Middle School Teachers See New Paradigm for Professional Growth

Originally published in CenterEd in June, 2014.

Last week, we spoke with Mick Roy, principal of Bonny Eagle Middle School in Buxton, Maine, along with assistant principals, Stacey Schatzabel and Benjamin Harris. Bonny Eagle, the largest middle school in the state, has taken part in a pilot of iObservation, Learning Sciences International’s observation and professional development software.

Roy, Schatzabel, and Harris recounted the school’s initial experiences, which involved teachers:

Evidence and Reflective Pieces

Bonny Eagle strived to ensure that teachers focused on elements in Design Question 1, which incorporates specific instructional strategies to help teachers provide clear learning goals and scales, track student process, and celebrate success. “Tracking student progress, for some, was challenging,” says Roy. “They didn’t have all the strategies; they didn’t know exactly what it looked like or what to do with it, so I would say that was a bit of a challenge.”

The next step was self-assessment. The district had everybody set goals—not just teachers who were being evaluated this year. “We then had each teacher meet with us, to go over goal setting, so that each would have a clear discussion around the expectations,” Roy explains.

Once everyone became accustomed to the protocol, Roy began to see the results. Although some teachers didn’t put much effort into documenting evidence and reflective pieces, Roy said that some of the teachers were “incredible.”

“Their reflections and the evidence they posted, from videos to research to peer observations, was just very, very thorough,” he says. “You could really tell they put a lot of effort into it.”

Moving Out of the Old Paradigm

Roy, Schatzabel, and Harris worked to help Bonny Eagle educators understand and get behind the shift to a professional growth paradigm. “It’s hard for them when they’ve been so used to the traditional, outdated evaluation system that was based on a preconference and observation—or several observations and eventually a written evaluation,” says Roy.

Teachers had to learn to “synthesize many different pieces of their own assessment”, he says, to fully understand how they can align evaluation with classroom instruction to build on the expertise they already had. They needed to become familiar with the vocabulary used in Domain 1. “They had to do a lot of self-study around each element, or the elements they were focusing on, to know what it looks like in a classroom. And then they had to start building their toolbox, if you will, around the actions steps that were created.”

Change is never easy, but the school has found success. According to Roy, “The faculty has done, overall, a great job in working with this and moving out of that paradigm, the old paradigm, and we’ve been able to make pretty good progress with most teachers.”

How Are Students Handling the Changes?

“We’ve gotten a lot of feedback and we always interview students,” Roy tells us. “We’ve done survey work among students, too, just for regular qualitative anecdotal kinds of things with kids. What we find kids saying is that when they have a focused target and they’re trying to improve on that target and track their own progress, they’re more motivated and more apt to see how they can improve themselves. That shift in focus takes them away from the lecture instruction,” he adds, “because now, some of them are working at their own pace.”

Roy is also seeing new benefits for students using laptops. “The laptop has been a huge motivational tool in some of the applications, and [students are] trying to improve, right down to how well they multiply or divide or how well they understand algebra concepts. And kids do record that; they’re not bored. In fact, some of them have worked much harder than they ever did.”

The students at Bonny Eagle Middle School are already beginning to accept ownership for their own learning. Check your inbox next Friday to find out how they’re handling the more student-centered instruction.

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