Transformational Thinking and Design

Numerous studies on how to best “Innovate to Educate” usually identify five areas common to various models and approaches to 21st century learning.

  1. Flexible, Anytime/Everywhere Learning
  2. Refine Teacher Role and Expand “Teacher”
  3. Project-Based and Authentic Learning Opportunities
  4. Student Driven Learning Path
  5. Mastery and Competency-Based Progression/Pace

Additional directions often identified include:

  1. Redefine Use of Time
  2. Performance-Based, Time-Flexible State Assessment
  3. Ensure Equity in Access to Technology Infrastructure
  4. Funding Models that Incentivize Completion
  5. P-20 Continuum and Non-grade Band System

All of these recommendations are deeply imbedded in the L12 design of the “Discovery and Innovation” model as praticed at The Tracy Learning Center.

Vision and Direction – A fundamental difference in the TLC – L12 approach to transformation of learning is the approach to holistic nature of thinking and planning. Most transformation focuses on a few elements of the traditional structure and delivery system of learning. They may create more time for learning but use the same
resources and techniques currently in use. They may address digital learning but utilize text like electronic resources that continue to drive content and how it is taught. The TLC-L12 process begins with a thorough examination of the future.

What are the forces driving change in the next twenty years? How do those change drivers impact what our students need to know and be able to do? What are the knowledge, skills and personal attributes our students need to have to succeed in 2025 – 2050? It is safe to say that that how our young people will work and learn will be different from today.

The TLC-L12 process engages people in a conversation about the future to develop an understanding and vision of what our world might look like in the time ahead. It is impossible to know with certainty what that is but there are strong directions thatmust be understood and considered in planning for transformation.

Clayton Christenson suggests that:

“Unless leaders actively manage the process, their organizations will shape every disruptive innovation into a sustaining innovation – one that fits the processes, values, and economic model of existing business –because organizations cannot naturally disrupt themselves.”

The TLC-L12 process is disruptive with ideas and directions that do not conform to current models. It engages all stakeholders in the process of exploring the future and setting a vision for learning that is better aligned with the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s learners. It is a collaborative process of exploration.

Content – The vision and direction phase of planning clearly shows that our world is changing faster and faster. Given the increasing pace of change throughout the world corresponding changes must be made in content so that students are prepared for the current and future environments that they will be expected to succeed in.

The core content represents the skills all students will need to learn over time as the demands of the future change. The skills support communication, thinking, and creating. The core skills included are the building blocks of what students will need to be life-long learners.

Many aspects of the school environment are not adequate enough to prepare students for the future. Technology continues to advance and open new opportunities for learning. The internet provides access to the world’s information and renders most text books obsolete. The curriculum framework provides a basis for designing a curriculum that is flexible and responds readily to changes in what students need to know and be able to do. The design frees students and teachers to the boundaries of textbook.

What makes the TLC – L12 curriculum design fundamentally different than others is the integration of content, skill development, research, and real world experiences that require students to apply new knowledge using high performance skills. New knowledge is not useful until it contributes to the invention of new ideas, products or

The TLC – L12 curriculum works across curriculum areas integrating math, science, communication, expression, systems thinking, global studies, technology, and leadership coupled with creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. More than ten years have gone into the design and development of the curriculum maps used at TLC.

Curriculum Map
This tri-semester unit with the theme “Water, Earth & Life – Elements of the Earth” integrate science, math, global, language arts, health and social sciences. This curriculum map integrates science, mathematics, communication, expression, systems thinking, global studies, responsibility and leadership, health and fitness, technology,
information, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship into student learning.

The curriculum map is constructed to provide an over-view of the tri-semester so teachers, students and parents have a learning road map. All those concerned with learning know from this map what skills are being developed, what projects are planned and generally when it is expected. The map is designed to support project-based learning; a student focused learning path and mastery. The design supports and advocates for progression based on student abilities, learning styles, learning preferences across traditional grade levels or assignments.

