Monday, April 30, 2018

What Is Student Voice and Choice and Why Does it Matter?

One of the most powerful ways to engage students in learning is through choice. Incorporating "voice and choice" into learning typically increases intrinsic motivation, energy and passion which leads to improved outcomes. Student Voice goes beyond token representations of students on school committees. 

At its core, student voice is the antithesis of depersonalized and standardized educational experiences because it begins and ends with the thoughts, feelings, visions, and actions of the students themselves. 

Implementing student voice in your school/classroom requires a deep reconsideration of the 
role of students in the school, not as a place that transmits knowledge, but as a community of learners (Zhao, 2012). Toshalis and Nakkula (2012) found that fostering student voice  - empowering youth to express their opinions and influence their educational experiences so that they feel they have a stake in the outcomes -  is one of the most powerful tools schools have to increase learning. Figuring out what motivates students and engages them in learning is as essential as it is challenging; it doesn't happen over night. 

Promoting student voice and choice has been linked to other important educational outcomes, including: elevated achievement in traditionally marginalized student populations; greater classroom participation; enhanced school change efforts; better self-reflection and preparation for improvement in struggling students; and decreased behavior problems. However, as Prins (2009) points out, it can be challenging to cover the "necessary content" in a completely student choice driven course. The main reason for this difficulty is that the course will proceed from one topic to another at a pace that is defined by when a majority of the students feel that they have adequately mastered the present topic; this form of deeper learning in currently not used in many schools due to a culture driven by high-stakes testing and other barriers like fear of change. Furthermore, Fielding (2004) suggests that it "requires a transformation of what it means to be a student; what it means to be a teacher. In effect, it requires the intermingling and interdependence of both." 

Partnering with students to engage them in learning, in other words, calls for a pedagogical shift – what some describe as a shift from teaching to learning (Watkins, 2009). As educators begin to make this shift, some express a tension between teaching the curriculum and empowering students to become partners in learning. As educators create space for students to have more autonomy in their learning, they require an environment that is open to risk-taking and provides opportunities to continually reflect on and persevere through their own learning process – what Watkins (2012) calls “a supportive forum for experimentation” where educators can talk about the tensions that emerge from new roles and responsibilities. 

Fielding, M. (2004). Transformative approaches to student voice: Theoretical underpinnings,
recalcitrant realities. British Educational Research Journal,30(2), 295–311.

As educators become more open to student voice, they are finding that they are learning about their own learning as well. They are adopting “a learning stance” that affirms “the image of children and teachers as capable, resourceful, powerful protagonists of their own experience (Wien, 2008)." They are opening up spaces and ways for students to demonstrate their ideas and share their thinking. As educators collaborate to analyze and discuss next steps in the learning process, they open up spaces to share ideas and express their own thinking as well. 

In building trusting and reciprocal relationships, traditional roles shift. 

This process takes time and does not come without its challenges. Students don’t start out ready to be independent, autonomous learners. Rather, they need responsibility to shift to them as they become more and more competent and self-directed. Thus, shifting power in teacher-student relationships can happen anywhere along a continuum:

10 Things to Think About When Adopting Student Voice: 
  1. Give student opportunities to move around, work with others and make choices about their learning. Project based learning or starting with project-like activities are a good place to start. 
  2. Help students identify their own interests, goals and values. Use tools like the WOOP Goals planning documents from the Character Lab or help them write SMART goals. 
  3. Classroom activities and teacher-student relationships must attend to the cultural and political contexts in which that learning occurs. Instead of trying to teach in a vacuum by shutting out influences from the world outside, teachers can breathe life into lessons and elevate student motivation by integrating individual, neighborhood, regional, and world circumstances that can make the content areas feel real. 
  4. Explicitly show links between what is being learned and students’ own life plans. Weave career and college exposure into learning, connect events to students' neighborhoods and lived experiences. 
  5. Show flexibility, following students’ ideas, leads and perspectives. Consider designing personalized learning plans that allow students to complete projects and assignments at the pace that is right for them. While this takes extra work, especially in a large class, the benefits outweigh the time it takes to implement. 
  6. Integrate students’ ideas into planning activities. 
  7. Ask questions that push students to think through problems and improve their skills. Teach them techniques like project management and design thinking to support problem solving and entrepreneurial thinking. 
  8. Introduce students to multiple viewpoints so they have to think through their own perspectives. Consider getting "out of school" and leaving to learn. Field based learning, meeting with experts and company tours can support student voice-driven classrooms. 
  9. Let students disagree and criticize as ways of helping them feel safe expressing their opinions and feelings. Learn about restorative practices and protocols from Agency by Design, based out of Harvard Graduate School of Education. These practices and protocols can help build a critical classroom. 
  10. Keep trying - don't give up after the first quarter or even the first year. Model for students what having a growth mindset looks like and how to "iterate" an initiative when it doesn't go the way you planned. Be patient and things will fall into place. 
Creating a truly student-centered classroom takes time, effort and energy.  When students recognize that the curriculum (and the teacher) represents him/her, the student’s motivation to achieve will align with his/her motivation to become authentic, leading to a truly student-centered learning experience. Motivating students to apply themselves in the classroom requires knowing them, knowing their beliefs and anxieties, recognizing the different social pathways they may have taken to arrive in the classroom, and customizing approaches that are responsive to each student’s individual zones of proximal development—all student-centered basics— but it does not require making things easy for them or dumbing things down.In fact, being both supportive and demanding seems to be the ideal. Students' influence, responsibility and decision-making will gradually increase over time which will lead to higher engagement and deeper learning. Maybe if we listened to students more often, we could re-imagine education? 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Citizens in the Making

