What drives a learner? What inspires one to persist, challenge themselves, and be highly involved? What engages a learner? What can be done to increase ownership, commitment, and purpose? These are critical questions that should be asked in every conversation about learning, educational reform, future schooling, and instructional design. How often do these questions arise in conversations related to educational reform or the new common cores standards? In my experience, not often or only in a negative light with the conversation focused on a lack of these skills in students.
We need to shift our conversations. Student engagement and ownership of learning needs to drive and be the focus of reform efforts, reflection and analysis of learning and achievement, and teacher evaluations. Of course, teaching students the standards and working toward career and college readiness are important but unless we start to have a dialogue about and analyze student engagement, learning, schools, and future education will not change. There will be no paradigm shift.
Dialogue needs to begin with defining student engagement. I’ve pulled from a number of resources to develop a comprehensive understanding of a complex concept. As stated by Ellen Skinner, Thomas Kindermann, James Connell, and James Wellborn (2009), “There is, of course, no single correct definition of engagement” (p.224). Engagement is highly individual but there are certain elements that hallmark an engaged learner:
Engaged learners “show sustained behavioral involvement in learning activities accompanied by a positive emotional tone. They select tasks at the border of their competencies, initiate action when given the opportunity, and exert intense effort and concentration in the implementation of learning tasks; they show generally positive emotions during ongoing action, including enthusiasm, optimism, curiosity, and interest” (Skinner & Belmont, 1993).
Engaged Learners “use cognitive, meta-cognitive and self-regulatory strategies to monitor and guide their learning processes. In this view, student engagement is viewed as motivated behavior apparent from the kinds of cognitive strategies students choose to use (e.g., simple or “surface” processing strategies such as rehearsal versus “deeper” processing strategies such as elaboration), and by their willingness to persist with difficult tasks by regulating their own learning behavior.” (Pintrich and & De Groot,1990; Fredericks, Blumenfeld, and Paris, 2004).
A more recent study by the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2004), that cited many of the same studies, describes engagement in schoolwork as involving behaviors (persistence, effort, attention, taking challenging classes), emotions (interest, pride and success) and mental or cognitive aspects (solving problems, using meta-cognitive strategies). It also distinguishes between academic and social engagement (participation in extra-curricular activities, having friends).
A focus on student engagement and ownership of learning, what this looks like, and how this plays into be a productive, successful citizen for their future – not ours – will produce the change we are looking for in education.
Fredericks, J.A., Blumenfeld, P.C., and Paris, A. (2004). School engagement: potential of the concept, state of the evidence. Review of Educational Research, 74, 59-119.
National Research Council and Insitute of Medicine. (2004). Engaging Schools: Fostering High School Students’ Motivation to Learn. Committee on Increasing High School Students’Engagement and Motivation to Learn. Board on Children, Youth, and Families Division on Behavioral and Social. Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academy Press.
Pintrich, P.R., & De Groot, E.V. (1990). Motivational and self-regulated learning components of classroom academic performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(1): 33-40.
Skinner, E.A., & Belmont, M.J. (1993). Motivation in the classroom: Reciprocal effects of teacher behavior and student engagement across the school year. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(4): 571-581.
Looking to Transform Education? Embrace Learning, Leadership, and Innovation
Changes in education occur frequently: new programs and initiatives, new standards and assessments, new state and federal mandates. But none of these represents a true paradigm shift. This isn’t surprising, considering that innovation, responsible risk-taking, and teacher leadership are rarely encouraged, valued, or supported in education. Of course, there are pockets of teachers and schools that are doing these things, but it’s certainly not the norm.
So what needs to change to ensure that all 21st-century students are learning to the best of their abilities? Our education system needs to embrace—not just give lip service to—a culture driven by learning, high-performing teachers, and transformative technology.
A Culture of Learning
Learning must be at the center of the education system. One might argue that this is not a paradigm shift at all. But on closer examination, it’s clear that our current system is focused on education—not learning. Learning is social and at its peak when learners collaborate, connect, and create. Learning should be purposeful and allow the learner to make a contribution. Learning is not simply about the transfer of knowledge from one individual to another; it’s generative, exciting, and inspirational. Student engagement, ownership of learning, and opportunities to make a contribution need to be hallmarks of the learning environment. It’s really about user-generated learning.
