Tag Archive for schoolchange

Book Review and Further Thoughts: From the Ivory Tower To the Schoolhouse

schoolhouse2How much does educational research affect teacher practice? Not much, according to Jack Schneider, Holy Cross assistant professor and author of the new book From the Ivory Tower To the Schoolhouse: How Scholarship Becomes Common Knowledge in Education. Schneider, an educational historian who earned his Ph.D. at Stanford, picks up the torch carried by Larry Cuban and David Tyack for years. As institutions, schools are extremely resistant to change, and reliable pathways for translating research conclusions into practice are largely absent. So, when education practice does change as a result of education research, the reasons are worth close examination!

In the book, Schneider describes a model for the transmission of research-based ideas into practice, based on his study of four innovations that made the leap: Bloom’s taxonomy, Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences, the project method, and direct instruction. Schneider is clear to explain that these four ideas represent the exception, not the norm. Also, the components of Schneider’s model for success hardly comprise a recipe. They are necessary, but not always sufficient, qualities for successful adoption. As Schneider expresses, luck plays a role.

Schneider’s conditions for successful transmission include: the perceived significance of the idea to educators; philosophical compatibility of the idea with current philosophy; occupational realism—the compatibility of the idea with practical constraints of teaching; and transportability, whether the idea can be simply explained and passed on. The four case studies share these qualities. Additionally, Schneider cleverly analyzes four other, research-based ideas that failed to gain adoption but bear striking similarities to the four that did. This provides strong support for the idea that the four identified characteristics are necessary conditions for adoption.Note that the scholarly merit of the idea does not make the list of success factors! With a positive reaction from educators, and a little luck, some research-based ideas tend to find adoption.

While a wonderful historical analysis, the book does not purport to predict the success of current educational innovations or provide a playbook for the design of future innovations. At the same time, I cannot help but wonder how the model applies to other, common educational practices, particularly those that we emphasize at U Prep. How does Schneider’s model apply to formative assessment, for example? Do we find such educational practices attractive because they meet Schneider’s criteria for successful transmission from research to practice?

Formative Assessment

We define formative assessment as actionable feedback on student work that does not count for a student’s term grade. Graded or ungraded, it provides students with insight into their mastery of the content, as well as a sense of direction for what to study more (or better) before the summative assessment. Not counting formative assessment in the term grade allows students to focus on the process of learning and deemphasizes the idea that students have fixed ability.

Perceived significance: Moderate. Teachers I have met almost universally agree that providing feedback on student work is one of their core responsibilities. However, teachers often balk at the idea that grades for ongoing work would not count in a student’s term grade.

Philosophical compatibility: The core idea of formative assessment is relatively compatible with common teacher opinions about student work. It’s hard to argue against feedback, and it makes sense that a student’s first assessment should provide signposts for subsequent work instead of affecting their term grade, which should reflect mastery achieved.

Occupational realism: The simple version of formative assessment is highly compatible with existing teacher practice. Just don’t count the first assessment of a body of knowledge or set of skills, then count the second or subsequent ones. The fuller concept, however, requires more significant change. The ideas that formative assessment should be specific and actionable represent a more significant departure from traditional teacher practice.

Transportability: The basic concept of formative assessment can be easily distilled to a few simple ideas and shared with teachers. Departures from the strategy are easy to spot in syllabi and examples of assessed student work. Authors and organizations have created a substantial body of conceptual and practical guides to formative assessments for the consumption of educators.

It might provide insight to apply this model to other educational practices, such as differentiated instruction, 1:1 student device programs, and individual teacher improvement. While these four criteria do not reflect any law of nature, they provide a helpful dose of realism when leading school change, underscoring the strong effects of professional culture.

Recent articles by Jack Schneider

‘If only American teachers were smarter…’ Washington Post

Closing the gap … between the university and schoolhouse Phi Delta Kappan

Innovative Leadership Seminar July 15-19

I am on the planning team for this seminar and will be leading one of the sessions. I hope you will join us!

Announcing A New Leadership Seminar:
Innovative Leadership
July 15-19, Hillbrook School, Los Gatos, CA
Registration is now open 

Join the Santa Fe Leadership Center and Hillbrook School for an exploration of innovation in school leadership. This highly interactive seminar is designed for school leaders who want to delve deeper into the concept of innovation, who want to increase their capacity to bring innovative practices to their schools, and who want to foster a culture of innovation and creativity in their communities.

Today, schools are challenged to prepare students for a rapidly changing world which requires rethinking and re-imagining school – from instruction, to physical space, to time, and spirit. To meet this challenge, school leaders must adapt ahead of the curve.  They must be innovative.

As a school leader, are you prepared to meet the changing needs of your school and your students? What does it mean to be innovative? What conditions must exist to foster a culture of innovation your school community?

Who should attend? Leaders at all points in their careers and serving in all different capacities are encourage to attend.

Enrollment is limited to 40 school leaders.   

Reassessing Educational Purpose

School change starts with a reassessment of educational purpose. Why do we teach children, and what ultimate goals should we have for their education? Jakarta International School has taken that step.

With knowledge expanding exponentially and technological access to that knowledge morphing daily, schools are reassessing their essential structures and roles. Recent brain research has converted some hunches into certainties, while throwing some challenging questions to educators the world over. In short, we are learning about how students learn best. Some forms of learning are almost universally effective, and some need to be tailored to individuals’ unique styles. We must therefore convert our schools, perhaps fundamentally, to allow for new and appropriate methodologies of learning.  

