Sunday, October 29, 2017

Measuring Impact with the Digital Practice Assessment (DPA)

Note: This post is directly related to my work at the International Center for Leadership in Education

Efficacy has been on my mind a great deal as of late, and as a result, it has been reflected in my writing.  When I think back to the successful digital transformation and implementation of innovative practices at my former school when I was a principal the key driver for us was the ability to show, not just talk about, evidence of improvement.  By combining both quantitative and qualitative measures, we were able to articulate the why, how, and what, as well as the detailed process that went into each respective change effort.  The “secret sauce” in all of this was the strategic use of digital tools to proactively share the details of our efforts and resulting impact.  


Image credit: http://www.assafh.org/

During my tenure as a principal, I was always in search of tools and processes to help measure the impact of the changes we were implementing.  Unfortunately, nothing existed.  As I work with schools and districts on a weekly basis, I am often asked how they can determine the impact and effectiveness of the many innovative initiatives they have in place. Practices such as BYOD, 1:1, blended learning, personalized learning, classroom and school redesign, branding, makerspaces, professional learning, etc.  This need served as a call to action of sorts and catalyzed my current work.  As Senior Fellow with the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE), I have worked with a fantastic team to develop services and tools to help districts, schools, and organizations across the world transform teaching, learning, and leadership.  One of these tools is the Digital Practice Assessment (DPA). 

The DPA creates the context for our work with leaders and teachers, providing authentic baseline data to support personalized professional learning. It begins by examining the strategies in place at each school or district that support student learning with technology in the areas of rigor, relevance, relationships, engagement, and overall culture. The process then moves to understanding the current leadership practices in place to successfully implement technology and innovative practices, aligned to the 7 Pillars of Digital Leadership & Learning (Student Learning, Learning Spaces & Environment, Professional Growth, Communication, Public Relations, Branding, and Opportunity). 


Through this proven model, our consultants can help schools and districts identify opportunities to begin their transformation or take their digital and innovation goals to the next level, leveraging the knowledge, experience, and practice of ICLE’s thought leadership. The DPA process consists of a combination of a self-reflection questionnaire rubric, on-site observations, and online inventories comprised of data and evidence collection. We then leverage evidence-based rubrics to observe leadership and instructional practices while collecting artifacts to provide evidence of effective digital learning and innovative professional practice. Once collected and analyzed, a detailed summary report outlining areas of success, focus opportunities, and recommended next steps will guide the professional learning partnership with ICLE, supporting the development of a strategic professional learning and implementation plan. 

Below is a summary of the DPA process:

Step 1: The Pillars of Digital Leadership Questionnaire is completed by the district or school. This 18 question rubric asks school leaders to reflect on their perceptions for where their school falls on a continuum from not yet started to well developed. During this reflective process, it is expected that school leadership teams collect and document aligned evidence for each item.  This information is completed and archived in the Professional Learning Portal (PLP), a free digital platform developed by ICLE to support schools in data collection,  reflection and goal setting, to grow and improve. The baseline evidence shared is in the context of digital leadership and learning (including examples of data, lesson plans, unit plans, student work, PLC minutes, rigorous digital performance tasks, walk-through forms, assessments, sample observations/evaluations, portfolios, PD plans, social media accounts, pictures, videos, press releases, media coverage, partnerships, etc). 

Step 2: On-site observations and interviews are conducted by consultants to validate perceptions and evidence collected for the seven Pillars of Digital Leadership Questionnaire, as well as targeted classroom observations of student learning, aligned to rigor, relevance and engagement. Additional data is collected and archived in the PLP during classroom observations. The idea is to engage school leaders in dialogue about their culture, student learning and digital integration, no matter where they are with their digital transformation. 

Step 3: The data and evidence are tightly aligned to ICLE’s research-based rubrics to provide a detailed view of where a district or school is with their digital transformation.The data and artifacts are analyzed, leading to a summary report that details the current state of practice at each school or in the district. 

Step 4: The DPA report is shared and discussed with the school leadership team. In partnership with ICLE, observations about the evidence collected are shared and discussed. During the strategic planning process, discussions focus on areas of strength and improvements to develop a tailored and personalized implementation plan.

