Setting aside time for professional development benefits both teachers and students at Northfield Public Schools - Northfield MN: News

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Setting aside time for professional development benefits both teachers and students at Northfield Public Schools

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Posted: Friday, October 11, 2013 4:24 pm | Updated: 11:11 pm, Tue Oct 15, 2013.

With the slew of standardized test and assessment numbers released in the past few weeks, the spotlight has now swung from the students to the teachers to analyze the data and use it to take steps forward this school year.

David Craft, principal at Greenvale Park Elementary, believes that the hour set aside every Wednesday morning for Professional Learning Community (PLC) time is providing the opportunity to do just that.

“In the past, we talked about data, but PLCs have given us a frame for that conversation,” said Craft. “Before PLCs, teachers talked about kids, but they never had that dedicated time. Teachers are now having more meaningful conversations about student learning.”

As part of the program, which is now in its fourth year of full implementation, teachers meet every Wednesday morning to look over assessment data and discuss teaching strategies while students stay home and get an extra hour of sleep.

While the format looks slightly different at the elementary schools than it does at the middle and high schools, the goal is to give teachers the opportunity to make adjustments during the school year, instead of waiting until a new year starts to change course.

“The teachers ask four questions,” said Craft. “What do we want students to learn? How are we going to know if they learned it? What will we do when they haven’t learned it? And what will we do when they have learned it?”

These sessions are meant to be data-driven, but involve two different types of statistics — one dealing with overall test scores from MCA, MAPS or MMR assessments and the other looking at how kids are progressing in the classroom from week to week.

“We are richer in the use of student data on a regular basis,” said Joel Leer, the principal at Northfield High School. “[The teachers] talk about how students performed both collectively and individually.”

Each Wednesday, teachers within the same departments at the high school get together to compare how their students performed on tests given that week and share what concepts they may be struggling to grasp or activities that have proved to be especially effective.

Teachers also devise more large-scale goals to be completed throughout the year. Last year, the history department set a school goal of having 90 percent of students pass all of their classes. By the end of the year, 93 percent of students went without failing a single class.

“The focus has turned to passing rates and credit acquisition,” said Leer.

Progress is also a big focus for PLCs at the elementary schools, especially in light of recent test results.

“We looked at the MCA data, and in grades three, four and five we didn’t make adequate progress in math for the free and reduced lunch group,” said Craft, referring to a subgroup that makes of 43 percent of students at Greenvale Park. “So the teachers set a goal based on the data. This year we are going to create a 10 percent reduction in the number of students that are not proficient. We believe that’s a tangible goal.”

While administrators hope that discussions that take place during PLC time will be of benefit to students, teachers appreciate the time, as well.

“I think it’s been very valuable to meet with my peers and colleagues and discuss what’s working and what’s not,” said John Mahal, a special education teacher at the high school.

When he mentions this opportunity for professional development to teachers from other districts, they are often envious of the time Northfield has set aside for teachers.

“It’s constantly evolving,” said Leer. “It’s really about holding ourselves accountable.”

Reach reporter Erin O’Neill at 645-1115, or follow her on @reporterONeill.

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  • commongal posted at 8:10 am on Wed, Oct 16, 2013.

    commongal Posts: 71

    To Northfield News: write a column on the number of teachers who attend the
    MEA sessions. (in the elem schools, in the high school)

    Also, scope out the agenda for the MEA sessions and let's see what teachers are missing by not attending.

    I, personally have no idea what is presented at the yearly MEA sessions.
    I am guessing others don't have much knowledge either.

  • Peter Millin posted at 9:12 pm on Mon, Oct 14, 2013.

    Peter Millin Posts: 121

    Testing as a means of deciding if students make progress will only help those that know how to take test.
    Unfortunately we have no data if our educational mediocrity is new,or if it has gotten worse?
    My gut feel tels me that at one point we were at least par with the rest of the world, so what has changed? Further it could be argued that our colleges have high standards, why else would people come here? Unless of course its due to access.rather then quality of education.
    Either way the current results are not acceptable and anything else tried so far hasn't worked .Actually it has gotten worse.
    Maybe rather than trying to teach kids with the goal of exposing them to a lot of experiences with the goal of everybody going to college, maybe we need to focus on basics.
    If I look at my kids curriculum I am amazed on the amounts of concepts they are being exposed to and with how little depth these are being taught.
    When I went to school there was a lot more drilling of the basics, especially in the first 9 years.Kindergarten was a place where you played, made crafts and had a nap in the afternoon.
    Today we insist that kids know how to read in kindergarten? But yet I am amazed how very few kids today can do basic math n their heads(including my kids).

