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Behind BEES’ Big Boost

Principal Craig Garber sets lofty goals for his students at Brooklyn Environmental Exploration School (BEES). But his goals and dreams are bigger than his team: just eleven teachers and no assistant principal.

How did such a small team manage to improve the school’s English test scores by a whopping 4.2 percentage points—one of the largest positive percentage changes in New York City?

It didn’t happen overnight. Principal Garber spearheaded a deliberate three-year effort grounded in a vision for every teacher and student in his building to be, “happy, safe, and learning.” He coupled a strong school culture with a cohesive, tightly-aligned partnership with ANet for “robust assessments, coaching support, and guidance on data-driven instruction.”

How do we set ourselves up so we inspire joy, challenge, and for learners to work with each other? There has to be the culture in the room where failure is an option in order to continue to struggle towards success.
— Craig Garber, principal of Brooklyn Environmental Exploration School

Rashid Johnson, ANet coach

Principal Garber and his ANet coach, Rashid Johnson, partnered with Teachers College to diagnose the school's needs and develop a strategy for standards-based, differentiated instruction. They created instructional priorities in ELA and math at the beginning of the school year.

ELA: Using complex texts effectively

Principal Garber wanted teachers to feel confident choosing texts at the appropriate grade level. He also wanted students fearlessly “attacking” texts and spending the majority of lessons reading, writing, and speaking about texts.

What is text complexity?

Rashid helped teachers identify measures of text complexity to inform their text selection. To get students to engage actively with the texts, Rashid supported BEES’ implementation of the 3 → 2 → 1 framework:

  • 3 minutes of reflection, journaling, jotting, or silent thoughts

  • 2 minutes of guided discussion, turn-and-talks, or table talks

  • 1 minute of whole class share-outs, whole group closing, or popcorn share-outs

Math: Addressing the major work of the grade

A common challenge for teachers is getting through the whole curriculum. Rashid helped the BEES team plan from standards and focus on important topics within the vast Common Core standards. He introduced high-quality tasks that target different aspects of rigor. Teachers used high-level questions and discussion techniques to raise the level of academic conversations. As a result, students were emboldened to ask each other questions and have conversations about mathematical concepts.

I have seen remarkable improvement with high-quality text-dependent questions and math prompts, getting students to share their thinking with each other, and pushing and stretching students to explain and justify their claims with concrete evidence.
— Rashid Johnson, ANet coach

“You can see and feel a new level of engagement in BEES' classrooms,” says Rashid. “The hard work of this small and mighty team of educators is paying off for kids and teachers. And in addition to increasing test scores, BEES shed their State Priority School status last year. We’re excited to continue the momentum with them!”

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