working together so learners can flourish

Posts tagged ‘Collaboration’

Cultivating a Spirit of Celebration

“Celebration is to the culture of a school ‘what the movie is to the script, the concert to the score, and the dance is to the values that are difficult to express in any other way.’”[i]

We all know how important good communication is in a school community. And we know how difficult achieving it can be. We all have the stories. The authors of Learning by Doing suggest that one powerful tool for communication is often overlooked and underutilized. The tool? Celebration – regular public recognition.


To celebrate is to extol, honor, commend, praise, show gratitude or appreciation, remember, or recognize through the use of rites or ceremonies, formal or informal, planned or spontaneous. Recognize comes from the Latin “to know again.” Public recognition reminds the learning community what they value. Engaging in joyful or playful or solemn celebrations has the potential of weaving members of the learning community together around shared purpose and growth toward fulfilling that purpose.


“When admiration and appreciation are repeatedly expressed, organizations create a culture of ongoing regard that sustains effort because such language is “like pumping oxygen into the system.”” [i]


What is celebrated is, in part, context specific. Each learning community must identify their values and common commitments and keep track of progress toward fulfilling them. Public recognition can be a powerful tool for marking and even making progress. Celebrating short-terms wins has the potential of undermining the resistors and “building momentum that turns neutral people into supporters and reluctant supporters into active helpers.”[iii]

Actions, practices, or behaviors related to common commitments regarding student learning should be the primary focus of celebrations. To be effective, it is important to make a clear link between the act of recognizing and what is being recognized. Generic praise is an ineffective communication tool. While there may be appropriate times to recognize individuals, where possible, that individual’s contributions should be linked to team efforts. The learning that we are most concerned with is that of the young people in our learning spaces, but teachers need to be continuous learners as well in order to facilitate student growth. When we celebrate teacher learning it should always be linked to its contribution to student learning.

While school leaders may take the lead in creating space for celebration, they should not be the only ones deciding what to recognize. A positive impact on student growth is the responsibility of the whole community so the whole community should be alert to recognizing and identifying those practices, actions or behaviors that contribute to student growth. Celebration is the responsibility of every member of the learning community.

The ways we can celebrate are only limited by our collective imagination. The point is to keep purpose in mind and to be intentional. Everyone may agree that celebrating is an important tool in building and sustaining a collaborative culture, but it will likely not become an integral part of the way the community works together without a plan. Learning communities need to be intentional about creating space for regular celebrations.


[i] Terrence Deal and Allen Kennedy in Corporate Cultures quoted in “Encouraging a Spirit of Celebration” in “The Learning System” NSDC Vol. 3, No. 8, May 2008, p. 5.

[ii] Kegan & Lahey, 2001, p. 102 as quoted in Learning by doing: a handbook for professional communities at work 2nd edition. Solution Tree Press:Bloominton, IN. P. 37

[iii] Kotter, J. “The eight step process.” quoted in Tools for learning schools, p. 3. Fall 2013, Vol 17, No. 1 Learning Forward: Oxford, OH.


Sources used:

Armstrong, A. “Celebrate professional transitions and successes to drive and sustain implementation” in Tools for learning schools. Fall 2013. Vol.17, No. 1. Learning Forward:Oxford, OH.

DuFour, R.,DuFour, R.,Eaker, R. & Many, T. Learning by doing: a handbook for professional communities at work 2nd edition. Solution Tree Press:Bloominton, IN. P. 37-41.

“Encouraging a Spirit of Celebration” in The Learning System. Vol. 3, No. 8, May 2008, p. 5. NSDC :Oxford, OH. P. 4-5.


elaine brouwer, alta vista


Integrating Technology & the Benefits of becoming a Connected Educator

Every other year I teach a semester long World Issues course. Each year it  takes a different  shape based on the students I have and the world events going on. Once again this summer I thought about the form I wanted to take on. Firstly, as a “flipped” teacher I wanted to make sure the students were actively pursuing information and not just listening to me tell them everything I know. Secondly, I contemplated how a course on world issues could reflect the world around us: a world where information is at your fingertips, shared with social media, and commented on.

A few years ago I attended the Alta Vista-NWCSI August Event entitled “Becoming Students of our Students’ Work-Together.” There a Mount Vernon Christian Social Studies Teacher shared with me his framework for a similar course, having each student follow a country through the various issues and ending with a Model United Nations.

