• Courtney Smith

Philosophy, Practice, and Proficiency

Editor's note: This is part one in a multi-part series.

This past summer, I took a course that challenged me to examine my personal teaching philosophies and how they fit into the proficiency based practices proposed by the Maine Department of Education’s Strategic Plan and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). With respect to state and federal expectations, we were asked to respond to the following question: what does your own code of ethics, sense of right, and moral obligation tell you about your responsibilities? Before jumping into the nuts and bolts of what the national and state governments were requiring of us as teachers, we considered what tenets are at the center of our own teaching. Which of these tenets are most important to our personal practice? In other words, what is at the foundation of teaching and learning in our classrooms? For me this seemed a very logical place to start.

At the root of my practice as a 4th and 5th grade teacher, is a desire to be a team player and to use that collaborative energy to build a classroom community that values working hard to achieve learning goals. I teach at Narragansett Elementary School in Gorham, Maine where my code of ethics is firmly rooted in an understanding that each student brings a unique experience to the classroom everyday. These differences make each individual special, and together, represent a diverse snapshot of the greater community. That being said, it is imperative to me that I meet my students where they are on their path to proficiency. Whether they are working toward proficiency of a math performance indicator, or working toward approaching friends and asking to play at recess, it is my responsibility to provide experiences that are engaging and accessible to all students.

As I reflected on my practice, I found myself making a list. The ideas here have grown and changed as I’ve gained more experience in the classroom and I expect them to change as I continue to grow. For now, I believe that they clearly state my responsibilities to my students, my school and my district.

  • Infuse elements of empathy, respect, and compassion into the classroom community by celebrating differences, sharing challenges and working together to solve problems.

  • Collaborate with students to create a classroom constitution that fosters a dynamic classroom community (Responsive Classroom).

  • Value individuals as contributing members to their classroom community, encourage student involvement locally and globally (i.e. citizenship, accountability, service learning).

  • Nurture teacher-student relationships through the use of empathetic and respectful management strategies (Marzano & Marzano 2003).

  • Promote student success by considering learning differences and preferences. Offer student choice and nurture self-directedness (Gardner 1985).

  • Differentiate, accommodate and scaffold student learning by flexibly grouping and modifying assessment tools to guide students in reaching individualized learning goals.

These philosophies coupled with my growing base of knowledge on proficiency quickly inspired a list of ideas for the new school year. I have decided to...

  1. Make learning targets more obvious to students by posting them, discussing them and referring to them often.

  2. Have students participate in the creation of criteria and use student created criteria in the self-assessment process to make it more meaningful.

  3. Utilize more formative assessments to inform my planning and to provide useful feedback to students.

  4. Collaborate regularly with colleagues to analyze student work samples, pick exemplars and discuss plans to support student needs.

Though building a foundation for proficiency can seem like a paradigm shift, I've found that many of the norms established in my classroom lend themselves well to this system. In other words, many of the practices that educators consider “good teaching” or “good practice” contain glimmers of proficiency already. In order to fulfill the responsibilities that we have to our students it's worth exploring these areas and developing them into learning objectives that foster individual growth.

Stay tuned for my next post where I will explain the connections I’ve found between the pre-existing framework of my classroom and what I learned by reading Maine’s Strategic Plan and the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Courtney is a teacher at Narragansett Elementary School in Gorham, Maine.

Recent Posts
Follow Us
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • LinkedIn Social Icon
RSS Feed