There is a palpable excitement about youth voice and activism after the March for Our Lives this past weekend. Youth are stepping up to make change in their communities. As educators we should be cultivating the innate sense of justice in our students by teaching them skills like critical thinking, digital media creation and public speaking needed to persuade policy makers and others in positions of power. Furthermore, schools should provide learning experiences that help students become active and responsible citizens by investigating problems and needs in their communities, developing solutions, and having a bias for action. 

At our school, project-based learning is focused on social justice themes such as homelessness, food insecurity, racism, environmentalism and sustainability. Within these projects (that are co-facilitated by a grade-level teaching team) groups of students mobilize by utilizing primary and secondary documents and data, building empathy for others using human-centered design and leveraging technology skills to create presentations, concept posters and prototypes. This year we extended the opportunity for students to make things in our Fabrication Lab - the SAIL (Social Action and Integrated Learning) Lab where they gain confidence using tools like the laser cutters and CNC Router. Tackling civic issues doesn't just happen in the humanities or SAIL Lab but in our 
math classes where we give students problems to interpret, explain and make correlations.  

According to Krahenbuhl (2017) learning is a process by which students build up accurate understandings, acknowledge their own assumptions and misconceptions, engage civilly with those who hold different perspectives, and seek to improve their learning by getting ever closer to truths.

Unfortunately, often the youth who miss out on civic learning opportunities like this are more likely to be students of color and have a lower socio-economic status. Mikva (2018) says that the "consequence of unequal civic learning experiences is not only that disadvantaged students lack civic skills, but they also suffer academically." It's essential we create the space within our classrooms/schools to ensure all 
students have the opportunity for civic focused projects. 

The New York Times (2017) says that two features are especially crucial to making civic-focused projects authentic and empowering. 

  1. Students must own the key choices and decisions and figure out solutions to problems themselves, so they discover that they can do this. The teacher facilitates the work but leaves as much of the decision-making as possible to the students.
  2. The work should culminate in some action focused on change in the school or community. It’s not enough to just talk about change, practice mock legislatures, or serve in a soup kitchen .
A good preparatory step is to start students thinking about democracy and whether it’s important in our lives. Immersing studnets into work that actively impacts their lives increases engagement and helps them realize their potential. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Starting Fresh - Designing a New Innovative School at SXSWEdu

Last week I was lucky enough to attend SXSWEdu as part of the Remake Learning delegation, where I co-presented on the topic of designing new schools. 

Listen to a recording of the session HERE
Unsure of how the topic would resonate, we planned to run a "circle" conversation, if we did not have many attendees. We were pleasantly surprised when we had standing room only and they even had to turn folks away at the door. While we wish everyone interested in the topic could have joined, we had a lively discussion of what it takes to design a new school, manage it and even scale new school models. Joining with me on the panel were Martin Moran from Bennet Day School, Kennan Scott from CodeED Academy and Kelly Wilson from High Tech High Graduate School of Education. We started the panel by sharing a bit about ourselves and our school models. We proceeded to take questions from the crowd where we answered questions like:
  • How do you convince parents these new models work?
  • How does an innovative school get accredited?
  • What challenges did you run into along the way?
  • How can we help faculty transition to more progressive teaching and learning methods?
When people ask me about starting a new school, I typically think about things in three categories: planning, people and policies. 

