Doctors no longer practice medicine the same way they did decades ago, and educators shouldn’t be teaching the same way, Tom Hierck says.

Working with the author of books on topics such as positive learning environments, Blount County Schools educators are rethinking everything, from how to make students eager to return to school after the first day to training the kids on how to take ownership of their learning.

Their work is critical, Hierck emphasized. “You change lives every day,” he told the educators Friday in the BCS Central Office while wrapping up a two-day session.

“You are working with kids who will take your jobs, who will take every other job in your community,” he said. “What type of adults do you want to create?”

Impact teams

The elementary school leaders attending this week’s sessions are in their second year of working with Hierck, and the county’s middle and high schools are in their third.

“It’s not a program; it’s not a boxed set; it doesn’t tell you what you need to do,” said Mike Crabtree, BCS assistant director of curriculum and instruction.

Through the process, “impact teams” at each school are gathering evidence, setting goals based on what research shows are the most effective strategies, measuring progress and making adjustments.

“It’s a radical change from what most teachers are used to or what they expect when they go into teaching,” Crabtree said.

The effort is part of the schools’ initiative over the past five years to implement “Visible Learning,” based on the work of John Hattie to analyze which practices have the greatest impact on students’ learning.

It dovetails with other efforts, such as math assessments and a Wit and Wisdom English curriculum to build stronger skills in comprehension, fluency and writing.

As Hierck noted Friday, efforts to fill students with content are fruitless if they aren’t engaged in learning first. Time building relationships with students can have a huge impact.

“Sometimes learning is uncomfortable because you don’t know,” Crabtree explained, but the power is in the struggle. When students feel they are in a safe environment, they can take the risk to work through the struggle and reach a higher level of learning.


Last year, Rockford Elementary School teachers shared their “DNA,” in a display that showed their Dreams, Needs and Abilities, Assistant Principal Nichole McCord explained. This year they will focus on their students’ DNA.

In the first 72 hours of the new school year, she said, the educators will work to build relationships with every Rockford student. McCord has seen firsthand the impact when students understand someone at school cares about them. “They’re going to work for you,” she said. “They don’t want to disappoint me.”

At Walland Elementary School last year they asked students what a good learner looks like. Principal Kim Sullivan said their answers were just like Hierck has seen in other schools: Students describe behaviors such as sitting quietly, not the same thing teachers realize define learning.

Now Walland will be working on the next steps toward students taking the lead in parent-teacher conferences. In the model Hierck describes, students share with their families the accomplishments of which they are most proud, where they have seen the greatest growth, in what areas they have yet to reach goals, and the help they expected will allow them to succeed.

“It turns into one of the sweetest learning experiences,” said Sullivan, who has seen such conferences as a teacher.

Schools also are using WIN time, when students focus on “What I Need,” such as homework help.

The schools are showing students how to use assessments to identify “what next” strategies, Crabtree explained. “That’s lifelong learning.”

In addition to working with the other educators within their schools, the impact team members are building a collaborative community with others throughout the district, and Hierck will be back in October to check their progress.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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