Learner-centered leaders create risk-friendly environments

This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.

In Episode 17, we had a conversation with Bethlehem Elementary School’s  principal, Dr. Jessalyn Askew and teacher, Tiffany Early. Our conversation focused on the personalized learning efforts in Bethlehem Elementary and many interesting facets of learning and leadership: alternative assessments to demonstrate learning; shifting mindsets of learners, teachers and parents; providing space for teachers to take risks with instruction; ceding control; and cultivating and celebrating teachers.

Key Competency

Learner-centered leaders create risk-friendly environments. Teachers are encouraged by Jessalyn (and other teachers) to try new things and explore new ideas. Even when the learning is messy, teachers know Jessalyn will support their effort to take risks. Support comes in many forms: financial assistance, meaningful professional development, implementation of student-led conferences, and focused time. As the principal, Jessalyn gently nudges teachers out of their safety nets and supports their work so the teachers can “soar” and “fly.”

Takeaways

Jessalyn worked diligently to change the mindsets of learners, teachers, and parents. The school invites the parents into the classrooms to share what they are learning and doing regularly. Student-led conferences occur twice per year – once in the fall and once in the spring. During the student-led conferences, students share their work with their parents. Parents notice their students’ abilities in problem-solving and self-confidence increasing. As a result of this and the change in classroom instruction, parents are engaging in different conversations about school.

Cultivating learning beyond the school system is critical to the implementation of a new vision.  Jessalyn spoke about teachers opening their doors to other teachers in a model classroom approach. Model classrooms create an open door feel in the building, a culture of learning. In addition to learning from each other, teachers participate in site visits across the country to other systems to be able to see parts of their vision implemented elsewhere. This helps them bring the ideas alive in their own system.

Tiffany shared teachers in the sytem have had to relinquish control. Traditionally, the flow of knowledge comes from the teacher to the student. In this learning environment, the learning flows from everyone to everyone else. Teachers never know exactly where a lesson is going to go, and that can be scary. Students often come to classes with more knowledge than sometimes they get credit for, and that can cause fear.

One challenge of implementation was time. Because teachers do not have a set planning block, teachers receive two hour planning sessions twice a month to work on stations, playlists, and collaboration. Time is a commodity. During this two-hour block, students partiicpate in the makerspace for one hour and STEM for another hour.

Students’ voice changes everything. Students advocate for their choices and recognize themselves as peer teachers who get to decide what and how they learn.

Connection to Practice

We are supporting our building leaders and teachers in taking risks. Through the implementation of our Leading #YourSalisbury cohort, we are building capacity within our building teams to implement teacher-led professional learning and pilot a new idea through an independent professional learning project.

Time is often a challenge. We hear this from our teachers. Our teachers have nine professional learning days, but some of that time is consumed with specific initiatives or mandated trainings. How can we make the most effective use of our time? How can we create more time? Fortunately, all of our teachers have preparation time in their schedules.

Tiffany encourages us to think about our ideal learning environment, communicate that to the learners, and explain that there will be mistakes along the way. Do we talk about learning with our learners? Are we transparent about risk-taking?

Questions Based on Our Context:

  • How often do our learners want to continue their work on the weekends?
  • How do we promote professional learning beyond our building/district walls?
  • Do our teachers LOVE to facilitate discussions with our learners?
  • Are we allocating sufficient human and financial resources to support this transformation?

Next Steps for Us:

  • Ask our teachers, “What is learning?”  Encourage our teachers to talk with their learners about their ideas about learning.
  • Reflect on our work with our Leading #YourSalisbury team. Are we using the time effectively? Are we supporting our teachers and leaders effectively?
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Learner-centered leaders create the space and provide the supports for learners to solve their own problems

This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.

Episode 19 takes us to NH and the MC2 charter school where learning, knowledge, assessment and community operate at the core mission of the school.

Key Competency

Learner-centered leaders create the space and provide supports for learners to solve their own problems.

Takeaways

Learners are key partners in the learning process. At MC2, advisors help learners understand their personal passions, learning styles, strengths/challenges, and interests both explicitly and implicitly.

In MC2, learners are connected to their communities and learn through learner-identified community issues and problems, and they seek to add value.

The learning environment at MC2 is designed to ensure that all learners have the capacity to function in any learning environment. Everyone is a learner (including advisors – or teachers), co-learning with younger learners. If a learner proposes inquiry on a topic the advisor may not have content knowledge in, the advisor and learner become co-learners, engaging ever-important skills in how to learn.

The four elements – learning, knowledge, assessment, community – are intertwined. For example, during a defense of learning (which is an assessment), community members are involved in providing feedback to the learning process and knowledge acquired. MC2 uses rubrics to measure their 17 habits of mind such as curiosity/wonder, organization, critical thinking, etc. Each habit has a rubric – scaffolded progression of the habits – from emergence to lifelong.

Competency is represented at MC2 in phases (instead of grade levels) – Phase I, II, III, IV. Learners develop a gateway portfolio and deliver a gateway presentation to move to the next phase. There are no time constraints on any of the phases. Learning is broken down into phases: designing, constructing, applying, documenting, defending. Portfolios and exhibitions are a part of the defending phase.

MC2 has framed transformation through several ways:

  • assessment (as described above in the gateway process on school-wide rubrics for habits)
  • authority/control – Where does authority stem from, and what does it say about relationships?
  • expertise – Who is the expert, and how do we recognize the expertise of community partners who are applying discipline knowledge in practical ways?
  • Assignments are assessed and given feedback to make the project better. This goes beyond simply grading as is done in the traditional grading system.

