Sunday, March 29, 2009

Week 28: The Future Looks Like This!

Great Find!

Kerry Shepherd posted this link to a video about the Networked Student on Virtual Southside today. It's worthy for all to watch -- only five minutes! This is where we are going with our kids next year. Exciting times. Thanks Kerry!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Week 27: CAMPing @ BHS

Why Are We Going CAMPing?

Background Knowledge: Carn
egie Units, Advisement and School Hour Changes
The 2009-2010 school calendar will change significantly from previous years. First semester will begin August 19th and end December 22nd. This is a tremendous advantage for our high school students allowing a smart and logical break in educational units of time – for final exams as well as for transfers and transcripting purposes – with the end of the semester occurring before they leave for the winter holiday break.

Meeting Carnegie Unit Requirements
Our courses are offered on a time unit called a Carnegie Unit which requires 120 hours of instruction to earn one unit of high school credit (or 60 hours for ½ credit) for a course. By ending the semester prior to the winter break, the semester would have been 10 days shorter in the first semester of 2009-2010 school year, so it accommodated by starting earlier than the previous year. With that in place, there was still a time shortage for each class that totals to five minutes per class. Last fall, Dr. Dial asked all the high school principals to provide a potential schedule to accommodate the additional five minutes per class. I posted an option on Virtual Southside and sent an email to all staff to read it and comment. I made the appropriate changes and submitted the following schedule which added only five minutes to our school day:

1/2 7:40 – 9:08
3/4 9:12 – 10:40
5/6 10:44 – 1:08 (Announcements 10:45-10:50)
7/8 1:12 – 2:40

Note: Several suggestions were made to just simply add 20 minutes to the school day. All high school principals stood in favor of teacher time and plan time to maintain current hours of operation, and all three high schools added less than 10 minutes to the daily schedules therefore not effecting after school activities, bus schedules and teacher after hour work times.

New Schedule; New Challenges
So, with the new schedule comes a few challenges. As the schedule shows, we will offer only four blocks a day and with the addition of five minutes per class comes the sacrifice of the allotted time for our academic lab period. Currently, a few very good programs are in operation during that time – several innovative teachers and counselors have spent academic lab time increasing student learning in their own content area, on ACT skills, or in specialty student needs groups. FMPs spend time with the freshmen tutoring and building relationships. So what do we do with these programs? How do we continue with ideas that we know are working for our students in a day when the schedule no longer provides the minutes? I’m so glad you asked.

SGMS Advisement Success
Last week I was talking about how well advisement had worked with the Spring Garden 8th graders who will come to us this fall. Their plan began last year with all instructional personnel at SGMS being assigned 8-10 students each to advise and mentor. Jeff, Luke and I, along with all our counselors, went to Spring Garden and saw advisement in action. It was amazing. I talked to several parents about the advisement process, and although they were not totally clear on the program, they did think it was impressive that one teacher took the time to maintain a vested interest in their child. The program will come to Benton starting next year. In order to put it into place, we must begin planning now.

Cardinal Advisement & Mentoring Program (CAMP): Commencing 8.19.09
Yep, we’re going to CAMP! It’s going to be fun! We are going to get close to our kids. We will keep them with us until they graduate. We will present a more formalized program proposal to the Leadership Team on April 22nd during the team retreat, but I would like for you to talk with your department chairs and give them ideas or concerns to bring with them to the retreat. To do that, I need to share the basics.
1. We will “save” time from out 5th/6th hour to create a bubble of time to meet with our CAMP kids. We will meet two times monthly with our CAMPers
2. We will create a CAMP schedule which allows you to meet with our CAMP kids; the schedule will offer CAMP time during 3/4 block then in two weeks in 5/6 block in order to allow at least one meeting per month with Hillyard students.
3. We will allow each adult (secretaries, maintenance, and nutrition will not be assigned students) to select students – sort of in a draft style – with every adult having 2 students from each grade. Each adult will also have at least TWO ornaments on their team – you can even keep your one from this year!

