So That Each May Learn

As you all know, CSD is committed to continual improvement.  Each year at our annual staff retreat and throughout the summer, we examine our current practices and programs and look for ways we can improve as an organization.  We use staff, student, and parent input along with our observations as administrators to help set school improvement goals for the coming year.

Last year, we identified several school improvement goals, one of which included keeping our most academically advanced students challenged and showing growth.  Most any educator would agree that this goal represents a hefty task, perhaps one of the most daunting challenges we face.  Please consider this blog an effort to keep parents informed as to our progress regarding this goal.   While we are doing much well with our academically advanced students, we continue to reflect upon and evaluate how we can best meet their learning needs.  As we consider strategies,  it is essential that we continue to keep this particular population of students engaged in what Carol Ann Tomlinson (DI expert and guru) often refers to as “respectful tasks.”

(http://www.yesnet.yk.ca/staffroom/studentsupport/pdf/12-13/respectful_tasks.pdf)

Part of this school improvement goal involves taking the 2015-2016 school year to assess our current practices and renew our knowledge around the educational research and best practices associated with academically gifted education.  CSD has always been committed to current research and trends in our field so we will definitely spend the entire year studying the most current research on this topic.  As we were re-reading some prominent literature on differentiated instruction, we were struck by something profound – something that we hadn’t thought of in quite some time.  Differentiated instruction is also known as “responsive teaching.”  When we think of it in these terms – responsive teaching rather than differentiated instruction – we immediately start to conjure up more authentic approaches to assessment and instruction.  Remember, education is not something we are “doing” to children.  Education is something that occurs from within the developing student.  Therefore, as educators, our job is to truly know our students and match learning tasks to them, not vice versa.  We should not expect our kids to conform to our teaching, but we should tailor our instruction to meet the needs of the child.  And if we stop and think about it, the only way this can happen is if we, as educators, are engaged in a continuous cycle of assessment.  Assessment informs instruction, and without assessing critical factors such as who the children are (socially, emotionally, physically, etc… – the whole child), how the children learn (learning styles, personality type, cognitive construct, etc…), and what the children know (background knowledge related to content), then there is no way we can effectively succeed in the act of responsive teaching.  Without the ongoing assessment (both formal and informal) that occurs daily in our practice, we are nothing more than distributors of knowledge, which may or may not reach our intended audience.  

So as we’ve reflected on what we’re currently doing, much has been affirmed by our reading:

Practices/Strategies Affirmed and Continued:

  •      Human Resources:  (Our adult to child ratio for the entire K-12 program is 1:6!)

As stated earlier, we expect teachers to know their students deeply and thoroughly.  This level of “knowing” is intense and challenging.  And it is one of many reasons that while schools around our state cut assistants and special programs, CSD has hunkered down in the storm to make sure that our student to adult ratio is far better than any public school (and most private schools) in the state.  Let us be explicit here; human resources allow us the time to converse with and coach our students as individual learners in a variety of different disciplines.

  •      Pre-Assessment:

Pre-assessment truly is the cornerstone of all differentiated instruction.  Of course, teachers must always remember to “begin with the end in mind” through backwards design planning to pre-assess.   The assessment for any unit should be available and ready for students before instruction begins and that assessment should not be a secret.  We WANT our students to know where they are headed with their learning and what we expect at the end to show mastery and understanding.  From pre-assessment data, teachers can devise groups and develop tiered assignments.   

  •   Responsive Teaching:

As the unit progresses, teachers anticipate that different students will master the material at different rates.  Therefore, lesson plans must comprise the following layers:

o   Re-teaching for students who struggle with the content

o   Compacting for students who learn quickly and need to jump to a higher level assignment

o   Enrichment (alternate assignments) for students who already display content mastery

*Note – Please keep in mind that flexible grouping is the means by which teachers accomplish meeting the needs of diverse learners.  These groups are not static and may change throughout the year and among the disciplines.

  •      Gifted Curriculum Accessible to All:

When we examine gifted curriculum in the typical school setting, it tends to include the following: problem-based learning, critical and divergent thinking exercises, student choice, multi-disciplinary experiences, etc.  Typically these opportunities are available on a limited timeframe to a select group of students.  At CSD, we believe these types of quality curricular opportunities should be accessible to all students throughout the entire school day, which is precisely why we allocate 75% of our total school budget to human resources so that teachers are empowered to differentiate instruction and respond to the individual learning needs of their students.

