The schools who presented in the school showcase at NASSP’s Ignite ’14 brought a little piece of themselves to share with their colleagues. I was fortunate enough to attend three of the packed sessions and came away having experienced a bit of what happens in each school.
It may not be common for professional development sessions to begin with singing, but maybe it should be. The native song that started the session with the Native American Community Academy (NACA) in Albuquerque, NM, established the reverence for community, identity, respect, and balance that characterizes the school and its leaders. The importance of community was further demonstrated when we were asked to put down our devices and stand up. Somewhat reluctantly, having been pulled out of our comfort zones, we complied and were drawn into a circle and introduced ourselves one by one, a reflection of the importance of identity at NACA. The circle is important in the school and the culture where it starts every staff meeting and is used regularly with the entire school to establish community, affirm identity, and recognize success. The process of “clearing the circle”—leaving behind devices and other distractions—focuses everyone in the moment in preparation for what comes next.
NACA focuses on respecting and preserving the ancient teachings of the student’s cultures—95% of whom are Native American—and keeping them relevant for their lives now and in the future. With a focus on an ecological sense of identity (the individual in the context of interactions with family, community, and school) and wellness in all aspects of their lives, the students are prepared to carry that balance into their postsecondary education and careers.
Canyon Vista Middle School presenters from Austin, TX, began by inviting me to draw a circle and color it. They used that exercise to walk attendees through the same process by which students assess their learning growth on lesson objectives and create a “heat map” that makes the rubric visual and easy to read at glance by teachers and students alike. The map of red, yellow, and green shows students where they are and where they need to go. Because students can see where they are succeeding as well as where they need to put in some more time, the heat map motivates and affirms every student.
Presenters from Clark Central High School in Athens, GA, put attendees to work right away to score a video using their strategies and rubric for an awareness walk, a technique they use to observe instructional strategies and identify students who require a little extra help. Hands-on work continued as attendees delved into a “data dig” that Clark Central teams of educators use to identify students at risk of failure and develop a plan to guide them toward graduation.
All the schools more than met the objective of NASSP and the Center for Secondary School Redesign to bring high-quality schools to share their strategies with colleagues from around the country, not only showcasing their successes but also modeling what makes them successful schools.