Teaching and leading for higher student engagement … even during a pandemic (aka How I spent my summer)
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!
Chris Dede, esteemed faculty member at Harvard University and one of my co-hosts at Silver Lining for Learning, has a project that is a finalist for a STEM DIVE award. Check out the video below. Chris and his colleagues have created a very cool immersive virtual science environment, called EcoMOD: Computational modeling and virtual worlds for 3rd grade ecosystems science.
Please ‘like’ the video on YouTube and give EcoMOD a ‘vote’ during the People’s Choice Round!
Solution Tree is hosting a series of webinars this summer. My co-author, Julie Graber, and I are delighted that we were selected to do a FREE 4-week book study on Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning!
We will meet online at 2:00pm Eastern (USA) for 45 minutes every Tuesday between August 4 and August 25. Did I mention that the book study is FREE?! Our sessions will be recorded if you have to miss a date. Here is what our schedule will look like:
- Tuesday, August 4 – Chapters 1 & 2
- Tuesday, August 11 – Chapters 3 and 5 (pp. 41-45; elementary)
- Tuesday, August 18 – Chapters 4 & 5 (pp. 45-50; secondary)
- Tuesday, August 25 – Chapter 6
We invite you to roll up your sleeves and dive into instructional redesign with us. If we want deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and rich technology infusion, we have to design for them! Participants in this book study will leave with a deeper understanding of the 4 Shifts lesson redesign protocol and numerous tips and strategies for success in their schools. The book is only 57 pages long and thus is an easy read!
Note that the protocol begins with Deeper Thinking and Learning (Section A), followed by Authentic Work (Section B). We have found that starting with one or both of those dimensions tends to raise the level of learning for students much more than starting with Student Agency and Personalization (Section C) or Technology Infusion (Section D). Given that Julie and I are strong advocates for student agency, this may seem a little counterintuitive. The reason is because there are numerous ways to give students ‘agency’ or integrate technology that are fairly low-level. Imagine, for instance, adaptive learning software modules or a set of teacher-created classroom centers in which students have some ‘choice’ about content and pathways but the learning is still shallow rather than deep. We also can point to numerous examples of ‘technology for technology’s sake’ in which, again, student learning could be much more robust. Starting with Sections A or B helps us center our instructional work on deeper, meaningful learning.
Note also that the very first questions in Section A pertain to Domain Knowledge and Deeper Learning. Whatever instructional transformations we are working on, we should try as best we can to make sure that we’re meeting content and procedural goals, and that whatever skills and knowledge we’re addressing are focused on big, important concepts, not just trivia. This is particularly true as long as state standards, testing, and accountability mandates dominate our educational landscapes. Deeper learning work should not be contentless. [AND students also deserve some say in what they get to learn…]
In sum, while Julie and I advocate that teachers start with whatever sections and items make sense for them (and focus on just a few), we also recognize that some of the sections and items of the protocol are more transformative than others. We encourage you to lean into Sections A and B!