Friday, April 8, 2016

From Chaos Comes Clarity

Seeking the "just right" fit
Yesterday the Washington West Leadership Team for Excellence in Education (LTEE) members worked through our action plan to prioritize professional learning needs for all staff in WWSU schools. This was an exciting process, because it is the first time that teachers and administrators have worked together across all seven schools to collaborate with this goal in mind. Creating cohesion between our action plan goals and desired outcomes to plan for professional learning is a challenging task that requires strong communication between staff and the leadership team to get the "just right" fit. 

The first step in the process was to assign sections of the action plan to groups containing representatives from elementary, middle, and high school. The groups then considered what the action plan directly stated or implied in terms of professional development, and to consider what the appropriate audience and setting would be for each item. When groups later reported out over 60 different ideas were presented! We clustered sticky notes together, and did our best to connect the ideas before running out of time for the day. I left with 60 sticky notes representing everyone's best thinking and the charge of pulling it all together into a draft plan for group feedback. 

Sleep can be a powerful creativity-booster, as the mind in an unconscious resting state can make surprising new connections that it perhaps wouldn’t have made in a waking state.
I have learned to rely on the power of the brain, which does some of it's best work while sleeping (check out this blog post)!  I woke up early ready and excited to get back to work, and began tackling the task of going through each sticky note to consolidate our work into a plan of action for next year. Taking the best of what we have recently learned as process for sorting through feedback from our WWSU Community Engagement efforts- I entered all the data into a spreadsheet and began to assign codes. Soon the themes became more evident and the pieces began to fall into place. What we communicated through our work yesterday underscored the significance of teachers' needs in terms of  time, support, and strategies to meet the individual learning needs of each student (Personalized Learning) in a proficiency-based model. Universal Design for Learning is our frame for doing so. Most everything else connects to this theme in some way. 

This note from one groups shows a cycle for how these ideas fit together which I have framed into essential questions below. 

I: What is personalization?
II. How do you design for personalization?
III. How can technology be leveraged as a tool for personalization?
IV. How do you document evidence of learning and provide opportunities for reflection?
V. How do you use data to inform your instructional design and meet the needs of all learners. (back to step II)

I'm excited to bring these ideas back to the team for feedback, and consider how best to share our professional learning design with teachers. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Community Conversations Offer Much to Consider

Reflecting on what was heard. 

This past Thursday a small but committed group of community members and staff took on the task of sorting through all of the ideas, reflections, and suggestions gathered from eight hours of community dialogue that took place over four meetings during the month of March. As recipients of a Nellie Mae Foundation grant, we have been provided with technical assistance with this process by associates from Everyday Democracy. This organization helps build capacity to create change through civic engagement and dialogue.

Everyday Democracy helps people and organizations build capacity to engage communities in creating change

So what did we learn?

During the day we were led through the process of "unpacking" this data with the support of Susan McCormack, Senior Associate with Everyday Democracy. Susan is a skilled expert in guiding a dialogue such as ours, and she has offered so much to our group over the course of the past year. Susan also reminded us of the importance of our own bias. "Sometimes we see what we want to see", she cautioned. The process she designed and facilitated offered objectivity and helped us theme what was actually there without our subjective lens.

We are still sorting through the data, but one thing evident: our community believes that education must look different to prepare students for their future. While the specific suggestions offered to this end vary, the themes of flexibility and relevance are strong. Collectively, participants value real-world and authentic learning opportunities that make meaningful use of the technology we have access to, while balancing outdoor and community-based learning. Additionally, students should be valued as partners in their education. It is important to many that their voice is valued and listened to. There was also collective agreement about  the quality of our teaching staff, who go above and beyond for students- building strong relationships which are highly valued. 

Next Steps

We will share all of the trends and themes from these sessions at our Community Celebration on 4/25 at  6 p.m. at Crossett Brook Middle School. We hope this will be the beginning of something more! 

People want to know that their investment of time will mean something. We want that too. We know that some of the changes we are engaged in are not widely understood. Developing a shared understanding of the work, and creating opportunities for others to engage and impact what is happening is a shared desire. 

We hope to emerge from the Community Celebration on April 25th with a better sense of concrete avenues to make use of the momentum gained from this process.