Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Building Teacher Capacity & Recognizing Excellence

Anyone who has tried to inspire change in an educational organization knows how hard this can be.   An easy way to introduce change is through teacher development, but is it sustainable?  How do you ensure that the learning translates into the classroom?  Unfortunately, there are lots of non-examples where a tremendous amount of money has been spent on teacher professional development and yet there hasn’t been lasting change.  This is why we have changed the model in Los Altos School District and developed iLearn.  iLearn is unique because it helps to build teacher capacity at all nine of our schools while also recognizing teacher leaders who act on the knowledge by not only making a difference in their classroom but by also having a positive impact on colleagues.

The idea started out fairly simple - invest in a group of teacher leaders and empower them to help build capacity and inspire colleagues.  To accomplish this, we created a week-long professional development training for teachers on rethinking their instructional practices while integrating technology.  In order to participate in this summer training as a “Lead Learner” we asked teachers to commit to the following:  one week of training in the summer, three follow-up meetings during the school year, a commitment to share knowledge with colleagues at their site and a creation of an eportfolio that documents their experience over the course of a school year.  And in return we offered teachers $1,000 stipend for attending the training, $500 to spend on classroom resources and the ability to earn up to an additional $2,000 at the end of the following school year dependent on the impact they had at their school site.  The response from teachers was overwhelming. While we originally only planned on selecting two teachers from each site, we ended up selecting three Lead Learners from some of our larger sites and had a waiting list of teachers who wanted to be involved.  Then in June 2012 we held our first iLearn Summer Academy.  

iLearn Summer Academy was an intense learning experience that was planned and facilitated by four LASD teachers who had demonstrated their ability to rethink instructional practices with great success.  The first two days were incredible as our group of Lead Learners were excited about all they were learning.  And then at the end of day two we hit a wall.  There were a range of emotions - frustration, exhaustion,  and feelings of being overwhelmed.  We expected this and supported teachers through this critical stage of the learning process.  For many the realization as to just how much work was involved in rethinking instructional practices set in.   We pushed through and the week ended on a high, with great reflection and lofty goals for what they would accomplish with their students and their colleagues come fall.

Fast forward to January.  We are now half-way through the school year and just recently held our second meeting with our Lead Learners.   The goal of these meetings is to provide a structured opportunity for teacher leaders who have shared common learning experiences and created common goals to get together and reflect.  Our Lead Learners reflect on the goals they set as site teams and goals sets as individuals.  More importantly they share their  successes and frustrations of being a leader at their site.  The accomplishments inspired by this group of teacher leaders in our district is amazing.  

Through their leadership, our teacher leaders have inspired all teachers to create class websites, worked with teachers on utilizing iPads as creation devices in k-3 classrooms, encouraged teachers to use edmodo as a collaboration tool and so much more.  These accomplishments are happening because we have inspired our teacher leaders to be creative in how they support colleagues.    Our Lead Learners have instituted supports such as “Appy Hour” a time after school once a month where teachers get together to talk about technology integration,  and a “Genuis Bar” set up in the staff room before the school day begins where teachers can get one on one support with technology.  These are just a few examples of how teacher leaders are supporting their colleagues across our district.

One of the really exciting aspects of our iLearn professional development is the ability to recognize our teacher leaders for their outstanding work at the end of the school year in the form of a stipend.  The stipends will vary from teacher to teacher dependent on the impact they have had on their staff.  Because this is a new approach for us, it is uncomfortable for some teachers. There is no set list of items that must be completed to earn the money.   Establishing a list of tasks that must be completed guarantees that everyone will accomplish what is on the list, but likely that is all that would get accomplished.  Without distributing such a list, we have left it up to our Lead Learners as to how to best share knowledge and inspire colleagues.  The ideas and action generated by the group are much more exciting than any list we could have generated centrally.  Come the end of this school year, we will ask each of our Lead Learners to reflect on their experience as a teacher leader and evaluate their work using a rubric with indicators in the following areas: mindset, leadership, technology integration, professional contribution and collaboration.  The Lead Learners reflection combined with their eportfolio where they documented their experience under the headings; iLearn, iTeach, iInspire will be used to determine the amount of their stipend.  It will be exciting to financially reward and recognize those leaders who have truly done an amazing job.

iLearn and our Lead Learners are helping to change the culture of our district to one of a true learning organization where all members of the organization are held accountable for learning. We are fortunate to have the support and trust of our parent community which allows us to develop initiatives such as iLearn.  Thank you Los Altos Education Foundation for making this possible.   We are currently working on securing funding for our next round of iLearn and will hopefully launch iLearn Summer Academy 2013 this June.

By: Alyssa Gallagher, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction

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