Friday, October 28, 2016

Inacol Symposium 2016

Yesterday's keynote, Jim Shelton, made a strong point about the need for the people doing the work of changing school to a personalized learning model to tell their stories in compelling ways.  He highlighted that good deep thinking and data and research are important, but they don't move the needle, they keep it from falling back.  Its the stories of success and implementation and movement and of KIDS that really makes the changes we are working towards happen.  He reminded me that the PR efforts we put in are not for fame or glory, but rather to advance the cause that the model of school in America needs to shift and it needs to do so dramatically on a large a scale for the future of the country.

In the midst of a presidential election like one we have never witnessed before, the power and influence of social media and stories is evident and in our face.  The 24 hour news cycle is not dominated by pensive, purposeful, and thoughtful pieces, but rather by sound bites and stories that grab peoples attention.  So, there is power in grabbing people's attention.  We need to do that work, the work to keep kids and education at the top of mind with policy makers and legislators whose pen strokes and penchants for quick wins can create laws and policy that hinder and even hurt kids as the attempt to maintain the status quo.  Or, less tragic, but equally frustrating, they create laws that create bureaucracy, that create procedures, that take take time away from teachers who are really doing the work to reach kids and make them great.

I heard a call to action.  I heard not just a reaffirmation that the work we are doing in my district and is in important, but that there is a need to be a part of a broader conversation that can move policy and practice.  We have proof points around the country where we know both viscerally and through student achievement, that competency based, personalized learning works for each and every student. It creates equity, levels the playing field, and inspires educators, parents, and students.  We need to share that inspiration, we need to embrace the message, but most importantly, we need to be the message.

Friday, September 2, 2016

THe work we ask kids to do matters the most....

As we continue down the road of implementing different PL models, the question often comes up about what makes it different than really good standards-based instruction. Really, the difference is in student agency. Just like in a high impact standards based classroom, a core element of successful, rigorous learning is that there are clear learning targets with clear measures of the goal.  Kids need to know what they are learning, to what end they are learning it, and how they know when they have mastered it.

On any given day, with any given student, kids should be able to articulate the work they are doing and what they need to do to demonstrate mastery and that answer should be grounded in the language of the standards/competencies. 

If you are doing station-rotation with choice boards where kids are choosing must-do, can-do and earning points up,down, and diagonal – you are creating the illusion of student agency.  Agency isn’t about doing whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want.   Its about giving kids clear and unambiguous learning they need to do and then giving them the space to do it.

The way administrators can tell if this is happening is by examining the work that is asked of students and examining the scaffolding/support/instruction teachers provide to kids as they DO the work.  If the work is DOK 1- it may take a long time and it may fill up a day, but it doesn’t advance the cause of ensuring success for each student.  If the work is DOK 4 and the teachers provide little or no feedback and supportive instruction to students, then it doesn’t advance the cause of ensuring success for each student.

Each of you are working hard to change the student and teacher school experience and you considering all aspects of a student’s life.  We are attending to the social-emotional needs, the learning styles, and the environment and all of that matters to help make school a high quality experience.  But, that is all in support of the academic and 4C’s expectations we have for them. 

Spend time evaluating the quality, rigor, and connection to standards/competencies of the work your teachers give kids to complete.  Ensure that what mastery looks like is clearly defined through rubrics and scoring criteria and that parents, kids, and teachers all know that. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Why Competency in Henry

Why Competencies?!?
Henry County Schools Rationale

Through the dedicated work of content coordinators and teachers around the district, we have developed Competency Documents, complete with performance indicators and scoring criteria. These competencies represent the next step in our work toward a competency-based educational model in Henry County Schools. Leaning heavily on the work done in New Hampshire, Maine, Ohio, Oregon, and Alaska, we have derived competency statements from the Georgia Standards of Excellence and laid out key understandings and essential learnings that are necessary in each content area.

These competencies represent the most essential learning needed for students to be academically successful throughout their K-12 experience. They also provide blueprints for logical academic progression through grade bands.  Additionally, we know that if students are held to high levels of mastery in these competencies they will be prepared for college and career.  

It is our intent in moving to and developing a competency-based learning model that our local curriculum can stand the test of time and winds of change to serve as the foundation of learning for all students for years to come.  Borrowing heavily from the success that Gwinnett County has had with their Academic Knowledge Standards, developed in the late 1990s and tweaked over the years to ensure alignment on state assessments, we believe that these competencies will allow our students to know what is expected of them to learn and master, as well as, allow our teachers to have the peace of mind that we can stay with one curriculum set for years to come.  Beyond academic competencies, you will also see Cross-Curricular Graduation Standards.  These standards specifically address the 4 C’s of 21st century skills and signal that we believe graduates of Henry County Schools need more than a predetermined number of credits to be college, career and life ready. 

