Monday, September 7, 2015

Personalized Learning Vision

Our district has had the honor of being recognized by the Lexington Leadership Institute to partner with Education Elements Company to develop an effective personalized learning plan.    This process is bringing us to a deeper understanding of the meaning of personalized learning and how it relates to our district and the needs of our students.

There are different meanings and interpretations of this contemporary educational term that has come into existence largely due to the opportunities brought on with technology learning tools.

I like the Wikipedia version:

Personalized learning is the tailoring of pedagogy, curriculum and learning environments by learners or for learners in order to meet their different learning needs and aspirations. Typically technology is used to facilitate personalized learning environments.
(n.d.). Retrieved September 8, 2015.

Corcoran Unified School District is developing a vision of what personalized learning could look like for our students in the years to come.  Interestingly enough a group of our district and school leaders spent some valuable time in working with two facilitators from Education Elements and a graphic artist to draw out:

1.  Our beliefs and understandings of student engagement, student learning and what we see what is best for our kids.
2.  How that translates to personalized learning for Corcoran students.
3.  A plan to see all of the above come to fruition.

The original graphic is broken up into two parts.  The first part below represents the first two elements explained above, and the second part represents the plan as described in number three.

The graphics are going to be a great tool to help us define, market and successfully implement and monitor our district personalized learning plan.  The good news to celebrate in the beginning of this work is we do not have to recreate the wheel.  We have been working toward this work for years!

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Power of Choice and Improvement

There is a saying I heard I do not know how many times, but it still rings true:

There are three types of people,

-People who make things happen
-People who watch things happen
-People who wondered what happened
Author Unknown

Regarding this new school year, there is no need to merely hope to have another year of growth and improvement.  Experience and learning from other wise people and observing research and proven practices has led us to an invariable action we do daily - choose to get better!  And this year, we rest our focus on improving the most important area of our lives and our work: our attitudes.

Dr. Charles Swindoll has written an outstanding definition of attitude.  He mentions in this short poem that attitude is principal - he equates it to "everything."  And, he mentions that attitude is a choice - we choose our attitudes daily.  The message is that we can choose our attitude daily.

Another powerful principal from this poem is expressed:

"I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you ... we are in charge of our Attitudes."(Swindoll, 2006)

If our attitudes are based on choice, and if 90% of our attitudes depend on how we react to what happens around us, and if we choose the right attitudes daily, we are bound for a great year!  Is that always easy?  The short answer is no, but with persistence and developing habits toward developing the improvements of our attitudes and outlooks, changing our attitudes is doable.  The hope is we can endeavor to improve in this capacity, and with our collective efforts we will.

Our mission is we are relentless to create an environment for all to improve, mind, character and body.  I am convinced more than ever this mission is dependent upon growing our attitudes first and foremost because of the effects our attitudes have on the well being and success of our students!

We can genuinely say this year, "we collectively made it happen" because we choose today, tomorrow  and the next day and the next day . . . . .

"Charles R. Swindoll Quotes." Charles R. Swindoll Quotes (Author of The Grace Awakening). N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Aug. 2015.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Are We Getting Better?

Are we growing to plan or planning to grow?  With the improvements we made in the culture and the procedures in our instructional rounds process, I see we spent much of this year planning to grow.  More and more of us are understanding not only the "why" of our growing and improving, but most importantly, we are growing to see the urgency for our students' sake.

If we want to improve, we have to continually ask the hard question, "So, how did I do?"  This is not always the most welcoming question because the answer may not be so heartwarming.  However, if we are about growing, we welcome the tough conversations, and we are not afraid to face reality.  In fact we seek it out.

The following is how I have learned and how I have seen some growth in my life and work this past year:
  • I have grown to appreciate the power of the people that work in our district.  That includes their professionalism and competence that brings our ability to trust them to make tough decisions.
  • I have grown to understand more and more how the saying "plow deep and slow" really is important when it comes to change and improvement.
  • I continually appreciate the truth that frustration is only a manifestation of my inability to stay focused on the right things.
  • I have grown to appreciate the strength and quality of our school district, and how our value and effectiveness is not judged by one number (API or AYP).  I have learned to appreciate multiple measures:  
    • 60% decrease in expulsions, 60% decrease in suspensions. almost a 50% UC/CSU graduation rate, 3% increase in attendance, 26% increase in student writing K-12, CHS winning the athletic league championship trophy three out of four years, a doubling of the number of 8th grade students being promoted to the high school, a 15% decrease in unexcused absences, a drastic decrease in the number of fights on our secondary campuses, large gains in the growth in our intervention programs, to name a few, . . . . whew

And learning: I see us becoming more of what some call a "learning organization."  What does that mean?  It is simple.  We focus not only on learning from our students, but we focus on learning for all.  But there is much more to it.  That means we do not just say we learn; we demonstrate a change in our behaviors aligned with the new learning.

