Building a Classroom Community that supp

Building a Classroom Community that supports Collaborative, Problem-based Learning via @leadingedgejack #CSP #PBL

Brave. Badass. Different. You deserve a

Brave. Badass. Different. You deserve a graduate school that sees you as a force for social change. @AntiochNewEng

If you’re a teacher and live or work ne

If you’re a teacher and live or work near Estes Park, you should check this out. @EagleRockSchool: CFG Seminar

What is Your Story?

I’m happy share a guest post today from Jason Finley, Work-Based Learning Coordinator Randolph Technical Career Center and 2009 Rowland Fellow (Inaugural Cohort)

This was originally posted on the Rowland Foundation blog.


While the Rowland Blog is a piece of our Professional Learning Community, the following is largely a personal take on our individual and collective work. It is part of my story.

What is your story?

You’ve heard me say this before, and I’m sure that you’ll hear me say it again, “Collectively we are our own best resource.”

What does this mean for our work as Fellows? I’ve tried more than a few ways and have searched ad nauseam for the best means to gather, curate, and share the tremendous amount of collective wisdom and resources that our group holds. I’ve done this, however, while ignoring a basic tenet of education.

You know it and practice it as the new “3 R’s” of Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships. What’s known in principle, however, is only valid if used in practice. Let me begin this post with a sincere mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Rigorous content and academic concepts can only be addressed after we have determined how to connect these in ways that are purposeful and Relevant to an individual or group. And, we are unable to adequately determine what is Relevant to an individual or a group without first developing a strong and meaningful Relationship.

It’s common best practice in our classrooms, isn’t it? We all know that community building is paramount to a successful year. Regardless of who the group of learners is, it is necessary to first spend the time necessary to develop relationships.

It’s always about putting people first. It’s about taking the time to learn someone’s story to understand who they are and why it is that they do the things that they do. Beyond statistically significant data points, beyond what the research tells us, beyond studies in current best practices, what experiences led each of us to where we are at today? That’s what is really important. Right?

So, how did you forge your past experiences in shaping your work as a Rowland Fellow? What is the story of why you do what you do?

Dr. Uri Hasson with the Neuroscience Institute at Princeton University gives us some insight into the importance of this when he shares, “A story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.” Stories connect ideas. Stories connect experiences. Stories connect us.

Stories allow us to make mental associations with, find relevance in, and give context to the ideas and experiences of others. They address an intellectual need to make meaning while providing opportunities for deeply emotional connections. This gives stories the powerful ability to inspire us to take action.

Rodger Dean Duncan says this better than I can. Here are his thoughts, slightly abridged and modified, on storytelling.

“Stories have enormous potential to inspire and connect, to open eyes and to affirm. For too long, schools have relied on offering ideas of improvement, change, and reform only by supplying data, numbers, and statistics. There is, however, a recent revival of the use of simple images and one line concepts to support verbal storytelling. TED Talks have carried this practice forward and with world-class speakers who speak in simple narratives, using stories and powerful imagery to convey their message.

This is because stories powerfully connect us to each other. When we share our own real-life stories or the stories of others it provides the opportunity to get to know one another as authentic people – real people who have struggled within the traditional paradigms of education and figured out how to overcome them.”

This fall and winter we will be sharing the stories that have led us individually to where we are today in an attempt to better inform each us of the stories we will write tomorrow. It will be an opportunity to come out of our silos and lean across the fence for a while to share some time and ideas with friends.

I strongly believe that through the simple act of storytelling, relationships will be developed in ways which allow for a deeper discovery of shared relevance. And, through exploring those common areas of knowledge and interests, we will ultimately develop more rigorously defined, researched, and developed processes which lead to even greater outcomes for our work.

Collectively we are our own best resource. Knowing each other’s stories will help us to write a better version of our own.

What is your story?

Jason Finley, a 2009 Fellow, is the Work-Based Learning Coordinator at Randolph Technical Career Center and Co-Chair of the Vermont Work-Based Learning Coordinators Association.
“At the Randolph Technical Career Center (RTCC) I help students to become both career and college ready through work-based learning experiences which build confidence through competence, promote a sense of pride in work well done, and teach students the perseverance and grit necessary to manage obstacles while valuing the effort it takes to turn challenges into opportunities.”