Step 5: On-going professional learning is implemented and progress monitoring through the online Pillars of Digital Leadership Questionnaire is documented to determine the efficacy of the digital transformation.

The DPA process has been created to support districts and schools looking for ways to measure and articulate the impact of technology and innovation on practice.  While data is valuable, it moves beyond this as the only metric for success by actually taking a lens to an array of strategies and practices that combine to create a thriving learning culture.  

The DPA doesn’t just look at technology and innovation. It also provides insight on all elements of school culture and student learning.  In addition to being informed by a broad body of research and driven by evidence, the DPA process is also aligned to the following:


We don’t know where we are and how effective change is until steps are taken to look critically at practice. We hope that through the DPA process we can help you develop, refine, measure, and then share amazing examples that illustrate how efficacy has been attained.  

If you are looking for a method of determining where you are and where you want your district or school to be in the digital age, please contact Matt Thouin at ICLE (MThouin@leadered.com).  He can arrange for an interactive and detailed look at the DPA rubrics and process as well as the PLP platform from the convenience of your home or office.  We look forward to supporting you on your journey toward systemwide digital transformation. If you have any questions for me, please leave them in the comments below.

Copyright © by International Center for Leadership in Education, a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Efficacy in Digital Learning

As a principal, the buck stopped with me.  I was reminded of this by numerous superintendents during my tenure as a school leader.  However, when we began moving forward with our digital transformation one particular superintendent asked me point blank what evidence I had that actually supported our claims that new equated to better. This not only stopped me in my tracks, but that moment in time provided the grounding that my school and I really needed.  For change to really be embraced by all stakeholders it is critical that we just don’t tell and claim that improvement is occurring, but that we also show. 

Accountability matters and is a reality in our work.  We are accountable first and foremost to our learners. As a supporter of the purposeful use of technology and innovative practices, I had to illustrate how effective these strategies were at improving learning.  Statements and claims didn’t cut it and this was more than fair.  It was at this time where the term efficacy kept finding its way into the conversation and my head. In the real world of education efficacy matters and it is important that this is part of the larger conversation when it comes to digital. It is a word that, in my opinion, has to be a part of our daily vocabulary and practice. Simply put, efficacy is the degree to which desired outcomes and goals are achieved. Applying this concept to digital learning can go a long way to solidifying the use of technology as an established practice, not just a frill or add-on.

The journey to efficacy begins and ends with the intended goal in mind and a strong pedagogical foundation.  Adding technology or new ideas without this in place will more than likely not result in achieving efficacy.  The Rigor Relevance Framework provides schools and educators with a checks and balance system by providing a common language for all, creating a culture around a common vision, and establishing a critical lens through which to examine curriculum, instruction, and assessment. It represents a means to support innovative learning and digital practice as detailed in the description of Quad D learning:
Students have the competence to think in complex ways and to apply their knowledge and skills they have acquired. Even when confronted with perplexing unknowns, students are able to use extensive knowledge and skill to create solutions and take action that further develops their skills and knowledge.
Aligning digital to Quad D not only makes sense but also melds with a great deal of the conversation in digital and non-digital spaces as to why and how learning should change.  A framework like this emphasizes the importance of a strong pedagogical foundation while helping to move practice from isolated pockets of excellence to systemic elements that are scaled throughout the learning culture.  It also provides the means to evaluate and reflect in order to improve. 

Rigor Relevance Framework

Once an overall vision for digital learning is firmly in place you can begin to work on the structures and supports to ensure success.  This brings me back to efficacy.  The why is great, but the how and what have to be fleshed out.  Determining whether technology or innovative practices, in general, are effective matters.  Below I will highlight 5 key areas (essential questions, research, practicality, evidence/accountability, reflection)  that can put your classroom, school, district, or organization on a path to digital efficacy. 

