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, 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!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Remodeling for Today's Tenants

Vicki Bechard
Secretary, LFKS

August is here...School is gearing up...Our excitement is building.  As we enter hallways and classrooms newly waxed, painted, and ready for the hustle and bustle of active learning, we appreciate the work that occurred over the summer and the take a deep breath as we face the work that will go on all year long.  The best thing about the beginning of each school year is the opportunity to start with fresh ideas, perspectives, and shiny new goals for us, as educators, and for students too.   The possibilities are endless if we have a plan, the right tools, and much needed time and support to implement those goals.

How did your time away re-energize you?  What new ideas do you have? What new understandings will inspire your teaching or the goals you set?  What changes will you implement? What support will you need to be the best educator you can be?

During the last few weeks, my husband and I have been preparing our rental house for the new tenants. It’s an old house rich with family history, wonderful woodwork and hardwood floors.  But it has its challenges too.  It seems with each new renter, we do a little more fixing, updating, and remodeling to help this old house meet the needs of today’s tenants.  Our work is much like that of schools and educators as they implement changes or new strategies each year to better serve the educational needs of today’s students.

With any new remodeling project or change initiative, we reflect on where we’ve been, where we want to go, and how we will get there.  Rarely do we have the opportunity to build from the ground up.  Most of the time we are transforming our existing structures (while we live in them), using what we can, eliminating things that no longer fit our purpose, and bringing in new ideas to improve the living/learning environment.

Recently my husband and I tackled the old wallpaper upstairs that served its purpose for many years.  As we began to strip away the top layer in the hallway, we uncovered several layers that revealed even more of the history of this old house and those who once lived there.  It was a messy and sweaty task.  One bedroom only had 1 layer of paper, that was already loose in many places, and it peeled off quickly. We found as we began to work on what used to be my bedroom, the strategy we successfully used on 3 layers of wallpaper in the hallway didn’t work as well on the two layers of wallpaper that had been painted over in this bedroom.  So we made adjustments in our strategies, but it still required perseverance and hard work.  Our motivation was that the result will be worth the effort and would allow this old house to be new and fresh again while maintaining the structure and character that sustained it the past 100 plus years.

Our wallpaper experience closely relates to our work at school, not just with physical structures, but with traditions, time-worn strategies, and even people.  Some are easily changed, while honoring their contribution to past successes.  Some offer some initial resistance, but quickly fall into place with a little more time and attention.  But a few are stubborn and must have multiple opportunities to help them buy-in and get on board with the new plan.  Eventually, while keeping the goal in mind, persistence, evolving strategies, and perseverance win out and the transformation occurs.

What goals will you and your colleagues set this year?  Ask and answer these questions as you develop these goals: 
·         Why are these changes needed? 
·         How will you accomplish these goals?  (including, Who will be involved?)
·         What will you achieve when they are successfully implemented? 

As you consider the remodeling that must be done to help teachers and students be successful, peel back the layers of the many things your school already has in place and seek input as you decide what can and should be saved, and exactly how and where the new ideas and strategies will fit.   Then determine the tools, skills, materials, and human resources you will need to complete this make over. 

Learning Forward Kansas exists to support schools and educators in the renovations that occur each school year as we continually strive to achieve excellent teaching and learning every day.  How can we help with this year’s remodeling project? 

LFKS has several learning opportunities planned for the 2016-17 school year in which you can acquire the knowledge and skills associated with leading change, while experiencing useful tools and strategies that will support your efforts to implement the complex changes in your district. Or you can learn more about the power of feedback with Jim Knight at our annual conference in February.  In addition, LFKS has several resources available, and in development, that will assist you with leading and designing effective professional learning experiences, along with sessions that will allow you to experience these designs.  Please check out our website for more specific information.

No matter the project or complex change, success is possible if we have a clear plan, the right skills, tools, time, and support to turn this old house into this year’s learning palace!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Bloom and Grow!