Such learning must be the norm for students—and adults. At issue is the fact that few educators value and engage in this type of learning themselves. Educators, at all levels of the system, must be learners. We can’t possibly communicate the power, value, and excitement of learning to our students if we are not learners ourselves.
School has become a system based on obedience and “jumping through the hoops” that often has very little to do with the true spirit of learning. We’ve communicated to our students that school is about exceling on the test, giving the “right” answer, and memorizing and regurgitating information. School must shift toward a user-generated learning environment with the individual at the center, instead of lock-step curriculum and pacing guides. Learning must be driven by students’ interests and passions, not teacher-dictated lessons, learning plans, and assessments.
The education system needs to foster a culture of high-performing teachers. This culture begins with our teacher preparation programs and continues with the promotion of teacher leadership and teachers as highly respected researchers. Educators must “own” their profession, insist on high standards and performance levels for all, and embrace leadership roles.
What do teacher leaders do? They are part of the solution, not the problem. They adopt a growth mindset, encourage generative thinking, and increase respect for the profession through their actions. They routinely engage in action research, take action, and lead.
Technology and Innovation
Instead of treating technology as an add-on, we need to embed it in our teaching. Technology and web 2.0 applications can radically change the way we know and learn. The education system needs to leverage the power of technology; it needs to become a non-negotiable, a necessary solution toward creating a highly individual, user-generated learning environment.
It all begins with educators: teachers, administrators, superintendents. We can create virtual PLNs, blog about education, attend webinars, and network with educators worldwide to learn, grow, and take risks. We can encourage others to push our thinking and become part a collective educator voice.
Fortunately, the paradigm shift is already under way. In my corner of the world, parts of this vision are becoming a reality for 25 first graders. Here are some of the ways we’re using our classroom time innovatively and extending learning beyond classroom walls:
Learning Team Time: Students generate learning goals and characterize them as “beginning,” “developing,” or “secure.” They form learning teams with students who have similar goals, create a two-week learning plan, execute it, then provide evidence of goal attainment.
Web 2.0 Tools: In my classroom, students use technology throughout the day to collaborate, create, and communicate what they learn. Tools such as iPod and iPad apps, Kidblog, Twiducate (K-12 micro-blogging site), Little Bird Tales (digital stories), and Flip cameras give students ownership of their learning. SymbalooEdu is a user-friendly platform for student PLNs and bookmarking. Skype gives students the opportunity to extend their learning by interacting with experts, high school students, and peers around the world. Primary Paint allows for collaboration both in and out of school. Google Apps allows for surveys, real-time collaboration, and formative assessment opportunities.
Google 80/20 Time: Students use 20 percent of their week for individual, student-created learning projects that relate to topics they’re passionate about. The students create a focus and a learning and communication plan. The projects must benefit their own learning as well as others’ learning, and they must be communicated through technology.
PBL:Project-based learning units provide opportunities for students “students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. While allowing for some degree of student “voice and choice,” rigorous projects are carefully planned, managed, and assessed to help students learn key academic content, practice 21st Century Skills (such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking), and create high-quality, authentic products & presentations. ” Buck Institute For Education
Check out the learning graphic I’m working on to be utilized as a tipping point for dialogue and decision-making for the future of schooling:
What would happen if we shifted the paradigm and made this vision a reality for all students? Would school become a place where students can’t wait to be, where they routinely experience the energy and excitement of learning? Are you willing to lead, learn, and innovate so that this paradigm shift can occur?
What’s thrilling is that the vision is definitely within reach. We have the tools. We just need to stand up against the “us vs. them” culture prevalent at all levels of the system, take responsible risks, insist on high standards for educators, and be willing to ask ourselves the hard questions.
In 2011, I did an action research study focused on creating a learning environment that increased student engagement and ownership. The results were positive and set me on a path toward “reforming” the teaching and learning in my classroom. Action research will now become part of my yearly personal professional development plan and hopefully yours, too. I’ll be documenting this action research in a series of posts and would welcome any feedback or comments.
