Keota teachers address modifying student learning

While the students are at the library making paper plate scarecrows, just what are the teachers up to on those early out Wednesdays? Last Wednesday, October 24, the Keota Eagle attended a session of the Keota School staff development to find out. For this particular day, the topic was TLC, and more specifically, ‘learning targets.’

            TLC stands for the Teacher Leadership and Compensation System implemented statewide about three years ago. The program is designed to improve education by rewarding effective teachers with leadership opportunities and higher pay. Another goal is to attract promising new teachers by offering competitive starting salaries. The support and greater collaboration fostered by the program benefits all teachers and creates an environment for them to learn from each other.

            Superintendent, Jim Henrich opened the staff-development session with a short discussion by asking one question.

            “When you were in junior high, what did you talk about at lunch?”

            This brought some nostalgic laughter as the teachers reflected back to their young adult days and remembered the issues they found important then. Henrich remembered discussing sports with his friends, including their favorite teams and players. He used those memories of the older generation to contrast with the comments he had overheard at lunch that day while observing the cafeteria during the J-High lunches. Sharing about six comments was all it took to point out that all of them were referencing one particular video game, and the word ‘Zombie’ kept popping up as well. Henrich’s point was that students have changed, and education must change with them.

            This brought a comment from Physical Education teacher, Dan Stout, who said he sometimes takes his senior PE class for a walk around town allowing them to play Pokémon Go. The nature of the game is to be active, and in this way Stout is meeting his students halfway.

            The next part of the session was spent watching a speech by Mike Mattos, an internationally recognized author, specializing in helping schools and teachers transform their education plans. The TLC team from Keota had the opportunity to hear Mattos speak directly the day before, at the conference they attended. Angela Conrad and Shelly Greiner shared a printout from the conference that explains an approach to teaching that uses the “Learner’s Bill of Rights” as a guide.

  1. What am I learning today?
  2. Why am I learning this?
  3. How will I know that I learned it?

            Conrad commented that this approach to teaching could foster a more trusting environment with students. For Greiner, the visual that impacted her the most was when someone shared that ‘trying to teach kids without telling them what you expect as a result, is like giving them the pieces to a jigsaw puzzle without the cover.’

            Henrich shared a term he has heard Mattos use to define what happens when a student is not allowed to reach their potential. According to Mattos, this is a life sentence of poverty and the education system has committed “educational homicide.”

            In the video, Mattos helped breakdown the strategy behind a curriculum that focuses on only the core basic learning targets that all teachers in a school must agree upon and plan their lessons around, in order to be effective for a student from year to year. All districts have their terminology, “power standards,” or “guaranteed viable curriculum.” At Keota they are referred to as “learning targets.” According to Mattos the terminology is less important than the strategy.

            “I don’t care whose vocabulary you want to call it. We know this. If we want all kids to learn, then we must get insanely clear on what all kids have to learn; in this course, this grade level, this subject, to be prepared for next year, and beyond.”

            This is why cooperation between teachers at multiple levels is essential, and reinforces the concept behind Keota’s TLC program. Because it is, as Mattos said “the teachers know the needs of the kids…better than anyone else,” so a curriculum designed by them makes the most sense. Also, this curriculum must  “connect where the kids have to get in the content” with “where they’re currently coming from,” and no one knows this better than the teachers who work with these kids everyday.


For the rest of this story, check out the October 31st issue of The Keota Eagle.