Things that don’t make sense are let go! MC2 let go of grades and grading. They recognize though, when you let go, other structures need to be embedded to support the transition from what they know to a new way of working.

MC2 did experience some barriers to transformation: unlearning from the old paradigm – recognize, unlearn, relearn; parent involvement in the learning of their children; helping learners understand how to manage up. Challenges become lessened as the the culture grows and they build sustainability. They are working to develop the mindset that learners do well if they can; not if they want to. This is important distinction for advisors and learners to understand.

Learners are leaders, but there are distinctions between being a leader and exercising leadership. Leadership means taking responsibility for what matters to you. We all have the opportunity and responsibility to exercise leadership. MC2 works to develop the habit of leadership through explicit opportunities in which learners exercise leadership through their strengths. For example, students may lead their own discussion in an English course. Students are required to take on a leadership role, and MC2 does not articulate when, how, or where that happens. While some students may lead from a stage, others may lead behind the scenes by supporting peers. Another way learners exercised leadership is through the development of a Learner Bill of Rights which articulates the learners’ rights and responsibilities.

A compelling mission and vision for learning is important but should be tempered with humility. We are all learners and we are all curious. We need to stick with it, but also be able to step back and reflect on our work. Leaders work to develop the skills and capacity for empathy in learners, teachers and the community. The curiosity and humility factors are important in building a skill for empathy. Additionally, leaders need to step back and listen. If leaders create the space and provide the supports for learners to solve their own problems, learners will solve their own problems. The more they solve their own problems, the greater competence they feel to take action in their own world.

Connections to Practice

We have identified clear skills for our learners through our Profile of a Graduate. Should we consider developing a district-wide rubric for each of the skills? What process would we use to develop those rubrics?

As we move towards personalization, we nee to get to know our learners. How well do our teachers know their learners? Do we encourage teachers to find the time to get to know their learners. What community-building and intrapersonal activities do our learners do throughout their years.

Our elementary students are Leader in Me schools. How do we build structures for our K-12 students to understand leadership and grow in those skills?

How could we connect the Learner Bill of RIghts in our district? What would our learners articulate as their rights and responsibilities? Would our teachers and leaders agree? What process could we utilize to develop this powerful tool?

Questions Based on Our Context:

  • How do we model being co-learners engaged in inquiry with our younger learners? How do we model learning?
  • What conditions do we set in our organizations to promote learning up and down the organization?
  • What do we explicitly do to learn about our learners – assessment of learner strengths and needs?
  • What mechanisms do we have in place that send a message of authority and control?
  • What if we provided the opportunity for our learners to design a Learner Bill of Rights?

Next Steps for Us:

  • Talk with Superintendent Advisory Council about the Learner Bill of Rights?
  • Engage in conversation with the Leading #YourSalisbury team about the development of K-12 rubrics for the skills identified in the Profile of a Graduate.

 

 

Learner-centered leaders align every decision, purchase and hire to the needs of learners

This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.

 

In Episode 18, we had a conversation with leaders and learners from Lindsay Unified School District in CA. Barry Sommer, Director of Advancement; Amalia Lopez, Curriculum and Instruction Specialist; and Lewis Cha, learner, shared a snapshot of learning in Lindsay through the lenses of both the learner and leader. The highlighted the importance of leaders providing time for transformation to occur, the value of stakeholder buy-in to the vision, the centrality of agency and competency, the importance of a common lexicon as the foundation for cultural shifts, among other learner-centered topics.

Key Competency

Learner-centered leaders begin and stay with the learner at the center of the work. They align every decision, every purchase, every hire to the needs of the learners.

Takeaways

We started the conversation by talking with a learner, Lewis. He shared, in Lindsay, learners are provided the space to learn at their own pace. For example, Lewis was able to move to the next level of math when he finished one target. He also talked about the valuable learning experience of his year-long engineering project in which his group engineered a sustainable shelter for the homeless. In addition to designing the structure, the team constructed a mock up building. Finally, he highlighted Lindsay encourages learners to develop their own passions. Students are encouraged to aim for the best and complete targets.

The transformation journey requires extensive time and conversations. Back in 2006, Lindsay reflected critically on the district’s work. Graduates were struggling, and assessment scores were decreasing. As a result, Lindsay organized councils of diverse stakeholders to develop a Strategic Design for Lindsay. As a result of asking many questions and listening to many stakeholders, the district created a blueprint of core values with an emphasis on life-long learning. The Strategic Design will not change – instead it is a foundational document which the district constantly checks its practices against and applies to current context.

Lindsay works diligently to provide all of its learners with a personalized path. The planning and implementation team initially focused on competency-based learning and learner agency as they rebuilt the culture of learning.

What does open-walled learning look like in Lindsay? The district is now making strategic moves to emphasize open-walled and socially embedded learning. The district has provided devices for all learners, developed district-sponsored community wifi, built learning labs, incorporated socially-embedded projects, and created community internships for alternative education learners in support of the open walled learning component of the vision.

What has Lindsay given up in this journey? First, they had to erase time structures. Grades of A-F no longer exist, and grades are no longer averaged. They shifted focus from academic proficiency to life-long learning. In addition to grading, they changed how they use space. All of the initial changes emphasized cultural shifts.

At the early stages of transformation, Lindsay changed their lexicon. Students were referred to as learners. Teachers evolved into learning facilitators because they no longer are the sage on the stage. Schools are now learning communities. Common language created a foundation for the shift.

Mental shifts were also required from early on. Everything was new and different, and this required a mindset shift for everyone. What does it mean for the teacher who is no longer the stage on the stage, but now a facilitator?

