Friday, December 19, 2014


Deeper learning is about transfer. The ability for kids to develop skills, knowledge, and ideas, so they can be transferred to fresh situations without the need for an adult facilitator to make that happen. Deeper learning is certainly more complex than just transfer, but it is at the center of excellent learning opportunities for kids. Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing the type of project that allows for this transfer to occur and the irony of it was that it was on the topic of heat transfer. Two incredible science teachers at Hixson Middle School included in their learning about heat transfer, the opportunity for students to launch hot air balloons as a means of gathering data, both numeric and observational, about what heat transfer looks like in a real-world setting. It was great to see the student engaged, empowered, and energized throughout this learning project. 

A Quick Build Hot Air Injector

The Blue Skies Were an Amazing Backdrop for Watching the Balloons

This Students Reaction Made My Visit

The Two Teachers Involved Were Awesome 

The December Cold Was a Secondary Lesson in Heat Transfer

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Design, Create, Make

Affton continues to work to build a culture of students spending more and more time designing, creating, and making. We are seeing increases in engagement and the fresh energy in the schools is noticeable. Coordinator of 1:1 Programming Manuel Herrera has taken the lead in this work. He is facilitating more and more sessions where kids are designing, creating, and making. Below is his guest post.

by Manuel Herrera

Over the past few weeks, our Project Lead the Way Bio Medical students, have been working on a Design Innovation project for their semester presentation. For this project, instead of just designing an innovative product on paper to be included in their presentations, these students are able to do some rapid prototyping using two new pieces of technology at Affton High School, the Dell Chromebook 11 and our Lulzbot 3D printer.

The 3D printer allows any student to design a product or model using free 3D modeling software on their Chromebooks. Within a couple of hours, the student can then have a physical object in their hands that they designed. The power in students prototyping their products is that they are able to experience the design process. This includes some groups going through a deep brainstorming process to identify a product while others drafted numerous iterations of their designs before they found one that was suitable for their client's needs.

Building structures with texture

Layer after layer the students see their ideas grow

Prototyping a new type of arm braces

Tinker cad serves as great design software

Problem solving around the finding the right temperature
for the 3D Printer provided real problem solving

Design and drawing is both low-fi and high-tech

Students taking control of their learning

Dell Chromebooks are being integrated into the process. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Power of Digital Story

This article was originally published for Edutopia on December 15, 2014.

Telling our story is an essential part of our humanness. It allows us to feel part of the community that knows our story, and it fosters empathy for those that surround us. Story is a powerful force in shaping mental models, motivating and persuading others, and teaching the lessons of life. Telling story extends back to a time when oral history dominated the tools of communication. And now the flood of technology tools that allow for instant communication has spun us back into a golden age where story again dominates the media landscape.

Digital stories, now both easy to produce and simple to publish, are an ideal way to energize learning and engage students at a deeper level. Digital storytelling creates space for students to pursue topics about which they are passionate, grows their learning around assigned topics, and showcases their learning for peers, teachers, and audiences beyond the schoolhouse, all of whom are able to interact with the storyteller. To allow the power of story to blossom in learning spaces, it is necessary to focus on a few factors that can maximize its effect.

Create Space for Listening
The world is full of story -- just look at the fire-hose blast of Snapchat images, YouTube videos, and those moments of binge-watching Netflix. The noise of this digital information can be overwhelming. It can create a numbness to the outside world and limit the ability to retain and reflect on essential learning. Because of this, places of learning must be places of listening that allow time and space for the speed of life to be digested in a meaningful way. How have you practiced listening to story as a teacher, and how have you created this space for students? The power of digital story comes from the power of the audience that is genuinely engaged in listening to its message.

Persuade with the Head and the Heart
Digital story works because it fills our heads with engaging emotional rhetoric and paves a compelling reason to act or think differently. Emotion alone doesn't make digital story, as the names, faces, and numbers of the situation round out the message. Without the intellectual hook, the emotional plea can sound hollow and appear to be built on a flimsy foundation. The unique nature of digital story -- with its quick visual displays of information coupled with its engaging images of people, place, and planet -- provides the ideal media for amplifying the impact that comes from seamlessly weaving together these areas.

Lead with the Narrative
Great digital stories are rooted in their narrative. The beauty of digital story is that the narrative follows the same story arc that has always been a part of oral and written story. Helping kids become great presenters and great writers will support their proficiency as digital story creators.

Amplify with Images
A thousand words isn't the true power of images. Great images link story elements, humanize the abstract, and force the audience to see invisible people and places. Images are a gateway into the soul of stories. Digital story creators need to select each image with the same intentionality that each word is chosen for the narrative. Beautiful images allow digital stories to be remembered by more people in a deeper way.

Nurture the Process
Classrooms, schools, and districts that are rich in story will better support the learning of students who are already living in a culture of digital storytelling. Teachers, students, and community members need to feel an environment for learning that promotes voice, shares best practices, and celebrates the best of learning. In addition, the best of digital storytelling comes from the art of iteration. Success comes from publishing, revising, editing, analyzing, and tinkering with the craft. Allow time for adults and students to be a part of this powerful practice.

Understand the Tools
The quality and quantity of web-based tools for creating, designing, and making incredible digital story continues to grow. It is important for classrooms and schools to choose a few tools that work for them based on ease, accessibility, and cost, and take the time to really understand those tools both with and without content wrapped around their use. Currently, there are excellent stories being created using online tools like WeVideo and the editing tools within YouTube. Others are using iPhoto, Garageband, and iMovie to craft stunning digital stories that elicit strong emotion from audiences around the globe. In this process, students also have a chance to learn about the importance of using Creative Commons videos and properly crediting artists for their intellectual property. Some excellent student examples of these tools in action can be seen in Emma Bright's "My Defining Moment", MRH Middle School's "Dauphin Island Reflection", and Ollie J.'s "Eleven by Sandra Cisnaros".

Today's best tools for digital story will quickly become relics, so it is also essential to stay in the conversation, listen to what other educators are doing, and see what kids are using in their own creation space, so that the tools and features being used to create story will stay fresh.

Finally, it is essential to share story, personal and professional, successes and failures, because story inspires story. As we see through the beauty of digital story, idea generation, inspiration, and collaboration can only grow. And, in a larger sense, best practices in education will grow and scale whenever we all release trapped or siloed wisdom into the system.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Retain, Reflect, Redistribute

This post was originally published for Brilliant or Insane: Education on the Edge at this link:

The words “professional development” have grown a third head that is making it nearly impossible for people to lean into these moments with positive energy and enthusiasm. Words, when beautiful, generate mental models that propel us into action, but words surrounded in legacy baggage, thwart innovation and more. I propose that we have reached a critical moment with adult learning in schools, a moment where we must drop the words professional development and replace them with the a simple and elegant while complex and robust term, learning.

