Monday, April 9, 2018

HOW: Climbing the Mountain of Redesign


by Vicki Bechard
Secretary LFKS

This might feel like a broken record, but KESA in general, and redesign specifically, are on everyone’s mind these days in schools across Kansas.  Accreditation visits are in full swing as schools look to redesign learning experiences to give students the skill set that will help them be successful now and in the future.  Kansans Can is not just a slogan or a hashtag, but a way of thinking that promotes action toward our goals.  Kansas educators want to learn and implement best practices for the students they serve, but there are a lot of questions about what redesign looks like.  One often hears school officials say, “Just give me an exampleTell us what you want. Show me how to get there.”  We ask these questions because it’s hard to think differently.  It’s hard to take a risk on the unknown.  We want to do it right, but educators have much to learn and adapt as we change how we do business.  We might even look at redesign as a mountain that will be difficult to climb, rather than appreciating the beauty and challenge it provides and the reward it offers in the end.

I love the mountains.  It is where I want to be if I’m on vacation.  In fact if my kids/grandkids were nearby, it would be where I would want to live.  I think one reason I love the mountains is that I initially view them from the valleys.  I look up to the majestic peaks and am inspired by their beauty, and amazed at their presence.  The journey to be in the mountains is filled with anticipation, twists and turns, and obstacles that present challenges and rich experiences.  And the view from the top is worth it: inspiring and amazing, calling me to experience the sites and take it all in.  My journey into the mountains is shaped by my purpose, the current situation, and what I hope to accomplish. It is affected by the amount of time I have, resources I can access, and the team who accompanies me.  There are many mountains in this world to view and climb, with no two the same, and as a result, no journey will be the same.

Redesign is our educational mountain.  It means change is about to occur on a large scale.  This is systemic change which will affect every educator and impact every student.   Given the different knowledge and skill sets that students will use in a post-secondary world, we must redesign our instruction and learning environments so that they are more suited to provide those experiences.  What worked before was fine.  We did our best based on what we knew, but now as we increase our own understanding, we will do better work that is relevant and targeted for not just for success today, but for tomorrow’s successes as well.  What that looks like depends on the purpose and the situation, so no one solution will work for every school.  We often point out in LFKS resources and learning sessions that “One size doesn’t fit all” and that applies to redesign as well.  But while we might not know what the best redesign ideas will look like in your particular context, we do know there are some common actions that do apply to all and will ensure successful implementation.

HOW:  Climbing the Mountain of Redesign: 

1.   Clarify communication.  Address the why, how, what, when and who questions and concerns that everyone has.  The details not only have to be worked out, but communicated clearly and in a timely manner.  George Bernard Shaw said it best:  The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  Be intentional.  Clarify.  Listen.  Check for understanding.

2.      Empower and engage people in the process.  Avoid talking AT stakeholders, but rather talk WITH them.  Include them in the planning and discussions, convey what leaders are thinking, and encourage their participation in the feedback loop.  Listening to their ideas, concerns and feedback gives all stakeholders a voice and helps get everyone on board.

3.    Allow for mourning as they leave behind favorite practices and comfort zones.  Prepare them for and encourage them when their productivity temporarily drops (learning curve).  Change (redesign) requires people to work differently and many times that change can produce reactions similar to when people experience a significant loss like a death or divorce.  Resistance may simply be a part of the mourning process because change can make us fearful and unsure of ourselves.  Grief is real even when the “death” is only “the way we used to do it.”

4.     Allow for process time.  Just as one size doesn’t fit all for the kind of redesign efforts you seek, people and teams process at different rates.  Be patient. Nurture and guide while allowing people time to learn and practice so they can find acceptance and success with the new ideas and practices.

5.  Include engaging, supportive, and reflective professional learning throughout the planning and implementation process of every redesign or change initiative.  Deep understanding comes from deep conversations.  Collaboration targeted for improved educator effectiveness and student success will be time well spent.  The kind and quality of professional learning will impact the kind and quality of implementation and the ability to sustain the redesign efforts.

KASB’s Deputy Executive Director Doug Moeckel, shared this visual and noted on Twitter recently that “Kansas Redesign is driven by these Kansans Can Principles.”



THIS is our educational mountain.  
HOW will we (re)design our journey to the top?


