Anita Chandler, principal •
Mullenix Ridge Elementary • Port Orchard, Washington
Mullenix Ridge Elementary
Collegial Learning at Mullenix Ridge Elementary
The energy in the room is exhilarating and as I draw our staff meeting to a close, the majority of our teachers do not leave. They continue talking with one another about their own learning and their instructional practices. My own energy level is high as I listen to the discussions and see the enthusiasm on the faces of our teachers. What I have described happens during the reflection time at the culmination of our Collegial Learning Day. This program is one of the most exciting elements that we implemented this year in the continuation of our development as a professional learning community. Four years ago, I became principal of Mullenix Ridge Elementary School in the South Kitsap School District in Port Orchard, Washington. We have a school of 550 students in kindergarten through sixth grade. This is year four of our journey as a PLC and I wanted to share one aspect of the work we have done. The "seed" for collegial learning began during my first year at Mullenix Ridge, when I introduced the idea of a Collegial Learning Program on a "volunteer" basis. Although staff members were interested; we encountered obstacles, such as having to either plan for a substitute or use planning time to observe, as well as finding the time to discuss our observations. This year, we developed a plan that eliminates those obstacles and all teachers are involved in this activity. Our Collegial Learning Days are scheduled into our master calendar. We have the day scheduled into 40-45 minute observation periods throughout the day with two roving substitutes to cover classrooms during those periods of time. We have designed lesson plans that are given to the substitutes so that teachers do not have to plan for that block of time. I strongly believe that although observing other teachers is a great learning opportunity, it is not as powerful and does not necessarily lead to changes in practice unless there is built-in time for reflection. To overcome this obstacle, every Collegial Learning Day is held on a Wednesday when we have a scheduled staff meeting. The staff meeting time is devoted to reflection. This allows staff to partner with each other and reflect on the lesson and learnings from watching a colleague. They base their reflections and discussions around the observation notes. Both those being observed and those observing have found this to be powerful and a great learning experience. One of my veteran teachers who had been observed by several teachers came to me and said, "Our reflection time encouraged me to reflect about one of the teaching strategies I had used that day. When one teacher asked me why I decided to do it that way, I didn't have an answer and spent time last night thinking about that question. I have determined that this activity was not included for a valid reason and was not needed. I decided to take it out of my lesson, giving me more time to work with students to increase their learning." During a similar Collegial Learning Day, several central office administrators came to observe my staff in operation. One administrator stated, "Teachers are working together as a collegial team focused on increasing student learning through the refinement of their instructional practice." Another one observed, "Collegial Learning Days are significantly benefiting the culture and instructional practice in this school...it was one of the most powerful and rewarding professional experiences I have enjoyed in years." This culture of learning for all pervades our school. Our Collegial Learning Program compliments and supports the work we are doing in our grade level teams to ensure high levels of learning for all of our students.