Reflection can come from having participants answer simple thinking routines like “I used to believe…now I believe,” having learners doodle, or even having them complete a blog post to solidify the thinking surrounding the ideas presented. Learning is something all educators can lean into with a fresh passion and energy. Learning is seen as an opportunity to grow. Learning is foundational to our work as educators. The joy of learning is often what has brought most educators to enjoying their daily role in the classroom. What if we were purposeful about calling planned adult time together for growth “learning” as opposed to “professional development”. Is it possible that more of us would look forward to these moments? Is it possible that the shift in language could shift the structure, focus, and format of these moments within organizations to fit best practices in learning as opposed to just fitting the mental model of today’s mostly tired, mostly painful professional development sessions.

Would parents and community members better understand our breaks in the calendar if they were called days of adult learning instead of professional development? I know that much of this is just semantics, but words matter. Words can get stale, tired, and cause institutional numbness. The second phase of shifting how we think about adult learning goes beyond just words and focuses on adult learners retaining, reflecting, and redistributing ideas, resources, and concepts that grow out of learning opportunities. We are no longer in a shortage of learning moments for professional educators. Learning is happening non-stop in both synchronous and asynchronous ways, but so much of the learning is forgotten or trapped during the process.

With a focus on helping adult learners retain and reflect on information, the best ideas can transfer from training spaces to learning spaces. In order to support this, we have to give plenty of time for intentional conversation within the learning structure that allows our adult learners space to explain to others their current understanding and assimilate it into their working schema. Too often, the best learning experiences are left in the car on the way home as opposed to celebrated and amplified the next days at school because retention wasn’t an intentional focus.

During adult learning, we need to also build in time for reflection and redistribution. Reflection can come from having participants answer simple thinking routines like “I used to believe…now I believe,” having learners doodle, or even having them complete a blog post to solidify the thinking surrounding the ideas presented. The final piece and the one that has really suffered in most adult learning spaces is the opportunity to release trapped wisdom into the system.

The best ideas, resources, and materials can’t get trapped in one classroom or one school, and it is important that during adult learning, we set aside time to share out to teachers beyond the experience using social media tools as well as other means. Learning is amplified when it scales, and redistributing ideas in an intentional way supports this scaling of learning. Every gathering of learning professionals is a gold mine of ideas that can’t remain trapped if our hope of transforming learning for all kids is to become a reality.

There is always a need to think about fine tuning our experiences surrounding learning including the words that we use to describe it and the opportunities that are created to maximize it.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Call for Support in a Most Difficult of Week

I'm deeply sad. I'm not sure that I realized how much the events of the last 100 days surrounding the Michael Brown death have impacted me. I feeling very deeply for all of the people that this case touching. The list is longer than any conceivable list that we can make. I hurt, both physically and emotionally.

This is going to be a week when the town that I love is torn apart in many ways. To know that it is coming is really hard. It is draining. I find myself growing tearful as images of potential situations flash through my head. The worst pieces of who we are are going to be highlighted all across the country. The media is here to capture their version of the story. In times like these, the loudest voices, both in protest, the media, and online, are rarely the healers. I worry that these individuals will become the voice of my city. They will create the images of Saint Louis that people will remember for a long time, and the work of so many people in community building, education, and social justice work will be marginalized in a time when their wisdom is most needed.

This is a week, more than any other week since I've ever been connected across the country with so educators and friends, that I need your help. I need this week to be one where the people in my network of support are able to remind folks that St Louis is a good place. It has good people. Please remind them that good, healthy, healing work is happening here. Help me paint a counternarrative to the one that will fill our screens. 

Remind them that this is a complex situation, and that there are no simple answers. Remind them that the layers of the mess are dense, thick, and many. Remind them that there are no good jokes or light moments to be made about Michael Brown's death or the struggles in so many urban areas and beyond on the issues of race and poverty.

There are so many good things that are beginning to sprout that can allow Saint Louis to heal and provide a way forward for other communities as well. None of these will be highlighted this week, but please remind everyone that they exist and hope with me that they will prevail.

I need all of you to care about kids deeply this week, and know that people just like you are caring for kids back here in St Louis. Your caring for kids this week will help Saint Louis to heal. It is how you can help. There's plenty of blame to go around.

There are plenty of mistakes that have been made, and there will be plenty more this week. Knowing that there will be more mistakes this week is hard to accept, but we are an imperfect people in an imperfect community.

Please remember that there are good, decent, hard working folks throughout Saint Louis leaning into this messy situation. It will look at times this week that we aren't any closer to a solution or solutions than we were fifty years ago, but this isn't the case. There are coalitions of incredible people, quietly pushing back against repeating the mistakes of the past. Parents are teaching their children differently. Schools are shaping the learning experience differently. Communities are listening differently.

Each of you has a voice. Please support me. Please support us. Please know that supporting Saint Louis will support your community and its healing as well. Let our voices support those without voice. Let our voices support those doing their job the right way. Let our voices support the children of Saint Louis that need more care now than ever.

Choosing Hope and A Way Forward

Last April, I had an incredible opportunity to explore some what if… questions around the way that kids learn and grow. It was a process that allowed me to truly stretch my thinking around what is possible for kids. Since then, I have been carrying around a drawing that synthesized my thinking. I haven’t been able to figure out whether to throw it away, revise and extend it, or share it in draft form. In essence, it is a mess. The kind of mess that comes from my mind as I dream and hope. It is the kind of mess that gets me excited and depressed at the same time.

Here are some of the current highlights of this visual dreaming. We need beautiful places for kids to learn. I was standing waiting for my daughter to finish Girl Scouts last night, and I was noticing how beautiful her school is. I noticed an attention to detail, big windows, and welcoming lighting and colors. There are so many meager school facilities, and this fact is a hurdle to learning that many schools never clear. Our next generation of schools must have walls that inspire, showcase a dedication to the principals of sustainability, and think deeply about items like lighting and acoustics. All kids deserve the soul filling experience of their learning space being their Third Teacher.

Next, leadership is the same, and leadership is dramatically different. Leaders today must be effective curators of information. They must look to amplify their best people and leverage their partners and potential partners so that kids are surrounded with opportunities and experiences. Leaders must listen deeply. At no other time has the noise of life been so loud and this requires all leaders to listen deeply, single out the best stuff, and be open to listening to a variety of ideas and opinions across the spectrum. Leaders need a network to support them in their lonely work, and the same network to provide a transfusion of ideas when the supply is low. My favorite current leaders focus on being cross pollinators and saying “YES and” to the energy of the organization.

 Finally, as I think about the student that I hope sprout from the learning places that we sow, I hope that our each learners have the ability to see. This ability to see into the future just far enough that they can smile, have hope, and long for the journey toward the next day and next week. There are too many part of life that draw the shades of pessimism over our eyes, but learning and school should be a huge beam of sunshine that propels us forward. We need people with a deep optimism surrounding our kids with incredible projects of purpose that will allow them launch in the hope light of life with a bit of attitude that says we can solve anything together.

