January 18, 2019
Last week I wrote of taking risks and making mistakes. I shared that it’s important to make mistakes but even more important to learn from the mistakes we make. I also shared that as Superintendent I’ve made plenty of mistakes and have learned many lessons about my leadership and self as a result. Reflection is amazing! I shared that as educators we have to take risks in order to meet the needs of our students. By taking risks we are stretching ourselves to grow. In addition to growth, we become more reflective of our self and our work. Finally, I let you know that as the Superintendent I am often expected to have ALL the answers and let you know I don’t. That’s why I find it critical to make mistakes and take risks as an example for our school community.
This week I reflect on all the amazing risks and mistakes I witnessed in our schools, by our staff and throughout the organization. As I walked through a variety of classrooms, I witnessed our teachers utilizing technology as a means of supporting learning. I saw live streaming of current events that included geography quizzes, mystery science lessons, and many other uses of technology infused into learning. I heard a tremendous amount of student voice interwoven throughout each classroom and lesson. I witnessed directed and independent small group literacy and math lessons. Some of these lessons were taught by teachers, but many were either led by support staff or the students. Throughout all of this there are high expectations, coupled with academic rigor.
Academic rigor is essential for our students to master academic standards. Academic rigor is that precariously fine line between challenging and frustrating a student. Students are challenged to think, perform, and grow to a level that they previous had not been. This means that students are engaged in learning as musicians or athletes at practice, to build skills, understanding and their thought power so they are able to achieve at higher and higher levels. This means that our tremendous teachers review data and calibrate the standards of lessons so our students are compelled to grow, but are not frustrated or overwhelmed in the learning process.
These tremendous teachers understand the phases of academic rigor. First, they set the standard for students. Next, they support students through direct instruction and various supportive methods, such as small groups, student pairings and student voice. Finally, they have students demonstrate their achievement either through white board math, essays, quizzes or assessments. They are leading their students to understand the power and excitement learning brings when academic lessons are rigorous but not overwhelming.
We know there is standard mastery that we implicitly and sometimes explicitly expect of our students. We make this apparent to students through the use of rubrics, the directions we provide and the explicit instruction we provide. There are also times when the standards are less defined allowing students to explore learning. The classrooms I visited demonstrated what is essential for establishing the appropriate degree of rigor, they overtly demonstrated what the expected outcome was.
Next week I will continue writing about academic rigor by discussing the three phases in much greater detail and provide specific examples that support increasing not just rigor but most importantly student achievement.
Thanks for what you do for every Student, Every Day!
Adam Taylor, Superintendent