School Improvement Summit: Day 3


Today’s post will be much shorter than yesterdays – I promise you!  Today was a couple of hours shorter than yesterday, so there just aren’t many notes to share…

Let’s start the day with toasted bagles and a Skype conference with presenter Heidi Hayes Jacobs on the Common Core.  This keynote was done via Skye, which at times was a little frustrating because of connection bandwidth issues.  Even though there were times it was hard to hear and understand her, though, there are a couple of key thoughts I want to pass one…  First, the new standards assume that every teacher is a language teacher and knows how to teach reading for informational texts as well as reaching ELL students (this really isn’t anything new to those of us in NC since our teacher evaluation rubric already requires this).  She also stressed that the topic of today’s conversation (and the CCSS in general) is that the focus is on standards and not curriculum.  The biggest problem, according to Jacobs, in regards to curriculum is not what we are going to teach but what we are going to leave out.  She also emphasized that the CCSS need to be seen as a whole (echoing what was shared by Curtis Linton at a training I did two weeks ago), going so far as to suggest there are no “3rd grade” standards because the standards are “K-12” standards.  She posed a very pointed question to the group – one which we talked about at my previous school quite a bit.  That question is, “What year are you preparing your students for in your school?”  Unfortunately, most of us had to answer that we were preparing our students for – at best – 1990, life 20 years ago.  Instead, we need to focus on preparing students for the year 2025!  Now that’s a new way to think about things.  She also shared a fantastic resource I want to pass on.  Check out http://www.curriculum21.com/home – it has some absolutely fantastic resources on it to access 21st Century Skills and use Web 2.0 to do it.  Of particular interest are the Visual Thesaurus for ELA and the GapMinder for Math (click on Clearinghouse and then choose the appropriate tag and they’ll pull up).

The next presentation I went to was entitled, “Using PD360 to Make Great Principals” and was presented by Meg Crittenden from Kentucky.  I wish I could say her presentation was one the blew me away, but I found that much of the information in it was familiar to me.  And, worse yet, she had only been using PD360 for “2 months” (those are her words).  I guess you can call me a skeptic, but I have a hard time trusting someone when they share something they’ve only been using PD360 for two months.  Granted, I love PD360 and believe in the power it can unleash in education, but I think in order to have some credibility you need to also show longitudinal data to support your claims.  She showed how she was going to use PD360 in her graduate-level principal prep classes in the hopes that as students graduate and move into leadership positions they are prepared to use the program in their schools.  She did share a couple of interesting pieces of information, and one was this quote by Irving Jones: “A school’s failure or success depends upon the principal’s leadership.”  It reminded me of John Maxwell’s statement that “everything rises and falls on leadership.”  Now not having been a principal I’m not going to speak about what it’s like to be a principal, but I did think it was worth sharing her thoughts on this.

The most interesting session for me – but the one I will blog the least about – was the one done by Michelle King on Creating Custom Courses in PD360.  This is something I played with a little bit over the past year but I never got any of them to a point that I felt comfortable sharing with others.  This year I’m going to take some of her suggestions and put them to use to develop some follow-up courses on PD360 for our teachers in PD360 – so be looking sometime around December/January!  I will say that the mission statement of her school district was a great one and I’d like to share it: “The mission of the Coppell Independent School District, as a committed and proven leader in educational excellence, is to ensure our learners achieve personal success, develop strong moral character, and become dynamic leaders and global citizens with a zeal for service by engaging each individual through innovative learning experiences led by a visionary staff and progressive community.”  Yeah, I think that about sums it up – not sure I can add anything to that!

Finally, the day ended with an absolutely fantastic presentation by Jim Knight on Coaching.  Dr. Knight shared his nine components needed for instructional coaching (which I won’t re-iterate here), but more important than that he communicated a belief that all teachers can grow and improve.  His presentation reminded me of a paper I was working on recently that addressed this very issue.  As observers in classrooms (whether on formal observations or just walk-throughs) it is imperative that we offer prescriptive feedback to our teachers: feedback that is specific and also offers suggestions for improvement.  Those suggestions can be very directed or they can be more subtle depending on the needs and skill level of the teacher.  We also need to remember as observers that we need to focus on building that coaching relationship with our teachers instead of always being seen as an evaluator (granted, I’m stretching Dr. Knight’s words here quite a bit because he was talking about being a full-time coach whereas I’m applying his principles to work as an administrator).  Coaches are partners with their “coachee”, and part of that is speaking in adult voice instead of parent voice, creating an atmosphere of trust and honest, and listening to the teacher’s needs and desires.  I suppose I’ll have to develop this a little more in another post because it really is getting beyond the scope of the presentation, so just be looking for more posts on this topic in the future!

Over all I’d have to say this was an absolutely wonderful conference, and I’m hoping to come back next year.  Tomorrow I’ll work on putting together some final thoughts and reflections on the entire trip, so check back soon!

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