Let's Start a Learning Renovation: Create a Construction Plan

This post is Part 1 of a blog series on learning renovation.

It’s time to renovate education, not reform it. For decades, public education in the United States has been under the microscope. From scathing reports such as A Nation at Risk (1983) to laws such as No Child Left Behind (2001) requiring annual yearly progress and sanctions for schools not making the grade, it has always been about reform.

I believe we have it all wrong. Public education has good bones, just as a house that needs renovating. We shouldn’t demolish a structure when we have a strong foundation on the premise that education is the bedrock of our democracy and free to all. Do we need to make some changes? Can we improve on current practice? Should we modernize our instruction to meet the needs of future-ready learners? The answer to all of these questions is YES. But there is a fundamental difference in renovating our practices versus reforming the public education system. 

Renovate (verb)
  1. To restore to good condition; make new or as if new again; repair.
  2. To reinvigorate; refresh; revive.

In a renovation, we are modernizing, refurbishing, reconstructing, improving, remodeling, and updating. I want to honor the knowledge and expertise we as educators bring to the work with the idea of renovating what we already have to make it even more effective and engaging for the students we serve. We also need to think about functionality. The reason for modernizing our instruction is to better meet the needs of our students. 

To help our students become future-ready means we will most likely need to change or enhance some of our practices. To prepare them for a rapidly changing future, we need to equip them with competencies such as critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and the ability to communicate big ideas. Sound pedagogy must be our foundation. And the renovation we undertake must be to better prepare our students for solving the complex problems our world will face in the next 5, 10, or 20 years. 

So, where do we start? Here are three steps to consider as you plan, implement, and monitor your own learning renovation. This post will focus on Step 1 and is the first in a series. 

Step 1: Create a construction plan (simplify and focus).
Step 2: Monitor the building process (walkthroughs and feedback).
Step 3: Invest in the work crew (collective teacher efficacy).

Evaluate the 4 P's: Programs, Practices, Processes, and Policies

The first element of a great plan is to consider what we can remove before we start building. Research shows there is an inverse relationship between the number of priorities we pursue and their effectiveness in accelerating student learning or changing behaviors. The more priorities, the less effective each one turns out to be. Often, less is more. Do a few things really well and you will see results—guaranteed!

So, let’s consider the 4 P’s: the programs, practices, processes, and policies currently being implemented in your classroom or school. Write them on Post-It notes. On a piece of chart paper, recreate the four quadrants shown in the figure below. Take a moment to reflect on whether each of the 4 P’s listed on your Post-It notes is having a positive impact on student learning. Using the y-axis, determine whether you have any evidence of impact on student learning or behaviors. If yes, determine if the impact is low or high. Next, think about the evidence of professional impact from low to high using the x-axis. Consider whether each of the 4 P’s is implemented with fidelity. Are we “all in,” and do we have the capacity to implement each P (time, space, funding, and professional knowledge/expertise)? 

Now, step back and reflect on which of the 4 P’s we should replicate, expand, revisit, or abandon entirely. This exercise creates meaningful dialogue about current practices and assists with focusing on doing a few things really well rather than feeling as though we are juggling many balls in the air and making very little progress. (View a PDF of the protocol for evaluating the 4 P’s.)

Self-Assess the Eight Design Principles

Next, let’s reflect on the eight design principles for deeper learning. These principles are essential for focusing instruction and should be considered when creating your construction plan. Discuss with your team why these design principles are important and self-assess current knowledge and expertise for leveraging these principles for lesson design. This exercise will help focus your construction plan on actions that are research-based and those that the faculty have shared and are needed to fill their own professional toolbox. (Click here for an explanation of the design principles and a brief protocol for self-assessment.)

Consequently, the construction plan I recommend is about how to build capacity among our faculty to have a big impact on student learning and engagement. We will consider the following three factors: teams, time, and focus. More specifically:

• Determine which team(s) you want start with—Which grade level? Department? Course-alike team?
• Then, prioritize time for learning and collaboration. When will teachers meet together to design and plan?
• Finally, focus efforts for impact. How can we achieve deeper learning for teachers that results in a learning renovation? 

Create the Construction Plan

After evaluating the 4 P’s and self-assessing the eight Design Principles, let’s start fleshing out the actual plan for impacting instruction. Consider how this work aligns with your school improvement goals. I have a strong suspicion that you have goals around accelerating student learning. This plan focuses on the actions that will give you the greatest impact. You should limit these to three to five action steps and personalize them to fit the needs of the team.

For instance, you may want to focus on student learning goals and feedback because you recognize the impact, but team members have not mastered all of the professional practices. The construction plan should be meaningful for the team and used to drive action. Next, consider the evidence you will collect to measure progress and benchmark dates for collaboration and review. This is about capacity—not compliance. Notice the last part of the plan is all about reflection. What have we learned? What worked well? What could have been better? This construction plan is what drives learning architects and their teams to focus on the right work. (Click here for the Construction Plan template.)

Creating plans that are truly meaningful requires the involvement of all team members and facilitation of discussions around why so you can focus on the how. Construction plans build consensus on the work that matters most—teaching and learning. In my next post in this series on learning renovation, we will discuss monitoring the building process. Specifically, we will delve into walkthroughs and feedback.   

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Visit the Architects of Deeper Learning Toolbox online for more resources and tools.

Learn about this topic from Dr. Lissa Pijanowski and more from thought leaders and speakers at the Leadership Academy 2018 conference in Atlanta from Nov. 24, 2018.