Welcome to Mastery Communications Week! 

From August 14-18th we'll be sharing mastery resources and insights from across the country to help schools plan their communications strategies. See our flyer for details and a snapshot of the content we'll share each day. And please share your best resources and thoughts on Twitter using the hashtag #masteryweek. 
  • Five Examples of Effective School Communication Strategies, on Five Different Platforms This post originally appeared on KnowledgeWorks’ site, here.Communicating effectively to people throughout your school district presents several challenges. What’s your message, who needs to hear what and, more ...
    Posted Aug 18, 2017, 9:48 AM by Angela Duffy
  • Q&A with a Parent and School Leader Daniel Allen and Jaime Ramirez discuss multi-modal efforts to message personalized learning at Advanced Learning Academy in Santa Ana Unified School District. Advanced Learning Academy opened in Fall 2015 ...
    Posted Aug 18, 2017, 6:05 AM by Julianna Charles Brown
  • Multi-media Resource Share This post was originally featured on the reDesign blog.By Syndey SchaefWe come to our thinking about communications through lessons learned about how to share our passion and excitement ...
    Posted Aug 18, 2017, 6:07 AM by Angela Duffy
  • Supporting Educators as Ambassadors for Mastery-based Learning By Amanda P. Avallone, the Content Manager for Next Generation Learning Challenges.“Teachers tell us ‘we know so much more about supporting students, it would feel like malpractice to go ...
    Posted Oct 5, 2017, 1:00 PM by Angela Duffy
  • Q&A with Sami Smith, Middle School Mentor Teacher at CICS West Belden Mastery Communications Week, from August 14-18, will surface resources, tools, and best practices for communicating about mastery-based learning to parents, and other community members. Several national organizations will ...
    Posted Aug 17, 2017, 6:29 AM by Angela Duffy
  • Q&A with Colleen Collins, Director at CICS West Belden Mastery Communications Week, from August 14-18, will surface resources, tools, and best practices for communicating about mastery-based learning to parents, and other community members. Several national organizations will ...
    Posted Aug 17, 2017, 7:12 AM by Angela Duffy
  • Join the Mastery Communications Twitter chat on 8/16 at 3pm ET It’s the mid-way point for mastery week. Today we are sharing how to use an equity lens when planning CBE communications. At 3pm EST today, August 16, join ...
    Posted Aug 18, 2017, 6:05 AM by Julianna Charles Brown
  • The Mission and the Message How we found our ‘why’—and how we’ve used it to create urgency and common purpose in our community’s quest for greater educational equity.  This post originally appeared ...
    Posted Aug 16, 2017, 6:24 AM by Julianna Charles Brown
  • The Power of Student Voice: Q&A with Students How can we know how successful we are in attempts to be responsive—unless the students themselves tell us? Mastery Collaborative (MC) works with 40+ mastery-based middle and high ...
    Posted Aug 18, 2017, 6:07 AM by Julianna Charles Brown
  • Q&A with Culturally Responsive Education Expert Jeremy Chan-Kraushar of NYCDOE's Mastery Collaborative interviews CRE expert Richard Haynes of NYCDOE's NYC Men Teach. MCW Richard Haynes Interview from Mastery Collaborative on Vimeo.
    Posted Aug 18, 2017, 6:07 AM by Julianna Charles Brown
  • Much Ado About Mastery-Based Transcripts: What Schools Need to Know and What They Can Do This post originally appeared on Great Schools Partnership as part of Mastery Communications Week. See the original post here.By Stephen Abbott As more and more schools across the United ...
    Posted Aug 15, 2017, 11:45 AM by Angela Duffy
  • Q&A with Nancy Davis Griffin from the University of Southern Maine Mastery Communications Week, from August 14-18, will surface resources, tools, and best practices for communicating about mastery-based learning to parents, and other community members. Several national organizations will ...
    Posted Aug 16, 2017, 6:18 AM by Julianna Charles Brown
  • Welcome to Mastery Communications Week! This article originally appeared on Springpoint's blog The Launch Pad as part of Mastery Communications Week. See the original here.Educators implementing mastery-based learning can enumerate a list ...
    Posted Aug 15, 2017, 6:21 AM by Angela Duffy
  • Mastery Communications Week Q&A with students Mastery Communications Week, from August 14-18, will surface resources, tools, and best practices for communicating about mastery-based learning to parents, and other community members. Several national organizations will ...
    Posted Aug 14, 2017, 7:21 AM by Julianna Charles Brown
  • Q&A with Christy Kingham, teacher leader, The Young Women's Leadership School of Astoria Mastery Communications Week, from August 14-18, will surface resources, tools, and best practices for communicating about mastery-based learning to parents, and other community members. Several national organizations will ...
    Posted Aug 16, 2017, 10:03 AM by Angela Duffy
  • Springpoint and Partners to Launch Mastery Communications Week This post and all pictures originally appeared on Springpoint's blog, The Launch Pad.                             Mastery-based learning is a growing movement across the country that can promote rigor and increase ...
    Posted Aug 10, 2017, 11:57 AM by Julianna Charles Brown
Showing posts 1 - 16 of 16. View more »

Five Examples of Effective School Communication Strategies, on Five Different Platforms

posted Aug 18, 2017, 6:01 AM by Angela Duffy   [ updated Aug 18, 2017, 9:48 AM ]

This post originally appeared on KnowledgeWorks’ site, here.

Communicating effectively to people throughout your school district presents several challenges. What’s your message, who needs to hear what and, more and more, what vehicle is the most appropriate for each message. As digital platforms proliferate, things can be both quicker and easier. The challenge remains as it always has, though: how do you make best use of the marketing vehicle to deliver your message? 

Read about five examples of school districts effectively sharing their stories using very different marketing tools:

1. District Website:

Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) reaches 35,000 students and their families, staff and community partners with their easy-to-use website. While a website is a must-have for any school district, a good website is more difficult to achieve. That is especially the case when you’re providing information to so many people about more than 50 schools. So what makes the CPS site stand out?

  • The design is bright and clean with lots of photography. That combination makes you want to spend more time on the site.
  • The web architecture, or how the information is organized, is done in as few broad categories as possible. This means fewer links cluttering up the navigation, as well as few clicks as possible to find what you need.
  • The most important information – a login access point and an index of CPS site – is accessible through omnipresent links that float along the right-hand side of the site.

