During this past summer I committed myself to a goal setting process in an attempt to have more focus and more planning to my job.  One of the items that I created was a personal vision.  I used language from a text we had been reading called Leaders of Learning by DuFour and Marzanno.

A vision is designed to answer the question what.  In this case what must I become to accomplish our purpose?  My vision is to provide educators with the clarity, structure, resources, and ongoing support essential to their success.  Our purpose as a district is to cultivate a respectful community of engaged learners, insightful thinkers, and effective communicators.  As educators we want to cultivate an environment that allows teachers to improve practice to raise student achievement.  I chose my vision to support our purpose.

The biggest shift for me this year was to commit to being present to support our collaboration work.  Being present has allowed me to support the requests of teachers, attempt to remove obstacles, identify potential challenges, and create opportunities for improvement.  Being present and listening has allowed me to learn a great deal from my colleagues and build trust that has not been there in the past.

The best part about being present at different cohort meetings is the chance to highlight the progress we have made in shifting toward a standards-based system.  In reviewing the DESE teacher rubric of effective teaching practice I noticed there are several areas that our collaboration time has allowed teachers the opportunity to demonstrate proficiency.  These areas may include: I-A-1 Subject Matter Knowledge, I-A-3 Rigorous Standards-Based Unit Design, I-B-1 Variety of Assessment Methods, I-B-2 Adjustment to Practice, I-C-I Analysis and Conclusions, 1-C-2 Sharing Conclusions With Colleagues, II-A-1 Quality of Effort and Work, II-D-1 Clear Expectations, III-B-1 Learning Expectations, III-B-2 Curriculum Support, IV-A-1 Reflective Practice, IV-A-2 Goal Setting, IV-C-1 Professional Learning and Growth, IV-C-1 Professional Collaboration and IV-D-1 Decision-Making.

Our teachers have at least an hour every week to demonstrate proficiency in many of these areas as part of their workday.  If we did not have this time as part of the workday I don’t know when the teachers at our school would have time to demonstrate proficiency in many of these areas.  Teachers at our elementary schools use a lot of their own time with our limited professional development time.  I would hope that many of our teachers are finding the time useful.

I am proud to say that over the last eight morning collaborations I have observed all six professional learning cohorts in Science and History (including one cohort twice) look at student work to improve practice by using a tuning protocol.  The goals of our protocol are to build shared expectations for teacher performance and to experience collaborative learning and reflective practice.  The teachers have committed to these goals and have built those shared expectations.

Some of the positives I have observed included the following:

  • A cohort reviewed a rubric for accuracy and determined that an adjustment of the rubric would be needed to eliminate the need for a 0.5 on a 4-point rubric.
  • A cohort presented a writing prompt and rubric to determine if students are meeting the goals of the assessment.  They found the need to adjust the rubric to add specifics in a column and to adjust the question.
  •  A cohort presented a piece of student work and feedback was given on the structure of the question on the paper and discussed ways to improve learning around structure and function.
  • A cohort presented a piece of student work and feedback was given on a variety of areas.  A previous change in the rubric on historically accuracy was noted as being clear.  Resources and additional texts that could be used for instruction were shared at the end of the protocol.
  • A cohort presented a piece of student work for a short free response.  The teachers examined two pieces of “low” work and one “high” work.  The pair of teachers were focused on examining a piece of “low” work that is historically low and talked about strategies of improvement.  Strategies during the review process, preparation and labeling tactics were discussed.  They concluded that the use of vocabulary and time management for students could improve.
  • A cohort presented a piece of student work and feedback was given on the importance of note-taking as a skill that leads to conversation, highlighting & annotating texts the correct way and the use of graphic organizers.
  • A cohort presented pieces of ungraded work and feedback was given to determine if the teachers would assess the work in a consistent way.  The teachers were very consistent with the three rows of the rubric.  At the end of the protocol they determined a willingness to adjust the structure of the assessment to have important information stand out for the students.

Judith Warren Little is a professor at the Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley, who has researched teacher practice, especially the concept of collegiality, for over 25 years.  Her work has been put into a rubric to capture the ongoing research on teacher collaboration.  The highest level of teacher practice that she references is Joint Work.  One of our working assumptions and norms as part of our tuning protocol is that the examining of teacher practice is about level-4 Joint Work Collaboration.

During the collaborations focused on looking at student work I have observed indicators of Joint Work.  They have included a strong sense of interdependence, shared responsibility, critical review, collective commitment to improvement and probing questions or feedback intended to cause colleagues to reflect on their practice.

I am very proud of the work that our teachers and teacher leaders have done over the last several weeks.  They have truly committed to the shift needed to become a standards-based school.  I hope they all have a restful and enjoyable vacation next week.