How can we pursue these things together? What can we change tomorrow to begin these shifts? Why aren't more of us pushing for more conversations about the importance of these things?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Having Parental Privilege

Recently I noticed how much parental privilege that I experience at my daughters' schools. I'm able to go into every parent teacher conference knowing that it will be a happy, caring twenty minutes where the teachers will say wonderful things about my daughter. I enjoy being in classrooms, and I don't have any bad memories about school that haunt me. I have an open line of communication with the teachers, and they enjoy talking education with me. I show an empathy for their work, and they respond with compliments about my parenting. I know how to call my daughters in sick without being questioned, and I understand the rhythm of a school day. It is easy to forget that this privilege exists, and it is even easier to forgot how many families never get even a taste of this privilege. How can we remind ourselves that we have a responsibility to build the capacity of all of our parents, so the school and home can truly wrap around our students.

Friday, November 21, 2014

What Are Dos and Don'ts of a Successful One-to-One Computing Program?

The urgency to implement 1:1 programs in schools has reached a fever pitch. Schools are putting more and more devices in the hands of students for the purpose of leveraging the potential of a technology rich environment. All of these programs are well intentioned, some of them are well planned and organized, and the best are effective in bringing greater engagement to learning and empowering students to grow in deeper ways.

As these implementations take place, many schools are avoiding the same mistakes as those that have blazed the trail, while others have struggled to avoid the pitfalls of implementing a 1:1 program. At the top of the list of these pitfalls are not having the necessary infrastructure to allow for success and poorly executed professional development to support the teachers, support staff, and students as the learning environment evolves through the addition of devices.

Exceptional education, and exceptional 1:1 opportunities for kids are only possible with a well organized program, dedicated leadership, and an attention to the details that help to maximize successes during the initial launch of the program, but digging deeper, we find the true special sauce for excellent 1:1 programming. It lies outside of the actual program; instead, it is found in the culture of the learning organization that is built before, during, and after the 1:1 program is conceived, developed, and implemented. There are three key components.

The first is building a culture of YES. So much energy is sucked out of education by colleagues, leaders, and shadow rules and procedures that prevent new ideas and fresh ways of doing things from being brought to the table for cultivation. This culture of NO happens when a leader is presented with a new idea, and the response is something similar to “let me check with my boss to see if it is OK” or giving the innovator a pile of bureaucracy to complete before moving forward with the idea. In other moments, it is a subtle non-verbal that shows little support for the idea through a lack of listening or failing to give credit where credit is due as new ideas emerge. The culture of YES provides energy, support, and an intensity around removing the barriers to success.

The second is acting swiftly to remove the low hanging fruit that is clogging the system. At the beginning of many 1:1 programs, there are legacy issues surrounding the systems that inhibit technology integration from reaching its potential. Sometimes this is old hardware or leftover work orders. In other scenarios, it is old computers and printers that need repair or wiring that remains a mess. No matter what the issue, before starting a fresh initiative around technology integration, it is essential to build good will and trust through visually removing old issues. This can’t just be handling things from an office or items that can’t be seen as good will and momentum is built through those actions that can be seen and that impact the daily user experience. The future of the next project lies on the back of the last project, and this is the low hanging fruit that builds a culture of excitement surrounding an excellent program.

The third is having a responsive culture to the real needs of end user. Deep empathy as part of a technology department is a rarity, but with a culture of service, technology professionals judge their success only the basis of the success of the teachers and students. In order to make this mindset a reality, technology support personnel must put themselves in the shoes of others and begin to think about how to support as though they were the user of the new tools. Having technology that works is no longer an acceptable threshold because technology integration is only successful when users understand the potential and begin to use technology as a tool for engaging, empowering, and energizing their classrooms. When it comes to finding the right way to nudge a 1:1 program forward insist that a culture of service lies at the foundation of the work.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Right Cause, Wrong Symbol

This is the short version of something that I'm not ready to totally articulate, but I feel a need to begin the process of processing a group of feeling and emotions that have swelled lately. Message, image, and branding matter deeply for a cause. A cause can quickly plateau without the right shape to the cause. This can come from complexity of message or a message that can't be absorbed emotionally by individuals beyond the core of the movement. This can come from the images that surround the cause. Are they images that spark feelings of support or confusion? Are they images that elicit a desire to be vocal with support or only provide tepid support if any at all? I support the causes in which I believe. I support causes that make it hard for people to believe in me. I support causes that have bad messages, images, and branding, but it is a lot harder to support a messy cause, a cause that matters, but a cause that I can see the mistakes from which it will never recover. Rosa Parks is an image that remains in all of us, but would it have been the same for two seventeen year olds. The picture of children being attacked by a water cannon spurred action and disgust, but would it have been the same with grown men in this picture. Disruption will happen, and people and stuff will be damaged, but does this movement have the right stuff to make a difference, to make the changes that our society needs, to lift our conversations and bring solutions. Things are going to get messy, and all of this is messy. I want to have the right symbols for the right cause, but for now, I've left with the wrong symbols for the right cause. I'm leaning in, but it isn't easy.

Friday, October 31, 2014

What is the Your User Experience?

There has been a lot of buzz this week about the educator that spent two days as a students, and how it totally reshaped their perspective on miserable the life of a student can be in many of our classrooms. For me, it was validation that we aren't beginning all of our work with empathy at the heart of the process. Design thinking requires us to deeply understand the user experience and to truly solve for their needs. How could we reshape the minutes of instruction in our learning spaces if the user experience was truly at the core of our planning? How can we flip our work as instructional designers to not start with the stuff, but start with user experience. It seems like this needs to be at the core of all of our conversations. When we forget about those that we are supporting, this VIDEO becomes the outcome of our efforts to give folks new things and supports without their central needs at the core of the solution.

Lesson Planet- Building a Culture of YES

One of the most important changes that has come to my work as the Director of Innovation is the opportunity to say yes more often. As I principal, I was always excited about new ideas, and I was quick to support and promote them, but there were times when I had to pause and ask others for approval knowing that they were much more cautious with moving forward with new ideas to support kids. In my current role, saying yes has become a natural extension of leading the incredible educators dedicated to supporting kids at new levels. Saying yes has had a major impact on the positive energy throughout the district as ideas become valued and new opportunities become reality for teachers and students. Look around the walls of your school or district. If the word no is found on posters and other documentation, are you truly maximizing the culture of yes in your learning space? Consider saying yes with more frequency this winter and see what emerges from these simple three letters.

