I had the pleasure of representing Mineral Point Schools at the Wisconsin State Reading Association convention two weeks ago. I led a session on the connection between literacy and tinkering, making and innovating. My goal was to create a conversation around what’s possible with regard to the hands-on experiences kids naturally engage in and how they might lead to reading and writing. Instead of answers, I came with questions. The dialogue that ensued led to new knowledge about how educators might approach instruction in the future.
#WSRA17 Sometimes in learning you need to let kids figure out the original problem. Makerspaces and literacy- Great session! @ReadByExample pic.twitter.com/uEb4FmzmRr
— Jen Garty (@jmgarty) February 10, 2017
Because I was preparing to present, I did not get the chance to hear Michael Fullan speak the same morning. Luckily, I was able to look back on the Twitter feed for what he shared during his keynote. Fullan is a well-known educator who has expertise in schoolwide change and innovation. One of his primary arguments for why some schools and districts improve while others do not is what organizations choose to focus on collectively. Fullan identified the right and the wrong drivers in education.
#WSRA17 When Fullan says tech is wrong driver, pedagogy is right driver, it MUST be true!! #mcptech @MCPTechDirector pic.twitter.com/nEoiKHEhYv
— Kim Stieber-White (@KimStieberWhit1) February 10, 2017
It was heartening to see that the right drivers – capacity building (investing in professional learning), collaborative work (PLCs), pedagogy (teaching and learning), systemness (everyone on the same page) – are also priorities in the Mineral Point Unified School District. These elements have been a focus here for some time on behalf of students, families, and the community. We are now seeing the fruits of our labor. MPUSD as a district received the highest ranking possible on the 2015-2016 state report card. We ranked 1st out of 180 Wisconsin districts participating in the Effectiveness Project for academic growth using the Stronge Model. Our elementary school made a 27% increase in reading proficiency from fall to winter this year.
According to Fullan, this happens not from the top down, nor from the bottom up. Rather, it is a concerted effort by every staff member to lead from the middle. The middle is in reference to where learning occurs: in classrooms among teachers and students, on building-level and district-level leadership teams, and between school, home and community. Fullan notes:
“The best strategy for organizational improvement is to increase the capacity of the middle as it becomes a better partner upward and downward.”
As we have moved from accountability to responsibility, staff and students are starting to enjoy some level of autonomy. This comes from the confidence-building that is a result of seeing the impact of daily instruction on student learning, facilitated through professional learning communities. Collaboration is no longer something teachers do on Wednesday afternoons only. It is a constant dialogue that resembles what all professionals should be engaged in on a regular basis. Our culture of constant improvement is what makes Mineral Point Unified School District an educational gem in Southwest Wisconsin.
PRINCIPAL, ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
This is Matt’s seventeenth year in public education. He started as a 5th and 6th grade teacher in a country school outside of Wisconsin Rapids, WI. After seven years of teaching, Matt served as an assistant principal, athletic director, and building principal all in Wisconsin Rapids. Now as an elementary principal with the Mineral Point Unified School District, he continues to enjoy working with students, staff, and families in their collective pursuit of lifelong learning.