Visit the CPS website and see how they’re taking advantage of web communications for their district.

2. Classic School Building and Classroom Signs:

Garfield County School District 16 is communicating expectations to students and their families, as well as school staff, using signs throughout the schools in their district. Colorfully decorated bulletin boards in hallways and classrooms aren’t necessarily innovative, but the transparency of expectations at Garfield 16 is helping transform the district to be more student-centered and transparent.

Students at Garfield 16 are introduced to five habits of a learner that the district refers to as CRISP (collaboration, responsibility, inquiry, service and perseverance) and evidence of these habits are prominently displayed in hallways on different signs. While the communication may seem simple, it’s working.

“Students can be heard using CRISP language and holding each other accountable to being a Crew member,” KnowledgeWorks Director of Teaching and Learning Abbie Forbus said.

Learn more about CRISP and how Garfield 16 approaches making students owners of their own learning experiences.

3. School and District Twitter Accounts:

In Marysville, Ohio, the community can keep up to date with what’s happening across the school district and in specific schools by checking Twitter. District staff are taking advantage of this social media platform to provide quick access to information and increasing transparency. Navin Elementary is building build school pride with the hashtag #NavinRocks. Student success is a common theme on the Marysville Early College High School account. Bigger news stories, announcements and celebrations are shared from the district accountMarysville Superintendent Diane Mankins and many school staff from across Marysville are actively communicating on Twitter, which helps foster easy, open communication.

Follow some of the Marysville Twitter accounts for idea of how to use that platform in your own school communications: @MarysvilleEVSD@MarysvilleECHS@BunsoldMS@Edgewood_ES@NavinElementary@NorthwoodES and @Raymond_Elem.

4. eNewsletters:

In the Kenowa Hills Personal Mastery eNewsletter, the Kenowa Hills Public Schools District engages parents and community members on an ongoing discussion of the district’s transformation to personalized learning. Featuring guest writers, lots of photos from classrooms and bite-size stories, the newsletter is an easy way to deliver a lot of information without overwhelming people.

  • By incorporating various voices in their newsletter, Kenowa Hills is able to provide a platform by which many people can share messages along the same theme:
  • “We wouldn’t expect most children to ride a bike first without training wheels, but the traditional education system commonly attempts to build upon prior learning even when the student hasn’t demonstrated proficiency in the foundational learning,” said Kenowa Hills Superintendent Gerald Hopkins when he explained the need for a competency-based progression.
  • “Schools are transforming from the factory-model of education to one that is student-centered and designed to better prepare students for 21st Century college and career,” said Assistant Superintendent Mike Burde when reinforcing the need to transform education in a way that better serves students.
  • “Within this shift towards personal mastery, Michigan is emerging when compared to many other states, and Kenowa Hills is leading the charge,” KnowledgeWorks Director of Teaching and Learning Laura Hilger said.

Communicating similar messages in different ways is a powerful way to reach more people. By giving voice to district leadership and partners, Kenowa Hills is creating more opportunities for open communication.

Access the Kenowa Hills Personal Mastery eNewsletter archives to read past newsletters.

5. Events:

Mesa County Valley School District 51 (D51) provides rich professional development opportunities for their staff and is demonstrating their commitment to personalized learning through the Elevate Summit.

The D51 hosted their first Elevate Summit, they had more than 400 educators attend for integrated, cross-district, cross-role development. The second annual event occurred earlier this month and had 600 educators in attendance from D51 and surrounding districts.

“The district is creating a strong community of practice by hosting this conference,”KnowledgeWorks Vice President of Communications and Marketing Cris Charbonneau said. “It shows commitment from the educators there to the district vision and to providing students with rich personalized learning experiences.”

Now that the Elevate Summit has been opened up to additional communities near D51, the district is communicating personalized learning best practices to a wide audience and positioning themselves as leaders.

Learn more about the Elevate Summit here.

See more school stories by following @EdPersonalized.


Q&A with a Parent and School Leader

posted Aug 18, 2017, 5:56 AM by Julianna Charles Brown   [ updated Aug 18, 2017, 6:05 AM ]

Daniel Allen and Jaime Ramirez discuss multi-modal efforts to message personalized learning at Advanced Learning Academy in Santa Ana Unified School District. Advanced Learning Academy opened in Fall 2015 as the first district dependent charter school in SAUSD. The school focuses on personalized learning environments for students - meaning most concretely a combination of project based and competency based learning. Students are group by competency level as opposed to grade level. The school has no attendance zone, but rather is a district-wide school of choice. The school opened with grades 4-6, expanded to grades 3-8 last year, and currently serves students grades 3-9 with an Early College program. After the video, check out an infographic about the school as well as their English and Spanish school brochures. 

MCW Advanced Learning Academy Parent and Admin Interview from Mastery Collaborative on Vimeo.

Multi-media Resource Share

posted Aug 18, 2017, 5:56 AM by Julianna Charles Brown   [ updated Aug 18, 2017, 6:07 AM by Angela Duffy ]

This post was originally featured on the reDesign blog.
By Syndey Schaef

We come to our thinking about communications through lessons learned about how to share our passion and excitement about mastery learning with families and other stakeholders. We've seen instances in which miscalculations about communication result in community resistance and a strong belief that mastery learning doesn’t work. Ultimately, at reDesign we have come to believe that communications around mastery learning is a potent mixture of grassroots community organizing, storytelling, marketing, and change leadership. For most of us, as educators, these are skills we need to develop, as they are not part of the way we naturally approach our work. Multimedia resources can be incredibly useful in the work, as visual and audio cues often resonate strongly with all of us, in ways that emails, reports, and presentations will not. If you are able to create resources that stand on their own and are accessible to stakeholders on your website, so much the better!

For this week, we are happy to be able to share two multi-media resources:

The Story of Chugach is a 21-minute podcast featuring Dr. Bob Crumley, Superintendent of the Chugach School District in Alaska. Dr. Crumley shares his change leadership story and insights from over twenty years of helping transform a learning system to competency-based education. How did the Chugach leadership team help bring parents and families along? How did they engage students in the change effort? How did they handle resistance to the change? Listen to learn this and more.

