Developing instructional coaches with Paul Dean

We recently spoke with Paul Dean about how to develop strong instructional coaches. Paul is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Jounce Partners, an organization that trains current and future school leaders for a reimagined principal role that emphasizes teacher development. In this piece, we talk about specific practices that Paul uses in coaching teachers and school leaders.

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Coaching practices at Village Prep Woodland Hills

The last time we spoke with Chris O’Brien and Ronald Brownrigg we focused on how to create an environment in which live coaching can take place. For instance, we asked them why so many schools fall short in the development of their teachers. Ron responded, “The problem comes down to too much talking! Coaching needs to be a practice of modeling for and with a teacher to show them what something should look like – talking isn’t going to suddenly result in the formation of better habits.” In this second part of our conversation, we discuss the specific coaching practices at Village Prep Woodland Hills. We cover scheduling, tools and techniques, coaching conversations, and the use of video.

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Student self-direction with Evelyn Rebollar

It’s every teacher’s dream – allowing students a high level of self-direction in their studies while not sacrificing performance on standardized tests. Yet for the last several years, Evelyn Rebollar has done exactly that! Despite her disdain for our culture of standardized testing, she has found a way to encourage a high level of differentiation and still have her students “performing” at the highest level. In this piece, Evelyn shares with us how she has shifted her thinking on student self-direction and some of the processes she uses to help achieve it.

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Prof. Shawn Datchuk: Writing strategies for all students

If we want students to thrive in post-secondary education, they need to be proficient writers. But in an environment of standardized testing, writing is rarely given the class time it requires. As a result, 71% of 8th and 12th graders have partial or limited proficiency in writing, according to 2015 NAEP results.

In this piece, we talk to Prof. Shawn Datchuk who researches writing instruction in the classroom and has years of experience teaching special education. Shawn provides us with classroom strategies and techniques for improving handwriting, spelling, academic fluency, and grammar in student writing.

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Charlie Friedman: Retaining top teachers!

This is round 2 with Charlie Friedman, Founder and Head of School at Nashville Classical. Last time, we asked Charlie when his school starts to think about hiring for next year. His response? “When are we not thinking about hiring? We believe there shouldn’t be an off-switch on the hiring front!”

In this piece, we focus on teacher retention. When we asked Charlie what a successful retention program looks like, he told us that getting your most impactful teachers to make a 3-5 year commitment to the school is much more important than seeing how many teachers come back on a year-to-year basis. Read on to learn about the other systems Charlie uses at Nashville Classical to retain top talent!

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Breakout EDU - Escaping the classroom

To close out the week, we wanted to bring your something fun! And that's why we decided to talk to James Sanders, co-founder of Breakout EDU, about how the company's platform is helping to bring engagement into the classroom.

Breakout EDU is the classroom version of an escape room. What’s an escape room you ask? It’s a real-world game consisting of a series of timed puzzles that participants must solve in order to escape a locked room. Now it goes without saying that locking students up in a classroom isn’t going to fly. But that’s where Breakout EDU comes in! It’s a student-centered platform that uses a locked box and numerous challenges to inspire creativity and problem-solving.

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Mindfulness and "letting go" of detention

Over the last year, several schools have received media attention for their implementation of mindfulness practices. News reports have touted fewer suspensions, improved attendance, and higher concentration levels. Sounds pretty good, right? But while the media has been quick to report these stories, they haven’t provided any help in navigating available resources or understanding how to implement a new program.

That’s why we decided to give Marni Parsons a call at Bright Star and ask how the network went about designing their own pilot program. If adding a little Zen to your school sounds like an intriguing idea, you’ll definitely want to check out this resource-packed conversation!

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Developing fascination (and curriculum) with Matthew Patterson

“When you’re just pretending and reading Madame Bovary because everyone else reads it . . . Who cares! That’s SO boring. Ooh, and now we’re reading Hamlet. And this is the place where we get to talk about Polonius. Stale. It’s absolutely stale. And no real learning will take place in an environment like that.”

These are just a few of the thoughts Matthew Patterson, winner of last year’s TNTP Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice, offered to us on how he selects literature in his classroom. We recently had a chance to chat with Mr. Patterson, and in the process, ended up having an unbelievably fascinating (and hilarious) conversation on how to design curriculum. Enjoy!

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Malka Borrego: A strategy for facilities

Having a strong facilities strategy often means having extra dollars for educating students. And that’s never a bad thing. But the vision and planning this requires is often overlooked. So for this piece we decided to talk with Malka Borrego, Founder and CEO of the Equitas Academy network, on how she plans for and executes on her facilities strategy. The examples she provides are an excellent indication of the long-term thinking required to successfully navigate such decisions.

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Science tailored to every student!

