Laura K Spencer, Ed.D.

I Believe in 28 out of 36 of You

16fa322b0d2a7149cdb9f62c483751e4World renowned psychologist and Stanford professor Albert Bandura has shown through his body of research that “our belief systems affect our actions, goals, and perception. Individuals who come to believe that they can effect change are more likely to accomplish what they set out to do… People with self-efficacy set their sights higher, try harder, persevere longer, and show more resilience in the face of failure.” (Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by David Kelley)

Knowing that belief systems affect actions and that self-efficacy impacts perseverance, it becomes important to consider how we define goals. Consider, for example, the doctor that you visit for excruciating stomach pain. If the doctor’s performance goal was to identify and treat the pain in 75% of her patients, would you feel comfortable seeing her for your appointment? What if the doctor next door said that his goal was that 100% of his patients would experience a 75% or greater reduction in the pain? Which door would you choose?

When we discuss student learning and growth targets, do we truly believe that all children are capable… of learning? Of achieving? Of finding success? Do our student targets reflect that?

Proficiency Target: 28 of the 36 students in my class will receive a score of “Standard Met” on the CAASPP state assessment.

When meeting parents at Back to School night, are you comfortable telling parents that eight of them have children who won’t have a successful year? Are you comfortable telling the students that?

Growth Target: All students will increase their pre-assessment scores by 20 points on the post-assessment.

When meeting parents at Back to School night, are you comfortable telling parents that, regardless of their child’s current academic level, each child will show marked growth during the school year? Are you comfortable telling the students that?

Belief systems affects our actions.

A team of psychologists from Stanford, Yale, and Columbia tested the effects of feedback provided on an essay. They found that one particular form of feedback significantly boosted student effort and performance. This “magical feedback” (as they deemed it) had nothing to do with writing. It simply said:

“I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know you can reach them.”

That’s it. One simple sentence, showing belief in the student, had more impact than any specific writing feedback. So when considering how we create and communicate student growth and proficiency targets, how do we ensure that actions, goals, and perceptions build a positive belief system? How are you building self-efficacy?

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This was a fascinating read the other night…

From: Making the World a Better Place Starts with a Really Good Story

Kathleen: One of the things I saw in the organizations that I interviewed is that they prioritize storytelling, not only at the executive director or CEO level, but at every single level of the organization. Everyone within the organization can be a brand ambassador for the cause, whether it’s a staff member who happens to be at a cocktail party and comes across a donor, or whether it’s a beneficiary talking to a funder about the effectiveness of the work.

Some of the organizations that I interviewed actually did storytelling practice in their staff meetings. does this storytelling roulette where they spin a wheel, and on the spot, a staff member has to tell a story about a project that they worked on. It’s that repetitive practice that really helps build storytelling skills.

Nadine: One of the great benefits of doing that is that within the organization, it builds cohesion and alignment around the messaging and the brand. It’s really a powerful internal development tool, as well as an external development tool.

How are you empowering both staff and students to tell the story of learning at your site? I just spent a day of professional learning with every teacher in our district. Based on an activity in Ron Ritchhart’s Creating Cultures of Thinking, we looked at the story of learning we were told growing up through beliefs, behaviors, expectations, etc. Phrases such as compliance, tracking, and worksheets kept rising up.

Our district has already spent a year researching what education should look like for our students. We met with industry experts, read countless books, went to conferences across the country, and most importantly, talked to our stakeholders: students, parents, staff, and community.

With this information, as well as some video and article reads during our professional learning day, we began crafting a new story of education; one that values the unique geniuses of all students through strong instructional practices that promote student agency, collaboration, personalization, cultural intelligence, and design thinking. Our new story has much different phrases:

Word Clouds from New Sticky Notes

So how do we build a storytelling culture amongst all our stakeholders? That’s the next chapter we’re writing.

How are you telling your story? Do you have a storytelling culture, or is a lone storyteller writing your book?

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“Ideas are cheap. Execution is everything.” — Chris Sacca (on Shark Tank)

Makerspaces are fun. I love seeing students discover new ideas, and new ways to represent those ideas, within a makerspace. There’s just something magical about turning twine, an egg carton, and a plastic spoon into a prototype for a prosthetic arm.

But today I saw a twist on the makerspace concept. 5th grade students, ideating and designing prototypes for a Shark Tank product and pitch they were developing, had to strategically “purchase” makerspace supplies within the confines of a budget. Every pipe cleaner, every egg carton, had a cost associated, and project teams found out today that they have only $40 allocated to build the prototype. Need to hire an expert to drill a hole for you? There’s a cost. Want to try to do it yourself? Sure, but you’ll need to rent the drill. Buy 6 pipe cleaners but only need 3? Sorry, no refunds. Maybe another project team will buy your surplus materials, but chances are, they’ll want a reduced price.

