Last spring I had the privilege of being in a focus group with teachers and principals from across the country. We gathered in Washington DC with the US Secretary of Education, John King. Our task was to talk about models of collaborative teacher leadership. A strong professional learning program for faculty is one of the most powerful tools in enhancing student learning. A Stanford University research team determined that strong professional learning is on-going, experiential and collaborative. The professional learning model at 276 has these qualities.
Our school years are bookended by formal reflective processes on what we have accomplished, what new challenges we have encountered, and how we can deepen our knowledge of our work. We use these reflections to craft a professional learning agenda that is connected to our students, the curriculum, achievement data, and the context of our school.
The PTA provides funding so that we can implement this plan. This year, our professional learning is geared towards refining our assessment practices. That includes what information we are collecting about how students are learning and how we use that information to meet the instructional needs of the students in our classrooms. This work targets four specific areas – mathematics instruction, literacy instruction and inclusive practices.
Dawn Schafer is a full time math coach this year working with grades 4-8. Ariel Dlugasch is working with teachers in grades K-3 on a consultant basis. Their work focuses on assessing mathematics and then using those assessments to differentiate mathematics instruction through rich problems, mathematics routines, conversation, and differentiated learning stations in the classroom. In addition, teachers will be attending off-site PD offered through two different, nationally recognized, math education organizations – Metamorphosis and Math in the City. This math work will allow us to refine our mathematics instruction and insure that it is coherent across the grades.
Jaime Margolies and Andrea Lowenkopf are continuing to support our literacy teachers. Jaime works with teachers in grades K-4 and Andrea works with teachers in grades 5-8. They collaboratively plan with the teachers to enrich our reading and writing curriculum so that it provides increasing challenges and engagement for our students. Teachers will also be attending workshops off site to learn new approaches to teaching literacy.
We also work with the Teachers College Inclusive Classrooms Project. Our two consultants from this organization support teachers in developing units of study that embody elements of Universal Design for Learning. This model leads to increasingly accessible curriculum for all learners by providing opportunities to gain information through a variety of media and to communicate understandings in diverse ways. This year, we will be developing four classroom labsites where we will study strategies for inclusive education as it is practiced at 276. Faculty will be able to observe the work being undertaken in these classrooms and to learn alongside their colleagues. The TCICP is also supporting our paraprofessionals in deepening their skills as assistants in the classroom and in helping co-teachers work more efficiently together.
We are also excited to be part of some additional professional learning opportunities. This year, we are part of a pilot program that brings the Urban Advantage professional learning for middle school science teachers to our upper elementary grades. Shirley, Rebecca, Kim and Alexis will all be participating in these workshops. I am excited to deepen a focus on science for our upper elementary grade students..
Teaching is an incredibly complex task. It requires teachers to have in-depth knowledge of content, child development, and pedagogy and to match that knowledge to the students in their rooms. It requires a willingness to reflect on one’s skills and to have a voracious appetite for continuous learning. I am proud of the learning that our faculty engages in each day. Their eagerness for new professional knowledge and their thoughtfulness in talking about how these skills can best be implemented in our school are key attributes that make our school the great place it is. Funding from our PTA is greatly appreciated as we work to make our school one of the best in the city.