 Below is a video that I did with the great folks at Lesson Planet about building a Culture of Yes. Check out the video and their resources.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Future Ready Means Focusing on a Connection to People, Planet and Place

Connected Learning may some day devolve into a buzz word, but the need for connection in learning will never diminish. It has been with us since the earliest learning, and it will remain a part of the learning in whatever form it takes in the future. Connection takes on different forms in our learning ecosystem including connection to people, planet, and place. Connection allows us to find our tribe and grow our tribe in diverse ways. This connection to people, both near and far, tempers the loneliness that can come from the vastness of our global society. This personal connection is also a key to the sustainability of the learning that is taking place inside the classroom and beyond. Another piece of connection is adhering our souls to the planet. As a global citizens, it is impossible not to have your life impacted by the events around the planet on a daily basis. This is happening to us whether we know it or not, but realizing it and embracing this connection to our global brethren creates order and comfort as we notice the world that surrounds us. In classrooms that are providing opportunities to connect beyond borders, there is heightened engagement and a fresh energy for learning as well as a sense of deep soulful learning. Connection to place is the final piece of the triad. Connected learning, at its core, is both incredibly expansive while also being incredibly intimate. Connection means knowing your neighbor, serving your community, and feeling the power of the place that surrounds the air that you breath. This connection to place allows kids in both rural communities and urban centers to think, dream, sell, market, and solve globally while living locally in a place where connection to family, land, faith, and lifestyle are deep. Kids in community, connected to their sense of place, have an even greater chance to solve the biggest problems of the day because they are grounded as they dream the impossible. Schools and places of learning with true physical connectivity and strong digital infrastructures have a chance to make this connection triad possible in meaningful ways. Schools designing learning with this mindset to think not only about connected learning, but also, connection to people, planet, and place, are the schools that will truly be #futureready for the students, families, and communities that need it the most. For more on #futureready schools, check out this LINK


Change: Learn to Love It. Learn to Lead it by Richard Gerver has been a part of my weekend reading, and I just can't get one sentence out of my head. "It is no accident that, as times become more uncertain and susceptible to change, so our desire grows for the past, for a time of familiarity and security." There has been a tremendous amount of change in education and throughout Affton over the last decade, and it has caused a huge amount of excitement coupled with anxiety. There are many days when I long for the past as well. There was comfort, understanding, and stability in that space. Gerver's book pushed me to remember that even if we could return to the past, it isn't there. That truth is really hard for me, but it reminds me that I need the strength, support, and superpowers in each of you to make the road forward less bumpy and worth it for kids.

Monday, October 6, 2014

14 Years Late

I was listening to some educators talk about 21st century skills the other day. It was a great conversation about getting kids to fall in love with learning again and forever. I realized though that we are actually fourteen years late if we are going to frame the conversation around the term 21st century skills. It may be time to start talking about next practices that are iterations of the best practices that are rooted in research and in the previous successes of our school and other schools. How can we reshape the conversation, grow more reflective in our practices, and transform our practice in short cycles? We should continue to pursue infusing new energy, ideas, and resources into our work each day for the betterment of kids.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Joy of Learning

Over the weekend, I had an opportunity to represent Affton at the Missouri School Boards Association during a presentation about our journey with bringing greater technology integration into our classrooms. It was a great experience, and I said something during the presentation about how too many classrooms around the country squeeze the joy out of learning. When I made it home, a friend had shared this video of a group of preschoolers talking about what they love about learning. It is incredible to listen to their voices. I feel this same energy every time that I visit our early childhood center. I have great hope that the opportunities for kids that are growing around in the district in the areas of creating, making, and designing can support this natural joy of learning. Enjoy the video and remember that all learners, no matter their age, desire joy and playfulness in their learning experience.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Affton and Dell Support Learning

A great piece from KMOV on how teaching and learning is shifting in Affton. Wonderful to have a partner like Dell supporting the journey.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Connected Classrooms

One of my favorite things about last week was seeing the visit of an author to our elementary schools. These connections foster energy and excitement around learning that is hard to replicate without these types of moments. Hundreds of opportunities like author visits, classroom collaborations, and virtual field trips are available on the Connected Classrooms Community. In addition, tons of resources and opportunities are shared daily at two Twitter hashtags that feature Affton teachers, #afftonlearns and #moedchat. You don't have to have a Twitter account to share in these resource rich links. Take a moment to explore during Connected Educators Month.

The Road to the Finish

Twenty runs to go until the New York City Marathon. I was excited about the race, then I watched this video, and I'm over the moon pumped about the opportunity to experience New York through its marathon. There is a unique connection to the towns in which you run, suffer, and smile. From Tulsa to Little Rock to Chicago to New York, each of these cities have memories that can only come from being a marathon competitor in those cities. This training cycle has been a little different for me. I've been running four days a week with increased miles, not because I'm hoping for a better time, but because I want the journey to the finish to be tough, fulfilling, and an adventure. I've had more memorable training runs than ever this cycle. Less than 40 days until the finish line.

The Road To The Finish from StoryView on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Innovative Leadership Challenge

During a beautiful run at elevation in Colorado, I was listening to a podcast that mentioned Brad Gustafson's efforts create a Digital Leadership Challenge for the principal in Minnesota and beyond. It was built on a set of activities that principals and teacher leaders could take to build their capacity to be digital leaders. It remains a great way for leaders to grow into connected leaders, and I encourage you to visit the link.

This idea propelled me to begin building a similar challenge for leaders looking to grow in the area of innovation. To make this a reality, I partnered with allies at An Estuary. They are an organization providing innovative ways to blend, connect, and deepen professional learning. I encourage you to explore their site, build a profile, and explore the many ways that they offer great learning.  A bit more about their work can be viewed on this video.

My contribution to the site so far is the Innovative Leadership Challenge. It is a set of four challenge created for school, district, and classroom leaders that are looking to push into fresh innovative spaces. When you log into the site, you are eligible for a beautiful badge for your learning accomplishment after you have accumulated 16 points out of the 24 points available in the challenge. The four categories for the innovative leadership challenge are: engage, empower, excite; 'making' a difference; growing connected; and core courage.

I encourage you to try some of these activities, share them with friends, and begin a fresh road to innovative leadership in your schools.

Engage, Empower, Excite

Permeable Classrooms- 3 Points
One of the strongest ways to engage, empower, and excite learners comes from using a plethora of "classrooms". Innovative leaders are supporting learning outside, outside in the community, and outside of the community. These efforts begin to close the experience and opportunity gaps for students. To earn three points, support students learning beyond the classroom through resources, materials, and partnerships.

Passion Based Learning- 2 Points
Student learners have increased engagement when they have an opportunity to spend time working on projects in which they have passion. Innovative leaders are finding ways to adjust the schedules, routines, and bells to allow students space to engage deeply in their learning. To earn two points, gather a group to study and implement fresh time in the learning day to maximize student engagement through passion-based learning.

Student Voice- 1 Point
Innovative leaders know the power of student voice. Too often, school is done to students without their input as a part of the system. Student voice empowers students and brings new perspective to leaders. To earn one point, scheduling a listening session with a student group to bring their voice to the forefront.

"Making" a Difference

Rethinking Space- 3 Points
Making requires fresh instructional thinking which is often hard to achieve in the traditional classroom. Community makerspaces are open creative places that provide the tools, energy, and collaboration for new ideas to flourish. To earn three points, select a pilot space that will serve as a place of making. Begin plans to: communicate about the space, purchase resources for the space, and involve students in the planning.

