Highlighted Articles

TEACHING on PRINCIPLE: How CGC Builds Learning Cultures in Every Classroom

November 11, 2020


In previous articles in this series we looked at the first two elements in the CGC Learning Ecosystem: Define and Design. Now we turn our attention to the Deliver element, asking, ‘How do we teach for learning and create a shared, schoolwide, learning culture?’.

The search for consistent quality of learning, and therefore consistent quality of teaching, is a long and winding road. The usual markers on that road seem to focus on developing ‘standards’ for teachers, and then ‘evaluating’ teachers against those standards. It’s all very compliance-oriented and rule-bound. Even the language around it smacks of the factory floor. In what other profession are we the ‘supervisors’ of our colleagues?

In CGC, we take a very different approach. We believe that schools are learning cultures and that cultures are framed by principles, not constrained by rules. We define a principle as ‘a shared truth that brings order and freedom to a system’. To us, common sense alone dictates that, as professionals, we are more likely to follow a ‘shared truth’ than to attempt to comply with the mind-boggling number of standards that seem to over-populate evaluation systems.

So, where do our Learning Principles come from? We believe that a well-crafted, co-created set of Learning Principles will be a practical synthesis of our shared learning experiences and the most reliable research. As always in CGC, we also believe in simplicity over complexity, so we generally work hard to synthesize our collective wisdom into 4-5 Learning Principles, and we find that this is plenty to guide learning, teaching and leading.

Of course, a set of Learning Principles has no value on its own. Just another wall adornment to nail up by the Mission Statement. The real learning impact comes when Learning Principles are translated into Learning Practices, then into the necessary Teaching Practices to support the learning, then Leading Practices to support the teaching. It’s basic logic, a simple if-then syllogism: If we are living this principle, then here’s what we’ll see our learners doing, here’s what our teachers will be doing in support and here’s what our leaders will be doing to sustain this culture of ‘learning, teaching and leading on principle’. For example, if the Principle is about Self-regulation, then learners, guided by teachers, will be able to set their own learning goals, and teachers will be able to set their own professional learning goals. It’s a system, and the system shapes the culture.

So, that’s the simple idea. A school-wide culture shaped by a few deeply-held shared learning principles that drive practices for learning, teaching and leading, including practices for Self-directed Professional Learning. When it comes to improving our practice, it seems obvious that we learn to improve our practice, so we should be following learning theory not out-moded evaluation practices. 

A final point. In our member schools, we have seen rapid transformation by simply working together as a faculty on one collective annual goal of high learning impact for all students. It’s a simpler, more effective use of time and energy than the annual ritual of scatter-shot multiple personal goal-setting by each faculty member, a process we have labeled, somewhat irreverently, ‘Letters to Santa’. It’s one of many Energy Vampires that we would best be rid of. But that’s another story…

This article was submitted by Kevin Bartlett. Kevin led international schools for over 30 years in 4 different locations, while working on a number of fronts to systematize international education. This work included designing accreditation systems including ACE, leading courses for the Principals’ Training Center, initiating and leading the IB Primary Years Programme, and co-founding The Next Frontier Inclusion and the Common Ground Collaborative.

www.thecgcproject.org
kevin@thecgcproject.org
#CGCKevin

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Highlighted Articles

What’s Worth Learning and Why: How the CGC Focuses on Learning that Matters

October 1, 2020


The story so far…

In our last article, we defined the CGC’s interactive helix of Conceptual, Competency and Character Learning as the DNA of learning. To extend the metaphor, a DNA does not live in a vacuum. It shapes a body. So another question presents itself. “What body of knowledge is important for these learners, right now?’. As we set out to identify learning that really matters, we framed our DESIGN question like this: ‘What’s Worth Learning and Why?’. Our response to that question works on multiple, connected levels:

It’s worth learning about our human common ground…

As our principal content organizer, we have identified 6 Human Commonalities, which preserve the essence of traditional disciplines e.g. Physics, while opening the door to emergent ‘proto-disciplines’ e.g. Innovation. The Commonalities encourage both deep disciplinary learning and the exploration of broad, powerful ideas that transcend disciplinary boundaries. They provide ‘The Why’ behind the disciplines and are framed by pairings of universal concepts, amplified by ‘We all’ statements expressing our common ground. 

Vertical Connections…

The Human Commonalities provide the vertical organizers for a Learning Matrix comprising powerful Learning Modules, organized for connection and coherence.

