Getting Back to the Business of School

Storm recovery…Where to begin? From home life to work life and everything in between, our region is now in recovery mode from Hurricane Florence. We are now dealing with insurance adjusters, contractors, tree removal, and other tasks to help restore our homes, our businesses, our lives. Everyone is trying to get back to a normal routine, which is sometimes easier said than done.

New Hanover County Schools has been in recovery mode for the last several weeks – restoring our buildings, our facility’s grounds, and yes…our instructional day. As part of our district’s restoration efforts, we have to look at not only the structural areas that we have lost, but also the instructional time that was also taken by the storm.

There’s been a lot of discussion about making up time due to Hurricane Florence. I have received numerous emails and messages from a variety of stakeholders – NHCS employees, parents, students, and community members – that have kindly (and some very candidly) given their input on the options to make up time.

Several have asked not to make up the days at all due to the State Legislature forgiving up to 20 days. Others have shared their comments about adding time to the instructional day or adding days to the school calendar. Whatever solution is determined, we will not please everyone, but simply not making up any of the time is not an option. NHCS is in the business of educating students, and just like with any other business, we have to do whatever is possible to make up our losses. When the State Legislature forgave the days, they did that primarily for employees, so that they would not have to take leave for the days that they missed due to the hurricane. It also gave districts the flexibility on how to make up the instructional time that was lost to the hurricane.

Our primary mission is educating students and not making up the time would send the message that classroom time is not important. Seventeen days is almost a full month of instruction. I believe there is no better instructional time than when a teacher is in front of his or her students. This simply cannot be made up without adding time. We can argue about days or minutes as a means of gaining that time back, though our tight calendar really limits our options to gain time.

I also have to consider the possibility that more days could be missed due to weather, as we have not even started the winter months. (We lost three days last year due to the snow and icy weather.) If we miss more time in the coming months, we may have to look at Saturday school, a shorter spring break at Easter or other make up options.

Last week, the district conducted a phone survey about make up options to all traditional calendar parents and teachers. After reviewing the results, we found that there is a slight proportion in favor of adding time to the day instead of adding extra days at the end of the year. For this option, one of the biggest complaints is, “What can you do with 20 minutes? That doesn’t really add anything to instruction.” I would disagree with those that do not think an additional 20 minutes per day has no educational value. By adding 20 minutes to a reading block or a math block, a teacher can dig deeper into that subject. A 20-minute remediation block added to Smart Lunch at the high schools can make a difference. Time is simply a tool that we have at hand. If we ignore it, we have lost the opportunity to recover what we have lost; if we capitalize on it by adding 20 minutes a day, we will regain a good portion of the time that was lost, and the district will be moving forward with its recovery. We have no control over the weather, but we can manage the school day that will allow us to incorporate time that our students need and deserve so that they can have a successful school year.

During the November Regular Board Meeting on Wednesday, November 7th, I will present both make up options – adding 20 minutes to the school day OR adding 5 additional days to the school calendar (Traditional Calendar) – for the Board of Education to review, consider, and determine how the district will make up the instructional time.

The NHCS Instructional Services Team has prepared examples of how the additional 20 minutes can enhance the school day and make a difference.

How to Effectively Utilize an Extra 20-Minutes to the Instructional Day

Suggestions from the NHCS Instructional Team

I can remember as a teacher on many occasions I would run out of time during a lesson. I would often think, if I just had more time, or if I just had five more minutes, I could have ______________.  Any teacher could fill in this blank. Our instructional time is already full of carefully planned activities and meaningful learning experiences. Unfortunately, Hurricane Florence wreaked havoc on our area and negatively impacted many things, including the loss of instructional time. Make no mistake, there is nothing more important to student achievement and academic growth than our teachers working with our students. So with the loss of instructional time, the decision on how to recover it becomes an important issue.

