Taking teacher collaboration to a new level
January 09, 2014
This is what everyone keeps in mind: A year’s worth of growth in reading.
That’s the goal that Cornell Elementary School educators have set for the 2013-14 school year, and step by step they are reworking how they do things to help students meet it.
Cornell is in the Saydel Community School District in Des Moines, which is breaking new ground in Iowa, along with the Central Decatur Community School District in Leon. The districts won a federal grant in partnership with the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching to implement a teacher leadership system starting this school year. Iowa educators are watching Saydel and Central Decatur since teacher and principal leadership is the centerpiece of Iowa’s landmark 2013 education reform package – and every school district has the option to adopt a teacher and principal leadership system by 2016-17.
Since August in Saydel, teachers have been working together using a progressive rubric designed to more tightly align state academic standards, district curriculum, classroom instruction and a variety of assessments.
Recently, field testing of new instructional strategies by master teachers got under way in Saydel. That means master teachers work directly with the same students the classroom teacher works with to make sure new approaches are successful before the teacher tries them out. The focus has been on looking at all the critical attributes that it takes for teachers to successfully teach small group reading
“We are showing we can make growth with small group reading,” said Stacie DeHaan, executive master teacher in Saydel. Now that winter break is over, teachers will spend professional development time learning the new instructional strategies, with a big focus on differentiating what each student needs to make progress, and encouraging students to think critically. Getting students to apply themselves with engaging material and take responsibility for their own learning is crucial, said DeHaan.
At the same time, teachers must make sure high-quality activity goes on the whole time in the classroom, not just in small group reading, so that no time is wasted, DeHaan added.
Asked what’s most important about being a good teacher leader, DeHaan said,
“You have to facilitate ‘cluster’ [when teachers meet in small groups for professional development] through the lens of a teacher,” said DeHaan. “Teachers deserve to engage in high levels of learning just like the students. I hold myself accountable on the instructional rubric to the same things that the teachers are accountable for with their students. By doing this, I am not asking the teachers to do anything in their classrooms that I am not providing for them during their cluster.”
This is taking teacher collaboration to a new level, or as DeHaan put it, ““It’s the whole system coming together.”