The Power of Delaware TeachFest

We are honored to be working with the State of Delaware to recruit and develop a Delaware Dream Team to create high-quality Common Core formative assessment items that will be shared with teachers throughout the state.

The video below gives you a quick view into the spirit and impact of working with teachers in this rigorous, collaborative way — a spirit that is shared by our own national Dream Team.

It is truly an honor to help develop the teachers that, in turn, make a difference for students every day.

The secret to amazing Professional Development: The 3 P’s

When people ask me for the secret to great professional development, I share our 3 Ps.

Funnily enough, we discovered these 3 P’s by accident. In the summer of 2011, thanks to a Next Generation Learning Challenge Grant, we brought 20 teachers from around the country together to work on the first batch of LearnZillion lessons.  For two days we sat in a cramped room with math books, computers, and treats, working on lessons. At the end of the two days, several of the teachers said that it had been “the best professional development” of their career.

A year later it happened again.  This time we brought 123 teachers to Atlanta and called the event TeachFest.  On the second night, after a full day of working on lessons, we gave everyone an option.  They could go out on the town, watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on a large screen, or continue working on lessons in the basement.  At 11pm, half the teachers were still working in the basement.  Again, the feedback at the end of the event was, “this was the best professional development.”

It was a revelation that our content creation process was, in fact, the key to incredible professional growth, satisfaction and impact.  And when we analyzed why that was, it boiled down to 3 Ps: product, process, and people.

1. Product

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The experience is focused on developing a final producta lesson.  The product is practical, meaningful, and challenging to create.  The teachers know they are going to use the lessons, and that other teachers and students are going to use them too.

Lesson on a computer

Most professional development focuses on professional development.  We have come to believe that professional development is most powerful when focused on creating something useful; professional development is the by-product of creating a product.

2.  Process

Focusing on a final product isn’t enough.  Teachers have to be set up for success.  There needs to be a roadmap that provides them with the guidance and resources they need to accomplish the goal – from initial research, to outlines, to drafting.  At TeachFest, we didn’t say, here’s a block of time to plan, go for it.  We thought through every step of the process and asked ourselves, “what does the teacher need to be successful now.  What about now?  What about now?”  And then we equipped them with those things.

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Here, for example, is an overview of our TeachFest roadmap:

LearnZillion Process

LearnZillion lesson creation process

3.  People

The final P stands for people.  The 20 teachers at that initial convening helped each other out.  

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When one of them had a question about their lesson, they would talk it through with a colleague or a coach.  They had opportunities to get feedback and then make revisions to their work based on that feedback.  This happened in person and then continued on-line over the summer as teachers worked on their lessons.  As a result, most of the experience looked like this…

Teacher Collaboration

Dream Team teachers collaborating at TeachFest

…as opposed to looking like an expert standing in front of a large group of people.

Put them together and what have you got…

McDonald’s talks about its “secret sauce.”  When it comes to professional development we believe the sauce shouldn’t be secret.  Just remember the 3 Ps.  Put them together and you create amazing lessons, build the capacity of teachers, and have a lot of fun.

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Dream Team 2013 group shot

National LearnZillion 2013 Dream Team

Live, Laugh, LearnZillion

Rebecca Ritenour has been an educator for 15 years, she is a member of the 2013 LearnZillion Dream Team. Her thoughts were first published July 17, 2013.

After 15 years in the classroom, I realize that I am nearly to the halfway point of my career. At this point, it would be easy to put myself on autopilot. After all, I’ve taught every grade and ability level at my school and accomplished a lot in my career. But that’s not me. I can’t do the autopilot thing. I am constantly looking for ways to improve my own teaching and to gain more knowledge that I can apply in the classroom. It’s that drive that led me to pursue and earn my National Board Certification. It’s that drive that sees me working alongside other English/Language Arts teachers in my state capital every year as we review items that will appear on our state’s standardized literature exams.

So, when I noticed a blurb in a National Board newsletter about LearnZillion and applying to be part of their 2013 “Dream Team”, I thought “Why not?” I had no idea what I was about to experience.

LearnZillion’s purpose is to provide instruction to students all over the world as well as support parents and teachers in the process. Who knew that LearnZillion would actually be teaching ME a thing or two? Here’s what LearnZillion and the Dream Team experience has taught me that I will carry with me into my own classroom this fall.

1. Thinking is hard. Thinking hard is harder. All of it is worthwhile when you have a goal you believe in. When we see a real purpose for what we’re doing, we are much more likely to be engaged, to internalize corrections, to be resilient in the pursuit of the goal, and to be proud of the achievement when we’ve reached the goal.

2. I am not alone. Others are on this journey. That is comforting. Whenever I start to think that I am the only person out there who is experiencing struggle, doubt, or insecurity, it helps to know that there is an entire community out there who understands and can offer support. They, too, know these struggles. It is also awesome to know that when it’s time to celebrate even the smallest victory, that same community is there to cheer me on.

3. Missing the mark is the only way to truly learn and improve. Mistakes are not just an annoying part of life, they are an ESSENTIAL part of the process. They lead us to the next step and the next and the next. They move us towards our goal.