As the "chief learner" here are some "learnings":

  • I have been challenged to learn more about personalized learning with our new association with the Company Education Elements as part of our fellowship with the Lexington Institute
  • I have been challenged to understand and embrace the term "iteration" not only in our day to day work, but also in the work of our teachers and students
  • I have been challenged with the whole "Future Ready" initiative after attending a conference at the White House
  • I have been challenged to reflect on my values, mission and vision, and how I am communicating those to our staff.  A key challenge question given to me in April:  "What are my non-negotiables, and do people I work with know them?"
In summary, the good news is I am growing, our staff is growing, and most importantly, our kids just seem to be getting better and better.  There is one thing I have learned: that my friend is not an accident! 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Pat Wadors from Linkedin

In the spirit of our Mission (relentless improvement), I am always looking to find ways to grow and help others grow and improve.  One of the reasons I also attend conferences and rub shoulders with giants, so to speak, is about my learning in order to improve "our learning.”

One of those giants I refer to is the Head of Human Resource for Linkedin (9,500 employees) named Pat Wadors.  Pat's resume is pretty long and impressive, and in summary she was named among the 50 most powerful women in technology.

I was impressed with her passion to make people great.  She had a different approach from the typical start up tech recruiting philosophies of finding the "gifted" and most intelligent talent to meet the demands of innovation of highly technical work.  Instead, her philosophy is more about finding people where they are and developing them from there.  She shared some information from Malcom Gladwell's book David and Goliath: 80% of the people say they are above average, but that is statistically impossible.  If employers think they are only hiring already great employees, they are naive.  

In reality great talent appearing at the front door of our organizations is not reality and therefore, it is imperative to develop and grow talent.  In order to be competitive, companies have to create opportunities to take less than great talent and make their employees great.

Her leadership in human resources is built on her belief in the theory of expectations, and this in part is built on something she learned as a young student.  She had shared how a teacher did not give up on her even though she had experienced frustration with reading at a young age.  This teacher was relentless (does this word seem familiar?) in spending extra time to see her through obstacles in decoding, and she sent a clear message about how our expectations determine our growth and development.  The same is true in leadership in a company as influential as Linkedin.  She has taken on the philosophy "not to settle" until her company employees become great.  Their employees "can" be great, and that adopted attitude and philosophy can create that competitive edge in her sphere of influence as a business leader.

It was interesting to hear also that employee strengths are not limited to or even prioritized toward intelligence.  Virtues such as loyalty, steadfastness and honesty are valued higher in the hiring and development process more than the individuals being "fast learners."  This perspective also required leadership to spend more time and provide patience with employees, but the message was clear on the worth of the outcomes.  Spending time with people to give them voice and confidence were described as important factors in growing people.  Her point was well taken in noting both high and low performers take a lot of time and attention for different reasons.

She emphasized our need to be empathetic with people and be crystal clear with expectations.  She made a comment at the end of her conversation that caught my attention, (I had a chance to converse with her after her talk to clarify): 

People change from either a catalyst due to some pain they have experienced in their life or they change because the opportunity presented by the change is so awesome. (Paraphrased).  Her work is to help people leverage those motivators to become great people and employees.

I could not help but tie in her work with one of our core values: “See students as they could be; not as they are.”  I love the message that student and adult performance is more about growing, nurturing, developing and empowering than any amount of talent that all of us may or may not bring to the table.   This work is mission critical, and this provides hope for all of our kids. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Mindset and Technology

Many are familiar with Dr. Carol Dweck's work concerning our mindset, and how our thinking impacts affects our ability to improve and grow in our learning and endeavors.  If you examine her research and how she applies the two different types of mindsets (fixed vs. growth), you find the principles behind the processes can be applied to just about any challenge or process in our professional and personal lives.

Developing a growth mindset is even more critical in today's world of constant change with the presence of new and what appear to be greater challenges.  A growth mindset equips us to embrace those challenges as opposed to avoiding them.  In teaching and learning for example, technology tools we use to leverage student learning are not to be avoided simply because there exists the immediate challenge that requires us to invest in time, energy, reflection and work (fixed mindset).  Instead,  they are tools to help us embrace and master the new (and I might say exciting) challenges that face us today and will be present tomorrow, (growth mindset).
The growth mindset perspective, in light of new common core, technology and 21st Century Skill challenges, is a must.  The chart below (Graham 2007) outlines the major differences between the two types of mindsets and how they apply to key characteristics that affect learning and academic growth.

