Project-Based Learning Creates Exemplary Citizens

This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >

A powerful way to foster citizenship is to use Project-Based Learning. PBL requires students to investigate authentic challenges and problems and then take action and communicate ideas. These are all powerful skills of effect citizens. Many projects involve service-learning or can even target specific social studies standards connected to civics education. Projects also requires students to critically thinking throughout the project, and evaluate sources as they do research. PBL is the right tool to create effective citizens as an integrated part of the curriculum and not “another thing.”

PBL and the Social Studies C3 Standards
Many schools are adopting the new C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards. The C3 Framework includes into 4 dimensions that include “Developing Questions and Planning Inquires,” “Disciplinary Tool and Concepts” that include content such as Civics and History, “Evaluating Sources and Using Evidence,” and finally “Communicating Conclusions and Taking Informed Action.  The overall framework is articulated as an inquiry arc “of interlocking and mutually reinforcing elements that speak to the intersection of ideas and learners.” Student engage in the inquiry process through developing questions and planning inquiries, learn disciplinary content and skills and use evidence and sources to communicate and take informed action. The overall inquiry arc serves as a vehicle to create effective citizens that not only have disciplinary civics knowledge, but also have source evaluation skills. Students in the C3 must also act as citizens as they take action and communicate ideas. PBL can complement this framework, by adding other effective pedagogical components to support learning. PBL can mirror the embedded inquiry in the C3 standards.

Design Tips
Even if you do no teach Social Studies or have adopted the C3 Framework, you can still create projects that can build citizenship. Design a project that connects to a local or national issue where students might investigate or communicate their ideas. If appropriate, students might advocate for an action or issue. Have students create products that go directly to an audience that might make an impact. Students could write a governmental official or share presentations with parents and the community. As many projects require students to research or investigate information sources, teachers can intentionally target critical thinking skills around evaluating sources in their project. Also, teachers can scaffold questioning and inquiry skills in any project to prepare students to citizens that are skilled inquirers.

Citizenship Now!
One of the pitfalls of thinking about creating citizens is that it is something in the future; something simply to work towards. Yes, we are creating citizens for the future. Students will graduate and become more active in adult-world as a citizen of the world. However, our students can be citizens now. Effect citizens question reality, think critically, advocate, make change, and communicate effectively. Our students can do that now; they don’t have to wait to be a citizen. When we use projects as a delivery tool for curriculum, content and skills, we create a context to learn and take action. We can use PBL foster citizens in the making and to make our students citizens now!

Transforming Schools Starts with Asking Why?

This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >

There are lots of strategies to improve and transform schools, and of course a lot tried and true things to focus on. Yes, school transformation should be built on quality relationships between colleagues and between students. Yes, school transformation is supported by effective meeting protocols, clear outcomes on agendas, and norms for collaboration. Yes, school transformation includes adoption of effective instructional models like UbD and PBL. All of these are effective ways to improve a school. However, I would say that in order to transform a school, there needs to be a focus on the “Why?” Simon Sinek articulates this in his TED talk and explains that by focusing on “Why” we can inspire action.

The “Why” of Your School
Most schools have an established Mission and Vision, but do they live it? Often, I see it posted on a wall or even in an email signature I receive. It’s important to live the mission and vision. The mission is “why” we exist, whereas the vision is “who will we will become” based on that mission. Missions are powerful and inspiration. If your school doesn’t have a mission, take the time to go through the process of crafting a mission where all stakeholders are involved. If you do have a mission at your school, maybe it’s time to brush away the “cobwebs” and start living it once again. It might need some adjustments if it’s been awhile, so it may be time for a process of revisiting the mission and updating it. Taking the time to establish or reestablish a mission can help inspire next steps are intentional and aligned to a meaningful “Why” that all stakeholders believe it. Transformational missions beget transformational changes in schools.