By Vicki Bechard
LFKS Secretary

Spring is officially here.  Flowering trees are blooming while others are leafing out; the grass is greening and has perhaps already had its first mowing of the season; tulips and daffodils are in full bloom.  Our senses have been awakened by the new colors of spring that chase away the dull gray of winter.  Days are warmer as the sun shines longer, and spring rains cleanse away the pollen-laden air.  My husband is getting the yard in shape and preparing to plant his annual garden.  Spring reminds us that change is good and new growth makes our world brighter and more hopeful.

In schools, we are often tired at this time of year, so spring may equate to the restlessness of spring fever, annual testing (and the subsequent stress that brings), and the uncertainty that legislative battles have given us in recent years.  But spring also means outside recess, measuring progress, and celebrating the end of another year of learning, graduations, and other student accomplishments.  It is a time for us to be proud of where we’ve been and use that reflection to look ahead to what will be.  It is both our charge and our challenge to look beyond those things that weigh us down and find ways to think and act hopefully and with the future in mind.

How are you blooming and growing?  What new learning are you experiencing now, or are planning to undertake in the next couple of months?  As educators, we want to be continuous learners so that we can offer our students the best experiences that lead them to becoming successful adults.  There are many ways to learn.  No longer must you wait for your school to bring in a presenter, send you to a conference, or find a workshop to attend.  While these might be valuable learning experiences, they aren't the only options.  In addition to the many publications available in print, there are webinars, podcasts, twitter chats, and other networking opportunities available to provide you with new ways to do something familiar, or learn new skills and/or strategies.  You have a wealth of knowledge available to you in your own school.  Collaborating with colleagues is some of the best professional learning you can get!  Giving and receiving feedback offers you many new ideas and things to consider.  This can come from colleagues, supervisors, and even students!  Taking time to reflect is important as you seek to bloom and grow.

Professional learning (not to be confused with the dreaded “staff development” memory so many have) is about personal growth in the profession you have chosen.  It is about finding meaningful content and formats that will allow you to experience the learning as you seek to promote and provide excellent teaching and learning every day.  There are several secrets to achieving successful professional learning.  Let me share a few:
  1. Understanding the “Why” – Why is this initiative/skill/learning important to me, the school, or the students?  What is the benefit?  This often is the key (motivation) that one needs to become open to the new learning.
  2. How will I learn these new skills and/or knowledge?  *Learning Design is a key to successful professional learning experiences.  Too often we settle for “one size fits all” or the traditional “sit and get.”  These are easier to manage, but far too often less than satisfying or effective in achieving the goal.
  3. *Effective implementation:  The old saying “if you don’t use it you’ll lose it” definitely applies to the new learning we undertake.  Create a plan of action; get started on USING what you have learned as soon as possible.  Follow up and support are keys to successful implementation as is receiving meaningful and timely feedback. 
You might have seen this saying on plaques or birthday cards:  “Age is inevitable but growth is optional.”  In education, growth cannot be optional if we are to provide the best education possible for our students.  We can bloom or we can wither and die.  Experience is only valuable if we use it to better our future.  You can choose to bloom and grow by actively engaging in your own professional learning experiences, intentionally seeking feedback, and participating collaborative conversations.  You can choose to help others bloom and grow through meaningful dialogue, sharing what you've learned, planning effective professional learning experiences, and/or providing feedback.  

Learning Forward Kansas is here to support you in this journey!  Let us know how we can help or share your experiences with us as you choose excellent professional learning so that everyone can bloom and grow!

*Click on the link to find more information about the Standards of Professional Learning.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

LFKS Annual Holiday Letter First Edition

By Vicki Bechard
Secretary LFKS

Tis the Season for receiving holiday cards and letters from our friends, recapping their year and wishing us Good Tidings and Much Joy.  As the semester winds down, students and educators alike are anticipating the winter break.  All of this buzz and hype increases both our energy and anxiety levels, and extends our To Do List to something that seems almost unmanageable.  Then in the moment when we finally catch our breath, we read the cards and letters that arrive in our mail box (and inbox too) which makes us appreciate those who have taken the time to remember us once again.

