Shifting the Culture in Learner-Centered Environments

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Reposted from CompetencyWorks:

In 2012, the Maine Legislature passed into law LD1422, An Act to Prepare Maine People for the Future Economy. The key element of this legislation is the transition to a standards-based educational system in which graduation from a Maine high school is based on students demonstrating proficiency. The policy was set, but what does it mean to a district and school to ensure their students are proficient? What had to change? I’ve worked in one district that has undergone the transformation and I’m currently working in another that has started their transition to a proficiency-based system. Each one began by transforming the culture to a learner-centered approach. In both districts, consultants from the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition, a division of Marzano Research, provided us with training and resources to aid in our implementation of this challenging work.

It starts with fully embracing the fact that students learn differently. As we put our beliefs that learners learn in different ways and in different time frames into practice, we began taking bold steps toward creating a meaningful, personalized learning experience for each child. Early on, we gleaned the importance of including all stakeholders, including community groups, students, staff, and parents, in thinking and talking about a culture of learning. We hosted many conversations about our current cultural reality and reflected on needed changes moving forward. Our essential question, “What does a successful learner in the twenty-first century look like?” guided us through a lengthy process of discussions, gathering, and then analyzing the data from our various stakeholder groups. Once our district shared vision of “Preparing respectful, responsible, and creative thinkers for success in the global community” was established, teachers found innovative ways to make this statement have meaning and relevance for our learners at both the school and classroom levels. I have seen teachers incorporate our vision in creative ways, such as student-created posters, songs, and chants.

These conversations and collaborative processes around culture became the roots that grounded us. Once these cultural roots took hold, we could add other essential nutrients to start growing our personalized, proficiency-based system of learning. I believe that taking the time to fully develop our shared vision in the beginning has been a significant factor in the progress students have made with their academic learning goals. This shift in culture allowed us to establish positive learner-centered environments, where our students became more engaged and had increased ownership of their learning pathways.

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What If We Pursued a Culture of Learning Instead of a Culture of Achievement?

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Reposted from Perkins Educational Consulting:

A culture of achievement places it’s focus on the most easily quantifiable and measurable results, test scores. As superintendents and building administrators work to keep their jobs and show they are successful it’s somewhat understandable (if not short-sighted) that this would be a focus. The unfortunate truth is that these tests are not measuring things important to creating the type of graduates society needs and is longing for. Most standardized tests attempt to measure content knowledge and understanding and not skills or thinking you would find on the upper parts of Bloom’s taxonomy. What this often creates then is an approach by administrators that demands a focus on identifying exactly what parts of the test students are not performing well (disaggregating the data) and pulling those students for intentional work on shoring up those specific shortcomings.

What if we pursued a Culture of Teaching and Learning? One that placed an emphasis on things like deep, rich inquiry and craftsmanship? What if the learning had no ceiling and students were authentically assessed and did real-world work where they uncovered and discovered content? What if instead of disaggregating data our teachers engaged in quality professional discourse about their work in ways that excited them and their students? A Culture of Teaching and Learning often produces great (test scores) achievement but a Culture of Achievement rarely results in great teaching and learning. A Culture of Teaching and Learning rewards and professionalizes teaching and helps create students who are empowered by their possibilities and less than concerned with test performance.

If your school is looking to create great thinkers and learners and not just students stuffed full of content take a look at your culture. If your school is wishing your students were excited to be there instead of feeling the tension of just trying to attend and endure take a look at your culture. Is your focus on test scores and “achievement” or do your teachers and students engage in ways that allow them to grow and make meaning out of their learning in ways that tests don’t measure and quantify? Is the purpose of your school to produce great test scores or students capable of thinking creatively and critically about things that matter?

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The Powerful Invisible Force of School Culture

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Reposted from Dennis Sparks on Learning and Leading:

School culture is a powerful but often invisible force that promotes or thwarts the continuous improvement of teaching and learning.

Because culture is often experienced as “just how things are,” its negative effects are often only indirectly felt.

To what extent does the culture of your school or school system promote or interfere with the continuous improvement of teaching and learning?

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Video

The Toxic Culture of Education [VIDEO 17:02]

Joshue Katz contends that we have created a “Toxic Culture of Education” in our country that is damaging students, impacting our economy, and threatening our future. Since the passage of No Child Left Behind, we have embraced a culture of high stakes testing and are perpetuating a false sense of failure in our schools by created by private education interests who have identified a supervillain of its own creation. The solution lies in a common sense approach to student development, curriculum choice, career exploration, and relevant data analysis. This talk will present a vision of an education system that allows us to embrace our full potential if we only had the courage to ask “Why Not”?

Teens, Tech & Racism

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Reposted from USA Today:

The most racially diverse generation in American history works hard to see race as just another attribute, no more important than the cut of a friend’s clothes or the music she likes. But the real world keeps intruding, as it has the past few weeks with angry protests over the racially charged deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in nearby Staten Island, N.Y. “As a generation, we don’t acknowledge color, but we know that the race problem is still there,” says 16-year-old Nailah Richards, an African-American student at Medgar Evers College Preparatory School in Brooklyn. “We don’t really pay attention to it, but we know it’s there.” Nailah is one of the Millennials, the 87 million Americans born between 1982 and 2001. They are defined by opinion surveys as racially open-minded and struggling to be “post-racial.”

