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Teaching Profession Opinion

What Summer Can Be--for Students and Teachers

By Contributing Blogger — May 21, 2015 6 min read
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This post is by Adam Carter, team lead for Academics at Summit Public Schools.

In one month, Summit Preparatory Charter School, our flagship campus, will come alive with the buzz of hundreds of educators from across Summit Public Schools and across the country. We’ll begin Foundations Week--a week of professional development built to model community-based, personalized, and self-directed learning--with a speech by Stacey Childress about the future of public education.

This future is one in which we see all students realizing their potential. It is a future in which educators collaborate in the best interests of students, and in which we break down barriers--often long-standing barriers--that exist to systematically disadvantage children in our neediest communities. It’s a summer that will bring our own educators together with Teach for America Bay Area corps members and leadership, assessment experts from the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE), engineering teams devoted to educator-developed products such as our home-grown Personalized Learning Plan (PLP) tool, Americorps volunteers who will coach and mentor students in this coming year as part of our inaugural Summit Tutor Corps, and our first Basecamp cohort of district and charter leaders from across the country who believe that every child deserves to be deeply known and respected as an individual. It’s a summer to break down institutional barriers.

It’s also a new way of thinking about the summer. This year, in our third Summer of Summit, we invited all of our students to join us in what we hope to be a transformative summer experience. Over half of our students--the number is currently over 1,300, with more enrollment forms coming in every day--have accepted the challenge and signed on to grow in their Habits of Success, Cognitive Skills, and Content Knowledge. They’re also getting the chance to have perspective-changing experiences through an intensive summer Expeditions program.

Traditionally, summers have been a time for educators to unplug. Those who chose to work in schools often taught summer school classes, in which students who failed one or more courses attend to make up those courses in order to move on to the next grade level. I have taught some of these courses and, unfortunately, few were inspiring.

But this summer at Summit will inspire learning and growth for students and adults alike. This is because our educators will have the opportunity to participate in innovative and exciting professional development activities, which are framed around core principles, including:

  1. Giving and receiving honest, actionable and timely feedback. On day one--the first day that many of the TFA corps members have ever been in a full-time professional role--they will be teaching. Teacher teams and instructional coaches will go through the design thinking process with students. Teachers will facilitate lessons, receive feedback, and teach again. Students will not only reflect on those lessons, but they will provide direct feedback to their instructors. Instructors will likewise provide feedback to their instructional coaches, who are largely new to that role. And that’s just day one! Short feedback cycles are built into every day, every week of the summer. These cycles are laser-focused on the core educator skills and habits of success that will best serve novice teachers.
  2. Placing performance before mastery. This summer is about learning, and we know that performance comes with practice and feedback, not by preparing for weeks in the hope of birthing the perfect lesson. Every day of Foundations Week is designed around performance tasks that offer authentic teaching and learning opportunities. Everyone will be uncomfortable, but we will be uncomfortable together. And in working through discomfort and vulnerability, we’ll rapidly build a trusting, inclusive community.
  3. Knowing our students, knowing our outcomes and building our practices. The entire Summer of Summit experience is framed around three deceptively simple statements about great teaching:

a. Know your students. It is incumbent upon us to know our students as people, to get to know their dreams, their preconceptions, their values, their home lives, their mindsets, their learning identities, as well as their academic histories. It is impossible to personalize if we don’t deeply know each child.

b. Know our outcomes. Knowing every student is an essential starting place. But we need to know our destination, as well. Ours is ensuring that each student has the opportunity to realize her dreams of college and career. We have a competency-based framework geared towards college readiness, and we will ensure that, this summer, we are aligned in our support of students as they work towards their goals

c. Build your practices. Deeply knowing our students and outcomes, we then need to build our tool chest of effective instructional practices. As this summer is all about performance and feedback, we will be building our educator tool chests just as we offer students learning strategies so that they can take greater ownership of their own learning. These practices will span the range from Lemov (cold call, strong voice) to cutting edge research about high leverage instructional strategies. The point will be practicing the strategies and understanding when, how, and in what context to apply them.

4. Experiencing the best of summer camp + summer school. Summer of Summit is organized around the belief that this is far more than summer school; this is a place for everyone. Students pick summer challenges around the following themes:

a. Project Based Learning for cognitive skill development - e.g., delivering a persuasive argument around a community issue

b. STEM enrichment - e.g., build your own science experiment

c. Literacy enrichment - e.g., cross-site read-a-thon

d. Habits of Success - e.g., conflict mediation or peer pressure and decision making

e. Content Knowledge - e.g., become a peer tutor

f. Expeditionary Learning - e.g., photography, Hip Hop, Filmmaking, Improv, Yoga, Internships, and Leadership

This summer is a tremendous opportunity to serve students while we build our own skills and habits of success in a supportive, values-aligned and feedback-rich community. We will be onboarding over 50 percent of new Summit teachers, spreading best practices across district and CMO groups from around the country as part of our Basecamp program, supporting the development of TFA Bay Area’s first corps member institute so that new teachers have a mental model for the schools they can help create and shape in their professional lives and, most importantly, supporting over half of our students in developing their skills, passions, and perspectives as learners.

But we also must be honest about what summer cannot be. No summer program will provide all of the skills required for highly effective teaching or coaching. No summer experience can replace the ongoing work of educators in our schools during the regular academic year. However, our work this summer will help us improve the nearly fifty days of professional development we offer teachers at Summit during the school year. This summer we will learn how to better prepare our Basecamp partners as they work to implement Next Generation learning models in their school contexts. And we will work with TFA Bay Area leadership to prepare over 130 TFA corps members to bring a new paradigm of learning to classrooms across the Bay Area. This summer is one important step in a larger vision of equipping every teacher in our country’s schools with the knowledge, habits of success and skills to provide all students with a Next Generation learning experience.

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