Design Thinking in Schools- 2 Points
Making in schools is often linked to design thinking, a system of thinking, that brings ideas and solutions to life through making. Innovative leaders are finding ways to integrate design thinking into a variety of subjects and curriculum. To earn two points, watch the dSchool Crash Course with a colleague and brainstorm how this process can add to your classroom, school or district.

Create Something- 1 Point
The Maker Movement is bringing new life to creativity, design, and innovation. Making brings choice to learning and summative assessment. To earn one point, find a space of making (art, shop, music studio, television studio), relearn the space, and create something for yourself.

Growing Connected

Learning Beyond The Comfort Zone- 3 Points
Inertia, momentum, and habits drive our daily work as leaders. Breaking this commands ongoing attention and thinking about your thinking. Use this realization to reach out for new connections in learning. "Lateral Capacity Building" allows us to reshape our mental models. Earn three points for making fresh connections outside of education that can support the mission of your work.

Exploring a New Communication Media- 2 Points
Telling the story of your classroom, school or district is an essential part of communicating the excellent learning taking place. Many innovative leaders are using a variety of communication tools to make this a reality. To earn two points, choose a fresh tool and begin to use it for telling your story because if you aren't telling the story, someone else is.

Listing Your Allies- 1 Point
Leadership can be lonely, and the marketplace of ideas nurtures the work of all leaders. One important question for all innovative leaders is, "Who are the ten people doing your job better than you are learning with?" Earn one point for listing ten people that fit in this category that you are currently learning with or that you would like to learn with?

Core Courage
Starting the Big Shift- 3 Points
Most leaders have an idea that they believe could truly be a game changer in their learning space. It sits there waiting for the perfect moment, a moment that will never arrive. The courageous leader is able to craft the culture, resources, and momentum to begin making this possible. What is your game changer? Earn three points for taking the first vibrant actions to make it possible.

Failing Forward- 2 Points
All leaders have projects and ideas that fall flat. The courageous leader is nimble, recognizes that a change is necessary and pivots. What project or idea has fallen flat and need to be abandoned or recrafted? Earn two points for publicly recognizing the need to pivot and start down a fresh path (failing forward).

Conversation and Reflection- 1 Point
Making decisions is a daily part of the lives of leaders at all levels. Growing as a courageous leader often comes from going back to a situation after the decision to discuss it with the person or people that didn't like the decision. To earn one point, return to these people or person and review and reflect on the tough decision that was made.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


October is Connected Educator Month, a month dedicated to celebrating and supporting educators on the journey to connect their classroom to deeper learning. For many, this comes through an artful integration of technology tools into the classroom that allow for greater collaboration and creativity, and for others excellent teachers, this means connecting students to the community, culture, and the learning opportunities that surround the everyday in our hyperconnected world. All of these efforts to have a connected classroom begin with being a connected educator, someone who learns and grows from those around the world in education and beyond who are bringing ideas and innovation to kids. How are you more connected than last October? How would you like to be more connected? How can we help you grow your connected classroom for kids?

Monday, September 8, 2014

ALS Challenge-Once more into the wild

Just heard from Mike that he had an incredible trip. I'm so happy that his life has been an adventure. He has experienced so much beauty, so many amazing things. It is hard to know that the end of the journey will be one filled with so much pain and suffering. Hope that you take a moment to read this incredible story of courage, living life big, and friendship. This story was originally posted here.

Gardiner man with ALS embarks on what may be his final wilderness journey

By WHITNEY BERMES, Chronicle Staff Writer

Mike Yochim asked for help up from a blue chair in his living room with windows overlooking a cloud-covered Electric Peak. Using a walker, he slowly moved across the room to the staircase. The 47-year-old pushed the walker into the corner and slowly started walking down the steps, using the handrails for balance. “I’m going to be right in front of you, just in case,” said Yochim’s friend, Sean Miculka, a few steps ahead. Yochim descended gingerly past framed photos of his many outdoor adventures -- from the Grand Canyon and Tasmania to his beloved Yellowstone. Once downstairs, Miculka helped Yochim into the garage, where Yochim’s blue recumbent tricycle awaited him. The custom-built tricycle has been Yochim’s main source of exercise since being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

Yochim pedaled the block or so down a dirt road to Miculka’s house. His friend walked next to him along the way. There, the two met up with Josh Becker and Eric Compas, who stood amid a kayak, a canoe and piles of gear that would eventually be loaded into the two boats. The day before, Becker and Compas flew in from Minnesota and Wisconsin, respectively, to prepare for a week-long adventure in Yellowstone National Park with Yochim and Miculka. The trip will likely be Yochim’s last into the wilderness.

Starting with the National Park Service in 1986, Yochim’s career included several summer and winter seasons giving bus and snow coach tours. In both Yellowstone and Yosemite, he worked in planning, including snowmobile issues in Yellowstone. Yochim earned his master’s degree at the University of Montana and received his doctorate in geography at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. His dissertation was turned into two books, “Yellowstone and the Snowmobile” and “Protecting Yellowstone: Science and the Politics of National Park Management.” Yochim’s love for the outdoors is insatiable. He routinely hiked more than 500 miles each year and has hiked all 1,200 miles of trails in Yellowstone and most of the trails in Grand Teton National Park, the Gallatin National Forest, the Shoshone National Forest and the northern half of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. “He’s done a tremendous amount of backcountry hiking,” Compas said.

The first ALS symptom Yochim detected was trouble with his speech. It was February 2013. At first, the issues were nearly undetectable by his loved ones. “Only I could tell,” Yochim said. “But by the end of that month, it was obvious.” In addition to problems speaking, Yochim’s small muscles began twitching endlessly, and he had an enhanced tendency to cry. Last September, Yochim was diagnosed with the disease. Commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms of the disease, which come in multiple forms, include muscle weakness, twitching and cramping of muscles, thick speech, shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing and walking, and weakness in hands, legs, feet or ankles, among others. 

An estimated 30,000 Americans may have the disease at any given time, according to the ALS Association. Life expectancy for those diagnosed with the disease is two to five years on average. There is no cure. Since Yochim was diagnosed, the disease has slowly but steadily progressed. As recently as March, Yochim could hike 10 miles a day with 2,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. “Now I struggle to walk 5 feet unaided,” he said. He uses a walker all the time and has an electric wheelchair on order. “My speech and swallowing ability are hanging in there,” Yochim said, though people do have a hard time understanding him. “My fingers are so weak, I can’t pull the stems off of cherries or button my shirts,” he said. Yochim hired a housemaid who helps clean his two-story home in Gardiner, where he lives alone. He’s added railings and handles throughout the house to help him get around. Friends and family have stepped up to help since his diagnosis. “How blessed I am to have so many nice friends and parents who are up to the task,” Yochim said.

