Lessons from SpongeBob

This evening I was catching an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants with my young son. The episode started with the boat school teacher coming under review by what was apparently a supervisor. Now, anyone who has a little child at home or a taste for cartoons know this to be a rather silly show. However, there was a line within the opening scene that made me think. The man/fish from the Teacher Accreditation Bureau was condemning Ms. Puff for failing a student numerous times.  When Ms. Puff tried to explain, the supervisor simply replied, "We can not blame the students for the incompetence of the teacher."

I am not sure why this resonated with me. However, I continued to watch the episode with much interest in terms of the perception of what a good teacher is as compared to what a bad teacher is. If you have a few minutes I suggest you watch it...you can even have your kids watch it with you. :)

In Which I Create a School

Recently, my school district opened up an Innovation Process where teachers, students, parents and anyone associated with our schools could submit ideas. These ideas could be any new way of doing something within our schools with the purpose of increase student learning, efficiency or a handful of other indicators. 

I took the opportunity to submit a proposal for a pilot school within my current school. I am taking a page out of my good friend Tim Dove's playbook who did this already in his school in Ohio. Much of the terminology is taken from the Phoenix school but will be adapted to meet our needs if we are allowed the opportunity to move forward. Below is my proposal and I look forward to seeing what the future holds as I think the potential upside for such a pilot could be tremendous. 

There will be lots of discussions and further logistics if this pilot actually gets a green light but I would be lying if I said I wasn't completely thrilled. Feel free to take a look and let me know what you would add or adjust. 

Project Description
The intent behind this project is to create a learning environment that supports learning in its truest form and encourages the best aspects of good schools. While this team would physically be within the building, it would operate as a school within a school. Below is a list of pieces that will be unique on this pilot team.

·         Grades/Content
o   Mastery model of grading will be used for content knowledge based on Illinois State Standards and District content area standards.
o   Reports cards will be rewritten to include feedback to parents beyond academic letter grade.
§  Included will be a narrative of student growth along with a portfolio of student work.
o   Students will follow district curriculum in the areas of Language Arts, Math and Science. Social Science will be replaced with current events as a lens in which to teach World History and therefore differ from current 6th grade Social Science curriculum.
·         Schedule
o   Initially during the pilot phase the schedule would mirror start and end times of the Junior High School
o   Planning time would be scheduled for all teachers to collaboratively plan on a weekly basis.
o   The bell schedule however would be crafted within the team to meet the needs of learners and staff availability.
§  The schedule would include the following elements
·         Foundations Class
o   A class that would teach foundational skills such as note taking, character education, basic technology skills, basic writing/reading skills and any “foundation” skills that would transcend all aspects of learning within the school regardless of subject area.
·         Learning Blocks
o   This would be where the “core” curriculum would be delivered.
§  In addition to the core curriculum topics such as current events, global studies, community service and digital citizenship will be integrated.
·         Wellness
o   During this class students would participate in wellness activities that would incorporate both physical education and health topics. 
·         Lunch
o   Speaks for itself…
·         Learning Extensions
o   This would be a time where other classes that would typically be termed “exploratory” or electives would be taught. These would not necessarily be the same 4 exploratories being currently offered but would be created based on student need/interest. Rather than a set curriculum these would be more independently driven with staff guidance.
·         Independent Reading
o   Discovery Days
§  On discovery days students will spend time creating and implementing a learning plan. These days could be spent shadowing a parent at work, participating in a service learning project or another self-designed exploratory experience.
·         Teaching
o   Teaching will be based on a Project Based Learning model.
§  Students will participate in collaborative learning activities.
o   Co-Teaching will be the preferred and primary approach in most classes.
§  Teacher groupings will be based on content knowledge of teacher and student need within the class.
o   PLC Model will be used for weekly planning of curriculum delivery and student learning discussions.
·         Technology
o   1 to 1 environment for student devices
o   Social media and Web2.0 tool integration
·         Community Connection
o   Pilot team will serve as a model for innovative teaching practice and partner with local university/college education department(s).
o   Students will be engaged in real life experiences either in the community or through the use of community volunteers. The intent will be to utilize experts within various fields of study to create rich and meaningful learning experiences within context.
·         Staff
o   Pilot Team would consist of a high functioning team that is committed to innovative approaches to learning.
o   Peer evaluation, feedback and observations would be included in teacher expectations. Intent would be to create a collaborative professional learning community through active and intentional improvement.
o   Team make-up would be:
§  2 Language Arts teacher
§  1 Social Science teacher
§  1 Math teacher
§  1 Science teacher
§  1 Learning Behavior Support/ Reading Teacher
·         Staff Evaluation
o   Evaluation of staff will consist of five parts
§  Peer evaluations (using 4 domains of Danielson model)
§  Student feedback
§  Parent feedback
§  Student achievement
·         Combination of data from tests and student work portfolios
§  Professional development log/plan

Wish me luck and keep an eye out for updates...