Yidan Prize: Information for Nomination

Framework 2021: A P-20 Vision for Learning in Colorado


The Framework 2021: A P-20 Vision for Learning in Colorado project is a grass-roots effort to improve instruction in order to fully engage students in their learning and prepare them for the world in which they will work and contribute. The project is led by Colorado ASCD, an education organization that is focused on providing professional growth, voice, and innovation for Colorado educators and advocating for the success of each Colorado learner. The Framework 2021 project is designed to address the pressing problems of student engagement; development of students’ thinking, problem-solving, and life skills, and lack of alignment of teaching and learning skills across grade levels. It is based on several beliefs that reflect CO ASCD’s commitment to uniting and influencing the Pre-K through university (P-20) educational community to promote equity and success for each learner. These beliefs include the following:

  • ·         Learning is social and collaborative.
  • ·         Learning takes place inside and outside the classroom.
  • ·         Ownership of learning belongs to students.
  • ·         Teacher leadership is critical to the success of efforts to improve instruction and student learning.
  • ·         Student long-term learning outcomes are enhanced when teachers across the levels of the education system have a shared understanding of         instructional practices that engage, challenge, and support students and use those practices effectively.

Consistent with these beliefs, the Framework 2021 project is being developed by and for teachers. It includes four strands: (1) development of a tool (the “Framework”) to guide teachers’ design of student learning experiences, (2) enhancement of teachers’ leadership skills (particularly related to sharing leadership for instructional improvement), (3) dissemination efforts that support understanding and use of the Framework across levels of the education system and in all areas of the state, and (4) provision of a platform that provides rural areas in Colorado with easy access to the Framework and extends access to and use of the Framework across the nation and the globe. 

The Framework 2021 project launched in 2014 with a series of regional forums, called Gallery Gatherings, designed to elicit educators’ thoughts about what is really working and getting traction in their schools and classrooms. Participants, drawn from all corners of the state, shared their inspiring ideas and insights on strategies to better engage students, help them find their learning passions, develop ownership of their learning, deepen their content knowledge, and improve their ability to solve real-world problems in culturally diverse contexts, all while developing essential skills for future success.

In a study for the University of Phoenix Research Institute, the Institute for the Future explains that we are at a pivotal point in time where several disruptive shifts are in progress. According to the study report (Future Work Skills 2020), these shifts will have a profound effect on the skills our students will need to be successful in their future. These essential skills include the following: 1) sense-making, 2) social intelligence, 3) novel and adaptive thinking, 4) cross-cultural competency, 5) computational thinking, 6) new-media literacy, 7) transdisciplinarity, 8) design mindset, 9) cognitive load management, and 10) virtual collaboration.[1] The Gallery Gatherings shed light on how to engage students in learning that gives them opportunities to practice and hone these skills. Patterns of successful practices, and then categories arose from these data. These categories include play-based learning, inquiry-based learning, personalized learning, experiential learning, competency-based learning, design-thinking, and connected communities.

During the early months of 2016, CO ASCD identified 10 teachers to serve as the initial Framework development team. These teacher leaders participated in a two-day summit (June 30-July 1, 2016) to enhance their ability to promote the vision and use of the Framework and to develop one of its categories. The team engaged in design-thinking and made decisions about the content and format of the Framework. In January 2017, the development team met to continue fleshing out the Framework for the “inquiry-based learning” category.

The Framework development group will meet in early June 2017 to put the finishing touches on the first category of the Framework and to discuss procedures for developing the remaining categories. Members of the group will present the Framework to an audience of educators during a session at ASCD’s Conference on Teaching Excellence (June 30-July 2, 2017) and seek feedback from participants on the content, relevance, and usefulness of the Framework. The remaining categories of the Framework will be developed by early 2018.

One of the challenges the project team faced was providing equitable access to the Framework across the state. Colorado includes many remote, rural areas with limited access to the Internet due to the geographic separation produced by the Rocky Mountains, which creates Internet bandwidth challenges. The solution to this access problem devised by the project team is an app for smart phones and digital devices. This solution takes advantage of the vast communications networks already in place thanks to our mobile phone networks and satellites that deliver signals to even the most remote areas of the state. The Framework project will begin development of this app in early 2018.