Additionally, a competency-based learning model is built on the belief that students must demonstrate mastery at the competency level before moving on, but equally provided opportunities and support to move on when they have demonstrated mastery, regardless of seat time or specific time in the year.  This shift requires us to think differently about the way we ‘do’ school.  This work will involve examining teaching, assessment, and grade reporting processes and procedures, as well as, determining the best ways to assess and report mastery of competencies.  To that end, we will explore possible adjustments to the current standards based report card, to MS and HS reporting tools, and district-wide grading practices.  This is an exciting and daunting task that will require all stakeholders to engage and participate in order to create the best methods of communicating learning and mastery to students, parents, the workforce, community stakeholders, and colleges/universities.

Over the course of the next two academic years, we will be providing professional development, training, and feedback opportunities as we transition across the district to a competency-based model.  Currently, schools in Cohort 15 are using the competencies as the foundation of their instructional practices and Cohort 16 schools are beta testing the competencies to help us refine them and ensure they are on track.  The content coordinators are poised and ready to support these schools today and other schools in the district over the course of the next three years to make the transition to competency-based learning successful throughout the district.   Their work moving forward is solely dedicated to helping you, as building leaders, plan for, train, and develop understanding and capacity for your faculty and staff to educate students in a competency-based educational model.   The content coordinators and their TOSAs will be providing differentiating levels of support to schools making the transition to competencies based on a number of factors including, whether they are a launch school, expressed interest and need, and the determination of the principal and Executive Officer.   In the same manner we expect teachers to provide personalized instruction and support to students as they demonstrate mastery, we will provide personalized training and support to schools and faculties. 

With the shift to competencies comes many adjustments and we are poised to support our teachers, administrators, and students in these changes.  It is our intent to facilitate feedback sessions along with opportunities for community involvement and input in the determination of policies and procedures to be implemented in order to fully realize competency-based learning at its best in Henry County.   There are many decisions to be made about what is needed to make this happen for your students and teachers and we welcome and need your input, feedback, dialogue, pushback, and support. 

Thank you for your continued diligence in leading this shift.  It is your willingness to learn, to engage in meaningful dialogue, and to participate in the process that will make the end results ensure success for each student in Henry County Schools.

-Aaryn Schmuhl

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Reflections from iNACOL 2015

The resounding themes of iNacol 2015 this year have been competency based education models, a renewed focus on project based learning, personalized learning focused on the needs, wants, interests of students, and a press to innovate for kids, not for innovations’ sake.  All these themes resonant deeply with me and the work we have been embarking on in Henry County Schools for the past three years.  I was affirmed and reaffirmed that our district is heading in the direction that is best for students, best for college and career readiness, and best for the entire community that we serve.

I was also reaffirmed of the need to commit to the work.  One thing that has impressed me with Susan Patrick and her team over the past five years that I have come to know iNacol is a clear focus on students.  Its easy in the edtech space, and an online/blended learning organization is in the heart of that space, to get caught up and focused on tools, platforms, gadgets, and the related IPOs and relationships that exist between funders and edupreneurs.  And although iNacol operates in that realm and helps to guide that work, they remain steadfast in a commitment to a focus on high quality educational and instructional practice.  They remain focused on the idea that creating really good schools and learning experiences is both simple in concept, but challenging in reality because of so many competing aspects. At Monday morning’s keynote address, Susan Patrick passionately advocated that our work of personalizing learning is not about innovation, but it is about equity and believing in all kids.  This was reiterated by each of the key note speakers and resonated throughout sessions.  

At its core, this work of personalized learning for me and for so many in the field is not about making money, its not about fame and notoriety, and its not about gaming an accountability system built on industrialized/standardized models of testing.  At its foundation, this is about a belief that every single human deserves access to and success in a high quality educational setting and that EACH student should be taught how to learn and how to be contributing members of society.  Its about a belief that knowledge is power and that it should be shared openly and transparently and not closely guarded behind the covers of leather bound journals in libraries of the wealthy and learned to be revealed when one is worthy.  It is about a belief that public education is really about, as Tom Stritikus paraphrased, teaching kids how to open doors for themselves.

The student panel was especially poignant and I am humbled that four of those shining your people were from our own Impact Academy.  Knowing these kids deeply and knowing their stories, I understand that personalized learning is really about making school relevant, engaging, and meaningful. But even more, its about relationships and being a community that cares deeply about all kids.  Relationships are essential because they are the safety net that allows kids and adults to take risks and to try things untried, to do things they aren't sure of, and to be in the space where they are actually growing as scholars, as citizens, and as humanity.  

We are at a great time.  We are at a space where we have the tools, the knowledge, and the ability to truly change the way we make education a game changer for all kids.  Do we all have the will?