From Data to Design – Reflections on CERA15


CERA LogoFor the past few days I have been learning from and with some of the best educational researchers at the 94th annual California Educational Research Association conference (notes here). Yes, the 94th. Just let that sink in for a second. Educators have been formally gathering together for 94 years to discuss the latest research in education. To me it is a testament to the fact that our work is never really “done.” Education is a constant cycle of inquiry and sharing the results of our practice. Reflecting on the final day of the conference there are three themes that continue to resonate with me and are the core of what I will be taking home.

Design Leadership

During one of the lunchtime keynotes Erik Burmeister, Menlo Park Assistant Superintendent, and Lisa Kay Solomon, author of Moments of Impact: Designing Strategic Conversations discussed design leadership – using principles of design thinking to create change within your organization. The principles in their talk are relatively simple, but equally powerful. First off, design leadership is about starting with the possibilities rather than constraints. Far too often our conversations in school leadership or district cabinet meetings result in lots of “Yeah but…” statements (ex: Yeah, we could develop a plan for moving 1:1, but how will we sustain it). While recognizing the limitations of a organization is important we tend all to often to start our thinking with the limitations first rather than the possibilities. Gathering a group of school leaders together (principals, teachers, parents, and students) can powerfully work through any limitations using “How might we…” and “Yes, and…” statements. I am  looking forward to trying these on with our leadership teams in the next few weeks. An example of this design thinking leadership process led to the creation of passion-based mini courses at Erik’s previous school where for one week each year teachers and students have complete choice in their learning.

Disney design thinking in action - a drone scanner that will measure possible princess feet in the village.

Disney design thinking in action – a drone scanner that will measure possible princess feet in the village.

Thursday evening Christopher Good from One Work Place facilitated a phenomenal design-thinking workshop that has inspired something similar for CUE Rockstar Roseville. I’m excited to take 100 teachers through the design thinking process as a way to build community and explore ideas for how we can bring similar principles into our classrooms.

Making & Authentic Learning

At a research and assessment conference I didn’t really expect making and authentic learning to be a strand that was woven through the keynotes and many of the sessions. Milton Chen, Senior Fellow with the George Lucas Educational Foundation shared much of his work around innovation and authentic learning. His framework, six edges for innovation are found in a book he authored, Education Nation. While his work was interesting what I really appreciated were many of the real-world examples he shared for making and learning in K-12 education. I am excited to share socio-emotional learning, maker movement, and PBL resources from the George Lucas Educational Research group with my colleagues…and pilot Pixar in a Box as part of an after school program.

A Test Worth Teaching To

One of the struggles I have been having as a leader is figuring out where the components of SBAC fit within everything we are doing. My colleagues and I find ourselves wondering, “How much does this really matter?” The three components of Smarter Balanced are not just about accountabilitySBAC Triangle, but also providing information (Interim Assessments) and resources (SBAC Digital Library) for teachers on helping their students master the Common Core Standards.

While I have seen the above graphic before, it took listening to the CDE staff member’s description of designing a test worth teaching to for me to finally understand our struggle. The three components of SBAC (interim assessments, Digital Library, and the summative assessment) at their heart assume that this is the core of what you are doing and that you believe this is the test worth teaching to. Teachers will assess their students using the interim assessments, use the digital library to identify resources for struggling students, and conduct the summative assessment each year as a measure of organizational accountability. I don’t know if we are ready to make that commitment or even see a problem that these resources will readily address. The discussion really left me with a desire to reframe our question from “How much does this really matter?” to “What problems will these resources help us address.” The accountability piece will not go away, but the interim assessments and digital library are only useful when we have clearly identified our problems. There were two ideas in other sessions which really highlighted two areas where we can focus.

  1. San Juan USD is using the interim assessment blocks with teachers as a vehicle for delivering professional development about teaching towards and scoring more open-ended instructional tasks. Very quickly its allowing them to develop a more precise instructional language and recognize that NCLB and our former set of standards have left far too many teachers over-scaffolding learning.
  2. Deb Sigmund from West Ed pointed out in her session that her work with high performing districts disparities between sub groups tend to be very wide, but people easily dismiss because the overall scores are high.

These are just a few of my thoughts before leaving the conference. More than anything else I wanted to write them down as a tool for reflecting on my learning and committing to making change in my organization.



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