Many young people still see the USA’s intractable problems as rooted in race. In a May 2012 report, Race Forward: the Center for Racial Justice Innovation found that “a large majority” of young people in the Los Angeles area believed race and racism still mattered significantly — particularly as they relate to education, criminal justice and employment. In follow-up sessions in five cities in early 2012, the center found that “racial justice” was the most significant interest among young people. “Do I feel like I live in a post-racial society?” asks Izabelle. “Not at all. Not at all.” The borders of school districts often produce segregated schools as a byproduct of neighborhood segregation, and students are placed in classrooms and on academic tracks based on test scores that often correlate with socioeconomic status.

Social divisions, including racial divisions, “are not disappearing simply because people have access to technology,” researcher Danah Boyd says. “Tools that enable communication do not sweep away distrust, hatred and prejudice.” The mere existence of new technology “neither creates nor magically solves cultural problems. In fact, their construction typically reinforces existing social divisions.” For instance, when she sat down to look at the Facebook profile of a white 17-year-old girl at a private East Coast high school, boyd found that though her school recruited students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, most of those who had left comments on the student’s profile were white. “Teens go online to hang out with their friends,” she wrote, “and given the segregation of American society, their friends are quite likely to be of the same race, class, and cultural background.”

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No One Right Answers Anywhere

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Today I’m announcing a game-changer. And once you let it sink in you won’t be able to look back. Ready? Here it is: there is no one right answer. And I’m not just talking about in classroom instruction and achievement assessments. This is bigger than that. There are no one right answers anywhere, at any time, in life.

How can I say this? The dawn of our global society is shining light in every corner of every culture, every context, every preconceived assumption, and forcing us to think beyond traditional ideals and values.

You can have one right answers in isolation…in a silo…in a vacuum. You can control the variables there. One right answers can still exist in algebraic equations, but they no longer apply in everyday life…and they no longer apply in education.

This means standardization is a false premise for any education policy or practice. Standardization was an industrial-aged ideal that aspired to a specific profile of student success. And in the process we labeled and marginalized anyone and everyone who didn’t fit that profile.

Intelligence quotients are no longer acceptable in quantifying human potential. A century ago the IQ was formulated to identify an entire class of bean counters and paper pushers. There is a much fuller, richer spectrum of human ability which our global society seeks to tap into today.

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The profession of education is no longer one class of workers who can be led along like sheep. The decentralization of education to meet the unique needs of all teachers, students and families is the strongest force for true reform of education as an institution.

Traditional formulas for success are also becoming irrelevant. Policies set by elected officials stand like paper tigers, and students today are poking holes through the arbitrary expectations that have no basis in how they learn, grow, and contribute to a global society.

There are no traditional career paths moving forward, either. Students will have multiple careers. So will teachers. No one will prepare for one profession. Everyone will create their own opportunities to contribute to the global economy, and no one will be thinking of “job security” as experience, seniority or tenure.

When there is no one right answer for anything, all the handicaps and obstacles fall away, and everything becomes possible. It pushes us past our physical and mechanical limitations to redefine our world, our work, and our worth. It will no longer matter where we are on this planet, we will all matter. We will all make a difference. And finally and for the first time, we will begin to make progress on all of the unresolvable problems of every age that has preceded ours: war, famine, disease and good stewardship of the earth.

As a member of the last wave of the baby boomer generation, I am resigned to the fact that we have the hardest time letting go of the one right answer mentality we inherited from our parents and grandparents. I have also come to accept that this transformation to a global society probably won’t hit critical mass until my generation is no longer in power to reinforce the outdated value of the one right answer.

But I am bound and determined not to fade away without speaking strongly in support of our progeny and the steps they are taking towards that global society they see so clearly within their grasp. They do not limit themselves to one right answer. They do not accept preconceived notions of what is possible. They ask questions. They seek answers. And they solve problems. Who can be opposed to that?

As uncomfortable and uncertain as it may be to let go of the world we once knew, it is time to acknowledge there is no one right answer anymore. Creativity. Innovation. Transformation. Buckle up, baby boomers. It’s going to be a wild ride.

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3 Ways to Create a Culture of “Can” in Your Classroom

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Reposted from te@chthought:

“If a learner is to develop a sense of can, he or she must learn it. While some students have more natural confidence or initiative than others, can is slightly different than confidence. Can is a mix of knowledge and self-efficacy that has been nurtured through experience — by consistently meeting both internally and externally created goals judged by standards that are also both internally and externally drawn.

So how does this happen? Where does it come from?

In Developing Minds, a kind of anthology of ways to teach thinking edited by Art Costa, there are suggestions for promoting cognition and metacognition, including “creating a safe environment,” “following students’ thinking,” and “teaching questions rather than answers.”

These suggestions often have emotional roots, implying that learning must be emotional (an implication that is hard to get away from). One broad approach to teaching that works nearly every single time — and can work here as well in creating a culture of can – is the gradual release of responsibility model.”

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