Changing Jobs, Changing Skills is a set of presentation slides designed to prompt rich discussion with parents, family members, and faculty who are new competency-based learning. We explore such questions as: What are the fastest growing jobs in the US? What skill-sets are most valued by our changing economic landscape? What makes competency-based learning different from traditional school models? What are some concrete ways that parents, families, and community members can be a part of the work of making sure schools adequately prepare today's youth for postsecondary success?

We recently read Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey Moore, and if you are looking for a mental model that describes the work of navigating the gap (or chasm as he describes it), check it out. It’s a business school classic, written to describe product selling in the high tech market. Despite the radically different context, we found much to learn inside the pages.

Supporting Educators as Ambassadors for Mastery-based Learning

posted Aug 17, 2017, 6:43 AM by Angela Duffy   [ updated Oct 5, 2017, 1:00 PM ]

By Amanda P. Avallone, the Content Manager for Next Generation Learning Challenges.

Teachers tell us ‘we know so much more about supporting students, it would feel like malpractice to go back to how we used to teach,’ and parents will tell you the same thing: ‘we never want our students to go back to the other way, because this way leads to independence and real learning.’”

These words from Ellen Hume-Howard, former curriculum director for Sanborn Regional School District (NH), paint a picture of a school community in which parents and teachers speak a common language and pursue common goals for student learning. However, as Ellen is quick to add, this partnership is the result of years of effort. Educators and parents came to value innovations like mastery-based learning because they took the time to forge relationships, build trust, and co-create new definitions of student success.

Ellen is one of many educators in the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) community who has experience in communicating with stakeholders about mastery-based learning. We spoke to three school leaders and the authors behind Communications Planning for Innovation in Education to learn about their communications strategies and particularly the role of teachers in this work. They tell us that communicating effectively about innovations, and especially the “why” behind them, is essential. Classroom educators are the most visible—and powerful—ambassadors for next gen learning models to the broader school community.

To explore the key role teachers play as communicators, we tapped into the knowledge and experience of NGLC school leaders and other innovators to help us answer these questions:

  • Why are classroom educators so important to the work of communicating about innovative teaching and learning?
  • What kinds of support should schools provide to educators to do it well?

Classroom Educators Tell the Story of “Why?”

With another school year about to begin, educators are working full tilt to get ready. Principals are preparing professional learning activities and reviewing student data, while teachers are counting supplies, planning lessons, and setting up their classrooms. The “back to school” season is a tradition, a familiar part of the rhythm of teaching and learning familiar to parents from when they were in school.

the more schools engage with mastery-based learning and other student-centered, personalized innovations, the less learning looks like it did when parents were students. In place of rows of students at desks, we see groups collaborating around a table on a student-designed project. Instead of “all eyes on the teacher” as the sole repository of knowledge, we see learners setting goals and making choices as they navigate personalized pathways. Traditional letter grades give way to mastery-based measures, like the competency badges used in Elizabeth Forward School District (PA) or Sanborn schools’ “running report card.” Even time-honored concepts like “grade level” become less distinct.

Colleen Collins, director of Chicago International Charter School (CICS) West Belden, a K–8 charter school, puts it this way: “You’ve seen the pictures of classrooms from the 1920s, the 1950s, and even today. For a long time it was a lot of teacher heavy lifting, and students were not doing the work of learning. They were well behaved and could say what they were doing, but not what they were learning. It was about compliance.”

Like other innovative schools, CICS West Belden has committed to a personalized learning model with new goals for student learning. “Those days are long gone when just doing the work put in front of you was enough, either in school or as an adult,” Colleen explains. “Now it’s about helping students know who they are. Once a child can articulate what kind of a learner they are, what makes them curious, there’s such a different investment in learning. Kids take the wheel.”

Mastery learning looks different because it is different. Caitlyn Herman, head of schools for Summit Public Schools in the Bay Area, calls to mind the challenges these changes pose for communicating with stakeholders: “People will think about their own experiences in school, so everyone who walks through the door needs to be reminded of the ‘why’ of what you are doing and what the parent wanted from the school. It’s about students having the skills, habits, and dispositions to pursue their passion.”

As the primary points of contact for students and families, classroom educators represent your school model every day. Kira Keane, a partner at The Learning Accelerator, believes that “teachers are one of the most trusted messengers for parents and the community about what is happening in the classroom.” They are also the ones who will hear the “why?” questions.

Glossy brochures and interactive websites can be useful for communicating to the wider community, but the consensus among the leaders we talked to was clear: investing time to support teachers pays off—and not just for improving communication. Conversations about a school’s vision, goals for student learning, and a shared theory of action not only help educators better articulate about innovative practices, but this communal sense-making also improves the practices themselves.

Time to Think, Together

School leaders tell us that effective communication begins with providing educators with a common vision and messages aligned with that vision. Janice Vargo, associate partner at Education Elements, expresses it this way: “There's nothing more frustrating to teachers than when it's unclear why their district is moving in a certain direction, how this change relates to other initiatives or focus areas, and why the district or school thinks this is best for students.”

If schools want to equip educators to answer the “why” questions about the learning environment, pedagogy, assessments, and reports on student progress, school leaders need to build capacity in teachers to understand, own, and communicate about what they are doing.

Capacity-building takes time, but if you are serious about developing an effective communications strategy, this is not a corner to cut. “Allow teachers the time and space to find their voices; storytelling is one of the most effective ways to quickly and effectively communicate important messages AND emotions,” adds Kira, highlighting the role of feelings in how people experience change and innovation.

“You can never over articulate the mission,” Colleen tells us. And when it comes to supporting teachers to communicate about your next generation learning model, “practice and ownership are needed-—have you ever tried to give someone else’s presentation?”

Our experts also suggest giving teachers time to find their voices and platforms to tell their stories. For example, educators can practice communicating about their teaching and the thinking behind it to a wider audience via social media, podcasts, blogs, and guest columns.