In addition to mental hurdles, structural and systemic hurdles needed to be overcome – bell schedules, transcripts required by the state.

The district takes the same approach to personalization when working with parents and learning facilitators. For example, the site adminsitrators support learning facilitators with personalized professional learning.

Sessions for parents are offered and networks are developed so parents can better understand how new assessment systems work.

Before mindsets can be shifted, issues must be brought to the forefront and addressed. Consistency is key. Transparent feedback loops need to be developed while addressing mindset shifts. Failure is a predictable and inherent part of all learning. Learners need to feel comfortable both giving and receiving feedback. Barry shared, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” This pervasive attitude cultivates a growth-oriented mindset.

It is essential to promote leadership roles for all stakeholders. Whether a learner leads within a project or outside of the classroom, everyone is expected to lead.

Barry shared some competencies for learner-centered leaders. Learner-centered leaders are future-focused visionaries who engage in deep listening, serve first, over-communicate, take risks, improve continuously, self-assess, and challenge each other.

Amalia encourages us to begin and stay with the learner at the center of the work. We need to align every decision, every purchase, every hire to the needs of the learners. Learners have needs that we don’t have structures to support. We have to build this as we go. We cannot waiver from what is best for the learners.

Barry reminds us this work is heavy lifting. We need to remember to bring stakeholders, including learners, to the table to have these conversations.

Lewis reiterates the importance for transparency with the learners. Make sure the learners and their parents know what is going on in the system.

Connection to Practice

We are encouraging teachers to develop projects and learning experiences in which students develop collaboration skills. We believe project-based learning can be leveraged to enact our learning beliefs in practice.

Building a shared vision is critical. We provided opportunities for our stakeholders to provide input into our Profile of a Graduate. How can we better engage stakeholders in the on-going process?

We have made significant investments to remove the barrier of access for our learners. All learners 6-12 have access to a MacBook Air which they may take beyond the school walls. K-1 learners utilize a personal iPad, and learners in grades 2-5 have a personal MacBook Air to use in our schools.

This work is indeed heavy lifting. Transforming requires us to push previously-valued ideas to the side to make room for new and better ideas.

Everyone in our organization is a learner, and we are seeking the development of leadership in all of our stakeholders. Both of our elementary schools are Leader in Me schools in which the learners live Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits.

We need to be trusted critical friends for each other. Providing transparent, honest feedback is essential to moving forward in a more learner-centered system. How can we hold someone’s hand to move forward with this difficult work?

Questions Based on Our Context:

  • How many of our learners do not have internet access at home? We are currently investigating piloting a wifi hotspot program to supplement our learners’ resources at home.
  • How do we cultivate a culture of transparent feedback?
  • How are we consistently sharing this message?
  • How do we root all decisions in what is best for the learner?
  • What do we have to “give up” or push aside to make room for the new?
  • Do our learners, teachers, and leaders have critical friends?

Next Steps for Us:

  • Develop our own lexicon for the district.
  • Engage in conversations with our principals and teachers.

Learner-centered leaders provide powerful learning opportunities

This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.

Lynn Fuini-Hetten and Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D

In Episode 16, we spoke with Roger Cook, superintendent of Taylor County schools in Kentucky, along with 3 learners – Weston Young, Lexi Raikes, and Lauren Williams – about learner-centered opportunities in Taylor County and their innovative 24-7 performance-based education school, Cardinal Academy.

Key Competency

Learner-centered leaders provide powerful learning opportunities.  They listen to their learners to find out what they need. Then they identify a way to create a program or other structure that supports the learners’ needs.

Takeaways

The superintendent, Roger Cook, seeks to provide success for all of his learners. Regardless of what the learner needs, he finds a way to provide an opportunity. This can look very different for individual learners, as it should, but he consistently engages in non-negotiables when addressing a learner’s challenge. In Taylor County, no one is allowed to fail. If a student wants to drop out, he/she needs to sit with Roger and talk about why he/she wants to drop out of school. Roger Cook is proud of the District’s 100% graduation rate! “If a teacher fails kids, the teacher is failing me.”  Not only are all current seniors graduating, but the District has also graduated 16 learners who dropped out of school in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.

Cook developed a six-spoke “Wheel of Learning” that allows teachers and students to chose the instructional style they prefer for each subject. The spokes are:

  1. Traditional: typical teacher-directed learning and lecturing
  2. Self-paced: a flipped classroom approach, in which teachers develop video lessons that students can access anytime, and then complete coursework on campus
  3. Project-based: students focus on applying knowledge to real-world situations
  4. Peer/group-led: Teachers facilitated group work that allows students to teach and learn among another
  5. Virtual: classes offered completely online from an outside vendor
  6. Cardinal Academy: a group of advanced students who don’t have a class schedule or assigned teacher, but instead have standards to accomplish on a daily basis that they decide independently how to complete

Learners in Cardinal Academy need to be proficient on the state standardized tests,  and demonstrate responsibility and discipline. Applicants are interviewed before enrolling in the Academy.  Before graduating, Cardinal Academy learners are required to complete a culminating community project. Learners shared they appreciated the agency they have over their time in the Cardinal Academy. Learners can manage their schedules to earn college course credit.

Opportunities abound in Taylor County. Everybody has a 1:1 device and can utilize it it to engage in self-paced learning. The District realizes some learners still prefer and a need a traditional approach to their education. In the traditional path, the students learn with a teacher in a more traditional, blended school model. Examples were shared during the conversation pertaining to a student-led bank and grocery store, students earning their flight credentials, and career/technology education (welding, cosmetology and agriculture). Regardless of student interest, a program exists at Taylor that can be personalized to student passion and interest.

