Hope Is Not A Strategy

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Theory of Change– Our theory of change links our beliefs, vision and mission to graduate every student college-prepared and career-ready. We are creating the conditions for success within every classroom, program, and school.

If we,

  • transform human capital by ensuring there are effective employees at every level of the organization focused on improving student outcomes;
  • give our students and parents a portfolio of high quality school choice; and
  • hold ourselves accountable through strong performance management;

Then, every student in our schools will graduate college-prepared and career-ready.

The Instructional Core– The instructional core is the very heart of our service to students; it is about the connection between the teacher, the student and the content of learning:

  • Expanding teachers’ knowledge and skill;
  • Providing academically challenging content and tasks; and
  • Fostering highly engaged and life-long learners.

Strategies– Strategies refer to the set of common sense approaches we will use to support the instructional core to help every student achieve his/her maximum potential:

  1. Transform teaching and learning so that all youth graduate college-prepared and career-ready.
  2. Ensure there are effective employees at every level of the organization focused on improving student outcomes.
  3. Provide a portfolio of high-quality schools for all youth, families and communities.
  4. Ensure a safe, caring, and nurturing environment for all youth.
  5. Operate an effective, efficient, and transparent organization in order to assure the public trust.

Teaching and Learning Foci– Our teaching and learning foci are the specific and timely actions we will take to improve student achievement:

  • Transition to the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics so that content, teaching and learning is focused around concepts and skills to help students develop a deeper understanding and apply their knowledge.
  • Ensure that all students graduate with nine college credits and the option to enroll directly into a college/university and be prepared for a career by implementing our College and Career Readiness Through Equal Opportunity initiative.
  • Continue our focus and refinement of our Educator Growth and Development system to achieve our goal that every student will be taught by an effective teacher, every day, in a school led by an effective school leader, surrounded and supported by an effective team.
  • Implement a Digital Conversion strategy to ensure students have equity and access to a personal computing device and high-quality digital resources and educational content anytime/anywhere.

Supporting Elements– We serve all students and their families with a commitment to success. Our Supporting Elements hold the promise that every employee will work in the best interest of students.

  • Stakeholders – Ensure that we are engaging our parents and communities to support students.
  • Culture – Ensure that everything we do is focused on the success of our students.
  • Strong Performance Management – Ensure that we constantly review data, with a focus on performance over conformance, to deliver the promise of all youth achieving.
  • Resources & Systems – Ensure that we will run an efficient organization at every level.

Traditional vs. Digital Conversion

The following is adapted for Bend-La Pine Schools from the book Every Child, Every Day: A Digital Conversion Model for Student Achievement written by Dr. Mark Edwards.

Overview

Digital Conversion refers to the transformation of instruction from a paper-based world to a primarily digital world, in which every student in grades 3-12 and teacher has access to a personal computing device and the Internet anytime/anywhere.  Digital Conversion has the power to profoundly change the nature of teaching and learning by going far beyond traditional learning modalities.  It supports second-order change by enabling a fundamental shift across all aspects of daily life in our schools.  It affects instruction, pedagogy, professional development, student and teacher motivation, student—teacher roles, learning experiences, and relationships.  It creates a new vibrancy and energy that comes from the currency and connectivity among students and teachers.

Addressing the Needs of Today

Digital Conversion allows educators to level the playing field and provide every student, including at-risk learners, with anytime/anywhere access to resources and the opportunity to develop the skills they need for today’s workplace.  And the time has come.  In words of Adam Frankel, executive director of Digital Promise:

“While technological innovation has transformed other sectors of our society and economy in recent decades, our education system has been largely resistant to change.  There are a range of challenges that stifle innovation in education, from policy to political hurdles in school culture and market failures to outdated infrastructure in our nation’s classrooms.  But these are challenges that can and must be overcome if we are going to offer all our students the world-class education that’s an essential ingredient in their—and America’—success.”

In the Bend-La Pine Schools, we believe that school must address the challenges of today and align with what students need to know today.  Today’s workplace demands not only digital skills but also the ability to work collaboratively and creatively and engage in independent research—all skills that are enabled and enhanced by technology.

Digital Conversion Critical Success Factors

In 2010, a team of researchers who studied one-to-one computing implementation in almost 1,000 schools across the country found that fewer than one percent were practicing all nine “key implementation factors” identified by the study.  These findings were published in Project RED, The Technology Factor: Nine Keys to Student Achievement and Cost-Effectiveness.