Sometimes Learning is found not in Individual Experience, but in Common Reflection. Photo & Quote ~ Jason Finley

Rodger Dean Duncan quote from “Tap the Power of Storytelling”

On the Power of the Little Black Dress

I recently had a conversation with a colleague that got me to thinking.  We were discussing the current state of teacher professional development in light of what we academics call the  “topsy-turvey” state of the edu-political landscape and what it means for folks like us at ACSR.  With a few exceptions, district and school administrators seem to be falling into one of two camps these days: either they’re in wait- and- see mode (“Is Common Core going to stick? What will the test look like? What about our current scores- do they still matter? How will teacher evaluations work now?  What about the budget?”) or they’re looking to *very* customized, (often very expensive and well marketed) plug- and- play solutions that target a very specific niche and provide slick, digital resources like videos and downloadable lesson plans.

Now, if you’ll excuse me a moment, I’m going to digress into the world of fashion.  I’ve reached a stage in my life where I have the perspective of nearly half a century of trends, shopping (and discarding) behind me and the most important thing I’ve learned is this:

Never underestimate the power of the little black dress. 

I’ve purchased, worn, and discarded a lot of stuff in my life.  Mini-skirts, maxi-skirts, cigarette pants and bell bottoms.  Shaker sweaters and boucle jackets and pants suits and overalls. All have come and gone from my closet (okay, except the overalls, but I only wear those in the garden because, Hello! Pockets a-go-go!).  You know what *hasn’t* gone by the wayside?

My little black dresses.

 I have three of them.  Different seasons, different styles, but all equally wonderful and useful.  I use them in all kinds of situations and I’ve never once found a time where I was overdressed or underdressed when I had one of them on (thank you, Karl Lagerfeld for that piece of advice).  They all *work* in all kinds of situations and that’s what I think clothes should do- they should work for you.  Not the other way around.

I think the same is true of professional learning.  They should be simple and elegant and they should work over time, in different situations, no matter the crazy wrought by policy makers and budget situations.  Standards will come and go- be they the CCSS or some other variety, no matter how locally developed and individualized, even if you have your own set for your own classroom.  Assessment systems will change from large scale and high stakes to local and formative.  The pendulum will swing- we’ve all seen it.  Bell bottoms will come back and skinny jeans will disappear (dear lord let them disappear soon) and the width and length (and existence) of a well-tied tie will, too.  Trends come and go and sometimes it’s fun and interesting to play around with them. The wise shopper knows, though, to invest in the classics.  Invest it things that last and that work no matter the situation.  Invest in things that are timeless.


Critical Skills has been around for 30 years.  It’s shifted as research has emerged- particularly around neuroscience and pedagogy- and based on what teachers tell us they do and what works for their students. (Classroom teachers still do all the model revisions and 90% of the training, in fact.)  But essentially, foundationally, it hasn’t.

The basic ideas- that kids (and adults) learn best from experience that pulls together content and process skills, that we learn best in community, that we need to have clear targets for learning and assessment- those haven’t changed. They haven’t needed to because they just work whether we’re talking about Common Core or the learning goals one parent has for the kids they homeschool.

They’re the little black dress of learning for kids and adults.



Punk Rock, and CCSS

I’m all about the guest bloggers these days.  Today I’m welcoming the return of Reuben Duncan, Assistant Superintendent in our own SAU 29 here in Keene. Thanks for sharing, Reuben!

Green Day, The Offspring, U2, Eve 6, and Blind Melon. These are bands that help me clear my mind when everything starts to get jumbled up. I don’t exactly know why I feel this music helps me to reflect and organize my thoughts. I mean, those of you who have lis-tened to The Offspring for any duration of time might actually feel driven to destroy any organization you have developed. I don’t know…maybe the predictability of the sound and lyrics of The Offspring is what makes it so calming to me. It’s kind of like listening to Aerosmith; every song sounds the same, but they’re cool.

