What We Learned -- A Recap of SES16

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Our first ever conference has come and gone – and it was a fantastic experience! We met many inspirational teachers and school leaders from all over New England. Our presenters worked hard, and had so much to share! We were honored to have them come speak, and to host all of the educators who traveled to attend.

Let’s look at a recap of the presentations, and some of the highlights.

Colchester High School

Colchester, VT

Assistant principal Justin Brown and guidance counselor Bob Hall talked about their advisory program at Colchester High School, and how they use it to enrich their students' school experience and build stronger student/teacher relationships.

At Colchester, they realized that with their traditional schedule there was really no time in the school day to give students the needed attention, especially for those that were struggling.  Now, their advisory has allowed for enriching academic experiences for students. For example, they had University of Vermont neuroscience majors come meet with students who were interested in a career in the sciences.

What was really outstanding in Colchester’s use of this program was the flexibility for personalized support it afforded the guidance department. Counselor Bob Hall explained. Often, guidance counselors focus on working with seniors as they near graduation. At Colchester, this looks a little different.

The guidance counselors meet as a group, and build a guidance calendar for each grade, for the whole year. They then arrange groups by theme/developmental level, with 1 activity per week. They make sure they meet with small groups of students each day. Then, they reflect on what was discussed during that meeting. For example: What does this mean for you, how will it help you guide your future? 

Then, students are pre-booked over the summertime. So, when teachers come back for inservice, students are booked all year long with guidance. So what is the result? 

Guidance meets with ALL students in small groups at LEAST, no fewer than 4 times per year. All students begin postsecondary planning in 9th grade. This gives their students access to internships, and a clear sense of direction for their school experience. This program gives an overall better sense of students in the school in general.

ConVal Regional High School

Peterborough, NH

The dynamic team from ConVal consisted of principal Brian Pickering, guidance counselor Nate Bisson, teacher Amanda Bastoni, technologist Helfried Zrzavy and student Anthony David. They talked about their TASC, or Teachers in Academic Support Communities program, from what it is to why they use it to the great results they’ve seen in their school after implementation. The TASC block is a flexible block that occurs within the school day, every day, for about 40 minutes.

What is the mission at ConVal Regional High School? Brian Pickering summed it up as a “relentless pursuit of learning for all students.” And they certainly showed that during their presentation! They use their TASC block to provide extensions of class material, supports for students who need some extra help, be it academic or emotional, and enrichment opportunities to take students above and beyond their class learning.

Guidance counselor Nate Bisson connected TASC to his job providing students with social emotional learning, noting that he no longer has to choose whether its more important to take kids out of class to build social emotional skills and have them lose instructional time in order to see them.  Now, their flex block gives him that time, every day.

Next up, Anthony, a recent graduate of the  class of 2015, told his incredible success story. He moved from school to school growing up, and was homeschooled in his 8th grade year. When he switched to ConVal for his sophomore year, however, the credits from his past two years of school couldn’t be counted. Instead of resigning himself to graduating later, he was able to get his credits for all four years in just that two year period of time. How? By using the TASC flex block and working extremely hard. And not only was he able to get all of his credits on time, but he was able to participate in sports and a leadership program as well! By utilizing just this extra 41 minutes a day, he took complete control of his learning and was able to accomplish amazing things.

Teacher Amanda Bastoni gave some great insight by sharing what students have taught her about TASC. From her experience with students, they showed her TASC created time, access, connection with teachesr and students, opprtunities they wouldn't normally have, and direction. One program, TASC talks, is organized much like the popular TED talks. The TASC block is used for students or visiting speakers to talk to a group of students about a paticular subject. For example, Amanda Bastoni shared the example of one student who was interested in arts but unsure how to pursue this and support herself. She was able to attend a TASC talk and see how artists make a living. After attending she know had a clear purpose as to what she wanted to do. This program allows for students to see something beyond high school.

Helfried Zrzavy, a technologist at ConVal and also a parent, shared some of his experiences. One of his daughters, currently in college, told him that TASC helped teach her how to structure her day to be successful. She learned time organization skills, and prioritze her work, based on the TASC model. As a parent, Helfried said of TASC "I personally am extremely grateful that we have it at the school."

