Wow! I can’t believe how much they’ve grown in just a few months! As parents, we’ve often heard this phrase when someone sees our children after a span of time. We all tend to not notice the incremental changes our own children experience as they grow. Working in a school for multiple years can be somewhat similar. Because we are imbedded in the ongoing work of educating, the small, incremental growth that occurs on a day-by-day basis within a school can escape the eye.
I was explaining at a recent conference presentation that this became very apparent to me during a vertical team meeting that took place at our school near the end of the school year. I had asked our team leaders to lead a discussion related to our spring writing assessment analysis in vertical teams. Our school uses a visual we call “The Wall” (www.competencyworks.org/2014/03/another-brick-in-the-wall/) to analyze writing across grade levels through the lens of a continuum. We have done this now for three years.
Our team leaders’ charge was to guide the discussion of the group using four questions as their structure:
1.) What are your observations related to writing across all grade levels?
2.) What were areas of strength from your grade level writing.
3.) What is your grade level’s plan to assist students in realizing growth in their writing based upon the results of this assessment.
4.) What do you notice in relation to writing at this same point in time last year (specific to % of students in each level)?
The conversations were natural and free-flowing, but during the course of one team’s discussion, the upper elementary teachers were voicing their frustration about their students’ lack of ability to write a strong, well-developed conclusion. Each team member in these grades remarked that a number of their students’ writing could have been a level higher if they had “just written a strong conclusion.”
I eventually interjected and pointed out to the team that three years ago, this same group of upper elementary teachers was expressing their concerns with students’ inability to start sentences with capitals, use end marks, and write a strong paragraph with a topic sentence and details (to name a few areas). I asked if these items were still areas of concern, and teachers responded that they were not. It took a second for what I was asking to sink in, and then one of the teachers remarked that over time, our area of focus had become much more refined. We had started out trying to correct a significant amount, much of which had to do more with conventions than with the actual ideas and voice within the writing. With a consistent approach and sufficient time dedicated to writing, our focus had now become significantly more succinct and explicit. Another teacher remarked that the information we were now discussing was going to make her writing conferences much more streamlined. She was now going to be able to work specifically on writing a strong conclusion with these students so that they could improve in their writing, whereas previously the conversation also included more feedback about mechanics. The conversations now had more depth.
It is vitally important to keep the ongoing growth of a school’s work in perspective. I often videotape the conversations our teachers are having during their PLC discussions. My intent is to someday show our staff how our discussions have changed over time. In the short-term, I have to consistently remind myself of the conversations that have occurred in the past, and make a point to share these as with staff when appropriate to ensure we keep perspective. We must remember and appreciate the ongoing changes that occur within our school over time, as we do the little changes our own children undergo as part of the growth they are experiencing each and every day.
Jonathan is the principal of Memorial School, part of the Sanborn Regional School District, in Southern New Hampshire. Jon may be followed on Twitter: @jvanderels