Change Comes Hard in a Legacy Industry
In the corporate world, ushering in new processes and personnel to deconstruct and revive a struggling business is commonplace. Educators in schools can have a different temperament about change. Many teachers graduated from, or were certified through, programs that prepared them for the 20th century factory model of education, not programs that prepare teachers to develop 21st century learners. In the face of an ever-shifting accountability and curriculum landscape, increasing state and federal expectations, lack of funding support, and a barrage of negative rhetoric about public education, it’s easy to understand why teachers might be skeptical, even antagonistic, about major change proposals. In the face of such upheaval, some teachers, regardless of their efficacy, first and foremost value the traditional long-term guarantee of their positions.
“When she came here she had to break a lot of bad habits and she had to raise the school,” said Smith Elementary Assistant Principal Dion Rivera. “She had a job ahead of her and she was not very popular for the first three years because people, when they are left to their own devices, are going to take the easiest road.”
However, Roman was unwavering in her plan of action. She changed faculty meetings from sit-and-get reporting sessions to mini-seminars about instruction and how to teach better. She brought in curriculum specialists and district experts to speak to her team. She applied state curriculum while adding Smith Elementary-specific lesson plans into the mix. The Model Classrooms Project, a dynamic evidence-based instructional delivery model, helps her teachers set a purpose for instruction and objectives for each day. The Five Dimensions of Teaching and Learning provides teachers with a research-based framework focusing on student purpose, student engagement, curriculum and pedagogy, assessment for student learning, and classroom environment and culture. Now, faculty meeting conversations center around instruction and pushing all students to reach their greatest potential.
“I almost feel bad when we hire a new teacher,” Roman said, laughing, “because it’s like, are you ready for this?”
Roman directed her teachers to notice – really notice – their students; to look at them as individuals and assure them they were in a caring environment, whatever their life circumstances. She began teaching staff to internalize what some of the children — no matter their economic status — might have gone through before the school day started and to empathize with them, while at the same time refusing to cut them slack for bad behavior or missed homework. Roman made it clear the status quo was no longer acceptable. If you wanted to teach at Smith Elementary, you had to up your game.
“At our campus, every teacher believes our children can be great,” she said. “I love when I see a teacher who refuses to give up on a student, or a parent that says, ‘He had to redo that assignment four times.’ Because if you didn’t do your best the first time, you’re not off the hook. You’re going to have some re-teaching and do it again.”