This post is designed to stay within my 2015-2016 school year themes.
I love cheesecake. It's the best dessert option... ever. People can argue with me about apple pie a la mode; ice cream sundaes; baked Alaska; tiramisu; creme brûlée; or warm chocolate chip cookies. All of them are delicious... all of them are amazing. They are as almost good as cheesecake, but not quite. The texture, flavor, and satisfaction that comes after enjoying a piece of cheesecake surpasses the emotional responses had from those other desserts. Of course, feel free to disagree with me on this... this is my humble opinion, of course... but stay with me, here.
Since I love cheesecake so much, you can imagine my excitement going to The Cheesecake Factory. This restaurant is the epitome of deliciousness. It is the epicenter of yum. The HUB of culinary satisfaction.
And it is this restaurant that has sparked one of the biggest controversies in my married life.
Before, when I wrote that I love cheesecake, I purposefully left out that I like plain New York Style cheesecake. No sauce. No fruit. No peanut butter, Oreo, or pumpkin blend. Plain. On its own. By itself.
"Why are we coming to the Cheesecake Factory, where there are hundreds of cheesecake combinations, when ALL you want is plain? It makes no sense!"
This is what I've heard for years. From friends, family, and my brilliant wife. They don't understand why I'd pass on the extravagant and go for the plain. It confuses and frustrates.
In a word: simple.
I like it this way because I believe that the more stuff you add to something that is already delicious, you take away from its essence. If I add strawberry sauce to my cheesecake, it changes the flavor of the cheesecake from "cheesecake" to "strawberries & cheesecake." In my mind, that gets in the way of my goal: eating cheesecake. Good cheesecake doesn't need frills, additions, or addenda. It doesn't need to be hidden under other flavors. Good cheesecake should be able to stand on its own. It's a common theme in food: making the simple complicated. Adding more; combining new things to create new ideas. I'm not opposed to this, by the way. Taking the existing and making something new is how innovation occurs, and innovation is wonderful and necessary. However, I do also believe that there is tremendous strength and merit in the simple. The foundation. If the basics aren't strong and good, then how good can the rest of the products/outcomes truly be?
So when I work with teachers, administrators, parents, and students about the word "proficiency," I am amazed at the mountain of other "stuff" gets brought up. Report cards, eligibility, honor roll, grading, rubrics, scales, scholarships, diplomas.... oh, my. I agree, there's a lot. And those things are really important. They will wind up being the innovation and face of our system, but if the foundation isn't there, then everything falls apart in the end.
When transitioning to a proficiency-based system of learning, what is the foundation? What is the "plain New York Style Cheesecake" of proficiency-based learning? I believe it starts with proficiency, and having a common, easily-understood and measurable definition. I feel that one of the fears of a proficiency-based learning system is in the unknown; that it brings requirements or changes that we don't understand, so to understand this system, let's come to agreement on a simple definition of proficiency:
Independently applying all expectations.
That's it. It's really that simple. The rest of it (report cards, assessment, diplomas, etc.) all feed back to this one principle: the definition of proficiency. If you and your teams find that the policies, practices, or systems you are developing stray from this definition: proficient you will not reach. Everything in a proficiency-based learning system comes back to this definition. Independently applying all expectations. Start here; end here. Keep it simple. Just like cheesecake.
I walked into my school today to hear the sounds of kids. Lots of kids. Nervous tears of new Kindergarteners.. Middle schoolers laughing, reconnecting, and recollecting inside jokes. Excitement. Chatter. Curiosity.
And then, there were the teachers.
Hearing the sound of true joy from a teacher as s/he is meeting the children for the first time. The smiles and sympathetic faces, helping confused, lost, or worried kids find their way to their home-away-from-home for the next nine months. High fives. Nervous energy. Anticipation. Excitement. Chatter. Curiosity.
Education is a big job. Teaching is hard to quantify, and being a teacher is even harder. If we were to remove the reason we show up everyday (the kids), the mountain of challenges, obstacles, and requirements we face are enormous... overwhelming, even. I heard last year someone say (and I'm paraphrasing here), "Our plates were full, so they dumped the stuff on our plate onto a platter to make it not look as full. Well, guess what... now our platter is full. What's next?"
I can sympathize. I can empathize. Even though I'm out of the classroom now and serve as a district administrator, the metaphor of "building the plane while flying it" holds ever so true in our profession. There's so much to do. Never enough time. So much to process. Never enough time. So much to create, design, assess, monitor, evaluate, predict, judge, research, and investigate. Oh, and then implement. And then do it all again. And while we're teaching (hence the building while flying metaphor). What makes it harder, is a silo-mentality and approach to the myriad of tasks that need accomplishing. When our lives get boiled down to nothing more than a "checklist," purpose gets lost. We are here because we love kids; we love learning. And the other stuff shouldn't get in the way of that
So, it's with that in mind, I present my two major themes of school year 2015-2016. Everything I do will relate to these two themes to make our lives more effective.
Every year, before the school year begins, I create some goals for myself. My district (AOS 94, ME) is in full transition to a model and an environment of proficiency-based learning, but changing to this new model takes lots of little steps, time, patience, and a willingness to embrace mistakes so they can be learned from. Below are my district-goals for 2015-2016. What are your goals for this school year?
SY 2015-2016 Goals
On August 12, 2015, 50+ educators and policy makers from across New England gathered in Dexter, Maine to collaboratively problem solve issues of proficiency-based learning. Using the EdCamp model of "creating the conference in the room," the educators built an agenda to discuss challenges, concerns, and successes as schools transition to a proficiency-based learning model. I love the EdCamp model for professional development as it puts the learners at the center of the conference. If we are to make a student centered learning environment, then let's also change our professional development environment. Schools and Districts should become learner centered. Their mission statements and vision statements should be learner centered, and with that, whether the student is the learner, or the teacher is the learner: the learner is the center... not the presenter.
Check out the MooseCamp website(below), and save the dates for MooseCamp 2016 (probably sometime during the last week of June).
JumpRope Blog on MooseCamp