Crucial Conversations

Fostering a community with open communication

Florence Middle School teams share collaborative planning time not only within their grade level and content area, but the 7th and 8th grade teams meet collaboratively every other week to share ideas, insights, and information. After the 1st 9 week's benchmarks, the math teams analyzed data together, and came to a realization about student error in connection to the use of a calculator. Below, the two academic leaders provide a summary of this valuable conversation.
Cross-Grade Collaboration

"Strong Adult Professional Culture: The Indispensable ingredient for sustainable school improvement"

Jon Saphier's article (titled above) discusses 4 characteristics of the adult learning culture in successful schools:
  • 1. Teachers engage in frequent, continuous, and increasingly concrete and precise talk about teaching practice (common language).
  • 2. Teachers plan, design, research, evaluate, and prepare teaching materials together.
  • 3. Teachers regularly teach one another about specific teaching practices.
  • 4. Teachers are frequently observed and provided with useful (if potentially frightening) critiques of their teaching by peers as well as administrators.

School-wide RTI discussions promote a shared understanding

RTI meetings were held in November. Since teams meet collaboratively once a month to discuss individual students, there was an opportunity to use these meetings to discuss school-wide goals and expectations.

In addition, the ideas discussed in Ron Berger's Leaders of Their Own Learning have helped promote an awareness that students need to become involved in this process. Berger says, "Data inquiry and analysis is a fitting and rich component to many schools' professional development cycles. Yet, it is often removed from the classroom and something that happens about rather than with students. Bringing data analysis into the classroom is one more example of transforming what is traditionally reserved for adults into an opportunity for student leadership. Although investigating data takes different forms at different developmental stages, even the youngest students can and should be given opportunities to explore data related to their academic and character growth" (p.99).

Below is an example of student discussions of their own data. Students at Florence Middle School have a "Falcon Playbook" (data notebook) where they record academic progress each week during advisory. While the type of conversation shown below isn't possible with every student, it is something we are exploring for targeted students.
Student conversation

Powerful Conversations Network generates discussion about best practices for students

Jackie Walsh and Cathy Gassenheimer recently led a PCN meeting in Gardendale with many teachers, Instructional Partners, and Principals from across northern Alabama. Ms. Lydia Barnett, 8th grade math teacher at Florence Middle shared insights about why it is natural for students to learn from their peers.