Redefining Student Success

redefining student success


3 Takeaways with Ken Kay & Susie Boss

Ken Kay and Suzie Boss have spent their careers working to develop and promote strategies, systems, and structures for schools and districts. Through their respective work at EdLeader21 and PBLWorks, countless educators have implemented learner-centered practices and strategies such as Project-Based Learning and Profile of a Graduate.

LiFT Learning welcomed Ken and Suzie to lead a webinar as part of LiFT’s Excellence in Education Webinar Series. The focus of the event was on their most recent publication, “Redefining Student Success: Building a New Vision to Transform Leading, Teaching, and Learning.”

Ken Kay talking about his book: Redefining Student Success: Building a New Vision to Transform Leading, Teaching, and Learning
(See more videos from Ken Kay and Suzie Boss)
  1. Skills are currency for today’s learners

In the webinar, Ken references a Lewis Carroll quote, ‘if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there,” when speaking of the importance of a strategy. In writing this book, Ken and Suzie visited hundreds of schools across the nation and came across countless students who said they were bored. A lack of real-world problem solving and student engagement associated with traditional measures of student success misaligned to the needs of our modern society call for a new vision. 

Author Ken Kay Quote: "What competencies, capabilities and skills do you want your kids to be able to have in order for them to be successful?"

This work, developing a portrait of a graduate, engages community stakeholders in and outside of the school to identify the skills and competencies. Ken and Suzie chose their six favorites with an emphasis on creative problem solving, civic engagement, and self-direction.

What to do next? A book study with a focus group of school leadership, classroom teachers, and community members such as Board members or local business and civic leaders is a great way to start the path of discovery of what is valued in your community. 

2. Redefinition of student success cannot occur in a vacuum

If you are moving towards a learner-centered system, practices that can include portfolio and portfolio defense, students will struggle if this norm isn’t practiced through their education. As Suzie described, “It’s that backward design pressure. If you want to move towards things like portfolio defenses, how are you thinking about designing instruction well before they get to High School”

Alignment across classrooms within a school is important, calibration across the school district is paramount. “They have to have powerful learning experiences to reflect on and artifacts to contribute to their portfolios, they (portfolios) can’t be filled with memorization activities or worksheet type activities.” Susie goes on to describe an ideal scenario where “…students are used to reflecting on their learning so that they are used to creating artifacts that reveal here is what I know and can do and how I can demonstrate my understanding.”

What to do next? Understand where you are as you develop a vision of where you want to be. At the classroom level, this may look like individual reflection and identification of the balance between teacher-led and learner-led practices. Similar introspection at the leadership level will give a better understanding of your starting point.

3. Green light culture

Trying something new can be scary for many people, students and teachers alike. This fear can be overcome when a school’s culture provides a fertile ground for imagination, creativity, and innovation. 

In the words of Peter Drucker, culture eats strategy for breakfast.

This concept of a green light culture came up many times throughout Ken and Suzie’s 250+ interviews with educators across the country, “we found a dozen or two teachers and administrators talking about whether they had a green light or had a red light or a yellow light for innovation and experimentation.” Even with the best-laid plans of a Portrait of a Graduate with a detailed and aligned strategic vision, you “need to have a culture that supports innovation, that supports experimentation and supports creativity.”

Developing and supporting a sense of self-efficacy in learners as well as educators can shift your culture from passive receivers to active doers. “If the kids just look at all the problems of the world and don’t have a sense that they can make a dent into any of them then you’ve created people who see problems but feel powerless to do anything about them.”

Suzie Boss talking about her book: Redefining Student Success: Building a New Vision to Transform Leading, Teaching, and Learning
(See more videos from Ken Kay and Suzie Boss)

What to do next? To borrow from the agile project management framework, try a two week sprint where you design and develop a learner-centered practice that you test in your classroom or with your staff. You have a green light! Once complete, gather feedback and review as you revise your plan forward. 

Redefining Student Success is a powerful guide to support leadership through transformation. Through the stories of schools and districts, readers are introduced to the concepts and actions needed to reimagine schools, address inequalities, and help students develop skills needed for success. 

Check out LiFT’s resource collection for more from Suzie and Ken including recordings from the webinar and a parent companion guide.