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  • Courtney Smith

Philosophy, Practice, and Proficiency - Part 2

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

In my first post, I introduced ideas I’ve been turning over in my head lately, many of which were prompted by a class I took over the summer. One of our class assignments asked us to examine education policy to see how it fits with our own personal philosophies, or if it fits at all.

My personal 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 snapshot of our diverse community. When it comes to “knowing” my students, my responsibility is less about just recognizing “what,” and more about deciding “how” I will use this information to create equitable, accessible and engaging opportunities for all of them. I strive to do this in all content areas by empowering students to know what works for them, and by fostering their awareness of our school district’s Habits of Mind (i.e. grit, intellectual curiosity, self control, social intelligence, etc.) and Skills for Life (i.e. listens and follows directions, uses grade level organizational skills, follows school and classroom rules, works well in groups, etc.).

I find that students take ownership of their learning when they feel their individual needs are respected and celebrated. I attempt to achieve this with each student by offering choices, by putting respectful management structures in place, and by providing constructive feedback to coach them in reaching their goals. I believe that students become more intrinsically motivated when they feel this level of safety and support within the classroom community. From there, I am able to support them in building a foundation for lifelong learning.

In Maine, the Department of Education’s Strategic Plan clearly identifies challenges that the state of Maine faces in implementing proficiency based practices. The MDOE’s “Core Priorities,” noted in the Strategic Plan Framework include; Effective Learner-Centered Instruction, Great Teacher Leaders, Multiple Pathways for Learner Achievement, Comprehensive School and Community Supports, and Coordinated and Effective State Support (MDOE 2012). Each of these five priorities include “key elements,” complete with attached goals, objectives, and action steps.

As a school and a district we have been working diligently on the key elements of Effective, Learner-Centered Instruction, which include: “1. Rigorous standards and aligned curricula, 2. Learner-centered instructional practices, 3. Assessment systems that provide timely, accurate data on achievement and growth, 4. Information systems that track learner growth over time” (MDOE 2012).

These key elements have had the biggest impact in my classroom because of the work facilitated by the Gorham School District. Some of the work I have participated in at a district level includes: collaborating in grade level teams to create common assessments, using JumpRope for reporting, and crafting grade level specific rubrics aligned to content standards and Skills for Life. As I have begun to use the assessment tools and rubrics my colleagues and I created, I have become increasingly more comfortable with the implementation of proficiency-based practices. In addition, I’ve shared JumpRope progress reports with parents to show where students are in their proficiency of various topics. As I continue to become more familiar with these practices, and how they manifest in my classroom, I have started to change my mindset from perceiving proficiency as something that's fixed, to something that’s fluid and continuous.

In conclusion, I think that the MDOE’s Strategic Plan asks teachers to do what seem to be the “right things” in order to update and streamline educational practices. As our schools, districts, and national systems grow and change, we have a responsibility to respond in ways that are best suited for our students and for their achievement of proficiency. While making changes to the way that we do things can feel tedious or uncomfortable at first, consider that educators are on a journey to proficiency as well. In fact, our profession insists upon it. After all, teaching is all about learning, growing and changing. I find it rewarding to be part of a state and school district that have compelled me toward these things.

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