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The Heart of Teaching and Learning

As the Estabrook School Principal in Lexington, Massachusetts (United States), I am honored and humbled to lead 80 expert faculty and staff, who teach me everyday about their wise and wonderful gifts for students.  I am profoundly inspired by their exemplary content knowledge, and in awe of their sophisticated pedagogical skills.  At the heart of our strong school culture, sustained high achievement and progressive instructional practice, are three core teaching practices that continually inspire extraordinary levels of student learning.

A rising tide lifts all boats

Collaboration is the heart of our practice.  Since we share students within and across classrooms, teachers are mutually invested in each other’s success.  We know that supporting a colleague is supporting a student.  Just as we see our students from a strengths-based perspective, we see our teacher colleagues in the same light. 

(Pictured: Estabrook School student self-reflects on the SMARTBoard about which learning station supported her learning and why.  Her response joins other student self-reflections.)

Teachers flexibly group students in a myriad of ways, and teach students from their professional strengths and expertise.  Our teachers debrief daily on how lessons succeed or need to be changed, in order to respond to student learning.  Mid-course adjustments are made to carefully calibrate student learning for optimal success. 

Throughout this process, our teachers know that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.’  They place trust, expertise, inquiry and support in each other’s hands, believing that ‘my students are your students, and your students are my students.’  Our teachers live what it means to be a collaborative learning community, that collectively shares practice and improves student learning.

Everybody gets what everybody needs, and what everybody needs is different

Our teachers believe that students learn in different ways and at different rates.  To support this, our teachers collaborate in professional learning communities to analyze, design, implement, measure and reflect on student learning.  They employ flexible models of instruction, and repeat this planning cycle daily, in order to inform next step instruction.

(Pictured: Estabrook School students working on a math station that is personalized to student needs.)

Every six weeks, our teachers collaborate in multidisciplinary data teams to discuss quantitative and qualitiative performance data of all students in the school to inform progress.  For each student, our teachers factor in high standards, rigorous curriculum, formative assessment, resesarch-based strategies, and the strengths and needs of the student to create a truly personalized learning plan.  These individualized learning plans are collectively developed, implemented and monitored by our teachers.  In any given classroom, twenty-four students have twenty-four different instructional plans, customized to their individual strengths, interests and needs.  Our teachers possess great agility in lifting these plans and ensuring their success.

Our teachers believe that ‘everybody gets what everybody needs, and what everybody needs is different.’  To ensure this mission is tangibly met, our teachers use the personalized student learning plans as a springboard to help students meet and exceed the standards.  I am always impressed with how our teachers creatively design the optimal learning conditions to spark and support each student’s journey.  With 99% of our students achieving the state standards, this model has proven to be successful.  Our teachers believe that all students can learn to high levels, and personalized learning is at the heart of making measurable progress.

Everything starts and stops with learning

Every interaction among our teachers is a learning conversation.  Our teachers are always reflecting, sharing and supporting one another to improve learning.  Teachers often consult with one another to gain and lend expertise.  It has been often said, there is an expert on our teaching staff in most any area in education.  All you have to do is ask. Before you know it, you are being supported by many staff who are invested in your success. 

Collaboration among our teachers is an art form, as much as it is a science.  Every classroom and office door is open.  Teams are dialoguing, data is public and there is a passionate, shared accountability to help every student achieve to a high level. 

(Pictured: Intermediate grade students post self-reflections on their learning goals, what they need to achieve their goals and what they feel the teacher can do to support them.)

Our teachers will tell you ‘everything starts and stops with learning.’  They are crystal clear on what students should know and be able to do and how students learn best.  They are also clear on what to do if students are struggling and what to do if students have learned it already.  Learning is our shared non-negotiable, and more importantly, it is our shared purpose at the heart of our work with students.

Shared leadership

As the Estabrook School Principal, I am passionate about shared leadership.  I believe that every teacher is a leader of learning.  One of my major goals in the principalship is to support teachers in their pursuit of high levels of learning for all students.  Stephen Covey said, “Effective leadership is about putting first things first.  Effective management is discipline - carrying it out.”  The Estabrook School teachers are leaders who put these core practices first in their practice, and manage the learning conditions to carry out their success.  The Estabrook teachers are extraordinary models that exemplify that all students can succeed when the core practices of collaboration, personalization and shared accountability are at the heart of learnng.

Cross-posted to ASCD EDge

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