Wichita school board hears from consultants about improving classroom performance, management

09/04/2013 8:12 AM

09/04/2013 9:28 PM

Four years into its five-year plan to improve student performance and behavior, the Wichita school district is “leading the nation” in terms of strategic vision, a consultant told board members Wednesday.

The trick now, he said, is going the distance.

“You are really well along in terms of beginning to implement the work, but how do you sustain it?” said Stevan Kukic, director of school transformation for the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

But “this district has shown that it’s committed to sustaining reform over the long haul,” he said. “No more one-year-miracle models. We’re in this to accomplish it, and that’s the point. It takes time to do it.”

During an informal retreat at North High, board members heard updates from several consultants and state officials about the district’s Multi-Tier System of Supports, which it launched in 2010. The plan involves teacher training and behavior plans that are consistent throughout the district.

Speakers included Randy Sprick, principal author of the Safe & Civil Schools program, and Anita Archer, a consultant with Explicit Instruction and Literacy.

Sprick, whose work focuses on classroom management, said Wichita teachers are beginning to “view misbehavior as a puzzle – what’s going on with this and what manipulations might we make? – as opposed to a threat that needs to be removed.”

Sprick talked about two main principles of classroom management: teaching with greater clarity, repetition and inspiration – “Not just ‘Do it,’ but ‘Do it for this reason,’ like a good coach,” Sprick said – and increasing positive interactions with students.

He urged officials to rethink problem areas in schools that can encourage negative behaviors, such as long lunch lines in middle schools that might prompt students to aggressively jockey for position. “That may sound trivial, but it’s not,” Sprick said.

Archer, who worked with teachers at Jardine and Mead middle schools earlier in the week, demonstrated an Explicit Instruction lesson with board members Wednesday.

For too long, she said, teachers have relied on the old practice of asking a question, opening it to volunteers and calling on whichever student raises his hand – usually a high-performing, assertive, English-proficient student.

“I call it teaching the best, forgetting the rest,” Archer said.

Instead, she urges techniques such as “echo reading,” partner work and vocabulary-building activities that involve the entire class.

“Oftentimes, it’s not that (teachers) are resistant,” Archer said. “It’s that they don’t know alternatives. … When they learn some, it’s ‘Oh, I could do that,’ ‘I hadn’t thought of that’ or ‘Oh, I’m doing that tomorrow.’ ”

Joy Eakins, who joined the school board in July, said the district’s efforts are “possibly the best-kept secret in Kansas” and that the board should share more information about it with the public, particularly the business community.

“This is something very strategic … and businesses love that. They can get behind that,” she said. “I think it could garner a lot of support.”

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