I have been wanting to post about several things, so instead of shoving them into the background again and again, I thought to wrap them up in a 3-for-1 deal.
On the last Saturday in September (back when it still felt like summer), a number of Unit 4 staff, area teachers, parents and community members gathered at Kenwood for the second EdCampCU. For those not familiar with an “edCamp”, it is labeled as an “unconference”, where participants bring the topics that are near and dear to their hearts, in the form of a question. It is specifically meant to be a group dialog, not a lecture/monologue at all; and the interaction is where cool things happen. It is an excellent way of exploring topics in a non-threatening manner. A certain board member attended as well, and wondered about the possibility of the entire school board being involved in a future EdCamp; the next EdCampCU will be in early February, so keep your eyes and ears open.
I love the conversations and the exchanges we shared. For next time, I personally would find it extremely helpful if we tried a few things:
- Have a note-taker at each session that updates a public document (google doc, etherpad, etc) so everyone can read about other sessions during or afterwards
- Have homework. What do we do when we leave the building? Or like Lekevie Johnson (recently in the News-Gazette) asks, “what can I do to help?”
- Have a longer or more intense large-group discussion about the main topics covered in smaller sessions; common themes, action items, reflection, etc.
Positive Behavior Facilitation (PBF)
A couple weeks ago I had the privilege to sit down with Mr. Orlando Thomas and Ms. Katie Ahsell to discuss discipline in Unit 4. As we were discussing numbers, Mr. Thomas started to share with me about PBF. PBF is not new to the district at all – we have been holding PBIS and PBF sessions for quite some time. However, with ACTIONS coming online within the past couple years, the district has started to train staff who specialize in PBF and are resources not only at the location housed with the Family Information Center, but also who go out to all the schools to observe, consult and proactively intervene.
I am a big fan of PBF and have written about it before. During my visit to ACTIONS, I was very much impressed by the focus on restorative justice and the way staff gave both respect and guidance to students of all ages.
But I also understand it isn’t a silver bullet – it is not the Holy Grail that will solve all our problems. At the September 28th Board Meeting (held at Centennial), Mr. Terry Townsend spoke about the Letter of Complaint he filed with the Office of Civil Rights. I also had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Townsend in early October to gain a very different perspective. I was encouraged that Mr. Townsend wants to work on these issues together; moreover, I think we all agree that the only way we can address issues of race, class, equity and discipline is by doing so together.
Back in April I took advantage of an opportunity to chat with Angela Smith about Unit 4’s Achievement Framework. There is a lot going on to help our students succeed, and I was quite impressed.
If you click on the image to the right, it will take you to a Word document prepared by Ms. Smith that explains the 10,000 ft view of the Achievement Framework. In her own words, “[t]his picture shows the relationship between our non-negotiable goals that will help all students achieve. It refers to what we teach, how we teach, how we monitor, and how we grade.”
I asked a number of follow-up questions and Ms. Smith provided some excellent responses. For instance, I asked about differentiation, and I learned that in the middle school level, there are a number of built-in opportunities to accommodate different learning paces; FLEX time (a 40 minute block with variable content), ENCORE remediation supports and summer school slots that are prioritized for those who need it the most.
Ms. Smith also told me about “power standards”, essentially over-arching curricular themes that build in intensity over the course of several semesters (as opposed to being wrapped up in a single class). Taken in the context of the Achievement Framework, teachers can better track progress towards mastery and assess growth along the way. Student growth is important because not everyone comes in with the same skill set or the same educational background, so it is not helpful to compare students to each other, but rather the Framework allows students to be compared against themselves.
Ms. Smith also made a point to explain how teachers can make their practice “authentic” (her word) by “explaining, modeling, demonstrating, group-work, independent work” and allowing students to respond in their own way.
One of my concerns is that this is just a framework. A really good one, to be sure, but still only a skeleton. I wonder, how does it work when applied? What do teachers think of it? What do student think?
The other concern I have is how exactly children are assessed. If done organically and within the flow of teaching and learning, that’s cool. If the intent is to depend upon standardized tests, that does not sit well with me. Especially when a test result takes 6 months to come back! That is just insane.