For some, this may seem like a stifling of the makerspace experience. But for these students, understanding the cost to build the prototype is important. Tamara, the school Library Tech, uses her experience as a former Product Manager to teach students how businesses develop, build, and market new products so that students can create a solid business plan to present to the Shark Tank panel. The panel, consisting of local business leaders in technology, real estate, and angel investing, are looking for products that not only engage the target user, but have a profit margin that will earn them money.

“Schools are turning to makerspaces to facilitate activities that inspire confidence in young learners, and help them acquire entrepreneurial skills that are immediately applicable in the real world” (NMC Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Edition, p. 39).

“Schools are turning to makerspaces to facilitate activities that inspire confidence in young learners, and help them acquire entrepreneurial skills that are immediately applicable in the real world” (NMC Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Edition, p. 39). These students are making so much more than a prototype in the makerspace; They are making their way into the future with the skills that matter most.


Creating Young Innovators through Play, Passion, and Purpose

51JureSNOkL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In 2012, Tony Wagner wrote a book called Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. After interviewing over 150 innovative changemakers, Wagner seeks to find the shared experiences that result in innovative mindsets. Sadly, but not shocking, it typically was not school that provided that spark. It was parents, or an adult figure who believed in the child’s ability and provided the nudge to venture outside the box. Wagner also calls out the educational system, both K-12 and higher ed, for not providing the meaningful learning experiences that nurture innovation, entrepreneurship, and social change.

Statements that stood out to me:

“Most policy makers—and many school administrators—have absolutely no idea what kind of instruction is required to produce students who can think critically and creatively, communicate effectively, and collaborate versus merely score well on a test.”

This doesn’t surprise me. Policy makers and educators have something in common: a lack of experience working in industry. Most educators have never left the academic environment, having entered it at age four or five, and choosing to make a career of it. Policy makers, or people who make plans, don’t carry those plans out. Like educators, they seem to be absent of the experiences happening in corporate America.

“In this journey from play to passion to purpose they learned … ‘creative thinking skills’ and gained real ‘expertise,’ but most often in ways that encouraged intrinsic motivation.    They also learned the importance of taking certain risks and persevering – and why IDEO’s motto of ‘fail early and fail often’ is so important.”

Wagner mentions Montessori schools as being a common denominator in many of the young innovators interviewed. The Montessori classroom encourages independence, freedom within limits, and a sense of order. When public schools provide classroom opportunities such as those of the Montessori, they are considered an outlier. Schools like High Tech High are singled out often as outliers bucking the traditional education system. Why, though, if we know play leads to passion which leads to purpose, do we insist on kindergarten looking more and more like an high school AP course and less like sandboxes and imaginative play?

In our district, we are using Design Thinking methodology to provide risk taking opportunities that (re)kindle the passion and purpose in our students. We are focused on creating a place for students to learn that the only failure is not learning from the mistake and trying again. As one engineering student explained to Wagner when asked about the role of failure in his learning, ” I don’t think about failure – I think about iterating.”

Our education system does not encourage risk-taking and penalizes failure, and too many parents and teachers believe that a “safe” and lucrative career in business or law or medicine is what young people should strive for—rather than something to do with “changing the world.”

After all, the parents and teachers who believe in the “safe” careers are victims of the same institutionalized system. For years my daughter wanted to be a marine biologist and save the sea turtles. And all it took was one person, one educator, to crush her dream by saying, “You’ll have to marry rich if you want to be a marine biologist. They don’t make any money.” This mentality needs to go away. Like George Couros says in his presentations, we need to stop scoffing at the student that wants to be a YouTube star.

Wagner quotes one executive who states, ‘We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think — to ask the right questions — and to take initiative.’
Increasingly in the twenty-first century, what you know is far less important than what you can do with what you know. The interest in and ability to create new knowledge to solve new problems is the single most important skill that all students must master today. All successful innovators have mastered the ability to learn on their own “in the moment” and then apply that knowledge in new ways.

Providing students an opportunity to create new knowledge to solve new problems. This should be the mission of every school, of every teacher. Whether it’s through a Design Thinking challenge, or contributing to a Wikipedia page, or staging a march against social injustice, students need to see connections between what they learn and what problems need solving.

Albert Einstein said it best, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” Has school changed much since Einstein’s days? Are we still insistent on mastery of knowledge, of data points, of bubbling in the right answer on the test? Do we continue to teach to the middle, to the distribution curve, and not to the unique individuals in front of us?