The curriculum maps are aligned with college and work experiences. All students at the high school level are require to spend time off campus engaged in internships, community service, and work experiences that provide real world application. The curriculum map and expectations for students are focused and coherent. Learning does not just happen – the work of teachers is tenacious in the development of knowledge and skills that are applied to real experience.

Core standards (state and federal) are embedded in all curriculum maps ensuring that students are competent in all core areas. All curriculum maps include:

  • Curriculum that is continuously updated
  • Common core standards
  • Assessment
  • Project based learning
  • Research
  • Real world experiences
  • Internet based resources

All curriculum maps and units of instruction include the elements of “STEM” embedded in learning. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math are building blocks of the curriculum.

The curriculum maps and guides include the following:

  • Tri-semester Curriculum Map – The map provides a structure for the tri-semester that integrates all elements of the curriculum framework, core standards, assessment, projects, field experiences and resources.
  • Specific Units of Instruction – Each curriculum map is supported by a detailed unit of instruction.
  • Lesson Plans – All units of instruction include detailed lesson plans supporting each phase of the unit of instruction. Teachers continually update, revise and share the lesson plans. The lesson plans are available electronically to teacher.
  • Electronic Resources – All maps, units and lessons are articulated with learning resources found on the world wide web. In this learning design few hard copy materials are necessary and no text books required.

The TLC – L12 curriculum maps free teachers and students from the confinement of textbooks to engage in personalize learning. It frees financial resources to invest in a technology and other resources supporting personalized learning.

Organizing Learning – Planning how to organize for learning makes no assumptions about time and place. Learning could take place in a tradition brick and mortar building or it could be community based.
Students and teachers should be free to learn where ever the environment best supports learning. In the case of TLC – L12 learning is based on a blended model of a physical school and community based learning. Students experience the classroom with a teacher and a small group of peers and reach out globally via the world wide web. Learning takes place at home, in businesses, in the community and any other place that supports student learning.

One of the most important elements of TLC-L12 is organizing learning around teacher leaders. This model flattens the organization and eliminates typical bureaucratic layers of administrators. The school is organized around a Director of Learning and a teacher leadership team.

Teacher Leadership

  • Director of Learning – Master Teachers – Learning Group Leaders
  • Leadership Team
  • Novice Teacher – Experienced Teacher – Veteran Teacher
  • Professional Learning Community

Most schools give lip service to the role of the teacher in the direction and governance of what happens at the site. The “Discovery and Innovation” TLC-L12 model is designed around teacher leadership at all levels. The Director of Learning must have an administrative credential to serve as the technical leader of the school. However, the director has teaching responsibilities as do all certificated staff at the school. Master teachers serve as the leaders of the different sections of the school such as K-4, 5-8 and 9-12. Each grade level in the school has a learning group leader that is responsible for that grade level and collaboration with other learning group leaders. All teachers belong to a
cross grade level team responsible for collaboration about curriculum, units of study, teaching strategies, school organization, and communication. The director, master teachers and learning group leaders make up the governance team of the school. The responsibility of the governance team includes budget, salaries and facilities.

There are many grade level configurations that can be used in organizing a school. In the case of TLC the school is K-14 in an articulated program allowing personalized learning. Students who need special assistance receive support for the time they need it and are not assigned permanently to any group. The program is flexible and supportive of student needs. All high school students are required to have experience on a college campus. Many high school students complete their AA degree while enrolled in high school.

Time – A longer school day and longer school year

The traditional school year of 180 days and school day of 8:30-2:30 is not sufficient to provide students with a 21st century education. A longer school year and day alone are not sufficient to meet the needs of today’s students. It is the quality of learning opportunities offered within the longer day and year.

The Tracy Learning Center operates a 205 day, 8:00-4:10 student day. During the course of one year this provides students with twenty-five more days and 410 more hours of learning time. This additional time provides extra time for reading, writing, math, creativity, projects, research, acceleration of learning and hands on experiences.

Immediate Support – the longer school year and day support student learning by providing immediate support to students to reinforce skills or accelerate learning. The longer school day supports flexible grouping that personalizes learning.

