Marissa Dobbert is a middle school math teacher at a charter middle school in Sarasota, Florida. She was selected as the 2020 Middle School Teacher of the Year in Sarasota County, Florida. I used her as an example of tracking milestones in a January workshop for nonprofits in Manatee County.
I read about Marissa in an article in the Sarasota Herald Tribune and called her. Being in the Results First business, I began by asking her how her students achieved academically compared with other students. In Sarasota County, 55% of students in the lowest 25% performing group made gains on the Florida State Assessment (SFA) in the last reported year. In comparison, 67% of her students made progress.
Marissa reflects the characteristics of sparkplug leaders to a T. First, she is drawn to challenges. She taught advanced courses and could not wait to get back to working with struggling students. Second, she is highly energetic, noting that she stands on chair and moves quickly—bouncing around the classroom to create and sustain attention “like a crazy person.” Third, she is very focused on achievement and has two highly specific steps she considers essential to achieving them
First, Marissa focuses on creating a connection. Her sense is that calming fears of students who have never succeeded at math and creating a connection between her and the student is an essential starting point. In my parlance, engagement is her first milestone. She is clear that no amount of teaching will make much difference until she can see and hear some level of connection between her and each student.
Second, Marissa forgoes dutifully teaching the full-to-the brim math curriculum. While she is held to the same standards of academic achievement on the Florida State Assessments (FSA) she teaches at a charter school that gives her some flexibility in approach. She uses that to concentrate on what she sees as the most important skills. Her assumption is that knowing all math content is less helpful than knowing the small number of essential tools that let students handle problems in most, if not all, content levels.
Marissa also uses problems to which the kids can relate. Rather than a text book question, she translates textbook questions to the kinds of situations she and her students face. This gives not just context but motivation.
There you have it. The procedural lock in social and educational programs is to get through all prescribed content. The achievement lock is to change the process and hold results as the constant.