Alabama ASCD

AASCD Fall Board Retreat


AASCD Executive Board Members with Ron Nozoe from ASCD at Fall Board Retreat (Pictured L-R: Rickey Darby, Amy Murphy, Mitchie Neel, Ronn Nozoe, Brenda Rickett, Jane Cobia, Ashley Catrett, Donald Turner)

The Alabama ASCD Fall Board Retreat was held on Friday, September 16th at the Shelby County Instructional Support Center.

After AASCD Executive Director Jane Cobia shared her report and led a discussion of new business, our guest presenter ASCD Associate Executive Director Ronn Nozoe spoke to those in attendance. During his session, Ronn provided a detailed and very encouraging report on changes at ASCD, including:

  • an update of the ASCD mission model that adds input and feedback to make it more dynamic and fluid
  • a move to become more organic and fluid, which he indicated was a huge shift in the way ASCD had conducted itself in the past
  • a rebranding of the Annual Conference to EMPOWER 17, which includes up close and personal sessions, panels, debates, technology showcase, successful school showcase, and reflection pools
  • ASCD is now organized in three areas: core, growth, and support.

Following his presentation, Ronn answered questions from board members and regional representatives. Then AASCD President Ashley Catrett asked those present to divide into four “Think Tank” groups: 1) Membership; 2) Whole Child Initiative; 3) Technology; and 4) FILC 2017.

The Membership Think Tank indicated:

  • A need for continuing to reach out to regional reps to support and clarify their roles and areas of support they can provide.
  • Progress updates would be helpful during the renewal time.
  • Recommended the list of members previously shared be sent again, which would be especially helpful to new reps.
  • Encouraged reps and all board members to reach out to new and current members.

The Whole Child Think Tank indicated:

  • It is evident that gains have been made in the understanding of this critical issue.
  • More awareness is needed and recommended that an award be created immediately. Jan Tribble agreed to chair the committee and to distribute information quickly so the process for the first award could be completed before the FILC in October. The winning school will be recognized at the Awards Luncheon at FILC. The Alabama winner will then become the nominee for the ASCD award.
  • A shift from awareness to advocacy is needed. The group recommended the board seek training and input from Dave Griffin of ASCD to help us develop needed tools, for example an “elevator speech.”

The Technology Think Tank indicated:

  • The use of videos will be expanded in the social media presence.
  • Periscope opportunities will be expanded.
  • They want to find a way to effectively connect educators with resources mentioned at meetings and conferences.
  • Consideration should be given to making joining through technology easier.
  • Deadlines, announcements, features, etc. need to be shared with Amy and Wendy so they can be a part of the social media flow.
  • Wendy created an Instagram account for us: AlabamaASCD.
  • They would welcome a person to manage a Facebook account.

The 2017 FILC Think Tank indicated:

  • Consideration of EMPOWER17 new features should be included in planning process.
  • The theme should focus on leadership, of course, but what aspect(s) would be most helpful was discussed.
  • Stress was mentioned given the climate in education currently. So, leading during stressful situations and making sure individuals address their need to be “whole” be a focus.
  • “Building Capacity for Leadership through Times of Change” will be the AASCD suggestion for FILC 2017 theme.
  • Ronn Nozoe and Juliette Funt are suggested as two keynote speakers to invite.

Following the retreat, Ronn Nozoe joined the board members and regional representatives for lunch, provided by Pam Mills from Classworks.

Ronn Nozoe from ASCD receiving a "thank you" gift from AASCD Executive Director Jane Cobia and President Ashley Catrett

Ronn Nozoe from ASCD receiving a “thank you” gift from AASCD Executive Director Jane Cobia and President Ashley Catrett

Guided Pathways to Success (GPS)

Sheffield City Schools Guided Pathways to Success (GPS) Program is a unique approach to career development for elementary and high school students.  Research supports that an early connection to a career interest provides a connection to school achievement.  However, for many children attending Title I schools there is not only an “achievement gap,” but there is also a connection and exposure gap between career interest and school achievement, especially in lower elementary schools.  Correlating educational and career goals is a critical component of preparation for today’s students.   In an effort to close the connection/exposure gap, Sheffield City Schools, designed and implemented a plan to expose all K-12 students to career pathways using a variety of strategies and initiatives.  The GPS program is a new district initiative to ensure students are prepared for future success.  The goal of the GPS Program is to prepare students for college and careers by introducing and implementing career and college research activities in every classroom K-12.