Rationale and Background Information
Officially, this journey started in December, 2011 but the topic of this inquiry – student engagement – has been a passion of mine for years. Student engagement encompasses many elements but critical to this is learning and a passion toward learning. I consider myself a learner and am very engaged by the energy and excitement of learning. Learning is a passion of mine so naturally I want to create a learning environment where students feel the same. School should be a place that children can’t wait to get to. The focus needs to be on the individual learner and the true spirit of learning. Unfortunately, our current system does not really support this type of environment and there is a steady decline in engagement, especially as our students move into middle school and high school (Marks 2000, National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2004). In many instances, secondary school has become a system based on obedience and “jumping through the hoops” that often has very little to do with the true spirit of learning. We’ve communicated to our students that school is about excelling on the test, giving the “right” answer, and memorizing and regurgitating information. School must shift toward a user-generated learning environment with the individual at the center, instead of lock-step curriculum and pacing guides. Learning must be driven by students’ interests and passions, not teacher-dictated lessons, learning plans, and assessments.
It’s clear that our current system is focused on education—not learning. Learning is social and at its peak when learners collaborate, connect, and create. Learning should be purposeful and allow the learner to make a contribution. Learning is not simply about the transfer of knowledge from one individual to another; it’s generative, exciting, and inspirational. Such learning must be the norm for students—and adults. This is truly the drive and motivation behind my wondering.
I really started to push myself to examine my instructional practices and research student engagement in the Fall of 2010. About this same time, I was introduced to the Square One organization. Square One’s mission is to positively influence K-12 youth toward their pursuit of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math careers. They support innovative ideas that are project -based, hands-on, and encourage student-led explorations through 3 year grants. Initially, I planned on writing a grant for 1-1 netbooks for my class. However, as I explored the purpose behind a networked learning environment I realized that my goal was not just simply to have the technology but to create a learning environment that engaged students and utilized technology to transform the learning opportunities. The grant focus shifted from technology to a STEM grant with student engagement, embedded technology tools and web 2.0 applications, and PBL units of study at its core.
Writing grants can be tedious and time-consuming, as was this one. It took me 2 months from start to finish. In this case, it was time well-spent. As I wrote the grant, revised, and reflected with Square One, I was forced to really examine student engagement and clearly articulate my wonderings and vision. The result was a 3 year grant proposal focused on the following:
The vision of this project is to engage and empower learners in an authentic learning environment using digital, interactive technologies. Learning will become more purposeful through mirroring the digital and global world, and providing opportunities to become critical thinkers, proactive citizens and creative contributors to the world.
Beyond the impact on students, the project is designed to provide opportunities to create a learning environment/model that can be replicated in other classrooms, schools, and districts that is reflective of our students’ future and high-level learning and engagement. Data will be collected and compiled to share with other schools, districts, and the community.
Creation of online personal learning networks to increase knowledge and skill in the STEM areas as well as their own personal learning goals.
Activities that are meaningful and relevant to the students and have a positive impact on others or in their school and home community.
Interaction with professionals in science and engineering. Learning opportunities that extend beyond the school day via online learning spaces.
High-level questioning and inquiry.
Critical thinking, collaboration, connections, and communication through face 2 face opportunities as well as virtual, online communities.
Collaborative and individualized, student-driven learning opportunities to “replicate” the *80/20 Google “innovation time off” model.
Daily opportunities for students to engage in project-based activities surrounding the concepts of force, motion, balance, energy, weather, and alternative energies.
Reading, writing, and math concepts taught through the study of science and project-based activities when possible.
Embedded technology and web 2.0 to enrich and expand the learning opportunities, knowledge, and resources.
Experiencing the “energy” of learning, creating, and collaborating.
*Google engineers are encouraged to take 20 percent of their time to work on something company-related that interests them personally. This means that if you have a great idea, you always have time to run with it.
Three Year Action Research Statements/Questions:
Development of inquiry, questioning, and critical thinking skills will deepen the levels of understanding and ability to grasp concepts at high-levels and make connections between disciplines.
Opportunities to communicate, collaborate, & create using tech & web 2.0 apps increase student engagement.
