Rituals, Routines and Relationships… I’ve got this?

Every classroom that has been in full swing for four or more days probably appears like a well-oiled machine.  It amazes me how quickly teachers and students alike adopt procedures, rituals and routines with lightening speed and quickly move into the content.

We all give heavy thought to developing relationships with our students and, I believe, work very hard to build those student to teacher relationships. However, I think we may need to reflect and re-evalulate.

Are we changing how we facilitate and coach how our students interact?

Peter Senge quote

We all agree there is more emphasis on group work, “talk moves,” collaborative learning and peer feedback, as it should be. We all agree that WE, the educator in the room, have worked to establish a community of trust and respect… but, dare I say, WE direct that so it is about the teacher to student relationship, not the student to student relationships. In fact, many times the classroom will have the “look” of a student-designed and led learning environment, but when we peel back the layers it is very much teacher directed and led.

Edward Fiske quote

As I reflect on this, I know I may be upsetting educators by my questions. I am fully aware of the pressures and the dense curriculum and content breathing down the necks of classroom educators that must be delivered in a finite amount of time with data that reflects critical thinking visibly, depth of knowledge and a transfer of knowledge across disciplines.

Consider, though, if we are wanting students to think in deep and creative ways that must come from a deeply personal place.  If students own their learning, then the feedback and input of others, particularly peers, can be profoundly scary if there is not the relationships and trust built between students.

Robert Reich quote

We are asking students to get in front of their peers and present, sit with their peers and share their ideas and thinking, create solutions and products with other students passionate about the same ideas via PBL opportunities, but are we facilitating a “Ropes course” approach to building those teams of learners within the walls of our classroom?

If you are wanting to create an environment of self-driven autonomous learners that thrive in their learning community, then I challenge you to reflect and re-evaluate.

Here are a few questions I would ask myself to be sure the relationships are just as much about the student to student relationships as they are about the student to teacher relationship:

1. Does everyone in the class know everyone’s name with ease (first and last)?

2. With getting to know you activities have they first been shared with a small group, then, when sharing out the “get to know you” facts someone other than the student in the group shares with the class?

3. Can students share with each other why another student’s presence with specificity is essential to the entire team (class) learning? (What makes them uniquely important to this particular class?)

4. Can students in your class share with passion what the community agreements or norms for learning are and why they are essential to the classroom?

5. Do your students see your classroom as an opportunity to practice democracy? (Are you training them to live in a democracy when they grow up, or are you giving them the chance to live in one today?- Alfie Kohn, TRIBES by Jeanne Gibbs, p. 25)

As educators, I know that we are risk-takers and want to encourage our students to be risk-takers as well.  To do that, in the classrooms of today, we can no longer be the only relationship builder, we must intentionally coach and facilitate positive relationship building between students.  They need to be sure of not just the safety of learning with the teacher, but with their peers.

Winnie the Pooh sure of you quote

Lauren. “My Still Small World.” The Loveliest Hour. N.p., 20 Mar. 2014. Web. 01 Sept. 2014.

How are you ensuring a learning community that is developed, driven and passionately protected by your students for their peers?

What is a #growthmindset?

Recently a fellow colleague, @LisaDegnan1 and #newbie blogger (Blog: Teaching and Learning With and Through Others) shared the excitement of self-directed autonomous professional development.

Lisa Degnan

Lisa Degnan and Husband

With her permission I am “re-blogging” her post titled “Best Summer Professional Development”

“Have you ever written curriculum?  Looking at the standards, breaking down the TEKS, and creating assessments that will address the standards has been one of the best professional development opportunities that I have had this summer.  It sounds tedious.  It sounds kind of boring.  Yes, even to my ears it sounds CRAZY!  But when you place great educators, creative thinkers, and motivated people in the same room… GREAT things begin to happen.

Sure, I have had some great PD opportunities this summer.  They have been fantastic.  I have notebooks of things that I would LOVE to try this school year.  I brought all that knowledge with me to our day of writing assessments. 

As our curriculum writing team began to formulate assessments, I was thinking of the many principles I was learning through my book study, Learning Targets: A Theory of Action.  The following quote from the book was something that I heard buzzing in my mind as I worked alongside my fellow writers: “The most effective teaching and the most meaningful student learning happen when teachers design the right learning target for today’s lesson and use it along with their students to aim for and assess understanding.” 

Knowing and understanding the learning standards for reading became key in developing assessments that would help identify student weaknesses, help drive teacher instruction, plan for future remediation and embrace real enrichment opportunities. And guess what?!  It WAS fun!  Working alongside knowledgeable educators that pushed my thinking and my level of understanding was FUN. It was also one of the best learning experiences that I have had this summer.

