Monday, September 27, 2010

Curriculum Council Meetings

Each Wednesday, a dedicated group of content lead teachers meet in the Administrative Conference Room from 8:30 am to 10:00 am. The representatives consist of one classroom teacher from each grade level K-5 plus an ESE representative. They join me to have in depth vertical conversation in a content area. The schedule accommodates Math Council one week, ELA Council the next, and Science Council the week after that, and continues on a rotating basis.

The representatives are an essential part of our school's distributed leadership model because they offer professional development through weekly Teacher Meetings to their grade level colleagues. Without their vision, planning, follow through, and leadership our school design could not accommodate the level of professional learning or horizontal consistency we expect.

As the school's instructional coach, I hold the responsibility of carrying the global picture and helping each content lead as they guide learning at their grade level. I plan and deliver each Council's agenda keeping the school's long term mission and short term goals in mind. I analyze data, focus walk grade levels, work in beginning teacher's classrooms, observe model teachers in action, and have discussions with lead teachers to make sure I stay on target. The vertical discussions focus on standards, curriculum, instructional practices, student work, assessments, and professional learning.

We've just completed our first round of Council meetings and spent the majority of our time concentrating on dissecting the FCAT Specifications. This has been our focus because we are implementing our states newly adopted Math, ELA, and Science standards. Our FCAT Math and Reading assessment will also change this year, so adjusting to the new standards quickly is essential. In order for the leads and their colleagues to plan and deliver aligned instruction, they first have to know the standards and the end assessment. Once these two elements are clearly understood, then they can select curriculum tools and implement instruction to reach their desired results. I've already witnessed changes occurring within instruction based on the learning happening through Council Meetings and subsequently through Teacher Meetings.

Stay tuned for our progress...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Waiting for Superman

I'm sitting here watching Oprah. Oprah, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, and Davis Guggenheim are talking about the dire state of our public schools. Davis has directed a movie, Waiting for Superman, to begin a conversation about this desperate situation. I know there will be push back from many teachers and some will complain and make excuses. However, when you face the drop out rate reality and see how many people exit our high schools without the ability to succeed in a four year college, you have to wonder when the nation will wake up and demand more.

I am truly blessed to work in a magnificent school with dedicated passionate quality teachers. I am not offended by the comments by Oprah or her guests. They have the same vision that I do. They want what is best for our nations' children regardless of their SES status, their race, their genre, their neighborhood. They want every school to succeed. Oprah says, "It's going to shake up public school education..." I can't wait to watch and see if that indeed is true.

As an educator of thirteen years, I have to say that I think most teachers want to do the right thing, but the system isn't always set up for success. I'm wondering if this film will set forth a solution or a path that will get failing schools back on track. With the complexities and monumental issues, I have to wonder, but won't lose hope. Maybe a spotlight on the issue will help.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A New Beginning

Unbelievably, we are three weeks into the 2010-2011 school year. The school's lobby and classrooms are decorated to reflect our new theme, Cultivating a Community of Excellence; We had a fun-filled Opening Day for teachers, welcomed and WOWed 1,300 + students back on their first day of school, and began meeting together collegially. And, although we've gotten off to an incredible start, I still feel a level of anxiety and stress in the building that I haven't felt in many years.

Chets Creek teachers are extremely competent, thoughtful, and strategic. They use our school's diagnostic tools in Reading, Math, and Science to assess what students know and use the data to prescribe whole group and small group instruction. They use the Florida standards and many curriculum tools to plan their instruction and stick closely to our pacing guides to ensure that all standards are covered thoroughly. And, they use the assessments we've created aligned with their standards, curriculum, and assessment.

Rewind ten years into the 2000-2001 school year and you will see where this foundational work started. Many Chets Creek teachers worked diligently to build this comprehensive foundation. To create a system smooth as silk, we extensively analyzed and discussed every standard, benchmark, and grade level expectation. We poured over every curriculum tool sent to us from our district and scoured to obtain additional resources. We meticulously and systematically wrote diagnostics, quizzes, formative assessments, and summatives in each core subject area to align with the standards. We created homework to support students' learning. In addition, we picked apart, questioned, and got intimately acquainted with our state standardized FCAT assessment based off the FCAT Specifications. The work hours were long, the process collaborative, the depth of learning satisfying, and the outcomes were second to none.
Then, year in and year out, as new teachers joined our school family, we lovingly handed all of our hard work off to them in hopes of making their road smoother. They proceeded down the path we had created. Each year, together, the foundation builders and subsequent sustainers, we tweaked our work to make it better, built stronger units of studies, and filled the gaps. But, the work was rarely from scratch.

Then, we stepped out of our comfortable self-created world into the Summer of 2010 and enjoyed the last labors of our professional love.

We entered the 2010-2011 school year like a deer in the headlights. It's like everyone groggily emerged from their summer hibernation to the realization that we have newly adopted state standards, that the FCAT test is changing this year to reflect the new standards, and that since we've written diagnostics, quizzes, formatives, summatives, and homework to align with the standards, those too must be redone. Oh, and to add the icing on the cake, our district also adopted two new math curriculum tools. To say the least, those of us from CCE's early years feel like we caught a ride with Marty McFly in his Delorean... Back to 2000.

You can see the founding teachers grinning slightly in recognition as the newbies realize with a gasp that the existing work is history and we will once again start anew. They have no idea how it feels to pick apart every standard detail by detail, or read and reread all curriculum tools for the whole year so we can appropriately build a pacing guide, or slave over the writing of every single assessment and homework piece. We never gave them that opportunity. In 2000, we laid the leg work and created a road map for student learning one small step at a time and we emerged better educators because of the thinking it took.
The tension in the air, the angst I'm feeling across the building is coming from the slow summer awakening of a faculty that knows now that this could be the most demanding school year of their careers. That they now will start from scratch and begin adding in the ingredients to the new recipe for student success.

I could say that I'm overwhelmed by the prospect of a new beginning, but really I'm not. I'm excited by the depth of understanding which came as I worked through this process the first time. I'm exhilarated that the teachers who joined the staff after 2000 are getting the opportunity to build, again, what we had. In fact, they have the benefit of knowing exactly what it should look like at the end of their journey. I can't think of a more capable staff to conquer these challenges and come out on top. I'm not saying there won't be some speed bumps along the way, but we will embrace them as learning opportunities as we move forward. I have great faith in my colleagues as professionals and can't wait to help them recreate a strong and worthy foundation. The harvest we reap will be plentiful.

Stay tuned for our progress...