Embedded technology, use of WWW, and web 2.0 applications will enrich & expand the learning opportunities, knowledge, and skills and create a more student centric learning environment.
I was fortunate enough to receive a 3 year, 15,000 grant from Square One and started initial implementation in May, 2011 with full implementation of year 1 goals in September 2011. So determining the focus of my wondering for the Galileo Inquiry project was a relatively easy process. Student engagement is a critical element of student achievement and should be one of the driving forces in our conversations surrounding educational reform and schooling in the future. The challenge arose when I had to narrow down the specific wonderings that I could tackle and effectively collect data on in a 4-6 week time period. One of my strengths is the ability to understand the “big picture” and make connections and draw conclusions based on this. Yet this also poses a problem. Taking a systems approach and looking at the big picture is a critical piece of forward movement and change but conversation and thought need to shift to the reflection on why, how, and what will be done for action to occur.
The gentle push from my inquiry coach to narrow my wonderings resulted in a more powerful inquiry focus that could be accomplished with a short time-frame and resulted in a powerful shift in the learning environment for my students. The overall wonderings are still focused on the optimum learning environment for high student engagement and achievement but ended up really looking closely at the impact of student-led learning opportunities and formative assessment under the STEM/PBL, embedded technology, and ownership of learning umbrella. The following outlines the primary and secondary questions drove the inquiry, data collection and analysis, and conclusions:
What is the impact of formative assessment, the use of web 2.0 (to communicate, create, and collaborate their learning) and a STEM/PBL focus on student engagement and the achievement of first graders?
How might user-generated learning opportunities impact engagement and achievement levels?
What is the relationship between student engagement and “ownership of learning” to achievement?
What does it mean to “own learning” and can first graders demonstrate their understanding and evidence of “ownership”?
What does student engagement look like?
When engaging in action research understanding the “why” of your wondering is as important as the design and results. Clarity of purpose allows you to design an effective study that will yield answers and questions for continued growth and learning.
The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Classroom Research is an excellent resource on action research or teacher inquiry in the classroom. It’s highly recommended and provides a strong framework to follow.
I was recently asked to write an article about the journey and impact of being a connected educator. It was important to share this with my PLN as all of you have in some way contributed to my experience and accomplishments. Thank you PLN!
Pathway to Connectedness, Professional Growth and Inspiration, and Educational Transformation
So what is it that has the potential for such great impact on educators and the educational system? What has the power to inspire, push ones thinking, and make a difference? What opens up global connections and an opportunity to be a part of the collective voice in education? The answer is simple, yet highly complex and deep – a virtual PLN or personal learning network.
Every day, I reflect on how lucky I am to be a connected educator and to have stumbled onto this vast network of educators, research, and resources. My journey started approximately five years ago with a desire to become technologically literate. I immediately turned to the web to start my research. Of course, there were many informative articles and companies advertising or explaining their products. But the real learning occurred from blogs written by other educators or educational technology specialists. One blog in particular was the tipping point for the start of my virtual PLN.
Early on in the journey, I routinely visited 2-3 blogs specifically focused on technology integration. I learned and gathered information about many different technology tools and how other educators were using these in classrooms across the US. This gave me a much needed base of information to begin integrating these into the student learning environment. But as I continued to interact and follow more teacher blogs I realized that this environment offered a whole lot more than just “information.”
What I found was a complex educator network or online professional learning community based on the spirit of learning, collaboration, reflection, and a desire to not only better themselves personally but education as a whole. This was not a flat system of information exchange but a deep, complex and dynamic system of professional development and support for educators called a personal learning network (PLN). Even more surprising was that much of this was occurring via Twitter.
A very basic definition of a PLN is the entire collection of people with whom you engage and exchange information and who contribute to your knowledge and understanding of topics in your field and beyond. This is certainly not a new concept-we all have learning networks. Yet virtual PLNs offer much more because of the opportunity to interact globally and in many cases, real-time. Virtual PLNs are an excellent example of leveraging the power of technology to enrich, extend and globalize learning – with immediate impact on teachers but permanent impact on our students and education.
