My mentor and friend Chris Stewart often asks the question, “How are the children?” This simple yet powerful question captures me. I did a little research behind the meaning of the question, and I learned that the greeting of the Masai warriors and the response, all the children are well, is the expectation of the response. If someone cannot respond with all the children are well, then a national emergency is declared, and all resources go towards the problem.
After releasing our ILEARN scores, which is the state assessment in Indiana, I decided to declare a national emergency in our school. I told my staff we need all-hands-on-deck — because if you ask us how the children are, our response cannot and should not be; the children are well.
We are currently in the beginning stages of our two-week summer institute for teachers in preparation for the school year. School begins on August 9th, and we have two weeks to get our teachers ready. I told my teachers that if they do not feel concerned, upset — even embarrassed about our scores, this school is not the place for them.
I understand that last year was the first year after the COVID-shortened 2019-2020 school year. I understand we had kids on virtual, kids in person, kids switching back and forth — but to pretend that we should not work to improve is a problem. Our students, their families and our community deserve better. We are the gatekeepers for that, so we need to improve.
One-Size-Fits-All Professional Development Will Not Work
I genuinely believe the teachers in the building believe that our students can achieve high academic outcomes. Our teachers are committed to educating all the children in our building. There is just something missing from how those beliefs correlate to student achievement.
So, at the same time, I am asking my teachers to improve, I am also asking myself and my leadership team how to improve our support for them. How do we accelerate the learning of the teachers in our building? I looked at two factors:
- I need to improve our teachers’ development and the coaching they receive.
- I need to ensure that professional development is explicitly geared to teachers’ pedagogical needs. Too often, it isn’t.
If I want to accelerate teachers’ learning, we can’t offer the same professional development to all the teachers in the whole school. We need teachers to receive relevant training in their content-based teams. To accelerate teachers’ learning at a rate that will prepare them to teach to the level our students need and deserve, professional development can’t be so general that the same content is offered to the entire faculty.
Here’s what’s obvious. The kindergarten teacher’s needs are entirely different from the third-grade math teacher’s needs. My fifth-grade reading teacher analyzes different data than my first-grade teacher. One-size-fits-all professional development will not work at my school.
The work of this shift is not a huge lift for the teachers, but it is for the rest of my leadership team and me. We need to do this work on the back end, because if we are going to get teachers the skills to teach the level and depth of the standard, we need to spend more time diving deep into our professional development communities. We need our teachers working in content groups that align to their practice instead of wasting time in development that may or may not relate to them.
This is a significant shift in the way we have been doing things in the past. Only time will tell if it yields the results we believe it should yield. At this point in this national emergency for our school, we have to try. Our kids need it and deserve it.