Sunday, March 27, 2016

Return on Instruction (ROI)

"When integrating technology there needs to be a Return on Instruction (ROI) that results in evidence of improved student learning outcomes." - Eric Sheninger

For educational technology to be fully embraced as a powerful teaching and learning tool there must be a focus on substance over assumptions and generalizations.  There is a great deal of evidence to make educators reflect upon their use of technology. The most glaring was the OECD Report that came out last fall. Here is an excerpt:
"Schools have yet to take advantage of the potential of technology in the classroom to tackle the digital divide and give every student the skills they need in today’s connected world, according to the first OECD PISA assessment of digital skills. Even countries which have invested heavily in information and communication technologies (ICT) for education have seen no noticeable improvement in their performances in PISA results for reading, mathematics, or science."
This week I came across a post by Larry Ferlazzo that asked educators to provide their response to why EdTech has over-promised and under-delivered. Before even reading this post, I already began to develop some of my own answers based on my work and observations of schools all over the world. This response stood out from the second part of Larry’s piece:
"Good teaching is not about where or what to click.  Good teaching is about building quality relationships with students, helping students make connections to the real world, building students individual cognitive networks, and having our students enjoy learning for the sake of learning.  Technology will never solve all the ills of education! Nor should it! So what is the biggest problem in EdTech?  The biggest problem is that we have been teaching teachers and students how to use technology without giving them the why of technology.  We have mistakenly believed that giving teachers and students new software or a new box will help fix education."

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I agree that part of the problem has been a lack of focus on why technology should be integrated.  As the OECD Report alluded to, the problem isn’t the technology per say, but the lack of quality professional learning to support educators with effective implementation.  There needs to be a greater focus on instructional design, digital pedagogical techniques, and the development of better assessments aligned to higher standards.  I am proud to say that this is the foundation of our digital work at the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE). It is important to note that this dilemma is not only specific to technology, but innovation as well.  There has to be a concerted focus on the why, how, and evidence of results. 

In addition to professional learning, we also have to be more critical of what we see and hear when it comes to educational technology.  For technology to be taken seriously as a tool to support and enhance teaching and learning then we must no longer accept assumptions and generalizations as to what it actually does. I for one want students empowered to own their learning, create artifacts, to demonstrate conceptual mastery, use their voice, be responsible in online spaces, and connect with the world in authentic ways.   From an educator perspective I also want teachers and administrators to utilize technology and innovative practices to improve teaching, learning, and leadership.  However, the principal in me also needs to balance this with clear results. This is a reality for every teacher and administrator that cannot be ignored.  It is important to show how students apply what they have learned in relevant ways aligned to the highest levels of knowledge taxonomy. Telling just doesn’t cut it anymore.

The next step is to begin to connect this to results that prove beyond assumptions and generalizations that technology is playing a role to positively impact teaching and learning. It is important to remember that if teaching, learning, and leadership don’t change, technology and innovation will never have the type of impact that is expected. Consider these four areas of evidence:

  • Data:  Now let me start off by saying that this is only one indicator of success. The key is to be able to align various data sources to technology use or initiatives. Standardized test scores have the greatest ability to illustrate to stakeholders how technology is positively impacting learning and achievement. Please take a look at this study by the University of Buffalo. It shows how Lockport City School students in a 1:1 iPad environment experienced significant achievement gains.  Read the entire piece as it explains why achievement increased.  Other data sources include graduation rates, acceptances to four-year colleges, attendance rates, discipline referrals, and levels of authentic student engagement. In terms of engagement make sure that it is actually leading to learning. Understand though that not all data is good data and that we should not be obsessed with this. However, saying it does not have any importance is unrealistic.  
  • Observations/Evaluations: To really see if teaching, learning, and leadership are changing, administrators have to get in classrooms more. As principal my teachers had a combination of five of these each year (3 unannounced observations, mid-year evaluation, end of year evaluation). In addition to this, my entire leadership team and I conducted non-evaluative walk-throughs each day. We can't forget that building leaders can use just as much support as teachers. Administrators are in desperate need of more quality feedback in relation to their role in digital implementations.
  • Artifacts: Examples of digital lessons, projects, assessments (formative, summative, rubrics, etc.) curriculum, and student work that aligns with higher standards. Blog posts were a great way for me to showcase examples of these artifacts. Here is an example of a teacher using Instagram and the standards-aligned rubric. My teachers aligned artifacts to their observations to support not only what happened during the observed lesson, but also what happened before and after.  All of these artifacts were aligned to standards found in the McREL tool we used.  By the end of the year, all observation comments and artifacts populated into each teacher’s end of year evaluation giving me a body of evidence that clearly showed whether teaching and learning were actually changing. Each teacher wound up with a portfolio.
  • Portfolios: Educators (teachers and administrators) and students can demonstrate evidence of growth and improvement over time in relation to learning goals. Everyone seems to talk about portfolios quite often, but I rarely see examples aligned to student and professional standards. 