The GPS program exposes all Sheffield students to the 16 national career clusters beginning as early as kindergarten.  The district is utilizing the elementary/secondary Kuder system and other career interest resources/programs K-12 to increase students’ career awareness and academic performance.  Under this program, all K-12 students complete interest assessments, attend career exploration classes, and have the opportunity to participate in college and career fairs.  Career technical assistant, Sherri Baker believes that “career exposure can make a difference for many children.  It is important that educators understand that students do not know what they don’t know, and they can’t become what they don’t know.”

As part of GPS, four new career academies at Sheffield High School will offer students hands-on experiences in business, health science, hospitality/tourism, and R.IS.E. (Responsible Intelligent Students Excel) through Dual Enrollment and AP Classes.  Our goal is to provide students with as many academic and career related opportunities as possible as well as extending learning in to the community through partnerships and internships for our students. Most importantly, these programs will equip our students with the knowledge and skills to understand the connection between education and careers and make them employable in the job market.

Jobs today require more education and more skills than ever before.  Through Sheffield City Schools GPS program, all students will be provided career activities that are linked to their courses.  This program will allow all SCS students the opportunity to understand the correlation between  jobs and success in their math, English, science or social studies classes. We believe the earlier we help our students understand the importance of school and careers, the more likely our children will have successful and rewarding careers.  

Carlos Nelson

Sheffield City Schools

EdCamp Leadership Alabama

Teacher led professional development is powerful.  I attended my first Edcamp six years ago as a participant and ever since that time, I’ve been hooked.  Seeing educators become proactive in their own learning is motivating and inspiring; it made me want to do the same.

Teachers find validity in professional development that has been created and presented by their peers.  At an unconference, there is no preset schedule of sessions available.  Sessions are developed organically and spontaneously together on the day of the event.   When all the participants have a vested interest in attending and sharing their desire to learn from one another, a culture of learning is developed.   Participants make new connections with like-minded peers that continue for years to come oftentimes bridging districts and even states.

This summer, Homewood High School will be host to the first EdCamp Leadership Alabama.  Discussions will focus around the areas of leadership and school/district cultures.  We are excited to offer this unconference model to education leaders from around the state.  The event is free and open to any educator and breakfast and lunch will be provided.  Please join us for this fun day of engaging conversations and walk away ready to implement innovative ideas for a new school year.   Ultimately, professional development impacts our students.  If we can empower, engage, and help teachers and leaders learn more about their content and craft, our students reap the benefits.  

Register using the link below.  Be sure to select tickets for Alabama @EdcampLdrAL:

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Twitter: @EdCampLdrAL and Facebook /EdCampLeadershipAlabama


Wendy Story, Assistant Principal

Shades Cahaba Elementary

Technology Innovation Experience

Enterprise City Schools has made a commitment to providing digital resources and learning opportunities for teachers and students to acquire the skills needed to integrate technology for authentic, real world experiences. One way our school system is making this commitment is by hiring a Coordinator of Technology Integration & Innovation, Beth Sanders. Ms. Sanders has created teams of teachers at each school called TIE or Technology Innovation Experience teams. This has been the impetus for connecting professional development and teacher practices in the classroom with integrating technology for authentic purposes.

Below you will find information about how Ms. Sanders has created the TIE teams to support the vision of Enterprise City Schools.

The overall vision of Enterprise City Schools focuses on ensuring that every student is prepared to not only live but to also thrive and contribute in an ever-changing, globally-connected world. To most effectively achieve our vision, we are committed to creating an equitable connected learning environment in every classroom and building. To guarantee this innovation is effective and sustained our 5 elementary schools, 2 junior high schools, and 1 high school will all pilot and participate in the Technology Innovation Experience (TIE) during the 2015-2016 school year. TIE will expand to our kindergarten school during the 1st semester of the 2016-2017 school year. Each TIE community of learners is composed of 5 teachers (the high school has 14 due to the population size and a student cohort as well to promote leaders of their own learning and empower student voice), 1 Instructional Partner, 1 Instructional Leader, 1 Media Specialist, and 1 Coordinator of Technology Integration and Innovation. Each teacher member will be provided with 7 Chromebooks, personalized professional learning support, access to a committed professional learning community on the school, district, and digital level, and an opportunity to develop into a connected teacher leader to help sustain and further develop the innovation. Teachers will be expected to commit to co-created non-negotiables, community norms, and achieving 2015-2016 school year goals related to innovative high impact teaching and learning. These communities of learners will be simultaneously working together to develop themselves as teacher leaders while also developing their students as leaders of their own learning. The true innovation of these groups will be seen in their own classrooms, in their interactions with each other, in the ways they affect and sustain change on a district level, and most importantly in the long term effects they will have on preparing every student to be future ready.

