Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Doug and I used to teach in Alaska.
When we talk about it, this is how the conversation generally goes. "Oh, you taught in Alaska? I've been to Anchorage. Where abouts did you teach?"
"Saint Lawrence Island."
"Oh, Saint Lawrence Island. Is that in the Aleutians?"
"Have you seen Deadliest Catch?"
"Yeah! I love that show!"
"Well, you know that map they show? Well, we're not even on it because we're in the pack ice."
We taught for the Bering Strait School District http://www.bssd.org/ and were lucky enough to be part of an exceptional and progressive model of education, working with Reinventing Schools Coalition or RISC http://www.reinventingschools.org/learning/ .
It was hard to leave this new form of education, but we knew we needed a change and moving to Maine has proved to be one of the best decisions we've ever made. And...lo and behold, we find out that our old superintendent is working here in Maine and that the entire state of Maine is working with RISC to implement this model state-wide.
A lot of things come and go in education. Teachers get a little burned out by this, and sometimes even cynical about the efficacy of a lot of 'top down' changes. I think often the problem is that the system itself has inherent flaws and no matter what you implement in a flawed system, you'll have difficulties. This movement is to change the entire system and it's structure. What's more-it works, and has been proven to work to increase student achievement with some of the most at-risk students in the nation. Our old school had an extremely poor literacy rate. We're talking nearly single digits, around 10% reading on grade level. Within four years of implementation with this new model, we had over 30% reading on grade level, and similar stats for Math. That's over a 20% jump. Maybe you don't know how incredible that is, but I can tell you as a teacher, that those kinds of leaps are unheard of in the educational field save a handful of extremely progressive schools or districts.
Coming here, we used a lot of our training in the RISC model. One of the things that we worked on early on was what's called a Code of Conduct. Sort of like an agreed upon set of rules. But this isn't something that you just do on the first day and post in some corner never to speak of again. You constantly refer back to it...you use it as a guidepost and also as a reminder of a promise everyone made to each other and themselves.
Last year we worked a little on what's know as a Shared Vision that goes along with the Code of Conduct. We are working to refine it and revisit what it means to be an 'ideal' student, teacher and what an ideal school looks like. I love this exercise because you can see what the kids really value and also what they hope to be surrounded by-not to mention where there might be some red flags in terms of learning. Ultimately, this model is incredibly empowering and lets students learn at their own pace, take responsibility for themselves and their learning in order to become the most successful student/person they can be. These kids are already well on their way. It's so nice to just have a guiding role to the direction they're already heading in, rather than feeling like they're not even on the field, let alone the endzone. I know, another sports metaphor. I'm just such a sucker for those feel-good victories. Seems like we have at least a dozen of them here, every single day.