As you become more involved in the system, you realize the power lies in the relationships and connections, the spirit of give and take, the unyielding support, a desire to contribute to the world-wide voice in education, and daily passion and inspiration. I can unequivocally say that developing a Twitter PLN has been the most impactful PD I’ve had in 26 years of education and contributed to major areas of growth in my personal, professional and classroom life.
Through a virtual PLN I have the opportunity to network and connect with educators world-wide. This is a powerful element of a virtual PLN. Historically, education has been and to some extent continues to be a very closed-thinking system and profession. As we interact in our schools or districts, our thinking, problem-solving, decisions, and change can be very limited. There’s little opportunity to hear, process, or learn from the perspective of others. In the virtual world those barriers do not exist. I interact with educators – classroom teachers, administrators, curriculum developers, and education thought-leaders – world-wide on a regular basis. Thankfully, my understandings, beliefs, and thinking gets challenged, altered, and broadened on a daily basis.
Virtual PLNs offer personalized learning for teachers. It’s not about pre-planned professional development designed to teach the masses and disseminate information quickly and efficiently. It’s about ones needs, interests, and passions. It’s about long-term growth, reflection, and change. Most importantly- it’s about purpose and inspiration. The true spirit of an educator is one that both teaches and learns. A teacher can’t possibly express the joy and opportunities of learning if they are not active learners. Teachers need to ask the same things of themselves that they ask of their students every day – learn, set goals, accept feedback – positive or negative, take risks, reflect and grow. A virtual PLN provides all of this and – it’s FREE!
What really made the difference for me personally were the opportunities I had to be inspired, lead, and take risks. I now maintain a professional blog that gives me an opportunity to share what I’m passionate about and reach educators world-wide (http://educationvisionleadership.edublogs.org). I attribute this and many other accomplishments to my network. As a matter of fact, two recent accomplishments have direct correlations to my PLN. I will be taking on the role of Teacher Technology Integration Consultant. Right now, it’s a part time position but I’m confident that it will blossom into much more and become a critical element of the curriculum department. The position allows me to make impact as a teacher leader and address what I’m passionate about: teacher education, leveraging the power of technology to transform the learning environment, and personalized learning for our students.
The second accomplishment may never have happened without the power of the Twitterverse. As a matter of fact, a tweet I made was the beginning of the movement to have the first EdcampOU (Oakland University) on October 27, 2012. Edcamps (or “unconferences”) are a unique participant-driven PD movement sweeping the nation. This model is built on the same thing that fuels a PLN: collaboration, connections, inspiration, and growth. Because of the vast network and system of connectedness, my tweet reached a member of the Oakland University staff and a Lake Orion administrator. This quickly blossomed into a ripple of excitement and action and led to collaboration between educators in the field, the Oakland University Educational Leadership Department, and the Galileo Leadership Academy. Within in three weeks of the original tweet, the team assembled and the event was planned. We are thrilled to be moving forward.
For years, teacher voice and leadership has been absent from critical decisions and change efforts. Teachers did not necessarily have a professional guild to support them in their growth and development. Educator PLNs provide both of these opportunities. Many thought-leaders in education, educational organizations, policy-makers, and the US Department of Education are turning to Twitter and virtual interactions as they endeavor to give educator’s voice and transform education. Routinely engaging in dialogue, discussion, and learning via Twitter or other elements of a virtual PLN is giving educators voice and a boost in our professionalism. This movement has the power to transform education in your corner of the world as well as across the nation.
Sounds complex, right? Not really. All you need to do is take the leap, start making connections, and “growing” your PLN. It does take commitment and nurturing. What you get out of it is what you’re willing to put in. The power of a PLN does not lie in simple consumption of information. True change and transformation will occur when you contribute, reflect and grow, and ultimately lead.
Below is a Introduction to Project-Based Learning Power Point. It’s nothing fancy – I chose not to do a Prezi because of the amount of info I included. It’s full of information on the Why, The What, and The How and there are links to a tremendous amount of resources. Make sure to follow the 10-2 rule if you decide to do a presentation – talk for 10 minutes; have the audience interact or reflect to process the information for 2 minutes (of course you might have to be a little flexible with the amount of time). When I use this preso with a group of educators there are at least 4 opportunities to process the information. As a matter of fact, the original presentation has some Polleverywhere slide built into it. They were removed because they would no play in slide share. Remember learners are all the same – children or adults. They need time to process, reflect and/or apply, and communicate their learning.
