School Superintendent Julia Espe likes to refer to a quotation from Israeli teacher Haim Ginott: “Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression.”
For the past several years, Espe has been endeavoring to ensure that whatever “falls” on the students in her Princeton, Minnesota school district will leave impressions that are positive and long-lasting.
Espe has been a passionate and creative partner with Learning Sciences International in participating in Leadership Academies and implementing Demonstration Schools for Rigor in her district (read the case history on Princeton here). Each year, she has made tweaks to Princeton’s implementation that continue to improve how teachers learn and retain the 21st century instructional skills they need to help students succeed with rigorous standards. And Espe believes that communicating directly and often is one of the keys to Princeton’s success.
Espe, her teachers, and her school leaders are all guided in this work by a new non-evaluative instructional model, the Essentials for Achieving Rigor. Last year, Espe began regularly visiting classrooms to see how teachers were using and practicing the new Essentials teaching strategies they were absorbing, and to gauge how their new strategies were impacting student learning.
She focused particularly on three strategies: How teachers were using learning targets, how students were using learning targets, and how teachers were building effective learning progressions into their lessons. She visited classrooms in all five Princeton schools: two primary, one intermediate, one middle, and one high school. In an email to all Princeton staff, Espe shared that on average, 66% of the classrooms showed evidence of effective use of the focus strategies.
Espe asks educators to focus on specific Essentials strategies for practice and feedback.
This year, Espe plans to continue random classroom visits and regular conversations about effective instruction. As she visits classrooms, she’ll be looking for strategies she and her teachers were emphasizing last year, as well as evidence that all students are now regularly engaging in cognitively complex tasks, and applying their knowledge to real-world problems.
Getting every student to reach rigorous learning goals is one of the main objectives of the Demonstration School Initiative. Espe’s visits are non-evaluative and focused on helping teachers grow their practice through targeted feedback. And because she knows communication is key, Espe has also begun broadcasting a series of weekly five-minute podcasts to explain and clarify new goals and to provide feedback on what she has seen in her observations. Espe’s goal is that eventually, all the classrooms in her district will be working at the level of rigor required by Minnesota state standards.
To learn more about the Demonstration School for Rigor Initiative and the Essentials for Achieving Rigor instructional model, visit http://www.learningsciences.com.