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Expeditionary Learning Mentor Schools Lead The Way to Excellence

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    April Hattori

Leaders of the 21 Expeditionary Learning Mentor Schools convened in Jackson, Wyoming for the Third Annual Mentor School Institute in July. These high performing schools serve as models in the Expeditionary Learning network. Recently, four schools joined the mentor school ranks ( Expeditionary Learning Announces the Addition of Four New Mentor Schools). President and CEO Scott Hartl kicked off the conference with a discussion of the group’s founding ideas that were created three years ago:

  • Create a strong high quality core
  • Collaborate and document best practices at Expeditionary Learning
  • Serve as accessible models for newer Expeditionary Learning schools to get better faster
  • Create intentional interaction between schools and Expeditionary Learning staff
  • Create a learning community that can drive continuous improvement

Mark Conrad, Chief Schools Officer, hosted the conference and set the tone for the meeting’s outcomes. “None of us needs another tool with a long list of ‘what teachers should be doing.’ Instead we need to invest in effective systems and structures to support teachers in designing and implementing stronger daily instruction.” Mark said. “Our goal this week is to use this common vision of effective daily lessons to being developing/revising such systems for our schools. “

The group also launched Deeper Lessons Inquiry teams that will continue work beyond the Institute. Topics include: increasing frequency and evidence of deeper learning in the classroom; development and evidence of higher order questions; and increasing student engagement.

Building on the continuous learning theme, technology can enable us to share information and knowledge with more educators not attending the conference. Colleen Broderick, Director of Online Professional Development, noted that social media tools, such as Twitter, increasingly are being used by educators to enhance their knowledge. Colleen will lead a master class series on Social Media for Educators at the Expeditionary Learning National Conference in October. Tweets from the Mentor School Institute can be found with #ELmentors.

Mark, Chief Academic Officer Ron Berger, Director of Program Resources Cyndi Gueswel, and West Regional Director John LeCavalier led several sessions on Deepening Instructional Tasks and Discourse in Expeditionary Learning Classrooms that covered the Workshop 2.0 approach, which included exploration of “grappling” first with an issue before knowing a learning target, text dependent questioning sessions, and supporting deeper lessons by increasing the depth of student thinking in daily instruction.

Overall, mentor school leaders felt that the conference was useful and productive. In a survey of attendees, benefits of the meeting included:

  • A clear focus on deeper lesson structures
  • A good blend of hard-thinking and time to share out
  • Even pacing and focused agenda
  • Inspirational discussions and time together
  • Time to think about what strategies will look like in their schools.

The learnings and outcomes of the Mentor School Institute did not end on the last day of the conference. Scott noted that high quality student work is being done in all of our network schools. In this Common Core moment, he noted that educators around the nation are seeking examples of work that aligns with the Common Core. For 20 years, Expeditionary Learning schools have set a standard for high quality student work, much of which aligns to the standards.

Expeditionary Learning will be expanding The Center for Student Work beyond its unique gallery of quality interdisciplinary projects to add a gallery of Common Core writing and math. Scott and Ron encouraged all Expeditionary Learning schools to send inspiring pieces of student writing and math that exemplify Common Core content standards. The best examples will be showcased in the Center for Student Work on the Expeditionary Learning website, which is open to all educators and the public. Please send submissions to Lauren Parent (lparent@elschools.org), and include the corresponding Common Core standard, the assignment, and background context if possible.