This week we will start a new school year at Decker Middle School. We have been working most of the summer so that our teachers and, in turn, our students become more successful. There are some things we have put into place for the first 4 weeks of school that should make a significant difference with the learning levels of our students.

First, through a grant, we were able to hire a literacy coach so that I don’t have the load of instruction, literacy, and technology in my job description. We were able to identify some teachers last year who are much better than me with technology and are using it, daily, in the classroom. We will be asking them to help those who are less capable and have questions or concerns. We also added an Assistant Principal who is, technically, an intern and has a job description of “Instructional Coach/Principal Intern.” She has IC experience and I’m calling her our academic dean.

Next, our Academic Dean, Principal, and I started (back in June) with planning some basic non-negotiables. They range from what our lesson plans will look like, to what our team plannings will look like, to a daily plan for the first “17 Days.”

The First 17 Days (as we are calling it) is modeled from a system Austin (TX) ISD uses called The First 20 Days. Within this period most of the core classes will have completed their first instructional unit. Overlay number one is a plan to teach ALL students at DMS how to work independently. So, we have incorporated a gradual release and stamina method of getting students to go from 5 minutes to 20 (30?) minutes of work without input from the teacher.

Second, we are overlaying a few minutes of literacy that starts with Guided Reading (ELA/SS) or Problem Solving (SCI/Math). Again this is a gradual release plan where teachers model Think-Alouds of reading or problem solving. Then the teacher has students model the process. Finally students pursue reading and problem solving and incorporate interactive notebooks and/or journals.

Third, we are striving to become an AVID demonstration site. All of our students will be keeping Cornell Notes. Some will be kept electronically and some will be kept via conventional notebooks. But every student will be doing this. And, teachers will be using AVID classroom management techniques so that students see consistency from classroom to classroom.

Lastly, we are incorporating the use of Google Apps via the New Tech Network’s LMS called ECHO.  Teachers are going from not using it, to creating classes, to using a daily agenda, to using an electronic filing cabinet during this initial phase of the school year.

Our goal is that when the 2nd 6 week grading period starts we have students who are able to work independently and have a system (both electronically and via traditional notebooks) to keep their knowledge in set places. They will encounter very similar experiences in all of their classes, and teachers will be starting to incorporate PBL as their primary mode of instruction.

As with any school, we will have teachers who will be at varying levels of expertise in this process. Some teachers may not get there this year. We have acknowledged this, as administrators, and we have conveyed this to the faculty. We will be setting the bar high. We will put systems in place to help those teachers who are struggling with facilitating these processes. But, as the students walk in on Tuesday morning, we are set up for success. Stay tuned to this site for updates on how it all goes.

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