Bootstrapping Personalized Mastery
Bootstrapping means the starting of a self-sustaining process that is supposed to proceed without external input. In December of 2014, Copper, from Don’t Ever Stop! LLC, was honored to be asked to support a Personalized Mastery charter school as an interim principal for the second semester of the year. The former principal left unexpectedly and they needed someone to fill in as they finished the year and conducted a stakeholder process to select a new leader. I eagerly agreed as I knew many of the staff and had worked with Ingenium schools for the past five years as a consultant for leadership, professional development, and helping them on their journey of personalized mastery and continuous improvement.
This is a K-5 school in the LA area that has been existence for five years. Less than half the staff is seasoned in the Reinventing Schools Model and half the staff is new to the model and/or teaching. This presents a unique challenge as a leader to ensure support is differentiated for the adults, as we want the learning to be differentiated for students.
There are plenty of supports in place for the learning of the staff. There is a weekly professional development afternoon that is dedicated to the growth of the staff. There are two part-time coaches who support both the elementary and middle school new teachers. Professional development opportunities outside the organization are encouraged and teams present at national conferences.
The staff here is wonderful! They are true learners and very solutions-oriented! As the interim principal, I have observed in each classroom, noting the strengths, needs, and posing reflective questions and providing some possible next steps. This has been well-received by staff as they have almost beat me back to the office to debrief the lesson. The issues we are currently addressing are:
- Differentiation (especially for the students at or above grade level)
- Appropriate groupings
- Individual accountability for center-time
- Scaffolding and accelerating students up to grade level standards
Our professional development is focusing on the current data that shows the growth from the first benchmark test to the second and the percent of students who are on track to “keep up” or “catch up” to grade level expectations. The spreadsheet of student data will allow teachers to analyze each student’s progress and focus on strategies to support each learner. As the school prepares for the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the assessment coordinator is simulating the testing environment on the computer to allow students to practice the test-taking format. A lack of technology in the students’ daily lives will be a challenge for the test format and to the validity of the results.
One of the challenging issues is supporting new and master teachers in a personalized model. There are 15 classroom teachers, 9 of whom are new to their grade level (1) or teaching (8). Providing new teachers the time to develop a learner-centered classroom in a personalized mastery model is critical. They should not feel pressured to jump into differentiation sooner than they may be ready. The other six teachers have taught in the model for several years and need to create independent learners (Goal-setting with a Plan-Learn-Check-Adjust plans) and differentiate for individual learner’s needs. We are tracking individual students progress through benchmarking assessments and simulated Smarter Balanced assessments.
I am trying to provide advanced communication of issues so staff can prepare for events in a timely manner. We have instituted a weekly staff newsletter that includes announcements, updates on old business and a calendar for the rest of the school year for advanced planning. The staff has signed up to help and plan certain student events and we are creating Plan-Do-Check-Adjust plans in order to have a “corporate” memory and to continuously improve the process for the staff who plans it next year.
I have had several significant student discipline issues that have required an inordinate amount of time however I believe the time spent with these students is beginning to pay dividends. I have attended several Student Success Team (SST) meetings with parents and engaged the resident behavior specialist who has helped design a personal behavior plan for a handful of students. We are streamlining the inclusion of these incidents and plans into the student information system to avoid double entries and the loss of incident data.
My goal continues to be to help to create a self-sustaining system so when the new principal is hired they won’t require any external input!