Lessons from Recent Jeffco Graduates

Earlier this week, Board President Ron Mitchell and I had the chance to hear from recent Jeffco graduates. I can’t tell you enough how impressed I was with this group of young men and women. Poised, smart, funny, witty, and holding onto big dreams – I was inspired after spending some time with them.

One of the questions we asked them was to tell us about the best (and the worst) learning experiences they could remember as Jeffco students. Their experiences were wide-ranging, but had some common elements. I took note of them and would like to share them with you here.

Best Experiences:

  • Contained a public demonstration (especially public speaking)
  • Challenged me
  • Could see the value outside of school
  • Had a connection to what I’d need to know in a career
  • We were doing something real
  • Pushed us to think, to question things
  • Had an extended project with a demonstration
  • The student had voice, got to decide and direct parts of the learning
  • Required us to listen and work with others

Worst Experiences:

  • No interaction with others
  • Fact/recall based learning
  • Talked to – being lectured at
  • When we had no relationship with the teacher
  • When we didn’t have time to really get into it – broken into segments
  • When it involved copying and memorization
  • When it didn’t challenge us – too simple
  • Worksheets
  • When it focused too much on just what would be tested

So, there you go – from the mouths of those who most recently have graduated from our schools. Really, there are no lightning rods here – we should have known for a long time what kinds of learning people value … and what they don’t.

Of course, this begs the question – what are we going to do to change our learning experiences, and why do we keep doubling down on those things that are the least valuable to our students?

I told the recent graduates that I’d be posting this reflection. We will send this out to all of them, and I’d invite them to also post here on what their takeaways were after hearing from their peers.

3 thoughts on “Lessons from Recent Jeffco Graduates

  1. Thank you for sharing this experience. Leslie Dahlkamper posed the question — how would you change learning, instruction, and culture in response?

    Here what I know to be true. Today’s generation of students, regardless of the zip code they call home, deserve and need greater opportunities than the traditional education strcuture has provided them in the past.

    For the sake of length, I’ll tackle one of Leslie’s areas per post.

    School Culture: The foundation of school culture MUST be about making a difference in the lives of children. Our schools need to be relationship-oriented and innovative in order to create a culture of learning that prepares students for their future, not our past. To get there, we need to foster a collaorative school culture where help, trust, support, openness, collective reflection, and collective efficacy are at the heart. How do you do that? You have to know what type of school culture you have to help you plan for the one you want. Using tools such as Grunert’s “School Culture Typography” can help your school community answer that question. Determining what’s wrong within a school culture is the key to improving it. That takes a transparent leader who is focused on adding value to others, one who isn’t afraid to take a risk and challenge the status quo. Everything that happens in an organization reflects the leadership. It takes the school leader to transform a culture into one that is strong and supportive of student achievement. With that, culture change must be a school-wide movement, not an individual effort. Great leaders know this. What should you do as the school leader to build school culture and bring change —- Empower your people, build relationships, adapt when needed, love the work and love those you serve even greater, show appreciation, eliminate excuses, establish a focus through vision to build the culture (and learning environment) you desire, model expectations, start small, know when to delegate, provide meaningful feedback, and communicate effectively.

    The 3 main components to managing change or a shift in school culture are trust, relationship building, and effective communication. Great leaders who shift school culture are honest, open, and ethical. They put the needs of students first in everything they do. When the school leader is a champion of relationships, relevant learning, and connectedness — that flows to the staff and students.

    I would be curious to hear from the graduates. Tell me about your school leader. Tell me about how they led for what you described as the best experiences. Tell me about how they connected with you. Did you know your school leader? Were they visible or did they “lead” from their office?

    When it comes to school culture —- and the other pieces Leslie mentioned (instruction and the learning experience) the school leader plays a crucial role in making those shifts that foster a strong, collaborative culture that adds value to others and prepares students for their future. Back later to tackle the other components…….


  2. Looping in the last two pieces from Leslie (learning experiences and instruction)…..

    “The difficultly lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones”. – John Maynard Keyes

    The worst experience examples the graduates provided are a prime example of the difficulty of escaping from old ideas. Worksheets, working in isolation, lectures, teaching to the test, rote memorization, and a lack of rigor all fall under the worst thing you can ever hear in education “this is the way we’ve always done things”.