When it comes to students and teachers using technology to increase student academic achievement, one can easily see how all of these apply.

Teachers who excel in using technology have had such an interest, desire and understanding of the benefits of using digital tools in the most appropriate way have learned to embrace the challenge of learning and implementing new apps, software, strategies, etc.  Technology is no longer a threat, but it is a means to a powerful end.  The use of technology is embraced; not avoided

I think a real difference maker for tech use success for all teachers is how administration helps teachers to avoid the one obstacle with no tolerance.  Technology has to work, and it has to work efficiently.  Technology reliability and viability are obstacles that have to be taken off the table.  In my view the teacher mindset is irrelevant if the technology does not work.  The district and site leaders who understand that this is essential exemplify a growth mindset by having a "whatever it takes" mindset to make sure the technology works (no excuses).  In other words, this part of the tech equation is on leadership, and the leaders who succeed for their staff persist in the face of setbacks.

There is so much trial and error involved in this work that we have to embrace persistence and effort as key.  The other growth mindset characteristic is having the humility to allow students to leverage our efforts by learning from them as we try and retry our lessons.  In every lesson and in every attempt to improve, we learn from our failures and successes.  The growth mindset connects effort to success.

Teachers who may be initially intimidated using technology may be even more sensitive to any feedback.  This makes it even more important to nurture a growth mindset.  These teachers learn feedback can be an advantage to them and their students, and another set of eyes is a benefit and not a threat.  They look beyond anything that may be taken personal because they value the benefit of feedback for their growth.  The growth mindset stays focused on the benefits of using the tools in an even more powerful way in order to help kids learn.  The fixed mindset tends to not appreciate the vision and purpose of using technology, and any feedback or criticism is not regarded as useful.

Success of Others
Celebrating the innovation, excitement and powerful learning among kids because of what these teachers are planning and doing is something we do not do enough.  And, when we do celebrate, we emphasize how one teacher's success adds to all of our successes.  Just like the other parts of the mindset, this one relates directly to our vision and purpose of using technology in the classroom.  When we see how it is helping kids (and our own efficiencies), we look beyond the shortsightedness of being threatened by others' success to the larger perspective of opportunity and inspiration for our own work and improvement that leads to students' improvement.  When we get better, our kids get better.  A growth mindset puts the welfare of our students above our own egos and comfort.

Fixed Mindset
Growth Mindset

Give up easily
Persist in the face of setbacks

See effort as fruitless or worse
See effort as the path to mastery

Ignore useful negative feedback
Learn from criticism

Success of Others
Feel threatened by success of others
Find lessons and inspiration in the success of others

Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset: Which One Are You? (2007, April 15). Retrieved March 16, 2015, from

Friday, February 6, 2015

Success for our Kids in Today's World

I heard the quote from author Liz Wiseman:  "We live in a world where information is multiplying rapidly and only 15% of what we know today will be relevant in five years.  If that is true, do you think it is important to know what 15% will be relevant?" (Wiseman, 2015)  Connect this with an interesting trend in our economy that shows a steep increase in the number of people who are among the self-employed especially in urban areas.  This means people are becoming more entrepreneurial and more willing and skilled to be innovative and create their own opportunities.  These factors, along with the understanding that tomorrow's worker will change jobs and occupations many more times than their parents and grandparents, create an environment that is more unique than any generation since.

What does this mean for the type of world our students are entering after their experiences and learning in our school district?  Think about the skills needed in today's economy based on the above information.  Workers need to be flexible, self-starters who are adapted to learn and adjust to the needs of a local economy, especially if they are working for themselves.  What skills do we give them, and what should they be able to know and do when they leave our campuses?  In a nutshell, the most important process students need to learn is "learning to learn."  Students need to know how to learn in a world where information is literally right in front of their noses. 

With this access to immediate content and knowledge, our learning today looks much different.  I shared an example with my grandson who at nine years old asked me how Walt Disney died (of all questions).  We were at a restaurant table waiting for our lunch order and my grandson, who was not at all patient with my non-answer ("I don't know"), stealthily snuck away my iPhone from its resting place.  Halfway into the meal, he solemnly shared, "Lung cancer."  I said, "What?" And then I realized he "Googled" the answer to his question.  What was even more interesting was that we branched off into a conversation about cryonics and Walt Disney's interest in that process (you can look up that relationship), albeit a little morbid for a Greek lunch.  My point is our learning is asynchronous, immediate, spontaneous and on demand.  How many times have we used YouTube to learn something new or to delve deeper into a subject and see and learn first hand how to master a challenge?  The answer is most of us have become masters of our own learning.

