Sunday, August 20, 2023

Introducing Aspire Change EDU

I often get asked both through social media and in person how to become a consultant. For various reasons, educators are enamored by the keynoting circuit, facilitating presentations at both national and international events, and coaching in school systems. Initially, I had to pause and reflect before responding as I wanted to be very clear on how my journey was more complex than it might seem. Now I have a standard answer. I did not wake up one day and say that this is what I aspired to do for the rest of my career. It can also be stated emphatically that I was not looking to leave New Milford High School or was forced out. Instead, the path was carved for me through the efficacy-based work that my staff and I did when I was a principal.  

In short, we vehemently focused on improving teaching, learning, and leadership through a shared vision, clarity of purpose, innovative practices, and clear evidence of impact. Our shared successes caught the eye of national media outlets as well as other systems that were curious about methodologies. What resulted were districts, schools, and organizations visiting my school from all over the world. I loved to share our successes, the challenges we overcame, student perspectives, and any other tidbits that might be valuable to those wanting to implement similar changes. During one such visit, an organization offered me a full-time position with their company. At first, I respectfully declined as I was happy where I was at in my career. However, the conversation never stopped, and I eventually decided to take a leap of faith to pursue a newfound passion in education.

It has been nine years since the consulting path was laid out for me. Over the years, I have worked with two amazing companies dedicated to helping learners succeed and traveling the globe assisting educators in various ways. While the work has been highly gratifying, there has always been an innate desire to carve out my own unique path in the education consulting space. My first step was to create an LLC during the pandemic. 

It has laid dormant until the right time, which is now. With great pride and excitement, Aspire Change EDU has moved from vision to reality.

I have ambitious goals for my company. The first was to develop a name that embodies what consulting should be about, and that is to help systems aspire to change that leads to improving and enhancing what we already know works. Educators don’t want more things to do. They crave to maximize available time, strengthen their craft, help learners succeed, and find joy in the work. The logo above, co-created by my children Isabella and Nicholas, embodies this mission and vision.

During the initial phase of the company, I will be fulfilling many of the responsibilities, including:

  • Keynotes (view topics HERE)
  • Back-to-school convocations
  • Leadership retreats
  • Breakout presentations
  • Innovative Leadership Cohort 
  • Interactive workshops
  • Strategic planning
  • Coaching (job-embedded, ongoing)
  • Asynchronous courses (more info HERE)

Leadership and pedagogy will be my primary focus, which encompasses every facet of professional learning. Currently, my work with schools assists them with Tier 1 instruction, personalization, school culture, leadership (digital, pedagogical, sustainable change), using data, branding, and the purposeful use of technology. Over time I will flesh out concrete practice areas.

The last sentence above leads to what will be a differentiator for Aspire Change EDU. I aim to create a collaborative consultancy comprising best-in-class practitioners and seasoned consultants who share similar beliefs. While my plan is to have a bench of people to serve schools, I also want to partner with other independent consultancies (and vice versa) for the benefit of districts and schools. By working together, we can provide systems with what they want, not what we feel we can do. Imagine being matched with the best possible professional learning consultant(s) aligned to virtually every focus area, technique, initiative, tool, or strategy in education. That’s the goal and one that, in my opinion, best serves schools.

Just like for our learners, professional learning needs to be personalized and differentiated. It’s nearly impossible to accomplish this without collaboration. That is something I hope to solve in the near future with the help of others. In the end, schools will win and evidence-based change will be the result. Stay tuned for more updates in the coming months.

Until then, feel free to reach out and have a conversation about your professional learning needs. Learn more on my website.

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Why Choice in Learning Matters

Do you like being told or directed to do something a certain way even though you know it doesn’t align with your innate strengths, interests, or learning preference? Pretty frustrating, right? It becomes even more of an obstacle to growth if you know how to demonstrate understanding but aren’t afforded different pathways to articulate a response. Choice matters when it comes to learning if that is the ultimate goal. The key is first to be open to giving up some control and understanding that, in many cases, there isn’t always one right way to demonstrate competency.

While educators can leverage many high-agency strategies, choice might be the most essential element of personalization because it allows students to take ownership of their own learning in so many different ways. When students have a say in what they learn, how they learn, and when they learn, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated. They are also more likely to see the relevance of their learning to their own lives and interests. Most importantly, when they are able to demonstrate understanding on their own terms, it builds invaluable confidence in their abilities.

I shared the following in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms:

Choice is the great differentiator that helps meet the needs of all learners.

There are many ways to incorporate choice as a means to personalize. For example, students can choose their own learning:

  • Goals by involving them in setting individual goals, working with a group to set group goals, or choosing from a set of pre-determined goals.
  • Materials such as a variety of textbooks, articles, websites, technology, or other resources to assist with or demonstrate learning.
  • Activities such as hands-on activities, simulations, projects, or tasks in a choice board, playlist, or must-do/may-do list. During Tier 1 instruction, there are opportunities where students can choose to show their understanding using individual whiteboards or dry-erase surfaces (text, drawings) or technology (video, audio, drawing, text, images, etc.).
  • Pace by setting their own deadlines for completing assignments, projects, or when working on a personalized task.

In my work with principal Nicki Slaugh and her Quest Academy Junior High School staff, student choice as a high-agency strategy has begun to flourish. Below you can see a few examples. I also encourage you to check out these posts from Wells Elementary (TX), Snow Horse Elementary (UT), Juab School District (UT), and the Corinth School District (MS).

Giving students a choice in their learning can be a challenge, but it is worth the effort. While some might see it as more work or just another thing to do, once you find a schedule that works for you, choice can be integrated routinely, even if it is once a week. When students have a say in their learning, they are more likely to succeed. Here are some of the benefits of giving students choices in their learning:

  • Increased engagement and motivation
  • Improved understanding of the relevance of learning
  • Increased self-regulation and direction
  • Enhanced problem-solving skills
  • Increased creativity and innovation
  • Improved critical thinking skills

If you are interested in incorporating choice into your classroom, here are a few tips:

  • Start small. Try to do only a little at a time.
  • Be clear about your expectations. Let students know what they need to learn and how they will be assessed.
  • Provide students with a variety of choices. This will help ensure that everyone can find something they are interested in.
  • Be flexible. Be willing to adjust your plans based on student feedback.
  • Celebrate student choices. When students make good choices, be sure to let them know.
  • Share templates and ideas. Don't reinvent the wheel. Leverage your best resource, which is other educators invested in the work.  

Giving students choices in their learning can be a powerful way to improve their engagement, motivation, and understanding. If you are looking for ways to personalize your classroom, I encourage you to give choice a try. For an array of strategies, check out this post.