Episode #56: Chris Dodge
Under Chris’ leadership, The Dexter Park Innovation School has moved to an inclusion school, servicing students through a co-teaching model of instruction.
Christopher Dodge is currently the Principal of The Orange Elementary Schools in Orange, MA, serving 500 students in grades PreK-6. He began his career as a grade 5 and 6 educator in Petersham, MA. Christopher’s passion as an educator included differentiating mathematics instruction for all students. Christopher is an advocate for adult and student’ social-emotional well-being, and the impact it has on student achievement. Christopher has served on the Board of Directors as the Elementary Committee Chairman for the Massachusetts School Administrators Association (MSAA). He most recently served on the Commissioner’s Teaching and Learning subcommittee for reopening schools. He is a connected educator who utilizes social media to make family and community connections, and is passionate about educators using social media as a form of ongoing, personalized professional development. He is also the coordinator of EdcampNQ in Orange, MA.
Tell me your trenches story: Relevant learning. Chris thinks about self as a learner. Has been able to reflect on his life as a learner. Was a good student but not necessarily engaged. Didn’t know himself as a learner until he got to college, the drive he had he didn’t realize he had. Is today the moment for us as educators, rethinking what school means? He knew how to play the game of school. Wasn’t necessarily an engaged learner. Are we teaching kids to pursue their passions and be great at things? Chris didn’t know himself as a learner until later in life. A lot of talk about hanging grades over their heads. Why isn’t school meaningful to them? How are we building mechanisms to go back to- teacher, group, club, team to go back to when they’re closed? If we go back to what we’ve already lost the opportunity. Could be up to Dept. of Ed, or states, being innovative in their approaches. His principal colleagues are trying to create practices that have always applied. He doesn’t put blame on educators or system. A lot is created by government. Systems, we’re held accountable by government systems.
Personalized Learning: On March 13, 2020, it felt good to have the freedom to pursue personalized learning. The system doesn’t always help with passions we want to pursue. They have shifted as a district to move more to personalized learning. In the remote classes, kids can access the content outside the 8-1 school day. It allows them to say to families about “how can we help you”? They’re developing Personalized Learning Plans for pockets of students of how a child is going to access things, what are your challenges and how can we work from those. Looking at every case individually. Some have device issues, parents working, etc. Chris offered opportunities and said to parents “you choose”. We need to keep up with practices we’ve been pursing. How can we help students still be engaged, but not in the typical way? Build in common planning & specials time. Whatever they provide synchronously they need to provide asynchronously as well. Closely monitor students through these programs. Chris & his deans meet weekly to discuss gaps in student engagement. They started a remote learning academy in December- a handful of disengaged students came into the building. They gave them tools to be a remote learner, send them on their way. 4-6 week cycle to see if the student is ready to move on. Make decisions based on individual students. We often assume kids have skills that adults don’t have. It’s taking that approach of teaching kids important life-long skills. They will have to learn to be a learner in this environment. Teacher doesn’t have to be that “stand and deliver” teacher, you’re a facilitator. It’s hard for families if we’re not all aligned, it’s not a one-size-fits-all model. Personalized learning doesn’t mean learning is optional. We will still intervene. We need to hear how it’s going for them.
Tell me about your virtual learning experience as a parent, his kids were also in remote learning (until early March ’21). He was on a re-opening commission across the state but they still asked every district to decide on their own. It’s interesting to listen & watch districts around them. What can we borrow from other leaders, talk to teachers about what isn’t working for them in their son/daughter’s district.
Evaluations, how does that look this year? Chris is the on principal’s advisory cabinet, it’s not really doable this year because it’s such a robust system. A neighboring district did decide to postpone evaluations this year. He can’t pretend he fully understands what teachers are dealing with this year. He’s doing it more as a formative coaching, can’t be used as a “got ya”. He’s using it to coach & reflect with his staff. If you think about assessment it would be great if we had time to do it right- holistic goal set with kids, tracking. Chris has 60 staff members he has to evaluate. Danielsen has a remote learning framework for reflecting with a teacher to look for in a remote setting. Click here to see my blog post, reflecting on this episode and with a link to the (Remote learning walk- through form from Danielsen) Dean & him look for evidence of what they’d like to share out. Recently, it’s been learning environment evidence. Him & his deans follow up with the teacher on what they saw. (framework to have a goal to learn, not critique). How can you share great things teachers are doing? He’s trying to give immediate feedback right after popping into zoom classes. He needs to know what’s happening in their world. Make sure your evaluation system is promoting teacher growth and not just filling out forms. You have to get in the classroom because if you don’t, teachers know when the evaluations are written. Staff start to look forward to you being in the classroom, feel like you’re invested in them, seeing kids, it’s bucket-filling.
Something that changed his career was getting connected on social. Follow #principinaction that group saved him to get out & gave permission to do those things we needed to do. Teachers are seeing other teachers on TicTok and wanting to try. It’s collaborative PD. All teachers are on a learning continuum, we have to respect that.
Best case scenario, how would you like to end the school year? Chris would love to end in person (they went back to the building early March). Would love to celebrate challenges, struggles, successes with both staff & kids. We need to recognize what’s been hard for kids. Honor all they have overcome. Recognize what they’ve accomplished. Better together after this. He hopes staff culture improves. He doesn’t want to go “back to school as usual”. He wants teachers to remember all the funny things that happened during remote learning. We will be OK. We’ll be better on the other side of it. He fears we’ll loose educators. We have to do a better job of protecting them.
Key quotes: ”keep breathing, control what you can control”. “Maintain positivity. Be genuine”.
Follow Chris on Twitter: @PrincipalDodge1 IG: @PrincipalDodge1 School FB: @everychildeveryday1 Voxer: @Cdodge33 Chris’ blog: http://oesleadlearner.blogspot.com/ View this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/BJ8_AZQAPKE