Tag Archives: PLC

Empower learners to deepen their learning

How might we empower learners to deepen their understanding?

After creating and administering common assessments, the next question is perhaps the most challenging: “Are students learning what we think they are supposed to be learning?” (Ferriter and Parry, 75 pag.)

What if our learners are grasping the content, but they are struggling to communicate what they know and how they arrive at a conclusion?

How might we make our expectations clear? What if we empower our learners to take action on their own behalf?

What if our culture embraces the three big ideas of a PLC?

Learning is our focus.
Collaboration is our culture.
Results guide our decisions.

Our #TrinityLearns 2nd grade team sat down together last week to analyze the results of the most recent common assessment.  While our young learners are grasping the basic concepts, we want more for them. We want confident, flexible thinkers and problem solvers.  We want our learners to show what they know more than one way, and we want strong clear communication so that the reader can follow the work without to infer understanding.

Teams at this point in the process are typically performing at a high level, taking collective responsibility for the performance of their students rather than responding as individuals. (Ferriter and Parry, 77 pag.)

As a team, these teachers sorted their students’ work into four levels, shared artifacts of levels with each other, and planned a common lesson.

Laurel Martin (@laurel_martin) explained to our children that the artifacts they analyzed were not from their class and that they belonged to a class across the hall.

Here’s the pitch to the students from Sarah Mokotoff’s (@2ndMokotoff) class:

Don’t you just love the messages: Be like scientists. Make observations. Offer feedback on how to improve.

Here’s what it looked like as the children analyzed artifacts from another 2nd grade class:

Once the analysis was complete, our teachers facilitated a discussion where the children developed a learning progression for this work.

From Kerry Coote (@CooteMrs):

We created these together after looking at student work samples that were assigned at each level. Our kids were so engaged in the activity; they were able to compare and give reasons why work was at a level 3 versus a level 4. It was really good to see! I believe this will empower them to be deeper thinkers and gradually move away from giving an answer without showing their thinking and work.

Here’s what the students in Grace Granade’s (@2ndGranade) class developed:


More from Kerry Coote:

After we helped them develop the learning progression, we conferenced with each child looking at their math assessment. They  automatically self-assessed and assigned levels for their thinking. Many scored themselves lower at first, but the activity of crafting the learning progression helped in making sense of explaining their thinking! Today in math a boy asked me – “so Mrs. Coote, what are those levels again? I know the target is Level 3, but I want to use numbers, words, and pictures to get to level 4.”  It is all coming together and making sense more with these experiences!

In their morning meeting the next day, one of Kathy Bruyn’s (@KathyEE96) learners shared the poster she made the night before.

Don’t you love how she explained the near doubles fact and her precise language?  Wow!

Since we focus on learning and results, this team offered learners an opportunity to show growth.

From Samantha Steinberg (@spsteinberg):

This is an example of leveling up after looking at our assessment.  Initially, [he] used the learning progression to rate his work at level 3.  After reading my feedback, he added words to his next attempt to show his additional thinking.

Before the class developed the learning progression:

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 8.08.58 PM

After the class developed the learning progression:

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 8.09.13 PM

Can you see the difference in this child’s work, understanding, and communication?

A growth mindset isn’t just about effort. Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort. Certainly, effort is key for students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches—not just sheer effort—to learn and improve. (Dweck, n. pag.)

Kudos to our 2nd grade team for reaching for the top stages of  the seven stages of collaborative teams! Learning is our focus. Collaboration is our culture. Results guide our decisions.

How might we continue to empower learners to deepen their understanding?

Dweck, Carol. “Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’” Education Week. Education Week, 22 Sept. 2015. Web. 02 Oct. 2015.

Graham, Parry, and William Ferriter. Building a Professional Learning Community at Work: A Guide to the First Year. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree, 2010. Print.

