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Celebrating PBE

January 12, 2015

Transitioning to Proficiency Based Education (PBE)

I am well aware of the difficult task educators have taken on across the state of Maine. Each week I receive emails and/or phone calls from visual or performing arts teachers with questions and concerns about the PBE work underway. Fortunately, the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative (MAAI) presently has PBE at the heart of our work. And, thanks to Rob Westerberg, MAAI Leadership Team member and York High School music teacher, who has created the Maine Arts Assessment website at http://www.maineartsassessment.com/ to assist you as teachers tackling this task, alone or with colleagues. MAAI is committed to shifting our work to respond to the challenges of the arts classrooms across the state. If you reach out and connect with the MAAI Teacher Leaders or Leadership Team members, no one needs to feel like an island. Contact information is on the site included above or please contact me at argy.nestor@maine.gov.

As is the case, at any time in educational reform, districts are at different places with the work. At the end of the first grading term earlier this year, I saw one of the MAAI teacher leaders who was very excited to share what was happening in her school. I asked her to write it down and send it to me so I could share it with the Maine Arts Ed community on the blog. Below is her post, I am sure you will read the excitement in her words and get a picture of the journey one school has had underway for two years.

A Celebration of Proficiency Based Learning

by Jen Etter, Music Educator, York Middle School

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Jen conducting a middle level chorus class. She is not that tall, yes, she is standing on a chair.

I imagine it is not an every day occurrence to walk into a staff meeting and be whacked on the head by a gigantic balloon. It certainly isn’t at our school! This particular day, the multi-purpose room was decorated from top to bottom with streamers and colorful dots. There was loud music blaring and enough food to feed an army. So what would warrant this kind of celebration on a random Wednesday in the middle of October? The release of the report card of course!

The report card we released in mid-October is far from perfect, however to say it represents an enormous amount of hard work and commitment would probably be the understatement of the century! In the past year, York Middle School has transitioned to completely proficiency based instruction and reporting. This change required a complete overhaul in the way we do things around here.

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Jen presenting to “critical friends”, summer 2013

For us the process began about two years ago. Our district had almost a complete change over of administration and our new focus became teaching and learning. I always feel odd saying that because really, shouldn’t the focus always be on teaching and learning? Well yes, it should be but I think everyone knows that more often than not, other things seem to get in the way. For many, including myself, this was a major transition in how lesson planning was approached. Until this point in my teaching career, when I planned a lesson, I usually thought about it in terms of two things: what do I want to teach the kids? and how much time do I have? Now, two years later it seems crazy to even think about that. In hindsight it seems so unprofessional! Personally, the shift of focus to teaching and learning has forced me to change my focus in lesson planning. What do I want every student in my room to learn? and how do I know they’ve learned it? For me, this change in mind set has made all the difference.

I don’t mean to paint a picture of perfection at my school because it is anything but that. For all staff, the transition to standards based reporting and proficiency based learning has been a major undertaking. It has raised major questions about the direction that education is heading both in our state and nationally and in many ways has divided our staff because of different philosophies. Despite this, the level of professional conversation that has been happening throughout our school is one of such depth and substance that it could motivate the most unambitious of teachers!

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Jen with colleagues, Rob Westerberg, and Cynthia Keating at the Summit on Arts Education, July 2014

There are major changes happening in the world of education, there is no doubt about that. It is both an exciting and very scary time to be in the profession. I urge you, get caught up in the excitement and be part of the change. Be part of the conversation about what education should look like for our kids because I guarantee, no matter how you feel about proficiency based learning, diving into the discussion about what it should look like could be one of the most valuable things you will do as an educator.

Thank you Jen for sharing part of your journey and taking on a leadership role in your school. Jen can be reached at jetter@yorkschools.org.

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