Musings from A Three-Day Race to the Top Network Team Institute (3/12-14, 2012)

On the first night of Network Team Institute (NTI) training I succumbed to Real Steel, a robot boxing movie set in the future. The star was an undersized, old technology “bot” named Atom who was found at the dump yard by an eleven-year old boy. The boy had just recently been reunited with his dad, and the connection between the two was robot fighting, something akin to World Wide Wrestling and pretty popular in the future. Anyhow, it’s a sappy, feel-good movie which reminded me a lot of “Rocky”. In fact, I half-expected Atom to call out “Yo Adrienne” after the big match. So, that’s what I do after some of these Network Team Trainings-watch mindless movies or television shows. I’d like to settle into a good book, or catch up on my email, but honestly, I’m totally exhausted after Network Team Trainings. And that’s usually a good thing.

Learning is fatiguing. I read in a Science Times article the brain consumes 20% of the 1,300 calories necessary for resting metabolism, and when we think hard such as with a complicated multiplication exercise, we burn additional calories. That is the basis for last night’s mind drip. I was too fatigued mentally to do anything else. We worked hard all day. Plus, sitting for long periods of time is a problem. As much as our presenters worked to get us moving, the reality is you sit most of the time when at training sessions. I’m often reminded during these long days of our middle and high school students who sit for nearly an entire day, getting hurried walks in when changing classes or heading to lunch. Hmmm. Lends further credence to student engagement and active learning, not to mention more time for physical education classes. Anyhow, back to NTI reflections.

NTI day one was a good day with the energy of our SED facilitators and presenters revealing the impact of Governor Cuomo’s agreement with NYSUT and NYSED. Some clarity had been restored, and with that a more focused and confident State Education Department. RttT progress was made evident as Ken Slentz reminded us of the quality discussions people are having today regarding teacher observation, common core, and other RttT deliverables versus those of nine months ago. Against that backdrop, our day was focused on evidence-based evaluation of principals. Our presenters from Cambridge Education reemphasized the impact of practice on results, and had us go through a series of exercises tied to ISLLC Standard One. We discussed and applied a comprehensive Case Study example to principal evaluation, and did a fishbowl role-play activity around a principal-teacher post observation conference. There was also practice around goal setting, evidence regarding instructional shifts, use of principal rubrics, and student survey data (Tripod Survey). In the evening, Bradford Central School presented on their progress in implementing Race to the Top. It’s encouraging to see practitioners share what they are doing at Network Team Institutes.

Day two was another good day, longer than day one, and all about Student Learning Objectives (SLOs). We worked with Bill Slotnik’s CTAC group on the SLO template, filling in information regarding student population, learning content, time interval, evidence, baseline data, student targets, HEDI criteria, and rationale. Overall, it was a good session and reminded me of Covey’s “Begin with the end in mind.” During the evening, we had a program on close reading using Thoreau’s “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience,” Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or Life among the Lowly,” and Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” We ended officially at 8:30PM, though my colleague Courtney and I went on for a two-plus hour Network Team Professional Learning Community (PLC) meeting. By midnight, I was in bed. No need for a movie after such a day. We had the good fortune to meet with Duffy Miller for part of the PLC time, and he gave us greater insight into the MET study, observation protocols, evolution of the various teaching rubrics, and his hopes and goals for teacher observation in New York State. If you want to know something about teacher evaluation, speak with Duffy Miller and his team.

Day three was with Duffy Miller’s group on teacher evaluation. We reviewed evidence-based observation criteria and then conducted an observation of a 2nd grade math lesson from which evidence was entered on a web-based platform to rate performance using either the Danielson 2007 ASCD rubric or the NYSUT rubric. Total time to collect evidence from a 30 minute video exercise, enter data to the platform, and rate the lesson was approximately two hours start to finish. Given the newness of the tools, that time could be whittled down some with more experience. All participants were told to expect feedback on the quality of their evidence, alignment to the rubric elements or indicators, and level of performance within two weeks time.

There are some key take aways from this three-day institute. First, this work cannot be about compliance, though that will be a path taken by some. Rather, for sustained reform to stick, particularly in the area of Common Core Standards, Instructional Shifts, Data-Driven Instruction, and Annual Professional Performance Reviews, Network Team members must carry forth the energy and excitement of the reform efforts to their constituents. Back at district, leaders must in turn provide teachers and principals support and accountability, or run the risk of compliance. Second, this work is extremely hard and time-consuming, and the system is and will continue to feel the pressure. However, it is indeed possible to change our educational system for the better. Lastly, momentum is growing as we begin to apply what we’ve learned to the protocols necessary to fully realize Race to the Top. That’s good news for our students who need us to prepare them for college or career success. It’s also good news for us who will depend on our students years from now to maintain this country’s economic viability and safe, secure democratic way of life.

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2 responses to “Musings from A Three-Day Race to the Top Network Team Institute (3/12-14, 2012)

  1. John MacFadden, Ed.D

    Steve, enjoy your many articles and updates. I have referred to them often in preparation for teaching my summer eduational administration course for Plattsburgh SUNY grad school. PS by some chance is you mother the pr person for Saratoga City Schools. I was the Supt form 91-2007 and we are good friends and worked to together on a daily basis? John in socal

    • John, thanks for the feedback. I enjoy writing the reflections, especially when I receive comments such as yours. I remember well the years you were at Saratoga, and the positive impact you had on the district. The only person who does some work in the district is my dad, who substitute teaches every once in a while. Enjoy the weekend. Steve

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