Student Centered Learning – Developing an Implementation Matrix

Over the course of the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years, I worked with a group of instructional coaches in a district in Illinois to create an implementation matrix to guide educational practice in realizing the district’s vision of personalized, twenty-first century learning where all students are successful.

After I framed the structure for the matrix based on the National Implementation Research Network‘s  Practice Profile Planning Tool, the coaches and I worked collaboratively on the process. The coaches worked between my visits to research, deliberate, synthesize, and articulate the “critical components” of practice and delineate unacceptable variations, emerging practice, and gold standards for each element of those critical components. I offered questions and key resources to sharpen and deepen their understandings.

As the matrix began to take shape the district’s Curriculum and Instruction team met with the coaches to review the emerging matrix and provide feedback. Using SRI’s Tuning Protocol, the C&I team responded to the coaches’ guiding question, offering “warms” (evidence of aspects of the matrix that met the coaches’ stated goals) and “cools” (gaps, areas needing more clarity, and disconnects in the matrix for improvement).

After addressing the C&I team’s feedback, and continuing to refine the Implementation Matrix, we repeated the tuning feedback process of the Matrix with the Student Centered Learning Study Group, which includes SCL champions from every school in the district. Once again, the coaches responded to the feedback as they continued to refine the Matrix. Coaches then worked in teams to present the Matrix to each district school’s faculty, using a modified tuning protocol to solicit faculty responses to the question “Does this document provide enough guidance for implementation? “

Following a thorough review of all feedback, we put the polishing touches on the ready-to-operationalize matrix, compiled a chart listing all feedback (from the original C&I review forward) and the revisions addressing each, and created tables of faculty responses from each school, noting the number of times a given response was given, i.e. the number of individuals each response represented at any given school).

For the final meeting of the school year, the Student Centered Learning Study Group (soon to be rebranded as the 21st Century Teaching and Learning Study Group) reviewed and discussed the documentation. They then worked in small groups to focus on developing shared understanding around key implementation areas – assessment, research, and project-based learning – before reconvening to discuss matrix roll out and professional learning priorities for the following school year.

While the district’s leadership team changed over the course of the two-year process, individually and collectively they maintained a focus on student learning. Patrick Hardy launched the project, Teresa Hines provided continuity and focus, Jody Ware bridged the gap, and Duane Meighan carried the vision forward. The district leadership’s investment in building shared language, commitment, and ownership through support for the instructional coaches’ development work and the successive rounds of feedback throughout the district combined with the coaches’ collaborative learning process, relentless pursuit of high-quality, evidence-based practices, and dedication to creating accessible, practical guidance to produce an exceptional roadmap for implementing student centered learning with clear parameters for fidelity and improvement.

Read the Instructional Coaches’ reflection on the process.

Access the Student Centered Learning Implementation Matrix.

Reinventing the wheel?

A Reflection on Process, on behalf of the Freeport School District Instructional Learning Coaches

by Laura Stocker

Are we just recreating the wheel? It’s hard not to lament about this question when you’re in education. For every new idea that comes out, there’s someone out there who can say, “What? We were doing that in 1987!” The way practices swing in and out of vogue is a running joke among educators. And that’s exactly how our team felt when it was charged with the development of a Learner Centered Implementation Matrix.

Surely, someone has already done this work and laid out a neat and tidy plan to step-by-step your way to student centered AND if you just google the right keywords it should pop right up. Right? What we discovered when we initially began our search is that student centered learning doesn’t come to your district express mail, in a one-box-complete-set-follow-the-jumpstart-plan-to-see-student-centered-results-in-just-ten-days transformational kit. Not only does it NOT come prepackaged and as a ready to roll out kit, educational systems should ask for the money back guarantee if it did! The most important part of transforming educational systems IS the work of designing the system collaboratively!

In the fall of 2014, my team, consisting of eight instructional coaches began working with Kim Carter of QED Foundation to move the struggling educational system in Freeport, Illinois forward in Student Centered Instructional Practices. As with any transformational endeavor, it has to begin with often uncomfortable, sometimes surprising, occasionally ugly truth seeking. Over the course of the first year, our team collected data about instructional practices across the district and discovered an overall lack of differentiation to be a reoccurring theme.

