Percolating on STLinSTL

Elizabeth Helfant, Coordinator of Pedagogical Innovation and Director of STLinSTL, an instructional summit for educators hosted by MICDS each summer, shares her takeaways from this year’s event.

I am a percolator. And STLinSTL’s speakers gave me much to percolate on.

My first big take away is courtesy of Tom Schimmer. He made a compelling argument for why we must assess better and differently, shifting our focus to competencies over content, something I already believed but he took it from belief to mandate for me. Essentially, Schimmer laid out a thesis from Friedman’s Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. We have finally arrived at a time when change due to technology has outpaced our ability to adapt.

This means we need to teach students how to adapt – and that shifts the focus to using content to teach competencies. Schimmer suggested 7 competencies:

It is interesting to note (and fodder for more percolation using some of Diego Estrad’s mindfulness and SEL workshop material) that three of these are in the realm of SEL.

Tom went on to describe a healthy culture of assessment predicated on the diagram below.

He shared a quote from Connie Moss (2013): “The accuracy of summative judgments depends on the quality of the assessments and the accuracy of the assessor.”

Just as every school does, we have things to consider to make assessment more accurate and I look forward to making progress on this. Some clear actions (PD learning has to become actionable to be valuable) for us will be:

  • Considering where we assess with equal weight on disciplinary (content) standards and on disciplinary practices or cross-disciplinary skills/competencies.
  • Making sure each unit’s UbD/map shows accurate and balanced assessment that rises to the standards Schimmer shared.
  • Increasing our understanding of how SEL competencies connect with our assessment practices, specifically with formative assessment and student reflection using clear learning standards and targets.

I then popped over to Tracy Tokuhama-Espinosa’s session and got more to process.

Tokuhama shared that Mind, Brain, and Education folks find two things on which education programs need to improve the teaching of technology and neuroscience. She made a case for educators seeing themselves as learning scientists – always checking current research on our practice and engaging in inquiry and/or action research to perfect our craft. I found this to be an interesting proposition that should be an underpinning of the way we approach faculty growth and development. It has ramifications for the way we implement foliocollaborative.

There was so much in Tracy’s session I could unpack. Her session gave deep researched support for themes including:

  • Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like. (A reason we are engaging in some social-emotional work and a reminder of the Every Kid Needs a Champion TedTalk I enjoy.)
  • Kids don’t retain if they aren’t engaged. (A key piece of last year’s priority that continues with this year’s.)
  • Kids learn better when they have agency over their learning, and we have to help them with that – challenge, clarity, relationship (Engagement by Design).

Our clear actions from this session:

  • We need to take the SEL work we have started seriously.
  • We need to use what we know about neuroscience to construct better learning experiences.

My next stop: Marie Alcock.

Marie’s session in support of personalized learning suggested an inquiry/questing learning environment as the intersection of all we get from our assessment gurus like Guskey, O’Conner and Schimmer and our dispositional, authentic learning experts like Kalick and Zmuda. She gave us much to consider in terms of developing student-centered, highly-engaged classrooms. One of the most obvious and most interesting things that we need to consider implementing is a simple measurement of assessment on a five-point scale. We need to ask our students from time to time the following five questions which correlate to level of student engagement:

Action items from this session include:

  • Adding an exit ticket that gauges student assessment on Marie’s Five Levels to give us additional information to what we already get from the Wellington Dots.
  • Considering how we might assess competencies across disciplines and include student reflection in this process

As if that wasn’t enough, I wandered into Steve Sostak’s (Inspirecitizen1)session on Empathy to Impact. We explored a framework to help us consider how to build empathy and move to action.

Steve led us through reasons we should do work on Global Competency and helped us situate our work on cultural competency in this larger framework. We explored the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and selected targets from each to consider how we might embed them in our curriculum. Many folks have been discussing how we move this work forward. The things he shared work in all three divisions.

Action Items from Steve:

  • Continue to explore the UN SDGs and where we might expose students to them.
  • Be more explicit about how we implement global and cultural competency in our curriculum – more to come on this soon.

I wandered to the library to see what Suzie Boss was up to with the LS teachers as they worked on their project-based units for social studies. They were hard at work and made me excited to see what they come up with for their students this year.

All of this reminded me: our goals need to be smart and we need to think about timeline so we actually implement our learning. Our goals also need to be measurable so we know if we are perfecting our practice. That’s what learning scientist do!

One last thing that was reiterated several times: this isn’t something new. This is doing what we do better – doing what research says works best for learning. As Danielson would advocate – it’s the perfection of practice to move us to high impact levels.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s STLinSTL, to both learn more and see how we’ve continued to improve.