Tag: Innovation

University of Iowa to offer MFA in Spanish creative writing

University of Iowa to offer MFA in Spanish creative writing

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Beginning in Spring 2012 the University of Iowa will offer an Master of Fine Arts degree in Spanish creative writing. The new program is one of only three in the nation, with the others being the University of Texas, El Paso and New York University.

The UI program director, Ana Merino, associate professor of Spanish said, “I often speak of ‘the theory of two houses, a person with two lovely homes—one in the city, and one at the beach—wouldn’t give up either place if he didn’t have to. Likewise, if an individual identifies with two cultures, he’d prefer to retain and celebrate both. This program will help bilingual writers do just that.”

More information about the program can be found at: http://t.co/nwn0mk5n

Instructional Rounds: A Powerful Reform Strategy

Instructional Rounds: A Powerful Reform Strategy

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Collaboration, networking, school improvement, instructional support, a collaborative learning culture, knowledge building, and rigorous and relevant teaching—these are all attributes and practices school reformers strive for by awarding funds, promulgating rules, instituting strategic plans, launching training initiatives, and extending promises to stakeholders. One approach that truly advances all of these attributes and practices is the instructional rounds process – “an explicit practice that is designed to bring the discussion of instruction directly into the process of school improvement.”[1] Instructional rounds are adapted from a routine used in medical education in which interns, residents, and supervising physicians visit patients, observe, discuss evidence for diagnoses, engage in dialogue to analyze the evidence, and share ideas for possible treatments. Educational rounds brings networks of educators together using protocols and routines to articulate a theory of action, identify a problem of practice, observe classroom instruction, debrief with colleagues to analyze any patterns that emerge, and recommend the next level of work to help the school achieve their desired goals.[2]

Richard Elmore, Lee Teitel, Liz City, and their colleagues from Harvard have developed processes, protocols, and technical assistance resources for establishing networks to implement instructional rounds. They have worked closely with networks and district leaders to apply the practice of rounds, refine the model based on lessons learned, and to expand the community of learners who are able to facilitate the rounds process. Examples of these networks include the Cambridge Leadership Network, the Connecticut Superintendents’ Network, the Ohio Leadership Collaborative, and the Iowa Leadership Academy Superintendents’ Network. I have had the privilege of being a member of the Iowa Leadership Academy Superintendents’ Network – an experience that has allowed me to participate in intensive training provided by Dr. Elmore and the Harvard team, engage as both a member on various rounds teams and as a facilitator of the rounds process in several Iowa school districts, and to continuously learn from my fellow rounds facilitators through our Network meetings.

The instructional rounds model seems to be gaining more traction and is recently being advanced as a model for  school leaders and  teachers as a means to transform educator practice.  What I have noticed in my work with the rounds model in Iowa is that it offers tremendous benefit to the Network members and to the participating schools.  The process focuses the district’s efforts on, what Elmore calls, the instructional core. Engaging in rounds builds the capacity of superintendents to recognize quality instruction, enhances trust among Network members, increases their willingness to take on the challenges of influencing change, and leads to a culture of inquiry that enhances professional learning.

On a cautionary note, I have also noticed some aspects of the model that anyone aspiring to adopt this approach should consider.  Some of the lessons learned from my own work with rounds and from sharing experiences with other facilitators in Iowa are listed below.

  • Though the steps for conducting rounds may seem straightforward, in practice, it is a very difficult program for participants to implement.
  • Establishing a network takes an extraordinary amount of work and leadership. In Iowa, Bonnie Boothroy of School Administrators of Iowa and several of the Area Education Agency Chiefs have committed extensive amounts of time and effort to establish and sustain Iowa’s Network.
  • Being a member of a network takes a lot of time, commitment to learn, and perseverance to follow through and apply new learning. It is not a model for anyone who wants their professional growth to be quick and easy. Becoming a facilitator is an extremely valuable professional learning experience, but the work of developing the skills needed to support a network and run the rounds process can’t be shortchanged.  The “faint of heart” should not apply.
  • New capacity building is needed to do this work. School leaders shouldn’t consider running rounds without background knowledge. Instructional Rounds in Education: A Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning a well written book by City, Elmore, Fiarman, and Teitel (2009) is a great resource, but just reading the book is not a substitute for learning how to conduct rounds from those who have had extensive direct experience.
  • Going to scale across multiple districts and running rounds with fidelity is a constant effort and requires ongoing vigilance. Our network meets several times a year to address how best to support the rounds process and we continuously confront issues that have the potential to seriously domesticate the delivery of the model.