Thank goodness it was mostly just differentiation because that’s a concept in education that’s been around forever and easy to fix, right? Have you ever really thought about what it means to differentiate instruction? If you haven’t, I challenge you to gather a team of colleagues together for a good old brainstorming session on that topic. You’ll be amazed at what you didn’t realize you didn’t realize about…well…everything. Differentiation is deep, wide, and frequently misunderstood. The analogy of the iceberg to explain differentiation is spot on. Most of what we hear and see about differentiation is just the tiniest tip peeking out above the immense, expansive, substantive foundation. That’s the kind of iceberg that will sink a Titanic, or educational system, if you don’t dive deep and stay in the water for a while. It was this exploration of differentiation that became the foundation for our work on a Student Centered Implementation Matrix.

In the fall of 2015, our work continued with guidance and support of our guru Kim Carter. Due to budget cuts and career opportunities, our team of eight was down to five survivors. (Even though instructional coaching is a highly effective form of professional development, over the past few years, our coaching program has been cut back dramatically. It was bit of a bad joke with us that you should feel pretty lucky if you hadn’t been voted off the island yet. However, at the end of this school year, I’m sad to report, there were no survivors.) Under fresh administration, we were challenged to go beyond differentiation to develop a vision and guide for student centered practices in our district. Kim suggested that we develop an implementation matrix. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term “implementation matrix” we had to google this too. Basically, it’s a tool used primarily in the manufacturing world and is designed to develop strategies and action steps toward a related goal or objective. This tool would make the vision of student centered learning for Freeport School District concrete and best of all, shared.

While our small team forged the initial draft, plans were made to illicit elicit critical feedback essential to ensure that the matrix represented multiple perspectives and clearly articulated expectations.   Throughout the development process, we hosted feedback sessions with various district stakeholders beginning with the curriculum department, then administrators, the student-centered committee, and eventually all district teachers. Each time we elicited feedback from a group, we ran the session with a modified tuning protocol. This feedback would be reflected upon by our team and considered into the subsequent revisions of the document. Because of the collaborative nature of this work, I would like to personally thank Google for designing a tool that allows an entire team to work on a document at the same time, even when one of them lives in New Hampshire! This process of feedback, reflection, and revision allowed for all voices to be heard, shared the ownership in the development of a shared vision and guide for student-centered practices, and sparked valuable conversations around our strengths and struggles as we work together to transform learning for students in the Freeport School District.

Thankfully, all of the instructional coaches are still gainfully employed by the Freeport School District, each of us in different roles but all deeply committed to serving and inspiring our students, colleagues, and community to reimagine education. While I cannot be certain about the future of our Student-Centered Implementation Matrix, I hope it will continue to evolve and ignite conversations between educators. Creating this document was a challenging, thought provoking, exciting process that opened my mind to new possibilities for education.

I do have a few words of wisdom for others willing to embark on this journey.

A Code of Collaboration is an essential element of collaborative work. When doing this type of work, it gets personal. Creating a code or agreement for group interactions helps create a safe environment allowing for discussions to be difficult but not damaging to the relationships of its members.

Celebrate the uniqueness of others! Strong teams develop out of true appreciation of the experiences, intelligence, and personality each individual brings to the table. Choosing to take a stance of admiration for the members of your team allows you to assume positive intentions in situations when it may seem like someone is just being negative, argumentative, or just plain annoying. Sometimes the best ideas emerge from the most uncomfortable moments and having genuine appreciation for the individuals on your team ensures that at the end of the day you’ll be able to sit around the table and laugh together.

The harder you work the more you grow. Every moment spent creating this document with my team, whether we were researching, deep in discussion, or interrogating each other for the perfect combination of words, we were growing. Collaboratively defining and describing the pathway from a traditional educational model to a gold standard student-centered model of teaching and learning was one of the most challenging and rewarding professional experiences of my career and I know my colleagues would wholeheartedly agree. Reinventing the wheel in education can be work worth repeating!

Respectfully submitted,

Laura Stocker, on behalf of the Instructional Learning Coaches

The Changing Face of Education?