Wow! TED has done it again. Created something “worth spreading” for education: Ted-Ed. If you haven’t checked this out – you must! The TED organization has created a version of its site for education with the following goal: “We live in a world where one teacher’s voice can spread out throughout the world,” Anderson, TED curator, said—and students worldwide can learn from the best teachers in each subject (quoted from Dennis Pierce, How TED-Ed is helping to amplify instruction, 2012). After one visit to the site and a viewing of the site’s tour video, it was evident that TedEd has the potential to amplify, transform, and play a major role in personal and personalized learning environments.
TedEd is hallmarked by the following options and opportunities:
curated educational videos
many videos represent a unique collaboration between educators and Ted nominated animators
create customized learning (add content,assessment and/or reflection questions, add additional reading and/or links to “dig deeper) around any educational video using the Flip this Video features
users can distribute the lessons, publicly or privately, and track their impact and use
students and teachers can search by series, subject, flipped videos, you tube, recent activity
giving teacher’s voice and opportunities to get involved by nominating an educator or animator, suggestion a topic, or giving general feedback
This is a must-do! Don’t wait. Start to curate content and vision how this will impact the learning environment in your classroom. Explore how it can broaden your impact as a teacher, fit into the flipped instructional model, and most importantly how this can fit into your student’s PLNs.
TedEd will definitely give Kahn Academy a run for its money!
When I reflect on the term teacher leadership, what comes to mind are these key ideas:
learner, visionary, passionate, committed, highly engaged, innovative, and reflective
Teacher leadership is about impacting the learning culture and functioning as change agents in your classroom, school, or district. Teacher leaders are critical to the growth and evolution of a school district and play a crucial role in the instructional leadership cog of the system. Teacher leadership is not about “teacher power.” It’s about a passionate pursuit of extreme performance and ideas- with a deep questioning, learning, sharing, and collaborative attitude. Teacher leaders must be learners and risk-takers, innovate, work toward continual growth and improvement, question and reflect – but also understand that it is not solely about their learning, growth, and aspirations. Teacher leadership is about supporting your colleagues toward developing their leadership and growth capacities. Most importantly, teacher leaders need to have a clear understanding of the vision and mission and demonstrate in their daily practice an unwavering commitment to excellence in education and preparing our students for their futures.
Are you a teacher leader? What can you do to fully develop your potential as a teacher leader? Reflect on these questions, create a manifesto or vision with statements of action, develop a plan of action, connect and collaborate with your administrator (s) and central office staff about your aspirations. It is your responsibility to make your voice heard. Be a Linchpin and a proactive, positive voice. Let others know your goals and how you plan to impact the learning culture for all -but remember this is not about rising to a position . Teacher leadership takes commitment, desire, and must come from your core.
Are you a learner? What are your plans for developing a personal learning plan? What are your areas of need and passions? Do you have and active PLN (personal learning plan) that you contribute to and engage in on a regular basis?
Are you a risk-taker? Can you think of recent risks in your learning or professional life? Do you learn from your successes and and most importantly from your failures ? Are you questioning, reflective, and action oriented about yourself in your personal and professional life?
Are you “truly” growth-minded (read Mind Set) and write a reflection about your mind set in both your personal and professional life?
Are you willing to do “whatever it takes”? Do you stand up for what’s right instead – even during the challenging times?
Do you have a clear vision? Can you articulate your professional and personal vision and mission? Does your vision come from your core? Have you written a vision, mission, or manifesto and made it public? Is your vision so clear that anyone who knows you can articulate it?
Are you committed?
Are you open-minded, flexible, and willing to “listen and hear” other perspectives? Are you willing to engage in generative thinking and collaboration? Do you value the collective voice of your colleagues, their knowledge, the power of collaboration vs. isolation, working toward initiatives and solutions that are not necessarily about your ideas, thoughts or needs?