Our “why” for the Technology Innovation Experience is grounded in creating a collective unit of digital teacher and student leaders modeling learning environments that highlight high-impact instructional strategies in technology integration and innovation. These digital leaders’ classrooms will become spaces of learning for other adult learners to be engaged, inspired, and provided support to shift their own selves and classrooms to this level of teaching and learning. Technology is the means not the mission. Everything we do in TIE is grounded in teaching and learning. The first questions are always, “Who are the learners, and what educational challenges are they grappling with — both teachers and students?” We don’t start with the goal of creating the most flashy project or a viral sensation. Nor do we emphasize using technology for the sake of using technology. Instead, we choose the medium or technology that delivers the most effective learning experience for our specific learning goal. No previous computer science or technology experience is required to join TIE, only a passion for harnessing innovation and creativity to improve educational outcomes for all learners and a commitment to help get every person in our district to this level to ensure we are providing truly “future ready” learning opportunities for every student. Our ultimate goal is that we become a collective unit of digital leaders creating a model that can and will inspire the change that we need to see in our teaching and learning district-wide to ensure every student truly is college, career, and life ready.

As a part of our 3 year 1:1 Chromebook Classroom Future Ready Rollout Plan during the summer of 2016, in preparation for the 2016-2017 school year, all TIE teacher classrooms will become 1:1 with Chromebooks. TIE teachers will participate in 3 days of summer professional learning focused on device/classroom management, digital citizenship, and blended learning management. TIE teachers will also be given the opportunity to co-facilitate professional learning sessions with future TIE teachers who will be joining their TIE teams during the 2016-2017 school year.

Here’s what some of the Technology Innovation Experience (TIE) teachers are saying about their experiences:

Teacher 1-

The TIE team

  • has grown my capacity for effective instructional practices using technology.
  • has shown me how to incorporate higher DOK with students through my study of SAMR and PBL
  • has increased student engagement across my school
  • has given me knowledge of new ways of assessing learning rather than through “multiple choice tests”
  • has helped us develop model classrooms so that we can learn from each other
  • has enhanced the professional collaboration at my school

Teacher 2-

TIE has had such a profound impact on the classroom and students that it should not be limited. It should continue to grow to include teachers with a growth mindset, teachers who are not afraid to experiment and discover new ways to teach. This process of growth and training will only improve the success of students and better enable them to be 21st century citizens. All of this leads to recognition of achievement and success at the school, district, and community level. I believe can only lead to a more cohesive and connected environment.

Teacher 3-

I think TIE has helped me be more of a risk-taker and try new things. I feel having an administration that supports TIE also helps me know I can do such things without feeling tied down to following routine. I know the things we are learning as part of the TIE are the ways of teaching that will benefit 21st century learners. My children have benefited greatly from this experience. They have expanded their knowledge of technology and how to use it to better their learning. Not just a toy! I feel TIE is what we need to start the change our schools and district need to be on the cutting edge of the best practices in education. The education of students is our main focus and TIE helps make it easier to provide the best education I can for my students.

Teacher 4-

1.) The TIE has been responsible for my personal and professional growth. For my first five years of teaching I had become complacent. I thought I had it all figured out. I thought simply substituting technology was being innovative. I was definitely mistaken. I have been challenged through TIE to develop ways that my students can use technology to own their learning, and to redefine the learning that happens in my classroom through the power of technology.

2.) TIE has been the gateway to many changes in my classroom. My students are so excited when they hear of a new project. They love the fact that technology is being incorporated in meaningful ways and not simply used to be used. Their engagement during these times is through the roof!

We are excited about the work Ms. Sanders and our TIE teachers are doing and how this will impact all of our teachers and students. These teachers have gotten out of their comfort zones to be sure our students are learning 21st century skills. Kudos to our TIE teams!