For more information on effective professional learning or to receive support for your HOW journey, please check out the Learning Forward Kansas website or contact us directly via email at contact@learningforwardkansas.org

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Redesign – The Courage to Leave the Shore to Make Our Best Better


 February 13, 2018

By Vicki Bechard,
Secretary LFKS

REDESIGN:  We hear this word in every educational conversation around Kansas.  It is at the heart of the state accreditation process (KESA), and the “WHY” behind the Mercury7 and Gemini initiatives involving Kansas Schools.  We also hear, “What is Redesign?”  Even when the Commissioner of Education speaks he is careful to use examples of redesign in the real world, but does not specifically paint a picture of what that might look like in schools.  I believe this is intentional because if he did say "THIS is redesign" (insert your own initiative example) – that’s what many schools will race to duplicate.  So how might we attempt to clarify redesign and the role professional learning plays in the redesign process?

Meriam-Webster defines redesign as “a revision in appearance, function or content.”  Right click on redesign and find synonyms that further clarify what this might look like:  reshape, reform, rewrite, restructure, reformat, remake….in other words, indicating one must do something differently.  But redesign without purpose puts us out to sea, adrift without a destination or map to guide our sails.  That’s probably OK for a relaxing weekend getaway if we had plenty of supplies and a way to get home, but would not serve us well as the primary strategy to lead our schools and districts. 

Redesign possibilities are endless and this is not a blog about what options schools have.  In reality, where we go and what we do is dependent on the needs we uncover and the direction we want to head.  The questions we ask drive the answers we seek:  What is best for OUR students?  How can we be better educators and learners?  What do we need to do differently to give our kids the best opportunities?  What will make our best even better?

The WHY behind our redesign initiatives provides purpose and helps identify what will benefit us most as we set sail on the journey that will lead us to our destination (goal).  It tells us what to pack; what type of crew and skills will be needed; how to anticipate and navigate choppy waters; and what our destination will be.   To determine the WHY we need to examine the data to ensure our destination is sound and doable.  Data also tells us what resources we will need in terms of the vehicle we use, manpower, fuel, food, and supplies.  Surveying our crew with a needs assessment of sorts will indicate the knowledge, skills, and resources we have and what we will want to acquire, develop and utilize throughout our journey.  Studying the long term course we’ve mapped out, both prior to and during our journey, will help us target potential issues so that we are prepared to tackle them, make adjustments, and continue toward our destination.  Finally we must ensure that we know the outcome:  what it will look like when we reach our destination and whether it has been beneficial to our purpose.

Professional learning will be critical to this journey.  The standards that guide our actions can be seen in every aspect of our work.  We will see them as we gather to examine and study the data before, during, and after the trip (Learning Communities & Data).  We will find them in the leadership that plans, supports, and captains this journey (Leadership).  We will see it in action as it pinpoints our focus when designing and determining the type and frequency of the learning we need to acquire the necessary skills and how to apply them successfully in our journey (Learning Designs).  They will take the form of adequate and timely resources to support our journey as we try, revise, and try again to perfect our knowledge and skills for this journey (Resources & Implementation).  And they will be seen in the results as we determine if our goals have been achieved and reflect on how we might improve the process as our journey continues to the next destination (Outcomes).  As you may notice, the aforementioned examples underscore our premise that the Standards for Professional Learning are the framework that shapes our work throughout the redesign process.  LFKS encourages all educators to be intentional about ensuring that our work includes all of the Standards, for if we omit even one, we will more than likely not arrive at our destination as we intended.

Those who attended the recently completed LFKS Annual Conference experienced firsthand the many possibilities of redesign and heard from a wide range of practitioners on what that might look like.  In all cases we also heard how important the role effective professional learning plays into successful implementation of whatever initiative we choose to pursue.  This journey is one of promise, but will also include more than a few adjustments to our sails.  Redesign is scary and exciting at the same time, so first we must prepare for our journey so that we may leave the safety of the harbor and seek new destinations to broaden our horizons.  The reality is that what we have done up until now may have been our best work, but the future requires that we look differently at how and what students learn. 

Simply put, redesign is seeking new ways to make our best even better as we do what’s best for kids.  

