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World Teachers’ Day 2020: Educating During a Global Pandemic
By David Krakoff, YMS Principal
October 5, 2020
 
Today, October 5th, we recognize World Teachers’ Day.  As a school principal, today always stands out as a day of meaning and importance, but in 2020, the celebration of World Teachers’ Day has never held more relevance.
 
World Teachers’ Day was created in 1994, as an effort to commemorate the anniversary of the adoption of the 1966 International Labor Organization (ILO)/United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recommendation concerning the status of teachers.  This recommendation set benchmarks regarding the rights and responsibilities of teachers and standards for their initial preparation and further education, recruitment, employment, and teaching and learning conditions.  When we dig deeply into the intended meaning of recognizing our teachers today, in the environment in which we find ourselves immersed during a world pandemic that has already caused more than a million deaths worldwide and nearly 210,000 deaths in the United States alone, the work being carried out by our teachers is nothing short of incredible.  Our teachers are literally making the impossible happen.
 
In a joint statement released from ILO, UNESCO, and Educational International, the organizations responsible for World Teachers’ Day had this to say:
 
“In this crisis, teachers have shown, as they have done so often, great leadership and innovation in ensuring that #LearningNeverStops,that no learner is left behind.  Around the world, they have worked individually and collectively to find solutions and create new learning environments for their students to allow education to continue.  Their role advising on school reopening plans and supporting students with the return to school is just as important.”
 
Make no mistake about it.  Our world’s teachers are working harder than ever before to serve all students.  The challenges they’re facing are unlike any other time we have faced in education.  What our teachers are working to overcome in terms of challenge is nothing short of amazing.
 
Teachers’ Challenge and Reality
At our Yearling Middle School in rural Okeechobee, Florida, I have witnessed our teachers expand their instructional unit planning to include strategic use of every instructional minute involving our students who are attending school on a face-to-face basis as well as our student population attending classes online from home.  Our teachers have worked together to plan to switch between their face-to-face and online groups of students by alternating direct instruction and student-centered task completion. Other times, our teachers have utilized Zoom’s breakout rooms to combine the two kinds of students and to allow our online crowd to work in collaborative groups with our face-to-face population. 
 
Early in the school year, when this complex learning environment was new and foreign to us, I watched as some teachers on our leadership team volunteered to lead professional learning sessions to model how to best juggle the face-to-face and online student groups in the same lesson.  I’ve noticed our teachers devising new methods of delivering instruction and monitoring student learning both in person and online throughout a class period.  And I’ve been amazed as our teachers have worked diligently to follow up with students who are struggling, and many of our at-home, online learners are struggling, by providing small-group instruction and communications with parents to support the commitment to not leaving any students behind. 
 
In addition, our teachers are forced to expand our school’s commitment to creating a campus-wide culture of learning.  One where all staff members and students share in the responsibility for every single student’s social/emotional development and mastery of standards.  In doing so, we are in the process of growing the use of our greatest resource when it comes to learning – our students.  During elective periods, high-performing students are joining our teachers in our classrooms to provide extra learning support by working with online students, re-teaching lessons to students whether online or face-to-face who are struggling, and to learn the value of their own civic responsibility to make others better while developing a high level of social/emotional maturity in assuming a leadership role with peers.  Now more than ever before, the phrase, “It takes a Village,” rings true.  To achieve our vision of guiding ALL students to the deepest levels of learning, we need every member of our learning community on our team.  We need them all: staff, students, parents, and community members.
 
Our Teachers and Staff are Essential Workers
Our school is a Title 1 school where we serve a student population that includes an economically disadvantaged family rate of 97%.  A percentage of our students receive their best meals at school.  All of our students have access to social/emotional supports, gain a basic human need of belonging, and develop as critical thinkers and learners. 
 
Students need structure in their lives.  They needs a community where they feel safe physically, emotionally, and socially.  They need to grow intellectually to become critical thinkers.  Our students’ development as citizens and as future contributors to our society depends on our schools.  In the face of a global pandemic that continues to ravage our planet and take loved ones from families, leave behind long-term health impediments to its victims, and completely disrupt what was once, “normal life,” our  teachers and school staffs provide consistency, normalcy, support, and stability for our students.  These aren’t wants but needs.  Our kids need these things.  And our schools are continuing to provide our students with these needs all while putting themselves at some degree of risk due to the intense level of contagion involving Covid-19.  It is essential that our students continue with their education, but let’s recognize the commitment our teachers and school staffs are making daily. 
 
In 2020 Thank You Isn’t Enough
The traditional thanks we might give our teachers on World Teachers’ Day doesn’t seem enough in 2020.  For many reasons, the year 2020 will go down in history as a uniquely challenging year that very few will forget.  Let’s make sure we also make it a year in which we take a moment to reflect on the incredible contributions our teachers and school staffs are making and to let them all know how much we appreciate their sacrifices and work.  
Image of The Power of Yet Bulletin Board
Standards-Based Learning: Students are there or Simply Not there YET!
By David Krakoff, YMS Principal
September 18, 2020
People who work in our schools across our nation inherently care for kids.  We all want the best for students and for every student to be successful.  So why do we accept less than mastery from significant percentages of our student population and give up on some students learning content altogether once we pass a self or organizational deadline?  We need to create systems that eliminate a deadline on learning so that students who aren’t reaching mastery of standards meet them and those who only meet them partially meet them fully.  It was under President George W. Bush’s administration that, “No Child Left Behind,” was created.  While some components of the NCLW system proved less than productive, the initiative was based on the realization that way too many of our nation’s schools were systematically leaving some kids behind.  Let’s work to eliminate deadlines on learning and stop leaving so many students behind. 