Technology can and will have an impact on learning if and only if there is a focus on substance.  We must move past our infatuation with apps, tools, taglines, catchy sound bites, and broad claims that are not supported by either research or evidence of improvement. All educators should be able to answer the following question - How do you know that technology is impacting student learning and professional practice? Within this response should be examples of substance. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

L .E. A. D. E. R.

"The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things."  - Ronald Reagan

Lately I have really been focused on what true leadership actually is. Many times when I come across the word leader I see the word follower attached. In my opinion, leadership is not about attracting others to follow. To me, at least, this conveys a sense of power, authority, and control that might serve well in the short term by getting others to fall into line through conformity, but it doesn't create the conditions necessary for sustaining change.  I believe the definition and resulting perception of the term leader needs a makeover. 

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Great leaders don't tell people what to do, but instead take them to where they need to be. There is no agenda to create a harem of followers or disciples.  True leaders know that their success is intimately tied to the work of the collective. One person doesn’t win a war, election, or football game.  It is a team approach where each person in the organization knows that he or she has an important role to play. I can also say with certainty that one person doesn’t single handedly build a successful business. This same principle definitely applies to schools and districts.  As I have written in the past, leadership is all about action, not position.

As an attempt to further begin the process of redefining the term leader I developed an acronym based on my thoughts shared above. The best leaders do the following on a consistent basis:







Learn – Learning is the work. Great leaders take professional growth seriously as they know there is no perfection in any position, just daily improvement. Leaders make the time to learn and get better on a daily basis. They also make their learning visible to inspire others to follow suit. Leaders who lover their work are always learning.

Empower – A key element of effective leadership is to empower others to take risks, remove the fear of failure, and grant autonomy to innovate.  People that are empowered find greater value in the work they are engaged in. Empowerment leads to respect and trust, which builds powerful relationships where everyone is focused on attaining specified goals.

Adapt – Everything can change in a heartbeat.  As such, leaders must embrace a sense of flexibility and openness to change accordingly in certain cases. The ability to adapt to an array of situations, challenges, and pressures are pivotal to accomplish goals. Success in life is intimately intertwined into an organism’s ability to adapt in order to survive. As leaders adapt they evolve into better leaders.

Delegate – No leader can do everything by him or herself. The decisiveness to delegate certain tasks and responsibilities is not a weakness. On the contrary, it allows leaders to apply more focus to areas of greater importance.  It also builds confidence in others in their ability as co-leaders of an organization even if they don’t have a fancy title.

Engage – In the sharing economy there might not be anything more important than information. Leaders understand this fact and develop strategies to authentically engage their stakeholders through multi-dimensional communications, by taking control of public relations, and developing a positive brand presence. Increased engagement results by meeting stakeholders where they are at, encouraging two-way communications, and becoming the storyteller-in-chief

Reflect – It is quite difficult to find a great leader who does not reflect daily on his or her work.  Reflection in a digital world can take many forms and results in greater transparency. It is not how one chooses to reflect, but an emphasis to integrate this process consistently that defines a great leader. 

This is my stab at an acronym for L.E.A.D.E.R. that better identifies the characteristics, attributes, and mindset to create a much better meaning for the word. What are your thoughts on this? Are there any words you would replace for the ones I included and if so why?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Rigor, Relevance and Transformation at the Ground Level

The following is a guest post by Jill M. Hackett Ed.D. - Assistant Superintendent, Academic Services/School Accountability, North Kansas City Schools, Kansas City, MO.

Rigor and Relevance can seem like abstract terms until you start to understand how schools and districts apply them in specific ways. Over the past five years, we North Kansas City School District restructured our purpose so that student-centered learning was the ultimate objective. We put Rigor and Relevance in the foreground, along with several other initiatives. By committing to systematic integration of the model, we transformed the culture, the conversation, as well as the results in our district. Making our classrooms truly student-centered and relevant – thereby making real rigor possible – has allowed us to shape common beliefs for student success. 

Here’s a little more about several key elements of our restructuring and their application of the Framework.

“Is this in the best interest of students?”

NKCSD positioned this powerful and grounding guiding mindset as the backdrop for all of our strategies and decisions. This principle helped continually focus our attention on initiatives that would successfully improve our district. We wanted a viable, research-based tool that would allow for collaboration regardless of hierarchy or prior knowledge. We found it in the Rigor/ Relevance Framework. To implement its use, administrators learned how to coach teachers in using it to design learning opportunities as well as how to gauge teacher impact on student achievement. We spent a year training teams of eight teachers from each school to become resident Framework experts who were responsible for replicating professional learning modules on their campuses. Using an early release schedule once a week allowed teachers to meet in teams to further their exposure and understanding of the Framework.

Spotting a Quadrant D Lesson from a Mile Away

As the entire district really became familiar with the Framework, its four quadrants became part of our everyday thinking around instruction and planning. We also developed an awareness of what constituted all of the quadrants and could identify how various lessons were targeted to address learning in each distinct quadrant. Teachers realized that they needed to apply qualities of each quadrant – and know why and when to do so – in order to create relevant and authentic tasks. 

