Shifting Gears To Competency-Based Learning Through PLCs at Work™

This blog article was written originally for Solution Tree by Jonathan Vander Els and Brian Stack. The link to the original article is here. “Once you learn, you never forget.” We have all heard that statement as it relates to riding a bicycle, and any of us who has ever taught a child to ride a bike know that for most children, this learning process requires time, patience, and perseverance. Riding a bike isn’t easy. Children are required to transfer their learning of a number of different skills (pedaling, balancing, steering, turning, and stopping, for example) and eventually put these distinct skills together to be a successful bike rider. For those of us in a position to provide the support and guidance, we find ourselves constantly providing feedback, with the ultimate goal of helping the child learn how to ride a bike safely and successfully, recognizing that they had to start somewhere. We have all been in this position in the learning process, either as the learner or the tea…

Preparing for the Gig Economy

It has been interesting to watch the job market change through the lens of many of my teacher friends who, for the duration of my twenty years in education, have taken part-time jobs to supplement their income. Two decades ago, the popular jobs were camp counselors, after school counselors, retail cashiers, and even ice-cream shop scoopers. Today, technology has drastically changed the jobs I see them doing. For many, short-term jobs and projects known as “gigs” have started to replace the traditional job. There are websites like that match them with short-term caregiver gigs. Tutoring websites like Varsity Tutor find tutoring gigs for them. For those who want something different and less dependent on a schedule, there are ride-sharing websites like Uber and Lyft that allow them to be a taxi-driver when it is convenient.

All of these websites have this in common: They are harnessing the power of technology to efficiently match people who have a service to offer with those who…

Reflections from the 2017 Principal of the Year Program

Being a school principal in America can be a thankless job, and one that is ever-evolving. What would happen if you brought together some of the best, most influential school principals in our country to talk about how they leverage their strengths and resources to stay focused on transformational leadership in their schools on behalf of their students? I had the opportunity to be part of such a group. As the 2017 New Hampshire award winner, I have been honored to have spent the last few days in Washington, DC with 52 other State Principal of the Year Award winners at the 2017 Principals Institute, a program sponsored by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

Speaking on behalf of my fellow state principals of the year, I can tell you that we are a very humble bunch. We don’t generally like the spotlight to be on us, although we enjoyed the opportunity to spend an evening this week at a spectacular awards ceremony hosted by NASSP where United States Secretary…

Plot Twist: Starting School Later is Good for Teens AND Saves Money!

Part of the back to school preparation for many teenagers this fall was readjusting their sleep schedules to accommodate the early start times at many American middle and high schools. My son Brady, for example, gets up each day at 5:30 AM to catch a 6:45 AM bus to take him 3.5 miles across town to his school, which starts at 7:30 AM. Two weeks before school started, he began backing up his 7:30 AM summer wake up time by a few minutes each day so that his sleep patterns would be adjusted. Brady is not unlike many of his peers in schools from coast to coast who work through the logistics of an early morning schedule. A growing number of schools have responded to countless research that has concluded that later start times would benefit students.
The debate over later start times for schools is not new. In a MultiBriefs Exclusive article in 2014, I wrote about pros and cons of later start times for high schools. Then, I referenced a research report entitled "School Start Times For A…

Lessons From 9/11 - Nearly Two Decades Later

Today marks the 16th anniversary of one of the largest international terrorist attacks in history, a series of four coordinated terrorist attacks against the United States that killed more than 3,000 people on September 11, 2001. On that date, life as we know it changed forever. The attacks ushered in a new era of war - the war on terrorism. In a statement the very next day, President George W. Bush stated, “Freedom and democracy are under attack.” In the days that followed, Bush addressed a joint session of Congress, talking about how America and the world would respond. “Our war on terror begins with al-Qaida, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.” Since then, that war has impacted all fronts, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, law enforcement, and the military.
On September 11, 2001, I was four days into my first year of teaching at a large public Massachusetts high school. As the even…

Lessons From Summer Camp

This summer, my nine year old Cameron had a blast at Camp Carpenter in Manchester, NH where he participated in a week-long overnight Cub Scout program with some of his friends from our local Cub Scout Pack. Cameron’s positive experience did not come as a surprise to my wife Erica and I. What boy his age wouldn’t like a camp experience that prides itself on its ability to offer activities like archery, swimming and boating, arts and crafts, BB gun shooting sports, field sports, and nature, combined with the added bonus of sleeping in tents with your friends surrounded by a beautiful lake?

What surprised us most was not that he had a good time, but at what he identified as the positive experiences from his time at the camp. Describing it in a way that you would expect from a nine year old boy, Cameron valued most the time he had to explore new ideas, new activities, and new experiences in a safe and supportive environment. As he put it, “we learned HOW to learn for ourselves, and it was…

The Importance of Turning Things in On Time

If you are familiar with the competency-based grading practices that our school has used for the better part of the last decade, you know that one of the hallmarks of the school's philosophy is that grades represent what students LEARN, not what they EARN. Grades are an accurate representation of how deep a student understands a topic, and cannot be influenced by the behaviors that led (or didn't lead) to that grade. It sounds like a logical statement, but what does that mean, exactly? 

Consider these statements: 

It doesn't matter how many hours you study for the test, but it does matter how well you do on the test. It doesn't matter how many times you raised your hand to contribute to a class discussion, but it matters how well you enhanced to the discussion when you did contribute.
Most people can rally around these statements, but this one seems to create friction and controversy:

It doesn't matter how long it takes you to complete an assignment, but it matters how…