Monthly Archives: October 2016

Reflecting on Instructional Rounds

Reflecting on Instructional Rounds

On Monday, Student Progress Conferences came to a close for the Fall semester. This is one of my favorite times of year, celebrating student growth, acknowledging areas for improvement, and setting goals that students will work towards for the remainder of this semester. In the Middle School, we challenge students to be the leaders of these conversations, boldly presenting a summary of their teacher’s feedback to their families and advisor. Students as young as 4th and 5th grade sit with multiple adults to discuss their year so far, and to plainly share goals they have set for themselves to be better question askers, better organized, or to be better collaborators with their peers. I am always in awe of how well we prepare young people to do this very hard task. The meetings feel celebratory, reflective, and remind me how important it is for adults to model self-study and a growth mindset for students.

Hillbrook is particularly committed to adult learning. Our Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) offers a wide variety of opportunities for teachers and staff to develop their passions and also to gather in groups for self-study and reflection. Back in August, I shared about the new protocol groups faculty and staff were invited to join this year. Each of these is designed to bring adults together to engage in collegial conversations in the service of collective growth.

One of the groups, Instructional Rounds, is designed to support individual improvement by recognizing and sharing practices of good teaching. It is based in a discipline of description–learning to name and describe teaching practices with detail, while unlearning to judge. Instructional Rounds provides adults a method of self-study and reflection on practice, so that they too can acknowledge feedback and set goals for their growth.

Last month, a group of 20 administrators, faculty, and staff participated in the first round of visits to multiple classrooms, taking notes of everything they saw and heard related to some guiding questions about the physical learning environment. Our observations included everything from how materials are laid out, to lighting and sound, to teacher language, to how students were using their bodies in the classroom. After the visits we met to debrief our observations, naming practices we noticed, and discussing questions like, “What options do students have to mentally or emotionally take a break?” and, “How do we talk to students about managing their bodies?” The conversation was high-energy, with each member sharing take-aways to try out in their own space, or a new area of practice they wanted to observe more about.

Hillbrook’s CTE has invested a lot in this area of our program. In the past few years we designed the iLab to be our first agile classroom, studied student and teacher use of it, drew conclusions about its best features and brought those into nearly every other space on campus during our Reimagining Classrooms project. In the past three years, we have run several research studies around the effects of space on teaching and learning. After the Instructional Rounds visits, ranging from Kindergarten to 3rd grade Writer’s Workshop to 8th grade Geometry, I was heartened to hear a group of adults describing shared understandings and also asking hard questions of each other about the topic of learning spaces.

In 2015, I was among a group of 10 educators funded by the CTE to attend the Project Zero Summer Institute at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. In one of the closing sessions, Steve Seidel (former director of PZ) said something that stuck with me: “Schools are the only place where we’re required to get together and work on how we all want to live together.” I am so grateful that Hillbrook is a place where learners of all ages have decided this is how we want to live together: by pausing throughout each year to reflect, ask hard questions, think aloud about our own behaviors and set goals for growth. Each time we pause for this moment, I smile to think how well-prepared we are for it, how gladly we engage in the cycle, and what an exciting future we have together as learners of all ages.

Reflections on “Screenagers”

Reflections on “Screenagers”

Last week, a student from San Jose State University came to Hillbrook to observe a classroom. Taking a child development course, he needed to observe technology in a class. Our first stop was one of our 8th grade science classes. The students were designing rockets, working on modifying two liter bottles by adding wings, parachutes, and even a second stage booster. To the unpracticed eye, this might not seem like a “technology” assignment. I said to our visitor, “You might not see technology. You’ll see engagement, collaboration, problem solving, but you might not see an iPad being used.”

At Hillbrook, we believe technology is a resource. iPads are one of the many classroom tools that Hillbrook students use that we include under the rich umbrella of education-driven technology. iPads can also be a powerful storytelling device.  With one in hand, a student can write a script, record footage, edit the movie, and publish it for the world to see. In this way, the iPad provides an all-in-one way in which students can reach beyond themselves to make a difference in the world.

And that brings us to the movie, “Screenagers,” which our community screened last night at the Los Gatos Theater. While this thought-provoking film encouraged us to remain mindful of family technology usage, it is not necessarily a film that shows the unique and intentional way in which we use and embrace technology at Hillbrook.

The documentary highlights family members grappling with common dynamics of the digital age – a daughter purchasing her first smartphone, a son addicted to playing video games. We also come face-to-face with the allure of using social media to gauge self-worth, especially among adolescents. There is even a piece that brings cyberbullying to light when a girl experiences the major repercussions of sharing a personal photo via text message.

The film highlights the very real, everyday technology challenges that families juggle, including screen time, personal phones, and texting at the dinner table. And, as the film shows, technology use is an incredibly complex issue. To say devices are “all bad” is to oversimplify the issue. To ban our children from being connected to a world of devices does not guarantee resolution.

At our school, the key to successful integration of technology and devices has been active dialogue with our students regarding digital citizenship and proper use of these tools in their educational and everyday lives. In fact, despite mentioning schools several times, the film is not necessarily about school usage of technology at all. However, as a school that partners with families on their children’s educational and developmental journey, we are meeting this 21st-century parenting challenge of monitoring recreational device usage, together.

The Hillbrook School Parent Council has done an exemplary job sharing and inviting this conversation and discussion with our parent community. Led by our HSPC President and our volunteer Parent Education Coordinator, this morning’s discussion of the film was a dynamic and constructive gathering. Great conversation flowed and helpful resources were shared as parents chose an area of interest and delved into topics including managing family screen time, mindfulness, and designing a family contract for device usage.

While we recognize the complexity of this problem at home, in the school context, technology is used in ways that engage students and offer them tools to enhance the educational experience. For example, students in 3rd grade created an underworld in Minecraft during their Greek unit. It’s difficult to imagine what an underworld could look like, but these students collaboratively constructed an underground cavern, that had the result of enhancing their understanding of Greek mythology.

5th and 6th grade music classes are using a new platform, Sesame, to capture performances and facilitate introspection. She, along with students, can record video, take a photo, or post a brief reflection. With a simple tap on a name, you can view student work, such as a recorder performance or an improvised composition using the Orff Xylophone app. Using these platforms encourages students to collaborate, problem solve, and through this holistic process, improve on their skills with the recorder and xylophone.

In addition to finding ways to use technology that enhance the learning experience, we also spend time working with our students to teach them how to be digital leaders. Through our digital leadership program, our students use technology to improve the lives, well-being, and circumstances of others. By creating digital citizenship videos geared toward younger students to collaborating with peers, our students are inspiring further conversations about how might we use these devices to be leaders at our school.

As an Apple Distinguished School, we are recognized leaders in innovation not just for having “cool gadgets” in our classroom, but for deeply and intentionally integrating the role of technology (in all senses of the term) within our school. Through our work, we are enhancing, personalizing, and expanding the educational experience of each of our students, and helping them reach beyond themselves to make a difference in the world.