Essential Questions

Questions provide context for where we want to go, how we’ll get there, and whether or not success is achieved.  Having more questions than answers is a natural part of the initial change process. Over time, however, concrete answers can illustrate that efficacy in digital learning has been achieved in some form or another.  Consider how you might respond to the questions below:

  • What evidence do we have to demonstrate the impact of technology on school culture?
  • How are we making learning relevant for our students?
  • How do we implement and support rigorous and relevant learning tasks that help students become Future Ready?
  • What is required to create spaces that model real-world environments and learning opportunities? 
  • What observable evidence can be used to measure the effect technology is having on student learning and achievement?
  • How can targeted feedback be provided to our teachers and students, so that technology can enhance learning?

Research

Research is prevalent in education for a reason.  It provides us all with a baseline as to what has been found to really work when it comes to student learning.  Now, there is good research and bad.  I get that. It is up to us as educators to sift through and then align the best and most practical studies out there to support the need to transform learning in the digital age. We can look to the past in order to inform current practice.  For example, so many of us are proponents of student ownership, project-based, and collaborative learning. Not only does digital support and enhance all of these, but research from Dewey, Vygotsky, Piaget, Papert, Bloom, and many others provide validation.  See the image below. For more on authorship learning click HERE.




One of the main reasons Tom Murray and I wrote Learning Transformed was to provide a sound research base that supports digital learning and the embracement of innovative practices.  The research of Linda Darling Hammond found that technology can have the most impact on our at-risk learners when it is used to support interactive learning, explore and create rather than to “drill and kill”, and constitutes the right blend of teachers and technology. This is just one of over 100 studies we highlight. Then there is the comprehensive analysis by John Hattie on effect size – a listing of the most effective instructional strategies that improve student learning outcomes all of which can be applied to digital learning. If efficacy is the goal, embracing a scholarly mindset to inform and influence our work, not drive it, is critical.

Practicality

All of what we do should align to the demands, and at times constraints, of the job.  This includes preparing students for success on standardized tests. If it’s not practical, the drive to implement new ideas and practices wanes or never materializes.  The creation of rigorous digital performance tasks that are aligned to standards and the scope and sequence found in the curriculum is just good practice. All good performance tasks include some form of assessment, either formative or summative, that provides the learner and educator with valuable information on standard and outcome attainment.  Again, this is just part of the job. 

The Rigor Relevance Framework assists in creating performance tasks that engage learners in critical thinking and problem solving while applying what they have learned in meaningful ways.  There is also natural alignment to incorporating student agency. This is exactly what so many of us are championing.  My colleague and good friend, Weston Kieschnick, has created a template that combines research and the practical aspect of performance task creation to assist you in creating your own.   Check it out HERE. You can use the template and go through the process of developing a rigorous digital performance task or just use it to inform as you design your own. 

Evidence and Accountability

As many of you know I do not shy away from openly discussing how important this area is. Just go back to my opening paragraph in this post for a refresher. Evidence and accountability are a part of every profession and quite frankly we need more of both in education to not only show efficacy in our work but to also scale needed change. Not everything has to or can be, measured. However, focusing on a Return on Instruction allows everyone to incorporate multiple measures, both qualitative and quantitative, to determine if improvement is in fact occurring. 

Reflection

When it is all said and done the most important thing we can all do is constantly reflect on our practice.  In terms of efficacy in digital learning consider these reflective questions from your particular lens:

  • Did my students learn? 
  • How do I know if my students learned? 
  • How do others know if my students learned? 
  • What can be done to improve? 
  • What point of view have I not considered?

Amazing things are happening in education, whether it be through digital learning or the implementation of innovative ideas.  We must always push ourselves to be better and strive for continuous improvement. The more we all push each other on the topic of efficacy, our collective goals we have for education, learning, and leadership can be achieved. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Achieving a Balance

When it comes to work, I have had to battle some internal conflicts over the years.   Early on in my career as a school administrator, and then again in my work in my current position as an ICLE Senior Fellow, I had to be put in place, thankfully, by those who care a great deal about me.  In the past, the challenge for me had always been putting too much focus on the job and not enough time and effort on my family or personal well-being.  I am going to try to speak about my battles with the work-life balance and attempt to offer up some sound advice for all of us that, at times, can be consumed with professional work.  My perspective always comes back to some sage advice that my mother gave my wife and me when we became parents, “You never get this time back so make the most of it.”