It takes a community of committed practitioners for the networks and rounds process to work well. Isolated implementers who just pick up the book are likely to implement the model partially or incorrectly. Plus, the experience of engaging in collective learning in an organized way will serve school leaders well as they work to establish learning communities in their schools.

School reformers might want to take a look at this promising and exciting approach to school reform. While they should be excited about the potential, reformers also need to be cautious about selecting a model that is demanding to implement.  To fulfill the promise of this approach, school leaders will need to make a serious commitment to engage deeply in the work and be intentional about fully learning the model from experts. The policy makers and administrators who are responsible for designing the roll-out of the rounds networks must attend to the all the factors that are necessary to advance  a model to scale and be vigilant about expecting careful replication of the model.

[1] City, E., Elmore, R. , Fiarman, S. and Teitel, L. (2009). Instructional rounds in education: A network approach to improving teaching and learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

[2] Ibid.

Summary of The Knowledge Garage: Redesigning Education R&D to Transform Learning

Summary of The Knowledge Garage: Redesigning Education R&D to Transform Learning

Reading Time: 5 minutes

We prepared this Executive Summary of our white paper for the national invitational summit that we convened with Knowledge Alliance/Center for Knowledge Use and the Stupski Foundation, Unleashing Knowledge and Innovation for the Next Generation of Learning, from August 10–12, 2009, in Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico.

Executive Summary

Education R&D has its passionate advocates, to be sure, but even they would be hard pressed to argue that the topic conjures up visions of unbridled creativity, free flowing inventiveness, and audacious risk-taking—at least at first glance.

This white paper advocates on behalf of taking a second, more introspective glance through the lens of “the knowledge garage”—the garage serving as a metaphor for ideas hatched in unlikely places by unlikely people, but ideas nonetheless that can ultimately change the world.

The paper begins with an appreciative nod to the early garage sites of youthful inventiveness, whose initial tinkering gave us the personal computer, eventually democratizing ongoing communications worldwide. It then poses the following question:

by pursuing a similar course, one also filled with creativity, inquiry, opportunity, and tenacity, could education R&D be redesigned to transform learning?

Section One, Road Trip: Rethinking Education R&D, describes the quest for the answer, led by two organizations: Knowledge Alliance and West Wind Education Policy. It highlights development of a new product, one of ideas and potential actions, six years in the making. What began as a conceptual dialogue among a group of leading research organizations to define the meaning of knowledge utilization culminated, via a broader conversation with individuals from other backgrounds and fields, in concrete dimensions of a potential R&D infrastructure for education. In between, were side trips incorporating thoughts of the future, entrepreneurship, web-based technology, and system design.

Sharing this road trip has three objectives. First, it aims to document for the actual participants the highlights of their long-term efforts to identify the intersection of knowledge, innovation, research, development, and action. Second, it provides a record in hindsight for potential participants, intended to accelerate their subsequent engagement. Third, openly sharing these activities models the comprehensive, thoughtful type of inquiry needed to assess the role of education R&D, both now and in the future, in the transformation of learning.

Section Two, Specifications: Designing a New Model, places the issue of reinventing education R&D into larger relief, by summarizing four emerging issues that will have a significant impact on the outcome. First is the profound way in which the education system itself is changing, starting with rethinking the individual relationship between students and teachers in a 2.0 learning world. Second is a new Administration on record as champions of transparency in governing and innovation as well as stewards of a record infusion of federal education funds to states and school districts. Third is the evolving conversation to replace 50 different sets of state standards and assessments with an alternative more responsive to accomplishing national education priorities in a global context. Fourth are external considerations of the general public’s role in education R&D, not only to inform citizens but to involve them as active participants, as beneficiaries, and ultimately, as taxpayers and public investors. As one wise participant noted, if the early innovators had not found their market and filled a demand, they’d still be in the garage.