Do you innovate? Do you engage in research? Have you written a grant, an article, blog or engaged in action research studies?
Do you contribute to the greater good in your building, district, or educational system? Are you a global learner, thinker, and communicator? Do you reflect on the “big picture” of education? Do you value connections with educators world-wide?
Are you engaged for the right reasons? Do you really value what you do? Do you have an unwavering commitment to education and most importantly learning? What are you willing to do to impact the educational landscape in your classroom, school, and district?
Is your motivation positive impact? A teacher leader position is not the end in itself but a means to an end – how can I benefit the learning culture – for all – in my classroom, school, or district? How can I work toward helping others – students, colleagues, parents – recognize the greatness in themselves and realize their potential? How might my teacher leadership goals and opportunities positively impact your professional practice and the students in your classroom?
Below is a Manifesto I created. It’s a working document at this point but one that drives what I do. It’s posted in my classroom right near my work station so I can reflect and take action every day. Try it! In an upcoming post I’ll address writing a personal and professional vision.
We all know our educational system will only change when we truly shift the education paradigm. The education world is continually working towards growth, improvement, and change. Some of the most recent changes and/or efforts at the forefront are common core standards, personalized learning, technology integration, new teacher evaluations, and Race to the Top. Each one of these has merit and should be a part of educational reform but do not necessarily represent a paradigm shift or second order change.
Paradigm shifting requires a radical change in underlying beliefs or theory. Second order change is a change that alters the system itself. In reflection on these elements of change, I was drawn to the idea of second order change. Altering the system needs to occur. Unless the system changes, many of these efforts will have little or no impact. Reflection needs to begin with an examination of the organizational and leadership structures Most of our schools are structured like a machine bureaucracy (standardization of work processes, technostructure, limited horizontal decentralization; important decisions are made at the apex; day to day operations are controlled by managers/principals ) and simple hierarchies.
Machine Bureaucracy Simple Hierarchy
Certainly there’s a time an place for some elements of these organizational and decision-making structures. The problem is that schools and districts are tied to one structure and are very unwilling to examine the merits of other systems or to be flexible and/or innovative with school organization and decision-making.
The key to educational reform is a systemic change toward “true” distributed leadership at both the building and district level and a culture that encourages, supports, and values innovation. Distributed leadership is really about teacher leadership. Teacher leaders are critical to the leadership of a school district. Research shows that teacher leadership increases efficacy, retention, commitment to change efforts, increased accountability, engagement and purpose. Having a strong system of teacher leadership builds capacity as leaders of learning for both students and teachers.
For true distributed leadership, our schools/districts need to move toward flexible organizational structures that include elements of Helgeson’s Web of Inclusion and the All-Channel Network. The web of inclusion outlines an organizational structure that is more circular than hierarchical. The web builds from the center out and works like a spider web. The web’s center and periphery are interconnected; action in one place ripples across the entire configuration, forming an ” interconnected cosmic web in which the threads of all forces and events form an inseparable net of endless, mutually conditioned relations” (Fritjof Capra , quoted in Helgeson, 1995, p.16). The focus of this structure is nurturing good relationships, including people at all levels in decision-making, open lines of communication, and leadership is at the center rather than at the top. The All-Channel or Star Network is characterized by multiple connections; free information flow; decisions that require touching multiple bases; teamwork and interdependence.
Now is the time to innovate not only in our pedagogy, standards, and learning environments but also in school organizational and decision-making structures. Tap the powerful resources of teacher leaders, empower and build leadership capacity, distribute leadership, and give all members of the organization purpose, voice and impact. Systems thinking and system-level changes will start us on the road to true reform but we must be willing to shift the paradigm.
This is the final post outlining the first grade engaged action research journey. Hopefully, you’ve gained some ideas and insights that may have implications for your work and the children you teach. But more importantly, I hope it’s peaked your interest in engaging in action research and created an understanding of the power it has to transform teaching, learning and the big picture of education.
