Monday, April 17, 2006

At WestEd's Symposium

Our school was asked to present at this conference because of our significant growth (198 API points in 3 years; over 20% growth in proficiency; exiting Program Improvement status; progressing from the worst middle school in the county to the highest in the District). I got the gig pretty much because I was willing to work during Spring Break -- which therefore has not truly begun until today.

The presentation covered how the school moved from a place where people believed our student population of low-income English Language Learners would be forever doomed to low achievement (The Myth) to a place where students work hard and learn hard, all without resorting to absurd militaristic screaming and shaming. I outlined five reforms that made the difference:

1) Regain control and raise expectations
2) Group students effectively by triangulating CELDT, CST, and local assessment
3) Improve instructional focus by focusing on scaffolding and key ELL strategies
4) Extend the school day
5) Effectively target after-school and Saturday interventions***

Things went well. The groups were a mix of teachers, instructional coaches, district personnel, and administration haling from parts of California I didn't even know existed. If I had to draw a dividing line, I'd say the teachers didn't get us, but the principals and assist. Superintendents did. The teachers asked bone-headed questions and non-questions ("I've been a social studies teacher for 18 years and I'm tired of doing Language Arts teachers' jobs."); as well as questioning the validity of our achievement ("no way they get these scores" when they thought I wasn't listening).

The others asked insightful things concerning funding, contractual alterations/evasions, student placement and replacement, etc. One question really got me: "What trainings and professional developments did you attend to learn how to teach ELLs better?"

"Um, none?"

That's not entirely true, but we didn't go to GLAD or SADAI or any other high-profile, high-cost affair. Many staff have posters in their rooms that read:

How did you succeed?
1) I worked hard.
2) I kept trying.
3) I've been practicing.

And at the risk of being glib or annoying, that poster holds the key to what we've done more than anything else. We spent a lot of time looking at standards, working to break them down into instructional chunks, learning how to properly assess students' instructional levels, and continuing the conversations of effective instructional strategies, but much of this was done internally, without the aid of high-priced consultants. We just kept working and talking and keeping the kids in the classrooms for extended periods and on Saturdays. There isn't a magic bullet training you can go to that will fix everything.

Needless to say, this answer didn't satisfy.

I had a couple other answers that I tweaked, shall we say, because the truth is pretty ridiculous. "What is the mechanism for changing a student's schedule mid-year?" The real answer involves writing some names down on a post-it note and handing it to POY during brunch. The answer I gave involved a form we admittedly used in the past, with sections for academic proof of rescheduling necessity. I tried to present the model as much as possible, because we've moved past the model in ways that are almost silly when you think about how much decision making and problem solving occurs during brunch and walking across the quad.

So here's the buried lede of this whole adventure: A consultant from Orange County came up to me after the second workshop and offered to fly me down to give a similar presentation to a school she's working with. This is definitely cool, but I feel like I run the risk of becoming... one of them.

***Look at the list. Seriously, look at it. Every school can do those things. They are highly replicatable. Highly. They do not require life-abandonment or monolithic leaders.


Blogger Mike in Texas said...

If you've never presented before there will be a surreal moment for you when you realize you are actually the presenter.

I also had a moment like that my first year of teaching, on about the third day when I realized I really WAS the teacher.

8:08 PM  
Blogger posthipchick said...

how did it go?

8:30 PM  
Blogger EdWonk said...

I wish that we could get some of what you got. We're in our third year as a "Program Improvement" school.

Thanks to a variety of variables (including our rather listless school leadership) the smart money says that we will soon be in our fourth.

9:11 PM  
Anonymous Jeri said...

Do you think it's true that those schools in which the nay-sayin' teachers work will not turn around until they (all) leave? I think that scenario might be more likely than the one in which those teachers will turn themselves around and stop saying "no, that can't be it" to ideas they don't like.
Why must we be so stubborn to keep doing things they way we do them?

7:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a bunch of disillusioned snobs you all are. Education was never meant to be taught from a Federal agenda, but from a state and local platform. Since the Department of Education was formed in 1980, our school standards have gone down. Do your research. You are creating Wards for the State with the intrusive tests your "NPO" gives our children. This is a bad idea. I feel safer knowing that my child is in the hands of a teacher that cares instead of the Federal Machine!How dare you criticize our teachers!

10:02 PM  

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