In the spring of 2010, educators in Ionia and Montcalm Counties started talking about what it would take to make our schools the very best they could be. Would we, for instance, be willing to “set our hair on fire” for students? The resounding answer was, “Yes!”
The adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) by the Michigan State Board of Education in June of 2010 set the backdrop of our efforts to substantially improve student achievement in all of our schools through the project now known as “Hair on Fire.” Based on the latest research employed by effective turnaround schools as identified by the American Institutes for Research districts interested in participating in the project were asked to consider and accept as “non-negotiable” ideas in four areas.
- Commitment to boldness in thoughts and actions,
- Full implementation of the Common Core State Standards for ALL students,
- Purposeful shifts in use of time, and
- Communication with intention.
Each of the four areas focuses on specific strategies for improving student achievement and are based on a set of Foundational Beliefs:
Success is measured through learning. Student and educator learning matters.
- Learning decisions in schools are based on data and made in the best interest of students.
- For true career and college readiness in the 21st century, a student-centered approach is needed.
- As a community of learners, we must be committed to rigor, self-reflection, and risk-taking.
After much thoughtful consideration, on August 14, 2012, over 140 teachers and administrators began, with facilitation by teaching and assessment consultant, Karen Bailey, the journey to create our student-centered standards-based approach to teaching and learning. To say that participants were, by the end of the 3 days, overwhelmed but excited is a gross understatement. The passion in the room was palpable as educators stepped out of their comfort zones to consider what it really means to make education about what students learn, how students participate in their own learning, and how the role of teachers change when students are in control of their own learning.
At the end of May 2013, teachers from Ionia and Montcalm Counties district had spent countless hours learning about what it means to have a student-centered, standards-based focus. Each and every Common Core standard in English-Language Arts and mathematics had been dissected, discussed, and documented into a teachable order. Never before had such a collaborative project been undertaken in both counties. By June, the standards documents were published on the project’s website and teachers in all schools were able to use these documents to plan for the 2013-14 school year.
In year two, 2013 – 2014, schools continued with the Hair on Fire project. The main topic was assessment. Teachers learned how to create and use quality assessments to guide student learning as well as to inform instruction from the teacher’s perspective. We worked to answer the question: “How do we know if students know and can do the standards?”
In 2014-15, the focus turns to what we must do when students do not reach proficiency on the standards as well as what we do when they do. The focus will be on helping schools create multi-tiered systems of support so no student falls through the crack. Once this step in the project is completed, we can truly say that we use a student-centered, standards-based approach to teaching and learning!