As you contemplate redesign, we are eager to learn where you will go and why that journey is what’s best for your school.  Even though the metaphor for change and redesign at the state level is the space program, our sailing metaphor serves the same purpose.  The wisdom of Winston Churchill continues to inspire our redesign efforts whether we are referring to rockets flying into space or boats sailing to new horizons, “If you want to discover new oceans, you must first have the courage to leave the shore.”  

Possibilities await.  How can LFKS support you in your redesign efforts?



Thursday, December 14, 2017

2017 LFKS Annual Holiday Letter

By Vicki Bechard,
LFKS Secretary

School is almost over for this semester…winter break is upon us.  As you leave the kiddos, colleagues, bustling halls, and familiar classrooms for homes and celebrations both near and far, we at Learning Forward Kansas wish for you the gift of time so that you may relax and appreciate all that matters, enjoy the closeness of family and friends, and rejuvenate your soul.   But we know that learning never really takes a break, so we imagine that you will also steal a few minutes to reflect on the past year and consider ways to improve instruction, implement new ideas, or spark new interest in the coming year just as we do here in our LFKS Annual Holiday Letter

Learning Forward Kansas has been right there with Kansas educators who are knee deep in navigating and implementing the KESA process, finding ways to examine current practices, and rethinking how we do school.  The State Board has asked schools to prepare students for success in the world after high school.  To accomplish this, the idea of redesign is at the forefront of our conversations.  What does that really mean?  Why is it important?  How will it help students succeed?  How will we know we got there?   LFKS is asking the same questions and uncovering possibilities for educators and schools to consider.

LFKS spent the last few years redesigning our organization from how we support schools, promote effective professional learning, and share information, to how we conduct business.  We didn’t really call it redesign when we started this journey, but we definitely did a lot of rethinking of our purpose and what we wanted to accomplish, and how that might look differently from previous efforts.  We took a hard look at our data, at our impact, and sought feedback and ideas from other educators and organizations.   Feedback was one strategy that provided us with valuable input and helped guide us as we focused our vision and mission and aligned our actions accordingly.  We listened.  We brainstormed.  We tried ideas.  We succeeded and failed, but most importantly, we kept moving forward.  We are working with and for Kansas educators to make professional learning matter as we transform our schools to better prepare our students.  Just as parents are proud of their children’s accomplishments, we are proud of the direction LFKS is headed today.

This past fall LFKS hosted the Fall Institute, a learning opportunity featuring Joellen Killion (Learning Forward) sharing her expertise on Learning Focused Feedback.  By rethinking how we might use feedback for growth, eliminate the mindset of “giving or receiving” feedback, and focus on the idea of feedback as a process for people to construct understanding, it takes on a new meaning, thereby increasing trust and effectiveness.  As schools consider redesign, how might implementing a feedback process that engages learners in conversations designed to change practice help create a culture of growth and change?  

The LFKS Annual Leadership Conference (January 31-February 1, 2018 in Wichita) totally focuses on redesign for student success.  All of the keynote speakers (Ron Berger, EL Education; Commissioner Randy Watson; and KTOY 2015, Shannon Ralph) and breakout session facilitators will focus on elements of redesign in the way we teach, how students learn, how we incorporate technology, how we organize schools, and how we plan and conduct professional learning.   The first day is an immersion in how we teach to engage and empower students through authentic learning. The second day is filled with multiple perspectives, ideas, and experiences coming from all over the state and a variety of school sizes.   We invite you to make plans to attend and join the conversation on redesign

LFKS has been doing our homework too which has resulted in resources that can be found on our website for all educators to use as they work through the process of school improvement and redesign.  Protocol guides, videos, and learning opportunities are just some of the ways LFKS supports individual educators and schools in their professional learning.  We have new opportunities and resources ready to roll out in 2018 as well – so stay tuned!

When you look to 2018 and beyond, consider what results you’ve had and what results you’d like to have.  Once that “why” has been determined, the redesign of current practices, or the creation of new practices can begin to take place.  Change happens one conversation at a timeLFKS would love to see every educator and every student in every school thrive in a responsive learning environment that encourages inquiry and growth.  We wish for each of you the courage to step outside your comfort zone and realize that learning new ways of teaching doesn’t mean what you did before was wrong…. It just reflects that you are growing right along with your students. 