The “Why” of Your Team
My team of instructional coaches took explicit time at the beginning of the year to craft our purpose. We wanted to ensure that what did had true, meaningful purpose. It’s easy to start to work, and get into the work of coaching, but its more powerful to do it with a sense of purpose. Why coaching? What do we believe in coaching? We spent time as a team crafting a statement to drive our work. We also revisited this purpose statement each time we met to ground ourselves as a team. This allowed us to craft transformative work with an authentic purpose. As a team, from grade level to department team, take time to craft this purpose. It may take the form of a more formal mission and/or vision statement, but it ground the work you do and inspire you and your team to move forward.

Spending time on “Why?” creates meaningful work. It’s easy to feel rushed and get straight to the perceived work on making changes in a school. In fact, we need to remember that “Why?” is the work. “Why?” allows us to not only be inspired but also ensure the choices we make to transform our schools are powerful and grounded in shared ownership and purpose.

Why Are We Meeting – Strategies for Effective Meetings

This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >

We’ve all been there – a terrible meeting. We don’t why we are there, people are talking over each other, it feels like a waste of time. Many of us are required to meet, whether that’s a traditional staff meeting or a weekly team meeting with fellow teachers. These meetings can either be quite productive and satisfying or disheartening and a complete waste of time. At my school, we were initially mandated as instructional coaches with our teams, yet we had no idea why were we were meeting. We struggled to get coaching off the ground, and in faxct, the lack of structure and purpose to these meetings may have sabotaged the trust we wanted to build. Here are some of the lessons learned this year when it comes to meetings.

Adopt the Seven Norms for Collaboration
We’ve been regularly using the seven norms for collaboration in our meetings, and often ask participants to set intent on which one(s) they want to focus on. These norms include ones such as pausing, asking questions, presuming positive intent, and paraphrasing. These norms are different from “Working Agreements.” Norms are considered to be trusted and effective ways of interacting that are effective regardless of the team or content, whereas “Working Agreements” are ad hoc agreements specific to the context and team. These might be more related to “being on time” or “bring prepared materials.” Holding people to these norms and processing after the back can build capacity of the team to be effective group members.

Clear Outcomes
You should never meet just to meet. I even struggle with the term “check-in” meeting.  What are we checking in on? There must be clear meetings for every meeting. If you are planning a meeting, you need to have clear outcomes that seem feasible to meet in the time allotted. These outcomes might be to share reflections on a past unit, plan a new lesson, look at student work, set goals for professional development, plan for another meeting, or even discuss material needs. Clarity and transparency builds trust, so make sure every meeting has clear outcomes.

Agendas and Protocols
As outcomes are effective, a clear agenda with these outcomes and how they are met can build trust and transparency of the team. What is purpose of each section of a meeting? To get feedback? To share information? To make a decision? From these specific purposes, the “how” needs to be address. This one is particularly important for decision making? How will decisions be made? Majority vote? All members agreeing? “Will of the group?” In fact, consensus is a term that various understanding, so a common understanding of it is critical for decision making. When people know how decisions are made, it helps build trust and allows decisions to be made efficiently and effectively. These should all be clear from the start. In addition, these agenda must be shared well before the meeting to allow participants to come prepared and ready to learn, work and collaborate.

“I’m in an ineffective meeting, how do I get out?”
So you are stuck in a terrible meeting, what might you do to work through it. It might be appropriate to clarify outcomes to allow those to leading the meeting to bring them to light, or to redirect participants to focus on those outcomes. I also encourage you to ask for an agenda before the meeting as well. You might also ask how decisions are made or what the process is. Of course, you can approach those who lead the meeting after the fact and do the same. Expressing your concern and giving helpful advice can help everyone involved in making meetings meaningful and effective.

These are just some tools and considerations for making meetings better. What are some tools or strategies you use to make your meetings a valuable experience?

The 3Cs of School Culture – Curation, Conversation, and Celebration

This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >

School culture is just as important as teaching practice, but work towards improving them doesn’t occur in a vacuum. In fact, teaching practice gives us an opportunity to build school culture, just as a focus on school culture can improve teaching practice. At the Shanghai American School where I work as an Instructional Coach, we have adopted a mantra in our team “Building Culture By Building Practice.” It has been a force that has driven our work and gives us a focus and meaning as a team.

