Written by: Megan Delaney, Instructional Coach, Proviso East High School

In Greek Mythology, Sisyphus was a king who outsmarted Death. As a result, Zeus punished him with the task of rolling a giant boulder up a hill. He would labor and sweat and push the boulder but with every foot of progress he made, the boulder would roll back down, putting him back at square one. This myth is so famous that tasks that are considered endless-no matter how hard the individual tries- are called Sisyphean tasks. They are tasks that require great effort but seem unattainable-one step forward and two steps back-forever rolling the boulder uphill.

Oftentimes in education, students enter the doors of our schools with all different cultural points of reference, support systems, academic abilities, and emotional coping skills. This disparity in the levels of where our students are at when they enter our classrooms and our efforts to meet them and fill in the gaps and improve their lives can often feel Sisyphean in nature. So, how do we approach this task of reshaping education and improving our students’ abilities, both academically and emotionally? How do we begin rolling that boulder?

At our school, we have seized on the Marzano Academy Indicators of Cumulative Review and Collective Responsibility as focal points that guide our work within our professional learning communities, professional development, and our classrooms. Cumulative Review is an important instructional strategy that asks that teachers continually review and revisit measurement topics from proficiency scales that have already been covered. Not only does this practice allow students additional opportunities to make connections between topics that have been taught and apply their understandings and skills in new ways, but it also allows the teacher and students time and space to review and revise their understandings if they have previously been unable to reach the competency level. This continual looping in and reviewing of a proficiency scale’s measurement topics helps students to continually add to a measurement topic’s body of evidence and leads to greater retention and more opportunities for a variety of applications. In order to further our practice of cumulative review, we have developed “Negotiated Pacing Maps.” As a PLC, we have had our course level teams sit together and identify which measurement topics they have to teach during the second semester to adhere to their intended course pacing. They plotted those measurement topics against the time left in the semester. This allowed teachers to identify which measurement topics they still had to introduce to students, which were essential for their course, and most importantly, which they need to prioritize as a course level team for looping and corrective instruction. By using negotiated pacing maps, we have been able to act more responsively with our data and planning as course level team and intentionally planning where we could loop our measurement topics to help our students further adjust their understandings and demonstrate proficiency.

Collective Responsibility is a mindset shift where teachers approach educating from the point of view that we all share an equal responsibility in the education of our school’s students. While we are all assigned a roster of students and are coded with a particular class that we are teaching, we can join together in the teaching of essential skills, content, and understandings of all students- whether they are assigned to our roster or not. The practice of Collective Responsibility has changed our approach to teaching. Using the negotiated pacing plans above, we encourage all of our staff to view each course level team’s negotiated pacing plan. While it may seem out of the ordinary to encourage PE teachers to look at the negotiated pacing documents of Physiology teachers, it is a critical piece of our Collective Responsibility practice. By encouraging teachers of different content areas to look at negotiated pacing plans outside of their discipline, they can see where our students have unmet measurement topics from other courses and consider how they can potentially apply them to the teaching of their own content. This shows not only an amazing amount of flexibility and creativity on the part of our teachers but also a deep commitment to the idea that we all share in the responsibility of teaching our students every measurement topic, regardless of our course codes and rosters. Once teachers found measurement topics that overlapped, they coordinated to plan units together where they shared the responsibility of teaching those essential skills and understandings. In this way, teachers are sharing in the recording of evidence and generating summative scores.

After three years of this process, we now see and reap the benefit of Cumulative Review and Collective Responsibility and we find that when we succeed together, the victory is that much sweeter. While we are all still pushing and rolling our boulder, we are no longer struggling endlessly like Sisyphus because we are not alone, doing isolated work in our classrooms. Inch by inch we are changing our practices and our school and together, we will roll our boulder to the top.