STARS – Students Teaching and Reaching Students – The district is building student leadership through Cook’s Kids in the STARS program.  Currently there are 350 students teaching and reaching other students. The STARS earn credit by supporting the learners who need extra help.

To create these opportunities, Taylor County had to readjust some attitudes.  For example, they don’t give learners zeros as they overcame the notion of giving up on learners. No zeros. No failures. No dropouts. No excuses. Dropout prevention Specialists will meet with students 1:1 to talk about barriers to learning. If students are not working diligently in class, they are pulled out of class for a conversation with the Dropout Prevention Specialist.  

Teachers and school leaders need to look at every student every day and help to keep them in school.  As the leader of the organization, Roger holds the teachers responsible for living this mindset. He truly values learners. “If you trust kids and you give them responsibility, they will perform.”

The learners shared their perspectives on learning in the rigorous learner-centered environment. Having more agency over the learning environment requires a strong, and sometimes different, skill set.  The learners in Cardinal Academy need to learn how to be highly effective in time management, realistic about what they can achieve, and how to prioritize their learning goals and study time. The students reflected that working with an individualized schedule supports future work at college.

Leaders also need diverse skills to be effective in a learner-centered learning environment. To Roger, it is easy. Listen to the kids. Be compassionate. Be interested in your kids and see what it takes to make them successful.  Get the staff to listen to kids every day.  Be open-minded. Instead of thinking outside the box, throw away the box. Support teachers as they try something new. If something is not working, find out why and fix it.

Professional learning is a critical component to the evolution of this district. Students are dismissed at 1:00 every Friday so teachers can engage in professional conversations and learning. If students are unable to go home, the STARS students will provide additional tutoring.  Providing alternatives and options helps learners get what they need.

Connection to Practice

Our teachers have significant professional learning time. By contract, teachers complete nine full days of professional learning.  Of the nine, two are choice days in which teachers have significant autonomy over their learning. Are we making effective use of the days? How do we know?

As a result of our 1:1 digital transformation, our learners each have a device which can be used to access resources, collaborate, create, communicate, etc.  How can the tool support our next steps in developing a learner-centered learning environment?

Our graduation rate is very high, but as leaders at the top of the organization, we are not consistently engaging with those learners who are considering dropping out of school. Should we have a process for engaging those learners and their families?

Questions Based on Our Context:

  • Will we get to the point where we maintain the “traditional spoke” and yet have much more to offer?
  • How do we support our leaders as we implement this vision?
  • How can we build student leadership?
  • How can we release agency to our learners?
  • We believe we are supporting teachers in taking risks. What would our teachers say?

Next Steps for Us

  • Engage in conversations with our teachers about learner agency and risk-taking.

Learner-centered leaders understand the critical importance of learner interests

This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.

Lynn Fuini-Hetten and Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D

In Episode 15, we had a conversation about personalizing learning through internships based on learner interests; and the power of relationships with leaders and learners from Big Picture Learning and Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School in Bronx, NY. We spoke with Dr. Andrew Frishman, co-executive director for Big Picture Learning; Naseem Haamid and Terrence Freeman, learners at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School.

Terrence shared examples of extended learning opportunities – internships and panels.  Naseem shared his transition from learning what teachers wanted him to learn to learning about what most interested him.

Key Competency

Learner-centered leaders provide opportunities for their learners to develop their passions.  They keep the “students at the center, but practice at the edges.”   How do we design a set of classroom experiences that compliment that? A school that supports educators who do that? An evaluation system that determines who is doing that well? Learner-centered leaders understand the critical importance of learner interests in designing deep, powerful, learner-centered opportunities that shift life outcomes and trajectories.

Key Takeaways

Learners need diverse opportunities for growth. For example, Naseem learned to dress more professionallly, communicate professionally via email and network through his internship in Madison Square Garden. These opportunities provide motivation for additional leadership opportunities. Through this experience, and a subsequent internship, Naseem worked towards visioning his future and developing the skills needed to realize it. He tells us he wants to be President of the United States.

Learners will have to adjust to a new environment with new expectations. For example, the development of a portfolio requires learners to write more effectively. This transition may be challenging for some learners.

Big Picture Learning schools are designed for learners who are interested in pursuing their passions. BPL schools are organized around progressive ideas – connecting to young people’s experiences/interests. Learning through interest creates a pull and reward for learners.  Learning is about relationships, and as people we are biochemically connected. Learning requires practice.  Bridging these three ideas – interests, relationships, practice – creates a unique learning environment.

Advisors need to understand students’ interests and passions. Naseem and Terrence really value the mentoring program. The advisors put the learners in a position to succeed, learn more about themselves as learners, and grow. In a Big Picture Learning school, the learners learn from the advisors, and the advisors learn from the learners. Learning happens within and beyond the school, and advisors recognize that.

Naseem encourages teachers to take the time to really learn about the students, and see something in the students that they don’t see in themselves. Terrence encourages teachers to regard individuality. Students should not be on the same pathway, and will not meet the same expectations. Students are not machines that will just mechanically produce.

Connections to Practice

At Salisbury, we are investigating implementing an internship program. We are actually going to start with some internal internships. We are creating a Social Media Intern and a Design Intern. What will this look like for our learners?

We are talking about developing digital portfolios with our secondary schools. Our specialist teachers in our middle school have worked with all middle school learners to create a digital portfolio using Google Sites. Content area teachers are also using the sites to show the students’ work. In the high school, some teachers are tinkering with WordPress sites, but it is not yet systemic.

