mccoyderek

Middle School Schedule [6]: Book Review ‘Making Teamwork Meaningful’

‘If teams of teachers are going to accomplish anything of substance, they need regularly scheduled opportunities during the school day to collaborate. In addition, if a school truly want to provide differentiated learning experiences for students – the teachers need regularly scheduled opportunities during the school day to provide targeted interventions.’ Ferriter, Graham, Wight, 2013

   Fortunate circumstances or divine intervention led my friend Bill Ferriter, @plugusin, to share his latest collaborative venture with me. I feel honored that he thought enough to share this great book. Bill is an authority on PLCs and building collaborative, goal oriented cultures in our schools. You’ve probably seen a couple of his works on the Solution-Tree catalog.

   Making Teamwork Meaningful is a great piece that dives into looking at all the systems and processes in a school that affect how students learn and teachers teach and a big part of that is how we promote and protect collaboration. This includes taking a look at our hiring process, developing intervention efforts and of course increasing our efficacy in collaboration and as the book points out, the school schedule is a critical starting point. This is a piece that all school leaders have to key into if we are going to make student learning a priority.

   Related to my series on middle school scheduling, there are some takeaways I thought that really resonate:

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  • Teachers can’t be effective in ineffective structures
  • Outlining priorities and planning methods to protect them
  • The master schedule should support collaboration
  • School leaders have to create and protect opportunities for teachers to collaborate
  • School leaders should  consider how reflection and a commitment to flexibility will play a role in the schedule

   In addition these great points the book provides four key questions in guiding the building of the school schedule:

  1. What are our organization priorities, and who should help protect them?
  2. Who needs opportunities to collaborate to advance priorities, and how will we create time during the school day for that collaboration?
  3. What role will reflection and a commitment to flexibility to play?
  4. How can we be creative with positions and time to free teachers for intervention?

 I received this book well into our planning efforts for next year’s schedule but this was a timely read. Of course there are more aspects to this book developing a school scheduleIf you’re a school leader that’s involved in the decision making process including school improvement planning, building the schedule or designing interventions this is a must read. There are great points on every level for every level.

Middle School Schedule [3]: Support

   We have school leadership meetings twice a month in my current school district, Cumberland County Schools. The topic of one of our middle school principal break out sessions centered around our thoughts, vision and plans for our school schedules for next year.

   This was a great meeting. It’s obvious that there has been a great deal of conversation in these schools regarding preferences, school needs, beliefs and philosophies. Principals talked about plans to implement a 7 period schedule, 8 period, and A/B rotations of various types. There was a lot of conversation and plans for support on all.

Differentiated Support

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This was a great talk. One of my take-aways from this meeting was the obvious level of support from our district leaders. Our meeting was attended by our Executive Director of Secondary Curriculum, a Director of School Support, an Assistant Superintendent and the Superintendent.

   The discussion generated a lot of conversation: pros & cons, ‘how would I implement this at my school?’, different school needs dictating different configurations. At no point were we told we all had to agree on one schedule configuration. Our only mandate was to ensure that high levels of instruction were maintained across the district and that transferring students within our district could move and not be hampered by different schedules in different schools.

I really appreciate this supportive outlook and approach. My school has different needs from other schools. Providing us the flexibility to make best decisions [as we see fit] supports principals and schools, but more importantly helps us implement a differentiated structure tailored specifically for our students needs.

Middle School Schedule [2]: Block = Flexibility

Our current schedule is a 7 period schedule. We take our instructional day and divide it into 7 equal blocks of time allotting additional time during lunch as well as consistent transition time between classes.

 Next year, we will be moving to a modified block schedule.

images (1)   There are several options and models of the block schedule. High school educators, and most people who have recently graduated from high school, will know the 4 x 4 or the A / B block schedule. They are both creative ways to maximize classroom/instructional time by giving students four classes a day, eight for the year.

   Our current 7 period day has been in place for a while. Even though the schedule has changed since the school was built [this is not the original schedule of the school] this schedule is very much a junior high schedule. Right now, our teachers don’t all have common planning with their subject or grade level counterparts. This is a necessity for the middle school concept. Common planning is not only for time for instructional design, it allows for more creative ways to provide interventions for students. Common planning time for teams and subjects has been a staple for years at the middle school level – this was before Common Core was a thought. Our shift to this will enable some great collaborative opportunities for our teachers.

   Common planning will make a huge difference. But the biggest benefit to this block transition will be the flexibility our school will have in serving our students. Increasing common planning means teachers can schedule regular time, either on team or grade level, to discuss student, group or grade level concerns that need special attention. The options here are only as limited as our imaginations.

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   One opportunity I’ve seen success with is taking a chunk of time from all 4 blocks and placing it either at the beginning of the day or the end and using it for special functions. At the beginning of the day, we can get creative with remediation/acceleration efforts, clubs or mentoring opportunities. At the end of the day, we can use it for concerts, assemblies, pep rallies or other functions. In either situation, we are still maintaining significant time in the classroom and benefiting from special time given to instruction or operations. At one of my last schools, we had a tough time getting kids to stay after school for tutoring. We used that special block of time in the morning for additional instructional time. We had to create a different mindset for teachers – treat this additional time like you would for students staying after school. This time made a huge difference with learning and planning.

   This flexibility isn’t available with our current 7 period schedule. Part of my job as the leader in my school is to create options, different opportunites for us to support students. This will be a huge difference maker for us in the upcoming school year.

