All posts by Kristen MacConnell

Kristen MacConnell has a diverse educational background that includes teaching children with learning difficulties, school counseling, school psychology, university teaching, and school leadership. Kristen spent 8 years as an educator in the US before moving overseas to Chile in 2010. She worked at Nido de Aguilas in Santiago, Chile as a School Counselor, a Literacy Specialist, Assistant Director of Teaching and Learning in the Early Years School and finally as the PK-12 Director of Curriculum and Professional Development. Currently, Kristen serves as the Director of the Teacher Training center Programs at the PTC.

Ice cream, Astronomy and Leadership

I was watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with my friend’s daughter, Alegra. We were immersed in the magical land of sweet possibilities, having one of my favorite types of conversations that you can have with a child…the conversation of ”What ifs…” What if rivers were really made of chocolate? What if flowers were made of candy? etc. As the movie came to an end I told Alegra that my first job was working in an ice cream store. This news launched Alegra into a new series of questions. Alegra was filled with wonder and awe!

Photo by Harry Cunningham from Pexels

The next day my friend called me to tell me about the conversation she had with Alegra while tucking her into bed that night. The last thing Alegra said before falling asleep was, “why would Kristen ever leave her job at the ice cream store?” 

That question got me thinking about my dream job when I was a child. I desperately wanted to be an astronomer. I was so passionate about space. When I was in second grade the only thing I wanted for Christmas was the book Cosmos by Carl Sagan. I wanted to go to Cornell University so Carl Sagan could be my teacher.

I constantly sang:

 Twinkle twinkle little star, I know exactly what you are. If you wonder how I know, Carl Sagan told me so. Twinkle, Twinkle little star, I know exactly what you are.

Photo by Chris Leggat on Unsplash

How could a parent refuse the wish of a book? I got Cosmos for Christmas and spent hours looking through the amazing photographs trying to understand the words that went with the images. I still have the book 40 years later.

As a learner who struggled throughout school to understand mathematical concepts and barely made my way through physics I think back to my 8 year old self, who was desperate to be an astronomer, and wonder, “what was it that I thought an astronomer did?” because I am certain I did not think it involved any math.

I actually spent a lot of time thinking about that question this week after listening to an inspiring interview with America Ferrera on the Dare to Lead podcast where she was talking about her dream, as a kindergartner, to be a human rights lawyer.

My 8 year old self defined an astronomer as a person who looked at the sky and saw endless possibilities of what could be. An astronomer experienced wonder and awe every day as part of their work. Astronomers were curious. An astronomer was an explorer. A person who looked for places that no one had been before and tried to learn everything possible about that place whether it was a planet, a moon, a star, a black hole or a galaxy. An astronomer was a person who could see things in different ways through different types of powerful telescopes. An astronomer provided some direction for the astronauts so they knew where to go in space. Finally, Carl Sagan, who hosted of my favorite PBS show as a child, Cosmos, could take really complicated concepts and make them somewhat accessible or, at least, really interesting to an 8 year old girl and I admired that skill.

When I think about my 8 year old self’s definition of an astronomer, I think I captured the essence of my career dreams in my current leadership work in international schools. Living in different countries and learning about new cultures and ways of being inspires me- it helps feed my soul. I have a passion for gathering data, especially the kind of data that really helps me to understand how things work and how to improve systems or even rethink systems so they support everyone. Data sparks my curiosity and leads me to ask lots of questions. I deeply value different perspectives especially when I talk with someone who pushes my thinking and stops me in my tracks, resulting in those really meaningful aha moments that lead to new learning and professional growth. I also do my best to try and take complex concepts and break those ideas into meaningful, actionable steps. This process helps set a vision or course for our collective work, our discoveries in teaching and learning.

I may not be exploring the galaxy, but exploring the field of education, especially over the past two years, which has been filled with so much uncertainty, is unlocking new frontiers worthy of wonder and further learning.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? How did that dream inform your current practice?

Surviving The Worst Case of the Mondays…ever

2020 may go down in recent history as the worst case of the Mondays….EVER! I don’t know about you, but I experienced long stretches of time that felt like Monday was repeating itself day after day and each of those days presented new and unexpected challenges. It seemed like just when things couldn’t get worse…they somehow did. Eventually the “Mondays” turned into Blursdays…each day was so similar it was hard to tell what day of the week it actually was…

The good news is we survived…and as hard and frustrating and uncertain as 2020 has been, we learned A LOT. We learned a lot about ourselves, about teaching and learning, about wellbeing, about building partnerships with families, about clear communication, and we successfully increased our ability to effectively use technology.

How can we capitalize on our new learning? What do we understand now about teaching and learning that we didn’t know a year ago at this time? What new knowledge have we gained? What skills have we developed? What are the dispositions that have been important for successful learning? How do we incorporate all of these new learnings into our practice?

As we begin 2021, take time to reflect with your colleagues and share what you have learned so we can build a collective knowledge base of strategies, insights and resources to continue to improve and refine best practices. There are several tools that can help facilitate this process.

