PBL & Graduating Immigrants

Donna Neary.jpeg

Superb story from Donna Neary, a UK student, Next Gen Alum, and teacher in Jefferson County Public Schools. Donna is using the power of deeper learning, project-based instruction, and performance assessment to transform the lives of immigrant children that move to Louisville. 

Donna tells her own story well, so I will not elaborate: 

Like Muan and Innocent, most of the students in the program have experienced interruptions in their formal education. Some may have missed several consecutive years of formal education, all due to circumstances beyond their control. With this program, we seek to put students back in control of their learning by providing a differentiated, rigorous program to prepare them for graduation.

This first year of A2G has shown that it is possible for students who may never have envisioned themselves as high school graduates to move quickly toward that goal.

Full story: https://www.edsurge.com/news/2018-05-07-inside-the-project-based-program-that-s-turning-refugees-into-high-school-grads 

 

pathways to hope

Quick story then a link for something you should read from Kentucky. 

A couple years back a veteran school leader was analyzing Next Gen and after speaking for a bit and experiencing it himself ... he said to me something akin to "you are dealing in hope at Next Gen." 

He said it in a way that felt like we were "selling hope"  so at first I cringed. I want to sell learning or growth or better experiences for kids. He sensed that and clarified that giving people hope is not a bad thing, indeed it is one of the best things. In systems that might feel hopeless or situations that cause a teacher to lose faith, pathways to hopefulness are crucial. In public education these days, especially when talking large scale change, it is easy to find hopelessness and difficult to discern hope. 

I've pondered this a lot since that moment and I've come to the place where providing pathways to hope is just part of the leaders job. In fact, it is critical to culture and growth of a school. 

So, that struck me again as I read the story of Knight Middle in Louisville, a school that is part of Next Gen this year but has been on a growth journey for a few years. Their principal, Cathy Gibbs, said: 

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We hired teachers based on our collective belief that the overwhelming majority of our students want to engage, belong and be successful, and if WE built that school together, then Knight would see success. We were HOPE dealers, setting out on a journey to rewrite a school’s story and looking for people who had the fire in their belly to make it a reality.
— Louisville Courier Journal

Cathy strikes me as just such a hopeful leader. When you take the reigns of Knight Middle clearly a person has internal hope (or they probably would not take the job). But, the more difficult leadership question is whether they can provide external hope. Can you provide a vision, backed with execution, that goes from hopeless to hopeful? Being a "hope dealer," as Cathy says, is not something to cringe at it is something to celebrate. In today's world, it is too rare. 

Please give the whole article a read and if you want to chat with Cathy about it her twitter handle is @cathygibbs1 (she is awesome and would welcome the interaction).

This is how it works. Leaders, hope, culture, student voice, execution, persistence ... over time, everyone adjusts and raises their game. You don't get all of what you hope for, but what you do get changes kids' lives. Remember, leaders don't really make change happen. Teachers, kids, and families are the change agents within school systems. But, stories like the one at Knight Middle start with a leader and a pathway to hope. 

thoughts on linking deeper learning and equity

I've been leading deeper learning work here in Kentucky now going on a decade. One thing that troubles me is that we as a community struggle to link the concepts of deeper learning and equity together. A recent interview with Carmen Colemen and John Marshall of Jefferson County on this was good, but not as great as it could have been had we been able to articulate with specificity how these ideas go together.

At STEAM I've seen first hand how our school models, instructional strategies, and supports can change lives and I know deep in my bones these concepts work together. But, I'm a professor, we need more than just feel and a few good stories. Even if we don't have years of solid, peer-reviewed research we at least minimally need to be transparent and articulate our best case for how deeper learning models make schools more equitable places. And then, yes, we need some peer-reviewed research testing those hypotheses. So, here goes: 