 

Standards-Based Learning
Our instructional systems across the United States are now built on the foundation established by the Common Core Standards.  The idea of building instruction around a common set of rigorous standards was an important premise as the world’s highest performing school systems that have left American schools in the dust over the last half century-plus have developed a common set of standards for their schools to focus on with the intent of holding all schools in a country accountable for guiding all students to the deepest levels of learning.  In the United States, not all schools were created equal as some states and regions of our country far outperformed others while creating and implementing far more rigorous standards for their educational systems while some states allowed students to fall behind while using a system that accepted student product aligned to the lower levels of learning. 
 
After generating the Common Core, a system that many states still use while others have created revised systems still based on the Common Core, our country’s schools shifted to the premise that all students should be able to produce specific levels of knowledge and skills to show the proficiency required of earning passing grades, advancing to the next grade level, and ultimately becoming college and or career ready.  Yet while we work to guide all students to proficiency, we systematically accept less than proficient performance on assessments rather than continuing to coach students to overcome struggles. 
 
Grades Require Purity when it comes to Standards Mastery
Subjectivity in grading has set our country’s student assessment system back a half century or more. Teachers are usually among the most empathetic bunch, and some students have made a living out of padding grades with extra credit points or earning points for “effort” in class activities.  Teachers’ humanity has intertwined behaviors like effort with learning and mastery of standards, which has resulted in gradebooks that don’t reflect the truth when it comes to student learning. 
 
Grades in teachers’ gradebooks and on report cards should not reflect effort, a good attitude, or good participation, but rather identify the level of which a student has mastered standards.  When we blur the lines between student learning and behavior, we fail to monitor learning progression.  Grades need to remain pure in that they reflect what students know and can do with regard to standards. 
 
Teachers historically have attempted to entice student engagement by awarding extra credit points for student behaviors.  When students volunteer answers more than others or exhibit a good work ethic by completing extra work, warm-hearted teachers want to add extra credit points on to a student’s grade.  Conversely, when a student misbehaves or turns in an assignment late, teachers are tempted to deduct points from the student’s grade.  While there is some logic in these decisions, this conflicts the lines between behavior and mastery of standards and learning.  A student’s grade should remain pure to only indicate levels of mastery of standards.  Furthermore, when it comes time for state assessments, teaches should be able to accurately predict a student’s performance on the high-stakes, summative test based on the student’s grades.  Behaviors, such as hard work or turning in a task past its deadline, need to be managed separately as what they – behaviors.  Learning responsibility is important but the data gathered from behaviors and learning are two very different things, and when students’ grades lose purity and accuracy, learning progression is negatively impacted.
 
The School’s Moral and Ethical Responsibility to EVERY Student EVERY Day
If grades signify students’ levels of mastery of standards, then they should reflect students’ levels of mastery TODAY.  Our schools must push and guide every student to the highest levels of achievement possible throughout the school year.  When a student fails an assessment, we can’t stop there.  When a student fails to submit an assignment, can’t just leave them behind with a zero in the gradebook. We can’t impose a deadline on learning; we can’t give up on kids. 
 
If our goal is to support students’ mastery of standards at every grade level, we have the entire school year to work with students.  If a student fails a test, we shouldn’t just allow them to move away from it.  We need to re-teach and re-assess while sending the message to every student that we won’t leave them behind and that failure is not an option in our system.  When we tell students to live with a “C” on an assessment, we are telling them to accept average.   Why not encourage and support students who earn a “C” to increase their mastery of the standard or learning target to reach an “A” level of mastery?  We hear schools’ mission and vision statements that include a commitment to pushing all students to the highest levels of achievement possible, so our practices need to align with that commitment.  Replace low grades by awarding improved levels of mastery that accurately reflect a student’s current mastery of standards.  When students have zeros or failing grades in the gradebook, they often give up because they decide it isn’t mathematically beneficial to complete unfinished tasks or redo low-level performances on assessments.  These students become disenfranchised with school and we eventually lose some to the drop-out path.  It takes an abundance of work and time to re-teach and re-assess and patience to accept late work without penalty but our schools truly are focused on standards-based learning, we need to put kids first.  Every student, every period, every day.  
Yearling Middle School Posts Stunning Change in Student Behavior, School Culture
By Mr. David Krakoff, YMS Principal
September 11, 2020

Walt Caves, YMS Dean sitting at desk

After four full weeks of school in 2019, Dean of Students Walt Caves had processed 20 days worth of out-of-school suspensions for Yearling Middle School students.  Today, at the conclusion of the first four weeks of the 2020-2021 school year, Mr. Caves' out-of-school suspension file shows a 100% reduction - to zero.  
"We still have students earning steps and referrals this year but the level of infraction has changed drastically," Caves said.  "We just aren't seeing the more severe behavior.  We are only seeing lower-level behaviors so far, and that has really created a different feel around here." 
After analyzing trends at YMS with regard to discipline over the past five years, the school's leadership team and guiding coalition of teachers decided to commit changing how discipline issues are managed on campus in 2019-2020.  As a school, YMS committed to a restorative approach to discipline in which students and staff are included in restorative circle discussions to resolve conflicts and "restore," relationships.  Focus is placed on understanding how other people in situations are made to feel as a result of behaviors while learning how to change behavior when later faced with a similar situation. 
This year, YMS added, "accountable talks," to its system of culture.  Every Thursday during math classes, all students participate in a discussion about a topic or concept provided by the school's leadership team.  These talks are designed to elicit input from every student and staff member in the classroom with the goal of building relationships, gaining a deeper understanding of one another, and ultimately to build empathy for others.  The math department was trained in leading, "accountable talks," by Mr. Caves and math teacher and guiding coalition member Mr. Zack Stanley, who participated in a training on these systems during the 2019-2020 school year.  
Since 2018, YMS has  improved in student proficiency rates in three of four core subject area tests on the Florida Standards Assessments, increased the percentage of students taking high school credit courses and earning proficiency on the corresponding end-of-course exams, and improved student attendance rates.  Now add a stunning growth in student and school culture to begin the 2020-2021 school year. 
The drastic change in student behavior and school culture are direct results of Mr. Caves' hard work, Mr. Caves' and Mr. Stanley's modeling and professional development, and especially our teachers' commitment to transforming YMS culture for the better.  Also, our students are unbelievable.  When provided clear expectations and procedures and when our staff works hard to foster relationships with along with helping students to bond with one another, our students are simply the best young people around.  It truly is a privilege and honor to serve this staff, our students, and our community.  
Disciplinary Systems Must be Consequential, Restorative, and Proactive to be Effective
By Mr. David Krakoff, YMS Principal
September 4, 2020
 
Traditionally, schools have viewed discipline as punitive.  Students are told the rules and if they violate the code of conduct they are punished, assigned detention or in-school suspension, or suspended out of school suspension.  That’s long been the model in our public schools and while consequences have their place punitive measures alone have not changed students’ behavior.  To put it simply, consequences alone don’t work.  Our goal should be to foster the social and emotional growth in our students that result in positive behaviors and character development. 
 
