Renaissance School of the Arts (RSA) started the year with a simple but ambitious goal: By June 2019, proficiency rates on statewide assessments in both ELA and mathematics will increase by 20%.
The principal of the middle school in East Harlem, Dr. Brian Bradley, knew he and the teachers at RSA had set a high bar for their RISE Comprehensive Education Plan (RCEP) goal. “At first, I wasn’t sure how we would accomplish it,” he recalls. “But we knew we could do better, and committing to a bold goal meant we needed to figure out how we could do that.”
Dr. Bradley and the school’s ANet coach, Colleen O’Brien, began by digging into data and holding conversations with teacher teams. Soon, they homed in on two obstacles: teachers at RSA faced too many competing priorities, and classroom instruction was not always standards-aligned.
To achieve clear, standards-aligned classroom instruction, the RSA staff needed to focus most of their energy on deepening their understanding of the standards.
“The Teaching and Learning Cycle became the cornerstone for instructional change and student impact,” Colleen explains. Together, she and Dr. Bradley helped teachers take a closer look at their practice with a focus on major standards for each grade.
“Colleen supported us by designing sessions where teachers could uncover connections across the standards and within the standards that would allow them to begin using strategies to support unfinished learning,” Dr. Bradley says.
Before teaching lessons, teachers did the math and analyzed text complexity themselves. “This work lets teachers see the work through the eyes of their students and predict misconceptions,” says Colleen. “But beyond that, it also helps them gain a strong understanding of the connection between content and standards.”
After their assessments, Dr. Bradley and Colleen sat down with teachers to analyze data for student strengths and misconceptions. Based on what they found, teachers designed and implemented Action Plans that targeted areas where students struggled by leveraging their strengths.
“At the end of each cycle, the teams reflect on their implementation of the plan, strategies that worked, and strategies that didn’t work,” Colleen says. “From there, we collaborate to determine our next steps.”
Critically, teachers also take time in each meeting to celebrate successes and share ideas.
Teachers are shifting their practice thanks to the new focus on understanding the standards. “Our planning meetings are more thoughtful and productive now,” Dr. Bradley reflects. “Our teachers are coming up with fantastic insights and identifying clear, practical action steps that align their work with the standards. We’ve found our focus.”
Colleen agrees. “All of this has been guided by that initial ambitious goal,” she says. “And it’s now within reach thanks to the intentional, hard work of Dr. Bradley and his staff.”