Learners can help us determine what is necessary in our schools/systems. How can we leverage #stuvoice to learn more about what is possible in our context. We are working with superintendent advisory groups in each of our buildings. How do we connect more with learners?

Questions Based on Our Context

  • What barriers to change exist for us, and how can we push through them?
  • How do we increase opportunities for learners to connect with their passions?
  • How do we leverage our community to determine what is possible for Salisbury learners?
  • How are relationships different between advisors and learners in a learner-centered environment as compared to a school-centered environment?
  • How do we become more sensitive to listening to learner voice – the users of our educational system?

Next Steps for Us

  • Engage in conversations with our learners to better understand the disconnect between what learners do in school and what learners do outside of school. How do we bridge that gap?

Learner-centered leaders are intentional about what is being given up in the transformation

This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.

Lynn Fuini-Hetten and Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D

In Episode 14, we had an engaging conversation with Sonya Wrisley, Neel Pujar and Stacey Lamb from Design39Campus in CA. There were lots of takeaways as we listened to the story of designing a school to creating the conditions for intentional conversations about what to give up from the old school-centered model. One of the most significant parts of the conversation had to do with the intentionality of letting aspects of the school-centered system go.

Key Competency

When working with a small team of leaders and learners to design Design39Campus, principal Sonya Wrigley created space for the team to have intentional conversation about aspects of the school-centered system to let go. Learner-centered leaders are intentional about what is being given up in the transformation. Here is what they discussed letting go: control and power, teacher isolation, territory, traditional classroom spaces with “stuff,” learning only happening at a desk, homework for homework’s sake, grade level boundaries.

Key Takeaways

It takes time to create a sustainable vision for transformation. As principal, Sonya worked on this for two years. She researched other school models around the country that exemplified key principles – a school designed with the learner in mind, collaborative community, design thinking, global connections, inquiry, technology and other real world tools, and a growth mindset poised to change the world.

Learner voice was a key factor in the development of the school. Through a design thinking model, learners were asked, “Why are schools built the way they are?”

As they engaged in the design thinking process, they thought deeply about what to let go of during this transformation:

  • They wanted to reduce the isolation and concept of territory. Teachers (learning experience designers) would not have their own classrooms, and Sonya would not have her own office. Instead they created community learning spaces for learners, and the open collaboration areas became design studios.
  • They thought intentionally about traditional school-centered spaces and how they needed to be modified for this new school. Teachers were asked to “dump their stuff.” Instead, they created “makeries” by contributing all of their “making” supplies to the learning community. Classroom books were moved to the loft so students could borrow resources which interested them.
  • Giving up control was one of the biggest challenges. Teachers gave up the position of power or being a sage on the stage. Learners have knowledge, and the learning experience designers can learn from them, too.
  • Traditional school-centered seating was also abandoned. Learners didn’t have to be seated at a desk to be learning; learning takes place everywhere from hallways to community learning spaces.
  • Homework akin to doing 20 math problems was no longer acceptable. Instead, homework was completed when the learning naturally extended beyond the school day because learners didn’t want to stop what they were doing.
  • Grade level boundaries evolved into learners learning at a pace that was appropriate for them.

While engaging in the design and implementation, the team mitigated some barriers. They had to learn to trust the community – including their colleagues. Team members needed to rely on each other because no one person can do this work. The team reflected on its work continuously, made modifications and will continue to assess their work.

They needed to shift mindsets and perceptions – particularly in the parent and school community. Everyone needed to understand this is not the school they attended in the past.   Design39Campus conducted design workshops prior to and during the school year. About 100 people attended the sessions and talked through the ideas. Parent tours were conducted to help parents experience the learning environment.

If they wanted to change the way they thought about something, they had to change the way they talked about it. In addition to classrooms becoming learning spaces, the administration building was referred to as the welcome center.   The shift in language helped the community understand the differences.

Design39Campus discovered the more voice/choice learners have, the more agency. Learners take control of their behavior, thoughts, and actions. They take control of themselves, and changes are evident. For example, issues on the playground have decreased as a result of learners taking control, solving problems, and taking leadership – even in social situations. Learners are empowered with trust and ownership and they then want to make their learning space the best space possible.

Shifting the paradigm of education is not easy and it is not quick. It is hard work. In education, we need to build empathy for one another. We need to listen to understand where others are coming from in their thinking.

Design39Campus team members shared advice with our listeners. They encourage us to start small and make some changes with the learners in our schools. They encourage us to let go of control and share the leadership. We need to encourage teachers to fail forward and fail fast. The environment has to support this with strong trust.

Connections to Practice

  • The design thinking process is woven through this experience. We have been iterating our professional learning over the past few years. We have also iterated leadership team meetings and goals. Where else can we iterate? Where can we start?
  • It is essential to develop trust across the organization in order to provide the space for risk-taking and failing. As leaders, we need to be explicit about this expectation. How well are we communicating this across the organization?
  • To shift our mindset, we need to intentionally shift our vocabulary. As we learn and talk with other practitioners, our language is evolving. We will work with our Leading #YourSalisbury professional learning cohort to develop our own lexicon.
  • We need to provide opportunities for collaboration. Teachers work in PLCs through grade level teams, departments, etc. What structures do we have in place to encourage collaboration? How can we best support out teachers and leaders when they are working in these groups? How can we engage their voice and choice to cultivate ownership?

Questions Based on Our Context

  • Why are schools built the way they are?
  • How can we more effectively engage our parents/community through school visits?
  • What can we give up? Who needs to be involved in these conversation?
  • How do we build empathy for one other?

Next Steps for Us

  • Consider the above questions
  • Identify areas we can “give up”
  • Identify a strategy for getting started on our lexicon

Learner-centered leaders exhibit a start-up, entrepreneurial mindset

This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.