Recently we asked teachers to partner with us on a professional development experience modeled after the Project Based Learning method. Our school is working on a guaranteed and viable curriculum, but we wanted to approach this process of curricular alignment in a fresh and meaningful way. Instead of taking the “deficit” approach where we communicate “Curriculum is not aligned, so align it,” we decided to focus on make the hidden curriculum visible to all which would lead to a place of refinement and reflection on not only curriculum, but also teaching practice. We answered the question “What is the story of learning” in our middle school. Parents wanted to know, teachers wanted to know, and administration wanted to know. More importantly, we wanted to curate and celebrate the great work teachers are doing everyday with students.

Through this project, 3Cs of school culture (similar to Fisher and Frey’s school culture pillars) have emerged for me and my team – Curation, Conversation, and Celebration:

Curation
Stories matter. Both teachers and students want their stories told. It is powerful o document experiences to learn from them. Why else do we watch documentaries? Part of purpose of curation wasn’t simply to have teachers fill out a form. A template doesn’t tell the full story of learning. In fact, simply curating standards, assessments and daily lessons aren’t that inspiring. We decided to curate both student and teacher learning through the use of Discovery Cards. In our Discovery Cards, we the coaches took on the heavy lifting. Instead of having teachers fill out a template, we had discussions with teachers and students. We curated driving questions and the overall description of the project. We also took photos of students engaged in the work to really make the learning come to life. Finally, we curated reflections from teachers and students, as we wanted to tell the story of learning of both teachers and students.

Conversation
One misunderstanding of our professional learning project was that it was only about the Discovery Cards and Curation. In fact, the cards were a catalyst for powerful conversations. Once we curated one or more cards, we asked teachers to set up a time to engage in a reflective conversation on the project, task or unit we focused on. Teachers reflected on what worked, assessment practices, areas of improvement and more. The coaches helped teachers settled on dilemma or something to tune in protocols that occurred in staff meeting times. In summary, we had more organic, cognitive coaching sessions as well as structured conversations with protocols. Templates don’t align and improve curriculum and instruction, conversations and people do. Focusing on conversations can support a culture of collaboration and reflection.

Celebration
The coaches knew we need to celebrate the work that teachers did. We decided to work on creating an anthology of learning which would include not only some of the information of discovery cards, but information from other partners and stakeholders. We included comments and questions from parents after they participated in a Gallery Walk of the cards. It included articles from the coaches and what they learned, as well as from administration and what they learned. We wanted teachers to walk away from the school year with a meaningful keepsake, and we will culminate that in a celebration to “book end” the project.

We hope to leverage as much as we can of this model moving forward. We have noticed teachers engaging more with us coaches in reflective conversations and invitations to come and visit classroom. We are also seeing a clear focus on talking about student work, curriculum and instruction. More importantly, we are already seeing a change in school culture. Instead of teaching in silos, we are constantly collaborating, opening our doors, and seeking constant refinement of our daily practice.

Go Slow to Go Fast

This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >


Miller Go Slow Go Fast Rectangle
The beginning of a new school year brings both excitement and anxiety. We are excited to see our students and start on the path of learning for the year, but we are also stressed with the logistics of getting started. Room setups, technology infrastructure, processes, curriculum planning—we have a lot to do as educators to make the year start off in a positive and productive way. We are also pressured with the idea of limited time. “I only have a year to get through the curriculum” or “We need to start the unit now” may be some of the thoughts that creep into your mind. Breathe. Those things will come, but only if we take time to slow down. All of us—teachers, students, administrators, and parents—need to slow down at the beginning of the year.

