my instructional coaching career, I would attempt to set up observations or teacher visits via email. The classic exchange was,
Teacher: “Are you free ____?”
Me: “No but I can do ____.”
Teacher: “That doesn’t work for me can you shoot me a few more dates and times?”
Me: “Sure what about ___, ___ or ___?”
Teacher (1 week later): “Sorry I’ve been super busy and those dates are passed. When else are you free Matt?”
Wash, rinse, and repeat for another week.
Now, Youcanbook.me has shortened those exchanges to,
Teacher: “Are you free _____?”
Me: “No, but just click the youcanbook.me link in my email signature and pick the best free date, time and length of time you need and I’ll be there!”
Allowing teachers to fit me into their schedules makes my coaching not ‘one more thing’ but instead a job-embedded piece of what they do to reflect and get questions answered. I love being ‘ordered up’ to answer questions, share resources or model a best practice whenever is most convenient in my teachers’ schedules.
Sustained and Reflective Professional Learning
Professional learning should mirror the type of learning we provide for our students. “Do as I say not as I do” only works when parents eat cookies before dinner. It does not work well for professional learning facilitators to send the message that classroom instruction needs to be varied and interactive, only to ask participants to sit for hours to hear about the latest classroom strategy of the time. “Lectures are bad now sit here and listen to me tell you how to do this cool thing” as even adult learners do not best process learning this way. With this in mind my PD recipe is as follows:
1. Here is what I have planned.
2. Now, what do you hope to get out of this?
3. Here is a little bit…now go explore/practice it.
4. (While they are exploring/practicing stuff I rearrange my presentation to hit what they hoped to get and/or find additional resources).
5. Looky here….exactly what you asked for (sometimes in stations according to what people wanted).
6. Leave a good chunk of time at the end to explore/practice/build because I know you are way too busy in your ‘regular’ day to do ‘one more new thing’.
I have found if I allow for processing, practice and reflection, learners are more likely to retain and implement topics we have discussed. Modeling this with the educators I support allows them to see this in action and to take strategies back to their own classrooms. Teachers are booked pretty tight for time so they typically thank me for letting them explore and try the resources and not just take notes on them. I take that opportunity to remind them that today’s students are also very busy and their classrooms can and should mirror this type of instruction.
While I have been a “Director of Innovation” for only a year and a half, I have found my three basic principles have helped me to increase my effectiveness as a professional learning facilitator. I am encouraged by the innovative work highlighted in “Lifelong Learners” and the opportunity that ESSA presents to improve professional learning across the country. My only hope is that states implement the law with fidelity and truly begin to see the strong connection between professional learning, high quality instruction and student outcomes.
*My piece was originally published at http://www.educatorsforhighstandards.org/honoring-three-principals-of-high-quality-professional-learning/
Let’s face it, in nearly every case, the rule of human behavior is that we “do” what we “know”. Apply that rule to educators and what you have is applied practices with students based on the approaches used with these teachers in their youth. Or worse yet are the practices that administrators apply to them in current professional learning experiences. The focus; therefore, should be on what our educators and administrators currently “know” and “do”.
Unfortunately, many in education "know" whole group professional development in which they march in stride with their peers in spite of their varied background knowledge. They also “know” identical evaluation systems regardless of their professional growth needs. The list of common, generic practices in education is unfortunately a lengthy one. In many cases, we are creating practitioners who treat groups of learners as single entities, as that is how they are being treated.
As the district and building leaders, we must help educators to embrace varied ways to learn and assess based upon needs of the individual learner. School and district leaders must differentiate professional development days by providing choice and voice in ways educators can improve their personal practice. Administrators can also vary their evaluation approaches and goal setting by differentiating for individual teachers. In doing so, they model that there is indeed more than one way for an individual to attain and demonstrate proficiency in their skills and practices. Ultimately, if we want our students empowered to “do” things differently to achieve proficiency, we must ensure our educators “know” the power of individualized approaches in their own learning and achievement.
By being bold and courageous enough to guarantee personalized approaches between administrators and their teachers, the culture of a building can shift to students knowing the same! Bold and courageous teaching and learning will occur when the adults of a building share a vision of how their own learned is taking place. Our systems will evolve to look like blended learning environments, master/competency based credits, flex based classwork/scheduling, student goal setting/tracking and project-based units of instruction. These uncommon practices dedicated to mastering skills will cause a shift in paradigms for students and adults.
We cannot change behaviors in education without changing what we all know. To do better by students and allow them to be successful through personalization we must know a new approach to supporting our educators.
If we believe all kids can learn and do so at different rates, we must honor this first by believing the same is true with the adults that work with them daily.