We at Learning Forward Kansas (LFKS) want to take this time to wish each of our members, partners, and supporters a restful and reflective holiday. We hope each of you will take the time to look back on all that you accomplished in 2015 and appreciate the journey: the joys celebrated, the lessons learned, and the knowledge, that to someone, you made a difference.

It has been an exciting, transformational year for LFKS in 2015.  We began the year with the retirement celebration for our inaugural and longtime Executive Director, Sandee Crowther, at the LFKS Annual Conference in January.  We acknowledge and appreciate the role Sandee played in shining a light on professional learning so that LFKS can further our work to support Kansas Educators so that they might benefit from effective professional learning practices.

The spring was busy with transitional activities as we selected our new director, Dayna Richardson.  With that selection came sharing of new ideas, planning, and a few adjustments in the structure of the organization.  In addition, we piloted a study of Learning Forward’s Executive Leadership Program so that we could offer it as a fully implemented learning opportunity in the fall.

June saw us gather at the Henderson House in Stafford, KS for our annual Advance.  We accomplished much at this planning event, revising and refocusing our vision and mission, restructuring the budget, updating the action plan, and developing the KESA Facilitation Guide as a FREE resource of protocols (strategies) for Kansas educators.  As a takeaway from the Advance, LFKS Board members committed their support to achieve our new vision of “Excellent Teaching and Learning Every Day.”

Our biggest celebration occurred when we received word that LFKS had been awarded the $10,000 Learning Forward Affiliate Grant.  The purpose of this 3 year grant is to create videos using Kansas Examples to support the planning and implementation of Effective Professional Learning Designs throughout Kansas schools.  Our To Do List just got larger!

The summer was a busy time as we worked to re-launch our LFKS website with a complete makeover (check it out here!) and begin to shape the work that we would do for the next few years.  Even the constitution was revised and updated to reflect the policies and practices we would need to implement the new vision and mission.   In addition, we have worked to increase our presence on social media and with regular communication to our members via emails.  We hope that you will connect with us on Facebook and Twitter to see what's happening and gain new ideas.

The fall saw the launch of the A Learning Community for School Leaders:  Executive Leadership Program.  This 30 hour blended learning opportunity will continue to be offered each semester as we look to support school leaders with strategies and information to improve their ability to lead complex change.  In addition, LFKS partnered with Southwest Plains Regional Service Center to bring Bruce Wellman to Kansas for a 1 day conference on Feedback for Growth Not Gotcha.  To read more about the reflections from participants for this event, click here

As we head into the winter break we are finalizing plans for the Learning Forward Kansas Annual Conference.  This year’s theme is Excellent Teaching and Learning Every Day:  A Focus on Professional Learning.  Our keynote speakers will address the growing issue of students in poverty and how we can actively engage all students in learning.  Please plan to attend this powerful learning opportunity January 27 & 28th in Wichita.

Learning Forward Kansas has been blessed by the committed individuals within our organization, our partners, the Kansas State Department of Education, as well as the thousands of Kansas Educators who work steadfastly to achieve Excellent Teaching and Learning Every Day.  We have learned a great deal already as we experience this transition process.  The ideas continue to take shape and much work is yet to be done.  It's a crazy and exciting time for us at LFKS!  We continue to believe, however, that together we will achieve this goal through effective professional learning because Kansans Can!

Have a wonderful holiday! We hope that you will rest, relax, and come back in 2016 with a renewed spirit and commitment to ensuring that in every Kansas school we have Excellent Teaching and Learning Every Day!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Creating a Championship Culture: What Do the Leaders Do?

