Millennium M.S. began year 2 of the CoT journey in September of 2013. This interview with Maureen Altermatt, Principal, may be helpful to those just beginning the journey as well as those farther along.
Principal Perspective on CoT Change Effort
Maureen Altermatt, Principal,
Millennium Middle School, South Lyon
How did you begin Cot and Making Thinking Visible?
I initially heard about Cultures of Thinking at one of our biweekly principals’ meetings in 2011. A principal from another building shared background and shared the initial experiences of his staff with the professional development. All the principals watched a related webinar about developing thinking in students; dialogued about the need for a shift toward this type of instruction (particularly with the Common Core shifts) as well as the “fit” with our current systemic Habits of Mind curriculum. We then came to a consensus that we wanted to pursue this district-wide. It is our belief in SLCS that, to truly implement C0T well, it must be systemic K-12. The district allocated Title IIA funds to begin the professional development. I am willing to commit some building funds to this in the future as is necessary.
To support this project, what initial professional development (PD) was offered and for whom?
The Millennium Middle School leadership team attended four sessions, during the first semester of 2012-13 offered by Oakland Schools. The team consisted of two teachers and myself. As the principal and instructional leader in MMS, I considered whom I might encourage to help lead this. I wanted teachers who have leadership potential and “capital” in the building, but weren’t already stretched in other areas or who hadn’t already “taken charge” of other initiatives in the past, e.g. MLK day, Diversity Day, Writing Extravaganza, Technology Liaison, etc. It was important to me that this could also be a growth and leadership opportunity for them in addition to helping lead the CoT initiative. I wanted this team to represent the perspectives of both the academic core and the elective core of the school. Talking with staff and using these criteria, the science co-coordinator, Tammy McKenzie, and art teacher, Tony Arbini, who is in an administrative leadership program and is also well respected by staff, agreed to be part of the initial leadership team. Tony also had experience the prior year with CoT in Salem Elementary, which piloted this in our district.
The response of the two lead teachers has been very positive. Since the beginning of the year we have used several routines in staff meetings. Our plan is to launch this for classroom use at a presentation to the entire staff on Feb 12th. We will be able to build on our staff experiences with the routines in staff meetings. Teachers will be able to connect to these experiences that form a solid foundational “prior knowledge.”
Our initial professional development for the team was in September of 2012. As of January 2013, we have shared just the most basic information with staff, department facilitators, school improvement/AdvancED team, and the PTO. We explained that we are attending workshops and learning about tools to use in the classroom that will help teachers have a better window into students’ thought processes. Use of these tools will help them tailor instruction to help develop deeper thinking by all students. These routines will provide students with a process for organizing their thinking and will help them take more ownership of their learning. We have suggested that this may be an excellent support for our struggling students and students with disabilities. Our approach is to make clear that we are going to take a long-term and systemic approach to rolling out CoT, much like our Habits of Mind initiative. We are setting the tone in advance so that staff and parents know CoT is coming but do not get anxious that it’s “one more new thing” in a year with so many other changes, e.g. contract, state laws/teacher evaluation, retirement system and health care changes.
Can you share some of the thinking that has gone into expanding your leadership team for the second semester?
The original team plus three new members are attending four additional professional development sessions during the second semester. We decided to wait to “launch” the CoT with our entire staff until these new members had been to the first two- day training in January. A lot of thought was put into selecting the additional members. I already had an elective teacher and a 6th grade science teacher who is the Science Facilitator for the building. I wanted to try and get all the departments represented as well as grade levels. Additionally, we thought it would be good to think about how to address any possible resistance.
We first added an 8th grade math teacher who is respected and provides some union leadership to the staff. While we were not concerned about this teacher as a resistor, we knew that math teachers might have more questions about how these routines could fit in their classrooms. The two original teacher-leaders came up with the idea for a second person to add. We thought about what grade levels/subject areas and particular teacher demographics remaining at MMS were without representation on the team. We felt that this teacher would have influence on and be a positive role model for a group that was not yet represented. The teacher is willing to be an “early adopter,” lead by example, and help encourage others who may be more hesitant to embrace change.
This left one spot to fill, and we asked a special education teacher who is very actively involved and a leader at MMS. She is the building’s PTO liaison, is involved with the Math Subject Area Committee and has given co-teaching presentations to her colleagues (at the request of CITA). She has taken initiative in the past to attend professional development outside the district and has shared information with other teachers. She is also very open to learning and finding new strategies to support students and close the achievement gap. She has taught both Math and ELA sections and co-taught in Science in the past. All of this made her the best choice to add to my team.