I just returned from the invigorating and inspiring annual International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) conference, where this year’s focus included “blended”* along with “online” learning.  iNACOL Executive Director Susan Patrick spoke almost wonderingly at the explosion of the organization, from seventeen people who met together ten years ago to the more than twenty three hundred who gathered to share, compare, listen to and learn from each other.

Just a few years ago authors Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn predicted online learning would become the disruptive force that would change the face of education (Disrupting Class, 2008). Scott Benson, Program officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, noted that the Foundation’s Small Schools initiative attempted an education reform that wasn’t sustained once the funding went away. By contrast, he noted the blended and online learning demand is growing whether there is grant support funding or not. (To be fair, K12 online programs began with grant-funded programs like Virtual High School, now the VHS Collaborative, which began in 1996.) Still, his point is well taken: demand is driving this education initiative, and educators are doing their best to keep up, and the iNACOL conference is finely tuned to assist.

Sessions address key elements of this emerging educational context, including personalization, competency-based learning, policy drivers and barriers, funding possibilities, and emerging technologies. Presenters are practitioners, product developers, entrepreneurs, policy lobbyists, experts, and learners. Conversations are the norm, including “campfire” style “Meet the Expert” sessions. I confess I was most interested in discovering kindred spirits actively pursuing practices aligned with QED’s Theory of Change for Transformational Learning, and am happy to report I found several, such as the folks at Educurious, Jobs for the Future, and  Boston Day and Evening Academy, all of whom are helping ensure that this latest “redesign” is not simply more of the same with a different name and face (some of you  may remember filmstrips-on-video…)

At our session on Personalizing for Proficiency: Pedagogy and Practices for Student Centered Learning, Elizabeth Cardine and I highlighted QED’s free (everybody’s favorite word, alternatively known as “OER” – open education resources) Learner Sketch Tool,  an online tool designed to provide insight and information for learners and educators to improve learning outcomes. We also unveiled the beta version QED’s newest tool, the Transformational Change Alignment Analysis. (We’d love to hear your feedback!)

I particularly appreciated the spirit of commitment and collaboration that permeated the conference, reminding me of Fenway High School’s motto: Work Hard. Be Yourself. Do the Right Thing. After all, if we aren’t here to do the right thing by ALL – each and every – learner, those learners will take their engagement elsewhere. Guaranteed.

If you missed this year’s conference, check out the upcoming webinars, join in this growing international conversation about the future of learning, and mark your calendar now for the 2014 Symposium. Your voice as much as any other will help shape next steps for learners and learning!

* With a proliferation of competing terminology cluttering up the conversations, iNACOL’s latest publication, Mean What You Say: Defining and Integrating Personalized, Blended and Competency Education by Susan Patrick, Kathryn Kennedy and Allison Powell arrived just in time.

10 Facilitator Moves for Adult Learning


Word association quiz.

When someone pairs “School” and “Learning” who is the first learner you think of?

A student? A class of students? If so, you are like the majority of people. And for good reason — the student learner is the most important point of focus for schools.

However, capitalizing on the unique interests, affinities, and personalities of students to cultivate a rich learning environment isn’t an accident. It requires a focus on the ecosystem of learning at the adult level as well as at the student level. Fortunately, nurturing vigorous learning at the adult level has a mutually beneficial impact on the student learners.

Leading_for_Powerful_LearningWhile numerous tomes offer recipes for mining student data, creating professional learning communities, and implementing data driven instruction, fewer focus on the culture of learning or how to foster a culture that endures, inspires, and develops internal leadership. Authors Angela Breidenstein, Kevin Fahey, Carl Glickman, and Grances Hensley have filled this void with “Leading for Powerful Learning, A Guide for Instructional Leaders” from Teachers College Press.

The book identifies three types of adult learners (Instrumental, Socializing, and Self-Authoring) as well as methods and practices for facilitating authentic learning for each of these types (with a goal of helping them move toward Self-Authoring).  The book includes some protocols for use in meetings.

The entire book is well worth the read, however, of particular interest are 10 facilitator moves that “influence how teams, departments, and faculties learn.” Below are the 10 moves as stated in the book without the accompanying descriptions. For a more in-depth analysis check out the book. You won’t be disappointed.