The Project RED study found that one-to-one computing was most effective in schools that understood second-order change and the importance of the key implementation factors.  Project RED shows that one-to-one computing is complex and involves many factors in addition to hardware and software.  We call this move digital conversion and not a one-to-one initiative to encompass the interplay of the factors that are critical to our success, starting with a personal computing device for every teacher and student in grades 3-12 and going far beyond.

The following “Steps to Success” checklist summarizes the key factors highlighted in the Project RED study that we believe the Bend-La Pine Schools must understand and commit to in order to replicate digital conversion successfully and sustain it over time.  The checklists are provided both for initial background and planning purposes and as an ongoing reference tool to help the Bend-La Pine Schools keep the success factors front and center.  Digital conversion is not a short-term fix.  It is an ongoing process in which student improvement grows over time, supported by sustained commitment, gradual improvement in practice, and learning together as a team.

STEP #1:  Plan, Plan, and Plan Again

Comprehensive plans provide the bandwidth for organic change and the dynamics for implementation.  They serve as living blueprints that positively embrace change, as described by Thomas and Brown in A New Culture of Learning:

Embracing change means looking forward to what will come next.  It means viewing the future as a set of new possibilities rather than something that forces us to adjust.”

Planning Steps to Success:

  • Define the members of your central district planning team and your school planning teams.
  • Define your goals, utilizing the Strategic Device Initiative format, and remember that student achievement must be goal number one.
  • Take a long-term view.
  • Plan your technical infrastructure, including hardware devices, bandwidth, connectivity, deployment, security, and technical support.
  • Select pilot sites.
  • Plan your device rollout.
  • Plan for capacity building, with models for coaching and mentoring.
  • Adjust the instructional program based on digital resources.
  • Plan for budget needs.
  • Plan for facilities needs.
  • Develop a communication plan.
  • Embrace and promote the idea of change.
  • Constantly evaluate against reference points—shared vision, moral imperative, impact on student achievement, preparation for today’s workplace, instructional quality, equity and opportunity, communication, and change management.
  • Use feedback loops to adjust and change as needed.

STEP #2:  Build a Shared Vision

A shared vision is the foundation that holds together a tem, and implementing the vision together ensures a consistent direction.  In Leadership and the New Science, Margaret Wheatly writes:

“In a field view of organizations, clarity about values and vision is important, but it is only half the task.  Creating the field through the dissemination of those ideas is essential.  The dialogue must reach all corners of the organization and involve everyone.  Vision statements come off the walls and come alive in classrooms and hallways and provide a shared path for growth.”

Vision Building Steps to Success:

  • Discuss with all stakeholders why digital conversion is the right thing to do.
  • Identify the needs of at-risk and special needs students and English learners.
  • Develop your moral imperative and use it to drive the discussion.
  • Create a shared vision statement.
  • Connect the vision to goals, benchmarks, resources, and roles.
  • Evaluate all programs and activities against that vision.
  • Work to bring programs and activities into alignment with the vision.
  • Expect constant innovation, exploration, new ideas, and new opportunities.
  • Be prepared for ongoing learning and adjustment.

STEP #3:  Align Resources

Digital conversion is surprisingly affordable with budgeting strategies that focus on prioritization and repurposing rather than finding new or more monies.  Digital conversion must be the priority for instructional spending because we cannot afford a parallel program with textbooks.

Based on work from Dr. Mark Edwards in Mooresville Graded School District, North Carolina, the end result of all prioritization efforts, repurposing of resources, and cost-efficiencies that digital conversion costs approximately $1.25 per student per day ($250 annually per student).  This cost includes teacher and student hardware, software, cases, digital content, and professional development.  This does not include infrastructure costs since these are capital costs and should be aligned with capital funding sources and because much of the infrastructure is required anyway, with either computer labs or digital conversion.

So for approximately 3-4% of the daily budget, we would be able to provide all teachers and students in grades 3-12 with a portal to the world, cutting-edge creativity tools, and a reference library larger than the Library of Congress.

Resource Alignment Steps to Success:

  • Establish priorities.
  • Evaluate repurposing options, including staff positions, physical spaces, and instructional materials.
  • Repurpose textbook funds and computer lab costs to purchase devices and online content.
  • Train students to provide help desk support.
  • Redefine librarian and lab tech roles.

STEP #4:  Focus on Student Achievement

The public will support digital conversion as long as there is a return on the investment, and student achievement is how the return is determined.  We must focus all efforts on closing achievement gaps and preparing all of our students to be future ready.