In a society that perpetuates judgment – a few minutes watching our highly sensational news channels that have drifted far away from objective journalism is all you need to see to illustrate this point – many continue to treat students as if they should know better.  The truth is, our schools are responsible for educating students but we can’t ignore the fact that our students are still children. Their brains are in the developmental stages still and impulsivity reigns supreme.  Our disciplinary systems must align with the National Center on Education and Economy’s (NCEE) research on how people learn and account for the fact that active learning and metacognition are two key elements in this process.
 
The Theory Behind and Need for Consequences
Dr. William Glasser was exactly right when his study of, “Choice Theory,” explained that all behaviors are choices and therefore bring about results.  Some results from our choices of behavior are positive and some are negative.  While Dr. Glasser also illustrated how we make choices resulting from lapses in our, “Quality World,” which is closely associated to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we also learn that by making our own choices we earn our consequences, whether positive or negative.  We understand that when a student behaves poorly that he or she is acting on the basis that something important is absent from his or her basic needs, causing an emotional instability.  As educators, we must work to identify what’s missing for the student, to identify the root cause of the negative choice of behavior, and to help to support the student’s needs.  At the same time, we must levy a negative consequence when a student’s choice of behavior reflects a violation of our school’s code of conduct so that the student learns that their choices of behaviors do bring results, whether positive or negative.  But we can’t stop there if we truly want to guide students to make better choices in the future when confronted with similar circumstances.  Our disciplinary systems must align with our instructional system and account for the fact that active learning and metacognition must take place with discipline in the same way they need to in our classrooms if we expect students to reach the depths of learning that we pursue with academic content. 
Restorative Justice Far Richer Tool than Traditional Consequences
When administrators and deans consider a consequence that correlates with their school district’s code of conduct, they often administer the punishment in isolation.  So, a student who commits an infraction sees that their choice of behavior results in a consequence, as Dr. Glasser’s “Choice Theory,” illustrates, but do these students learn why their behavior was bad?  Using a restorative approach to discipline where students are held to the standard of, “making things right,” helps to ensure this learning takes place. 
 
When students who wrong another person are compelled to face their victim and listen to their victim’s feelings and thoughts, the perpetrator is forced to confront the reality that THEIR choice of behavior caused those feelings in the victim.  When discussions about a person’s wrongdoing remain on the conceptual level and don’t connect to an authentic, emotional level, the person can’t realistically be expected to empathize with what a victim felt as a result of a behavior.  Especially in the era of social media and sensationalized mainstream media, our next generation is growing without being made to consider the person’s feelings on the other end of their comments.  To support the social emotional growth of a student, we must expose the student to others’ feelings so that understanding and empathy can be learned.  We must help student who misbehave to face the victims of their misbehavior in a way that includes metacognition – a reflective exercise in which students consider how their choices of behavior impacted others or the environment around them.  We then have to help these students to take action, whether it be verbal, in writing, or in project form, to right their wrong.  This process of active learning after metacognition helps students who make poor behavior choices to analyze, reflect, evaluate, and apply newly acquired or re-learned knowledge to change a situation for the better.  Students can’t simply be told they are excluded from school for a day or two with an out-of-school suspension; they must engage with an educational system aligned to the NCEE’s research on how people learn so that we work to change negative behavior for the better moving forward.  But, of course, it would be even better if we didn’t even reach this point…
 
Implementing Accountable Talks as Proactive System to Strengthen Relationships, Build Empathy, and Limit Negative Behavior
Students are far less likely to engage in verbal or physical behavior that negative affects others when they have a relationship with others.  It’s much easier to be cruel or inappropriate to a stranger but when it’s a real person who we know, acts that lack compassion aren’t so easy and thoughtless to commit. 
 
Embedding accountable talks into a school’s curriculum can be a powerful step toward preventing negative interactions between students and students and staff.  The idea is that on a weekly or other routine basis, students and staff are given a question prompt to ponder and answer.  For example, questions can be as surface-level as, “Explain your favorite hobby and why it’s your favorite past time,” and as deep as, “What do you think it’s like being an African-American or Hispanic in our school and what do you think we can do to defeat and prevent systemic racism on our campus?”  Ideally, all voices in the classroom are heard when responding to the accountable talk’s question so that a trusted community is formed.  This helps students and staff to reach a different level of understanding of one another, to learn about one another’s experiences, and to gain awareness of other people’s feelings.  Accountable talks build empathy in a school’s culture and prioritize relationships between all members of a school community.  They foster more awareness of how a person’s behavior might impact others and help to promote a culture of caring for others.  In turn, behavior referrals reduce, ignorance is removed, relationships strengthen, and active learning and metacognition regarding choices of behavior become an embedded part of a school’s instructional system. 
Differentiated Instruction: A Buzz Phrase or Attainable Vision?
Here’s a System to Achieve Equitable Access to Rigor and Increase Expectations for ALL Students
By David Krakoff, YMS Principal
July 31, 2020

 photograph of a sample of a unit scale used by a YMS teacher

In almost every text you might read about educational leadership or effective teaching, you’ll find an emphasis on the idea of differentiated instruction.  The premise that students bring differing learning styles to the table, progress on varying levels, and require customized supports to reach mastery of standards is a common concept in leadership texts.  More often than not, while the importance of differentiation is highlighted and prioritized in research and textbooks, it’s done without offering a concrete plan of how to achieve a state of differentiation in a school’s classrooms.  Here’s a research, evidence-based approach to provide every student the opportunity to access the deepest levels of rigor while differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all students throughout a unit of study:
 
