An Insider’s Point of View: A Principal’s Plan for Back to School — Part Two

By Guest Contributor David Huber, Principal, South Side Elementary School, Connecticut

This guest blog post is the second in a series by David Huber, principal of South Side Elementary School, in Bristol, Connecticut. Huber reflects on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on learning in his school and district and the long-term changes that will likely result. To hear more from him, watch our webinar, Ensuring Educational Equity for the 2020-2021 School Year and Beyond.

Part Two: Monitoring Student Learning

One of the greatest challenges we will have in 2020-2021 is to accurately measure the degree to which all students are learning. We will have to consider the degree to which students have acquired both last year’s essential learning along with this year’s grade-level expectations. We know that the degree to which each student engaged in their own virtual learning varied drastically based on a myriad of factors. In order for us to ensure all students are gaining the skills needed to be both college and career ready, we will need to identify essential standards missed, provide instruction and assessment around those standards, and simultaneously introduce our grade-level learning for this year. 

Because a school’s number one priority is student learning, if it truly is a priority, “people do not hope it happens, they must develop and implement specific plans to ensure that it happens.” (DuFour, R. DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Many, T. (2010).  Learning by doing:  A handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work (2nd ed.).  Bloomington, IN:  Solution Tree Press.). Part of our response plan will be a strategy protocol called “Flash Back to Flash Forward,” shared by Heather Friziellie, Julie Schmidt, and Jeanne Spiller at Mind The Gap Conference (Solution Tree, July 2020). This collaborative protocol requires vertical planning where last year’s Grade 2 teachers would identify 2–3 of the most essential standards (ELA, Math, SEL) the team was most concerned about their students learning, and identify best practices to support acquisition of those skills. This information allows the receiving teachers to connect potentially missed pre-requisite skills to make natural connections to new learning.

I am appreciative to work in a district that is prioritizing equity for all learners. Our district improvement framework is based on equity and excellence. This was highlighted by our superintendent’s statement that we “cannotachieve excellence until we provide every student with the tools they need to be successful.” Ensuring that students have been caught up on last year’s learning at the same time they are given access to this year’s learning will result in more equitable outcomes for all learners. Although we cannot control what happens in terms of learning for all students since March, we can control how we prioritize our instructional time and our response when students are and are not learning.

Post-COVID-19, schools will need dedicated time during the instructional day designed to respond to grade-level essential learning. Our school adopted a WINN (What I Need Now) instructional block of time three years ago to allocate time and resources for essential learning to be retaught or expanded upon. Consistent with the thinking of Mike Mattos and Rick DuFour, this is time dedicated to allowing for mastery of essential learning or providing enrichment for those who have already learned the content. The idea of a specialized block of time to both catch up students and enrich for those who are ready to move on is now more important than ever. To capitalize on this time, schools will have to become very clear on what is essential and provide instruction around those areas. Like literacy and math blocks of the past, this WINN time must now be a prioritized part of every student’s day.

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David Huber
Principal, South Side Elementary School, Connecticut

David Huber is an elementary school principal in Bristol, Connecticut. After teaching for 10 years in both urban and suburban districts, David returned to his hometown, serving as Assistant Principal at O’Connell School before accepting roles as Principal of Bingham Elementary School, Mt. View Elementary School, and now South Side Elementary School.

David is a member of the school’s leadership with a focus on building highly collaborative teams designed to maximize the potential of all students and staff, with a belief that everyone can learn at high levels. David holds a master’s degree from the University of Connecticut and sixth-year and Doctor of Education degrees from Central Connecticut State University. He has presented at Literacy For All in Providence, Rhode Island as well as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Regional Conference in Hartford, Connecticut. His work has also been published in the educational journal Planning and Changing (spring 2015) on the topic of school improvement.

Twitter:  @davidjhuber