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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 [4]: Our Schedule

Our current schedule is a seven period day. It affords 50 minutes per class in all subjects. The way the seven period day has run here over the last couple of years is grade levels are given one common planning period in the morning by having the grade levels go to electives during  either 1st, 2nd or 3rd period. Grade level teachers are given a second planning after lunch. This second planning is not with the grade level though and is not guaranteed to be with the common subject teacher.

Picture3   Our schedule next year has a block framework. We divide our day into four 95 minutes blocks with additional time added to first and third block for homeroom and lunch respectively. The first picture shows the framework for the school schedule. One huge difference we make next year is that all four groups will go have common planning. This is grade levels and grade level subject areas. Maximizing our opportunities to plan and collaborate will make a huge difference in lesson and activity design. Our leadership team has started developing a planning tool that will facilitate and drive our planning efforts. This tool outlines essential elements of what a great lesson looks like.

   Mentioned above, our grade level teachers have common planning in the morning but not in the afternoon. This has significantly hampered creating middle school teams. This has been one intervention that I think we have sorely missed. Our students come from elementary schools where they may see 2 – 4 teachers a day and are now put in a mix where they see seven teachers daily. This is how students get lost. The middle school concept began as a means to support students during this adjustment period by utilizing teams as an intervention strategy.  Transitioning to this new schedule shows that a schedule can either create or hinder intervention opportunities for students.    

Benefits of ‘The Block’

  Our new schedule has a block framework and creates some great opportunities:

  • By combining reading and language arts classes into a new ELA class we can teach a more holistic, integrated curriculum and the 95 minutes give us more time to play;11
  • We are able to increase math time to 95 minutes;
  • Changing to this format gives science and social studies classes the option to either continue teaching in 50 minute classes [daily] or alternate in a block rotation of their choice. Teachers have the autonomy to adjust the schedule to suit their needs based on what is being taught. Ex. They can teach all six classes in a day or do an A/B rotation by day or week however they see fit. Its important to note here that our Electives teachers, particularly our performing groups, want/need to meet with students daily. With this schedule, that is not a problem

We have constant talks with our teachers about changing our teaching practices – to decrease teaching and increase facilitation. This is especially needed as we move forward with this shift.

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.

iPads and Google Forms for Classroom Observations – Team Solution

 The Spring Lake Middle Instructional Leadership Team had a great collaborative growth experience with the Cumberland County Schools Curriculum and Instruction Team.

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    The CCS C&I Teams makes regular visits to schools to observe classrooms and give feedback to the principal and/or other personnel. For our visit today, our Executive Director of Secondary Curriculum, John Gibbs, visited with our curriculum specialist in math, social studies, science and literacy. They spent several hours in the building visiting classes, having conversations and ended the day with a group share of plus/deltas. These visits are always positive – at the end we all have a clear direction of the successes and work throughs.

   During our conversation, I learned the C&I team capture walk  through data using a GoogleDrive spreadsheet. They set up multiple fields with specific information they want to collect and later review. All the specialists understand how to manipulate the information, including using colors to highlight certain information for various reasons.

   There is a high degree of synchronicity this week with Google Forms and Walk Thrus/Informal Observations. Earlier this week, after a lot of productive work, I made a post on how to send feedback from a GoogleForm [GoogleForm for Feedback Tool]. Utilizing the features of GoogleDrive is a great way to make sure a team is being data driven and all are going in a good direction.

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   I shared our GoogleForm Walk Through tool with them. We started the talk showing the parallels in both spreadsheets – exact same end results and capabilities of looking at data. We next went into a talk about how the GoogleForm streamlines the process adding the information into the spreadsheet. This process is made altogether easier with the use of our iPads. We shared iPads from one of our Project Carts and paired off with the C&I and did more walk thrus using our tool. We wanted the team to compare the experience with iPads vs laptop and reviewing the data at the end.

   This was a great collaborative session for everyone. We got to share our process and tools with a visiting team and we benefited from their feedback on our walk thru tool. This is value of finding the solution through collaboration.

Skyping In – #GRESA Conference

images   Last week, I had the great opportunity to Skype into the conference with a good friend of mine from Georgia. Rod Smith, @IAmRodSmith, is the Director of Technology and Communications for Griffin-Spalding Schools. I contacted him earlier to get his help with an iPad technical issue [he is an iPad guru]. We arranged for me to Skype into his session for school leaders using social media for their own growth and for connecting with their stakeholders.

A main goal was for this group to hear from a current school administrator who using social media. We previously discussed the sharing on the following points:

  • The right tools make the difference – Tools like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck make the difference, whether its scheduling tweets, organizing information, participating in chats or any number other features
  • Connecting with stakeholders – I created this information sheet [Stay Informed@SLMS] at my last school and modified to fit my current district’s social media policies. I attribute this sheet to Communicating and Connecting with Social Media
  • My changed perspective – I am a different educator today than when I first joined Twitter and began diving into social media four years ago. This journey is about lifelong learning and shifting paradigms
  • Participating in chats – I spoke to the group about my active participation/facilitation in two chats:
    • #edfocus – This began as a book study chat and has evolved to include an implementation portion. The main facilitators include @mrbernia and @normandin
    • #ncadmin was started with fellow NC administrator @CSmithGoBlue. We want a forum to keep NC administrators current on new trends but are very fortunate to be joined by administrators across our nation.
    • I encouraged all school leaders present in the session to either join an existing chat or create one specific for their circle and growth

This was a great experience! I’m thankful for the opportunity to share some impactful experiences I’ve had that could help others benefit from diving into social media. We should all can do what we can to help other educators change their perspectives on what 21st century professional development and growth means.