It all Starts with the Plan – Make it Unit not Daily!
Without a plan, teachers have no chance differentiating instruction.  Teachers must be deliberate and strategic in creating a plan for a unit of study.  A key word being unit.  To differentiate effectively, traditional daily lesson plans have become counter intuitive.  We stress to teachers that they must monitor students’ learning progression during every lesson and to allow the monitored data to drive future instruction.  If teachers at schools are still writing daily lessons plans truly differentiated, they would need to rewrite daily lesson plans DAILY in order to differentiate instruction the next day or lesson.  Instead, teachers should create deliberate unit plans that are strategically designed to guide all students through a learning progression from tasks of a lower level of rigor to tasks on the highest levels of rigor.  Within this unit plan, teachers need to include daily agendas and most importantly deliberately designed student products to represent mastery on varying levels of rigor.  This structure of planning allows for all students to access every level of rigor while also working at their own pace. This system allows for schools to consider the partial or complete elimination of leveling students with “advanced,” or “on-level,” or worse “remedial,” labels on classes and therefore students.   A system such as this removes limits and raises expectations for all students, resulting in equitable access. 
 
Taxonomical Approach to Differentiating Levels of Rigor
To develop a unit plan effectively, teachers must identify varying levels of rigor.  Taxonomies of thinking offer an excellent structure to guide teachers’ work in this area. 
 
Dr. Robert Marzano’s taxonomy is built around four levels of thinking and product.  Marzano’s taxonomy begins with what he refers to as level 1 thinking and/or work product that reflect  “knowledge retrieval,” moves deeper to level 2 “comprehension,” and then to the deepest levels of rigor that include “analysis,” at level 3 and “knowledge utilization,” at level 4.  Marzano’s research offers a wide array of thinking outputs and student products that reflect mastery at every level on his taxonomy.  So, when teachers develop unit plans, they can create concrete expectations for student evidence and product at every level of Marzano’s taxonomy to reflect a student’s mastery at each of the four levels of rigor and complexity.  The majority of the Common Core Standards are written with the goal of students producing level 3 “Analysis,” products in mind, so in the case of most states across the United States, teachers can target a learning progression that guides students from levels 1-3 on Marzano’s taxonomy while level 4 “knowledge utilization,” can often be utilized as an enrichment or in concert with a larger, grading period or semester-long in-depth project that applies a selection of target standards to a real-world application.  For reference, there are other taxonomies including Bloom’s and Webb’s that can be utilized for the same purpose as Marzano’s. 
 
Importance of Shared Tracking of Student Progress
Assessing student learning can’t be a teacher-only event.  This system of taxonomical unit planning allows for both teachers and students to monitor student progression through taxonomy levels.  Using Marzano’s taxonomy, student products included a teacher’s unit plan aligned to each of Marzano’s four taxonomical levels can be monitored daily by both teachers and students.  To help organize and publish this approach in classrooms, teachers should develop and publish  a learning scale for every unit that specifically outlines what students will be able to produce at each of the unit’s four taxonomical levels. 
 
When teachers develop unit plans, they should identify learning targets aligned to taxonomical levels to guide student progression throughout the unit.  Teachers should also identify a holistic learning goal for the entire unit which reflects the depth of student product called for by the taxonomical level on which the target standard was written.  For example, if the target or anchor standard was written on a level 3 analysis level, the unit’s learning goal would reflect an analysis level student product.  As individual students work through the unit, some will reach mastery of different levels of the taxonomy before others.  Teachers AND students need to track this progression so that teachers are aware of every student’s needs and every student is aware of his/her progression through a unit.  This leads to students being able to apply metacognition to their learning, one of the most important research-based stages of how people learn according to the National Institute for School Leadership.  And this is where differentiation comes into effect for teachers.   
 
Daily Monitoring Guides Differentiation
Many veteran teachers like to say they, “just know,” who among their students are mastering content.  The truth is that our teachers need to collect or observe evidence from every student on a daily basis that is in alignment with the unit’s learning scale and daily target.  In a truly student-centered classroom, what matters most is student products; the proof is in the pudding.  Teachers can create daily monitoring sheets on which teachers can record which students demonstrate evidence of mastery at every level on a unit scale.  This provides teachers with documented data to differentiate instruction and move students in and out of groups or tasks fluidly based on students’ learning progression and mastery according to the unit scale.  Also, teachers can make use of one of our greatest assets in closing learning gaps – peer support.  Students who reach mastery of a unit’s learning goal earlier than most can become a peer mentor in guiding classmates to mastery.  This works to build a culture of learning where all students learn the social responsibility of helping ALL students to access the deepest levels of rigor.  In addition, research shows that when we can teach someone else something, we deepen our own level of mastery with the content.  So, students who support peers’ learning only deepen their own thinking in addition to developing leadership skills. 
 
Potential for Untracking Schools
One of the most powerful systems that many schools still adhere to is the tracking of students.  From the time students are in kindergarten, they often are tracked into “advanced,” or “on-level,” or “remedial,” classes.  In doing so, some schools place a label on students.  Students who are tracked into lower level pathways have a low statistical probability of working themselves out of the lower track and onto a higher track.  The result is often classrooms loaded with lower-expectancy students who become disenfranchised with the entire educational system, leading to disruptive behaviors and low self-esteem.  In a strategically differentiated classroom where students can progress through a unit somewhat at their own pace while taking ownership over their own and their peers’ learning, all students are provided access to the deepest levels of rigor.  All students are given what they need when they need it as they work to master learning targeted learning goals aligned to a taxonomy and state standards.  All students are immersed in a culture of learning and high expectations. 
 
