By giving teachers more time to receive support and feedback on their teaching, expanded learning time can significantly strengthen instruction for students. At North Star Academy, there is a relentless focus on supporting teachers and helping teachers hone their approach to the classroom – and more time makes it possible.
North Star’s instructional leaders conduct classroom observations, then meet with teachers one-on-one to provide feedback and assist with lesson planning.All teachers at North Star are assigned an “instructional leader” to support their development. Instructional leaders provide teachers with a minimum of three hours of supervision each week. The weekly supervision starts with one hour of classroom observation, a subsequent one-hour meeting to provide feedback, and a third hour to work together to plan next week’s lessons. New and struggling teachers can receive up to twice as much coaching each week. Instructional leaders, who also teach classes, receive their own coaching on how to support their colleagues.
To make sure there’s time for these vital meetings, North Star’s teachers typically teach four out of seven class periods each school day, which runs from 7:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. “These meetings take time, and they are an important part of our work to make sure our students receive an excellent education,” says Juliann Harris, North Star’s 9th and 10th grade Academy Leader.
North Star’s rate of student proficiency on the state math exams has reached 100 percent, and in reading, it exceeds 90 percent. By working with teachers, who then ensure that students are meeting their personal goals and the school’s goals for them, North Star Academy is preparing its student body for college, careers, and beyond, while refining a system that is able to provide thoughtful support to future students.
When Carlos and his friends first heard about plans to expand the school day at Orchard Gardens, they weren’t thrilled. “We thought we’d be really bored staying in school until five-thirty every day,” says Carlos, a seventh-grader who started as a kindergartner at Orchard Gardens. “But once we got used to it, we realized that school was actually more fun.”
Orchard Gardens was a school with significant challenges. Situated in one of Boston’s poorest neighborhoods, it had five different principals over seven years. During that time, the share of students scoring at or above proficient in reading or math stagnated below 20 percent.
One of the biggest reasons for my students’ success this past year was the extended period of time with them.In 2010, Orchard Gardens’ new principal, Andrew Bott, worked with his leadership team, faculty, and community partners like Citizen Schools to expand learning time. With the new school schedule, students and teachers are noticing a difference. “One of the biggest reasons for my students’ success this past year was the extended period of time with them,” says Ben Rockoff, an administrator at the school who taught seventh-grade math during the 2010-2011 school year.
Of course, more time does not just mean more of the same. Teachers at Orchard Gardens have more time to review and assess student learning data, making it possible to identify areas where individual students are falling behind. “From that information, I might spend more time with that student on those concepts during class, or work with them one-on-one outside of class,” Rockoff says.
The expanded schedule has not just made room for more math and reading; it has also created more time for art and music, physical education, and foreign languages. Students at Orchard Gardens have access to everything from Mandarin classes to theater. Orchard Gardens also offers students homework support, apprenticeship opportunities, and college readiness courses.
These learning opportunities help make school more engaging for students like Carlos. And although Orchard Gardens is still a work in progress, the initial results are impressive. Students have more time for both academic and enrichment opportunities, teachers have more time for collaboration, and student performance on state reading and math exams jumped 10 percent and 16 percent, respectively. Orchard Gardens is making the case that with thoughtful use of expanded time, transformation is possible.