Month: October 2017

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
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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.