In a commentary about his book, Wagner sums it up best:

Our students want to become innovators. Our economy needs them to become innovators. The question is: As educators, do we have the courage to disrupt conventional wisdom and pursue the innovations that matter most?

I truly hope so!

Stupid Normal Distribution Curve

“Life is all about getting A’s. Not some stupid normal distribution curve.”
– Ken Blanchard, author of over 50 books on leadership

Ken Blanchard has studied, and written books on, servant leadership. Servant leadership consists of two elements: The visionary role, which is the leadership element of servant leadership; and the implementation role, which is the servant element of servant leadership.
Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at 8.35.18 PMAccording to Blanchard, the visionary aspect of servant leadership establishes a compelling vision that includes the purpose, the path forward, and the values that will guide the journey. It is, as Blanchard explains, the sense of direction.

Once the vision is clear, the leaders role shifts into that of servant, in which the leader does all they can to help their team members accomplish goals, solve problems, and live according to the vision.

The best educators are servant leaders. As leaders, they set the vision in the classroom. What is the purpose of learning this content? How will we learn it? And what experiences and connections will guide us along the way? It’s the lesson design. The framework build that connects standards in meaningful ways. The pedagogical conversations around thinking and learning and skills that matter most.

Once that vision is established, the servant aspect carries out the implementation of those goals. What prior knowledge and skills do students need to learn this content? How will I assess if they have that knowledge/skill? What skills do students need to use this knowledge in a real world context? What experiences must I provide to create engaging and relevant connections? How will I ensure that each student gets what s/he needs to find success?

No where in Blanchard’s servant leadership description does it include an element to ensure that only some employees are successful. Nowhere in the corporate HR manual does it say 30% of employees must be fired every year. So why is there a normal distribution curve in education? Why do we assume it’s okay that not every student achieves personal success? And why do we build assessments that are meant to trick students, or prove they don’t know it all? Ken Blanchard calls out the “stupid normal distribution curve” and he’s right.

As a professor, Blanchard knows that it is his job to do all he can to ensure every student earns ‘A’ grades. “Don’t mark my paper” he and his friend Garry Ridge (WD-40 CEO) say. “Help me get an A.” That’s a true servant leader. That’s the type of leader I like to work for, and that’s the type of educator I want educating my children.

What Do I Think I Know and What Do I Have to Learn?

You never know what you will learn when you step outside your bubble.

The other day on LinkedIn I saw an event posted by Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40. It was the Annual Breakfast for the MS in Executive Leadership program at University of San Diego, followed by a panel about servant leadership, creating a culture of values, and how business skills empower performance. All invited. “Why not?” I thought. I’m on vacation, so let’s see what this is all about. A fortuitous decision!

On the panel:  Ken Blanchard, best selling author of over 50 books on leadership, Garry Ridge, and Barbara Lougee, Associate Dean of Graduate Programs and Associate Professor of Accounting. I have pages of notes (for future blog posts), but today I want to write about one inspirational nugget.

Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40, has a constant drive to learn. When he took over as CEO of WD-40, he asked himself, “What do I think I know and what do I have to learn?” Garry realized there was much to learn and therefore enrolled in USD’s first MSEL cohort. How many CEOs decide to go back to school? What tremendous sense of self and lack of ego is required to be able to answer that question when many would consider him to already be at the pinnacle of his career!

My Post (1)

It made me wonder when the last time was that I truly asked myself what I thought I knew and what I needed to learn. When I accepted my current position as Executive Director of Innovation and Design, there was a lot to learn. I knew I had to become well versed in Design Thinking. And I quickly realized there were a lot of cultural and pedagogical values in my district that I needed to familiarize myself with, but what did I truly think I knew? And what did I have to learn?

It’s a question I’m still answering, and I think that’s the point. The more I learn, the more I realize I need to learn more. And then the more I learn, the more I realize that what I thought I knew wasn’t fully developed, and therefore there’s still more I need to learn. Not just about pedagogy and Design Thinking, either. About organizational systems. About change management. About culture. About thinking. About people and values. About visions and missions and the work to carry them out. About industry. And careers. And the Fourth Industrial Revolution. About Sinek’s Golden Circle. And the list goes on and on.

But what if I asked students that question? Ask a student what they think they know, and what they need to learn. Most may look at you like you’ve lost your marbles. Or they may tell you about the facts that need to be memorized for an upcoming exam. Or the items missed on a previous test. Or the homework that is waiting for them at home.