Feedback Time
Feel free to pose questions. Feel free to add to the idea. Feel free to be critical. We need to look at this from every single, solitary perspective possible. Give the information to your department chair to bring the LT retreat. You can also email it to Jeff, Luke or me – but please don’t expect answers. This is up to the Leadership Team and they will decide based on what you tell them! I’m excited. I love CAMPing!

P.S. Luke is an Eagle Scout. You know he will be good at this!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Week 26: The Leading Edge: How Can Benton get There?

What does it mean to be
leading edge in education in 2009?

As we begin to update our plan for the 2009-2010 school year, I find myself wondering about something I perceive to be extraordinarily significant. I wonder if it’s important to my staff at Benton to be a school on the leading edge of progress?

I guess in order for each individual staff member to make that decision, one would have to know what being a “leading edge school” entails in education in 2009. I can only offer a limited idea of what that looks like from our corner of the state, but I would enjoy constructing a list that encompasses insights from across the nation – maybe even across the oceans. Funny thing is, the only way I have to offer what it leading edge is in some instances is to offer what it isn’t.

First of all, I think leading edge in 2009 is a school that is enriching instructional offerings. The offerings must be grounded in standards, and I heard that Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, is offering national standards.

Secondly, I think schools must rethink what constitutes a school day, semester credits, and a school year. President Obama has been throwing around the idea for a few weeks now.
Crazy thing is, Missouri’s current process is perpetuating the value of attendance over what the attendance gains us. Our students must sit in rooms or travel room to room to hear about it when all they desire is to practice their learning. That practice along with more realistic relativity to the information being taught is critical to student learning. We must stop the preaching and reach out to the different ways. In our school – we are calling that constructivism. In science classes in our district, it’s referred to as inquiry learning. In our social studies departments, it’s called problem-based learning (PBL). It’s coming to all four core areas with heavy implications to the electives.

Thirdly (sounds funny, but it’s legitimate), we must address what it takes for a student to “graduate” from grade to grade and finally from high school. Our current system is not rewarding the learning – it continues to reward the time served. The placid practice of earning a grade is, ironically, so lacking in motivation for students. Oh sure, it works in the short term, but for resistant or struggling learners, it’s deleterious. Without question, at Benton we are finding the issue of failing grades to lack of credits indelibly paralleling our alternative referral rates.

Students are leaving us their junior and senior years to sit in front of computers to learn what they need to learn in order to pass the GRE test (as well as the national and MO constitution tests), and earn an identical diploma to one earned from our own institution. Sounds enticing, doesn’t it? According to our latest data, Benton has 118 referrals so far this year compared to Lafayette’s 25 or so. Central also has less than us. I certainly think to be leading edge – practice must change. Albert Einstein said it best; “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.”

Finally, and possibly most importantly, there is technology. We must embrace it. At this point in time, but the most appropriate way to consider integration is through TPACK.
I am excited to say we at Benton, we are preparing for a faculty launch. Not unlike the Space Shuttle, we might be delayed by poor weather, but we WILL launch. I think our focus will be blogging to start – since we have piloted our start with our Virtual Southside technology cohort – but all educators interested in being leading edge must hook up with Alltop (Education),
all the top blogs on education in the nation. To learn how to blog – either as a professional, in professional development or in your classroom, you will see the best of the best modeled here.

And so, Benton High School, with that said, I must ask you this. Are you ready to be leading edge? I realize it will take work, but more so, it will take your dedication. Dedication is to several things – our kids, each other, and change. We will never settle for good enough. We decided that years ago – remember our embracing good to great? This is where the rubber hits the road. Time to check your bus ticket. All aboard!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Week 25: March 2-6, 2009

Ironically, an appropriate analogy of our school improvement.

Yahoo! We did it! The district walkthrough felt great! Although each part of the year-long process was arduous – for our staff, the leadership team, the BAR team and administration -- it was worth each step along the way. Both Mrs. Patterson and Dr. Dial had huge praise for the progress Benton’s staff has made on our journey of school improvement. They both gave us kudos for specific improvements we have made on our SIP and DIPs as well as giving us some very important critical feedback on areas to focus on in our SIP next year.