Dr. Teri Prim, Principal

Hillcrest Elementary School

Enterprise City Schools

Digital Portfolios: Guiding Students Toward Accomplishment

“We’ve got to begin shifting our thinking in schools from achievement…to accomplishment.” -Marc Prensky, author of Teaching Digital Natives

What does accomplishment look like in this new era?  How do we record it?  More importantly, how do we inspire it?  As we focus on creating school experiences for our youth that will lead them to connect, partner, create, share, solve problems, and become better citizens, we have to supply them with the proper vehicles to reach these new heights.

In Madison City Schools, we have found one critical area of focus that we believe is a giant leap forward: digital portfolios.  Many districts have begun the process of experimenting with or implementing digital portfolios in their schools, but our research in Madison brought us back to the drawing board.  We knew that we wanted to create an experience that our students could carry with them into adulthood–something they owned.  We wanted to help our students develop a positive digital footprint that would continue to evolve even after their time with us.  To meet those needs, we turned to free web tools that anyone on earth with a device and an internet connection could use.  We haven’t looked back.

We have developed detailed plans for all students K-12 to tackle digital portfolios.  Every student in Madison–regardless of age–has the same mantra: Show then Reflect.  By distilling the complex idea of digital portfolios into its simplest form, we have been able to create a thematic through line to reduce confusion, focus time and energy, and create a culture of reflection.  While a kindergarten student may be using an app like Seesaw to show and reflect between himself, his parents, and his teacher, a high school senior may be developing her own compelling website using Wix to market her skills and experience to the world.  Meanwhile, a seventh-grade student at one of our middle schools is beginning to experiment with Weebly to explore web design, self-reflection, and digital citizenship.

While digital portfolios can take many forms, our end goal is to produce deep thinking and reflective students who are accomplished in a variety of fields and can show the world what they are able to do.  We have seen high school students receive scholarships and internships from their compelling digital portfolios; we have seen middle school students begin to consider their digital footprint and purpose in life; and we have seen previously disengaged elementary students become activated into reflecting on their own learning and their own brand of self.  Open-world digital portfolios that are real, not just relevant, motivate students to explore their passions.  This exploration and constant connection to self drives learning into a new realm. For all age groups, setting their own expectations and telling their own stories to the world has guided those students into a greater sense of oneness between their lives and their learning.

And we are just at the beginning.

So now you know why we are doing this, and you know what our students are doing.  The critical question becomes how?  The key to this process is partnership.  Digital portfolios are not going to happen if a classroom is an island unto itself. Partnerships are born through professional conversations and connections when teachers collaborate with media specialists, coaches, and central office instructional staff for the greatest impact.  The process of organizing one’s selfhood into a website is a very challenging endeavor, and it takes partnership at all levels to make this process a productive one.  The more mentors we can provide for a group of students, the better the results will be.  And what better way to involve parents!  By maximizing the adult-to-student ratio during the planning phases, we are working to ensure that each child gets the attention he or she needs to plan properly, but then the deeply personal endeavor of creating begins.  We know that six or seven adults cannot be dispatched at all times, but we strive for that goal.  We have found that, if we make it a priority, we can typically approach this ideal.

Digital portfolios are unexplored territory for many educators, so teachers are cautious and hesitant to dive into this endeavor without substantial support. For this very reason, the partnership approach guides the teachers through the full coaching cycle of implementing the digital portfolios.  The cycle starts with preplanning and moves forward with planning, modeling, side-by-side practice, teacher practice, reflection, and debriefing for each phase of the process.  Through partnering, teachers become comfortable and ready for gradual release to continue working with digital portfolios independently. Through partnering, capacity is built among all involved, and each member of the team becomes equipped to engage the cycle with future partners.

There is so much to this story, and there is just not enough space in this forum to demystify it completely for educators, students, or parents.  At the outset, Madison City Schools decided that we would solve this complex problem for ourselves, but that we would then share every resource we had developed with the larger education community…for free.  We also pledged at the outset to create an informative and entertaining documentary about our work, and we are currently in the process of fulfilling that pledge.

We look forward to publishing our documentary and all our resources to make this exciting new area of education a reality for all schools systems.  Stay tuned for a public release of everything this summer!  It is about to become very difficult to remain in the dark about digital portfolios.

