Friday, February 21, 2014

Modernizing Schools' Work

My Professional Development Philosophy:
I like to plan PD in ways that afford faculty members as much input and freedom as possible.  This “teacher-centered” approach not only models best practices for classrooms’ “student-centered” work, but also recognizes my belief that a system must be led through a democratic, collegial and trusting culture.  I may be able to set our priorities and bring in initiatives, but If I don’t trust my faculty with a voice, I’d be establishing an adversarial, top-down culture, and I don’t believe that’s how schools operate optimally.

The Process Starts With a Question:
I believe that best practices for faculty learning always start with a question instead of a mandate in order to safely engage everyone as thinkers and participants.  An example of a question that could drive a faculty’s modernization would be: “How has the world changed since the turn of the century in ways that will be important to our students’ futures as citizens and professionals?” Answering this would be a starting point for an ever-evolving, organic list that we can continue to debate, organize, and consider this list as time goes on.  Obviously, it’s going to push us to consider how we’re going to include them in our curricula.  

Let’s Compare Our Own Thinking to Work from State and National Organizations:
Certainly, there are pieces of this work being mandated by Massachusetts, such as the Curriculum Frameworks for Math and ELA, but there are also a number of groups and professional leaders that may have ideas that should be included in our thinking.  Examples of these optional sources for ideas include the NextGen Science Standards, C3 Social Studies Standards, P21, ISTE and people like Tony Wagner of Harvard, Thom Whitby, who is well known for innovative perspectives on what’s coming next in education and as a founder of #edchat on Twitter, and someone like @johnfalino1, who is leading his school's modernization process the right way and often posts the faculty's processes on his blog.  While all of these respected sources should be considered, I’d imagine that a faculty may know of even more sources.

Using Our Updated Student-Learning Goals to Guide Pedagogical Change:
Pedagogical choices are best when considered as a function of desired learning outcomes.  We need to ask: “What are the classroom practices that will best help our students master ____?”  There may be internal success and someone who can lead the learning on this, but it also may require research teams.  In some instances, this will mean deciding when to include certain new or different information while other pieces such as metacognition, technological facility and multi-disciplinary literacy will take deeper consideration since they need to be woven throughout various coursework.  Our student-learning goals ought to lead to PD that is individualized for each teacher.  

Assessing What We Believe is Important:
I want a lot of varied data to inform a school’s work.  I understand that assessment has received a lot of negative publicity since the inception of NCLB and RTTT, but that doesn’t mean that standardized-testing data doesn’t tell us anything.  Beyond it, we also must create assessment systems that give us the information we feel is missing from state and nationalized exam scores.  We must have a complete assessment system that tells us whether or not our students are appropriately progressing towards our desired achievement goals.  

There is a tremendous amount of research and innovation in this area that ought to be explored.  We must look at our use of formative and summative assessments, the commonality and quality of our rubrics, transitioning to standards-based-grading strategies and even considering including student portfolios, where they would get to write reflections explaining their growth and choose pieces of work where they feel that proficiency/mastery is most evident.  

In addition to student assessment, we’d also need to ensure that our teacher observation and evaluation system is aligned with modern best practices.  Teachers must be accountable for including the school’s goals in their curriculum, for showing an appropriate level of growth in the goals they have set, and for understanding how their students’ achievement levels appropriately drive them to adjust their coursework and their own goals as is necessary.  

I love and believe in this plan because it’s focused and detailed while leaving a lot of room for individualization and flexibility.  It ensures that teachers and the whole school are set up to help each other move forward on behalf of students’ needs without being prescriptive.  It leaves plenty of room for local ownership as well as state and federal government mandates.  It means that teachers don’t need to be disruptive if they are willing to be involved.

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