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?  


Friday, July 17, 2015

Growing Pains: “Are We There Yet?”


By Vicki Bechard,
LFKS Secretary


This fall it will be the 25th anniversary of when we started to remodel my grandma’s house, the one we were living in then and the one we still live in today.  It was a functional house, made into a home by the love and memories that came to life through those who lived there as well as all that went into its care and upkeep.  But it was time for change.  Our growing family had too much stuff, different needs, and we wanted more room to spread our wings.  The changes we implemented required a lot of thought, dreams of what we wanted, plans to make it happen, and reality checks of what we could afford.  Oh yes, then there was the hard work on top of our “real” jobs, and the mess we lived in for far too long.  But the pride and joy we felt as it took shape more than made up for the sacrifices we made.  We couldn’t wait until it was finished and we could just live in our new home.  But 25 years later, I can tell you we probably will never get “finished,” because we are always finding new and better ways to address the space, color, and functionality of our home.  Change is what we do.  It’s called living.

Parallel to the time frame I referenced with our personal remodeling experience is the life of the organization we now call Learning Forward Kansas.  Originally established as the Kansas Staff Development Council, it served to support and promote staff development for Kansas educators and schools.  We had leaders who were passionate about what we now refer to as professional learning, lots of educators who participated in the conferences we hosted, and many members that bought into the purpose and work of this educational organization.  Over time, schools across the nation began to change and look at different ways to “do school.”  As a result, our parent organization changed their name to reflect the need to look to the future, so we became Learning Forward Kansas, as we are known today. 

But during the changes that were overspreading education in general, we, like many schools and people often do, let the changes happen to us without proactively considering and acting on the change in vision and practice that the organizational name change implied and evolving educator needs required.  We still had good people working with us and we were comfortable in what we were doing.  But soon we found schools were changing because their clientele and the political landscapes were changing.  Money got tighter and staff development, or the preferred term, professional learning, became a casualty of those budget cuts and the lack of understanding of its importance to teaching and learning.  Membership and attendance at our events waned.   What were we to do?   It became clear that Learning Forward Kansas needed to change our way of doing things too.  A remodel or transformation was in order if we were once again to be the professional learning organization that today’s Kansas schools and educators relied on to help them achieve excellent teaching and learning.

In the last few months, Learning Forward Kansas has been under construction.  The transition is much like the remodeling job described of my grandmother’s house.  We have been overhauling a comfortable, familiar organization that served previous generations of Kansas educators with great pride and acceptance.  But in order for us to serve this generation of 21st century educators, we had to identify the needs Kansas educators have today, look for new possibilities, and do that within the financial limitations in which we all find ourselves.  We are blessed with leaders in our organization that have vision, are organizers and doers, and have the desire to sacrifice both time and financially to see these dreams become reality. 

Transition is messy. It’s where kids get in the most trouble at school.  It’s your house as you clean closets and take some of your old stuff to the nearest donation location and rearrange for the new fall arrivals.  It requires vision, management of time and resources, perseverance and patience.  Someone needs to make decisions. Everyone has a job to do and we rely on each other to work in tandem to turn our goals into reality.  We seek fresh perspectives and synthesize the old with the new.  We occasionally stop to catch our breath to celebrate progress and so we can regain some strength as we continue to move forward.  We often are asked (and even ask ourselves), “When will we be done?  Are we there yet?”  The answer might be, “Who knows?” or maybe, “Never” because it will be on-going.

So look for some changes in the coming weeks and months.  A new website will roll out before school starts featuring the beliefs and goals for the transitioning Learning Forward Kansas (LFKS) and filled with resources for all educators seeking excellent teaching and learning.  New learning opportunities will be available for teachers, administrators, and school teams starting in the fall and continuing all year.  Some of the things that you have relied upon LFKS to provide will still be around, but how we deliver them to you might look differently.  Look for LFKS in your email, on social media, at meetings or conferences, and out in the schools.  This kind of transformational change will not happen overnight, nor will it occur without a glitch to two.  But it is happening as we speak. 


