A far cry from business as usual in Room 7

A far cry from business as usual in Room 7

Jennifer Thiede

Throughout the state of California, educators are searching for answers to the proverbial question, “With all we are doing, why aren’t our students meeting or exceeding state content standards?” Clearly, there are many talented teachers working diligently to ensure that we accomplish this mission. Perhaps the promise of demonstrating improvements in student performance begins with the notion of working smarter rather than harder by engaging students in their own learning.

Fostering world-class performance

There is something unique going on in my classroom: students are consistently and excitedly engaged in their own learning and demonstrate high levels of responsibility for accomplishing their educational goals. I have always been a visionary teacher. I’ve worked endlessly to promote student self-esteem and academic success and have shown solid student performance results over time.

These efforts to guide each child’s progress in meeting and exceeding California’s state standards, regardless of the diverse student needs evident in my classroom, have been significantly enhanced by purposefully and consistently applying the Malcolm Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence.

Many educators have been hesitant to entertain the concept that a business model designed to foster world-class performance could in fact be an equally powerful vehicle for promoting excellence within our system of public education, particularly at the classroom level.

I would like to strongly suggest that this model is precisely what we need to encourage students to be active participants in their own learning processes. Why? Because it works. This systemic approach surpasses any other methods I have used in my 19 years of classroom teaching. All of the key indicators of classroom and individual success that the students and I have established to track our progress, including academic, behavioral and social indicators, clearly show that we are on the right track.

For example, 100 percent of the 12 students that were reading below grade level in August met or exceeded grade level standards by February; All of the 20 third grade students in my classroom completed homework 100 percent of the time, irrespective of family background or socioeconomic standing. This data includes one student who had completed little or no homework since kindergarten.

In addition, data obtained from key stakeholders indicates high levels of satisfaction related to student self respect, self esteem and personal initiative, as well as promoting a positive classroom culture.

Integrating and aligning the Malcolm Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence with other existing successful classroom approaches has been a key driver in attaining breakthrough student performance results.

Let me share just a few of the successful strategies that have been initiated as a result of implementing an integrated classroom management system:

1. In order for students to share ownership for their learning, leadership must be truly shared. For example, all students participate in the development of a classroom mission statement. core values and classroom procedures.

2. Students are actively involved in strategic planning. For example, with my guidance, students set goals, actively pursue the attainment of those goals and monitor the results on a daily, monthly and annual basis, as appropriate. In addition, students interview next year’s teacher to discover the grade-level entry requirements and then use the information, along with state standards, in their personal goal setting.

3. Students are viewed as key stakeholders within our classroom system. As such, their opinions and feedback are regularly solicited and used to guide instruction. For example, exit interviews with students help flame instructional revisions used when planning for the new year.

4. Data is regularly gathered to inform our practices and to guide our goal setting. For example, different types of graphs are posted in the classroom to show overall classroom success and areas of need. Individually, students keep personal data portfolios to track their established personal learning goals.

5. All students celebrate class success as well as individual success. For example, achievement journals and reflection logs are kept by each student and certificates are presented to students during regularly scheduled homework celebrations.

6. Using a Plan-Do-Study-Act model for continuous improvement, we regularly monitor student performance results and other indicators of classroom effectiveness. Students are involved in every aspect of the PDSA continuous improvement process, whether we are conducting science experiments or mastering math facts. Quite frankly, the PDSA continuous improvement process has become the way we do business in Room #7.

The product of working in this way with students has resulted in a classroom culture where the question. “Why are we learning this?” is rarely asked. Classroom behavioral issues have virtually disappeared and students have demonstrated remarkable leadership and initiative while exceeding my high expectations.

If you are tired of business as usual, namely working harder and harder without the benefit of being able to celebrate breakthrough results, perhaps it is time to consider a new way of operating by creating effective and efficient classroom systems, which in turn lead to high-performing educational organizations where children thrive.

Jennifer Thiede is a third grade teacher at Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz and lead teacher trainer for the California Center for Baldrige in Education at the Santa Cruz County Office of Education.

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