Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Pilates, Practice and Incremental Shifts

I see blue skies and oak leaves waving in the wind. The sun is out this morning and a summer blanket of cirrus clouds approach.  I am parked in front of the Move Pilates Center waiting for my teacher. I'm early.

I am new to Pilates. I have not completed even a year of practice yet. My body is relearning how to properly align itself. My knees have to be reminded not to fall out and away from the line drawn from big toe to ankle. My sacrum is learning to stick and stay planted so that my center does the lifting. My head and neck often have minds of their own. I'm working at it. I have yet to strike the teaser pose Stacey Shubbitz wrote about here, but I am making incremental improvements in my practice each class, each week.

The small improvements in practice are noticeable just like they are in our classrooms. In Pilates class, I know when I am moving in a way that builds strength when my teachers,
respond to how I’m moving and helps me revise my position. I know how to self-correct too because Ligia and Tharai have taught me to listen to the feedback of the springs on the reformer or to the feedback of the rollers or spine stabilizers.

So often my teacher reminds me to minimize the movement. Incremental shifts. "No so big! You can't control the movement if you make it too big." The tremble of truth in my core muscles tell me she's right.Feedback leads to learning whether that feedback comes from my teacher, my body or the equipment. I need to pay attention to it if I am going to get stronger.

In my English classroom, I give and get feedback too. Students, peers, and administrators inform my practice. Even test scores talk to me about my teaching practice. Standardized test scores for our annual state test were recently returned to schools. I’ve finished crunching my numbers and I am satisfied with what they tell me. Our state test is just one measure. It is a snapshot in an album of a child’s learning and growth over time. Many people and many factors contribute to gains and losses in the context of an academic year. It matters when a child misses a lot of school. It matters that teachers that teach alongside me in this child’s academic year are enthusiastic and knowledgeable. It matters when teachers work alongside kids: reading, writing, conferring and encouraging. So much matters in schools when it comes to kids’ futures.

Analyzing testing data is but one layer of performance. Kids’ attitudes matter. How my PLC team works together matters. What my administration believes and knows about effective teaching and learning, all matter. One year these pieces--kids, peers, administrators and scores-- will align. I dream of perfect triangulation: anecdotally, attitudinally, qualitatively and quantitatively.

The numbers are good this year. In my state these scores are a student’s bottom line. Without a passing score of 350 students do not get a high school diploma. I teach high-achieving students. Some think and say, "it doesn’t matter who teaches this kind of kid." Those critics have a mindset that these kids will do just fine no matter who is in the classroom.

Perhaps. Is that really what we want to say to teachers though? High achieving students may pass, but this data set doesn’t agree with that assumption one hundred percent. Most years, most pass, yes. But will students continue to grow?

Last year my principal stopped me in the hall and congratulated me on the growth he saw in my students’ scores. He said something like, people don’t realize that it is as hard to get a kid at the top of the scale to make progress as it is at the lower end.


I know that has been a rallying cry in gifted education in year’s past. Still. In  my teaching heart of hearts, all of the work we do in classrooms is hard work, especially in Title I schools like mine.


I didn’t figure out how to move six students over the line this year. Of the six students that didn’t quite reach the line, all but two grew.

Sometimes we fight for each single point on these tests, so while a move in the positive direction may not have statistical significance, it sure has practical significance. These six students will retest in October.

Overall, I can see that incremental shifts in my practice are working. I changed my feedback loop this year. I made it tighter and I personalized learning goals for each student. I checked in via conference weekly. Wow, did it work! Running a workshop classroom, works. Giving students choice and voice works. Practice--reading every day, writing every day, giving students timely feedback--counts.

I may be twenty-three years into teaching, but I am still learning.  Practice still matters. What I do with kids every class period of every day determines how strong we will be at year’s end.  My students grew by leaps and bounds this year!  While I may not agree with the testing law of the land, I delight in kids’ success.  I am so proud of their hard work. We did it!
fsa data summary2016-17.PNG


  1. I love how you compared your incremental growth to your students' growth over time. So important to recognize the small movements towards the goal!

    My colleagues and I plan to move to a workshop model next year in our high school English classes. Your experiences are encouraging to me as we read/plan/dream of more effective instruction in the coming year.

  2. I teach gifted kids, too, and I wish I felt the same about the data. The state testing doesn't do justice for my kids. They usually remain the same. I can see their growth and know that they are better now than they were at the beginning of the year, but I don't feel our method of testing accurately shows this.
    Nevertheless, I like your analogy to Pilates. I am trying yoga this summer. The combination of challenge and relaxation is appealing to me.

  3. I love this line, which is a thought I hold on to, too:Practice still matters. What I do with kids every class period of every day determines how strong we will be at year’s end.

  4. Congratulations to both you and your students for your year of success! It's hard to measure success based on one data point, but by adding in your observations from workshop and conferencing, choice and voice, you are assured that progress of some sort is being made. Enjoy your summer!

  5. Interesting to see how you compare your Pilates practice experience to your experience with your students. I love that you run a workshop model in high school. It's great to see our explanation of what you did differently this year. Woo Hoo for the progress made! Personalized learning goals for your high school students. I want to know how you manage that.