Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Inter-district pollination

One of the tough things about winter is the feeling of isolation. Isolation is one of our worst enemies, as humans, and this is just as true for educators--isolation of teachers in their rooms, and isolation of schools in their districts.

That's why I'm excited about what happened today, when three educators from Ellington (@ErinKMcGurk @nash_michaeld came to our after-school PLC at E. O. Smith to discuss the challenges and promise of standards- and mastery-based learning.

Eleven of us sat around the table and shared stories, data, concerns and questions:

Dave's continued success with some of our school's most at-risk students in his mastery-based flipped algebra 2 classroom, and his feeling that, when he's not  "crunched" by the curriculum, the mastery approach is "really good."

Gary's story of how he gave up on mastery in advanced physics because it slowed him down too much and he had to cover the curriculum.

Klara's stairway visual she used with her Spanish students in a mastery approach to a benchmark project.

Erin, Liz, and Mike's story of how the mastery model spread virally from a few teachers to the whole middle school, and only after that had already happened did the school made it official policy.

Mike's story of how the Middle School teaches and tracks student growth in non-cognitive skills--"Personal Responsibility for Individual Daily Effort," and the kids get excited about the highly coveted "PRIDE"  bracelets.

The Ellington folks' stories of the challenges they'd faced, like the desire of parents for letter grades, and our discussion of how these challenges will be even greater at the high school level.

And our brief, but telling discussion of the need to cut back on the curriculum when using a mastery-based approach, since it takes more time, but that it's probably worth it if the students are learning the material better.

Discussions like these on Twitter and with my cohort in my administrative prep classes have been absolutely invaluable over the past couple of years in shaping my vision and building my capacity (I hope) for improvement. So I'm excited about the possibility of developing more face-to-face, inter-district opportunities like this in Connecticut.

Without collaboration, we really limit ourselves. It's so easy to get comfortable, or discouraged, in our little corner of the world. The perspectives of others are like additional eyes with which we can see the world, and ourselves, and the way to improvement. Their ideas are like pollination to our minds.

As Matt Ridley, wrote, one of the keys to human progress has been the recombination of ideas, what he called "Ideas having sex."

And it's always encouraging to be with people who are passionate about creating a system that serves kids better.

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