It is that time of the year when teachers from all over the country participate in that annual ritual called the professional develop workshop. I have spent the last several work days going to these and I definitely have mixed feelings. Last Friday we were trained, if trained is the right word, on teaming. Little Rock has employed teaming to a greater or lesser extent in the middle school for close to twenty years. Lately, it has been to a lesser. But things are going to change, at least for “failing” schools like Mabelvale.

We did get some decent ideas at this workshop. Our team is going to try something called Thumb Meetings. In Thumb Meetings, we go through our whole seventh grade student role and make a quick and dirty judgement of every student on whether they are working and/or behaving up to par (Thumbs Up!) or need some work (Heads Up!). We will have these meetings about every two weeks and the children will get a certificate the next day. This program can be very positive.  It is amazing what a student will work for sometimes. A student who gets a “Thumbs Up” is getting a little pat on the back.  A student who gets a “Heads Up” is getting exactly that–no heavy duty nagging–just a reminder to do better. In schools that have used this program, behavior and academics do seem to improve.

Yesterday, we spent all day in the cafeteria in our building (wishing I could get to work in my room) learning about how we are going to get down and dirty with our benchmark data. The trouble with data is that without proper analysis, it is worse than useless. For example, if it turns out that our students lose ground from seventh grade to eighth in percent proficient, what does it really mean? What if this trend is consistent across the state? If it is consistent across the state, then the problem is not unique to our school and that changes how we approach the problem. That is the idea anyway. We are supposed to dig deeper into the data so that our solutions are exactly that.

Today we attended our annual math workshops. Most of it was useful but dull (not the fault of the presenters, who did fine.) Two of my workshops dealt with the curriculum map (which is frustrating because I still am not sure what I am teaching.) One of the workshops was simultaneously interesting and frustrating. Singapore uses a math system called Eight-Step Model Drawing. It is a nice system, but honestly, I don’t care. I would love to care–I really would. It is cool. But Singapore uses it in every grade starting with first. It has helped Singapore to develop some of the highest math scores in the world. But we get it in a 45 minute long workshop (I did an earlier workshop of 45 minutes last year, too) and that is just not enough time. Our students have never seen it. And it is not required. I do have to develop AVID strategies for my one class; I do have to figure out how to BS around in my Ramp-Up classes (so I can use AVID strategies there too); I do have to figure out what I will do in my pull-out class where I provide extra help for some students. I might use 8-Step, there, I might use Math Academy strategies (1), or I might use any number of strategies for which I have received only partial training and even less support.

I don’t want this to sound too negative. Many of our district workshop presenters share many of my reservations. I suspect we seriously need a national curriculum.

(1)The Math Academy was a fantastic set classes I took a few years ago. But it was one more program that the district trains us for, but refuses to fully implement.