So as we close this latest Holiday Letter, we are thankful for the high quality educators that dedicate their lives to Kansas students.  We hope that you have a wonderful winter break, and before you head back in January, you will set new learning goals for yourself and your students.  What would you like to see in your school or classroom if resources were not an issue?  What’s on your bucket list for teaching and learning?  Who would you like to meet that would inspire your practice?  We want to hear from you as your redesign efforts transform teaching and learning.  Imagine the possibilities!  What a year it will be! 


Happy Holidays from all of us at Learning Forward Kansas!  

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Rise and Shine! The Possibilities of Every Sunrise

By Vicki Bechard, Secretary LFKS


Rise and Shine!  As the sun rises on a new school year, there are so many possibilities for kids, for the educators who teach them, and the communities that nurture them.  Every sunrise represents hope for the future as we turn the page on a new school year or a new day.  Every sunrise gives us a reason to be inspired to learn, grow, and excel.  The very words of Rise and Shine energize us to get moving and be at our best!

But to give life and value to these hopes and possibilities, we must take action.  Our inspiration must involve more than talking.  It must involve doing.  So we plan, learn and grow, but then we must act.  What are you doing with this school year’s sunrise?  How are you creating a better future for you as a teacher by growing your craft?  In what ways are you seeking to cultivate relationships with students, colleagues, or parents; improve your instruction; and ultimately facilitate student success?  What inspires you?  Who will you inspire?  How will you shine a light on possibilities and turn problems into meaningful challenges?  The answers to these questions involve action, and as a rooster crowing suggests (or when my mom used to whisper this bit of encouragement in my sleeping ear), it is time to Rise and Shine!

A school year is filled with many sunrises for you and your students.  These are opportunities to reflect on previous practice, learn from our mistakes, and make each endeavor better than our last attempt.  Each day is an opportunity to create the best learning experiences for our students, taking our own knowledge and skills and implementing them in meaningful ways.  In order to do that, we must continue to be learners, refining our practice while expanding our understanding of best practices, as we prepare students for an ever changing world.  What new learning will you pursue?  What feedback will you seek? How will you get out of your own comfort zone to embody a growth mindset and practice and model the Habits of Mind on a daily basis?

The sunrise for Kansas schools is also one of hope and promise.  The new accreditation system is focused on looking forward, improvement, and most of all student success.  The inspiration that comes from working within a culture of growth and a system of 21st Century learning will lead Kansas educators to attain even more successes than we have experienced in the past.  Good is the enemy of great and it is imperative that we continue to take advantage of the opportunities that exist with every sunrise to make our classroom, building, and district better than it was the day before.

“Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don't have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don't have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.”                                 
                                                              - Jim Collins, Good to Great (2001)

We at LFKS hope that each sunrise inspires you to learn and grow to become great.  How can we support your professional learning journey?  We have resources and learning opportunities available for your use and participation.  We are excited to walk this journey with you and connect you with others who share your passion, common characteristics, or goals.  There are many examples of greatness happening in classrooms and buildings across our state as we work to improve results through effective professional learning.  We have included some of these examples in the first two videos in our series “Inspired to Learn:  Kansas Stories,” and are continuing this mission with the next videos that will address HOW effective professional learning is accomplished.  Look for our third video later this fall. 


Great educators aren’t born, they are created, supported, and continue to evolve.  Education is indeed a journey not a destination, and it begins anew each school year and each day with a sunrise that shines a light on the possibilities that exist. We owe that to ourselves and to our students. Let’s Rise and Shine together so we can be great Every. Single. Day.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Professional Learning: Fuel for Change

by Vicki Bechard, Secretary LFKS

What fuels your fire, your passion, your need for change or success, and ultimately your actions?  An old TV ad once featured the slogan, “The More You Know…”  but really it was more than knowing; it implied that the more you know, the more or better you do.  Why be good when you can be great? How does finding and utilizing our fuel help us go from “Good to Great?” 

