How Kids WIN Systematically
My experience as a teacher was amazing! I loved teaching, my colleagues, my families, and my students; but I wish I could have a complete redo on my time in the classroom. Regrettably, as a teacher I never had the opportunity to function within a Professional Learning Community. Sure, I had amazing colleagues who became life-long friends. Yes, they were willing to share their “things” that worked for their kids in their classrooms. I definitely was able to get to know “their kids," just as they were able to get to know “my kids” because we shared them for periods of time throughout the week. We even shared data! If you’re reading this and thinking, “Why is Will suggesting he didn’t function within a PLC?”, let me explain.
My teaching colleagues are friends to this day. They definitely shared many things with me and helped me grow as an educator, but if we were to have functioned as a PLC, we would have shared instructional strategies, not just worksheets and bulletin board borders. If we were a PLC, we would have shared kids across the grade-level or school, based on their needs, and with the teacher that is most likely to meet the needs of each child– not sharing kids primarily on departmentalization or because I LOVED teaching Minnesota History! If we would have been a PLC, we would have shared data in a systematic and timely manner to improve our instruction and the learning of our kids, not because we all had to fill out the carbon-copy report cards for the subjects we taught to their kids; for those of you who are unfamiliar with carbon-copy report cards, talk to a colleague that is over 40.
In the Solution Tree book series, It’s About Time (2015), I had the privilege of contributing a chapter titled “Looking in the Mirror.” In the second chapter, I describe the systematic process we designed and implemented at Washington Elementary to meet the needs of our students, called What I Need Time, or, WIN Time. This systematic process, scheduled within the school day for each grade level (similar to lunch and preparation time), has been replicated and enhanced at my present school, Eagle View Elementary with New Prague Area Schools.
WIN Time is a 30-minute block of time and process that works within the Professional Learning Community structure to address the Three Big Ideas of a PLC (DuFour, et.al, 2016, pgs. 11-12):
1. A Focus on Learning
2. Collaborative Culture and Collective Responsibility
3. A Results Orientation
WIN Time is intended to focus on questions three and four of the Four Critical Questions of a PLC (pg. 36):
1. What knowledge, skills, and dispositions should every student acquire as a result of this unit, this course, or this grade level?
2. How will we know when each student has acquired the essential knowledge and skills?
3. How will we respond when some students do not learn?
4. How will we extend the learning for students who are already proficient?
Our students WIN when we can guarantee that all students have mastered, at a minimum, the grade level expectations. WIN Time is our structure and process designed to target students who identify with Critical Question #3 in a specific skill, as defined by our collaborative teams (Critical Question #1), and tied to state standards. There is a key component to addressing the needs of our students who have yet to show proficiency in a skill. It makes WIN Time effective and should be considered a logical step, yet is frequently missed. This component is:
Data is COLLBARORATIVELY analyzed and students are retaught by the teachers who have shown to have been most successful in their initial, or Tier I instruction; not necessarily by the same teacher or in the same manner.
WIN Time is also an important structure for our students who identify with Critical Question #4. This group of students, in traditional schools, are given packets of work to complete, asked to tutor students who aren’t meeting proficiency, or are told to quietly read a book while the individual teacher is laboring to figure out how to meet the needs of the kids that are struggling. In a school that utilizes WIN Time, students who have mastered Critical Question #1 aren’t asked to put their learning on hold to wait for others to catch up, they are provided opportunities to deepen their knowledge.
A key message I’d like people to recognize when considering exploring the implementation of WIN Time is that students are flexibly grouped on a skill-by-skill, student-by-student basis on a WEEKLY basis. When students have demonstrated mastery of a skill, they are provided the opportunities to deepen their knowledge just as those who were able to demonstrate mastery the first time around. This is NOT tracking. Students should move in and out of groups dependent on their most current need.
My years as a classroom teacher were professionally amazing, and I believe I was relatively successful in meeting the needs of my students; but I know I wasn’t successful in meeting the individual needs of ALL my kids. There was no question that my colleagues and I loved our kids and did our individual best to help them learn, but in order to effectively ensure learning for all, we needed to collaborate for their benefit and share strategies AND students across the grade level to effectively target their needs. There is no way that any individual teacher can possibly meet the needs of all students, every single day, in every subject – but when we collaborate as a team around the individual needs of our students, we create a systematic structure where our students will WIN.
Buffum, A. G., & Mattos, M. (n.d.). It's about time: Planning interventions and extensions in elementary school.
DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Many, T., Mattos, M., & Eaker, R. (2016). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.