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We had our first full professional development day on Tuesday 11/6.  Our leadership team worked hard to put together a program that matched the needs of our staff based on feedback from the previous professional development day and recommendations from members of our leadership team.  We were also able to meet off site for the day thanks to a great idea by our principal and our good friends at Merrimack College.  Our school was unavailable due to voting.  In my opinion it was the most cohesive and productive full professional day that we have had in several years.

At this time staff are able to complete their feedback form for the PD until we return to school on Tuesday 11/13.  I have looked at the feedback form and the forty responses that are already there.  I am pleased at the honest responses that we have received.  There has been a lot of positive feedback and the staff has made some very worthwhile suggestions for improvement. I have a few comments (in green) that go along with a few of the reflections shared by some of our staff (in blue).  I look forward to meeting with our leadership team to share ideas based on the feedback form on how to plan our next early release professional development day on 12/12.

Overall it is my belief the admin at NAHS is working hard and has really worked to improve school culture.  Nothing is accomplished over night and I can appreciate their efforts.  However I feel that our team here at NAHS is hamstrung by the lack of concrete examples of how to produce this district wide standard based curriculum.

I’m happy that there is the perception/observation that we are working hard.  It is not just the administration but also the entire leadership team that includes our department chairs as well.  The entire staff is working hard to improve and I feel as if there are more positive conversations happening in our building this year.  The comment on the concrete examples is a great one and I’ll address it after another similar comment below.

Treating staff as professionals in a comfortable working environment enables us to do meaningful work. Being off campus forced us to focus on the work at hand- not the ten thousand other things we have to do back at school!

I also loved being off campus and in a relatively confined area.  The food and refreshments were great.  We all like to feel special. The point about being in an environment away from the things that we have to do is a good one.  Teachers have many responsibilities and physically being away from the place where you accomplish many of those responsibilities did allow a more consistent focus on the work at hand.  I hope our continued use of the protocols and people getting more comfortable using them helped as well.

I don’t believe it a matter of protocol.  Rather it is a matter of the desired outcome.  I am willing to work to great lengths to improve student learning.  But I believe we and the admin at the school level have not received enough concrete examples of what we are exactly looking for.  It is maddening to keep producing work, have it sent back for revision, submitted again, then sent back with totally different revisions.  This is not the fault of the those in the building.

This reflection and similar type of reflections give our leadership team very valuable input.  It directs us as a school leadership team to work with the district leadership team on increasing our collective capacity of the items in our Essential Standards document.  We will work together to come up with an exemplar document and communicate a consistent expectation for the teachers.  We need to be clear on the purpose of the document for everyone.

I do think it is the responsibility of the leadership team to be clear on the expectation and follow through in a timely manner.  We have not been clear on the expectation but we will work to fix that for December.  It is important to understand that Essential Standards documents, Common Assessments, and rubrics should be revised on an ongoing basis to improve our practice.  However, we should all know the expectation so the revisions are not dramatic changes to what we want students to know and be able to do.  Some teams have never used rubrics before or given common assessments to students that are connected to the skills that we want them to be able to do for the course.  As we move forward it is important to revise and improve our rubrics and assessments based on standards that are essential to our courses.  We will be able to do so by looking at student work together and reflecting on our practice.

Honestly, I understand the theory but at this point I do not see the direct or immediate connection between much of what we are doing and improving my teaching practice. There seems to be such a learning curve and so much uncertainty about the big picture and new “language” being used this year that it is hard to see the forest for the trees, although I will continue to try.  It feels like I have started a book in the middle and despite being presented with some good ideas I am unable to fully understand them without having access to the first half of the book.  Perhaps it would be helpful to consider that most teachers have not been involved in as much of the lead up discussions and training on these concepts as the administrative team may have been and for many it feels like we are being thrust directly into the implementation process which may be confusing.  Therefore some of the requests for clarification are not intended to balk at the process but rather are an attempt to get up to speed with it and understand the bigger picture.

This was one of my favorite reflections.  I love the analogy made to starting a book in the middle.  I do not believe that teachers are balking at the process and we will be working together as a leadership team to come up with a glossary of information specific to the professional learning cohort work we are doing at NAHS.  We need to continue to make connections to our big picture goals.  We have not referenced the Strategic District Improvement plan or our School Improvement plan in a couple of months and need to do so.  We are in a way writing our own book about how to improve our practice and increase student achievement at NAHS.  We will need to use some of our professional development time to focus on the foundation of this work.

I will conclude this post with a final comment from one of our teachers that puts the work we are doing into perspective.

If we can be consistent with our expectations across the department, our students will all know what to expect, regardless of the teacher or the class that they are taking. This consistency will allow us to teach more effectively and will facilitate student learning.