Success Analysis Protocol: This protocol is designed to unpack your successes in a more deep and profound way than self-reflection. The process works best in groups of 3-4 people. Taking time to reflect, discuss, and build off of current successes helps teachers unpack the impact they have in the classroom and how they work together with colleagues. The success analysis protocol works well during faculty professional learning and, in my experience, highly impacts student learning through the sharing of successful strategies while serving to inspire teachers. To read more about how you might use this protocol with your faculty or on your leadership team, read “What’s Working and How can we do More of it?

Interviews: School Leaders, who are the teachers that thrived and innovated during 2020? What did they do to make learning effective and engaging for students? How did they communicate with families? What tools and platforms did they use? How did they find resources? How did they manage the multiple transitions from teaching in person to teaching online, transitioning to hybrid instruction and then navigating their way back to teaching in person or to teaching online (again)? Uncovering the answers to these questions will be critical for moving forward. We have so much to learn from these innovative and resilient teachers.

There are two tools in particular that can help you in this process. The first one is an interview process called, “Bright Spot Interviews.” The purpose of these interviews is to: (1) surface keystone practices and (2) understand the journey the teachers have taken- what helped these teachers grow during these uncertain times and how can these practices inform our next steps? The second interview process is the Appreciative Inquiry Interview. The example I just linked is specific to “improvement groups” but you can easily adapt the questions as needed for your purpose. The interview will help you uncover high points, success factors, three wishes for moving forward and better understand the time needed by the teacher to experience his/her successes.

Action Research: In addition to taking time to uncover and celebrate successes from 2020 we also need to use these successes for future planning. We are no longer reacting and responding to uncertainty, we are living it. How do we intentionally learn our way forward? Engaging in action research is a purposeful way to learn and innovate. The tools of improvement science can help us do this successfully. What problems of practice are at the forefront of our work? How do we use what we have learned and continue to innovate and refine our practices? What ideas do we adopt, which ideas do we adapt and which ideas do we abandon because evidence shows they haven’t worked?

In the article, “Getting Better Together,” you can learn more about how improvement science uses just enough data to accelerate teacher learning, facilitate deep reflection, and guide further action. Feel free to contact me for a copy of the article or to learn more about how to launch action research in your school using the tools of improvement science.

Congratulations on surviving the worst case of the Mondays in recent history. As we move forward into 2021 lets put our best foot forward, use what we have learned and build off of our successes because there have been a lot of them!

The Time is Now

There is a moment in the morning when everything feels right. The sun peaks through the trees making the world outside a beautiful shade of gold. There is stillness.

That feeling of calm fades when I start up my laptop. First, I check the school closure facebook groups to see what questions people are struggling with and what new resources and ideas are out there to help. Next, I read through the questions that have been generated on the listservs. There are more questions than answers.

Everything is happening at light speed these days. I have repeatedly heard the phrase from school leaders and teachers, “I am working harder than I have ever worked in my life.”

We are currently living in a time of rapid, iterative cycles of ideation and prototyping. Educators have been plunged into uncharted territory when it comes to teaching and student learning. We are forced to not just grapple with questions we have been asking for years, but to find answers to those questions. Now.

  • “How do I best communicate learning?”
  • “How do I give timely and meaningful feedback for learning to all of my students?”
  • “What is the value of letter grades and percentages when it comes to communicating learning? Are grades and percentages still important?” 
  • “How do I ensure that all students are learning?”
  • “If an assessment practice works in person but doesn’t work virtually, what information does that tell me?”
  • “What is the value of having students sit in a room to take an exam if we don’t think there is a good alternative to demonstrate that learning and cancel exams?”
  • “Have we given students enough voice and choice to keep them motivated and engaged in the learning process without a teacher available every minute to hold students accountable for their learning?”

The time is now. Whether we are ready for it or not. How might we start shifting our “crowd sourced sharing economy” of resources to improve our teaching practice and our students’ learning experiences whether learning virtually or in a brick and mortar building?

We have been presented with a lot of problems that must be answered. Now. Every teacher and school leader is tackling multiple problems on a daily basis. Everyone is testing out ideas. Everyone is getting feedback directly and indirectly. Teachers are getting data from students and school leaders are getting data from teaching faculty. How are we using these data to refine and improve our practices and when we do, how we are sharing our learning with others?

People are working harder than they ever have to ensure learning continues for students. We can not let the stress overshadow the innovation that is occurring. Now. Each teacher and school leader is overcoming immense obstacles. Each teacher and school leader is having to embrace the idea that what he/she is doing is definitely incomplete and possibly incorrect. It is an uncomfortable place to be. We are in the place where learning happens. Now. This learning will be formative.

Each person is rapidly learning new skills and strategies. Some people might not have the time to stop and reflect on all that they have accomplished to date. Some people might not realize they are innovating. Some people might not realize the contribution they are making to the field of teaching and learning. Now. 

My friend said, “I can never go back to the way I used to teach.” Think about that statement for a minute. How has your teaching and leadership practice changed? What is important when you think about student learning? How might we share our rapid cycles of learning so we keep doing what’s best for our students?