For the past two years, our academic calendar has included a two hour early release on Wednesday afternoon. When we went to this configuration during the 2013-2014 school year great effort was taken to ensure that time was wisely spent. Due to the success we had with this professional development schedule, the 2014-2015 calendar was developed in the same way. As one of only 39 school districts in the entire state implementing a teacher leadership system this year, we have been able to leverage this two hour early release in even more powerful ways! This is due in no small part to the work of our teacher leadership team and our insistence on transparency and accountability. The 2015-2016 academic calendar is currently under development, and we anticipate this feature of our calendar will once again be included.
Each Wednesday afternoon, our teachers spend one hour of their time working in collaborative teams know as 'Professional Learning Communities'. This is meant to satisfy in part a legal requirement that teachers be afforded 36 hours of collaboration annually. These PLCs are organized by grade level in the K-6 and content area in grades 7-12. The purpose of these collaborative groups is complex and multi-faceted, designed to answer four critical questions about the instruction of students in the classroom. By answering these questions, we are able to ensure that all students in Hudson are exposed to a guaranteed and viable curriculum regardless of which teacher is assigned.
The first of those critical questions for our teachers is to design and develop essential learning outcomes for their students within the context of the Iowa Core Content Standards. Basically we are determining what it is our students should know and be able to do as a result of the classroom instruction. What is it we want our students to learn?
In grades K-6, essential learning outcomes are framed in what are known as 'I Can' statements from the students point of view. For example, in kindergarten an 'I Can' Statement might be 'I can count to twenty'. In grades 7-12, we don't use the term 'I Can' but rather learner objectives. Again they are framed in language appropriate for the high school learner.
When building principals are observing classroom instruction during 'walk-through's', one of their 'look for's' is to see clearly articulated learner objectives posted in the classroom. In addition to that, hopefully they see instruction or learning that is tied back to that 'I Can' statement. Finally, the principal should be able to ask the student: what is it that you are learning about? If all three are evident, that is a good day! This is part of what gives us a viable curriculum. Where it becomes guaranteed is when the principal goes next door and sees the same learner objective posted and instruction tied back to that objective. While curriculum might be the same, the instructional strategy may differ based on the needs of students in the class.
Last week we had a team of educators visit our schools from the AEA as part of the principals network of professional practice. They were asked to visit classrooms and in a 3-5 minute observation, notice if learner objectives were present, if instruction was tied to the objective, and if students could articulate what they were learning. That team was impressed with what they saw! In the majority of the classes they visited, all three were present!
So now I have a favor to ask you! When your child gets home from school tonight, ask them what they learned in school today. Now, I have no doubt that some of the answers you will get are 'I don't know', or 'I don't remember', or even 'nothing'. Don't let them off the hook so easily! We have been asking them all day long!