Here is my keynote presentation for Castleton State College’s Personalizing Learning Institute on July 8, 2013.
Here is the presentation I made at the Spring 2013 BRSU Leadership Forum.
In education, our research and development (“R&D”) systems are curriculum development and professional development. These are the primary systems we utilize to improve instruction, and these systems are traditionally hierarchical and organized around school or district boundaries. We rely on top down policies and approaches such as standards and state-level assessments to influence the improvement of these systems even though there is significant lag time, often several years, between the development of standards and the implementation of their related assessments. There is also the case of fidelity to a curriculum – even when a formal curriculum is adopted, districts struggle with ensuring it is actually being implemented in a coordinated manner.
In Working Laterally, David Hargreaves describes an alternative approach called “lateral networks” where networks are leveraged to connect educators beyond traditional organizational boundaries to greatly improve these R&D processes. This approach requires educators to build curricula from the ground up by utilizing the collective wisdom of their peers. Curriculum development and professional development are “open sourced” with best practices being identified, implemented, and evaluated much more quickly across a group of schools since teachers are no longer working in isolation within their own schools or districts. Standards remain an essential component to ensure quality, but standards become a tagging scheme for educators to organize instructional activities as opposed to a top down framework that narrows the curriculum.
To network educators in this manner and to build curricula from the ground up requires organizational discipline. Just like in open source software development, certain protocols and systems must be enforced to focus the collective work of the community. Disciplining educational R&D systems means providing both internal and external assurance that these systems are going to achieve the desired ends for students. Internal assurance can be understood as responsibility – as educators we must be professionally responsible to each other for the quality of instruction provided across our entire system, not just in our individual classrooms, since it is this broader experience which ultimately affects student learning. External assurance is commonly expressed as accountability. We must be able to demonstrate to students, parents and community members that our educational programs are of high quality.
As districts implement lateral networks to support educational innovation, they need to be able to articulate a system of organizational discipline and publish it to both internal and external stakeholders. In our district we have developed the following list of activities as a plan to discipline our innovation:
- School board Ends and monitoring policies (see this blog post);
- System benchmarks (formative and summative) based on a logic model to ensure the personalization of student learning. This system is being developed in consultation with Dr. David Silvernail from the University of Southern Maine;
- The rapid development, implementation and evaluation of best practices through lateral networking using a common instructional management system (Haiku);
- NWEA MAPS just-in-time assessments used three times a year used in formative data teams by teachers and externally by parents, administration and school board members for program monitoring;
- A standards-based curriculum; and
- Documenting student learning through eportfolios.
I think a balanced portfolio of disciplining approaches is necessary to guide innovation in a common direction. Ideally, some disciplining approaches are able to satisfy both internal and external requirements. I also believe it is essential that governance be addressed so the necessary policy alignment for innovation can be secured.
Considerable attention is being paid to how technology might affect student learning. More attention needs to be paid to how technology might improve our instructional R&D systems. I believe the current federal and state education policies which are focused on relatively inefficient and ineffective top down approaches need to shift towards supporting the development of disciplined systems of innovation which are scalable across a large group of schools irrespective of district, state, or national boundaries. Such an approach is likely to be more effective, less costly, and better able to ensure a high level of quality.
This was the title of a presentation I gave at the recent VSBA/VSA Fall conference in October 2012. I was honored to have David Warlick, the conference keynote presenter, in the audience. He wrote up some notes from my presentation and had some nice things to say about it on his blog. His comments underscored for me how unique Vermont is in many ways. I am very proud to be a Vermont educational leader.
As way of further explanation, I thought I would highlight some of the ideas behind my presentation and provide some of the materials I referenced in digital format. The process of engaging communities to develop a future orientation and to express that orientation as Ends policies is based on Policy Governance, a model of governance developed by John Carver. To get a sense of the process I created, check out the following documents developed for the Dorset School District:
- a script for a public engagement event;
- a flyer developed by the Chair of the Dorset School Board advertising the process;
- a handout given to the participants; and
- a blog developed by the Board members to organize the videos and the process. Scroll down to the first blog posts to get a sense of the event in chronological order.
During the process we discussed education not schooling. This is an important distinction because I find focusing on education opens up the conversation to future possibilities, whereas focusing on schooling brings people back to their own experiences and limits the basis for a common dialogue. This distinction between education vs. schooling conforms to the Policy Governance concept of Ends vs. Means with schooling being the primary Means by which a community’s educational Ends are obtained. The primary purpose of this process was to get clear on the desired Ends since so many of our available Means (e.g. technology, the Internet, networks, etc.) are changing rapidly and are fundamentally different than the educational means available to previous generations.
The process was designed to connect Boards (and their communities) to the work we are doing in our schools around personalizing learning. This work is fairly innovative, and like most innovations requires discipline. I believe public accountability is a vital component of disciplining educational innovation, and I believe this accountability should be pointed back to local communities, taxpayers, and parents, not to the federal government. Here is a draft Ends policy produced by our administrative team as an example.
The data gathered from the Dorset process was very similar to the data gathered from the processes in our other communities. Interestingly, no parent or participant from any of the community engagement processes expressed an interest in improving test scores on standardized tests as a desired End for a student’s education.
This presentation was made to BRSU boards in May/June of 2012. The purpose of the presentation is to provide an instructional vision for our districts based on our work over the last 5 years in understanding the new, technological context for teaching and learning. Based on this collective work, I have concluded our organization’s instructional systems should be organized around two design principles:
- Personalized learning for each student; and
- Teachers and other educators should be connected in a common professional network to support instructional innovation. The theory behind this concept comes from Education Epidemic by David Hargreaves.