Learning Forward Kansas wants to be your professional learning partner.  Let our transformation as an organization become your opportunity to get to know us again.  LFKS wants to help every educator, and all schools achieve excellent teaching and learning every day.  Join us on this journey of change and new beginnings that will benefit the educators and students of Kansas.  Together we will work to implement the many changes facing schools today so that we can determine “are we there yet?”

Monday, April 13, 2015

What Does Effective Professional Learning Look Like?

By Vicki Bechard
LFKS Secretary


I love to see pictures of scrumptious recipes on Facebook or in cookbooks that really make me want to try to make that for my family to eat (or more than likely for me to eat!).  I go to great lengths to capture the recipe and the accompanying picture for future reference, saving them, printing them and putting them in the plastic protective sleeve in my 3 ring notebook.  Yes I have a computer file, but I just like the real thing better.  Then I make it.  Sometimes it looks surprisingly similar to the picture, but many times it does not. Most of the time it tastes great regardless of how it looks, but the effect is not quite the same.  So I think of ways to make the next attempt better and jot that down for future use.  Does this ever happen to you as an educator trying out new strategies and ideas?

Have you ever sat in a professional learning session (regardless of the topic), listened to the presenter, talked with other participants about the topic, jotted down ideas, and yet walked away wondering (just like seeing the scrumptious recipe), "What would this look like in my district (classroom)?"  "Could I really make this happen?"

We want to learn and be great educators.  We purposely seek better strategies and new ideas to improve our own practice and the success of our students, yet until we try it, we just don't know for sure whether it's going to work.  What if we could see it in action in someone's classroom that is similar to ours? Or in our own school?  There are several companies providing educators with videos that will do just that... for a significant price.  A more affordable idea might be to use our own planning time to watch a colleague teach to gain ideas and perspective. We might need some guidance on how to observe effectively, but the cost is much, much less, and the lessons might be even more valuable. Collaborative teams might agree to teach the same strategy and allow each other to observe them in action and offer suggestions to make the lesson more effective. Sometimes we just have to see it in action before it clicks and we truly "get it."

Professional learning is no different.  How do we design effective professional learning that makes a difference?  How has professional learning changed in your building or district since the Standards for Professional Learning were adopted in 2012?  How has professional learning changed in your building or district since Kansas College and Career Ready Standards or the new evaluation system came into play?  If you say professional learning has not changed, then it might be because "they" don't know what effective professional learning looks like.  Where do we go for this kind of modeling  and support?

Dayna Richardson and I have been completing a grant application this past week for LFKS that focuses on creating videos of exemplary professional learning practices in Kansas schools that can be used as real world examples of the kinds of professional learning experiences that are meaningful and lead to transformed teaching and learning.  What do effective collaborative groups do and look like?  What  does effective Leadership look like in action? or Effective use of Data? or Meaningful and purposeful Learning Designs?  Consider:  If I see it, I gain perspective.  If I can do it, I understand.  I believe that if our professional learning becomes the kind and quality of learning experience that we expect from our teachers for our students, then the effectiveness of our educators will improve too.

While there is no guarantee that we will be awarded this grant, it begins the conversation on the next steps that must be taken if we are to help each other improve our practice, not just in the student classroom, but in the educator classroom as well.  The Executive Leadership Program is being studied and piloted this spring as another vehicle that can help educators understand the change process and how professional learning impacts educator and student performance, with the ultimate goal that it will change practice.

I believe we have established the foundation of "WHY" we want every educator to experience excellent and effective professional learning, but now we must move to the "HOW" as we take the next steps.  If we are to accept the challenge given to us by Learning Forward Director, Stephanie Hirsh, during her visit to Kansas last year (April and June 2014), of going from KNOWING to DOING, then we must ensure that educators and schools know what effective professional learning looks like so they can successfully implement the complex changes that face Kansas schools today.  After all, we don't know what we don't know.  So having something to look at might help us produce the desired result, and give us the confidence to say "I/we can do that!"