As lifelong learners ourselves, at Lemm Elementary School we are always listening to our teachers and investigating strategies to support our teachers and student learning. Several years ago, our teachers were complaining about students not caring about learning, never doing their homework, parents completing most projects for their children, and that there wasn’t enough time to get everything done. I feel certain several of you have heard some of these same statements.
If you are familiar with Dr. John Hatties’s work, you know that 90% of the work good teachers do is working and that students will be successful. Yes, that is how Lemm continued to be a good school. But we wanted to be a great school.
Our journey started very slow. Placing a colored copy of some of Hatties’ meta-analysis of influences out during our August professional development week caused a rather quiet room to buzz as teachers began to review the list. That year we decided to work on feedback (effect size .75) and did a rather poor job of training ourselves since we needed to support new district wide initiatives. The following year we dropped homework (effect size .29), other than reading 30 minutes and working on math facts nightly. This very small measure was amazing. Teachers were not complaining about students completing homework, for those that graded homework time was saved, wasted minutes of reviewing homework was over, and parents and students were not arguing about homework.
We didn’t realize it at the time, but these two years set the foundation for the accelerated learning we were about to encounter through Visible Learning. In 2015, we found out the Visible Learning conference was to be in San Antonio that summer, and we sent a vertical team of teachers and administrators. Upon returning from the conference, they decided we would push ourselves to deepen our knowledge and become a Visible Learning school. We presented our plans to the district, and just a few weeks later we were learning about Hattie’s 10 Mindframes, impact cycles, learning intentions, success criteria, and the learning pit!
Our first year in the Visible Learning program was a bit of a struggle, as we shifted our focus from the teacher to “It is all about the student” and completed our first impact cycles. Leadership impact cycles included teacher clarity (effect size .75), feedback (effect size .75) on inspired and passionate teachers, and “know thy impact” by providing formative evaluation (effect size .90). We completed video diaries, teacher surveys, and collected on data on formative and summative evaluations. The work was intense and took time but was well worth it, as we found out how much our students did not know about learning and were surprised how our teachers felt about the leadership team. Our teachers’ impact cycles varied from teacher clarity using learning intentions and success criteria to goal setting.
Having good teachers at a good school, our teachers were always compliant and dutifully posted “I can” statements on the board, but they never knew the why and how. Today you will not walk into a room without learning intentions and success criteria everywhere, and the best part is that students know what they are learning and what they must provide to their teachers to show success. Students can answer these three questions:
- What am I learning?
- How am I doing?
- Where to next?
Our students have taken ownership of their learning and their purpose to be at school has changed! And yes, this includes kindergarten students. One may witness this daily as students are able to tell anyone what they are learning, if they are successful or not yet, and what they will be learning next. Students are asking questions and know it is ok to make a mistake. The secrets of what one must learn has vanished.
Year two we began with lots of reflection and developed our plans on new impact cycles. We were so excited Dr. Peter DeWitt would be returning to guide us on feedback (effect size .75) and developing the visible learner. He took a special interest in our impact cycles and guided us on tighten our focus. Many of our teachers continued the work they had begun the year before and added or changed an element. Teachers were supporting one another and sharing successes and failures. It also happened to be the year Texas implemented a new appraisal system for teachers and principals. We were so fortunate as Visible Learning and Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS) complimented one another so well teachers embedded their impact cycles into their T-TESS goal setting.
Linking walks were presented to us by Dr. Julie Smith and we were able to share our experiences with over forty administrators in our district during the year. We focused on quality questioning (effect size .49), classroom discussion (effect size .82), student engagement (effect size .62), and student voice (effect size .72). Participants became experts in one of the above-mentioned areas and observed several classrooms for a limited time with a laser like focus while collecting data. This data was amazing and since our teachers participated they knew where we needed to direct our energy immediately and what professional development was needed.
In late August 2017, we were beginning our third year in Visible Learning. We had completed our first short week focusing on relationships (effect size .75), which we had chosen as our school-wide focus. On the fifth day, school was closed and we braced ourselves for Hurricane Harvey. Unfortunately, our school was flooded and we lost many items. Teachers lost their classroom libraries and other personal items.
Out of all the darkness there is always light and many positive incidents have occurred. We were able to move into a wing of a new high school, allowing all of us to stay together. The hurricane also destroyed all of our Visible Learning workbooks. warmed my heart that teachers were asking about their Visible Learning manuals and books. We were not resorting back to old strategies, but continuing with being a Visible Learning school.
We are forever grateful for Corwin, as well. Dr. Julie Smith, Dr. Peter DeWitt, and Craig Hampton contacted us and asked how they could help. They responded with open arms and replaced our manuals and books! I cannot say enough about the professional development we received, but the professional friendships that have been built are forever lasting as we continue to collaborate and learn from one another. These individuals have taken us from a good school to a great school.