    Yes, parents need to be involved, but that shouldnt excuse teachers not to demand discipline and homework. Posting missed assignments on a website just isnt enough.
    Sorry, these are probably more questions then answers..but thats all I have.

  • livingat45north posted at 6:05 pm on Mon, Oct 14, 2013.

    livingat45north Posts: 47

    SpecialEd: Here's one idea for you. It looks like the voucher program in Louisiana is producing some very real improvements in K12 education. The Obama admin is trying to shut it down, so we'll see how long it lasts, but for the moment anyways it's working well.

  • FbltGuy posted at 10:08 am on Mon, Oct 14, 2013.

    FbltGuy Posts: 239

    Minnesota's schools (as well as schools nationally) are in love with the idea that another "professional development" program will produce better teachers. The data does not support that contention. And, luckily, this week is the perfect example of that truth - MEA is SUPPOSED to be a time for ALL teachers to trek up to the cities for several days of professional development, workshops, etc. No one attends. It's simply a few bonus vacation days for teachers. Of the thousands and thousands of teachers in this state, barely a few ever attend this boondoggle. Yet, it continues to be scheduled every year because it is now expected - it's a perk. Funny how it always seems to come around at hunting season.....

  • parentvoice posted at 6:59 am on Mon, Oct 14, 2013.

    parentvoice Posts: 353

    Special Ed: I think your metaphor, in many instances, is apt.

    In fairness, I do think many of the PLC groups are working hard. And some of them are having some success. The problem is, that success isn't showing up either in improved test scores or in parent satisfaction ratings. We were told at the inception of weekly PLCs that the results were going to be revolutionary, and obviously, that hasn't panned out.

    What would I do differently? I would try to put some real accountability in the system. The article claims that PLCs hold teachers accountable--but really? How? Are teachers whose classes consistently show poor results making changes? Are principals whose PLCs are obviously goofing off (at the high school) held to account?
    Are "best practices" of one team being shared across buildings?

    We are still an adult-centric system in the Northfield school district. We do what is comfortable for the teachers, we protect them from data that might suggest they aren't effective, and we don't put the kids' needs first.

  • Special Ed posted at 8:00 pm on Sun, Oct 13, 2013.

    Special Ed Posts: 784

    Peter, what would you do differently?
    I'm not challenging your conclusion, I'm sincerely interested in your suggestions, if any.
    What are the measurements for teachers and their ability to teach. Not to know but to impart that knowledge to others? After taking such a measurement of ability, what does this new fangled approach suggest that we do with any teacher who possesses vast knowledge and limited ability to teach? Anything? Nothing?
    Caught in the middle, between government buzzword programs and teachers in the classroom, are the students and their parents as well as the private sector taxpayers.
    Lots of programs, lots of new approaches and the same results. Year after year. They identify a particular school that's struggling, throw more money and resources at it until it creeps back to average and then the process starts all over again. That's the current model. We need something vastly different from what we are currently doing.
    The tire slowly goes flat, they drive on it until it is flat, they throw more money at it (air up the tire) and then drive it for another couple hundred miles until it goes flat again. Let's not actually fix the tire, let's keep running flat and airing it up until the sidewalls crumble.
    They have data, four questions and no answers. Another 'program' designed to give the appearance of progress while accomplishing little or nothing.
    Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss..................... there goes that tire again.

  • Peter Millin posted at 5:49 pm on Sun, Oct 13, 2013.

    Peter Millin Posts: 121

    Unfortunately the US (this includes MN) is woefully outmatched against the rest of the world. Not much has changed in the past four years.
    Despite the US having the highest spend per student, it only makes the midldle of the pack in quality.
    Reading data and passing tests doesn't make kids any smarter.


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