 However, he said this winter he might move to Missouri to be with family to get care full time. But one of the biggest adjustments? Slowing down. “I’ve had to adjust my routine and expectation that everything will take a lot longer,” Yochim said. “A lot longer.” Lunch takes an hour, as does showering and getting dressed in the morning. “Because everything takes so long, I have less and less time to relax,” Yochim said. “ALS is worse than almost any cancer,” Yochim said. “No hope, no effective treatment, only imprisonment in one’s own body. This is partly because there has not been much funding for research. “Until now,” he said. “This ice bucket thing is the biggest cause for hope that ALS sufferers have ever had.”

Last Friday, Yochim and his crew started their trip at Bridge Bay on Yellowstone Lake. From there, they took a shuttle to the tip of Promontory Point. Outfitted with one kayak and one canoe, they plan to travel southeast along the lake, stopping at campsites for two nights at a time. This Friday, the group will come out at Sedge Bay along the park’s east entrance road. Despite his physical setbacks, Yochim, as he has always done, had a heavy hand in organizing the trip. In January, the plan for August’s trip had been to be a hike. Due to Yochim’s deterioration, however, they decided this spring to change it to a horseback trip. But Yochim’s neck couldn’t handle the motion on a horse. So then it became a boat trip.

As the crew prepared for their journey Thursday, they each talked about what the adventure means to them. All agreed on one thing. It’s bittersweet. It will be the first time the four take a trip into the wilderness together, but the reality is it’s the end of an era for Yochim. “I don’t even want to say it to myself,” Compas said. “This is probably going to be the last wilderness trip I take with Mike.” “There’s a sense of urgency that this trip happen,” Becker said. “It’s huge on a lot of levels,” Miculka said. As he listened to his friends talk about the importance of the journey they were to embark on the next day, Yochim quietly cried, softly wiping away tears with a tissue.

Growing up, Yochim spent time camping in national parks with his parents and three brothers. It’s where Yochim’s passion for the wilderness, for learning about it, for protecting it, for spending time in, it began. “I wanted always to preserve and protect those attributes that I found, and still find, to be so compelling -- beauty and wilderness,” Yochim said. “And that’s in part what I hope to encounter on this trip. To soak up as much of Yellowstone’s magnificence and tranquility as I can, so that when I am confined to a wheelchair, I can close my eyes, bring that beauty and wildness to mind, and smile and relax.”

Whitney Bermes can be reached at or 582-2648. Follow her on Twitter at @wabermes.

Feeling Learning Deeply

When was the last time that you learned something that was soul-filling? Do you remember how it felt? Do you remember the smallest of details in a way that you don't normally do? Did it bring a smile? Did it leave you wanting more? I wonder when the last time that our students have learned at this deep level. I wonder when the last time that experience happened at school for them. Is it too much to ask to strive for moments of soul-filling learning? Are we just in a place when the demands are too great and the time is too short for moments like this to happen in classrooms? Soulful learning feels so good and has such a lasting impact on our desire to learn more. I hope that we haven't given these moments away to chance or luck. I hope that our kids hope for these moments to happen with us each day.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Shift- Adult Learning Right

Transforming adult learning needs to be front and center as we continue our conversations about enhancing the learning experience for kids. Too often, professional development is conducted with inertia, habit, or laziness, and the results are dismal.  All humans learn deeply when they are actively engaged in the learning process through conversation, movement, and designing solutions. Many talk a good game when it comes to delivering these best practices, but few experiences leave learners fulfilled. Over the course of the last five years, educators throughout the country have taken back the leadership of their learning and have built a new path forward. Learners are leading learners in meaningful real-time conversations about what matters to them in a supportive culture that promotes innovation, best practices, and ideas. This philosophy sits at the heart of every edcamp experience. From the weekend experiences of edcamp to the use of the model in districts and with staffs, this opportunity to learn is breaking the cycle and building a new direction for meaningful adult learning. edcamp learning is experiential. It requires your voice and participation. Lean in to something new, different, and meaningful for kids. Be a part of a movement to change adult learning for the betterment of all of our schools. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Patience and Perseverance

In April of 2005, I ran my first marathon in Saint Louis. It was a grueling race. I remember each mile vividly. That same day, I told my wife that I had run my one and only marathon.  This November, I will be running number 10, the same age as my oldest daughter, Ellie. I hope that my dedication to training and perseverance when things are difficult are traits that she will choose to model over her next ten years. 

I'm super excited for the 26.2 miles through all five boroughs at the New York City Marathon. Time to go. Got a training run to complete. 

P.S. This was my fourth year of applying to run, and after four years, they feel sorry for even the slow guys like me, and they let us into the race. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Martin Institute Summer Learning 2014 - A Post Allowed to Simmer

Apparently, I forgot to publish this post in June. This was my third time attending the Martin Institute Summer Conference in Memphis. I'm always impressed by the learning here. It was actually the place that allowed my connection to the Davis Academy to begin. I worked with them today to bring some primary sources to their conversations about race, #ferguson, and the links between today's struggles and the oppression in Birmingham in the sixties. It was one of those conversations born out of passion, risk-taking, connected learning, and a bit of serendipity. 

My presentation on connected learning was only the beginning of the connections
that have been built since June. 
Rafe Esquith had a compelling story, and he reminded me that I should always show
appreciation for the village around me. 

The power of Project Based Learning was on display. Courageous teachers are connecting kids through
choice, voice, and authentic audience.

Alice Parker might be the best teacher on Earth. Heart of gold. Passionate for learning..
Learn from her each moment, and she handles my silliness. 

Jill Gough reminds me to level up everything. There isn't anything that can't be done
 with math and best practice, and I believe her. 

Jaime and Lee have taken this event to a new level, and they will be missed, and look there is a Ron Berger.
He is the zen master of teaching. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Who's Telling Your Story

Wanted to share a piece of Chapter 14 of the new book: Engage, Empower, Energize: Leading Tomorrow's Schools Today. I know that I've talked a lot about it, but never shared the tone and flow of a chapter. Half of the book tells the fictional story of Brad, a principal that is choosing to lead his school after years of just managing it into mediocrity. The second part of the book (actually it is every other chapter) provides rationale, resources, and ideas on ten areas that help connect kids to their learning. 

From Chapter 14- Who's Telling Your Story. 

Incredible things were hatching at Brad’s school. He was experiencing a new sense of energy in students, teachers, and parents. He was also truly enjoying the hard work that goes with leadership. He was working harding, but feeling better. The grind that is an essential part of school leadership was now filled with moments of innovation, great conversations, and students involved with the projects in which they are passionate. Brad knew that he had to seize this energy, and begin to make sure that the incredible work that was being done throughout the school was being archived, celebrated, and shared throughout the community. Brad had always believed in the power of story, and he knew that it was important in so many ways to begin to the craft the narrative of the learning at the school. Schools throughout his community were continuing to get bashed for poor test scores, poor handling of finances, and a number of other nagging issues. Each of these stories were building a boat anchor around the possibilities of greater innovation, and Brad knew that if the community at large could see or hear the work happening at his schools that some space would be created for first his teachers, but for the teachers throughout the area in general. In addition, Brad knew that helping his students learn the art of storytelling would be a lifelong skill that would transfer from career to career and from passion to passion.

