When a 6th grade science teacher left our school last fall for active duty, a packed room of 6th and 7th graders gave him a tearful military sendoff. “He did so much to help me last year,” said one student, a former member of his advisory group. These words of gratitude were echoed by dozens of students.
Watching the emotion that day, I recognized how much strong student-teacher regard contributes to our school’s notable academic achievements. In 2019, DSST Middle School @ Noel– where 93% are students of color, and 73% receive free and reduced lunch – became the #1 middle school on the Denver Public Schools report card known as the School Performance Framework (SPF).
In both English and Math, our school scored #1 for student growth among DPS middle schools. We also earned “exceeds” status in the categories of student proficiency and reduction of academic gaps. Led by founding School Director Dr. Brandi Chin, our school’s leaders and teachers focus intently on analyzing and responding to academic data, aligned with a commitment to excellent academic planning.
Yet, intangible assets also contribute significantly to our school’s ability to create opportunities for every child to learn and grow. As our school’s founding Director of Curriculum and Instruction, I’ve observed three notable factors contributing to our #1 status.
Inclusion and support for all students are bedrock priorities. Our staff works tirelessly to create a conducive, safe learning environment where all students are deeply known as an individual. Not only do our teachers spend time getting to know each student and build their trust, but they also participate in a 12-week intensive workshop series on classroom culture, practicing strategies that manage classroom behaviors, encourage classroom engagement and develop students’ sense of self accountability. All of these tools create the equitable learning environment that is key to our school’s success.
Coaching and Feedback
Weekly coaching is universally applied to all staff. Teachers receive coaching from an administrator, who receives coaching from the School Director. Even the School Director is coached by a dedicated Director of Schools. With coaching comes a cycle of feedback and constant improvement, resulting in immediate improvements to teaching practices.
Teachers visit other classrooms regularly, gaining insight on a particular practice or observing a student in a different setting. Administrators meet with leaders from other schools to gather ideas and solve problems. Each staff member knows that education does not occur in a vacuum, and everyone contributes to each student’s achievement.
Recently, several teachers met to choose the winner of the Bulldog Breakthrough award, given to a student who demonstrates a significant change in academic commitment or behaviors. As they swapped stories, a shared sense of ownership of each student’s success was palpable.
Combined, these intangibles inspire our team to push past the notion that a school’s achievements are denoted only by state assessment performance. Focusing on culture, coaching & feedback, and collaboration, while emphasizing excellent academics and data-driven instruction, promote an environment that increases metrics and opportunity for every student.
Alana Raybon is the founding Director of Curriculum and Instruction at DSST Middle School @ Noel.