Brainwriting…collaborative brainstorming enhanced by Google Docs

Do the same members of the learning team contribute at every meeting, brainstorming session, and discussion?  Do we ever hear from everyone?  How do we offer others the opportunity to have their voices and ideas heard?

In Synergy and our PLCs, Bo and I have used Brainwriting from Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers to hear from everyone, to help members of our community engage in the ideas of others, and to build collaborative thinking.  This process, described at gogamestorm.com, uses index cards as the collaborative tool.

Here’s an example from our Synergy 8 team.  They were asked to pick a problem at school they would like to address and brainstorm.  (I had to type it up from the big Post-it notes used in the Synergy Coffeehouse.)

I think that sleep is a big issue that we need to solve.  I think over half the students at [school] don’t get enough sleep, and that we need to fix that.  Everyone needs a good amount of sleep to function well at school.  I think we should do a survey just to make sure of how many people at [school] don’t get enough sleep.  We should research different ways to get more sleep and educate others on our findings.  It would also help if somehow we made schedule changes to help school start later.  I think this project will end up bettering the lives of the students at [school] and help them come to school everyday better prepared.  I would hope that we could change the time of school starting in order to aid not just the students at [school] but students everywhere to get more sleep.  It will take a lot of research and preparation to

Pretty great thinking from 12- and 13-year-olds, huh?  Just for a little more clarity, four different learners contributed to the piece above.  Here’s how their contributions built the idea above:


I think that sleep is a big issue that we need to solve.  I think over half the students at [school] don’t get enough sleep, and that we need to fix that.  Everyone needs a good amount of sleep to function well at school.

Index card passes to new team member and ideas are carried forward:

I think we should do a survey just to make sure of how many people at [school] don’t get enough sleep.  We should research different ways to get more sleep and educate others on our findings.

Index card passes to a third team member:

It would also help if somehow we made schedule changes to help school start later.  I think this project will end up bettering the lives of the students at [school] and help them come to school everyday better prepared.

Index card shifts to a fourth team member:

I would hope that we could change the time of school starting in order to aid not just the students at [school] but students everywhere to get more sleep.  It will take a lot of research and preparation to

Time is called.

It is important to note that as this idea was growing, three other ideas were growing too. To be more clear, here is another brainwriting sample from this team.

Why do people cut in line?  How do we prevent line cutting?

  1. Find people who cut in line
  2. Interview them: why, when, how they avoid detection
  3. Remove the motivation: this will prevent cutting
  4. Is line cutting different in different grades?

All good questions! How can we know who and why people cut in line?  How could we make others aware of the “taking the motivation” of cutting away?

They should notice.  If people cut to get bagels, for example, we could move or remove the bagels.  Maybe if they are somewhere else the line will form differently and cutting won’t happen.  I think we need more empathy for others.

How does my cutting affect/impact the people in line behind me?  Would anyone tolerate a senior cutting in line in front of a 1st grader?  Would we allow that to happen?  What is the difference in cutting in line when others can’t “fight back?” How do we encourage our community to model and live the Golden Rule?

We have also used brainwriting with our teacher-learners in PLC to build ideas and understanding around PBL.  We have used brainwriting with our Department Integration Specialists to build common lessons on digital citizenship.

The brainwriting process is fantastic and yields great results.  The index cards and Post-it notes are bound to a physical space.  What if we shifted this experience to a set of Google docs?  Would we get the same good thinking?

John Burk outlined using Google docs to using brainwriting with a team in his Quantum Progress post Brainwriting to explore digital citizenship.

“Here’s how it works:

  1. In google docs, create a template document with a writing prompt, and then place that document inside that collection. For us, the prompt was “Describe how to serve, lead and grow in a community.”
  2. Share the document with your class or colleagues, and ask each person to create his/her own copy of the template, and rename it with his/her last name.
  3. Have each person write for 3 minutes on the prompt on their copy of the template.
  4. After three minutes, ask each person to switch to the next document in the list, read what is written and then add to that document in the voice of the original author.”

