Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Keep Calm & Call Your Instructional Coach

What a beautiful gift we have at Bismarck Public Schools.  Instructional Coaching.  I am not celebrating me or my job here, I’m celebrating the coaching model.   I’m celebrating coaching cycles and the most valuable resource each teacher has—each other!
Every child deserves a high-quality education and every teacher deserves resources to accomplish that goal.  The challenge is providing continuous opportunities to increase student success and build teacher capacity.  One way teachers receive ongoing support is through instructional coaching.  Instructional coaching increases the achievement and engagement of every student by bringing out the best performances of every teacher.  Coaching supports teachers as they take risks and try new models and instructional strategies. 

As a coach I get the opportunity to learn new strategies that I can bring back to my building.  Coaches use both student-centered and teacher-centered methods to help teachers improve the decisions they make about their instruction.  Many coaches use a coaching cycle with their staff.  Cycles can be designed by the teacher and coach for the specific learning. Since coaching is ongoing and different for every teacher and every building, it is useful to set up a model to keep the communication and cycle going. 

Most coaching cycles are in the following form:
·         Pre-conference
·         Model/Observe/Feedback
·         Debrief/Plan
·         Collaborative teaching/Debrief
·         Observe/Feedback

Many times the gradual release model is used within a coaching cycle.  The excitement is that the cycle is ongoing and is happening with many individual teachers and/or groups of teachers at any given time.  

I am blessed in my position as a coach to celebrate growth on a daily basis.  I am lucky enough to be in a kindergarten room one minute of the day, and a fifth grade room the next.  I get the opportunity to think and reflect with all of the Solheim staff which allows me to learn from so many teachers.  What we are working on is the collective potential within our building.  Every teacher is a coach, with, or without the title of instructional coach.  Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives.   Again, what a gift we have here at BPS.  Each other. 

Keep calm and Coach on!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Teaching and Learning Academy

Infinity Loop 4The BPS Teaching and Learning Academy is happening this summer, and is truly unlike any PD we have had in our district before.  Teachers from throughout our district have been working together to create a meaningful experience that will help innovate the way we use formative assessments.  

There will be four short workshops delivered throughout the academy, each focusing on a different element of formative assessment.  Feedback is a critical piece of our assessment practice, but does it look the same for each assessment we give?  What can teachers do to enhance student metacognition, and empower kids to take control of their learning?  When are knowledge-level questioning/activities appropriate, and how can teachers structure a rich assessment that allows students to show they are able to apply what they have learned in class and extend those skills to real-world situations? These are just some of the questions we hope to begin answering during the summer academy, and each workshop will challenge participants to reflect on their own practice to identify opportunities for growth.  
http://res.freestockphotos.biz/pictures/17/17116-illustration-of-a-laptop-computer-pv.pngThere are only so many minutes in a classroom/prep period/day that we can use, so our development team thought that teachers could benefit from using their technology to add efficiencies to their daily routines.  Why even have the technology if it isn’t doing anything that couldn’t be done with an overhead projector and some dry erase markers, right?  The goal of our technology tips sprinkled throughout the academy is to give teachers the tools to work smarter, not harder, so that they can maximize their time in class with students.  

Summer can be a busy time for teachers.  Kids, vacations, part-time jobs, and other commitments can make it difficult for teachers to participate in many different professional development opportunities.  This is why the academy has been designed in a way that accommodates busy summer schedules, and each of the required sessions for the academy are offered multiple times throughout an academy window. Teachers can set their own pace for completing the academy by choosing which sessions work best for them.  You can find more information on the academy website:  https://goo.gl/ycrcw9

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Technology Replacement and Sustainability

“Will we get new computers this year?” is undoubtedly one of the most popular questions asked of the Technology Department. Last spring the School Board changed the technology budget enhancement to a continual investment on a three year cycle.  The 2015-2016 school year was the first year on this new schedule, with elementary schools as the recipients.  In addition to replacing staff laptops, we provided every 3rd-4th grade classroom with one Chromebook for every three students and a two to one ratio in 5th grade. Building administrators were provided an allocation of funds based on population to fill other technology needs within their schools with a selection of district-approved devices.  We are working with high school administrators and stakeholders on where to best position new computers within the schools for the 2016-2017 school year.   Middle schools will be replaced in 2017-2018.  

Moving to more online tools and resources has allowed us to purchase lower cost, “cloud”, devices.  With this we have been able to buy two or three student devices for the cost of a more traditional computer. The total number of devices purchased for elementary schools this year exceeded 3,100.  In comparison, the previous elementary replacement was approximately 1,100 devices.  In 2013, we purchased about 700 computers for the high schools and we anticipate purchasing almost four times that amount this cycle.