Bird Brain Science is a one-stop shop where science teachers can find standards-aligned passages and articles that are tiered to meet each student’s reading level. It aims to bridge the gap between the curricular goals and objectives of a science classroom and the reality of students’ reading and comprehension skills.

And it was created by Brendan Finch, who taught in a middle school science classroom for several years. After seeing how effective differentiated science passages were for his own students, Brendan knew he was onto something . . .

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How to build student culture with Hrag Hamalian

According to Hrag, people’s understanding of how culture works is flipped. A lot of people think a school’s culture is predicated on academic excellence, but it’s quite the opposite. Academic excellence is predicated on student and school culture. That also means that systems in many schools are set-up to prioritize the wrong thing. Most schools are so focused on performance, they ask questions like: “How do we get the test scores we want” or “What assessments do we need to create?” But unless you have instilled in children the fundamental attitude of “I want to learn” they’re never going to meet your expectations. Read on to learn how Hrag thinks about strong student culture!

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Class size and budgeting at Success Academies

The Success Academy Charter Network operates 41 schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. In 2015, its schools scored in the top 1% in math and top 2% in ELA among all schools in New York State. Perhaps more telling, though, is the response from parents. In the same year, it received more than 22,000 applications for a mere 2,300 open seats.

One of the more strategic decisions it has made over the years is to opt for large class sizes. In this piece, we explore the logic behind this decision and some of the programs to which savings are reallocated.

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Paul Dean: The key to strong development

The amount of feedback and coaching teachers are receiving is way too low. If making teachers better is the absolute greatest lever in impacting student performance, then we should be striving to do it every day. We don’t give students feedback once a month or once a semester, so why should feedback for teachers be any different? Further, by examining the best-performing schools around the country, we clearly see that they share an emphasis on strong teacher development. Read on to hear how Paul recommends we increase the frequency of development!

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The best online literature resource for teachers?

Time is the most valuable resource for any thoughtful educator. And for literature teachers, that means having to decide between searching for texts, writing discussion questions, and grading student responses, among other responsibilities. If you ask Michelle Brown, however, the intelligent use of technology can make these time-allocation decisions a lot easier.

And that’s why she created CommonLit.

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Undisciplined and irreverent: Richard Feynman on education

Spending time with a great mind is time well spent. And reading Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track allows us a glimpse inside one of the greatest minds of the 20th century. The book is a collection of letters that Richard Feynman wrote throughout his career to scientists, fans, family members, students, politicians, and the public. Richard Feynman was a theoretical physicist who won the Noble Prize in 1965 and was famous for popularizing science for the masses. In this piece, we reflect on Richard’s perceptions of his own schooling and how we might help students be a little more creative in theirs.

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The culture of coaching at Village Prep Woodland Hills

Throughout the year, we expect our students to demonstrate growth and master the content we deliver. We use data to track their progress and provide remediation when needed. When it comes to our teachers, however, we rarely discuss the tools that help them get better. As we’ll see, live coaching is one of the best tools around. At Village Prep Woodland Hills, the school team has been working on and refining their live coaching practices over the last several years. And that’s why we decided to talk to Chris O’Brien and Ronald Brownrigg about the culture they’ve built around coaching.

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Hiring systems at Nashville Classical

Charlie Friedman is the Founder and Head of School at Nashville Classical, a charter elementary school in Nashville, TN that opened its doors in 2013. The school serves nearly 300 students in grades K-3. Charlie is focused on doubling the number of advanced, low-income elementary students in Nashville and creating the long-term plan that will achieve it. We recently chatted with him about teacher hiring and retention practices. This post covers some of the insights he provided to us on the hiring front.

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Important vs. urgent: Stephen Covey at school

Stephen Covey was an influential writer, businessman, and expert on management policy. His book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide (in fact, you probably have one of them). But in our daily effort just to survive, chances are we’ve let much of its advice fall by the wayside.

For now, let’s focus our attention on just one tool from the book – his time management matrix. As we’ll see, if we fail to schedule time for what’s truly important to the growth of our schools, we end up being overwhelmed by a seemingly limitless number of responsibilities.

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Brain breaks at Excel Academy

In the video clip below, you’ll hear a description of a “Bring It Minute” from Darren Benedick, the athletic director at Excel Academy Charter High School in southeast Boston. Excel Academy is a network of tuition-free, public charter schools that had the best performance on the Massachusetts MCAS exams 6 years in a row. While researching this top-performing school, we were hardly surprised to find they had formalized their own spin on a brain break!

We all can agree that brain breaks are a good thing. Even more so for kids! But if you’ve struggled with how to implement such breaks at your school or in your classroom, take a few minutes to watch Darren’s presentation.

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