Wednesday, April 29, 2015

2014-2015 Knowledge Showcase

This year the professional learning committee set out to individualize professional learning for our teachers.  The following posts describe these changes.

Practical Ways to Make Professional Learning More Meaningful

A Framework for Professional Learning 

We created a video that detailed all of the professional learning accomplished this school year and viewed it during our last early out. This video included pictures from the different instructional methods that were implemented this year.

The Knowledge Showcase was a great way to celebrate our learning this year.

Thanks to Andee Mattson for her creative thoughts on a title for our cake! 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Why standards-based grading practices align well with PLCs.

Can you have an effective PLC without implementing standards-based grading? I believe our highest functioning PLCs marry the two concepts together.  

Standards-based grading practices partner well with professional learning communities.  PLCs are built upon four questions and these questions assist PLCs in developing standards-based grading practices. Here are the four big questions that encompass a PLC:
  •      What do we want students to know and be able to do?
  •      How do we know they know?
  •      What are we doing collectively to intervene when students don’t know?
  •      What are we doing collectively to enrich students that already know?

Question 1 provides the PLC with a basic guideline and helps them unpack the standard into student and parent friendly terms.  We like to call these I Can Statements.  It is important that each PLC attempt to limit the amount of I Can Statements due to the immensity of data collection.  We have recommended that each subject have no more than 15 I Can Statements.  We are not advocating for a narrow curriculum.  We are simply saying that we are only going to report out on standards that we feel all students must know and be able to do.  There are many things that are nice to know and still worth covering.  Teachers will still collectively choose what should be taught. 

Question 2 focuses primarily on assessment.  Assessment and data collection should be the heart of the PLC process.  How do we know they know? Now that we developed our I Can Statements we are now able to begin aligning assessments to each standard.  This again is done collectively within the PLC.  There are some very important questions to consider: 
  • What does our scope and sequence look like? Are we committed enough to teach and assess at similar times? If teachers don’t cover similar content and assess at the same time we lose the power of PLCs.
  • What scoring system will we use?  Is it a 1-4 scale or a Novice, Proficient, Partial Proficient, Advanced system? (I can tell you that you could have this conversation for days.)
  • What if it is a skill that is developed over the course of the entire year? How will we assess and report?
  • What does mastery look like? Rubrics play a large role in measuring levels of mastery and they will have to be developed along side each assessment. 

Our teachers have found it difficult to match existing assessments found in our current curriculum to our I Can Statements.  There has been a considerable amount of work developing our own local assessments. This is very time consuming and teachers often feel they cannot develop a quality assessment.  

Question 3 and 4 deal with our response to the data we gather from our assessments.  Our highly functioning PLCs have become very efficient at gathering data, analyzing, and developing student groupings. Intervention and enrichment student groupings become solely based on a specific I Can Statement.  

Two years ago our district implemented a weekly late start to embed PLCs into our day for all teachers.  Over the course of three years we have laid the foundation and these meetings are beginning to become data meetings.  Teachers analyze formative and summative data to establish student groupings for enrichment or intervention.  These student groupings are fluid and change week to week based on their level of mastery for that specific skill.   

As you can see standards-based learning processes are a natural fit within a PLC. PLCs that have implemented standards-based grading find the PLC process more rewarding.  It makes their work relevant and worthwhile.

Below is an example from our kindergarten.    

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

My response to Senate Bill 2031's definition of professional development

Below is the testimony I provided to the ND House Education Committee:

Many districts including my own here in Rugby have worked to create job embedded professional learning opportunities within our school district.  This largely begins with the school calendar.  We must have the structure in place to provide innovative ways to develop our professional capital.  The Rugby Public School District operates as a professional learning community.  This means that all of our teachers collaborate within their grade levels and subject areas. For example, we have 36 one hour late-starts over the course of the year that occur every Wednesday morning from 8:00AM to 9:00AM.  We worked with our community, DPI, and our school board to implement this over a two year period. Along with our late-start we have four early releases scheduled periodically throughout the year that are approximately two and a half hours in length. 

