Keeping the Focus on Learning
Lauren Horne, Brooke High School Assistant Principal for STEM, talks about how we are maintaining and building cultures of achievement in our classrooms during this year of returning to in-person learning amidst COVID-19 surges.
In the midst of the changes this year, how have you kept the focus on learning in the classroom?
When we started the year back in August, we returned to the foundations of a strong classroom culture of achievement. When a culture of achievement is present and thriving, the expectation that everyone can and will achieve at high levels is explicit, regularly communicated and celebrated in public and group settings. Educators and students embrace a growth mindset and students are held to high expectations because educators know what they are capable of.
We thought about what that looks like and what had to be re-established for students and ourselves to start the year with that vision. Coming out of 18 months where we didn’t have clarity on what students knew because it was so hard to collect data [remotely], we focused a core chunk of our professional development and department meetings on analyzing data and building lessons that were responsive to it. Although there are gaps in learning, we aren’t going to slow down. Research says that moving forward is actually more supportive than dwelling in what students don’t know.
What does it look like specifically in a science classroom when students are focused on learning?
In great science classes, students are curious, asking questions that connect to previous things they have learned or wondered about and that relates to what they are doing in class. I love when students ask, “Could I try this?” or “What would it look like to test this?” When they are building models, they are also testing their own predictions and are willing to change their thinking. That is what great learning in science looks like.
Describe how teachers are receiving support to create this culture of achievement.
Support is always individualized, based on the specific support teachers need to drive student learning – direct support comes in the form of lesson planning, data meetings, observation feedback, and weekly check-ins. This is a return to how we approached professional support before the pandemic, centered around the questions: What do we need to do to ensure our kids are getting the education we promised them, and how can we be responsive to the information of what they are learning and what they are not?
Are there any curriculum challenges that your team is working on solving this year?
We did not go into this year holding the pandemic as an excuse for what kids need to know. Instead we are using data to understand kids’ needs and pushing forward with new content. We recognized the need to make larger curricular shifts that include cumulative review (reviewing content from previous courses or units) to ensure those practices are more intentional and thoughtful and research-based. The more you connect the things you learn, the more you will retain and build fluency in the content that you can draw on in future years, which is particularly important in math. We spend instructional professional development time on how to include re-teaching previous content or intentional review that fits into the current curriculum with an intentional way that doesn’t take the lesson off the scope and sequence of the current curriculum.
Can you name some highlights that you’ve experienced in a classroom this year?
Where to begin! In classrooms, I’m seeing curiosity and kids doing hands-on experiments and writing up well thought-out lab reports that connect the concepts they are learning to the evidence they are collecting. Students getting to do the lab techniques we designed our classes around is so powerful and helpful for them to get ready for college.
Other highlights include seeing students turning to each other and ask, “Why do you think this?” or “How did you get that?” and teachers sending me pictures of their classes and what they are doing or excited about. That was not part of the last school year, and I love that return back to those things.
I walk into classes where students are all focused on the work, and a teacher can pull a small group off to the side for a small discussion while the rest of the class is involved in a rigorous lab or classwork.
It’s a return to student-centered learning, which was much more challenging over zoom school.