Friday, August 22, 2008

Risk- takers learn by doing: The Road to Change

"A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow" George S Patton

This was the theme of our three day in-service that marks the beginning of our school year. It is a kind of mantra for us and it reflects the catalyst for the changes we have embraced. One of the lessons we learned at NECC this year was that there are a lot of people who really want to move forward and try new things but they are held back because they feel they "do not know" how or what to do. What we discovered was that we did not "know" either but we accomplished a great deal because we went ahead and tried.

We are continuing along this path this year. We understand the importance of educational theories, and the research that informs practice and those certainly are the underpinnings of our vision and our plans. And as a educational leader I have a responsibility to read and do research but the purpose of gaining this knowledge is not to teach it to others but rather to drive school improvement which focuses on student learning. Good teaching we know comes from good planning and is supported by teachers having a firm grasp of their curriculum, well defined goals and an understanding of their students needs. These conditions help teachers be risk takers and give them the time energy and focus they need to be innovators and learners. The question is how do we get there?

Two things that I have been reading about and struggling with for over two years are the concepts of curriculum mapping and Understanding by Design. I have made various attempts to introduce these concepts to the teachers and encourage their use but only with limited success. Perhaps because they were not well scaffolded. Perhaps because I did not not fully understand. Perhaps because I was trying to get it perfect- What is a really good essential question? After watching Chris Lehman do two down and dirty Ubd lesson plans with his audiences at NECC I realized I was trying to hard. To borrow from Nike we needed to "Just do it"! thus was born our 3 day in-service.

This is a salute to an awesome staff and too the ability to move mountains if you have the courage to take risks and believe in yourself.

Day One I gave each teacher a packet of curriculum standards and benchmarks that had been cut apart into slips for each standard and were color coded by subject. Subject by subject they sorted through these slips of paper and marked them 1st quarter, 2nd quarter 3rd quarter or 4th quarter and put them in corresponding envelopes. When the sorting was done on they laid out their year on big tables and looked for cross curricular connection and did some rearranging. Then they filled out a monthly map to make a record of what material they planned to cover. And so Day One was finished and everyone already had a plan of action for the whole year.....

Day Two
- I introduced Ubd- Not with lengthy explanation , philosophy or theory ( they had heard snippets of allof that before) but by using a template and writing a lesson plan together for a unit on California Missions. We worked through stage one and then tried our hand at it. by lunch time everybody had completed stage one the understanding, essential questions content and skills for one topic/ standard. We repeated our mantra- "A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow." After lunch we finished our model lesson with the assessment piece and then the activities. And then it was back to work on their own plans. With much bouncing around of ideas and discussion by the end of the day everybody had finished one complete Ubd plan! Wow!

Day Three- With new confidence and the promise that Sunday nights could be reclaimed from the lesson planning monster we dug into write more plans. We focused on big ideas, why we teach these topics and real world assessments. By days end plans had been written for all of the beginning units and in some cases for the whole quarter. We face the unfolding year with a new sense of purpose. We know that the plans will get adjusted and that we will get better at doing this but we also know we can do it because we have done it. I believe the benefits of these three days will be reaped twenty fold. Already there is discussion about not being tied to the text and having the time and the focus that will allow the exploration of a whole host of other kinds of resources.

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Chris Lehmann said...

So cool!

astryngia said...

I just wanted to highlight this incredibly important statement!

"As an educational leader I have a responsibility to read and do research...

but the purpose of gaining this knowledge is not to teach it to others but rather to drive school improvement."


What a brilliantly useful way to spend three days in training. Good luck with your plans for supporting improvement through risk-taking.

Barbara said...

Thanks Chris and astryngia! I appreciate the encouragement.

Barbara said...

This is a test comment.

attract money said...

coool... great blog !

Mark Walker said...

Next month we start our school year and we too have the first 3 days for curriculum planning.

I would like to add two comments:
- I agree that effective teaching comes from planning based on our knowledge of the students needs, our knowledge of the curriculum content and our understanding of what quality instruction looks like.
- I also agree with the view that no plan is perfect so just do it and adjust as you learn along the journey.

I too work on research to inform my practice which I write about on my blog:

Thanks for the post.