Ways to Build Educators’ Communication Competence

Though all of the experts I talked with agree that dedicating time to help educators “own” the mission is vital, each school or district finds its own ways of using that time and building that capacity. Here are a few examples of how it might look:

  • Sanborn Regional Schools invest in creating strong teacher leadership structures where educators can grapple with the “why” questions. Educators collaborate daily in professional learning communities (PLCs), and the traditional department head has been replaced by a PLC lead. Using this configuration, peers engage with research and build expertise in practices associated with their student-centered model, such as learning progressions, performance assessment, and developing student agency. They also create rubrics, with parent input, designed to be meaningful to a student and parent audience. “This expertise has given our teachers confidence,” Ellen explains. “We have focused on using research as the basis for decisions, and teachers rely on research to communicate” with families.

  • At CICS West Beldeneducators collaborate to organize events in which parents and students learn about—and even live—the mission. For example, teachers design Innovation Nights for families to explore key features of the school’s model. Parents also get the opportunity to experience learning as the students do, as with this Tech Innovation Scavenger Hunt “Bingo” game:
  • Another way CICS West Belden’s educators help families live the model is via flipped conferences, in which students and parents drive the conversations about data, learner profiles, and emotional growth. Teachers are trained not only to explain and answer questions about the mission but also how to act as listeners and facilitators, modeling the student-centered practices and student agency of the classroom. In other words, there’s more showing than telling about practice in this communication strategy.

  • Summit Public Schools leverage multiple one-on-one touch-points with parents throughout the year, and Caitlyn shares that “every one starts with a refresh and an explanation of how what we are doing right now connects to the mission.” Considerable professional learning time is spent to “deeply embed a knowledge of the mission to make educators the ambassadors.” In Summit’s model, teachers serve as mentors for a select group of students. They receive in-depth training and support for this role, which includes frequent contact with parents, as well as 45-minute family meetings twice a year. Talking points, role-playing, and even school leader “ride-alongs” prepare each educator to serve as a mouthpiece for the Summit model. For each touch-point, “part of the task is always connecting to goals for student success...every moment of interaction is a reframing of that.”

Communications Resources for Educators

As these examples illustrate, deep understanding of how personalized, learner-centered practices align with your mission and definition of student success cannot be accomplished with a “one and done” professional learning event. However, once educators have done the foundational thinking to own the mission and model, school leaders can provide time and resources to support them in communicating the “what” and the “why” of next generation learning.

For parent events like Back-to-School Night at CICS West Belden, school leaders create a "shell" slide deck about the school’s mission and goals. Educator teams then work with an instructional coach to customize the presentation for their grade levels and teaching team. This process results in what Colleen calls “a collaboratively created slide deck for common language and consistency, but each teacher delivers it as his or her own.”

Other school leaders provide educators with resources like this Curriculum FAQ  and messaging document from Sanborn, which define and give the “why” behind competency grading. CICS West Belden’s Teacher Talking Points: Standards-Based Grading explains, in English and in Spanish, what competency-based grading is and how it can inform educators’ conversations with parents about student progress.

Materials that were originally conceived as public-facing documents can also be useful to provide language to educators. This resource from Charleston County Public Schools (SC) ties personalized learning to goals for student learning like problem-solving and contributing to the common good. This FAQ invites community members of the Fairbanks (AK) North Star Borough School District to ask questions about personalized learning to build an online bank of shared community knowledge

Last of all, do not overlook the power of peers. Members of the NGLC community are eager to share what they’ve learned about working together to craft and communicate answers to the “what” and “why” of their innovations.

For more on communicating about personalized, mastery-based learning, see the resources below:

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Forward School District, Pittsburgh, PA.

Q&A with Sami Smith, Middle School Mentor Teacher at CICS West Belden

posted Aug 17, 2017, 6:29 AM by Angela Duffy

Mastery Communications Week, from August 14-18, will surface resources, tools, and best practices for communicating about mastery-based learning to parents, and other community members. Several national organizations will share their thoughts, and we will hear from practitioners in their own words through a Q&A series. This one features Sami Smith, a Middle School 
Mentor Teacher at CICS West Beldena premier K-8 urban charter school in Chicago's Belmont-Cragin neighborhood and part of the Chicago International Charter School network and managed by Distinctive Schools.

1. How do you describe mastery-based/personalized learning at your school?

Mastery-based learning is different than traditional learning. It’s is a student-centered process as opposed to traditional teaching, which is more one-and-done. With traditional learning, teachers teach, kids learn, then they do a “thing”—like a paper, project, or tests. Then teachers move on and whatever grade students get, that’s what they have for the unit, forever. With mastery- based learning, teachers move on because we have a pace but students’ grades are not written in stone. They can (and should) have conversations with their teachers to learn what they can do to improve. I love it because, in this system, I give fewer “final grades” and give more formative feedback so that learning is a continual process. 

While some students may achieve mastery more quickly, some aren’t going to be there right away. They can take feedback from me and their peers to revise their work and attain the grade they want. Reaching mastery is not subjective. Students know when they do and do not meet standards. If they don’t, I work with them so they have next steps to do so.

2. What resources have been helpful in communicating about your approach?

We’ve got a suite of online platforms that our students use. It helps them self-direct their learning, with teacher support, and they have access to it all the time. These platforms help give us a common language throughout the school when we are talking to students and parents about mastery.

When our school began the shift to mastery, we looked at the Personalized learning working definition developed by the Gates Foundation. We started there and each teacher picked one of the four quadrants to focus on so we didn’t have to do everything all at once. We were able to pick one we wanted to do better or wanted to start working on. We all set a goal. For example, I decided to focus flexible learning environments. In my science classroom, I used to have lab tables and that was it. I realized that the set up was not conducive to how I teach. We don’t only do labs, so why is my room like that? So I reworked the set-up of the room to reflect better how students learn.

3. How does your leadership team equip you to talk about mastery to students and families? How do teachers support each other?

It goes back to what I said about setting a single goal. We didn’t start this whole hog. Our leadership reached out to teachers and asked for our input and if we wanted to try something new. Those of us who were interested helped to pilot a multi age class. I think it was successful because it was not pushed on anyone; top down doesn’t work. It has been a gradual process that we all feel ownership over. Since we helped build it, we can talk about it comfortably with any audience or stakeholder. 

