Best Practice in Munford: With an Open Mind and a Leap of Faith

“I was all about discipline,” said high school principal, Anthony Wilkinson, who was once convinced that the only way to lead high school students was with strict rules and “teacher-centered” practices.

But in his first year leading Munford High School, he made a complete 180-degree shift in his own attitude, resulting in a remarkable school-wide change in philosophy, practice and achievement.

Affecting Change

At the beginning of this year, Mr. Wilkinson asked every teacher to videotape themselves teaching a lesson and meet with him to watch it together. This was a part of his strategy to help each teacher self-evaluate and make any adjustments they felt might be needed to be most effective.

After reviewing her video, a science teacher became a catalyst for the evident change now seen at Munford High School.

“After watching herself for five minutes, she made me turn off the video and said, ‘I’m bored to death,’” explained Mr. Wilkinson. “She exclaimed, ‘If I’m bored to death then my class must really be bored to death.’ She began researching Whole Brain Teaching because it was lauded by her husband, an elementary school teacher.”

At first Mr. Wilkinson was not certain that a method used in an elementary school would work for high school students. But he took a leap of faith allowing the flexibility for this teacher to try it, fostering an innovative approach that generated a complete cultural change to “student-centered” practices for his school.

“The kids loved it, and the teachers wanted to learn more about it,” said Mr. Wilkinson.

Meeting the Challenge

Two years ago, Talladega County Superintendent Suzanne Lacey challenged all of her principals to work with their faculty to make teaching more engaging and relevant for their students. And, she provided ongoing professional development and support to make it happen. For the past two years, the Alabama Best Practices Center (ABPC) has facilitated professional development sessions for Talladega’s principals and lead teachers. Instructional coaches at the district level turn-around that professional development to the district’s assistant principals and provide ongoing coaching support to teachers between sessions.

The ABPC held its first Instructional Round* of the year at Munford High School on April 17th, and attendees witnessed first-hand the uniquely student-centered and student-lead atmosphere.

“At Munford H.S., students are showing their teachers and parents that they can rise to meet higher expecations,” said Cathy Gassenheimer, A+ executive vice president for ABPC . Even though Munford is considered a very rural community, its students are afforded many opportunities to shine. “When the school leaders and teachers believe the kids can achieve, then the kids are encouraged to also believe in themselves. The students here in Munford show us what can happen when teachers and students work together for excellence,” Gassenheimer added.

On any day, Munford student representatives are ready to greet visitors in their classrooms with a warm welcome, compelling confidence and excitement over what they are learning. Selected by the teachers, every class rotates the student who will be the greeter, insuring that all students stay focused on the daily learning objective, the activity in which they are engaged and how it will help reinforce the objective.

Also, student ambassadors greet visitors who are there to learn more about their phenomenal school, and they are getting busier as more educators learn about the impressive one-year turnaround at Munford. The ambassadors lead other students, teachers and visitors in learning components of strategic teaching, which are a part of the Whole Brain teaching technique.

Empowering Students

The Instructional Round participants started the day led by the ambassadors using hand signals and phrases to help them understand five components of effective teaching and learning:

  1. The outcome; begin with the end in mind
  2. The before, during and after, which weaves the lesson together
  3. The chunking and discussion, where the teacher breaks down the lesson and gives the students an opportunity to talk
  4. Explicit instruction; the “I do, we do, y’all do, and you do”
  5. The TWIRL; talking, writing, investigating, reading and listening

The student-leaders then put the teachers on the spot, calling on individuals to recall the five components, and then giving them the “ten-finger praise” to acknowledge their successful effort.

“It’s quite a different experience to be an adult educator learning teaching methods from a student,” said Trey Holladay, principal of Oxford High School. “But what an eye-opening and positive experience. It’s just great to see the student enthusiasm for learning.”

Colleagues Networking for Continuous Improvement

*Instructional Rounds were developed by Harvard’s Graduate School of Education based on the medical-round model, explained Mrs. Gassenheimer. “Instructional Rounds provide educators with the opportunity to observe and document evidence related to a specific focus or “problem of practice” identified by the visited school. After visiting several classrooms, participants debrief and provide feedback to the host school to help them build on their successes.”

“It also allows us, through observation and networking, to expand what works into other schools,” she said.

Other schools preparing for Instructional Rounds are Winterboro High School in Talladega County, B.B. Comer Elementary in Sylacauga, George Hall Elementary in Mobile, Discovery Middle School in Madison City, Columbia Elementary in Huntsville, Hayden Middle School in Blount County, Bellengrath Middle School in Montgomery, Walker Elementary in Tuscaloosa County, Oak Mountain High School in Shelby County, Tarrant Intermediate in Tarrant City, and Bragg Middle School in Jefferson County.

For more information on Instructional Rounds and all programs of ABPC, contact Cathy Gassenhiemer; 334-279-1886.