Transforming Classroom Instruction

A couple of months ago I had the opportunity to visit the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA, and meet their high school principal, Chris Lehmann. Although  I had researched him and the school extensively, and had communicated with him via Twitter, the face-to-face meeting was important to me as I pieced together what SLA was all about with regard to innovative practices and educating today’s learner. I can say without a doubt that he is a guru of instructional leadership and sets the tone for what is expected in every classroom–which translates into modern learning or today’s learning at its finest.  SLA is an inquiry-driven, project-based high school focused on 21st century learning and all classes use a common rubric based on Design, Knowledge, Application, Presentation and Process. Their mission is based on three questions: 1. “How do we learn?” 2. “What can we create?” and 3. “What does it mean to lead?”

Through a number of visits with students and unannounced classroom observations over a two-day period I witnessed students collaborating on a variety of lessons and topics, all of which involved technology, group discussions, high-level questioning, role-playing, and more. I was more impressed at not seeing worksheets, reading out of a textbook, and row after row of student filled desks. Instead students were gathered in groups at tables or had created their own seating arrangements to reflect a cafe-style learning environment, all the while continuing the learning experiences as outlined in the daily objectives.

One might say teachers and students were using their ‘dog and pony’ show for the visitors, but when SLA hosts over 300 visitors per month, there is NO show to put on; instead they model everyday what is expected from their administrator, parents and district level supervisors.

And, while this particular school is a high school campus, campuses at any level, in any district, in any state, can emulate these instructional processes;  some already are, while others are moving in that direction.

Because of our important work as one of 23 districts in The Texas High Performance School Consortium, we must continue to forge ahead with some of these very same goals in mind when we are working with students. We are seeing some great instruction across the district, with many of our teachers willing to step out of their comfort zones into unknown territory because it’s best for kids. We are seeing that we must combine a variety of instructional strategies and tools into our classrooms so that we meet the needs of ALL students. We have teachers incorporating more inquiry-driven lessons through Project-Based Learning, resulting in impressive student presentations that go beyond the scope of the original objective. Technology continues to be a focus in this district, and through campus instructional leadership we are seeing additional technology integration into classroom instruction with students. In other words, the digital learning environment is a necessary part of student engagement and helps to equip them with skills for the future; fortunately, we have teachers who recognize this. We are also seeing the perfect blend of lecture (chunks of instruction) with collaborative work, student engagement, and high-level questioning and critical-thinking–all with the goal in mind of reaching ALL students through a variety of instructional strategies and differentiation.

So as we look ahead to the eight or so weeks of school left and reflect on where we’ve been, what we’ve done, and what we have left to do, I must ask you to reflect on these three questions: “How did we learn?”, “What did we create?” and “What does it mean to lead?” It would be interesting to gather information from your students to see if their answers align with your answers. Then, in the end, you will have the answers to how, or if, you truly transformed instruction in your classroom.

Something to think about………………………




Environmental Science class showcases PBL project

I had the privilege last week to serve on a PBL panel for the high school Environmental Science class. Students had created Energy Conservation curriculum units for each campus and correlating grade levels to use as a part of their respective science units.

Having worked with these students over the past 3-4 weeks, I was so impressed by the students’ work ethic, their commitment to completing the task at hand, and the ability to create units that were engaging, collaborative and relevant for students, grades K-11. This effort was a result of studying Energy as a part of their classroom curriculum.

Initially when the assignment started, the high school students were hesitant and unsure of how this project would be meaningful and impact students. Having had personal conversations with them, they shared their concerns about this project and whether it would make a difference for others. I told them the projects would impact students at all grade levels and serve as a great resource for teachers. The students also got to experience first hand what lengths a teacher goes through to plan thought-provoking, relevant lessons that students will enjoy and learn from.

They did a great job with presenting information using technology as a teaching tool, and the panel seemed impressed with what they saw and heard. I commend their teacher, Rob McFall, for taking risks in using PBL in the classroom, and for his vision of what the classroom learning environment could and should look like. It was a proud moment to see all of this come together. Congratulations.

When the students post to their blogs, I will link this page to the blogs so all can see and enjoy. Great process for all involved.