Casey R. Ahner

Casey R. Ahner is the director of instructional support for Los Lunas Schools in New Mexico. He has served as a special education teacher, counselor, assistant principal, and principal at the intermediate and elementary levels.

Let's Be Prescise

On my mind a great deal lately is the precision that is required of schools.
I often hear my father-in-law in my head saying, “Start straight, stay straight, and you will be straight.” This was something that became a mantra as we built my family’s home. More than one helper has accused me of trying to wear out a tape measure on any given day.
This makes me think about how many schools and districts have GPS or devices in school vehicles that monitor where a specific vehicle is, the time it was there, how many minutes it was at any location, and how fast it was going at any specific point. The purpose of these tools is not to micromanage. They allow for precision in response to safety and responsible stewardship.

Meet student needs with precision

As educators, I think we can agree that it is both necessary and difficult to create conditions to be able to guarantee high levels of learning for all. It is our obligation to prepare students for a rapidly changing future. This will require student needs to be met with precision, identifying students by name and each of their needs skill by skill. We will not be successful in this if we depend on parents, lawmakers, luck or hope. We will not be successful if we allow students family situations, socioeconomic statuses, ethnicities, genders, beliefs, values, or where they live and what they live in to predetermine their level of academic achievement.
We must be clear on our why. Rick DuFour said many times that “people know what we value based on what we monitor.” Why do we monitor the work of teams? Why do teams monitor student learning? The focus of teams is student learning. I contend that monitoring teams is the most efficient way to monitor student learning and guarantee a timely response.
I am continually drawn to this Ron Edmonds quote from the mid-1970s:
"We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us. We already know more than we need to do this. Whether we do it or not must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we have not done it so far.''
This statement was made four decades ago, yet today there are students that are still part of the educational lottery and do not have a winning ticket. Nothing produces as positive of an effect as teachers reflecting on their practice to achieve what John Hattie refers to as “collective teacher efficacy” with an effect size of 1.57. As teacher teams use the four critical questions of the Professional Learning Community at Work process, they will be able to determine student need skill by skill and craft the best response to have a relevant effect on student learning.

Use data and strategies with precision

As collaborative teams use a protocol for data analysis to evaluate student learning, they must also evaluate the instructional practices and strategies used to produce learning. Teams will decide the practices and strategies that should be carried forward and those that should be abandoned. All of this must be decided with evidence of student learning and not personal preference! When practices are found to be effective, it is essential that all students benefit from those practices. It is critical that the professionals continue their learning and development as they share and partake in opportunities to better support student learning.
Evaluation of professional practice is the keystone to better student results. Discussion alone will not provide the depth and opportunity to efficiently implement new strategies. In the spirit of continuous improvement, teachers can use peer observations, instructional rounds, lesson studies, and videos to reflect and grow as they meet the needs of every student.
It is our moral imperative to guarantee success for all students. This cannot be done in isolation or by doing things the way we have always done. We can follow the example of other professions by using the structure and strength of the team to meet the diverse and varied needs of students with precision. We must start straight, stay straight, and continue the work to be straight for our students.
In doing so, we affect not only the student as an individual, but the entire family and community—not just today, but for generations to come.
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