Submitted by Jared Lancer, Ed.D, Technical Assistance Provider

How do schools determine whether instruction is effective? And how is this related to whether the school has articulated a systematic approach to teaching? SPDG Technical Assistance Providers work with schools over time to help answer these questions, using an inquiry-based approach grounded in dialogue and mutual respect.

As a result, participating School Leadership Teams often find they need to clarify the school’s approach to teaching and develop supporting structures and tools to drive how educators talk about children, learning, and practice. This allows instructional teams to plan and facilitate meaningful and productive learning experiences for every child with greater consistency and coherence. From this authentic professional learning experience, schools generate universal teaching practices and instructional planning protocols to steer grade-level and intervention planning meetings.

Justin Pistorius, Principal of Jumoke Smart Middle School, describes universal teaching practices as “common practices we are implementing with fidelity in the classroom… to take students to higher levels of literacy achievement.” The reflective dialogue is an opportunity for educators “to examine the strategies we are working on as a school, and make explicit what was previously not explicit.”

For Dr. Michael Finley, Principal of Jumoke TED Elementary School, creating an instructional review protocol provided direction and a shared understanding of teaching and learning to guide grade-level meetings and the school’s intervention process. The protocol “promotes collaboration, creates purposeful dialogue, and provides the team with focus areas” for improvement, he said. “The agreed-upon questions create a focus on teaching and learning and have changed the mindset and our approach” to professional dialogue and practice.

Pistorius noted the purpose of creating a team meeting discussion protocol: “The protocol will help us facilitate focused discussion of implementation of universal teaching practices and their effectiveness in relation to student responses…. It will help us know how students are understanding and will promote a springboard to understand instructional practices and tasks and how they are implemented – what’s effective and not effective and why.”

According to participating School Leadership Teams, the opportunity to engage in open dialogue to create supporting tools and generate new structures is beneficial to improving student outcomes. “The value is that it will guarantee an in-depth analysis of instructional practices by teachers in the classroom,” Pistorius said. “It will guarantee quality analysis” of student progress “and lead to quality decision making about what is best for groups and individual students. This will support pedagogical habits of review and reflection on practice and how we operate as a staff.”

Finley said the experience was meaningful and changed perspectives in the school on teaching and learning.

“This has been an enjoyable and awesome learning experience for me as a new principal,” he said. “Through working with SERC, we have received support with our collaboration efforts that have helped us move forward in a positive manner with teaching and learning. The SPDG grant is supporting us in developing a solid foundation. We are creating structures and protocols to establish sustainability [of best practice] as a school.”

This fosters the conditions for shared participation, understanding, and investment among School Leadership Team members and staff. Pistorius found the process itself invaluable.

“It made us think about the importance of intentionality behind everything we do: Why we are doing this, and in what way will this impact our scholars?” he said.

“This has made us work better as a team,” he added. The team is developing tools collaboratively using the expertise and experiences of all staff. The process has empowered the school to create relevant resources to support the improvement of teaching and learning “as opposed to people who implement materials given to them,” he said. “There is value in that, and it is empowering.”

Published: June 12, 2015