Facilitator Move 1: Openings are important.

Facilitator Move 2: Closings are also important.

Facilitator Move 3: Understand why you are using a particular protocol.

Facilitator Move 4: Plan the protocol.

Facilitator Move 5: Explain the protocol.

Facilitator Move 6: Facilitate the entire protocol. 

Facilitator Move 7: Don’t be afraid to facilitate.

Facilitator Move 8: Never forget to debrief the process. 

Facilitator Move 9: Find a place for negative questions and comments. 

Facilitator Move 10: Trust the process and trust the group. 

Resources for Talking to Your Kids About the Case of Trayvon Martin

apple diversity

With Zimmerman’s innocence decided, the underlying issues of race and profiling continue to ignite quarreling responses and catalyzing debates about race in America. Here are some helpful sources that can help you talk to your kids about the issues surrounding these debates.

In an NPR post entitled, The Talk: What Did You Tell Your Kids After the Zimmerman Verdict, speakers share their stories about informing their children about race.

NPR code switch posted twitter responses from parents sharing how they explained the verdict to their kids. Twitter Reacts To Zimmerman Acquittal

The Wall Street Journal offers tips on how to use this case as a, “vehicle for change”. Five Tips on Talking to Kids About Race and the Zimmerman Verdict

In an interview on HLN Raising America, founder and editor of Denene Millner, Radio Host Bert Weiss and Ryan Smith discuss their ideas about race and how skins matters in America. Talking Race and Trayvon Martin With Your Kids

Learn how to “plant seeds of peace” with suggestions from the Huffington Post, How to Talk to Your Child About Trayvon Martin’s Death

The dualities of race has undoubtedly played a huge role in the reaction we are seeing across the states since the verdict. As Ghandi is falsely attributed as saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” By teaching our children to move beyond superficialities, like race, we are equipping a generation to transform a society into a more tolerant and equitable multi-racial community. We desperately need this progress in America.

The below section is by the prolific Larry Ferlazzo, who allowed us to repost his piece, “Thoughtful Resources on Trayvon Martin Case and Verdict.” You can visit his site for more education related resources and check out his regular column at Education Week.

The verdict is in, and here are some thoughtful additions to The Best Resources For Lessons On Trayvon Martin. Feel free to suggest additions:

On The Killing Of Trayvon Martin By George Zimmerman is from The Atlantic.

Trayvon Martin killing: what if George Zimmerman were black? is from The Telegraph.

Thank You, Rachel Jeantel is from The Nation.

One of the Saddest Stories Ever: I Am Rachel Jeantel

I Don’t Feel Your Pain is from Slate.

Trayvon Martin In Death: Whose Story Is It? is from NPR.

Fear of a Black President is from The Atlantic.

The Zimmerman Jury Told Young Black Men What We Already Knew is from Gawker.

Photo Credit: ~Urban Prowler~ ( via Compfight cc

The Motivation Equation

Screen Shot 2013-07-11 at 2.11.26 PMThe upcoming new ibook by Kathleen Cushman, “The Motivation Equation,” stands to expand on her pioneering work in leveraging students’ voices in shaping learning environments, pedagogical practices, and transforming how we talk about learning. And thank goodness.

Often missing from our education discourse is, ironically, the most important element of our education system: the learners.

In this newest endeavor (you can read an early release of the book for a limited time here), Kathleen seeks to provide information on “designing lessons that set minds free.” QED’s Chief Education Officer, Kim Carter, had this to say after reading the book:

Motivation is the holy grail of learning. Who doesn’t believe if learners are motivated, they have a much greater likelihood of successful learning?  From the Introduction’s explanation that “motivation is not something you have at the start” to its Appendices packed with additional resources, The Motivation Equation is brilliant on so many levels.  Let me name four:

  1. Kathleen’s synthesis of the essential mind, brain and education science related to motivation into 8 steps or conditions is mind-bogglingly clear.
  2. More importantly, the 8 steps are readily accessible and practical.
  3. The Motivation Equation is rich with student voices – offering a “unique ‘trialogue’ among students, teachers, and learning scientists” – which anchor the steps and the research in familiar realities.
  4. The Motivation Equation is the best (ever) use of the e-book medium that I have seen to date. Unerring integration of sound and video clips, call-out boxes for brief bios and research notes, links to additional resources, survey templates, and protocols for engaging learners in exploring their own motivation represent a treasure trove of value-added resources.