To see just a couple of student portfolios from our year-one pilot, click below:

Jared Wilson, James Clemens High School graduate:

Maggie Moore, Bob Jones High School junior:

Daniel Whitt

Natalia Dooley

Mollie Bounds

Madison City Schools

A Clear Focus for a New Principal

Meet Tommy Smitherman. He is the new principal at Locust Fork High School in Blount County. He has a million emails. He has a thousand things on his to-do list. Most importantly, he has a clear focus. Mr. Smitherman has not  allowed the overwhelming demands of his new job to keep him from taking care of his number one priority, his students.  Since becoming the leader of LFHS in August of 2015, this young administrator has taken several steps to ensure that the students from his community have their present and future needs met.

Over 40% of the school’s students live in a household where the income is less than $20,000 a year. The goal for all students, regardless of background, is the same: graduate them ready for college, career, or college and career. The principal has taken the lead in making post-high school opportunities visible to students. He has personally driven groups of students to various four-year universities in Alabama. The purpose is to introduce high-schoolers to a campus that they may not have considered previously. The trips have been successful with several participants returning to school to immediately apply to the universities.

Mr. Smitherman has also led efforts to increase extra-curricular opportunities for all students. Under his leadership, the teachers at LFHS have developed a “club” schedule that allows for students to participate in a variety of activities. Drama, art, and gardening are just a few examples of the small groups that are being offered each Friday. In a school with limited elective courses, these weekly meetings provide students with options to explore their own interests. Most importantly, students are able to connect with peers and the school through common interests that otherwise would not be available. Creating a place where students feel that they belong and are accepted is a priority for Mr. Smitherman and his staff.

As educators we realize that each student has basic needs that must be met, among them are proper clothing. Currently, Tommy is working to establish a clothes closet within the school.  Counselors, teachers, and administrators will have an immediate resource to utilize when they see a student in need. Having a discreet process for providing everything from shoes for PE to ties for graduation will no doubt impact the everyday lives of students.

There is no question that the day-to-day demands of being a new principal are extensive and complicated. Yet, the mission of Mr. Tommy Smitherman remains simple: keep students first, a belief that he models for his community and staff daily.

Jodie Jacobs

Locus Fork High School, Blount County Schools

Google Certification

The Albertville City School District has seen the positive effects of using technology to enhance student learning. District and school leadership made a commitment to providing Chromebooks in all English language arts classes (ELA) in grades 3-12 this school year, as well as in social studies/history classes in combination with iPads already in use. In all, over 1600 Chromebooks have been added in the last 15 months in the school system with a K-12 population of around 5100 students. This commitment is a part of a digital learning initiative that has been enhanced by teams of educators attending the 2015 ISTE Conference and the 2014 and 2015 BLC (Building Learning Communities) Conference in Boston, Massachusetts. Team members took away from the conferences a plethora of digital resources and ideas, as well as a desire to promote digital classrooms throughout the system. One key piece for professional growth has been encouraging teachers to pursue Google Certification.

As a result, district leadership decided that the system’s local indicator this year should include increasing the use of digital tools, specifically through Google Apps for Education (GAFE). District and school leaders understood the need for professional development for the teachers for them to fully grasp all the applications, learning opportunities, differentiation strategies, grading options, and management tools available through GAFE, so beginning with this year’s first faculty meetings, the administration made a strong push for faculty to become Google Certified. This certification is wonderful way for teachers to learn all the GAFE. The 3-hour exam requires not only the ability to answer real-world classroom scenarios, but also to perform tasks associated with each of the applications -Classroom, Slides, Sheets, Forms, Hangouts, Calendar, You Tube, Docs, and Drive.

At the school-level, digital leaders are offering after-school professional development on each of the applications. These teacher-leaders, who had received their certification earlier in the year, conduct these trainings and offer additional one-on-one training to other teachers as needed. Currently, the school district has over 20 educators who have received their Google Certification, and many more are in the process!

Kristi Pair

Albertville City Schools

Igniting Student Passions

What if you were given time each week in your busy schedule to research and work on a topic or project that was of great interest to you — something you were passionate about? Would you be excited for that time to come each week? Would you eagerly dive into your research?  Imagine if we gave that time to our students to pursue their passions. You may have already heard of 20% Time, Genius Hour, or Passion Projects. The intent of each is essentially the same: to provide time for students to drive their own learning. The idea of 20% Time arose from Google. This forward thinking company allows their employees 20% paid working time to pursue a project of their interest.  From this provided time, Googlers have developed Gmail, Google Sky, and other Google products we use daily. Providing 20% Time in education translates to a dedicated time for students to explore their passions. Students who are passionate about their learning are engaged, excited to learn more, and eager to help one another.  