When planning for a new school you need to think about not only the teaching and learning vision and staffing but also the business model, revenue, expenses and fundraising. What will your governance model be? Where will you seek accreditation, what will your Board look like and how will you raise money? Who will your partners be? Always having an eye on being strategic and future-focused helps with planning effectively. 

A progressive school needs a progressive culture, staffing model and flexibility. Being very clear on the type of teacher you are looking to recruit helps solidify your vision. Additionally, you should provide robust professional development, support and growth opportunities to retain them. Considering teaching artists, partner organization to offer supplemental classes and guests from industry make for innovative staffing models. Above all though is building the school through empathy with teachers, families and other stakeholders that may be critical to your school's success. 

Depending on the type of school (traditional public, charter or private) policy needs to be clearly understood, work-arounds might need developed and internal school policies like discipline approach, culturally relevant teaching expectations or student voice opportunities should be carefully considered. Will students need to have a technology device, access e-mail or an LMS? Can they leave early or progress at their own pace? 

What other categories might you add to the list above?

The rest of the week at SXSWEdu was made of up magic moments. Those moments included a session run by High School for the Recording Arts where students performed, engaged the audience and ran a Q&A afterwards. I have seen HRSA lead sessions at the Deeper Learning Summit before and every time they get better!

I also attended a wonderful keynote address from Michael Sorrell, from Paul Quinn College, "America's greatest higher #education transformation story and an example of the new college model." A few things struck me during the talk: the model Michael Sorrell describes mimics that of my school, Holy Family Academy quite closely. I especially liked the 4 L's and values like: Choose the Harder Path, Closed Mouths Don't Get Fed, You Can be my Kind Without Being my Color.  The ethos of Me over We also deeply resonates.

The #HipHopEd Meet-Up at SXSWEdu, 2018
Last but not least, I saw many old friends... I attended their sessions like the one #HipHopEd CVO, Tim Jones, was part of "Let's Talk About Race," the 5th official #dtk12chat meet-up at SXSWEdu and the #HipHopEd meet-up. I also got to see folks in the Playground like BirdBrain Technologies, a leading educational robotics company from Pittsburgh; I love the work they do to make robotics accessible and interesting. Most important, my friend and colleague was there with me and we had a wonderful time comparing notes, talking about schools/educators and models we learned about and what we can bring back to our school.
The journey to designing new and innovative things in education takes a team; that is what it is all about! I would love to attend again next year and bring a group of students. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Just in Case vs Just in Time Learning in K12

When I first starting working in training and organizational development, I was introduced to the term JIT. I quickly learned that JIT stood for just in-time learning; this style of learning was unfamiliar to me after attending traditional schools and colleges. It was the early 2000's and we had just adopted a Learning Management System (LMS) and had been given the
Young military member engaging in JIT Learning
task of developing a library of resources for lab staff and young military members and coupling that with authentic tasks in
OTJ or on-the-job learning. The results of these shifts were quite successful keeping lab employees and military students engaged, meeting required job competencies sooner and earning college credits towards graduate degrees. This military organization demonstrated the importance of a systems approach when incorporating JIT learning into its programs and not being stuck to a broken model of learning. It was a significant effort that required change management, leadership support and appropriate resources to be successful. 
Engaging learning through a weekly reality
iPod show to teach JIT skills to store associates.
Fast-forward to working in learning and development for a large global retailer with a very young employee base and having to help them learn about problem solving, resilience and basic time management. It struck me that the generation graduating college, being hired at our company, were typically victims of just in case classrooms. The company spent millions of dollars every year trying to help its young associates build what we now call "future-ready" skills and mindsets using blended learning and small five minute or less videos coupled with classroom training. In Reinventing Training for the Global Information Age, Wind and Reibstein (2000) lash out at the traditional educational model and simultaneously propose a new model for education. “Knowledge is the new source of competitive advantage. Companies (and schools) need radically new knowledge to succeed in an environment in which whole industries are created and destroyed or unalterably transformed by relentless technology, competitive shifts and changing demographics.”

Although this quote is almost twenty years old, many 
K12 school systems still focus on students memorizing facts and low-level content instead of helping students get good at learning content and mastering concepts as a means to solving problems and answering challenging questions. Some may argue that policy or lack of resources don't allow for these necessary shifts in a scalable way. Yet several models have emerged over the last twenty years such as Big Picture Learning Schools, High Tech High and some traditional district  schools across the country that have shifted some or most of the learning to just in-time style learning.   

