Innovation During a Crisis

Posted on: Tue, 10/06/2020 - 09:00

Historically, innovation often occurs out of necessity during a crisis. In FCPS, we have been encouraging staff to innovate as a way to break from the status quo of a century-old school model. During a recent visit to Waverley Elementary, I was inspired to see “learning families” and hear about a team who did not allow the pandemic to deter them from the innovative approach they had planned. Thanks to Waverley Elementary Principal Dr. Allie Watkins for sharing their story as my guest blogger!

The motivation for the instructional model used at Waverley Elementary was born at an FCPS administrative leadership meeting a couple years ago when Dr. Alban challenged administrators to reimagine how staff are utilized especially when budgets are tight. During that exercise, we were tasked with doing things we have never done before, stepping out of our comfort zones and making difficult decisions. From that point forward, I was motivated to do some things differently at Waverley because, honestly, the academic performance of our students truly called for it. I knew we had the right teachers and support staff “on the bus,” but we needed a new direction to face our challenges head-on. Fast-forward to the 2019-2020 school year when in my second year as principal we prioritized collective teacher efficacy, deliberate practice and teacher clarity as our School Improvement Plan strategies. We knew that these were considered high-yield strategies, but we needed an instructional model to help us put our “money where our mouth is.” So…equipped with these strategies and an Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) report card that showed a successful school across all areas except academic performance, Assistant Principal Julie Ivins and I visited Wolfsville Elementary Principal Megan Stein to learn about the competency-based model in language arts effectively used there.

After leaving Wolfsville, we decided to marry competency-based instruction with the multi-grade approach because we knew that Waverley students deserved differentiated, personalized instruction in the areas of mathematics and language arts. Remember when I said that we had to put our “money where our mouth is” and that we had the right teachers “on the bus?” Well, our competency-based/ multi-grade approach would work only when we truly lived collective teacher efficacy. This meant utilizing staff in creative ways and having teachers do things they had never done before.

Fast-forward to 2020-2021 where we call our version of collective teacher efficacy CAEP. This acronym stands for Collective Acceleration Equity Pathways. In a nutshell, CAEP means that we set students on a personalized pathway to close gaps in achievement at an accelerated rate. We would accomplish this by assigning EVERY certificated staff member responsibility for a “learning family” consisting of 14 or fewer students. So now, general education teachers, English learner teachers, special education teachers and instructional specialists are all considered “learning family” teachers. As Deputy Superintendent Dr. Mike Markoe had stated several years ago, it was time to do away with the siloed approach to instruction and truly coordinate services in a highly effective way. At Waverley, learning-family teachers are responsible for instructing, intervening and enriching their students across the curriculum, communicating with parents, monitoring their students’ progress and closing gaps in achievement. This model allows teachers to actively engage in the Accelerated Learning Process because their responsibility lies with a MANAGEABLE number of students. What’s more, when students have accelerated beyond their current learning family, they can have their academic needs met in a new learning family.

In closing, regardless of whether we are learning virtually or face-to-face, CAEP is alive at Waverley. We thank those who have inspired our work and supported us along the way. We consider those who have

encouraged us to “accelerate to new heights” our Community of Practice, and we look forward to learning from and being inspired by the leaders in this great district.