Before becoming building principals, we were instructional coaches, each of us having coached either mathematics or ELA. Instruction was always the focus of our coaching work. After several years as principals, we realized that though supporting teaching and learning was a component of our work, it was no longer the focus. Once we came to that realization, we knew that we needed to make some changes.
At Teaneck Public Schools (Teaneck, New Jersey) we are focused on establishing common instructional practice across all classrooms that is designed to increase our students’ opportunities to engage in demanding curriculum content in both mathematics and English language arts lessons.
Getting students to think deeper about the content takes intentional choices and instructional moves on the part of teachers and administrators. One of our partners, Butler Area School District in western Pennsylvania, has worked this year to increase the academic rigor in their mathematics classrooms.
The Guilford Public Schools’ vision is that of a professional learning community where instruction invites effort and supports academic rigor for all students and educators. To that end, our daily work in classrooms is rooted in and supported by the Principles of Learning (POLs).
Networks that engage educators in continuous improvement have the potential to harness the power of collaborative work to accelerate learning and solve complex problems. District leaders have the opportunity to build improvement networks within their organizations, but they vary in some distinct ways from networks typically seen in K-12 education.
When teachers are working to acquire new instructional practices, particularly ambitious reforms, teachers tend to gravitate toward approaches that are congruent with their prior practices, or they focus on discrete activities, materials, or classroom organization (Spillane, 2009).
Refine Instructional Practices Through PLC Discussions That Relate Content, Student Thinking, and Pedagogy
Almost every school out there has tried to implement some sort of professional learning community, or PLC. Many of those schools started PLCs with the right intentions and provided time for PLCs to meet regularly to work collaboratively with the goal of increasing academic performance of students.
Propel Pitcairn, one of the Institute for Learning’s newest partners, went through the process of an organization-wide curriculum adoption for both math and English language arts last year. As a result, the teachers will now be regularly using high-level tasks, which dovetails with the network’s vision that students will do the thinking.
A growing number of schools focus on some form of communities of practice as a key to improving their performance. Schools typically refer to communities of practice as professional learning communities (PLCs). These work in a variety of ways and have different goals, but only some achieve their intended results.
“It definitely makes my heart smile when I hear a teacher say, ‘I just stopped what I was doing because the student knew more than I did and just took over!’ or ‘I began to feel frustrated because we were not able to work through the content the way that I originally planned, but I learned so much about what they know and have experienced by re-framing some of my questioning and allowing them to create the questions too.
The Institute for Learning (IFL) and Schenectady City School District have worked collaboratively for several years, and this year, we continued our ongoing partnership with a focus on using improvement science methodology to “get better at getting better.” District-wide, there is a focus on using improvement science to work on persistent problems of practice.
In her article “Framing Equity: Helping Students ‘Play the Game’ and ‘Change the Game’” (2009), Rochelle Gutiérrez lays out the four key dimensions of equity: Access, Achievement, Identity, and Power, which sit on two axes. Access and Achievement create the dominant axis, and Identify and Power create the critical axis.
We are privileged to live at a time with many resources and technologies that exist to aide educators, but sometimes these advancements can carry an ironic cost: They can be distracting to the basic aims of education.
When a district successfully shifts their trajectory of students’ performance, many people ask how they did it. New Brunswick Public Schools’ use of strategic decision-making, grounded in improvement science principles, and greater collaboration across role groups resulted in impressive gains in mathematics scores across the district.
Searching for the Root Cause: An interview with Bridget Goree, NSI Coordinator for North Dallas High School
Campus Network for School Improvement (NSI) coordinators learn to discover and understand the root causes of a problem of practice and find that understanding the problem takes time and requires a cultural shift. In this interview, Bridget Goree, an instructional coach at North Dallas High School, shares her own experience learning to approach this work. She discusses three considerations—what to stop doing, what is important to do, and what they are learning to build.
We have known about harmful effects of high-stakes state testing on students, teachers, and the curriculum for decades, yet we continue to perpetuate the belief that they test what students know and can do. Daniel Koretz (2017) demonstrates that they have become ends in themselves and take valuable time away from instruction designed to grow students’ intelligence rather than their test-taking abilities.
Recently, the Institute for Learning was selected to bring its expertise and extensive experience with instructional coaching to mathematics educators in the state of Tennessee. More specifically, IFL provided instruction around coaching moves that support high-quality teaching, resulting in improved student learning.
New Brunswick Public Schools (NJ) is a continuing partner with the Institute for Learning (IFL). Over the last 4 academic years, the district has seen definite growth across grades 3 – 10 in both English language arts and mathematics, as measured on the NJ state assessment tests.
Paterson Public School’s Guiding Coalition, a working group in academic services composed of content area senior staff, began its journey with improvement science in the fall of 2016. As we examined the various issues that we faced in curriculum and instruction, one flash point was the extraordinarily low state achievement test scores in science on the Grade 8 and high school biology assessments.
Networks have always been a mechanism for improvement; as social learning theory reminds us that, when well organized, opportunities to learn together can be more powerful than individual learning. We know that bringing people together to work on a common goal can be exciting, but to enact real change we must push beyond a sharing network—a collection of educators who share their practice—to a scientific professional learning community—one in which a diverse set of individuals engage in disciplined inquiry to solve a common problem of practice (Russell et al., under review).
Decades of research in mathematics, English, and science education have made it clear that students make substantial progress only when they experience rich learning tasks in their classes that require the students to engage in sense making; it is very difficult for teachers to arrange for strong student learning outcomes when the curriculum for students is weak.
Coaching is a powerful approach to increasing student learning, but only when certain conditions are met. Here we describe lessons learned from research about the essential “ingredients” and implementation of effective coaching programs.
Humans are problem solvers by nature, and educators are no exception. Whether we are working to improve student comprehension, or striving to improve low math scores, once a problem has surfaced, we often rush to find solutions – to our detriment. Trying to fix a problem before we know its true cause is a problem in and of itself.