Darlington School: Professional Development Spotlight: Fail Fast, Learn Quickly
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Professional Development Spotlight: Fail Fast, Learn Quickly

Beth Wardlaw | August 1, 2018 | 164 views

I had the pleasure of attending STL in the ATL this past week with our Professional Development Coordinator, Rebekah Kinney. This trip was made possible by the Thatcher Grant for Education, which Rebekah was granted this spring. What a special two days of learning and networking!


The Summit of Transformative Learning took place at Woodward Academy in Atlanta. While at the event, I was able to connect with so many incredible people from all over the country, all passionate about the same thing: building a better educational experience for our students. We were able to hear from incredible keynote speakers that inspired and taught me an amazing amount in such a short time.


Our first speaker was Janet Zandia - Author, education neuroscientist and CEO of Brain Research and Instruction. She talked about her journey from being a high school teacher to becoming a neuroscientist. The lecture was engaging and discussed what is true and often misunderstood with brain-based learning. We learned about the plasticity of the brain (lucky for us, we can still change the way our brain works!), synapses, dendrite branching, and how important it is to keep the neurons from dying (use it or lose it!). Lastly, the single most important factor in learning is MAKING CONNECTIONS. “You can’t wire it, if you can’t fire it!” You grow from existing networks in the brain. If you have inadequate neuronetworks (AKA-lack of prior knowledge), you cannot learn something new to add to it. Seems like common sense, right? However, often times we expect our students to pick up immediately on something we are teaching, when they lack the current knowledge to do so.


Next, we heard from Jay McTighe. Jay is an accomplished author and speaker, having co-authored 14 books, including the award-winning and bestselling “Understanding by Design”series with Grant Wiggins. In this presentation, we learned about schooling by design and curriculum mapping 3.0. He believes that a guaranteed and viable curriculum is the number one school-level factor impacting on student achievement. I am so glad to have listened to our teachers share their new improved curriculum over the past few years. I was excited to see that we are on this same path to success, as our new curriculum is directly related to our school mission, and sets our students up to be most successful.


I was then able to attend a variety of concurrent sessions and workshops by established authors and leaders in innovation, including Design Thinking, Spatial Skills Development, Real World Learning that Last, and Multiple Pathways to the Student Brain. In addition, I was able to network and meet with several technology coordinators and leaders at different schools to discuss our new technology curriculum. I left exhausted, but refreshed with all the amazing ideas and new knowledge I had gathered from the day.


Friday, we were able to hear from Scott Sanchez, whom I admire greatly. He is an incredible speaker, author, and Design Thinking Guru from the d.school at Stanford. He started his lecture on Innovation in Schools with the quote “how do you make innovation repeatable?” He gave us three quick ways:


  1. Learn as fast as you can. We often say we want students to fail, but do you think they want to? No one wants to fail. The key is to fail fast, and learn quickly. CELEBRATE the fail. Learn to live in it, take it in, understand why you failed, and learn from it quickly.

  2. Don’t jump to solutions. Always focus on the user. Build empathy by having a deep understanding, by discovering both expressed and latent needs of the user. Always EMPATHIZE and have a mindset with a beginners eyes, without judgement, but instead with curiosity: optimistically, and respectfully.

  3. Try it before you do it. Build innovators. Start with individuals, move into teams, and then into the entire organization. Let everyone see how design thinking can change the organization/school, first hand.


Scott left us with one challenge: Try something new on the very first week of school. Challenge accepted!


The rest of the day I spent attending workshops on Integrating STEM into the Curriculum, Building Engineers, and Coding in the Everyday Classroom. We were finally, back to my wheelhouse! Obviously, I felt much more comfortable in these sessions and enjoyed sharing what we have been doing with these topics at Darlington. I love talking with other educators and technology leaders about the importance of programming from pre-K all the way to graduation. This is a passion of mine, and it was amazing to learn new ideas to bring back to Darlington.


My mind is in overdrive processing all the new information, exciting plans and projects, and incredible things to come for Darlington. Bring on the 2018-2019 school year, I cannot wait to see what it holds!