My campus had some great conversations this past week with one of my leaderships teams and our grade level PLCs. We talked about the tremendous impact student goal conferences are having this year on student achievement. During each of our PLCs, we spend part of our time specifically discussing any student who is not demonstrating growth. We don’t just discuss our most struggling students. During this time, we brainstorm interventions and strategies for any student whose growth has become stagnant. As a result, we are seeing student scores increase an average of thirty to forty percentage points from last year on the same assessment. Honestly, I don’t believe I’ve seen growth as we are currently seeing in my entire career. Even with all the celebration, there was concern that student conferencing and goal setting takes a great deal of time away from instruction. This got me thinking. Is it really time away from teaching?
During this time, we brainstorm interventions and strategies for any student whose growth has become stagnant. As a result, we are seeing student scores increase an average of thirty to forty percentage points from last year on the same assessment. Honestly, I don’t believe I’ve seen growth as we are currently seeing in my entire career. However, even with all the celebration, there was concern that student conferencing and goal setting takes a great deal of time away from instruction. This got me thinking. Is it really time away from teaching?
Think about it! It’s not just people who perform poorly at tasks that get individual “tutoring”. Talented dancers take additional “privates”. World-class athletes have “form” coaches. Musicians take private lessons. Heck, I even have a “Principal Coach” that I speak with on a regular basis. Individualized feedback to help one improve is the very best and most meaningful type of teaching and learning. Because it is individualized, growth can occur more quickly.
When you spend time with a student, looking at results and helping them set goals for the future, you are teaching them to be reflective. That one-on-one conversation you are having with the students to discuss where they are, where they need to be, and how they can get there is causing students to think about their learning and figure out how to improve. When you discuss with a student who hasn’t grown and tell them that “it is okay, sometimes we don’t grow, but what are we going to do now?” it helps them develop resiliency. You ARE teaching! You are teaching them how to become a better learner. You are teaching them how to solve the most meaningful problem–how to overcome and address their own needs. You are teaching them the life skills necessary to exist in a future world that we don’t know how it will look when they grow up!
There is an epidemic of college-aged students who are floundering. These students were “standardized” in school as we taught them how to “do as I do” and “perfection is the key”. I can’t help but believe this is due to a generation being raised with standardized testing and teaching students strategies to follow our lead rather than how to think independently. These students have been brought up believing “less than perfect” is a failure and failure is abhorred. It’s the fixed mindset of “If I can’t do it perfectly the first time, I must not be able to do it at all” and anything not mastered the first time is quickly abandoned by students with no grit.
Last year we tried to implement student goal setting folders. It was a disaster. We made them too complicated. They were too detailed to manage effectively, and the practice was quickly abandoned. I didn’t resist, because I couldn’t see that the time spent was resulting in any student gains. This year, we simplified. We kept our plan focused, and the payoff is huge. The most important thing is that we didn’t give up.
I am proud of the work we do on my campus to teach our students the skills they need to be resilient through challenges! They have grit. They have growth mindsets. There is no argument to the fact that this type of teaching does take time, but if you think about how you use that time with each child to specifically meet their needs, you probably spent time more wisely in conferencing and goal setting than any content lesson you would teach that week. I do not think there is anything more powerful than one-on-one conversations with students specifically geared toward their needs. It IS teaching! It is teaching people not just content, and as educators, we should always have enough time for that!