Professional development for members of the Framework development team will occur in the summers of 2018 and 2019. Each year, team members will participate in a leadership institute that will feature presentations and small group work led by practitioners. These activities will focus on the roles of teacher leaders and how to share leadership for improving instruction. Follow-up sessions, which will be held online several times during the year, will feature opportunities for participants to discuss their experiences with shared leadership with other practitioners and extend their understanding of teacher leadership concepts and skills.

The purpose for dissemination efforts is to increase awareness and use of the Framework and to breakdown silos across levels of the education system. These efforts include making face-to-face and/or virtual connections with higher education programs, in-state education groups/agencies, and out-of-state education groups/agencies. During 2018, CO ASCD will convene representatives from teacher preparation programs to discuss the Framework and how it might be used in teacher preparation, both as a means for designing lessons for teacher preparation students and for teaching them how to use the Framework in lesson design. During 2019 and 2020, CO ASCD will conduct summits that include higher education and K-12 teams discussing use of the Framework at both levels.

During 2018, the Framework 2021 project team will connect with cohorts of the Colorado Teacher of the Year and National Board certified teachers to expand the Framework development team and to form the Framework dissemination team. Members of the development and dissemination teams will work together to make presentations about the Framework in the 8 regions of the state during 2018 and 2019. They will invite other teachers to begin using the Framework and lead virtual conversations about use of the Framework through various social media and the project’s website.

Also during 2018, the project team will connect with other organizations in the state that are focused on improving instruction and student outcomes (e.g., Colorado Education Initiative, Rural Education Collaborative). The team will share information about the Framework and invite the various groups to encourage their members to use the Framework and contribute to its ongoing development by adding lesson planning documents, videos of classroom teaching, samples of student work, examples of questioning techniques, and peer support via one-to-one organic mentoring and networking that occurs through chats and live feed.

The Framework 2021 project is driven by teachers’ commitment to the success of each learner’s education journey from pre-school to university and beyond and the desire to increase coherence and connections across the education system. Ultimately, the project’s purpose, approach to development, and results reflect what it means to be sustainable, future-oriented, innovative, and transformative.

Sustainable Impacts for Today and Tomorrow

The Framework 2021 project is designed to have an impact on teaching and learning in several ways.

First, the project provides a tool that assists teachers in shifting the nature of their lessons. Rather than focusing on rote procedures, lectures, decontextualized information, or passive reception of content, lessons based on the Framework actively involve students in their learning. They engage, support, and challenge students and focus on real-world problems and diverse cultural contexts. Framework-based lessons require students to think critically and work collaboratively rather than recall simple facts or procedures and work in isolation without the benefit of learning from and with other students.

Second, teachers who use the Framework increase their understanding and use of instructional approaches that shift the ownership for learning from the teacher to the student. Instruction becomes student centered rather than teacher centered. In the process, teachers become facilitators of learning who understand how to both challenge and support students and students acquire skills that assist them in being life-long learners. This means they know how they learn best and have both the “hard skills” related to content knowledge and the “soft skills” that support them in being productive members of their local and virtual communities and work groups and positive contributors to our global society.

Third, teachers increase their understanding of how each of the Framework’s categories of learning experiences play out across the levels of the educational system and why it is important that there is coherence and consistency across the levels. They also better understand the connections among the categories of learning experiences and how they work independently and collectively to enhance student learning. This understanding increases the impact of teachers’ lessons – students acquire deeper understanding of content and skills for learning and working productively.

Lastly, teachers using the Framework enhance their ability to share leadership for improving instruction. When teachers share leadership for instruction, they actively participate in decisions about curriculum, instruction, and assessment. They work collaboratively with colleagues to identify, implement, and monitor the effects of instructional practices; share responsibility for making changes and promoting risk taking and innovation to achieve positive student outcomes; use their expertise productively to engage in problem solving; and contribute to a positive school culture by encouraging commitment to continuous improvement, developing trusting relationships, and fostering communication.

Sustaining programs involves “account[ing] for flexibility, addressing individuals’ deeply held beliefs, and building toward organizational, human, and structural capacity (p.3).”[2] As a web-based tool, the Framework is flexible; it is a “living” document that can be easily modified. Through the Framework portal, users will be able to share lessons they have designed, suggest additional resources related to the categories of the Framework, or propose new categories based on users’ experiences and needs.

The home page of the Framework and the information under the introduction for each category provide the philosophy behind the Framework and a rationale for the category (e.g., teacher impacts and student impacts). The videos and sample lessons that are referenced for each category, along with the experiences that Framework users share, help all users understand and examine their own beliefs about the various types of teaching and learning featured in the Framework.