This ongoing funding has granted us many benefits.  Laptops have already been ordered for high school staff, and we will start deploying them on-site within the coming weeks.  Teachers have been asked to complete applications for classroom sets of Chromebooks and they will know before summer whether their application was accepted.  Sustainability allows us to create a model in which teachers will have adequate time to prepare for technology in their school and classroom, and the confidence to know that the technology will grow with the demands of staff and students.  

“Will we get new computers this year”?  The answer is a resounding “YES!” and the sustainability of funding now allows us to shift our focus from obtaining access to technology to transforming the use of technology and the persistent growth of 21st century teaching and learning.

Want to do more with your technology?  Check out the BPS  technology training opportunities: https://goo.gl/DSi8Mv

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

North Dakota State Assessment

We are well under way now with the second year of the new North Dakota State Assessment (NDSA).  This year’s roll out has been a lot smoother than last year.  We have not seen the server and code problems that we dealt with last year.  The interface seems more user friendly and I am hearing positive comments from teachers who have already administered the test.  As of just before spring break 500 testing segments had been started and 360 of them had been completed.  This includes both ELA and math in both the computer adaptive test (CAT) and the performance task (PT).  The adaptive portion of the test will give students easier or harder questions based on how well they are doing but it won’t start until it is confident in a student’s ability.  It also will not leave the students grade level.  Hopefully that will change so that we can get a more accurate picture of a student’s ability if they are well above or below grade level. 

The first week back from spring break will be a big test for the NDSA as more schools will be coming online and more students will be testing at the same time.  We have several more schools who will begin testing now in April. 

Students who took the NDSA last spring did not receive results until late this fall and their individual student reports that were shared with parents did not come in until February.  That is almost a year after the student took the test.  That delay impacts our ability to use the data in meaningful ways for the students.  Historically the NDSA was not an assessment that drove instruction but rather it was used by the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) to determine Adequate Yearly Progress under No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  Our test scores were part of a formula that also included participation rates, and either graduation rate or attendance rate depending on the grade levels of the schools testing.  Now that NCLB is a thing of the past and is being replaced by Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) NDDPI gets more control over what determines AYP so they are putting together a team this spring to begin work on what AYP looks like and how our student’s test scores will play into it.  If we receive test scores sooner this year as we have been promised the data will be more useful for our students and teachers. 

Did you know that the current state assessment in reading and math came about in 2001 legislation in response to requirements of the federal law NCLB. House Bill 1293 required schools to give a state assessment in reading and mathematics once each year to public school students in grades 3-8 and 11.  It also required schools to test students in science in one grade chosen from 3-5, once in 6-9 and once in 10 or 11th grade.  Prior to this law schools tested students in grades 4,8, and 11 in ELA, math, and science.  Even before we had the common standards of the Common Core we took a test that was based on another state’s standards.  Some may remember when their students took the Iowa Basic Skills test.  In fact when I became superintendent in Divide County I found some old test records from those days. 

Assessment has always been a part of education and always will be.  It is what we do with the results and how it impacts our instruction that has evolved and will continue to evolve. 

As I reflected on this blog I had to laugh at the number of acronyms we use in education.  I have heard from those outside education that it can be confusing but seeing so many in one place puts it into perspective.

Monday, March 21, 2016

BPS Camp Edventure

When one thinks of summer camp some of these things may come to mind; outdoor activities, new friends, super cool camp leaders, a bazillion bugs, hot days with sudden rain showers, scavenger hunts, and of course singing around the camp fire. This a quite a different definition than summer school, but does it have to be all that different? Camp Edventure is the free six week elementary summer school program that Bismarck Public Schools offers for students entering first grade through fifth grade the following school year. This summer the goal is to put that adventure  that the name implies into the program, while continuing to follow the guidelines the state requires of the program, two hours of math and two hours of reading each day.

One way to do this is to integrate the high interest content areas of science and social studies into the reading and math classroom through the process of inquiry. The definition of inquiry is an act of asking for information or in other words, asking lots of questions and doing lots of research and investigating to get an answer to something you are wondering about. There are many educational inquiry models out there, but basically the process follows these steps, wondering, investigating, recording, discovering, thinking, trying, and finally reflecting. This process can easily be integrated into the reading or math classroom by changing the way a teacher poses the activity. This process also provides higher student engagement, fosters deeper understanding, and provides students the opportunity to think critically about their learning.

Camp Edventure teachers will have the opportunity to be involved in a day and a half planning session with colleagues to develop and prepare a three week or six week project based on inquiry. By creating these opportunities for teachers to collaborate and allowing them the flexibility to create curriculum based on reading and math learning goals, the 1,800 or so students that attend Camp Edventure will be able to feel that sense of adventure as they head to summer school this year.

The registration deadline is March 25, 2016. Get those forms turned in, in order to guarantee your child a spot for Camp Edventure.

Article by Brenda Beiswenger, Principal at Prairie Rose Elementary School