LiftUp Learning

The Virginia School Consortium for Learning: Leading and Learning Together

LiftUp Learning

#VAis4Learners Innovation Network Monthly Cohort Update – March 2020


The Virginia is for Learning Innovation Network Cohort II teams, aka #VaLIN came together on March 2 and 3 to work together for two days in setting the stage activities for designing and implementing edu-innovation from March to January 2021. Thirty-four divisions formed into 28 lead innovation teams from across the Commonwealth. Gena Keller, co-chair of VaLIN, brought a huge bottle of hand sanitizer supplied by her husband who is a primary care physician. Little did we realize how much the lives of Virginia’s young people, educators, families, and communities would change after March 3.

Hand sanitizer has become a metaphor for living and learning remotely, not just in Virginia but across the globe. This is the greatest disruption of public education in history. It is a dangerous time for our families, colleagues, and learners we serve and there families. It is also an opportunity for exponential adult learning among educators. The Network with support from Advanced Learning Partnership is working to keep teams connected and moving forward.  Here’s the March update on cohort activities.

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What generations have come to understand as ‘school’ is under kinetic and accelerated transformation. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that in the coming weeks and months, we are united with our students, educators, and parents as co-authors of history.

As virtual learning networks activate and expand, many educators lead with selflessness, innovation, and courage. It’s both humbling as well as deeply inspiring to observe our profession catalyze so much positive movement while our country and world adapt.

Our message today is simple and sincere: we stand ready to serve as trusted, flexible partners around needs and on a timeline that matters most to you. Thank you for your commitment to making history, one decision at a time. Please let us know how we can assist in any way, small or large.

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#VaLIN Cohort 2 Launch - March 2020


#VaLIN Cohort 2 Launch – March 2020

Click to reveal a collection of tweets shared during the two-day launch experience for the 2nd cohort of the Virginia is for Learners Innovation Network (#VaLIN) on March 2-3, 2020, at the Chesterfield Career and Technical Center.
#VaLINchat --A Weekly Supportive Networking Event for Virginia Educators

#VaLINchat –A Weekly Supportive Networking Event for Virginia Educators

When: April 2, 2020, 7:00-8:00 PMWhere: This is an Online Event. Log onto Twitter and search for #VaLINchat



Now, more than ever, we need to connect with one another, learn from each other, commiserate and brainstorm.


#VaLINchat brings together all educational leaders across Virginia. Supported and moderated by the ALP team. For our first chat, the team will develop 6 questions, which will be shared ahead of time. (see below)


On Thursday at 7:00PM log onto Twitter and search for #VaLINchat.

The moderators will post the questions, but feel free to jump right in with an introduction.


Introductions: State your name, role, division and what brings you to our chat tonight.

  1. Share some inspiring examples of educators in your community rising to current challenges.
  2. We know how important it is to attend to our social-emotional needs right now. What’s one way you are prioritizing Maslow over Bloom? For yourself? For those you serve?
  3. Who or what are your go-to resources right now? Share links if you can.
  4. What’s your biggest challenge right now? Pen the title of a resource you need but don’t yet have.
  5. If your time were a pie chart, where are you spending the bulk of your time? (what are the biggest pieces in your pie?)
  6. What do you want to focus on next week/in future chats?

End with ONE WORD


PD Opportunity: Instructional Design Model for Online and Self-paced Learning


PD Opportunity: Instructional Design Model for Online and Self-paced Learning

Design Challenge: How might we set up a week of student learning? Educators are working around the clock to design meaningful experiences that engage students whether online or off. VaLIN district team members are invited to a Zoom session on Tuesday, April 7th at 10:00 AM to explore one model for instructional design along with numerous SOL-aligned resources that were developed using this process. Although not a requirement for attendance, we hope all participants will bring a lesson to share with our network. Many hands make light work.

#VAis4Learners Innovation Network


Monthly Cohort I Update – September 2019

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Third VALIN Institute

Our upcoming two days in Waynesboro will present us with the sustained chance to work together, understand innovations under active development in other Divisions as well as share and receive clear, powerful feedback. We can’t wait to engage in this work with you.