Lynn Fuini-Hetten and Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D

In Episode 14, we had an engaging conversation with Sonya Wrisley, Neel Pujar and Stacey Lamb from Design39Campus in CA. There were lots of takeaways as we listened to the story of designing a school to creating the conditions for intentional conversations about what to give up from the old school-centered model. One of the most significant parts of the conversation had to do with the intentionality of letting aspects of the school-centered system go.

Key Competency

When working with a small team of leaders and learners to design Design39Campus, principal Sonya Wrigley created space for the team to have intentional conversation about aspects of the school-centered system to let go. Learner-centered leaders are intentional about what is being given up in the transformation. Here is what they discussed letting go: control and power, teacher isolation, territory, traditional classroom spaces with “stuff,” learning only happening at a desk, homework for homework’s sake, grade level boundaries.

Key Takeaways

It takes time to create a sustainable vision for transformation. As principal, Sonya worked on this for two years. She researched other school models around the country that exemplified key principles – a school designed with the learner in mind, collaborative community, design thinking, global connections, inquiry, technology and other real world tools, and a growth mindset poised to change the world.

Learner voice was a key factor in the development of the school. Through a design thinking model, learners were asked, “Why are schools built the way they are?”

As they engaged in the design thinking process, they thought deeply about what to let go of during this transformation:

  • They wanted to reduce the isolation and concept of territory. Teachers (learning experience designers) would not have their own classrooms, and Sonya would not have her own office. Instead they created community learning spaces for learners, and the open collaboration areas became design studios.
  • They thought intentionally about traditional school-centered spaces and how they needed to be modified for this new school. Teachers were asked to “dump their stuff.” Instead, they created “makeries” by contributing all of their “making” supplies to the learning community. Classroom books were moved to the loft so students could borrow resources which interested them.
  • Giving up control was one of the biggest challenges. Teachers gave up the position of power or being a sage on the stage. Learners have knowledge, and the learning experience designers can learn from them, too.
  • Traditional school-centered seating was also abandoned. Learners didn’t have to be seated at a desk to be learning; learning takes place everywhere from hallways to community learning spaces.
  • Homework akin to doing 20 math problems was no longer acceptable. Instead, homework was completed when the learning naturally extended beyond the school day because learners didn’t want to stop what they were doing.
  • Grade level boundaries evolved into learners learning at a pace that was appropriate for them.

While engaging in the design and implementation, the team mitigated some barriers. They had to learn to trust the community – including their colleagues. Team members needed to rely on each other because no one person can do this work. The team reflected on its work continuously, made modifications and will continue to assess their work.

They needed to shift mindsets and perceptions – particularly in the parent and school community. Everyone needed to understand this is not the school they attended in the past.   Design39Campus conducted design workshops prior to and during the school year. About 100 people attended the sessions and talked through the ideas. Parent tours were conducted to help parents experience the learning environment.

If they wanted to change the way they thought about something, they had to change the way they talked about it. In addition to classrooms becoming learning spaces, the administration building was referred to as the welcome center.   The shift in language helped the community understand the differences.

Design39Campus discovered the more voice/choice learners have, the more agency. Learners take control of their behavior, thoughts, and actions. They take control of themselves, and changes are evident. For example, issues on the playground have decreased as a result of learners taking control, solving problems, and taking leadership – even in social situations. Learners are empowered with trust and ownership and they then want to make their learning space the best space possible.

Shifting the paradigm of education is not easy and it is not quick. It is hard work. In education, we need to build empathy for one another. We need to listen to understand where others are coming from in their thinking.

Design39Campus team members shared advice with our listeners. They encourage us to start small and make some changes with the learners in our schools. They encourage us to let go of control and share the leadership. We need to encourage teachers to fail forward and fail fast. The environment has to support this with strong trust.

Connections to Practice

  • The design thinking process is woven through this experience. We have been iterating our professional learning over the past few years. We have also iterated leadership team meetings and goals. Where else can we iterate? Where can we start?
  • It is essential to develop trust across the organization in order to provide the space for risk-taking and failing. As leaders, we need to be explicit about this expectation. How well are we communicating this across the organization?
  • To shift our mindset, we need to intentionally shift our vocabulary. As we learn and talk with other practitioners, our language is evolving. We will work with our Leading #YourSalisbury professional learning cohort to develop our own lexicon.
  • We need to provide opportunities for collaboration. Teachers work in PLCs through grade level teams, departments, etc. What structures do we have in place to encourage collaboration? How can we best support out teachers and leaders when they are working in these groups? How can we engage their voice and choice to cultivate ownership?

Questions Based on Our Context

  • Why are schools built the way they are?
  • How can we more effectively engage our parents/community through school visits?
  • What can we give up? Who needs to be involved in these conversation?
  • How do we build empathy for one other?

Next Steps for Us

  • Consider the above questions
  • Identify areas we can “give up”
  • Identify a strategy for getting started on our lexicon

Learner-centered leaders approach transformation as a design challenge

This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.

Lynn Fuini-Hetten and Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D

 

In Episode 11, we had a conversation with Salem City School (VA) superintendent, Dr. Alan Seibert and learner, Alayna Johnson. We talked about the complexities of bringing a learner-centered mindset to a system at scale, how internships and externships break down the walls of learning, and how learner-centered environments put less focus on grades and fixed response assessments and more focus on learning.

Key Competency

Learner-centered leaders approach transformation as a design challenge. Leaders “honor the complexities of our profession.” Analyzing all of the pieces of the complex puzzle, they determine how they best fit together to meet the needs of all learners. To do this, leaders need to model a growth mindset so they can engage in conversations and experimentation, but also get out of the way.