Section Three, GPS: Navigating the Road Ahead, describes how an innovative idea successfully implemented by dedicated educators and achieving positive results may still not survive—a situation all too common in education today. A future scenario, based on forging a new teacher-student relationship more compelling for a digital world, is used to illustrate the point. The paper then revisits the scenario in order to pose this question: what would have happened differently if a redesigned R&D education infrastructure had been in place?

Section Four, Body Parts: Building the Infrastructure, moves from the conceptual to the concrete. It uses the scenario as backdrop to examine the respective parts—from the leadership structure that provides oversight, field support, outreach, and dissemination, to the local design teams and innovation sites that address problems of practice through cycles of continuous improvement—of what a top-down/bottom-up redesigned R&D system in education might look like. It also poses, as part of this context, a way to position policymaking and practice in a seamless relationship, enriched by the coordinated, strategic use of research, knowledge, development, and dissemination.

Section Five, Test Drive: Shifting into High Gear, poses three recommendations intended to prompt action.

  • Recommendation One: create a new leadership structure to redesign R&D in education, with two preconditions intended to accelerate its initial and long-term success: 1) conduct a series of rigorous benchmarking studies to capture, and then customize for implementation, the relevant best practices from comparable types of entities and 2) align with other R&D entities, both within and outside the federal government, that share the same applied research mission.
  • Recommendation Two: implement a proof of concept of the approach outlined in this paper that, ultimately, would position local design teams nationwide as consistent participants in implementing ongoing innovative practices in education.
  • Recommendation Three: support a series of targeted and coordinated outreach efforts so that the new education R&D infrastructure can evolve into a true knowledge ecosystem, which routinely uses research to reinforce effective state and federal policymaking; helps build a market, based on practitioner needs, for product development that will spur continual innovation; and informs and engages the public and its many segments, so that they, collectively and respectively, have an identifiable stake in the outcome.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in many respects, was the ideal sponsor of this white paper. Its male namesake was part of a cadre of young independent-minded learners a generation ago who used their imagination and resolve in ways that ultimately transformed the world. In democratizing access to information, they also fashioned a whole new type of student, “the 24/7 learner,” for whom self-directed education has become not just an aspiration, but an expectation.

As with any transformation, there are winners and losers. Clearly, the first category includes the growing numbers of students for whom the Internet has become the primary source of both knowledge and co-invention. In the potential loser category is the current education system, increasingly at risk in achieving its mission, as increasing numbers of students are learning in spite of, not because of, what they experience in school. Even more troubling are the growing numbers of students who, precisely because they lack access to the Internet, are in danger of falling even further behind.

It is therefore fitting for the Gates Foundation, as well as growing numbers of other innovators, to weigh in on the side of forging new solutions to transform public education—using, as their legacy, both the experiences and resources grounded in the early garage days. Accordingly, this white paper ends with a call to action on behalf of forging future learning opportunities. It suggests embracing not only the original inventive spirit of the garage, but also the purposeful actions—and lasting entities—that such creativity ultimately produced.

A dual inventive/sustainable approach cannot come soon enough. Fundamental challenges now confront all aspects of society, calling upon the entire country to act like one big garage. The problems are increasingly apparent; remedies, less so. The risk, absent proven and thoughtful approaches, is defaulting to inappropriate or deficient solutions. The stakes are high, but the opportunities are endless—if we can evolve the myriad, often vitriolic separate discussions currently underway into collaborative deliberation followed by collective action.

Developing a culture and habit of using R&D in education to innovate for the long-term—the message conveyed in the following pages—can serve this purpose. The message is long overdue.

It’s time, taking a cue from the quintessential garage band of all time, therefore, “to head out on the highway.”

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