What Is Best for This Student?
November 2016 Article in the NP Telegraph
The question that must be asked every day in education, what’s best for the student? The first step to becoming a great school district is focusing on what matters most. This starts with our students. No matter your position, we need to focus on who we serve, and work backwards from there. With this idea starting at the beginning, is it easier to actually bring people together, while making us thinking deeply about is the change actually better than what we have been doing before. Too often we focus on adult issues in schools and neglect to talk enough about learning. Are the issues we are having really anything to do with our students?
As the North Platte School District begins its journey to accomplish its purpose of preparing students to be productive, responsible citizens, every conversation needs to begin with what is best for the students? The NP district uses the Professional Learning Team model to provide time for teacher teams to meet regularly to discuss what’s working and what need to be improved regarding student learning. Every professional in the school must engage with colleagues in the ongoing exploration of three critical questions that drive the work of those within the professional learning team:
- What do we want each student to learn?
- How will we know when each student has learned it?
- How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty in learning?
What sets traditional schools apart from schools that incorporate the professional learning team model for teachers, is the answer to the third question. When teachers begin to function as a high performing professional learning team, teachers become aware of the inconsistency between their commitment to ensure learning for all students and their lack of a coordinated strategy to respond when some students do not learn. Teachers begin to address the discrepancy by developing strategies to ensure the struggling students receive time and support, no matter who their teacher is.
Elementary grade level teachers use intervention/enrichment time during the instructional day to provide enrichment and intervention activities for students who need the support. One teacher may take the students needing interventions, and the other teacher may take the students needing enrichment. A paraprofessional, Title I, and/or a special education teacher are matched up to support intervention/enrichment time to help create lower student-to-teacher ratio when using the intervention strategies and/or to assist with building student conceptual knowledge. Some elementary schools are learning and implementing a Leveled Literacy Intervention and Do the Math program to help close the reading and math achievement gap.
The middle school teacher teams meet regularly to compare student achievement data and collaborate to plan interventions. They utilize a scheduled 30 minutes during the day and/or at the end of every school day to provide interventions. If students do not reach the proficiency level, they are retaught the material until they perform at an acceptable level.
The high school staff is providing . . .
NHS Peer Tutoring occurs every Wednesday and Friday morning from 7:45 - 8:20, students are welcome to come into the distance learning room to work independently, or receive help from NHS students who are present to provide assistance as needed.
Math / English Labs: during periods 1, 2, and 4, the high school is running a math lab in the 1100 pod and an English lab in the 2100 pod. Both of these are run by math and English teachers. Teachers can recommend/send students to the lab to receive individual support and instruction on math or English concepts. Even students who are working on essays or writing projects in a non-English class can go to the English lab to get assistance. This is one of the ways that teachers can provide support to struggling students within the normal school day, since often times students have conflicts coming in before or after school.
High school teachers are working together every morning to collaborate. Part of this collaboration is focusing on common formative and summative assessments in order to identify struggling students and develop best practices that teachers can share with each other.
Challenging the status quo: during out last PD day the administrative team used the morning to challenge our staff to start looking at the data and thinking about their current practices. The administrative team have challenged staff to look at grades and ask themselves, "what does my grade reflect?". Teachers have been asked to think about the fact that it is more important WHAT a student learns and not WHEN a student learns it. We are encouraging looking into relearning, re-teaching and reassessing. This is a conversation that will continue.
Teachers are the number one factor that impacts student learning. As teachers work collaboratively, as professional learning teams, the conversation needs to begin with the question; what is best for the students? They must work together to achieve their collective purpose of learning and preparing for all. Teachers begin to judge their effectiveness on the basis of student results. Working together to improve student achievement becomes the norm of everyone in the school.
Principals are the second highest factor just beyond the classroom teacher that impacts student achievement. Principals meet regularly as a professional learning teams to discuss what’s working and what needs to be improved at the school level. As school and district leaders work collaboratively, our plans and actions need to be focused on what’s best for the learner.
The best principals out there are the ones who filter every decision through the question of ‘is this good for student learning. The key to successful leadership is the approach that empowers all of the leaders in the schools – from students to staff to other school leaders – to think about what’s best for students, even if it isn’t always the most popular approach to take.