Brad was looking for a way for both student voice and excellent student work to come to the forefront. He examined a number of tools and options before stepping forward with a two-fold concept for capturing the stories of his school. The first would be an electronic portfolio for each of his students that captured video, text, and artifacts of student learning. Many of these items would be harvested by the school for use in its communication with parents, the community, and beyond, but it would have at its core a student-designed portfolio that would maximize creativity within a structure that could be scaffolded to meet the needs of all students. The electronic portfolio captured the best of the examples of learning as well as provide a place for reflection for students. The second phase would be having each students build a capstone video that showcased a piece of how they had grow in their thinking, interest/passion, and strengths over their time at the school. This digital story would serve to showcase their technology integration skills, ability to craft a compelling narrative, and build a strong visual representation of their story.

Rolling out the electronic portfolio required an intense about of communication by Brad. He worked with a variety of teacher groups including a visioning committee, each of his academic teams, his teachers that taught students outside of the core subjects, and a final polishing and design group. In typical Brad style, he accelerated the timeline to complete the e-portfolio because he couldn’t imagine another student leaving his school without this experience, but even with this accelerated timeline, it took about nine months to bring a workable e-portfolio to the students that encapsulated the vision of the teachers. It was designed from the outset to be a public document with private spaces. The teachers and students involved with the conversation wanted the electronic portfolio to be both a showcase and a sandbox. They saw a need for final portfolio quality work to be front and center along with space for reflection and writing about these pieces of excellent student work, but they also believed that learning is a process that never ends, so the need to have a space of continuous growth and progress was valued also. Brad worked with the teachers to develop the right spaces of showcase in the electronic portfolio. There was talk about each subject area having a space, but the collective wisdom of the teacher team spoke about the importance of the places of interconnection that exists in their school now that many of the elements of excellent engagement were taking shape, and they wanted to honor is school-wide work, so they decided to build some display spaces that fed this philosophy. Students were asked to add work product to a section about personal growth over time, on excellent student work, on media (books, video, audio, etc.) that they have interacted with and growth through, and a final space to demonstrate creativity and innovation.

Once the the vision of the project intersected with the design, it was time for students to interact with the e-portfolio. The pilot team of students entered information, and discuss the bumps and friction of the new system. It was mostly surrounding the limitations that they had to make the space their own and how some items didn’t drop easily into the system. It had been decided to limit the show space of the e-portfolio that was public to remain heavily branded with the colors of the school as many of these would be shared with a public audience and served a larger purpose than student playground. It became a teaching moment for Brad and his staff as they talked about digital footprint with the students,  first impressions and design.  The feedback that they received went to the design and polishing group that was able to finalize the e-portfolio. Brad has continued to see growth in the students posting final products as well as using their private space to store personal ideas, projects, and learning beyond the school day. These portfolios are now being discussed through the K-12 space in Brad’s district, and he is excited to be receiving students in the future that will have the technology expertise to hit the ground running and grow the quality of their e-portfolio over time.

Retain, Reflect, Redistribute

As we move into our first day set aside for professional development on Friday, it has me reflecting on the barriers that professional development has to being wildly successful. The first is how do we retain information after the session. It is so easy to walk out of the door and back into reality, life, and the next thing on the to-do list. Some say that 50% or more is lost by learners before we walk out the door of a session. The second barrier is time for reflection. The key to adult learning is always just in time learning that has context to a task happening in the near future, but even when this is possible, excellent professional development transfer takes reflection to cement the learning. How can we build reflection into learning so that it is a habit that surrounds our professional development. Finally, professional development often creates trapped wisdom. One teacher learns something, and it is trapped in that classroom. It is essential that new learning is redistributed to others as quickly as possible. This mean sharing with students, teachers within the school, AND to a greater education audience. Let's make professional learning a new level of success by focusing on pushing through the barriers of retaining information, reflecting on learning, and redistributing the new knowledge to others.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Close to Home

Had an opportunity to stretch my journalism legs today as I participating in a Google Hangout with William Chamberlain 's class in Southwest Missouri. I was reporting live from Ferguson, Missouri, the emotionally and physically battered town near the city of Saint Louis.

My hope was to give the students a primary source on the scene, so they could ask questions and have a different lens than that which comes through the television. After one of the most intense nights of clashes between police and citizens, I wasn't sure what to expect.

Here were my initial thoughts.

1. I forgot how close the center of things is to a brand new Schnucks, Target, and Kohls, a half mile makes a ton of difference.

2. There was more media than protesters, and the police didn't have any work to do beyond deterrence.  One odd character was screaming at a group of police officers,  but it was clear that everyone thought it was odd.

3. Volunteers had cleaned the streets and surroundings. It was very clean, almost oddly clean.

4. The boarded buildings created by looters were very obvious. Disappointing to see, but glad to see many had reopened.

5. Being there redoubled my desire for answers, and I realized my patience is going to be a lot longer than those on the ground.

6. The complexity of the situation was obvious. Calm and peace during the day is turning into entertainment for too many in the evening.

Something about being there helped bring me perspective. Something about being there felt like it helped in that we were starting another classroom conversation about trust, justice, and racism. Something about being there was haunting and sad.

Here is a link to the video. It isn't great, but I hope it brought Mr. Chamberlain's students a realism to the surreal. I'm hoping for calm, healing, and justice.

Educators have always played a role in healing and answer finding. Please continue your work in this area for Michael Brown, Darren Wilson, and so many others that need classrooms full of solution seekers.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Engage, Empower, Energize: Leading Tomorrow's Schools Today

It has been a tough four months for my blog. It has been lonely as I have finished two different books that are set for publication. The first is available in a few weeks, and it focuses on leading engagement schools. It has something for everyone including principals, teachers, and parents.

In the next few weeks, I plan to preview parts of the book here in the blog with the hope of giving everyone a taste of the message of the book which is basically that we need to think different about how we serve the learning needs of kids...and adults.

The title of this book almost became The Courage Gap because it appears that this gap is the one that educators need to truly take on if they want to solve any of the other “gaps” that plague our system. Courage for a leader is talked about, written about, but rarely practiced at the level necessary for change. Courage is tiring, exhausting, and filled with professional potholes, but the fruit of courage is an actually chance to make a difference, not in the way that gives leaders just enough stories over their career to call themselves a success, but the kind of difference that can transform a system, create a legacy of excellence for future leaders to follow, and build a greater capacity for the changing needed for our struggle system of public education.

Thanks to everyone that have shown incredible support for my work on this book. It is an incredible dream come true to publish, and I'm super excited for my daughters to read my vision for their learning and learning of all kids.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Rethinking Grading Practices

It is amazing that I wrote this almost five years ago. So much of it remains essential to our work to improving schools. 