Differentiated instruction doesn’t have to be just a phrase thrown around in meetings and textbooks.  Given a strategic system to support differentiation, all students can work to close learning gaps while also enriching learning for the highest performers. 
Building a Shared, Sustainable Instructional System Aligned to a School’s Vision
By David Krakoff, YMS Principal
July 29, 2020

Teacher of the Year Krista Stanley presents the YMS Walk-Through Tool to YMS faculty.

 

As is the case with every system on a school’s campus, for a system to gain buy-in and gain the momentum required to become sustainable, instructional systems need to be developed and grown collaboratively and in alignment with a school’s vision and mission.  Systems of instructional planning, delivery, and the instructional coaching must reflect a true, non-evaluative partnership between teachers and administration to result in instructional growth. 
In my current principalship at Yearling Middle School (YMS), one of the first actions I took in 2018 was to include input from all stakeholders in revising our school’s mission and vision statements.  After forming a vision/mission committee that included staff, parents, students, and community members and working through lengthy discussion and analysis of what we wanted Yearling to become, we settled on this for our vision statement:  “Yearling Middle School will prepare ALL students for success in college, career, and life.” 
To support pursuit of our vision, our committee developed a mission statement designed to describe our daily work to help evolve Yearling Middle School into a school that achieves our vision:  “Yearling Middle School will support ALL students’ academic and social emotional growth through student-centered, standards-aligned instruction, authentic and collaborative learning, differentiated instruction, and positive, supportive relationships.”  
When reflecting on our newly defined direction, our Guiding Coalition (GC), or our teacher leadership team, worked with our administration to identify key instructional elements that if uniformed across our campus would result in an arrival at our vision for YMS.  As a team, our GC worked with our administration to analyze evidence-based instructional elements that student data has shown to make the most positive impacts on student learning.  After agreeing on what we labeled as the four most vital elements to support our vision and mission, we designed a walk-thru tool that would serve as a non-evaluative mechanism with which to collect data from our classrooms and to provide teachers with actionable coaching feedback with the goal of unifying and growing our teachers’ instruction in a way that would guide YMS toward the goals in our vision and mission.  Before making it official, we shared the instrument with all teachers and welcomed feedback from any and all before our GC and administration made final revisions.  These are the four elements and descriptors on which we landed with the 1-5 continuum meaning that we want to move away from the description at level 1 and toward the characteristics described at level 5:
 
 
Conditions for Learning
The teacher spends the time disseminating information to students through direct instruction or lecture. All students receive the same instruction. Feedback is not specific to learning target and/or unit goals.
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2
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5
Teacher acts as facilitator, coaching students as they engage in active learning. High expectations are communicated. Instruction is differentiated based on individual student needs. Teacher provides feedback to students regarding their formative and summative progress as it relates to learning targets and/or unit goals. Progress is celebrated. Effective relationships are evident and teacher behaviors foster a sense of classroom community.
 
Authentic Learning
Students are involved in strictly academic endeavors (note taking, listening to lectures, etc.)
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5
Teacher devises authentic projects that features real-world context, tasks, tools, or impact - or speak to students' personal concerns, interests, and issues in their lives.
 
Standards-Based Instruction
The teacher covers content and moves at a pace to ensure all material is presented. A progression of standards-based learning targets are not evident. Students are not presented opportunities to give, receive, and use feedback to improve their learning process.
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5
Teachers use progression of standards-based learning targets (embedded within a performance scale) to identify critical content during the lesson. Teacher uses increasingly complex questions that require students to critically think about content. Teacher elicits evidence of student learning that is clearly aligned to standards. Students give, receive, and use feedback to improve their learning process and products. Students and teachers reflect on learning, the quality of student work, obstacles, and how to overcome them. Intervention is done for students not meeting standards.
 
Collaborative Learning
Students are only encouraged to work individually or the collaboration does not promote positive intradependence, equal participation, and individual accountability.
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5
Students working together to achieve a common goal. Students are responsible for their teamates' learning as well as their own; equal participation and individual accountability are present.
 
 
Time to Share the Work as a Team to Transform Instruction and Pursue the Instructional Vision
After elements of research-based, evidence-based instructional elements are agreed upon, it’s time to share the implementation and coaching.  Every element needs to be carefully modeled for teachers.  We used both discussion and reflections of how our teachers were implementing these elements with success and also held professional learning sessions in which our teachers watched video of one of our teachers’ lessons and analyzed and evaluated the lesson using our walk-thru tool.  This process leads to rich discussions and eventually contributes toward calibration of a common vision of effective instruction, based on our four elements of instruction. 
 
It is important to empower teachers in the walk-thru, data collection process.  This works to form the partnership between school leaders and classroom teachers rather than the more traditional system of administrators visiting classrooms to simply evaluate teachers.  Transforming instruction only happens when it is a shared labor of passion for ALL students and includes a collaborative commitment to growth. 
 
Using our walk-thru tool, we arranged coverage for teachers on our GC to visit classrooms and work on full calibration when using our walk-thru tool.  When moving forward, it is important to involve all teachers in this process.  Once use of the walk-thru tool is fully calibrated among all teachers, a schedule can be created that ensures that all teachers are visited at least twice per week.  This achieves two critical feats: campus-wide data in terms of mastery of our four most critical instructional elements becomes robust and highly meaningful and all teachers are provided consistent feedback and coaching to drive improved instruction.  This process needs to remain non-evaluative as this is 100% about instructional growth. 
 
Differentiated Professional Development
Using the plentiful data collected from every teacher’s classroom, school leaders can treat teachers equitably, giving every teacher what they need rather than all receiving the same support.  We use our walk-thru data collected from our twice-per-week classrooms visits to create small-group professional development for our teachers.  When we notice that the data suggest that a particular teacher consistently scores among the highest on our staff in a specific element on our walk-thru tool, such as standards-based instruction or collaborative learning, we ask that master teacher to lead a small-group lesson to further model implementation of that element to a handful of teachers who need or simply desire support in that element.  This leads to a collective responsibility to guide ALL teachers to mastery of our instructional elements and fosters a culture of learning among our staff. 
 
