Replicable Middle Level Practices shared at CASE Conference

Alicia Durand, Principal of Wellington Middle School (left), shares best practices at the 43rd Annual CASE Conference

Learning walk look-fors, standards-based lesson tools, bell schedules, high-yield instructional strategies checklists, and a host of other practical ideas to support best universal core instruction were shared by six Colorado Trailblazer Schools to Watch at the 43rd Annual CASE Conference for Colorado education leaders.

Showcasing their ideas and strategies were:

  • Alicia Durand, Principal at Wellington Middle
  • Ben Bauman and Rod Link, Principal & Assistant Principal at Fort Morgan Middle
  • David Russell, Principal at Gypsum Creek Middle
  • Julie Williams, Principal at Russell Middle
  • Rob Utter, Principal at Holmes Middle
  • Steve Wolf, Principal at Powell Middle

Using a rapid-fire, speed-dating-like approach, the principals shared their replicable practices in a laser-focused talk on the universal core practices they felt had the greatest impact on their school’s success. The fifty-one education leaders attending the session were initially divided into smaller groups to promote intimate learning and conversation. Each group circled up with a School to Watch principal for approximately 10 minutes and then rotated to a different group. Sixty minutes later, the attendees’ toolkits were filled with new ideas and approaches they could use to refine the practices in their school communities.

Participants engage with Ben Bauman (far right) and Rod Link from Fort Morgan Middle School

“Last year I was sitting right where you are today, learning from other Colorado Schools to Watch,” explained Ben Bauman, principal of Fort Morgan Middle School.  But on this day, Ben and Rod Link, Assistant Principal, shared strategies that have resulted in optimized learning with their students.

The duo explained how they used the Self-Rating Rubric to analyze best practices in their school community  and used the tool as a platform for inquiry and continuous improvement. Finding many of the criteria in place, their school was inspired to apply for the School to Watch designation.

“Our school thrives on feedback,” shared Alicia Durand, principal at Wellington Middle School. The incorporation the School to Watch Self-Rating Rubric was just another tool to promote staff reflection and inquiry. At Wellington Middle, rubrics are routinely used by students and staff.  Alicia shared Wellington’s approach to standards-driven learning whereby every member of the school community can articulate their personal learning targets, where they are in relation to the target, and the steps they were taking to improve their performance. Durand regularly invites teachers to participate in her classroom Learning Walks, where school-created rubric is used to cultivate collegial conversations about the core instructional practices evident during that observation.

Both Wellington and Fort Morgan Middle Schools were named Colorado Trailblazer Schools to Watch in March, 2012.  They were honored this summer in Washington, DC at the National School to Watch Conference with 98 other first-year Schools to Watch from across the country. Holmes Middle School was also honored in Washington, DC this past June. Their 3-time designation represents an incredible accomplishment, as they have demonstrated 9 years of sustained achievement and positive trajectory of success.

Holmes’ Principal Rob Utter (far left) distributes a packet of tools and strategies that can be used by other middle level leaders.

Principal Rob Utter shared structures for ensuring standards-driven lesson design and alignment with high-yield instructional strategies. The students and staff at Holmes have focused on data-driven instructional design for over 10 years. Using data trackers and progress monitoring tools students always know which learning outcomes have been mastered and which ones still need to be mastered. Supporting teachers with the tools to effectively incorporate the components of the standards-based teaching/learning cycle has been a focus of this school’s leadership team. Already a state model of best practice for Response to Intervention implementation, a focus on core instruction has become the school’s learning target for improvement.

Two 2011 Schools to Watch also participated in the learning rotation.  Steve Wolf, principal of Powell Middle School and David Russell, principal of Gypsum Creek Middle School offered participants insight into their school’s formula for success.

This past year, Powell decided to hold expectations high for ensuring that every minute of the day was powerfully leveraged for learning success.  As a school community they transformed their “old-school” homeroom time into a power-packed CORE PLUS period to maximize student learning.

Formative assessment practices are seamlessly embedded into the life-blood of the Gypsum Creek Middle School learning community. Using the backbone of a rigorously designed curriculum, Gypsum Creek teachers meet regularly to review common assessment data and the results of their instruction. Master teachers meet with their peers regularly to observe their classrooms and provide feedback.

Julie Williams, principal of twice designated Russell Middle School (2007, 2010) shared best practices related to the incorporation of character education expectations.  Character education raises the bar for student engagement and ownership in their learning. Character education also provides an explicit understanding of the behvaiors required to interact in a civil society. Russell Middle School was named a National School of Character in 2012.

These six schools, along with other Colorado Schools to Watch will be presenting their best practices at the 2012 Colorado School to Watch Conference on Saturday, November 3 at Stuart Middle School in Commerce City, Colorado.

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