Tuesday, August 18, 2015

TLI Experience: Initial Focus

Whenever I embark on an initiative, I like to set focus early on as that gives me a lens with which to personalize and maximize the learning.

Yesterday as I listened to Jessica Barnett discuss the Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI), I found myself debating the focus I will use to get the most out of this endeavor. I'm drawn to social justice with respect to the need for culturally proficient teaching, equity, and success for all students and in particular, our students who have the least access to a good education. I'm also drawn to the common core as I use that as a framework for all of my teaching/learning efforts. And the area of teacher evaluation draws me too as I've done extensive work in that area with regard to my analysis of the Massachusetts' new teacher evaluation framework.

The area that draws me the most however is School Redesign/Instructional Leadership. This area draws me because it connects tightly with the work I do each day to teach children well. While I already work in a top-notch system that employs multiple terrific strategies and efforts to serve children and their families, I know there is room for growth. In fact, this year, our team is utilizing a new shared model of teaching in order to develop our service to children with strength. Hence, this is the area that I will focus my efforts with TLI.

Tonight, Jessica will introduce the capstone project via a Blackboard session. As I listen, I will focus on the following questions:
  • What research will I access to boost my efforts and result with regard to the new teaching/learning model the grade-level team is employing?
  • How will I document the ongoing story of this effort?
  • What data will I collect from the start and throughout the initiative so that I can track the initiative's strengths and challenges?
  • How will I work successfully with the many members of this teaching/learning team to develop the model with strength?
  • What aspects of this model will work for other schools? How does this model signify school redesign, and how do my efforts reflect teacher leadership? 
I'm really excited about our new model for many reasons including the following:
  • The model fosters collaboration, and that collaboration has the potential result of increased learning and leading for all involved.
  • The model focuses on student needs and interests, and there are multiple components of the model which will help us to serve our diversity of students well with targeted intervention, support, and response.
  • The model fosters a strong sense of team with the entire learning team: students, families, educators, leaders, and community members.
  • The model embeds academic standards into multidisciplinary teaching endeavor that focuses on the whole child (social, emotional, physical, academic).
  • Together we'll employ multiple learning-to-learn behavior/mindset lessons and streams to empower learners.
As the model takes shape, I wonder how the reasons above will grow and change.

I have some fears about the model too. It's good to be cognizant of fears when you start any new endeavor. My fears include the following:
  • How can we do it all? There are so many standards to cover and students come to us with a large variety of needs and interests--can we collectively meet all the standards and students needs/interests too?
  • Will we have the time, resources, and energy to collaborate well? A shared model demands a lot of collaboration. We have some times put aside for this, and we've agreed to add some of our own time to this, but will we be able to keep up with needed communication with regard to student service. Last year, I worked in a similar model and we did a great job overall with communication patterns and share so I think we can do it, but it is an area we'll have to be mindful of.
  • Will I be able to respond to every student with depth? This is a challenge for any classroom teacher, and an even greater challenge when you are responsible for 75 students. I plan to use checklists for the major efforts including math home study, journal review, presentation, STEAM teamwork/projects, and assessments. This will ensure that every child gets an opportunity for thoughtful response, leadership, and learning.
  • How will we enlist the support of those who work with our team? We'll be working hard to communicate and collaborate with one another in our three-teacher team, but we also have to reach out to work with the many, many specialists, support staff, and leaders related to our team. It will be important to create a pattern of response and protocols to lead this extended teamwork.
Why do I think this effort is a good match for the Teacher Leadership Initiative Capstone Project?

First, I believe that schools can better re-align their personnel and resources to teach all children well. Old time factory structures for teaching children do not match current cognitive research with regard to how children learn.

Next, I believe that our strength in schools lies in the strength of our communication and collaboration. The old-time isolation of one-teacher-one-classroom is not an effective approach to good teaching and learning. Instead when we work together as a learning team of students, families, educators, leaders, and community members we can maximize each others' strengths and develop each others' challenges so that we deliver a strong, unified, responsive program to each and every child.

There's a cost benefit to this teamwork too. Rather than three classrooms with three sets of supplies for every child, each learning area only needs a set of supplies to meet the needs of one group--that's less supplies and less cost. Further by designating rooms to particular learning foci, the room design can better meet the needs of that study. For example, the STEAM room will have the space for creativity and exploration, while the Reading Room will have space for books and quiet corners for reading. Similarly the Social Studies/Writing room will have wall space for maps, timelines, and historic figures and plenty of room and equipment for multimedia composition and communication.

This model also exemplifies a shared leadership model in that the teaching team will work together to lead 75 students and make good decisions about student learning and engagement. As we work together in PLCs, we'll have the chance to lead each other as each educator takes a turn at the PLC leadership and coordination from one week to the next. Also, each of us will lead our area of expertise. One will lead Reading/Science Research/Study, another Writing/Social Studies, and the third Math/STEAM. We'll all work to develop learning-to-learn skills/attitudes, social competency, and routines and patterns to support student success. 

So as I begin my TLI journey, the key words will be instructional leadership and school redesign. I'll hold those words close as I journey forward on this teaching/learning path I've traveled for thirty years so far. Onward.