Tips for Videoconferencing with Professional Learning Communities

School Reform Initiative (SRI) protocols within Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s) have more impact when they are facilitated face-to-face by a skilled facilitator.

Being a member of the professional development team here at Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center, I personally support about 10 school network or district clients nationally, which means there are times when I can’t be with them in person. Such face-to-face meetings are important, and I try to arrange these more personal consultations when possible.

But for those times when that’s not possible, I’ve facilitated such gatherings using Zoom’s video and web conferencing platform — a simple to use online tool that allows me to increase the amount of support I can offer clients sandwiched between in-person consulting visits to their local context.

photo for virtual protocol

If you’re unfamiliar with them, School Reform Initiative protocols offer structured processes to support focused and productive conversations, build collective understanding, and drive school improvement. Thoughtful use of these protocols is an integral part of building resilient professional learning communities.

In recent months, I’ve gathered up and written down a number of tips I believe can greatly increase efficacy of such gatherings online. These tips, which I’ll offer here as suggestions, include: Continue reading…

Using ‘Improvement Science’ to Advance Teacher Preparation

Editor’s Note: Today’s Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center blog post comes to us by way of Kari Thierer, organizational director at School Reform Initiative (SRI) — a nonprofit that works to support the creation of transformational learning communities fiercely committed to educational equity and excellence. Eagle Rock recently hosted Kari and some of her SRI colleagues for a two-day retreat centered on improvement science. Below, Kari discusses her group’s work and its experience with tapping into Eagle Rock’s professional development services.

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Using ‘Improvement Science’ to Advance Teacher Preparation
By Kari Thierer, Organizational Director — School Reform Initiative (SRI)

We have the privilege of working with educators serving pre-kindergarten students all the way through college, in schools throughout the world. Our work began in 1995 as a way to provide better professional development for the schools that were part of the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) network, and this mission has continued to grow and evolve over the years.

We are fortunate to have a relationship with Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center, both through our work as a CES National Center, as well as having the opportunity to work alongside amazing facilitators like Eagle Rock’s Michael Soguero, Dan Condon and Anastacia Galloway — all of whom are part of the SRI community of facilitators.

As our work has evolved, a growing area of conversation has centered around how to support pre-service education programs and bring the principles and practices of SRI critical friendship into licensure programs. Our belief is that these tools and practices will Continue reading…

Eagle Rock Instructors Work Together on Formative Assessment

JanetJohnsonJenFrickeyBy Janet Johnson and Jen Frickey

Each year, our school’s instructional team fine-tunes its collective classroom practice by learning together. Instructors submit ideas for possible topics of study and the director of curriculum, in conjunction with our Professional Development Critical Friends Group, chooses an area of focus for the year.

The Critical Friends Group then meets weekly to plan for four instructional meetings each trimester. The members of the group — both instructional specialists and Eagle Rock Public Allies fellows who are seeking Colorado state teaching licensure — volunteer to study an annual theme, design and deliver engaging adult learning, and facilitate our weekly planning meetings.

A hallmark of these meetings is using School Reform Initiative protocols to share our instructional meeting plans and get feedback about them. We commonly use The Charrette Protocol (note: link opens a PDF) and Tuning Protocols (note: link opens a PDF) to examine our works in progress. These protocols — as well as those that help us to learn from texts, investigate teaching, learning and assessment, and examine student work — are often the backbone of our instructional meetings.

This year’s annual theme is Formative Assessment. For assessment to be formative, teachers and students must ask themselves where they are going, have a realistic appraisal of where they are now, and make a plan together for how to get there. These questions are central to our formative assessment approach.

We attempt to develop our skills in four distinct areas:

  1. Communicate learning targets and criteria for success
  2. Provide effective feedback
  3. Foster strategic questioning among students and teachers
  4. Promote self-assessment and goal setting

Formative assessment is student centered and transparent, with students and teachers working together to set learning objectives and collect evidence of meeting goals. The explicit result, of course, is improving student achievement.

Since the Critical Friends Group had varying levels of understanding and experience with formative assessment, we decided to ground our work together using two texts: Continue reading…

Eagle Rock Staff Descends on Tucson for School Reform Initiative Winter Meeting

With five staff members in attendance, Eagle Rock was well represented at last month’s School Reform Initiative (SRI) Winter Meeting in Tucson, Ariz.

The theme for this year’s meeting was “Place,” and while our visit included learning a lot about Arizona and Tucson, what truly brought the conference to life was coming together with educators from around the country to share in the common struggle and opportunity of teaching.

Unlike traditional conferences, where participants sign up for various workshops and lectures, most of the work at the SRI Winter Meeting takes place in small groups. Within these gatherings, 10 to 12 educators share dilemmas facing them in their practice. And, through the use of collaborative protocols, these groups work to reach a greater understand of issues, solve problems or uncork ideas.

The work in small groups is also a chance for educators to practice using protocols and facilitating Critical Friends Groups®, which we use in many different ways here at the Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center.

SRI_WinterMeeting15In our Critical Friends Groups at Winter Meeting, Eagle Rock’s Professional Development Center staff worked through a variety of dilemmas. Science instructor Janet Johnson got her plan for internally run professional development at Eagle Rock tuned, and Societies and Cultures instructional specialist Diego Duran-Medina got a fresh perspective on his “Heartivism” class. Public Allies Fellow in Professional Development Kelsey Baun worked on ways to increase diversity in the Public Allies Fellows corps, and I received feedback on plans to increase literacy across the curriculum at Eagle Rock.

Even though we were working with Continue reading…

Effective Schooling Shouldn’t Place All of its Cards on High-stakes Testing

Editor’s Note: Eagle Rock works hard for high school reengagement nationally. One of our partners in this work is Tony Monfiletto, who is the executive director of the New Mexico Center for School Leadership. Monfiletto penned the provocative piece that follows on the counterproductive effects of narrow measures on school reform. And, as a result of Eagle Rock’s Professional Development Center recent visit with the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives in New Orleans, we can confirm that most school models in New Orleans have adopted a narrow approach to school reform. We strive to connect work in one place such as developing New Metrics in Albuquerque, N.M., with work in another such as the education reform efforts in New Orleans, La., to make an impact that lifts all students in their engagement. 

By Tony Monfiletto

I am a former school principal and I currently lead an incubator for new schools in my hometown of Albuquerque N.M.. The schools are focused on project-based learning as a means to provide a thrilling and relevant education to young people who are off track on the road to graduation or who have dropped out of school and are returning to earn a diploma.

Just yesterday, I was listening to NPR while making my daughter’s breakfast. Cooking a meal from scratch for her is a highlight of my day, and most times we listen to one of hers — or my — favorite Pandora stations while we eat. But yesterday, we happened to be tuned into NPR and heard a report entitled “A New Orleans Charter School Marches To Its Own Tune  (editor’s note: please have a listen).

It’s a story that hit close to home and adds a new dimension to the school reform discussion and movement. New Orleans is a city that has been dominated by schools that specialize in preparing students to score well on high-stakes standardized tests.

The currencies for these high-stakes tests are math and reading scores. These scores are the blunt instruments that our policy makers use to determine whether schools are effective, and these metrics drive the “no excuses” type of attitudes that dominate in New Orleans. The charter school movement was intended to inspire educational innovation, and it’s remarkable to me that a school focused on acquiring project-based learning through art would be considered such an aberration.

While New Orleans has staked its future on schools that focus on improving basic skills, the real world is focused on Continue reading…