…and Horizontal Connections

We then add horizontal connections via three Thematic Questions, which spiral through the developmental bands, providing an annual connecting focus:

It’s worth learning to be experts…

CGC develops learning experts, both child and adult. Experts have a deep conceptual understanding of the ideas of their knowledge domain, and high levels of competency in domain skills. To complement conceptual and competency expertise we are committed to producing expert human beings, with strong, positive moral character.

Consequently we identify specific Domain Conceptual and Competency Learning Goals in every Learning Module. We also provide Character Learning Goals. These are ‘domain agnostic’, and used in all Commonalities.

It’s worth learning to be experts in contexts that really matter…

We recognize that it is possible to become a technical expert in a domain without engaging with vital issues like justice, equity, freedom, and the use of power. In order to ensure that CGC learners engage with these issues, we use them to shape the Compelling Questions that drive every CGC Learning Module.

It’s worth learning to tackle complex challenges that demand urgency and agency…

CGC learners become learning experts in the context of modules that matter. These may be grounded in one Commonality but draw from others in natural ways that connect and complement learning.

As a further extension and application of their learning, we have also designed a systemic way for learners to tackle challenges and opportunities that are so pressing and so significant that they demand a multi-disciplinary approach, a collaborative methodology and a commitment to taking action. These are the CGC Complexity Challenges. 

We envisage teams of learners, teachers and potentially, external experts, working on these Challenges as a passion project in their preferred domain. They collaborate to find solutions and plan actions, then come together to share their learning with other teams and with other community learning stakeholders in a major Learning Demonstration.

Complexity Challenges are planned using the Compelling Questions model, extended across the Commonalities. Here’s an example:

What’s worth learning and why?

In CGC, we believe that it’s worth learning about our human common ground, that it’s worth learning to become experts in important knowledge domains, and that it’s worth learning how to build our expertise in the context of substantive content that really matters. Ultimately, it’s worth learning how to exercise our agency and work with urgency, to take action on the pressing challenges and opportunities that face humanity, right here, right now.

That’s what’s worth learning…and why.

This article was submitted by Kevin Bartlett. Kevin led international schools for over 30 years in 4 different locations, while working on a number of fronts to systematize international education. This work included designing accreditation systems including ACE, leading courses for the Principals’ Training Center, initiating and leading the IB Primary Years Programme, and co-founding The Next Frontier Inclusion and the Common Ground Collaborative.

www.thecgcproject.org
kevin@thecgcproject.org
#CGCKevin



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Highlighted Articles

Discovering the DNA of Learning: How the CGC Cracked the Learning Code

September 3, 2020


Introduction

In a previous article we looked at how the Common Ground Collaborative (CGC) set about creating a complete, connected, Learning Ecosystem, using Four Guiding Questions. The first of these, ‘What is Learning?’, the CGC’s ‘Define’ question, has provided an answer far more powerful than we anticipated. Now read on…

What is learning and how do we do it?

When we set out to re-engineer learning, it felt like common sense to start by defining it. We’re all in the learning game, so wouldn’t it be sensible to decide what learning actually is before we start trying to make it happen? 

Of course, there are lots of statements about learning out there, some of them presented as ‘definitions’. Eventually, though, as our own definition of learning evolved, we realised that it was ‘different’. Rather than cozy generalizations about, for example, ‘lifelong learners’, ours was a practical definition of the actual learning process, designed to drive the teaching process.

Developing experts

We worked backwards from an understanding of the behaviours of experts, based on the common sense notion that an expert has probably learned well. We determined that experts have a deep understanding of the ideas of their domain and the relationships among them and that they are highly competent in the skills of their domain. We were also committed to the importance of developing expert human beings, with strong, positive values and dispositions. 

With this in mind, we felt our definition needed to address the learning of ideas, skills and personal traits. Since we are also committed to simplicity, we turned this raw material into the powerful, memorable CGC Learning Definition, known in all our member schools as ‘the 3 Cs’: Conceptual, Competency and Character Learning.

The reason for separating out these forms of learning was not just to give us a simple, memorable definition. We knew we needed to think differently about building learner capacity in conceptual understanding, competency and character because the pedagogy required to build each of these capacities is different. 

