Sharpening our Saw . . .

March 15th, 2014

In January, the Board of Education adopted a strategic plan developed by a group of community members, students and school personnel.  This strategic plan focused on four areas that will guide the District in fulfilling the mission of fostering learning, excellence, and civic responsibility in all.  Earlier in the year I shared the strategies identified by these four teams, but want to reinforce that each of the teams was tasked with the understanding that any recommendations were directed towards supporting learning—learning that allows us to fulfill our mission.

Another area that has a direct impact on learning is professional development.  It is clear that effective professional development empowers our teachers and support staff so they are better equipped to meet the needs of all students.  With that in mind, we applied for the Teacher Leadership and Compensation System grant awarded by the Department of Education.  Our grant application earned a high enough score for us to be considered, but based upon our demographic data, we were eliminated.  We will apply for funding again next year.

While we did not receive the TLCS grant, we are definitely moving forward in our efforts to empower our staff and best meet the needs of our students.  At the elementary level, the primary focus of our professional development will center around two foundational areas:  1) Improving each students’ ability to read and comprehend at the highest levels possible, 2) Helping students develop a strong mathematical foundation with an emphasis on number sense, fact, computational fluency and problem solving.

At the middle and high school levels, the emphasis has been, and will continue to revolve around the framework for Authentic Intellectual Work which focuses on requiring students to:  1) construct knowledge rather than memorize, 2) engage in elaborated communication that requires depth of understanding and the ability to communicate effectively, and 3) application of learning beyond the school building (application).

In addition to the building –specific foci, we have other areas that are important from a K-12 perspective.  One is the continuous evaluating, updating and aligning of our curriculum.  This alignment process includes consideration of the Iowa Core and the vertical alignment that allows students to build knowledge from year to year.  Another is differentiation, which is essentially crafting learning tasks and expectations to meet the learning needs of individual learners.

Finally, one of the most challenging, and potentially powerful opportunities for educators in the quest for meeting the learning needs of all students is the effective use of technology in the teaching/learning process.  As a District, we recognize the importance of meeting this challenge and capitalizing on the opportunities.  To that end, we will be hiring a full-time technology integrationist who will be providing ongoing support to teachers and facilitating collaboration among our K-12 staff.

The importance of professional development is often overshadowed by the reality of time.  I appreciate the wisdom shared by Stephen Covey in his story of the man walking through the forest and meeting a frustrated lumberjack.  The lumberjack was trying to cut down a tree, but was struggling mightily.  The man asked the lumberjack what the problem was and the lumberjack responded, “My saw’s blunt and won’t cut the tree properly.”  The man asked, “Why don’t you sharpen it?’’  The lumberjack responded, “Because then I would have to stop sawing, and I don’t have time to stop sawing.”  Too often in education, we approach the teaching/learning process like the frustrated lumberjack.

With that in mind, we are making a concerted effort to provide time and support that will allow faculty and staff to sharpen their saws.  During the 2014-15 school year, we will be adjusting our Wednesday schedules to allow for regular professional development.  Students will be dismissed at 2:15 on Wednesdays and teachers will engage in professional development that centers around the foci mentioned above.  We do not take lightly the child-care burden that this might impose on some families, but believe that this regular “sharpening” will create a significant benefit to all students!

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