Image credit: http://www.saxonsgroup.com.au/blog/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/work-life-balance.jpg

The work-life balance as I see it can be broken down into three main categories: professional, family, and personal.  The first two types are self-explanatory. Personal takes into account your lifestyle, health, friends, and anything else that contributes to your well-being.  When the demands of our jobs are factored in, finding a balance between these areas can pose quite the challenge.  Add the pressure that we all put on ourselves to perform at a high level and what results are a hole that at times is difficult to get out of. 

When it comes to my professional work, I allocate my time each day to ensure tasks get done.  Yes, I am a list guy.  For the most part, I write out all tasks that have to be completed the night before.  I did this as a principal and still to this day embrace this practice.  Having a schedule and sticking to it helped me be more productive.  It forced me to prioritize specific tasks while delegating others that had no real impact on student learning. However, I am not a slave to my list.  Things beyond my control can and do come up.  That's where flexibility and patience come into play. Both attributes are instrumental in helping us achieve professional success, but also in achieving a positive balance in life.

Let me share an example of what this looked like.  As high school principal, I conducted 2-3 unannounced observations a day.  The week before I would not only schedule these on my calendar, but I would also set time aside to write each up the same day so that I could conduct the post-conference with the teachers the very next day.  I not only committed to this schedule but also made it known to my secretary that I shouldn’t be bothered unless necessary. Some might think this is extreme, but this practice helped me to focus on getting my work done at school so that I could enjoy priceless time with my family at home each evening. The work-life balance starts here. I chose not to bring work home, period. Sometimes I would stay a bit later to get things done, but the weekends were off limits.  That was family time.

Social media posed another challenge to the balance.  Twitter was a considerable time zap early on, and then the use of other tools began to take a negative toll on my time. Once I got that under control my travel began to turn the tables in the wrong direction.  In both cases, my fantastic wife took the initiative to explain how each was negatively impacting our family.  As my father always says, “There is nothing more important in life than family.” Never take for granted what you have right in front of you.  Social media has had such an incredible impact on my professional and personal life as well as many of you that are reading this post.  The key here is not to let it drive a wedge between those who depend on us the most – our family.  

When it comes to social media and writing in general, I put time aside when I am either on the road or when my wife and kids are at school.  This small shift has had a magical effect.  When they are home, I am more present, both physically and emotionally.  We also commit to at least two family trips a year.  As far as travel is concerned, ICLE has been amazing, as they have encouraged me to scale back to achieve this balance.  I can’t explain how awesome it is to work for a company who actively promotes attaining and maintaining a work-life balance.  This has enabled me to be home more during the workweek and work towards eliminating weekend travel. As a cheer dad, this is crucial in the eyes of my daughter as all of her competitions are on weekends. 



So, what about the personal component of the work-life balance?  Here is where all of us need to be a bit selfish.  Our well-being is not only good for us on a personal level, but it has positive impacts on our professional work and family life.  As a high school principal, I had a lengthy commute from Staten Island, NY to New Milford, NJ.  Each morning I had to drive through the gauntlet, which was my term for the journey that took me over the Goethals Bridge and then through a good stretch of the NJ Turnpike. If I didn’t leave early enough, I would be stuck in traffic for hours.  Thus, I left my house each morning at 5:15 AM. 

Why that early you might ask?  This is where I began to add some balance to one of the three categories above.  On a personal level, I had to make the time to work out in the morning or else it just wouldn’t happen.  I would leave at this time to not only get my workout in but to also open the fitness center at 6:00 AM for students that wanted the same opportunity. Having a routine was nice.  With my crazy travel schedule, it is more difficult to be consistent. My rule of thumb now is a minimum of four days working out each week. If I do not achieve this, then I attempt to deprive myself of something I have grown to enjoy as of late – craft beer.  

