Thursday, February 22, 2018

Step Right In! Professional Growth in Learning Walks

by Josie Glatt, Communications Teacher

"Dumb as a rock." I've heard this simile tossed around - would never share in what context, specifically. It seemed to be a phrase widely understood and definitely NOT a compliment. Until recently, I thought I understood its meaning, but I changed my mind after spending about 10 minutes in an earth science classroom. These guys (rocks) are intelligent, and even purposeful! They have superhero powers as they can become other rocks! And this teacher somehow made this topic intriguing! I wasn’t expecting to learn more about rocks this day, but it was a nice addition to my intended learning. I was participating in a learning walk where I had the opportunity to watch what happens in other classrooms and learn from other teaching styles. Participating in this experience convinced me that educators are in a good place.

To say that the classroom has evolved is an understatement! There were those days when a teacher arrived at school to accomplish the assigned task of teaching, and once arrived, the classroom door closed and that said teacher hoped for the magic to begin. Whether or not it did, one might only know by the results on a quarterly printed paper with scores to measure student growth.  Really? That’s it? Once the day was over, the classroom door reopened and school was adjourned for the day. Possibly, that teacher had a friendly exchange with a fellow teacher in passing, but sharing the “secrets” of instruction wasn’t really on the table.  MISSED OPPORTUNITY!  There we were, walking away from some of our greatest teaching assets – each other! As time has passed, the evolution of the classroom has traded in the closed classroom doors for an investment in teacher vulnerability.  Along with this evolution has appeared the practice of learning walks.

Wachter Middle School is in their second year of faculty learning walks. This is a practice where teachers volunteer to participate with a small group of teachers on walks through other teachers’ classrooms while instruction and learning are taking place.  Of course, this is an organized procedure where teachers have learned about the process prior to taking part.  The learning walks are scheduled and the teachers who open their classroom doors definitely volunteer to do so.  It is never mandated.  Believe me, this takes vulnerability.  As teachers we all know that we can have the best lesson planned, but the make-up of our cliental can make that lesson pass or fail. So to open up our classrooms to allow multiple sets of eyes to watch us in action and work within the suspense that sometimes comes with teaching can be taking a huge risk, but only if we choose to see it that way. Some teachers volunteer to do both, where they participate in learning walks as well as open up their classroom doors for walks to take place. Actually, having this experience from both angles boosts the outcome.

The intent of learning walks is never evaluative, but focuses on the sole purpose of teacher learning. Basically, a learning walk happens like this: a group of teachers (3-4) enter a classroom, they take in the teaching and learning for about 10-15 minutes, and afterwards they spend about 5 minutes outside the classroom in reflective conversation.  The conversation mostly brings insights about their own teaching and classroom strategies.  Again, this is not evaluative – it’s a professional learning experience. Teachers find more tools to be creative and innovative in their own classrooms, plus they benefit from forming partnerships with fellow teachers.  Personally, I strongly believe that there is something also powerful about students observing teachers learning from each other; we model the importance of being life-long learners. It’s empowering in a sense.  If students see that teachers value learning from each other, they are apt to invest more into learning from us as well.

So, hats off to rocks! They are actually quite amazing!  And hats off to learning walks! This is another example of our investment in our school community and working towards being the best that we can be for our students.

If you have the opportunity to participate in a learning walk, good things await!  If you are invited to open your classroom door for others to participate, risk vulnerability! If the experience to do both lands itself in front of you, enjoy your professional growth! 

Twitter Tuesday Questions:

Q1 – To what extent have you been involved in Learning Walks?  Were you the observer, classroom host, or both?  If you have never been involved, why not?

Q2 – Learning Walks can be exceptional vehicles for motivating teachers to improve their practice.  How can teachers benefit from these experiences?

Q3 – How do Learning Walks help create a collaborative school culture?

Q4 – How can the reflective conversation impact professional learning?

Q5 – What element of learning walks do you find most challenging?

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Future is Here!

