Of all the things going on at Explore College Preparatory Middle School, I’m least inclined to spend my free time writing about the big headline: We will be closing at the end of the year.
Perhaps it’s spite. All of our bruises and scars have made the staff a strong team that can hold its own with so few resources. And despite that (or rather because of that), we’re being split. But maybe it’s numbness that keeps me from writing. After all the curve balls slung at me this year, the closing hardly seems surprising. And there are more important topics.
I’ve gained ground, damnit. I’m using my tools more intelligently, and I’m still groaning at how unbelievably simple some solutions to my hardest problems were. My students and their parents are better informed with less effort. Routines and procedures have been cleaned up. Much of this has resulted from the very kind suggestions from The Education Report community. So as I’m finally getting around to my wedding thank-yous, I thought I should extend the sentiments in this direction.
My TurningPoint student response system has been a critical tool. My students all get remotes they use to “click in” the results of questions that are displayed with my projector. My use of this system has improved in three critical ways. I’ve been occasionally asking questions about their behavior using a Likert Scale: “Do you enjoy it when someone calls out in class?”
The numbers don’t lie, and the class clowns have toned down a bit. I find the concepts that students are missing and use them as the review questions. And I’m putting more focus, per the advice of principal Michael Scott, on the questions at the end of class. Students see exactly what percentage of the class was able to achieve the day’s learning target. All of this data is collected and added to their grades (using Easy Grade Pro). Plus, now that I’ve helped myself to an unused printer, I’m giving students weekly progress reports. If a student’s average is below a C, it has to be signed. With five classes and five days in the week, if you know what period you have me, you know which day you’re getting your updated grade.
Sophisticated tools are excellent in building a data-driven classroom. But the most remarkable improvement to my class has been through $15 stamps. Students, even the toughest and most apathetic, enjoy a stamp on their paper. Notebook checks are done simply by counting how many stamps the student has in their notebook. The students understand this system. Do-nows are getting done, and instruction is able to start noticeably quicker. Homework gets stamp if they have it the day it’s due. More students are turning in assignments. I can’t believe how easy that was.
The more difficult change has been my demeanor. My students comment on it all the time. Aggression is how these students communicate with each other, and I am now a speaking their language. It takes a lot out of me, but I bring less tension home. On our last week before the break, we had a new student in one of my most troubled classes. After I snapped rather harshly at a misbehaving student, I heard someone whisper to the new student, “Yeah man, Mr. A. don’t play.” I want that tattooed on my forehead.
Of all the improvements I’ve made, the greatest is accepting the modesty of my position. Yes, I can have a huge impact—I’m not questioning that. Rather, so much of my stress was agonizing over the continued disparity this community was suffering unjustly. I am not here to save anyone. Instead, I’m a just one cog of a greater community effort that, as anyone can see from the discussion on this Web site alone, is doing some pretty cool stuff. Only now I’ve got to find myself a new job from which to help.
— Dan Adiletta, Explore Middle School