Equally as important in the personal balance category is trying to eat healthily. As a principal, I had a fairly strict eating regime that was consistent.  Now that has all changed when I am not home.  I am genetically prone to high cholesterol and am currently on a statin to control it.  With this condition life on the road becomes even more of a challenge because it is virtually impossible to eat the way I want.  Just look at the calorie counts of many salads, and you know exactly what I am talking about.  Every change matters, no matter how small.  For me I get my salad dressing on the side, avoid fried foods and desserts, and eat smaller meals throughout the day.  

I really could go on and on about my ideas on achieving a balance, but that is not the reason for this post.  My hope is if you are dealing with some of the struggles that I have encountered this post might help you get a better handle on finding a balance that works for you, work, and your family.  Below is some general advice that applies to the three main categories outlined in this post:

  • Don’t let work get in the way of what’s most important – your family and personal well-being.  Establish a schedule that works for you and be “present” during family time.
  • Take care of yourself!  Try to make some small shifts to your diet and make the time to exercise a couple of times per week. Go to the doctor and get a check-up regularly. 
  • Scale back on the social media time.  I am one of the biggest proponents of PLN’s and engaging in chats is excellent for our professional growth. However, making the time for real, face-to-face conversations with our family over a meal is crucial to the balance.
  • Get outside!  Walks with the dog, family, or just on your own to reflect can be invigorating.
  • Make time for your friends and neighbors in your immediate area.  I have been doing this more and more when I am at home thanks to the push from my wife.  
  • Find or resurrect a hobby.

I hope you all will consider sharing how you go about achieving a balance in your life as well as some of the challenges you face.  Achieving a balance all comes down to the fact that we care for those who we love, depend on, work with, and who depend on us.  When it is all said and done, I want to succeed on a professional level, but achieving success as a dad, husband, and friend in the eyes of those I care about is what truly matters. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Why Learning and People Should Come First

I was recently working on my slide deck for a three-day workshop that will take participants on an immersive experience into digital leadership and learning.  My primary objective for all multiday workshops is to illustrate the vital role that technology can play in improving teaching, learning, and leadership.  Most of the first day is spent on emphasizing the importance of a pedagogy first, technology second mindset. The bottom line is that if we don’t get the instructional design right first, then the chances of technology improving learning outcomes is slim to none.  

Throughout my slide deck are numerous questions to get participants to reflect on their practice and think strategically about changes that they or their school(s) need to make.  After having attendees discuss in groups their responses to each question I have them report out their thoughts using a variety of tools. For the most part, my integration of technology into workshops is to foster greater collaboration, showcase how to increase engagement authentically, formatively assess, and creatively showcase what they have learned.   In some cases, I will directly train educators on how to use various tools, but learning to use the edtech tools is the easy part.  Integrating them to support high-level learning and having evidence to support this is the challenging work. 



Image credit: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu

As I line up my reflective questions, I also determine which tools I am going to have participants use to share out.  My favorite and most reliable tend to be TodaysMeet, Padlet, Mentimeter, and AnswerGarden.  For the first day of this particular workshop, I had also planned to use Tackk and ProConIt, two lesser-known tools that I have been using for the past couple of years.  As I went into both accounts, I was shocked to learn that Tackk had suddenly shut down on September 30 and when trying to access ProConIt an error message notified me that the site was not working.  A few days later I still have not been able to access ProConIt successfully.

Fortunately for me, I was able to swap out both tools for others that are similar.  The lesson learned is valuable for anyone using technology to support professional practice.  How would you manage if one day you walked into your classroom or school to discover that Google Classroom, Seesaw, or any other tool that was thoroughly embraced no longer existed? Technology comes and goes.  Sometimes it doesn’t work the way we want, in some cases, it fails to load, and then there is the chance that the tool ceases to exist.  

In the classroom, we must be mindful of what is most important – the quality of the learning and the interactions between people. Both of these outcomes should never be driven by a tool, device, or program.  It is sometimes hard not to get sucked in by all the potential benefits that come with technology.  Engagement is one of them. Yes, we want kids engaged. However, it is critical that engagement leads to evidence of learning.  This point comes back to my mantra of pedagogy first, technology second. Technology should never drive our work, but instead be used strategically to improve teaching, learning, and leadership. 

