Collaborating for Success
Problem: Abner S. Baker Central School in Fort Morgan, Colo., was not making Adequate Yearly Progress and wanted to enhance the faculty's collaboration skills.
Solution: After obtaining a comprehensive school reform grant in 2002, the administration chose an assessment program to help them achieve their goals.
The school is set up in four "pods," two each for fifth and sixth grades, and teachers keep the same student for both grades. Principal Cynthia Price says the Pearson Achievement Solutions system allows teachers to be very familiar with their students, and although the teachers within a pod met regularly, there wasn't a "professional community" of cross-pod communication.
The first step in the reform process was for Price and teacher Heather Sharp, who would be the on-site facilitator, to attend leadership training to learn how to understand data about the school and how that data affects teaching.
A consultant worked on-site at the school for 20 days, then visited monthly while maintaining regular contact with Sharp. "We don't believe in fly by night professional development," explains Christine Fiorini, the field services manager who oversaw Baker School. "The consultants were wonderful," Price says. "They were very informed about current research." During professional development sessions, the consultants helped teachers take a hard look at the curriculum and lesson plans and align them to state standards.
Tools for Change
The school was provided with an "Instructional Quality Toolkit" which consists of the Evidence of Quality Teaching, a checklist of best practices used in the classroom, the Evidence of Quality Work, an assessment of student work, and the Instructional Practice Survey, a self-assessment tool teachers complete and then compare to the EQT to see how their perceptions of their performance compare with their peers' perceptions.
"A good trust level is very, very important," Price says. During the first year of the program the EQT is performed at the beginning, middle and end of the year. In subsequent years it is performed once at the end of the year. Fiorini says that when teachers first learn about the EQT they are defensive, but once they understand the process and realize the survey is about teaching practices in the school and not a reflection on them as teachers, they are more accepting.
In addition to the peer review process, collaboration is fostered through the formation of a design team. At Baker the team consisted of one teacher from each pod, the principal, support specialists such as the librarian, and a parent representative. The team met weekly to review data and steer professional development efforts. They then reported back to their pods. "The design team was very beneficial. I'm keeping that intact," Price says. "Sometimes teachers can be so isolated," Price explains, so she is also continuing weekly faculty meetings, which are held in a different teacher's classroom every time so everyone can see what their peers are doing.
At the end of the first year, and every year the program was active, Baker hosted an "exhibition of learning." Community members and representatives from other Pearson Achievement Solutions schools came and conducted a two-day review based on EQT. "It's a great learning experience," Price says. Participating as a reviewer was also beneficial because she got to "see other schools are having the same frustrations."
Part of the goal of the three-year program is to make the school independent, Fiorini explains. Sustainability is built-in and part of the professional development during the second and third years is designed to help teachers "own" the process.
In talking to Price, its obvious that she has ingested the lessons and is pleased with the results. She says student performance has improved every year and they made AYP. "Teachers are focused on standards. It's driving instruction," she says. "We're more focused on instruction and student expectations."
Ann McClure is associate editor.