Shared Work Results in Sustainability
I have noticed a number of highly successful principals in my 22 years in public education.  The successful ones all seem to share common characteristics of being strategic thinkers and planners, data-driven, student-centered, and passionate about guiding all students to success.  I’ve also noticed that some schools decline when a successful leader retires or leaves his/her position. 
 
To combat this scenario, it becomes essential to build systems to support a school’s vision that are shared.  Leadership capacity must be built across a campus.  A school’s long-term success can’t be about one or a small group of leaders; it must be a collective effort so that there is leadership capacity enough to endure loss of any individuals.  Sustainable success is dependent on an administration’s ability to cultivate other leaders and to involve many in the work that aligns all of a school’s systems to its vision and mission.  When it comes to a school’s instructional system, sustainability is key to long-term permanent service to a school’s students and community.  To make this work, principals must build leadership capacity in as many as possible so that his/her good work is built to last. 
Embedding Collaborative Learning Teams to Build a Culture of Professional Learning on School Campuses
By Mr. David Krakoff, YMS Principal
July 28, 2020
Yearling Middle School math teachers participate in Collaborative Learning Team
One of the most common barriers to teachers embracing professional development is when teachers believe a school’s professional learning system is isolated. This occurs when professional development is provided on an in-service or early release day without monitoring for implementation and instructional coaching to foster teachers’ mastery of skills and knowledge presented in the professional development session. It happens when a school’s professional learning system is not teacher-centered, teacher-led, and not embedded in a school’s daily work. Enter collaborative learning teams (CLTs).
According to research conducted by the National Institute for School Leadership (NISL) and the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), the highest performing school systems in the United States and world share the common thread of teacher-led professional development systems in which teachers are empowered to develop into experts of their content and evidence-based pedagogy. John Hattie, one of the most universally respected educational researchers, found that, “teacher collective efficacy,” has one of the strongest effects on positively increasing student achievement. During CLTs, teachers can work in grade-level or subject-area teams to align instructional planning, analyze student products that exhibit standards mastery, create assessments aligned to the depth required of the standard, evaluate student data collected from a deliberate monitoring process, and differentiate instruction to ensure equity for all students. CLTs provide the foundation and platform for teachers to grow as professionals while forming a team with colleagues across a school’s campus.
CLTs revolve around a cycle of work that includes:
1) Identification of target standards, unwrapping of standards, and development of a unit scale based on a taxonomy of thinking. For example, Marzano’s taxonomy provides a learning progression that guides students from the lower levels of knowledge retrieval and comprehension into the deeper levels of analytical thinking and finally knowledge utilization.
2) Strategic unit development around target standards, daily monitoring and formative assessment questions, and plans for intervention and enrichment. A key here is to develop unit plans that strategically account for a learning progression anchored around a taxonomy of thinking. This structure provides for opportunities to differentiate instruction throughout a unit based on daily monitoring of student progression according to the unit scale. The traditional methodology of teachers writing daily lesson plans has become counter-productive as we ask teachers to track student progress daily and to allow that data to guide our instruction moving forward.
3) Development of Common Formative Assessments (CFAs), analysis of CFA data and creation of interventions and enrichments accordingly.
In creating a CLT system, schools’ teachers form a strong professional bond as a team while becoming experts on all CLT elements which allows for tremendous professional growth. Teachers run the process and collaborate as a team that assumes ownership for ALL students’ learning progression and mastery of standards. In a collaborative learning team system, teachers work together to truly master the depths called for by standards and to build a system that allows for differentiated instruction to support ALL students’ pursuit of mastery of standards.
Logistics
To be effective, CLTs need to be held 3-5 scheduled times per week. Research actually shows that for any Professional Learning Community, the work needs to be embedded and valued as part of a school’s daily commitments. Time needs to be set aside to prioritize the critical CLT work. Ideally, all teachers meet in a single, centralized work area so that administrators and instructional coaches can visit a school’s CLTs to provide support as teachers work in the CLT cycle. Administrators and coaches should not take CLT time for “meeting” items or hi-jack CLT sessions. This is the teachers’ time to collaborate and complete work in the CLT cycle, thereby deepening their mastery of content included in their CLT cycle. This is a time for teacher-centered, teacher-led professional learning and should be protected as the vital system it needs to be.
Introducing Crafted Course of Study when Student Data says it’s Needed
In addition to the routine CLT cycle of work, teachers should consistently analyze formative and summative data from their students. When student proficiency rates and trends in student growth rates form concerning trends, it’s time for a “Crafted Course of Study,” a system that Boston Public Schools mastered and took from the NCEE’s research on our world’s top performing school systems.
In a “Crafterd Course of Study,” CLTs identify a specific strand of data that reflects a negative trend. Then, the CLT researches schools across the country and/or world that have similar demographics to its own but significantly outperforms its school in that particular strand of student data. The CLT investigates what higher-performing schools do differently as well as successful evidence-based practices in terms of instruction with regard to skills and knowledge in that strand of data. Then, the CLT creates a plan to implement the evidence and research-based instructional strategies with the goal of increasing student proficiency in the targeted strand. The CLT then schedules times over a several-week period to take turns serving as the “demonstration teacher,” as their CLT teammates, the school’s instructional coaches, and the school’s administration visits each classroom and observes each teacher taking his/her turn at modeling the implementation of the chosen strategy. After observing the demonstration teacher’s implementation, the observing team should quickly sit down with the teacher to reflect on how the teacher used the targeted strategy and to provide actionable feedback to help the demonstration continue to grow in his/her application of the strategy. These debrief sessions also help other members of the CLT to grow as they learn from their teammates.
Ultimately, the CLT needs to monitor the impact that the strategy has on student outcomes. The CLT needs to create common formative assessments as well as use summative assessments to monitor students’ levels of mastery with the targeted standard or strand and make adjustments as dictated by the data. Once the implementation is refined and delivers the desired effect on student learning, the CLT works to create a plan of sustainability to make the strategy a permanent part of their work as well as a plan to share with teachers across the campus who could benefit from the CLT’s findings and plan for sustainability. The CLT becomes an internal source of evidence-based expertise from which a school’s entire staff can learn and emulate.
Monitoring and Actionable Feedback to Facilitate Metacognition
For a school’s administrative team, instructional coaches, and members of a guiding coalition of teachers who compose the school’s instructional leadership team, it is critical to monitor artifacts submitted by CLTs. Just as is the case with student monitoring and providing feedback to students, we all learn from this same process. Teachers need feedback and most importantly actionable feedback to continue growth and to revise thinking. A school’s instructional leaders must routinely review and provide feedback to all CLTs to ensure the CLT process is being completed with fidelity and ultimately results in teachers’ professional growth and increases in students’ mastery of standards.