Still need convincing to check it out? Visit WKCD‘s new website, How Youth Learn, for research highlights and videos of student voices.

Narrowing in on the Learner

Do you want to ….

  1. Boost your students’ self esteem?
  2. Keep them engaged?
  3. Have an alternative to testing your students to death?
  4. More specifically support their needs?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions read the infographic below which is all about competency based learning.

Source: Digital Learning Now 

How Youth Learn: Ned’s GR8 8

This video needs no introduction. Just watch it and then file it under — “When Student Voices Align With Research From the Science of Learning.”

Disrupting Injustice: Principal Strategies to Advance Social Justice


The problem: Social injustice across our social landscape, with concentrations in schools where social justice is most needed.

A solution: Leadership focused on targeting, disrupting, and transforming such norms into new outcomes.

Teacher College Record published a paper by George Theoharis, an assistant professor in educational leadership and inclusive education at Syracuse University, titled “Disrupting Injustice: Principals Narrate the Strategies They Use to Improve Their Schools and Advance Social Justice.”

The study’s focus is on principals who positively advance social justice in their schools, who rely on the notion that schools can be places that break the predictive qualities of race, class, gender, and cognitive variation on student outcomes. However, the focus of these principals is not directly on targeting academic gains — which often result in practices that “maintain structures that isolate, track, and segregate instead of structuring inclusion and belonging of all kinds. The findings of this study directly contradict many current practices and reforms that propose that the best ways for students with disabilities, students learning English, and other struggling students to learn involves individually designed and/or remedial instruction conducted outside the general classroom.” Rather, their focus is on targeting the injustices themselves, with academic gains being an outcome.

The principals highlighted in the study focused on strategies to disrupt specific injustices. Below is an overview of the four main injustices and strategies that disrupt these injustices. They are reprinted directly from the study. However, for a fuller analysis and in-depth look at these strategies in practice, we would encourage you to take a look at the article.

Injustice 1: School structures that marginalize, segregate, and impede achievement

Strategies to Disrupt:

    • Eliminate pullout/segregated programs.
    • Increase rigor and access to opportunities.
    • Increase student learning time.
    • Increase accountability systems on the achievement of all students.

Injustice 2: Deprofessionalized teaching staff

Strategies to Disrupt:

    • Address issues of race.
    • Provide ongoing staff development focused on building equity.
    • Hire and supervise for justice.
    • Empower staff.

Injustice 3: A Disconnect with the community, low-income families, and families of color

Strategies to Disrupt:

    • Create a warm and welcoming climate.
    • Reach out intentionally to the community and marginalized families.
    • Incorporate social responsibility into the school curriculum.

Injustice 4: Disparate and low student achievement

Strategies to Disrupt:

    • Confluence of all efforts and strategies


Image:Photo Credit: Dustin and Jenae via Compfight cc

Racing to the Top and Leaving the Impoverished at the Bottom

dollar eyePoverty cripples societal advancement. When prevalent in the richest nation in the world, it becomes mindboggling. Why are so many individuals struggling under the weight of poverty in America? Why is nearly 1 in every 4 children considered impoverished in this land of Race to the Top? Are we racing to the top of the wrong metric?

 My hat goes off to the many families who are pushing their children to aim higher than the constraints of their impoverished surroundings. As members in a society, we share their challenges too, even if we turn a blind eye.

During an interview with CNN, actor Jeff Bridges and “Share our Strength” founder Bill Shore, express why poverty, child poverty specifically, is our responsibility; “If we’re not taking care of our kids, we’re not taking care of our country. If another country was doing this to our kids, we’d be at war.”

relative-child-povertyIn a post titled, “Map: How 35 Countries Compare on Child Poverty,” the Washington Post reports, “A new report by the United Nations Children’s Fund, on the well-being of children in 35 developed nations, turned up some alarming statistics about child poverty. More than one in five American children fall below a relative poverty line.” Out of the 35 countries examined, America ranked 34th.