By Vicki Bechard, 
LFKS Secretary

Many of us (myself included) have spent the last few weeks staying up late, watching and cheering as our boys in blue (Royal blue that is) scratched and clawed their way to a World Series Championship.  They are at the top of their game.  The fans have been swept up in the excitement and marvel at what they can accomplish both individually and together as a team.  Most of us just watch the ball.  However, since I’m an old coach, so I also like to think about how they got there.  And because I’m a teacher at heart, I also wonder what lessons educators can take from these boys of summer (and fall!). 

In my most recent personal blog, I wrote about the lessons we could learn from the Royals’ journey to the 2015 championship.  I cited 3 lessons, although I probably could have cited 30.  There were so many teachable moments as we witnessed the players taking advantage of tiny cracks in the opponents’ armor, making amazing defensive plays, and banging out clutch hits as they “kept the line moving.” But for this blog, my question is not about what we saw on the surface, it is about things generally unseen by fans or media.  The most compelling question for me is, “What did the leaders do?”

Communicating and Implementing the Vision.  As we celebrated with more Facebook posts, tweets, pictures, and articles than I could count, I loved reading about how we got there.  There was indeed a plan…. In fact, a long term plan….that guided the many decisions that were made both on and off the field over the past few years.  It wasn’t by accident that this team was successful and is now in a position to be successful for years to come.  It started with General Manager Dayton Moore creating and clarifying a vision to develop a championship culture.  From that beginning he made many moves, not as fast as some would have liked, but he built the Royals team that we see today coach by coach, player by player, and trade by trade. There was no magic bullet or quick fix.  Everyone had to buy in and commit to the long haul.  Even the team owner had to finally demonstrate his full commitment by adding more money to the salary pool so they had the necessary resources at their disposal to realize the vision.  

The Royals rise to success focused on people first.  As Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and other leadership books, writes, “Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”  They analyzed data (player performances) but more importantly focused on the people behind those numbers.  In a recent Yahoo Sports article, author Jeff Passan illustrated how the Royals General Manager understands the value of the people in developing a championship culture when he quoted Moore as saying it was important 
“to focus on people, trust them and bask in their success.”   
When we want to affect change, taking care of the people must be a top priority.  Many of the change models we have studied in Learning Forward’s Educational Leadership Program (ELP) stress the importance of understanding the needs and strengths of the stakeholders.   How are we involving and nurturing the teachers in our schools as we implement change that leads to excellent teaching and learning?

Another key leader in the Royals success was manager Ned Yost.  Much maligned early in his tenure in Kansas City, and even down the stretch for some on the field strategic decisions, Yost is a skilled communicator of his philosophy.  He also has learned to trust his players and coaches to make good decisions – built on the purposeful work and preparation that happens in spring training, before games, and during the off-season.  He has made adjustments in his managerial style that paid dividends with the Royals.  Yost, quoted by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writer Tim Haudricort in an October 2014 article, says, 
"I've learned to let my players be themselves. I'm every bit as patient as I was (in Milwaukee). Because I have great coaches, I think I listen a lot more than I did back then. I was pretty hard-headed. I'm a little more flexible now." 
This shift in his own perspective and behavior helped turn the tide for the improving Royals.  His understanding of his players created loyalty from those players and a family-like culture where they support each other and believe they can overcome any obstacle, which has led to this year’s wildly successful season when most picked them to be at home watching the playoffs on TV.  We take away from Ned and his staff the importance of communication and trust, and the benefits of self-reflection.  Leaders develop a culture of success by their believing in their people, communicating their vision and assessing their own performance as well.  When you reflect on your performance as a leader, are you looking at only the results or the process too?

Effective leadership develops capacity, advocates, and creates support systems.  The Royals organization is a model of this type of leadership.  Consider all the “home grown” talent that makes up the majority of the Royals’ roster.  They have developed capacity and provided support for these young players that have led to quality skill development, can-do attitudes, and championship thinking.  How are you developing the capacity of your educators in your school or district to achieve the goal of excellent teaching and learning every day? 

