Project-based learning implemented

December 15, 2016
The Daily Citizen

By Jamie Williams

If student achievement is the goal, then you have to start at the bottom with a solid foundation of purpose, mission and a positive culture, according to Riverview High School Principal Justin Luttrell, who is using this hierarchy of change, a research-based model, to implement project-based learning.

“It’s kind of like the old saying, ‘The wise man built his house upon a rock,'” Luttrell said. “You got to have a good foundation to start out with or no matter how many times you try to target what’s at the top, you’re not going to get necessarily what you want.”

In the December meeting of the Riverview School Board last week, Luttrell detailed the steps he and his staff have taken to lay a solid foundation for the school and for project-based learning using a New Tech model developed in Napa, Calif., by Landmark Consulting Group Inc. for project management protocols.

“We as a staff started at the bottom with purpose and mission,” Luttrell said. “So the first thing we did on the first day that we all came and met together, we said, ‘Hi, how’s it going? We’ve got a surprise for you. There’s a bus at the front–let’s go.'”

Riverview High School teachers and staff took a field trip throughout the district, traveling to Judsonia, Kensett, West Point and Griffithville.

“We were able to finally get in our district and actually see where it is that our students are coming from –the highs and lows and all the in-betweens,” Luttrell said. “From there, I asked the question, ‘What’s our Why?'”

Luttrell referenced author and leadership/management consultant Simon Sinek’s model that states that “everybody knows what they do, others can even tell you how they do it, but the really successful institutions can tell you why they do it.”

“So, instead of starting with what we do at Riverview, which is teach, or how we do it, which is using the New Tech model, I wanted to start with why we do what we do,” Luttrell said. “What is our purpose here? Why are we here this day?”

To demonstrate this, every teacher made a video to tell other faculty, students and parents their personal “why” for teaching.

And according to Luttrell, “When you’ve got your purpose, you’ve got your mission, then you can start tackling culture,” and it starts with the staff.

This semester, Riverview High School implemented professional learning communities.

“One day a week, various groups of teachers will meet during a specified time and they’ll get together and they grow,” Luttrell said. “They ask questions. They just collaborate with each other on project ideas. There may be challenges they are trying to resolve; there may be questions that they have, research that they’ve read.”

Luttrell also implemented the Book of Wow, a hardcover art sketch book teachers and staff have begun using to express appreciation for their colleagues.

“I wrote a letter to a teacher to start it off with, telling them why they deserve the Book of Wow and I made a video,” Luttrell said. “Then that teacher had to pick up the book and they had a week to write another letter to another teacher and make a video.”

Other new culture-building activities among the faculty and staff include Payday Potlucks; Tech Tuesday, where every week teachers and staff can problem solve technology issues; and events that focus on outreach to the community.

Next, with the encouragement of Superintendent David Rutledge, at the November faculty meeting, Luttrell challenged his teachers to seek out students throughout the month who inspired them to come to work every day, tell them why and make a video of it.

“It seems simple, but it’s very challenging if you’ve ever had to do this,” Luttrell said. “They actually had to go to one, two, three students, a group of students, and they had to tell them that they were their inspiration for being there every day. They had to think of those students that they think of that really pushes them and makes them want to come to work every day.

“What makes that to me even more awesome is that when the teachers began doing this in November, the students caught wind of it and they wanted to make their own.”

Luttrell played the student-made video for the board depicting various students seeking out their teachers, secretaries, principals, janitors and other Riverview High School staff members to tell them why they are thankful for them.

“The students were unprompted. This wasn’t an assignment, no grade; they just chose to do this on their own,” Rutledge said.

Luttrell said he believes staff culture and student culture are “intertwined.”

“If you want student culture to be positive, you’ve got to have good positive staff culture,” Luttrell said. “One of the things that [project-based learning] strives for with New Tech is a thing called agency — that means you start to take ownership of your education, you start to take ownership of your school.”

And the disciplinary data backs it up. According to Luttrell, teacher referrals have decreased by 49.03 percent from 2015 to 2016 and incident reports have decreased by 75.69 percent.

Luttrell said he was shocked when he saw the numbers.

“I thought it was good, but I didn’t know it was going to be as good as it was,” he said. “I wanted to compare the discipline, just because everyone has told me that the discipline seems way down this year.”

According to Luttrell, Riverview High School teachers report fewer disciplinary issues in the classroom, an increase in leadership roles among students, improved student-to-student relationships, and more positive student-to-teacher relationships.

“This is what this semester has been like for Riverview, and I’ll make it clear, we face challenges,” Luttrell said. “We have our ups, we have our downs, but our teachers, our staff, our students, they are growing every day. And when you’re progressing and you’re growing, I firmly believe that the skies are the limit.”

Riverview High School

What: Principal reports on progress

Of: Project-based learning

Progress: Teacher referrals down 49 percent, incident reports down 76 percent from 2015

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