On April 8th and 9th we, +Joanna Antoniou +Mary Howard +Corey McKinney +Jeannette Torres-Gomez, +Shirley Romero, had the pleasure of visiting six middle and high schools in Henrico county Virginia. Although many of these schools differed from our own demographically, we shared some common themes and values which made the visit worthwhile. Each of these schools served to provide us with lessons on the big picture as well as the mundane day-to-day procedures involved with implementing a 1:1.
During the first day, we visited two schools where the culture differed drastically from our own. In both, Walton Middle School and Albemarle High School, students were lounging in the halls and working on the floors. In this relaxed environment, students were engaged in rigorous work. Students worked collaboratively on a wide range of projects from the more familiar peer editing online to interdisciplinary projects that married curriculum which fostered student centered learning. The end product of many groups of students was the creation of an electric guitar built by students working in pairs.
Albemarle High School combines Math and Science into three hour blocks. Although technology is vital in these rooms, it does not drive the instruction. It is a tool that facilitates the learning. Since they wish to create lifelong learners, students are engaged in inquiry-analysis and reflection. Projects are challenging and scaffolded. Instruction is provided as necessary but much of the learning is student directed using resources online and those provided by the teacher. Differentiation occurs naturally since students are dictating the pace of their own learning
Just as teachers train teachers, students work with other students to tutor and mentor prior to school. Learners, both students and teachers, need to feel like they’re constantly growing. Students have led professional development and worked with teachers. Teachers use self evaluation rubrics that drive discussion. “Reflective friends” provide peer evaluation that serves to promote professional growth without reprisal. On our second day, the principal of Glen Allen HS said, “ I have rock-star teachers. They love PD. I'm surrounded by the greatest teachers and they make me look good. As such, they’re unfazed by visitors.”
The common thread among all the schools was the importance of creating a school culture where lifelong learning is paramount and distributed leadership is crucial. For all, the first year was difficult but now all stakeholders share the same instructional goals and language. Some classes are even team-taught to help struggling teachers form a foundation to understand what good teaching looks like. This does not occur in an evaluative manner. Teachers see this model as supportive rather than punitive. An incredible mutual admiration society exists among colleagues and administrators alike.