School district makes time for teachers to collaborate
Whether it's rising ACT scores for high school students or solid state assessment scores at the all levels, Eudora USD 491 has seen positive student accomplishment in the past year. There are several factors that contribute to this, but one of those reasons is the ability of teachers to collaborate.
While teachers always worked with each other to some degree, there was time reserved for collaboration in an already tight schedule.
"We've always somewhat collaborated; it's just been on our lunch hour or in the hallway," Middle School English teacher Paul Boone said. "It's just been a lot more scattered. We really appreciate having the time available now to go ahead and really meet and have some sit down time. We've definitely utilized it."
Eudora Assistant Superintendent Don Grosdidier said the need for collaboration was brought on by the different manner in which students now are taught.
"One of the biggest changes over the years in education has been that education be very student focused, and what I mean by that is that many years ago, you presented a lesson to the students," he said. "They had the opportunity to learn, but it was presented to the group. But now, the focus is more on the individual student.
"We have found that the best way to do that is to work as a team, and that takes communication and time. That's what collaboration does. It provides time for teachers to get together face-to-face to discuss the needs of individual students."
Grosdidier said collaboration sprung from middle schools around the country. Teachers typically have time for planning each day and students go to elective classes during those time. Adding time for collaboration meant adding more staff to teach more classes for students to attend while collaboration was taking place.
For instance, West and Nottingham elementary schools hired full-time music and physical education teachers.
Collaboration has been taking place at the high school for four years and was introduced to a new subject area each year. The elementary schools have had collaboration for about three years.
"High school focuses on content area and teams are set up on a departmental basis," Grosdidier said. "Let's say the language arts team focuses on their content area - reading, writing, communication - and kids within that content area. Whereas at the elementary level, it's a grade level team and a grade level focus."
At the middle school, teachers meet within each grade level, but seventh- and eighth-grade teachers also meet at a departmental level.
"The middle school is kind of unique in itself because - as it should be - it's in between those two (the high school and elementary school)," Grosdidier said. "So they kind of get the best of both worlds."
The middle school had teams established for about 11 years, but the time for collaboration was not available. It has only been within last the three years that collaboration has taken place, but this year is the first time they've had an equal amount of time set apart for planning and collaboration
Eudora Middle School Principal Richard Proffitt said he knew there might be some concerns with the program, but giving the teacher freedom to work within the system has helped.
"I knew there was going to be some apprehension. I knew there were going to be some growing pains," he said. "So, we did a lot of training at the beginning of the year. We gave the teachers lots of training materials, gave them time to sit down and talk with each other and we gave them some flexibility on what they were going to do on certain days so that they had some autonomy and some buy--in to it"
Boone, who has been with the school district for 20 years, said there have been a few bumps in the road, but working together was nothing new for the middle school staff.
"It's a process," Boone said. "We're getting closer and closer to where we want to be. Like any new thing, there's a learning curve as you come into it, but it's not a foreign concept. We appreciate the administration for allowing us to dictate what we need to do and then move on it."
One of the main benefits to students is that teachers are learning new strategies from each other, but also learning the best ways to teach certain students.
"It's been very helpful to students because we're able to talk about how we can help individual students as well as large groups," Proffitt said. "We're talking about curricular issues and the teachers are probably learning from each other during this time to help enhance their own classrooms."
Boone said teachers throughout the district expect good things from the students, and that is another important piece.
"We have a staff that has high expectations of students from elementary on, so that's been really helpful," he said.
Grosdidier said that in the coming years, the school district would begin to hold professional development session within each collaborative team. Professional development sessions typically are done for the faculty at large.
"The thing that teachers don't like is when you bring all of them together and you work on one topic, because they don't see how that relates to their classroom," he said. "If you can break that down into those little teams, it's very focused and they see how it's relative to their situation."
Proffitt already sees that taking place at the middle school.
"There are things that teachers have not been able to do because they have been inside the four walls and they don't have a lot of communication or time to talk about teaching with other teachers," he said. "So, what this is, is kind of a professional development for them and they're able to work through some things that they may have had questions on but they were apprehensive to talk to their colleagues about.
"It's really opened up their teaching because at first they thought that it might be kind of judgmental - having other teachers provide feedback - but I think what they found out is that everyone is in this together."