Technology is not a replacement for practice supported by research and what has been found to work consistently.  The ultimate failsafe is a well-designed lesson that gets kids to think while applying their learning in a meaningful way.  This is why using a tool like the Rigor Relevance Framework to develop a pedagogically-sound foundation first will help to ensure a quality learning experience with and without technology.  It is also important to understand that technology will not automatically lead to better results. We must be mindful of not only how it will improve the task(s) at hand, but also to not rely on it to the point that we can’t move beyond a tool or program if or when it ceases to exist or work.

The same advice applies to the tools that many of us use to connect, learn, and grow.  The Personal Learning Network (PLN) is fueled by the connections made thanks to a variety of social media tools, most notably Twitter. How would you manage or cope if Twitter tomorrow decided to shut its doors?  To be honest, I think many connected educators wouldn’t know what to do with themselves. My point here is not to place all of our eggs in just one tool or platform. 

Technology has enabled all of us to do some pretty amazing things when it comes to our professional practice and will continue to do so. Just be wary of losing focus on what truly matters. Without people, the tech doesn’t matter when it comes to learning. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Scaling Change to Create Schools Learners Need and Deserve

We live in exciting times although it is often difficult to keep up with how fast society is changing. Many of us can remember a world where there was no Internet or smartphones.  Now we not only have smart watches, but rumors are swirling that a global Wi-Fi network powered by commercial airliners is in the works that will provide people access virtually anywhere in the world.   We keep seeing major disruptions across the service sector. Up until a few years ago, there was no Uber or Airbnb. Now millions of people are hailing rides and booking rooms in ways that are more convenient and cost-efficient. With the exponential rate of change we are seeing, it is a bit exciting to think about what the future holds.

Education is beginning to experience some pretty exciting changes as well.  Across the globe, evolving technologies are being utilized to engage students in a variety of ways authentically.  Critical competencies such as creativity, collaboration, and communication are now easier to demonstrate through the use of numerous tools.  Classroom and school design are beginning to move away from what many of us experienced as students.   Flexible spaces, virtual learning options, and makerspaces are providing students with new opportunities to demonstrate what they know. Social media has flattened the world as educators have discovered how powerful this standard medium is in enabling the sharing of ideas, strategies, and resources regardless of time or place. Just like society, the future of education is bright.

Image credit: https://teachingdigitaltechnology.wordpress.com/

There is one caveat here though.  The pace of change in the education space has not matched that which we see across the world. Even though progress has and continues to be made, the paragraph above represents a small fraction of the education space. So, what gives? Why education needs to change has been discussed at length by authors and bloggers alike for years now.  If providing compelling reasons, research and opinions were enough I suppose education would look and feel a lot different at scale now.  We have also been exposed to all the many technology tools, programs, and pedagogical shifts that can support and enhance learning for students.  Some improvement claims are valid, while others tend to be on the fluffier side. With all this being said, change at scale still tends to be elusive. 

The conundrum painted above is not as perplexing as one might think.  I often go back to the work of Simon Sinek and his Golden Circle.  The "why" and "what" dominate conversations, writings, and presentations in my opinion.  I am not saying this is entirely a bad thing.  This is ideal for short-term satisfaction, but the "how" is the key to sustainability and scalability. In Learning Transformed, Tom Murray and I went to great lengths to unearth the why by presenting a vast research base to validate the ideas presented. The how is framed through the Innovative Practices in Action (IPA's) found in each chapter.  What often holds educators and schools back is taking great ideas and showing how they can be implemented under a variety of conditions and contexts. The video below provides a bit more insight into our thinking around this.



Change begins with you. Never forget that. The key, however, is to create a movement through collective actions that fundamentally improve learning for all.  Scalability matters if the goal is to build schools of the future by transforming teaching, learning, and leadership in the process.  Details on how this can and is being accomplished in the context of the real challenges educators and schools face on a daily basis can help move isolated pockets of excellence to scalable changes that influence all learners.