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Box Elder School District’s Focus for the Upcoming School Year
For years now schools and school districts across the nation have been working on how to improve student learning. In much of the research in the educational field teacher collaboration has been tabbed as one of the best ways to improve student learning. Building a school district with schools and teachers who work collaboratively to improve teacher effectiveness has been going on in Box Elder School District for several years now. The term for building and organizing this collaboration is called a “Professional Learning Community” (PLC). PLCs are based on “3 Big Ideas”.
Big Idea #1: Ensuring That Students Learn—So much of the focus in education for years has been how teachers teach, not are students learning. The focus of the PLC and this big idea #1 is that student learning is not only the key but really the only thing we should focus on. How do we know if students learn is a key factor in this entire PLC process. Waiting to find out if a student has learned the concepts and ideas that a teacher hopes to share in a chapter, unit, or end of level test is too late. Teachers need to know if the students are learning in smaller chunks of time and material. In teachers co-laboring together they develop smaller assessments called “Common Formative Assessments” (CFSs). These CFAs are given after a teacher teaches an idea or a concept. These CFAs are designed to inform the teacher if students are learning. Once the CFA is given a teacher knows if the students learned this smaller chunk of information. If enough of the students did not learn the information then the teacher would re-teach that lesson or lessons. If just a few did not learn then there would be some interventions put into place to help those who did not get it the first time. With this process in place it helps teachers not leave students behind. Once a week teachers meet officially, and more often informally, in grade level collaboration teams or content level teams to discuss their CFAs, the results of the CFAs and determine what is the best method to teach the information and how best to help with interventions for students who don’t learn the information the first time. This is an ongoing process that improves with time and effort.
Big Idea #2: A Culture of Collaboration—In the past a new teacher would be given a text book and maybe be shown the state standards for a particular subject in a particular content area and then they would go off in their room into an environment of isolation and teach the best they knew how. Thirty six years ago that is exactly how I first started teaching and I wasn’t near as good at my profession as I would have been had I been able to collaborate with my colleagues in a collaboration team. The “team” evaluates the state core standards, then they decide what key elements that they will teach. They then determine the scope and sequence of how they will teach this information. Then they will develop the Common Formative Assessments on how to determine if the students learn the information presented. This is all done in a collaborative effort, which will improve the effectiveness of student learning.
Big Idea #3: A Focus on Results—The entire concept of the Professional Learning Community is based on the fact that we believe all students can learn at high levels. In order to determine the effectiveness of that belief we, as a PLC, must focus on results. The assessments to evaluate the effectiveness are varied. In the short term the CFAs are used, then there will be chapter or unit tests and ultimately end of grade level tests (formerly known as SAGE test, but now will be called the RISE test) and even ACT or SAT tests. With a focus on results we co-labor to evaluate our effectiveness and how to improve our efforts to better help students learn. We believe that all students can learn and we must not be afraid to share out our results to let results of our efforts be viewed by all to allow us the opportunity to improve.
Box Elder School District has been a PLC school district for several years now. Being a PLC is not a destination but a process of constant evolution and improvement. We have several new principals and assistant principals in our school buildings this upcoming year. They will be a member of the collaboration team of current building principals and district level administrators and will co-labor together to improve their skills on how to monitor, evaluate, and improve effectiveness of collaboration teams in their buildings. In monthly principal meetings we learn together by watching videos of our teams throughout the school district and evaluating the effectiveness of the team and giving feedback. As we do this we improve as administrators to help teachers be more effective. As the Superintendent of this school district I want to assure you that we are striving as leaders and teachers to do the best job we can to help your children learn at high levels. It is imperative in today’s high tech world that we prepare students to face an ever evolving job market. I need to thank the Box Elder Board of Education for their direction and support of the entire PLC process.