Something for Everyone

This post was written by Barbara Israel, School Improvement Specialist at Battelle for Kids.

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I love teaching.  I have always loved teaching.  I consider myself blessed because I have known what I wanted to be since I was a child.  I chuckle when I picture little me lining up all of my stuffed animals and dolls in rows.  I would then proceed to hand out papers and books to each of themit was my first classroom.  And, after 32 years as a public high school English teacher I can honestly say, with a huge smile, that I loved every minute of it!

Many people have told me over the years that they could never be a teacher.  We are a special breed.  My friends and colleagues would say that none are more fearless than those who teach high school!  I can tell you that an even tougher audience are the teachers who teach high school.  Teaching teachers has been the ultimate challenge for me. 

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to engage 30 educators in professional learning around the power of effective feedback as part of FIP Your School® Ohio.  Following best practice myself, I had to start by finding out more about the group (gathering data), so that I could plan to meet the needs of all participants. This school housed 5th through 8th grade students; all staff members, including Spanish and physical education teachers, were in attendance.  One important data point was their Value Added rating; 16th in the state. I knew these teachers were good at growing kids! Preparation also involved conversations with leadership so that FIP was not presented as simply one more thing to do. This would require a personalized approach into the Foundations of Formative Instructional Practices modules. 

We started the morning with a room full of educators that were excited to learn something new. There were four very important people in the room: members of the leadership team. Their presence throughout the entire day communicated the most important message, “We are in this together.”  It allowed for conversation on how this new learning connects to the improvement goals for the building and how it connects to individual growth plan goals that teachers have committed to for the year.

Understanding the research that underpins formative instructional practices gave me an opportunity to go directly into Module 1: Introduction to Formative Instructional Practices and talk about Hattie’s meta-analyses and high-impact practices.  As teachers worked in groups, I began to get a feel for my “students.”  The minute by minute formative feedback that teachers get regularly throughout class was beginning to occur. I could begin to see who was embracing new thinking and where the pockets of resistance were forming.  I started to target my challenges for the day; you know who I’m talking about!  Their arms were firmly crossed over their chest; furrowed brow or full blown frown.  And the most common question, “Yes, but, how is this going to work in my class?’

The pre-determined focus for this session was effective feedback.  A straight path through the learning modules wasn’t the strategy, but a great opportunity to whet their appetites by providing them with useful tools from select resources.  Module 4: Analyzing Evidence and Providing Effective Feedback has great information and we tapped the rubric vein among others. This was a great opportunity to connect teachers to the Writing Rubric, Deconstructed Standard, and the Vertical Progression for the Argumentative Writing Standard found in the FIP in Action: ELA Grade 6 Argumentative Writing module.

In the end, it all circles back to:

  • Clear learning targets as the starting point;
  • Sound assessment design that yields useable data;
  • Effective ways to respond to the evidence of student learning; and
  • Enabling students to take ownership of their own learning.

My “toughest” student of the day sought me out before she left to say that our day was the best professional development she had ever been to.  When I asked her why, she said, “Because it wasn’t just theory; You gave me something concrete that I can begin to do to get better at my job!”  At the end of the day, the teacher in me was once again gratified. I had managed to provide something useful for everyone.  I love teaching!