  1. Decreased discipline. This is the easy one. At STEAM we have the lowest discipline rates amongst high schools in the city and some of the lowest in the state. We all know that over-discipline issues with minority populations continues to be a challenge for our schools but deeper learning models have shown an ability to reduce overall discipline substantially. I do not think it cures the inherent bias that might reside in the system against minority and poor kids, but a lot less discipline overall is a good start. 
  2. Skills: Lots of people like to talk of Graduate Profiles and that is useful for educators. For the kids, though, it is a simpler, more natural task to develop skills. One develops skills in the process of doing real things. Some of our projects call for managing a budget, for instance. That's a skill. Managing a project to completion. That's a skill. Calling out a team member not pulling their load. That's a skill. Cold calling to ask for an internship placement. That's a skill. It takes practice and, thus, some failure. From an equity standpoint achieving those profile skills are lovely, but the opportunity to do and fail and try again while doing real things ... that's the good part. 
  3. Mentoring. Any educator can tell you that relationships matter, a ton. Most school models, though, keep kids at arms length. A given teacher, particularly in middle and high school, may have a relationship with a child that only concerns the academic material. For many kids, though, they need more than that. Deeper learning models typically make time and build structures around these relationships. Whether it is the mentoring model of Summit, the Advisory Model (Science Leadership from Philly always impressed me), or another approach the understanding that children need deeper relationships and support are central. 
  4. Authentic Projects, with a Social Justice bent.  In my experience, when you give an English or Social Studies teacher a task of forming and working with students on a Project Based Learning unit, more often than not those turn into social justice focused projects of some sort. You can browse the High Tech High Project Cards and pretty quickly realize there are topics here that we would not normally open the door to in school. Now, trying to do social justice and talking about deeper questions relative to society does not necessarily equate to higher test scores, but if motivation and efficacy are huge underlying challenges, I've found it is a lot easier to motivate kids on authentic social justice projects and in doing that work they build more self-efficacy. 
  5. Student Choice/Agency: In addition to teacher-created authentic projects, deeper learning models embed more student choice into the curriculum through passion projects, 20% time, and even choice within broader teacher directed projects. Kids will naturally choose to their curiosities, removing one of the more troublesome structural issues within schools which is that many suburban middle class white teachers are making choices for Black, Latino/a, Appalachian or other children who had different formative experiences. We have learned this so many times over at STEAM and been surprised/impressed with how much our children can achieve when they get to choose to learn from what matters to them. Dr. Marcia Carmichael passes along this useful link to an EAQ article which highlight how to get better at student voice within high school reform (and as they point out in a useful graphic, letting students get to youth leadership skills is used infrequently but the most impactful for kids). 
  6. Learning Outside of School: If you add up 2-5 above and then let the kids leave school ... crazy powerful things start to happen. When kids get to select their own internships, engage in authentic challenges, develop community mentors ... it leads to a proliferation of new skills, confidence, opportunities, etc. Big Picture Schools is most known for advancing this model, but any school can do it with a bit of courage. Here is a kid written story on what we do at STEAM. But, here's the catch, you have to let all kids go (this is the part that most schools mess up). There will be some degree of failure and kids trying to get by with some things, but the learning is so overwhelmingly massive that managing the small amount of trouble is worth it. From an equity standpoint, kids from impoverished families get access to organizations and institutions to which they might not otherwise get access. If you hang out in a hospital every afternoon for a semester, it is not too hard to start seeing yourself working there, develop a few vital mentors, and enroll at the nursing program at the community college.  
  7. "Special" Education: Having been involved in crafting a deeper learning school, my thoughts here probably warrant their own post (or book). Suffice for this purpose to say that how we do special education in much of schooling is far away from something we could label as "equity" or even the original intent of the law. I actually bubble a bit with anger thinking about it. Anyway, deeper learning models are more accessible to nearly all children, including most of those that have an IEP. In fact, I'm convinced presently (but open to alternative arguments) that many kids are given an IEP not because they have a disability but rather that the classroom structures they are in are dysfunctional.  Deeper learning models permit a wider variety of kids with skills to interact and get a benefit from the time spent in classes. They also let the teachers get off the sage on the stage mentality and provide some extra 1-1 support when needed. On the whole, at least at STEAM, we have found that the normal classroom experience works well for nearly all kids with small doses of extra support sprinkled on top for both IEP and non-IEP students when needed. 
  8. Stop Tracking: From my experience with deeper learning models, there are usually not "tracks" or AP classes or special classes. When we separate children based on perceived ability (based on test scores) we harm everyone in the process. That is not to say that Deeper Learning models do not allow children to separate in terms of the work they are doing at a given moment, just that a single English class or a single PBL should be capable of flexing to each student. Then, on the next project that calls for different skills, the abilities reshuffle and different kids are the high performers. Overall, that is a more equitable approach.  
  9. Transparency. Accompanying many deeper learning transitions is a lot more transparency into the black box of the classroom. This happens in multiple ways. First, digital transparency. Whether it is Summit, Canvas, Classroom or some other LMS usually these transitions come with a 1:1 program and digital sharing of resources, grading, and communication. It is not perfect everywhere, but this transparency helps on the equity front by making clear what's happening in the classroom and how, should they need it, students might fix and even solve learning deficiencies noted by teachers. Second, exhibitions: One critical element of inquiry and project based models is that students show their work at exhibitions. These exhibitions make transparent the learning that is happening both within and between students. It can make "gaps" more noticeable for everyone and this transparency helps to keep everyone, including the kids themselves, focused on helping to equate expectations. 
  10. Buying Time: Let's just be honest, one of the biggest equity challenges out there is that kids from poor families just have to start their adult lives a lot sooner for a variety of reasons. While deeper learning schools embrace the task of practicing adulthood, they are still schools where children are protected as children. Deeper learning model schools keep kids in school longer buying them more time to practice adulthood in a protected environment before being subjected to the rigors and punishments of adulthood outside school. This might seem counter-intuitive or even a small thing, but it isn't at all. Research has shown deeper learning models graduate more kids and enroll more kids in college. Lots of wealthy kids don't develop into adults until their junior year of college, but that's fine since they are still in school, mom might still be washing clothes, etc. Kids of poverty don't really get that option. Every day that passes where we can close that time gap is a small victory. Adolescents gets more time to be young adults rather than heads of households. 