There has been a lot of emotional pain along the way said one teacher as we discussed our school's journey into standards based grading, but she was quick to add that it was worth it because she is a much better teacher today because of it. Three years ago, our middle school began to receive students that had become accustom to a standards-based grading environment from their elementary experience. In order to maintain continuity and provide parents and students with more meaningful information through our reporting process, we began creating a system of standards-based grading that could be effective at the middle level. During the investigation stage of this work, a host of issues arose, creating, at times, a tense environment for change . Much of this tension stemmed from asking professionals to truly dig into long standing practices on grading and assessment, and begin to judge their effectiveness in the current standards-based environment. This was difficulty territory to tread, but credit all involved with the process for wisely choosing to value trust. 

After three years of thoughtful examination and challenging collegial conversations, we have found that the greatest impact on learning has come from students learning longer. Many schools struggle with how to keep all students focused on learning until the end of the quarter or semester, and for our school, this is no different. There has traditionally been a group of students that have realized that there lack of performance during the initial weeks of the grading period has doomed their chances to achieve a passing grade during the final weeks of the grading period. This led to disengaged students and a deteriorating classroom environment. These students counted the points still available to them and decided that the effort wasn't worth the reward. In transitioning to standards-based grading, we have eliminated the concept of points, introduced additional opportunities for students to demonstrate their knowledge and learning, and removed the behavior indicators that have co-mingled with academic grades in the past . We are seeing this difficult cluster of students doing work in and out of class right until the end of the grading period, and the benefits are now showing up in our annual state test results in the way of additional proficient students. 

On the other end of the academic spectrum, we are tackling one of the quiet killers of learning, grade inflation. To do this, we have created greater precision in our grading rubrics with careful attention to our demands at the surpassing expectations level. The demands include making connections to previous learning, showing the ability to analyze and synthesize concepts as they relate to current events or real-life problems, and integrating technology.   The benefit has been a greater depth of knowledge for our top students. Students, who in the past, had been able achieve at a top level through the process of "doing school" (i.e. collecting points by turning in everything on-time with no real attention to quality) are now being asked to truly show understanding at a high level for them to earn a top grade. This shift caused some stress with students and parents initially, but the new high standard has been locked in, and the benefits are being seen in the performance of all students especially those at the top. 

The other major impact caused by the implementation of our new grading practices has been the reexamination of our traditional grading practices and a deeper understanding of how assessment and grading impact learning and motivation. One example of this came from a social studies teacher who commented that since the beginning of his career he had used the same system to grade (total point/ point earned), and he had never thought about the implications, the math behind it, or whether it was accurate. He said that he used it because it was all that he had known. While reflecting on how our mindset about assessment and grading was shifting, teachers identified the two important actions that moved our system forward. They were: identifying the essential learning criteria that would be on the report card and removing points and/or averages from the gradebook in favor of rubric-only scoring for all assignments.  

Identifying the essential learning criteria solicited robust conversations about the sequencing of curriculum, how to develop more meaningful learning objectives, and establishing a common understanding of the "have to know" versus "nice to know" elements of the curriculum. Some of the conversations allowed for teachers to make linear progress, while other conversations circled and shifted multiple times. The outcome was a new report card that has a set of criteria that specifically speaks to students' knowledge levels in the essential areas of each class as well as a set of descriptors that speaks to a students' mastery of the behaviors that affect learning such as: completes work, follows directions, participates, and arrives prepared. These new reporting tools have had a positive impact on learning as they have focused our instruction, provided new, meaningful way for communicating with parents and students, and allowed teachers to make stronger connections between activities, learning goals, and assessment. One teacher commented that as we made it crystal clear about what students needed to do to achieve at the very high level, there has been a growing number of students working to reach these high expectations.

Removing points and averages from the gradebook in favor of rubric-only scores was the greatest shift for many of our teachers. The enormity of this change was due to the fact that classroom grading decisions are still emerging from the shadows. After about two years of conversations about whether the new system could work with points, weighting of assignments, weighting of categories, and other legacy practices, we realized that true change would only happen by leaving past practices at the door. This belief allowed our grading committee to recommend that only rubric scores (1-4 with use of 1.5, 2.5, 3.5) would be available for entry into the gradebook. This move has seemed to break our dependency on using points to decide grades, but it has forced us to look at a number of things differently including how teachers' judge success. Teachers have started viewing all assignments, assessments, and individual conferences as opportunities for students to showcase their learning. This shift to a more holistic system of judging understanding has helped to fix many of the fallacies of grading outlined by Ken O'Connor's and Robert Marzano's work on grading.

No systematic change is ever complete, and as the staff continues reforming our grading practices, we are realizing the need to do some things better. They include developing urgency for further grading changes using both data-driven and emotional means, creating the necessary time to have professional conversations about best practices, and owning the inherent limitations of the improved system.   

After three years of intense work on grading and assessment, it would be easy to fall into the trap of shallow implementation. To avoid this, the teacher leaders are refreshing the conversation about why we are changing our grading practices by focusing on enriching our common understandings about assessing students. Included in these conversations are data-rich moments that point to how the system has been successful for students, while still problem-solving around struggling students. These fresh conversations have also reminded us how essential our work is to the success of the children on the margins of the academic system. There is now a feeling that standards-based grading is a cutting edge tool in the fight to eliminate generational poverty, crime, and underemployment.

Time is precious in education, and reflection on our initial two years of professional development on grading brought the realization that for long-term deep implementation to occur, a more laser-like focus was necessary to avoid teacher frustration. To do this, we are narrowing the focus of professional development to three areas: building clear expectations for students on how they can surpass expectations, writing summative assessments that concisely address learning goals, and continuing to assess the quality and quantity of our formative assessments. To create a work environment for this to occur during our monthly staff meetings and early release time, we created varied groups (like subject and grade; like team; whole subject; and heterogeneous).  Each section of the meetings is then divided into threes: providing new information, sharing work samples, and reflection. This focused time paired with the appropriate grouping of teachers has continued to grow our understanding of how best practices in grading and assessment can truly impact both teaching and learning.  

Moving from the idealism of the early stages of implementing a new program to the practical, workable final details can be a tricky maneuver, but most shifts in thinking require a stretch before an organization can return to a new comfort zone. In our work with grading, we are starting to settle back into reality, and for most teachers, it is a place of new growth and better classroom learning, but reality has also asked us to accept the limitations of our new grading system. For example, the new system relies heavily on intrinsic motivation, and it allows retakes, so the responsibility of deadlines is a concern. Another question to still be answered is how do we create every assignment with a means of surpassing expectations. Even with these challenges, the large majority of teachers have been patient with the issues and have remained focused on the positives.   

Growing an organization with as many moving parts as a school takes a tremendous amount of work and attention to detail. There isn't a sense that we have created the perfect system for kids, yet, but the dedication of all of the teachers involved has been tremendous. We are also realizing, with an ever growing intensity, that by only maintaining our current efforts with curriculum, instruction, and assessment, we will never fully maximize our kids' learning potential. Our challenge then is to dedicate ourselves to continuous growth in a way that brings the best practices to all of our students.