I am a parent in Palo Alto as well as an experienced high school history teacher, school reform leader, district administrator, leadership coach, school turnaround consultant and parenting coach/educator with over 16 years of experience working in schools, with families and in educational communities both in low and high income areas in the Bay Area and in Austin, TX. I am passionate about creating environments in the home, neighborhoods and schools which support children and the adults caring for them to thrive. I believe we can be doing so much better in so many areas in Palo Alto to achieve our most coveted goals of supporting authentic success for all of our children, their families and our schools.
When I taught at Mission High School in San Francisco, we received a grant from the Gates Foundation to redesign our school into smaller learning communities. We received professional development from Stanford’s Redesign Network including a research trip to visit the model small schools in New York and extensive training in project-based learning design, portfolio assessment and the creation of a robust advisory system. Within four years of implementation of this school redesign, we tripled the number students being accepted to four year colleges. I then worked at a charter in East Oakland which was getting breakthrough results . The following year, I was hired to work on the high school redesign team for Austin Independent School District which was charged with redesigning all 14 of the district’s high schools to better meet the needs of their student populations. I returned to the Bay Area a year later to work for Partners in School Innovation, where I coached Principals in San Jose to achieve breakthrough turnaround results in their schools in one year’s time. I know what it takes to redesign schools and I have achieved results as a teacher, a teacher leader, a school reform consultant, and as a school leadership coach. Since becoming a mom, I started my own coaching practice for modern parents and facilitate transformations for families through the Connected Parenting and life design coaching services I offer in my private practice.
I believe there are 5 best practices all schools need to follow to redesign their cultures and their ultimate results to better serve students as they prepare to be authentically successful in the 21st century economy. I believe that if PAUSD’s high schools incorporate these 5 best practices into their day to day functioning, we will turnaround the school cultures in one year’s time, and fewer families will feel the need to leave this city in pursuit of better educational options for their children.
When I was part of the team that redesigned Mission High School the entire staff was trained on and the school was restructured to offer more PERSONALIZATION to students. The research behind this best practice shows that every adolescent will thrive at school if they have at least one adult there who knows them well. This means that the expectation of teachers and leaders in public schools is to have more personalized relationships with students. How do we achieve this? At Mission, we restructured our schedule and staffing so that every teacher and student was part of a smaller learning community made up of 5 core subject area teachers and 88 students. We taught daily on a block schedule of 100 minute class periods. We cross-planned curriculum and met weekly as a core team so we could track student progress and catch students who were starting to slip earlier on in the process. We started looping students to stay with the same team of core teachers for 2 years in a row. Each student had an advisor who would be with them for 2 years. That advisor got to know the students’ family, met regularly with students to discuss their academic progress and made a point to watch students when they had games, performances, etc. So the sense of CARE that the advisor has for the student not just in terms of their grades, but as a human being with varied interests and talents was really supported and followed through on with regular, strategic action. The culture of each team was established by the core set of teachers and practices agreed upon to support personalization. Teachers shared often with the group the pieces of learning they had about each student so that other teachers would get to know the student through their eyes. We created a family with our 88 kids and the sense of bond and team identity was filled with belonging, care, pride, enthusiasm, excellence and true friendship.
II.) PROJECT BASED LEARNING:
All kids, but adolescents especially, need to be highly engaged in their learning in order to remain interested, motivated and successful as learners and doers. Typical old fashioned, factory-model educational practices like standardized tests, textbook reading and such rote activities do not engage the hearts and minds of adolescents at a deep level and the information gathered by these means is often forgotten as soon as the test is over. To create lifelong learners who know how to pursue their curiosities and think creatively, PROECT BASED LEARNING is a best practice that is in my experience a requirement of successful schooling. I saw students change from complacent about school to fully passionate and confident about learning and their own academic skills through the implementation of project based learning when I taught at Mission High. In particular, I was able to partner with an organization who brought in film making equipment and laptops loaded with editing software to support my Modern World History students to write, storyboard, create, edit their own short films about pressing issues in their communities. One particular student who suffered from ADHD and often disengaged during more traditional learning activities turned out to be a film making super star who proudly exhibited his film at the student film festival we shared with parents. I believe students who are currently disengaged in Palo Alto high school classes due to overwhelm, overwork and underwhelm at the quality of their classes’ curriculum will turn around their level of enthusiasm, personal passion and power, engagement the moment our high schools implement Project Based Learning across the board. Teachers should be trained immediately in this form of learning so that our students can engage their passions and prepare for the 21st century . This form of learning cultivates creativity, collaboration and confidence in learners of all types.
III.) PERFORMANCE BASED ASSESSMENT:
What is measured is what is focused on. We all know this from various experiences in life and especially in the work place. If all our schools measure is superficial fact regurgitation through finals tests and standardized tests, what is the message we are sending about learning to our students? If we want students to develop depth and creativity, collaboration and confidence so that they are prepared for the fast paced changing world that awaits them, we must create assessments/measurements which foster and cultivate these qualities on a daily basis in all that students do. The best form of assessment that measures these types of qualities is called Performance Based Assessment. Instead of students demonstrating what they know through paper and pencil multiple choice tests, PERFORMANCE BASED ASSESSMENTS ask students to demonstrate their learning through a portfolio of their work, through an exhibition of a project, through a presentation in front of a panel of educators, students and parents. The demonstration of what was learned is more dynamic, requires creativity and collaboration and the skills that the real world workplace actually requires of people. In addition to project based learning, this would be the reform I would train all teachers and leaders to implement immediately in our schools to serve the 21st century needs of our students. It’s more fun for everyone involved. It requires more thought, more creativity, more collaboration on the part of the district and staff, but then that is a great opportunity for the adults in our schools to model the qualities we most want to cultivate in our students!
IV.) PROFESSIONAL LEARNING COMMUNITIES:
When I worked for the Austin Independent School District in the Office of Redesign, I was a Project Manager for Professional Learning Communities, or PLC’s. PLC’s are learning communities created for teams of grade-level teachers to collaborate, reflect and improve on their teaching practices, as a team. Unlike one-shot professional development often provided by outside vendors at great expense, setting up PLC’s is a cost-effective, culture-shifting best practice that capitalizes and relies on the home-grown teaching excellence, expertise and best practices already being demonstrated by exceptional teachers on a teaching staff, and provides the perfect delivery model for those best practices to be distributed and taught to the rest of the grade level team, at no cost except for the creation of dedicated time for teacher teams to meet, share, reflect, practice and create together. If we created PLC’s across the board in our PAUSD high schools, teachers would feel like respected professionals, would be better supported to try new teaching practices that are project based, and would develop the ability to be in inquiry cycles together rather than relying on curriculum they have been using for decades with zero motivation to change.
V.) PRINCIPAL LEARNING WALKS AND WEEKLY NEWSLETTER SHARING
One of the first things I did as a Principal coach in San Jose was work with Principals to get up out of their offices and spend more time performing learning walks through classrooms observing actual teaching practices and student response to those practices and reporting the amazing best practices they saw with their staffs through weekly newsletters. When Principals take the time to be instructional leaders by spending time doing learning walks in all classrooms, they send the message that what teachers do in their classrooms everyday is highly valued by their leader. When principals note the best practices they see during their learning walks in a weekly newsletter to the teaching staff, teachers are motivated by the public sharing of the good teaching happening on campus. There is public awareness of what teachers do rather than closed doors, isolation and forgotten-ness. As we work to motivate our students to be their best creative and collaborative selves, as educational practitioners, we must incorporate these qualities into all that we do so that our school cultures shift to places of learning, openness, dialogue, experimentation, creativity, collaboration and eventual mastery of our craft.