Leadership matters in every organization.  We are in the business of school and the leadership affects every aspect of the school.  In order to create and implement a plan, leaders must effectively communicate the vision and ensure that decisions are made that align to the intent of the plan.  Leadership matters as we plan professional learning opportunities that provide understanding and support of the change initiatives.  Gone are the days where stand-alone staff development days consisting of sit-and-get activities are considered effective ways to positively impact professional learning.  In what ways is your school moving past these one and done silos of learning toward more personalized learning for individuals and/or small groups?  How are we addressing the learning needs of the faculty?

Three of the Standards of Professional Learning really stand out when considering the Royals’ rise to success:  Leadership, Resources and Learning Communities.  By developing capacity, prioritizing and coordinating resources, and engaging in continuous improvement, organizations such as the Royals, and more importantly your school, can develop collective responsibility and achieve the outcomes set forth in the road map for success.

As you reflect on your own leadership journey, consider some or all of the following questions:
·         How effectively are you communicating the vision? 
·         Have you surrounded yourself with quality teammates and listened to what they have to offer? 
·         How are you building the capacity of those with whom you work and/or supervise to achieve excellent teaching and learning every day?
·         How are you creating and sustaining a culture of success in your school?  

Consider the kind and quality of leadership that put together this group of Royals players who had the talent, the heart, and the commitment to succeed, and then let them play.  What would teaching and learning look like if Kansas schools did it the Royals’ way?

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Travelogue for Change and Professional Learning

By Vicki Bechard, Secretary LFKS

This past week I took my parents to Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, Colorado.  We had been there many times when I was growing up, but my own vacation in August sparked an interest for them to return to a place with spectacular scenery and where we had made many memories.  A major difference this time was that I was the leader, planning and assisting them throughout this journey.  We also went in the fall, instead of mid-summer, so even familiar sights looked different because of the aspen, now golden, and the skiffs of snow dusting the peaks.  There had also been some flooding in the park that altered the landscape since they last visited, so those changes also made a difference in what we saw and did.  As with many of my life journeys, it made me think of education and how we “do school” in general, and how we “do professional learning” in particular.

While school, as we know it, may be similar every year, there are many changes that occur both inside and out that affect how we teach and learn.  Change may cycle like the seasons, allowing us to purge the old to make room for new growth.  Or change might dramatically alter what we do when we are faced with new leadership, promising research, new resources, or emerging strategies; all of which can shift our perspective and ultimately affect how we do business.  There are also actions, seemingly beyond our control, like severe budget cuts and policy changes at the state and federal level that also affect the business of “school.”  As we implement these changes, we have too often heard the cynics say, “We’ve already tried that before,” or “Just wait long enough and this initiative will go away too.”  Yes things cycle, including ideas, and vacation destinations.  But each time you revisit something old, you blend it with something new, and the experience can altogether change, transforming into something better.

With any new learning or initiative, whether you are the teacher or the student, there is a period of adjustment where you wrestle to find balance between what was, what is, and what needs to be. Many factors play into the successful implementation of whatever change(s) will occur.

Relationships:  Identifying and addressing the needs of all the stakeholders is a must.  My parents wanted to see Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park one more time, and in the fall season of the year (which they had never done before).  Their physical limitations would hold them back or even prohibit this trip if they tried to do this by themselves, so I offered to take them.  We are all adults and somewhat set in our ways of living, traveling, and what interests us on vacation-like trips, so it was important that I listen to their wants and needs and blend my skills and interests with their needs and interests in order for them (us) to have an enjoyable trip.  So I asked a lot of questions, offered suggestions, listened to their responses, and ultimately we got to see and do those things that made their trip worthwhile.

In schools, leadership is also charged with the task of identifying and addressing the needs, questions, and concerns of the stakeholder groups that will be impacted by the change initiative about to take place.  Establishing and nurturing the relationships during this process is an action that will build trust and ultimately lead to better communication throughout the change process.  Also during this assessment process, identifying pockets of excellence and blending the strengths of those involved will produce a more successful transition and/or end result. 

