Tuesday, September 16, 2014

#PiratePride

It's homecoming week at Hudson. This is no doubt an exciting time for our students! There are special dress up days this week, a big game, and a dance on Saturday night. While the focus is usually on the students and the events that are taking place at school, it is also important to remember that this is an important event for the entire community, and especially our Hudson alumni. We are really looking forward to seeing former students this week-from those who have been away for a few years; to those who graced our halls just a few short months ago. As our newest graduates have begun to spread their wings and learn about the world at large, we are hoping that they also find the time to stop by and say hello. This is your homecoming too!

Indeed, the idea of homecoming is to welcome home those who have moved on to college, career, or military. We certainly want to extend warm wishes and hospitality to each of you returning to your Alma-Mater this week. It is important that you know [and hear from us] how proud we are of your accomplishments, and we would love the opportunity to catch up! We are also interested in knowing how well our school prepared you as you took the next step in your life journey.

I hope you have the chance to take in some of the improvements we have made in our schools as well! We are quite proud of the many projects that we have been able to accomplish over the course of the last several months! These improvements are a shining example of how proud the entire community of Hudson is in it's school system, and part of what truly makes our homecoming celebration a community event. One needs to look no further than the school facilities to quickly understand and appreciate the pride we have in our schools. 

So to all those individuals who helped with the projects this summer, thank you! Whether you were a volunteer or contractor, your efforts have been much appreciated. You worked with a very unforgiving timeline and knew that everything had to be completed without delay. That diligence has certainly paid off. The district facilities look great and I think that we can all agree that the improvements that were made have been well worth it! 

And to those who are seeing these improvements for the very first time, welcome home!




Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Early Success With Teacher Leadership

Many schools across Iowa are preparing their teacher leadership grants for submission to the Iowa Department of Education later in October. They are hoping to be included in wave two of the teacher leadership and compensation system for the 2015-2016 school year. As a wave one school, we have a duty to help these school districts by acting as a resource and sharing the wisdom we gained from our own planning process. Now as our implementation is unfolding, we are honored to share what we are learning about teacher leadership. I have visited with numerous schools in our own conference and around the state who want to learn from us. We are happy to oblige. 

Just the other day we were joined by a school district in Northeast Iowa that is of similar size and preparing their grant. They wanted to come to Hudson and visit with us about our system of teacher leadership. In addition to that, the Department of Education along with representatives from the Governor's Office and state Board of Education have scheduled a visit for early October to see how our implementation is going.

When I first started taking these phone calls, my initial thought was, really? I mean we are happy to help out and talk with folks about planning, but we are just getting started. The implementation is early, and we are still figuring it out ourselves. What could we possible report at this point?

As it turns out, we have quite a bit to report. 

For starters, our teacher leadership system began on August 4th, a full week before the remainder of the faculty arrived. It began with a completely redesigned teacher induction program. Any teacher that was brand new to the profession had this full week of additional in-service. Our intention was to provide these new teachers with the skills and training that they needed in order to be successful at Hudson. Our university and college teacher preparation programs do an outstanding job of preparing practitioners for the field, but the turnover rate of teachers in Iowa schools remains high with many leaving the profession within five years. This plan is designed to improve those rates. We were given the chance to work with our new teachers at length, discussing numerous topics with them ranging from the initiatives that are currently underway in our schools to the managerial processes that we have in place in the district. In addition to that, our new teachers had time built into their schedule to work exclusively with a mentor teacher that was assigned to them. At the conclusion of the week, we all felt that this was a vast improvement over the process that we previously had in place at Hudson. 

Three instructional coaches serve as the anchor role in our leadership system in the areas of math, literacy, and technology. When first appointed, they had many questions about the mechanics of how they were to organize their work. We fielded such questions as, "What will my day look like", and "What am I supposed to do"? My response was probably a bit nebulous, "You will go where the work takes you". Understand how new this is to our teacher leaders! As classroom practitioners they were used to having their entire day scripted--down to the minute. The schedule that they have operated under for years has been designed in a way to maximize student learning time and work in tandem with the needs of 400+ students. Suddenly, these teacher leaders are finding a bit more freedom in movement. They are going where the work takes them, and every day leads to a new challenge. That is the excitement of leadership! 

But the question then becomes, well what are they doing? There are really two categories of tasks that our teacher leaders are performing, supportive and developmental. Supportive tasks are those generally designed to support the work of the teacher in the classroom, This includes managing curriculum materials, coordinating assessments, and piloting resources. With the recent adoption of major curriculum (Envision Math and Wonders ELA), our practitioners are finding the help they need when questions arise about curriculum material. In addition to this, with the new emphasis on literacy and a change in assessment, there has been a lot of time spent getting our systems set up to administer this new screening tool.

Developmental tasks are those designed to develop the effectiveness of educators. It is from this type of task that we can draw a straight line to our overriding vision of teacher leadership: strengthening instruction through embedded professional development. Essentially, our teacher leaders are doing things that are designed to make teachers better. This might include designing activities and lessons, answering content questions, modeling team teaching, and facilitating professional development. To see this being played out in real time, we can look no further than the connected learning initiative. A huge paradigm shift for our educators, this type of learning is designed to put students in the drivers seat by giving them access to powerful tools. With this type of learning, professional development for our teachers is critical! That is where the technology coach is able to demonstrate and facilitate teacher learning that enables them to leverage and maximize these learning devices for our students.

We have just recently identified the next level of teacher leadership positions in our district, those being model teachers. In the coming weeks they are sure to have a huge impact on student learning. It will be exciting to see how our teacher leadership system develops this school year. Only a month in and we are already seeing these teacher leaders make such a positive impact!