John continues in his post saying “Once you’ve got 3-4 rounds with this, you’ll be pretty amazed by how the entire group has created a collection documents that present a range of viewpoints and yet share many common threads.”

How do we teach collaboration, critical thinking, empathy, and divergent thinking?  How do we coach ourselves and others to listen and contribute to the ideas of others?


If you have ideas of how to use brainwriting to create collaborative experiences to move teams, will you share them in the comments below?  Will you read another’s idea and extend it to learn and share?

Spreading an “I can …” culture: Aware, Enable, Empower

While serving as a member of the Algebra I team at Westminster, I collaborated with colleagues to communicate essential learning targets to our community.  An example is shown below.

Graphing Linear Functions: Unit Two Essential Learnings – Algebra I

By the end of this unit, you [the learner] must be able to say:

  • I can state the formula for slope, am able to use the formula, and can apply that slope is a rate of change.
      • I can find the slope given two points.
      • I can find the slope from a graph.
  • I can find the equation of a line from given information including a graph, the slope and y- intercept, slope and a point, two points.
      • I can find an equation of a line given a point and the slope.
      • I can find an equation of a line given two points.
      • I can find an equation of a line given a graph.
      • I can find an equation of a line parallel or perpendicular to a given line through a given point.
  • I can demonstrate computational fluency with addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and powers of real numbers.
      • I can convert units by using the appropriate ratios (dimensional analysis).
  • I can apply linear functions to model and solve application problems.
      • I can solve application problems involving linear functions.
      • I can solve application problems involving direct variation.
  • I can read and interpret graphs.
      • I can read and interpret information given a graph.

I have been rereading The Power of SMART Goals: Using Goals to Improve Student Learning.

“In order to engage in high-quality assessment, teachers need to first identify specific learning targets and then to know whether the targets are asking students to demonstrate their knowledge, reasoning skills, performance skills, or ability to create a quality product. The teacher must also understand what it will take for students to become masters of the learning targets:  What must students do to acquire knowledge, reasoning skills, performance skills, or the ability to create a quality product? Equally as important, the teacher must share these learning targets and strategies with the students in language that they understand. It is not enough that the teacher knows where students are headed; the students must also know where they are headed, and both the teacher and the students must be moving in the same direction.” (Conzemius, O’Neill,  66 pag.)

As I wondered if the “I can…” work we crafted in Algebra I was scalable, I watched Kiran Bir Sethi teaches kids to take charge again.

I’ve watched this particular TED talk at least 2 dozen times.  I learn something new every time I watch.  This time the talk connected to the “I can…” statements communication and collaboration with students.  Could we use the idea of “I can…” statements with younger students?

Conzemius and O’Neill encourage educators to identify specific learning targets and express them as “I can…” statements written in kid-friendly language.  Skill and strategies to be learned and assessed should not be a secret.  We should communicate desired outcomes clearly.

One of the highlights of my week involved collaborating with my colleagues to write Everyday Math “I can…” statements for our learners and their families.   It really started a couple of weeks ago with our fantastic 2nd grade team in a team meeting.  In less than an hour, this team of highly motivated educators discussed the essential learnings for a unit and developed the set of “I can…” statements shown below.  I’ve chosen to quote the entire post to show their good work.

Unit 1 in 2nd Grade Math    (posted on 08.20.12)

Unit 1 has begun! This unit is primarily a review unit which focuses on numbers and routines. Lessons review tools in the toolkits, routines for working with partners and small groups, using the number grid, telling time, and counting money. Students are encouraged to practice their addition basic facts (sums through 9 + 9 = 18) as much as they can each week using flash cards, games, or the computer to hone their skills. Later this week, we will post a list of websites that will be useful at home. Today they were given a place in their white binder to record their practice times. Before we know it, the addition facts will be mastered making computation much easier!

