By Michelle Woods, Project-Based Learning Coach, Vernon Malone College & Career Academy
At the heart of Vernon Malone College & Career Academy is a mindset of failing forward. Establishing this mindset was intentional when we started our school in 2014. During the first year, the entire staff worked collaboratively to establish our core values and priorities that included how to capitalize on failure as a pathway to success. To do this we needed a process, a roadmap, that would keep us accountable and also promote collaboration, transparency, and improvement.
Due to our commitment to improving our practice through collaborative learning and structured interactions, we use a program through the National School Reform Faculty called Critical Friends. We call these structured interactions protocols, and we use them consistently in meetings and in the classroom. Each member of our staff is formally trained in this work. Because we’re committed to improving our practice through collaboration, we have two days a month established for the use of Critical Friends. During this time, we work in small or whole group teams to seek feedback on projects, analyzing student work, dilemmas, brainstorming, and consensus building. This is what Grace Jackson and her team witnessed on the day of her visit. The work of Critical Friends is an integral process for us. It was inspiring to hear that this experience made an impact on the Enloe teachers. It’s another example how collaboration has the power to drive change and innovation.
From a coach’s perspective I can say that every teacher on our staff has gone through a professional transformation from traditional teacher to a Project0Based Learning facilitator. This work is demanding, and to keep the momentum going we needed to be intentional with our planning cycle. This is why we design and implement projects on a quarterly basis. Each year we establish an expectation that every quarter teachers will implement a new or revised project. During a cycle, teachers receive 1:1 coaching support, planning time during Monday team time, and time for reflection at the end of each quarter. This year during our 3rd and 4th quarter we are designing and implementing a school wide project that will answer the driving question, “How can VMCCA inspire change in our community?”
Grace mentioned the original purpose of her school visit was to see how we systematically use Scrum to support PBL. In addition to using Scrum in the classroom, we use Scrum every Monday during our team time. During team time, teachers stand up in small teams and report out the work they accomplished during the previous week, what they plan on accomplishing in the current week, and what additional support or resources they need. If they have needs, it’s reported out to a coach for an appointment. Although Scrum provides an avenue for accountability, it also provides a process for celebration and reflection. With each validation of a task, the team celebrates successes and continuously sets goals for the next week.
Behind the scenes we have several processes to ensure we are on our path for success. A culture of failing forward propels us, but, in the process, we are intentional about accountability, collaboration, transparency, and improvement. This level of work isn’t easy, but at VMCCA we’re committed to these processes because it leads to the success of our students. We are role models. Our work is intentional and as a result our students learn the importance of failing forward by seeing opportunities for growth that comes from perseverance, reflection, and goal setting.