So, here I sit. (Well, not really. If you knew me, you would know that I never really sit. I'm just sitting long enough to blog!) I've made a decision that is, perhaps, one of the most defining moments of my educational career thus far. Not because it's about me. It's because it's about the teacher leaders who I work with every day, which ultimately makes it about the students. Why, you ask? It's because the best teachers don't make decisions on what's best for them; they make decisions on what's best for students. And believe me, they don't take this lightly.
The teachers at Waukee Middle School are not afraid to learn, to take risks, and to stand up for students. Through our professional learning journey, we have entered the most amazing place. It's a place of clarity...of focus...of truth. We have discovered, through studying research-based best practices and collaborating every step of the way, that standards-based reporting is THE answer to increasing student learning. We have entered into a zone that only some dream of entering...because we are united and strong in not only beliefs, but also what we KNOW to be the right thing. It's about bringing together differentiation and assessment so beautifully, that now that we know what we know, there's no going back. Turning back would be compromising who we are and why we are teachers.
Making decisions. It takes ears, heart, research, and conviction. If I place them in a more detailed order, it would be this: Heart, conviction, research, conviction, ears, conviction, and conviction.
First, it starts with having a heart. I wouldn't even be where I am right now if I didn't have a heart. I'm joined by teacher leaders at WMS who also have a heart. We care about kids, and we care about each other. Our hearts serve as our compass in putting kids first. Period.
Second, we have conviction...so much conviction that we developed our Shared Commitments and we live by them everyday. As you walk through our building, you will see them posted throughout, and you'll see them alive in the classrooms:
- We believe in the value of each individual.
- We believe in creating and modeling a safe, positive environment that supports continuous learning.
- We believe learners develop skills and abilities to make positive contributions in an ever-changing world.
- We believe all learners will achieve at high levels.
- We believe in Waukee Middle School.
Bring on the conviction! The research shows us the way, and our conviction gives us the energy. Our Shared Commitments tell us that we must act on what we've learned. We must let go of letter grades at the middle school level. How can we keep going down this path when we know that standards-based reporting is what students need?
So that brings me to ears. Listening to the best teachers just makes sense. During one of my most recent of many conversations I have with them about SBR, one of them said, "Jill, it's necessary change. We MUST do this." And she's absolutely right. When the most student-centered teachers in the building are saying, "This is what we need to do," how can we not?
Conviction, and conviction. This is when it really counts. While inside the walls of WMS we know that SBR is the right thing to do, it's scary for many others. It's scary because it represents the unknown. I would venture to say that probably 99.9% of us grew up with letter grades, so the thought of letting them go seems absolutely frightening, crazy, and unacceptable to some. This is when I have to hang on to my conviction. Listen to my teachers. Listen to the research. Lean on our Shared Commitments. Listen. Listen. Politically, this is emotional for all stakeholders. When I listen, I must also listen to our parents, and really hear their concerns. I need to integrate solutions to their concerns into our plan of SBR because they are important, too. While the teacher leaders are experts on learning, our parents are experts on their kids. TOGETHER, we will get through this, and it will be better on the other side!
One of my mentors once told me, "Sometimes, the right thing to do is the hardest thing to do." Now I understand why schools generally stay within the status quo, for fear of rocking the boat. It's easier to just "make do" and keep doing what we've always done. If we keep doing what we've always done, though, we'll keep getting the same results: the dip in achievement when students come to middle school, the trends that show learning happening at a slower rate at the secondary level, the "touch and go" of making AYP from year to year, and the call to action for our students to be 21st century learners who are learning at high levels. I can't sleep at night if I'm settling for the status quo. And I'm pretty confident that I wasn't hired to allow WMS to settle, either. It's not who we are.
The best teachers give me strength, and God gives me even more. My best teachers are counting on me. And, more importantly, so are our students. Listen.
Listen to the best teachers.