[I’ve been fairly quiet here during the pandemic. However, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been busy. I thought that I would share a little of what I’ve been doing for the past year…]
My very last face-to-face engagement with schools before the pandemic was for the 5Sigma EduCon at Anastasis Academy. Kelly Tenkely is the Founder and Executive Director of this very innovative private K-8 school in Centennial, Colorado. Michelle Baldwin teaches there, so I have two good friends at Anastasis and always love visiting the school. Their students are doing absolutely incredible work.
The conference was a blast. I told Kelly that I wanted to try something different for my ‘keynote’ on Saturday morning. Instead of standing and delivering, I put attendees into small groups and sent them on a scavenger hunt around the school. Each group was given a ‘mission packet’ with ‘top secret’ instructions. Inside the packet was:
- a Team Directive document with instructions (“You are an elite team of code crackers and problem solvers…”) and warnings to beware misdirection from other groups,
- a Mission Checklist on which they could mark their completion of each mission,
- a Code Card for deciphering clues to their next mission,
- a packet of stickers that designated their team (e.g., Team Zebra, Team Tiger), and
- an initial coded clue that, when deciphered, sent them to their first destination within the school.
At each destination, there was an envelope with their team logo on it. Inside each team’s envelope was a Mission Document that explained the conversation station at that location (i.e., their ‘mission;’ an example is below), a sticker for their Mission Checklist, and a clue to their next destination. As you can see if you follow the link on the Mission Document below, the goals were to spark rich discussion and for each team to complete all six conversations.
We had about 90 minutes total for the keynote session, and teams were created randomly to spark learning across different school systems. Instead of them sitting and listening to me for that time, they got a little exercise, laughed a lot, and had some amazing dialogues. I am appreciative of Kelly’s willingness to let me try something different. Our time together was super fun and everyone really enjoyed their six conversations. Thank you, Kelly!
Some schools spent the summer engaged in magical thinking that everyone would be back in person this fall, just like before the pandemic. Others paid attention to the data and rising number of coronavirus cases and used their summers more wisely to design for better remote/hybrid learning and teaching than the mostly-low-level direct instruction, digital worksheets, and paper homework packets that we saw last spring. I was fortunate to work with numerous educators this summer on how to teach and lead for higher student engagement – even during a pandemic. I thought I would describe a little of that work below…
Redesigning lessons with Virginia teachers
This summer I worked with over 150 teachers in Virginia to redesign lessons and units for deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and rich technology infusion. We used the 4 Shifts Protocol as the framing lens for our work together. We met virtually for 2 hours every day for 4 days. We used Days 1 and 2 to become familiar with the protocol by redesigning lessons that weren’t theirs (to reduce defensiveness). I modeled how to adopt an approach that focused on ideation, not judgment, and pointed out some key considerations and ‘think abouts’ for each section of the protocol. On Day 3 they brought their own lessons. I put them into virtual redesign triads. They helped each other shift their students’ learning in directions that they chose, using the skills they had gained during Days 1 and 2. Day 4 was more of an ‘office hours’ approach. Teachers popped in as desired and asked more individualized questions about their local contexts (e.g., how to handle scripted curricula, how to use the protocol as an instructional coach). Some of them brought additional lessons for us to hack at together. I did all of this twice, the first week with elementary educators and the second week with secondary teachers (so 8 days total).
Instructional leadership with Virginia administrators
I also had the wonderful opportunity this summer to work with school administrators from across Virginia. We met virtually for 90 minutes each day for a week. The setup was similar to what I just described with Virginia educators. On Monday and Tuesday, I introduced them to the 4 Shifts Protocol but we adopted more of an instructional leadership lens, not just a teaching lens. On Wednesday, we talked about some organizational strategies, leadership behaviors, and coaching techniques – again, more of an instructional leadership focus than just a pedagogical focus. On Thursday they brought lessons like the teachers did and we practiced instructional coaching with those lessons using the protocol. Friday was an ‘office hours’ approach again, and the leadership questions and ideas that they brought to those discussions were amazing.
Innovative remote instruction with Texas administrators and building leadership teams
I worked with a school district in Texas at the beginning of the summer and was able to help kick off their annual, 2-day, in-district leadership institute. They asked me to do a short keynote highlighting some possibilities for hands-on, active student learning. I then facilitated 3 follow-up sessions over the next day and a half, working with elementary, middle, and high school administrators and their building leadership teams. I tried to connect some ideas from my keynote to the realities of pandemic-era remote instruction. I also showed and discussed multiple, concrete, age-specific examples with each group to illustrate how we can redesign instruction for higher student engagement, even during blended or online learning. All of this work was virtual.
