Thursday, June 26, 2014

Strengthening Instruction to Improve Student Achievement

Hudson Schools is honored to be one of the thirty-nine districts across Iowa selected to implement a Teacher Leadership and Compensation system in the 2014-2015 school year. The lessons learned from our implementation will serve as valuable information as other schools bring systems online in the next several years.

We are in the process right now of identifying teacher leaders, training those leaders, and ensuring that our professional development plan for the year is well thought out and clearly articulates our vision for the district. Last year we implemented a professional development plan that featured a weekly two hour early dismissal that provided teachers with time to work in PLC groups during the first hour, followed by professional learning facilitated in each building the second hour. The feedback from our principals and teachers was that this was very valuable time well spent, and we will continue with that model for the 2014-2015 school year. However, with the roll out of the teacher leadership system, we will be able to strengthen the PLC process and provide even richer professional development opportunities for our teachers!

The anchor role in our teacher leadership system is instructional coaches. In our district, we have identified three areas where the instructional coach as teacher leader will enable us to strengthen instruction for all of our practitioners and result in increases in student achievement. It is important to note that the teacher leadership roles described in our plan are designed to be 'teacher centered' roles, rather than student centered. That means that our teacher leaders (instructional coaches) will not be working with students per se, but rather [will be working] with teachers in an effort to strengthen their practice. In our schools, instructional coaches have been identified in the areas of math, reading, and technology. While these coaches are designed to serve the needs of the entire school district, they will have primary responsibilities with certain grade levels within individual buildings.

During the 2013-2014 school year, the district adopted a new math curriculum titled 'Envision Math'. Our initial data collection on the success of this implementation is promising! Yet we also understand that it takes continual professional development, analysis of data, development of common formative assessments, and the diligence of instructional leadership (like that of the coach) to ensure that a curriculum is implemented with fidelity across the district. This promise means all of our students are exposed to a guaranteed and viable curriculum. Ensuring those tasks becomes a primary responsibility of that instructional coach.

The school year that is set to begin this fall will see us once again implementing a new English/Language Arts curriculum. Because of this, along with the renewed statewide attention to early reading literacy made the case for a reading instructional coach. Along with facilitating the implementation of our new ELA curriculum, this coach will work in tandem with our practitioners to ensure reading proficiency for all learners by the time they complete the third grade.

Understanding the impact that technology has in schools and the fact that we implemented our Connected Learning Initiative this past January in grades 9-12 made the decision to include a technology coach an easy one. This year will begin the expansion of technology in our schools as we provide our elementary classrooms with bundled sets of IPADs that are designed to provide robust and interactive instruction for our learners!

Instructional coaches will also work with a group of model teachers (our next category of teacher leaders) to develop, research, and test promising new research based instructional strategies. Model Teachers are full time practitioners assigned a classroom of students as they have been in years past. The primary difference is that they have an willingness to open their classroom to try new and innovated theories of practice. While working with the coach, those strategies and techniques that hold the most promise will be taken to scale district wide with the assistance of the Model Teacher.

We take this approach because of the understanding that for professional development to have the maximum impact it must be embedded into practice. Our weekly professional development during the early dismissal is valuable, but what really makes the difference is taking that strategy into the classroom immediately following the presentation. Then that strategy can be implemented, Model Teachers and Coaches can work with the faculty to provide feedback and tips on how to improve upon their practice of the new strategy. A recognition that job embedded professional development is a key to strengthening instruction was a key factor in the development of our vision for our own teacher leadership system.

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