Kansans Can is the motto that the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) promotes to encourage all Kansas educators and students to shoot for the stars, be the best they can be, and find success.  As KSDE has rolled out the new accreditation model, commonly referred to as KESA, we now see a subtle shift in our thinking and actions.  Kansans Can is forward thinking and implies we will and are able, but with the new guidelines for accreditation, our mission is now one of action or doing.  Perhaps it might look like Kansans Can Do, or Kansans Make it Happen?  While neither suggestion is as catchy as the Kansans Can slogan, the point is we are now in a time of doing rather than talking about doing.  And doing requires ongoing, effective professional learning to fuel our action.

Schools all over Kansas have been walking through the accreditation model this past year to varying depths and degrees as they clarify their status and determine where their jumping off point will be.  Some are doing it administratively or with leadership teams, while others have completely involved their whole staff.  There is much to learn about the process, and ultimately about ourselves as an educational system.  What kind of professional learning has taken place?  What will be required in the future?  What kind of professional learning will fuel our action to start and sustain the changes we will make?

KSDE defines Rigor (one of the R’s within the KESA framework) as:

“A relentless pursuit of that which challenges and provides opportunity to demonstrate growth and learning – is essential in addressing the needs of our rapidly expanding society and world”                                                                          

Professional Learning is specifically mentioned as a part of the Rigor Framework; as it should be.  Where else would we address the “relentless pursuit of that which challenges us” or “demonstrate growth and learning?”  Furthermore, it is effective professional learning that will drive the changes that are both needed and required to transform schools into places where ALL students will learn and find ways to be successful in the world beyond high school.  Therefore it is the charge of schools across the state to plan and provide effective professional learning experiences that “addresses the needs of our rapidly expanding society and world.”

William Daggett’s 4 quadrant Framework of Rigor and Relevance, demonstrates the need for professional learning experiences that take educators beyond the knowledge realm.  Initially gaining knowledge and assimilating it is a big first step, but if we want it to make a difference in our practice and student results, then we must turn our knowledge into action.  Application (doing) is the ultimate goal if we are to indeed create systemic change that can be sustained over time.  Daggett notes in his Application Model that there are layers to applying what we know:

(1) Knowledge in one discipline
(2) Apply in discipline
(3) Apply across disciplines
(4) Apply to real-world predictable situations
(5) Apply to real-world unpredictable situations

These are goals we seek for our students as well as ourselves as we go beyond being satisfied with obtaining knowledge and look to apply what we know to real world situations that may or may not be predictable.  The goal is no longer knowing, but rather one of doing.  This understanding fuels our quest for the tools to create meaningful change.

Learning Forward Kansas (LFKS) has undertaken the challenge of providing fuel for effective professional learning in Kansas.  We see our role as one of advocating and supporting Kansas Educators in these challenging times of change and limited resources.  We have developed protocol resources that engage staff around KESA and other important work.  These are available on the LFKS website.  In fact a Volume 2 of the KESA Guide will be published this fall. 

Through the Learning Forward Foundation grant, LFKS has created a video series, Inspired to Learn, that uses Kansas exemplars – featuring both individuals and schools – who are leading the way in constructing effective professional learning experiences for their staff.  The first 2 videos of this series are available on the LFKS website that address “WHY Professional Learning,” and “WHAT is Professional Learning?”  The next video currently in production, will deal with HOW effective professional learning can occur.  Resource guides accompany each video to facilitate the use of each video before, during and after viewing.

Learning opportunities are also available throughout each school year to provide knowledge and support – the fuel if you will - for creating and leading effective professional learning.  These sessions focus on topics most important to Kansas educators such as KESA, effective feedback, engaging staff in meaningful work, and achieving student success.  More information about upcoming sessions can be found on the LFKS website as they become available.

Find your professional learning fuel that will spark change, improve practice, and lead to student success.  How can LFKS help?  What more do you want to know before you can effectively do?  No matter what, begin.  Act.  Reflect. Revise.  Keep moving forward.  Goals begin with the first step. We are reminded by what Peter Drucker taught, 

              “Perhaps the best and only way to predict the future is to create it.”  

We would encourage you to fuel your action to begin the change process and to sustain the implementation of strategies that will lead to achieving desired goals and systemic changes. These actions will take you from "Good to Great" because ultimately, one becomes "Great by Choice."