Change feels better when you work together and not have it done to you.  If we are mindful of the people in the process and what they bring to the table, we will design learning experiences that are meaningful and provide the players with resources and support to ensure success. 

Learning Design and Support:  My parents don’t have the abilities, stamina, or physical health to do the things they used to do (or at the same speed) when we went on vacation when I was a kid (actually neither do I!).  So I had to be mindful of that and operate at a slower pace, assist them when necessary, and step back and let them be independent whenever possible.  And yet sometimes they still thought I was going too fast!  Sounds like school, doesn’t it? 

How do we adjust the [learning] design so that all can find success?

Adjusting the Time needed to successfully complete the task is a must for all learners.  Whether we are students or educators, we don’t come in with the same level of past experience or learn and understand at the same rate.  Even though we might be on a deadline, finding time to understand and implement is critical.

Collaborating and Asking the Right Questions produces buy-in, ownership, and collective responsibility for the outcome.  I could have easily planned the entire itinerary and just put my parents in the car and took them to sights I thought they wanted to see.  I did have a framework of a “tentative schedule” but that only served as a starting point for this trip.  I asked them questions and made adjustments.  We discovered new opportunities we hadn’t considered and as a result changed course a time or two, which resulted in seeing new and exciting things!  Other factors affected our journey too, such as the weather.  We could only rely on the forecast when making our original plan, but even the weather people don’t always get it right, so adjustments were needed.

How often do we plan a lesson, unit, or professional learning experience without including the opportunity for collaboration or buy-in from the learners?  If we include the learners or stakeholders in this process, it increases the likelihood of success.

Support is critical to achieving our goals.  We all need the right resources and assistance as we progress toward the end result.  This summer, I found using a walking stick on the rocky trails was especially helpful.  My dad has started using a cane everywhere he goes.  My mom took one on our trip “just in case.”  We steady each other on uneven paths, and watch with pride as we stride out along the trail. 

But there is a balance that must be achieved between facilitating or guiding and doing it for them.  “Independent doing” is also a goal.  Sure it’s faster to do it for them but how will that help THEM succeed (think about when you taught your children to tie their shoes and how long it took to accomplish that before you could walk out the door)?  My parents have been independent their whole adult lives, traveling and doing what they want to do.  The physical limitations of their age are affecting that now, but they still want to be as independent as possible.  I have to be careful not to just swoop in and do it for them, or expect them to do things at the same rate that they used to do. 

All educators need support during new learning.  When we ask someone to change how they are doing something, there will be some frustration before there is success.  The kind, frequency, and level of support we offer the staff may be the difference between successful implementation and just putting another initiative on the shelf.  Anyone who is comfortable with the way they do something (teaching is just one example) is challenged when we ask them to do some things differently.   Everyone will need periodic support to ensure implementation is going well or to help correct problems that may have surfaced – and yes, some may need support more often or at deeper levels. 

Providing support becomes a part of the learning design.

Over the last few months, I have been privileged to be a part of and witness some on-going professional learning in a nearby school.  They have not just provided the new learning for the staff, but have committed to providing support from both the outside (me) and from within (time, frequent check-ins from the principal, PLCs, and in-house expertise).  They are committed to this long term goal and dedicated to ensuring it will be accomplished by providing the necessary support to get everyone on board.  They recognize that this new learning is an on-going process – not just an event.

Change requires us to use the pillars of professional learning as we plan, implement, and seek to achieve the goals of the new initiatives.  How will you address the many changes that will occur on your school’s journey this year (or in the future)?   As you consider how we “do school” and specifically how we “do professional learning,” remember that each time we revisit (or revise) something old, we blend it with something new, create a new experience, and transform into something better.

My parents and I arrived home safely from this quick trip that allowed us to enjoy the beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park.  Yes it was a different experience from what we had done before, but one rich with new memories, and a greater appreciation for the participants, the destination, and the journey we took together, for it was OUR trip not MY trip.  How will your school experience and view its journey to and through the next change initiative?