2017-08-27 / Insight

LCS to focus on student-centered approach to classroom instruction

810-452-2609 • adietderich@mihomepaper.com

Lapeer Superintendent Matt Wandrie on Wednesday addressed the district’s teachers during as assembly held at Lapeer High School. 
Photos by Andrew Dietderich Lapeer Superintendent Matt Wandrie on Wednesday addressed the district’s teachers during as assembly held at Lapeer High School. Photos by Andrew Dietderich LAPEER — For Lapeer Community Schools, the 2017- 18 school year sets up to be about shifting from a focus on education, to concentrated efforts on improving the overall educational experience.

That was the overall “opening day” message delivered by LCS Superintendent Matt Wandrie on Wednesday, as most of the district’s educators and staff gathered in the cafeteria of Lapeer High School with less than a week to go before the start of school.

“I would say the theme of our year is a more student-centered approach to classroom instruction, which really involves the teacher playing the role of facilitator more so than this direct instruction,” Wandrie later told The County Press.

Heading into the new school year, it’s an approach that really began at the end of the previous school year, when teachers were asked to contribute “ideas and criticisms and suggestions” for goals that were being written at the district level.

Students, Wandrie said, should notice the difference while in class in form of working through problems in group settings and “that it isn’t just about the teacher as the expert presenter in the room.”

“That you’re literally creating more real-life scenarios where kids have to work with others to kind of struggle through problems,” Wandrie said. “It’s really a whole paradigm shift in the arena of education.”

“The old school of thought was ‘The teacher’s the expert. The teacher’s imparting knowledge. The teacher’s assigning work. The teacher’s checking work. The teacher’s grading work and providing feedback,’” Wandrie said. “A lot of the effort, and most of the intellectual exercises were being done by the teacher. So how do we get students to assume a greater share of the intellectual burden in a class?”

Wandrie says there’s one way.

“Shift the responsibility of learning onto the kids as opposed to the teacher kind of spoon-feeding it,” he said.

Wandrie admits it won’t be an overnight change, as teachers identify what practices seem to work best.

The hope, he told teachers, was that goals will help guide the process and “Create structures for our teachers to continuously achieve shortterm wins in very specific instructional areas.”

This, he said, is opposed to “just saying, at the beginning of the year, in the opening day speech, ‘Hey we have this lofty goal and we want x percentage of students to achieve at this level and then let’s check back in over a year later to see how we did,’” Wandrie said during the speech. “We know that’s not necessarily the most effective way to set and monitor goals.”

Wandrie said goals need to be looked at frequently so adjustments and adaptations can be made along the way, rather than waiting until a relatively significant amount of time has passed.

“We have to commit to always continuously improving and getting better,” Wandrie said. “That is a common thread throughout the organization.”

Wandrie said to achieve any level of success in meeting goals, several factors crucial: collaboration, frequent discussion about goals, a willingness for all parties to learn (including educators), and making goals living (i.e. able to be changed on the fly, and as needed).

One other factor is important, too, he said.

“You want to have a goal that the people you’re leading think can be achieved,” Wandrie said.

Wandrie put the onus on educators to not get complacent, and to continue to push themselves.

“We all have to adopt this belief that at no point have we reached mastery and perfection at what we do,” he said. “There’s always something that we can do a little bit better, or more innovative, or have a different approach.”

Wandrie said professional development throughout the year will include fostering a true understanding of terms like “student-centered learning” and how LCS factors into the state-led “Top 10 in 10” program that generally aims to have Michigan become a “Top 10 educational state in 10 years.”

“We do this a lot in education…we throw out these terms and don’t have a common definition of what they mean, and it’s not fair to anyone,” Wandrie said, noting it was “especially” unfair to teachers and staff.

Other matters will keep district administration busy this year, too.

Specifically, community outreach in the form of strategic planning as well as safety and security forums.

“I want to gauge the community’s temperature, so to speak, on what kind of change in our school system they would support,” Wandrie said.

He said it would be similar in style to when the decision was made several years ago to close Lapeer High West, but only after receiving a significant amount of input from the community, including 30 town hall meetings in 30 days.

This time, however, Wandrie said such forums would be more open-ended.

He used virtual learning as an example.

“Would enhancing the experience, or opportunity, for students to take virtual courses be something that the community might have greater interest in?” Wandrie said, adding that a variety of topics will be addressed.

Similarly, forums will be held on safety and security at LCS.

“We went through a lot last year as it relates to this issue,” Wandrie said to LCS teachers and staff Wednesday. “All I can say is there is a lot of nervous parents, a lot of nervous staff, and a lot of nervous students, rightly so, about some of the threats that exist in our world today that maybe we didn’t grapple as educators even 10 years ago.”

Specifically, he said, the Internet and social media has ushered in an “entirely new era of challenges for us.”

Wandrie said it’s becoming more common for parents, guardians, and grandparents to bring in communication between students via social media platforms like Snapchat and Facebook.

“They say these things were happening between these two students over the weekend, how are you going to solve it?” he said, adding that parents are “struggling” for answers.

Wandrie said the days of being able to tell parents it’s an “at-home” issue, or to simply “call local authorities” are long gone, especially since so many students now have smartphones.

As a result, most LCS buildings will likely host at least one community forum on the topic of safety and security — a joint effort between the district and local law enforcement.

“I think most of it will be answering questions of frustrated, confused, and scared parents,” he said.

A schedule for the forums had not been set as of press time.

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