Professional development can present itself in a variety of ways.  It is the phenomenal speaker at a convention.  It is the inspiring Twitter chats that involve some of the brightest thinkers in the world.  It is staff development that causes you pause and rethink.  It is – for me – being in a room with a group of creative, inspiring, bright people that have come together to create assessments that are focused, purposeful, and challenging.  It may not have looked fancy and we had to pay for our own lunches, but what we did in one day – was nothing short of amazing professional development. 

We all have the ability to do this type of soul searching professional development with peers that inspire us.  We can do it each week with thoughtful and intentional lesson planning.  We can talk to other dedicated professionals and ask for their input, their insight, and their opinions.  We can change how we have done things in the past to incorporate what we know is best for our students. It is part of being fully present.  It is part of loving what we do.  It is part of being highly effective educators.

My thought for today is… #JustDoIt !  You will be so glad that you did.

Lisa perfectly captures the unbridled joy of learning.  When you are you are driven from within the reward isn’t the professional development hours you receive, the possible payment you may be given for time spent writing curriculum or the accolades or praise from others, but rather the joy one has when they know they have met the target… the achieved synergy of ideas that affirm why we do what we do… the flip of a switch that makes the struggle getting there the energy that drives one to keep going.

dan pink flip switch quote

I too am reading Learning Targets by Moss and Brookhart.  What is exciting to me is I read this once before shortly before I learned about #geniushour in the spring of 2013.  I really liked what the book was saying, but I wasn’t sure how to do it.

learning targets

It did plant a seed.

The student being self-directed and assessing their own learning stuck with me.

It became a reality in the spring 2013 when I implemented #geniushour in my classroom.  For some reason, I was able to play out much of the approaches suggested in Learning Targets first through a situation where each student had their own designed target for learning.  I learned a lot about being specific as I coached my students and refined the process of feedback from me and their peers.

feedback book

This spring, a full year since I read Learning Targets the first time, I wanted to learn more about effective feedback.  I shared this desire with a mentor, Principal Cathy Sager, who recommended I read Feedback: the Hinge that Joins Teaching and Learning by Pollock.  This further refined my thinking and practice on feedback.  One of the most convincing arguments for student led feedback was in a story about a high school teacher, Ian Mulligan, who, at first thought the process of student led feedback would take too much time.  What he realized was “when students sought and received peer feedback frequently in class, there were fewer interruptions or disruptions, and students stayed more focused so they actually covered more material more deeply than before.”(Pollock, p.52)

While reading Feedback  I visited Coppell Middle School East to observe Results Only Learning Environment(ROLE).  I saw the power of good scripted feedback.  I was obsessed.  I wanted to consume anything and everything that could create a learning environment where learning was purposeful, effective, focused and, most of all, student-driven.

I was having FUN, much like Lisa.  FUN knowing that I was putting the pieces of a puzzle I began long ago.  This puzzle started when I studied the Autonomous Learner Model by George Betts in the late 90’s.  Then the puzzle took a more definable shape when I found a way to take the benefits of what happened in #geniushour and apply it to concepts and targets in content we are responsible to teach through the discovery of the ROLE approach.

It doesn’t stop there.  I continue to learn via conversations, conferences, Twitter and blogs (just like Lisa). But the biggest “Aha!” has been as I re-read Learning Targets while reading Drive by Daniel Pink.  Pairing the practical “how to” of Learning Targets with the philosophy of Drive has me sleep deprived IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SUMMER and I don’t care.  Why?  Because I can’t wait to share and work alongside teachers like Lisa as we transform instruction. My mind won’t stop thinking of the possibilities.

ROLE book

What is even more crazy is that I am reading another book called ROLE Reversal by Mark Barnes (If you want to join me I will be hosting a book chat July 29th- September 2nd: https://sites.google.com/a/nisdtx.org/role-reversal-book-study/) .  It seems to take the philosophy of Drive and research of Learning Targets and melds the two into a dynamic that results in a complete overhaul where the best of how 21st century learners construct knowledge is met.

I continue to hold true to my “one word” FOCUS.  This addresses my FOCUS on student driven learning/motivation.

If we design a learning experience where students are self-driven and self-motivated as discussed in Learning Targets, Drive, and ROLE Reversal then they should be having just as much FUN learning and growing as Lisa and I do.  They will truly have developed a #growthmindset.

How are you having FUN in your personal professional development this summer?  As Lisa suggested, #justdoit!

ROLE Reversal Observed

ROLE book

A few months ago I was introduced to the ROLE approach via a discussion with 7th Grade English/Language Arts Teacher, Sara Hutson.  She had been talking with friend and fellow colleague, Kat Julian, an 8th Grade English/Language Arts Teacher at Coppell Middle School East, from Coppell I.S.D..

