Director of Professional Development
Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School
Toby N. Romer has served in numerous roles in the Boston Public Schools (BPS) over the past 15 years, including teacher, headmaster, assistant headmaster, coach, and teacher leader. He is currently part of the leadership team at the Orchard Gardens K-8 School, one of Boston's turnaround schools, where he serves as Director of Professional Development and Data Inquiry. Prior to his current role, he supported teachers' and school leaders' efforts to improve the achievement of struggling students in four BPS schools as a facilitator for the Accelerating Improvement through Inquiry (AI2) initiative, a grant from the Carnegie Corporation run by the BPS and the Boston Plan for Excellence.
From 2004 to 2009, he served as headmaster of Brighton High School, a large, diverse Boston high school. At Brighton High, he led the re-organization of the school's small learning communities, created extended learning time, focused resources on struggling learners, fostered community partnerships, and actively developed teacher leadership structures. Under his tenure, the school was recognized by the MassInsight Institute as a Vanguard School, selected as a BPS Strategic Practice and Effective Practice School, and named as one of the top 1500 high schools in the nation by US News and World Report. He has taught Spanish, social studies, English as a second language and mathematics in various schools and programs in Boston. He holds an A.B. in Social Studies and Education and an M.Ed. in School Administration from Harvard University.
Mr. Romer gave SERP two interviews about aspects of internal coherence from his perspective. The first interview was prior to the administration on the ICAP survey at Orchard Gardens. The second interview is near the close of the school year.
Mr. Romer speaks about how a school might look when it exhibits a high level of internal coherence. He says that students would experience a high level of consistency in their day and in their classes. He suggests that teachers would experience consistent expectations, experiences and demands. Mr. Romer speaks about what visual indicators you might see at a school that exhibits a high level of internal coherence. He suggests that the attitudes of the students would be on a whole positive and that the school building itself would exhibit a certain consistency of message.Q: Is there anything in particular that you hoping to learn from the Internal Coherence survey? Mr. Romer says hope the results from the survey helps indicate directions where improvements are most needed for the administration team and as a a leadership group in the school.Mr. Romer speaks about the differences between a teacher who’s practice tends to be private and one who considers their practice to be public. He suggests that a teacher who’s practice is public has a willingness to ask questions about their colleagues practice, as well offer their own suggestions as they are connected to other people's needs and interests. Do you have any thoughts on how teachers can become more eager to listen and to help in nonjudgmental ways? Mr. Romer suggests that teachers should feel free to express their ideas without fear of judgment. Mr. Romer shares a recent experience at a math team meeting during which a teacher's "becoming public with her practice" benefited a student. Teachers were able to openly share ideas once they knew that they had problems in common. Mr. Romer points out that both school administrator and instructional leader are important roles in schools, but senior school administrators must also be instructional leaders. It is important, however, that teachers also serve instructional leaders in order for a school to succeed. Q: When do you get to focus on instructional practice? Mr. Romer says that, as the school’s director of professional development, he has an opportunity focus on instructional leadership throughout his workday. He spends much of his day working on teacher leadership practice. Mr. Romer speaks about his role as the director of professional development. Mr. Romer speaks about some of the unique challenges his school experiences and how he and his colleagues approach these issues. Q: Why is it that some schools can have talented individual teachers, yet the students don’t make gains? What’s missing? Mr. Romer suggests that teachers might have to give up some of their practices that make them individually effective in order to become more in line with the goal of being more effective as a whole across the school. Q: Could you address a teacher’s potential concern that with a greater emphasis on group efficacy, they might lose their ability to engage creatively and respond individually when teaching? Mr. Romer suggest that there is still a lot of room for individual initiative, even within culture of shared goals within a school.
What is your school doing that embodies collective efficacy? Mr. Romer suggests that using pre- and post- assessment helped teams to see what was and was not working, based on data. Seeing the relationship between effort and results further motivated educators to work collectively. Do you have any tips for others as how to encourage the notion that collective efficacy that actually results in benefits to the school and to the kids? Mr. Romer suggests that it’s helpful to remind people of the agreed upon benefits of working as a collective to achieve the overall goals that were set out for the school. Have you had opportunities to allow and encourage teachers to observe each other teaching? How successful has this practice been? Mr. Romer suggests that it took time for this practice to develop in the school. By emphasizing that this was not evaluative, but instead a way for teachers to learn from one another, the level of peer observation was increased. What is the rationale in making data public in your school? Mr. Romer says that making data public is a key part of achieving the school’s turn-around plan. By knowing that their work will be seen by others, it can motivate teachers to think about how to better achieve school goals and objectives. It also allows teachers to learn and share data with each other. Making data public can also be a way for the teachers to b able to see and be encouraged by the school’s successes. What are the benefits and challenges of creating a sense of peer accountability in your school? Mr. Romer says that a broad leadership structure with a lot of teacher involvement and input creates a sense of “buy in” from the participants. This creates a sense of collective ownership and increases participation in a achieving school goals. How do you build the capacity of your teams? Romer says that being clear on the school goals and then empowering people in ways that help them achieve those goals build team capacity. He also says that the Internal Coherence review and other support from SERP has helped get the school’s teams functioning at the highest levels possible. Can you describe the leadership structure for the school? Mr. Romer says that a key component is having teacher leadership as part of the school’s turn-around process. He says that about 25% of the teachers in the school are involved in positions of leadership. These teacher leaders have roles such as facilitating particular teams in the school or being part of specific initiatives. The ideas is to allow teachers to have input at all levels of the school. Do you have any informal reflections as to how the school year has gone? Mr. Romer says that he feels the school has evolved quickly in a very short amount of time. He says that the teams have already evolved from their initial, rather formal, structure to a more differentiated structure to better meet the needs of students. He says that the school culture is evolving quickly and taking shape.
The Internal Coherence Assessment and Protocol was developed by a team consisting of Richard Elmore, Michelle Forman, Elizabeth Leisy Stosich, and Candice Bocala.
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