“It’s Like You’re Conducting an Orchestra”


Reposted from gatesnotes:

“From the minute you meet Katie Brown, you get the feeling she’s an amazing teacher. Her intelligence and passion jump out. You immediately think: I would love for my kids to be in her classroom. It’s no surprise to learn she was named the 2014 Washington State Teacher of the Year.

Katie teaches at Shuksan Middle School in Bellingham, a couple hours north of Seattle. Shuksan is a low-income school where two thirds of the students get free or reduced-price lunches. It used to be the kind of school that parents tried to keep their kids from going to, she told me. But in the past few years, things have really turned around. There’s now a waiting list for students to get in. Katie said they have kids who cry on the last day of school—they just don’t want to leave.

A turnaround like that doesn’t happen overnight, of course, and there’s no one factor that causes it. Katie said it started when a strong new superintendent and principal came in and started changing the culture. It’s more collaborative now, and the school has created “a culture of high expectations, balanced with high affection.” There’s also a new focus on data. Shuksan’s teachers start every school year with a “data walk-through,” where they get together and pore over every bit of information about their classes that they can find—from test scores to attendance records and student perception reports—so they can see which areas they need to work on. “You can’t argue with a graph,” she told me.”

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