“Equity Matters at Yearling Middle School and in the World”

From David Krakoff, Principal

June 2020

Equity.  It’s the core of our belief system at Yearling Middle School.  We live by the idea that ALL Yearling students deserve access to the learning that will set them ALL on the path toward success in college and/or career and in life.

Every single student who attends our Title 1, highly diverse school matters and we consider it our moral and ethical obligation to serve every one of our students.  It’s one thing to talk about equity being important in schools.  But it’s another thing to take action and build systems that result in academic, social, and cultural equity for all.  And all must really mean ALL.

I’m excited to share two “next steps” for us at Yearling in our commitment to equity.  Two steps that were designed on data and evidence-based practices by our Yearling Middle School leadership team. 

Step 1 – This new system involves a deep commitment to developing cultural competency on our campus.  We already laid the groundwork for a cultural competency committee to drive this work last winter and are now ready to take this work deeper.  We are currently forming a cultural competency committee for 2020-2021 that will involve students, staff, and parents.  This committee’s task will involve analyzing Yearling data and research to define cultural competency at our school, to generate an evidence- based plan to educate all YMS staff and students on cultural competency, to train all of our students and teachers on cultural competency, and to monitor the implementation and effectiveness of our cultural competency system.  All means ALL socially and culturally as we work to build a culturally responsive and equitable learning environment in which all feel welcome, understood, and appreciated.

Step 2 – We have committed to untracking and eliminating the labeling and therefore limiting of our students.  Based on research from the National Institute for School Leadership, the National Center on Education and the Economy, and AVID, our Yearling leadership team has committed to a three-year plan to systemically and nearly entirely “untrack” our school.  We know from many years of research that when we track students, we can systematically limit their future, particularly our minority and low expectancy students.  We want ALL  students to leave our school with an equitable opportunity for long-term success. 

This process will be strategic and gradual.  We decided to untrack one grade at a time so that our leadership team can provide the coaching and support needed to help our staff to master the system required to succeed in guiding heterogeneous classrooms.  So, in 2020-2021, our sixth grade classrooms, with the exception of our gifted program and a couple other exceptions, will include balanced class rosters composed of students of varying races, ethnicities, genders, and historical achievement levels. To support this effort, our sixth grade teachers will work to perfect our learning scale system that we already have in place to guide every unit of study.  Within our learning scales for every unit, all students will be challenged to produce work that reflects mastery on every level of the unit scale, moving from the lowest levels to the deepest levels of analysis and application.  We will have a focus on project-based learning as the catalyst to push all students to application of knowledge.  This model of scaled mastery in every unit provides the opportunity  to differentiate our instruction based on students’ needs, to close learning gaps, to offer equitable access to the deepest levels of learning, for students to grow from collaborative learning with all students, while also offering the enrichment needed to push students who reach mastery sooner than others.  All means ALL academically as we work to raise expectations and opportunities for ALL students.

Our growth continues to evolve at Yearling Middle School, and these next steps will help us to develop and strengthen systems that will support our commitment to ALL of our students.  Equity matters at Yearling Middle School and in the world.  

Building Successful Teams

By Mr. David Krakoff, YMS Principal

YMS teachers began working in their Collaborative Learning Teams (CLTs) this week, starting the process of teacher-centered professional development.  According to research conducted by the National Institue for School Leadership over the past 20 years, the highest performing school systems in the United States and world share the common thread of teacher-led professional development systems that align instructional planning, standards mastery, student assessment, and differentiated instruction to ensure equity for all students.  At YMS, our CLTs provide that foundation and platform for our teachers to grow as professionals while forming a team with colleagues across our campus.  

In only their second year of existence at YMS, our CLTs revolved around a cycle of work that includes:

1)  Identification of target standards, unwrapping of standards, and development of a unit scale based on Marzano's taxonomy.

2) Strategic unit development around target standards, daily monitoring and formative assessment questions, and plans for intervention and enrichment. 

3) Develpoment of Common Formative Assessments (CFAs), analysis of CFA data and creation of interventions and enrichments accordingly.  

By working through this process, our goal is for our teachers to form a strong professional bond as a team while all teachers become experts on all CLT elements which allows for tremendous professional growth among all of our teachers. 

Messages from Our Administration

It All Begins with Commitment to Equity and the Core Belief that All Students Can!
By David Krakoff, YMS Principal

 

All means ALL.  Every Student, every period, every day…

Those were the words that Dr. Juan Baughn, one of my facilitators and mentors, repeated during every day of our National Institute for School Leadership’s (NISL) sessions when I participated in NISL’s executive development program for school leaders in 2015 and 2016.    Dr. Baughn, a former special assistant to the Pennsylvania secretary of education and current superintendent in Philadelphia, knows a thing or two about what’s lacked in America’s public school system over the past half century.  As one of the most respected facilitators of growth for our nation’s principals, Dr. Baughn knows all about the research on how people learn.  The research detailing the systems built and aligned by the highest performing school systems on the planet.  He taught me a lot about strategic thinking and analyzing the benefits and risks associated with every decision I make.  But his most powerful lesson?  That all means ALL.

