Notes from Winter Meeting:
Each winter, educators who are a part of the School Reform Initiative (SRI) convene to, “create transformational learning communities fiercely committed to educational equity and excellence.” While my interest and connection to this organization spans many years, this winter was my first experience at the Winter Meeting held in Atlanta, Georgia. With financial support from the Parker Middle School PTO, Taylor Pelletier and I traveled on Wednesday evening from Boston to Atlanta to work with small groups of teachers, administrators and higher education faculty to look at our practice as educators and delve into the dilemmas that are faced and used to effect positive change in schools.
Protocols are the structural basis for the activities at Winter Meeting. Protocols are tools used by schools and educators to structure conversations in order to engage most meaningfully on complex issues. Using these protocols we aim to increase collaboration, reflection and analysis of student data. This work as professionals solidified the concept that for children to learn well, the adults working with them must be learning as well. SRI models the concept that professional learning may not always be formal like a college course, but it must be collaborative and set within the context of students’ work and educators’ practice.
The culmination of the weekend was a viewing of the recently released film, Louder than a Bomb. This documentary chronicled the writing lives of four teenagers participating in a poetry contest called a slam in Chicago. For the group assembled at Winter Meeting, the take-away from this film and the discussion led by one of the poets, was that students’ voices must be present in their work and life at school. These four young people created powerful pieces that reflected the lives they were living. None of the writing they did was assigned through a class but was often cultivated through supportive coaching relationships with teachers and family members.
How does all of this connect to our work here at Parker? The intersections were many. As you may know, on early release days as well as during daily meeting time, teachers use protocols from SRI to examine student work, data and assignments. Many teachers in the building are part of a structure called a Critical Friends Group, which is a collection of professionals that come together to improve teaching and learning through looking at student work. In addition, teachers modify protocols to use with students to include their voices and opinions in the work they are completing. Most of all, use of protocols from the School Reform Initiative helps to provide the basis for a rich professional learning community.