After Sara shared her contagious curiosity about this instructional philosophy and approach, I wanted to learn more and turned to my Twitter PLN.  Very few were familiar or had implemented the approach, but many were intrigued.  I turned my search to the internet.  I found some information and learned that ROLE (Results Only Learning Environment) derives its approach from Daniel Pink’s Drive philosophy on motivation which inspired the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) approach in the work place (I curated resources in Pinterest and ScoopIt).  In both ROLE and ROWE the premise, from what I learned so far, is based on the following:

1) the individual (not the boss/teacher) setting goals

2) working toward those goals with set checkpoints or deadlines

3) continuous feedback and purposeful reflection guided by the teacher/boss connected to the checkpoints/deadlines

4) self assessment of goals achieved/mastery of task(s)

I was intrigued and as curious as Sara was at this point.  Together we made plans to go and see ROLE in action.

Upon arrival to Coppell Middle School East, it looked much like any other Middle School, active, social and bursting with teenage energy.  We were escorted to Kat Julian’s classroom.  She had introduced us to the idea and was now sharing how it played out in the classroom.  As we walked in students were working on MacBooks and iPads bringing a year long PBL into its final stages for presentation the last week in May.  Some student groups were in the hallways recording, others were working together on one product, while others were in sitting in groups but working on individual components of their group PBL.  No one was off task, no one was asking the teacher what they should do next.  They all were self-driven, self-directed and self-reflective.  How was this self-regulated learning just happening?

We soon found out.  The vertical team of English Language Arts Teachers at Coppell Middle School East, had worked hard, struggled, re-structured, and ultimately succeeded to get to this point.

The team: Kat Julian, 8th grade; Megan Boyd, 7th; Laura Melson, 6th grade; and their principal, Laura Springer.

First, the entire team had the following: same planning time, support of their principal and school board, and one school day per six weeks to meet, collaborate, brainstorm, vertically align and problem solve.  Secondly, the team was also directly trained by the author of ROLE Reversal, Mark Barnes who has continued to support them throughout this whole process.

Most importantly, they were intentional and purposeful in how they presented the ROLE approach to both students and parents.

Parents were supplied a “Standards Card” that lists all the standards students are expected to work toward mastery throughout the year.  Students are expected to self-report on their learning, and “negotiate” their level of mastery and provide evidence that they are progressing toward the learning goals for the year every 6 weeks via a one to one grade conference with their teachers.  Teachers create an open Google Doc Spreadsheet that shows the standards addressed, feedback and whether or not mastery was met.

Parents have access to the Google Doc at all times.  They have several tasks throughout the year and goals, but there is one year long PBL all students are expected to complete.  The PBL focused on individual learning first, then group terms are set (a rubric is always present to establish terms… teacher written early in the year, then later student written), and finally collaboration of research occurs with students in their groups that leads them to a final PBL product.  In all cases the teacher is a facilitator and provides feedback at certain deadlines.  The teacher is not the supplier of information.

Feedback from the teacher follows the process of 1)Summarizing what learning is evident 2)Explain what has met mastery 3)Re-direct what may not have met mastery and 4)Provide new deadline date to Re-submit work.

Most would ask next… does it work?  Answer: A resounding yes!  While it isn’t just about a state test, this approach seems to have not only addressed the whole learner developing a passion driven learner, but resulted in unprecedented results on the state test.  In the 8th grade ROLE classes 100% of students passed with 80% scoring at the advanced level. Additionally, of these students 62% improved or showed growth from the previous year. Even more than that was to observe the self-directed, self-regulated, self-motivated passionate learning driven by the student at a depth that I knew was possible but had not seen fully realized with such a large amount of students.

Furthermore, in the 7th grade Mrs. Boyd saw tremendous improvement in her students’ with their campus 25 book campaign.  As we observed in this classroom, students were evaluating their year long reading logs.  Students had consistently read, recorded their reading, written a recommendation posted to the class blog and reflected on their reading.  Many moved from only reading 2 or 3 books the previous year to reading 25-30 books this year.  When asked why were they more successful, students remarked that it was because they had consistently evaluated themselves in their feedback conferences with their teachers and had their fellow classmates blog recommendations that helped them find books of interest.  The day we were observing students were creating their celebration picture.  We were able to grab a few to share.  I did not have these students myself, but I was overcome with emotion as I saw the excitement of students as they proudly shared their achievement.  Additionally, without provocation they shared the understanding they had gained about the correlation between abundant reading and their writing. (Insert the cheering and applause of every English Language Arts Teacher HERE!)

ROLE reading goal 2 ROLE reading goal

To see this all in action and working successfully was amazing and fantastic.  I am anxious to see this happen in my district.  I know it is possible.  We already have so many pieces that lend themselves to this approach. We utilize the workshop model, PBLs, document based questioning, and standards based bulletin boards to move emphasis from a grade focus to mastery of skills. Watching students be self-regulating, self-motivated and self-directed with intense passion and commitment I am eager to see how it could be implemented.

I am eager to read the book ROLE Reversal by Mark Barnes and learn with others via my PLN and fellow district colleagues about this student focused approach to learning.

What are your thoughts on ROLE?  Do you have experience with this approach?  Please share your thoughts, ideas and comments.