Eating an Elephant (Part Two)

Shortly after posting my blog “Tips for Eating an Elephant,” a colleague gave me a tip; a contact in Gwinnett County, Georgia, where some key leaders were excited to talk about their FIP implementation. Like Ohio, Georgia participated in Race to the Top and introduced FIP to support new standards implementation and student achievement. State leaders invited the interested districts to pilot FIP. And after a year-long implementation, Gwinnett County Schools, the 12th largest US school district (with 12,000 teachers) wanted to share how they were biting off pieces of the proverbial elephant one piece at a time.

Although this blog most often focuses on FIP in Ohio, other states of similar size have, like us, shed Race to the Top (RttT) blood, sweat and tears during these past three years.  Adrienne Tedesco from the Office of Staff Development and Laura Moak of Gwinnett County shared their thoughtful approach towards building FIP understanding, implementation, capacity, and sustainability. Their innovative, systemic approach has helped to develop and change practice across this huge district. Here is a shout-out to the passionate Peach State district leaders and some highlights from our conversation.

Approach to the Alternate Certification Program
Through federal TAP (Teacher Apprenticeship Program) funds, Teach Gwinnett was formed to provide an alternate licensure path for new teachers. Candidates complete an intensive year-long training (and receive support for a total of three years, as needed) that uses formative instructional practices at its core. Adrienne stated the goal of this program: “We want our candidates to be diagnostic, prescriptive teachers.” What a profound statement!  To this end, they provide a blended learning, competency-based professional learning program where candidates learn how to deconstruct standards, create assessments using target-method-match and become knowledgeable about the accuracy and use of formative and summative assessments needed to drive instructional decisions. 

What have they learned over this past year? Adrienne conveyed that the new teachers were most challenged by what formative really means, and its implications around grading, ongoing collection of evidence, and mastery expectations.  She was overjoyed to see teachers’ growth, as seen in performance assessment and teacher reflections.  She also saw the nature of the candidate’s conversations change and their confidence develop. Candidates and local school leaders were highly positive about candidate preparedness. They left the program able to fully engage in teacher- and school-based teams.

Leadership Development
In response to an interest survey, administrated early in the 2013-2014 school year, 50 principals and assistant principals participated in FIP professional learning facilitated by Laura. Administrators not only took the Coaching FIP and Leading FIP modules, but they completed and discussed the content of the five FIP foundational modules. Laura reported that during the course of their learning, participants always came prepared, yet often struggled with the content, which was a good thing. Change is disruptive—and true learning forces us to rethink our ways of knowing and doing.  Laura’s goal was to have them work through their struggles together and ultimately be able to implement FIP with fidelity.

Laura has a new cohort ready to begin their learning journey. This time she had to cut off the registration—and instead of one session with 50 administrators, she will have three!

Connections to Teacher Evaluation System
The essential goal expressed by Adrienne and Laura was to build capacity and sustainability. They have a lean central office and 132 schools, so this is no easy feat!  Gwinnett adopted the Charlotte Danielson Framework and has made explicit connections between FIP and the standards pertaining to assessment and use. As school leaders mentor and observe both novice and experienced teachers, they can make use of a “Look For/Ask About” sheet created to reinforce the use of FIP in classrooms. Further, they are making important connections between FIP and other pressing demands, such as student growth and accountability measures. 

This team has many more ideas for embedding FIP within schools and reaching more teachers. FIP your School Ohio was designed to help Ohio school and district leaders to do what this Georgia county school district has also embarked on: establishing a deliberate, strategic vision for changing the culture by changing the conversations.  And like us, they are approaching elephant-eating with persistence and a healthy appetite! Bravo!

Do you have implementation success stories? We would love to feature them in this blog. Share your ideas below or email Nathan Okuley (