Instructional leadership with Massachusetts administrators
I had an incredible experience with a school district in Massachusetts this summer. We spent a total of 3 weeks together, all virtual. During the first week all of the administrators in the district read Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning and engaged in a virtual book study. I dropped in each day to interact in their Canvas course shell and answer questions. During the second week we alternated between synchronous and asynchronous learning together. For instance, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of that week, we met together virtually in Zoom for a couple of hours of very robust conversation each day. I also created over a dozen mini-modules full of resources that they could explore in between each live meetup. The school leaders had lots of choice (because I’m trying to model, right?) and could investigate anything in the mini-modules that interested them. Some of the topics that they dove into were:
- Workforce preparation and job automation
- Skills development and college/career readiness
- Educator staffing and the future of the teacher workforce
- The integration of robots into day-to-day life
- New literacies, including digital storytelling, AR/VR, and student multimedia / transmedia production
- Instructional redesign for deeper learning, including additional leadership and coaching scenarios
- Inquiry-based, project-based, and other high engagement learning strategies
- The research behind deeper learning/teaching strategies and student achievement
- Innovative scheduling
- High-engagement remote learning
- PBL during remote learning
- Equity considerations during a pandemic
We also had a concurrent online discussion space in Canvas where they could share their reactions, concerns, and ideas for their local schools from the mini-modules. Those conversations were very active and impressive.
All of that work continued into the third week, and the district also folded in some assistant principals, instructional coaches, media specialists, and other building-level teacher leaders. They are working to create a critical mass of people who might be ready to begin transforming day-to-day instruction. This was an incredibly unique 3-week experience for me. I was able to pilot and try a number of new virtual professional learning modalities with this district and had some absolutely phenomenal discussions with them. I get to work with them a little more this fall and absolutely can’t wait.
Book club with Solution Tree
Finally, Julie Graber and I conducted a 4-week book study around Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning for Solution Tree, our publisher. We met once a week for 4 weeks for 45 minutes a session. Although those were sparsely attended, all of the recordings are available on the Solution Tree website. Julie and I had some good discussions with our participants and were able to explain some of our thinking and approaches when we are engaged in instructional coaching.
In addition to all of the above, I also created my new self-paced 4 Shifts Video Series; had some good conversations with educators in Denver, Luxembourg, and Switzerland; continued my Coronavirus Chronicles interviews; recorded some additional episodes over at Silver Lining for Learning; and participated in a few podcasts! It was a busy but fun summer, and I really enjoyed working virtually with educators all across the planet on higher-engagement learning, teaching, and leadership.
As always, let me know how I can be of support to you and your community!
This past Thursday I created 25 professional learning ‘conversation stations’ for my principal licensure students. I printed them all out and spread them around our classroom (which is a school library). Each printed station contained a link or two – or a short reading (and a source) – and some questions to consider. The idea was to expose our preservice administrators at the University of Colorado Denver to a variety of ways to foster and facilitate adult learning beyond schools’ traditional, moribund professional development sessions.
My students traveled around the room in pairs or trios, visiting whichever stations they wanted (they had a shared notes document that listed all of the stations). Each group stayed at a station for as long or short a time as desired. Most averaged about 7 to 10 minutes per station, but some talked for nearly 30 minutes at a single station. At several points during our two hours on this activity, they got together with another group and shared what was resonating from their station visits. We learned a lot and had some awesome conversations together! At the end of the evening I gave them a link to all of the stations, so that they could later peruse whatever they hadn’t visited yet.
Here are links to both the conversation stations and the shared notes document, as well as the slide I used to introduce the activity:
Both of the main documents are editable. Feel free to modify them and make them better for others. If you use this activity in your principal licensure program or school district, let me know how it went!
We also had 3 pre-class readings and 5 beginning-of-activity provocations just to get us in the right mindset:
If you have any thoughts or questions about all of this, please get in touch. Otherwise, hope this is useful to you!
How are you introducing school leaders and teachers to alternative (better) forms of professional learning?
Yesterday I blogged an update on the 7-day Innovation Academy that we are conducting for 72 school leaders in North Dakota. Today I thought I’d share that we are about to launch a new initiative in Virginia.
