Monday, August 19, 2013

Let's Focus on Learning


Today marked the official start of the 2013-2014 school year for teachers.  As has been the tradition for a number of years, LASD staff gathered at Egan Jr. High to kick off another incredible year of learning together.  It is always fun to hear tales of summer, swap titles of great books and talk about our plans for the year.  This year we honored outstanding years of service, celebrated the tenure of twenty-four teachers across the district, and introduced forty-four newly hired credentialed employees (a much higher number than typical, partially due to the addition of a STEM program at every site and increased school psychologist support.)

LASD staff was welcomed by Doug Smith, Board of Trustees President and Jeffrey Baier, Superintendent.  While distinctly different, both messages reinforced the importance of being a learner and embracing change.  Mr. Smith encouraged staff to identify an area of desired change, commit to it by writing it down as a first step and then sharing it with colleagues. Think of the collective possible achievements if we are all successful in making our one change. Superintendent Baier gave a nod to our past successes, but expressed excitement as we look to the future and challenged us to embrace what lies ahead.  He encouraged us to learn more, feed our passion and most importantly dared us to be extraordinary.

It is incredible to hear our district leaders talk about the importance of being a learner.  Embracing the stance of a learner requires vulnerability.  It requires us to ask questions and acknowledge that we don’t have all of the answers.  It creates an environment where risk taking becomes the norm and failure is viewed as a part of the learning process. Learners thrive in this type of environment. I am excited to work in a district focused on learning, not just the learning for students but the learning for teachers and administrators as well.  Fueled by a growth mindset, LASD supports teachers on their journey as a learner by providing support, professional growth opportunities and individualized coaching.  Perhaps over simplified, but it seems an increased focus on learning has the power to make us extraordinary.

Picture: learn by Mark Brennan. Sourced from Flickr and reproduced under a Creative Commons cc-by-nc-sa2 licence.

Contributed by Alyssa Gallagher, Director of Strategic Initiatives & Community Partnerships 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Extraordinary LASD Teachers Embrace a Growth Mindset

Each year we hire new teachers into Los Altos School DIstrict. It is an annual process as teachers retire, move away, or depart for family reasons. We are looking for specific qualities in our teacher candidates. Qualities that will allow them to continue to provide the very best learning experiences for our students through their entire career in LASD. This is a lofty expectation, but one that is essential to the success of our students. As I was pondering how to welcome our newest members of the team, I was reminded of a message I had read in a book. This message embodies our goal as a school district. It is a message that captures my desire for each teacher, each student, and my own children as well. The message in this book had long been my belief, but now it had been put into words  on the pages of a book. Below is the letter I shared with each of them.

We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.
Dr. Carol Dweck,

You are coming to an incredible public school district.  A place where students thrive, in no small part, because of the outstanding work being done in our classrooms each and every day.  A place where teachers strive to be their very best and refuse to settle for ordinary results.  A place where the entire learning community - parents, teachers, support staff, and administrators - is pulling in the same direction.  All in support of the students we serve.  You are now a part of something extraordinary.

You were not selected to join Los Altos School District by chance.  Through the interview process and reference checks, special qualities were identified in you.  These are qualities we prize in our school district because we know they ultimately benefit student learning in the classroom.  One of those qualities is a “growth mindset”.  Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University captures and describes this idea very well in her book.  I am sending a copy of the book to you in the mail for your reading.  Please give it a read this summer when you have time.  Understanding and nurturing this mindset within yourself will help you continue to grow as an educator and, most importantly, as a person.

Below I have listed some other resources that will give you insight into the work we are doing as a school district that is a leader in revolutionizing learning for all our students. Please take some time to check them out.  Again, welcome to LASD.  We are thrilled to have you teaching our students.  And, please don’t forget: dare to be extraordinary in everything you do.  Our students are counting on you.

I look forward to seeing you in August!


Jeffrey Baier  •  Superintendent

…a leader in revolutionizing learning for all students

Monday, August 5, 2013

Edcamp Los Altos: September 14th, 2013

This year, here in Los Altos, we are hosting our first Edcamp.  Edcamp Los Altos will happen on September 14th, from 8:00 am -1:00 pm, at Blach Junior High School. We are excited to welcome educators from all over the Bay area along with many of our staff members. We are hoping all will leave with some new ideas and new connections to add to their learning networks.

An edcamp is an unconference. Edcamps began as Barcamps and started after a group of educators attended Barcamp Philly in 2009. Because of their passion and experience with the unconference model, Edcamps were born. Sessions are not planned until the morning of the event because the conference revolves around the needs of the attendees. Attendees come with a willingness to share and participate. Many presentations are interactive with heavy backchannel conversations occurring. Sessions can range from teachers sharing successful strategies, best practices, and projects to how to’s around new technologies. It is a time for all stakeholders to interact and create meaningful conversations around education and what’s happening in classrooms. I am hoping that we are able to include a few students into our mix. It would be nice to include their voices in our discussions.

If you are in the Bay area on September 14th and can share a few hours of your morning, we would love to see you attend. Please register here. The event is free, but space is limited.

Contributed by Kami Thordarson, Innovative Strategies Coach

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Innovation: New Practices That Produce Better Outcomes

The first day of school is still over two weeks away, but our admin team is off and running. Yesterday, we held our first administrative meeting of the 2013-2014 school year.  To say I am in awe of the collective talent within the LASD team is an understatement.  As we were welcoming three new principals to our team, we spent more time than usual getting to know each other, sharing stories, and discussing our goals for the year.  Principals shared incredible thoughts around the risks they are planning to take, the hopes they have for their students and the commitments they are making to their staff and school communities.  While each principal spoke to the unique needs of their school, there were common themes woven throughout all of the shared stories.  Some of the common themes were centered around creating, questioning, sustaining, reinventing, taking risks, modeling failure and innovating,  As our meeting continued we explored many of these themes in greater depth, including innovation.

Innovation has become the latest “buzz” word in education.  There are exciting changes happening in schools across the nation, and many practices are being identified as innovative, but how are we defining innovation? Are we taking the time to understand innovation?  Unfortunately, It seems that many people equate innovation with either technology or the newest shiny invention and yet, there is so much more to innovation.  As Peter Denning  & Robert Dunham describe in their book, The Innovator’s Way, invention is the fun part of innovation but it doesn’t always lead to innovation.  The authors define innovation as “new practices adopted by a community that produces better results.”   This simple distinction opens new insights into how to cause innovation.  Reframing innovation as a personal skill, means that it is something that can be developed through practice and extended into organizations.  Peter then goes on to describe the eight personal practices  that all successful innovators perform:  sensing, envisioning, offering, adopting, sustaining, executing, leading, and embodying.  The outcomes from each of these skills are essential for true innovation.  

Only as we begin to more fully understand innovation, are we able to correctly identify those new practices that will produce better outcomes for students.  These are the practices that we should focus on adopting, even if they don’t include the latest shiny educational toy or gadget.  It is exciting to work with such a dedicated team of administrators who are willing to reflect and develop their own personal skills to ensure we are providing the most innovative learning experiences for our students.  The next time you read about the latest “innovative” educational practice, I encourage you to question what outcomes are improved as a result of the new practice. We certainly are.

Contributed by Alyssa Gallagher, Director of Strategic Initiatives & Community Partnerships