The call came late one afternoon, just as I was returning from a family vacation. I turned on my phone and noticed a voice mail as well as an email from my principal. As I listened to the sound of her voice, I knew right away that the hard work had paid off. Our students had made gains in all areas, but especially in writing! It certainly was cause for celebration, but with the improvement came more questions – What did we do differently this year than in past years? What factors could we identify as contributing to the gains? How might we continue to build on our success?
For the moment, let’s just consider the writing since that was the area where we saw the most growth. I truly believe that one of the biggest factors in our success was the high expectations the teachers set for their students. They approached the teaching of writing with a sense of urgency that I had not seen before. We worked as a team to identify strengths as well as the greatest areas of need. We sought the advice of outside professionals, incorporated useful professional development whenever possible, engaged in team teaching and collaboration, and held conversations centered on change. But mostly, we all held fast to the expectation that our students could and would grow as writers. And, I believe, that sense of urgency and high expectations filtered into other areas as well.
There are many opinions about the value of and emphasis put on state testing. While I feel we need to keep these tests in perspective and continue to consider students rather than just scores, these tests can provide a way into thinking about our practice and how to improve it.
Yes, we are celebrating, but we know we have more work to do as we continue to refine our teaching practices.