This was the final week of our group project, working through the design thinking process to solve the question: How can we, as a school, use restorative justice with technology to develop a strong and supportive culture that leads students with positivity and reinforcement? We spent time discussing what success looks like, in a asynchronous setting. Our group has made great strides with our project using digital communication tools, with a heavy use of Google Docs. We have been able to communicate and collaborate through our busy year-end schedules. Where scheduling meetings may be difficult for some groups, we have been able to use technology to work together to answer our question.
This was a tough week for collaboration, simply because we are all on different schedules. For me, I spend most of the week working on three (3) Local Control Accountability Plans, wrapping up a school-year, and planning for a board Public Hearing and board Annual Meeting. We also finished our draft operating budget, held a Finance Committee meeting, and a Personnel Committee meeting (which consisted of my annual performance review), all while thinking in the back of my head, group project and EDL Exit Exam, AND ... AVID Summer Institute. However, using the tools we have I believe I have been an active participant with my group and contributed to the overall success of our project this semester.
This week has been an important reminder for me on how important collaboration and communication is. Schedules become tough to navigate, but with a variety of digital tools, you can still involve various individuals to serve on different committees, teams. Not only did that happen with this group project, but our LCAPs for Compass Charter Schools. We utilized Workplace by Facebook and Google Docs to finalize our three (3) plans this week. A tall order, with the end of our Track C the same week, and the last day for most of our staff being next Friday, June 30. We were able to manage, though, and create a great plan because of collaboration and the use of these different tools. No voice was turned away because of a lack of time.
Process is everything. There has to be one, with a goal in mind, a mind that the goal could change based on research, feedback, testing and the like. But that is what design thinking is all about - ensuring the best possible solution at the end, because time was taken to ensure all voices were heard, seen, and heard again. This has been an important lesson as I continue to lead Compass Charter Schools and strive to create an inclusive, collaborative community where everyone is a leader, and whose voice matters.
Work continues with my group as we near the end of the semester and the end of our project. This week we spent time testing our project with peers in the field. I was out most of the week, as my school hosted a graduation and 8th grade promotion ceremony in the LA area and San Diego area at the start of the week. I did, however, share our concept with a peer to get her feedback. She has been in education for over 20 years and at many different levels. She was very positive with her feedback of our work, sharing some great suggestions which I passed along to the team.
Some of the collaboration process we are going through is similar to what research says it not collaboration. Tasking and working individually, and reporting out to the group is not necessarily collaboration. However I do believe that if the team is on the same page, working through a solution, and knows they have folks to call on, perhaps it is not a bad thing. It is a way to maximize time when time is so limited. And it is a way to ensure everyone can work with their strengths to support the team and project.
There are some different takes on what it means to collaborate. One of the questions I came up with this week was on collaboration, along with technology. My colleague also shared a few questions, based on our reading and resources for the week. Here they are, along with our take and understanding:
Question 1: In many classrooms, educators get caught up in using the latest and greatest technology and ignore that they should be used for more than just a tool. How can technology be used to value the process, rather than just the deliverable?
“In the end, it's the message, not the tool.” Jester (2002) goes into depth about an experience that he had with his students and how using presentation software in classrooms shifted work at a computer from emphasizing the acquisition or integration of technology skills to involvement in group and project-based learning. In his experience, he sees computers as a catalyst for learning rather than just a tool to produce a deliverable. Jester (2002) suggests that if there was no requirement for students to produce a polished final presentation, teachers could explore the characteristics of multimedia that focus the student on universal concepts of language. This could allow students to fully divulge into design thinking and appreciate the process. Of course, students may have to be shown basic functions of the tools given, but after awhile students would have the confidence to explore on their own through trial and error.
Question 2: Jester (2002) says that technology tools can give support for students to delve into writing and develop their skills. How can tools be used to encourage students to broaden their understanding of what they are learning?
Even though technology tools are not a replacement for instruction, they certainly can help a student demonstrate what they know better. Technology is something that is necessary to understand and learn in order to be a successful 21st century citizen. These tools must be used in conjunction with habits of mind in order to fulfill 21st century thinking (Zmuda & Kallick, 2017). For example, multimedia such as Prezis, YouTube videos, and Flipgrid responses can provide natural divisions that help students organize ideas more clearly. Multimedia can engage students and keep their attention better than traditional media (Jester, 2002). Through technology, subjects that involve writing and explaining the student’s thinking process can become more workable for revision and editing. Using multimedia allows students to differentiate between important words and ideas through the use of color, text size and font, and position on the page (Jester, 2002). They can use customization to convey their understanding and divulge deeper meanings of what they learned.
Question 3: Collaboration is a current buzzword, but what does true collaboration look like within an organization?