For each “issue” students researched its status in their own country. It was interesting to see the searching methods of students and organically, we could discuss how to vary search terms and how to evaluate the credibility of a source. Students also became efficient at citing their sources.

With the information they gathered, they had to “present” the information using technology. Educational Technology is a passion of mine so various blogs and Twitter posts have helped me build an arsenal of tools. Students used LiveBinders, Screencast-O-Matic,, Padlet, and Google Drive. Students experienced a range of emotions using all of these tools. They were frustrated, nervous, and excited. I was surprised by how uncomfortable students were using these technologies for learning. They are accustomed to entertaining themselves with technology, but creating educational products was not so easy for them. I am thrilled that they “survived” these technologies and have even used them again in other classes. Furthermore, it will be important in their future careers to feel confident trying new technologies that they must use.

The final piece of learning each issue was to share their knowledge. Not only does sharing reflect 21st Century learning, it also allowed students to see each issue from the perspective of multiple countries, not just the one they studied. Students would post their products on Edmodo and then comment on each other’s posts. In the future, I hope they will be able to share to a wider audience with Twitter and/or blog posts.

Much of this model was influenced by the C4 Framework for Social Studies education: collect, collaborate, create, and communicate. This structure is a great way to integrate technology in a regular way, it allows students to get out of stagnant textbooks and dig dynamic, relevant content.


Kaelyn Bullock, High School Social Studies teacher, Shoreline Christian School

Attributes of a Healthy Learner

Our junior and senior high students have expressed concern over their workloads and subsequent stress levels. To address this, the staff has implemented a homeroom at the end of the day. The students place homework they have received in each class on the board. This allows every student to review their planner and gives a staff member the opportunity to intervene should workloads appear excessive. We also have a test and project calendar that we share in the hopes that we can spread out more high stakes work.

The system still does not address individual student learners. As a result, we have gone back to the drawing board. Using the LCC model, we are attempting to identify the attributes of a healthy learner in our school. Data is being collected in homerooms, and each class at the end of block days collects individual student responses to frustration levels in that class. Our goal is to identify the attributes of a “healthy” learner, use the data we have collected to see how it matches up against the attributes we have identified, determine adjustments for those who struggle with their “health” and maintain those who are “healthy.” Finally we will retest to see if the changes we make stick.

Tim Visser – Shoreline Christian

Submitted on 2013/11/11 at 3:51 pm


Assessment that Blesses – 4/4

How do our assessment practices strengthen the bonds of the learning community?


To be a blessing for the whole learning community, assessment should actively and intentionally contribute to the well being of the body of Christ in microcosm in our learning spaces. We need to tend to the needs of the individual learner without promoting individualist thinking and actions. In a networked world “knowledge is moving from the individual to the individual and his contacts.”[i] While referring primarily to personal learning networks facilitated by the internet, this also applies to the face-to-face learning community. As we give learners the opportunity to work together to address real issues, what they know collectively is more important that what the individual knows. If our assessment practices are to contribute to the well being of the whole, we need to avoid practices that cause some learners to feel inferior or ashamed and others to feel proud and superior. We need to be careful not to promote narcissism and selfishness rather than empathy and compassion. We cannot contribute to the well being of the whole if our practices drive a wedge between those who already know and those who don’t.[ii] Do our assessment practices create spaces to celebrate the learning and gifts of unique individuals in the community and point to ways that that learning and those gifts can be used to serve the whole? Can we demonstrate that our approach to assessment promotes relationship and connection among learners? How do we make room in our assessment practices for acknowledging what the group together knows and can do? How often do we create opportunities for learners to give helpful feedback to each other?  If our approach to assessment is to be oriented toward the blessing of the whole learning community, we need to subject all of our assessment related practices to scrutiny such those that promote undue competition for individual recognition.

Do our assessment practices reflect thoughtful determinations of what learners need to understand, know and be able to do to thrive in their futures?

One of the keys to quality assessment is being very clear about what we are assessing.[iii] For assessment to be a blessing we need to make sure that we are assessing those things that students need to learn to thrive in their futures. Traditionally, when content was scarce and students needed teachers to deliver it, assessment was heavily focused on content mastery. That approach does not take into account the new reality in which students can access content and teachers anywhere anytime. Students can now carry the sum of human knowledge in their pockets, and can easily communicate, collaborate, and create with people around the world. Content is still important, but the advent of powerful technological tools have made it abundant and easily and quickly accessible.  Perhaps our emphasis needs to shift from content mastery to learning mastery.[iv] How much of our assessment focuses on new skills and literacies such as proficiency with technology, designing and sharing with global audiences, managing rivers of information, persistence, patient problem solving, collaboration, discerning reliable sources, creativity, proficiency with multimedia, to name a few. [v] Assessment for blessing needs to move from assessing what students know to assessing what they can do with what they know.[vi] How often do we give students performance-based assessments in which they can produce real products for real audiences, demonstrating what they are able to do with what they are learning? Even though such assessments may be more ‘inefficient’, ‘subjective’, and time consuming than the traditional, can we demonstrate to each other the benefit of using them to gather evidence of understanding and transfer?