From learning process to teaching process

Knowing this, we unpacked each form of learning into a clear methodology that is simple enough for large-scale applicability in multiple school contexts, yet deep enough to genuinely drive learning. For example, we believe that inquiry-based learning is fundamental to building conceptual understanding but we were wary of over-complicating inquiry-based methodology or falling into the trap of presenting one inquiry-based process as dogma. Our own approach is to strip things down to their essence, making them, in the words of Einstein, ‘As simple as possible and no simpler than that’. Hence our take on building conceptual understanding as a process of Connect-Construct-Contribute. For Competency Learning: Deconstruct-Identify-Practice. For Character Learning: Consider-Act-Reflect.

Having built our learning definition we set out to ensure that it drives our learning model. We developed learning standards for each of the 3 Cs, each with their own, simple sentence stems, as follows:

  1. Conceptual Learning: I understand that…
  2. Competency Learning: I am able to…
  3. Character Learning: I am becoming more…

These standards drive all CGC Learning Modules, so that the learning definition shapes the learning goals and the teaching methodology. Within this ecosystem, teachers plan, teach and assess for conceptual, competency and character learning. When students self-assess, they do the same:

  1. I used to think that, now I understand that….and here’s my evidence
  2. I used to struggle to, now I am able to…and here’s my evidence
  3. As a person, I am becoming more…and here’s my evidence

Just as we had hoped from the outset, we had found a ‘process’ definition that shapes everything that follows. We realized, of course, that our definition is, like all ‘curriculum’, simply a human construct. We realized that, with any kind of authentic learning, any and all of our 3 C’s may be in play, although one or other may be more dominant, depending on what is being learned. We saw each kind of learning, not as a cycle, returning to its original starting point, but as a spiral, constantly evolving, one step leading to the next, throughout a lifetime of learning. 

The DNA of Learning

The idea of three spirals, constantly interacting, evoked a powerful image.  The 3 C’s as a living construct, a triple helix, the DNA of learning. It’s a bold claim, to claim to discover a learning DNA, and it’s obviously purely a metaphorical one. But the metaphor works. It works to explain, and to remember, what’s happening when we’re learning, and to remember to plan, teach and assess for what matters. It brings teacher clarity and collective teacher efficacy.  It helps in our quest to build our young learners into experts, with deep conceptual understanding of important ideas, high levels of competency in key skills and strong, positive moral character. We think that matters.

In the next in this series, we’ll extend the metaphor. A DNA doesn’t live in a vacuum. It shapes a body. So we’ll be asking questions about the 4th C: Content…a body of knowledge that really matters.  We’ll be asking, ‘What’s Worth Learning…and Why?’

This article was submitted by Kevin Bartlett. Kevin led international schools for over 30 years in 4 different locations, while working on a number of fronts to systematize international education. This work included designing accreditation systems including ACE, leading courses for the Principals’ Training Center, initiating and leading the IB Primary Years Programme and co-founding The Next Frontier Inclusion and the Common Ground Collaborative.

www.thecgcproject.org
kevin@thecgcproject.org
#CGCKevin




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Highlighted Articles

SAME GAME, NEW PLAYBOOK

August 13, 2020


The Common Ground Collaborative (CGC) is re-inventing the learning game as one simple ecosystem. In this series of articles we’ll unpack the CGC story, sharing our work with ISC readers.

A few years back, the CGC team looked at the current state of play in ‘the learning game’ and saw too many things that didn’t make sense to us. Where there should be connections, we saw gaps. We saw gaps between what teachers wanted to do for their students and the ways in which they were obliged to spend their time. Gaps between students and what they believed was worth learning. Gaps between mountains of standards and the time available to teach them. Gaps between parents and schools, between disciplines, between departments. Ultimately, a major gap between what we promise and what we deliver. We looked at it all and thought, ‘We’ve had it with that!’.

So we set out to change it. To bring clarity to schools confounded by complexity. To work with schools constrained by compliance to co-create contexts where teachers and leaders could follow what they believe, instead of jumping through someone else’s hoops. We set out to transform the learning game into one where we teach learners how to play. We re-imagined learning as a game where every child feels like the M.V.P. every day, where every parent is a player, where every teacher is a coach. The only game in town where everybody is a winner. We imagined the game as one connected ecosystem and we set out to write a new Learning Playbook.

But where to begin? We identified four key questions for getting learning systematized, and then we gave each a name, and the system emerged, like this:
Define: ‘What is learning?
Design: ‘What’s worth learning and why?
Deliver: ‘How do we build our learning culture?’
Demonstrate : ‘How do learners show what they’ve learned?