By enhancing the leadership skills of the Framework development team with regard to shared leadership, the project addresses both organizational and human capacity. From the organizational perspective, as teachers learn how to share leadership for instructional improvement, they open up lines of communication and build trusting relationships with their administrators and members of their grade-level or department teams. They learn about the important role of school/organizational culture in supporting instructional improvement and how they can be a positive influence on their own school’s culture. By communicating their shared leadership experiences with teachers in other districts, states, and countries via the Framework’s website, teachers can also indirectly influence the culture of other schools. All teachers who use the “Transformation” part of the Framework will benefit from the guidance about teacher leadership and sharing leadership for instructional improvement that is included in that section. Involvement of the Colorado Teacher of the Year cohorts and National Board certified teachers also contributes to the development of human capacity in terms of leadership, knowledge, and will. Through their participation as bloggers, online discussion leaders, conference presenters, and users of the Framework, they help build other teachers’ knowledge about, willingness to design, and confidence to use the types of learning experiences featured in the Framework.

Structural capacity refers to the policies, procedures, and formalized practices in an organization[3]. Examples include curriculum adoption procedures, hiring practices, curriculum frameworks policies, professional development program designs, decision-making practices, and formal partnerships between the organization and outside organizations. The leadership focus of the Framework 2021 project helps teachers understand different types of decisions and their role in decision making, including how to participate in curriculum decisions and decisions about professional development design, delivery, and evaluation. Sustainability is influenced by the political context and demands inside and outside the school (e.g., at the district, state, and federal levels). The “Transformation” section of the Framework, provides examples of how to advocate for policies that support high quality instruction and student success. In addition, through its dissemination efforts, the project will connect to the state department of education and other professional education organizations that can lend political support for use of the Framework.

Resources are another aspect of sustainability. After the initial development of the Framework, CO ASCD will continue to maintain and update the web site through membership dues, sponsorships, and funding opportunities such as grants, donations, and monetary awards. These sources of funding will assist CO ASCD’s efforts to market and support use of the Framework. Ultimately, those efforts will contribute to the sustainability of the Framework by ensuring that teachers find the Framework useful and by connecting Framework users across P-20 education.


The world of work for those who are students now or in the next decade will demand a mix of hard skills (e.g., mathematics and science literacy, data analysis, fluency in world languages) and a host of soft skills (e.g., teamwork, positive attitude). In addition to expecting workers to have content knowledge and skills applicable to the job (including technology skills), employers want employees who are problem solvers and critical and creative thinkers who persevere, have a desire to learn, and can accept feedback. Employees of the future must be able to work effectively in teams and establish relationships, be flexible and able to adjust to changes, and be self-aware, organized, and motivated. To prepare students for their future — and to engage them in learning during their years of schooling — teaching must respond to students’ interests and help them develop this array of skills. The Framework guides teachers in designing lessons that accomplish both goals.

With rapid changes in technology textbooks are no longer the “go to” resource for education, learning takes place inside and outside the school, and the relationship between teachers and students is changing. Students know that they can learn from their peers and from others outside the classroom as well as they can from their teachers. They want teachers who can guide their learning rather than dictate it. Students can access learning from a variety of online sources or learn from activities based in their community, expanding the concept of “school” beyond the walls of a building. With advances in technology, personalization is everywhere outside the school, raising students’ expectations that teachers personalize learning and provide learning experiences that include technology as a learning tool.

The categories of learning experiences included in the Framework provide opportunities for students to acquire the skills they need to succeed academically and professionally. Each of the types of learning experiences assists students in deepening their content knowledge and related skills while developing and using critical soft skills. For example, through inquiry-based learning, students pose questions of interest to them in the context of a content area to develop deeper understanding of the content and inter-relationships among content within or outside the discipline. They use a process that includes posing questions, finding resources, interpreting information, and reporting results. Inquiry-based learning often occurs in collaborative groups which provides opportunities to develop skills for team work, time management, and respect for the knowledge and skills that each member of the group brings to effort.

Similarly, play-based learning involves interactions with peers that help to develop empathy and the abilities to delay gratification, be flexible, and solve problems. Through play students also create, question, and share ideas. The current focus on gamification uses a variety of technologies to engage students in play as they develop knowledge. Through design thinking experiences, students learn how to create solutions to challenges using a structured process that involves collaboration, application of planning skills, problem solving, and creativity. The other categories of the Framework also actively involve students in constructing knowledge and emphasize the use of technology for solving problems and working collaboratively.


