Teacher Book Club - Linda Nathan's The Hardest Questions Aren't on the Test.

Teacher Magazine is holding a book club discussion with Linda Nathan, author of "The Hardest Questions Aren't on the Test."  Nathan writes about her experiences as principal of The Boston Arts Academy (BAA), an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse school.  She speaks specifically of successful initiatives that can be applied to other schools, and I could not help but see some similarities to much of what we are trying to do at ETHS.


In Part I, she writes about moving away from endless initiatives to a unifying framework.  From day one of entering ETHS, I was warned by teachers of all of the initiatives that would come and go, and in six years, I have certainly seen a few (homebase, rebranding of AM support, Moodle).  However, there are many that have stayed and more are being developed as we speak.  The question is what unifying framework is being established and how will teachers respond to continued exposure to new initiatives.  Nearly everything that Ms. Nathan mentioned (PLC's, Test Prep, Student Support, etc.) is currently being implemented at ETHS, though I can't say that we're at the same point that BAA is at where students are constantly referencing shared values such as RICO or schoolwide projects such as their Senior Projects (we do have a great Senior Studies program, but it is not required of all students).

In Part II, Ms. Nathan writes about supporting teachers.  At ETHS, we have Professional Learning Communities (PLC's) built into our schedules, and these have evolved over the past few years.  I love having the time offered to teachers to collaborate and talk about student work.  From my experiences at a small private school, I felt that being able to talk about common students was one of the most powerful tools in a teacher's toolbox.  The question is what happens when the PLC's operate in a school more than seven times the size of BAA (2,900 vs. 420).  This lessens the likelihood that teachers are going to be teaching the same material at the same time to the same students.

In Part III, the focus turns to addressing inequality.  At ETHS, we have embarked on a four-year cycle of professional development, and at the heart of one of those years is an intensive course on Race and Equity administered by the Pacific Education Group.  Already, the open conversations about race and equity have put many teachers in some uncomfortable positions, but in my opinion, the experience has been powerful and offers opportunities for individuals to reflect on their daily encounters with race.  It also encourages us to talk more openly about what is going on in our school.

In conclusion, I feel that we are implementing many of what Ms. Nathan describes in her "lessons".  With our immense size, it is bound to take more time and patience for us to achieve the level of success experienced at BAA.  However, I am reassured after reading her book that we may be on the right track towards refining and achieving our shared values, supporting our teachers in their quest to best educate our students, and addressing the achievement gap that continues to exist in our school.
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