“The path to transformation is decentralized, distributed, and disciplined.” – D. Hargreaves
- Open the instructional, professional, and curriculum development processes to a peer-led network in order to provide a more effective means for sharing best practices and transferring them more rapidly
- Improve the quality of teaching and learning broadly across a group of schools
- Create a climate for teachers to innovate by promoting:
- the motivation to create new professional knowledge;
- the opportunity to engage actively in innovation;
- the skills for testing the validity of the new knowledge; and
- the means for transferring the validated innovations rapidly within their school and into other schools.
Structure of Network
- Totally cloud-based
- Initial focus would be K-8. Elementary and middle level innovation capacity would lead high school transformation.
- Implement a common communications infrastructure. All districts would join Google Apps.
- Implement a common Learning Management System. See below. (approximate cost $10 per student)
- Curriculum development on Curriki.
- Common tags would be established to identify work across all platforms.
- Individual learning plans for every student
- Units can be matched to current and future standards
- Capacity to share instructional materials, units, and assessments among teachers
- Other standard LMS functionality: design online and blended learning activities, implement assessment, monitor student academic progress, iterative academic feedback, teaming of staff and students around learning activities, connect to web-based learning resources, establish non-traditional support groups for students, new learning opportunities and new structures of knowledge – mash up, 365 and 24/7, parent connection, personalization around UDL principles.
*Objectives adapted from Working Laterally: How Innovation Networks Make an Education Epidemic by David Hargreaves.
During the 2009 school year, new administrative job descriptions were adopted. This work culminated in the design and implementation of a superintendent evaluation process that will serve as a model for the evaluation of all administrative staff. The results of the superintendent evaluation were reduced down to specific organizational priorities. These priorities can be viewed on the BRSU website.
These priorities focus on strengthening our instructional systems, personalizing learning opportunities for students through the use of technology, and improving the efficiency of our operations. In terms of operational efficiency, the accounting services for the Manchester School District were shifted to the BRSU office in Sunderland. This change will save Manchester approximately $37,000 a year and will greatly enhance our financial reporting capabilities. The Mettawee School District transitioned their accounting services to the central office in 2008. Consolidating our back office operations saves money, streamlines audit processes, and provides greater oversight to board members and the public.
Another major structural change being implemented pertains to our early education programs. The supervisory union and its districts are navigating a new law, Act 62, which provides incentives for the expansion of early education programs. Based on these changes, we will be eliminating a full-time director position at the BRSU and some of the responsibilities for administering the school-based early education programs will be shifted to administrators in the schools.
We have made substantial progress in improving the efficiency of our operations, but there is still more work to be done in this area. Since 80% of our costs are attributed to personnel, our major strategy for achieving greater efficiency will be to seek opportunities to share personnel and services among our districts. I believe this points to the necessity for governance reform; our current structure of 9 districts and 10 boards is too cumbersome and inhibits our ability to respond to changing economic circumstances and declining student numbers. Governance reform is being considered at the state level, but our districts are not waiting for these decisions to be made in Montpelier. We are engaged in a serious review of our systems and will be organizing opportunities in the coming months for broad community input on this topic as our boards establish Ends policies.
Through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), our districts have received additional federal “stimulus” funds. These funds have been received through federal formula programs and must be spent in accordance with the guidelines of these programs. We have received approximately $90,000 in Title I and $400,000 in IDEAB or special education. All of these funds are one-time funds and must be spent in two years. The Title I funds are being allocated to the three BRSU districts that are eligible to receive these funds (Currier, Mettawee, and Sunderland), and the IDEAB funds will be spent centrally to reduce the costs of our special education programs. Most likely we will use these funds to establish special education programs at the supervisory union level in order to reduce costs for sending students out of the district for these services. We will also be reviewing the transportation costs of these programs to see if it would be more cost effective to run our own transportation services.
In spite of these additional funds, all of our districts have struggled this year to adopt budgets that are both fiscally responsive and sensitive to student program needs. The majority of our districts, however, have been able to achieve decreases in their expenditure budgets which is no small accomplishment considering many of our fixed costs are increasing. We will need your continued involvement and support to ensure we can navigate these challenging economic circumstances while at the same time ensuring our children obtain a quality education. Thank you for your support.
The following notes were shared with BRSU boards as part of a presentation on understanding the implications of technology on education in September 2009.
Most people acknowledge that technology is having and will have a tremendous impact on education. This impact needs to be considered when developing plans for the future. I can categorize this impact in two areas: learning, and operations.
- Re-structuring of knowledge (Dewey Decimal System) due to increasing amounts of information
- New tools for students and teachers (Gapminder now in Google Docs; Google Earth – Map the Fallen; History of Hartford, VT)
- Social communication platforms mimic how students learn: all learning is social (Twitter in the Classroom)
- Opening of education (software, online platforms MIT Open Courseware); personalization of learning – “disaggregation of one”
- New understandings of how the brain works, motivation and creativity (Daniel Pink on the Surprising Science of Motivation; Sir Ken Robinson – Schools Kill Creativity)
- Digitization (information systems and record management) – huge opportunity
- Flattening – fewer intervening layers between management and staff
- Communication and collaboration across traditional organizational boundaries; increased stakeholder participation;
- Potential for greater efficiencies and lower costs