So, there you go. If pressed on the link, I'd answer something like that. Feedback welcome.

Now, there are other great voices on this, none respected more than Pedro Noguera, perhaps. In fact, he gave a great lecture at University of Illinois a few years back on this exact topic (video embedded). This lecture corresponded to a paper he released with Linda Darling-Hammond and Diane Friedlaender. Also, these authors teamed up to write one of the three equity chapters in this great book, Rethinking Readiness, published a couple years back. The other two chapters looked at equity issues with dual language students and unique learners. 

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Competency Works also just released a new look at how Competency models and equity link together which is really robust. You'll notice that some of our ideas overlap. Also, trusted sources on educational equity, such as the Annenberg Institute, have devoted significant effort to understanding and promoting deeper learning ideas. Further, some of the more high profile events, such as the Deeper Learning conference at High Tech High, are focusing on this topic explicitly (see video, which features a Kentucky teacher at the 1:38 mark). So, keep reading, go do some research yourself, and definitely help to shape these ideas for us in Kentucky. In fact, I welcome feedback on great thinkers, sources, or experiences that you have had that link these together. Comment, tweet, or email me. 

In closing ... this conversation has to deepen. We can't speculate that deeper learning and equity are the same thing, we need to provide details on how learning models that promote progressive, inquiry, action oriented learning ... lead to equity of opportunity and students emerging from our schools equally ready to take their own brave next steps which contribute to our diverse, socially just society.  

Book Launch: Retooling Schooling

My students published a new collaborative book in class:

Retooling Schooling: Leadership, technology, and a deeper learning culture.

They did the writing, curating, editing, and publishing. Our driving question for the PBL was: Can we publish a book that advances knowledge and is useful to educators on the challenging issues of leading technology for deeper learning. The answer ... yes, we can and we did. Hope you find it useful in some small way in your own work.

Link to the Google Doc: http://go.uky.edu/retooling
Link to download ePub: http://go.uky.edu/2GA
Link to download pdf: http://go.uky.edu/2GB
Hard copy available upon request (about $12).

If you want to know more about the process of doing this and why it is a great PBL for P-12 also, let me know. Happy to share.

Kentucky has a school culture problem ...

because far too many kids are being removed from school in the name of "discipline." 

 Source: Kentucky Safe Schools Annual Statistical Report 

Source: Kentucky Safe Schools Annual Statistical Report 

Now, I want to make sure you understand that the 287,981 suspension or expulsion events are across 655,475 students total P-12 in the system. So, a ratio of 43 events per 100 kids. And, second, there are lots of repeat offenders. In fact, 86,930 kids are responsible for those 286,981 events. So, that total ratio is 13 kids per 100 kids can expect to be suspended or expelled. 