What have you changed to make room for it?

by Tanna Kincaid, BPS Technology Director

There has been a lot of talk about the future.  Skills for the future, jobs of the future, technologies of the future. The “future” has been contemplated by generation after generation.  As I reflect on conversations in our community today, particularly the concept of disruptive technology,  I am hopeful. There really is no sense in fighting the “future.”  I like believing that it is inevitable; sure beats the alternative of no future.  Investing now to prepare and embrace the future seems logical.  This is one of the key roles of education.  Embracing and endeavoring to prepare students for their futures.   We wish for our students to be prepared so they are successful and have choices. Several key concepts sit at the core of preparing students to navigate rapidly changing environments with continuous  technological advancements.  

My favorite five are:

Future Ready Concept #1:  Information is NOT scarce so don’t waste time treating it as such.  More important is the ability to critically gather, evaluate, synthesize, and organize information for a purpose or to solve a problem.

Future Ready Concept #2:  The difference between learning and learning HOW to learn is passion and interest.  When students have “agency” they are invested.

Future Ready Concept #3: Challenges in life are complicated and messy.  Solving them requires making connections across content areas, working collaboratively, and creating and testing solutions.

Future Ready Concept #4:  True creative thinking is steeped with critical thinking.  Often times creative thinking and problem solving require building on an initial thought.  Time for thinking, getting feedback, and rethinking help build creative thinkers.

Future Ready Concept #5:  It is NOT about the technology.  The future is about thinking, creating, collaborating, and truly engaging as an enthusiastic learner… the technology is a given.  Don’t ignore it, don’t ban it, but don’t rely on it to be the solution.

Join me on Twitter (#learnbps) to discuss more - Tuesday the 20th of February from 8:30-9:00 p.m.

Twitter Questions:
Q1: What are some of the future ready skills you view as most critical?
Q2: What “past ready” skill do we spend time on that could be limited to allow more time to develop a future ready skill?
Q3: What have you observed Ss doing that made you think… WOW! Skills for the future?
Q4: How can technology “disrupt” education in a way that accelerates student learning and preparedness?

Thursday, February 08, 2018



By Julie Frank, Instructional Coach

Feedback. We know we should be giving it to our students, and often express that we would like to get more of it from our administrator.  Yet, we struggle with it. So why is quality feedback so difficult for us to engage in?

First, let’s explore why feedback is worth doing well and identify the benefits to those who engage in feedback.  Feedback is a tool that coaches us toward improvement. When it meets the criteria of being specific, timely, consistent and intentional, it is a tool with which we can gauge performance against desired behaviors or goals. In other words, feedback should be delivered in relation to what the receiver is needing. Let’s keep in mind that for feedback to be productive, the receiver must be able to learn and take action related to their goals. Unwanted feedback is criticism.

Giving feedback is not letting someone know they have met a goal- “Your score is 30” or “You got an A”.  It is also not the same thing as praise- “Good job”, “This is excellent work”.  Giving feedback takes effort.  If you want to give good feedback (and what educator doesn’t want that) you’ve got some upfront work to do.  You need to understand the work of the person receiving the feedback.  What is their desired outcome or goal? What work has been already been tried and/or accomplished?  

Feedback is difficult. Engaging with someone about the work they are (or potentially are not) doing can feel uncomfortable to both the giver and receiver.  It is human nature to stick with nice praise versus constructive feedback, but let’s consider the alternative.  If we always stick with nice praise (which is often false too) there is no growth.  We remain in the same state.  However, when we dare to engage in giving and receiving quality feedback, we open a door of possibilities and growth.  I’d choose growth over complacency any day! We cannot change or grow what we do not recognize.  Feedback is our opportunity to ‘recognize’ and take action.

Here is your challenge. Start small. Identify a situation where feedback would be helpful, where growth is desired. Then make a conscious effort to engage in the kind of feedback that will make a real difference.

Twitter Tuesday Questions:
  1. Why do you think that quality feedback so difficult for us to engage in?

