How Is Time Spent During Your Team Meetings?
It was many years ago, and my elementary school was very large, over 2,000 students. There were 12 of us teaching third grade. We thought our survival depended on us working together. We met weekly at school. We met at each other’s houses in the evening and on weekends. No one told us to meet. We wanted to meet, we liked each other, and we met to survive. We planned lessons together. We created units. We planned trips and grade-level activities. We held a circus on the playground, we had plays, and we had a musical. We had fun. The kids had fun.
Mostly, we planned lessons around new textbooks. We poured over materials that we got with each new textbook adoption. We became experts at the resources we had to use to teach. We were a team. Or, so we thought. At the time, textbooks drove all of our teaching. How many pages should we cover in a day? What chapters can we skip? Let’s trade kids, and we will each teach one chapter 12 times so we can get really good at teaching it.
Never once in those years did we ever talk about student learning. I guess it was our assumption that because we were being intentional about planning that more learning took place. We were good teachers. We did a lot of talking about how we would teach something, how long we would spend on the unit or chapter, and when we would give the textbook test. But, we never talked about how we knew if the students had learned. We also never talked about what we would do if they had not learned. Yes, we would revisit skills, give additional practice, and pair a good student with a struggling student. But, having conversations about student results was, at best, based on our perceptions of how the lesson went. As a matter of fact, we just gave a grade and went on.
If I were to visit that school now, or many schools across the country, I would hear such different conversations. We know so much more now than we did then. For many years, the conversations in many schools have seen a shift from teaching to learning. Teams now have a laser-like focus, ensuring learning for every student.
As part of the work, teachers must continue to be ongoing learners sharing best practices with their colleagues, researching, and honing their skills on first-best instruction, observing their colleagues, and learning from each other. Teams of teachers must continually challenge the status quo for themselves as well as their students.
Teacher teams are students of the curriculum. Essential standards are determined. These essential standards meet Douglas B. Reeves’s criteria of having endurance, leverage, and readiness. Teachers are having conversations about the standards to understand exactly what they want students to know and be able to do when they demonstrate proficiency. Common learning targets are developed by teachers in the same grade level, and then they determine the pacing of these targets.
To ensure that students have learned the essential targets, common formative assessments are developed by the teams. Teams agree on a time frame and then bring their results to the team meeting to analyze those results. The results inform teams which students did not learn and need additional time and support to ensure learning. But, the results also give teachers valuable information about their practices. What skills am I good at teaching? Which ones could I be better at teaching? Which ones do I need help with?
Finally, as teams analyze the results of their students’ learning, together they are planning and implementing structures and processes to intervene for those who did not learn the first time. If a school’s mission is to ensure learning for all, policies, practices, and procedures must be in place to support that mission.
In those earlier years described above, improving our practices in the classroom was our only goal. It was not based on evidence of learning but how we felt about how we had taught the material. Now we know that improving our practices is only a means to end. Our goal must be ensuring more learning at higher levels for every student every day.
Educators across North America are finding they no longer can close the door and work in isolation but instead must capitalize on the knowledge and skills of their colleagues and research on best practices continuously challenging the status quo. There is a fierce urgency in our work. These children are the future. The 21st century skills that they need depend on us!