Sue Zapf •

Lakeville Area Learning Center • Lakeville, Minnesota

Lakeville Area Learning Center (Lakeville, MN)

Over the thirty years of my teaching career, I have attended many workshops, conferences, and seminars, and only two of them have been “teacher (and hopefully student) transformational” for me. The first was in 2003 when I attended a Schools Attuned conference based on the work of Dr. Mel Levine, and the second was the PLC conference in Minneapolis at the beginning of this month. Even though we had been introduced to PLCs in our district, I had an incorrect understanding regarding them. I came to the conference thinking they were “one more thing,” but I left the conference understanding them as “the main thing.” It’s just common sense; it’s practical – and I thank you!

For the first twenty years of my career, I taught in the mainstream school system, and for the past ten years, I have been working with at-risk eighth and ninth graders in an alternative school setting. The conference was very affirming because we are doing some things right. We have an A, B, C, or Do It Over policy on every assignment, and we invite – and then direct if necessary – students to stay after school to complete their work. (We call those SAD days as in Stay After Days.) A co-teacher and I, who are with the kids all day, meet with each student individually every Friday to talk about the week, what went well and what can be improved upon. Also, the students can earn a half-day incentive on the last Friday of the month – based on grades, attendance, and behavior – when they are released into the custody of an adult at 12:00 that day.

The students who remain at school receive all of our attention for the next two hours to help them get done what they need to get done, and it becomes a win-win for the students who leave as well as for the students who stay. And all of this is done within a mostly collaborative setting. As a result, we have had a lot of success, and very few of our students have ever earned anything lower than a C. However, a perception of some of the staff at the mainstream is that we are “coddling” and “enabling.” I have always had a lot of trouble with that as we are holding them accountable as others are allowing them to fail.

Thus, it was a great affirmation yesterday when I read your book, Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap, and saw your comments about all of that being the “antithesis of enabling.” I agree 100%! Of course, we have areas that still need great improvement. Primarily, we need to use data – something we have never really done. However, that change begins with the beginning of the school year. So, I just want to say thank you for making sense, thank you for spreading your passion, thank you for moving the educational system forward, and thank you for coming to Minneapolis! Have a great fall!

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