Leading for Powerful Learning: Observations & Pictures from Danville

Carmen Coleman has created a focus on powerful learning experiences in Danville Kentucky.  She knows that Good Schools Start With Good Goals.  We’ve been tracking how Bate Middle School used Deeper Learning as a Turnaround Strategy and How Frames, Plans, Platforms & PD Support Great Teaching. Carmen visited Bate this week and sent us this terrific report.   As a director of the Imagination Foundation, sponsor of the Cardboard Challenge, I was particularly pleased to see the story about the Bate engineers.
I wanted to share this note for three reasons 1) The Bates story suggests that school improvement starts with high expectations but it doesn’t to rely on boring test prep, 2) this note is a great example of leading for deeper learning by providing positive feedback from a school visit, and 3) the work kids do in Danville is very cool!
—–Note from Carmen—–
The pictures attached tell a great story! The first three are from Bate where students created furniture from cardboard. Talk about something that required thinking …WOW! What’s also really cool about this is that the kids have included their original design sketches and plans with the furniture, so you can really see their thinking processes. (And yes – I sat on the bench and it did not budge! I think our middle school engineers might be onto something!)
Next, you’ll see three new student-designed murals from Danville High School. Beautiful! Through this work, they’ve learned lots about the history of this particular kind of artwork. Many students also had an opportunity to take part in the creation of the murals, and they are really proud of their work.


Today, students in a fourth grade classroom couldn’t wait to show me their new math journals. You should see them! The journals include space for the math standard, daily target, the student’s proof of learning and reflection. In the reflection space, students are also challenged to prove their learning in a different, creative way. Awesome!


Earlier this week, outside third grade classrooms, I saw applications students completed for specific roles in their new class company. The third graders had to tell what characteristics they had that made them especially good for those particular roles. Really good!
I saw many students involved in vocabulary work. It’s a well-documented fact that vocabulary development is critically important, and we know that students from poverty are often at a great disadvantage when it comes to this. It was wonderful to see so many teachers making vocabulary a priority.
I heard a teacher talking with her students about time management – and the kids were really having to make a plan that would result in completed work on Friday. Great emphasis on this month’s Danville Diploma skill!
I also saw students who were genuinely engaged and excited about their work. They could explain what they were doing and why. I even talked with students about MAP goals in elementary schools, and many could tell me their goals as well as what specific skills they were working on in order to reach those goals. This kind of student awareness is a wonderful way to ensure motivation. These kids truly “own” their goals and their plans for getting there.
I saw kids who were working and thinking HARD. They were being held accountable for the day’s learning targets and they knew it. Our kids were also busy writing and reflecting. So important!
I also saw wonderful relationships between students and adults – just a good feeling of mutual respect.
There is really nothing better than going into a classroom and being greeted by kids who are excited to show you what they are doing. This has happened to me more this year than I can ever remember. This is such a wonderful reflection of the work that you – the adults – are doing.
I’ve attached the list we’ve come up with that provides some specifics about the kind of work that really does inspire. This is exactly what I’m seeing in our schools. I can’t get over how the quality of our kids’ work just keeps getting better and better. You’ve really raised the bar, and it shows!
It really is GREAT to be an Admiral! THANKS for all you are doing!

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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