Mind you, In this study, UNICEF is using its own “poverty line.” Internationally, poverty is defined as families living on less than $1.25 or $2.00 per day, and as much as we grumble about how little we are paid, no gainfully and legally employed American is limited to these lowly amounts. (But in the shadows? That’s another story.) In America, poverty is defined as families living on less than about $22,000 per year.

Because of such huge gaps between developed countries’ internal economies, UNICEF instead measures how much poorer children are from their country’s national average.

“The UNICEF report looks at something it calls the ‘child poverty gap,’ which measures how far the average poor child falls below the relative poverty line. It does this by measuring the gap between the relative poverty line and the average income of poor families.”

Again, from the Post, “The picture (in the U.S.) looks even worse when you examine just how far below the relative poverty line these children tend to fall.”

What are we doing, America? And what should we be doing more of?

Eric Jensons, “Teaching with Poverty in Mind” provides insight into the weight of these children’s challenges. He highlights four major risk factors that, because of economic hardship, burden the developing child and hamper student achievement.

E = Emotional and Social Challenges

A = Acute and Chronic Stress

C = Cognitive Lags

H = Health and Safety Issues

This may explain why many of our students coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds experience difficulties performing in their classrooms. Unfortunately the direction educational policy is headed (as well meaning as it may be) is unjust, unequal, and unapologetic for learners outside of more affluent communities. If a student doesn’t make the mark, they are tracked to remediation or retention in attempts to correct their academic deficits rather than build on their strengths!

Show me a dropout who complained about not getting tested enough, and I’ll show a dropout that never dropped out. The truth is, how often do we hear about students dropping out because they felt the system spent too little time focused on their deficits? How many were exasperated with the focus on their strengths? Is this “leave no deficits behind” approach really attending to their needs and cultivating their interests? Clearly not.

However, while schools, school systems, and educational policy makers can play a role in transforming practices to meet the needs of these learners, we as a larger society have a role to play as well. We, the people, need to stand up to demand that the promissory note that MLK, Jr. referred to way back in ‘63 be delivered upon, because it is clear that we are, as a nation, are still defaulting on that promise.

Again, from the Post: “The poor U.S. showing in this data may reflect growing income inequality. According to one metric of inequality, a statistical measurement called the gini coefficient, the U.S. economy is one of the most unequal in the developed world.”

(What would MLK have to say about that, I wonder?)

Until such time that we fully, tactically and strategically engage in the war on poverty, we must focus where we can — on the students, children, and learners in our charge. Their voice, their dreams, their empowerment must be our first and foremost goal.  But how?

The 2007 Dispelling the Myth Award winners, Osmond A. Church P.S./M.S. 124 K-8 School, have done a remarkable job in breaking down those barriers.  Recognized for significantly raising students academic achievement, their dedication to these young minds is reflected in their success. With an enrollment total of about 1,227 students; 97% are low-income, 33% African American, 44% Asian and 21% are Hispanic, educators were able to provoke a lasting change. What once had dismissed this school, because of their high achievers awarded them much acclaim. Perhaps this school’s mission is responsible for their turnaround; “to inculcate all members of the school community with an understanding and acceptance of diversity, fostering individuality and creativity, where high expectations are the norm for all students.”

Yet we know a well crafted mission isn’t enough. Without the leadership and vision to pursue it relentlessly, such a mission is an empty platitude rather than a way out of poverty. If we want to actualize the talking point that education is a pathway out of poverty we must focus on four things:

1. Leadership.

2. Equity.

3. Cradle to college rap-around services.

4. Sustaining educator engagement.

And even these offer no guarantees without a larger effort to break the status quo of inequality. And judging by where we fall in a comparison of developed nations, our leaders seem abysmally disinterested in racing to the top of that metric.

So, for now, education offers our best hope for affecting change and breaking the predictive cycle of race, class, and gender on educational outcomes. So, bring along your copy of Jenson’s work and lets get to work.

Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc
Graph: WashingtonPost