Our administration also provided us with time to plan and get on the same page. On Wednesday, students have early dismissal and teachers have three hours of PD or planning time. That first year, we used that time to set growth plans for ourselves. Administration led all PD and assessed our readiness level. And, significantly, there was no stigma for teachers who took longer to get there. There was a recognition that it’s hard to change what you’re used to. Our administration was sure to meet teachers where they were. Which is also how we approach student learning. So it was essentially modeling the experience kids get. This ability to prepare fostered more buy-in, which in turn made teachers feel comfortable talking about our mastery approach. 

For new teachers, we have a new teacher institute two weeks before school starts. There is an introduction to social-emotional learning, mastery, groupings, expect

ations, etc. Additionally, our instructional coaches work with whole grade teams. They work with us on goal setting and refining our practice. The support is more one-on-one, as opposed to our whole school community building a vision for personalized learning, which was what we did at the beginning. 

4. How do you involve students in communicating about mastery?

Letting students have a voice and share their experiences is really important. We often have student panels speak to visitors. Students talk about everything we’re doing so eloquently—about how they learn at their own pace, and their work on habits of success. These panels help our visitors understand what’s going on in the classroom, as it can often be hard to make sense of if you are not used to it.

Students are also helpful in explaining mastery to parents. Our student population is 98% Latino/a and many parents only speak Spanish. While most of the staff speaks a little Spanish, there’s still a bit of a language barrier. Especially with words that are specific to mastery. Since students deeply understand mastery, they are well equipped to speak to parents about it. This goes back to what I was talking about in terms of a common language and shared understanding. Parents also have access to the online platforms where everything is housed, which is part of our dedication to full transparency.

We also conduct student-led conferences. We view these conferences as more of a conversation between the teacher, parent, and student. It is mandatory that the student is present as we believe it invests them in their own learning and is in the spirit of constant feedback. We’ve also got a back-to-school night that introduces parents to the content and process for the year as well as a technology night where students are explaining mastery to their parents. 

5. What are some common misconceptions about mastery and how do you talk to parents about that?

The most common misconception is about homework. I don’t give homework unless we haven’t finished something in the classroom. So, many parents ask why I don’t give homework.

I know that my students have stuff to do—extracurricular activities and a family life and responsibilities—but more than that, my philosophy is that learning is a process that students should own and that they can do anytime, anywhere. I think my students should be studying about an hour a night—watching videos, doing research. But I don’t think kids will all be working on the same things at the same time. They decide when their assessments happen and they know what they need to do, so they should be working on tasks with this in mind. And I am here for support for every student. For example, if a student doesn’t master a standard, I’ll send links, resources, reading, etc. I always emphasize to parents that the work their student is doing is not the same as other students, and it shouldn’t be. Some parents don’t quite understand since it is not what they are used to. The more I explain this with consistency and talk about our expectations, parents feel the intentionality behind what we’re doing.

Another misconception is that if a student doesn’t get a grade in something, they are failing. Parents don’t always realize that their students has the ability to fix any grade and to take an assessment at a time of their choosing. If they are not satisfied with their something, they can always improve it. With hard work and effort and support, students you can get whatever grade they want.

Q&A with Colleen Collins, Director at CICS West Belden

posted Aug 17, 2017, 6:26 AM by Angela Duffy   [ updated Aug 17, 2017, 7:12 AM ]

Mastery Communications Week, from August 14-18, will surface resources, tools, and best practices for communicating about mastery-based learning to parents, and other community members. Several national organizations will share their thoughts, and we will hear from practitioners in their own words through a Q&A series. This one features Colleen Collins, Director of CICS West Beldena premier K-8 urban charter school in Chicago's Belmont-Cragin neighborhood and part of the Chicago International Charter School network and managed by Distinctive Schools. 

1. How do you describe mastery-based/personalized learning at your school?

When we looked at our students, we saw that each student had unique strengths and areas of growth. For example, our data provided information that allowed us to identify students that needed additional supports to attain mastery, as well as students that were exceeding mastery in several areas. With this data, it became clear that we needed to develop an instructional model that could personalize learning and support flexible grouping and assessment—something that our teaching team does well.

In addition to academics, we know that our students have different needs as individuals. That’s why we often refer to relationship building as the heart of our personalized learning model. In building strong relationships with students, we get know them as learners and people. This allows us to empower our students, so they’ll demonstrate their learning in a way that works well for them. It also lets us help students figure out who they are as learners so they can, in turn, advocate for themselves inside and outside of the classroom.

Students are graded against our end of year expectations. At first, it was a big shift for parents and guardians to see competencies instead of letter grades, and when we started using standards-based grading in the 2011-12 school year, we had a mechanism to translate that to a letter grade. Today, we only use standards-based grading on report cards, and it’s been increasingly important to communicate clearly and effectively with parents about this shift.

In order to successfully transition to standards-based grades, it began by collaborating with our teachers and revisiting why we calculate and report grades. As a community, we decided that the purpose of grading students is so they, and their parents, understand academic progress. With our standards-based approach, we can communicate more effectively where students are academically. Competencies, such as effort, attendance, homework, and participation, are part of an additional conversation with parents. Our parents never see one grade that encompasses both academics and behavior. Overall, this has been a change for our teachers as well, and we’ve supported them by providing access to information and opportunities to work alongside an instructional coach when having parent conversations and looking at student work.

2. What resources have been helpful in communicating about your approach?

Recently, to describe personalized learning, we’ve found this infographic from New Schools Venture Fund very useful. We also have an info sheet 

that very clearly lays out for parents and community members how we approach standards-based grading. Teachers often refer to this info sheet when talking about our mastery-based grading philosophy. The info sheet also has a section in Spanish since most of our parents’ first language is Spanish, and we feel that offering this information in their native language can increase understanding. My teachers and I have also used individual Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) data to demonstrate student growth in our parent communications, and it has become an invaluable resource for us.

3. Describe your communications strategy

—what resources and channels do you use?

First and foremost, our communications strategy is centered around our united enthusiasm about our vision, as well as why we are doing this work. We make sure that everyone feels confident to communicate our shared vision, and always refer back to the “Why behind the work.”