These 4 D’s provide a clear, connected framework for a coherent Learning Ecosystem. We knew that if we answered our questions faithfully and provided practical learning solutions for smart, hard-working professionals we would achieve our goal.  We would find the elusive ‘holy grail’ of the articulated curriculum and we would co-create learning cultures in which that curriculum would thrive.

We would move from silos to systems, increasing learning while reducing stress. We’d have learners and teachers feeling that their work had purpose and their energy was well spent. We’d have replaced common nonsense with uncommon sense. We’d have redefined the learning game, for the benefit of all learning stakeholders. We liked that idea. So that’s what we’ve done and now we’re ready to share…

In the next article in this series we’ll share the DNA of Learning, a simple, shared definition of the learning process that is transforming learning conversations around the world.

This article was submitted by Kevin Bartlett. Kevin led international schools for over 30 years in 4 different locations, while working on a number of fronts to systematize international education. This work included designing accreditation systems including ACE, leading courses for the Principals’ Training Center, initiating and leading the IB Primary Years Programme and co-founding The Next Frontier Inclusion and the Common Ground Collaborative.

www.thecgcproject.org
kevin@thecgcproject.org
#CGCKevin


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Member Spotlights

Member Spotlight #40: Amber Acosta (A teacher at the American International School in Egypt)

August 28, 2019


Every so often International School Community is looking to highlight one of our members in our Member Spotlight blog category.  This month we interviewed Amber Acosta:

Tell us about your background.  Where are you from?

Hi! My name is Amber Acosta. I grew up in Connecticut, but when I am back in the United States, I call Vermont home. I have a bachelors degree in business from Fordham University and a masters degree in teaching from Sacred Heart University. I have taught grade 2 for the past 5 years at the American International School in Egypt (West Campus) and am excited to start a new position this year teaching lower elementary technology, using my certification as an Educational Media Specialist. My professional interests outside of technology are STEM education, library, and makerspaces. I recently became certified in STEM and am looking forward to using my skills this year, as well as creating a makerspace at my school. I have a husband and an 11 year old son. My husband is a teacher, too. He teaches economics and business at the same school.

How did you get started in the international teaching community?

I did not really plan to teach internationally – I fell into it and ended up loving it! I taught in Egypt for one year after college before starting my masters, but did not necessarily intend to come back. However, my husband and I decided to move to Egypt (where he is originally from) in 2011. I contacted a previous administrator and found they had an opening for me at their school. The rest is history! I knew I would continue to teach internationally after that, especially after my husband joined me in teaching as well.

Which international schools have you worked at?  Please share some aspects of the schools that made them unique and fun places in which to work.

I have worked at Global Paradigm International School and American International School of Egypt (West Campus), both in Cairo. Global Paradigm was in its second year when I joined, so there was a lot of room for me to be a part of the accreditation process and really help build the foundations of the curriculum. I enjoyed the challenge! Also, we had small class sizes and I loved feeling like my students and I were a little family. At the American International School of Egypt, we have a large student body and staff. I have really benefited from meeting so many teachers from around the world and learning from them through discussion and observation. Another great thing about AIS is that we not only have professional development in our staff meetings, but also have the chance through our stipends to take classes or attend professional development anywhere we wish. I have had the chance to grow so much in my time at AIS, as well as have fun! Our Seuss-themed Literacy Week is a blast for both students and teachers. Also, it is fantastic to take my students every year to the pyramids- where else can you do that?

Describe your latest cultural encounter (or reverse cultural encounter) in your current placement, one that put a smile on your face.

My son has grown up with both Egyptian and American cultures and we also travel internationally for many of our vacations. He has developed such a broad perspective of the world and a curiosity about different cultures. I think one of the best cultural encounters anywhere is always trying the food in a new country!

What are some important things that you look for when you are searching for a new position at an international school?

My husband and I would absolutely love to teach in and explore a new country in the near future, so we have been thinking about this recently. It is very important to me that the school is progressive, has opportunities for professional development, and values teacher-input into curriculum. I would also like for there to be emphasis on project-based and real-world learning. My husband and I started and currently run the school gardening program, in which students grow, pack, and sell produce, so we would love to work somewhere that we could still be involved in gardening or eco-initiatives. 

In exactly 5 words, how would you describe the international school teaching experience?

Teaching around the world – awesome!

teacher

Thanks, Amber Acosta!

If you are a member of International School Community and would like to be our next member spotlight, contact us here.  If we choose to highlight you, you will receive one year free of premium access to our website!

Interested in comparing the schools and comments in Egypt. Check out our blog post here.

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