First and foremost, let’s celebrate what we did well. Both Mrs. Patterson and Dr. Dial reported they saw evidence of our literacy program embedded deeply in our school. In classroom after classroom they witnessed teachers and students engaged in reading – either through Eyes Past Print (EPP) or individual student reading. Tech cohort teachers were actively using technology in their classrooms – a strong testament to the continued, powerful success of our pilot program – and what Mrs. Patterson was most impressed about in the those classroom was that the lessons were based in constructivist instruction.

The most exciting feedback, however, came in two specific areas. One was on our student work displays. Both Patterson and Dial claimed that Benton had, without question, the best exhibition of student work displays they have ever – and they both emphasized the “ever” – seen in high schools. Not only were the displays best in quantity; both viewed numerous displays with exceptional quality.

The second area of distinction, and what we all agreed was the most powerful area of improvement, was how each department’s best practice was in some way evident in every classroom they entered or in the window into their classroom as seen in the display of student work. Patterson and Dial carried a list of best practices with them on the walkthrough, which your teams established in your department improvement plans, with intent to determine what level of department improvement was implemented. Interestingly, they both noted which departments were more successful as a team coming together in their improvement and which departments were more individualized. All in all, they were impressed at the success of our use of Department Improvement Plans to build toward our school improvement!

Here is comes, but before we share that with you, allow me one aside….

Sean handed me a book a few days ago called Mindset (Dweck, 2006). It’s definitely leadership team EPP material, but one excerpt about how certain people dealt with failure (which is what I am pushing to parallel with our critical feedback) was very eye opening for me. In her research about those individuals, Dweck said,

“What did they know? They knew that human qualities, such as intellectual skills, could be cultivated through effort. And that’s what they were doing – getting smarter. Not only weren’t they discouraged by failure, they didn’t even think they were failing. They thought they were learning.”

I realized that in each walkthrough, Patterson’s and Dial’s critical feedback set us up for learning. There are people, according to Dweck, who choose a “fixed mindset” which evokes defensiveness or stubborn resolve in their approach, but the “growth mindset” allows individuals to use [critical feedback] to sharpen practice – even if it stands in greatness. It goes without question that Jeff, Luke and I would challenge you to join us in the growth mindset – to learn with us as we continue to improve not only our own practice, but education as we provide it for our students.

As a school, we were given two major challenges:
1. Align. Align your curriculum objectives to your lessons. Align your lessons to your student work. Align your objectives to our scoring guides and rubrics. Align your scoring guides and rubrics in your common collaborative courses. [We, okay “I,” started to take a fixed mindset here and defend how we were working on this, and then I realized – they’re right; we can do much, much better at this.] This means revisiting our focus on understanding how to unpack objectives and fit that to the rest of the process.
2. Embed each department in their best practice so that no matter what classroom you enter there is obvious and overwhelming evidence of their best practice.

Mrs. Patterson and Dr. Dial debriefed us by departments, which we felt was very helpful. Jeff, Luke and I met later Friday night (meetings kept us there until 4:30 which is why your walkthrough letter is so late in its posting) to finally debrief the walkthrough, and we realized that some of the feedback must be delivered to departments individually. Why? Because there is no guarantee on mindset, I suppose. There are ideas, questions, and discussion that need to be done in a more intimate setting. With that said, we will not include everything in this public forum. Here are some of the more generalized comments from Patterson and Dial:

Communication Arts: Good job on attempting readers and writers workshops as noted in the DIP. No one asked you to do this, and you still went there on your own. What is guiding you? Why isn’t your entire team studying and implementing similarly? Excellent collaboration was noted as seen in the CA10 common student work display. We will separately department debrief on: reading strategies, purpose for reading, accountability, essential outcome setting, independent reading improvements, and conferencing.

Special Education: We must work on establishing instructional curriculum, setting prioritized essential outcomes, and understanding how to unpack them in the entire gamut of the instructional process. Continue to work with core coordinators for alignment. For further discussion: student work displays, integrating objectives with IEP objectives, courses offered by grade by curriculum.

