Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Core Values and the Personal Learning Framework

When looking at the Personal Learning Framework one of the key components to the Identity section is having students think about who they are and their core values. Ultimately, this can be a foundation to help students design goals.

For the past few years I have been trying to help my students think about their identity and develop a sense of self. However, I was finding that I always had a group of students who really struggled reflecting on themselves and communicating their values. Being an avid-skier, I had heard about something called the Flyin’ Ryan Hawks Foundation and felt it may fit this need in my classroom.

The Flyin Ryan Hawks Decision Program

Ryan Hawks was a well known freeskier out of Mad River Valley who went on to compete in the Freeride World Tour. Ryan passed away from injuries sustained at a Freeride World Tour event in Kirkwood, California. Shortly after Ryan’s passing, his family found a document on his computer where a few years before, Ryan had crafted his own core values.  The Flyin’ Ryan Hawks Foundation was established “with the idea of EXPOSING people to Ryan’s core principles, INSPIRING them to explore and compose their own set of core values, and ACTING on the core principles they have composed.”

Implementation at Peoples Academy Middle Level

Being personally inspired by the Flyin’ Ryan Hawks Foundation, I started to hear more and more about the Decisions Program the Foundation had started. This program brings Ryan’s Core Values into schools and organizations as a way for students to write their own core values.  I knew this would be a great fit for my students, especially those who had a hard time engaging in self reflective work.  I reached out to South Burlington High School teacher, John Painter, who had a Rowland Fellowship last year where part of his fellowship was to work with area school to implement the Decisions Program. After my meeting with Painter, I knew that the FRHF Decisions Program would be a great way to kick-off this year’s PLP roll out in September and I could not be more thrilled with how the project took off.

In the start of year year we introduced our students to the FRHF and Ryan’s core values through video on the Foundation's website. Students were instantly inspired by Ryan’s story. It is so important to give our students real life examples of things we ask them to do. Ryan not only thought about his core values, but also set goals and achieved many of them. This was a powerful way to engage our students to think critically about their own core values, which can be a very difficult exercise for 12 and 13 year olds.

Next, we had our students reflect on how others saw themselves. How would their family describe them? How would their friends describe the student? Finally, how would they want to be described?

This started our conversation with students about their core values; the qualities and characteristics they want to be have in their life that will guide them. As teachers, we also were crafting our own core values list and sharing them with the students. We asked students to come up with a minimum of four core values, but many went above and beyond those expectations.

Finally, we had students go into iMovie on their iPads and turn their core values into a movie that would become a part of their PLP. The iMovies included images and music of their choice as a way to highlight their personal core values.

Students were so engaged in this project, many of them worked on their videos at home and shared them with their parents and friends while they were still in the creation stage. Having students craft their core values in this way gave us great insight into what drives our students and who they hope to become. We used these core values to then launch into the PLP, looking at how their core values will guide them in their life and think about what goals can set to help stay on the right track.

Parents Reactions to Students Core Values iMovies

One of the most rewarding aspects of this project was the reaction parents had while viewing their students’ core values iMovies. We had students start their student led conference this year by showing their video which was placed on the About Me section of their PLP. You could see the joy on the parents’ faces while watching the videos. Many parents asked to watch the videos multiple times and asked thoughtful questions to their children about both the process and the values the students selected. We asked parents for feedback after the student led conference, and it was overwhelming how many parents commented on how nice it was to see their students’ core values iMovie.

For more information about bringing the Flyin’ Ryan Decisions Program to your school or classroom please contact John Painter at

Maura Kelly is a 7th grade humanities teacher at Peoples Academy Middle Level in Morrisville, Vermont. She has a passion for working with young adolescents and believes in the power of a strong middle level program in developing students to be ready to face challenges in our world today. When Maura is not teaching you can find her out skiing and biking around the state of Vermont.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Collaboration into Practice: Using Technology to Improve Student Outcomes

Last year, as part of a personal learning pilot program, we started hosting a webinar called PLP Pathways. Our goal was to utilize a somewhat new technology -- Google Hangouts on Air -- to connect educators who were implementing PLPs in their classrooms.

Having not hosted a webinar before, but intrigued by the possibilities, we managed to host 3 or 4 sessions, had a good time doing so, and decided to see if the project had legs by formalizing the process a bit more for the 2015-2016 school year.

With support from the Middle Grades Collaborative, we created the PLP Pathways webinar series in an effort to determine if this type of long-term, collaborative, web-based professional development could support teachers throughout the school year. In this day and age, that also means incorporating a host of social media platforms (Google +, Twitter, and Google Sites) to promote that effort. Not only was the professional development embedded, so too was the need to learn how to use the social media tools effectively.

The results thus far have been mixed. While the content of the webinars has never been stronger, getting teachers to find time in their busy schedules to watch and participate in a webinar is difficult. Now more than ever, teachers’ time is limited.

Despite these hurdles, the benefits of committing to this type of professional development are undeniable, at least from my perspective. Last month, on October 29th, we held our webinar with guests Kevin Hunt from the Williston Central School and Life LeGeros from the Tarrant Institute. Our conversation focused on student growth and reflection, goal setting, and tying evidence to goals.

This would seem like a logical and easy extension of our personal learning. However, the conversation got me thinking, particularly about the student process of linking goals to specific pieces of evidence from across the curriculum. In order to do so effectively, students must have a deeper understanding not only of their own goals, but also of the objectives behind activities at school, and the different purposes and outcomes of those activities.

When students can independently select evidence that meets the criteria for the learning goals that they have designed, tracked, and reflected upon, real learning is taking place.

In my own practice, I know that I have been guilty of selecting evidence for the kids. That is, if we have completed a big project in language arts, I have asked kids to post that to their PLP whether or not it meets their individual learning goals. And maybe this practice is a good way of enabling students to reflect on their strengths and challenges no matter their learning goals.

Even so, the conversation evolving from our webinar extended my thinking about goals, linking those to evidence, and supporting student growth through by helping them develop the ability to do so independently. This is a simple, but powerful idea that could transform my thinking about goals, evidence, and reflection. This, coupled with our discussion of the REAL Reflection Framework explained by Life, was something that had immediate implications for my classroom practice.

Following the webinar, students were asked to start identifying evidence from across the curriculum that could be added to their PLP. Additionally, students were asked to blog about their strengths, challenges, and goals that they had relative to school-wide activities, not just in my classroom.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the webinar resulted in my having conversations with colleagues, specifically foreign-language teachers, about the evidence they were seeing in their classroom that might 1) connect with student goals and 2) reflected students developing academic and social dispositions.  

Connecting these ideas together, and forging that into a cohesive, student-centered, student-driven personal learning plan are direct results of the continuing professional development through the PLP Pathways webinar. Although time is tight, committing to at least some form of this type of professional development can lead to improvements in practice, pedagogy, and collaboration.