The Highest Rated School in New York City, Part 2
Growing Together Through Collaboration
Last month’s column featured the highest ranking school in New York City, the Staten Island School of Civic Leadership (SISCL). Their success is based on Trust, the quality shared by the highest rated schools in the world.
But what’s the procedure for executing that trust? It’s COLLABORATION. And collaboration is practiced by anyone who comes in contact with children at SISCL.
Meet one of the sixth grade teams at SISCL. They practice collaboration and see its success reflected in their students’ success. Jamie Borik (left) teaches math, Margaret DeSimone (center) and April Sinclair (right), teach language arts, with April specializing in the special education students. Individually they are outstanding teachers, but collectively they are extraordinary in their ability to create learning opportunities for all of their students as a result of their collaboration.
The high ranking test scores of the students in the schools of Singapore have been heralded for years. Their sustained excellence can be attributed to one word:
Talk to any educator in Singapore and they invariably refer to those they work with as “colleagues.” They realize their collective efforts will produce greater results for their students and their rankings in the world school standings reflect this fact.
Rose Kerr, the principal of SISCL, has organized her staff into collaborative groups. In grades K to 3, the groups are called triads. Her concept is so eloquently simple:
SISCL is based on TRUST (the schools of Finland) and COLLABORATION (the schools of Singapore), the two concepts that have created the best school systems in the world..
||1. Get the teachers to accept accountability for the kids, and
2. Give the teachers each other as the primary resource to accomplish this.
Singapore schools do a lot to improve teachers over time. They have a structured protocol called “teacher-learning circles” where teacher colleagues meet for eight two-hour sessions, over a period of four to twelve months. The learning circles meet, identify common problems, come up with solutions to those problems, pilot the solutions, and share the results with other teachers.
Within the structure of their professional learning hours, teachers have the freedom to develop learning plans, meet with colleagues for improvement feedback, and identify improvement areas of focus for the following year. Improving student learning is the main focus and is a continuous process. Thus, teachers seldom work alone but in small groups, hence the reference to colleagues.
a word that allows us to grow together.
Meeting colleagues is not viewed as a perfunctory obligation. In Singapore teachers will spend 20 hours per week working and learning with colleagues during the school day and an additional 100 hours of professional learning each year outside the school day. They do this willingly, just as Margaret, April, and Jamie willingly meet as colleagues. They do it for one reason only—to give their students the best opportunity for learning.
The Concept of a Triad
At SISCL three teachers are joined together, totally invested and accountable for two classes. This is different from the typical model of a teacher with perhaps an aide per classroom. New York City requires the other teacher in the classroom to be a certified “cluster” or “enrichment” teacher, thus allowing any one teacher to leave the room, if necessary.
At SISCL, the monetary investment of three certified teachers in two classrooms is the same as the traditional model of two certified teachers with two non-certified teachers to help. In the triad system at SISCL, the three teachers are responsible and invested in the class culture of all 60 students.
The three teachers move seamlessly between the two classrooms and the 60 kids.
- The triad teachers plan together.
- They observe each other’s craft.
- They help with prep for each other.
- They perform academic intervention for all the students.
This is simply investing resources in the classroom, instead of pulling resources out. When the students in a triad (two classes linked) are asked who your teacher is, they will respond, naming all three teachers, never one! They believe three heads are better than one at SISCL.
Triads are only used in grades K - 3 where the teachers are configured in teams of three (triads), while the upper grades (6 - 8) are configured in subject teams at each grade level or in interdisciplinary teams (all subjects together) at the grade as is the case with the sixth grade team of Jamie (Math), Margaret (Language Arts) and April (Language Arts and Special Ed). As SISCL is a new school, grades 4 and 5 will be added as the school grows.
The Highest Ranked Influence on Learning
In 2008 John Hattie of New Zealand, now at the University of Melbourne in Australia, published the most exhaustive study ever of the factors that influence student achievement, Visible Learning. He found 130 teacher techniques that he calls “influences” toward achievement.
The highest ranked technique of the 130 that influences student achievement is “student expectation.” Student expectation refers to the ability of students to predict their own levels of achievement. Some students tend to underestimate their achievement and others have an attitude to strive for achievement.
The message is very clear that teachers need to provide opportunities for students to influence their own learning. This is especially so for those with low expectations so that they can be involved in predicting their own performance. Put this into practice in your classroom by
||1. making the learning intentions clear with the use of
learning targets or objectives, and
2. providing the success criteria with the use of
a scoring guide or rubric.
John Hattie found that
- if teachers simply tell students what they will be learning before the lesson begins, this will raise student achievement as much as 27 percent, and
- if specific feedback about their progress is provided, this can raise achievement
as much as 37 percent.
Thus, the two most powerful ways of increasing influence on achievement is to share both the learning intentions (the objectives) and success criteria (the rubrics) of the lesson with students. When students know both,
- they are more likely to work towards mastering the criteria of success,
- more likely to know where they are on the trajectory towards this success, and
- more likely to have a good chance of learning how to self-monitor and self-regulate their achievement progress.
