It was a dark and dreary time . . . .
This opening line might have been the start of a story of a school district fraught with dread, gloom, and angst. Indeed, that could have been our district’s story as we battled through the effects of the 2008 recession, compounded by being the least adequately funded district in the state of Illinois, and multiple years of being identified as ‘failing’ under NCLB regulations. However, that’s just a sentence fragment in our district’s story.
As J. Sterling Morton High School District 201 Board of Education members, it is our fundamental role to support the achievement of all students with opportunities that promote success. After working with a Corwin Visible Learning consultant, Kara Vandas, for a year, we saw the great strides that were being made thanks to Visible Learning. As a result, we decided to attend July’s Annual Visible Learning Conference alongside our teachers and administrators as part of our commitment to govern as knowledgeable leaders and staunch advocates for all of our students. Many conference attendees were surprised to learn that Board members took the time to learn with staff and were intrigued to hear our perspective on session topics. We shared that we were there to support staff in their learning, and in sharing our story with attendees.
We support learning by creating and sustaining the conditions that deliver excellent, and equitable, teaching and learning. The Visible Learning Conference allowed us to learn with staff concepts and skills that, when employed correctly, can accelerate student learning. Sessions helped us to understand effect size and different teaching strategies that impact student learning. The session How We Learn: Five Essential Practices for Successful Learning helped us to appreciate that to simply provide students the content is not enough. The process of deep learning calls for our students to be able to use content in new and different ways. Every one of our students deserves support from a distinguished teacher.
We gained an appreciation and deeper understanding of the ‘why’, ‘what’, and ‘how’ to improve student learning and see the classroom as the essential point of change and growth. District 201 has defined its own ‘instructional triangle’ to be the interaction between teacher clarity, formative assessment, and feedback to strengthen student engagement in learning success. We have to be purposeful in teacher clarity, which drives formative assessment decision making, followed by teacher and student feedback on the purpose for learning and the demonstration of learning during the lesson. As a result, the Board has directed even more of its attention to supporting impactful instruction. It was exciting as a Board member to see just how engaged, dedicated, and enthusiastic Morton staff are about educating students!
The Visible Learning conference strengthened our beliefs that our teachers can, and do, have a positive impact on student achievement and that professional learning is essential for us to improve teaching and learning. It also opened our eyes even wider to the complexity that is 21st century teaching and learning. Learning about ways of improving student outcomes helps us to become even greater champions of learning effectiveness and will help us in setting goals and policies – along with making investments in our teachers and students – so that all students are supported and receive the instruction they need to maximize their potential.
Because of our Board, administrators, teachers, parents, and students continuously striving for improvement, District 201 began to be acknowledged for the impact it was having on student learning by being named College Board’s AP District of the Year in 2016 acknowledging our commitment to equity of access, opportunity, and supported achievement. The district was recognized in 2017 as a model PLC District by Solution Tree for our ongoing support of collective teacher efficacy through providing teachers increased opportunities in meaningful collaboration. These external awards are small indicators of where we are, but not where we can be with purposeful focus on clarity, formative assessment, and feedback from every teach, every class, everyday. Our internal evidence of grades, student and teacher voice, and informal Learning Walk evidence all demonstrate sustained growth for our students. We are looking to accelerate our impact on learners and by striving to see learning through our students’ eyes. Our Visible Learning Conference take away was the need to continue to provide and encourage our staff with time for their professional development and stress to our community the importance of continued learning for all students.
The story of our District and students is not yet written, and the Board of Education recognizes the expertise among our teachers and administrators as they collaborate for improved learning. With Visible Learning we see our story as . . .
The Phoenix rises.