Board hears presentation on academic coaching
by PHILLIP WILLIAMS
Mar 20, 2014 | 1051 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A retired longtime educator who is lending his services to Gilmer Schools free of charge, and Gilmer High School Principal Greg Watson, told the School Board Monday night how they are attempting to improve student performance by doing "academic coaching" of teachers.

The retired educator is Dr. John Woodward, whose resume' shows roughly 40 years in education-related work in various states. He has held positions ranging from math teacher, principal, and assistant school superintendent to consultant and university teaching, and has worked in schools in Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, and New Jersey, according to his resume'.

"I am retired, but I continue to help America's schools to improve and America's children to learn by volunteering my time and expertise to selected school districts," he said in the resume'. He told the board he has trained administrators and teachers on improving student performance, and that his background is in curriculum and instruction.

In discussing the academic coaching, Watson said the high school "made a strong commitment" for teachers to have two conference periods, one of them for planning.

He also said teachers need time with their colleagues, so he has tried to get certain teachers simultaneous off-time from class in order to jointly plan.

For example, algebra I teachers may be together, Watson said. Chemistry teachers might be together one day weekly, he noted. And on Thursdays, "I'm with all the teachers together" in an "instruction-based" meeting.

Watson also detailed what is done on other days of the week, saying days are designated when "all grade levels meet together."

The overall plan is also "helpful to parents to some degree," the principal said, since they can meet with several of their child's teachers at once rather than separately.

He said Woodward entered the scene when local insurance agent Henry Troell told the principal the retired educator wanted to help. When he talked to Woodward, Watson quipped, "He said, 'I'm free.' I said, 'You're in.'"

"He's not selling a product," the principal said, but is giving "honest feedback."

Woodward, who said he worked with Goldthwaite Schools after retiring in 2006, told the board, "I think we are very fortunate in Gilmer to have" School Supt. Rick Albritton and Watson. He said he had never met a superintendent or high school principal who knew as much about curriculum and instruction as they do.

Woodward said changing a curriculum alone doesn't help. But if the way someone thinks is changed, "they'll change their own behavior," and Gilmer High has set up an "ideal" model to change teachers' thinking, he said.

"Very few schools have set up the things" GISD has, Woodward said.

The academic coaching consists partly of getting instructors "to talk about how they teach" and other matters, and "they start to teach differently," he explained.

He explained what is called a "tuning protocol," which starts with a group of "critical friends" for teachers. An instructor explains the lesson he/she has designed and is planning; then colleagues in the "critical friends" group will pose such questions as which three students the teacher believes will have trouble with it, and "What will be your instructional interventions?"

An example of dealing with interventions, he said, is that a reading program won't work for a child who needs eyeglasses.

After meeting with the critical friends group, Woodward said, a teacher "often walks away with two new ideas how they might teach differently. . .They start to think differently about the lesson. We want to . . .help them build large repertoires of powerful lessons."

Woodward also said he and Watson are working on getting teachers "to learn about higher instructional models," and will do more on "cognitive coaching" by listening to a teacher's state of mind.

He said he is also eying "locally developed assessments," which he wanted to locally standardize. Then children will get "higher order questions" as opposed to "recall questions," Woodward said.

He also said he would work on elementary mathematics.

Albritton expressed appreciation to Woodward, saying his "outside perspective" gave the school more confidence.

The superintendent also said the 45 additional minutes of daily planning time GISD has given teachers is "something not a lot of schools do." And although it is "an extreme investment" costing the district $1.7 million dollars annually, it "has been of benefit," Albritton said.

Also Monday night, the board heard a presentation by girls' athletic coordinator Stacy Crews. Details of that will appear in Wednesday's edition of The Mirror.
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