    The learning experience needs to adapt to the needs and interests of students. At times that means that students are creating that learning experience or within the experience — leading to greater engagement and depth both independently and collaboratively with others. We can no longer teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s. Doing so robs them of tomorrow. School leaders and teachers must assure learning is always relevant, meaningful, and applicable. Within the bad experiences graduates described, one could envision the students in the classroom wondering why are they are being taught this and how would they ever apply this to a real-life situation.

    Within those best experiences, student agency was a core component and value. I would wonder if the graduates felt empowered in those best experiences to own their learning. Choice, voice, and advocacy seem to jump out at me when I saw what they felt was a great experience.

    How would I lead for this? We need to redesign the learning experience so students can follow their passions, explore their interests, and engage in relevant opportunities that break the walls down of the traditional classroom. We need to stop telling students what to learn, when to learn it, and how it should be learned. Student agency must be the norm. Instructional pedagogy must become focused on higher-order skills and problem solving. Side A and Side B of a Saxon Math worksheet isn’t going to get you there. Also, we must think about today’s student. They are consumers of anytime, anywhere learning. My 4-year old knows how to operate Youtube once you get him on. We have a Netflix generation of learners in and entering our schools. We must make anytime, anywhere learning a part of their experience within our schools. If your teaching just content, you are being outsourced by youtube and netflix.

    A few other things we must consider……..we need to transform the learning spaces students are in to learning centered spaces. We have too many schools with the old desk setup that looks frankly like a cemetery. If we want students to collaborate, problem solve, and engage in higher thinking skills — we need learning environments designed for this.

    We need to leverage technology and use it to accelerate student learning. We spend millions of dollars on technology and often dont ask what is the return on instruction??? If your buying Chromebooks so you have enough computers for state testing, your not leveraging tech to improve outcomes for all kids. We need to use tech to adapt to the needs of our learners, amplifty great instructional pedagogy, and help make learning more rigorous, personalized, and engaging. As a school and a district, we need to assure equity in access to tech and opportunity for all students. The days of the teacher or school leader passing on tech because they aren’t comfortable with it need to end. That’s neglient and not preparing kids for their future.

    All of this ties back to the professional learning experience we provide to adults. They must be relevant, engaging, ongoing, and personal. If we are asking that our teachers bring this to our students, we need to deliver and model this expectation to our adult learners. For me, growth is more valuable tha hours obtained. Who owns the learning is key. One size fits all approaches dont work when it comes to much anything in education, especially professional learning. We need to meet people at the need and interest levels.

    Lastly, and I should have put this with school culture……Community collaboration and engagement. It has to be woven into the fabric of a school and district. Our parents need to feel welcomed in our schools. I desire parents working side by side with students, laughing at lunch or recess with them, working in classrooms, and collaborating with staff in multiple ways. They are essential partners for us. As our the business and educational entities within our boundaries. Daily collaboration that is consistent and relevant to supporting each valued member of our school communities is essential. A school should be the hub of the community.

    Thank you for posing the question Leslie and to Jason, Ron, and the graduates for such a great discussion that prompted the dialogue.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. When it focused too much on just what would be tested:

    I appreciate all comments posted here–students and others. Let me say this though: with the pressure on teachers to have strong standardized test scores, it is easy to fall into the habit of strictly focusing on test prep rather than on what students need to be successful beyond our classrooms/schools. Until the culture of “accountability through standardized tests” is changed, there will be those who focus on those skills. Moreover, I have students who believe learning is only when we’re taking a practice test! This is what we’ve done to our students! There needs to be better measurements of achievement other than PSAT, SAT, and PARCC.

    I also agree with CJ Cain’s comments about the teacher professional learning experience; don’t lecture us as a large group. Provide movement. Demonstrate expectations instead of tell us. I’ve been teaching for 20 years and have sat through hundreds of hours of PD where we were talked at. I don’t do that with my own students.

    Liked by 1 person

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