Open Communication - 10/8/21

Recently we had our first Teacher Advisory Committee meeting of the school year and I left the session understanding just how important our value of open communication is in our district. I had a couple of things I wanted to ask teachers about, and they were open and honest with me as they responded. They also had surveyed people in their schools and came with issues they wanted to put before me and we talked about them, too. It was a great meeting with great conversation. 

I left the meeting knowing something many of you already know – I knew it, too, but not to the extent I came to understand it during this session. I came to understand teachers are feeling overwhelmed, and I think I finally figured out why. 

The first reason teachers are feeling overwhelmed is because of COVID-19. Think about it: Every school year we have some teachers teaching for the very first time, and new teachers always feel overwhelmed. What is different about this idea, though, is that last year we had new teachers who joined us, and most of them never experienced classrooms at full capacity the way they are now and during a typical school year. They had different pressures last year, but the experiences this year are different. The year before, 2019-2020, we had first-year teachers who had students for part of the year and just when they were getting to the end of that first year of teaching where they knew what was happening, we closed schools in March and went virtual because of COVID-19. That cohort of new teachers was not able to re-establish their learning last year because we were virtual for extended periods of time last school year. I think a lot of these experiences have something to do with why teachers are feeling overwhelmed. 

I think another reason teachers are feeling overwhelmed is because of our emphasis this year on Tier 1 Strong. Today’s blog is about helping us come to a better understanding of what Tier 1 Strong means to me, and for you. I have asked our Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, Dr. Cleveland Johnson, to share some specific changes we will be making based upon your feedback from Teacher Advisory. I want you to take from this experience that when people come to Teacher Advisory, we listen and we try to respond. 

Before Dr. Johnson shares a few practical specifics, I want to share a common understanding of what Tier 1 Strong is in our district. Tier 1 Strong is ensuring students learn what you teach. That’s it. 

We are giving you students in a specific place for a specific amount of time, and we are asking you to teach them. In some cases, the things you will teach are going to be on grade level, and in some cases the things you will teach will not be on grade level. What’s important is that students learn what you teach. 

They need to learn what you teach. 

That is what I am asking – that is Tier 1 Strong. It is not looking at whether students are proficient, it is not looking to see if they are on grade level – it is looking to see if they learned what you taught. Yes, we have a pacing guide; and yes, we have a prioritized curriculum; and yes, that is going to be your starting point, but you, as the professional, need to identify what students need to learn and you need to be able to provide them that effort and the resources so they can learn, and when they leave school that day they need to be able to say, “I achieved something.” 

That is what Tier 1 Strong means. As we do that more and more, and as we get better and better, more students will be on grade level. Eventually, they will be proficient with what it is they are doing. We must take it one step at a time, and right now, that means making sure students learn what we teach when we are teaching it; and, if they don’t, we go back in and provide help to get them to where they need to be. For me, that is Tier 1 Strong. 

Now, I’ll ask Dr. Johnson to go into more specifics with you.

Dr. Johnson:

First and foremost, thank you teachers for your dedication and hard work! Our students’ success depends on you, and you have exhibited an unwavering commitment to meeting their needs during a most difficult time. The Teaching & Learning Department’s (and all other departments’) goal is to foster the success of you and your students. For this reason, we are making some adjustments to better support you. 

  • First, we are working collaboratively with principals and technology on ways we can streamline the lesson planning process to reduce duplicative work and increase consistency of expectations across the district.
  •  Next, content coordinators will provide more guidance about how essential grade-level standards can be scaffolded to meet the different learning needs of our students.
  •  Third, the expectation of recording daily mini-lessons and uploading them to Canvas can be shared across teacher teams if all teachers participate regularly, and all students have access to on-demand learning as intended.
  • Finally, we will begin to survey our elementary English Language Arts (ELA) teachers on a regular basis seeking feedback on their professional learning needs related to our new K-5 ELA curriculum, Wonders, so we can tailor our support as needed.

We will continue to refine our procedures to best meet the needs of students and you. Please continue to engage in open communication so we all keep learning and growing together. Thank you again for all you do!

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