Achievement Steps to Success:

  • Consistently communicate that improved academic performance is the goal of digital conversion.
  • Evaluate all programs and activities in light of this goal.
  • Define daily expectations for students, teachers, and staff.
  • Engage teacher in mapping out their daily work and how they will work together.
  • Use formative assessments to drive instructional planning.
  • Align plans and policies with student achievement goals.
  • Incorporate individual student data into daily instructional planning.
  • Use a variety of measures to evaluate progress, including graduation rates, state assessments, AP/IB/Honors participation, and student next step success.

STEP #5:  Foster Leadership

Leaders at all levels are essential to digital conversion success.  A top-down approach will not build the necessary buy-in and teamwork.  Digital conversion demands we develop a distributed leadership approach in which we recognize, develop, and utilize leaders at all levels and schools and in every aspect of the work of the district.  Nowhere is this more important than in the strong partnership that must be established between IT and Teaching and Learning to allow educational decisions to drive all IT solutions.  Please see the attached articles highlighting the building of a functional Ed Teach Team as well as the four guiding questions I propose to help IT and Teaching and Learning focus a conversation that leads to the strengthening this partnership.

Leadership Steps to Success:

  • Select teacher and department leaders based on their commitment to the vision, goals, and leadership potential.
  • Develop leaders at every school.
  • Develop leaders in every department.
  • Develop leaders in every grade level.
  • Develop leaders among administrators and staff.
  • Make sure the central office administrators vigorously embrace a service model.
  • Encourage parent and community leaders to be all in and enlist their input.

STEP #6:  Establish a Digital Infrastructure

Infrastructure Steps to Success:

  • Select pilot sites and initiate a pilot program.
  • Select and distribute student devices.
  • Plan a staged device rollout
  • Develop a financial support program for low-income students
  • Build a robust wireless infrastructure with an eye to future needs.
  • Evaluate cloud computing options.
  • Develop software evaluation criteria and select online content and tools.
  • Select and implement a learning management system.
  • Build a library of multimedia tools.
  • Develop policies for social networking and required use.
  • Plan for training, staffing, and support.

STEP #7:  Build Capacity

We embrace the concept that, as digital conversion evolves, we must grow our capacity—meaning our ability to use digital resources and work as individuals and teams to meet goals.  Every school leader must be vigilant in ensuring that individuals and teams constantly reflect on how to improve the success o every student.

Capacity Building Steps to Success:

  • Commit to a philosophy of individual and team learning for all adults.
  • Talk the long view and accept different rates of growth.
  • Develop formal growth plans for teachers and principals.
  • Encourage students and teacher to learn together.
  • Expect steady progress and constant effort.
  • Provide constant encouragement, feedback, and leadership.
  • Establish meetings to build teams at all levels.
  • Define professional development goals.

STEP #8:  Implement Data-Driven Personalized Instruction

Digital conversion allows us to progress in our ability to use personalized student information as part of our daily instruction methodology—providing teachers greater clarity and means to make adjustments, to advance or review, based on real-time data.

Data Steps to Success:

  • Transition to online instructional software that provides detailed data on every student.
  • Work toward a culture of data transparency.
  • Systematically align student data and instructional planning.
  • Assess achievement by students, subgroup, teacher, department, grade level, and school.
  • Use the data to enable accurate, personalized interventions on a daily basis.
  • Encourage a team approach among instructional staff.
  • Use data to inform resource allocation decisions.
  • Keep parents and students in the data loop.

STEP #9:  Rethink the Instructional Process

Engagement, personalization, efficiency, precision, and fun are all a part of new instructional recipe available through digital conversion.

Instructional Steps to Success:

  • Develop lesson plans that engage student with relevant, personalized, collaborative, and connected learning.
  • Evaluate new teaching strategies appropriate to a digital learning environment.
  • Develop keys to successful group work.
  • Encourage teachers to become “roaming conductors”.
  • Empower students with more choice.
  • Extend the time available for teaching and learning.
  • Provide immediate feedback via formal and informal assessments.
  • Promote responsible digital citizenship.
  • Use digital resources to support struggling students.

For more detailed information related to Bend-La Pine Schools current Digital Conversion work check out–www.bend.k12.or.us/tlc/digital_conversion

Collaboration and a Culture of Yes

Our Foundation

We have a north star, a shared vision of personalized proficient learning for all. An understanding that the energy of students, educators, families, and the community must be the central driving force. And a system of reciprocal responsibility built on autonomy and continuous feedback in order to provide every child, every chance, every day.

