After working in Oklahoma City Public Schools for two years, we interviewed teachers, administrators and community members about their work with The Learner First. This is part one of our interview with Heidi Tuers-Jackson, an elementary school librarian. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
I wanted to ask you a few questions to get you talking about your experience with The Learner First, and working on a change team. How has it impacted your work?
First of all, it has been a very positive experience. I think it helped open up lines of communication, and it has given us ways to ask and answer questions that we wanted to before, but didn’t quite know how to. Does that make sense?
I’ve been here since the school opened up. Before we even opened up, we came to school and created collective commitment. We created our mission, and kind of dreamed about what we wanted the school to look like, to sound like. You know, all of that.
One of the things that we all said from the very get go is that we wanted to treat every child as if they were our child. We wanted them to get the education that we would want for our own child. We always talked about how every single child was each of ours. If that makes sense?
They didn’t belong to one classroom teacher. They didn’t belong to this person or that person. Everybody was all of ours. I think we lived by that philosophy.
What The Learner First really allowed us to do, between the rubrics and the things we did because of the rubrics, is that it really started conversations and processes where we really did treat the students as every single one of ours. In other words, we were talking with one another about what was going on with individual kids, and really kind of working together rather than, you know, ok this is going on in homeroom so this teacher is treating it this way, this teacher is treating it this way, this teacher is seeing this, but this other teacher doesn’t know it. I mean, it really opens up that communication.
We started doing vertical team meetings, and that included not only the classroom teachers, but related arts teachers, and of course if you’ve ever worked in a school you know that the related arts teachers is a whole other ballgame. When kids come to the related arts, sometimes they connect with something that really speaks to them where they might not in a regular classroom, and vice versa.
So, the related arts team sees a whole other student that maybe the classroom teacher would. It really opens up a lot where we really get to know individual kids and got to see patterns. Patterns not only with individual kids, but within families. Like, oh wait a minute this is going on with brothers and sisters. Or, oh wait a minute, they all live in the same house. And, oh wait a minute we are seeing these same behaviors from all them. It is really helping us get to some of the root causes of what was going on with students.
So, what Learner First really allowed us to do… and it’s not that we didn’t want to do, it’s a place we were always trying to get to, but we really struggled with how to get there. Because, you know when you have 28 to 30 odd some students in your classroom things just start to get overwhelming. What Learner First did, is that it put us within a structure. It gave us the rubrics to look at, talk about, and sum up with certain ways to address things and processes to go through in order to get where we want to go. And, continuing to look at that rubric at year two, is helping us to move along.
We can look and say here is where we have grown. We are doing better at this. We are doing better with this. What is our next step? How are we going to create, Parents as Partners and that type of thing.
I emailed the staff, because I told them that I would be speaking with you today. One of the teachers emailed me last night. She said that there was a student that was not succeeding in class because there is a constant… There is something going on behaviorally, constantly. Before The Learner First, she wouldn’t have been as comfortable to do this. What she did is, between two or three other adults in this building that also either have siblings or interact with this particular student, she was able to sit down with all of them and together as a team they were able to figure out something… and really talk to the parents and find out what was going on.
They found out something that was happening, that number one the parents didn’t even realize it. Because they were able to have that team approach and then talk to the parents and with the parents figure out what was happening, the student who has now gone from being red on all of our indications to now in the green where he is either on track or exceeding where he is supposed to be. She said that if we had not been using The Learner First framework, that never would have happened. Because she wouldn’t have felt comfortable enough to go to other people to discuss it or ask for help.
So, The Learner First has really done some great things for us, for our students, our staff, our families, because it really has helped us focus in on what it is that we need to do and given us the framework within which to do it so that we can improve this year, but keep improving.
Is there any process, or part of the process, or anything you have encountered in the work with The Learner First that you thought was a little strange, could be explained better, or improved upon?
Well, I remember when we first started, and this was last year you know when it was all new, all of us were a little skeptical because our district seems to hop from thing to thing. So we were like, “um hum”… “yeah”. (laughter) “Whatever you say. What do you want us to do?” You know, that kind of thing.
I think at the beginning, everybody was like, “Wait a minute, you only want me to focus on five students? Or have like three to five focal students? What? I have 30-some of them, what am I going to….”
But, I think what we have discovered, that all of those strategies and all we are doing to bolster those three to five, for the most part, works with the rest of the kids. And, I think one of the things also that everyone was freaked out about at first was, “the only morally acceptable expectation is 100% success.” Everyone was kind of freaked out by that, because they are like, “oh my gosh, I’ve got this kid that’s already behind.”
I think what The Learner First has helped us see is that we are pushing to accelerate so that we can get to that 100%. I think that may be something that might help in the explanation or… but I think people discover this just on their own. You may catch that kid up just a little bit, or you may accelerate them, the idea is that, that’s what you are pushing for that every student get to where they need to be.
It may not happen this year, but because you’ve pushed them and you have accelerated them this far, now next year’s teacher doesn’t have that big of a gap to fill and they can push them even further. In that way, they are going to get to that 100%. If everybody keeps that push.
Does that make sense? I think that is what a lot of people were like, “How are we going to get to 100% when we are already this far behind?” But, we need to know that we are still going to expect it, and we are still going to do everything in our power to get there.
More to come. Stay tuned for part two!