Noble High School

North Berwick, ME

Noble High School in Berwick, ME, calls their flexible TASC block ‘KnightTime.’  Presenters were Janice Eldrige, Julie Gagnon, and AJ Dufort. Why did they start using a flex block? Janice Elridge explained that their goal was to make a shift towards student-centered education, and a competency-based curriculum. How has KnightTime allowed them to do this?

One thing they realized was that advisory often follows one of two paths: academic, or social.  They interviewed everyone in their staff, to see what would work. They realized that people were comfortable with interaction at the academic level, but forcing them into social relationships wouldn’t work. So, with KnightTime, they tried to strike a balance. It’s purpose is to promote academic success, foster relationships, and build a community of learners. 

Julie Gagnon and Janice Eldridge explained how they make use of 'Goal Sheets', spreadsheet documents that they have students fill out for each to week to stay on top of their classes. They create these reports so that they have solid goals at the beginning of the week, and then they are able to meet with their teachers to see where they need to go during their flex block, getting booked ahead of time. These goal sheets help manage accountability for each student. AJ Dufort highlighted how this, along with their use of Infinite Campus, has aided in their shift to a proficiency-based grading system. It provides students with a way to quickly and easily check their grades, giving them and their teacher clear objectives as to where they stand in different subjects

They organize the KnightTime groups by grade, and keep them fairly small, so that each staff member has no more than 20 students.  Their staff members form RTI team groups by grade. In addition, they have a KnightTime board in a supportive role to care for the daily operations, anwers questions and keeps things running smoothly.

KnightTime has enabled students to seek more academic opportunities, perhaps where with a regular schedule their time to complete credits would be limited. It has helped strengthen their mentor programs, allowing students to mentor students about subjects of common interests.

 

Sanborn Regional High School

Kingston, NH

Sanborn Regional presented as a team consisting of principal Brian Stack, and teachers Donna Moseley, Karen Ladd, Brian Gray and Mark Giuliucci, representing three teams at the school. Their flexible TASC block was given the identity Focused Learning Time (FLT), and it has allowed them to implement a competency-based curriculum.

There were three keys to success Brian Stack mentioned at the start of their presentation: collaboration, competency, and culture. They realized that if they could do these three things really well, it would lead them to school success. It was evident by the end of their presentation that they are, in fact, doing these things really well.

Brian Stack kicked off by talking a little bit about competency ed. On a whole, what stood out about ConVal is their utilization of PLCs, or professional learning communities, like tiny schools within a school.  These teams are organized by subject and grade level. Their highly-collaborative, team-based staff is certainly one of their keys to success.

The freshmen team was represented by Brian Grey and Mark Giuliucci. The special challenge about the freshmen learning community is that it is high stakes. How so? Because students who fail at the freshmen level, they said, tend to fail later on in school as well. So their plan was to reduce these failures, now.  Focused learning time allowed for students to receive enrichments and extensions of class time, to really own their learning.

The sophomore team was represented by Donna Moseley, who talked about how FLT gave an extra push for honors students. Instead of just assigning them more work, they were able to take their learning a step forward. For enrichments, teachers could design activities that they would love to have time for, but wouldn’t under the traditional schedule. FLT allowed them to make time for this.

Karen Ladd, a fine arts teacher and leader of the Jr/Sr team talked about the FLT successes and challenges. Students at this level typically use the time for reassessment, intervention, absences, insufficient work shown. As for enrichment, they have been able to have "Career Speakers", bringing in people that students are interested in hearing from, maybe in a field those students are interested in being in.

Basically, as Brian Stack summed up in the end, these presentations were three versions of the same story, but all three teams made the story their own. Its the same bell schedule, but it’s about how they’re using their time, how they’re succeeding personalizing learning for their students. And this incredible learning experience their students are having starts with a small group of teachers simply investing the time. 

Our conference closed with a Q&A, between attendees and a panel of all the presenters. There were some great questions, and insightful comments and answers form the variety of presenters on the panel.

What Did We Learn?

In the end a couple of things really stood out to us. The key to providing students with a truly personalized, enriched school experience – academically and emotionally – is implementing a flex block that utilizes extensions, enrichments, and interventions. To support this and make it successful, it’s essential to build united, collaborative, teams of staff.

To see video highlights of the conference for each school, check out our SES16 playlist on our YouTube channel. Maybe we’ll see you at next year’s conference!