A Fun Morning with Los Altos School District

Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2014

What an exciting and inspiring morning at Los Altos School District.  Alyssa Gallagher, Director of Strategic Initiatives and Community Partnerships arranged for us to spend three hours with Superintendent Jeff Baier, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Nancy Davis, District Technology Coach Erin Zaich, Innovative Strategies Coach Kami Thordarson, and STEM Coach Karen Wilson.  Additionally, the Superintendent of Milpitas Unified School District, Cary Matsuoka, joined us.  An added bonus: we picked up our friend and Chief Provocateur, Grant Lichtman, at San Jose Intl Airport so he could join in the collaboration with all of us!

We started off with introductions in their iLearn Room.  Alyssa asked us to share an "ah ha" on our innovation journey. We immediately knew we were among people with a similar vision,and we felt right at home. 

After the D39C team shared the progress of our journey in our new school, we then had the opportunity to select a topic for small group dialogue.  The four themes that surfaced where Rethinking Professional Learning, Culture and Climate, Blended Learning, and Change.  The next hour and half was lively and very beneficial to everyone.

I sat with Nancy and Erin to talk about Rethinking Professional Learning.  We shared the challenges of offering opportunities for our teachers to learn, and promoting more widespread participation.  It was exciting to think of the possibilities if our districts could define the "sandbox" or overall focus, and then facilitate teachers as they develop their own professional learning centered on our districts' focus areas.  We like the idea of teachers taking the ownership, deciding what they need to know and learn more about, what they need to let go in order to shift learning to students, and (most exciting point) modeling the  learning experience we are hoping for our students.  We were intrigued about the notion of giving teachers a challenge to develop time for more collaboration.  We discussed the benefits of developing true collaborative skills and strategies for all staff.  (I shared that I have worked with The Thinking Collaborative, Maximizing Capacity in Individuals and Organizations  http://www.thinkingcollaborative.com/).

Additional group summaries:

Culture and Climate
  • The importance of breaking down traditional mindsets and structures in order for real change and innovation in classrooms.  How to make it sustainable throughout the district.
  • Everything speaks: labels of our spaces and title.  In order to change the way we teach, we need to change the way we label it.
  • Modeling the change at the district level, working with teachers, and the need to work with principals so they can lead the change at their sites.
  • Listening to students, using student voice to change culture and climate.

Blended Learning
  • What is wasn't.  It has become kids in front of computers with headphones on, not truly blended.
  • It is truly a blended experience of integration of tech as a tool, direct instruction, design thinking, collaboration, and just in time learning.
  • It is difficult to lesson plan because it is much more organic. 

  • Changing how an organization initiates change
  • Finding ways to light more brushfires, rather than rewriting district strategic plan and hoping.
  • Examining our language and vocabulary to reveal what people truly believe about an organization. 

It was so exciting to be with kindred spirits for the morning, and we are excited about continuing this partnership.  Google Drive and Hangouts/Skype/FaceTime will be our day to day tools to continue our dialogue, with a few visits sprinkled in here and there!  We are very appreciative of the time and energy Los Altos SD and Milpitas USD gave to us this morning!

Sonya Wrisley