“We don’t have a people problem. We do have a design problem. We have people with a heart for children….We need a system to unfold the unique human potential of every child.”  ~Alan Seibert

Key Takeaways

Transformation is a journey of scale, moving entire systems to transform. If the goal is to personalize the learning experience for every learner K-12 in each of the schools, we need to help our policymakers and industry leaders understand personalization and competency-based learning.

Internships and externships are a common thread in transformation, representing the “open-walled” element. For example, in the early childhood program, some students have the opportunity to support learners in their previously completed courses, and others can actually work in elementary school setting.

Curriculum can be organized around the 16 nationally-recognized career clusters to help the learning become authentic.  Students begin academic career planning in 6th grade, and they begin to build their program of study.  Because children are interested in more discrete learning opportunities, the school is developing smaller unit, online elective courses  (with eDynamics) like The Holocaust, Women’s Suffrage, etc.

Transformation is slow and messy.  The people in a transforming system have a growth mindset – leaders and learners. Leaders have to shift mindsets and engage resources. For example, Salem engaged leaders in the Chamber of Commerce.

Transformed systems give up age-old thinking around grading and standardized, fixed-response systems of assessment. There is more focus on learning and competency. To do this, we need to think critically about some of our practices.  Using formative assessment, providing feedback, and attacking power standards will assist in the movement of the system towards transformation. We need to rethink grading practices and adjust procedures and policies for varying content areas and grade levels. Instead of working on policies, we need to reshape grading philosophy. Salem even revisited its class rank policy. There is no longer class rank in Salem; instead they honor every distinguished scholar who earned a 4.0 GPA or higher.

Thinking about ideas as tiles in a mosaic, some will need to be popped in an out. Tiles might include technology, grading practices, professional learning communities, and project-based learning. Technology can help to systematize – improve efficiency and communication or personalize. For example, at the middle school, there is a math teacher who has redesigned instruction to include individualized computer lessons coupled with conferring and self-paced assessments.  Each learner sets the pace of the instruction.Project-based learning can help students gain voice and choice in their learning.

Connections to Practice

As a small school district, the size of many schools, we feel that we can transform the system, given the time and resources. Transforming an entire system is challenging since there are many more moving parts than in a classroom pocket of innovation.

We really connect with the idea of creating authentic learning opportunities within and beyond our school walls. We are thinking critically about how we can design these learning experiences. How can we create internship opportunities for our learners?  We know we will need to navigate some of the same barriers that Salem experienced – time and logistics.

Questions Based on Our Context

  • What are the common challenges of changing an entire system and changing pockets of the system?
  • What are reasonable expectations for the first year of an externship/internship program? How will we involve our learners in defining these opportunities?
  • What are the particular challenges to internships/externships within our context?
  • How do we better engage with our Chamber of Commerce?
  • In what ways do we model a growth mindset? Are their fixed mindset practices we need to eliminate?
  • In what areas do we continue to view education as the transmission of information? Where do we need to focus our efforts an enrollment?
  • Why is transformation slow and messy? Have we identified explicit reasons or factors particular to our context? How can we address them?

Next Steps for Us

  • Engage in conversations with leaders, learners, and teachers to explore the above questions.
  • Have we clearly articulated the components of the system we need to transform? Which components, once shifted, will unlock other parts of the system to move us more rapidly toward an authentic learner-centered environment?
  • Engage students in designing internship/externship programs. Also, tap into our Chamber of Commerce.

Learner-centered leaders effectively engage community

This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.

Lynn Fuini-Hetten and Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D
In Episode 10, we had a conversation with Mesa County School District 51 superintendent, Steve Schultz. We discussed engaging community to design the “what” and “why” of system transformation, the importance of providing the space and time for community to shift mindsets, and the value of “walking the talk.”

Key Competency

The idea of community ran as a thread through the conversation. Steve includes what we would traditionally call “stakeholders” in the community – students, teachers, leaders, board members and community representatives such as newspaper reporters and Chamber of Commerce leaders. Learner-centered leaders leading a system transformation, effectively engage community. In Mesa’s work over the past 18 months, community has been engaged to develop a model of proficiency-based learning that best serves the unique context and needs of Mesa County.

Key Takeaways

Mesa County was strategic in how it engaged community. Board members were engaged in the question, “What does personalized learning look like?”

Community members visited model programs around the country. After being inspired by what they saw, Mesa County community members engaged in conversations about what it could look like in their own unique context. In a large system of 22,000 students, buildings have been given autonomy in terms of implementation and time.

Mesa County listens to the community to inform the change. This can be a challenge because everyone is an “expert” in the system by having merely processed through it. Encouraging others to suspend previous opinion about what school school be can be a challenge.

Transformation takes time and close attention to pacing. It cannot be forced. Leaders need to provide the time for community to struggle through the shifts in mindset required. Not everyone understands the detail, but people are asking constructive questions. The transformation is growing throughout the system through engagement and transparency.

Implementation of the vision is through demonstration schools across the system. Mesa County is hiring people with experience in the work and creating the infrastructure of tools necessary.  Mesa County has had to push back on aspects of the traditional system: organization of central office (learning to be a more agile and responsive organization). High school has been the most challenging. Grade levels will not be abandoned until the system is ready.

Although the demonstration schools are implementing specific components of the vision (piloting a LMS, etc), all stakeholders across the organization (and even community organizations) are focused on development and growth mindset through this process.