Additionally, communications to parents is important and includes three parent-teacher conferences per year. One focuses on report cards, the second on NWEA data, and the third is in preparation for students’ end of the year assessments. Each conference begins with a 2-minute explanation of personalized learning and the origin of our school’s shift to a personalized learning model. As part of these conversations, we also listen to parents. This helps us pull them in as collaborators and lets us glean more data about their child as a learner. For example, we may ask parents questions like “when does your child come home the happiest?” This allows us to flesh out the profiles of our students, and get to know them more so we can serve them better. Once our students reach middle school, they begin to take ownership over these conferences. The goal is that they will do more of the talking than their teacher when it comes to discussing their progress.

We also hold parent events throughout the year, such as Innovation Nights, where parents visit their child’s classrooms. Teachers plan activities during Innovation Nights, which makes each classroom a little different. We’ve had teachers do interesting and creative things, such as I remember a Bingo Board. On the Bingo Board, parents checked off boxes by completing activities that students do each day, like log in to our school’s personalized learning platform, complete a math task, etc.

4. What is the role of teachers in conveying these messages to students and families? 

Teachers are our main messengers when it comes to talking about personalized learning. We recognize that our amazing teachers are at different levels of readiness in talking about our work so we’ve developed resources and experiences to support them. For example, we collaboratively worked with teachers on a slide deck that captures common language and drives consistency in how we talk to parents, and the aforementioned info sheet is a useful tool as well.

However, we think it is important for each teacher to drive conversations with parents in his or her own words. So the deck and the info sheet are starting points. From there, instructional coaches support teachers to customize their communications approach, and teachers act as the main drivers of parent and student conversations.

5. How do you equip teachers to talk about mastery?

We provide teachers with training and resources to talk about mastery without scripting them. We support them to own their communications approach, provide resources to help them develop language that works for them, and give them room to practice and get familiar with the systems and language so that they can talk about our work consistently and broadly.

Join the Mastery Communications Twitter chat on 8/16 at 3pm ET

posted Aug 16, 2017, 10:55 AM by Angela Duffy   [ updated Aug 18, 2017, 6:05 AM by Julianna Charles Brown ]

It’s the mid-way point for mastery week. Today we are sharing how to use an equity lens when planning CBE communications. At 3pm EST today, August 16, join us for one hour to chat Moderated by Chris Sturgis. Educators from across the country will talk about how these topics interact and share their thoughts and best practices.

Use the hashtag #masteryweek tap into the conversation and share your thoughts!

New to twitter chats? Follow these simple guidelines:


  1. Take some time to review our questions. It will be useful to have some answers typed up in advance.

    1. Q1: How does mastery drive equity?

    2. Q2: How can mastery approaches empower students?

    3. Q3: How can schools use mastery and equity effectively in their communications?

  2. Prepare a question of your own to ask during the Q&A.

  3. Prepare to share resources that you love on mastery and equity

Today @3pm

  1. Search for the #masteryweek hashtag on Twitter at 3pm on 8/16.

  2. Be sure that you are following the “Latest” tweets.

  3. Look out for tweets from @sturgis_chris

  4. When Chris posts a question, retweet, reply, and hear what others have to say.

    1. We will use the Q1:A1 format, so be sure to put A# in front of your answers to any questions.

The Mission and the Message

posted Aug 16, 2017, 6:15 AM by Julianna Charles Brown   [ updated Aug 16, 2017, 6:24 AM ]

How we found our ‘why’—and how we’ve used it to create urgency and common purpose in our community’s quest for greater educational equity. 
This post originally appeared on the Mastery Collaborative blog

By Julianna Charles Brown, Jeremy Chan-Kraushar, Joy Nolan, and Patrick G. Williamson of the Mastery Collaborativea program of NYCDOE’s Office of Postsecondary Readiness 

Any school that has embarked on shifting to mastery-based teaching and learning can tell you that messaging and mission are vital to this complex endeavor—which affects every aspect of teaching, learning, assessment, and school culture. A clear and powerful mission inspires all stakeholders to connect to and invest in the work more deeply and authentically. Without a clear mission, the work of a school or any organization is susceptible to a lack of focus, resistance from within, and confusion in implementation. As a leader, it’s hard to call the shots without a guiding mission. As a member of a community, it is necessary to have clarity about what’s happening and why.

A strong mission statement articulates the ‘why’ that powers the work. Great missions connect the day-to-day operations of an organization with a desired larger impact, and ideally, all stakeholders can contribute to its creation. Once a strong mission is developed, it should then become fundamental to the way you speak about your work. When taking on large and complex endeavors—like transitioning away from traditional education to mastery-based models—the ‘why’ must be meaningful and inspiring enough to justify the sustained focus required to accomplish multidimensional school change over several years’ time. In working with our school partners, we help to co-create communications materials and provide training that supports school leaders and staff in talking to parents, students, community partners and others about their school's mastery-based systems. We also model the kind of mission-driven communications that practitioners can use to think about their own communications approach.

How we found our ‘why’

We started the Mastery Collaborative (MC) in 2015-16, to form a community for dozens of schools across New York City that were implementing mastery-based shifts in relative isolation. We dedicated that first year to creating a lively community of practice with and for member schools, and learning from them about mastery implementation models around the city. While visiting schools, we noticed a distinct feel in more advanced competency-based schools. There was positive energy in the air, and there was a shift in the adult/student power dynamic—as one school leader put it, “Students here have lots of choice and freedom, and lots of responsibility to their own learning and to our school community.” 

How does mastery transform school for students and teachers? from Mastery Collaborative on Vimeo.

In these schools, students regularly described what they were learning and why and were able to pinpoint how they could improve; we were seeing the self-confidence and assurance of students who valued school and felt they belong there, who were were empowered to own their learning—and we were seeing educators who believe in the young people they work with, and who understand that power is not a zero-sum game. Helping students find their power as learners only makes a class more compelling and powerful for them. Giving up a position as a lecturer at the front of the room only means finding more power as a facilitator of students’ learning. By the conclusion of MC year one, a hypothesis was forming: that there was a unique connection between mastery-based shifts, culturally responsive practices, and equity. To share out these ideas, we made program videos such as Why make the shift to mastery-based learning? and How does mastery transform school for students and teachers? 

Why make the shift to mastery-based learning? from Mastery Collaborative on Vimeo.

We began our second year knowing we had to explore the connection between mastery, cultural responsiveness, and equity. The MC community of schools eagerly joined in, digging deeper into the why of mastery learning, and the philosophy that both demands and powers these complex shifts.

