Like most educators, I want to get better, better, better, and although the lyrics in the song above have a lot more to do with interpersonal relationships, the refrain focuses on betterment with the same enthusiasm and angst that most teachers experience.
Last night I took a look at the resulting class stats from last year's students and the stats related to this year's students. Stats gathered from class data related to reports, standardized tests, and other available data help me to think about the teaching/learning ahead. The stats, in part, help me to see where we made gains last year and where we may direct our attention this year.
Overall I noticed some factors that are not surprising, but important to consider. Those factors include the following:
- We need to continue to think about how we teach our students who are the furthest from the grade-level expectations. We have to think about what we hope for with regard to these students. How do we utilize the resources we have to make significant progress with every one of these students? How do we create supports for these students that are researched-based, student-centered, positive, consistent, and lead to good academic progress and growth.
- We have to think deeply about students who face behavioral challenges and other impactful life events--how do we set up a classroom program that helps each of these students to learn well during the school day? Keeping the routine, protocols, expectations, and supports consistent, dependable, and streamlined will help students with complexity that impacts their learning.
- We need to think about the "intelligent assistants" we use. Freedman labels technology and other supports as "intelligent assistants" in his book, Thank You for Being Late, and tells us that we have to utilize intelligent assistants help us get ahead in positive ways. It's critical to teach students how to access these "intelligent assistants" and use them to support their learning. Intelligent assistants may include tech programs, teacher availability, extra-help sessions, homework clubs, websites, class resources, and more.
- Time on task matters--it's critical to give important goals the time that's needed to succeed. Creating an optimal weekly routine and staying faithful to that routine matters when it comes to learning.
- Follow-up and response matters particularly for students who are easily missed and who do not follow through with assignments and other expectations. You have to set aside time to support those children who are easily missed and who generally do not meet classroom expectations for completing assignments, attending to lessons, attendance, punctuality, and positive attitudes. If you think someone is slipping through the cracks of the program, they probably are and you have to make change.
- Relationships matter. Year after year students who enjoy positive relationships with educators and others tend to make the best gains. If a child is unhappy at school and feels like he/she does not belong, they won't do well. It is essential to have a positive helpful relationship with every student.
- Perseverance matters--students who are steadfast, hard working, and focused on doing the assigned tasks well, achieve. There is no way around this--students who invest good energy into learning, do better.
- Class size and supports matter. Classes that are too big and too complex make it difficult for educators to met the expected goals simply because there is not enough of them to go around. We need to make sure that teacher-student ratios in the classroom and with regard to special needs and other supports are positive. When studying these ratios, you have to look at the equity quotient which considers the complexity of needs as well as numbers alone.
- Parent, guardian, and family support is invaluable--children whose families collaborate with the school and support school assignments/efforts outperform those whose families are distanced and less supportive in general. We need to think carefully about how we welcome families' collaboration as part of the learning team and how we keep families involved and integrated in their child's overall learning/teaching program throughout the year.
As I've noted many times, I am still a fan of streamlined standardized tests. I believe that standardized tests can demonstrate data that points to important changes. Before standardized tests, students who were not achieving were often ignored and passed along without significant attention. The tests, in part in systems that respond to the data, have been a wake-up call to do better for students like that. On the other hand, sometimes standardized tests scores are used to punish and demean teachers and schools--in these cases, the data is misused and not analyzed effectively. The tests should be used to demonstrate where needs exists, and then there should be efforts to remedy the situations in ways that help all children learn well.
Overall the stats reviewed that we are well directed overall with the curriculum program and in situations when the numbers and supports are positive, students do well. As an educator, this review tells me what most teachers know:
- Establish positive relationships with all students and families
- Stay on task with regard to program expectations
- Work with colleagues to look for ways to shore up more challenged areas
- Make sure we teach all standards well
- Keep a good daily and weekly schedule that provides students with the right environment, pattern, and support to succeed.
- Continue to advocate for and use "intelligent assistants" that support students deep learning and success.
I believe it is advantageous for educators to review both informal and formal data sets prior to the start of the year in order to prepare the path for teaching every child well. These data sets include the following:
- exchange of information with previous teachers
- exchange of information with families and students
- review of standardized test sets
- review of educational plans
- review of other information available
- early-year informal observation, conversation, and assessments
As the song on the top suggests, we can get better, better, better as we teach and learn. I look forward to sharing this betterment journey with colleagues, students, families, administrators, and the extended teaching/learning community in the year ahead.