Design for CoT District-Wide PD for Years 3 and 4
South Lyon Community Schools
By: Lisa Kudwa, Assistant Superintendent of CITA
Our district has been involved in the learning around Cultures of Thinking for the past three years. We have five school teams in the process of spending time with Ron Ritchhart and Lauren Childs at the Oakland County Foundations series and Leadership series. We also have six teams who have been a part of that learning in previous years and who needed support from the district as they continue on their journey.
Those leadership teams need many things like time to reflect and process how their choices impact their colleagues’ learning and the learning of students, practice articulating their own essential understandings of Cultures of Thinking. They also need to time to focus on the positive changes occurring at their school, and the opportunity to develop cross-district connections, to learn from one another and to plan their next steps. While we considered joining the county level series for buildings in their second and third year of learning, we recognized that we had a strong cohort within the district and were excited to learn from one another.
We planned three local sessions- September, December and February- where the principal and two members of each leadership team would attend a district level dialogue in the morning and apply their learning from the morning’s discussion at an afternoon leadership meeting at their school.
At the sessions we begin by asking each leadership team member to consider four questions. These questions help team members to clarify their own thoughts. While the questions change slightly from session to session, the first two questions have remained consistent. We have used the compass points routine as the platform for individuals exploring their own thinking and have asked:
- What do you notice as you are helping to lead this shift in culture at your school?
- What evidence do you see that staff learning around Cultures of Thinking is impacting students’ learning?
- What surprises have you encountered in your use of the routines? What strengths have you noticed as your school community builds a culture of thinking?
- What worries remain for you and your colleagues? What are you wondering about the work of the other leadership teams? How would you want the district learning to continue next year?
After all participants have had time to reflect, we ask that they pair up with someone from another school to share their thoughts. This paired discussion provides individuals with the opportunity to build a connection across the district but also to rehearse and refine their own thoughts before they join a discussion at their school level.
After the think-pair portion of session, the school team then shares their responses together. This group reflection in a sense becomes the story of the team and the school. The team determines their greatest strengths, the most impactful leadership team actions, and what struggles they need help addressing.
The bulk of our time together is then spent having discussions with members from the other leadership teams across the district. One team member remains at the table to share the school’s story that was developed through the think-pair-share activity- the leadership team’s latest decisions and actions, the changes in the school’s culture, the evidence that student learning is being impacted, and the struggles that still remain for the team. The other two members travel to three other school’s tables to learn about what is going well and what is a struggle at those schools. The focus of those hearing the story is to listen first and then offer connections between the work of the school and the work of their own school, make suggestions about things the school might consider trying, and ask reflective questions that would help the school build a more effective plan. We rotate three times with about 10 minutes for each table discussion. I think of it as speed dating for leadership teams!
Team members then return to their own school groups to reflect on the journey of their school and to consider the connections, suggestions and questions offered by the other schools. During this portion of the session, each traveling team member shares highlights from his/her conversations with other schools and the presenting team member shares the feedback from the three visiting groups. At this time, the group may also begin to plan their agenda for the afternoon portion of the day when they will return to their own school.
We offer groups a chance to share the highlights of their conversations with the other schools. One of my favorite outcomes of the day is that this discussion reinforces those leadership actions that are truly bringing about change for schools. It also provides teams with feedback and recognition from their colleagues across the district.
We close each session by asking for one final reflection that helps the participating teachers and administrators to think about their needs and the needs of the district. To provide a format for all voices in the reflection, we utilize a chalk talk routine. Over our three sessions, we’ve asked:
- What support could district administration provide to better help your staff create a Culture of Thinking?
- What advice would you give to the district leadership team members who are participating this year in the Foundations series?
- How would you want to continue the district level learning for next year?
The responses to these questions help us to plan next steps from a district perspective with input from the school leadership teams. After the first session, the primary support requested by the leadership teams was more of the sessions in this format. So while we initially planned only the first session using this format, we learned from the feedback gathered in the first chalk talk that teams valued this time for reflection and connection building above other types of support. When we come together at the sessions, we begin by reading the following quote from Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church and Karin Morrison in Making Thinking Visible:
“Our individual thinking benefits from being challenged, from the need to articulate ideas clearly and concisely to others, from the presentation of alternative perspectives and insights through other’s presentation of logic, the raising of questions, and so on. Furthermore, what we are able to achieve as a group by way of problem solving, decision making, and understanding is usually far greater than what can be achieved by the individual alone.”
For us, the quote defines our purpose for meeting- as leaders of cultural change within our district we need the support and reflection that comes from meeting together and thinking interdependently.