By the end of unit 1, your child should be able to say:

    • I can draw tally marks.
    • I can find the value of a collection of coins.
    • I can find missing numbers on a number line.
    • I can solve number grid puzzles.
    • I can tell and write time to the half hour.
    • I can show 10 several different ways.
    • I can count by 2’s, 5’s and 10’s.

Two weeks later, with no coaching from me:

Unit 2 in 2nd Grade Math!     (posted on 09.06.12)

Unit 2 focuses on reviewing and extending addition facts and linking subtraction to addition. Children will solve basic addition and subtraction facts through real-life stories. In Everyday Mathematics, the ability to recall number facts instantly is called “fact power.” Instant recall of the addition and subtraction facts will become a powerful tool in computation with multidigit numbers such as 29 + 92.

By the end of Unit 2, your child should be able to say:

  • I can add and write turnaround facts.
  • I can write fact families.
  • I can add single-digit numbers.
  • I can subtract basic facts. (up to 18 – 9 = 9)
  • I can extend a numeric pattern and solve and write the rule for this pattern.

Please click on “Read More” to view the Unit 2 parent letter.

While Kiran Bir Sethi’s inspiring TED talk has always spoken to me about PBL, this time I focused on helping learners progress through the stages of aware, empower, and enable.

    • Aware – see what is to be learned
    • Enable – adjust and practice behaviors to learn
    • Empower – lead others to learn

Offering learners multiple ways to become aware of what is to be learned and designing experiences to lead learning and practice should enable and empower the learner to grow stronger and more confident.

This week, our amazing 3rd grade team, collaborated on Everyday Math “I can…” statements.

Unit 2: 3rd Grade Essential Learnings

 The main topics of Unit 2 are addition and subtraction of whole numbers with special emphasis on the basic facts and their extensions; solution strategies for addition and subtraction number stories; and addition and subtraction computation with multi-digit numbers.

By the end of Third Grade math, children should demonstrate automaticity with all addition and subtraction facts through
10 + 10 and use basic facts to compute fact extensions.

By the end of Unit 2, your child should be able to say:

  • I can identify the digits in a multi-digit number and express the value of each digit.
      • Example: 465
        The value of the 6 is 60.
  • I can find several names for the same whole number.
      •  Example: 20
        10 + 10
        Veinte (or another language)
  • I can use basic facts to compute extended facts.
      • Example:
        If I know 2 + 3 = 5, then I know 20 + 30 = 50 and
        200 + 300 = 500.
  •  I can add and subtract multi-digit whole numbers.
  • I can tell and show time on an analog clock at the five-minute marks.
  • I can complete “What’s My Rule?” problems.
  • I can solve number stories and write number models.

Please refer to the Unit 2 family letter for additional information and vocabulary.

Our goal is to facilitate experiences to spread the “I can…” contagion.  We want our learners to be able to say:

      • I can do math.
      • I can solve problems.
      • I can persist when I struggle.
      • I can collaborate with others to learn together.
      • I can communicate what I know and what I want to know.

Next week, our wonderful 4th grade team begins “I can…” work.  Hmm…this seems to be spreading.

Will writing learning targets in the voice of the learner rather than the teacher help all interested parties focus on the learning rather than the teaching? Can we spread the “I can…” bug?  Will we strive to be contagious?


Conzemius, Anne; O’Neill, Jan. The Power of SMART Goals: Using Goals to Improve Student Learning. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree, 2006. Print.

Leading Learners to Level Up #MICON12

On Wednesday, June 13, Bo Adams and Jill Gough are  facilitating a session at The Martin Institute’s 2012 Conference (#MICON12 on Twitter) on formative assessment entitled Leading Learners to Level Up.

Leveled formative assessment that offers learners the ability to calibrate understanding with expectations and, at the same time, shows the path to the next level will improve learning and teaching. Use assessment to inform learners where they are on the learning spectrum, where the targets are, and how to level up.

