Investing in Change: an exemplar

23 07 2013

I’m so proud of the Shawnee Heights School District leadership for having a bigger vision for better change in their school community. See, I just got to spend 6 days with their High School’s Science and Social Studies departments…something like 14 people total. That’s a big investment. Let’s see what they got for the time (and money) they spent.PBL, iPad, High School, Professional Learning

They broke their HS Math, Science, Social Studies, and ELA departments into teams. And then they invested deeply in their teachers’ professional learning:

Each team got to spend three or four days with an expert in PBL, common core, and technology integration and experience how it all works together. The teams got to learn the elements of each, and then dug deeper, creating shared units for their classrooms. Teachers shared the work, they collaborated, and the time was well used as they found opportunities not only share with each other inside their department but also collaborate across content departments. And this is at the high school level. So in addition to at least 3 shared projects inside their department, next year the science and social studies departments will be doing a a PBL unit together.

Social Studies and Science. Collaborating on one project. Together. At the high school level.

I know, right?

And guess who’s idea that was? The leadership? Nope. Mine? Nope. The teachers in both departments picked a similar topic (Pandemics) and when they found out the other department had picked that same project, they were the ones who talked about coming together.

Yep, that’s right. The teachers made that grassroots decision. So, given it was their decision, what do you think the odds are that they’ll actually follow through? I’m guessing it’s 99.9% chance they will.

What magic did we drop in their water, you ask?

You see, the Shawnee Heights school district leadership knew that they couldn’t just invite an expert in for one day for their K-12 teachers and have it make any difference in their teachers’ mindsets at all. While the time and money invested in that “one day spray” workshop would certainly have resulted in more than a lecture, it would have been a very fast day, exploring some deep topics at a very superficial level:

  • The teachers would have considered why a change in practice might be needed.
  • They would have learned the bare basics of PBL through experiencing, then dissecting, a mini project.
  • They would have played with (learned to use) iPad tools (they’re going 1:1 next year).

The teachers would have left feeling they learned some things…and then would have been left on their own to figure out the details.

What are the odds you think those strategies and ideas would have been implemented by all staff? What are the odds that those strategies and ideas would have made a lasting impact on the overall approach to teaching and learning?

Granted, some of the strategies they would have learned would be incorporated into making some teachers’ usual lessons better, and that’s not a bad place to be.

Unless, that is, you’re looking for real change in the way your school does learning.

Yes, it takes an investment of money in order to make a proper investment of time so that teachers will be able have the wherewithal to learn the basics, then wrestle with those concepts — with expert guidance —  inside their own spheres of understanding, having the time to ask questions. To struggle with concepts and ideas. And to simply consider, process, and shift their thinking. To give them less time and less expert guidance is to fail to allow their hearts and brains to make a proper connection with the changes in implementation at the student level. And this is precisely what Shawnee Heights did.

The over-stuffed one day workshop would have been wasted time and money. They might as well have invested it in having someone scrape gum from under the lunchroom tables, praying for that to change the culture of their school.

Super kudos to Shawnee Heights’ Curriculum Director, Becky Greer, and High School Principal, Alan Beam, for having a bigger — and more effective — vision. I’m proud of you and your teachers and can’t wait to see what they do this year!

And I will see what they do, because several of the teachers and I have connected online on both Facebook and Twitter.

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