Please consider the following Key Queries as you prepare for our time together.

Stories from the Field

The Wonder in the Question

The Wonder in the Question

The questions we use during a coaching conversation can unlock powerful potential in our teachers to make a shift towards innovation. The Innovation Coaches in Hopewell are teaming together to leverage instructional rounds with video and PDSA cycles to refine their coaching practices. Read more

Cross District Collaboration

Cross District Collaboration

VALIN Cohort members from Cumberland, hosted Fluvanna, Bedford, Louisa, and Powhatan along with virtual-connected, Scott McLeod, to work on the 4Shifts Protocol for deeper learning and integration of the 5Cs. Find more evidence of their collaborations on Twitter.

Communicating with the Community

A special “thank you” to Jeff Jackson and Lisa Wolf from Manassas Park City Schools for sharing their story with our #VAis4Learners Network. During our 45 minute webinar on 9/19, they shared success stories, strategies and helpful tips for engaging the community. The recorded session is captured here for those who are interested and were unable to attend the live session.

What Webinars Might Interest You?

Do you still need copies of What Schools Could Be?

Do you still need copies of What Schools Could Be?

Becky Ellis has free copies of the paperback edition of Ted Dintersmith’s latest book, What Schools Could Be available for network teams. Please contact Becky to arrange to obtain copies. Want some help with getting the word out about innovation in your schools? Try using this study guide from Ted.

Follow us on Twitter #VaLIN #VAis4Learners

VALIN is Together Again in December


Friday, Dec. 13th, 8am-4pm


The Hull Center in Chesterfield County Public Schools

About Advanced Learning Partnerships

About Advanced Learning Partnerships

ALP is a partner, designer, and agent of change. We move beyond the expert mindset and one-size-fits-all, quick fix solutions.
Virginia is for Learners is an initiative of the Virginia Department of Education, the Virginia School Consortium for Learning (VaSCL), and James Madison University with support from Ted Dintersmith and Jobs for the Future. Coaching is provided by Advanced Learning Partnerships and Dr. Scott McLeod from the University of Colorado at Denver.


VaSCL: A PD Network with Deep Learning Focus


IMG_6084Educators often find professional development (PD) experiences to not meet their needs often because they have little choice about participating, the session is pitched through a one-size-fits-all lesson design, or active engagement that is intentional just isn’t a focus of the session. On the other hand, educators will say that when they have a choice in attending sessions seen as connected to their work, that differentiated learning, and actively engages them in experiences that are transferable back into their classrooms, the value of the PD is clear to them. The Virginia School Consortium for Learning staff and planning committee of steering team practitioners see the 2019-20 professional development workshops and conferences as offering a continuum of choices, definitely differentiated, and grounded in active engagement.Here are highlights of upcoming workshops that are being run by practitioners for practitioners. To learn more about the full range of opportunities and to register, click here

These three examples represent the work done by the PD Planning Committee this year to develop VaSCL focus areas including development of assessment literacy, lesson designs for  mathematical competencies, and infusing Social Emotional Learning throughout the school day.  You can register for these by clicking on the link.


This session will familiarize participants with the fundamentals of performance assessment development by exploring how to unpack standards to craft high-quality learning goals, develop tasks that measure deep understanding and transfer of learning, create instructions that reflect learning goals and communicate clear expectations for student performance, and develop scoring rubrics that provide informative instructional feedback and align with the standards delineated by the VDOE Quality Criteria Tool.


All children follow natural developmental progressions in learning. Curriculum research has revealed sequences of activities that are effective in guiding learners through these levels of thinking. These developmental paths are the basis for math learning trajectories. The three workshops will address the following questions: How do students learn a topic?; What do equitable teaching practices look like?; How can we teach with visual tools within a learning progression?; What does math modeling look like at my grade level?; and, How can we systematically use evidence from formative assessment to monitor progress and guide instruction? The goal of these workshops is to help educators teach the way in which students learn, which will ensure that their programs offer equitable mathematics instructional practices.


