Wednesday, September 12, 2018

It's Not as Easy as it Looks

Junior high teachers collaborating on a personalized
professional development project during a recent
student early dismissal.
Yesterday I had an opportunity to sit in on a grade level meeting in second grade. These weekly meetings between the building principal, teacher leaders, and teachers serve multiple purposes. Most importantly they open a dialogue among instructional experts to discuss what is going on in the classroom and how best to meet the needs of learners. It was during this meeting I was once again reminded how incredibly complex, difficult, and challenging the work is of our educators. While observing this meeting teachers were discussing their upcoming unit plans and how they aligned to the Iowa Core. They provided a detailed timeline of instruction, including the identification of specific instructional strategies that were going to be used during this instruction. Strategies by the way, that had recently been presented in professional development.

When pressed by the principal about what 'proof' there would be to demonstrate successful mastery of the content, the teachers shared the formative assessments that would be used to measure student growth. For those not demonstrating adequate growth, their plan and timeline provides remediation-for groups of students exceeding expectations and those needing additional instruction. Then, these teachers were able to tie the instruction they are delivering back to the specific content standard that is being addressed; be it instruction designed to introduce a concept, develop a concept, or attain grade level mastery.

Now I am used to seeing this kind of stuff everyday from our teachers here at Hudson. But I have to tell you: this was impressive. It was another awesome reminder of the complex work that is going on in our schools, and the high level of skill and training it takes for our teachers to do it successfully. I know what many of you are thinking: this is the second grade team and they are rock stars anyway. I'll concede that point, but the fact is this isn't an anomaly. Keeping in mind that I wasn't invited to this meeting and just 'popped in' randomly, I asked Mr. Schlatter; are all the grade level meetings like this? His answer: Yes. 

The picture you may have in your mind of what teaching looks like, or even what is sometimes portrayed on television is woefully simplistic. The truth is, teachers are very highly skilled professionals that put in a ton of work that is largely unseen. What we see in our classrooms when our instructors deliver polished instruction on a daily basis is but a fraction of what it looks like to be a teacher. We are lucky in Hudson to have very good ones.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Building Momentum

Admittedly we are still in the prologue of the 2018-2019 school year. With just over seven days complete, I think we have finished just the right number of days to establish a routine. Bus routes are beginning to run on time and we are starting to get the hang of the lunch line. Boy, I'll tell you what! There is nothing quite like watching kindergartners go to lunch on the first day of school! Give them a salad bar with numerous options and then stand back and watch the show!

The nostalgia of the start of the school year recently had me recalling an experience from my youth. It was science class; we were two or three days into the year and had just turned in our homework assignment. Astonishingly enough, all of us turned in our assignment. And then the teacher said, "It's the first week of school. Everyone turns in homework during the first week. I'm sure this will be the last time." 

Yikes?! Well, as it turns out he was right. I have few fading memories of that teacher and class, but certainly I was late turning in classwork on more than one occasion. Now, what he said was not necessarily out of bounds or even inappropriate. After all, he would probably argue that he was right. But what I would say is that comment was cynical and a bit sad. Instead of celebrating the goodness of the moment, it was ruined by the foreboding of what was to come. By lifting us up and making a big deal out of the fact everyone met the goal, it very well could have built momentum. Would it have worked? Well, we'll never know because once the toothpaste is out of the tube you'll never be able to put it back. But here is what I do know: it certainly wouldn't have hurt (and I wouldn't be talking about it right now).

First week or not I have seen some things! During a recent visit to the high school, I observed quiet halls. Students are not roaming around, stalling to get to class. They are in class. Learning. When I walked into the classroom(s), students are engaged in learning. Why? Because our teachers have designed lessons that are interesting and compelling. One of the things I do worry about a bit during the first week is new teachers in the high school. You see, students of that age traditionally like to push the boundaries to find out exactly where the lines are. As it turns out, I had no reason at all to be concerned. Instead I saw teachers that are setting high expectations for their students. I have no doubt our students will exceed those expectations.

In the junior high, I visited a social studies class where the students were preparing to apply the democratic principles they were studying to an upcoming project where they would be required to create a lego animation. By filming, editing, and using green screen technology. While that was going on, across the hallway in science class students were learning the differences between quantitative and qualitative data sets. And developing hypotheses about the trajectory and speed of a balloon rocket. First week or not, talk about jumping in with both feet!

First week or not: We have great things happening in our school district! We are off to an awesome start to the school year. The momentum we have behind us right now is an accelerant that will propel our students and staff forward to achieve amazing things this year. I have no doubt that it will only get better from here!