Last week I visited Biddeford Middle School as well as elementary schools in MSAD 54, where administrators and teachers are taking hands-on, customized learning to the next level with math labs, academic coaches and workshop-model classrooms.
These districts were the last stops on my Promising Practices Tour, which has taken me to all nine superintendent regions to see innovative practices schools are implementing that show promise and support the Maine DOE’s vision of an evolving education system.
While touring Biddeford Middle School, I was struck by the school’s highly effective use of a full-time math coach. Students attend Coach Heidi Miller’s math lab once a month with their core math teachers, receiving dual instruction as they solve experiential problems. When I stopped by, kids were enthusiastically working in small groups to measure the rebound of a bouncy ball, clearly benefitting from the engagement of applied learning. I also found value in unifying professional development for core math teachers: they can align their own hands-on instructional styles to Ms. Miller’s, offering consistency to students.
Canaan and Bloomfield Elementary Schools in MSAD 54 have a similar “coaching” system in place. With the aid of a School Improvement Grant, every elementary school in the district has an academic coach whose primary charge is to provide ongoing professional development for teachers in various content areas. Academic Coach Heidi Goodwin says getting kids invested in their schoolwork is half her battle. She finds that the structured workshop model– in which students rotate between working independently, using computers to learn and studying with the teacher in small groups – enables teachers to appeal to the learning styles of every student. Throughout this tour, I’ve consistently seen that giving kids more control over their learning increases engagement—and thus proficiency and progress.
Principal Steve Swindells credits Canaan’s student proficiency growth to the emphasis teachers have placed on literacy at the kindergarten and first-grade levels. MSAD 54, like many districts, uses data to guide the schools’ individual transformations. When high school data revealed a gap in reading, Superintendent Brent Colbry and other district leaders made improvements by working backward, all the way down to the PreK programs.
Canaan Elementary has been on this transformative journey for a good 10 years, meaning they haven’t done anything dramatic overnight. Just like all schools I’ve visited, Canaan is taking the time to plan and adjust to see what works and meets their students’ needs.