Talladega County's Transformational Journey (Part 2)
In the second part of our interview with Talladega County Superintendent Suzanne Lacey by ABPC consultant John Norton, Dr. Lacey describes Talladega's vision for a new instructional model and the steps she and her leadership team are taking to spread PBL across all the district's schools. You can read the first installment of the interview by clicking here.
Norton: You've said that a lot of Talladega County's success in developing a new instructional model can be traced back to your partnership with the Buck Institute. I know the Institute is nationally known for its professional training around project based learning. At their website, they offer this description:
In Project Based Learning (PBL), students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. Rigorous projects help students learn key academic content and practice 21st Century Skills (such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking).
How did you get involved with Buck?
As we were doing our PBL homework several years ago, we kept
coming across the work of the Buck Institute. We learned about their dedication to providing educators training on how to deliver instruction in new and different ways. We simply called them and said "this is what we're doing - we would like for you to come and be a part of this. We want you to lead our training in project based learning."
It's been a good partnership. They've provided some really great presenters and consultants for us to learn from. At this point, Craig Bates is ready to serve in the role of PBL trainer and this fall he's been training additional people in our school system. He's at the point where he can help teachers become effective in this kind of instruction. He's not an official Buck trainer, but he has a lot of everyday real life experience after leading our efforts for three years.
Norton: Help our readers understand how this new approach to instruction is different from what we've been calling "traditional" in our conversation. Read More...
Talladega County's Transformational Journey (Part 1)
By Cathy Gassenheimer
Talladega Learning: A Great Partnership!
There is more to Talladega than the speedway. Much more! Educators in Talladega County are hard at work retooling their schools so all of their students will be well-prepared for the future -- whether that future is second grade, high school, college, or career.
Developing teachers and future administrators is critically important to Talladega's success, as it is for all school systems. More than 10 years ago, a former superintendent, Peggy Connell, realized that Talladega
County was not then a magnet for educators who lived outside district borders. She developed and led a “grow your own” program that provided intensive professional development for assistant principals. She also formed a partnership with Samford University to provide tailored advanced degrees for teacher leaders and administrators. And some Talladega schools joined our Powerful Conversations Network.
This emphasis on teacher and leader development has intensified over the years, and current superintendent Suzanne Lacey considers it one of her top priorities. While the Alabama Best Practices Center has worked with Talladega County for a long time, it was just in the past two years that our partnership became deeper and more intentional.
Last school year, we facilitated six sessions for principals and lead teachers focused on formative assessment, which research demonstrates is a high-yield teaching strategy. In fact, researchers have shown that the consistent use of formative assessment, which is also known as “checking for [student] understanding,” can lead to significant student achievement gains. Rick Stiggins, an expert on formative assessment, has demonstrated that the effect of formative assessment is four to five times greater than the effects of reducing class size. [Here's a great Stiggins article
about assessing for learning.]
Because most of the research on formative assessment is barely 10 years old, many teachers are not familiar with it or its impact on teaching and learning. Our work in Talladega County validates Stiggins’ research. Principals and teachers report significant improvement in both teaching AND learning when formative assessment becomes an essential part of the teaching process.
Our partnership with Talladega County has been great for us -- we've been able to share "what works" strategies and we've learned so much about how research translates into action in the real world. Talladega is also involved in a major shift from traditional instruction to a project- and problem-based learning approach that engages students in challenging but exciting ways. I've written about this impressive work (which began at Winterboro School) in several previous blogs: here
Talladega County's accomplishments were highlighted recently by... Read More...
Tarrant City Schools: Our Partnership Advances Focused Leadership- Part 3
In two previous posts, I've discussed the challenges
faced by educators and students in Tarrant City Schools and highlighted our recent retreat
with a Tarrant leadership team and some of the important things I've learned about school improvement as a result of ABPC's two-year partnership with the Birmingham-area district.
In this final post, I'm going to focus on some of the actions taking place in Tarrant to advance student learning. What is most important, I think, is the system's determination to "be transparent" in their learning. When problems are uncovered, the first response is: How do we improve this?