Special thanks to Schoolcraft Elementary Principal Matt Webster who co-wrote this piece
when I was a very young boy.
We'd play lots of games,
draw pictures in frames
and be creative with every kind of toy.
Then, when I turned the ripe old age of 9
School went from joyful to 'fine'.
Daily we listened,
repeated and glistened,
with sweat from copying all the time.
We sat and sat and sat.
Recess reduced because I did 'that'.
The teacher would not stop talking.
My joy slain from balking
at worksheets that made my thinking flat.
My voice was reduced to a whisper.
Relationships continuously fissure.
No choices offered daily.
The purpose of work at best hazy.
...and I was the king resister.
I got in trouble at home
I couldn't explain a the tomes
I wanted to build
and show my fine skill
but instead was memorizing Rome.
I was completely turned off by school.
During grades 5-12 made the fool.
Please read my story
and don't you worry
as your class you can still retool.
While this is not a 'true' story, we can all take time be sure that students have time to be creative while having a choice and voice in their learning. Be resolute in your 2018 Resolution...I am in not letting this story be true.
Our first annual Innovation Day at Schoolcraft Elementary was a total success! Everyone from our students to teachers, to parent volunteers, to community partners learned and grew throughout the morning of June 30, 2017.
The premise of our day began with a MACUL conference session hosted by Ann Smart and Kellie DeLosSantos at which they interviewed a panel of Jackson, MI area educators who had hosted days where students explored the Maker Movement and Ed Technology.
I next reached out to one of the panelists from Mattawan Elementary, Matt Karsten, for some questions and resources and we were off to the races personalizing Innovation Day to our own building.
A small team formed including our Elementary principal and we set some goals/plans for the day:
So we went to work...
First, we created the schedule that allowed for enough sessions that if 3-5 teachers were 'off' during a rotation the class size wouldn't be overwhelming for the rest of the session facilitators.
Next, we crafted some helpful sheets for teachers to plan their Innovation Day sessions, and began to contact local partners who could offer sessions too. Our amazing EL principal, Matt Webster, used his Staff Google Classroom to push out the documents we were building and sharing so staff didn't lose them in their daily deluge of email.
As this moved along we knew that helping students pick their sessions would be integral and also keep them organized throughout the day would be important so we created a schedule they could carry, put around their neck on a lanyard, and/or snap a picture of to make their iPad lock page.
Then there were the necessary extra hands. We had great support with parent volunteers signing up as well as 5th and 7th-grade students who agreed to partner with teachers to support their projects.
As excitement increased (see hype videos -->) students used a sheet to signify which sessions they were interested in and teachers began to use these to sign up students on a spreadsheet (see tabs). We were sure to spread the young and older students in each session so there were some older leaders to help younger students depending on the session difficulty.
Once the day arrived it was a BLAST! We had students arriving early to school, knocking the doors down, wanting to learn! (You usually don't see this mix of anticipation and eagerness except for the first and last days of school). Our students moved about the building respectfully learning about Bloxels, The Audubon Society, Stop Motion, App Smashing with Chatterpix & Pic Collage Kids, tower building, creating dances and more! Our staff and volunteers put together great sessions that embodied our hope for the day. While sessions varied from high-tech to low-tech, each and every student was challenged to critically think, problem-solve and collaborate with varying ages.
The feedback from students, teachers and volunteers alike was overwhelmingly positive. One of my favorite quotes from a 2nd-grade student was, "Can we do this every day? Because if we did I wouldn't fight my mom getting out of bed in the morning!"
Want to relive the day with us? Watch the video below:
"In celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week, we asked some of our Teacher Champions to take a moment to reflect on their unique experiences in the classroom and share their thoughts..."
Tell a story about the funniest thing that’s happened to you in the classroom
In my first year of teaching, I had a tough class that I needed to teach about the Alamo. I decided to teach it by fighting the battle of the Alamo with paper wads, and we tipped over desks and chairs while setting up the students for a historically appropriate outcome. That was the day my principal and the district social studies curriculum director decided to do an impromptu drop-in and were immediately pegged with paper wads. Luckily, my students immediately incorporated them into the battle explaining the imbalance of numbers, the reasons the Alamo was falling and the historical premise…and this is why I’m an educator today. I LOVE coming up with crazy ways to engage and motivate students into learning while having fun. I sometimes feel like this is my superpower; the ability to simplify learning while keeping it fun – almost tricking the learners into understanding new concepts! Watching the light bulb go on still excites me daily whether I am working with students, teachers, or administrators.
Just a chance to reflect over educational articles and ideas that float through my head.