* * *

For our collective assessment practices to bless, we need to be constantly learning, relearning and unlearning our craft.[vii] Engaging in a communal, collaborative inquiry into our assessment practices can help us transform our approaches to assessment so that more students can learn more and better. This is a potentially powerful avenue for professional learning. The essential questions I offered are by no means exhaustive, nor are they designed to be used in any particular order. Collaborative teacher teams should focus on those questions drawn from the above or of their own making to address issues in their particular context. The important thing is that we do conduct a periodic, mutual inquiry into our assessment practices to help bend them ever closer toward blessing.

elaine brouwer, Director of Alta Vista

[i] Richardson, Will. (2012). Why school: how education must change when learning and information are everywhere. NY, NY: TED Conferences LLC. 18/35.

[ii] Gray, Peter. (2013). Free to learn: why unleashing the instinct to play will make our children happier, more self-reliant, and better students for life. NY, NY: Basic Books.

[iii] Stiggins, Richard J., Arter, Judith A., Chappuis, Jan, and Chappuis, Stephen. (2012). Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: doing it well-using it right, 2nd edition. Portland, OR: Educational Testing Service.

[iv] Richardson, Will. (2012). Why school: how education must change when learning and information are everywhere. NY, NY: TED Conferences LLC. 29/35.

[v] Richardson, Will. (2013). “Students first, not stuff.” Educational Leadership, (70) 6, 10-14.

[vi] Richardson, Will. (2012). Why school: how education must change when learning and information are everywhere. NY, NY: TED Conferences LLC. 24/35.

[vii] Richardson, Will. (2012). Why school: how education must change when learning and information are everywhere. NY, NY: TED Conferences LLC.

We Are Stronger Together

collab wordleWhat is collaboration?

Much that goes under the name ‘collaboration’ isn’t. The term is often used to describe almost every imaginable combination of individuals with an interest in education. “In fact, the term has been used so ubiquitously that it is in danger of losing all its meaning.” “. . . much of what passes for collaboration among educators is more aptly described as coblaboration,” ineffective or unproductive team meetings that are not closely related to teachers’ real work. (Learning by Doing, 2nd ed., DuFour, p. 128)

True collaboration requires a team of people committed to working interdependently toward a shared goal.  Each participant’s contributions are sought and valued and each participant assumes responsibility for implementing key decisions and owning subsequent results. In true collaboration, participants co-labor for the benefit of the whole much as the varied parts of our bodies work together to sustain health and wellbeing.

Why should we collaborate?

Well-documented research shows that collaboration surpasses other ways of working together – or not working together – in its potential to reach common goals and positively impacting those served. Teacher collaboration becomes a powerful tool for professional development and a driver for school improvement by providing “opportunities for adults across a school system [and across schools] to learn and think together about how to improve their practice in ways that lead to improved student achievement” (Annenberg Institute for School Reform, 2004, p. 2).

When researchers discover ‘what works’, they, whether they acknowledge it or not, are really uncovering glimpses of the way God intends his world to work. From the beginning God has asked humanity to collaborate with him in the development and preservation and, now, in the development and reconciliation of his world. This task is not yours or mine; it is ours. Repeatedly in the New Testament, we are called to work like a body in which all parts are valued and necessary. Such work requires a complex interplay of gifts of the Spirit. Commitment to a common goal requires humility and self-control.  Soliciting and valuing each member’s contribution speaks of generosity, hospitality, and encouragement.  Accepting responsibility to carry out the plan and to own the subsequent results requires patience and faithfulness . . .

Co-laboring is rooted in self-giving love – the kind of love God demonstrated and demonstrates toward his world, particularly in the giving of his son.  It requires a dying to self so we can work together intentionally and interdependently, not for individual recognition or career advancement, but for the glory of our LORD and the benefit of his people.

Collaboration is one outward expression of what it means to be fully human in God’s world.

elaine brouwer

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