Resources:
Good to Great, by Jim Collins (2001)
Great by Choice, by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen (2011) – includes Peter Drucker quote

Rigor/Relevance Framework, International Center for Leadership in Education, William Daggett        

Monday, March 13, 2017

Living the Dream of Effective Professional Learning: Making it Happen

March 13, 2017

By Vicki Bechard, Secretary LFKS


A year and a half ago, as we began the grant process, we were wondering how (maybe even IF) the dream of creating videos using Kansas examples to illustrate effective and meaningful professional learning would come together.  Everything was in future tense… Hopes, dreams, predictions, possibilities…  And now we are Living the Dream and have two videos completed and ready for use. 

The second and most recent video, What is Professional Learning, digs into the components, beliefs, and actions that comprise effective professional learning.  Kansas educators share their stories to underscore and illustrate the actions that lead to a quality professional learning experience rich with engagement and meaning.  I was inspired by the many educators we interviewed or observed.  I could feel their passion and commitment to this effort.  They truly believe in quality professional learning, and most importantly, they are walking their talk, putting those beliefs into actions.  I can’t wait for others to see it, use it, and transform professional learning for themselves and in their buildings! You can view both videos and accompanying resources on our website at this link.


So for a few moments, celebrate with us the progress of our work… and then know that we will quickly get back to work to make the next part of our dream happen.


Back in November, as we completed the first video on Why Professional Learning Matters, I wrote about the process of taking the skills and abilities we had, or of people we knew, and combining them, along with the many new things we had to learn, into a team effort to produce the first video.  Dream Big…and find a way to make it happen seemed to become our mantra.  Now as the second video is a wrap, I think about how much we have learned, and how many educators have become integral parts of our collaborative effort.   I can’t say enough about the work of our team to make this dream a reality and I marvel at how much we have accomplished.  Creating these videos has truly been effective professional learning in action

In reality, this was a prime example of the ups and downs of a project based learning experience.  It may parallel some professional learning experiences too.  Often we think too much about what we don’t know or don’t have instead of looking first for what we can do.  At no time did we sit in a workshop or classroom and sit through a power point presentation on how to do the videos.  We did spend lots of time collaborating, researching, asking questions, brainstorming, clarifying our vision, collecting data, refocusing, editing, and seeking feedback. We went back to the drawing board quite often. We did very little of our work in a face to face setting.  We used an online platform for sharing information, working collaboratively, editing, and storing our work.  Very long phone calls played a large role in our planning too. The point is, if we would have focused on what we didn’t know or didn’t have, we wouldn’t have accomplished this much. If we would have only worked on the days we were able to meet face to face, we wouldn’t have one video completed at this time, much less two.  Dream Big…and find a way to make it happen.

As I continue to reflect on the last year or so, I also realize that the dream has become even bigger, which means we have much more we want to accomplish as we seek to create quality professional learning experiences that lead to action and transform practices for every educator.  The next videos will focus on the “How” of effective professional learning, highlighting different ways to affect our practice and ultimately student success.  One size doesn’t fit all in the classroom or professional learning, so the “how” may change but the goals still remain the same.  This happened throughout our experience.  A single thought seemed to spark other new ideas, and we revised our plan accordingly with new "hows" that still achieved our goals.  New questions also arose like, “How might we continue this work after the grant runs out?”  Dream Big… and find a way to make it happen.

The challenge for us now is to identify more Kansas exemplars that we can feature in future videos. To make that happen, we want your help.  We are looking for educators or school leaders who can share their expertise and show that it can be done here – in Kansas – in tough economic times - in big schools or small. 

Some may be hesitant to offer or volunteer because they don’t feel deserving.  We realize that most school teams or initiatives are works in progress, but we want to highlight those who are using best practices or trying new strategies to improve the quality of their professional learning experiences and subsequent implementation of school or classroom goals.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  So, as the saying goes, “If you see something, say something!”  Please share with us great examples of implementation, processing, or teamwork that you see being used in your school or in your neighbor’s school.  We would especially love to hear from schools or teams that are focusing on teacher rounds, looking at student work, feedback for growth, collaboration, using data, and more.  We have Big Dreams and we want your help to make them happen!


