Bena Kallick Discusses Common Core, Social Media, And The Social Learning Approach

Perhaps best known for her work with Art Costa developing the Habits of Mind resources for educators, Dr. Bena Kallick is a respected education leader with diverse experience at the highest levels of learning. Kallick’s most recent endeavor is Eduplanet, a teacher professional development company looking to “revolutionize the education industry using social media as the platform for 21st century learning.”

In a series of emails, I talked with Kallick about learning, specifically teacher development, and the appropriate role of social media in the teacher development process.

Full disclosure–Terry Heick also works with the Institute of Habits of Mind and Eduplanet21 on education projects.

Terry Heick: Let’s begin by talking a little bit about Eduplanet. What is it, and what brought you to it?

Bena Kallick: I have been interested in virtual learning–particularly how to use a virtual learning environment to encourage teachers to exchange their learning and practices using the framework that is provided by some of the best thinkers in education. Eduplanet provides a platform that is designed for this purpose–learning from expert thinkers in the field and learning from expert practitioners who interpret the work of the experts and apply it in their classrooms.

There are many notions about how best to measure teacher effectiveness. Now that the issue has entered the political and mass media realm, there is (ironically) perhaps more confusion than ever about what “learning” looks like. In your eyes, what does it “look like” when a teacher learns? 

When you ask what it looks like for teachers, I would say that these are some indicators:

  • Looks for feedback from students both through their work as well as through their responses to the work.
  • Looks for feedback from not only peers, but any credible source—e.g., experts in the field
  • Reflects on work and modifies based on what might need to be changed
  • Plans thoughtfully; monitors the process of teaching and learning; modifies based on insights gained from observations about student learning
  • Uses data thoughtfully to customize as much as is possible for students
  • Documents reflections through a journal or another way to keep records of thoughts
  • Remains open to continuous learning (habit of mind)
  • Thinks flexibly (Habit of Mind)
  • Is metacognitive (Habit of Mind)
  • Applies knowledge from past experience (Habit of Mind)

These are some of the characteristics that come to mind. They are all verbs—these are behaviors in a teacher. As for evidence, there might be curriculum maps, journals (public not private), conferences, goal setting and monitoring results in light of student learning, participation in study groups, book studies, action research, and PLCs to name several.

You mention feedback, reflection, and flexibility. In the past, this has been very local, and very time consuming. What are some possible ways we might rethink professional development to really enable educators to learn prioritized ideas more deeply with a more diverse peer-set–and then have the time to actually implement these ideas at the curriculum, lesson, and activity level? 

The design of Eduplanet is specifically addressing the question of how to think both locally and globally.  It has some features that really emphasize this approach of a blended model:

People cannot buy in unless at the building level–preferably district level.  People cannot join a learning path as an individual. Teams join as a cohort to work on the learning path together.  Many schools are using the presentations from the author experts for their PLC meetings.

They then engage with the activities which are designed for using the social learning media provided in the platform.  This brings them to collaboration with others nationally and, when appropriate, across the world. Social media is designed for long term collaboration and engagement to encourage and extend the work of the experts.

So the learning paths then are literally social–departments, content areas, and/or grade-level teams working together through social media-based to learn cooperatively?

Yes, but they then reach out to the global networks where people who have been engaged with the path are also uploading and exchanging practices.

The “accountability era” of education has created a collaborative approach to professional development, along with a shift away from a focus on curriculum, and a focus instead on standards, assessment form, and data. What are the long-term effects of this kind of shift, and what might be an appropriate response for educators, policymakers, and other stakeholders?

There is not a shift away from curriculum. In fact, there is a greater shift toward curriculum design based on standards.  Curriculum mapping has been a key opportunity for teachers to think through the meaning of the standards–especially now that they are upgrading their work to meet the common core standards.  Teachers meet to think about what needs to be agreed upon and where can they be flexible in terms of customizing curriculum to the needs of their students.  This is a collaborative practice and is most often done with software that allows teachers to think and design both face-to-face as well as online.

One of the concepts behind Eduplanet seems to be a rethinking of the way learners learn–in this case, teachers. The learning pathways you create honors this learner-centered approach, offering a “path” versus a linear, hop-scotch set of squares. 

It is also flexible and responsive.  I was just working with a district yesterday that will be using the assets of a learning path as a part of their PLC.  They will be viewing a presentation or two, discussing its meaning, and then leaving the meeting with the promise to follow through with the social media. Really nice, like a book study in that they study the text of the presentations, construct meaning, and apply and exchange through the (social) media.

If only social media–even simple cloud-based office suites like Google Docs or Adobe Buzzword–could somehow be used in the learning path, the PLC/data team, and their daily work. In that respect, the “PD” would be seamlessly merged with its application. Then, as teachers can be offered “voice and choice” within these pathways and tangent opportunities, increased ownership supports everyone.

I think it is happening.  We have our own platform and people are sharing work, uploading videos of classroom practices, and using shared tools to exchange.