Internship/Apprenticeship/Community Service – the longer school year and day provide the time needed for students to participate in learning that takes place off the campus. This hands-on, experiential learning enriches and reinforces student knowledge, skills and personal attributes.

Student Activities – the longer school year and day supports student activities and participation.

Homework – the longer school day provides time for students to complete assignments and supports time for participation in dance, music, athletics, church and family activities. The longer school day provides learning support systems that are not dependent on unsupervised homework.

Resources and Technology – The impact of technology is being felt at every level of learning. It is changing the nature of learning and relationship between teacher and learner. The concept of a text-less classroom is changing teaching and learning. Students equipped with personal technology and learning devices are moving learning out of classrooms and libraries. Small, powerful, portable devices are making learning mobile, quick, and networked.

In the “Discovery and Innovation” TLC-L12 model, technology is used to bring the world’s information to the learner wherever they might be. Each student has their personal place on a network that acts like a personal assistant. The technology makes learning flexible and personal. Each student has access to technology when and where it is needed to support learning. This means not one technology but a network of technology is available in the school. The technology contributes to many elements of school success.

  • Aligns teaching to the learning styles and preferences of students
  • Ensures that learning spaces support learning
  • Supports collaboration, problem solving and communication
  • Supports communication, dialog and reporting
  • Facilitates research and project based learning
  • Provides multimedia from archives and in real time
  • Supports creativity, innovation, design and entrepreneurship
  • Supports assessment, evaluation and feedback
  • Supports coaching, mentoring and counseling

Professional Development – Professional development is the support system that ensures that all staff have the knowledge and skills to implement the vision, curriculum, structure, resources and instructional strategies included in the school design. The organizational structure of teacher leadership is an integral part of professional learning. Teams of teachers collaborate in on-going learning to gain new skills and knowledge.

The process of selection and training for TLC teachers includes screening, selection, pre-training (un-learn, re-learn, learn) that is supported by team members and specialists. Teachers are provided training in leadership that includes collaboration, conflict management, communication, decision making, use of data, innovation,personal development and team development. The process of coaching and co-
learning is continuous. The professional learning community of teachers use action research and collaboration to shape the culture, vision, expectations and direction of the school.

The “Discovery and Innovation” model supports teachers as leaders of the school. A new model of school organization and leadership flattens the school structure through teacher led teams.
The school is lead by a Director of Learning, Master Teachers, and Learning Group Leaders. Everyone in the school has both a voice and the responsibility for success of students.
The longer school day provides critical time for teachers to collaborate and adjust teaching immediately based on student needs. The longer school year is also extended for teachers (215 days) providing time for professional development and curriculum design.

Asset Management – In the “Discovery and Innovation” model all resources are aligned to support the vision, pathways, curriculum, structure and professional development. Available assets are focused on people/staffing, extension of time, technology, learning resources and student needs.
The most difficult action to take in most settings is to completely
eliminate a program or activity that has been institutionalized but that
is the only strategy that will create the resources needed. Assets to be managed include facilities, excess capacity, shared usage, revenue, grants, partnerships and human capital.

Assessment and Evaluation – The assessment and evaluation must
answer questions about how well the students are doing and what is the progress toward the schools success indicators. The school as a whole must continuously plan for improvement (transitional) and ensure that the school changes through innovation (transformational). The schools formative evaluation provides ongoing information and feedback to the students and teacher about progress; how students are learning over time – day, week or year.

Formative assessment provides immediate and frequent feedback supporting teachers in individualizing learning. Performance assessment provide information about how well students are doing based on established standards. The testing and assessment associated with performance data gives the school information about how well students are doing compared to similar schools and groups of students.

Assessment includes goal setting, students assessing their own work, peer review, rubrics based on goals and standards, projects, research reports, parent and student conferences, e-portfolio and e-backpack. The e-backpack is the responsibility of the student to constantly summarize their work and progress sharing it with parents through email and electronic transferred reports.


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