CONCLUDING THOUGHTS AND NEXT STEPS
As I entered into this inquiry I was encouraged, understandably so, to narrow my focus. I did attempt to do this but struggled with this because I assumed that creating an optimal learning environment could not be attributed to one instructional practice or approach. My inquiry definitely supported this thought. Creating an engaging environment hallmarked by student ownership of learning and high achievement is multi-faceted. All elements play an equal role in creating a learning culture that is ubiquitous and clearly communicated to the members of the community – the learners.
Certainly, I can’t make definitive claims because this was not a well-controlled study with the collection of valid and reliable data but when I step back and look at the overall attitude, level of independence and engagement, depth of understanding and thought – which can’t possibly be captured on paper or in small video snippet – I know that I’m making movement toward my ultimate goal – creating a model of a classroom learning environment where the student is at the center of the decision making, the teachers facilitate, support, challenge and engage individual learners, and the power of technology is utilized to expand opportunities for learning, individualization, and global awareness. For me, it’s starting to define what schooling should look like for the 21st century learner.
This inquiry prompted me to take these ideas one step further. I recently created a 21st century learning graphic and published an article on Transforming Schools that’s posted on the Center For Teaching Quality TransformEd blog.
The March student engagement survey indicated an increase in all areas of engagement. On most items, 22-25 students chose the highest rating. 100% of the students rated all areas as “sometimes or yes” in March compared to some “no” ratings on the February survey. Reading scores in April, 2012 indicate that 88% of students are reading significantly above grade level (0% are reading below grade level) compared to last year (80% May, 2011; below grade level 13%). Math data indicates that 99% of students have demonstrated mastery on the secure math GLCE for the past three math units of study. The claims and evidence positively support the primary (and secondary questions of this inquiry): A learning environment characterized by formative assessment, the use of web 2.0 tools (to communicate, create, and collaborate on learning and thinking) and a STEM/PBL focus increases student engagement and the achievement of first graders.
These systems and learning approaches will become permanent features of the learning environment that I create for years to come. But as with all good research and learning, more questions and areas to improve upon have emerged:
Areas of Continued Focus:
Create a more ongoing, systematic way for students to reflect on their learning and the results of formative, summative, and performance assessments as it relates to goal setting.
Develop and administer parent surveys on the engagements, ownership, and achievement levels of their child to be given 3 times/year.
Increase opportunities fo virtual parent learning and collaboration
To use STEM and PBL units of study to drive instruction, instead of the common core or GLCE standards. The standards would be taught and mastered but as a means for accomplishing the tasks and understanding the driving questions of the STEM/PBL units of study.
On all surveys, the students score “ I shared ideas or asked questions” lower than interest, listening, and understanding. When asked, most students focused on the term “asked questions.” If they didn’t ask a question, they marked it low. The prompt was supposed to refer to participation. At first, I attributed this to a misunderstanding. I clarified what the term meant. The levels increased slightly but were still not consistent with the other ratings. Further probing and exploration of different instructional approaches needs to occur to address this.
Can you create a highly individualized, user-generated learning environment, where students master the common core standards, but with very different learning pathways and opportunities to pursue their passions?
How might we create a learning environment that is flexible and fluid in nature and can easily respond to the needs of all learners?
What role does technology play in creating these types of learning environments?
How should the role of the teacher shift to accommodate this type of learning? What needs to happen for all educators to become masters of their craft and facilitators of a fluid, multi-faceted, global learning environment?
Can school become a learning environment for all stakeholders (students, parents, educators) where the teacher/learner role is not static?
As I finish this leg of the journey another aha moment has emerged: I’ve always been intrigued by the possibility of pursuing a PhD but held back by the demands of my personal and professional life. But now that I’ve gotten a “taste” of the process and the amazing possibilities for it to advance my knowledge as an educator which will ultimately impact students, my colleagues, and the educational landscape, I know that this will be in my future. What an awesome opportunity and gift I was given by the Galileo Leadership Academy.
Brookhart, Susan M and Moss, Connie M. (2009) Advancing formative assessment in everyclassroom. Alexandria, VA. ASCD
Buck Insitute For Education (n.d.). Project-based learning definition. Retrieved from www.bie.org/
Fredericks, J.A., Blumenfeld, P.C., and Paris, A. (2004). School engagement: potential of the conceptstate of the evidence. Review of