Liz Wiseman also mentioned we need to be wired for learning versus wired for knowing. (Wiseman, 2015)  Our kids are graduating into a world where learning looks much like this but on a grander scale where they are responsible for their own learning.  They have to have the wherewithal and the mindset to learn a new set of skills that make them marketable in a world that is changing faster than most of us are used to.  They are entering a job market and potential self-employment where they learn jobs in which they are responsible for educating themselves!

In essence our curriculum is geared toward teaching our students to think, learn and create.  This has to include providing learning opportunities that are "real-world", including hands on and authentic types of assessments involved with career technical education and the use of technology to solve problems and use their creativity.  This curriculum is unfolding and being implemented before our very eyes as we see more an more project based learning using the learning principles of the new common core.  The new economy is providing different opportunities and the upside for our kids is unlimited; we just get to be in on creating the foundation for their future successes!

Wiseman, L. (2015, January). Rookie Smarts. Speech presented at the ACSA Superintendents' Symposium, Monterey, CA.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Listen to the Guy on the Ground

I was recently given a book from my nephew, who is a current special forces leader, prompted by The Mission, the Men, and Me written by a former special ops soldier by the name of Pete Blaber.  I mention this book because it has so many parallels to the work we do in dealing with complex tasks and assignments.

The most significant parallel from the book related to our work in education and the effective integration of technology in particular.  The "aha" comes from the author's view of how military leadership viewed the work on the ground in light of armed services technology.  His point is made in his description of how leadership would make decisions in remote places even as far away as a 1000 miles from the point of operation with little consideration of input from the people closest to the area of focus.  His idea struck a nerve on two points:

1.  Leadership saw technology as almost the end all/be all.  In other words, they relied on the satellite imagery, the laser guided weapons, the communication technology, etc.  depending on the power of these tools to accomplish the mission.  This appeared to be almost to the exclusion of the people in the theatre.

2.  The admonition from the author to always "listen to the guy on the ground."  In order to attack a complex problem (in this case chasing down bad guys in Afghanistan), context has to be built and that requires time and a mindset to get as much relevant information as possible.  The author mentions having a common sense approach to "develop the situation," unlike traditional planning procedures.  (This reminds me to not to assume anything because something worked well for someone or else for another classroom, school or district).

The art and science of teaching has a complexity that seems to be unappreciated because of the subtleties of our work.  I have heard experts compare this complexity to that of a brain surgeon, and this is affirmed when we consider all of the elements of teaching and learning on a minute-by-minute basis.  One author went so far as to call teachers "brain changers" (Pillars 2011).  Now add the use of technology to this complexity, and we have a challenge that demands the investment in thought, resources and planning that are equal to the task.  Our tendency is to forego building context when it comes to inserting technology in the classroom.  A failure to develop a relevant understanding of what it takes to meet the needs of staff members to support the role of technology in the needed instructional shift makes it that much more difficult to change the teaching and learning dynamics required to create a 21st Century Learning Environment.

As leaders, we tend to oversimplify the mission of integrating technology in our classrooms with much the same approach as the military and intelligence leadership mentioned in this book.  Technology is powerful, and if we insert that technology in the classroom, everybody takes off to greater academic learning and success, right?  (Wrong!)  We make the assumption the technology will "do the trick."  The reality is without developing the situation and without "listening to the guy on the ground,” we just insert technology into a system and a situation that has not been prepared to adapt to the desired teaching and learning.  The optimal conditions required to launch these tools to be used effectively and powerfully does not occur naturally and seamlessly.  We take a formulaic approach to a complex and dynamic situation that has several moving parts.

A few lessons learned from this thinking can be applied to what we do on a daily basis:  
  • We can never stop working with everyone involved in teaching and learning.  Listening to the input from the people who witness teaching and learning challenges on a daily basis is essential.   
  • Develop the context of our challenges and the complexities that exist with teaching and learning with the use of technology for learning in mind.   
  • Keep technology in perspective:  It brings powerful learning opportunities and conditions that do great things for kids only if teachers act purposely to create those conditions and opportunities.  The more effective the teacher is in this area, the more effective the use of the technology.
  • Teachers can also "listen to the guy on the ground" (students) and go through the same process of developing the situation and determine context to be innovative and solve complex student learning problems in light of the innovative use of technology tools.

Pillars, W. (2011, December 20). Teachers as Brain-Changers: Neuroscience and Learning. Retrieved January 20, 2015.