So the questions remains, how might make school feel more just in time vs just in case so that students are ready for the careers of the future

Dintersmith and Wagner (2015) offer these core pedagogical approaches and principles that align with the just in time style of learning:
  1. attack meaningful, engaging challenges
  2. have open access to resources
  3. struggle, often for days, and learn how to recover from failure
  4. form their own points of view
  5. engage in frequent debate
  6. learn to ask good questions
  7. collaborate 
  8. display accomplishments publicly
  9. work hard because they are intrinsically motivated
While it may seem daunting to take on all nine of the suggested approaches that Dintersmith and Wagner pose, having a bias for action and starting to design the school of the future (at all levels from policy down to classrooms) needs to happen now. 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Self-Concept Critical to Student Success

Students who are successful after high-school exhibit confidence, a strong sense of character, independence and the ability to demonstrate 21st century workplace readiness skills. Having a strong self-concept has been shown to be crucial to future success, particularly for traditionally marginalized youth (Marsh, Byrne and Verschueren, 2011). Although many youth have had to overcome incredible obstacles and setbacks even to reach the point of applying to college, they may need even greater determination to stay in school and finish their studies. 

Learning to code and program a robot
at the Carnegie Science Center
FabLab where HFA Students attend
weekly classes as part of the
Network Campus Program.
High schools should feel compelled to support students in gaining strong self-concept, learning independent thinking skills and knowing how to ask for support. Equally important, is showing all students how they can become part of a system in the face of school pressures traditional students may not face such as: racial, cultural and/or gender biases. Self-concept is frequently positively correlated with academic performance, but it appears to be a consequence rather than a cause  of high achievement (Baumeister et al., 2003). This suggests that increasing students’ academic skills is a more effective means to boost their self-concept than vice versa. Cokley (2000) found that the best predictor of academic self-concept for students attending traditionally white colleges was GPA, whereas the best indicator of academic self-concept for students attending historically black institutions was quality of student-faculty interactions. While having a positive self-concept is important for all students, it becomes even more important for those with non-traditional experiences because of the added complexity of navigating in a system that was not designed for them. What might we do in high schools to prepare students with the skills to navigate these systems and build their self-concept?

Some thoughts:

  1. Help students find their strengths and passions. As students transition from middle to high school, their self-concept should gradually grow if schools are providing an equitable, safe and engaging environment. Schools should design projects and activities for independent thinking and more opportunities to participate in activities in which students feel competent. However, none of this type of learning will take place if students don't build relationships with teachers that are based on trust and understanding. Furthermore, students who identify, learn to leverage and build their strengths are more likely to remain in school and progress into managerial roles in their career (Perrone, Sedlacek and Alexander, 2001). High schools can build mentoring programs, advisory classes and integrate activities for students to uncover their strengths as part of career and college readiness programming and offer internships for students to explore careers and strengths.
  2. Leadership through voice and choice Helping students grow into leaders and not followers, participants and not spectators and young adults that transcend doubts from within are critical to student success. Some ideas include monthly student recognition programming and on-the-spot recognition such as Holy Family Academy's Academy Award program. With the Academy Award program, any faculty or staff member can recognize a student at any time as competently demonstrating one of the HFA Mindsets (Problem Solver, Servant Leader, Entrepreneur and Resilient Learner). Additionally, advisory programming and personal learning plans support students by incorporating their strengths, voice and choice and opportunities for growth and help them plan to overcome challenges they might be experiencing academically, with attendance or behavior. Additional ideas incude peer mentoring programs, adopting a restorative practice approach to mediation and after-school support programs to boost self-concept. Last, encourage students to explore and embrace their racial or gender identity. Cultivating a positive self-image, exclusively around race, gender and ethnicity should make a lasting difference in student performance and confidence.
  3. Define success beyond the usual measures  Like many Big Picture Learning affiliated schools, our school, Holy Family Academy measures student success beyond test scores, grades and other traditional indicators. Success is viewed in terms of whether a student has shown persistence in academics, internships, relationship building, civic involvement and positive self-concept. Support systems, advisors and personalized learning approaches have been proven to boost self-concept and character traits necessary to be truly college or career ready (Washor et al., 2008). Allowing students to proceed at their own pace, such as taking college classes in high school or working an extended internship requires more planning but the benefits are worth it. School staff members can help parents and peers be more effective “supporters” by providing suggestions and opportunities for appropriate positive reinforcement, and they can help students learn to be more aware of the support they receive (Harter, 1999). Alternative assessments such as ePortfolios, capstone projects, student-led exhibitions of learning provide another means for studnets to build self-confidence and demonstrate mastery of core academic content as well as 21st century skills. 
Schools can deliberately help to enhance each student's identity and feelings of self-worth when they strategically design programming to help students find their strengths, honor their cultural and ethnic norms, build positive identities, become leaders and measure themselves beyond the traditional high-stakes tests. A strong self-concept opens doors and encourages students to take risks, express their creativity and invest in the work they produce at school while preparing them for post-secondary pathways.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

School Model Infographics - Do you have one?