A Hidden Power of the Framework

Every teacher and administrator needs a simple, accessible, and readily-applicable way to talk about how learning can, and needs to, prepare students for life beyond the classroom. With just four quadrants, the Framework is a straightforward tool to consider and discuss student work and achievement. For teachers and administrators in the NKCSD, the Framework began to serve as the common language to describe exactly what it meant to ensure their students were college and career ready. 

A Common Language = A Connected Culture

An additional benefit of deep integration of the Framework into common language was the elevated levels of effectiveness of the PLTs (Professional Learning Teams). Together they shared experiences and observations of the most and least effective instructional approaches and were able to collaboratively determine what kinds of tasks would lead to increased student learning. 

As teachers began speaking the common language of the Framework, true, productive collaboration started to unfold. Numerous teachers grew more confident in their abilities, and mutually supportive relationships blossomed, which had a direct and noticeable impact on the quality of instruction and, hence, the student work emerging from the PLTs.

We also wanted pertinent stakeholders, including students and families, to know that the Framework was the linchpin to instructional decisions and goals. Teachers explained the Framework to students and families, making it known that students were expected to, with time, develop complex, Quadrant D thinking skills and the ability to apply high-level thinking to real-world scenarios. All students and their families were able to see how the district believed in their capability and potential, in specific and identifiable terms. 

Students Truly Owning Their Work

One of the most significant impacts from implementing the Framework came with how teachers provided feedback and built collective ownership of learning. Sharing the Framework with students helped demystify learning goals, giving students powerful ways to self-evaluate, contextualize progress, and articulate goals. 

One representation of the Framework in which a third grader analyzes how he spent his time as part of a writing block demonstrates real ownership of his learning.

The Framework naturally led to conversations in which students and teachers could both analyze and discuss work produced relative to the four quadrants. Instead of the “right or wrong” paradigm, the conversation shifted to the merits of student work and how it could stretch to other quadrants. Students and teachers were able to think about student achievement as a ladder accessible to everyone.

A Story of Improvement and Enrichment

In 2011, North Kansas City Schools had an Annual Performance Report in which the district earned only 78.9% of total points possible, the equivalent of a C in anyone’s grade book. By the 2013-14 school year, and after three years of total district adoption of the Framework, the significant improvements in collegial conversation and student work were reflected in a rating which had jumped to 92.1%. In the 2014-15 school year, we earned a 97.9% rating.

A highlight of the 2016 Model Schools Conference will be welcoming the North Kansas City School District leadership and hearing more about their implementation of the Rigor/Relevance Framework. Be sure to check them out on Twitter.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

10 Things Great Leaders Do

"Great leaders don't succeed because they are great. They succeed because they bring out greatness in others." - Jon Gordon

There is no shortage of advice on the characteristics, qualities, and attributes that make up a great leader. As I have written in the past, leadership is a choice. It does not rely on a title or power, but instead, the actions that one takes. Leadership is the ability to move people to where they need to be instead of telling them what to do. 

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Below I offer what I consider to be ten things that all great leaders do:

  1. Adapt When Needed – A great leader knows that his or her respective leadership style will never work for everyone. Being able to successfully navigate different personalities and situations requires flexibility as well as a willingness to change course on the fly.
  2. Love the Work - Enjoying the work provides the resolve to persevere when challenges arise. Most of all great leaders have fun and do what it takes to ensure others have fun as well.
  3. Show Appreciation – Any great leader knows that success is not isolated to one woman or man in an organization.  Leadership is a collective effort where everyone plays a role. Great leaders go out of their way to put others on a pedestal while consistently praising efforts both in public and private.
  4. Eliminate excuses – Challenges and obstacles will always be prevalent in any organization, especially schools. These often morph into excuses as to why certain initiatives can’t be accomplished. Great leaders clear the way for staff by removing obstacles and challenges through empowerment and autonomy.
  5. Establish a Focus Through Vision – A clear vision provides guidance as to not only the goals at hand, but also how to accomplish them. Great leaders work with stakeholders to develop a shared vision and resulting plan for action that keeps everyone focused on a goal of improving student learning. Great leaders also know that vision is not enough.
  6. Model Expectations – A great leader never asks anyone to do what he or she is not willing to at least try. Setting an example by putting yourself in the shoes of others provides the inspiration and motivation for staff to embrace change.
  7. Start Small – Great leaders don’t set out to radically change school culture in one fell swoop. They understand that success is the culmination of numerous small wins that build momentum for larger changes. 
  8. Know When to Delegate – Common sense dictates that no one can do it alone. Great leaders exhibit trust in others when certain tasks are passed along.  This in itself works to develop more leaders across an organization. The process of delegation also allows for more of a focus on the larger issues at hand.
  9. Provide Meaningful Feedback – There is a big difference between meaningful feedback and criticism. Great leaders articulate where staff excels and specific areas of growth. Meaningful feedback is the fuel for improvement.
  10. Communicate Effectively - You will not find a great leader who is not a master communicator.  Great leaders understand that listening, facilitating dialogue, asking questions, creating an open environment, and getting to the point clearly are essential. They also understand the importance of a multi-faceted approach to increase stakeholder engagement.

What would you add to this list?