This workshop is designed to support school-based teams of K-6 educators through a process for implementation of social and emotional learning (SEL) throughout their entire elementary school. Schoolwide SEL is a systemic approach to infusing social and emotional learning into every part of students’ educational experience — across all classrooms, during all parts of the school day, and in partnership with families and communities. When SEL is developed as an integrated model across curriculum and all aspects of the school community, research shows that SEL becomes a bridge to academic development, resulting in achievement that is at least 11% higher than in schools that do not incorporate SEL.

We hope you can join us for one of more of the workshops offered for members and others with an interest in the topics for PD.

You can follow VaSCL on twitter @scl_Va and catch up with our work at our website .








Our Journey: Developing Authentic Performance Assessments


By Annie Evans @mapM8Ker and Kelley Aitken @Teachsci4all 

VaSCL Task Bank Coordinators and Project-based Learning Coaches 

Four years ago, we began our journey into the world of performance assessments when the Virginia Assembly passed legislation removing the state SOL test from several courses and replacing them with “Local Authentic Assessments.”  At that time, no one really understood or agreed what a local, authentic assessment was or how to create them. So we created a “rogue” group, now known as the VaSCL Task Bank, that agreed to band together and support one another as we explored the unchartered world of performance assessments.

That first year we begged previous test bank writers to join our group.  We knew we needed to develop assessments for grade 3 Science and Social Studies, 5th-grade Writing and middle grades US History I and US History II, but at the time we could not even agree on what exactly a performance assessment should look like and how we would evaluate student work.  Should we follow the Stanford SCALE model? Are we using GRASP or RAFT? It seemed at the time that there were more questions than answers, but at least we had a team to support one another. The VDOE guidelines were still in the process of being articulated, so we were “flying the airplane as we were building it” for sure!

Looking back now on some of those earlier tasks we wrote, we recognize these were not great examples. Our students (aka early “guinea pigs!”) and division leaders were supportive of our work, and we were lucky to partner very early on with many partner organizations such the Virginia Science Education Leadership Association,  the Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium, and later our “heroes” Jay McTighe and Chris Gareis. While most of the early tasks and rubrics have long been “retired,” we wouldn’t trade that experience for anything because it helped us work out a lot of important issues and concerns we had about SOLs vs student growth. In addition, we gained valuable information on how students can develop skills through frequent formative assessments/tasks vs. showing proficiency as it applied to previous summative assessments.  

Through these meetings, we developed a common language and through our work with VaSCL were able to help influence how performance assessments were defined across the state.  VaSCL provided an opportunity for our partner divisions to have a voice at the table as VDOE was redefining assessments across the state. Perhaps the most important part of this process has been the transformation we have seen in improvements to Tier 1 instruction.  We quickly learned that before we can see our students succeed on a performance assessment, instruction must change and teachers have to focus on teaching skills instead of emphasizing the memorization of a finite set of facts.

Throughout the process, our focus has been on developing teams and creating resources to share with all partner divisions.  We have found that examining student work and collecting a wide variety of work samples has been the most beneficial way to improve our tasks and rubrics. Now we are begining to assemble anchor sets of examples and non-examples to help teachers assess student work and move toward interrater reliability.  Tasks and rubrics have been organized into an interactive Google Site and protocols have been developed for sharing locally developed performance assessments, piloting tasks and rubrics, and collecting student work samples.

Moving forward, we are hoping more divisions will be willing to send adventurous educators to join our expanding task bank team ( we now have task banks for Virginia Studies, Civics, 11th-grade writing, and World History!!). We need VaSCL divisions to encourage and support teachers to pilot tasks and provide feedback and we need samples of student work to help us refine our tasks and rubrics and create anchor sets. More importantly, we need school administrators and division leaders to continue to support our work and give teachers and students permission to try new ways of teaching and learning and assessing, even if it is messy in the beginning.  This is all part of the process and on the other side of this we are seeing teachers and students being engaged, skills being taught and refined, and first instruction in the classroom improve.