This past year, the focus of ABPC's professional development activities among our Networks and partner districts was on formative assessment and student engagement. Using Alabama’s new Continuum for Teacher Development and resources like Instructional Rounds: A Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning by Elmore, City, et al., we helped Tarrant instructional leaders gauge their current reality and develop plans to ensure that students are engaged in every classroom in ways that motivate them to learn more and be successful.
Tarrant helped lead the way to... Read More...
Tarrant City Schools: Our Partnership Advances Focused Leadership- Part 2
A few weeks after the 2010-11 school year ended, ABPC consultant Jackie Walsh and I spent two days in Tarrant with their administrators and teacher leaders. We used that retreat to look back at what we've all learned during our two years of close partnership and to brainstorm about ways to accelerate the pace of improvement even more in the immediate future.
On hand for our 2-day retreat were all the principals and assistant principals from each of the four schools as well as some incredibly committed teachers. Beth Sanders, a second year high school social studies teacher, captured most of our work product using her phone
and the Evernote app
If you’ve ever participated in the professional development facilitated by the ABPC, then you know that participants are active learners who participate in activities designed to deepen their understanding and prompt reflection. Our expectations are that participants will take what they’ve learned about best practice and put it to work in their classrooms and leadership roles.
According to Middle School Principal Walter Womack, "teachers and students are responding favorably to what we've been learning about student engagement and student motivation. I tell students that formative assessment is like having their own internal GPS. When they are off target and their teacher or another student provides corrective feedback, they can use it to get back on target," Womack added.
In the two-day ABPC retreat, participants spent considerable time discussing and reflecting on the knowledge and skills that students need to be well-prepared for college or work. The Tarrant leadership team took the next step by... Read More...
Tarrant City Schools: Our Partnership Advances Focused Leadership- Part 1
The Alabama Best Practices Center has been working with the Tarrant City Schools in an intense partnership over the past two years. Every Tarrant school participates in our Powerful Conversations Network, and a team of instructional leaders is active in the Key Leaders Network. In addition, the ABPC staff and consultants provide customized professional learning to district, school and teacher leaders six times per year.
One of the greatest partnership benefits, Tarrant Superintendent Shelly Mize says, "is that we are all (central office, building administrators, and teachers) working as a cohesive unit with the same goal in mind, improving teaching and learning through best practice. The system-wide focus on Formative Assessment and Formative Feedback has not only assisted teachers in improving their craft, but also helped us implement EDUCATEAlabama."
In a series of three posts, I want to share some of the story of our partnership -- not to brag about ABPC's consulting prowess but to offer a case study that I believe demonstrates the value of close, consistent, collaborative thinking and planning among a vertical district leadership team.
Sandwiched between interstates, industrial plants (think smokestacks) and a 2.3-mile Birmingham International runway sits the small urban community of Tarrant, Alabama. Tarrant City serves about 1300 students in four schools: elementary (K-3), intermediate (4-6), middle (7-9) and high (10-12). The middle and high school share a beautiful new building away from Tarrant’s city center, sited on a hill, which I believe symbolizes the bright future that Tarrant's dedicated educators are working to create for their diverse student population.
When traveling to city center and the elementary school, however, one is reminded of a stark reality. Many of Tarrant’s children grow up in poverty, live in substandard Section 8 housing, and breathe air tainted by industrial pollution.
"We probably have the highest eligibility rate for free/reduced lunch in the Birmingham metro area," says federal programs coordinator Beth McDavid, who has spent most of her 40-year education career in the Tarrant system.
The landlocked city has an... Read More...
The Power of Vertical Collaboration
By John Norton
(We are delighted to welcome John Norton, the former vice president for communications at the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), to our new website and blog.)
A series of stories about districtwide accountability and reform in the magazine of the American Association of School Administrators has me thinking about the leadership of Roy Nichols in Mobile County.
The February issue
of “School Administrator” features a cover article by Harvard professor Robert Kaplan
, who co-created a progress-monitoring tool for business called “The Balanced Scorecard” and has since helped adapt it for school districts. In the story, Kaplan and co-author Dylan Miyake describe how the Atlanta Public Schools system has used the tool to drive many positive improvements in the past decade.
Over at the Public School Insights
blog, Claus von Zastrow hailed the scorecard as an example of educators learning the right lessons from business. Claus also highlighted Atlanta’s progress using the Balanced Scorecard, but he could have looked to an Alabama example ... Read More...