What’s the Why?
Things happen so fast that we often forget to ask why? Between assemblies, field trips, meetings, and so forth, when do we take the time to ask why? Why are we doing this? What’s the reason behind this? Why is this useful? Tradition can be important, but it can also be a prisoner. If we commit to asking why, we commit to continuous improvement as a school and as teachers. When you explore the reasons for doing something, you will feel more confident in your decision and establish a sense of purpose. If there isn’t a why yet for something you do, maybe it is time to craft one. My team of instructional coaches sat down and created our shared purpose for how and why we work together so that all decisions are informed and aligned. Take some time to do the same before you make decisions or jump in. Slowing down to think about the why is crucial and important for school morale, mission, and vision.

Focus on Culture
This, of course, is nothing new, but it’s really important to take time to build and rebuild the culture of your school. Are there new issues around school culture to address? Are there school culture initiatives already in place to build upon? Consider addressing culture at both the school and classroom levels. Are they in alignment? Are students receiving mixed messages? There is and should always be time to slow down and focus on school culture. Take time daily, or perhaps take entire days, to work solely on culture. When you rush to the curriculum, you miss a valuable opportunity to set and sustain culture. When you focus on culture, student achievement will naturally follow suit.

Take Time for Yourself
Don’t forget about your personal life. Take care of your mental and physical health. Build in norms and routines to support yourself. Reflection is a way of thinking, and you may need to set sacred time aside for reflection as you start to get more and more busy with different tasks. What do you need to do to slow down and take care of yourself? Some of the teachers at my school and I meet regularly for mediation every Monday morning. Look at your week and find ways you can incorporate things that provide a sense of calm and focus.

Remember, we all need to go slow to go fast. When we take time for ourselves, our school and classroom culture, and our shared purpose, we can feel confident about our next steps.

It’s All About Impact

This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >


Miller FIT Teaching 1200x628
I’ve had the honor of working with Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey to implement the FIT Teaching process with teachers around the country. We have focused on setting purpose for learning, creating a culture that thrives, intentionally planning and scaffolding lessons, and establishing a formative assessment system to provide feedback to students and “feed forward” instruction. The FIT Teaching process seeks to create a cohesive tool for teachers to reflect on areas of practice, celebrate success, and set goals. These elements of the FIT Teaching process focus on the classroom and what teachers do. A pitfall of all the focus is forgetting the ultimate goal of the work—the impact on student learning. Impact is imperative. How do we know that what we have intentionally planned and executed in the classroom mattered? How do we make new decisions based on that impact? These are critical questions to the work of all educators, and in the new ASCD publication “Intentional and Targeted Teaching: A Framework for Teacher Growth and Leadership” authors Fisher, Frey, and Stefani Hite add the critical element of impact.

It’s All About Short-Term and Long-Term Growth
Although daily checks for understanding are critical to informing instruction and knowing what student do and do not know, the idea of impact focuses on different short-term and long-term growth assessments. Examples of short terms assessments include benchmark assessments and criterion- or norm-referenced tests. These might measure weekly impact or focus on a unit of instruction. It is also important that these assessments are not simply viewed by one teacher alone. Teacher teams, PLCs, and departments need collaborative time to analyze the results of short-term growth assessments to look for patterns and trends and make informed decisions on next steps for instruction.

In addition to short-term growth assessments, we should also look at long-term growth assessments. These long-term growth assessments focus on transfer goals—goals that can transcend units, disciplines, and standards. How do we know we are working toward an ideal graduate that is future ready? We need to provide students opportunities to demonstrate rigorous and meaningful transfer goals through performance assessments to see impact on student learning.

It’s All about Growth and Leadership
What is so powerful about impact is the opportunity for us to grow as educators, both at the classroom and system levels. At the classroom level, it allows assessments to be useful rather than punitive. It allows teachers to not only create powerful assessments that measure impact on student learning but also reflect on daily teaching and learning and lead change in their classrooms. Analyzing student impact also allows for reflection and growth at the system level, where leaders can constantly ensure decisions focus on student learning. By focusing on impacting student learning, we can grow and lead our schools in cycles of continuous improvement.

Get these FIT Teaching resources from ASCD to strengthen the teaching practices in your school, and move your students’ learning from where it is now to where it should be.

Pin It on Pinterest