We had already decided on the first two expansion teachers before we experienced the LAST protocol 1st semester CoT homework assignment. We invited them to participate in our completion of this assignment. This allowed them a “preview” of the LAST protocol as well as the Connect-Extend-Challenge routine that was the basis of the student work. As a result of being included in this assignment, the teacher who was the second addition to our team (described above) asked for a copy of the Connect-Extend-Challenge template and used it. After the first two-day 2nd semester professional development session with Oakland Schools, she immediately tried Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate and invited me in to be present. I’m pleased at how quickly she is already embracing the use of routines and, as a result, can serve as a role model for other teachers who may have questions or be more hesitant. The art teacher, representing the elective areas, has also used several routines in his classroom throughout the year. All members of the team will be trying a routine and reporting back at our next PD in March.
How are you growing CoT/VT at your school/district?
At the district level, we are “rolling this out” in three phases. Salem elementary began CoT in 2010-11. The progress of this school was slowed a bit with a principal change in 11-12 but the new principal was soon on board and they remain the CoT/VT lighthouse of the district at this time. Four of the remaining six elementary schools are beginning this year (2012-13) along with MMS. The other middle school and the two high schools will begin next year. This gradual installation provides colleagues at different levels of implementation who can learn from each other and problem solve together regarding implementation of CoT/VT. For example, I can be a resource to our other middle school when they launch in 2013-14.
Specific to Millennium Middle School, we are going to “launch” this at the February 12th staff meeting. Team members will be given a planning day on January 31st to prepare for the launching as well as to prepare for some sessions that the teacher-leaders will facilitate on our March Curriculum Day. This year, we are only expecting that all teachers find at least one routine that they will try in their classroom before the end of the year. Some time will be allocated at future staff meetings for all staff and departments to share and discuss what they have tried. We are going to make it clear to staff that we are not “rushing” into this and that we are committing to it for the long term. We will also emphasize that we know that routines may not always work the way you want the first time. To really start seeing measurable increases in achievement, it will take time for both teachers and students to become comfortable and proficient with their use. I anticipate that many teachers will actually want to try multiple routines this year and they will help “push” along those who may be more hesitant.
What funding resources do you use for expanding CoT/MTV?
Funding comes from both the district and the building budgets. The district allocates funds from Title IIA to provide CoT professional development at the district level. The School Improvement Team allocates funds from the building budget for any additional building needs in this area.
Since this is a priority at MMS, we have and will allocate staff meeting time and some release time for teachers who want to go visit classrooms at Salem or other CoT schools. After we have built some capacity with the visual thinking routines, we will provide additional release time for collaboration on how to infuse these routines into lessons by looking at student work, etc. We have already used some “extra” money in our budget to buy and set aside enough MTV books for all staff members. They will each get their own copy. We have also told the current team that they may have some release time if they want to visit Salem classrooms before their visit to Clarkston Middle School in May.
The district uses Title IIA funds to support the schools in attending the Cultures of Thinking professional development sessions hosted by Oakland Schools. MMS is looking forward to being included in “Year 2” of this formal PD in 2013-14. The district is also providing some funding for the second semester team to have release time and observe classrooms in another district. We attended the school tour in Clarkston in May of 2013. After the morning tour, we spent the PM meeting as a team.
What are some strategies you are using to forge a systemic approach and sustaining the necessary changes to institutionalize CoT/VT?
Principals and the district CITA Department administrators have been dialoguing about this at principal meetings since 2011-12. I assume this will continue along with being a focus item on our administrator retreat at the opening of the year. We will all begin to institutionalize “common language” with students and staff (just as we did with Habit of Mind) and the routines will become a common approach in instruction. My Assistant Principal will share information about CoT in a staff newsletter, “Thursday Topics.” This administrative collaboration and discussion will support him in becoming informed about CoT and VT also.
It is too soon to comment on the art of sustaining this focus. However, knowing our district, part of the way that we will sustain it is having a systemic approach and committing to it K-12. In addition, with all the principals being trained (a systemic strategy) we will be able to work as a team to oversee implementation and provide the necessary support and development to all staff members. Additionally, we will be able to educate our parents and community
What county support systems would be helpful to you in sustaining this approach?
Facilitating opportunities for schools in different district to visit one another is a great start – thank you! I think, perhaps, that it might be useful to have some future “follow up” dialogue/sharing sessions with groups that have gone through these cohorts together. This would probably be especially helpful in small district or districts where only one or two buildings are implementing CoT. In SLCS, we’ll be able to do some collaborating within the district too.
What advice can you give to other principals/central office personnel for growing and sustaining this change in their schools or district?
I think it is very important to make this a systemic district focus if at all possible. Additionally, staff needs to see that it is something that we are committed to for the long haul.