We are nowhere near the end of this journey, and many of our VaSCL team members are just starting on their own journeys — luckily we have a few experienced “tour guides” to help them begin to find their way. Please join us on this journey; there is plenty of room for you join us!  

To find out more about joining the Virginia School Consortium for Learning and getting involved in the Test and Task Bank work  click here 


SCALE (Stanford Center for Assessment Learning and Equity)

GRASPS (Jay McTighe/Grant Wiggins) 

RAFT (Role, Audience, Format, Topic) Nancy Vandervanter, in Adler, 1982.


Taking the Time to Notice



By: Alisha Demchak                            Kateri Thunder

“This post was originally published on on November 9, 2018.

two young children engaged in sensory play at a rice table

Our students are busy – busy playing, learning, talking, thinking, discovering, experimenting, wondering. In each of these actions, our students reveal to us their thinking if we are ready to notice. When we notice, we can make our students’ naturally occurring goals explicit and we can coach them toward their goals.

In purposeful play, mathematics, and literacy, noticing is a powerful teacher action that can reveal students’ naturally occurring goal setting processes, build meaningful student-teacher and student-student relationships, and inform instructional decisions.

  • In purposeful play, noticing is observing student interests – their preferences for location and peers, their choice of materials, their conversations, their play themes and topics (Mraz, Porcelli, & Tyler, 2016).
  • In mathematics, professional noticing of students’ thinking includes three skills: attending to strategies, interpreting understandings, and deciding how to respond based on understandings (Jacobs, Lamb, & Philipp, 2010).
  • In reading, noticing is appreciating choice and monitoring independent decisions, including choice for texts, topics, strategies, responses, projects, and partners (Moses & Ogden, 2017).
  • In writing, noticing is the first step to developing students’ awareness and ability to name both what they already know and can do as writers and the patterns they discover in writing (Johnston, 2004).

In order to explicitly coach our students’ in-the-moment goals, we must first notice them. Follow these five steps during purposeful play, mathematics, reading, writing, and beyond to intentionally notice.

1. Choose a day and time when noticing will be your primary task. After your mini-lesson, after students are settled into their independent or partner work, this is prime time to notice. Spend 15-30 minutes noticing. By choosing a day and time in advance, you will protect your noticing time and make it a priority.

2. Have a clipboard, pen, and chart to record your noticings. An open observation chart is a table with each student’s name in a box and space to record your noticings. Recording will make your noticings visible, and therefore actionable. You will be able to reflect back on your noticings to find patterns, surprises, and questions. You can then use your noticings to plan instruction and coach students’ goal work. Here is a sample open observation chart:

   conference and observation chart

3. Spend more time listening and watching than talking. This noticing time is not a teaching moment. It will lead to teaching moments, but right now, you are there to listen and watch. Noticing with these questions in mind may help you to be intentional and targeted while remaining open to students’ in-the-moment decisions, language, and actions:

  • What are students gravitating toward? What is a popular material/choice and why?
  • Who typically works/plays here? Do all students eventually work/play here?
  • Is there a balance of independent and collaborative work/play?
  • Are there enough choices or “meaty” enough tasks to sustain work/play for at least 30 minutes in one area or on one task?
  • Are content areas integrated when possible? Are there materials that can be combined?
  • Are students engaged in doing the “real work” of readers, writers, mathematicians, or some other role?

4. If you talk, ask open questions. When you are noticing, you can be quiet and just listen. If you need to speak, ask students open questions: What are you working on? What are you using? Why? How did you decide to create this? Why do you think that’s happening? Ask questions that communicate your genuine wonder and your desire to understand your students’ thinking. Taking the time to actively listen tells your students that you value them.

5. Stay. Rather than moving from student to student and space to space, stay in one area with one student or one group of students for 15-30 minutes. The depth and breadth of student thinking is often revealed over time as they engage more deeply in a task.