This time is used for the following:
·         Researching best practices to improve instruction
·         Unpacking standards into student and parent friendly language
·         Implementing standards based learning processes
·         Developing assessments that are aligned to standards
·         Book studies
·         Developing a scope and sequence at each grade level
·         Data analysis
·         Lesson design

These structural changes have placed the focus on learning at RPS.  Our professional learning is individualized for the teacher and of high quality.  It includes a large amount of teacher choice and they are provided a voice in decision making. 

I suggest that we provide flexibility in reference to the requirements found in 15.1-06-04:

15.1-06-04. School calendar - Length.

A day of professional development must consist of:
  1. Six hours of professional development, exclusive of meals and other breaks, conducted within a single day; or (2).
  2. Two four-hour periods of professional development, exclusive of meals and other breaks, conducted over two days.
The requirements above hinder our ability to provide effective professional learning for teachers. Professional development needs to be job embedded for it to be effective.  Traditional “sit-and-get” professional development days are often held outside of the school calendar. This structure rarely impacts instruction because it is not connected to the classroom and occurring throughout the school year.  Learning Forward, a leading professional development organization suggests,

“Professional learning should occur several times per week among established teams of teachers, principals, and other instructional staff members where the teams of educators engage in a continuous cycle of improvement.” 

In my experience “sit-and-get” professional development does not work.  Our teachers at RPS are learning throughout the year and applying their learning in real time.  Four and six hour segments of professional development are ineffective.  We need to provide districts the flexibility to become innovative.  Please allow us the flexibility to break these segments into one hour increments and leave it up to the discretion of the superintendent and the local school board.

Another important item to consider is that most school districts will have their calendar set for the 2015-2016 school year before SB2031 is finalized.  In Rugby, our calendar will have its second reading on March 6, 2015.  It currently includes all 36 one hour late-starts, and four two and half hour early outs for professional learning. 

Thank you for your time and consideration. I also attached a copy of our proposed 2015-2016 school calendar that details our structural changes that may violate this bill’s requirements.  

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Value of School Activities

I want to ask a serious question to anyone that is involved with activities. I have been reminded of the following question in every school I have served during my 10 year career.
Why do school communities, booster clubs, parents, students, coaches and advisers continually devalue each other's programs? 
The first thing I want to say is that I believe high levels of involvement in various activities lead to student success. The research supports this. My personal experiences in high school activities have helped me in so many ways as an adult.

BUT, it seems like someone is always counting.

You hear comments like:
"This group got more of "x."  
"That activity gets more publicity." 
"You didn't do that for us."
Why aren't we just happy that our kids have access to so many different activities in our schools? Let's be happy for each other's successes, learn from our failures, and appreciate the work that we put in to serve our students.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Growth mindset discussion

One of our book reads this year is Mindset by Carol Dweck. It is a fascinating read for parents and educators.  We will discuss the following questions on April 15th during our PLC time.  

  1. According to Dweck’s research, “Praising children’s intelligence harms their motivation and it harms their performance.” She continues with, “Praise should deal not with the child’s personality attributes, but with his efforts and achievements.” Discuss how you personally give praise to your own children and students. 
  2. It is natural to want to protect our children/students from failure to protect their self-esteem.  When do you protect them (your own children and students) against failure and then expose them to failure?  Discuss failure and its role in developing a growth mindset.
  3. We all want our children/students to succeed.  This burning desire for success can often cloud our vision at times. According to Dweck wanting the best for children means, “fostering their interests, growth, and learning.” How do you balance what you want for your child with what your child’s interests are? How do student interests play a role in your classroom?
  4. There’s an assumption that schools are for students’ learning only.  Why aren’t they just as much for teachers’ learning? I believe if adults are learning at high levels so too are students. The professional development committee is establishing a learning atmosphere for teachers in our district through various methods.  Reflect on these methods to achieve this and discuss. 
  5. John Wooden said, “You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better.  By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better.” Reflect and discuss the quote and how it applies to you.
  6. What were the major takeaways from the book? How have they impacted you as a person or as a teacher?