By Gregory Heinecke, Curriculum Specialist and WICOR Trainer, Elk River Area School District, Minnesota
According to Los Angeles Times writer Kenneth Turan, “Sixty-eight percent of public university students do not graduate in four years, and forty-four percent do not make it out in six.” I offer that a schoolwide AVID approach not only prepares students for college, but it also lays the foundation for them to be successful—to avoid being a statistic.
Dr. Dennis Johnston wrote a blog about committing to student success by taking AVID schoolwide. He does an excellent job describing how to implement WICOR for all students. Prior to that, in her April blog, Adria Tate defined how AVID’s four domains of instruction, systems, leadership, and culture provide the structure to transform a school in order to ensure readiness for all students. AVID Center offers the needed support to make this happen. My district in Minnesota has been working hard at taking Tate’s domain approach and Johnston’s commitment and making them a reality. Below are some ways that we are working to maintain a schoolwide college-going culture. I hope that you and your team can try them on your campus, too.
What is truly moving our system forward is a core belief that all students can learn and that AVID’s WICOR (writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization, and reading) strategies can have a positive effect on every student in every classroom in the school. Instruction started to change with trainings focused on Cornell notes as the strategy for higher levels of questioning, summarizing, and studying. Many teachers have transitioned from there into using Socratic Seminars and Philosophical Chairs. Pockets of Professional Learning Communities have worked extensively with the Critical Reading Process, as well as many science teachers embarking on the utilization of the Interactive Notebooks with their new curriculum this past fall.
We know that our schoolwide efforts require support, so our district makes structured time for professional learning a priority. District trainings during Workshop Week, trainings from AVID site team members at staff meetings, and even individuals going to a Path to Schoolwide training during the school months are all commitments to transform the schools to better serve the students. Our AVID Schoolwide work is also supported through meeting regularly. Along with their discipline’s Professional Learning Community (PLC), AVID Elective teachers meet weekly in an AVID PLC, while AVID site coordinators—we have three AVID high schools—meet monthly to discuss supporting teachers and students. New this year has been the district commitment to providing time for site teams to utilize the Certification Self-Study’s (CSS) structure to consistently assess areas of growth and areas in need of development.
Our action plans would be nothing without proper leadership. Our superintendent, assistant superintendent, and Teaching and Learning Team have attended Summer Institutes, along with principals and teachers. We have even had School Board members attend the AVID National Conference, demonstrating not only the verbal commitment, but also the time and energy needed to positively affect our student population. Principals make AVID a priority, and site teams work with them to set the tone of promoting and expecting college readiness for all ISD 728 students.
Collaboration changed our culture from “my students” to “ours.” This culture drives the community’s thinking and actions, making WICOR not something that the system does, but instead, a part of who we are and how we define our expectations. Education is the focus, as college names and emblems adorn the walls in pennants and posters, while school staff members wear sweatshirts or jerseys as proud alumni, and conversations both formally and informally occur as students eagerly think about and prepare for what they want “to be when they grow up.”
Each district, obviously, needs to tackle AVID Schoolwide in its own unique manner. The place to start, in the words of the great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, is to “improve a little each day, [and] eventually big things occur.” Start small and be consistent, utilizing the AVID resources.
Some possibilities include:
- WICOR: Choose a single WICOR strategy to focus on during a staff meeting or to be practiced in class instruction for a week, and then discuss in teachers’ Professional Learning Communities. It can be exciting for teachers to experience a Socratic Seminar or a Philosophical Chairs in their monthly staff meeting!
- Research: There is wonderful research available to provide support for AVID going schoolwide. Print some copies for staff members, link to AVID in an email or staff announcement, and/or discuss in the Professional Learning Community, so everyone can get excited at the possibilities and understand the why of going schoolwide.
- Students: Talk to students and hear their thoughts. Make the walls “talk” by asking AVID Elective students what they think their classroom walls would say about the necessary skills and experiences that students need in order to avoid becoming another statistic. Write them down and post them, as the walls then offer their advice on taking AVID schoolwide.
This work is not without challenges, but the commitment to invest in our students to be prepared for what awaits beyond their high school experiences is worth it. Wooden said, “Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. See the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens—and when it happens, it lasts.”
Greg Heinecke is a Curriculum Specialist for Elk River Area Schools in Minnesota. Prior to this position, he taught middle school language arts for 13 years and high school English for five. As a specialist, one area of responsibility is to train staff members across the district’s 16 schools on WICOR strategies in order to raise student achievement by implementing them both schoolwide and districtwide.
For more on AVID Schoolwide, visit http://avid.org/avid-schoolwide.ashx.