4. Getting the best out of someone takes time. Don’t be satisfied with “good” when “better” or “best” is possible. Don’t expect to arrive at “best” immediately. Be receptive to the guidance of those who have gone before you. Feedback that is offered in a supportive and encouraging way always gets me back on my feet and ready to start again.

5. There will always be bumps in the road. Laugh, learn, and leave them behind. (Note to self: remove the dog’s collar before using Screencastomatic to record lessons. Even when you do, the chipmunk outside will inevitably catch the dog’s attention just as you get to the last slide in your video anyway.)

I don’t quite have time to reflect on all of this fully, but when I do I will have an even better understanding of what my role as a teacher entails because of the Dream Team experience. The classroom that I create this year may very well be the best one I’ve crafted yet and what LearnZillion has LearnZillion has taught me will be an essential part of each and every school day. (Well, except for that dog thing…he has to stay home and protect us from those chipmunks!)

The 3 Cs I Learned at LearnZillion TeachFest 2013

Andrea Lemon is a middle school English language arts teacher from Belmont, West Virginia, and member of the 2013 LearnZillion Dream Team.  This article was first posted May 21, 2013.

In January, I received an email from my state’s department of education listserv with the subject line: Summer Job Opportunity. Like many teachers, especially those of us raising families, I opened the email with an interest in earning a little extra money this summer. Little did I know that what I would receive from LearnZillion would be worth more money than any job I’d ever had. What I received was a personal and professional journey:
From the moment I clicked “apply here,” my professional understanding of how to teach literacy skills began to grow. I’m over half-way through a doctoral program in reading and literacy, so my mind is already pretty full of theories and best practices, but the application process to become a LearnZillion Dream Team member gave me the opportunity and the guidance to turn all that research into a product students and teachers could use to enhance their learning. It was a process that forced me to dig deep into the Common Core and into my own literacy practices. The emphasis on metacognition in the application process alone made me a better teacher for my students. I created, revised, sought feedback from colleagues, revised again, and finally, in late February, submitted three lesson plans and one PowerPoint lesson – grateful simply for the growth I had already attained – not really imagining that in a nationwide competition my application would be worthy of selection.

In late March, I got another email. I made it! I’d been selected – one of 200 out of 3,000+ applicants! My heart soared. My pulse raced! I was ecstatic to say the least. I clicked the link to accept the invitation and in doing so, saw something that I’d overlooked in my initial haste to earn a little cash this summer. Being a member of the Dream Team meant attending a conference called TeachFest – in San Francisco. My heart sank to the pit of my stomach. I felt ill. I almost backed out. I’d never flown. I’d never even been in an airport, and this trip would mean a transcontinental flight. I’d also never been to a big city by myself. I didn’t know anyone else who was going. I was paralyzed by self-doubt. I didn’t think I could overcome so many firsts and fears.

My husband, always my biggest supporter, looked at me that evening and said, “If you don’t go, you’ll regret it for the rest of your career.” It sounds dramatic, like a line from a movie, but he was right. I clicked “accept” and a couple of days later, I got a call from Posie Wilkinson at LearnZillion. She called just to welcome me to the team, and the warmth and enthusiasm in her voice made me feel so accepted that I knew I’d made the right decision. A month later, after receiving endless amounts of encouragement from my fellow Dream team members on Facebook, I found my COURAGE and stepped on that first, very tiny plane, navigated a second airport alone, and then stepped on a much larger plane to California. I learned that it’s okay to be afraid as long as you keep moving forward. At the SFO airport shuttle dock, I saw a woman wearing a LearnZillion t-shirt, jumped on the shuttle right behind her, and instantly struck up a conversation with five perfect strangers also headed to TeachFest and my Dream Team experience began.

Once at TeachFest, I looked around at the other Dream Team members, listened to their stories, and thought to myself, “Maybe my application was chosen by mistake. Maybe I’m not good enough for this.” I was filled with self-doubt until LearnZillion co-founder, Eric Westendorf, stepped on the stage beaming with energy and shared that the Dream Team only had a 6% acceptance rate. I realized that I had been selected to an elite task force and my CONFIDENCE began to bud. Next, entered Liz Striebel coaching me through my Lesson Set Outline with praise followed by a little push to go farther, do more, be more. My confidence exploded.

Most important though, in that four day crash course known as TeachFest, I learned the value of COLLABORATION. Digging into the Common Core Standards and uncovering how to teach with text-dependent questions and close reading is no easy feat. Without the professional development provided by the LearnZillion staff, and the encouragement and feedback of all of the other Dream Team members, I couldn’t have come this far so fast.

Now, back in my small school in West Virginia, I have the right tools to make a big difference. As I work with my school’s Literacy Leadership Team, I have the Courage and Confidence to provide support for my colleagues as they learn and grow in the Common Core and to push our school forward toward a brighter future for our students, our community, and, should the road get bumpy along the way, I know that I have amazing educators all across the country that I can reach out to for a little Collaboration. TeachFest 2013 gave me the tools to find solutions, make a difference, SCALE MY IMPACT! I never would have dreamt that something so simple as the click of a mouse would open so many doors, or lead me on such an incredible journey. Thank you LearnZillion for having faith in me and helping me find faith in myself.