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Friday, April 15, 2016

Making Schools Better: Reflection of Essential Schools' Principles

Deborah Meier's post on Personalization fostered my reflection today related to Ted Sizer's Coalition of Essential Schools' principles.

Learning to use one's mind well
At school we talk a lot about using our minds. I want to continue to improve my teaching and learning in this area, but in general, I find that the more students understand about how their minds work and what they can do to maximize the potential their minds hold, the more empowered they are.

Less is More, Depth over Coverage
I do believe that the Common Core at my level does foster depth if used well, however the BIG issue here is the testing. The one-size-fits-all testing does not allow students to go deep in areas of interest or areas of current need. For example we have nine standardized tests and one system-wide test in the next few weeks. For some students that means they will take ten tests that are far beyond their current academic level and for others the tests will represent easy repetition of what they already know. There will be a few for whom the test serves their just right level of learning, but is that the best way to teach. I'm okay with a few standardized tests each year, but 10! That's too many.

Goals Apply to All Students
I want to explore this principle more. Recently I've been reading a lot about systems think and systems work, and I think the more we attend to our systematic work, the better we'll be at making the goals apply to all students.

I agree with Meier's post that prompted this reflection, personalization is a personal approach, not a tech approach. However, I do believe that you can use tech, in part, to promote more focused personalization.

Student as Worker, Teacher as Coach
This principle title sounds too much like a factory model statement, instead I would like to say that we are all learners and coaches. I truly like the idea of teacher as coach, but I also like the idea of students as coaches too since they do a good job coaching and teaching each other. Many in education have wanted to get rid of the word, "worker," but it's hard to replace--we are all workers, we are all learners, and there are many facets of this important work--I want to think more and read more on these titles.

Demonstration of Mastery
I want to think more deeply about this and couple my thinking with Boaler's research and ideas in the book, Mathematical Mindsets. Students gain so much knowledge and confidence as they move towards and then demonstrate mastery. I want to employ the use of more investigations in math, investigations that provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate mastery at multiple levels. I'd also like to make sure that we broadly share that mastery with the learning community and beyond.

A Tone of Decency and Trust
This is critical and is finally taking hold in schools as educators everywhere recognize that good relationships are at the center of good learning. My local union is one avenue towards supporting respectful teaching/learning environments. Also the advocacy of many in the school community including students, families, educators, leaders, and community members forward this effort too. We're on our way in this regard, but there is still more work to do.

Commitment to the Entire School
While I believe this exists in the school where I work, I think a better look at systems and how we use time will enrich this area of school life even more. We need to create better opportunity and systems of idea share and conversation. We also have to inclusively analyze the way we use time with regard to our priorities. I believe there are areas of school that we can collectively do better, but first we have to have that important conversation about priorities, and then we have to work together to lay a path to meeting those priorities. In a sense, this is "frosting" for our school since we're on a good path now.

Resources Dedicated to Teaching and Learning
In some ways this happens well, and in other ways, we can do this better. Effort towards positive practice of purchasing and ordering is one good step in this direction. Our local school foundation and PTO also support this work well. A closer look at time and roles will serve this area well too as I believe that we can re-think time, roles, and focus to better serve students in some areas.

Democracy and Equity 
We have room for growth in this area. I believe that making our systems more inclusive with regard to student, family, educator, leader, and community member voice, interest, and need will lead us in this direction. I think we have to remake some old systems that once served us well in this regard, but no longer serve well. I think we can do more in this area, and we started this with a recent, powerful one-hour faculty talk. To do better in this regard, we have to make it a priority and then we need to employ good systematic, inclusive process. In this regard as well in others what hinders our progress is systems that don't go full service, a lack of inclusivity with regard to ideas, discussion, focus, and share, and too little honest reflection related to what we've done and where we need to go.

Analyzing this work reminds me of the Albemarle School District's chart of Lifelong-Learner Competencies--competencies that will truly serve students well with regard to future success and happiness for their lives, the lives of those they love, and the life of the world they live in.

I want to revisit both the attributes above and those below as I think about our fifth grade program next year. Good information for summer study and reflection.