Saturday, September 17, 2011

Changing School Culture to Better Serve Students

During a summer RTI institute, our system was challenged to shift culture to better serve students.  Essentially we were encouraged to work with greater collaboration to target teaching specifically to the essential skills, concepts and knowledge each student needs to succeed.

Now we are embarking on this culture shift.  With the initial steps in place, I'm inspired to write about the actions and reflections related to shifting culture from a predominately classroom-based, teacher-directed learning environment to a collaborative, student-centered, targeted teaching approach.

  • Language Shift: So far we have decided to talk about students utilizing the descriptors developing, progressing, meeting and exceeding related to expectations.  This is much better than descriptors often used.  One area of this shift I need greater clarification on is the difference between developing and progressing.
  • Scheduling: A Team of teachers met to organize the schedule to accommodate the culture shift.  Times for PLCs (professional learning communities) and targeted interventions were created.  As time goes on, scheduling will continue to play a large role in our culture shift in order to accommodate changing teaching practices.
  • Data Collection: Our curriculum directors led efforts to collect data in timely, efficient and child-friendly ways.  The next step will be the organization of that data in ways that will help collaborative teams to identify student needs and target intervention.
  • Professional Learning Communities (PLCs): PLCs have been created, and time for weekly meetings during the school day have been set.  A memo was sent outlining record keeping documents, norm setting, and meeting protocols. Having recently read Pink's book, Drive, and other articles related to motivation and success, I am wondering what protocols will best serve the group and effort.
The stage is set for this endeavor and the next steps will greatly impact the success of the initiative.  With that in mind, I am reflecting on the following points:
  • There are many leaders involved in this initiative--how will their time be split among the teaching teams, and what roles will they play? If Pink's research is heeded, teaching teams will have a strong voice and lead with autonomy, purpose and a focus on mastery.
  • What system will we use to determine essential skills, knowledge and concepts?  Once essential standards are set, how will those standards be communicated, taught and evaluated?
  • Will 21st century and life-long learning efforts and goals be a consideration during this process? Since it's elementary school and skills are involved, there will be a temptation to revert to linear methods that don't include technology or 21stC goals of creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication.  It will be important to think about the pedagogy we want to employ to both develop essential skills and motivate life-long learners in multi-dimensional ways. This is a great article that suggests a cognitive process approach is a desirable path for education.
  • There will also be a temptation for quick-fix, too-much data, and too much flexibility.  Hopefully we'll find a good balance with respect to teaching and data collection, and with respect to flexibility, it's important that leaders who do not provide direct service, understand the planning time and efforts that go into direct instruction thus allowing teachers steady groups and time to make progress effectively and realistically.
  • I wonder about one-size-fits-all approaches to teaching.  Same approaches make it easier to collect data, but does it create more responsive, motivating, engaging and empowering teaching and student experiences?  
  • How will we evaluate the effectiveness of the process?
  • Will honesty be valued as teachers embark on this new endeavor, or will challenging comments be frowned upon?  Will there be a protocol for peaceful exchange of differences of opinion?
  • What is our vision for the end of this year, next year and the future--what are we moving towards and what does it look like?
I write today as I want to be ready to embark on this new initiative with understanding and a positive outlook.  I am excited about RTI because I want schools to teach each child well--giving them a multi-dimensional, motivating, engaging and beneficial educational experience.  

I look forward to your comments and thoughts.  I'm ready for step two of this system-wide endeavor.