Of course one of my other favorite pastimes is visiting classrooms across our district and witnessing the amazing learning going on inside. In fact there are similarities between the artistry at work in our schools and that taking place in the Chopped kitchen. Every day our teachers are taking common ingredients, applying their professional skill and creativity, and developing learners who are prepared for the future. As the district moves forward with Believe to Achieve, I thought it might be helpful to outline how the initiatives that are ongoing now in the district work together to mirror the elements at work in Chopped, minus the whole tragic elimination thing…
What’s in Our Basket?
Chopped only works because at the beginning of each round every contestant receives the exact same ingredients with which to work. Likewise in 21st Century schools, all educators are obligated to work within the framework of standards to ensure that every student has the knowledge and skills to succeed. Within the standards ‘basket’ from which all educators work, there are three specific ingredients that Fort Osage teachers must consider in their ‘cooking’.
Standards-Based Grading and Reporting: While the transition to the new gradebook has certainly presented challenges for teachers this fall (kind of like the bony fish on Chopped…) our district practice of recording grades aligned to standards and reporting standards performance to parents is a cornerstone of our district culture. The switch to the eSchool gradebook and assessment system has not gone as smoothly as anyone would like, but since Pinnacle eliminated the product we’ve used for many years we had no choice but to change. While the switch has been rocky in some ways, we are confident that the system will be fully functional in the near future. At the end of the day our grading ‘ingredient’ ensures that teachers have a better grasp on the standards you’re teaching, and our students and parents have a clear understanding of strengths and challenges.
Scoring Scales: The latest improvement to our standards-based system are the scoring scales being rolled out this year for core areas and developed for electives. The scales serve several important roles in our ‘dish’ including more specific descriptions of the skills needed to master the standards, an effective communication tool to use with parents and students, and a clearer explanation of the 4-3-2-1 ‘grading’ scale than our current percentage conversion chart. As we work to meet the rigorous expectations outlined in the Missouri Learning Standards, teachers and students will both benefit from unpacking the standards into scoring scales because it helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding expectations and the knowledge and skills needed to succeed.
State Assessments: Of course another element in our basket, that’s also in the baskets of every district in the nation, is the state assessment system to which we are all accountable. While our ultimate goal is always to effectively educate our students, we can’t deny the importance of these assessments to our accreditation and therefore our viability as an institution. As the assessments evolve along with the standards in Missouri, we will need to pay close attention to this ‘ingredient’ to ensure that our dish effectively integrates it to best prepare our students for success.
What Are Our Chefs’ Tools of the Trade?
If Fort Osage educators are the chefs facing the baskets described above, we are fortunate to have not only expertise, creativity and shared experience, but a number of important tools that each teacher uses to make the most of the ingredients. On Chopped, every chef uses kitchen tools like knives, bowls and food processors. The contestants also use appliances, especially the stove and oven, to develop their culinary creations. Finally, as host Ted Allen points out in every episode, the chefs have access to the show’s pantry and refrigerator, from which they can add a wide variety of other ingredients to their dishes. We have comparable resources in Fort Osage, and our teachers use them daily to achieve the best outcomes for students.
Technology: Rather than knives and food processors, Fort Osage teachers work with technology to make the most of their ingredients. Through both teacher and student use of Chromebooks, Smartboards and other resources, educators are able to transform learning experiences for students. Whether it’s accessing and sharing information through Google Classroom, assigning research to broaden students’ understanding of the subject, or using a wide variety of internet resources and tools, there is no question that technology allows us to personalize learning to a greater extent than ever. Just as with the professional chef, as teachers become more comfortable and proficient with technology, the variety and quality of results will continue to improve.
Student Support System: While this ‘appliance’ is utilized differently by teachers and schools throughout the district, another critical resource that every educator has access to is a system to support struggling students and to enrich those with more advanced skills. Just as a chef may need to ‘turn the heat up’ to get the most flavor from a particular ingredient, our student support system provides ways for teachers to collectively provide additional support for students at risk of falling behind. An important feature of this tool is that while it may be used differently at different times, the goal is always to achieve a high level of performance in the end, not merely to keep students from falling further behind. As with the other resources described in this section, the skilled educator learns over time how to use the support system in more effective and sophisticated ways to best meet the needs of each student he/she serves.
Effective Instruction: The most important resource for the chefs on Chopped is all the other ingredients available for their use. How else to make goat brains or sea cucumbers tasty but to mix them carefully with more appetizing accompaniments? As the chefs on Chopped use their experience and creativity to choose the best ingredients to use for each dish, our teachers choose the instructional strategies that will be most effective in helping every student to reach their learning goals. Even more than I love to watch others cook, I love to see what teachers in different classrooms do to bring their learning objectives to life and ensure mastery among their students. Teachers are masterful in their use of learning activities, assignments and feedback that increases understanding, and the expertise and effort that goes into choosing just the right ‘ingredients’ pays off in student learning in the end.
And What About the Judges?
While this extended metaphor falls completely apart in the end because it’s never our goal ‘to chop’ either teachers our students in our district, we can still extend it as far as the feedback provided by the judges on the show. Before the big reveal at the end of each round, the judges provide effective, specific feedback to each contestant about the strengths and weaknesses of the dish they’ve prepared. While administrators and colleagues sometimes provide such information to teachers, the better source of effective feedback over time is the data teams process being employed throughout the district. Through teachers’ collective
examination of their student data over time, as well as their collaborative effort to identify the strategies most likely to improve student learning, data teams allow teams of teachers to evaluate their own ‘dishes’ and to improve their outcomes significantly over time. Just as students grow significantly through feedback from their teachers, teachers themselves improve when they collectively and honestly evaluate the current reality of their students’ success and take deliberate and thoughtful steps to improve. This is the purpose of the data teams process.
While it sometimes seems as though there are too many initiatives to be effectively maintained, each element described above is part of a coherent whole that helps our district to maximize student achievement. Teaching is a complicated task and it isn’t for the faint of heart, but one significant advantage of teachers in Fort Osage is that we can always rely on each other to support us and help us improve. Rather than competing against the chef at the next station, Fort Osage educators are working together to ensure the very best opportunities and outcomes for each of our students.