Our Efforts

Our efforts must focus around the metrics and objectives that we expect at each level of our system to help us realize our goal toward personalized proficient learning for all.  Our mirror must be established at every level by simply asking what would we want for each of our students as if each and every one were our own children.  This must be our first priority if we are ever going to reach our world class goals established by Oregon’s Achievement Compacts and stated 40-40-20 goal, or  in our district and building school performance plans. Tight on outcomes, but with flexibility for each individual at whatever level to build on the processes they need to put in place to achieve them. This central charge of fostering each and every student to reach their greatest potential demands a central focus on improving educator effectiveness.  This starts with a common set of clear and rigorous standards for both teachers and principals paired with a system of on-going feedback and coaching to improve performance, rigorous content and curriculum at every level for our students, and most importantly a move, supported by the new possibilities of learning empowered by technology, to a student centered learning model where students know what, know why, and know how they take ownership on the journey to mastery.

Our Direction

To permanently impact any educational organization we must now diligently focus, clarify, and simplify in order to produce the stability that only comes when we all have a clear and consistent understanding of why we do what we do and the guarantee that it will not change or constantly be added upon by the next “big thing” in education. In this movement we cannot swing from one new initiative to another. Accountability demands responsibility and with responsibility comes providing support and resources to allow all of us to achieve our vision.

Our Commitment

This focus on supporting, vs. adding to the work needed for students, teachers, and principals to become proficient when toward our standards of excellence is our only work. For expectations, whether they are mastery of learning standards or my kids’ manners at the dinner table, only define the desired outcome. It is folly to think that the expectation alone actually causes the outcome to occur. How much a student learns, has more to do with the conditions we create and intentions for their growth than the expectation of what that growth should be. As we move forward, my  hope for our collaborative commitment is to become a crowd-source that focuses all of our efforts to support. We must spend our time and energy focused on providing staff and students with the tools and resources that allow them to successfully meet the performance standards and proficiencies we have put in place through a reform agenda of accountability, evaluation and assessment systems.

We can no longer expect the system to do more with less. It is not about what we think we are asking teachers, staff, and students to do, but instead it is about supporting what we prioritize so that what we do is done well:

  1. Relevant Professional Development 
  2. Effective Performance Evaluations based on a ‘Culture of Yes’
  3. Data-Driven, Personalized Proficiency-Based Learning
  4. Learning Empowered by Technology

Our Reality 

While we focus on the supports and tools that lead to excellence, the reality is that we do not have sufficient resources today to achieve all of this vision.  But we must not allow these facts-­—-the reality of the present-­‐-­‐to turn us away from the future we imagine. We must not allow the forces of cynicism to overwhelm our sense of possibilities for change. For unlike past efforts with lofty goals for improving education, our model does not depend on a top-­‐down, outside-­‐in approach. While state-­‐level leadership will be necessary to produce the significant changes in how we budget and set policy for education in Oregon, the mission will be kept alive not by the Governor, Legislature, or the Department of Education-­‐-­‐but by the students and families and teachers and support personnel who are working daily to make a difference by making learning personal. The real action will be in the classroom, not the Capitol. The learning gets personal movement will work because we have figured out how to create an educational culture that prioritizes sustainable improvement by providing actionable feedback to teachers and ensuring each teacher has the tools necessary to actualize our shared vision of personalized proficient learning for all students.

Our Future

The work that should be the one and only central focus is a simple one. Each of us must commit to continuous improvement, or as John Wooden said, “ Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

This means if I am a principal—did I work today to get better as it relates to achieving the standards of effective leadership as outlined in our administrator performance standards? Principals in the system must constantly be looking for ways to reduce waste and improve quality. In education, waste includes time spent on unproductive activities or less effective teaching strategies. Service in education is focusing on the needs of students and meeting those needs in more effective ways. Giving teachers effective feedback for growth and the time to think and talk about their work and methods (focused collaboration) is essential to constant improvement.

This means if I am a teacher—did I work today to get better as it relates to achieving the standards of quality teaching as outlined in the Danielson framework? There is no shortage of good people—only a shortage of knowledge and skills. People can be afraid of new knowledge because knowledge leads to change. All personal growth will have its roots in knowledge and feedback—in what people learn through training and coaching as they participate in discussion, read, and attend conferences. Ongoing training is essential to professional growth and personal fulfillment.

This means if I am a student—did I work today to not only understand the learning objectives, but more importantly, to understand why it is important for me to know it, and ultimately how I can apply my learning to reach my dreams? For learning is not something done to you. Learning is something you chose to do. School is at its best when it gives students tasks that will not only cause them to dream big, but dream dreams that they can work on every day until they accomplish them.