Middle School Schedule [1]: A New Opportunity

   This is an exciting time!

photo (2)   When I first joined Spring Lake Middle last summer, I had a series of meeting with different groups and our School Improvement Team. Our talks covered getting to know the new principal to strategic planning. The SIT and I had several meeting over the summer to review our school improvement plan, preparing it for our upcoming accreditation visit.

   One item that came up regularly was our school schedule. Spring Lake Middle currently runs on a 7 period day. Spring Lake  has realized some significant success on this schedule because of support, teachers and great students. I raised discussion points that a block schedule allowed more opportunity for creativity, focus on reading/literacy, strategic and impactful collaboration and an incredible amount of innovative support opportunities for students.

   I‘ve always liked scheduling, its probably from my days as a math teacher. I’m looking forward to the next months. Building this schedule is not only going to be about building a good schedule, its going to involve having good, transition talks with the staff. For this reason, I’ll be blogging about our upcoming discussions. I’m looking forward to this. This will be instructive for the staff and in the end, really make difference for teaching and learning.

Google Form as a Walk Thru Tool for Data & Feedback

Our school uses GoogleForms for an informal walk thru observation tool. Since we began using iPads at the beginning of the year, the GoogleForm is great, convenient tool to gather data we use for planning professional development and other needed training.  We’ve recently discussed the need for a good way to get feedback back to the teachers. From prior experience, I know there is no simple solution for this. I discussed with my team some alternative strategies but promised them a solution.

I turned to my PLN for the solution to this new century problem. I need to thank Jayme Linton, @jaymelinton, and Lyn Hilt, @l_hilt, for responding immediately to my request for help. I’ve spoken to Lyn before this and we made little headway. This time, she referred me to a tweeted post from Jayme on this topic. From these sources, I created this instructive presentation with text and screen shots. It starts with some basic instructions on creating a simple form then goes into the directions for creating the email feedback.

The data we collect from this form is a great step. Adding the feedback to it allows us to give teachers time and opportunity to reflect and modify instructional practices.

Hope this helps. I know it will go a long way in our curricular, instructional, and training talks.

Integrating Google into Our Admin Function

personal   One of the major shifts we’re making this year is our use of Google. Cumberland County Schools is a Google district was already a Google district before I joined July 2012. We have most of our functions tied into the Google Cloud or at least available in the cloud. I’ve only been with Cumberland, @cumberlandcosch, since July 2012 but I’ve been a fan of Google since I’ve started shifting my thinking and practice. You can see obvious efforts from county administrators make to utilize Google tools whenever possible to save on meetings and phone calls by using some tools like the chat, surveys and forms.

   Specific for our school, we’ve had to make efforts to replace previous practices with Google tools. I haven’t approached this with a specific plan [which of course in hindsight would have helped the school more] but in my meeting groups, we have transitioned to some of these tools for production and archiving purposing. Our weekly Leadership meeting is great example. Every Monday, the school’s leadership team meets to discuss the upcoming week, set some expectations and plan for upcoming conversations and events. We created a meeting template in a shared folder on Drive and post our meeting notes including details discussed and persons responsible for activities. It is taking some time but the norm is slowly and steadily being built that Google is a part of this process.

   Some of the benefits of integrating Google into our practices that I envision realizing include:

  • Making the planning efforts of some of our groups more transparent
  • Archiving talks and plans
  • Flattening the administrative approach
  • Creating a paperless environment
  • Allowing the staff to participate in a collaborative process we need to create for students 

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 Talks on Google+

 I‘m proud to share that my admin team has began to use Google+ as a tools for pre-planning and communication. I don’t have to share with you all that there isn’t enough time of the day to get it all done. Getting the team together for a quick 15 minute meeting over the weekend to discuss an important item we missed or a last minute detail makes a huge difference in being prepared for the upcoming week. We stay in touch regularly with email and text messages but the planning platform of video and embedded Drive form when needed make a huge difference. 10 minutes of a Google+ chat eliminates 30+ minutes of text messages/emails.

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   I‘m fortunate that there are already experts in the building who can help with the training and understanding. We will begin developing and rolling out a plan specific to what types of information we will put on school wide and department drives and discuss the management of our plan. Getting organized from the beginning of the year will help with our school’s functions, efficiency and support to teachers.

Instructional Support Days

   I‘m proud of the creativity my administrative team has demonstrated with devising and implementing game changing strategies that will go a long way in supporting the teaching and learning in our school. I have a great core group of educators who care about our school and community – its exciting to see how their energy matches their creativity.

One strategy that we have been developing is our Instructional Support Days. Our ISDs are days the administrators and/or coaches lead pd on different topics identified as needs for our school. We use several resources to gather information and determine what our pd needs are: informal walk thru data, information capture activities at the end of collaborative planning, even conversations we have with teachers. We then get together to determine the schedule of training/sharing and who will deliver.

There is a great deal of flexibility in our ISDs. We don’t always have each coach facilitating a session and the topics vary a great deal. For example, we had coaches leading sessions on word walls and a specific instructional best practice. The next ISD, all three tag-teamed an online pd session on formative assessments.

We are leaving this as an open forum for training. In a couple of weeks, I plan on leading a session on building up a PLN. We have had a teacher lead a share session on WebQuests. This was exciting to see because as we planned this, we realized this was an opportunity to empower our teachers and give them an opportunity to show some internal leadership and we can build our own training efficacy.

 I‘m looking forward to seeing this develop. This is one strategy that, as it continues to develop, will pay off exponentially!