How do you explain a project-based, personalized, equity-focused, internship enriched and funded, deeper learning, design thinking, technology rich, advisory and soft-skill focused high school? 

That explanation is a mouthful and not practical at all... but we often find the need to go into this level of detail because our high school model is so different than the norm. Add to this our pathways program where all students, at the end of the tenth grade, "declare" a career cluster area and post-secondary pathway and our Network Campus Program - it can get confusing to new families and outsiders. To aid in clearing up some of the confusion and helping new families, faculty and students on-board to our model, we have designed a new infographic. 

Does your school have a similar infographic and if not, why not? The design of this infographic went through 4 iterations that included feedback from students, faculty and the general public (through twitter) to refine and re-design. We intend to use this graphic on admissions materials, banners, with our new student and new hire orientation presentations as well as with people that come visit us. We have had close to 40 tours this school-year, so far. I joke that giving tours needs to be on my job description. 

What school infographic models can you share? What do you think is still missing from this one? 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Reframing The Fear of Educational Innovation

I have been at several workshops in the last few weeks with educators and administrators and the biggest theme that keeps emerging (around why more schools aren't disrupting the status quo) is the fear of change or failure. 

I believe all educators are also designers - and that we need to design for courage while having a bias for action. 

Albert Bandura used the process of guided mastery to help people gain courage and overcome mental roadblocks. Breaking down the big steps needed to design and execute changes in education systems becomes manageable when we break them down into smaller pieces. Sometimes we just need to start. The failure to get started or stop when things "fall off the rails" stalls innovation in education. If we think about educational change and innovation as a series of small steps it helps administrators and teachers overcome the fear of failure that blocks their momentum to start. Small successes with pilot programs, "school within a school" models and other efforts at innovation help schools go onto the next level of the necessary education change most schools/districts currently face. 

If we accept making mistake as part of learning, the fear of failure will not hold us back and help us continue to do the work in the face of setbacks. If you hold a position of power within a school/district, role model risk taking and give teachers permission to fail from time to time. Acknowledge mistakes and move on. When teachers lose confidence in their creativity, the impact can be profound within a school system - leading to fixed mindsets and fear. Sir Ken Robinson says that in most schools "mistakes are the worst thing you can make." The goal of schools should be to fulfill the promise of helping students (and educators) find their strengths, passions and enable them to make their way in the world. 

Most schools remain stuck in place with the status quo while the most innovative are sprinting forward. It takes creative confidence (Kelley and Kelley, 2013) to leave the land of certain outcomes and the comfort of what we know to try a new approach or share a wild sounding idea. Once insecurity takes hold, efforts at changing schools stop and fizzle out. What matters most is our belief in our capacity to create positive change and the courage to take action. Often efforts to improve school systems move into planning but end before action - or start too soon. Using a framework like design thinking, where we are called to build empathy for others, fail fast and be resilient, can support change efforts. To embrace experimentation, don't get stuck in the planning stage; innovation is all about quickly turning ideas into action. 

Ideas to "Get Going"
Adapted from Kelley and Kelley, Creative Confidence, 2013. 

  • Get help: form a think tank made up of diverse stakeholders from both inside and outside of your school, hire the right consultant: organizational psychologist, designer, or business advisor. 
  • Create peer pressure: gather your team frequently, give teacher leaders release time or run an innovation fellows program (similar to a program I have run in past schools with success) or find a mentor. Get other schools/districts onboard.
  • Gather an audience: finding attentive listeners that can be your parents, other innovators at meetups or offer workshops at your school using the edcamp model.
  • Do a bad job: this gets back to the fear of change... while it might be hard, suspend judgement of how well you are doing. Just get something out there. 
  • Lower the stakes: If the problem you are working on feels so important that everything hinges on it, make it less important. Use design methods like Difficulty Impact Matrix, "What's on Your Radar," or creative matrix (LUMA Institute System of Innovating for People) to figure out what makes sense. 

These small changes to combat fear of change and failure can create infectious action. It might start in a few classrooms, lead to a building and eventually a larger school system but embracing an innovation mindset helps fuel innovation. So, embrace the fear and don't sit back and let circumstances determine the fate of a future generation of students. It's our duty as educators to reframe fear into educational innovation. 

Replace "corporate" for school and this model works.