Collaboration has been a big buzzword at Compass Charter Schools, so much so that it turned into a negative. This turn occurred, not because collaboration was seen as a negative, rather, there was not true collaboration taking place. Dr. Doug Fisher shared in a short video titled “Effective Collaborative Conversations” published by McGraw Hill Education that effective collaboration cannot occur in groups over five. If groups were to grow in size, there ends up being subgroups and side groups and not everyone is truly involved and engaged. Dr. Fisher also shared the task has to be complex to ensure there is a collaborative conversation. Otherwise, groups turn into tasking as opposed to working as a group. The problem at Compass was the size of the group. A recent LCAP Planning Meeting included 10 staff, with several active participants and two or three who were bystanders. While collaborative conversation was occurring in this meeting, there was not 100% participation. To ensure effective collaboration can occur, the topic needs to be complex enough to ensure the team works together and the team is organized with appropriate players. Moving forward, Compass leadership will invite staff to participate in various small groups, ensure they have the tools to answer the question and share what the anticipated end result should be. We will not provide the map for them, merely the destination and the resources they need to make their way to that destination.
Question 4: What can technology replace in the classroom setting? What is its role in learning and comprehension?
For many, technology is seen as something in addition to, rather a replacement of, tools for students in and outside the classroom. In an English class, for example, students may have used index cards and posters to jot notes and form thoughts. Through technology, these notes and thoughts can be placed into a word processor or other software. In the pen and paper era, there may have been a fear to have corrections on the piece of paper. “Because students can change wording so quickly and effortlessly, they may take more chances without the fear of "messing up" the project” (Jester, 2002). A key frame of mind in using technology, however, is a good assignment will always be seen as a good assignment. “A word of warning may be in order here, though. Just like the poster, multimedia can look good without being good. Just because the "tool" is capable of great tasks does not mean it will accomplish them. Tools are effective when used by masters of the trade. Students must learn not only the "hows" of deleting, adding, and rewriting, but the "whys" and "whens" that will lead to constructive change in their writing. As of yet, with all our spell checkers, grammar checkers, and syntax analyzers, there is no computer program that can record our thoughts without us first expressing them adequately” (Jester, 2002). The idea that technology can replace learning would be inaccurate; it can merely replace the delivery of our understanding of the subject matter at hand.
Jester, R. (2002). If I had a hammer: Technology in the language arts classroom. The English Journal, 91(4), 85-88.
Kallick, B., & Zmuda, A. (2017). Students at the Center: Personalized Learning with Habits of Mind. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Work continues with my group - this week we spent time brainstorming the various ways technology could play a role in restorative justice programs within a school. We used the platform padlet to brainstorm and share our various ideas. While a solo approach to brainstorming, as it limited playing ideas off of each other, we did come up with some great ideas and were able to use technology to enhance some of the ideas that were shared in the padlet.
Once we had our ideas up, we picked four (4) as our most inspiring, rational, long shot and most likely to delight the end user. I selected two (2) of my own ideas for this portion of the week, and two (2) from my peers. Not only did we each select our top four (4), but shared rationale for those selections. We also talked through the possible constraints for the top idea. Once this was over, I was selected to represent the group and pick the top two (2) ideas and share the why behind those selections. Neither idea were my own, but are very powerful ideas that will ensure the use of technology within the school to help restorative justice initiatives.
This week's theme centered around brain storming and collaboration. I have used a similar process at Compass Charter Schools, through Workplace by Facebook. This is our Intranet, and very similar to Facebook (which makes it a familiar tool for our staff who were resistant to our last rendition of the Intranet). I routinely post collaboration ideas in several groups: Leadership Team, Staff Advisory Committee, and a few others. I have seen some great collaboration happen through this tool as our staff work remotely across the state.
Brain storming and collaboration go hand in hand, and with more voices sharing ideas, the end result becomes much more powerful. And not only is the end result powerful, the buy-in is equally powerful because those who participated know they were part of the end result. The ability to bounce ideas off of each other helps create a stronger end result. This is often lost on leadership and management, who fear opening the process to others within the organization. I take it a step further at times, and open the process to all of our stakeholders through surveys and focus groups. The end result, in education, needs to center on the scholar - the more voices that will help create the best result is what is important to me as a leader.
Speaking of not only engaging all of our stakeholders, but the use of technology as well. One of the missing links at times can be access to technology. In "Making Access Meaningful: Latino Young People Using Digital Media at Home and at School" by Lisa Tripp, she shared that there is a divide between those who have access to technology at home and those who need to go to public places to access technology. This severely limits those without technology to fully participate and be engaged, at no fault of there own. A recent French proposal would actually do away with homework due to similar disparities, and all the unique home life situations scholars are in. The French have found that to level the playing field, school needs to fully equip the scholar and ensure all of the resources are made available to them.
If we are to focus our efforts on technology, we have to ensure equity amongst our scholars to ensure a level educational field. Similar to justice being blind, education must be accessible.
The end of the school year is upon us, and some of our scholars have already started enjoying their summer break! It is a very busy time for Compass Charter Schools (CCS) as we prepare for the end of the year. Scholars are finishing their final assignments, teachers are completing their final round of grading, and staff are planning for the next school year. To top it all off, we have graduation and promotion ceremonies happening during the next couple of days across the state!
Before we look ahead to our exciting summer plans, or our plans for the next school year, I want to take a moment to reflect on some of the amazing things that happened at CCS this past year:
At the beginning of the year, CCS launched the new Options program, which supports families that choose homeschooling for their scholars. I am so proud that CCS now facilitates the homeschool learning experience for families in California. A special thank you to our Options staff for welcoming our new homeschool scholars and their families into the program and supporting their educational journey.