Noticing requires us to slow down, to pause with our agendas and to-do lists, and to listen and watch. Noticing is paying attention to students’ in-the-moment decisions, language, and actions. When we take the time to notice, we will discover our students’ naturally occurring goals.

Blog Authors Kateri Thunder and Alisha Demchak are teachers who also facilitate professional learning opportunities for the Virginia School Consortium for Learning. Their VaSCL workshops focus on strengthening connections between literacy and math, matching tasks to learners’ needs, and strategies for student-centered learning.  For more on student goal setting and how workshop model can support student goal setting, register for the VaSCL workshop Differentiation in the Workshop Model: Matching Tasks to Students (Grades PreK-5) on March 19th at


Jacobs, V.R., Lamb, L.L.C., & Philipp, R.A. (2010). Professional noticing of children’s mathematical thinking. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 41(2), 169-202.

Johnston, P. (2004). Choice words: How our language affects children’s learning. Portsmouth, NH: Stenhouse.

Moses, L. & Ogden, M. (2017). What are the rest of my kids doing? Fostering independence in the K-2 Reading Workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Mraz, K., Porcelli, A., & Tyler, C. (2016). Purposeful play: A teacher’s guide to igniting deep and joyful learning across the day. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Deeper Learning: For Learners of All Ages


As I have visited with staff in workshops sponsored by the Virginia School Consortium for Learning, it’s quite apparent that our workshop leaders understand that participants must be actively engaged and focused on how they will use practices to make sure that transfer occurs. This is the essence of professional development that gives good bang for the buck!

Math Modeling

In a recent workshop, professors Jennifer Suh and Padhu Seshaiyer of George Mason University worked with educators to focus on mathematical modeling as an “unique opportunity to engage … students in this creative process of mathematizing their world.” Despite varying background knowledge in mathematics, participants worked together to explore why math modeling is critically important in the curriculum. Math modeling engages learners in analysis, critical thinking, logical reasoning,  problem-solving, and sorting and selecting relevant data.

IMG_6087However, as educators know, curriculum is a frame that only becomes accessible when a teacher selects instructional strategies that will help young people, whether 5 or 18, to make sense of what adults believe they should learn. Dr. Suh and Dr. Seshaiyer spent the day engaging staff in a series of math modeling activities that were anchored in creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication as teams worked together to make sense of math in the context of relevant and rigorous work that backward mapped from a question to the math needed to find solutions to a multitude of potential problems and challenges generated by the team.

For example,  the workshop participants were asked to consider that every trip we make is grounded in math modeling processes- getting to work in the morning is one such example.  What do we think traffic will be like? Do we need to stop for coffee? gas up the car? drop off a child at school? How much money will we need to spend on the way? Will we take the same route or a different one from yesterday? What impact might traffic have depending upon when we leave?  To contextualize a similar example for elementary school children, they took the group though a similar approach to simulate what children might generate to math model a trip to the pumpkin patch.

When we wonder why learners seem to develop little capability over time to translate and transfer deep conceptual understanding, number sense competencies, and problem-solving capabilities forward in more advanced and complex mathematics, it likely has to do with the limiting factors of how we choose math standards and assess math procedures both of which drive how mathematics are taught. What participants learned from  the workshop leaders is that to teach mathematics well, we must work together to study how children learn math, what strategies deepen understanding in powerful ways, and how to engage learners in increasingly complex and interesting challenges to their mathematical thinking and reasoning.  Children like challenges in their work but they also need to make sense of math in the context of the world around them.  That’s the workshop focus provided by Dr. Suh and Dr. Seshaiyer.

