Schenk Elementary School third grade teachers Sue Sterk, Paula Inda, Laurie Tomasini and Grant Hilsabeck have been collaborating for years, sharing ideas and resources. But at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, with the formal, district-wide focus on strengthening “teacher teaming,” they noticed their collaboration growing more structured, focused and effective.
“We went from getting together and catching up on a few things to having an agenda,” notes Laurie Tomasini of their weekly Monday afternoon meetings. Through teaming, Laurie and her colleagues now work purposefully together to create rich and challenging units, learn from each other and share strengths to meet individual student learning needs.
Their team, specifically, focuses on helping students meet grade-level learning targets for writing, based on Schenk’s 2014-15 School Improvement Plan (SIP). “We’re focused on the writing standard, trying to move into the learning targets,” says Sue Sterk, referring to Common Core State Standard “I can” statements, such as, “I can write to inform and explain ideas” and “I can organize short research projects.”
Weekly meetings to plan, reflect and adjust
Key to Madison Metropolitan School District’s teacher teaming model is instruction built around a learning goal — what it is that students need to learn by the end of a unit or lesson. With this in mind, the team can reflect on the previous week and make any needed adjustments to ensure all students reach learning goals as well as plan upcoming lessons.
At Schenk, a Literacy Interventionist and two Instructional Resource Teachers (IRTs) take turns facilitating meetings. IRT Pamela Dorn, leading today’s meeting, adapts weekly lesson plans for the team from the district’s Teacher Team Toolkit, which provides a set of guidelines and resources to support teacher teams in the implementation of the Great Teaching Framework.
By planning lessons, adjusting them and reflecting on what worked together, this team helps ensure that, across their classrooms, students are receiving the same high-quality instruction, bringing to life research that links “higher levels of student achievement to educators who work in the collaborative culture of a professional learning community.”1
What’s more, with all third grade classes focused on the same learning goal, the team can better analyze assessment results for insights into which strategies lead to student proficiency, and which prove less effective.
In part two of this article, the Schenk third grade teacher team will share one challenge of teaming and how they overcame it.