Melanie Barkley (left) is Principal of Mill Creek Elementary in the Madison (AL) City Schools. Melissa "Missy" Coman is Mill Creek's Instructional Partner and a participant in the Alabama Instructional Partners Pilot project.
by Melanie Barkley
You can do anything, but not everything. ~David Allen
This quote resonates with me, because it describes our change experience at Mill Creek Elementary.
Missy Coman and I began the journey in February 2012 as we led our first faculty professional development focused on the strategies of high quality teaching (HQT) and high quality learning (HQL).
There were more activities embedded in this professional learning time -- activities that required dialogue, not the lecture style of learning anymore. We spent hours planning very intentionally. Everything we wanted to accomplish was discussed (and revisited) and questioned before we included it. Everything had a purpose. We declared that we wanted no more one-sided or "top down" conversations.
We knew after that February professional development that we had to prioritize the needs that had to be met to accomplish our journey. There were so many things we wanted to accomplish -- things we discovered through multiple conversations, several brainstorming meetings and more reflection than we had ever done before.
We knew that after we had committed to this process there was no going back. We knew we could do anything, but not everything. As we continue to remind ourselves: Go slow to go fast.
Here was our timeline:
February: School-wide PD-HQT and HQL focus with the instructional core, Learning Target Introduction and Reflection/Feedback Exit Slips.
March: Instructional Meetings (IM) - Narrowing our vision for HQT and HQL and continuing our implementation of Learning Targets and Reflection/Feedback Exit Slips.
May: Instructional Meetings - More narrowing of our vision for HQT and HQL while now adding our evidence and continuing our implementation of Learning Targets and then adding our Dialogue about Committees, World Café Protocol Reflection/Feedback.
Summer: Creating Committee Lists of Teachers, Instructional Meeting Lists of Teachers (we did meet by grade levels and we changed it to vertical groups-all grade levels and resource teachers attend) and Implementing Weekly Collaboration Time (by grade level and eventually across grade levels).
August: PD first week of school-CCRS - the what and why awareness; groups were shared, roles, and IM teams were shared.
September: (1) Strategic Leadership Team (SLT) Meeting included Freire’s Dialogue, How to have a data conversation, Roles for a Team Conversation, Team vs. Group (true PLCs and PLNs) and Reflection/Feedback Exit Slip; (2) IM-Snippets from the SLT meeting, Creating Teacher and Student Statements from our Evidence Chart for HQT and HQL, Instructional Core-revisit, Learning Targets-revisit, owning the data, using the data, next steps and Freire’s Dialogue; and (3) Our Collaboration Half-Day PD -Committee Teams collaborated and presented.
A culture shift
By September 21, when we had our Collaboration Half-Day professional development, Missy and I could without a doubt see a change in our culture. We facilitated ONLY. The teachers did the thinking, the learning, the creating, the participating, the presenting, the ownership…they did the work.
The language and the terminology had changed -- and that changed the conversations. We were hoping with fingers crossed that this would happen, but honestly, sometimes you have to let go to find out. Since February we had seen subtle, small changes that were becoming more prevalent. But during this half-day of PD, it felt more like a real shift.
As a result of our school's heightened emphasis on partnership, collaboration and dialogue, we believe teachers feel more empowered and acknowledged. We are listening to them. They are listening to us -- and to each other. Everything from choosing the committee each teacher wanted to represent, to the goals, to the support for teacher and student impact, was planned by them and shaped by their voices.
"Let go" has been the guiding phrase during this journey, and the payoff is invaluable. Missy and I are so proud of everyone in our school. Had we not done it this way I don’t believe it would have worked.
We know that everyone’s school journey will look different and the outcomes will vary, but we all start somewhere. We are still working on finalizing our One-Page Target for our school, and are almost there. We wanted it to represent everyone and so the journey has been paced, but it is deep. Times…they are a-changin’ for MCES.