But none of that is learning. It’s just playing school.

When classrooms promote student agency, and the personalization of learning that must co-exist with agency, then students can better articulate their learning because they understand both the purpose and the end goal. Perhaps a student would share how s/he is developing a narrative to include more descriptive elements so as to draw the reader in. Or another student may share that s/he is developing a strategy to approach a complex math problem using known algorithms. Another may say that he thinks he knows how to solve a playground situation, but needs to spend more time empathizing with the users to see if the prototype will solve the underlying issue.

In each of these answers, students are owners of their learning journey. The teacher, approaching classroom leadership as a side-by-side relationship, is providing the space and the time so that each student’s learning is nurtured.

That’s what personalization of learning is all about. Every student and teacher being able to ask, “What do I think I know and what do I have to learn?” and being able to answer it, and then travel down the path that not only answers that initial question, but opens up a hundred more.

Laura presented the idea of “personalization of learning,” meaning more in how does the teacher understand the student, build on their interests, and create learning opportunities for the student.  I can get behind this idea.

The personalization of learning creates the opportunity for more depth and authenticity, whereas “personalized learning” seems to be more about knowing the “stuff”.                                                      – George Couros

When George Couros mentioned me in his post, “Personalized Learning Vs Personalization,” I was honestly a bit surprised when I started to receive tweets and messages asking for more information, because I just assumed everyone saw it the same way as I did. And then, serendipitously, an article in my inbox called “A Confession and a Question on Personalized Learning” explained the problem with personalized learning, as it is constructed now.

Larry Berger, CEO of Amplify, shared how computerized personalized learning programs are failing to live up to the promise. Not only have they not been able to map out a scope and sequence for learning, they don’t know how to measure truly where students are and what they need, and the library of lessons that are needed to teach students is only about 5% complete. But more important than all that, Berger writes is that:

Just because the algorithms want a kid to learn the next thing doesn’t mean that a real kid actually wants to learn that thing.

So we need to move beyond this engineering model. Once we do, we find that many more compelling and more realistic frontiers of personalized learning opening up.

Which brings me to the question that I hope might kick off your conversation: “What did your best teachers and coaches do for you—without the benefit of maps, algorithms, or data—to personalize your learning?”

In asking the question of what the best teachers and coaches do to personalize learning, we get at the heart of this topic. Personalization is, at its core, about relationships. It’s about knowing your students as unique human beings, and then finding ways to let them explore their sense of self through experiences that are not laid out, step by step, in a neat package by the teacher but rather require the students to find their own way to the finish line.

An example:

Over the past month, third graders at one of our schools have been studying the Kumeyaay Native Americans. An area of focus, placed by the teachers, was on culture and traditions. As the Kumeyaay adapted to outside influences, and disruptions to their way of life, they found ways to preserve their traditions for future generations. As the culmination to this unit, students participated in a weeklong Design Sprint.

Objective: How might we understand the Kumeyaay journey of change over time and their desire to retain cultural customs, so as to better understand how to tell our own story in an ever-evolving time?

To kick off the week, students heard stories from a Kamishibai storyteller. They discussed the elements of storytelling, and participated in an improv activity called “Pass the Gift” to explore how body gestures can be used to convey a story.

From there, we asked students to think about an important tradition in their family. Using a chalk talk thinking routine, students wrote a tradition down on butcher paper. After conducting a gallery walk to see what everyone else wrote, students came up with categories for the different tradition types – topics ranged from dinner with the family to summer vacations to SuperBowl parties.

And then the true personalization happened… students were told to decide on the best method to preserve the story of that tradition. They didn’t have to write an autobiography, with 5 paragraphs and a hook opener. They had to really think about what could not only best capture their story, but what would the user (their family) respond to best. The mediums chosen varied: movies, slideshows, stop-motion animation, painting, sculptures, comic strips, written narratives, and even a few Kamishibai story boxes!

After students finished their projects, they shared them with 6th grade buddies to receive feedback. They’ll adjust the prototypes after break to prepare them for Open House. One teacher commented, after the Design Sprint ended, “The students shared their projects today with their sixth grade buddies and it was truly one of the most powerful moments we have ever witnessed in the classroom.”

Personalization can take many forms. In this case, the artistic medium not only let students express themselves creatively, but it also provided a way for both the introvert and the extrovert, the verbal-linguistic and the logical-mathematical, the second language learner and the gifted child, to connect with the academic standards in a meaningful, relevant way.

** This is the first in a series of posts on Personalization of Learning. Sign up to receive an update when I post. Type your email address in the box and click the “Subscribe” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.