There are a number of ways for an effort to be innovative, including the way it is developed and delivered, new product features, and improvements to accessibility or quality of the product. The Framework 2021 project represents innovation in several ways. For example, education reform experts recognize that for education to change, teachers must be involved in meaningful ways. Often, however, teachers have no say in what is developed or how it is implemented. The Framework 2021 project has taken the message of teacher involvement to heart by structuring the project as a “grass roots” effort. This approach is innovative because it starts with teachers’ ideas and needs, based on their classroom experience and expertise, and engages them in developing the Framework and fostering its use. Typically, efforts to improve instruction happen in a “top-down” manner, with improvements being driven or mandated by administrators.

The app for smart phones and other digital devices provides another avenue for innovation. In addition to providing access to the Framework for educators inside and outside Colorado, the app can bring together learners of all ages to learn with and mentor one another. Use of the app for these purposes acknowledges that learning — whether for academic credit, personal needs, or professional development — can occur any time and any place and via devices other than traditional desktop or laptop computers. The Framework 2021 app will operate much like other innovative apps, disrupting the way we have “always done things.” Think how Uber and Lyft are disrupting transportation and even food delivery and how AirBNB is disrupting the hotel business with economical places around the world that feel like home. The Framework 2021 app will disrupt how people learn and from whom they learn. To begin, the project will conduct face-to-face meetings in the various regions of the state to introduce the Framework to teachers. Teachers will use the Framework and share strategies for teaching and learning related to one or more of the Framework categories via the app. Based on data that individual teachers and learners enter into the app, they will be paired with people of similar needs and interests in a learning/mentoring relationship. The person with whom an individual is paired might be in a different part of the state or in a different state as use of the Framework spreads.

The project is also innovative in its efforts to assist teachers in developing skills for shared leadership for improved instruction. This reflects CO ASCD’s acknowledgement of teachers’ important role in improving positive outcomes for students and situates the project within the larger frame of school improvement. Through the project teachers learn how to share decision making, advocate for policies that support student learning, work collaboratively to implement and monitor the effectiveness of instructional approaches, and establish a culture of risk-taking and shared responsibility for student learning.

Another innovation is the project’s attention to dissemination by leveraging the human capacity (knowledge, skills, leadership) that exists in the state. The project will connect with and involve Colorado Teachers of the Year and National Board certified teachers in the development and dissemination of the Framework. The effort to actively engage higher education in the project and in use of the Framework is innovative as well. Most instructional improvement efforts are confined to K-12 or to higher education. There are many challenges to achieving consistency across P-20; this project aims to find new ways to address those challenges.


The Framework 2021 project transforms teaching and learning in a number of fundamental ways – from what gets taught, to how it is taught, to how teacher and student roles and relationships are defined. Among the fundamental changes are changes in the nature, content, and focus of lessons. Using the Framework, teachers design lessons that ask students to develop and use critical thinking skills and multi-step processes rather than memorization or rote procedures. The lessons are tied to important content knowledge and skills, and the lesson activities help students develop deep conceptual understanding and connections among concepts rather than surface level understanding and knowledge of disconnected facts.

There are also changes in teachers’ and students’ roles in learning. In typical classrooms, teachers direct learning, doing the work of identifying problems, selecting resources and approaches to solving problems, and determining how learning will be demonstrated. Using the types of learning experiences presented in the Framework, teachers assume the role of facilitator, guiding students in posing questions, identifying appropriate resources (including those outside the classroom), and deciding how to communicate results. Students are active participants in learning rather than passive receivers. Having a role in what they learn and how they learn it helps students take ownership of their learning in contrast to disengaging from the learning process and questioning the usefulness of what they learn. In addition, learning does not take place in isolation. Students learn from and with their peers and with experts outside the school. They solve real-world problems that have meaning for them and share the results of their work with a variety of audiences.

The Framework provides teachers with information that helps them better understand their role in sharing leadership for instruction. Often teachers do not know what is involved in sharing leadership or how to have conversations about shared leadership. The Framework includes guidance on both aspects. In addition, the reflection section of the Framework helps teachers to think about what they do in the classroom and the effects of their instructional practice on students. The transformation section of the Framework helps teachers act on their reflections in terms of their use of the types of learning experiences and what they can do to contribute to improved instruction (e.g., advocate for decisions that support positive student outcomes, share results of using one of the Framework’s categories of learning experiences).  Some administrators might feel uncomfortable with the idea of teacher leadership because they think sharing leadership means that they will need to give up some of their authority or responsibility. Learning about shared leadership provides teachers with a language for discussing teacher leadership roles with colleagues and administrators, helping to overcome some of the barriers to sharing leadership.

