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Learning is everyone's job!

The Alabama Best Practices Center (ABPC) is a place where educators can turn for assistance, inspiration and information about teaching and student achievement.

Our purpose is to help teachers and administrators develop the competence, commitment, and courage to do whatever it takes to improve student learning.

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To Meet Students Where They Are, We Need to Know Where They Come From
October 30, 2014
Dr. Shelley Montgomery is the instructional partner at Etowah High in the Attalla City Schools system (which also includes Attalla Elementary and Etowah Middle).
by Shelley Montgomery
What happens when, over the course of a week, you load 150 teachers onto school buses and take them on a tour of their students' neighborhoods? You show them where their students rest their heads every night – and where they rise every morning and get dressed before they arrive at the schoolhouse door?
In some ways, the experience might just break your heart, but it can also motivate your spirit. This is exactly what happened a few weeks ago as part of our Vertical Alignment meetings in our school system.

As part of an effort to strengthen connections among the three schools in our system, all of the teachers in Attalla City participate in three professional days each year with teachers from other schools.
This year, one major focus for all three schools in our system is to build authentic relationships with every student in every class. Teachers, administrators and staff all feel this is an area where we can grow and every improvement will directly benefit the students we serve.

With this in mind, we decided to jump-start the 2014-15 school year with a powerful experience for teachers, rather than just an activity.Read More
How Instructional Partners Are Connecting for Powerful Professional Learning
October 23, 2014
Since 2011 the Best Practices Center has provided statewide professional learning support to the Alabama Instructional Partners Network, a growing community of school-based instructional coaches whose work is influenced by Jim Knight's partnership approach to school improvement. From its earliest days, members of the IPN have relied on a virtual professional network to share their learning and extend their collaboration.

As part of our celebration of Connected Educators Month 2014, communications consultant John Norton interviewed ABPC's executive vice president Cathy Gassenheimer and education technology consultant Beth Sanders about the value of virtual professional networking and the evolution the IPN Ning-based online community.
Still in her 20's, Beth recently shifted from her role as a high school social studies teacher (and district Teacher of the Year) to the technology integration specialist for Tarrant City Schools. Cathy has been a connected educator for more than a decade and led the organization of one of Alabama's earliest virtual professional learning networks in 2004-07, with support from Microsoft's Partners in Learning program.
John Norton: Cathy, how is the Alabama Best Practices Center using connected learning strategies to further your goals, and why is this important?

Cathy Gassenheimer: We believe strongly that when working with educators, we need to acknowledge and build on the knowledge in the "room," whether it is face-to-face or online. Educators love to learn from each other and they are in a much better position to "challenge" a colleague's thinking than those of us that are not in the classroom, teaching and coaching.
We have learned so much from the educators with whom we work about effective ways to support their learning and growth. While face-to-face learning is critically important, supplementing that with both synchronous and asynchronous learning, can help ensure that educators both understand the concept(s) and use them effectively. 
In addition to our website/blog and Facebook page, we manage a Ning site for our Instructional Partners Network to extend the learning and connect participants in this rapidly growing network to each other across schools, districts, and regions. The private Ning site is the "hub" for learning and instructional partners are constantly connecting with each other to problem solve, share resources, and promote ideas.
John: Beth, you're a Millennial teacher known for involving your own students in social media and connected learning - and now a technology coach for Tarrant City Schools in Birmingham. Tell us something about how you used connected learning with your students  and why you see social media and web tools as equally important in teachers' own professional development. Why is it worth teachers' time?
Beth Sanders: We live in a connected world and as educators it is our job to provide learning spaces and opportunities that not only support the K12 learners of today, but also prepare our students to lead in the world of tomorrow. Because of this it is critical our youth are living and learning in a connected classroom.Read More
Take a New Look at Grading: Focus on Learning & Student Ownership
October 16, 2014
by Cathy Gassenheimer
I still remember the first time I heard someone say that in classrooms, “achievement ought to be the constant, with time being the variable.” While that comment made a lot of sense to me, I wondered where such a belief was being operationalized in a systematic way.
Years later, I heard Tom Guskey speak about grading and he addressed my wondering. In athletics, he said, the emphasis is frequently on talent development and improving skills over time, not just during “snapshot moments."
To illustrate his point, Guskey told the story of a football coach watching the development of two potential quarterbacks over spring training and into the summer. At the beginning, one quarterback was sub-par. He didn’t throw the ball well, couldn’t read the defense, and couldn’t remember play calls. If given a grade at that snapshot moment in time, the coach would give him an “F.”
The other quarterback was better than the first but, if given a grade at that same snapshot moment, he’d receive “B-.” Time advanced and during the spring and summer practice, the first quarterback vastly improved, while the other quarterback remained a solid “B-“ player.

The first quarterback’s passing accuracy went up, he effectively read defensive positions, and he had mastered the art of play calling. As a result, the coach now considered him the top choice for the position.
If, however, the coach had determined who would be the starting quarterback by averaging several months of snapshot grades, chances are that the B- player would be named the starting quarterback, even though the other quarterback was now much more effective and displayed a greater level of skill.

Moral: Grade averaging seldom singles out growth over time.
Getting smarter about grading
According to Myron Dueck, the author of Grading Smarter Not Harder: Assessment Strategies That Motivate Kids and Help Them Learn, this type of misguided grading occurs every day in most classrooms across the U.S. and Canada. Students are penalized for not effectively understanding concepts at snapshot moments, even if at the end of the course they can demonstrate complete mastery.

Dueck is a Canadian vice principal and teacher who has studied with assessment experts Ken O’Connor and Rick Stiggins. His book is designed to challenge our thinking, touch our hearts, and invite us to explore new ways of thinking about grading. His inviting writing style (he's a storyteller) helps Dueck accomplish each of these goals.
 Read More
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