This definition of educational equity has been meaningful to our team as we explore how mastery and CRE together can create more equitable learning for young people.

In year 2, we asked each MC Member schools to create a goal for infusing CRE into their mastery-based practices. Additionally, we asked everyone in our community of educators to attend anti-bias training called 'Talking about race and mastery." We set up a series of dates for small session of this training, hoping everyone could find a time to come together to explore the intersections of race and schooling. We also facilitated a working group that met online and in person across a year to explore the intersections of mastery and CRE. This group developed the Equity Snapshot, which beings to detail the ways that CRE and mastery intersect. By popular demand, we also started the yearly MC Summer Institute this past July with a Day 1 deep dive on CRE and mastery. Here are the resources from that day.

Our school-based community members contributed reactions, opinions, and ideas around our mastery-and-equity hypothesis. At trainings, gatherings, and site visits, we invited and made time for conversations and written input about the relationships between mastery, cultural responsiveness, and equity. We made a practice of synthesizing, incorporating, and sharing practitioners’ ideas about philosophy and practices. 

We learned so much from and with educators at mastery based schools across the city, who delved into exploring CRE and mastery: administrators, schools counselors, and teachers implementing mastery in our schools. In our anti-bias trainings and working group sessions, certain elements of mastery rose to the top as most closely aligned to academic research on culturally responsive education:
  • Transparency: path to success is clear and learning outcomes are relevant to students' lives and interests. Shared criteria reduce opportunity for implicit bias.
  • Changing power dynamics: facilitation shifts refocus the roles of students and teachers to include flexible pacing, inquiry-based, collaborative approach to learning. Students drive their own learning, and teachers coach them.
  • Positive learning identity: growth mindset and active learning build agency and affirm students’ identities as learners (academics, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) 
These findings helped explain the distinct student-centered culture we noticed in Year 1 in the longest-practicing mastery schools - and contributes to the why for the complex work of creating effective mastery systems that are culturally responsive. Our Year 2 exploration of CRE and mastery led us toward the development of this community mission:

The Mastery Collaborative supports, advocates for, and documents the use of mastery-based and culturally responsive 
practices to create more equitable environments in New York City schools. 

Armed with this clear and powerful new mission, our communication strategy came into clearer focus. Now it is easier to build coalitions with others who value this work. Our mission has created a sense of urgency and a through-line for all we do.

Spreading the urgency of our message

One example of how we tied together our evolving understanding of the ability of mastery to increase equity in schools was the creation of a program video, ‘Why We Do The Work.’

Mastery Collaborative - Why We Do This Work from Mastery Collaborative on Vimeo.

This video highlights the voices of students, teachers, administrators, and experts from the field in hopes of connecting these dots for a wider audience. Students and teachers reflecting on past experiences in traditional settings and provides context for shifting to a more culturally responsive approach to mastery-based teaching and learning. 

The video lays out our organization’s vision through quotes from Chris Sturgis of CompetencyWorks and members of the Mastery Collaborative team. Constructing a short video to translate the urgency of the work was difficult work, and was possible only after our yearlong process of inviting co-creation of our mission stance across our community. We hope that the short video can assist in crystallizing our focus and mission for all stakeholders, and can be used to galvanize the urgency this work for the MC community and beyond.

Aligning your mission to your message

The shift to mastery-based education is complex. It requires shared commitment to “unlearn” old ideas, approaches, and systems—and to embark on a long-term, coordinated effort with a multitude of stakeholders. A mission that is clear and aspirational provides common context, clear direction, and justification for sustained effort across a school community and across several years of change management. A mission is a filter for everything your organization or school does or might do, and a rudder to keep the course set in the best direction. So how do you create a mission that will win hearts and minds, and stand the test of time?

Here are some things practitioners can keep in mind when creating or iterating on their school's mission statement:
  • Co-create your mission statement with valued stakeholders, inviting the input and expertise of everyone in the group, when engaging in any complex philosophical change. Hear out their reservations and concerns, as well as their enthusiasm and willingness.
  • Create a mission your whole community can buy into, but that can also be tailored to different audiences. Each member of your school community has a different role in pushing the work forward, and a strong shared mission will keep those efforts cohesive. 
  • Incorporate a range of voices and perspectives from across your organization as you communicate your mission to new or larger audiences. This helps to communicate the buyin your mission has, as well as how it matters to and affects various stakeholders. 
Across the MC community, there is a great urgency to our work—so the way that we talk about our mission is of utmost importance. Across our community, we seek to create to conditions for students to understand and own their trajectory as learners, and to experience the motivation and joy in learning for the thrill of learning itself. We want our students to feel that their identities are seen, understood, and valued within their schools. We need to be transparent with students in regards to what they need to improve on to achieve success in any given classroom. We need to build system capacity and write policies to support this work. We need to keep seeking new allies and partners in this work, to better serve those young people who stand to benefit most, to the extent that we get it right. Your organization may share some of these urgencies, or may have other important work to accomplish. How you message your mission will partly determine your degree of success.

The Power of Student Voice: Q&A with Students

posted Aug 16, 2017, 5:21 AM by Julianna Charles Brown   [ updated Aug 18, 2017, 6:07 AM ]

How can we know how successful we are in attempts to be responsive—unless the students themselves tell us? Mastery Collaborative (MC) works with 40+ mastery-based middle and high schools around New York City. In the 2016-17 school year, our community of practitioners focused on understanding and using culturally responsive education (CRE) together with mastery practices. CRE asks us to actively welcome young people’s identities, experiences, and interests into school, and to empower learners socially and academically. In striving for equitable and responsive learning environments for the children of NYC, we knew we needed models. And, we knew the students would be invaluable partners.  

Student voice can be proof positive of effective change—and a powerful driver of new practices. When your school needs to know how well change is working, ask the experts, the students—they will tell you what is what! Learning what matters to young people can give us adults clarity and focus, and can help great work spread. So, as we from MC HQ make the rounds to schools, we are often ask students to reflect back what’s meaningful about their school experiences—and we find it useful to listen, and to share out what they say. The students make the case best for themselves.

The short interview below is an example. MS 250/West Side Collaborative Middle School has dedicated efforts to combining CRE and mastery-based learning. These students’ words illuminate the power of this work for educators from New York City and beyond—wherever adults are striving to create schools where learners feel they belong, can thrive, and are empowered to own and drive their own learning.