Leading Learners to Level Up (Framework plans) [50 minutes]

  1. Formative Assessment presentation [15 minutes]
  2. Examples of Leveled Formative assessments
    1. Algebra: Linear Functions, Slope [5 minutes]
    2. Synergy: Essential Learnings, Observation Journals [5 minutes]
    3. SMART Goals and other PLC examples [5 minutes]
  3. Use PollEverywhere to decide the next step:  many individual/pair workshopped rubrics or mini individual workshopped rubric to then share out to whole group (like faculty web presence; group work – engaged participation) [5 minutes]
  4. Participant workshop time to develop leveled assessment for use with learners   [10 minutes + 10 minutes to share out & wrap up]

[Cross-posted at It’s About Learning]

PLCs, Westminster JH, Randolph, and Learning Together

On Friday, February 17, Jill Gough and Bo Adams worked with The Randolph School faculty to share the story of PLC (Professional Learning Community) development at The Westminster Schools’ Junior High, as well as to facilitate a small piece of Randolph’s continuing, multi-year efforts to transform their school with the PLC ethos. Below, Bo and Jill have embedded the slide deck that they used during the Friday morning keynote. As usual, though, a slide deck cannot capture the rich conversations and invaluable discussions that surround and permeate professional work based on shared experience.

Randolph has been piloting PLCs for two years, and they are making formidable steps to enhance their teacher teaming and learner strategizing. Westminster and Randolph are imagining different ways to stretch time and embed regular teaming. There is no one-size-fits-all structural approach to PLCs, but there are universal ideas and questions that must guide our work:

3 Big Ideas:

  1. Learning is the focus.
  2. Collaboration is the culture.
  3. Results guide our decisions.

4 Key Questions:

  1. What should be learned?
  2. How will we know if “they” have learned?
  3. What will we do if “they” already know it?
  4. What will we do if “they” aren’t learning?

What a privilege and bright spot it is to collaborate among schools and learn with and from each other. Could our institutions and organizations actually stretch the PLC ethos to include more such collaboration among our schools? Could we model being PLCs among schools, like we model forming PLCs among our adult learners?

PLC Randolph Slidedeck 2-2012.

[Cross-posted at It’s About Learning]

FAAR – Connecting Peer Observations to Learning for Life

As part of our formative Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) plan, we engage in a process of peer observations. We also have a new Learning for Life vision statement.  With his permission, I am publishing my peer observation of my friend and colleague, BC.  As I reviewed my notes taken during his class, I realized that he, in this one lesson,  seized the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century by promoting all six essential actions called for in our Learning for Life vision statement.


Focus of the observation (if any) and class context:

Algebra I team’s lesson study on Phases of the Moon.

Teaching methods and practices observed (strength-based)/Indicators of student learning.

  •   Integrated Studies
  •   Project-based Learning
  •   Learning Spaces
  •   Teachers working in teams
  •   Assessment and feedback
  •   Content that connects us to the larger world and the world to us.

Assessment and feedback, Teachers working in team, Project-based learning
BC uses inquiry to engage our learners in the context of the lesson.  He solicits prior knowledge to have learners take an active role in driving the lesson.

Integrated studies, Teachers working in teams, Content that connects us
CB used multi-media, a video from the History Channel (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXseTWTZlks), to confirm the students’ prior knowledge and introduce necessary vocabulary not discussed by the students.

Teachers working in teams
In the face of no network access, BC calmly transitioned to the team’s Plan B.  Rather than using  the resources for Phases of the Moon on our Google Site, he used a Keynote presentation.  This modeled for our learners that we continue to learn; we do not stop because “we have no Internet.”

Teachers working in teams, Content that connects us, Learning spaces
While the students did not leave the classroom, they definitely utilized spaces.  The students used their MacBooks to find answers and questions concerning the moon.  CB addressed visual and kinesthetic learning styles by having the learners graph the illumination of the moon over the days of a month.