Leaders need to shift their practice: practice what you preach; realize there are many ways transformation can happen – be open to listening to others; developing partnerships in the community is necessary and a long-term investment; transformation requires courage.

Connections to Practice

We followed a similar process of developing a shared vision. We engaged multiple sets of stakeholders and are now working to shift mindsets as we implement the transformation. We have also realized that this takes time. We had hoped to spend 2016-17 building a common understanding of language, but now realize this was not enough time to engage everyone and to build the understanding.

We have begun to identify areas of the system that need to be challenged: grades at some levels, agency as ownership, and use of time. Additionally, we understand we need to enroll our stakeholders in conversations about what is possible, and why we need to shift our thinking.

Questions Based on Our Context

  • How does what we have learned in the Pioneer Lab help us manage those of a dissimilar mindset?
  • How can we look at community differently? What can we do when engagement and commitment is low?
  • How do we help our board understand the distinctions of personalized learning?
  • What are the behaviors/competencies we need to articulate for each grade span/level? When is appropriate to begin this work?
  • What structures of “school” will we need to re-evaluate and change for better implementation? Are there areas that need support but don’t currently have enough?
  • As leaders, what personal areas of development can we focus on to fuel the transformation?

Next Steps for Us

  • Help our leaders, teachers, board members and students understand the processes shared in the Pioneer Lab to engage community.
  • Make engaging students in the conversation around transformation a greater priority this school year.
  • Engage in conversations around behaviors/competencies for teachers, leaders and learners.

Learner-centered leaders have an audacious, future-focused vision

This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.

Lynn Fuini-Hetten and Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D

 

In Episode 9, we had a conversation about developing a positive student-centered learning environment with Dr. Cederick Ellis, Superintendent in the McComb School District in McComb, MS.

Key Competency

McComb School District “empowers students to change the world.”  Most of all , leaders in a learner-centered environment need to set an audacious vision. To work towards that vision, the leader needs to be invested, have a future-focused mindset for building something that cannot be seen at the moment, and plenty of patience.  Relationships with other leaders, teachers, students, and parents are critical in this journey. Learner-centered leaders need to rely on others and build passionate people around them to ensure everyone is on board for the journey to a learner-centered environment together.

Key Takeaways

McComb school district has an audacious vision and mission. The mission of the McComb School District is to become a premier, world-class school system where student success is inevitable and each student is cultivated to become a fierce competitor in a global society.

Learning spaces matter. Classrooms have been transformed into learning laboratories, and traditional grade levels have been eliminated. Each student has a personal learning plan. The teaching and learning environment also looks different. McComb has dynamic furniture so learners can feel comfortable and ready to learn where it is most appropriate. All students have a mobile device which is utilized to enhance instructional delivery.

What does a learner-centered environment look like at McCombs?  Student-centered teaching and learning is centered on 6 pillars. Students are grouped by readiness, assume ownership for their own learning, work at their own pace, show evidence of mastery, receive continuous feedback. In this model, teachers serve as teacher practitioners.

McComb knew the model they had was not working for students. The collective community wanted to personalize learning for every learner so that learning was more meaningful and authentic.

Learner-centered education affords McComb learners possibilities. Learners, or scholars as McComb calls them, can have more authentic opportunities to show what they know in various formats. Educators can provide importance to the students’ cognitive and non-cognitive for human behaviors. The scholars can develop an interest and motivation to learn.  This is more than differentiated instruction or blended learning. Learner-centered education also provides equity across the system – they system truly meeting the specific needs of all learners.

When transitioning to this learner-centered environment, the leadership has had to reflect and rethink some of its practices. Principals, or lead learners as McComb calls them, need to rethink how they allocate resources. The team has had to rethink how to administer professional development. Central office has needed to rethink how it serves the lead learners. That means the superintendent needs to meet with lead learners more and listen. All leaders need to reflect on what has been done and modify as needed.

Connections to Practice

Learners need to feel comfortable and safe in their learning environments. Some of our teachers have requested additional furniture to provide learners with some options. For example, some teachers requested standing desks. Our middle school staff spent a year researching and piloting a flexible learning space in order to better meet instructional needs.

We need to provide learners with opportunities for choice and voice, not only in what they learn, but how they learn it, and how they demonstrate their learning.

We have been thinking about developing our own lexicon.  McComb was very intentional about its vocabulary. The community is a community of learners. Teachers are teacher practitioners, and classrooms are learning labs. Using this vocabulary is important because it more accurately reflects the work and encourages people to shift their mindsets. The teacher practitioner needs to diagnose the needs of every scholar, and provide the proper prescription.

Many schools are using software which is designed to personalize learning. When selecting software, we need to be critical about what it does to enhance the teaching and learning. Does it provide for individualization? Does it differentiate for students? Does it personalize?  McComb uses Compass Learning to personalize learning for its scholars.

This process will take time and many iterations. We need to understand we will make mistakes, and we will improve as we move along this journey.  We need to be patient and engage our community in this meaningful process.

Questions Based on Our Context

  • How often do our students have choice in content and/or path for their learning? Choice in showing mastery of learning?
  • How could we group by readiness? Where do we already use that practice?
  • How often do our students receive feedback? What does that feedback look like, sound like, and feel like?
  • Is our system meeting the needs of all of our learners?
  • How do we do a better job supporting our lead learners (principals)?
  • How are we future-focused in describing/communicating our vision?

Next Steps for Us

  • Look at aspects of the organization through the lens of learner agency. And ask the questions outlined above.
  • Intentionally schedule time with learners to talk about the above questions.
  • Talk to principals about the supports they need. Add an agenda item to our monthly principal meetings.
  • Develop our own lexicon.