Seeing Is Believing

Today’s post is written by our Knowledge Management intern, Brittney Leibert. She is in her third year at Northeastern University where she is studying Psychology.

Last month, I had the privilege of joining the Massachusetts state team and several of our TIME Collaborative planning schools from Tennessee in our fall Seeing is Believing Tour, a showcase of six Massachusetts Expanded Learning Time (ELT) schools who have been thoughtful and effective in their implementation of ELT with the assistance of NCTL. Spanning three days, forty teachers and district personnel from Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) visited two to four of these schools and debriefed together to share lessons learned and next steps in the TIME Collaborative planning process.

It became clear through hours of classroom observations and discussions with students, principals, and district staff that what united these schools was not simply some formula for a longer school day, but rather a real commitment to the students and a firm belief that expanded time is a lever for educational equity. Over lunch on my group’s fourth and final school visit, one MNPS administrator took a moment to express to me how clarifying the experience had been for her—how in months of planning she had seen no description of ELT on paper that measured up to what she saw in our schools over the past two days. As someone far less familiar with the world of public education than the MNPS teachers and administrators who joined me, I can only begin to grasp how valuable it was to see these schools through an educator’s lens. But even for myself, an intern submerged regularly in work and discussion surrounding ELT implementation and the successes of more time, the tour drew together all that I knew about the work that goes into expanding the school day. It also illuminated the power of a dedicated leadership team to effect change.

Each visit afforded us a better picture of what ELT looks like in action as well as an opportunity to probe successful strategies for expanding time.  At the Wetherbee K-8 School in Lawrence, MA, a talkative student panel celebrated deep community partnerships and daily enrichments. In Wetherbee’s redesigned schedule, enrichments give teachers time for a weekly three-hour common planning block, which has strengthened vertical alignment and enabled time for special education and ELL teachers to collaborate with regular education teachers. McKinley Elementary in Revere, MA uses data from regular assessments for targeted instruction and interventions made possible by ELT, and has developed a popular dual-language program that added a new cohort of students this school year. At the Guilmette Elementary School in Lawrence, MA, a data coach works with staff to display and update age-appropriate data in every classroom and hallway (and even in the bathrooms!). And although students at A.C. Whelan Elementary School in Revere, MA have consistently outperformed the state in science on the MCAS, Principal Jamie Flynn and staff are working closely with a community partner to further strengthen science units this spring. “We have 100% buy-in in this staff that ELT is important and that it’s what’s best for the kids, and that’s what makes this work,” Flynn said.

In this work, I find myself in awe of the resoluteness of our staff and the schools we work with in their pursuit of high-quality instruction and educational equity. The commitment to ELT is appropriately driven by incremental successes. The classrooms we saw on the Seeing is Believing Tour represent just a microcosm of what is capable through expanded time, and allowing outside educators a glimpse of this, particularly in schools with similar student demographics, can be both grounding and inspiring; it reminds teachers of the potential for growth in low-income schools, and it equips them with the ideas and confidence to realize this potential in their own schools. If the lessons our MNPS visitors gleaned from this tour in any way inform the instruction in their schools, we can count another small success as we expand our work nationally.

Perhaps most empowering on this Seeing is Believing Tour was the openness with which principals shared some of the setbacks they have experienced while continuously expanding time for their students and trying to provide the highest educational support: at Whelan, the Instructional Leadership Team continues to make adjustments to its schedule in their sixth year of ELT implementation; McKinley has expanded enrichments and common planning time in an aged building lacking the makerspace; Wetherbee K-8 works to create meaningful, data-driven interventions for all students in a district experiencing high student mobility. Despite roadblocks, each school told a story of a student community performing better, encouraged by a staff striving to be better. “We have a mindset of continuous improvement,” said Lori Butterfield, principal of Guilmette Elementary. “It’s all about what’s best for the kids, not what’s easiest for the teachers. If it’s best for the kids, we have to do it,” said Ed Moccia, principal of McKinley.

 And that is something to believe in.