Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Success Skills at BPS

What do we want from our students? It seems this question is being discussed with regularity in our district and districts around the world.  Maria Neset’s blog post, Mrs. Uselman’s post, and the community forum held in conjunction with the showing of the video “Most Likely to Succeed” are just a few recent examples that have contributed to the discussion locally.  A theme that I’ve noticed emerging during these discussions is that the world wants…. needs, students who can work together to solve the problems the world faces.  But, how do we go about helping students learn how to do that? The chart below is from the data collected during the BrightBytes survey and provides a glimpse into our current reality at BPS.
We know we have more work to do here at BPS, and one document that might help is the Success Skills Production Behaviors (it’s in draft form and still being worked on).  Last year, a team from BPS worked at creating this document to help schools as they focus efforts on being more deliberate in instructing the skills sometimes referred to as 21st Century skills, the 4 C’s, or success skills.  This document outlines the kinds of things that students could be doing to develop and demonstrate these skills, and the kinds of things that teachers can do to support that development.
One section of the document provides some ideas for key behaviors that students might do as they work on identifying and solving problems.  Are you seeing these behaviors in your students? In you?

Success skills aren’t “something extra” -- they already exist throughout the teaching and learning process, but our ability to contextualize and support them can make the difference between being “Career, College and Community Ready” and just “passing the test.” There are many models for encouraging and supporting Success Skills, and allowing ourselves and students time to explore where these skills are implicit in our work and how we can make them more explicit can pay dividends.  Think about how the production behaviors might support teachers' efforts to create experiences that allow BPS students opportunities to reach beyond proficiency.

Check out the Success Skills Production Behaviors document.  Does it align with your vision of what you want from students?  What changes do you suggest?  Did you notice any behaviors that should be added? Please leave comments with your suggestions for changes, and ideas on if and how you might be able to use this document.  Your ideas will help as work continues on this draft.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Why Inquiry Learning?

Why Inquiry Learning?

“The current system of education fails to recognize that all students are people.  Education is a complex human’s about people...we grow and we evolve and we change.  And if you have an industrial metaphor in your head, then you’re led into the sort of language that we now use about standardization” --Sir Ken Robinson from the film Most Likely To Succeed  

We are at a turning point.  In many ways, our country is facing enormous challenges in multiple realms. Because I am a teacher at heart how we “do” school is at the forefront of what I dream about and act on daily.  Education needs a face lift. Our kids will need different skill sets for working in the 21st Century.  So how do we do this?  

I’ve been given an amazing opportunity to support Project Based Learning for Bismarck Public Schools.  This means I am in all schools, working with administrators, instructional coaches, lead teams, and teachers to engage students in a different way to “do school”.  Our kids have become very good at “wanting the right answer” and “complying to the teacher”.  Project Based Learning fosters a way for our kids to experience education and personalized learning by focusing on student strengths, interests and passions. In the film, Most Likely To Succeed, Sir Ken Robinson said “The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn't need to be reformed; it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.”

Bismarck Public Schools is tackling this head on.  5 years ago, stakeholders (students, teachers, support staff, community members) came together to have discussions about what they see as the future of school experiences for students.  Interestingly enough, these stakeholders all had a similar vision in mind (look at the links below). This exciting work continues to grow! For the past four years, teachers have been learning what PBL looks, feels and sounds like for students.  Teachers are also engaging in professional development to learn how to design projects that are authentic, rigorous and relevant for our students. Discussions of how an inquiry-based classroom flows and the power of reflection are an important part of this professional learning.

Kids are complex.  We need to honor the fact that there isn’t a simple path and that this work is going to be messy and complicated.  We need to create an educational culture that embraces curiosity, creativity, inquiry, collaboration, empathy, communication of ideas, problem solving, creating, observing and experimenting.  And this is where Project Based Learning is an opportunity for us to engage kids in authentic learning experiences; where standards are connected, relevant and meaningful to all.  

Are you ready for a transformation?  

To view this work, click on the following STEAM Powered Classroom Links:

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


How do you get feedback for your job?  How do you learn to become a better educator?  Early in my teaching career my answers would have been isolated to the formal Rube Goldbergian teacher evaluation system.  I believed that if I followed all the procedures in this step by step process, then by default I became a better educator and received enough feedback.