Social Studies: The parts of PBL that must now be evident are the noted professional development areas last year and this year. Those non-negotiable elements include the entry document, the comparison or need to know chart, the problem statement, and coaching. Discussion on the difference between problem and product must be ongoing. The framework is present. Topics for further discussion: work on how to thicken the PBL unit, full department implementation, missing PBL aspects.

Mathematics: The synergy in the work displays of common courses was positively noted. We were told not to take that for granted. Several discussions questioning current operating practices and how teachers were questioning their own practice showed true growth in the department mindset. Continued reflection on practice and how to change failures was encouraging. Patterson strongly suggested we encourage and increase the voice of those ready to look at a constructivist approach. For further discussion: purpose of student work displays, continued level of failures, moving past using basic skills issue, and classroom visits for changing practice. Research Daggett.

Science: Evidence of “claim, evidence, reasoning” was noted in most rooms. Use of common terminology was strong, but avoid “cookbook approach to inquiry.” Need to see current practice tweeked to provide higher level of rigor. Labs (displays) showed huge potential. Saw some evidence of science notebooking. For further discussion: Increasing notebooks to include more than labs/vocabulary but also reflection, scoring mechanism on scoring guides, and student work displays (alignment).

Foreign Language: Need ideas for different paths and purposes to learn, need to focus on new instruction coming at the start of the school year, not past semester. For further discussion: alignment, new or refocused DIP best practice.

Business: Where are we in technology integration with cohort learning? Is best practice problem or project based learning? What is the difference? Can the department differentiate? Why did you select (project or problem) the one you did? Best practice is scoring guides/rubrics – did they study the difference? What is basis for displayed scoring mechanism? Where is the process shown in work displays? For further discussion: scoring points on rubrics, rigor level of problem/projects, alignment to curriculum.

Industrial Technology: Same as business with addition to display of student work needs to be thicker with application of scoring/assessment. For further discussion: where is the curriculum in the process of learning? How does the curriculum align to their best practice as shown in their scoring guides/rubrics?

FACS: Same as business and IT. For further discussion: analyze issue of student failures, make plan to decrease.

Fine Arts: Beautiful displays throughout. What a tremendous improvement over the last two years. Why not display the curriculum objective with the student name, selection title? Make display cardholder permanent. For further discussion: What is your plan for your DIP after your common scoring guide?

PE/JROTC: Wow, you had displays. Good job. Are you really implementing EPP? If yes, evidence and how. If not, why not? Gradual Release was your best practice. For further discussion: what does your best practice look like? How will a supervisor know it when they see it? What is different about GR than what you are currently doing?

Counseling: Thanks for the food. Is Prep HQ really a “best practice” strategy or one tool to reach a best practice? How are you measuring Prep HQ? For further discussion: Where does advisement fit into your learning? How are you using EPAS (apart from how the departments are using it)?

Leadership Team & BAR Team: your work is clear and evident. The numerous commendations given to you two teams by your three administrators shows your true leadership and your impact to the improvement of Benton High School. What more can you do? What would take you to the next level? Where can you move to so that you own the process a bit more? I challenge you to find that step.

Tech Cohort: You have established a true pilot for the district. Your work is just beginning. Please continue to push hard to keep your practice grounded in constructivist learning. You are leading the way for high schools. Your administration tells me you will study TPACK, and without having further researched it myself, I believe it is exactly where we want to go as a district. Keep a strong push to integrate this into your classrooms.

From Jeff, Jeanette and Luke: Great job you guys! Thanks for your hard work. We tremendously thank those of you who continue to take our school improvement to heart. We realize it is just too easy to make this a hoop jump or to sit back in your teacher chair and make this about you. We are here for the students. We are here to make sure they are given the very best we have. We hope you are here to be the best. We hope you know the three of us are here to try to make sure you are the best. When a school joins together – truly joins together – to improve, everyone benefits. We thank you again for joining hands with us as we learn together.

With deep respect,