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Making Waves Academy’s three commitments that increased student engagement

Making Waves Academy in Richmond, California is making exciting progress this school year! The year is not over, but teachers already see a difference in their students, especially in math.

“We’ve seen significantly higher student attendance and engagement. Students are engaging in a higher level of conversations, having more intentional conversations about the content of the math,” says Caitlin Shelburne, the director of curriculum and instruction.

Increased student engagement means fewer behavior issues. According to Caitlin, “Last year, the majority of our referrals were in math, where students reported feeling disengaged. This year, we are seeing fewer referrals overall, and seeing no trends in subject area referrals.”

This positive impact results from three commitments every educator at Making Waves Academy (MWA) made:

Commitment 1: Focus like a laser on just one instructional priority

At the beginning of the year, ANet Coach Nicole Garner sat down with MWA’s leadership team to reflect on the state of student learning and identify a single priority in math and in humanities to achieve this school year. These priorities inform every choice they make. As the year goes on and distractions arise, Nicole helps the team stay on track towards achieving their goals.

Commitment 2: Use standards-aligned materials

Nicole introduced high-quality, standards-aligned materials, such as SAP’s Instructional Practice Guide (IPG), that helped demystify the shifts in the Common Core for teachers and showed how to make them come alive for students.

Now, the staff shares a common language about their goals and the CCSS shifts that enables them to work together to refine their instruction. While in previous years, peer observations often resulted in vague conversations around instructional practices like group work and student dialogue, this year, Caitlin notes, “In department meetings and peer observations, teachers are focused on the  ‘what’—the content—of instruction first.”

Commitment 3: Take full advantage of a distributed leadership model

Developing instructional practice across a building is hard work, so Nicole and Caitlin worked together to build a vision for strong distributed leadership. Department heads are leading the charge with using the new materials and the IPG to advance instructional priorities and coach teachers. The model creates a tighter drive across departments as a whole and enables teacher leaders to scale their individual successes to the entire department, while providing all teachers more intentional and personalized support. Caitlin observes, “Last year we were seeing islands of success, but through leveraging department times and empowering our teacher leaders, this year we are seeing signs of department-wide growth.”

The impact of the team’s focus and dedication is tangible. According to Nicole, “Every time I go into Making Waves, I’m left inspired by the dedication of the leaders and teachers; their deep belief in what their students can accomplish, and their drive to constantly improve so as to better serve their students.”

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