“I did then what I knew how to do.  Now that I know better, I do better.” - Maya Angelou

As a connected educator, I now gain feedback daily which helps me grow and learn in collaborative formats through Twitter, Flipboard, virtual learning walks, Voxer book studies, and other personalized PD.  This year I am trying a new way to get feedback through #ObserveMe by posting my personal goals on my door (as seen below).  As an administrator, I still get to participate in the formal feedback from professional evaluation, but I am also asking teachers to help me with some informal feedback by observing me in the hallways, in meetings, and in their own classrooms.  In this way, I am hoping everyone in our building can help me reach my goals and learn from my mistakes in real time.  We all win when we participate in this learning together.

Here is the sign on my door!

Bill Wietman
Assistant Principal at Wachter
@wwietman on Twitter
wwietman on Voxer

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Assessment Academy 2.0 - Who’s in?

I’ll be honest.  I wasn’t sure if it would work.  Who is, really, when trying something new?  Wait, rewind a little.  If you’re not familiar with the Assessment Academy, I’ll lay out the general plan:  
  1. Let’s ask busy, busy teachers to participate in planning a summer workshop around innovative assessment practices that we only have limited understanding and experience with. Some growth mindset will definitely be required.
  2. Then, let’s package it into a blended environment to offer a flexible schedule that allows participants to choose when and how it is best for them to engage with the workshops (and maybe model some tech applications at the same time),
  3. But also, let’s make sure that we build in time to directly apply our new learning in a meaningful way to projects and units that we are already teaching.  It’s one thing to learn, but taking the risk to try something new with students, and being open to working through new classroom practices, takes some courage.
  4. Heck, while we’re at it, why not build in some peer feedback and revision, and ask participants to share their work in its most vulnerable stages before it’s finished.
  5. Just one more thing -- we’ve got one semester to get it together so that it can be implemented over the summer.

RU Mind Map.jpg

A mind map from the summer academy injecting feedback and self-assessment opportunities into existing projects and lessons.

Maybe that sounds improbable, but with the collaborative efforts of over 35 teachers from seven middle and high schools, that’s just what we did.  It was a great summer (if you’re an education geek like me).  Our design and implementation team had the privilege of thinking, planning, learning and innovating with more than 86 teachers from across our district, and my sincere thanks and admiration go out to each and every one of them!

There were moments (aren’t there always?) when I wondered if the work we were doing was the right work.  After recently viewing the documentary film Most Likely to Succeed, I was reassured.   Working to leverage technological efficiencies to improve feedback and student self assessment in inquiry-based application level environments is exactly the kind of work that our students need us to do so that they can have the type of experiences that will allow them to be career, college, and community ready at graduation.  

So, what’s next?  How about this:

  1. Let’s show Most Likely to Succeed to a group of teachers, community leaders, parents, and students, and ask them what they need from us as teachers.
  2. Let’s use that “entry event” as a launching pad to implement the Assessment Academy workshops locally at schools across our district -- making sure, of course, to stay true to the teacher design group’s flexible blended schedule and classroom focused environment.
  3. In fact, let’s ask those busy, busy teachers who participated this summer to share their work and facilitate workshops for the next round of participants.
  4. Let’s continue to revise and improve the way we teach and learn ... always ...

Who’s in?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

One Great Question for Professional Learning Communities

I'll never forget the first time I heard "PLC" spoken a decade or so ago during a staff meeting.  My principal was talking about starting them, and I was confused.  I thought he was referring to Prairie Learning Center.  Since then, my understanding has grown a bit. I've been fortunate to be part of some really great professional learning  communities, and I've had the opportunity to learn about PLC possibilities through many avenues.

 Recently, Steve Barkley posed a great question that helped me think about PLCs in a more meaningful way. He asked, "What have you learned in your PLC that has impacted your work with students?"  This one question can help us formatively assess our PLC time, and provide focus to ensure that we are indeed learning from our professional learning communities. It can help us prioritize learning and avoid becoming a group dedicated solely to getting our work done.

When I thought about this question, Thursday morning at South Central High School immediately came to mind. The staff there is taking turns bringing something important to the group.  It might be a strategy to share or a problem to solve together. When I was there, I was blessed to get the chance to hear Mr. Sonneman share the way he provides for more student choice in his room by differentiating the products that students create to demonstrate their understanding. The strategy he shared was applicable to all of us seated around the table; we all learned from him that day.

What have you learned recently in your PLC that has impacted your work with students?  Please leave a comment to share your thinking and/or tune in to Twitter Tuesday on October 4th from 8:30-9:00 pm as we continue to discuss a learning focused PLC.