I first began hearing about 20% Time/Genius Hour at the 2013 ISTE conference.  I returned excited to implement this model.  As an instructional technology specialist I had the opportunity to work closely with classroom teachers to develop the overall feel for how this unique time would look.  I was able to see the benefits as an educator and a parent as my own daughter had the opportunity to participate.  More recently, I have been able to help support these projects as a new administrator.  Passion projects lend themselves perfectly to individualized instruction.  Students are learning on their level about something they are interested in exploring further.  During 20% Time, students research a topic they are passionate about, then apply research and findings into a finished product/presentation.  For example, if a student is passionate about fashion design, he/she will need to research the industry, learn how to sew, talk with experts, with their final project being a garment they either designed, sewed or both!  If a student is interested in cooking, they would research various techniques, foods, and tools needed; their finished product could be a cookbook or a cooking demonstration.  The teacher can help connect the student to a professional chef to help mentor the student.  A project can be as simple as a posterboard with shared information.   

There are many benefits to incorporating these types of projects with your students.  Covering the standards becomes integrated, and learning is purposeful.  Students take pride in their work and have complete ownership of their learning.  My favorite aspect of these projects is the opportunity to connect to our community.  Inviting our stakeholders into the classroom as volunteers and experts connects our school in a whole new way.  Students are learning first hand from experts in their own backyard!  

Creating teacher interest with passion projects is the first step.  I began this year by providing a professional development session and asked the teachers what were their passions.  I had several say, “I don’t know, I’ve never thought about it before.”  After I completed the interactive training, I closed by asking, “Ask your 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 year old self if your teacher had provided you time to learn more about your passion, what would you think?”  Not surprisingly, 100% of my teachers emphatically said they would have eagerly wanted to learn and explore more about their passion. My next step is to help support teachers who are interested in implementing this concept into their classroom by being in their rooms when they decide to begin.  By being present and interacting with students, I am able to provide additional hands while providing moral support and encouragement.  Incorporating 20% Time into the already hectic school week can be a challenge.  A suggested time allotment is one day a week for forty-five minutes to an hour.  Our teachers found it fit perfectly on their “long” days where there was no additional special activity.  The duration of 20%Time varies based on the depth of the project.  Typically, I would suggest allowing 8-10 weeks for a complete cycle.

Steps to Starting 20% Time in the Classroom

  • Set the tone with guidelines you can all live by (chart the responses and frequently refer back to them).
  • Have students prepare a proposal about their passion that includes the materials they will need to learn (computer/books/other people), and the materials they will need for their completed project.  Here is a document I created to help organize this process (Just remember to make a copy first).
  • Provide dedicated time each week; students will look forward to this time!
  • Communicate to parents about this exciting learning opportunity.
  • Ask community members to help various students as needed (pair a chef to the student who wants to learn about cooking).
  • Share the projects with the community!  Invite parents in for the presentations, encourage a pen pal class to visit, etc.

I encourage each of you to expose your teachers to the idea of 20% Time/Genius Hour/Passion Projects and watch as their students’ passion to learn is ignited!  

Wendy Story

Shades Cahaba Elementary School


Educator Effectiveness underway in Marshall County

As part of the focus by the ALSDE on creating a teacher accountability measure that isn’t a punitive, “gotcha!” approach, the educator effectiveness model is a breath of fresh air as it relates to measuring teacher effectiveness. Rather than a top-down approach, the teacher effectiveness framework involves local school district leadership, administrators, and teachers collaborating to help create a model that is unique to the district at a local level, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.  While accountability is a necessary and important piece of the puzzle, the way in which accountability is created and measured is critical in helping to paint a true picture of what teachers do.  Research is clear—without effective teachers, student achievement suffers.

As Rick DuFour and Bob Eaker pointedly state, “schools are effective because of their teachers” (1998, p. 206). Given this reality, it is imperative that teacher effectiveness be measured in a way that is clear, concise, and valid. The educator effectiveness framework is a step in the right direction. It focuses on local collaboration, buy-in, commitment, and of course, research-based practices and student outcomes.