“Convert our schools.” That’s pretty strong stuff, embracing change to ensure the continued relevance of an educational program. I would love to learn more about how the school reached this point, how pervasive is the commitment to this vision, and what it looks like in practice.

Implementing “A New Culture of Learning”

"Team Sisyphus," from Nichomachus on Flickr

Independent school staff recently gathered for an online chat about A New Culture of Learning, which addresses the growing gap between real-world and school-based learning and considers the implications for schools. In the first part of the chat, participants summarized some of the book’s recommendations: teaching 21st-century content domains, emphasizing play as a form of inquiry, and teaching and assessing creativity, communication, and collaboration. Individuals noted some positive, incremental curricular innovations at their institutions.

The conversation quickly turned to a popular topic among school technologists: how to facilitate  significant program change toward the ideal expressed in the book. Some participants expressed frustration at low teacher enthusiasm for change, lack of administrative support, and the difficulty of finding allies for change. Some characterized teacher reluctance as “fear.” We explored the concept of urgency and its relationship to the pace of change. One suggested that external factors were more likely to create urgency than internal factors.

Those who had experienced some success in facilitating change cited the following techniques: connecting innovators, forming critical friends groups and professional learning networks, sharing examples, building collectives. These methods have something in common: gathering professionals in highly personalized, trusting learning environments with a commitment to introspection and change. In other words, change occurs within individual, group, and schoolwide contexts.

Today, Pat Bassett, President of NAIS, published a view of school change titled “Change Agency Leadership.” Bassett plumbs family therapy and other sources to compile what I find a fairly pessimistic view of institutional change. He likens school change to stages of grief, including mourning and depression. While school staff may react to top-down, unexpected policy changes in this fashion, I do not think that school change must proceed through these steps.

The grief model for change presupposes that the change is external. Highly personal, inclusive school change vehicles such as critical friends groups and professional learning networks alter this equation. Internet connectivity provides more opportunities for individuals to find external affinity groups and other models for change.

School leadership has the greatest responsibility to help a faculty internalize change. Leaders can help define the essential questions and create the necessary time and space for school staff to adopt meaningful steps toward change. Leaders can facilitate the formation of affinity groups and sharing of their work so that school innovators can build the necessary momentum for meaningful change. Leaders can help prevent a few fearful individuals from blocking a proposed change that most staff find acceptable.

NAIS provides several case studies of schools making meaningful change in A Guide for Becoming a School of the Future. James Tracy and Cushing Academy are earning attention for their international studies and leadership programs and other student-centered partnerships. Jonathan Martin and St. Gregory School have molded their program around 21st century learning content and skills. I would like to add Catlin Gabel as we grow our innovative co-curricular programs and think seriously about what it means to call ourselves a progressive school.

It will be exciting to watch new CFGs and PLNs work together with school leaders on change projects. If they are successful, we may expand our set of great examples of effective school change.

School Change Through Experiential Programs

Independent schools have increasingly created specialized positions to lead or facilitate new, experiential learning opportunities for their students. Do you have these positions at your school?

Director of service learning
Director of global programs
Educational technology specialist
Urban studies program director
Director of student life
Outdoor programs coordinator
Director of diversity

These programs feature a common thread: experiential learning. Students engage in hands-on activities grounded in an authentic context such as service, the outdoors, global travel, or multiculturalism.

Where do experiential programs live within the school? How do students access them?

One model: students experience two separate courses of study, a “core” of discipline-based study plus a “peripheral” set of experiential programs.

This structure implies an “influencer” model of school change. The school creates new positions for experiential program leaders. Students participate in these special programs outside of the regular class schedule. Most teachers observe from a distance. If the experiential programs are exciting and the program specialists effective at outreach, then teachers may increasingly partner with the programs to introduce more experiential elements into subject-based instruction. Experiential programs only affect the core as much as they influence from a distance.

The contrast of teaching methods may send students unintended messages. Discipline-based classes may use more recognizable forms of teaching: holding classes, facilitating class discussion, assigning readings, and assessing student mastery through papers, presentations, and tests. Experiential programs may take place in the woods, on Skype, or through a blog. They may emphasize student construction of the learning environment, partnerships with local organizations, special events, and interdisciplinary study. Experiential programs may gain a reputation for being optional or less rigorous.

Another model: students experience a “core” program that incorporates experiential components.

This structure adopts a rapid, comprehensive model of school change. The school makes a decision early on to broadly adopt specific experiential learning themes. All teachers are involved, and all courses integrate experiential learning in some manner. If the school creates special program director positions at all, then these individuals are few in number and partner closely with teachers to create student learning experiences. They do not offer separate programs to students. The weekly timetable is organized to facilitate experiential learning opportunities. Students experience a relatively consistent learning experience across the school program.

How may an existing school integrate experiential programs without completely reorganizing itself?

1. Assign experiential program responsibilities to core teachers. Partly discipline-based teachers, partly program specialists, they are more likely to influence their colleagues to try something new.

2. Mandate special, schoolwide initiatives to introduce more experiential learning, supported by program specialists.

3. Facilitate democratic, teacher decision-making processes to introduce specific types of experiential learning into the school program, facilitated by program specialists.

4. Provide program specialists greater access to school change vehicles, such as administrative leadership and curriculum review committees.

Case studies: schools trying different experiential programs

I would like to list these schools now and write short case studies in the future. What other independent schools would you add to this list?

Urban School: Innovative Teaching

Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences

Lick-Wilmerding School: Public purpose

“Leading from the Middle”

A summer institute offered by the Santa Fe Leadership Center