Case Study

Bridging cultural and academic learning to build student ownership - Miles' story

Increasing student growth data by over 20% - Miles' story

Miles struggled with classroom management his first year of teaching, but having received support from a colleague, is now in his third year and has a strong set of classroom routines and rituals and solid understanding of the fourth-grade curriculum. Miles’ student growth data is extremely low and though he has met many of the district’s benchmarks for establishing a safe and productive classroom environment, he has not yet created an environment that fosters learning, interaction, and academic growth. Amber was selected as Miles’ coach based on her expertise with early career teachers and they began their work together with a co-observation. In order to familiarize Miles with the Effective Learning Observation (ELO) process in a non-threatening way, Amber invited him to join her to observe another fourth-grade teacher so that he could see similarly aged students and the same curriculum being implemented in a different way.

In their first of many ELO observations, Miles and Amber observed a teacher that was six years into her career and had average growth data. Amber was careful to select a teacher that was within Miles’ zone of proximal development and could serve as an ongoing collaborative partner. Research on adult learning shows that adult learners, especially when struggling, need information and examples that are very closely aligned to their daily experience. The data that Miles and Amber collected in the ELO observation was highly relevant to Miles’ daily teacher experience and he noted that in the debrief discussion. He also noted that students were demonstrating deeper understanding than he heard in his class. Amber reminded him of the ELO protocol and that it isn’t about comparing, but just observing and looking for the details that reveal when and how learning was happening best. They listed all their observations and Miles noted that most students were leveraging a variety of tools from their binders and text books (like plot diagrams, character profiles, and visuals) to help them create story webs. Amber also highlighted that students were transferring skills and knowledge from previous lessons to help them create meaning. Miles agreed to lead the feedback conversation with his colleague and out of that conversation he began to exhibit a clear shift in mindset. The leadership, positivity and openness Miles demonstrated in the feedback were highly evident (and his coach told him so). In that same post-ELO meeting, Miles noted that he’d always seen feedback as a criticism but by being the person giving feedback, he felt how hard that role was as well. He further noted that talking about what was working well was not just praise but a highly critical way of thinking about learning.

Amber invited Miles to share those reflections with someone who had given him feedback in the past, which spurred an ongoing conversation between him and his principal. A relationship that had been strained in the past began to re-form with open feedback and clear goals.

“As a leader I was so busy looking at the symptoms of the problem, I wasn’t seeing the root cause. Class Measures helped me unpeel it and get it down to the level of detail I needed to understand what was at the core of student growth, and what was getting in the way.”

–Synette Melluzo, Clover Park Principal

Out of that experience Miles worked with his coach to develop two goals. First, to create more intentional learning tools for students to use, and secondly, to backward plan for students’ mastery and application of transferrable skills. Both of these goals helped him bridge the strong classroom culture he was developing to better promote learning growth. In his first two years he’d learned the value of consistency and tools, he had a classroom chore chart that he adjusted to “student leadership roles” and a system for collecting papers that he shifted to become a “student performance portfolio”. It wasn’t simply a matter of renaming the tools but redesigning their content, approach, and the supports. He and his coach co-created student-friendly rubrics to guide students to give peer feedback, revise work, and prepare for a community-wide exhibition of their learning. Students built tool-boxes that included ongoing records of key academic vocabulary, sentence frames, independent reading logs, and illustrated say-mean-matter journals.

The tools Miles created were based on, and embedded in, the district curriculum, and gave students a level of creativity with, and ownership of, their learning that was not previously present. They also gave Miles a clear set of tools to focus on so that rather than continually creating new worksheets and tasks, he was able to guide students back to the core tools and skills that they could use in a variety of settings.

When he learned to plan and teach in this way he was able to collect the daily data that showed how his students learned best in this way. Students knew what was important, were empowered to make decisions and guide their own learning and outputs by referring back to their toolboxes and portfolios, as opposed to working through a series of tasks that were assigned to them.

Miles received weekly coaching for eight months, at the end of that time there was a 20%+ increase in his growth data compared to the previous year and a set of student portfolios, survey data from the community exhibition, and a wealth of student work that focused on the key skills and learnings that he had prioritized for the year. 

The individual coaching was so valuable to me. I was able to reflect on my professionalism in the moment and then make plans that I could put into practice immediately. This impacted the quality of my teaching and interactions with my co-workers far greater than a traditional PD would as it was personalized and inspired me to be a leader. 

 - Sara Cano, Reading Intervention Lead.

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