SAU 29 has done a lot of work this year with data, standards, unit design, and of course, teaching. A lot has transpired this year on many fronts, and it is at this time of the year when I find I start to get tired. I meet with leaders from around the state, and many have told stories of how people in their schools are overwhelmed with the Common Core and all that goes along with it. Their stories remind me of the lyrics to my favorite song by Eve 6, Inside Out

I burn, burn like a wicker cabinet, chalk white and oh so frail I see our time has gotten stale The tick tock of the clock is painful All sane and logical, I want to tear it off the wall I hear words and clips and phrases I think sick like ginger ale My stomach turns and I exhale I would swallow my pride, I would choke on the rinds But the lack thereof would leave me empty inside Swallow my doubt turn it inside out Find nothin’ but faith in nothin’ Want to put my tender, heart in a blender Watch it spin around to a beautiful oblivion Rendezvous then I’m through with you.

This song about a relationship gone sour reflects the sentiments of many. “I see our time has gotten stale.” Or perhaps, “My stomach turns and I exhale,” to the point of, “Rendezvous then I’m through with you.” 

However, in SAU 29, what we have seen is something completely different. During the Keene early release days, teachers from across the grade levels and subject areas have inspired one another through collaboration and creativity. During the January work-shop day, all town schools came together for a day focused on performance tasks, unit planning, and working together. The response to all of this collaboration has been very positive, and many have indicated that it has been rewarding – time consuming – but rewarding nonetheless. 

Many teachers have completed units, have taught them, and have already started to refine their work. Others around the SAU are completing the unit development and will be implementing their plans during the April and May months. 

The themes have been integration, relevance, authentic learning, higher order thinking, and becoming fully inclusive. As a member of the Keene Education Committee, I have been able to witness much of the work that has been developed. I can say first hand and can speak for those who sit on the committee that the presentations by various educators and schools have been inspiring and full of life. It is neat to see schools experiment and pilot approaches to teaching, such as Wheelock School’s use of the P.A.C.T. which promotes a unique approach to differentiation for all students. Last year, I wrote about The Daily Five read-ing approach. Many are using these types of personalized approaches to teaching and learning and find-ing noticeable success in their classes. 

The Common Core is an opportunity for growth and for inspiration. In SAU 29, our time has not gotten stale. We have started down a journey togeth-er that will only make us stronger as a unit. Thank you all for your dedication and very hard work!

Reflection and Service


So pleased to have a guest post today from Dominic DiBenedetto. Grade 8 English teacher at Keene Middle School.  These are the remarks he delivered at the closing of the National Junior Honor Society induction ceremony at KMS last week.  One of the things I most appreciate about Dominic- both as a teacher and as an NJHS adviser- is that he seeks to make the exclusive inclusive.  NJHS at KMS isn’t about drawing a circle in which only one brand of excellence is valued, it’s about honoring a whole bunch of different versions of service, citizenship, and academic success.  (He’s also an AUNE alum, so that makes him extra snazzy in my opinion.)

Learn from your mistakes. It seems simple enough, right? But how do we know at which point in the process we went wrong? How do we pinpoint the specific pieces of the puzzle to readjust – instead of simply trying to jam something in place that simply doesn’t fit? The answer involves the art of reflection: looking back with a critical eye and using resources to change and address those mistakes.

As an educator, I benefit from the daily, almost hourly opportunity to be reflective – specifically in the area of lesson planning.  Whether I ask for it or not, I am given immediate, specific feedback regarding the content of my lessons, the timing of my activities, and the methods with which I manage my students. Even a very organized and competent planner can come across mistakes in his classroom. Were I to blindly follow my plans, disregarding my students’ ability to learn successfully, or blame it on their supposed laziness, I’d never get anywhere!
The young men and women honored tonight have shown that they must be very reflective members of our community – taking seriously the delicate processes for learning from their mistakes. They have put in a great deal of effort into reviewing their unsuccessful attempts, culling out the problematic steps, and revising their strategies to accomplish their goals.  Skills and instincts, no doubt enriched through the careful, loving support and teachings of their biggest influences – the parents. You have all given these young leaders the benefit of your reflective practices and learned-from mistakes.  We all appreciate the countless hours and sleepless nights you’ve invested.
And now, kids, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and really give back. Whether or not the plans we make come to fruition this year, we are always planning and reflecting – What parts of our community need our help? How can we provide that support? These questions and more are considered regularly. Tonight isn’t simply a party – it’s the beginning of a commitment to lead by example, encourage others to do their best, and going forward in excellence, remember to learn from your mistakes.