  1. Can you identify an area where feedback is going well? Is it teacher to teacher, teacher to student, student to student, admin to teacher?

  1. What element of feedback do you find most challenging?

  1. What one specific practice could you put in place to help you practice and improve a challenge you face with feedback?

  1. Feedback is a life skill. How are we supporting our students in building and practicing skills to give and receive quality feedback?

  1. At what level do you feel feedback is important?  Grade level, teachers, administration and why?

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Chromebooks For All!

As the 1:1 movement approaches, many Bismarck High and Century teachers feel like they are entering a sandstorm. I am here to assure you that while it might appear that way from afar, I believe it actually ends with a beautiful sand castle. Sounds nice, right? Let’s take a trip over the drawbridge…

First, we remember why we are doing this, and it’s not just because Legacy is. New research shows that 1:1 initiatives have a ”statistically significant positive impact on student test scores in English/language arts, writing, math, and science,” (Doran & Herold, 2016). It’s also common knowledge that providing individual student devices helps advance 21st century skills, enhancing the way our students collaborate, problem solve, create, and communicate. It is our duty to prepare them for future education and employment where this knowledge and skill level is critical for success. In addition, it’s been proven to increase student engagement, reduce student behavior problems, and even promote better relationships between teachers and students.

Of course, there are going to be obstacles and there will most definitely be a learning curve for both students and staff. We don’t know what we don’t know yet, but perhaps we can learn a little something from the veterans at Legacy! Many Legacy teachers noted that they wished they would have gone straight to Google Classroom as the Learning Management System because of its ease of use and student familiarity. If I had to give an estimate, I’d say roughly 75% of teachers at Bismarck High already use it or could pick it up in no time, making that learning curve much less drastic. Those of you advanced in technology may wish to explore LearnBPS (formerly Moodle) for it’s detailed customization and features such as; confidence based scoring, robust analytics, a wider variety of activities, flexibility with embedded content, and adaptive feedback.

Some students liked having it checked out to them the week before school started so they could learn to fluidly navigate it before entering the classrooms. Others said they didn’t feel the need for any formalized training on Chromebooks. These devices are incredibly simple and students will learn what they need to on their own with experience. Teachers, then, can continue to focus on building content knowledge and lesson design, but delivering it in a more student-centered format, something we can all agree upon as critical for independent growth and success.

I think it’s worth mentioning here that one of the biggest misconceptions I hear from students and staff is that all teaching and learning will be expected to occur online. This is not the case. Yes, much, if not most, of it can be done digitally, but this is not the expectation, nor is it appropriate in every scenario. In fact, many kids choose to mix both their online lessons with paper and pencil notes, for example. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to personalize your own learning, and students will appreciate it when more options are given to them.
What I most look forward to as the Library Media Specialist, is the possibilities to collaborate with teachers and support students in more authentic, 21st century learning. Long gone are the days where the librarian is the beholder of books and the research specialist. My role as an educator of media and technology literacy is bound to become more utilized, as there will be an increased demand for teaching technology operations and concepts, creative and innovative processes and products, and communication and collaboration, all ND Library and Technology Standards that virtually go untouched at the high school level. So buddy up with your LMS and take advantage of your Technology Project Lead’s expertise (Nick Holzer at BHS, Daphne Held at CHS, and Aaron Preabt at LHS)!

If you have questions about 1:1  logistics, please check out the BPS 1:1 Chromebook website where you can find things to consider as the classroom teacher and answers to your questions on device expectations/management. Wondering if your tech tool is FGA approved? Checkout the master list and enter a new resource request as needed.

Twitter Tuesday Questions:
Q1 - What are you most looking forward to as we move to a 1:1 school?
Q2 - How does this open up new opportunities in the classroom?
Q3 - How will you need to adjust classroom management strategies? Share some tips!
Q4 - What is one of your personal goals?

Doran, L., & Herald, B. (2016). 1-to-1 Laptop Initiatives Boost Student Scores, Study Finds. Education Week, 35(31), 11.