In a typical year, we look forward to November as a time when we come together in person and across schools for our annual fall convening. We value the time together to step back, reflect on the first marking period, and continue to advance our shared priorities around Grade 9 and college and career readiness (CCR). While we were unable to gather in person this year, it still felt important to convene for cross-district learning and collaboration at this critical moment in the year. We put out the invitation to the network and, in all, 133 RISE educators came together to participate in three virtual learning sessions.
Our first afternoon session welcomed nearly 100 RISE educators to a dialogue around equitable grading. This session came on heels of nearly six months of educator collaboration on this topic. The effort began with our summer book club focused on the book Grading for Equity, and has continued with monthly conversations among educators experimenting with new approaches to grading in their classrooms and schools this fall. In the session, six equitable grading “pioneers” shared their work and the early learnings from their shifts in practice, helping to inspire attendees to consider revised grading practices. Here, you can view a recording of the portions of the session where RISE staff introduced the core pillars and practices of equitable grading as articulated by author Joe Feldman.
It is always reassuring to know we are not on an island with all this work…. The data and the conversations confirmed we are in the same boat and need to work on this together.
The second and third sessions, focusing respectively on College and Career Readiness and Grade 9, began with inquiry around network-wide data that reflect the significant challenges students face in successfully transitioning from middle school into high school and from high school to college. Data showing a year-over-year decline in Grade 9 on-track rates and stagnant rates of college matriculation among RISE high school graduates informed conversations about root causes as well as potential solutions. At a moment when college enrollment is declining and when it’s difficult to be a high school freshman, we left each conversation inspired by the commitment of educators in all network partner schools to rise to the challenge.
Translating Learning Into Action
We always aim for our gatherings to catalyze ideas and action, so that the work does not stop at the end of the sessions. Educators’ next steps and exit survey commitments indicated that the collaborative sessions prompted creative and action-oriented thinking.
Following the session on equitable grading, educators expressed interest in “reforming grading practices to be more consistent as a department” and “thinking more deeply about how changes in grading practices connect with changing and improving instructional practices.”
Sharing ideas in breakout rooms with other schools and team time was good…I always enjoy being reminded to focus on what we can control because I often forget that.
After the Grade 9 session, we heard from educators intending to go back to their classrooms to “plan strategies to improve student engagement, participation and attendance efforts in improving on track rates” and of others looking to organize an end-of-quarter celebration to “increase student motivation and engagement, two big pillars to improve by planning something fun and exciting for students and their families.”
Finally, after the CCR session, attendees’ commitments ranged from making shifts to school-wide practice by “encouraging [discussion of] postsecondary education plans within each classroom, around the school, and within the district” to “host[ing] an alumni panel … to talk to current students about the transition to college and what they wish they knew.” Other educators want to plan CCR professional development for colleagues, and on a more personal level, one attendee plans to dedicate “more class time to sharing my personal college experiences and answering any questions students might have about what to expect.”
We look forward to partnering with RISE educators to pursue these and other ideas, as we continue to think creatively about how to best serve students during the pandemic. Educators are working tirelessly and facing new obstacles, and it can — at times — feel pretty lonely and frustrating. This is one of the reasons why we have launched our RISE Notes from the Field campaign, spotlighting ways that educators are adapting their practices to support student success. The great news is that our network represents hundreds of RISE educators who are grappling with similar questions and motivated by similar goals. The three fall learning sessions reminded us all of the scale of the challenges we are tackling — but also that we are tackling them together, as a powerful network invested in one another’s success.