• Sara Needleman

Our Day of Learning in South Portland

One of the things I like best about working with JumpRope is what's at the center of our work: To improve teaching and learning through thoughtful implementation of mastery-based practice. Several of us spent a day swimming in the mastery-based deep end of the pool with many inspiring colleagues from around Maine last week, as we gathered on Tuesday, March 4th at South Portland High School to share a day of presentations, conversations, and great questions. JumpRope partnered with the South Portland School Department and the Great Schools Partnership to welcome educators from more than 25 school districts as well as the Maine Department of Education. The goal was to further our collective and individual understandings of mastery-based practice.

The day opened with welcoming remarks from Suzanne Godin, South Portland schools' superintendent, and Jesse Olsen, JumpRope's CEO. Jesse shared some of the JumpRope story but moved swiftly to an introduction of Becky Brown, South Portland's curriculum coordinator. Becky shared with the audience the steps her district took as it moved to proficiency-based teaching and learning (proficiency-based is Maine's term of choice). She framed the work her district has done with a clear definition of proficiency-based learning and, from there, shared the plan for implementation this school year and her thoughts for continued implementation in years to come.

After Becky took questions from participants, we moved to our first set of breakout sessions, where we unpacked JumpRope progress reports at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. While the day's focus was far less about our tool, in favor of practice, Becky maintains that the conversations around proficiency in her district have found meaning and resulted in change because they've been using JumpRope. Knowing that, we thought sharing what a progress report looks like and how it's developed would help participants think clearly about their own work with proficiency-based teaching and learning.

Educators in these sessions had the chance to review and discuss ideas such as reporting separately on character and academic mastery. They saw options for how to derive a grade for a particular standard, and they saw how, in a proficiency-based model, it's student mastery of the standards themselves, as opposed to success on discrete assessments, that measures progress.

We broke for lunch, traded "aha moments" and points of learning with colleagues, and then stepped into the two afternoon Open Space sessions. Each session lasted 30 minutes, giving everyone a chance to dip into at least two conversations. The guiding principles for our Open Space sessions were:

  • Each session was to be a conversation, generated by the participants and guided by the facilitator.

  • If a participant did not remain interested in the conversation, he or she could leave and find another.

The Open Space discussions represented our best attempt to provide everyone with a wide range of choices.

  • Jesse Olsen: Recognition: How do we address topics like honor roll and class rank?

  • Justin Meyer: Emerging Thoughts on a Proficiency-based Transcript

  • Becky Brown: Further discussion on her district's transition

  • Mark Kostin (from Great Schools Partnership): Proficiency-based Learning Simplified: Developing Graduation Standards and Personalized Learning

  • Andrew Wallace (from South Portland schools): The Role of Tech Leaders in Supporting Proficiency-based Learning

  • Sara Needleman: Defining Proficiency and Calculation Methods

The day ended with time for people who'd come from the same district to reconnect with one another and a chance to ask questions of Jesse. Sure, some of those questions were specific to JumpRope, but many more were about proficiency-based practice, and the thoughtfulness of the questions showed that participants were still eager to learn, even at the end of a long day.

It was a great day for Maine teaching and learning - made even more so by the dedication, energy, and deep understanding exhibited about proficiency-based practices.

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