Sunday, November 3, 2013

Team Collaboration for Teaching as Inquiry

I often get asked what does "teaching as inquiry" actually look like since this was the focus of my thesis work in 2011. While at my school we have adopted a teaching as inquiry approach since the launch of the revised NZC my current work has lead our staff to review the way that we work together in order to really focus on teacher practices that will have a positive impact to raise student outcomes. This year we changed the way that individual teachers evaluated their termly reading, writing and mathematics. I had a concern that teachers found the evaluation process a waste of time when I would hear comments like "no one reads them" so why do we do them? Some teachers did them for the sake of doing them but not viewed the process as one to reflect and transform their practice. I called a meeting of the team leaders and facilitated a conversation about what they thought of our evaluations, what they liked about them (or not) and if they were effective in actually having an impact on teacher practice to reflect on their actions that would change the way they viewed their professional activity. After the team leaders all had a turn sharing their ideas I could summarise that the system wasn't working and proposed a new way of working. Together we decided that a team approach would be the best option and came up with a possible template together that was agreed upon. 

We decided to use a Google Doc that staff members could collaborate on and analyse together as a team. After the first round of evaluations at the end of term 1, early in term 2 the team leaders reviewed the new system. All team leaders agreed that there were merits, better ownership of the team data and targets, putting the % of students to reach the target into actual numbers to get students "across the line" to meet the target was real, and that teachers didn't feel that they were alone in their endeavours to raise outcomes, the collegial approach seemed to be working Team leaders discussed that rather than doing evaluations at the end of terms they would do them as assessments were done and being updated (in reality it still ends up being at the end of a term). At the beginning of term 3 we reviewed the template again based on the ERO report on Accelerating the Progress of Priority Learners in School's report was published. As a team we identified that the evaluations in the current form were effective and to make the practice highly effective we would add in the changes since the last round of evaluations. We identified that staff were easily able to identify the gaps that students had, but weren't adding the specific strategies that they would try to see if it had an impact of student outcomes, what were the teachers going to try that was different? Here is a current example (with the names modified to reduce identification)
 In section A teachers choose a colour and record the students names and add the totals at the bottom of each well below, below, at and above section for their class. Students on the special needs register and receiving support are also identified by highlighting or * so that at a glance the curriculum leaders, team leaders and SENCO can see if support is required (if none already allocated). As a team they then add the totals and write a statement of how many students are achieving in relation to the National Standard targets and the shifts that need to occur. In section B (added after the ERO reading at the beginning of term 3) staff now have to describe the progress that has been made since the last round of evaluations and try to pinpoint what deliberate acts have caused this shift - what did they do differently. There is still a little bit of work across most teams to complete this new section, however we have made a great start. In section C the team work together to identify gaps in student knowledge and the strategies that staff will employ to accelerate progress - not just for the well below and below students but for the at and above students also. 

The team leaders ensure that the evaluations are completed before the school holidays so that the curriculum leaders for reading, writing and mathematics can review the data and see what professional learning they can provide for the team or individual teachers to improve outcomes. As DP for curriculum and assessment I then work with aggregating the shifts over each point the data has been collected and tally the information (example) I give print out a copy of all the evaluations for the curriculum leaders and also display the information in our staff professional learning room. The intention with the printed out tables being in a public space is so that staff may browse the data of other year levels to check how students that they have previous had, have progressed over time. If a teacher has identified a child they have had previously they might share some insights with the current teacher of strategies that they found had worked for the particular child. In this way the data and progress of all students is monitored and staff work collegially to take ownership of improving outcomes for all students.

Next steps: moving forward in 2014 we are going to continue this practice, however we are deciding on how this will look for us with the implementation of anniversary reporting.  At present we report in year group cohorts, so the move to After 1/2 &3 year at school anniversaries is leading us to think creatively how this might look next year.

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