[Note:  Video evidence inserted here.¹  ]

Some questions to consider:

Did you like teaching graph interpretation this way?
How can we have more classes like this?
Where do we turn for more resources to find integrate lessons that engage our students and connect their learning to many disciplines?

What did I observe that I would like to incorporate into my own teaching/Other notes:

This is an awkward question since we built the lesson together.  We observed each other; we all went to DD’s class as a team.  DD and I went to BC’s class while WB was teaching Algebra II.  It is difficult to say what I would like to incorporate since we observed, learned, and tweaked the lesson as it was delivered to all Algebra I learners.


Our new technology made this observation a richer experience from my team.  I used my iPhone (forgot my Flip camera) to collect video snippets of examples so that we could review and analyze what happened during class.  I used my MacBook with Pages to import the video into my notes in class during the observation.  My team and I had my raw notes from the observation right after class.  (See my raw notes from the observation at the end of this post.)

If a picture is worth 1000 words, what is video worth?

  • How does technology help us learn?
  • Is it “good enough” to do things the way we’ve always done them?
  • Do our learners need different than what we need?
  • How are we practicing?
  • What one thing could you explore, experiment with, and practice that would blend learning?

Our challenge as learners is to learn by doing, to practice new techniques, to use technology do things better, and to make connections.  The video artifacts in this observation allowed us to “view” parts of the lesson over and over.  The video doesn’t just make the observation different; it makes it better.  We have the opportunity to see what we might otherwise have missed.  We have “replay” to continue to question and observe.

As a learner, I had the opportunity to blend my learning.  I observed a colleague deliver a common lesson designed by our team.  I practiced with technology by integrating the use of video into my note taking.  While I don’t have as many written notes, the video tells the story is a way that my written notes could never tell.  As a team, we have evidence that we are taking steps to transform our traditional classes in order to align learning with our vision.  We had the opportunity to learn together as we revised and refined the lesson between “shows.”


¹  School policy prevents me from showing you the video of the learning that occurred during this lesson. [Awaiting permission.]

PBL Field Guide: Who forms your learning team?

The Professional Learning Communities reflection in Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age challenges the reader to model collaborative learning, learn and share, and develop learning teams. This is right in line with our Learning for Life vision statement, NET•S, and NET•T.

Three of the essential actions called for in our Learning for Life vision statement are

  • Problems that require critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration
    (Problem-based/Project-based learning)
  • Teachers in teams supporting learning and innovation
    (PLC/Critical Friends Circles)
  • Content and Relationships that connect us to the larger world and the world to us  (Global Citizenship)

Bo Adams (@boadams1, It’s About Learning) and I co-direct our Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).  Our school makes a commitment to adult learning and collaboration by affording teachers job-embedded time to work and learn together.  For a glimpse into our PLCs, see Pull Together, Part II from It’s About Learning and Learning as a Team – A Big PLC Brightspot from my blog.

From Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age:

Professional learning can certainly support your shift to project-based instruction, but the fundamental program changes you make will require frequent and intentional collaboration with your colleagues.  [p. 31] 

In Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital AgeCarmel Crane describes her process when getting ready to launch a project with her students.

Before [introducing] the project to students, I presented it to about 10 teachers.  I laid out all the planning details, and they gave me critical feedback.  It was a great opportunity to see things I may have overlooked.

Other teachers could see how we might work together on future projects to reach our shared goals.  [p. 31]

On Friday, the 4th Period Math-Science PLC took another step toward PBL and Lesson Study by participating in the Eggs Over Easy project that our Science 8 team is planning for the Monday-Tuesday prior to our Thanksgiving break.

In the 55-minute period, we assembled our carriers, did the drops, and debriefed the lesson.  There is more video coming about the debriefing session.  Our plan for Monday is to “do the math” and the reflection questions concerning potential and kinetic energy.  But, the lead teacher for Algebra I has already asked how we can support this lesson in our Algebra classes – another step in integrated studies.  Woohoo!