Notice the power of the word “self” as in self-assessment, self-predicting, or self-understanding of achievement. Children become part of the learning process and become responsible for their achievement.
One of the Sixth Grade Collaborative Teams
The best learning comes when the classroom assessment process
is shared with the students as partners
to monitor their own levels of achievement.
The sixth grade team of Jamie Borik, Margaret DeSimone, and April Sinclair have developed clear activities that help their students to self-monitor their own levels of achievement—and when students are taught how to monitor their own level of achievement, they tend to continue to make progress.
- There is an axiom that in a well-managed classroom the students know what to do and how to do it.
- Similarly, in a classroom that practices lesson mastery (Unit D in The First Days of School), the students know what to learn and how to improve their learning.
The Toolbox Trackers
This sixth grade team has developed “toolbox trackers” that are used as a formative assessment device for the students to track their own progress toward their learning goals. These trackers supply the students with the information they need to assess their own learning of the skills and strategies needed to be successful in each unit of study.
The trackers are also used by the teachers, in meeting with the students, as Hattie says, “to help students influence their own expectation to learn.”
The trackers are structured around the six characteristics of Bloom’s taxonomy and are aligned with the common core standards and incorporate higher order thinking skills (H.O.T.S.). This is a sample of what one of the Trackers looks like. Click here to see the full document.
The Post-It® Sentence Starters
As part of the sixth grade curriculum, Margaret and April, the two Language Arts teachers, teach reading skills and strategies of creating, evaluating, analyzing, applying, understanding, and remembering in whole class instruction. Jamie does the same with her math classes.
They use an adaptation of a technique called an "Idea Parking Garage" or "Exit Slip." Their technique uses Post-It® Sentence Starters. They have created a cadre of starters:
- Creating Sentence Starters
- Evaluating Sentence Starters
- Analyzing Sentence Starters
- Applying Sentence Starters
- Understanding Sentence Starters
- Remembering Sentence Starters
This is a sample of what one of the Sentence Starters looks like. Click here to see the full document.
The students each write their sentence starters on a Sticky Note and “park it” on a chart for later discussion.
The Sticky Notes, all on one chart, provide the teachers with a quick way to assess student learning and plan future whole class and small group lessons.
Small group guided lessons are created from the sticky notes on the chart. The students whose sticky notes are written incorrectly are pulled into small groups for guided instruction on that particular skill or strategy.
This technique is how formative assessment comes to life to help students
make progress in their learning.
The Expectation Is Set
As the children enter through the doors of SISCL, they see hallway street signs that define more than each hallway; they define the school.
Rose Kerr says, “My dream is to create the burning desire in each child that passes through our doors to yearn to do great things through the humble development of themselves as great learners and as great people who help their school, community, nation, and world by their day-to-day existence and work vested in the good of the world.”
She defines what her teachers have done as a tribute to the sacred TRUST of teaching.
When you watch Margaret DeSimone, April Sinclair, and Jamie Borik meet daily, you are seeing colleagues sharing in the planning process, concentrating on evidence of student progress based on targeted achievement, and co-teaching classes that will “influence” the impact of the lessons on the learning of the students. You are seeing what defines the academic success of SISCL. The teachers are collaborative colleagues.
The easiest way to lead is to lead a team,
as teams lead each other.
The Road to Success
Last month we shared what makes for a successful and effective school.
1. Culture There is a culture, a core or common set of beliefs and a set of practices that implement the beliefs.
2. Collaboration Everyone works together to foster and emphasize the culture.
3. Learning There is job-embedded learning within the school and within each other at grade level, in departments, or in the learning teams.
These three attributes permeate the culture at SISCL.
The founding leadership of SISCL knew what it would take to produce students who would achieve and go on to benefit themselves, their school, their community, and someday the world. The teachers trusted the leadership to put the elements for their success and their students’ success together.
- The culture is set by the expectation that is delivered by the name of the school all the way through the organizational procedures that are used in the classrooms.
- The structure of the learning environment naturally lends itself to an atmosphere of collaboration. The triads, teams, and groupings of certified teachers give teachers the support of each other and gives children the benefit of multiple professionals who are invested in their success.
- The design of the school day allows for teachers to meet together to assess student learning and to learn from each other.
In just two years, the school has received validation in the form of the highest ranked school in the New York City Public Schools that their shared vision for success is on target.
- They are supporting professionals who are giving their best to their students.
- They are producing students who are achieving and plotting for a brighter future.
SISCL is fulfilling its mission statement that their students will become disciplined, diverse leaders who are inspired to make a difference in America’s civic purpose.
And it is the teachers and the administrators at SISCL who ARE THE DIFFERENCE in making children’s dreams come true. Our lives have been enriched by the visit and sharing we have experienced these past few months. We know the children at SISCL can’t wait each morning to enter the doors and walk down a hallway leading to their success.
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