Sunday, October 11, 2015

Accelerating Initiatives and Building Capacity

New standards, new curriculum, new tech initiatives are all surrounding and swirling about the current landscape of education. Teachers and administrators everywhere are battling with implementing these initiatives within their schools and across classrooms. It's a battle because there are always a few eager individuals that implement in their practice, but the struggle lies in implementing and building capacity across a school site. 

This specific post focuses on one such method of capacity building. Although focus is specifically on listening and speaking, it could be applied to various entry points. 

It all began during the 2015 school year when the Alisal Union School District hired Dr. John Nelson, Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services and Support at Chula Vista Elementary School District, to work with leadership groups. Dr. Nelson spoke about the notion of lead learners, growth mindset, and the vision of shared leadership to accelerate capacity building and fidelity. These notions spoke to me deeply and influenced much of the work our school was invested in. Besides these key ideas, Dr. Nelson also emphasized that one needs to be careful about overloading the system with too many initiatives.

With these guiding thoughts, the Tiburcio Vásquez Elementary School site leadership decided that we needed to have strategic entry points for implementing Common Core across our site. We chose to focus on the listening and speaking strand in part because of the work of Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey, and also it was also one of our District entry points. Further, we felt this strand was important because discussion and collaboration seemed to be integrated into of many of the Common Core State Standards; the metaphorical blood that flows and sustains the academic system. Lastly, we felt that our high population of ELLs also needed the extra support and scaffolding in listening and speaking.

Now it wasn't enough just having a strategic entry point: we needed a plan. We needed to figure out how we were going to build capacity in all our classrooms not just a few. Thus, enter the Listening and Speaking Matrix, grade level collaboration teams, and the shared leadership model. 
Google Doc:

The backbone to our plan was the blank matrix to the left. This matrix was to be built and rebuilt by our staff. We decided to create two matrices: one for 3-6 and one for K-2.

In grade level collaboration teams, we started to think about what listening and speaking might look like in our classroom, and what we wanted it to look like. We used the CCSS Speaking and Listening Standards as a starting point to spring board our discussion. We brainstormed what scaffolds would be in place to get students across the continuum. We discussed seating formations, classroom set-up, sentence frames, discourse and social norms, and put all those ideas in the matrix under the relevant columns. Meeting after meeting each grade level team built on the previous team's ideas. During this process, we stressed that this was a living document that would change over time, and would be revisited throughout the year.

K-2 Iteration 1:
3-6 Iteration 1:
Finally after each team had added its thoughts, I categorized the ideas as best as I could into groups like seating, body language, and collaboration. You can take a closer look at these iterations, by clicking on the links in the captions.

Our next step in the process was bringing the first iteration back to subsequent grade-level team meetings. As a cohort we looked at the matrix and discussed any possible changes that needed to be made. Each team was then given time to reflect on its own teaching practice and pick one area that each individual was going to focus on. We followed the self-reflection with discussion on how we could support students to meet our goals and move across the matrix. If you would like a specific example of how teachers supported students, check out my blog on Building Student Discourse.

We went through this same process over several team meetings, each time reflecting on where we were, and how we could move forward. We also made minor changes throughout the year as our understanding of the matrix and our practice grew. As the year moved forward, our students were gaining what we referred to as "active listening and speaking" skills.  Students were speaking loud and proud, in complete sentences, and were using precise vocabulary. At one point we participated in a district learning walk, and one of the group's notices was the rigor and quality of academic language across classrooms. I mention this because for us, this helped validate the work we were doing.

3-6 Iteration 2:
K-2 Iteration 2:
Finally the year was winding down, and it was time to revisit the L & S Matrix as staff cohorts of K-2 and 3-6. The cohorts worked within the groups to revise and modify the matrix. During this work, the matrix changed significantly as staff truly took ownership of the tool. With the final revision of the year, we sent the second major iteration to Kinkos and blew them up as large posters to display in a few rooms throughout the campus.

Now this year the process is continuing with a different staff and a new and awesome instructional coach (I am now a District TOSA focusing on EdTech). The matrices continue to be reiterated and improved to meet the teachers' needs. For your viewing pleasure, you can view the live versions of the K-2 Matrix and the 3-6 Matrix. For this ongoing work, I would like to commend the teachers and staff involved in forming this tool. This list does not name all the staff involved, but the brave ones who are on Twitter. These teachers are great additions to your #pln.