Monday, March 8, 2010


This past week I was in Washington to talk with colleagues and friends about the upcoming debates over NCLB. While I enjoy the city and my friends, it was great to get back to my school just in time for Friday—one of my favorite days. And it has nothing to do with it being the day before the weekend.

Every other Friday my staff and I meet for what we call ‘planning period meetings’. Since we are on a semester schedule with long periods this means we have about an hour to talk about our shared work. During the first semester of the year we read a book together and discuss it. In the second semester we take on a protocol called ‘looking at student work.’

The task is simple; a teacher presents work from one of his or her classes to colleagues and asks us to discuss a question generated by the assignment. Usually this involves student work that is not what the teacher had hoped s/he would get. So we examine the lesson, the strategies used, and the student work and try to find ideas that will improve the work of students.

This past Friday lived up to our usual expectations.

We began with an Agricultural Science teacher presenting student essays that did not address the need for evidence in making their case. I sat in the back as the group of middle and high school teachers from math, science, humanities, and special education (along with a couple of student teachers) poured through the work. The discussion looked at how students were coached on such assignments through the term, what the rubric looked like, how to use the building wide writing standards.

Second period a team met to look at a 7th grade science assignment, and the discussion turned quickly to how students see work as opposed to how we see it. (In this case the teacher had asked for students to create a poster showing living things from most simple to most complex — the kids mistook it for a chart showing how humans evolved from sponges!)

Third period we looked at how to create performance assessments in trigonometry; and the most interesting ideas came from the band instructor.

We finished with a look at an integrated humanities class that blends history and literature for ninth graders. The assessment of the unit on ‘Revolution and the Enlightenment’ asked students to compare and contrast the ideas that informed the Founders calls for independence. Having not received the papers he had hoped for, the teacher wanted us to look at the literacy tools he had used during instruction and see if they were best suited for such writing.

I sat in my office at the end of the day marveling at what I had heard. The insights shared amongst colleagues, the seriousness with which they took student work, the effort to understand instruction as it cuts across content areas.

And I wondered, what if the policy movers and shakers who are responsible for reauthorizing ESEA had been with me today rather than still back in Washington. Would they finally understand that the most important investment they can make is in teachers and teaching? That if we have teachers doing the type of work that we did today they would not have to worry about micro-managing schools? That threats and punishments do not motivate teachers, rather that teachers are already motivated they just need the space and support to do their work?

So here’s an open invitation: Before you write one more line of legislation, before you approve one more regulation, before you dare to think you know how to turn around a school, stop by any Friday. We’d love to have you.

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