Learning Forward Kansas is here to support Kansas educators in their dreams of effective professional learning and excellent teaching and learning every day.  We have resources on the website, learning opportunities to attend, and ideas to share through social media. We continue to grow and evolve in our own areas of expertise.  We invite you to join us on this professional learning journey.  How may LFKS support you as you Dream Big…and find a way to make it happen!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Learning is a Process.....Inspired to Learn: One Kansas Story

By Vicki Bechard
Secretary LFKS

The primary goal of education in Kansas today is to prepare our students to be successful adults.  There are many skills, traits, and knowledge that will build that capacity.  Of course academic knowledge and technical skills will be a big part of this picture, but it will take a broader educational experience to achieve successful adulthood.  As identified in the Soft Skills to Pay the Bills curriculum at youth.gov, students will need to possess communication skills, enthusiasm and attitude, teamwork, networking, problem solving and critical thinking skills, and professionalism to be employable and productive citizens.   How will we as educators acquire, model, and facilitate these skills so that our students can practice them in authentic learning experiences to apply what they have learned so these critical skills might transfer to life after high school?

To that end, consider what professional learning might look like if we changed how educators learn, and moved toward doing something new that stretches our knowledge and skills and increases our capacity as instructional leaders.

One way we have done this at Learning Forward Kansas is to apply for and receive the Learning Forward Foundation Affiliate Grant.  This was a dream that suddenly got legs when we were awarded this grant in spring of 2015.  Little did we know about the magnitude of this undertaking until the announcement of the award made it very real and we started to put our dream into action.  What we had was enthusiasm for this project.  What we didn’t have was the technical expertise to make our dream a reality.  However, we did have some soft skills at our disposal that would lead to a greater knowledge base, critical partnerships, the ability to work in small teams, and the professionalism to ask for and accept feedback that was sometimes hard to hear.  This new learning was a process, and one that has changed my thoughts on how to present project learning to students and teachers as well. 

As traditional learners, we waited for the “how” from our partners at Learning Forward They weren’t sure either but had a few ideas.  We waited and brainstormed and waited some more.  Finally we created our own storyboard format instead of waiting for the perfect template to be delivered to us.  We spent a lot of time asking for ideas and examples from our colleagues and peers.  Each time we had to share our vision and convince them they had something worth sharing.  Slowly but surely it started to take shape.

Partnerships, networking, and perseverance were keys to this project.  Finding a willing tech partner that would be professional in product creation but do it for a song and a thank you was realized through the educational circles we had been a part of over the years.  Soon we connected with a few educational leaders and schools, and eventually received some invitations (and invited ourselves!) to view examples of professional learning that we could film and include in our first video.

This was a lengthy process as we turned a vision with no real parameters into a finished product.  We had to evaluate and synthesize our ideas and turn them into something manageable and meaningful.  At last, the first video was rolled out – ultimately too long and too rambling.  We were excited to have something to share, but immediately headed back to the drawing board to focus our message and reduce the length.  So we worked some more.  Soon the second video attempt was ready for feedback. We chose another group to look at this next draft.  Again, we were given feedback that was hard to hear, but specific enough that we could continue to refine the video into something that would be useful and meaningful.  The third time was the charm. 

Why Professional Learning Matters:  In Our Building It’s Everyone’s Job to Learn is the first video of the LFKS series Inspired to Learn:  Kansas Stories.  It is online ready for you to view and use with your district, building, staff, or team to create and implement effective professional learning.  There is also a resource guide to accompany this video to deepen and enhance the learning experience as one examines why professional learning matters.

And just as with any other goal attainment, we savor the moment, and then move on to the next goal.  The second video in this series will focus on What Effective Professional Learning Looks Like and is scheduled to be released before the holidays. 

The moral to our story is that in order for us to change how we educate our students, we must change how we educate ourselves. 

We used soft skills to navigate the process, with minimal outside directives, and limits that were largely self-imposed.  In the end the messiness of our initial work and the refining that occurred throughout the process were part of the reward as we produced a product that reflected our purpose and was one in which we could be proud.   We had more questions than answers going in, but we have grown and stretched our capacity as educators and as leaders.  We did that by immersion and being actively involved, not by sit and get, or being told what to do at each step along the way.  There is no better lesson for educators to learn in ways that can be passed on to students.  That is WHY Professional Learning Matters.  And as a result, we embrace the idea that it’s everyone’s job to learn!