But, for many reasons that too does not accurately capture the challenges either. The vast majority of school discipline happens in grades 6-12 (middle and high) so the ratios are skewed by using the full population. Your chance of suspension/expulsion in grades K-5 is small, only 14 events per 100 kids. But, in 6-12 the game changes to 70 events per 100 kids. In 9th grade in particular, there are 107 events per 100 kids (more suspension/expulsion events than there are kids). At those very formative moments transitioning into adulthood, 1 in 4 kids (26%) are currently being suspended or expelled. What result do we expect for that 26% of kids who are suspended in their first year of high school? Will they discover the error in their ways while sitting in the in-school suspension room and reform themselves? Or will they give up on the system? Will they determine the culture to be one to which they are ill suited. Will they count the days until they can drop out?  

The bottom line is that this is a picture of a something that is broken. Our middle and high schools have a culture where many children are suspended and some many times over. Kids misbehave for a variety of reasons and some of that behavior does require removal from the learning environment. But, much of the misbehavior of kids is a direct response to the lack of engagement/motivation/hope by schools. Not every lesson is going to be captivating and compelling, but a child should have a reasonable expectation that each day they walk into the school something throughout the day will be captivating and compelling. Sadly, this is not our current culture. Perhaps it is time we consider a change. 

Data Sources: 
1. Kentucky Safe Schools Annual Statistical Report 2016-17
2. Kentucky School Report Card, Statewide Data 2016-17

Prichard Committee: Transforming School Climate & Culture

 The Prichard Committee is a wonderful mix of adults and kids as well as business and educators all representing a diverse set of Kentuckians. 

The Prichard Committee is a wonderful mix of adults and kids as well as business and educators all representing a diverse set of Kentuckians. 

At the recent annual meeting of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence in Kentucky the focus turned to transforming school climate and culture. This focus included a specific desired outcome of culture and climates which specifically promote equity of opportunities.  

Over the course of a day and a wonderful agenda, the Committee and guests heard from students, educators, national scholars, journalists, and a former U.S. Ambassador on strengthening school climate and culture. This focus transforming school climate and culture links to a recently adopted three-year strategic plan adopted at the meeting by the 100+ members of the Prichard Committee.

In an effort to translate this learning into specific recommendations for educators and, in particular, the leaders of schools the Prichard Committee and guests worked hard to identify specific suggestions across a variety of domains of climate and culture in schools. The attendees identified the following 11 domains of the challenge.

  1. More student autonomy/agency

  2. Teacher autonomy & agency

  3. Intentional communication with parents

  4. More authentic project based learning/projects

  5. Nurture and respect educational professionals

  6. Authentic/meaningful teacher administrator dialogue

  7. Collaborative community partnerships

  8. Equal academic/sports emphasis

  9. Equity of opportunity and inclusive excellence

  10. Engaging all students

  11. State accountability of climate

Across eight of these domains, the attendees sought to work collaboratively to identify eight specific suggestions for a total of 64 specific suggestions for educators and school leaders to improve school culture and climate toward equity of opportunity. This task was formatted into Lotus Blossom coordinated through the collaborative use of Google Docs and Google Draw. A picture of the final result is below. In the middle is the core challenge (bright green) surrounded by the 8 domains of the task (yellow). Then, each domain is explored in more detail on the petals of the lotus blossom flower (the yellow box surrounded by mostly green boxes). Finally, the colored boxes within each petal represent our identified practices that we wish to share with school leaders and other educators as the potentially most impactful near-term implementation concepts.

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Full Lotus Blossom (zoom in): http://go.uky.edu/prichard  

Once the 64 ideas were generated, we again worked collaboratively to identify our suggestions for the most impactful concepts that educators and school leaders might employ (the blue, red, orange and purple in the image). The following is the result of those impactful suggestions across the 8 domains examined in the full Lotus Blossom activity.

