Last August, we started a new adventure partnering with School 33, a pre primary-eighth grade public school in Buffalo, NY. We wrote about our first work with them last September. Since then, Ashley has traveled monthly to Buffalo and also coached teachers and administration via Skype meetings. Louise has accompanied Ashley on three of his trips. We just returned a few days ago from a two day session of professional development with all the teachers. Louise worked with the pre-primary-second grade teachers and Ashley with third-eighth grade teachers. What they are accomplishing is impressive. The teachers had very little background in project-based learning before we began working with them in August. They had practically no experience in collaboration, in designing high quality, engaging learning environments or in making students' learning visible.
Now, they are reading together (Ron Berger's Ethic of Excellence), engaged in change and action and reflection such that there is real momentum. They are tackling the most complex way of teaching and they have embraced it in varying degrees and they are all working hard. This is a school with large classes and much diversity. Their task is daunting. They are inspiring to us!
In order to achieve any level of fidelity with their goal, significant transformation in core beliefs has been ESSENTIAL…we've witnessed this sort of transformation with most of faculty in preprimary-5th. Some are reticent to change. I can’t do projects because I have to prepare these kids for the tests. It is our experience that inquiry based projects, when developed with intelligent connections to Common Core Standards and 21st century skills result in very successful test results…in most cases HIGHER achievement. It is also our experience that inquiry based projects, when developed with a keen sense of students passions and interests, result in much higher student functioning (far fewer behavior problems).
Our inspiration comes from those teachers who have changed their beliefs and have embraced these fundamental ideas.
- Real, lasting learning engages our whole self: mind, body, and emotions.
- Lasting learning results in authentic, high quality, meaningful work.
- As educators, our job is to design, organize, facilitate, and orchestrate the context and conditions for lasting learning.
- It is our job to follow, record, and compose an understanding of the lasting learning; and to assess and evaluate the students’ work and our own.
In Buffalo School 33, we have witnessed the following concrete manifestations of their changing beliefs:
- The classroom environments are cleaner, more organized, with materials more accessible to the children.
- The materials and provocations in the areas of the rooms and in the elementary investigations are more authentic, exciting, and generative.
- The teachers are following the students more mindfully...their observations are keen...they are taking time to reflect on the students' actions and inquiries.
- The teachers are composing documentation in one page journals, on blogs, and in large exhibitions in the hallways.
- The teachers are meeting together, in weekly and daily meetings. They are having lunch together and talking about projects!
- The students are engaged. Behavior problems are reduced. Wonderful connections are being made from three-year-olds on up.
If this can happen in a public school that was deemed two years ago as "failing," with a majority demographic of free and reduced lunch, single parent households, mostly English language learners...then it can happen anywhere.