 

Fairness in education does not mean giving the same treatment or opportunities to every student.  The best educators have a way of guiding every student to successful ends by assessing every individual student’s needs and focusing on giving every student what they in fact need.  Our most effective teachers customize and differentiate their instruction to guide EVERY student toward a path leading to successful experiences in college and/or career as well as in life.  Above all, we all must believe that EVERY student can learn and succeed given constant encouragement and commit to never giving up on ANY one student.  We must work to determine what every student needs so that we can customize their plan to travel a path toward college and/or career.  With total compassion and the acceptance that we are here to serve every student, we must give every student a clean slate after every mistake.  We have to be the ones who pick them off the floor and dust them off after a bad day.  Our belief in every one of our students must be relentless in that we work tirelessly to serve every single one of our students no matter how challenging and always with a positive approach and unyielding confidence. 

 

When we approach our students in this way, the result will become equity.  That’s when it becomes fair – when we focus on giving single student what he or she needs without exception.  Our actions needs to support the premise that every staff member firmly believes that every student can and will succeed while a student at our school. 

 

For generations, many of our nation’s schools have tried to make one size fit all while accepting that those students who struggled to fit into the mold would simply fall behind.  As students moved through our nation’s school districts, many simply accepted the expectation that struggling student’s learning gaps would naturally widen and in essence we fostered somewhat of a class system to develop across our schools.  The haves and the have nots.  It is time that we differentiate our approach so that every student has an equitable opportunity to flourish.  It starts with a deep conviction to the belief that every student can!

All should actually mean ALL.  Every student, every period, every day. 

fair is not always equal poster

Learning is Up ALL Across YMS!

By David Krakoff, YMS Principal

Yearling Middle School's students and staff worked hard to adjust to our new administration and changes in our approach to instruction and learning during the 2018-19 school year. That hard work and that transition paid off.

YMS students increased their proficiency rates ALL across the curriclulum in 2018-19 when compared to 2017-18, producing improved test scores in all four core subject areas. In addition, triple the number of YMS students tested proficient in high school credit math courses when compared to 2017-18.

Here is a breakdown of our incredible gains from 2017-18 to 2018-19:

1) Our acceleration score earned based on successfully guiding students who should be eligible to master a high school credit math course into the course and testing proficient increased by 14%, moving from 58% to 72%.

2) Civics scores increased by 9% from 42% profiency to 51%.

3) Math increased by 5%, moving from 53% to 58%.

4) Science increased by 2%, moving from 34% to 36%.

5) English Language Arts scores increased by 1% from 39% to 40%.

6) Five out of our six math and ELA Colloborative Learning Teams guided students to improved profiency rates, with 8th grade ELA being the only team that regressed, sliding from 41% to 36%. Our sixth grade teams showed the largest growth as ELA gained 10% from the prior year and math improved by 4%.

We still await the state's publication of student growth rates and school grades. Growth rates will greatly impact our overall school grade.

To give additional perpsective, YMS earned a C last year, falling 46 points short of a B in 2017-18. Prior to adding student growth rates, we have earned 31 more points in the categories of proficiency and acceleration. In the state's middle school grading system, a school must earn at least 54% of the 900 total points available to earn a B, meaning that a school must earn at least 486 points. In 2017-18, YMS earned 442 points.

We will keep you updated as student growth rates are added to the data, but our students, staff, and families should all pause to smile about the increasing student achievement taking place at YMS. These results are only the beginning of our work together as we believe that EVERY one of our students' possibilities are limitless!

Yearling Middle School Looks to Build on Momentum with More Forward Thinking, Forward Moving in 2019-2020

By David Krakoff, YMS Principal
and Jerrime Shells, YMS Assistant Principal

We reflect on our accomplishments and advancement during the 2018-2019 school year at Yearling Middle School with great pride. But our growth has only made us more passionate and excited about what’s ahead. 

Last year was a motivating step as our students improved their proficiency rates in all four core subject areas as well while more than doubling the number of students who took and tested in proficient in high-school credit math courses. Our students’ proficiency rate grew by 9% in Civics and by 5% in math, resulting in 58% of our students reaching proficient status in our math courses. Our math department enjoyed a banner year overall as 60% of our students improved test scores enough from 2017-18 to qualify for growth according to the Florida Department of Education’s scale and 58% of our lowest quartile improved their scores enough to show state-defined growth. Our sixth grade team facilitated significant overall improvements in terms of proficiency rates with gains of 10% in English Language Arts and 4% in math. 

Looking back will help us to move forward. Last year, we introduced Collaborative Learning Teams to our staff, which served as a system that supported our teachers’ work with intentionally planning to deepen levels of learning for all students. Our teachers became strategic in guiding students to the deepest levels of a taxonomy of thinking while planning to differentiate instruction based on how students progressed in a unit of study. Our staff also focused our instructional model around four primary categories, including: Conditions for Learning, Standards-Aligned Instruction, Authentic Learning, and Collaborative Learning. As our improving data suggests, we will continue with this valuable work in 2019-2020. 

We will also expand our initiatives to include a campus-wide commitment to AVID strategies with the idea that all students can benefit from organizational strategies, exposure to more rigorous curriculum, and a crystal clear belief system among staff and students and ALL students’ possibilities truly are limitless. In addition, we will emphasize reading and writing strategies as we have identified those skills as essential to our continued growth across our curriculum. 

We look back with pride about 2018-2019. As we look ahead to 2019-2020, we are committed to growth so that we take another step toward achieving the revised vision for YMS that was created by a combination of all stakeholders last spring that states, “Yearling Middle School will prepare ALL students for success in college, career, and life.” We thank you for the privilege of serving our students, families, and community, and hope we have earned your trust and continue to earn more as we work to guide all students to paths that will lead to success as adults.