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Collaboration Days Provide Enrichment for Dublin Teachers and their Students

February 7, 2013
Collaboration at Frederiksen

Collaboration at Frederiksen Elementary

Collaboration Days. There are 16 of these mysterious days sprinkled across the academic year where the pick-up or drop-off time changes. What are Collaboration Days and why is this biweekly schedule change important to Dublin education? was fortunate to be invited into an actual collaboration session at Frederiksen Elementary School last week. Specifically, we sat in on a work session conducted by the Frederiksen 5th grade team led by teacher Kathy Proctor and her colleagues Heidi Caudle and Tim Nicholas.

The genesis of Collaboration Days was a mutual agreement between the Dublin Unified School District (DUSD) and the Dublin Teachers Association (DTA). The concept was to provide allocated and compensated time for Certificated Staff to meet with their colleagues across grade or subject lines to discuss specific student achievement and classroom strategies that would benefit their students.

Frederiksen Elementary School Sign with Collaboration Days Noted at the Top

Early Out for Collaboration Days

The concept of collaboration evolved to a higher state when DUSD began to embrace the overall concept of Professional Learning Communities (PLC) over a year ago. The mantra of PLC was to ensure that all stakeholders form common ground on how and what should be learned by the students. Furthermore, all parties would need to work simultaneously to assess achievement and to ensure that the learning would occur for those that were not mastering these concepts. While it sounds rather lofty, it is rather simple: educators agree on what to teach and f the student is not succeeding, what will we do to correct this? If they are succeeding, what can we capture and share from this experience?

It is obviously more complex than this explanation. Certificated and District staff have attended training sessions both off site and locally. Additionally, the secondary element to PLC is the common formative assessment element. To date, the staff at Frederiksen Elementary has completed this secondary stage. The result is that they are slightly ahead of the curve in terms of employing some of these advanced strategies. While it is difficult to quantify, Frederiksen enjoyed a +40 point increase in API during the most recent standardized testing cycle. One must believe that this additional training was a component to this success.

The opportunity to sit-in on a team meeting was eye-opening. The 5th grade team worked immediately and was focused. While certificated staff is empowered to use a multitude of teaching methodologies, they must ultimately teach to curriculum. The team shared their thoughts about specific methodologies and assessments. Mr. Nicholas and Ms. Caudle pointed out a group of students that were currently challenged in mathematics. The problem area was division. Some of the students were making either simple a mistake in arithmetic or were not reducing equations when there was the opportunity to do so. This discussion would now allow them to focus in on this skill set over the next two weeks. The other benefit of collaboration is the basic act of working with one another. Before Collaboration Days, these colleagues might have been burdened with emailing math examples and exams back and forth. Today, this team utilizes Google docs to streamline communications – even as their classrooms are arranged in a row. sat down with 5th grade team lead, Kathy Proctor to discuss the benefits of collaboration. Do you and your team set benchmarks throughout the year or is the planning more based upon where the grade level is currently performing?

Kathy Proctor

Teacher Kathy Proctor

Kathy Proctor: “The district sets benchmarks three times a year for students in ELA and Math. The 5th grade team adds a fourth one at the beginning of the year to see what students have retained over the summer and what interventions, re-teaching we need to do right from the start. We also use the district pacing guides in ELA, math, and science to assure that all students receive a ‘guaranteed curriculum’ but we will modify this pacing as a team as we see the need from our students based on formative and summative assessments. We discuss our students, as a team, on an almost daily basis to see how we can support all learners, both with support and extensions.” How does your team ensure that equal attention is being devoted to students that are performing at both above or below grade level?

Proctor: “The 5th grade team is always discussing how we support both the at-risk learners who need more support and time to reach certain learning goals, in addition to how we can support our above grade level learners in the extension of their learning. We are currently using our RTI (Response to Intervention) time, 3 times a week, to level students in the area of reading comprehension and inference. Students receive classroom instruction in this area and are then given a formative assessment to check for understanding. We share lesson ideas and support materials along the way. Once the formative assessment is given, students are grouped by skill and intervention/extension begins. We have students who are receiving extensive intervention in this area, in addition to grade level support, and a large group who are being extended in this skill.” As this year has progressed, how has your team evaluated the effectiveness of the collaboration meetings?

Proctor: The 5th grade team has had many transitions in the ten years that I have been at Frederiksen. However, the members of this team have always risen to the challenge and understood quickly that we are a team and that collaboratively we will serve our students better. The belief that every member of our team is giving their best and in their hearts wants to help children learn and become successful in middle school and beyond has been the glue that makes the 5th grade team amazing and our STAR results have always reflected this positive team effort.” How have you been able to ensure that PLC principles are guiding your work?

Proctor: “PLC is a team of teachers that look at data, discuss their teaching practices and work cooperatively to ensure learning for all. It is a journey that we are always traveling, but a journey that is guided by our passion for helping students to learn and become successful in all areas. Teaching is not about a closed door, where teachers can pick and choose what they want to teach and students that are theirs. But rather the greater picture of students that are ours and learning that is the focus of every activity. PLC makes teaching easier, more supportive, and more powerful.”

In order to complete this story, we sought out the feedback from the site administrator at Frederiksen, Principal Holly Scroggins to gain her insights on the benefits of teacher collaboration. Grade levels are bound to work together in different ways. As an administrator, how do you coach the teams to ensure that they have reached their desired results?

Holly Scroggins

Principal Holly Scroggins

Holly Scroggins: “Our teams are at different places depending on their understanding and comfort level in working as a PLC. Part of the training around PLC’s recognizes that teams are in different places due to team dynamics, familiarity of team with each other’s teaching strategies, content expertise, sophistication of understanding around using assessment data from students to determine next step practices, as well as the actual understanding of the team of what PLC’s do. As an administrator I support teams where they need support. We also use rubrics to help understand the depth and complexity around PLC’s and gauge our understanding of ourselves to work towards more advanced levels.” As a school site, Frederiksen appears to have embraced the PLC model. What types of feedback do you receive from your teachers with this renewed focus on collaboration time?

Scroggins: “It is clearly making a difference for us. We are setting aside dedicated time to talk specifically about student needs and student learning along the way in our lessons. We are using shorter, more frequent common formative assessments to decide what should be taught next or what needs to be re-taught. We are responding to student needs much quicker than we were able to in the past due to the team approach.”

It is our hope that we’ve more clearly defined the meaning of Collaboration Days in the Dublin Unified School District. It was a treat to gain a peek into just one of many groups throughout the District that is working to refine the work on behalf of their students.

Collaboration day schedule for the remainder of 2012-13:

  • February 13th and 27th
  • March 13th and 27th
  • April 10th and 24th
  • May 22nd

Dublin Unified School District Collaboration Day at Frederiksen Elementary School 2


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