At the local level, the effectiveness framework can be rolled out and communicated to faculty in a variety of methods to best meet the needs at the local level. There is no “you have to do it this way” approach, although it is important that the framework be communicated effectively and that there are structures in place to be sure that clarity exists for teachers and administrators.

In Marshall County, the process is underway, and early comments have been positive. Teachers are less anxious because they know exactly what indicators and “look-fors” exist, and what practices are considered as “exemplary, effective, developing, or requiring action.”  Rubrics provide details as to both what teachers and students are doing, and administrators are clear on what constitutes each level of effectiveness. As a whole, accountability is a critical part of the learning process.  As effective practitioners, we should consider accountability not as a dirty word–but as an avenue to improve our craft in the continuous improvement process.

David McCollum

Brindlee Mountain Primary School


Growth Mindset

Educators at Munford Elementary School have been studying the work of Carol Dweck, a researcher at Stanford University, to learn about the impact of mindsets on achievement and success.  Through our study beginning this past summer, we have learned that recent brain research negates the notion that intelligence is “fixed” at birth.  This research emphasizes “neuroplasticity”-the ability of the brain to change, adapt, and “rewire” itself through our entire life.  A person’s intelligence is constantly changing based on effort, persistence, and motivation. Having a growth mindset leads to embracing challenges and persevering in the face of setbacks in order to be a more effective learner, while having a fixed mindset can hinder skill development and growth.

To effectively transform the mindsets of our students, we realized that the change must begin with us.  Our process began with serious self-reflection.  Knowing that a person can have fixed mindsets in different areas of his/her life, we examined deep rooted beliefs about ourselves.  For example, many teachers admitted to believing that they were “not a math person”, not a good writer, or terrified of technology.  We also talked about non-educational activities such as sports, art, cooking, gardening, managing money, etc.  I posed the question, “If you took a class to learn how to do one of these activities, had opportunities to practice it daily with support, do you think that you could have success?”  The answer was a resounding “YES!”

We discussed how new brain connections were formed and strengthened when learning and practicing a new skill.  I asked teachers to think about how they could apply this new learning to their own professional journey.  As educators, we all have areas for growth and often times, we shy away from areas where we feel the least amount of confidence (or even have a fixed mindset.)  I challenged my teachers to model a growth mindset for their students by taking the initiative to try something new and persist when facing a challenge.  I prepared a “Tic Tac TRY” board for each teacher.  Some of the tasks included:  Join Twitter, Try a New Tech Tool, Set up a Classroom Instagram, Teach a Growth Mindset Lesson, Read a Professional Article, etc.  I told teachers that for every “tic tac toe,” they would earn a chance for $200 to spend in their classroom.  Over 75% of the teachers participated and almost all of them completed their board!

In addition to Tic Tac Try, we have implemented peer walkthroughs to gain feedback about our teaching practices.  I think that it is common for teachers to say that they have a growth mindset, even though their actions say otherwise.  For example, teachers who never invite administrators or peers into their classroom, probably do not have a growth mindset because they are not open to feedback.  As educators, we know how important feedback is for growth.  At Munford Elementary School, I have seen multiple examples of teachers with a growth mindset.  Teachers have volunteered to be placed on full evaluation (even when it was not their year), they volunteer to have guests from other schools observe their teaching practices, and they are taking ownership of their own learning like never before.  Our teachers were so motivated by the Tic Tac TRY board, they asked for another one to complete during the 2nd nine weeks of school!

Munford Elementary School teachers are definitely modeling a growth mindset for their students. One can find evidence of a growth mindset culture throughout our building.  Teachers and students are setting goals based on things that they may not can do “yet.”  We no longer say the words, “I can’t” or “This is too hard.”  Instead, you may overhear a student say, “I haven’t met my reading goal YET” or “This problem looks hard, but I’m going to try my best because I know that my brain will grow bigger when I figure it out!”  I see teachers and students supporting and encouraging one another more than ever.  

We are constantly learning new ways to support our growth mindset culture.  We believe that all students can be successful if given quality instruction, guidance, and opportunities to practice.  We also believe that we must have a growth mindset so that we will be equipped to create opportunities for our students to thrive.  We are already seeing encouraging results in both student attitude toward learning and motivation towards reaching learning goals.  We have just begun this journey.  I can’t wait to see the impact our efforts will continue to have on our students and teachers!

Dr. Brooke Morgan

Talladega County Schools

Munford Elementary