We will be presenting a session titled "Equity through ownership: Systems thinking for innovation an excellent" at the American Association of School Administrator's annual national conference in March, 2017. The session description:
Several years ago, the Freehold Regional High School District in New Jersey developed a strategic plan that viewed mandates through a mission statement focused on equity of access to challenging opportunities. To implement this plan, the district has developed innovative data analysis strategies, overhauled curricula, realigned school improvement and professional development structures, and changed how teachers and administrators pursue goals—all within the context of new standards, new assessments, and a new evaluation regime. In this session, administrators from Freehold Regional will discuss the role of systems thinking in protecting strategic priorities from comprehensive and expensive mandates. They will share strategies for getting your schools organized, supporting principals in fostering ownership, marshaling human capital, and managing message and politics. Join them in this thought-provoking conversation about demoting compliance from the all-consuming focus to a natural byproduct of more authentic work to increase student achievement.
On Thursday, January 26, we'll be presenting at NJASA's TechSpo conference:
Flipping Data: New and Novel Metrics for Measuring Equity and Achievement
Several years ago, the Freehold Regional High School District embarked on a strategic planning process that resulted in brave commitments to equity. The district quickly realized that existing metrics of student achievement could not sufficiently describe students' experiences of equity. In response, they developed new metrics to evaluate their progress toward ensuring that all students are able to develop passions in rigorous programs. In this session, district representatives will share these metrics and discuss the ways in which they have leveraged technology to focus work on data related to the district's strategic objectives. Compliance to mandates, they assert, happens as a byproduct of this more interesting and impactful work.
Watch this space as we gather links and other presentation materials!
At Freehold Regional, our high schools set annual goals. There was striking similarity among the goals, this year. All six schools are working to expand hands-on teaching and learning.
There are tons of ways to wrap this effort in jargon. We can talk about high DOK activities and assessments. We can look to the Marzano framework behind our evaluation system, and imagine an increase in DQ4 teaching. We can work toward enhancing argument through the Toulmin method. We can bucket it all into project-based learning, and ask students to solve problems that we in the adult world, regrettably, may leave unsolved.
All of these describe efforts to bring content and skills closer to our students, with the hope of equipping future adults to move humanity forward rather than just win on Jeopardy. If technology has done anything, it’s defused the imperative to make encyclopedias of all of the brains that file into classrooms every day. Indeed, one of the pillars that supports our strategic plan is the assertion that we teach children, not stuff. Unless we work through the passions, strengths, and weaknesses of individual students, we’ll only cover a modest distance toward empowering them to discover and achieve their aspirations.
All of the jargon does make it easier for educators to talk about shifting from old fashioned and professorial “sage on the stage” teaching to more hands-on models. The talk isn’t new. In some ways, conversation about these “new” methods is as old as criticism of schools. Folks have been calling for this kind of learning for a very, very long time. Some even say that it’s uniquely ours, that Americans invented this notion of authentic, experiential education. You can argue that there are far older examples, but you can’t argue with the power of suggesting that our forebears, scrappy and resourceful out on some frontier, came up with this.
All of that said, it’s sometimes still difficult to describe what it actually looks like. The truism is that we’re all experts at school because we all went to one for so long. There’s some understandable truth behind that notion, in that our first and perhaps most stubborn frame of reference for teaching is our own experience as a student. We can talk about change all we want to, but the challenges in answering this question might just be congenital.
But that’s like arguing that my most important frame of reference for driving should be the 1977 Toyota Corolla that I learned on. The world has traveled quite a distance since we all first became students. It’d probably be difficult to find a car with a manual choke, today. In a few years, it may even be difficult to find a car with a human driver.
Classrooms, though, probably haven’t changed nearly as much.
So, what does authentic, student-centered teaching and learning actually look like? YouTube has plenty—and I mean plenty—of things to offer on the subject. If we focus on student work that covers the bases we laid out in jargon at the top—in short, a sophisticated argument about a hypothesis that’s relevant to everyday life—we might land on something like this video.
Consider this as an artifact from a course like, say, Algebra II. “Artifact” is a good word, as the video is just about 5 years old—dust-covered eons in internet years. The Common Core was all pretty new back then, but this project hits specific standards on representations and functions pretty squarely, as well as moves student work into at least two of the Standards for Mathematical Practice.
Don't get me wrong. This is not an A+ in 2016. Teachers would like to hear a lot more about the actual mathematics at play. However, part of its value as an example comes from the fact that it doesn’t spring from a pure question. By that, I mean that it’s not an exercise of the discipline for it’s own sake. We aren’t talking about numbers out of context. We aren’t asking about the decontextualized facts of history or a plot in literature. The ice in the video isn’t a hypothetical frictionless surface, and the rink isn’t one of those artificial places that imaginary children sometimes visit in world languages textbooks to do the short list of things that a still-limited catalog of verbs can describe.
For that reason, because it’s not math for math’s sake, it’s a good conversation starter. In the video, students wield mathematical tools to answer a question that’s interesting to them. In other words, they’re using a discipline’s design process to create new and relevant knowledge.
I’m guessing that these students, five years later, still remember how to make and read scatter plots. If we coach our students a bit more, they might just take the next steps toward an even more authentic contribution.
So, what does student-centered learning look like in this example?
The love of a sport brings relevance to a sophisticated, skilled analysis. As a result, creativity and ownership are much more likely outcomes.
And if creativity and ownership aren’t required to solve the problems we leave unsolved, then I don’t know what is.
We have plans to share a lot more about what it all looks like, both here at Freehold Regional and in the wider world that we’re preparing our students to inherit. Stay tuned!