  •      Internships, Independent Studies: In high school, students have the opportunity to work one on one with an administrator to identify academic and vocational areas of high interest and to develop a credited, honors-level internship or independent study. All students pursuing self-directed study follow a detailed syllabus designed to help students reflect upon, adjust and adapt to, and document their learning. An administrator meets regularly with these students to re-frame and revise the structure and learning goals for the internship or independent study to assess student performance and progress.
  •      Heavy Emphasis on K-12 Arts, including Performances and Programs
  •      8th Grade Practicum: Students participate in a year-long course that focuses on identifying challenges in the community and bringing skills learned in the classroom to bear on real-world issues. Students work in small groups, led by a faculty or staff mentor, to partner with a local organization or community leader to examine a timely issue and identify and pursue a response to that issue.
  •      AP Course Offerings

New Pilot Programs and Targeted Improvements:

  •      Virtual HS Math 1 for 7th Graders
  •      Increased literacy facilitator time to target advanced math students
  • Using test prep resources to better meet the needs of our most advanced learners; for example using Study Island resources at advanced levels as appropriate (ex: advanced math 7th graders using study island grade 8 level) to promote more growth at all academic levels
  •      ACT/SAT test analysis to better compact HS math instruction for advanced math students
  •      Senior level math classes give time and attention to challenging mathematical thinking, problem-solving, and application
  •      Word Study and Vocabulary Development – We are analyzing individual student accountability for spelling and vocabulary development in grades K-12.
  •      MS Robotics Team (both competitive and instructional levels)
  •      Advanced High School Spanish 1 option (in addition to existing Math 1 option) for 8th Graders
  •      8th Grade iCreate class
  •      Science Olympiad (Grades 4/5)

In conclusion, we would like to offer a quote from Rick Wormeli’s book Differentiation.

“Mental dexterity is the new currency.  A country’s most important exports include its citizens’ ability to innovate and solve problems.  Today’s students must learn how to continually manage, critique, and increase their knowledge.  To cultivate these capacities in all students, including those who are ready to move beyond the regular education standards, we will need to adapt and expand our own practices as well.” (pg. 3, Differentiation: From Planning to Practice by Rick Wormeli)  

While we cannot promise perfection, we can promise that we, as educators, are committed to giving all children the best education humanly possible.  We are committed to educating both the heart and the mind, for one without the other surely falls short of being complete.  We are committed to staying abreast of current research and trends in the field of education so we are equipped to meet students where they are and personalize their learning in a way that affects their overall growth and achievement.  And as always, we are committed to working with the parents, our partners in education, in accomplishing our mission of providing a stimulating environment where educational tasks are meaningful, purposeful, and relevant.  As we head into the winter season, please know your questions and feedback as parents are valued.  These young people are incredibly special to all of us, and by working together towards a common goal, the sky truly is the limit.

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Rainy Days – Look on the Bright Side

By the time you’ll be reading this, the weekend’s dreariness will be long gone, but I decided to capitalize on this occurrence nonetheless. Rainy days, especially when they fall on the weekends, can certainly seem like a bummer at first, but upon second glance, they just might be a blessing in disguise. Last Saturday afternoon, as I was scooting around in the soggy mess running a few errands, I was able to catch an old NPR re-run of Sir Ken Robinson’s interview about creativity. In listening to him speak (in his charmingly eloquent British accent, I might add) I really began to think about the creative development of our children. If you haven’t heard Sir Ken’s Ted Talks, I highly recommend them. He is a very innovative, out-of-the-box thinker with progressive ideas on ways our outdated schools are no longer serving our current population of students. One of his most compelling arguments is that our schools’ overall “set up” tends to produce convergent thinkers as opposed to divergent thinkers. In convergent thinking, there is typically one right answer and a fairly mainstream way to arrive Continue reading

Let’s Talk.

“The highest result of education is tolerance.” –Helen Keller

We’re in the process of starting a conversation with our high school students.

We know that at first blush the concept may sound redundant or even a little silly in a school community where dialogue is so central to the ebb and flow of daily routine. In fact visitors are often quick to point out how skilled our IMG_5716students are in the art of conversation and are struck by the range and depth of the exchanges that take place between students, faculty, and administrators. Occasionally students and parents even say we talk too much and that we’d be better served by just getting on with it.

We couldn’t disagree more. Continue reading

Finding Our Bearings.

This summer our school community lost a child.

compassTo say that the loss was devastating is to go far wide of the mark. The Admin Team, just as surely as many others among us, wrestled with raw grief, with blinding confusion, and with roiling concern for all of the friends and family that Tessa left behind. We all will miss her forever.

It’s easy to say that no one can be prepared for the loss of a child. Far harder is the effort to explain the aftermath. There are questions for which we will never have answers and, more pointedly, to which none of us can lay claim. What we can say for sure is that we are awed by the strength and resilience and wisdom of Tessa’s family in confronting their loss.

