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Chapter Three: November

08 Nov

by Frank Murphy

Installment (3 of 9)

In my first year at Meade, I set up a summer professional development school  and started a teacher study group.  These efforts were lead by facilitators from the Philadelphia Writing Project. Twenty-six staff members participated in that summer school program.  The teachers worked in groups of four with two or three aides.  Each staff group was responsible for a group of ten students.  The children received three hours of reading, writing and math instruction a day for four weeks.

Each day after the kids left, the staff would meet for two hours of professional development activities.  Together, they planned lessons for the next day.  They debriefed each other on the strengths and weakness of the lessons they had conducted in the morning.  The writing project facilitators directed these activities.  The facilitators provided the teachers with relevant information regarding effective instruction.  Reading assignments from professional texts were assigned and the participants were required to maintain a journal.  It was a powerful four weeks.  It created a strong community foundation on which we have been building our instructional program ever since.

Many of the participants of the summer professional development school wanted to continue to work together in the fall so they formed an after school study group.  They continued to examine and implement the best practices in literacy and math instruction.  Seven years later, fourteen of these pioneer teachers are still active in identifying and promoting good instructional practices throughout the school community.  They have become the backbone of all of the professional activities in the school.  They are a strong team of instructional leaders. I count myself fortunate to be a member of this team.

The motivation and desire to be excellent teachers demonstrated by my staff has had a profound impact on my leadership style.  Over the years, I have moved from the role of the administrator ensuring compliance through evaluation to the role of a coach, an encourager, and a believer. Helping teachers get on their feet with instructional and management issues requires patience and hard work.  It is worth the effort in the long run.

As our teachers become more proficient instructors, the students become better readers, writers and problem solvers.

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After work today, I headed to the airport.  I am attending the Fall Forum of Coalition of Essential Schools in San Francisco.  This is one of my favorite gatherings of educators. It is nice to get away for a few days.

I have found the Coalition Forums to be interesting meetings where I can meet many like-minded teachers.  I have never stopped thinking of myself as a teacher.

This year’s conference theme is Educating Children to Participate in a Democratic Society.  I am eager to engage in discussion on this topic.  The forum provides a lot of interactive sessions. I am curious to hear what my kindred spirits think of the current national educational policies.  This year has been overcast; I can use some professional sunshine.  This conference, I hope will be the “pick me up” I need.

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Three days removed from Meade, three thousand miles away, in the company of respected peers, I am regaining sight of my mission.   Most people would not consider Meade School to be a crown jewel of public education.  It is a place deep in the shadows of America’s success.  The faces of my children are hidden.  They are of the underclass, which our society prefers to ignore.   My children did not choose to be in this group. It is their inheritance.  I believe that their future can take them to a better place. They are intelligent beings; it is geography not ability that determines my children’s opportunities.   Live in poor places, have poor options, live in rich places have rich options. The failure of our society to provide for all of our children is a hidden shame camouflaged by test score results.

When I came to this conference, I was feeling down. I’ve been letting myself get sucked into the test score trap.  We didn’t make Adequate Yearly Progress last year.  I asked myself,  “What is wrong with our instructional program? Why aren’t we making progress? What can I do better? “ One day at this conference and I realized that I am asking myself the wrong questions.  I should be questioning the fairness of the No Child Left Behind Accountability system. I should be demanding to know why it seems impossible for us to get all of the resources that we need.

Speaker after speaker at this conference pointed out what should be obvious to everyone: you don’t make important decisions about the future of children on the basis of one high stakes test.  Education professionals who do so are guilty of serious malpractice.  It is a refreshing tonic to hear colleagues I respect delivering this message.

I am struck by the powerful impact that words can have on me.  When people whom I respect speak, I listen.  This is such an obvious observation.  Yet I realize many people including myself don’t always remember how much words can either serve to hurt or heal a person.  When I speak to my children at school, I always remember to remind them of what good people they are.  I identify for them the strengths they posses.

The words I have heard at this conference have reminded me that I am good principal.  I have been reviewing in my head the strengths of the Meade instructional program. They are many.  During the last five years despite limited resources our staff has increase by a third the number of children school wide who are reading at or above grade level. This is the kind of result we were seeking when we launched our school level reform efforts. Our school team has worked tirelessly to transform our school.

The test by which our accomplishments are measured does not accurately describe us.  I struggle to keep this thought in mind when I see our student’s test scores published in the local newspaper once a year.  It hurts to consider that our success is hidden by a report of a test result, which is indiscriminately used to compare one school against another.  This is wrong.  We wouldn’t determine an individual’s physical fitness on the bases of one health test.  Why do we decide a child’s academic fitness on the bases of one test?   Leaving this conference, I am determined to voice my concerns regarding the one test accountability aspect of NCLB to any one who will listen.

 
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