Alabama educators are working with conviction and purpose this summer to fully support the learning process in our schools and make the coming school year the very best possible for all our students, families, teachers and staff.
As we honor your work, the staff of A+ Education Partnership and the Alabama Best Practices Center has been busy ourselves, planning a great year of professional development for participants in our statewide educator learning communities – the Key Leaders Network (KLN) and the Powerful Conversations Network (PCN).
As part of our work, we are drawing on the wisdom and expertise of other educational leaders around the state to create a design for learning that will help us all move forward in the coming year. We have listened closely to our members in both the KLN and PCN communities and selected guiding texts we are confident will resonate with the work already going on in districts – supporting teachers and administrators at every level as they continue to lead, grow and excel in our schools and classrooms.
In this post, I want to spotlight our guiding text for this year’s Powerful Conversations Network – Robert Marzano’s expanded edition of The New Art and Science of Teaching. In next week’s post I’ll highlight the KLN focus book for the year, Leading a High-Reliability School, also by Marzano and several colleagues.
Why We Chose The New Art and Science of Teaching
In the opening pages of our 2021-22 PCN guiding text The New Art and Science of Teaching (Solution Tree/ASCD, 2017) Robert Marzano clearly states that “no single instructional strategy can guarantee student learning.” (p.1). Completely revised from earlier editions, this expanded vision of Marzano’s work carries the subtitle: More Than Fifty New Instructional Strategies for Student Success.
Marzano begins by acknowledging that there are multiple factors at play in the classroom which greatly affect student outcomes. Cautioning against a poorly focused or “single shot” approach to instructional improvement, he emphasizes that “strategies work in concert or sets and should not be thought of as independent interventions” and that “educators have to use strategies in specific ways to produce positive results.”
Over a decade of research (by himself and others), Marzano has gradually shifted in his approach to teaching and learning successfully. This revised and expanded edition takes a “student-outcomes perspective” as opposed to a “teacher-outcomes perspective” in planning instruction and support and measuring the success of our enterprise.
This is a huge shift for most educators, and one that we all must make if we seriously want to improve our schools. What educators do does not matter significantly if our efforts do not result in positive learning outcomes for all students. Marzano’s research has evolved to reach this definitive conclusion, and how we make this shift to the student-outcomes perspective will be the major focus of PCN’s professional learning experiences this year.
The Alabama Best Practices Center will support you in achieving the very best student outcomes possible. We are also very excited to be teaming with A+ College Ready, our sister organization under the A+ Education Partnership umbrella, and with the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative (AMSTI) in sharing Marzano’s Instructional Model framework with educators.
This work may seem like a heavy lift for schools, especially with so much happening in education and with millions of dollars in recovery funds being funneled into school systems, creating new opportunities (and new demands). The term “overwhelmed” has added a new level of meaning — for some it has become a paralyzing feeling of not knowing where to focus next.
However (as I can attest) after sitting through a day of learning with Dr. Phil Warrick it becomes evident that the school change work he and other Marzano colleagues describe is not only doable, it is also vital.
We’ve Sought Out Good Advice from You
We have relied on our network members to help us select this focus for accelerating learning in the coming year and to help us take full advantage of “learning leaps” as we help students and educators bounce forward into a new educational world.
Andrew Smith, Student Services Director for Tarrant City Schools, shared with us the idea of “re-setting the table” – a metaphor that really resonated with our Design Team. This is a perfect time to think about what is essential and useful – and to consider the importance of culture and climate and how these elements combine with academics to foster the optimal learning environment for our schools.
PCN DESIGN TEAM (pictured left to right): Cathy Gassenheimer, Executive Vice President of ABPC; Dakota Punzel, Program Coordinator ABPC; Stoney M. Beavers, Assistant Director ABPC; Jackie Walsh, Lead Consultant; Andrew Smith, Director of Student Services for Tarrant City Schools; Deanna Hollimon, RIC Director for UNA; Alyson Carpenter, Consultant; Brad Waguespack, Science Teacher at Vestavia Hills High School; Debbie Brooks, Principal of Pick Elementary School; and Jennifer Maye, Director of Professional Learning for Jefferson County Schools.
For our members who may be wondering about a shift back to Marzano after focusing on the work of other practitioners and researchers like Ron Berger and John Hattie for the past several years, think about it this way: Research has shown us that there are powerful strategies and protocols that greatly increase the likelihood of learning and retention of concepts and skills. We’ve heard the stories and seen the evidence. But how do we do these things in OUR schools?
We all must realize – and act upon the knowledge – that the use of these strategies is contextual and dependent upon many school and classroom variables – from effective leadership and community support to teacher/student relationships, adverse childhood experiences, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and social and emotional factors.
As Marzano has said, “no single strategy can guarantee learning.” So how do we work together to ensure that learning happens? This will be part of our focus as we join with all of our school colleagues and PCN/KLN participants in the coming year and the years that follow to search for answers.
Based on the work of our Design Team, the Powerful Conversations Network will strive to meet educators where they are in 2021-2022. We will support the challenges of educating students after a very difficult 18 pandemic months. As collaborative learners, we will work to identify essential standards, share ways to re-engage students, and develop authentic learning tasks that help all students move along the path toward achieving self-actualization.
We know that this work isn’t easy. We also know that, together, our network members can achieve wonderful things. You know the research base. You know your current context. And we all know that when Alabama’s committed educators join together to address an issue, we get results.
If you’re interested in learning more about and joining our networks, contact me, Cathy, or Dakota. We are very excited about our design for learning in this year’s Powerful Conversations Network. Please join your professional colleagues serving on the front lines of school change. You’ll be amazed by the company you will keep!
Dr. Stoney M. Beavers is Assistant Director of the Alabama Best Practices Center. He has been an award-winning teacher, a Director of Secondary Curriculum, and was Assistant Superintendent in Blount County (AL) for more than a decade.