Reclaiming Learning in Education
A friend and mentor once said to me, “You’re always a teacher, your class just keeps changing.” My class now is a school committee, an administrative team, faculty and staff, parents, students, and six communities and their elected boards in rural Massachusetts.
Around the country, as districts face significant and daunting challenges attempted solutions have included big structural reforms, reworking staffing and contracts, closing and opening schools, expanding and more recently shrinking budgets, rethinking standards, curriculum and assessments and adjusting school days and years. While these are important levers for change, looking carefully at learning and instructional practice has too often taken a back seat.
As a district, we collectively committed to making our teaching public and explicit.
Our schools are open to visitors all the time, but especially on Welcome Wednesdays. After visiting classes, visitors exit by responding to two prompts: “I noticed that… and, I wondered about…”
I observe almost every teacher in the district with the director of learning and teaching and a principal by the end of October. We share low inference and non-evaluative feedback that night or early the next morning. Teachers respond in conversations and email, and more importantly in how they approach their work the next day. We continue to catch learning on a regular basis through the year. We listen, and we constantly examine and refine our approach.
Teachers observe students and peers. They develop questions and complete action research projects to reflect and learn more. Their shared experiences provoke rich conversations, collaboration, curricula and connections across the district preK-12.
Learning is central to our work and those I support – students, colleagues and families.
There has been some attention in the press about “flipping classrooms”. I think it’s time to flip the reform debate by focusing primarily on learning and teaching and less on structures. By creating space for collaboration, reflection and growth, we have an opportunity to be bold. Leadership is important in setting the tone, creating space, and providing time and resources. But teachers are the significant and untapped and vibrant resource. It’s very hard to administer your way to greatness. The numbers and numbers of interactions simply don’t work. What you can do is make learning very explicit.#
Dr. Peter Dillon is the Superintendent of Schools, Berkshire Hills Regional School District, MA