This past week 40 teachers and administrators in a large suburban high school made presentations to the faculty during the November Institute. The message was simple, yet powerful:
How can we, as a community of educators, help prepare our students for the challenges they face after high school?
The team concentrated on four topics; the Culture of Poverty, Professional Learning Communities, specific reading strategies, and a common argument writing rubric.
Since 2002, student achievement has remained stagnant and there continues to be plenty room for improvement. Instead of teaching the same curriculum, hoping that our students would magically understand the material, our principal and administrative team challenged our faculty to restructure our curriculum, moving towards a skills-based approach to better prepare our students for post-secondary opportunities.
So, what are we doing to improve student achievement?
1. Challenging the status quo
We refuse to teach the same way as we have been taught. There is too much compelling educational research that supports a change in curricular methodology. We understand that a skills-based approach will better prepare our students for the 21st century workplace. We have read and implementing Robert Marzano’s What Works in Schools and John Hattie’s Visible Learning. We see the importance of Tony Wagner’s essential skills in the Global Achievement Gap. We are having the difficult conversations with our own colleagues regarding best practices in the classroom.
2. Creating a community of teacher learners and leaders
Receiving a degree in our content area may make us content experts, but it does not prepare us for the 21st century classroom. We are committed to improving ourselves through a system of support through an embedded professional development community. We have key staff members who are expert trainers in Cooperative Learning, Differentiated Instruction, and Problem-Based Learning. Teaching is more than content regurgitation. We must focus on a set of agreed-upon skills we must teach our students to master. It is the skills that drives the curriculum, not content.
3. A shared vision
What is the vision of your school? Our vision is to improve student learning. In order to have a common vision, we must also have common practices in place that all staff must be committed to doing. As I said at the beginning, we had a teacher institute that focused on key pieces in the continued improvement of student learning. These are non-negotiables that all teachers will implement. For example, our staff has agreed to use four reading strategies with the freshman class; annotation, 2-column notes, concept mapping, and question-answer relationships. We have also agreed to use one rubric when assessing our freshman argument essays. Targeting a handful of strategies will help our freshmen remain focused.
Student achievement will improve only until we reform our way of thinking, our way of planning, our way of assessing. This work will be difficult for both teachers and students. As teachers, we live our lives going to school. We put in countless hours of work trying to mold the minds of our students that are seated in front of us each day. Reflect on how you have taught these last five, ten, twenty years. There is no magic wand that will improve academic achievement. We will only prepare our students for what lies ahead of them through a committed effort of our learning, reflecting, and our commitment to excellence. Our students deserve the best.
Please pass on this message to colleagues who you feel want to be change agents in your school. We do not need to wait for state or federal policies. Change can happen and will happen with dedicated edupreneurs.
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