An Example That Should Inspire
Julia Steiny provides an example of a school that has improved through the work of its teachers.
When the Rhode Island state authorities designated North Kingstown’s Stony Lane Elementary only “moderately performing” last year, the school staff was miffed. Indeed, they were so not-okay with the label, brainstorming about how to ramp up their students’ performance dominated their meetings with each other.
This year, Stony Lane was designated high-performing, improving and a Regents Commended School. Whew! That was quick. But that’s what a school can do if lots of different subsets of the school community are regularly talking over all the things, big and small, that might make a difference.
Steiny also gave an example of how the turnaround occurred. The main vehicle was communication.
I recently crashed an ongoing meeting in which each grade level, except kindergarten, talked with the teachers working with the children at the grade level below about how to strengthen their program. First, the kindergarten teachers talked with the first-grade teachers, and after an hour they left and the second-grade teachers sat down with the first- grade teachers, and so on and on until the fifth grade had finished its say.
I witnessed the changing of the guard when the first-grade teachers left and the third-grade teachers joined grade two. After a certain amount of shuffling and getting coffee, a very take-charge second-grade teacher named Brenda Glover said: “Okay, we’re here to find out what you need from us.” She paused a moment, then quickly amended: “And don’t say math facts.”
The third-grade teachers looked up, glanced at one another and said quite emphatically: “Math facts.” Everyone in the group either groaned or laughed. But they went on to explore a variety of ways of practicing and re-enforcing the basics of arithmetic. Second-grade teacher Diane Henault mentioned that “Every week we’re trying to get the families to work on math facts. And every single morning, right after announcements, we do 42 problems in three minutes. I’m trying to get the answers to be automatic. My question to you is: can I start letting some of them touch multiplication?”
Before that question could be answered, Rose Cameron, third-grade teacher, asked if the second-grade teachers mix together problems requiring both addition and subtraction? Well, it turns out that they don’t, at least not very often. Cameron says, “I’d really appreciate it if you did mix more because I have a lot of children who don’t even see the signs. They all need to go back and check to see what the problem is really asking of them. Even the really smart ones.” The second-grade teachers look at one another, nod, shrug, murmur assent and make a quick note. They’ll mix the functions more. Done deal. Crack closed.
These conversations across the grade-level seams went on all day, and in this way all sorts of small, but important alignments take place.
It heartens me to see changes being implemented. What is worth remembering is that this process was prompted by a negative report by an oversight authority under the spectre of state and national standards, such as President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. As the example of Stony Lane shows, criticism can motivate and inspire. So, though they may have griped about the evaluation process and its results, the teachersl put in a genuine effort to “prove them wrong.” They succeeded and preserved their reputation while at the same time putting in place a process that benefitted the consumer of their product — the children. All that parents ask is that their kids get the best education possible, no matter what inspires it or how it is effected. The teachers at Stony Lane are to be commended.