The Teaching and Learning department in the Westside Community School District is responsible for the teaching, learning and leadership for the 6,200 students, 600 teachers, and 33 administrators in the District. Teams with these types of responsibilities need to pay special attention to ensure that the following components are in place: process, curriculum, instruction, assessment, professional learning communities and school growth.
When considering the amount of work that goes into developing an instructional program in a district, it is important to ensure that a specific process is in place. In Westside Community Schools, collaborative teams of teachers have been assembled in each of the curriculum areas at each of the levels—elementary, middle, and high. Teams work through a “curriculum toolbox” cycle where they perform tasks such as learning about state and national trends, writing curriculum, developing collaborative assessments, selecting new material and evaluating implemented programs.
When a school has a guaranteed and viable curriculum, it means that the learning and skills considered essential are considered essential for ALL students, and the school is set up to ensure that essential learning occurs for ALL. Teachers in Westside Community Schools work together to create common curriculum documents to ensure that teachers in one school in the District are teaching toward the same standards as teachers in another building. Teacher team generated curriculum documents are stored for teachers to be able to reference and use.
A hallmark of Westside Community Schools is the balance between having District standards that serve as guideposts for teachers and an instructional program that enables teachers to provide their own style in meeting them. Yearly ongoing education activities (also called “professional learning” in education) for teachers center on instruction and have specifically focused on topics such as writing clear learning targets, instructional technology, and classroom formative assessments. Formative assessments are tests given periodically throughout the school year to determine if students are learning what they are being taught.
Many types of assessments make up the learning process in PK-12 classrooms. The most publicized assessments are those that are commonly used to compare other districts and schools in a public setting. Read more about these in the “Assessment” white paper. The cornerstone to any sound assessment system is formative, or ongoing, assessments. Westside Community Schools provides guidance and support to teachers to ensure that students have opportunities to demonstrate learning on an ongoing basis, which allows students to learn from mistakes.
Professional Learning Communities
Schools and districts are organizations that work best when everyone is continually learning. Students learn best when their teachers are continually engaging in collaborative dialogue with one another on a minimum of a weekly basis. Within Westside, Professional Learning Communities provide this opportunity for teachers. During the collaborative times, teachers answer these four critical corollary questions of a PLC:
- What are students expected to learn?
- How will we know students have learned it?
- What will we do if students haven’t learned what we have taught?
- What if students already know what we are teaching — how do we enrich their experience?
When teams focus on these questions, learning improves. Teachers in Westside Community Schools meet every week at all levels to ensure that these conversations are taking place. Teachers are typically grouped with other teachers who have similar assignments and who are working toward common goals.
As part of a Professional Learning Community, teams of educators at all levels of a school system are working together for continual growth. District-level teams have worked with principals and teachers on analyzing and interpreting data. With this, teams are equipped to analyze and interpret items such as state assessments, norm-referenced tests, district assessments and hope and engagement perception surveys. Based on data, teams set goals and action plans that are submitted to the District and followed throughout the school year.