The first round of the Virginia Is for Learners Innovation Network will launch in March and run through December of this year. Applications are rolling in from Virginia school districts right now. Up to 20 lead innovation teams will be accepted. We will spend 6 days all together on site, plus Amos Fodchuk and his coaches from Advanced Learning Partnerships will be facilitating both regional meetups across the state and ongoing coaching with each participating district.
I’m very excited to be working with Amos and Pam Moran, Executive Director of the Virginia School Consortium for Learning (and former superintendent of Albemarle County (VA) Schools), on this initiative. Other key players include Gena Keller, Acting Deputy Superintendent for the Virginia Department of Education, and Ted Dintersmith, who once again is lending his generous support to building leadership capacity for future-ready learning, teaching, and schooling in yet another state.
The goal is to eventually have about 60 of Virginia’s school districts participate in the Innovation Network (20 per year x 3 years). Unlike any other Innovation Academy that I’ve helped conduct, this one has a significant ongoing coaching component that I’m super enthused about. I can’t wait to work with Amos and his team to support our participants over the course of the initiative. Plus I’m a Virginia kid so it will be great to be back in my home state multiple times this year…
Stay tuned for more information. The adventure continues!
Back in October I blogged that CASTLE and I were launching a 7-day Innovation Academy for school leaders in North Dakota. Generously supported by Ted Dintersmith and in cooperation with the North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders, the goal was to kick off a three-year investment in leadership capacity-building across the state for future-ready learning, teaching, and schooling. I thought it might be time for a quick update…
We are three days into the Innovation Academy, with Day 4 coming up in February. We have 72 participants representing 14 school districts. Here’s what we’ve covered so far:
- Day 1 – the big picture; relevance gaps between schools and the needs of society and our graduates; new demands related to college and career readiness; the impacts of automation on the economy and workforce preparation; computers that can see, hear, move, think, and do; new literacies, including multimedia and transmedia
- Day 2 – what does it mean to be a connected learner?; connected learning audit (personal analysis of our analog and digital learning connections); our connectedness outside of school; connected learning in schools (lots of examples!), crowdsourced learning and resource production
- Day 3 – student agency and deeper learning, with a strong emphasis on project- and inquiry-based learning; school models that foster deeper learning and student engagement; innovation leaders across the state presented what they’re doing in a PBL showcase
- Day 4 [coming up in a few weeks!] – rich technology infusion (with a focus on the 4 Shifts Protocol) and blended learning models; translating 21st century vision statements and frameworks into concrete, day-to-day classroom implementation; innovation leaders across the state will be presenting again in a tech integration showcase
As we go along, we not only are highlighting what’s possible but also trying to connect participants to educators in the state who already are doing this work. This allows them to see innovations in action without having to drive too far. We also have an ongoing book study where we discuss a couple of chapters of Ted’s book, What School Could Be, each time we meet.
Things have gone very well so far. Here are our ongoing evaluation results:
Our Innovation Academy participants have been amazing. They have dived right in and are doing a fantastic job of wresting with difficult and challenging concepts. It’s not easy to rethink school but they are giving it all they can. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they come up with during the last two days of the Academy, which is when we begin action planning for next year (and beyond)…
The adventure continues!
[Learn more about my Innovation Academies – including all evalution results – by clicking here!]
Tomorrow I have the privilege of launching a 7-day Innovation Academy with school leaders across the state of North Dakota. The dates are spread out across the year. We end next May.
The Innovation Academy is sponsored by my national center, CASTLE, and the North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders (NDCEL), with the extremely generous support of Ted Dintersmith, author of the excellent book, What School Could Be, and executive producer of the amazing film, Most Likely to Succeed. North Dakota’s Governor and other state organizations have been focusing on school innovation for many years now. I am honored to have the opportunity to build upon their past work.
We have 72 participants – yes, that’s right, 72! – in the year-long Innovation Academy, representing a variety of school districts and other organizations across North Dakota:
- Grand Forks
- McKenzie County,
- Northern Cass,
- Valley City,
- Legacy Children’s Foundation,
- Missouri River Education Cooperative,
- North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders,
- North Dakota Department of Public Instruction,
- North Dakota Governor’s Innovation Task Force, and the
- South East Education Cooperative.
THIS is my favorite kind of work: long-term investments in leadership capacity-building. Previous statewide or in-district innovation academies in Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, and Kentucky all have gone incredibly well. I can’t wait for tomorrow!
What are you doing to invest in your leaders’ ability to facilitate transformative school change?
Image credit: David Flowers