Happy to report on the completion of a terrific first day, the first ever in fact, of the national meeting for the new “PLC for 21st century education leaders,” EdLeader21.

The sense of camaraderie here is palpable: this is a group of 150 dedicated, passionate educators who share a vision, across nearly 30 states (at present), for ensuring their (our) students develop the 4 C’s, the skills to a high level of proficiency that are so critical, always important but more critical than ever before, of communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration.   Also clear is the admiration and appreciation felt from this population for EdLeader21’s leader, Ken Kay, the founder and longtime, now former, President of P-21, the Partnership for 21st century skills.

Today’s sessions only began at 3pm, with a warm and upbeat introduction by Ken and then a set of nearly 20 “ignite” sessions by various attendees.   Ignite sessions follow a very strict format: each presenter has five minutes to make their presentation, and their presentation is built upon 20 slides which advance, automatically, every 15 seconds.   It is fast-paced and a bit breathless, and sometimes is just way too hurried to be meaningful, but it is also a great way to hear a wide variety of perspectives and gather a great amount of wisdom in a time efficient way.

A reception and dinner followed; during dessert we were asked as tables to consider what topics were missing from tomorrow’s agenda, or what we’d like to work upon in more detail, and it was great to have this opportunity, which is not at all what happens at most conferences in my experience.   Ken and the organization’s Chief Learning Officer Val Greenhill deserve good credit for the things they have done to make this feel more like a learning community of shared interests and a commitment to learning together, in contrast to a typical conference. Our organizers also offered a nice touch in the charming conversational tone of the event program, unlike anything I have seen elsewhere.

Some other thoughts on the day and on EdLeader21:

1.  Assessment is King.  No other topic had even a quarter the amount of attention that Assessment did, in my observation.  One of the key quotes in Jared Cotton’s presentation (below) spoke to this: “We value what we measure rather than measure what we value,” with the strong inference taken that we all, accordingly, need to rething what we measure to get our values more in alignment.

In my own ignite session, I made reference to assessment when I said that when I blog, I track carefully my stats to see what sparks an interest among my readers, and, truth be told, assessment is a great example of what does not draw much traffic, in contrast to, I explained, reverse instruction/flipped classroom, which draws ten times the traffic.   But when I reflect upon how very strong the interest in assessment is at EdLeader21, I have to come to the conclusion that we are a bunch of geeks here– in the best possible way.  I think we understand more than many how powerfully education is driven by assessment, and how very important it is we do the hard work to align what we want students to learn and what and how we measure what they have learned.

Assessment comes in two broad forms, external and internal.  The CWRA, which I write about here often, was most frequently cited in the Ignite sessions as an example of a valuable external assessment, but interestingly, several of the presentations cited CWRA instead as a source/model/guide for their internal assessment development, which, in general, was the topic of several of the most interesting Ignite sessions.     Jared Cotton, whom I’ve admired for several years for his outstanding and nationally prominent work developing assessments in Virginia Beach, spoke from the slides immediately below to share the advances and challenges of their work in VB developing performance task style testing for their students.

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Turning to report cards, Paul Curtis, the Assistant Director of School Design for the New Tech Network, gave a terrific overview of their comprehensive reporting of student grades, technologically enabled, such that every student has a bar graph evaluation of their various skills, from work ethic to content knowledge to writing skills and critical thinking.  It is terrific, the work New Tech does, and we should all do more to make our grading of student work far more transparent as they have done.   Check it out below here.

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A third terrific presentation on assessment came from the fine educators of Weston, CT, and the work they are doing to build rich, comprehensive, rigorous, performance task (CWRA influenced), “cornerstone” assessments for, if I understood correctly, each and every grade level.    Thomas Scarice,  an Asst. Supt. there, did a great job sharing their progress in Weston:

Assessment continued to to be on everyone’s mind during dessert: when we were asked as a group to identify break out group conversations for the open slot on Wednesday, a full third of the suggestions reflected this group’s desire to do more with assessment.

2.  Problem-Solving is a powerful way to encapsulate succinctly and compellingly what we seek to help our students develop and master. At my school when we revised our mission, we put front and central the idea that we are here to see our students become effective problem-solvers, and so I was especially attracted to the terrific presentation by Mike Hibbard, Asst. Supt in the North Salem Central district, about how far his district has gone in embracing problem solving via both critical, convergent thinking and creative, divergent thinking.    One of the strengths of this approach is how very succinct his district’s mission statement is:

Engage students to continuously learn, question, define, and solve problems through creative and critical thinking.

Check it out: it was delivered in a particularly amusing and entertaining fashion.

3.   This is a hard-working bunch.   I made the point above that we are geeks in our interest in assessment, but I’ll carry that forward: we are nerds and geeks in our embrace of doing the difficult, heavy lifting and laborious process of cultivating constituencies, developing rubrics, retooling professional development, and all the other things necessary to move education into the 21st century.   Oft-heard in the room was the question how do we motivate others to embrace this onerous responsibility, but not for a moment did any participant here ever express anything other than a gusto for the challenge and a devotion to the task at hand.   Onwards!

4.   Ken Kay, our fearless leader, framed it a bit differently: his label for the folks here, particularly those (the vast majority) in public education who in so many ways have to confront a wide array of state and federal constraints, was courageous.   It requires a great boldness to strike out on this path, but these educators have what it takes.

5.   Reverse instruction, aka the Flipped Classroom, strongly intrigues.  I take no credit for this personally; I am just a happy carrier of the message to people, and what is always so interesting to me is how often the idea of reversing instruction so that we assign uploaded video lecture watching and note-taking for homework, and use class-time for student application of their learning on tasks that are now regularly assigned for homework.    This is an approach that simply wasn’t possible until only very recently, but now the tools exist, and so long as students can have the broadband access required (an access I know isn’t yet available to enough of our nation’s students), it can genuinely support the transformation of our school classrooms from lecture halls to the studios and laboratories our students require to practice, develop, master and demonstrate the 4 C’s.   I was appreciative that so many spoke to me after the session to convey their fascination with flipping, and the strength of its “intrigue” was further affirmed when this topic was selected as one of three breakout sessions for Wednesday afternoon.

My presentation is below:

Readers interested in reverse instruction should also check out this fine infographic on the topic, from the fine people at Knewton. In my five minute session I didn’t have time to speak about research evidence supporting “flipping,” but cited in the infographic below is the report that 9th grade students improved their failure rates in English and Math among 9th graders in one study more than halved after reverse instruction was deployed.