Throughout the year, CCS made an effort to improve the structure and support of our academic programs and improve communication with scholars and their families. Some important milestones include receiving NCAA accreditation, participating in our first Science Olympiad, being awarded reaccreditation from WASC for our San Diego Charter, and continuing to celebrate our scholars through Honor Roll and Scholar of the Month recognition. I recently reviewed the results from our most recent planning survey, which encouraged all scholars, learning coaches, staff and stakeholders to share honest feedback about CCS’ academic programs, activities and more. We saw a sharp positive increase (25%) in how our stakeholders view our commitment to scholar success, as well as an increase (15%) in how our stakeholders view our ability to prepare scholars for their future success. . The survey results were very encouraging and they reflect true results in CCS’ ongoing effort to enhance the educational experience for scholars and their families.
Of course, I want to discuss what is probably the most significant change we had this year, and that is our school’s re-branding. At the beginning of March, CCS launched its new name, colors, website, mascot and much more. It was such an exciting time and a true symbol of a fresh start in an effort to continue moving onward and upward. The rebrand included the launch of an online school spirit store where everyone can purchase CCS apparel and accessories (a parent suggestion from our 2016-17 survey). It also included the launch of new, active social media accounts (are you following our Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts?) and a blog to further engage our scholars and their families.
As the 2016-17 school year comes to a close, I look forward to leading our inaugural 8th grade promotion ceremonies to congratulate each scholar on their achievements thus far, and welcome them into high school. I am also looking forward to leading our high school graduation ceremonies to send off our senior scholars and wish them well as they begin their next chapter in life.
For the upcoming 2017-18 school year, we will implement a few more impressive changes to continue improving our academic programs, activities and more. We will launch our partnership with StrongMind, a robust online curriculum provider for our middle school and high school scholars, which I am really looking forward to. We are also launching an AVID program for our 9th grade scholars, one of a few virtual public schools to have such a program to support scholar learning. In addition to the existing curriculum options, we will be offering our elementary scholars more curriculum choices to choose from. We also have plans to launch a Scholar Leadership Council to further engage with our scholars and encourage them to become peer representatives. And prior to the start of the school year (which is Tuesday, September 5), we will host Welcome Back Nights to introduce our staff to our scholars and share our vision on how to be successful during the school year
Stay connected with CCS over the summer through our social media channels, especially as a fun summer contest will be announced for our scholars. Keep an eye out for some fun summer events as well. Thank you for allowing us to be part of your educational journey. Best of luck as this year comes to a close, enjoy your summer break, and get excited for what is shaping to be a terrific 2017-18 school year!
The fun truly begins with our group as we look at the information we have gathered from peers, colleagues, students, and through research. My piece of the puzzle has been research. I started with the #DTK12chat list on Twitter, and found a series of great articles from across the country where restorative justice is being introduced to schools and the community. As we worked to gather and review our data, we were looking for some of the key trends. What I noticed in my research was the need to change culture and the need to build relationships.
This was a common trend for my group mates as well, based on what they were sharing with the rest of us. What started as a challenging topic for me, restorative justice, is becoming something I gain more and more interest in. Even in a virtual charter school, there exists a need to build community amongst our scholars, staff and stakeholders. My group, and this topic, have helped me see this need and our unique ability to use technology to meet the need.
As part of my reflection, I wanted to share one way that we will try to build this virtual community next year at Compass Charter Schools, through a draft letter to families:
Dear Learning Coaches:
Welcome to Compass Charter Schools and the start of another exciting year for our school and the scholars we serve. You have joined a virtual charter school, who is dedicated to ensuring your scholars are prepared to succeed where ever life takes them once they graduate from us. To that end, I want to share the Compass way to succeeding in the virtual setting.
Be present. Strange to say in an online school, but be active and engaged in our live Learning Lab and Q&A sessions. These weekly sessions will allow your scholar to interact with not only their teachers, but fellow scholars as well.
Be engaged. While attending these online sessions, ensure your scholar is being an active participant. Ask questions, of both the teacher and fellow scholars. And ask these questions in a respectful way. We are a family here at Compass, which means we all come together to help each other learn and succeed.
Get involved. There are numerous opportunities to be involved with Compass, through our scholar-led clubs to amazing field trip to enrichment days. Participate in those things that you are passionate about, and if we do not offer something you have a passion in, let us know and we will see what we can do. After all, we are a family.
Be respectful. No matter the setting, show respect to yourself, and your peers at Compass. We will be hosting a workshop on Internet Safety, which also talks about how what you do and say online will always remain online.
I am so happy you are part of our Compass family this year. This is an exciting time for the school, whose focus is on the success of our scholars. However we can support you on this educational journey, let us know. We are on this path together.
J.J. Lewis | President & CEO
Compass Charter Schools
Additional Resources. Looking for resources to support you on this journey? Visit our website, and take a look at our Parents & Scholars section. If you have a resource that may help another learning coach or scholar, please send it to us and we will add it!
J.J. Lewis - a blog sharing the journey throughout SDSU's MA.EL. program.