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.