This means if I am a parent – did I work today to actively support my child’s education growth?  Did I make sure my child has good attendance?  Was I an active participant in their learning by advocating for and accessing continuous feedback on their academic growth?  Did I help my child take personal ownership and invest in the importance of their own learning by fostering their unique talents and skills?

With this purpose in mind, it is vital that we work together, for when we teach a child to make good decisions, we benefit from a lifetime of good decisions. When we teach a child to love to learn, the amount of learning will become limitless. When we teach a child to deal with a challenging world, she will never become obsolete. And when we give students the desire to make things, even choices, we create a world filled with makers.

Learning Gets Personal

Welcome to shaymikalson.com, an education blogging site dedicated to improving education through collaboration! My name is Shay Mikalson and everything I do starts with my mission to provide every child, every chance, every day.

For our kids, including three of my own that attend public schools, have only one chance for great education so together we need to make sure we get it right.  To do this together, empowering all members of the educational community to the cause, we must help all of us continually see the connections in the work we do so that what we do every day and how we utilize our increasing limited resources enables us to make good on the promise to prepare all of our youth to graduate college-prepared and future-ready.

For far too long, and especially as a result of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), we have understood K-12 performance principally in terms of math and English language arts.  This narrow-minded focus on these subjects represents and impoverished view of education’s purpose and one that is not supported by our educators, students, parents, or community.

Although many different perspectives are expressed when educational stakeholders are empowered to express what they want in their schools, clear themes always emerge. We agree that it is essential to recruit and retain excellent educators who in turn support the success of students. We agree that learning does not end at the close of the school day, nor does it happen only within school walls. We agree that an understanding of the world, its people, their languages and beliefs, is essential. We agree that critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving, and digital literacy are the new basic skills and we believe an artist exists in every child, that creativity and imagination must be nurtured and encouraged.  Simply put, we want more.

To accomplish this globally, the only path is locally–one student at a time.  For far too often the typical approach to understanding correlations in school systems is to look for the average behavior or outcome. But in my view this misguided approach has created what research calls, and what many school systems have become as a result No Child Left Behind’s narrowing of curriculum, the ‘culture of the average’.  For example, far too often in education when someone asks a question such as, “How fast can a child learn how to read in a classroom?”, educational systems change that question to “How fast does the average child learn to read in the classroom?”.  We then ignore the children who read faster or slower, and tailor the classroom toward the ‘average’ child.  If we focus the system merely on what is average, we will remain merely average.  Instead of focusing on the average my challenge is to enlist a collaborative crowd-sourced community of educational stakeholders to focus on the individual potential of each of our students.  Work that is not centered on moving students up to the average but instead focused on moving the entire average up in all of schools by growing each and every one of our students.

This effort demands that we move from vision and mission into action by redefining the expectations of the public school system to be around individual student performance.  A personalized performance built on a ‘culture of the yes’ instead of a ‘culture of the average’ that demands proficiency for all of our students through maximizing each students potential and talents.  In public K-12 education their is a fundamental shift needed to go from a culture of compliance–Did you bring the right number of children through your door?  Did they sit in the right seat for the right number of hours?  Did you let them go without any damage?–to a culture of personalized performance that instead asks–What have you done to help every child in your building become a successful adult?  What value was added to their skill set while they were in your care?  The standard of compliance is simply unacceptable.  It is not a high enough standard and we are not doing right by kids when we create a system that is about compliance instead of personal performance.

My theory of change towards personalized performance abides by the principle that the key to better results is to situate the energy of educators, students, families and communities as the central driving force.  Historically, districts far too many times have acted as if they think they can hammer the system into improvement.  Blow by blow.  Students not learning enough?  Adopt a new standard.  Need more college opportunities for high school students?  Pass a policy requiring it.  As a former superintendent and building principal, and in my current role as Executive Director of Curriculum and Instructional Technology in the Bend-La Pine Schools in Central Oregon, I understand the temptation of attempting to regulate performance.  The reality however is that districts do not have the resources or the time to rely on this traditional top down, outside in approach to improvement. Instead, an alternate based on each member of the educational community taking ownership to say yes for whatever it takes to help each student they work with meet their fullest potential must become the norm.

This alternative is based on the understanding that human beings and human systems thrive on autonomy and feedback.  We must be tight on outcomes and flexible on process to reach them within our schools and districts.  We all want freedom to choose our course of action–and then we want the information, preferably quickly, to help us improve.  High autonomy and copious feedback are the conditions under which school systems flourish.  Fewer regulations, fewer reporting requirements, fewer mandates.  More supports, more data, a better mirror.

JOIN THE ‘LEARNING GETS PERSONAL’ MOVEMENT!