To increase your own understanding of mathematical modeling you can read more in their research article linked here:

” mathematical modeling.. as an iterative problem solving process that includes posing authentic, open-ended problems, making assumptions, identifying constraints and variables, building mathematical solutions and, finally, analyzing and interpreting these solutions. It is iterative because once the initial solution is tested and translated back to the real world, revisions usually need to be made and the process continued until a satisfactory solution is reached and can be justified. This iterative process not only helps to validate the model but also helps to optimize the method and the process in the context of the real-world problem.”  ( “Engaging Elementary Students in the Creative Process of Mathematizing Their World through Mathematical Modeling”, Suh, Matson, Seshaiyer, p. 2, Education Sciences 2017, 7(2), 62; doi:10.3390/educsci7020062 ) 

What’s Happening Next for Consortium members?

Inquiry Learning! The DBQ Project Part I and II will address both strategies to engage learners in the Document Based Questioning process and how to use performance assessments with DBQ responses.

The Trauma Sensitive Classroom! Cultivating mindfulness and compassion is critical to managing stressful demands so that educators can cultivate an exceptional learning environment and ultimately revitalize the learning opportunities of all students. Participants will gain valuable knowledge, develop new skills, and have time to collaborate effectively with other attendees.

Stay Tuned!

Plans are in the works for several additional professional development opportunities after the winter holidays. Information will be posted on the website as soon as plans are complete.









#VAis4Learners Innovation Network Monthly Cohort Update – July 2019

#VAis4Learners Innovation Network

Monthly Cohort Update – July 2019

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A Message of Gratitude from the VaLIN Steering Team

As members of the Steering Team, we couldn’t be more pleased with the quality of work being put into play by Virginia’s lead innovation teams. The Ignite talks highlighted the exciting work you are accomplishing to take small steps to big change across the Commonwealth. Small steps can be as simple as no worksheets on Wednesdays or using an exhibitions model as a venue for students to share interesting, rich project work. We will have Ignite talks available to you in the next month.

The many small steps shared by your teams caught our attention because the changes you are making make sense and will lead to deep change. As a member of the first cohort in the emerging Virginia is for Learners Innovation Network, you are sparking critical shifts in philosophy, policies, professional expectations, and practices – shifts that are essential to all students attaining the competencies established in the Profile of a Virginia Graduate. As we move forward, we want to encourage your sharing ideas, practices, and resources that can help every division reach success with all learners. Our themes of equity, engagement, and deeper learning are elevated because of your taking the risk to join this team of innovative educators.


Robin Crowder

Program Director for Education Leadership at James Madison University

Pam Moran

Executive Director of the Virginia School Consortium for Learning

Gena Keller

Assistant Superintendent of Student Learning, Virginia Department of Education

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#VaLIN Takes Over Twitter

Our Network’s innovations nearly broke the internet! Reconnect with the learning from this collection of tweets shared around the question: “What small steps are we taking toward big change?” Bonus challenge: Use the tweet collection to find five new teammates to follow!
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Birds of a Feather – What’s the Big IDEA?

On July 25, educators and community members representing 30 Virginia school districts traveled from all corners of the Commonwealth to continue their participation in the Virginia is for Learners Innovation Network. The afternoon featured Birds of a Feather discussions that participants helped to determine and ultimately led conversations in. Amos Fodchuk, President of ALP, shares insights from the session he led on managing innovation and change. Read more about it on the ALP blog!

What Schools Could Be

As noted by Becky Ellis, the paperback edition of Ted Dintersmith’s latest book, What Schools Could Be, is now available for book clubs and background reading. Please contact Becky to find out more. Want some help with getting the word out about innovation in your schools? Try using this study guide from Ted.

Follow us on Twitter #VaLIN #VAis4Learners

Our next meeting of the Virginia is for Learners Innovation Network will be on October 7-8, 2019 in Waynesboro.

About Advanced Learning Partnerships

About Advanced Learning Partnerships

ALP is a partner, designer, and agent of change. We move beyond the expert mindset and one-size-fits-all, quick fix solutions.
Virginia is for Learners is an initiative of the Virginia Department of Education, the Virginia School Consortium for Learning (VaSCL), and James Madison University with support from Ted Dintersmith. Coaching is provided by Advanced Learning Partnerships and Dr. Scott McLeod from the University of Colorado at Denver.