Another transformative aspect of the Framework 2021 project is its redefinition and strengthening of the relationship between P-12 and higher education. The Framework provides examples of how to use the categories of learning experiences across the levels of the education system. Such consistency across levels is not common. The Framework provides a common language and understanding that strengthens the relationship between higher education and P-12. Participants (both students and teachers) at all levels of the system know the expectations for high quality instruction and student engagement. Higher education teachers know that students are familiar with their roles in the learning experiences and have developed skills to engage in them. Students know what each type of learning experience requires and have the skills to use them. This underscores that the skills students learn through personalized learning, play-based learning, and the other types of learning experiences during their P-12 years are indeed skills for life-long learning.

Use of the Framework transforms how teachers and students share the results of their work. Generally, teachers serve as the sole resource or audience for student work. The Framework illustrates how each of the types of learning experiences can be used to connect students with peers and others inside and outside the school for these purposes. Technology makes such connections easy and more likely and the Framework provides guidance for using technology to expand teachers’ and students’ thinking about how and why to make connections with others locally, nationally, and globally. Similarly, teachers often work in isolation, with few opportunities to share their ideas or learn from others. The Framework reflection and transformation sections guide teachers in sharing their experiences with the Framework with colleagues inside and outside their schools, expanding the teachers’ professional learning network and sense of efficacy.


The Framework 2021 project involves development of the Framework, professional development on the topic of shared leadership for a cadre of teacher leaders who are involved in development and/or dissemination of the Framework, and activities to promote use of the Framework. Other states or nations that wish to conduct similar projects could use the Framework developed by the Framework 2021 project “as is” or as a starting point, adding information and resources to the existing categories of learning experiences or adding other types of learning experiences. Costs for this additional development work could be minimized by having a fairly small development group (10-20 people) and convening the group through a mix of face-to-face and online meetings.

The costs for the early phases of the Framework 2021 project were minimal; tasks were carried out by volunteers, including the CO ASCD Board members who managed the project, the teachers in the development group who developed the initial categories of the Framework, and other advisors to CO ASCD who assisted with project planning.

Although the teachers on the Framework development team in Colorado are willing to participate in the Framework development process as volunteers, such might not be the case elsewhere. In fact, CO ASCD believes that providing a stipend for teachers’ participation in the Framework development and dissemination process is desirable, both to demonstrate the importance of the work and to recognize the contribution that teachers are making to the profession through the work. CO ASCD secured funding and contributions (direct and in-kind) to support initial meetings of the Framework development team and will do likewise to support professional development activities and dissemination efforts scheduled for the next three years.

A significant expense for the Framework 2021 project is development of an app for smart phones and other devices so that rural areas can have easy access to the Framework. CO ASCD will make the app developed for its project available to other ASCD affiliates, states, or nations for a modest fee that will be used to support maintenance and updating of the app. In addition, the materials and webinars developed for the shared leadership aspect of the project and agendas and materials from the various meetings (with teachers in each region, with higher education groups, with higher education and P-12 groups, and with state agencies) will be available on the CO ASCD website. Others may use these materials for free and modify them to reflect their context.

ASCD affiliates in other states or state or national departments of education might be able to draw upon funds that have been earmarked for professional development to support a project like Framework 2021. Another option for funding project activities is to partner with other professional education groups or agencies, foundations, or higher education institutions that have similar goals for improving instruction. These groups might also be able to provide in-kind support for the project, helping to defray costs.

[1] Institute for the Future. (2011). Future Work Skills 2020. Available at http://www.iftf.org/uploads/media/SR-1382A_UPRI_future_work_skills_sm.pdf

[2] Century, J., & Levy, A. (2004). Bringing theory of and research on sustainability to practice: Giving school improvement a “bottom line.” Retrieved March 11, 2017, from http://www.scalemsp.org/files/research/Products/CenturyLevy_BringingTheorySustainability Practice.pdf

[3] Century, J. (1999). Determining capacity within systemic educational reform. Retrieved March 11, 2017, from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED434162


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