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Superintendent's corner: Teacher workdays--What takes place?

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

For parents, teacher workdays are often inconvenient because of work schedules and the difficulty of finding day care for children. For staff, it is a critical day where staff can continuously review the information available to improve the teaching and learning process.

Hopefully, the information provided in this edition of “Superintendent’s Corner” will allow parents and the community to see that teacher workdays expand 21st Century teaching opportunities in our classrooms.

Today’s educators are bombarded with professional development opportunities as vendors seek to find the “magic solution” to meeting No Child Left Behind standards. Many look impressive and have catchy titles; some are within a reasonable price range. So how are educators to decide what is the best bargain?

Before No Child Left Behind, the instructional staff was already disaggregating data and identifying weaknesses. We then developed and implemented plans to address those deficiencies.

There were numerous professional development activities taking place throughout the district. Our arrows targeting improvement reflected random acts of improvement, and our course was difficult to chart. There was minimal staff networking or idea sharing throughout the district. Proving the validity of what we were doing was impossible.

An annual needs assessment among teachers identified numerous shortcomings. In the feedback, we found a common thread—the need for uniform professional development that focused on well-researched and well-proven instructional strategies to increase student learning.

In his article titled “Changing Schools,” Tim Waters from McRel reminds us education is filled with inherited practices as we continue to do things the way they’ve always been done.

He goes on to challenge us to ask “why?” Why are we doing what we’re doing? Why are we teaching this objective? Why is it important enough to consume time and energy?

As a participant in the Executive Leadership Academy for N.C. Superintendents, a review of McRel’s research and suggested practices led me to do some soul-searching on behalf of the school district.

As I asked why and challenged my staff to ask why, it became evident we needed to revisit the basics and determine what, when, why, and how in planning for successful instruction. From this, we began an extensive search for a workable framework of improvement.

The model we selected is based on the scientific research compiled by McRel, under the leadership of Marzano. Based on Marzano’s “Classroom Instruction That Works,” we were able to identify a gap between what teachers were “teaching” and what students were “learning.”

This led us to ask again—what is effective teaching and what is effective learning?

Marzano had a proven track record addressing basic teaching strategies that resulted in increased student learning. The strategies—they were not new—resulted in the desired learning when applied deliberately and systematically.

These strategies include: choosing a guaranteed and viable curriculum; setting challenging goals and effective feedback; identifying similarities and differences; underscoring, summarizing and note-taking; reinforcing effort and providing recognition; emphasizing homework and practice, nonlinguistic representations and cooperative learning; setting objectives and providing feedback; generating and testing hypotheses; and using cues, questions, and advance organizers effectively.

Brunswick County School District is now in the final year of a three-year professional development plan involving teaching, modeling, and reinforcing these strategies in every classroom daily.

By using a train-the-trainer model, key personnel—the superintendent, all principals, central office instructional staff, and lead teachers from all schools—were trained by national McRel trainers.

Later, the trainers taught teachers throughout the county using uniform materials developed by McRel and by central administration.

Focusing on a shared vision, setting standards, and using a common language, we are now working from the same page, which has resulted in excitement and increased student learning and achievement.

The trend in test scores across the county continues to improve yearly, and we all agree “Classroom Instruction That Works” has significantly impacted the teaching and learning process in Brunswick County Schools.

With a shared vision of professional development, we have learned together and endorsed the instructional strategies in all BCS classrooms. We now have the knowledge and tools to reach all students.

Additionally, we have provided Ruby Payne’s model of professional development on poverty and diversity in order to better understand the issues students bring to school every day. A priority in the school district is for administrators and instructional support staff to visit classrooms daily to monitor instructional strategies being implemented.

Seeing the efforts of staff and the results noted in our district report card has convinced me that the “magic solution” is within our reach.

We have dramatically improved the instructional program in Brunswick County Schools and plan to continue our journey to excellence in the months and years ahead.