Three dozen outstanding educators from a dozen school systems make up our second cohort of the Alabama Instructional Partners Pilot. Alyson Carpenter, ABPC's Instructional Partner in Residence, reported recently on our 2012 Fall Retreat at Children's Harbor, which brought IPs from Cohorts 1&2 together for three days of powerful learning. We're more and more excited about this high-impact school improvement strategy, which views instructional coaching as a collaborative partnership among professional peers.
After publishing a series of reflections from Cohort 1, we think it's time to share some voices from Cohort 2. We begin with Huntsville City IP Nanette Respess, who serves as the Instructional Partner at Goldsmith-Schiffman Elementary. Nanette originally wrote this post as a private reflection to be shared with our Pilot facilitatiors (all project IPs write regular reflections on the progress of their work). With her permission, we've selected excerpts to share here at the ABPC blog.
As you'll see, Nanette has a flair for writing and her post really gives us a bird’s-eye view into the life of an Instructional Partner! -- Cathy Gassenheimer
Turning Points. Turning Corners. Change of Focus. Rite of Passage.
by Nanette Respess
During what seemed like an eternity but was really only a 5-week time frame, I have turned the corner from drinking from the pouring fire hydrant of the TO DO List to sipping hot tea, thinking, and seeing fruit. My first weeks of work under the job title Instructional Partner were filled with being an ETR (emergency teacher responder) -- putting out technology fires, sprinting through start-of-school changes, and administering life support to calm, encourage and prop up teachers and staff. Our secretary is back and feeling good; our new tech instructional assistant is established and making strides with our teachers and their repair needs; our teachers seem more settled and are happy to actually be teaching; and the last DIBELs score is entered & testing is over for a few weeks.
I love fall. The cooler days and colorful majesty of the season slow me down and put me on my front porch with a cup of hot tea to think, read and enjoy life. It is a passage from heat, to the starting of school and busy days, to football, to settling into the school year and building new relationships.
This past week has been filled with passages on all fronts. I just spent my Friday and Saturday on a farm at Tim’s Ford Lake celebrating and witnessing the wedding of one of my ‘children’ – I have three families who have let me into their lives and help raise their children. I first held Carson when he was 4 hours old. He is now in medical school in Rochester, MN at the Mayo Clinic, to become a doctor who ministers to the poor. The beautiful Saturday spent in a field with a blue sky, a bride and my boy, and creation all around, helped finish off the week that was my turning point.
Rite of passage
Carson's rite of passage to marriage marked a rite of passage for me as an Instructional Partner. I am starting to feel like the one who knows where I am going, not the one who continues to think about what I don’t know.
I began the week with a whirlwind Monday which included a cluster gathering of K-2 teachers from three schools, meeting after school and dialoguing about all our changes and sharing the positive things that are coming out of these challenges. It was fun to sit in and hear teachers in competitive schools collaborate and help each other, challenge each other, and plant seeds for their October meeting.
Then came our Instructional Partners fall retreat. It was manna from Heaven for me on several levels. The time to think and be in a quiet place is medicine for my introverted nature. I was able to begin my refocus from the early morning drive to Children’s Harbor. Then from the opening hour to the closing hour, I was able to learn, revisit, process and begin to dream of how to bring this all back to our teachers and our principal Brad Scott. The pleasure of listening to others was rich as I began to soak in new learning. The willingness of ABPC's techie teacher/consultant Beth Sanders to sacrifice some much needed rest to fix and update my iPad was a gift. And, the thinking that Alyson Carpenter, Cathy Gassenheimer and Jackie Walsh pushed me to do was food for a hungry heart.
Back to school
I came away from the retreat thinking that our school-based PD needs to be more closely tied to our authentic work. This led me to begin outlining what I think we need to step back and do together – reread Jim Knight's chapters about how teachers learn and how we grow a whole-school focus. One of the big ideas from the retreat -- the development of a schoolwide One Page Target -- left a deep mark. We need to begin with building community before we can begin to seriously develop a real Target. We need to look at Voice, Equality, Dialogue and more -- and begin to enable powerful conversations which lead to changing our school.
Thursday was jam packed upon my return. I met with the RtI/PST chairman and developed a really usable system for our teachers to document their Tier II and III students’ progress for the committee. She was thrilled with the result of our hour together and that was huge. I was a guest at the Reading Coaches meeting, and it was good to hear about the challenges other schools are facing and realizing my amazing co-laborers are ahead of the negative thinking and moving forward. I left this meeting and entered a cluster meeting of teachers in grades 3-5. They always have a different spin from lower grades yet the collaboration was still present. This is what I want for my school. Authentic collaboration – not ‘have to’ collaboration.
The best part of the week was Friday. I walked into school and found myself called into duty on the car line, greeting families. I loved saying ‘Good Morning’ as the little ones popped out of the car with wet hair, their team shirt on and kissing a parent goodbye. The hope of a new day of learning was there.
Then I went into three grades’ collaborative time to listen. They accept me and treat me as their own. The first grade teachers need chocolate at 12:30 and had a bowl full of it; the 5th grade teachers need caffeine at 1:15 and have a cooler of cold drinks; the kindergarten teachers need water and have a refrigerator of cold bottles. The 4th grade teachers wanted to come to my room and sit in the comfy rolling chairs and drink coffee.
A Reading Coach came to visit to help me get DIBELS ORF 2nd grade scores in. She asked a lot about the IP Pilot and I suggested she read chapters 1 and 2 of Unmistakable Impact and we’ll have coffee one morning and talk about it. I contacted my PD team to gather over breakfast at Little Rosie’s next Saturday and start a dialogue about leading our school toward impacting our students and community. They are pumped.
So at the end of the week I survey the days and am grateful, humbled and so appreciative of my position and place among teachers and students. The challenges remain with some strong personalities in play, but the opportunities outweigh anything negative.
This week will be spent putting together and planning data meetings to be held the week of Oct. 8. I also have short PD to plan for Wednesday Community on small groups. I have five appointments during PE time with my new teachers to check in with them. I have a Friday full of collaborative time with each grade to help them set up their data sheets for Data Meetings. I think I need a nap!
How I spent my time
• Hours spent with teachers in dialogue: 8
• Hours spent in professional development for me: 15
• Hours spent in professional community in Huntsville City Schools: 5
• Hours spent in reading professional publications: 6
• Hours spent in collaboration with principal (on phone and in school): 6
• Hours putting in data and doing test-related planning: 4
• Hours problem solving with various school staff/office: 2.5
It has been a confirming, affirming week, filled with experiences that remind me of why I have been called out of the classroom into this position.
In the wake of our retreat, I am looking forward to what the coming week holds, with a joy and anticipation that I haven’t had before.