Teach.com

Monday, November 12, 2012

Keeping a Focus on Learning

http://www.flickr.com/photos/derek_b/
     At Decker Middle School I have a principal who understands the difference between a focus on teaching and a focus on learning.  And, I don't have to say that because I want a raise - I am being sincere.

     He has really opened my eyes to the difference between these two and now he is starting to get through to our staff on how they are different.

    This afternoon he met with the department heads and we discussed how things are going so far this year.  I won't get into their responses here but I would like to make some observations:  (1) he is new to the school,  (2) I (the only instructional coach and a rookie at that) am new to the school,  (3) the superintendent and a large percentage of his curriculum and instructional staff are new to the district, and (4)  there are a lot of new systems and technologies in place to work with curriculum.

    All of this newness has added to what would normally be a stressful part of any school year - the first 90 days.  The biggest "new" expectation would be in our cycle of instruction.  First we look at the core curriculum in 3-week bundles.  Next we look at what the district pacing guide says should be taught during those 3 weeks and we look at those standards that should be included in the 3 weeks.  Finally we select a few standards that are considered the most important and we label them our Power Standards. (See my earlier posts on this: here and here )

    After we select our power standards we lay out our 3 weeks with what standards will be addressed each day of the 3 weeks.  Next we plan a 10 question formative assessment that is given towards the end of the 3 weeks.  This is so the teachers will be able to see how our students have done on the power standards and to set up plans for any reteaching that will need to be accomplished during the week after the assessment.  Once the test is given our teachers are expected to analyze the data and write down a plan about reteaching skills that were not mastered.  They are also expected to discuss, with others in their subject area, the successes or failures that other teachers may have had so that instruction can be modified for success.

   This process repeats every 3 weeks.  This week was the week for re-teaching from the third cycle.  But it also is the point where they are planning the assessment for the fifth cycle.  Next week they will be giving the assessment for the fourth cycle.  At the end of the sixth cycle they will also have to give their semester exam - a summative assessment that coincides with the cycle assessment.  Oh, and by the way, our teachers also have to turn in lesson plans each Monday for the week.  This is definitely NOT like it was when I first started teaching in 1992!

   All of these data driven decisions are for one reason - to help our students learn.  It really is all about their success as learners.  Our teachers would not be working this hard if all they wanted to do was be good at teaching.  I know a lot of teachers who can give awesome lectures and tests that make you think.  But how many of them really know how much each of their students learned?  They can tell you how many A's, and B's they gave though.

    At our school we are all about how our students are learning (or not learning).  And, we are all about improving on successes and stopping failures during our process of analyzing results.   This, in a nutshell, is a LOT of work for our teachers.  It has also been a lot of work for our administrators and our lone instructional coach (me).  But we are banking on this being a very successful year - followed by another, even more, successful year next year.  We owe that to our students and we owe that to our future leaders.