Priorities in a Time of Change

When we consider all that is NEW from NYSED this year:

1. the new evaluation system for teachers and principals,

2. the portfolio that teachers are keeping to show evidence in Domain #4 of the Danielson 2011 rubric,

3. the portfolio that principals are keeping to show evidence of goals in the Multidimensional Principal Performance Rubric

4. the student learning objective goals every teacher will have to develop in 2012-13

5. the changes to the state assessments–one hand preparing kids for the NYS assessments this year with one hand in common core for next year and K-2 all common core this year. . . with no clear idea of where the Regents exams are going. . .

6. the local assessments, iReady at RCS, with interim assessments for Data Analysis Teams

7. the impending composite score in 2012-13 for each teacher and principal

8. and the shifts to the Common Core Curriculum in Math and ELA.

With so much at once, we simply must consider where to put the majority of our energy and prioritize.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about 24/7 for the past seven months. At Randolph Central School, we’re going to do all that we can to implement the changes, as we have been. But we have to consider which of these eight changes has the greatest potential to make a difference for our children? What makes the most sense for our future success at RCS?

The new teacher and principal rubrics (or measures) are necessary improvements to our evaluation systems. In education, we haven’t done a good enough job of communicating well about our teaching and leading. This has the long term potential to make a difference for every teacher and principal—if we can get to the place where we’re sincerely talking objectively about “this is what’s great about what you’re doing, this is what can be better”. Lots of work to do in trust building, speaking directly and honestly, knowing our craft well enough to have meaningful discussions, and collaboration–it’s a two way conversation not just a post observation “if I sit here and nod my head long enough, I’ll be able to get out of here and have some prep time left” lecture. We’ll get there, we’ll do what’s expected. This is NOT our priority.

The portfolios are not our “best bet” or our priority either. We’ll comply with this, we’ll develop the portfolios, we’ll reflect on our practice, and we’ll have some good discussion. Not going to be our priority, does not have the potential for improving our success with students in the short term.

Now the state assessments. We do need to think about the state assessments and as any Regents teacher will tell you, of course we focus on preparing for the end of year assessment–we’d be crazy NOT to. As a teacher, I studied my Regents exams, analyzed the results–kicked myself when there was a question or two for which I KNEW I hadn’t adequately prepared my students, planned for next year’s instruction, gave ongoing assessments throughout the year to determine what we needed to review, reteach, etc. This is what we’ve always done well. And the State hasn’t been clear enough about where State assessments are headed for us to prioritize. Part of what we do, not the main change we need to attend to now.

And we’re not going to prioritize the SLOs, Student Learning Objectives.  We’ll learn more about SLOs, set them, practice SLOs and comply—but this is not the number one priority for us either.

So what is? Teaching the Common Core Curriculum and conducting internal Data Analysis while raising our expectations for all students. We make so many decisions in education based on our gut or our instinct or our impression of kids—and we’re just as guilty of it in administrative decisions. We can’t do that anymore. I taught this way too. This isn’t a criticism. It’s acknowledging that the way we’ve planned our instruction has been hit or miss and it isn’t good enough. We had to figure it out on our own and now we have to follow the Common Core curriculum. I say “Hallelujah and About Time”.

We have to look at how our students are doing, each of them, throughout the school year and we have to modify our instruction to match what they need us to teach next or again in the common core curriculum. I know we have teachers, in every district, who see the curriculum as a guideline, a suggestion, or something to consider when you’re planning your observation lesson because you have to slap some standards on the top of your lesson plan. That’s not good enough. Not even close. It’s what we have always done because no one gave us a good alternative or anything else at all and the textbook became the curriculum, because after all, what else did we have?

In grades K-8, we simply must teach the common core curriculum. With integrity. Not once in a while. NOT the textbook. NOT the lessons you’ve always loved to teach. The common core curriculum. With total fidelity. It’s not just a guideline. In Math and in ELA. If we don’t do that at every grade level, the teacher who follows you cannot bring your kids to the levels that are needed. Non negotiable. And when we have an articulated curriculum with new assessments from SED, it’ll be the same for our other core subjects too, K-12.

We had to figure out what to teach on our own for decades, we had NYS learning standards that frankly were unclear and anything BUT specific. NYS is now telling us what to teach, when. We must do this. And we must assess our kids throughout the school year to see how each child is faring—THEN we must remediate weaknesses AND push EACH child to his or her fullest potential. And while we’re at it, we’ve got to expect more of our students in the classrooms, we’ve got to push them harder and work them more. I believe they can do it. Why? Because I’ve been in our classrooms. Our teachers are extremely hard working professionals who love our kids. We’ve got to adjust what we’re teaching and push harder—our students can do it. They should be mentally exhausted when they leave at the end of the day. Some of our students aren’t even close to using all of their brain power, especially not our top students. Love them enough to expect more of them.

Why do I KNOW we can do it? Because I’ve never seen a more dedicated, harder working faculty. We can’t do whatever we figure out on our own in our individual classrooms anymore, we’ve got to deliver a cohesive continuum of common core instruction that leads each of our students to his greatest potential.

Our job has always been to love and care about our students. Our goal is help each student maximize her success.

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