Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tying it Together - PLC with a Twist

Our Staff Commitments
My first year has in my new school has been an eventful one.  In the span of eight months, we have created a model for inclusive staff meetings,  co-created a set of staff meeting commitments, asked the shortest questions possible in making our collaborative group modeldeveloped a common vision, co-created a method for understanding our Pyramid Response to Intervention modelbegun to embark on our model of creating a school of deep learning, and have begun to investigate classroom observations through task analysis and "learning to see and unlearning to judge" with the goal of doing Instructional Rounds in our school in the fall.  Not to mention, we sent a group of our department coordinators to the Professional Learning Communities summit in Phoenix in February, and they have subsequently helped to train our entire staff on effective collaboration at our last four full-faculty collaborative sessions.  And today, we tied it all together at an evocative and engaging professional development session that our PD committee put together to consolidate our 'attributes of a graduate' that we will finalize by the end of the year in order to guide our next fall and in the future.

I know what you are thinking.  Just like me.  Enough already.

On Thursday, I made a promise to our faculty.  No more. No more initiatives. No more programs.  As much as it is in my control, there will be nothing further coming from my desk for the staff for the next couple of years.  This is not to say that we will be standing still, in fact quite the contrary: the hard work is just about to begin.  However, I believe that it is time for us to start filling in from the edges.  To borrow the analogy from one of our teachers (@MrJdeVries), much like a large and complex jigsaw puzzle, we have put most of the edge pieces together, and it is time to see how it all fits together for us.

I believe that we now have the key elements to move forward, to co-create, to innovate, to observe, and to reflect.  And I believe that our focus comes through the lens of the four questions of the Professional Learning Community...with a bit of a twist on each one.
  1. What is it that we want students to learn?  In working with our staff, students and community, and in conjunction with the changing curriculum from the BC EdPlan, we are looking at a narrower and deeper set of content standards.  The Twist:  we will be focusing on creating compelling, driving questions and inquiry-based/problem-based tasks that will require students deeper learning in demonstrating these content standards through the attributes that we want for our graduates. Furthermore, beginning with our Grade 8s, we will involve students in the co-creation of these questions and the problems associated with these questions using tools inspired by those such as the High Tech High Project Tuning Protocol so we can maximize student engagement in their learning.
  2. How will we know that they have learned it? We will be augmenting our existing assessments with collaboratively developed formative assessments in our content areas using our collaborative time. The Twist:  We will design and implement rubrics that measure our attributes (such as those from the Buck Institute) and also co-create structures for our students to do presentations of
    their learning.  By doing this, we can more accurately assess student and instructional strengths and weaknesses in both our content and attribute areas to help better meet the needs of our students and provide feedback to our staff.  And furthermore, by having students present their learning, we will develop transferable skills using 21st century tools, provide meaningful accountability, and allow students the flexibility and choice to be creative in demonstrating 'what they know'.
  3. What will we do when they have not learned it?  We have spent a great deal of time on our Pyramid Response To Intervention model, and we continue to assess its effectiveness and brainstorm ideas to change it so it best meets the needs of our students who are not able to demonstrate content
    The Sa-Hali Support Network--PRTI at work!
    outcomes or our attributes.  The Twist:  Using our classroom observations, 'learning to see and unlearning to judge', the Instructional Rounds concepts, and reflection time during our collaborative meetings, we will continue to develop the culture that uses multiple sets of eyes to give us descriptive feedback (our staff, other teachers, pre-service teachers) on departmental and attribute-based 'struggle points' to improve student achievement and pedagogical practice. The one thing we will will not do? Expect less from our struggling students in terms of their ability to do high quality work that requires deep learning.
  4. What will we do when they have learned it?  Honestly, we hope that our students have never 'learned it'--we hope they will have applied their learning in a way that contributes to existing knowledge and creates new solutions.  We hope to have our students as co-authors of curriculum and co-contributors to our knowledge of how students learn best through their being partners with our staff--models such as that used at Farmington High School in Connecticut.  We hope to push our students farther into the community to provide real-life experiences and internships that make the transition from school to post-secondary less of a leap and more of a stride. Perhaps that is not such a twist after all.
We are finalizing our attributes which will guide us.  We have collaboratively developed structures in place to support student learning and educator learning, and a set of co-created commitments that will allow us to work together, as a team.  With this framework and a movement toward deep learning and innovative pedagogical practices, I feel our school is ready to tie all of this together and fill in the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle from the outside to in.  And with a very positive Mid-Year Review from our School Board Office, we are ready to go.

And while things may and will change over the next few years, it is time for us to do the heavy lifting and consolidate our ideas.  

Exciting times are coming!  And we will make this happen together.


  1. This is amazing, Birk.

    I want to work for you.

    Can you send me a digital copy of your RTI plan? It looks awesome.

    Our school is working on something similar and having yours as a sample would really help me.

    You rule,

  2. I followed a tweet/link from Bill (@plugusin) and am so glad I did. It's been a while since I've been inspired by a new voice! Thank you! My school is also doing a deep dive into new content and pedagogy, rethinking everything, and even though we've been given more time for collaboration and PD, it's still not enough to accomplish all that must be done. I would be most interested in learning how you and your teachers maintain a positive, learning attitude? It was also reaffirming to hear you state (and I assume your teachers acknowledge) that the real, harder work of implementing your initiatives is just beginning. Like you, I feel this is one of the best parts of teaching - working to improve my craft and that of my colleagues.

    Yeah. I want to work for you too.

  3. Content is great. You did a great job on this topic!


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