—Joy Nolan, MC Co-Director, August 15, 2017

WSC students in class with teacher Paul Kehoe, who helps to lead mastery/CRE work at the school

How would you describe the social community here at your school?

Sabrina, 8th grade

For us there's no discrimination, nothing against someone. We don't do that. We make friends based on everything we have in common; we don't discriminate about what you do. We all interact, no particular age, no grade—we don't care about any of that. Some of us have friends outside of school. We are all family.

Sakhr, 8th grade

Without school, you wouldn’t have as many friends as you have. We do community activities to help us make new friends. It's part of life. You need to interact with people to get places in life. Knowing people can help you reach your goals.

Every year is a different step. At first, I was not comfortable with anything. Then we did community activities and as soon as we started, I had new friends. Now it's 8th grade, and I know everyone, and we're cool. Academically, me and Sabrina sit next to each other every class. If I’m confused about my homework—like: what was it?—she will help me out.

Can you “be yourself” at your school, and why does that matter?

Ashley, 7th grade

In my classes, I get to really show myself and who I am, and my interests in school. This is what school is about—it's about being creative and collaborating with other people.

I wouldn't have what I have now, without coming here. I just came from my Readers and Writers class. We were sharing about how structure and word choice contribute to a poem. We were bringing ourselves into the class. We like to put ourselves into the work. We feel strongly that it’s important to put ourselves into it and really value the work we do, because it talks about the world and what is going on today. We are the next generation.

In my old school, I wasn't really able to be myself and show emotion. Here, I can go talk to a teacher about how I feel. I'm happy that I'm free to express myself to the people here. I would say to my teacher at my old school: I don't feel happy, I don't feel like I’m being myself. Here I can just be me. If I can't be me...I don't really know. If I can't be me then...what am I being? I think it's really important to be our true selves.

Sakhr, 8th grade

In my [previous school] kindergarten, we were coloring in dogs, and I wanted to make one purple because I really like purple, and the teacher got really mad. I know it sounds crazy but...Last year [here at WSC MS], this kid Tomas in 8th grade, he colored himself orange, and he had green hair, and I actually liked it, and we all liked it. The teacher said she liked it.

How does your school communicate to you about your learning?

Ashley, 7th grade

They have these little post-its and they write little things we need to work on and give it to us, one by one, so we know what to work on. We get those even before the progress report.

Last time I got my progress report I was confused by my math grade—I thought I did well on one subject. I emailed my teacher and said: Can I come up for lunch and talk about this? When I did, it was so much more clear. She actually told me how I could improve. It wasn't just: improve. It was: I'm going to talk with you and give you things so you can improve.

Mirea, 6th grade

We get draft report cards that let us know how we are doing while we can still change things. We have 3 things. We get draft report cards, and progress reports—a sheet that breaks down the standards you are learning—and then a final report card.

Sabrina, 8th grade

Like in math, I got a 4 in linear equations and 2.5 in something else. So it's kind of easy to see what we need help with. Then we have time to revise that and hand in work.

The draft report card averages grades. We get it and see at a glance what subject we need to work on. We can email the teacher, talk to them.

For the final report card, sometimes kids stumble with a subject or something, and it really helps to have the teachers there to help us get better at things.

How do teachers at your school build a relationship with students?

Sabrina, 8th grade

We have a lot of trust in the teachers and they will understand where we are coming from, they will help us out and communicate with us. If we couldn't be ourselves in this school, what would be the purpose? We couldn't choose a career without knowing who we are because it would be lost.

We can talk to any teacher; they are with us through thick and thin. You get to be yourself. We are all equal, all the same, and all different—[it’s] totally cool and amazing.

The teachers keep it real with us. They let you speak to them. They are open.

Ashley, 7th grade

The teachers can identify our work—they can say: This is so-and-so's, just from what we’ve said, because they know us.

Sakhr, 8th grade

They are talking our language so they understand what we are saying, and we understand what they say.

In math with Ms. Pierre, we were learning translations and she was joking and dancing, to the left, to the left.

We get to feel like: This is going to be fun! There's time to work and time to play around, and some teachers we are comfortable with and can understand the work even more.

Two types of learning: I want to learn this because and there is nothing after the because. Or I want to to learn this because it's fun and it's what I want to do.

In science class, we were learning about the atmosphere. We were focusing on eclipses and I was a little confused about why the angle of the earth affects that. Another teacher would say look it up but she took a globe and used a projector as a light and she actually showed me, so I understood it better.

Other times, it’s Okay, I need to work on my grammar, but the teacher will say: Thank you for saying it that way, instead of putting it in a negative way. When we revise, we do it all together.

West Side Collaborative Middle School Principal Novella Bailey
with math teacher Ms. Pierre (“To the left, to the left . . . “)

How do adults at your school work on behavior issues with students?

Ashley, 7th grade

In 6th grade, I was a little trouble maker. We have a guidance counselor, Ms. Perez, and she helps a lot. I used to misbehave a lot. In 7th grade, I get better grades and focus on my behavior. I went to Ms. Perez and she taught me and I went to my brother and asked him how he gets along in school—he's in high school now. He was like: I just listen to the teachers, and I started doing that.

Sabrina, 8th grade

A thing about this school [is that] you work harder and the teachers help you understand and they're easy to talk to. I think in 7th grade, there was one issue with a group of girls, a problem was going on. They do it one by one, you don't feel ganged up and pressured. The teachers are a role model to us.

A mural in the hall at West Side Collaborative Middle School, New York, NY

For more student voice from this wonderful school, here’s a 4-minute podcast on West Side Collaborative Middle School, focused on their mastery  assessment practices, from WNYC.org’s SchoolBook blog.

Q&A with Culturally Responsive Education Expert

posted Aug 16, 2017, 5:17 AM by Julianna Charles Brown   [ updated Aug 18, 2017, 6:07 AM ]

Jeremy Chan-Kraushar of NYCDOE's Mastery Collaborative interviews CRE expert Richard Haynes of NYCDOE's NYC Men Teach.

MCW Richard Haynes Interview from Mastery Collaborative on Vimeo.

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