In the fall of 2010, I was working at Big Picture South Burlington (BPSB), a school within a school located in South Burlington, Vermont, where students design their own curriculum and projects around their interests and internships.
The learning that students were doing — creating an award-winning series on the local public television station; designing and making a dress with blinking lights using knowledge of fashion and electricity; and, leading groundbreaking mindfulness exercises with their peers — was inspiring.
Despite all this fantastic learning and growth, we were shackled by the century-old Carnegie Unit credit system. We were left translating these complex, real-world projects back into 0.1 units of math and 0.4 units of English, being sure that they ultimately added up to four years of English, three years of math, and so on.
I knew it was time to start doing things differently. Drawing from my experience as an intern at Eagle Rock, I envisioned a proficiency-based graduation system that asked students to demonstrate their skills in areas that really mattered.
So I got on the phone to Michael Soguero (Eagle Rock’s director of Professional Development), and I was thrilled when he told me Eagle Rock’s Professional Development Center (PDC) had identified the Big Picture Learning Network as a primary partner for their work. Thus we embarked on being a client of the PDC. With Eagle Rock’s amazing facilitation and support, we redesigned the graduation requirements for BPSB in time for implementation the next school year. And believe me when I say that is like traveling at the speed of light for school reform!
The result? Big Picture South Burlington’s graduation requirements became a model for the state of Vermont as it transitions to proficiency-based graduation requirements for all high schools. As a recipient of Eagle Rock’s facilitation of our school change process, I knew I was encountering a type of professional development that puts all others to shame.
I addition, Eagle Rock supported BPSB in meeting our goals — not a prepackaged program. Rather than being outside “experts” focusing on what we, as embedded professionals, didn’t know or do well, Eagle Rock started with our successes and assets. Not only was this process radically different in the way it boosted our morale, it was infinitely more effective because it built on what was already working in our context. As Michael Soguero likes to, “We teach you to cook with the ingredients you already have in your kitchen.”
Eagle Rock also helped support changes throughout Vermont, with BPSB as the local sponsor of a series of Proficiency-Based Graduation Requirement (PBGR) workdays for educators.
We attracted a tremendously diverse group of practitioners wanting to make schools different places — where students graduate prepared for college, career, and civic success. Places where students are the center of their education. Places where everyone is learning and growing and having fun.
Onboard we had students, teachers, parents, superintendents, school principals, school board members and representatives from the Vermont Agency of Education. Educators resoundingly said this was the best professional development they had ever experienced. To be sure, BPSB and Eagle Rock were certainly not the only factors shifting Vermont to proficiency-based graduation. But we significantly influenced the discussion and vision, drawing from the collective energy and wisdom of education’s many stakeholders, facilitating forums for us all to inspire and teach each other, and providing an example (BPSB’s PBGRs) from which many schools have since drawn.
When I moved on to a new job helping to develop proficiency-based learning in Continue reading…