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Friday, July 13, 2018

Ideas for Change and Betterment: 2018-2019

I like to think of ways to better my individual efforts and the collective efforts of the organization. People get tired of my suggestions and often don't respond so I place many ideas on my blog and then refer back to them when time permits. Sometimes after writing them down on the blog, I send the post to people in charge of those potential changes.

In general, I am fortunate to work in a school system where we have tremendous support with regard to resources, community support, talented dedicated personnel, adequate facilities, and amazing potential. As a critical thinker, I am always thinking of ways to better what I can do on my own and with others. Here are some ideas that I believe have the potential to uplift the work we do.

Better Processes of Scheduling and Prioritizing Student Services
We are going to tackle this issue in the first days of school before students come. I believe that by taking our new system goals seriously, goals that encourage educators to target student needs and assess in small, student-centered ways more often, we will reach better success. To look deeply at student needs from many angles, to list the priorities, organize the efforts to teach and schedule, and then to assess our efforts regularly, I believe, will lead to greater success particularly with our most difficult to teach students--students who often receive multiple in-school supports and services. To look at many angles means checking the state's Early Warning Indicator System (EWIS), a list that notes students who are at high and moderate risk using an algorithm that takes into account multiple factors. The angles also include looking at MCAS scores, IEP plans, past teachers' comments/experiences, parent/student comments and experiences, service delivery, and more. To better map priorities and schedules beginning with our most difficult to teach students will help us to elevate what we can do for all students.

Early Review of MCAS Data and Other Metrics
I believe that early review of standardized test data and other metrics can well inform our efforts as educators. Fortunately the system and state have allowed me to see some metrics over the summer which has helped me to think about the program deeply. For example, I looked at EWIS data recently to understand which students may need more targeted and better supports in the year ahead. I also plan to look at early release MCAS data to assess my individual and our collective program efforts to see where we might teach differently or better for the year ahead. I use other metrics, both formal and informal, to assess efforts too which I find very helpful. For all educators to do this work early in the year is a good way to get programs off to a good start.

Targeted, Early Hiring of Title One Teachers
I believe that our school system meets the requirements for some Title One support. The earlier we hire and the more targeted our hires are for this support, the better we'll be able to utilize the talents and time of Title One teachers. We do have a summer program in place that uses some of these funds which will support students' readiness for learning. We may be able to use these funds in conjunction with growing our affiliation with local colleges and universities by hiring graduate students to do this work.

Fidelity to Learning Routines and Schedules
It's important to establish a good pattern of teaching and learning that we can stay faithful too. This may include setting aside particular days and times for field studies and special events. We've already scheduled many of those, however once we receive the base schedule which is typically a very good schedule, we can plug in additional times/days for specific learning endeavor and try to stick to that. Having a good learning routine really helps students and educators to reach the potential that exists.

Broaden Technology Use
In my opinion, although we have many good resources and projects in place, our tech menu continues to be too narrow with regard to preparing students for the tech-infused world they will live and work in. I think we can broaden our menu of available process, programs, projects, and supports to help every child utilize technology as the intelligent assistant it is. I've been trying to forward this idea for many years with little success, but I will continue to look for ways to allow educators to try out and embed new technology that helps students to utilize and develop their ability to use 3D modeling, virtual realities, visual math software, and more modern, brain-friendly tech supports that will help us to personalize and better the way we use technology to teach. Fortunately we have fairly good hardware to support this work, but I believe we can utilize better, more fluid processes to better choose and use software to forward student learning.

Utilize Supports Better For Deeper Learning, Field Studies, and Project/Problem Based Learning
Many system supports continue to be 30-minute, 45-minute, or 60-minute supports, but the need for students to dig into deep learning via expert visitors, project/problem based learning, and field studies often requires support for a half or whole day. How can we better embed supports such as special educators, therapists, teaching assistants, and more to support the deep collaborative learning that is matched to these kinds of learning endeavor. Early in the year we'll think about this with the following questions:
  • Should IEP scheduling be year-long similar scheduling or should there be four quarters of scheduling including early year academic routine, standardized test prep/administration, project/problem based learning--should we break up the school year into primary learning modes and schedule supports accordingly?
  • Should IEP scheduling include whole-day scheduling where a special educator and/or therapist is assigned to a grade level for an entire day which would be a good support for project based learning and field studies?
  • Should IEP scheduling include longer blocks so that specialists have the time to administer lengthy tests, work on deep projects, and need less times for transition?
  • Should coaches and specialists have similar weekly schedules so that individual teachers, students, and classes can count on them as part of a regular schedule?
  • Should special support personnel be scheduled for greater time-on-task with students and located in proximity to the classrooms, students, and educators they support?
From the start of MCAS prep in April until the end-of-the-year our teaching schedule shifts significantly from a more traditional weekly routine to a much greater project/problem based learning approach. This meant that our traditionally scheduled service delivery was unable to support us in ways we needed such as extra help for field study hikes, science projects, STEAM efforts, the Global Changemakers project, the play, and more. This is what woke me up to realize that many of the supports we have in school are still focused on old time traditional learning goals rather than more modern and holistic learning/teaching goals. This is something I want to explore more and an area that I believe has the potential to lead to better service delivery and results for all students.

Ongoing Processes of Share and Growth
In many ways school development is still a staccato effort with scheduled stops and starts, but research shows us that's not the way ideas grow or change happens. Instead in our quickly evolving world, change is always happening and it appears that it's best for systems to embrace more fluid ways to exchange ideas, develop new strategies, and respond to the learners, new technology and research, and opportunity in our midsts. David Culberhouse does wonderful research in this area.

Moving More and More to a Flattened Hierarchy and Distributive Leadership Models of Teaching and Learning 
I continue to be a fan of moving more to distributive leadership models that are authentic and that give voice, choice, and leadership to all stakeholders including families, students, community members, educators, administrators, assistants, and other staff. I have outlined one model that I believe would be rich at the elementary level in this post.

Scholarships, Homework Clubs, and Tech for Students Without At-Home Academic Support
Children that struggle most often are students without at-home academic support. Their homes may be filled with love, but for reasons of health, economics, schedules, and more there may be no one to help them get the kind of academic supports they need to thrive. One way that schools can help out with this is by figuring out who these students are and offering before- and/or after-school homework clubs, technology that students can borrow to use at home, and scholarships to enriching after-school, vacation, and summer programs. Our school system already does this to a large degree, and I think we can think about how we might continue to deepen these successful efforts.

Time-on-Task versus Time-for-Paperwork, Research, Planning and Prep
Often in schools I think that time is not used well. Often educators who are responsible for the most students day-in-day-out have the least time to research, prep, plan, and lead their efforts. I think schools have to re-look at how much time-on-task with how many students each educator is responsible for as well as the amount of paperwork and planning expected too. I believe that most educators should be spending considerable time-on-task with students on a regular basis, and that educators need to have adequate time for planning and prep. I'm not a fan of having large amounts of educators without time-on-task with students as I believe that dilutes our potential for the good work possible. Working with students everyday marries us to the efforts that matter, questions that need to be explored, and supports that translate into success. 

I think of betterment ideas every summer as I use the summer as a rich time to develop my practice as do other educators and administrators, but there is little way to share that learning and be aware of each other's efforts in this regard that is embraced and supported. I was happy to see a first change in this effort with the early release of next year's goals--that has given me the information I need to tie my efforts into the greater system goals. The better we collaborate around and understand the directions and processes a system is moving in, the more aligned individual educators can be with their research, share, and efforts to develop craft and practice in ways that support students and systems well.