Students in my school district have been back in the classroom for a week and a half now. I have been absent from the classroom. I'll be the first to admit it has been a bittersweet start to the school year, so I thought it might be therapeutic to share some initial observations from the central office:
Many of my former colleagues are busy tweaking and implementing their standards-based grading schemes. Shawn informed me the entire high school science department has switched to a standards-based grading philosophy this year. A few teachers have emailed asking for feedback on assessments, grading plans and feedback mechanisms. I hope my role as Director of Instruction never drifts far from helping teachers become better teachers. When it does, I believe my effectiveness and motivation will fade, too.
At the systems-level, I led my two days of professional development focused on collaborative learning teams. I really believe that "together we are better" and look forward to seeing teachers collaborate around student learning. I'm most excited about collaborative learning teams, because it is not an initiative. CLTs are the medium we will be utilizing for the continuous improvement process ahead of us. In 2011-12, the district will focus on aligning our content standards with the Iowa Core essential concepts and skills. These teams will collectively respond to questions such as "How will we respond when students experience difficulties in learning?" The easy and comfortable way for our staff to continue would be continuing to function with what I call "pockets of excellence." We have many talented teachers in the district, but our mission statement says we are in the business of providing "diverse and challenging school experiences." Nowhere does it state these experiences should be limited to students who are fortunate enough to be in Mr. Jones' 4th grade class or Mrs. Doe's Algebra 2 section. All of our students deserve a quality education. Through collaborative learning teams, I believe consistency in excellence will blossom quickly.
Office work and meetings
During the last work week, I tallied up nearly fifteen hours of meetings. Meeting topics included management and collaborative learning teams visioning with the administrative team; three Skype calls with curriculum directors around Iowa to discuss professional development and state reporting; learning more about ordering standardized test materials; Media Services updates; ensuring IEPs are met with technology hardware and software; and two building staff meetings to follow-up on August collaborative learning team professional development. During the first week of school, I visited classrooms in all three buildings in the district. Friday afternoon I found myself caught up in state reporting and at one time left the office to seek out some teaching and learning. Thirty minutes later, I had observed two math lessons and I was rejuvenated for the rest of the day's work.
After a few state reports are finished by the middle of the month, I hope to settle into a routine of classroom observations and increased interaction with the teaching staff. As a trained secondary teacher, I know I have a lot to learn about elementary students so that seems like a natural place to start. I have offered up my services to substitute for teachers so they can observe their collaborative learning teammates teach lessons. This, too, is a step of faith for me as I'm not sure what it would be like to teach sixth grade reading. My position feels fairly "flat" right now with steep learning curves in multiple areas. I hope to flatten out the responsibilities of the job which do not focus much on teaching/learning so that areas such as classroom observations and meaningful conversations with teachers can be prioritized.