Again from Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age:

A project-based learning collaboration among students is a lot like a professional learning community among teachers.  For both, the learning is relevant and rigorous, and the “students” learn to learn together. [p. 32]

Bo and I co-facilitate Synergy 8, a non-departmentalized, non-graded, transdisciplinary, community-issues-problem-solving course for 8th graders.  A new school policy about student images on faculty blogs prevents me from showing you how closely the work of our Synergy team matches up with our PLC teacher teams.  [If you want to know more about #Synergy, then you can search that category/tag on either of our blogs.]

Paraphrasing Professional Learning Communities at Work: Best practices for enhancing student achievement:  PBL delivered by a high-functioning PLC of teachers can be the “engine of improvement” that drives a school forward.

Once again from Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age:

Anne Davis, an advocate for blogging with elementary students, suggests using your personal blog as a tool for making connections with like-minded colleagues.  A team of two is better than no team at all, but image the compounding effect of a large team, an entire faculty, or an international community of colleagues. [p. 33] 

If you could assemble your “dream-team,” with whom would you collaborate for PBL? How and with whom do you learn, reflect, and share?  How do you create opportunities for your learners to build their “dream-team” to learn, reflect, and share?  How do we leverage technology to engage with our learning teams?

Completing the Square / Leading by Following

On Saturday, September 17, Bo Adams and I were privileged to provide the keynote address for the 2011 Regional T³/MCTM Annual Conference.  Conference Director Jennifer Wilson facilitated a wonderfully effective learning opportunity for teachers, administrators, pre-service teachers, college professors, and others.

From the beginning, the program cover-art fascinated Bo and me. The conference theme was “Completing the Square,” and the image pictured a puzzle with a missing piece in the center. To build our keynote address, Bo and I imagined what that missing puzzle piece might be that would truly complete the square. Additionally, we threaded our talk with the idea of Leading by Following.

Believing in the powerful nature of stories, Bo and I told four stories to illuminate some puzzling issues facing educators today:

Puzzle 1: Why do we talk so much of teaching when it’s about LEARNING? Or… “How could they not know this?” [Assessment for Learning]

Puzzle 2: How can we make learning experiences more meaningful? Or… “When are we gonna use this?” [Contextual Learning]

Puzzle 3: Why are teachers and admin “US and THEM” when we all want our students to learn? Or… “You are a fool!” [Learning Partners]

Puzzle 4: Why is teaching an “egg crate culture” when we know learning is social? Or… “WE are smarter than ME.” [Learning Communities]

What do you think the missing piece might be? What completes the square? The following slide deck will lead you on the path that we explored during the keynote. We loved being in this community of learners at Brandon Middle School. It is always a privilege and pleasure to spend time learning with committed and curious educators.

Cross-posted with Bo Adams on his blog, It’s About Learning.

Tearing Down Walls

We live in an increasingly connected world. Yet barriers to connection continue to operate in schools. Kathy Boles at Harvard has described school as the egg-crate culture. With some exceptions, teaching can be an isolated and isolating profession, unless teachers and administrators work to be connected to other learners. It is far too easy to go into one’s classroom and teach…relatively alone…siloed. Classes right next door to each other, much less across a building or campus, often have no idea what is going on outside the four walls in which they are contained. And departmentalization makes for an efficient way to deliver content in neat, organized packages, but departmentalization is not the best parrot of the real, inter-connected, messy-problem world.

What can we do to step closer to modeling and experiencing real, inter-connected problem-addressing?  How do we communicate with each other when we are assigned classrooms where we can be siloed?  What could greater connectivity look like for learners of all ages?

Recently, learning partners Jill Gough and Bo Adams submitted a roughly made prototype of a three-minute video to apply for a speakers spot at TEDxSFED. It’s about “Tearing Down Walls.” It’s about experiments in learning by doing. It’s about learning.