  1. More student autonomy/agency

    1. Assume all students can do the best work and have high expectations for all learners

    2. Employ more student internships and work-based learning experiences.  

  2. Increased teacher autonomy & agency

    1. Incentive teacher innovation and creativity through new supports from schools and districts.

    2. Encourage teacher ownership of professional learning communities

    3. Provide teachers leadership opportunities within schools and districts.

  3. Intentional communication with parents

    1. Ensure ongoing positive communication with parents rather than emphasizing the negative.

    2. Co-design a communication plan with parents.

  4. More authentic project based learning/projects

    1. Promote state, district, and school accountability systems that honors this authentic engagement work by students.

    2. Provide iterative feedback and opportunities for growth to both teachers and students engaged in authentic PBL.

  5. Nurture and respect educational professionals

    1. Promote culturally responsive training and support for teachers

    2. Respect educator mental health and personal time

  6. Authentic/meaningful teacher administrator dialogue

    1. More frequent formal opportunities for teacher-administrator dialogue in both 1:1 and group settings

    2. More time flexibility in school schedules to promote dialogue

  7. Collaborative community partnerships

    1. Encourage reciprocal partnership where both schools and community members benefit.

    2. Develop community asset maps to identify key resources for teachers to link to learning

    3. Develop trust and partnership through ongoing authentic dialogue.

  8. Engaging all students

    1. Engage students in high expectation, high yield activities such as leadership development opportunities.

    2. Build relationships with learners by promoting student voice and choice, specifically engaging in suggestions made by the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team across their multiple publications.

These excellent suggestions emerged from a day of learning and an hour of work to make our learning tangible and specific. We think these suggestions are superb entry points for educators and schools looking to improve the school culture and climate for both the adults and children who inhabit these spaces. The progress that we collectively seek as Commonwealth for our schools and children is dependent on institutions capable of strong cultures which minimize institutionalism. We are convinced that such improvements to the schools of Kentucky are possible and we look forward to working with students, educators, and community members to make robust, equitable climates and cultures.  

 

Trusting our Teachers: Stories from STEAM

We have been having lots of tours of STEAM lately ... and the word "Wow" was used multiple times this week in follow-ups by visitors. That's great and a nice validation by other professional educators, but what I really want is for STEAM not to stand out as much because other schools steal and implement our ideas and models. That is the point of a research and development school, after all.

One of our core ideas has always been to get the right adults in the building and then deeply trust our people. Part of that story means a bit more turnover especially at the beginning, but the lasting part of that story is the culture of trust we have in our staff. And, just to validate that ... it shows up in our data such as these TELL survey results where 2/3 report strong agreement on the question of whether they are trusted (see blue in bottom row).

 Results from the 2017 TELL Survey 

Results from the 2017 TELL Survey 

That kind of trust does not happen by chance, rather it takes intentional effort. School leaders and communities have to be willing to stand back a bit even in the face of potential failures. We have to encourage a bit of risk-taking and not freak out when something goes a bit amiss. Over time, not only does that create a culture of trust, it also lets them refine their own practice ... which earns them more trust ... and that cycle repeats until what we really have is a culture of professionals making sound professional judgements.

No single person or institution or policy can "fix" schools ... what we need are thousands of professionals making professional judgments day after day after day. If we trust teachers ... they will earn it and reward us all with better schools for our children.

Leaders for less than 3 years ... that's not enough

In Kentucky, 46% of our school principals have been at their school for three years or less. 

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These results from the TELL survey in Kentucky by the New Teacher center are fairly stunning. Alternatively, only 28% of our principals have been at their school for 7 years or more. 

Innovation takes time. As I have watched districts across Kentucky innovate as part of Next Gen, a ballpark range for an average innovation cycle from the initial leader learning to full school implementation of a concept is usually around 3 years. And, remember, that is to the initial implementation not to the mastery implementation ... that takes at least an additional two years. 

So, only about 1/2 the schools in Kentucky have a serious shot at mastery implementation of deeper learning innovations because without sustained leadership such innovations typically fall apart. Now, school-wide innovations can be led and sustained by someone other than the principal but that seems to happen only rarely. 

"Deeper Learning" & "Instructional Leadership" = 3 results

Was shocked to run the combo search terms "deeper learning" and "instructional leadership" in the ERIC (EBSCO) database and return a grand total of 3 results. 

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How can this be? I know the concept of "deeper learning" is fairly new at least based on the Hewlett definition, but of all the effort that has gone into the deeper learning movement how can we (mostly) not have formally talked about or investigated instructional leadership? Changing the teaching and learning experience for the child is the core outcome needed by deeper learning and I am not sure how that is possible without serious instructional leadership.