This piece is testament to all that they wished to honor and share in holding us all up at a time when we mistakenly thought we were holding them.

So, what are we to do in moving forward? Continue reading

“Be” With Your Kids – The Power of Reading

being-and-doingFor those of you who know me, you know that I will be facing a pretty major milestone in the next few weeks. My only child, Jack, is about to complete his final day of elementary school. While I’ve been living in the world of middle school professionally for quite some time, this is my first (and only) foray into this world as a parent. Like all of you, I have mixed emotions about this. While I am 100% certain he is ready for this next leg of his journey, I am also sad to see this chapter of his childhood come to a close. I find myself walking in that emotionally complex place where one foot is planted in sappy nostalgia and the other is dancing the edge of eager anticipation. While I’m sure all of this is completely normal, I know that the true secret to happiness is pulling both feet together and using them to tow the line of the “here and now.”  Continue reading

Reading Routines

IMG_0261-2The month of May is bittersweet to me.  It is filled with beginnings and endings.  I am sad to say goodbye to our students and know that when they return to us in the fall they will seem a foot taller!  I am sad to say goodbye to friends and colleagues that I enjoy thinking, laughing and growing with daily.  However, I am excited to say hello to summer.  To not have a demanding schedule to follow, to have time to be outside in the warm sunshine and soak it all in, to play with my children and of course one of my favorite indulgences – reading!  I love a good summer read at the beach, I love to dive into professional readings, but quite honestly I must tell you that I also enjoy reading to and with my children.  Don’t get me wrong; we read all year long, but to me, summer reading is the best!  During the school year we have such busy schedules and seem to be on the move that our reading time seems to be mostly done at night before they go to bed. Continue reading

Summer Reading: Let’s Give ‘Em Something to Talk About …

image(Note to Readers: Before you dive in here, we need to get something straight. A visit to the principal’s office is, in and of itself, not always a bad thing, a punishment, a consequence or wherever your head might go! Stop snickering. It may have in fact been just that when you went to school. It likely still is in lots of schools all around us. But here at CSD, as always, we try to be just a little bit different. Joy and I are both very different personalities but our goal is in building strong and authentic relationships with students for it is within those relationships that we extend learning. Still have the jitters? Read What’s the Point of a Professor? (or, as we like to call it: “What’s the Point of a Principal?” ) from this past Sunday’s (5/10/15) New York Times.)

Lately Fridays at 9:00 a.m. have become my favorite time of the week. For the last few months, I’ve had a standing meeting with a high school student. Together, he and I have rediscovered the joys of a shared read. It’s that social aspect of reading that we all too often forget to emphasize as our kids get older and those picture perfect days of sharing a picture book or a beginning reader fade to a distant memory.

Continue reading

#Whatmatters

Dear CSD Community,

Each week we send a “week ahead” email to our staff that charts out both the details and big picture for the week ahead. We share articles and thoughts that are on our minds as leaders in hopes of inspiring our staff and ourselves to be at our best for the students and entire CSD community. Today, at the start of Spring Break, it strikes us that the words we shared this week with staff are just as relevant to you, our amazing parents. We know that just like our teachers, you give selflessly on behalf of your families and on behalf of this school community. We cherish the fact that you embrace our commitment to inclusiveness and that you, like we, care about the lives and welfare of all children rather than just our own. Continue reading

Learning License

When I was sixteen years old I wanted nothing more than to get my driver’s license.  My dad insisted that I needed to first learn how to drive a manual car.  If you grew up in the rural part of North Carolina as I did you called it a straight gear!   I remember practicing for hours in my high school parking lot, with my father in the passenger seat.  I would try to push the clutch in to start the car and let it out at just the right moment when you push the gas to make it go.  Up and down the street we would drive, and on and off the car would turn because I could never seem to find just the right balance between clutch and gas while trying to simultaneously shift the car in gear.  I am surprised that little car survived my education! Then, one day it happened.  I got it!  Continue reading

The “Secret” Everyone Should Know

I don’t know how this is even possible, but here we are…entering the last stretch of this school year. This year marks a very special point in my career. It was eight years ago that I joined the CSD family as a very eager 4/5 lead teacher. I remember everything so vividly, from my interview, to my first staff retreat, to my first set of Covenant Conferences, to the first day those angels walked in mine and Mrs. Aichele’s 4th grade classroom. I can see the room plain as day. I can smell the “back to school” smells of new markers, new glue sticks, and freshly laminated name tags. I can see the new backpacks hanging on their hooks, and I can hear the sound of the children’s laughter as we shared stories over Morning Meeting. I can vividly recall each and every face –sometimes filled with wonder and awe, sometimes filled with happiness and joy, sometimes filled with anxiety and fear. Continue reading