A Personalized Classroom Tour

On the eve of another school year’s opening day, I captured several images of the personalized learning environment students will enter in the morning. Welcome back to The Clubhouse!

Learners will immediately face choices and be challenged to determine where they will learn best each day. Those searching for an uncomfortable, cumbersome, Industrial Age desk are out of luck in room A15–I ditched the last three desks during this year’s back-to-school renovation. However, there are plenty of excellent work spaces available.

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Clipboards and Conversations: PD with Purpose

I recently had the rare opportunity (and pleasure) to observe my colleagues’ classrooms throughout two school days. In total, I entered twenty-four classrooms and, after reflective collaboration with the rest of the leadership team, enjoyed conversations about nearly fifty observational rounds. While out on tour, my purpose was to collect data about the amount of differentiation and level of rigor our students experience in a typical day of high school to provide direction for future staff development. What I recorded on a clipboard may prove valuable; but what I experienced has already made a significant impact.

My greatest take-away is the need for all stakeholders to increase innovative thought in our vision of school–by students, teachers, and administrators. Students should spend more time creating, not simply doing, in a school day. Teachers should be coaching more than instructing. Administrators should attack the status quo, think big and ask, “why not?” All leaders should empower others by asking more questions than providing answers. We can make significant improvements to what we do and how we do it. So what holds us back? Continue reading

Allegory of the Thumb

Four years ago, the graduating class of 2012 selected me to deliver the commencement address as the faculty representative of Grafton High School. As we see another class of learners through their four years of high school, I pay tribute to students and educators, the survivors of Wisconsin’s proud, public schools, by sharing my speech with the world.

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“Allegory of the Thumb”
Written and Presented by Brian Durst

Twenty-four hundred years ago, classical Greek philosopher Plato composed The Republic, an essay of Socratic dialogue examining education, justice, and the human condition. In one famous excerpt—“The Allegory of the Cave”—Plato challenges perception by showing how reality of the visible world is not always as it seems. He shares a story of deception, truth, intellect, and the potential of the human mind, particularly, if released from the shadows of our current existence. In similar fashion, but with far less sophistication, I have crafted an allegorical tale intended to educate as well as entertain. My purpose today is simple: to send you on your path to enlightenment by sharing some rules of thumb with an original piece entitled, “Allegory of the Thumb.”

I invite you to use your hand as a visual aid while you listen to the story… Continue reading

My One Word for 2016: Stride

Stride

In 2015, I became a runner. Not a great runner, but a dedicated one. In the past, I have run to stay in shape or condition for other sports, but I never trained for competitive running. I learned about preparation, pace, nutrition, and training. I discovered how hard I can push my body and challenge my mind. The result was a healthier athlete (a term I use casually), completion of my first 15K run, and an expectation to increase my performance in the upcoming year.

That expectation not only refers to running, it drives all aspects of my personal and professional life. Now that I have motivation and direction for 2016, I will continue to “walk or run with long, decisive steps” at a “good or regular rate of progress” toward my aspirations.

I will STRIDE

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A Radiant Reflection 2015

Last year at this time, I committed to my one word for 2015: radiate. The time has come to check for accountability to see if I achieved the expectations identified in last year’s post. With humility and gratitude, I reflect on my opportunities for professional development and personal growth in 2015.

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Radiate: To move from one’s center requires taking action with direction. It is time to emerge, flow with thoughts, and take action to produce something useful.

In 2015, I resumed my endless quest to promote a culture of learning through innovative engagement strategies, healthy grading practices, and assessment for learning. After years of exploring project-based learning, differentiation, genius hour, feedback strategies, and the paperless classroom, I began working with a personalized learning model in high school communication arts. The process was challenging but the results were rewarding. The efforts of my students and support from colleagues, along with my transparency in documenting the journey, led to a surprising honor. I received the 2015 Herb Kohl Fellowship Award for “the ability to inspire a love of learning in students and motivate others, and for leadership within and outside the classroom.” While the recognition was gratifying, it became a motivator to raise my personal expectations and professional contributions to education. Continue reading

Challenging Thought: Wisdom from a Former Student

Thanksgiving receives plenty of attention for traditional feasts, shopping, and family time; but for teachers, Thanksgiving week means more than a couple days off of work. It represents the opportunity to reflect and reconnect with former students.

Yesterday, as if posted on the school calendar, a former student stopped by at the end of my prep period. He told me about his current studies and adventures as a college sophomore. We exchanged stories and shared laughs. These reunions are my reward–my holiday bonus.

But conversations with this graduate always go deeper than catching up on life and reminiscing about old times. He wants to know how systems work and asks questions about education that challenge my thinking. He has always been a genuine learner, urged by intellectual curiosity. And he possesses one of the most observant, insightful, brilliant minds I have ever had the pleasure to teach (even when he was a freshman). The limitations of a traditional high school structure were the only obstacles in his education at the time. He exhausted our school’s offerings of Advanced Placement courses and conquered all standardized tests with ease. As anticipated, he needed the independence of college to thrive and be challenged intellectually.

So why do we continue to lack vision of the possibilities and impede the potential of our learners?

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Transparency: Aligning Learning and Assessment

Back to School

Stores taunt shoppers with Back-to-School savings in early July. By mid-August, denial transforms into anticipation. Hallways are waxed. New classroom designs are configured. Bulletin boards become thematic works of art. Pencils are sharpened. School is ready for students.

Educators focus their vision on the master plan for student learning. What worked last year? What adjustments need to be made? And why? Always know the WHY to move forward with purpose. After addressing the WHY, it is time to figure out HOW to set the plan into action. Every day, students should ask and be able to answer: What am I learning today? Why am I learning this? and How will I know I have learned it? 

Visible Learning

We know from the research of experts and from personal experience—in its simplest form—learning must be visible to maximize educational effectiveness. John Hattie reminds us, “Know thy impact.” So, we proceed thoughtfully…

Course curricular units. Planned.
Department standards. Identified.
Visible learning targets. Posted.
Student-friendly language? Yep.

If we can get to this point, we are in great shape; but a new conflict emerges. How do we know students are learning according to expectations? Is there a transparent means of assessing and organizing evidence of learning? This becomes a gap in what well-intended educators want to do versus what takes place in the classroom. Here is a simple plan to align standards, learning targets, and assessment. Continue reading