Principals share this burden and have heard teachers’ concerns as they express that they do not have enough time in their day to do all that they need do and teach all that they desire or need to teach. Truth be told, our principals feel the same way. Principals are outwardly worried about how we can we recover our time for our teachers and students. Every opportunity that causes missed instructional time is scrutinized and even more so post-storm. Collectively, teachers and principals reassess every minute of instructional time and ask questions….Should we still attend this field trip?  Do we have time for this enrichment activity? The list is long and there is no right or wrong question or right or wrong answer as every minute of instructional time is precious and every instructional minute between teachers and students is important. These are the complications of finding the balance of recovering instructional time for our teachers and students versus all that stands in the way. While final decisions are yet to be determined, the idea of returning twenty minutes to remaining school days is a possibility. The NHCS Instructional Team is here to support teachers and principals in whatever decision is reached.

We know research suggests that more quality time spent on instruction yields higher achievement. So in the spirit of every minute makes a difference, we have compiled some ideas and instructional strategies that teachers might find useful as they reorganize and plan their lessons, post-storm. In addition, we realize that our list could be greatly enhanced by the contributions of others so this list is not comprehensive by any means.

Beginning of class

Try a new activating strategy: Engaging activities can be used at the beginning of any class period to activate students’ prior knowledge and hook them into the lesson.

Spiral Review: This common strategy used in math and science to review/reteach/remediate previous material that students have learned can be adapted to any content area.

Independent Silent Reading: The NCDPI grade band guides assist teachers in implementing ISR instruction and provide a picture of what ISR looks like in practice.

Journaling: Writing is powerful for student learning and reflection, which helps build metacognition. This article discusses various ways to incorporate journaling in the classroom and provides an efficient strategy for reading and grading student journals.

Pre-assessments: These are a useful tool for teachers to gain information about student knowledge before a unit of study. This enables teachers to compact the curriculum to better meet student needs.

Vocabulary strategies: Strategies to build and review content area vocabulary can be utilized in any course with students of all ages.

Number Sense Protocols: 10-15 Minute Number Sense Protocols is a collection of activities and strategies to increase students’ number sense and increase student discussion.

Teacher Read Alouds: “Read alouds draw students of any age into a community that is knowledgeable and curious about topics and texts, from novels to news reports.”

Middle or during class

Brain Breaks- Brain breaks aren’t wasted time. They are valuable to re-engage students and enhance learning. This article clarifies two types of brain strategies: brain breaks, which are stimulating, and focused-attention practices, which are quieting.

Writing Across the Curriculum- The NCDPI writing guides offer clarification of the writing standards and provide grade specific ideas for instruction.

Cooperative Learning Strategies- This list provides examples and potential uses for Think-Pair-Share, Jigsaw, Numbered Heads Together, Carousel, and more.

Graphic Organizer Structures- Connecting standards, thinking processes, and thinking tools—graphic organizers are a must in every classroom!

End of class

Exit tickets- These mini formative assessments allow students to reflect on their experience of the lesson. The teacher obtains a quick perspective on how well students understood the content and can adjust future instruction.

Quick writes- A quick write can be used to promote personal connections and reflection, assess student learning, summarize reading, and encourage critical thinking.

Student Surveys- “One way of gathering feedback from your students is to take 15 minutes or so during class to have them anonymously complete a mid-semester feedback form.” In addition, student surveys could be utilized at any time during the year to gather feedback on a number of things.

Online learning platforms

Most of our schools have access to online learning platforms and there are some online learning platforms that are available to any and all. Resources such as LearnZillion, Zearn, Prodigy, Khan Academy, IXL, and NoRedInk are no cost resources that can be used by students of all ages.

Twenty minutes a day can provide students with skill review, which can reinforce lessons from the classroom. The core of our business is teaching and learning. Collaboration and the sharing of ideas only enhance what we do. Please feel free to share any positive ideas and/or strategies on how to creatively use the extra time in your instructional day!

Here to serve!

The NHCS Instructional Team

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