AMES–While many people enjoyed a day off or participated in a day of service during the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, educators in the Ames Community School District used the day to improve their skills and knowledge to help the district’s diverse learners succeed.
Kari Smith, Teacher on Special Assignment for math and science, said the day’s workshops were geared to the District’s overall goal for teachers to continually improve their knowledge and skills in the hands-on, interactive ways research shows have the most direct effect on student learning.
“We spent the day bettering ourselves so we can take new skills and strategies into the classroom,” Smith said.
Teacher Leader Coordinator Lisa Clayberg said full-day professional learning opportunities happen just a few times a year, and those days are designed to support the District’s on-going, job-embedded professional development. Such ongoing professional development for teachers happens most often during the hours set aside each Wednesday, and during daily periods when teachers can observe model teachers, consult with mentor teachers and work with Instructional Coaches and Teachers on Special Assignment.
Full-day professional learning opportunities allow teachers to go deeper into topics and skills, have more time to reflect and collaborate, and to calibrate their understanding and goals across the District. But you won’t find teachers passively listening to a lecture or watching a slideshow, Clayberg said.
“Just as teaching students has changed from a “sit and get” model, learning opportunities for teachers has changed from a lecture model to one of sharing expertise and experience, and modeling and practicing skills together,” she said.
Clayberg said the day’s learning opportunities gelled around the themes of prioritizing the learning milestones students need to master and creating and sharing the common assessments that help teachers track students’ grasp of those milestones, sharing and practicing strategies that are effective in helping students learn, and strengthening effective relationships with their peers in professional learning communities.
Here are some highlights:
Speciality Areas strengthen their PLCs
Teachers on Special Assignment Mary Morton and Erin Miller are boosting efforts by music, art, and physical education teachers to strengthen their professional learning communities and align their resources for helping students succeed.
The professional development day allowed music educators to gather as a K-12 team and strengthen their common vision. They outlined the skills students need to succeed in band, orchestra, general music and choir, and worked together to establish benchmarks for success. Moving forward, teachers will be revising their grade and course level expectations and assessments, and exploring new materials to use with student musicians.
“These teachers’ passion and dedication to serving students is truly inspiring,” Miller said.
Art teachers also met as a district-wide PLC. After dividing into groups that included elementary, middle school and high school teachers, group members shared a portfolio item showcasing students’ work. Morton presented a rubric to help compare the Iowa Core and the National Core Arts Standards with current course level expectations. Meeker art teacher “Coach” Susan Norris said, “Working on and discussing the rubric allowed the K-12 art PLC to formulate a recommendation we can share with the school board about our ongoing work with curriculum.”
Physical Education teachers met for the second time to continue to align their vision. The discussion began with a review of the essential components of physical education, policy, environment, curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Studying the National Standards for Physical Education collaboratively fostered conversations that ranged from assessment and grading practices to student behaviors. These teachers are now in the process of creating PLC action plans.
Ames Middle School and Ames High School teachers of family and consumer sciences met together to share learning and strengthen the alignment of their programs. They studied the Financial Literacy Work Team Report from 2014 and the 21st Century Skills for Financial Literacy and shared essential standards and teaching activities.
Workshops show bookend learning strategies from preschool to high school
In separate workshops, Northwood Preschool Center Instructional Coach Johanna Hicks and model teachers at Ames HIgh School demonstrated how a foundation established for the district’s youngest learners deepens as students advance. HIcks led a discussion around teaching preschool students to “think within, about and beyond text” that is read to them. Meanwhile, high school teachers learned how to plan a “mental model” to share with their students how they construct meaning for a difficult text.
“It’s a way of showing students how we think about the text to reach explanations, analyses and interpretations, to help students see the ‘invisible process of creating meaning from complex text,”’ model teacher Katie Gustafson said.
Northwood educators use “make and take” strategies to use what they learned during their Jan. 18 professional development day.
Elementary educators prioritize essential learning milestones
Determining which learning standards are most essential for students to master requires educators to agree on some common values, Smith said.
Ames educators look at the standard’s endurance, asking how long the knowledge and skill will be necessary and relevant; its leverage, asking how much the knowledge and skill applies to more than one area of learning; and its readiness, asking if mastery of the knowledge and skill is necessary for the student to be ready for the next level of instruction.
Smith said she’s heard from parents and community members who are worried that prioritizing standards means eliminating some long-held foundations of learning.
“In practice, prioritizing standards may mean we’re actually raising the expectation for what students learn, and we’re giving students the opportunity for a better grasp of what they need to learn to move forward,” she said.
For example, Smith said teachers don’t discard traditional ways of solving math problems, but District math standards might set the expectation that a student will understand why a math operation works the way it does instead of expecting the student to memorize facts or formulas.
Elementary teachers used a portion of text from Common Formative Assessments by Kim Bailey and Chris Jakicic to learn from some experts and practice what they learned. Using a rubric, they ranked selected reading and math standards according to their endurance, leverage, and readiness. Grade level teams from all five elementary schools focused on aligning reading and math essential standards to improve consistency of what is being taught in the classrooms.
Ames Middle School capitalizes on collaborative and collegial foundations
One of the highlights of the Ames Middle School’s professional development day was watching and reflecting on John Hattie’s Ted Talk, Why are So Many of our Teachers and Schools so Successful?.
This video provided staff with insight showing why students respond with greater academic success and growth when educators work together in a collective effort. Middle School staff continued its learning with a refresher on PLCs and broke out into one of three differentiated sessions:
- Creating a focused and reasonable, common formative assessment
- Creating a quality rubric to describe proficient student work
- Analyzing and responding to common formative assessment data
PLCs came together in the afternoon to share what they took away from the sessions, and continue down the path of collaborative work.