Putting education aside for a moment, how do you personally use social media?

I have been using LinkedIn discussions and forums. I also engage with the Institute for Habits of Mind ning and Facebook presence. I pay attention to Curriculum21 and the nings as well as Google plus with that group. I use Google docs with a number of people.

Over the last decade, we’ve seen the internet change in parallel with education, from isolated websites (classrooms), to highly interdependent groups (Professional Learning Communities). Is this a coincidence?
The internet is a learning environment–for better and for worse. It would make sense that education would find ways to participate in this opportunity to think beyond the local while, at the same time, thinking in response to the local.

Social media’s focus on statistics and growth has been stunning to watch. Facebook has become a spectacle in and of itself, recently admitting that it’d like not simply to be a website to share pictures and updates, but to replace the internet entirely. What can education learn from this kind of ambition–or hubris?
Education will have to think more imaginatively about what is possible beyond the brick and mortar conception of a schoolhouse. The innovations seem to focus more on accountability rather than how to respond to new kinds of learners.

In your mind, was there ever a time that “school” responded rationally to the diversity of learners and communities? Is it possible that in 50 years, we might look back at this period as a sort of awakening to the possibilities of learning and learning forms?
I do believe that schools serve society and that our society, as it was becoming industrialized, required a different sort of thinking–worker/manager. Although this did not necessarily support another important social need, building an educated citizenship for a democracy, it did serve the capitalist ventures of that time. Times have changed both in terms of educating citizens and educating for a new work environment.

While it might be a stretch to see the Common Core standards as “socialism,” the concept of “alignment” seems institutionally-centered, supporting assessment and norm-referencing, including State-level pursuit of Federal carrots. Do you think a “national curriculum” is a “net gain”?
When I talk about local I mean the community in which you live. When I refer to global, I mean the larger world in which we have all become world citizens. I see the Common Core as an opportunity to develop a common national language for what matters. I believe that each state having its own standards has only confounded the issue as to what is important. I believe that given a national framework such as the Common Core, the local districts might have a greater opportunity to respond to their communities. The state is often an interference, and Federal carrots usually feed the political agenda and often starve the children.

Any thought of applying the Cognitive Coaching model anywhere in the Eduplanet process?
Once influenced by cognitive coaching, it surfaces as an important way of thinking in all that I do. When Art Costa and I developed the Habits of Mind learning path, we used some of the basic ideas about communication such as listening and questioning. When we considered how to develop activities for social learning, we built into these activities a sensitivity to how people would interact with each other–learning how to think interdependently. Since Habits of Mind was the first path developed, all others have been developed with similar influences. Learning how to learn in a virtual environment requires a great deal of sensitivity to one another. Habits of Mind as well as Cognitive Coaching are a foundation for such interactions.

If you could magically build a single brick-and-mortar teaching training facility that was physically (and magically) accessible to all teachers, would you prefer that, or the learning-path-via-social-media? In other words, has Eduplanet created this method of improving teacher capacity by choice or necessity?
It is by choice as I have been enticed by the possibilities that technologies have brought to my way of thinking. I have learned so much about how the uses of technology change the way I think. I want to continue to build the muscle of my mind always and in all ways. I wish that for all people–children and adults. So, a learning path via social media is only the first step in what may be many other paths. What is nice about a path versus a brick and mortar building is that it does not limit the directions that can be taken.

There does need to be a GPS so that we do not lose our integrity, social, and moral commitments.


Bena Kallick is a private consultant providing services to school districts, state departments of education, professional organizations, and public agencies throughout the United States and abroad. Kallick received her doctorate in educational evaluation at Union Graduate School. Her areas of focus include group dynamics, creative and critical thinking, and alternative assessment strategies for the classroom. Some of her written work includes: Assessment in the Learning Organization (ASCD, 1998), the Habits of Mind series (ASCD, 2000), Strategies for Self-Directed Learning (Corwin Press, 2004), Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind (ASCD, 2008), Habits of Mind Across the Curriculum (ASCD, 2009) ( all co-authored with Arthur Costa), and Using Curriculum Mapping and Assessment to Improve Student Learning (Corwin Press, 2009, co-authored with Jeff Colosimo). Her works have been translated into Dutch, Chinese, Spanish, Italian, Hebrew, and Arabic.

Her work with Dr. Art Costa has led to the development of the Institute for Habits of Mind, an international institute that is dedicated to transforming schools into places where thinking and Habits of Mind are taught, practiced, valued and have become infused into the culture of the school and community. The Institute provides services and products to support bringing the Habits of Mind into the culture of schools and the communities they serve.

She and Art Costa have just completed an online course for EduPlanet, a company that is dedicated to Professional Development for Educators using the most contemporary tools and thinking to be successful engaging students as 21st century learners.

Image attribution flickr user lylesmu102 ; Bena Kallick Discusses Social Media, Eduplanet, And The Social Learning Approach