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Letter from the Superintendent

February 2015

Dear Colleagues:

“What do we do to motivate ourselves when we feel beaten down and overwhelmed?”

…A teacher asked me to address this question as part of my reflection letter series. This is a tough but important question to answer because an individual is less likely to be effective if they are feeling this way. Certainly in light of the state’s current political climate surrounding educational issues, you don’t have to look far to find criticisms. Today is a time like no other in the world of education. We have the awesome task of ensuring that we move all students to higher levels of achievement than ever before while at the same time facing serious financial limitations, higher levels of diversity and increasing poverty related issues that impact students and their families.

Politicians have inserted themselves into the equation more than ever with various viewpoints surrounding what we teach, how we teach and how we evaluate the success of students and instructors. Presently, we are without
leadership at the highest level of our educational system and many of the Governor’s proposals are not only out of sync with best practice, they have not been operationalized to any practical level.

We are living in an ever-changing environment where we need to get up to speed on the new standards and how best to teach them in the classroom. We know we must incorporate technology into our school and into regular instruction if we are to meet students where they are at today and certainly where they will head tomorrow.

With all of this happening, it is of course understandable that feeling discouraged. Being “overwhelmed” is an understatement! However, it is precisely because of all these factors that we need to focus on being truly collaborative. Teachers and administrators are part of the same team working together to prepare every single student for college and career readiness. We are all educators with a common purpose to help each other put systems in place to ensure all students are successful.

There is a growing body of research that indicates that truly collaborative relationships hold great promise for improving student outcomes. Building trust is crucial along with open  communication, effective use of data to identify and respond to problems, and “ongoing teamoriented support focused on continually improving teaching practices” (Anrig, G.; Educational Leadership, Feb. 2015).

Recently, the University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research found five critical features in their research of most effective schools. These include:

  •  A viable curriculum aligned with assessments across grade levels with teacher involvement;
  •  Ongoing professional development and open dialogue about best practices in teaching and learning;
  •  An integrated support network for students amongst stakeholders;
  •  A student-centered climate where educators identify and respond to all student needs;
  •  Shared responsibility for school improvement

The University’s research found that a weakness in any of the five areas cited above decreased the amount of success a school had in increasing student achievement.

Initiatives are currently underway in each of these core areas as outlined in the district’s five year strategic plan, Schalmont Advance 2018. They are all interconnected and critical to the work we must do.

You may not be aware that we have a leadership collaborative of administrators and teachers who are working to better frame the guaranteed curriculum at all grade levels and align it with priority standards, corresponding assessments, and professional development.

We have many district level committees comprised of various stakeholders working diligently on incorporating technology into our work, developing a system where we can quickly identify and respond to student needs in a timely manner, and staying abreast of the ever-changing curriculum in a multiple subjects as the Common Core continues to be phased in across contents and grade levels. While this is all happening at once, it is necessary in order to grow as educators in learning how best to help our students.

In my January letter, I shared Carol Dweck’s growth-mindset framework, which demonstrates that students learn more when they see that growth is possible, that effort matters, and that they should take risks in learning. The same is true for teachers. I, for one, know that you make a difference in students’ lives and truly appreciate your efforts. Does appreciating your efforts mean that we are done learning and growing? No. Do we still need to change some teaching practices to meet the needs of today’s learner? Yes we do. Does this mean you are a bad
teacher? Absolutely not, in fact it means you are a reflective practitioner which makes you a very good teacher.

Being appreciated and striving to improve is not an either/or proposition. We have to keep trying; we know we can always improve, and improving doesn’t mean you aren’t any good in the first place. Part of being a professional is being able to reflect on our practices and work to incorporate what we learn from research, data analysis, and one another into our everyday work with students.

We know things are far from perfectly clicking along as we are in the midst of “building a better student” (to quote Bronson Knaggs). At the same time we are building a better “us”. As professional educators we have to regularly reflect on our craft and update our knowledge to stay on trend in teaching and learning. The more we can put our minds together, identify areas of need, and work collaboratively to make improvements, the better off we are as educators working for a common cause.

While no one can argue that we in in the midst of a challenging time in education, it is also an exciting time if we can focus on the promise of the future. Don’t give up and run off to the circus just yet; remind one another of your importance regularly and align as both teachers and administrators to bolster one another as we forge the type of school climate necessary for one another and more importantly for the students we serve.

In the meantime, here are a few things that always help me to feel better and might work for you when you are down- play with a puppy, hold a baby, browse the shoe section at Macy’s, listen to the song “Happy”…..and remember, it’s always five o’clock somewhere!

Quote of the month:

Let’s “talk straight, demonstrate respect, create transparency, right wrongs, show loyalty, deliver results, get better, confront reality, clarify expectations, practice accountability, listen first, keep commitments, and extend trust”

-Covey, S., The Journal of Staff Development, Feb. 2015

Sincerely,
Carol